Amazon Deals

New at Amazon

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Wednesday links

It's the birthday of Dr. Samuel Johnson: here's a selection of his excellent insults.

82-year-old shopkeeper fought off a robber by whacking him with her walking stick.



How to Jump from a Moving Train Using Science.

Study of French postmen's testicles - the researchers taped thermometers to men’s testicles to try to work out if both are the same temperature.

ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include the anniversary of the 1814 battle of Baltimore (inspiration for the Star-Spangled Banner), code breakers of Renaissance Venice, Tater Tot history, the guy who collects the mud used to treat every single regulation major league baseball, and how ancient Romans managed to build perfectly straight roads.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Dr. Samuel Johnson was born on this date in 1709: here's a selection of his insults and Scotland-bashing quotes.

September 18 is the anniversary of the birth in 1709 of that quintessential 18th-century curmudgeon Dr. Samuel Johnson (wiki), the literary lion of Georgian London for much of his lifetime (1709-1784). A poet, critic, lexicographer, and wit, Johnson compiled the first respectable English dictionary between 1747 and 1755, following several years of writing critical articles for London magazines such as The Idler.

From The Grub Street Journal (Oct 30, 1732), this cartoon depicts the “literatory,” a sort of publishing factory driven by beasts without artistic inspiration. Such was the perception of Grub Street writers like Johnson and Savage, who did indeed scrape together a living from commissioned writing.
Born in Lichfield the son of a book dealer, Johnson studied at Oxford and ran his own private school - where the actor David Garrick was a student - before removing to London and its literary milieu in 1737. There, in 1763, he met his companion and biographer, the Scot, James Boswell (1740-1795), to whom we owe the recording of most of Johnson's voluminous observations. 

He was no fan of Scotland:

"The noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England!"

I having said that England was obliged to us for gardeners, almost all their gardeners being Scotchmen; Johnson: "Why, Sir, that is because gardening is much more necessary amongst you than with us, which makes so many of your people learn it. It is all gardening with you. Things which grow wild here, must be cultivated with great care in Scotland. Pray now," throwing himself back in his chair, and laughing, "are you ever able to bring the sloe to perfection?"

He would not allow Scotland to derive any credit from Lord Mansfield; for he was educated in England. "Much may be made of a Scotchman, if he be caught young."

"There is in Scotland a diffusion of learning, a certain portion of it widely and thinly spread. A merchant has as much learning as one of their clergy."

"What enemy would invade Scotland, where there is nothing to be got?"

In “The Mitre Tavern” (1880), Samuel Johnson (far right) converses with James Boswell (center) and author Goldsmith. (source)






Asked by a Scot what Johnson thought of Scotland: "That it is a very vile country, to be sure, Sir" "Well, Sir! (replies the Scot, somewhat mortified), God made it." Johnson: "Certainly he did; but we must always remember that he made it for Scotchmen, and comparisons are odious, Mr. S------; but God made hell."

Mr. Arthur Lee mentioned some Scotch who had taken possession of a barren part of America, and wondered why they would choose it. Johnson: "Why, Sir, all barrenness is comparative. The Scotch would not know it to be barren." Boswell: "Come, come, he is flattering the English. you have now been in Scotland, Sir, and say if you did not see meat and drink enough there." Johnson:"Why yes, Sir; meat and drink enough to give the inhabitants sufficient strength to run away from home."

Johnson and Boswell in Edinburgh
"Your country consists of two things, stone and water. There is, indeed, a little earth above the stone in some places, but a very little; and the stone is always appearing. It is like a man in rags; the naked skin is still peeping out."

"A tree might be a show in Scotland as a horse in Venice. At St. Andrews Mr. Boswell found only one, and recommended it to my notice; I told him it was rough and low, or looked as if I thought so. This, said he, is nothing to another a few miles off. I was still less delighted to hear that another tree was not to be seen nearer. Nay, said a gentleman that stood by, I know but of this and that tree in the county."

[Of an inn in Scotland, SJ wrote...] "Of the provisions the negative catalogue was very copious. Here was no meat, no milk, no bread, no eggs, no wine. We did not express much satisfaction."

"He that travels in the Highlands may easily saturate his soul with intelligence, if he will acquiesce in the first account. The highlander gives to every question an answer so prompt and peremptory, that skepticism itself is dared into silence, and the mind sinks before the bold reporter in unresisting credulity; but, if a second question be ventured, it breaks the enchantment; for it is immediately discovered, that what was told so confidently was told at hazard, and that such fearlessness of assertion was either the sport of negligence, or the refuge of ignorance."

1781: Johnson (second from left), other members of "The Club".
(Written by an Irishman) The author of these memoirs will remember, that Johnson one day asked him, 'Have you observed the difference between your own country impudence and Scottish impudence?' The answer being in the negative: 'Then I will tell you,' said Johnson. 'The impudence of an Irishman is the impudence of a fly, that buzzes about you, and you put it away, but it returns again, and flutters and teazes you. The impudence of a Scotsman is the impudence of a leech, that fixes and sucks your blood.' 

Johnson also, of course, had little use for America or Americans:

"Sir, they are a race of convicts, and ought to be thankful for anything we allow them short of hanging."

"To a man of mere animal life, you can urge no argument against going to America, but that it will be some time before he will get the earth to produce. But a man of any intellectual enjoyment will not easily go and immerse himself and his posterity for ages in barbarism."

"I am willing to love all mankind, except an American"

A Blackadder clip on Johnson's Dictionary:


Here's a very well done bio of Johnson by the BBC:


A selection of his legendary insults:

Dr. Johnson in the ante-room of Lord Chesterfield. 
Of Lord Chesterfield:

"This man I thought had been a Lord among wits; but I find, he is only a wit among Lords."

And of Lord Chesterfield's Letters to His Son*:

"They teach the morals of a whore; and the manners of a dancing-master."

Of Thomas Sheridan:

"Why, Sir, Sherry is dull, naturally dull; but it must have taken him a great deal of pains to become what we now see him. Such an excess of stupidity, Sir, is not in nature."

Of the respective merits of the poets Derrick and Smart:

"Sir, there is no settling the point of precedence between a louse and a flea."

Of the criticism of one critic (Edwards) of another (Warburton):

"A fly, Sir, may sting a stately horse and make him wince; but the one is but an insect and the other is a horse still."

Of Lady Macdonald of Sleat:

"...she was as bad as negative badness could be, and stood in the way of what was good; that insipid beauty would not go a great way... and such a woman might be cut out of a cabbage, if there was a skilful artificer."

Of two disputants:

"One has ball without powder; the other powder without ball."

Of a man hired to sit with him during a convalescence:

"The fellow's an idiot; he is as awkward as a turn-spit when first put to the wheel, and as sleepy as a dormouse."

Of James Macpherson:

"He wants to make himself conspicuous. He would tumble in a hogstye, as long as you looked at him and called him to come out."

Of the new rich:

"Sir, they have lost the civility of tradesmen, without acquiring the manners of gentlemen."

Despite his legendary bile, Johnson did remark later in life,

"As I know more of mankind I expect less of them, and am ready to call a man a good man upon easier terms than I was formerly."

* My favorite quote from Lord Chesterfield's Letters to His Son (to his illegitimate son, that is; he (Chesterfield) was trying to raise him (the son) above his (the son's) lowly origins and inferior blood):
"I knew a gentleman, who was so good a manager of his time, that he would not even lose that small portion of it, which the calls of nature obliged him to pass in the necessary-house; but gradually went through all the Latin poets, in those moments. He bought, for example, a common edition of Horace, of which he tore off gradually a couple of pages, carried them with him to that necessary place, read them first, and then sent them down as a sacrifice to Cloacina*: this was so much time fairly gained; and I recommend you to follow his example.

It is better than only doing what you cannot help doing at those moments; and it will made any book, which you shall read in that manner, very present in your mind. Books of science, and of a grave sort, must be read with continuity; but there are very many, and even very useful ones, which may be read with advantage by snatches, and unconnectedly; such are all the good Latin poets, except Virgil in his "Aeneid": and such are most of the modern poets, in which you will find many pieces worth reading, that will not take up above seven or eight minutes."
Attribution for many of the quotes above can be found at the Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page. More on Johnson here and here.

Further reading: 

The definitive source for all things Johnson is, of course Boswell's book The Life of Samuel Johnson


Parts of the text above are adapted from Ed's Quotation of the Day, only available via email - leave your email address in the comments if you'd like to be added to his list. Ed is the author of Hunters and Killers: Volume 1: Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1776 to 1943 and Hunters and Killers: Volume 2: Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1943.

Monday, September 16, 2019

From 1803, the Ottoman Empire's first map of the newly minted United States

Via Slate:

What did the United States look like to observers from the Ottoman Empire (wiki) in 1803? In this map, the newly independent U.S. is labeled “The Country of the English People” (“İngliz Cumhurunun Ülkesi”). The Iroquois Confederacy shows up as well, labeled the “Government of the Six Indian Nations.” Other tribes shown on the map include the Algonquin, Chippewa, Western Sioux (Siyu-yu Garbî), Eastern Sioux (Siyu-yu Şarkî), Black Pawnees (Kara Panis), and White Pawnees (Ak Panis).

Click here for a zoomable version, and/or visit the map's page in the digital collections of the Osher Map Library, University of Southern Maine. 

Click here to embiggen


Related:



More old US maps here.

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is going on strike Update 9/13

As some of you know, Ed and I have a double subscription (12 concerts total) to the BSO at Strathmore.

Update 9/13/19:

BSO musicians reject contract offer, jeopardizing season opening; no further talks scheduled

~ Baltimore Sun

BSO Musicians Say They're Not Performing At Meyerhoff Saturday, Reject Both Contract Offers

~ CBS Baltimore

Even record attendance wouldn't turn around the BSO. Other cities' orchestras show what could.

~ Baltimore Sun

Is It Now A Strike And Not A Lockout? Baltimore Symphony Musicians Reject Both Contract Offers

~ ArtsJournal
_____________________________


Press Statement 9-9-2019

Baltimore Symphony Musicians

September 9, 2019

Baltimore Symphony Management intent on cutting season despite offer of $1 million from generous donors.
At 6:59 pm this evening, BSO management issued a “take it or leave it” offer to the BSO Musicians which will be presented to the orchestra for a vote tomorrow evening. The proposal contained wage and benefit cuts of 20%. The federal mediators proposed an extension of negotiations until close of business Thursday. Management rejected the federal mediators proposal. Musicians then suggested an extension until the close of voting by the membership on this final offer. Management rejected that proposal as well.
The Baltimore Symphony Musicians negotiated in good faith throughout the summer. We organized prominent donors to assist in this process. These generous donors brought $1 million designated specifically for musician compensation to help secure a contract. We want to express appreciation from the bottom of our hearts, to these donors for their unwavering commitment. It is incredibly disheartening that BSO leadership would fail to embrace this offer of help from some of Baltimore’s leading philanthropists.
Where do we go from here? The musicians will continue the fight to preserve our 103-year old institution, which serves the City of Baltimore, the surrounding counties and the State of Maryland. We stand ready and willing to get back to the negotiating table to achieve an agreement that will enable us to continue to attract and retain the highest quality musicians to perform for our audiences.
This is a dark day in the history of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Over the past three months the musicians have each lost over $20,000 in salary, with more to come. This dispute isn’t just about money. It is also about respect, respect for the quality of the musicians on stage, respect for generations of Marylanders who have built this orchestra and for the thousands of people who have bought tickets and have donated to this venerable institution.
Contact: Co-Chairs Baltimore Symphony Musicians
Greg Mulligan (410) 979-0208 opus95gm@gmail.com
Brian Prechtl (410) 935-7322 bprechtl.1962@yahoo.com
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/baltimoresymphonymusicians/                                    

Friday links

September 13 - 14, 1814 is the the anniversary of the battle of Baltimore, inspiration for the Star-Spangled Banner.

The code breakers of Renaissance Venice.


September 14, 1861 was the Night of the Flaming Ballerinas.

How Did the Ancient Romans Manage to Build Perfectly Straight, Ultra Durable Roads?

Mud Maker: The Man Behind MLB's Essential Secret Sauce - the third generation of a family that collects the mud that is used to treat every single regulation major league baseball, roughly 240,000 per season.

ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include strategies for fighting multiple assailants, the accidental invention of the Slinky, glamorous 1920s beach parties, and the anniversary of the Battle of Borodino, on which War and Peace and the 1812 Overture are based.