21 December 2009

Hermits of Regency Britain

A nineteenth-century English idyll: Hermits and haywains.

Listen up, ladies -- I have a most interesting tale for your consideration! If you love the works of Jane Austen, with their romantic portrayal of the aristocracy of early nineteenth-century England, this post is for you.

Once upon a time, there was a king of Britain named George III. Perhaps you know him. He was the man that perennial Cabinet favorite George Washington personally bested in a game of nine pins in the gardens of Versailles to gain the naming rights to forty-three-per-cent of the taverns, alehouses, wayside inns, public houses, and ordinaries in the American colonies. A master of wizardry, he used his comprehensive knowledge of spells to transmogrify famed Prussian monarch (and George's cousin) Friedrich der Große into an oak tree. He had never forgiven Fred, who, in a spell of religious zealotry, had struck George with a cane and spat in his wife Charlotte's (admittedly plain) face at a fete in 1788.

In addition to his regal duties, George served as headmaster of the newly-established Royal Academy of Witchcraft and Wizardry

George had a son, also named George, that fettered away his time instead of apprenticing to his father in the noble arts of magick, proving a große disappointment to just about everyone. Yet the Prince did excel in one thing: lavish hedonism! Also, he was mildly satisfactory at serving as Prince Regent for his father, a position he accepted after the House of Commons declared the King's spell-casting too out of control for a ruling sovereign, following a notorious incident where an annoyed George briefly turned William Wilburforce and Odullah Equiano into Cat-holics.

Contrary to popular opinion, dancing masters make poor hermits.

But what does this have to do with hermits, you might be asking? Did George III summon an army of his loyal servants, the hermits, to reclaim his lost crown from the Prince Regent, only to find that most hermits would rather live on a stone pillar in the baking heat of the desert rather than cooperate with their fellows? Although that would make for an exciting blog entry, and, in fact, almost did come to pass, I'm afraid that I made it up. But the Hanoverians and hermits are indeed connected, I assure you!

Let us return to that hedonistic fop, the Prince Regent George. His unfettered lifestyle inspired other romantic types to similarly indulge themselves and long to become syphilitic and/or consumptive. The broad cultural trend of a return to nature (probably not inspired by non-exercising George) inspired the golden age of the country estate, a fancy house owned by a rich family with a bunch of servants and lots of specialized rooms. With their excess moneys,
they made what they thought to be recreations of the pastoral landscapes found at ancient Roman country villas. And what scenic vista, they reasoned, could be truly pastoral without a solitary man of the soil to complement the landscape?

A latter-day hermit.  

In vain the great families of England tried to attract these grizzled loners to partake of the natural bounty that their estates offered. Many even had prefabricated hermit shacks or huts (see picture at right) installed on their lands in hopes that a roving gentleman might see them and take up residence. But the hermits, one of the first professions to unionize in the wake of the burgeoning Industrial Revolution that brought the Iron Rooster to their idyllic haunts, wanted in on the prosperity of their prospective landlords and demanded compensation. The landed gentry relented, ushering in the golden age of British hermitry.

Many of the great cultural achievements of the Regency period celebrate this renaissance of solitary living. Perhaps you remember the scene in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park when the heroin, Fanny, despairing because of Edmund's seeming involvement with Mary Crawford, runs away, only to become lost on the eponymous estate. She stumbles upon the cabin of Walter, Mansfield Park's resident hermit, and his comforting words result in a secret tryst whose vividly explicit details belong more in Austen's Harlequin series, Regency Nights. As with many of her writings, Jane based this episode on her real life experiences in rural Hampshire, during which she was romantically involved with a hermit, as profiled in a recent biopic. Many of the scenes in the film are speculative, but John Malcovich, who plays Walter, gives, in my opinion, a barbaric yawp of a performance.

But what did these ensconced misanthropes do with their time, and how did they interact with the family that resided on the estate? Why did these hermits seemingly "sell out" to "the man"? And what does all this have to do with the enclosure system? Only a return visit to the Cabinet, or an unnecessarily lengthy discussion with George III's portrait, will yield semi-satisfactory answers to these questions! Until next time, the Cabinet, like my mind, is closed.

03 December 2009

Presenting...Frankie X & the Jesuits! (Part II)

Note the variety of child tonsures Francis implemented after his 1549 arrival in Cipangu. 

So...where was I? Ignatius, Frankie X., and the boys had just accepted their mission from Paul III to be fruitful and multiply across the known (and unknown) world.

Francis Xavier was stuck in Rome, though, while his buddies traveled to the Mysterious Orient. Ignatius had given him a desk job in the Vatican pushing pencils as the Jesuit representative to the Pope. A cubicle in St. Peter's could never satisfy a proactive man like Francis, and he yearned to proselytize to the peoples China, Cipangu, and even the antipodes of farthest Terra Australis. Yet this literal purgatory was only temporary, because in 1540, Ignatius ordered him to Goa (!) to India. The Portuguese trading post and colony of Goa was on the coast of India, and the King of Portugal Joao (insert tilde here) III felt that the Europeans and Christian converts in the city were mired, not just in two to three feet of fetid water during the monsoon season, but also in vice and ungodliness.

A disinterested-looking Francis Christianizes an Indian (who looks a lot like an American Indian) in Goa in 1542, while in the background, another Goan hails a rickshaw.  From a nineteenth-century print. 

Speaking of fetid water, are you, readers mine, aware of how horrible long-distance travel by ship was in the sixteenth century? In addition to dealing with bleeding gum and extremely nonexistent sanitation, passengers like Francis had to contend with kraken, merpeople, and the lethargy and heating of the blood induced by the lower latitudes. The trip around Africa included a tangle with a sea monster that bit Francis' hand as he held a crucifix up to its beach-ball sized demonic eyes, successfully repelling the beast (see picture below). 

The voyage was no picnic, and Francis and the other souls on the Santiago stopped off in the eternal Portuguese colony of Mozambique to refuel. Arriving in Goa in May of 1542, Francis started off gangbusters, working for three years to reconvert the once-Christianized natives of the city and their leader, John, and impede the drunken revelry of his fellow Europeans. This was a thankless job, however, because most Indians thought the idea of only one god was crazy boring, and sailors and blackguards have never been the most sincere religious converts.

The largest one-handed statue of Francis Xavier in the Malay Peninsula, depicting Francis post-Kraken accident

All of this was very frustrating, so Francis decided he needed some time off. One day, while enjoying a Singapore Sling in Malacca, Francis met a strange man named Anjiro. This gentleman hailed from a land that Europeans called Cipangu ("Land of the Rising Median Age") that was but a fable among the Jesuits. Smelling a Comstock Lode-like bevy of possible converts, Francis quickly made friends with this Japanese expat.

A professional translator while in Japan, Anjiro fled his homeland after being charged with MURDER. Despite this transgression, Francis and Anjiro soon became bosom buddies, and the Japanese gent convinced our earnest Jesuit that if they saw that his life corresponded with his teaching, they would readily convert. What Anjiro did not tell Francis was that the Japanese had a BUNCH of religions already! Punk'd!

So, Francis, Anjiro, and some other missionaries left to meet the "King of Japan." After they found out that they literally couldn't talk to him, Francis and company hit the streets. Evangelizing for over two years in Japan, he made a few converts and established a beachhead for future Jesuit missions, but more importantly, he found a Lost Tribe of Israel!

Fifteenth-century globe, post-Mu, showing Cipangu on the middle left.

But on his return trip to Goa, Francis was attracted by an even more tempting bauble -- China. He set sail and wound up on an island off the south coast of China. Francis could not get into China, however, without a hall pass. He tried to find someone that would smuggle him in, but, while waiting on the island, it suddenly appeared as if the mainland was only a few cubits and a span across the bay. When Francis waded into the shallow water off of the beach to get a closer look, the mirage vanished suddenly. A giant clam, perhaps summoned by the Son of Heaven, made war upon Francis, dragging him, after a great struggle, to its secreted lair in the inky depths.

I know what you're thinking -- "A tangle with both an occidental and an oriental sea monster? Are you serious, my good man?" Such is the destiny of a lieutenant in the Army of God when he tempts fate in distant Cathay. Francis died without ever having had the pleasure of seeing a palace full of scheming eunuchs. :( His last words, as reported by the Shen, were, "Equo ne credite, Teucri. Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentes." Too bad I don't know a stitch of Latin!

OK, so maybe Francis was frustrated in most of his endeavors in the Far East, and his sea-borne proselytizing upset the the legendarily cranky Associated Denizens of the Deep (ADD) .  But his legacy lives on, kind of. There's a fair chance that the good Catholic boy over the age of fifty you know named "Frank" is actually his nom de nicke for Francis Xavier. Also, if you live in an east-coast city, and especially in Ohio, you might just know someone that went to a school named after this college dropout. Yes, you're right, there aren't a whole lot of Christians in India, China, or Japan these days, but can you fault a zealot for trying? As for the Jesuits, they have controlled world politics for the last five centuries -- not too shabby, Iggy, not too shabby...

Well, it is with great regret that ol' Doc C must inform you that the Cabinet is presently closing. I recently slathered its hinges with bear grease, however, so expect increased visits to the Cabinet!

What is wrong with this photo?

If you guessed the anachronistic follicle stylings of the Chinaman on the left, you were correct!

Congratulations, you've found the special prize at the bottom of this edition of the Cabinet!
Open up its cellophane wrapper here.

20 November 2009

Presenting...Frankie X & the Jesuits! (Part I)

Hello, my dearest blog devotees...I hope you enjoyed my sojourn into the secretive world of Mason Locke "Parson" Weems. But now it is time for another ramble into the realm of the Cabinet. Be mindful of the fur coats--you might wind up in Narnia! Let ol' Prof. C tell you a tale of mystery and intrigue, of the distant Orient in days of yore! Okay, it may not be that exciting, but it will be interesting, I promise.

I was searching through my Cabinet the other day, as is my want, and I happened to stumble upon an old rosary that I had picked up during my travels in Japan. Nippon, you say? Why, I thought Shintoism was the state religion there, or maybe Buddhism, but definitely not the Big C! Ah, but you are wrong--let me take you back to the fifteenth and/or sixteenth century..... Once upon a time, there was a crazy Basque gentlemen named Eneko Loiolakoa. No, he was not a fisherman, or a terrorist. Perhaps you know him better as Ignacio López de Loyola? Getting closer? How about Ignatius of Loyola? Bingo!

Eneko was super-angry about the Reformation--I mean MAD. So irate that he wanted to establish a spiritual army to fight for Catholicism in the world at large. On the Ides of August 1534, Ignatius met with six of his young Turk friends from the Sorbonne, AKA the University of Paris I at the crypt of the Chapel of St Denis outside of the City of Lights. Wait, you're thinking, did he just say they MET IN A CRYPT? An auspicious beginning for a religious order, am I right? For the next six years, Ignatius and his gang, calling themselves "Amigos en el Señor," ("Fellowship of the Ring" in Esperanto, the utopian synthetic language they adopted to secretly communicate with one another) the group, which included future Catholic superstars St. Francis Xavier, Diego Laynez, and Tom Monaghan, vowed themselves to observe poverty and chastity, and to "enter upon hospital and missionary work in Jerusalem, or to go without questioning wherever the pope might direct." Pretty heady stuff!

So, the boys went on a road trip to Rome in 1537 to seek papal approval from Paul III, who ordained them and blessed their mission. At first, they were limited to an elite group of sixty, but soon there awesomeness couldn't be contained to a mere five dozen who would "strive especially for the defense and propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine."  What does the future hold for our daring Basque boys? Only the Cabinet (and Wikipedia) knows...

Frankie X.

15 October 2009

The Enigmatic Parson Weems, Part the Second

Mason Lock "Parson" Weems

After my spirited account of the fortunes and misfortunes of Dr. William Brydon, Commander of Bath, I now feel that I must return to the tale of Parson Weems, our own noteworthy and notorious purveyor of the printed word. Itinerant bookseller par excellence, Weemsy is most famous for his "biography" of George Washington, the toothless and sterile Masonic surveyor perhaps also known as the first king of our country. The real question is, how did Weems did up so much dirt on the seemingly unimpeachable character of Farmer Washington? I traveled to Washington's underground lair near Alexandria, Virginia to find out.

Washington may have struggled with lying, but Weems had no such compunction!

While I have previously suggested that perhaps Weems became "BFF's" or "best friends forever" with Washington, as in the case of Samuel Johnson-botherer and sometime Charlie's Angels star James Boswell, to write about his life, after much research in secret archives deep beneath Mt. Vernon, I do not now believe this to be the case. Instead, I contend that Washington repeatedly visited Weems in his dreams, relaying vivid tales of his misspent youth and scandal-laden adulthood. (This is not the story that Weems "scholars" will tell you, but they're almost all dead anyway, and what do they know? I mean, Harold Kellock, you're just an English professor -- go write about your "feelings"!)

After his book slowly became a huge success, Weems sent Washington a personally inscribed copy of his biography. As if Washington needed to read about his own life -- as if he didn't remember throwing that quarter across the Potomac on a dare as a young man! (Some say he threw a dollar, seemingly forgetting that, even if you wad it up, a dollar does not travel very fare, even for Washington, a man endowed with the strength of the red sun of Krypton. And when have you ever tried to throw a picture of yourself into a river?)

But enough about our drug-addled first president! Weems, it must be said, had great nerve, or "balls," as I believe it is put colloquially. Not only did he write a truth-telling screed against the man who was First in Peace--Weems composed works of similar quality about other "founding fathers/brothers/uncles/cousins," including his Life of General Francis Marion (1805), Life of Benjamin Franklin, with Essays (1817), and Life of William Penn (1819). Unlike Speed 2: Cruise Control or Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties (or, Garfield: The Prince and the Paw-per to my British readers), these were not high-quality continuations or permutations of his biography of Washington, but were NEW STORIES about other great men. Benjamin Franklin, for example, destroyed his brother's printing press with his father's axe in a fit of juvenile Luddite fervor. Francis Marion, Weems reports, dressed in a fox costume as a young lad and got lost chasing several local Indians through a nearby swamp, only to be found and chastised by his father.

Weems was also an active violinist, playing what the locals of Dumfries, Virginia, called "devil's music," accusing the Parson of fiddling the townspeople into a hypnotic trance that made them have an overwhelming desire to buy low-quality biographies.

Mason Weems died on May 23, 1825 in South Carolina of unknown causes and is buried somewhere on the grounds of Bel Air Plantation in Prince William County, Virginia. The precise location of his grave and the accompanying cemetery were lost, like the nation's enthusiasm for Weems's biographies, by the twentieth century. Let us remember him as he was, a half-crazed, practicing Mesmerist, and homeless book peddler that wrote the bestselling book after the Bible for the period from 1800 to 1825. Amen to that!

I could write a third part to this story; such is the richness of the life of Parson "Mason Locke" Weems, but I am gradually losing interest in him and must move to greener pastures. Therefore, I am slowly closing the doors of the cabinet for now. Make sure your hand does not get caught between the doors--it really smarts! Until next time, let me leave you with the words of the great Philosopher: if you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with.

Your ordinary average 18th-century itinerant book peddler.

Postscript: For further reading on the amazingly interesting and hopefully exploitable for profit life of Mason Locke "Parson" Weems, turn to my upcoming self-published biographical monograph, "Weems' Dreams" and the Making of the Early American Republic: The Cross-Country Journey of a Father and his Son and an Inquiry into Values, which will come out after I figure out how to put together my mail-order printing press.

01 October 2009

Dr. William Brydon, CB

Out for a trot. 

Before I again take up my tales of early American book-selling, I wish to relate to you, dear blogites, the most curious story of a certain Dr. William Brydon, British military doctor and, all in all, an interesting dude.

Encampment of the Kandahar Army, under General Nott, at Kabul, by Lieutenant James Rattray.

Brydon was a surgeon in the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842), a conflict between the British and Russian Empires for the strategically important and blanket-laden territories that now comprise modern Afghanistan. The fine doctors claim to fame is that he was the only Briton from a 4,500-man army to make it back to British-held Jalalabad, a city infamous around the world for its great horde of a's, from the army's retreat from Kabul. The artist Lady Butler painted a recreation of Brydon's arrival at Jalalabad called Remnants of an Army, retitled from its original name, Perhaps Aesthetically Unpleasing Study of Gentleman That Be Astride a Horse. Here is a rendering more satisfying to my own tastes:

According to one observer of Brydon's return, he arrived at the city's gate "on a horse scarcely able to move another yard, wounded and bruised from head to foot with stones, and he, alone, has arrived to tell the fearful tale." His horse promptly dropped dead after entering Kabul.

The latest in ballistic protection.

Brydon was, he explained, only saved from the same gruesome fate as his fellow soldiers by a fortuitously placed copy of Blackwood's Magazine. He had put the esteemed Scottish gentleman's rag in his hat to stave off the biting cold of the the Afghan winter, a country seemingly with weather only slightly less horrible than that of our own Oklahoma. This literary padding kept Brydon's scalp from being removed by an Afghan warrior's sword. He was later heard to remark, "Never knew this old bit of Lolland drivel could come in so handy."

It is also posited by some that Brydon was the inspiration for the estimable Dr. John Watson, the brave, if easily befuddled, counterpart to the famous actual detective Sherlock Holmes (see picture ; "Dr. Watson" is on the right).

Unlike Watson, Brydon continued to think that army doctoring was a good career path and later fought in the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852. He later moved back to Scotland, but it is not known if he was able to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming the bumbling sidekick to a drug-addicted, asexual and emotionless amateur detective.

Well, that is all from the Cabinet for now. Sorry for being away so long, and I promise I shall return soon to the story of the man Weems and his book peddling (or, perhaps, meddling!).

09 July 2009

The Enigmatic Parson Weems, Part the First

I have in my library a tome entitled A History of the Life and Death, Virtues and Exploits of General George Washington by one Rev. Mason Locke Weems, better known as "Parson" Weems. Surely you, oh enlightened Cabinet reader, are familiar with the story of the young Washington secretly designing to steal his uncle's cherry orchard and replant it along the nearby Potomac River tidal basin next to the giant, Egyptian Revival lightning rod he erected. When confronted, Georgie told his father that he "could not tell a lie." Astounded by the young lout's honesty, Wash. Sr. assured his boy that honesty, and a seven-year indenture, were sufficient payment for his errant hatcheting.

Although it is often thought today that Weems fabricated the tale to illustrate the morality of the new United States' greatest hero, the naked truth is that Washington suffered from a disease that, in addition to causing adolescent tooth loss, produced a chemical similar to sodium pentothal (a truth serum) and practically prevents one from lying. The story of one modern-day suffering is chronicled in a recent documentary that, I believe, enjoyed some great success.

But I digress. What's the "911" or "deal-i-o-izzle", as the kids say, on "Parson" Weems? Our Weems was a book seller by trade during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in the Eastern United States. There were so few books in those days (perhaps because most monographs and correspondence were tattooed on one's indentured and non-dentured servants) that Weems was driven to write his own in order to reap a greater profit. He would take his wagon, Roma-like, from town to town, hawking his written wares.

How did Weems gather so much information about GW and his other biographical subjects? Did he take a page from Boswell, constantly bothering Washington and wanting to hang out with him (see the entry on the "Encyclopedia" Britannica, part II), or did a spirit of some kind reveal it to him in a waking dream? The world may never know, but this distinguished academic will sure attempt to speculate on the matter in the second installment about Parson "Mason Locke" Weems!

24 May 2009

The Humble Century Plant

17th-century botanical print of a humble century plant.

My apologies, dear readers, for being away. I'm afraid I was deep in the Mexican national archives at Tenochtitlan doing Important Research. While there, however, I stumbled upon an artifact for the Cabinet and an interesting tale for my Blog. You can see a photograph of it below. (BTW: Do not fear, friends. I did not contract H1N1, commonly known as the 'pig flu,' during my time south of the border.) 

Strange and unfathomable, is it not? I purchased it off of a blind man on the Plaza de la Constitucion. It is a jar for pulque from the Aztec period, circa 1200-1520 CE. It is in the form of a monkey and is made of onyx marble.

What is pulque, you ask?

Pulque is an alcoholic drink, made from the juice of the maguey. It is a traditional native beverage that is very popular today among la raza cósmica. The maguey is also the plant responsible for the strong liquors Mescal and Tequila, two reasons that don't remember the Spring Break vacation from my Prestigious Undergraduate Institution in '52! The maguey is commercially harvested across Mexico for the production of these alcholic beverages. Nice packaging, eh? I would down a six pack of pulque every afternoon during my three months in the archives. Who says deciphering sixteenth-century Castillian paleography can't be a hoot and a holler?

 A man being attacked by a sentient Century Plant. 
From Elizabeth Visere McGary's An American Girl in Mexico, 1904.

"Pulque! Get ya pulque here!" 
Photochrome print of a pulque store, Tacubaya, Guanajuato, Mexico, c. 1900.

The maguey plant, more commonly known as the "century plant," is a member of the agave family. Despite appearances, it is neither a type of cactus nor able to herbally treat minor burns. Here is a picture (artistic rendering) of the century plant: 

Whoa! Look at how ****ing tall that thing is! That gentleman/lady looks pretty impressed, too. They say everything's bigger in California, though, right?

Even though its name would lead one to believe that the century plant indeed lives for a century, I'm afraid that, just as with the Hundred Years' War (Guerre de Cent Ans), the name is rather inaccurate. Most century plants do not live as long as John Denver co-star George Burns but instead approximate the lifespan of Seattle musician and malcontent Kurt Cobain.

An agave in bloom in Austin, Texas.

It has gray-green leaves up to six feet long, with spiny edges and a large spike at the tip. (That's what she said.) The maguey flowers only once, producing a stalk with big yellow flowers reaching up to twenty-five feet in tall. The century plant dies after flowering. :(

There's two happy endings to this story, though. It produces suckers that grow into their own little magueys. And I'm stone drunk on pulque!!!! Woooohoooo!

Well, more from the Cabinet soon....perhaps about the century plant, or maybe about eighteenth century itinerant book peddlers. 

04 February 2009

The "Encyclopedia" Britannica, Part II

As promised, loyal readers, I have opened the Cabinet back up to tell the rest of my story about the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Let me first mention some of the article titles for the first edition of 1768, the subject of my merry ramble: Bleaching, Fluxions, Horsemanship, Midwifery, and Musick, to name but a few.

One of the founders of Brittanica in 1768 was Andrew Bell, a Scottish gent with a big nose who was four and half feet tall. An engraver of dog collars, Andy did the copperplates for the encyclopedia, many of which were, strangely enough, thin, circular pictures adorned with Scottish terriers.

One of Bell's engravings from the Encyclopedia, for the article "Male Beauty."

George III, King of England, was no fan of these terrier engravings and the Jacobite sympathies they stirred in the hearts of all true Scots. He personally tore out these engravings, in addition to the plates Bell had done of the female pelvis for the article "midwifery," from every copy of the 'pedia.

One man who WAS enamoured of Bell's engravings, and the Britannica itself, was the pretender to George's granddads' (George II's) throne, Bonnie Prince Charlie. Unrelated to the popular musician, Charles Edward Stuart was the Scottish Catholic (and rightful) claimant to the British crown. In 1745, the young Chuck led an invasion of England to restore himself to the crown. Thwarted, Chuck lived on until the 1780s, probably amusing himself with those titilating pelvic drawings.

Charles Stuart the Younger.  What a Bonnie Lad!

Finally, we turn to a man who was neither a king, pretender, engraver, Scot, or an encyclopedia, Samuel Johnson. (Although he would have enjoyed those pelvic copperplates as much as the next eighteenth-century man, I assure you, Sir!) Sam, apart from being an amateur sleuth with his Watson, James Boswell (who was a Scot-where did they all come from?!?) wrote the first classic dictionary in English, A Dictionary of the English Language in which the Words are Deduced from their Originals, and Illustrated in their Different Significations by Examples from the Best Writers to which are Prefixed a History of the Language and an English Grammar, by Samuel Johnson, A.M. in Two Volumes. Surprisingly, his dictionary was longer than that title, and many entries resembled short, biased encyclopedia entries.

Consider this one, for example:

"Biographer, n. - A crazy Scottish Kid who is always trying to get a much older, more mature Gentleman Author and Scholar to have Dinner with him and hang out with him all the Time so he can write down some anecdotal stuff about said Author and make a quick Pound off his Life Story."

Well, we have seem some of the interesting personalities behind, and associated with, the early days of the EB. Perhaps in a future installment of the Cabinet I will take up the later story of the Encyclopedia, including the wondrous and coincidental Eleventh Edition,  from 1911. But for now, I must return to my fireside and make some s'mores for dinner. How me loves them s'mores! Until next time, the Cabinet is closed.

01 January 2009

The "Encyclopedia" Britannica, Part 1

My great apologies for my absence. I have been occupied with matters of a pseudoacademic nature. More on that later.

I would like to relate a story to you that happened some weeks ago. As I spent a quiet New Year's Eve contemplating the vagaries of academicia, intelligentology, knowledgeophilia, and the like, I browsed through my collection of antiquated encyclopedias. After becoming unsatisfied with my 1983 edition of Funk and Wagnall's New Encyclopedia, I found in the Cabinet my long-forgotten copy of the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Published in 1768 in three volumes, it is, in my opinion, the definitive statement of Complete World (British) Knowledge. Actually, its full title is:

Encyclopaedia Britannica; or a Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, Compiled upon a New Plan, in which the Different Sciences and Arts are Digested into Distinct Treatises or Systoms; and the Various Technical Terms, etc., are Explained as They Occur in the Order of the Alpahbet, Illustrated with One Hundred and Sixty Copperplates, by a Society of Gentlemen in Scotland, in Three Volumes.

So catchy! Why don't they have titles like that anymore?

Piqued your curiosity (ha!), haven't I? Well, more is to follow, on such interesting topics as "Copperplates," "Samuel Johnson," "Bonnie Prince Charlie," and other fascinating minutia!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...