Periodical enquiries, facts, and problems regarding antiquarianism, the history of science, etymology, palæography, and other sublunary affairs.
When James I came to the English throne and united the Kingdoms of Scotland and England, he wanted to unite the churches too. But the Scots reformation had run much deeper than the English, which still retained many Catholic customs, so the Scots were wary of any religious practices imported from England. James I backed off as a result, but his son, Charles I, decided to plough ahead with the religious unification. In 1635 Charles issued a warrant declaring his power over the Church of Scotland, including that they would be issued with a new book of liturgy to be read at services.
This new work, The Booke of Common Prayer, was known as Laud’s Liturgy after Charles’s then Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud, but it was actually written by a group of Scottish Bishops. Nonetheless, sour rumours abounded about the new book, which after some delay was commanded by the king to be read for the first time in churches in Scotland on Sunday, 23rd July 1637.
The first reading of Laud’s Liturgy on that day was by the Dean of Edinburgh, John Hanna, at St. Giles’ Cathedral. As legend has it, a woman called Jenny Geddes was at the service sitting on a wooden stool. Jeers came from the crowd when Hanna started to read from the new book, and Jenny picked up her stool and threw it at Hanna’s head, shouting “Deil colic the wame o’ ye! Out thou false thief! Dost thou say the mass at my lug?” (“The devil give a colic to your stomach! Out you false thief! Dare you say the mass at my ear?”). Others joined in with the stool throwing, so that the whole event was later called “The Casting o’ the Stules”, and the Dean and other officials had to flee. Stones were thrown at the Cathedral’s windows, and the streets were chaos.
The significance of what Geddes did is that the rioting that started that day grew, and opposition to the Anglicisation of the Church of Scotland grew with it. The next year, the National Covenant was signed by many Scottish nobleman, known as the Covenanters, railing against Charles I’s power. The Bishops’ War was the next consequence, eventually devolving into the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and the English Civil War. Jenny Geddes’s stool was, therefore, the first act of the revolutionary tumult affecting much of the 17th century. She’s a highly celebrated symbol of Scots independence; there’s even a brass plaque in St. Giles’ commemorating her.
But was there really a Jenny Geddes (or Janet Geddes as she is sometimes called), or is it just legend? And if it’s just legend, how did the legend grow? Historians these days, at least, generally do so dismiss it. In 1949, F. H. Amphlett Micklewright wrote in Notes and Queries that “the famous story of Jenny Geddes and her stool” is now “generally regarded as a legend”. Leo Frank Solt too calls it a “picturesque legend” in his history of the Church and State in Early Modern England (1990). More recently, Donald Campbell wrote quite plainly in his 2003 book on Edinburgh’s cultural and literary history that “As far as can be established from the historical record, there was no one of the name of Janet Geddes in the church that day.”
The evidence from the 17th century, on the other hand, is a lot murkier than these pronouncements might suggest. The first unambiguous reference to Geddes is in 1661. The quote is cited variously as being from a newspaper called Mercurius Caledonius (which had only eleven issues), or a pamphlet called Edinburgh’s joy for His Majesties coronation in England. Though I’ve found the two works listed as separate entries in both an old catalogue and an online essay, it appears that they must be at least connected because quotes from them appear identical, and they’re both variously described as “amusingly told”, “foolish”, and “curious”. Perhaps they both derive from “Reliq. Scot. iv (1660)” that the Dictionary of the Scots Language attributes the quote to. In any case, the piece from the Caledonius, quoted in full by Robert Chambers, describes how “the immortal Jenet Geddis, Princesse of the Trone adventurers” gathered all her “Creels, Basquets, Creepies, Furmes” (baskets, stools, &c.) and set them to the bonfire, to celebrate the return of Charles II to the throne.
Now, why should the same “immortal Jenet Geddis” who threw a stool at the merest whiff of Anglicanism celebrate the return of Charles II? Charles Rogers wondered the same thing in Notes and Queries, 1869, but explained it away with some Victorian pomposity: “One would suppose that an individual who so opposed the royal will in 1637 would not join in wishing ‘the auld Stuarts back’ in 1661. Yet inconsistency largely pertains to poor human nature.” We must concede that the circumstances behind this mention or mentions are lost, but the significance of an early source like this shows that some kind of Geddes legend was established within twenty-five years of the St. Giles’ riot.
She was mentioned again nine years later, in the 5th edition of Sir Richard Baker’s Chronicles (1670). It was (according to Thomas Carlyle, in whose work on Oliver Cromwell the two earliest mentions of Geddes are diligently recorded) prepared by one of the Phillips brothers, who were the nephews of John Milton. It says that when the uproar was made at the Dean, a “Jane or Janet Gaddes (yet living at the writing of this relation), flung a little folding-stool, whereon she sat, at the Dean’s head, saying ‘Out thou false thief! dost thou say the mass at my lug?’”. This shows that Geddes was still thought to be living in 1670, so for a start if this is true she could not have been an “old woman” at the original event as later commentators have said.
One of the next concrete mentions is by Dr Johnson, in Notes upon the Phœnix edition of the Pastoral Letter (1694), where according to Chambers he describes Geddes as a herb-woman and records the event and her phrasing. I’ve been unable to find Johnson’s mention of her myself, but it would be interesting to see if the name by now had changed to “Jenny” from “Janet”.
This is the extent of the clear early references, but there are some unclear older references too. John Maidment published Scottish Pasquils in the 19th century, which were taken from manuscripts of Sir James Balfour (later Lord Lyon) written around 1640. Stanza 11 of one poem, said to be about the St. Giles’ riots, starts “From pupill, pastor, tutor, flocke, / from Gutter Jennie, pupit Jocke”, where Gutter Jennie is said by Maidment to refer to Jenny Geddes. Maybe. Balfour is also, interestingly, supposed to be the author of a pamphlet called Stoneyfield Day (or Stonyfield Day), printed in 1637 about the riot. It’s very rarely mentioned, but amongst those who do mention it is again Chambers in his History of the Rebellions in Scotland (1828). Chambers implies that Geddes only said “Deil colic the wame o’ ye!”, and that the part about the Mass is a conflation of a story in Balfour’s Stoneyfield pamphlet, where he says that a woman smacked a man in the face after the riots for saying “Amen” loudly in her ear. Chambers further states that the conflation “is proved by Mr. Brodie to have originated in an error on the part of Daniel Defoe.” Defoe did indeed write about the matter in a work in 1717, but as we’ve already seen, the “Mass” phrasing is already linked with Geddes by the time it appears in Baker’s Chronicles in 1670! Brodie must therefore be wrong, but if the information in the Stoneyfield pamphlet is a correct and contemporary source, then this pushes the dating of strands of the legend back to the year of the incident itself.
In summary, then, Balfour gives early versions of the legend and possibly even mentions Jenny (not Janet), but all in manuscript and a rare pamphlet that only a couple of people have ever mentioned. The first concrete evidence is of an already famous Janet Geddes celebrating the return of Charles II to the throne, but then the whole legend is in place by 1670, when Janet Geddes is said to still be alive. Utterly confusing.
As if to make matters worse, there are alternative candidates for the name of the stool-propellor. Chambers, again, says that Wodrow’s diary (presumably the diary of Robert Wodrow, 1679–1734) records that it’s the “constantly believed tradition that it was Mrs Mean, wife to John Mean, merchant in Edinburgh, who threw the first stool when the service-book was read in the New Kirk, Edinburgh, 1837”. There is a later legend about one of the Mean family becoming Postmaster General because of Mrs Mean’s patriotics. Furthermore, Henry Guthrie, in Bishop Guthry’s Memoirs (1687), said that the rioting had been instigated by members of the elite recommending to “Eupham Henderson, Bethia and Elspes Craigge”, and several other women, that they should “give the first Affront to the Book”. In other words, a big political conspiracy. This was, however, debunked severely by Thomas M’crie in 1841. It’s been noted that Burnet’s Memoirs of the Dukes of Hamilton were published not long after Guthrie’s, seemingly as a retort claiming that the authorities investigated the matter fully and found there to have been no coördinated instigation.
So we have competing stories, but none of this is earlier than Baker’s Chronicles where the first full version of the legend appears, so it may just be the first accumulations of a mythos. The mythos certainly took off: in the 19th century, the Society of Antiquaries’ Museum at Edinburgh had a folding stool engraved “1565” which they claimed to have been the stool of Jenny Geddes. This was debunked in, for example, Notes and Queries in 1869: “We confess to some misgivings as to the identity of the stool; and from the manner in which it is mentioned in the Catalogue, it is pretty clear that the genuineness of the article is not warranted by the Society.”
There was definitely a huge riot on 23rd July 1637; a 1648 quarto called The Information of the Beginning and Cause of all our Troubles even has an engraving of the event, with people flinging their stools at the Dean. And someone must have started that riot. The early emergence of so many strands of the legend and those curious early mentions and crystalisations of the legend shows that the rôle of Jenny Geddes, or Janet Gaddis, may deserve a much closer look. At the very least, it is easy to debunk such spurious skeptical nonsense as Colin Nicholson produced about the matter in 2002: “It seems that as a symbol of popular resistance to an anglicising king, Geddes was largely an invention of nineteenth-century religious ideologues in search of historic defenders of the Scottish Kirk’s continuing independence.” Whilst the appeal of the legend and its longevity may have something to with this, what greater forces can there be to give the inital shape to such a thing as the Civil War and such unrest of the 17th century? This was no invention of modernity.
Whatever the origins, the legend now forms a gladly indelible part of the fabric of Scottish culture. When the Scots national poet Robert Burns went on a tour of the Borders and Highlands in the late 18th century, for example, he needed a horse upon which to make the journey. He therefore purchased a mare in Edinburgh for the princely sum of “over £4 Sterling”. When once, later, this loving and faithful horse unseated him, Burns wrote that she “trode over me with such cautious reverence, that matters were not so bad as might well have been expected”. And the name that Burns gave his horse? Jenny Geddes.
by Sean B. Palmer, 2007-06-29
Upon which day is it most appropriate to read A Midsummer Night’s Dream? In Shakespeare’s time, midsummer’s day was celebrated on the 24th June. Festivities for such holidays were often held the night before, thinking of days as night-daytide units rather than daytide-night, so the midsummer night pertained to in the title was likely St. John’s Eve, the night of the 23rd June.
But the 24th June isn’t really the middle of summer. The 2007 summer solstice falls on 21st June, at 18:06 UTC. Moreover, the Elizabethan St. John’s Eve was in the Julian calendar and we now use the Gregorian one. The difference in 1595/6 when the play was probably written was ten days, so the 23rd June then was the 3rd July in the proleptic Gregorian calendar—and on the continent, where the Gregorian calendar was already being used. Queen Elizabeth had thought about changing to it, but had been argued out of it.
Since the Julian and Gregorian calendars are now thirteen days out of whack, the Julian St. John’s Eve is on the 6th July, Gregorian. It really depends when you set your calendar to a particular event, since both calendars move about compared to the event. The actual solstice in 1596 was at about 10:48 UTC on 21st June in the proleptic Gregorian calendar, which would have been their local 11th June. They were already celebrating it thirteen days late.
So we already have three possible contemporary reckonings of Shakspeare’s midsummer night. Using the same point in the sun’s cycle it’s the night of 3rd July; using the modern Julian Calendar it’s the night of the 6th July; and using the Gregorian Calendar it’s the night of the 23rd June. To complicate matters further, St. Peter’s Eve on the 29th June was also considered to be part of the midsummer festivities.
Another complicating factor is that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is actually set on the cusp of April and May. As Dr. Johnson put it, “I know not why Shakespear calls this play A Midsummer-Night’s Dream, when he so carefully informs us that it happened on the night preceding May day.” Thus ensued a great discussion across the years that H. Howard Furness recounts in his preface to the Variorum Edition of 1895. The summary is that, like The Winter’s Tale which is actually set in summer, the telling of the tale or the playing of the play itself is for midsummer.
It may, therefore, have been that the play was to be first performed in midsummer. Malone thought so. Steve Sohmer even suggests that the Globe was opened on the solstice in 1599, but suggests also that Julius Cæsar was the most likely play to have been first shown there. The magic in the juxtaposition of setting and playing is that within A Midsummer Night’s Dream itself the world of Theseus is set in May, whereas the world of Oberon can be thought of as set in midsummer, a midsummer madness settling upon the lovers thanks in part to the juice of love-in-idleness.
Citing John Brand’s Popular Antiquities, Furness notes a great similarity between the May and midsummer festivities. Brand also mentions the May Day custom of going out into the woods at night: “On the Calends, or the first Day of May, commonly called May-Day, the juvenile Part of both Sexes, were wont to rise a little after Mid-night, and walk to some neighbouring Wood, accompany’d with Musick and the blowing of Horns; where they break down Branches from the Trees, and adorn them with Nose-gays and Crowns of Flowers. When this is done, they return with their booty home-wards, about the rising of the Sun, and make their Doors and Windows to Triumph in the Flowery Spoil.”
When Demetrius says “Thou toldst me, they were stolne vnto this wood: / And here am I, and wodde, within this wood.” (II.i), he’s punning around with the other sense of the word “wood” (spelled “wodde” in the first quarto, but as spelled in various ways through history) meaning mad. Funnily enough, the OED says that it’s cognate with the Latin and Old Irish words for a poet or seer, which makes the point about the “lunatick, / The louer, and the Poet” (V.i) later on in the play all the sweeter.
There seems to have been a tradition, moreover, of midsummer too being linked with madness, if Olivia’s calling Malvolio’s seeming frenzy in Twelfth Night a very Midsummer madness is anything to go by; something noted by Steevens. The rocking cadences are typical of Shakespeare. Perhaps these particular native woodnotes wild, that Chesterton called “a psychological study, not of a solitary man, but of a spirit that unites mankind”, are fittest to be read any time. But though any time be ripe to bust out the Q1 facsimile, the night closest to the solstice seems like the least mad a time to do so and perhaps, therefore, the most.
by Sean B. Palmer, 2007-06-21
Shakespeare used many mysterious words, words whose meanings are lost to us due most likely to corrupt texts. The best example is probably sessa from the Taming of the Shrew, as it also seems to appear in King Lear as either ‘caese’, ‘cease’, ‘ceas’, or ‘sese’ depending on which passage and version you read. Malone edited them all to ‘sessa!’, and Dr. Johnson wondered if the word was derived from the French ‘cessez’. The OED merely defines it as an “exclamation of uncertain meaning.” Elsewhere in the canon, All’s Well That Ends Well has quatch, The Winter’s Tale has pugging, Romeo and Juliet has skains-mate, and The Tempest has pioned, twilled, and scamel. The scamel, “sometimes I’le get thee young Scamels from the Rocke”, may be the same as the Norfolk dialect word ‘scamell’ for the bar-tailed godwit.
In Hamlet we have, amongst others, the word paiock (from the Second Quarto, Q2; paiocke in the First Folio, F1). It seems that the ‘i’ is the Elizabethan consonantal ‘j’, but apart from that nobody knows anything for sure about it. There are many theories: the OED says it may be a variant of “patchcock” or “patchock”, an apparently pejorative word only ever used by Spenser, or a corruption of “peacock”, though adding that there are five correct spellings of that in F1. Theobald, in 1726, suggests “meacock”, “paddock” or “puttock”. Morehead suggests “baiocco”, an Italian value of roughly three farthings. Warwick, in 1860, suggests “pataikoi”, a base god, or “patacco”, a base coin. Latham, 1869, says “polack”, a Polish person. Tschischwitz in the same year says that it’s from the Polish “pajuk”, “pajok” meaning a doorman. We can go on and on… “padgehawk” is another good suggestion. Wesley was dismissive of the whole thing already by 1790 when he said that the “matter is of no vast importance”.
It is from material surrounding Hamlet, and possibly from Hamlet itself, that I recently found another similar word that has briefly perplexed me. Richard Savage, secretary and librarian of Shakespeare’s Birthplace, published a book in 1910 entitled Shakespearean Extracts from “Edward Pudsey’s Booke” Temp. Q. Elizabeth & K. James I. It was a transcription of manuscript quotes made by Pudsey from various Elizajacobean plays, including one called Irus which Savage thought was a lost Shakespeare play; it’s actually George Chapman’s The Blind Beggar of Alexandria.
One of the plays that Pudsey saw was Hamlet, quoting from it 51 times. Generally the quotes follow Q2 very closely, but there are enough variations to inform us that it was an actual performance that he saw. Perhaps the most striking and informative is “The sunne breedes mag Beautifyed Ladye ‘gotes in a dead dog beeing a good kissing carion ergo &c.”, which follows the textus receptus except for the interpolation of the words “Beautified Ladye” inside the word maggotes. ‘Beautified’ was one of the words that Robert Greene taunted Shakespeare with in his Groatsworth of Wit in 1591, and Shakespeare has Polonius call it a vile word earlier in Hamlet; it’s interesting that the actor, probably Burbage himself, seems to have perhaps ad libbed it here. It may even reflect a more fervid (feigned?) madness in Hamlet.
Another of the variations forms the title of this essay. When Hamlet comes across the wit of the gravedigger, he says, according to Q2 “By the Lord Horatio, this three yeeres I haue tooke note of it, the age is growne so picked, that the toe of the pesant coms so neere the heele of the Courtier he galls his kybe.” But Pudsey records “this age is grown so witty worded”, which I prefer, and which sounds as though it may be from Shakespeare.
The word which so perplexed me also comes from Pudsey’s notes. Rosencrantz says to Hamlet, “My Lord, you once did loue me.” and Hamlet replies “And doe still by these pickers and stealers.” Pudsey notes “by these pickers and stealers scilt hands”. My first thought was that scilt meant “skilled”, with an unvoiced ending, and so stealers would actually be the possessive plural stealers’. But I also felt it possible that it was an annotation by Pudsey to explain to himself that Hamlet meant hands; the line is referring to a piece in the catechism.
The only English contemporary counterpart I found of the word is in the Extracts from the Accounts of the Revels at Court, in the Reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James I (Cunningham, 1842). The entry for Book II, 1573, starts: “The Booke of Charges growen wtin Thoffice of the Queenes Mats Revells aforesaide in One whole yeare scilt.” It was coming up in lots of Latin texts, however, and that was the breakthrough: it’s an abbreviation of the Latin scilicet, meaning “that is”. It seems likely that Pudsey was indeed just jotting a note to himself on this matter. Interpretation of Elizabethan writing can be difficult: it wasn’t until 1968 that ‘dornackes’ and ‘colysenes’ in Philip Henslowe’s diary were deciphered as corruptions of dornick and cullisance, from cognizance or badge, respectively. And where Pudsey gives one puzzle, he solves another: his quote “a moth it is to trouble the mind’s eye” shows that the later modernisation of that word, mote, now almost universally adopted by editors should perhaps be avoided not only for its punless qualities but also for its lack of contemporary stage authority.
My copy of Savage’s book contains a little mystery which is less resolvable. On the inside cover is a faded pencil dedication apparently by the author himself which reads: “Mr W. Jaggard / with the kind regards of / Richard Savage / 26 May 1910”. When I first saw it, the magnitude of the puzzle didn’t sink in because I didn’t absorb the name of the dedicatee; it’s only when I went to research it that it became obvious. W. Jaggard is the name of the printer of the First Folio and other works by Shakespeare. I can’t find any other reference to a W. Jaggard in Savage’s time, though it’s possible that he had a friend by that name that I can’t find a mention of. The person from whom I purchased the book, for £5, mistranscribed the dedication as to “Dr W. Jaggard”, and I don’t believe in any case he would have forged it; it was an absolute bargain even without the dedication, so there was nothing to gain.
Another interesting feature of the book is that the pages are very often fused together, sometimes on the top and the sides together. That makes it very, very difficult to read, though not impossible. If there was a Mr. Jaggard, he seems not to have read it… which means that either it was a rather strange and almost ritualistic dedication by Savage to the well-known printer, an in-joke that we’re missing the details of, or really was added later by a bafflingly inept forger. It seems most likely that it was a touching tribute from Savage to Jaggard for having preserved for us so many of Shakespeare’s words.
by Sean B. Palmer, 2007-04-22
The English philologist Hyde Clarke asked the readers of Notes and Queries in 1855 about the origins of a “peculiar topographical term” manifest in the name “Coney gore; [or] sometimes Coneygre, Conegar, Conegare, Conegarth”. He got two answers, one describing a derivation from the Anglo-Saxon “coning or cyning, a king”, and the other more simply equating it with “rabbit warren”. This latter answer, by S.H. Griffith, was supported by a brief quote from his Common-Place Book that he extracted from a newspaper whose name he fails to mention:
“Part of the site of Lincoln’s Inn formerly bore the name of coney-garth or conigera, and acts of parliament were passed in 8 Edw. IV. and 24 Hen. VIII., by which penalties were imposed on the students of that inn for hunting rabbits or coneys in those fielde, with bow, arrows, or darts.”
The folk etymology of ‘king’ was repeated a few times throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, for example in James C. Walter’s Records of Parishes Round Horncastle in 1904, but thankfully it didn’t take hold. S.J. Chadwick even suggested in 1885 that a Coney Garth field in Mirfield, Yorkshire (near Huddersfield), was a renaming of an earlier “king’s enclosure” that was anyway used as a rabbit’s warren. It’s difficult to follow his reasoning: does he think that the local inhabitants had a “coning garth” and decided that they ought to use it for rabbits because of the name? The persuasive capabilities of names is probably not that strong.
The etymology of ‘garth’, at least, is in both interpretations correct. It’s from the Old Norse garþr, meaning a yard or a fenced area, and most often found combinatorially such as with not only garth but also apple, barn, kirk, minster, willow, and so on. It’s even used as a premodifier in garth-cress, i.e. garden cress, and is still used in the north of England, e.g. by Howard Peach (2003, p.48) in his Curious Tales of Old North Yorkshire.
Correlations sometimes go missed for a long time by science. Nowadays we take so much for granted that meteorites are from meteors: a couple of days ago BBC News reported on the North African meteorite trade that “meteorites are easy to spot in the desert and people will sometimes go in search of them if they see a meteor shower at night.” Yet western science only made the link between stones from the air and meteors in 1803. Perhaps a similar strong correlation may be found between the incidence of the name “coney garth” with the earthworks phenomenon known as pillow mounds.
Pillow mounds are heaped protruberences from the ground that look rather like barrows and are strewn across the English countryside, often being significant enough to be marked on Ordnance Survey maps (at, for example, NY780043). They aren’t all shaped like pillows, with some being cigar-shaped, E-shaped, or other complex arrangements. They range between about 20ft and 100ft long, and some have stone-lined tunnels underneath them. When the phrase “pillow mound” was coined for them in the early 20th century, their origins were still obscure to some. The Antiquaries Journal of 1929 says that “Students of earthworks still find a mystery in these low rectangular mounds found in various parts of the country”, adding that in the north they are known as “giants’ graves”. Others, however, cottoned onto the true tale.
Generally it’s accepted now that pillow mounds were artificial rabbit warrens, to aid the cultivation and farming of rabbits, which are not actually native to Britain. The seeds of this theory were already around in some quarters in 1927, when a commenter in Antiquity said that “Pillow-mounds are now thought in many cases to have been no more than old rabbit warrens.” But the uncertainty remains: in 1981, Richard Muir wrote that “Even the leading experts are unable to decide what all the oblong bumps known as ‘pillow mounds’ were for, though some seem to be medieval rabbit warrens.” More recently, Paul Ashbee in British Archaeology (March 1998) felt the need to qualify the identification of pillow mounds as rabbit warrens with the word “possibly”.
Presumably some pillow mounds are indeed misidentifications of other kinds of mounds, especially barrows, so a more specific term that identifies the use of the earthwork in question would be more clear; “coney mound” being a possible choice. It’ll be difficult to prove which mounds were used for warrening, as even if a warren is still evident it may be incidental to the mound’s actual function. Documentary evidence may be as good a way forward as groundwork.
It’s long been thought that it was the Normans who introduced the rabbit, the Oryctolagus cuniculus, to the British Isles, but an excavation in 2001 of a late Iron Age or early Roman rubbish pit in Lynford, Norfolk, produced remains of a rabbit with butchering marks. Another has been found in Beddingham Roman villa in Sussex with evidence of a Mediterranean origin, pointing to the fact that the Romans may have progressively imported them. Just how common the coney was in Roman times is hard to say, however, and it’s probable that the Normans brought them in much greater numbers. But might the practice of creating pillow mounds date back to the Romans or the post-Romano British period?
As for how long they were in use, Peter Reynolds, in his Iron-Age Farm: The Buster Experiment (1979, p.112) writes that pillow mounds qua artificial rabbit warrens were still being built perhaps as late as the seventeenth century. But perhaps the practice persisted a lot later in some regions. As with the “ich” variant of the first person singular pronoun in English, it may be that deeply rural areas were still using pillow mounds just as antiquarians first started to look into their origins and distribution.
by Sean B. Palmer, 2007-04-18
George Orwell, in his newspaper column of 3rd November 1944, asks about melons. “To the lovers of useless knowledge (and I know there are a lot of them, from the number of letters I always get when I raise any question of this kind) I present a curious little problem arising out of the recent Pelican, Shakespeare’s England. A writer named Fynes Morrison, touring England in 1607, describes melons as growing freely. Andrew Marvell, in a very well-known poem written about fifty years later, also refers to melons. Both references make it appear that the melons grew in the open, and indeed they must have done so if they grew at all. The hot-bed was a recent invention in 1600, and glass-houses, if they existed, must have been a very great rarity. I imagine it would be quite impossible to grow a melon in the open in England nowadays. They are hard enough to grow under glass, whence their price. Fynes Morrison also speaks of grapes growing in large enough quantities to make wine. Is it possible that our climate has changed radically in the last three hundred years? Or was the so-called melon actually a pumpkin?”
This problem is difficult to solve since there was much taxonomical confusion surrounding melons in the 17th century. At least it was the last century that botanists would have to suffer without Linnaeus, who gave the melon its scientific name, Cucumis melo, in 1753. The Cucumis melo at the time that Fynes Morrison wrote was called a muskmelon, and was thought to be related to the cucumber: “doubtless the Muske-Melon is a Kinde of Cucumber”, writes John Gerard in his 1596 New Herball. This bemuddlefraught conviction may be due to the Serpent Melon, a true melon which nevertheless tastes somewhat like a cucumber. The myth that the melon is a kind of cucumber persisted until the 18th century.
So if you told someone in 1600 that you’d grown a melon, what would they picture? Most likely, a pumpkin. J.C. Loudon, in the Encyclopædia of Gardening (1824, 2nd ed.) III, says that the “pumpkin, pumpion, or more correctly, pompion” was the “melon or millon of our early horticulturists, the true melon being formerly distinguished by the name of musk-melon.” In other words Orwell is right that the pumpkin was called a melon in the early 17th century, but this isn’t the end of the story. Here’s the exact quote referred to from Morrison’s Itinerary, Book III, Chapter 3, pp.146–7: “By reason of this temper, Lawrell and Rosemary flourish all Winter, especially in the Southerne parts, and in Summer time England yeelds Abricots plentifull, Muske melons in good quantity, and Figges in some places, all which ripen well, and happily imitate the taste and goodnesse of the same fruites in Italy.”
Morrison mentions the muskmelon (modern melon), not the melon (modern pumpkin). Unfortunately, as this passage demonstrates, if the Itinerary were to be considered a biography of England it would actually be best considered a hagiography as Morrison is trying to extoll the virtue of England over the continent; but nonetheless, his readers would have known whether or not muskmelons grew in England, so we needn’t entirely doubt the facts.
Nor does Morrison say that grapes grow, exactly, but that they did formerly grow, in Gloustershire. And grapes can still be grown in England: there were 350 vineyards in the United Kingdom in 2005, according to the English Wine Producers. The most representative vineyard minimum in England and Wales was when a mere eight were recorded in the 19th century.
In any case, the modern melon was definitely grown in some capacity in England in the early 16th century. The early 20th century botanist Edward L. Sturtevant refers to George Don who wrote that the melon “has been cultivated in England since 1570, but the precice time of its introduction is unknown. It was originally brought to this country from Jamaica, and was, till within the last fifty years, called the musk-melon. The fruit, to be grown to perfection, requires the aid of artificial heat and glass throughout every stage of its culture.” This is from Volume 3 of Don’s General System of Gardening and Botany (1831–8), which ran to four volumes overall but was never completed. The work was later renamed A General History of the Dichlamydeous Plants: dichlamydeous (‘two cloaks’) refers to those flowers which have a calyx and corolla, both of the floral envelopes. A typographical error in the scanned PDF of Sturtevant that I used gives the word as the thetamesised ‘dichladymeous’.
So has the climate changed in three-hundred years, as Orwell posits? Don says that a melon may germinate at 65°F (18°C) but requires 75–80°F (24–27°C) and four months to ripen. This is not entirely unreasonable in contemporary England, and appears not to have been unreasonable in the 17th century, perhaps even without coldframes. It’s true that the Little Ice Age is said to have come to a climax around the time of Morrison’s travels: the Thames first froze over in 1607, and Hendrick Avercamp painted his famous A Scene On the Ice the next year in Holland. But, counterintuitively, the summers were often as hot as the winters cold. Indeed the summer of 1607 was an especially hot, dry summer in London and the south of England.
The art of growing melons was probably in a primitive state anyway. A manuscript from 1525 owned by Thomas Fromond and called Herbys necessary for a gardyn by letter lists the melon, so they existed in England before Don’s 1570 estimate. John Tradescant the Elder was covering melons with “earthen pans” in Canterbury in 1612. The first recorded mention of a hotbed was in 1626 by Sir Francis Bacon, and in 1687 G. T. Scott mentions “melon frames” specifically. Yet in Acetaria (1699), the diarist John Evelyn says of the melon to “Note, That this Fruit was very rarely cultivated in England, so as to bring it to Maturity, till Sir Geo. Gardner came out of Spain. I my self remembring, when an ordinary Melon would have been sold for five or six Shillings.” And since both he and Scott apparently refer to the modern melon, perhaps ‘musk-melon’ fell out of use earlier than is supposed.
by Sean B. Palmer, 2007-04-09
Cumbric is the extinct Celtic language once spoken by the Brythonic people of the English-Scottish borderlands after they were cut off from Wales in the early 7th century. Glanville Price, following a lecture of Kenneth Jackson from 1955, says that there are only three Cumbric words in the documentary records, but a closer look at the evidence shows the situation to be more complicated. Could there be more Cumbric words, and are the three known words really Cumbric themselves?
The three words in question, from Price’s Languages in Britain and Ireland (2000), are “galnes or galnys, which corresponds to Middle Welsh galanas ‘blood-fine’, and mercheta and kelchyn, connected with Welsh merch ‘daughter’ and cylch ‘circuit’ respectively”. They all come from a roughly 11th century Latin text called the Leges inter Brettos et Scotos, and they’re all kinds of fines or taxes, for which there were apparently no equivalent Latin words. The kelchyn was a “fine paid to the kinsmen of a person killed” (DOST), and the mercheta was a “fine paid by a tenant or bondsman to his overlord for the right to give his daughter in marriage” (OED), so essentially a tax.
The etymologies of these terms in the dictionaries are somewhat diverse. The OED considers merchet, its headword for the term, to be from Old Welsh merched, possibly via Anglo-Norman or Latin. For kelchyn, the DOST says “prob. Gael. or ? Welsh” whilst the OED has no etymology at all. For galnes on the other hand, it has a more telling note, saying that it appears only in the phrase cro and galnes; that cro is from Irish (crÃ³) and galnes from Welsh (galanas); and that the juxtaposition of the two is “remarkable”. That’s as much as we get from the insight of the dictionaries.
The phrase cro and galnes is a good continuation point, because it adds cro to the list of Celtic words in early Scottish law; and we can also add enach from the same period and even documents. Though it’s clear that the “cro and galnes” was a kind of fine for murders, with the cro appearing independently elsewhere being payable in cows, it’s not clear whether they were two separate things or one. Etymologically they had, the OED says, the “same meaning”, but had that changed? As Frederic Seebohm wrote in 1902, whether it means “two things or one thing, and if two things, what the distinction between them was, it is not easy to see”. It is just possible that what we have here is a fossil hendiasys, a kind of preservation of two kinds of word for the same thing that got lexicalised into a single component. These are very common in English, for example “hem and haw”, “spick and span”, and “rank and file”. But these words don’t cross languages; did the tentative Cumbric words do so?
Wikipedia notes insightfully that due to the location of the Cumbric speakers, “it is likely that Goidelic and Scandinavian loan-words were incorporated into the language before its demise.” Whilst a single inscrutible cross-Celtic phrase from a few obscure legal documents doesn’t prove that Cumbric had a strong Goidelic influence, it does at least open the possibility. And given that ‘galnes’ always appears with ‘cro’, the probability of fossilisation can’t yet be ruled out.
What of the other words? To etymologise kelchyn (also spelled as kelchin, keichyn, gailchen, or gelchach) to the Welsh cylch or ‘circuit’ may be stretching it. An old article from Antiquity, Vol. LXII, says that it was “perhaps originally a contribution paid when the king went on royal progress through his lands”, hence the tenuous connection to circuit. In modern Welsh, cylchyn means circlet or cirumference. The word ‘celchyn’ appears in Mark Nodine’s Welsh to English dictionary online, but is unglossed; it appears nowhere else so it must be a mistake. John Williams records a striking degredation of the Welsh cylchyn in his Gomer (1854), but links it to church: “Wachter, in his glossary, under the word ‘Kilch,’ calls it a sacred edifice, and quotes a very ancient translation of the Psalms, where the Holy Church is called ‘uns heilich chilcha,’ and proves that the words ‘chrydir altan kilchin’ meant the creed of the old Church. Now ‘Kilchin’ is the Cymric ‘Cylchyn’âa circle.” James Sibbald, in his Chronicle of Scottish Poetry (1802), even tries to link the etymology of kelchyn to the Teutonic ‘gelden’. Nobody really seems to know its etymology, but since the Welsh equivalent of the term is sarhad, it would be redundant in the original language if it is from Welsh.
On enach, some websites, sans any mention themselves of sources so I’ll repeat the favour, give its etymology as the Irish enec-laun or lÃ³g n-enach loosely meaning honour-price. The DOST gives the more concrete “Gael. eineach, cessation of enmity, truce”. A broad term in Irish, it seems to have become desynonymised over time.
So of the five terms, cro, enach, galnes, kelchyn, and merchet, what can we say about their origins? Well, cro and enach appear to be Goidelic Irish Gaelic; galnes and merchet are from Old Brythonic Welsh; and nobody seems to have a clue about kelchyn though to my intuitive faculty and given the link to ‘cylchyn’, even if coincidental, it sounds Welsh. The “remarkable” Goidelic and Brythonic juxtaposition of the words cro and galnes is repeated, it would seem, in the whole micro-vocabulary. It’s difficult enough to say for sure whether Cumbric even existed, how long it was spoken for, and where. But if it did exist, Cumbric may have had a greater Goidelic influence than has been conjectured to date, and perhaps we should even be thinking of a hybrid as mixed as English with its germanic and romance components. Without further evidence, the point is moot.
We do, however, know of at least one other circumstantial fact that may bear on the problem. Shepherds in the valleys of Cumbria have long counted with a Celtic system, such as “yan, tyan, tethera, methera, pimp” from Borrowdale. Old Brythonic and Goidelic numerals were fairly similar, but four and five in Old Welsh were ‘petuar’ and ‘pimp’ and in Old Irish were ‘cethair’ and ‘cóic’. The pimp in the shepherds’ system displays their Brythonicity, and it is the p-branch that the system is almost universally thought to derive from, but the introduction of methera gives a prefix for that number not seen in any other Celtic language, so it might be a unique Cumbric feature.
by Sean B. Palmer, 2007-04-06
In 1802, Edward Howard read a paper in front of the Royal Society stating unequivocally that “certain stony and metalline substances have, at different periods, fallen on the earth.” This was the first time that scientists accepted the existence of meteorites, though they didn’t yet call them that because their origins were, as Howard said, “involved in complete obscurity”. And so began an exciting thirty-one year period of astronomical befuddlement and activity to resolve the situation.
The connection ’twixt the stones in the ground and meteors in the sky was not even fully established yet. It was known that meteors were very high and very fast because Edmond Halley, in 1714, had started a veritable flurry of 18th century calculations made from sightings. But their nature was so inexplicable, especially given their flat trajectory, that any suggested links or provenance were hard to defend. Only Ernst Chladni, in 1794, suggested that they were from outer space.
On 26th April 1803, however, there was a breakthrough. One week later, in a letter dated Bâton d’or (Wallflower Day), Floreal XI as it was in the Calendrier Républicain of France at the time, M. Marais of l’Aigle described that he had seen a fireball that had “hung over the meadow”. It was a meteor with a landed meteorite impact: three thousand stones were said to have fallen, the largest of which weighed about 17lb. The French Home Office dispatched 29 year old Jean Baptiste Biot to investigate, and his report confirmed what Howard had said only the year before, as well as linking the phenomenon of meteors to the stones on the ground.
Though the connection was slowly being made, the stones still didn’t have a distinct name because to do so meant evincing a theory of origin. The first such theoretically grounded name after the l’Aigle event was “meteoric stone”, the earliest use of which I find in a work of 1805: On a Meteoric Stone that fell in the Neighbourhood of Sigena, in Arragon, in 1773, by Professor Proust. Proust was French and the piece was translated. The next year, the French were using the word ‘aérolithe’, in a piece by Thénard called D’un aérolithe tombé dans l’arrondissement d’Alais. This harks to the theory that the stones were made in the atmosphere.
In 1809, a paper by B.G. Sage was translated to English from the original in the Journal de Physique, which contains quite possibly the first ever use of the English word ‘aerolite’ (antedating the 2nd ed. OED by some six years). Yet “meteoric stone” was used for decades past the introduction of the more compact ‘meteorite’, the earliest example of which I can find, antedating the OED again by six years, is from 1818. It’s a light passing mention in a letter from Henry Heuland to a Dr. Bostock, dated 22nd July: “The gentleman through whom I procured these opals, presented to me a very interesting meteorite, not yet described in any work”. The word was probably already current.
There were enough theories by 1810 to require summarisation. Jeremiah Day’s paper of that year called On the Origin of Meteoric Stones provided just such a summary, discussing four main theories: 1) that accretions of gas form in the upper atmosphere and then fall to the earth; 2) that volcanoes violently shoot the matter out; 3) that matter is ejected from the moon; and 4) that they are the falls of “Terrestrial Comets”. Day’s favourite theory is the latter one, that like the sun the earth has its own comets which bounce off of its atmosphere, but he says that it’s not without its difficulties.
The “Terrestrial Comets” theory did, however, stick around. An anonymous article in The Analectic Magazine from a1820 expresses a similar opinion: “This earth is attended not only by the moon, but by numerous satellites of very inferior and various dimensions from one foot to several miles in diameter.” It’s ironic that even though this same author wrote that “the old whim, that sun, moon and stars were made to shine for the exclusive benefit of such vermin as we are, is long since exploded”, the author’s geocentrism was perhaps their biggest hurdle of separation from the truth.
Day’s summary of the theories missed out the early electrical theory. As far back as June 1785, an anonymous writer in the Edinburgh Magazine stated that “the electric origin of meteors is deduced from their connection with the northern lights”. The reasons given are shoddy, including that large meteors consistently seem to come from “the north or north-west quarter of the heavens, and indeed to approach very nearly the present magnetical meridian”. If Day knew of the septentrional theory, it’s perhaps not surprising that he omitted it from his summary.
After Day’s summary, the falls kept occurring. One particularly interesting one within the period was the Chassigny meteorite of the 3rd October 1815. Though at the time it didn’t cause as much discussion as, say, the l’Aigle fall, it was later shown to be a unique find that is now thought to have come from Mars. Its mineral content was named Chassignite, and a second example of it called NWA 2737 was found in Morocco in August 2000.
The resolution of the origin of meteors did not come until the great Leonid meteor shower of 13th November 1833. Henry Smith Williams takes up the story in his History of Science from 1923: “in observing it Professor Denison Olmstead, of Yale, noted that all the stars of the shower appeared to come from a single centre or vanishing-point in the heavens, and that this centre shifted its position with the stars, and hence was not telluric. The full significance of this observation was at once recognized by astronomers; it demonstrated beyond all cavil the cosmical origin of the shooting-stars.”
Ernst Chladni, the German scientist regarded as a “Father of Meteoritics” being the first to suggest that meteors came from outer space, was honoured in 1993 by having the mineral Chladniite named after him. Chladni, who gave up law to become a physicist, was indeed remarkably prescient, having preceded even Guiseppe Piazzi’s discovery of the asteroid belt by seven years.
by Sean B. Palmer, 2007-04-03
When do the seasons start? In England, the common opinion reflected in calendars and the media is that they start with the equinoxes and solstices. But this is neither spatially nor temporally invariant. The cross-quarter days, for example, celebrated in Irish Gaelic as Samhain (starting Winter), Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh, have also been thought of as delimiting the seasons. Wikipedia calls this cross-quarter system the “Traditional reckoning”, and the equinoctial and solstitial system the “Astronomical reckoning”. But it also adds a third way of reckoning the seasons, the more locationalised “Meteorological reckoning”, based on temperatures.
Using temperature seems like a more descriptive way of marking the seasons, and its results fall in the middle of the other two reckonings. The months of January, April, July, and October mark the midpoints of the Meteorological reckoning, but they’re roughly the ends of the Traditional seasons and the beginnings of the Astronomical seasons. Anyway, none of the three systems are really tied to the months themselves: months have no correlation with either the sun or the earth’s climate. So, how do we find out when the seasons can be said to start in the Meteorological reckoning, and what does that tell us?
The MET Office maintains a list of the monthly mean temperatures for Central England dating back to 1659. The average for the twelve months, I’ve ascertained, for 1659 to 2006 is: 3.22, 3.85, 5.3, 7.9, 11.21, 14.32, 15.96, 15.63, 13.32, 9.68, 6.03, and 4.08°C. January and August are the coldest and warmest months, marking midwinter and midsummer in the Meteorological reckoning, but the mildest points are obscure. So I plotted these values on a graph where the X values were the middles of the months, in order to find where the centres of spring and autumn fall. Since you have to round them up, the midmonths fall on the days of the year 16, 46, 75, 106, 136, 167, 197, 228, 259, 289, 320, and 350. The magic average temperature of 9.59°C falls on the 121st and 290th days of the year: the 1st May and the 16th October.
In other words, those are the Meteorological equinoxes. To find the cross days, and thus the start of the Meteorological seasons, we take the average of the low and mean temperatures, and the mean and high temperatures, which are 6.41 and 12.78°C respectively, and find those on the graph. That gives us 28th March (for Spring), 31st May, 19th September, and 11th November. So in the English Meteorological reckoning, Winter and Summer are much longer, 137 and 112 days long, than Spring and Autumn, which last 63 and 53 days.
Of course there are drawbacks to this approach, and my scribbled calculations may be riddled with mistakes. At least you can check them. One of my favourite pieces of scholarship is a footnote in Samuel Schoenbaum’s Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life, regarding the plague: “According to Stow it claimed 10,775 lives (Actually Stow gives 10,675 as his total in his Annales of England , p.1274, but he has incorrectly summed up his own figures.)” Schoenbaum must have resummed Stow’s figures! As well as human error, the graph software that I used didn’t smooth the graph well, but thankfully it did show that the data’s maxima and minima are close to the graphed maxima and minima. Nor did I take account of the changes in climate over time, which would make interesting further study.
But none of this detracts from my point and conclusion that the seasons aren’t as straightforward as we pigeonhole them to be. Even for Britain’s maritime temperate climate, the seasons are as fuzzy and irregular as our calendar is arbitrary. We simplify them in our minds, but that causes us to miss their actual patterns. This is especially bad when we pander to the ‘science’ of the equinoxes and solstices because in fact they’re not even regular themselves: due to the diameter of the sun there is more daytide during the equinoxes than night. And when you look at the meteorological data, as I’ve shown, the picture gets an order of magnitude more complex.
The MET Office records start, I’ve found, coincidentally just eight years after the odd first appearance of the word ‘seasonal’. It’s one of a few antedatings of the word that I found to keep up my current record of antedating my title words. This oldest usage is in the work that John Keats (speaking of his ‘daytide’) called his favourite book, on p.386 of the lengthy medical tome called The Anatomy of Melancholy: “To be Sea-sick first is very good at seasonall times.” Though it was written by Robert Burton in 1621, the catch is that this wording only appears in the 1651 revision; I believe that this revision was made by Burton himself but I can’t refind the source, and since Burton died in 1640 it must at least have been by that date if at all.
The sentence does anyway appear in the earlier versions of the same work, but in a different and telling form, as from p.465 of the original edition: “To be Sea-sicke, first is very good at seasonable times.” So clearly ‘seasonall’ is either a synonym for ‘seasonable’, or merely an interesting compositor’s mistake or invention. The sense of seasonal as a synonym for seasonable does not appear to be in the OED to date.
Another antedating closer to the OED’s current oldest usage by Robert Mudie in 1838 comes in the Magazine of Natural History: “The birds that live constantly with us are the first of the animal creation which are actuated by seasonal changes.” The piece is called the Indicatorial Calendar, and it appears in the Magazine of Natural History (1829, p.99), edited by Edward Charlesworth. The credit is literally to “J.M.”, apparently of Chelsea given the citational style of other entries. This is the first modern use of the word that I can find, unsurprisingly the word of a naturalist.
As well as that, I also found an antedating of Mudie’s own use of the word, in his Botanic Annual for 1832: “Now, as the action of the tree in any one country, in England, for instance, depends on the seasons—is called forth by a certain degree of heat, and rendered quiescent by a certain degree of cold—it follows that, by observing the seasonal aspects of the trees in one country, and knowing the climates of other countries, the habits of trees there may be determined.” This points to yet another method of reckoning the seasons, even more complex than the Meteorological one: that of observing nature’s cumulative progress.
by Sean B. Palmer, 2007-04-02
To find the title of The Idler, Dr. Johnson idled. To find the title of Lo and Behold! was a similar proposition. Somehow I stumbled upon the fact that William Whewell coined the word ‘scientist’ in 1833, leading me to review his work on induction derived from Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum. Later, when I came to think of a title for the work in which to encapsulate the day’s meanderings, I thought about Novum Organum and by free association Charles Fort’s New Lands. That was merely a stepping stone to Fort’s Lo!, which in turn led to that excellent song ycleped: Lo and Behold!
Other titles considered in the interim include Planetomachia, Pheldifares and Ganymedes, Mobled Words, Scrippage, The Rheumatick Planet, Corrigenda Sublunariensis, and Tally Ho! The two mentions of ‘planet’, and one of ‘sublunary’, divulge the fact that this series of periodical essays is a successor to the earlier What Planet is This?, a series of essays at first on no particular subject but eventually honed towards what might be considered a kind of contemporary antiquarianism, often appearing somewhat like an informal one-man version of the Oxford journal Notes and Queries.
The gross and scope, if you’ll forgive the shamelessly borrowed hendiasys, of Lo and Behold! is very similar, as is apparent from the current subtitle, “periodical enquiries, facts, and problems regarding antiquarianism, the history of science, historiology, palæography, and other sublunary affairs”. The method involved is an evolution of the amateur tradition, which is to assay as much as essay.
Another important guiding principle is the idea of vectors over resultants. Exciting and productive figures—Elizajacobean playwrights like Thomas Nashe, impressionists such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and suffragettes like Emily Wilding Davison, for example—were often powered by their bustling, bemuddlefraught times. So we should study the milieux that they contributed to as much as the contributing individuals themselves. This helps to remind us that the process of essay and discovery too is dependent on context, the results being snapshots of a dynamic process. Results mustn’t belie their vectors, because vectors often turn out to be the most valuable aspects.
Beyond that, Lo and Behold! requires little overschematisation. The proper place for a preface is, anyway, in the middle. As I wrote in a previous essay, many books “have three or so prefaces, one for each new edition that comes out, describing the current state of the work, the motivations behind it, and so on. They’re supplementary materials, and yet they’re always jammed in at the front of the book to help explain it beforehand, which is a little phony, like giving away a plot before a mystery novel.”
Given the homage in style and even leitmotif to 18th and 19th century folk of means and letters, it’s happily coincidental that the earliest use of the phrase “Lo and Behold!” itself that I can find is from an a1770 letter with the author’s name dashed out, published in Select Letters (1778) by Hull: “here I was sat down, full of Love and Respect, to write my dearest Friend a dutiful and loving Letter, when lo, and behold! I was made happy by the Receipt of yours”. But the juxtaposition of the words goes back to at least Shakespeare, in A Lover’s Complaint: “And Lo behold these tallents of their heir / With twisted mettle amorously empleacht”. Only a few writers since Shaksepeare, including Herrick and Tennyson, have since impleached (i.e., woven or entwined) the word ‘impleach’ into their works.
The choice of æsthetic style for this work, on the other hand, reaches back past even the Elizabethans. The current decor at the top of the online version is by Albrecht Dürer, from his engraving of the eighth century astronomer and astrologer Masha’allah ibn Atharī for the frontispiece to a 1504 translation of Mashallah’s work into Latin entitled De scientia motus orbis. For the printed version, the malleable plan is to publish Lo and Behold! online chronologically as written, and then bind it according to the seasons in quarterly issues, to themselves be bound into perhaps yearly volumes depending on the overall size.
External submissions are welcome, but it’s most likely that the work will in full or almost in full consist of only one author. No matter; The Idler, to stick to example, had only a dozen essays not by Dr. Johnson, and yet his second essay was a complaint that he had been an author for a whole week without a single submission. “I solicit only the contributions of those who have already devoted themselves to literature, or, without any determinate intention, wander at large through the expanse of life, and wear out the day in hearing at one place what they utter at another.”
The title of this introductory piece is taken from the second volume of a work entitled There and Back Again in Search of Beauty (1853), by James Augustus St. John; its preferatory quote is one that I know well, from Hudibras. The OED says that the word ‘sublunary’ was coined by either Robert Greene or Henry Chettle, in the preface to the Groatsworth of Wit (1592) that contains a famous swipe at Shakespeare. But it’s wrong: the word only appears in a 1617 epistle dedicatory to that work, signed “I.H.” (John Hind? Jasper Heywood?). The OED’s second oldest quote is by Purchas from 1613, but I’ve found an older one from the same year as Shakespeare’s Sonnets: “he is eliuated into the third heauen when hee dreameth of her, and will admit no sublunarie resemblances in his comparisons concerning her”, by W.M. in The Man in the Moone (1609), p.39. I’ve submitted this information to the OED.
As if further indication of what’ll be investigated here is needed, some topics being considered for upcoming elucidation include: ascertaining the seasons, the hedge accentor, dark auroræ, the færy æsthetic, pseudoscientific metrology, the skies over Chassigny, and the provenance of a fact regarding the Calendrier Républicain. In other words, astra, reges, et ignes fatui; whilst there are stars in the skies, a monarch on the throne, and wisps in the fens, there’s always something that needs to be written about!
by Sean B. Palmer, 2007-03-31
For older articles, please see the site contents. To submit material to Lo and Behold! please read the submission guidelines and details. When it becomes available, you may purchase a paper counterpart; see the publications page for more information.© 2007 Sean B. Palmer, inamidst.com