June 28, 2010

American Notes, Rudyard Kipling

Kipling went through the Territories and States west-to-east, going home the long way from India after he had earned his first fame. The British liked descriptions of America, especially ones that weren't too fond.

Kipling liked parts of the States, mostly the San Francisco women who liked him (he implies that they like him a little too much, or show it too easily, or something); and the enormous salmon in Multnomah. He really, really doesn't like the American tendency to self-praise, whether or not he thinks it justified.

Project Gutenberg, American Notes

So wrote clew.

June 21, 2010

Foreign Mud, Maurice Collis

While Imperial China had a tea monopoly, it was also nearly closed to trade, and may (this is never clear to me) may not actually have wanted much that the West could then manufacture at the prices the West would charge. England was powerfully addicted to tea, and didn't have an infinite supply of the silver (and fur) that China did admit to wanting. Therefore England, through, for, or as the East India Company, grew and processed opium in India and ran an illegal pirate trade into China. By the 1830s, opium was even illegal in England, or mostly so, and both opium and unregistered foreign trade were illegal in China.

So two great empires, with very few interpreters, met in Canton in circumstances that embarassed or angered both of them. The official Chinese stance was still that all foreign nations naturally wanted to pay them tribute. This was not the official British stance, but they were working up to the belief that foreign nations didn't really have the right to have their own laws if it inconvenienced or embarassed anyone English. England sent an eminent and ignorant emissary; Canton had, briefly, an honest and active governor who attempted to stop the opium trade; Jardine maneuvers them into offending each other irreparably. The British navy demonstrates British naval superiority, China is dumbfounded and remarkably ineffectual, soon there is the Anglo-Chinese war that opens China to foreign trade and eventually topples the Ch'ing dynasty.

The Parliamentary debate was nearly the Melian Dialog -- among Palmerston, Macaulay, Gladstone (and lots and lots of other speakers). Everyone admitted, more or less, that the opium trade was wrong; but a sixth of the government revenues depended on it, and besides, the honor of the British flag was at stake, and it was probably the fault of the Chinese anyway. The final vote was comfortingly close, but they voted for war. That's rather a lot of the glory of the British Empire, there; a sixth of the government revenue, the fortunes of great commercial houses, based on an opium trade no-one would actually defend.

Collis himself joined the Civil Service in 1911 and mostly worked in Southeast Asia. This history slides easily from a what-it-was-like introduction moving up the river, to accounts of diplomatic records and terrible meetings. Collis does not want to write the story with a villain. Jardine still comes across as a villain; a lot of the rest of the English as merely fat-headed, though. One odd comment, perhaps directly observed; Collis thinks the two sides failed to take each other seriously because even the translators spoke pidgin, which cannot be taken seriously.

Of the many ironies, one is that the very idea of the British Civil Service seems to be descended from early contact with the mandarinate. Samuel Johnson, in 1738, admires the system in which any official could "advocate a reform or deplore an evil", in which that was regarded as their duty; Johnson further praises the Emperors who "scorn'd to exert their Power in defence of that which they could not support by Argument." By the 1830s, it's not clear that the Emperor has a clue what's going on, because bad news is not allowed to travel upwards. Chinese policy is still not cruel to the foreigners, rather tries to rule like stern loving parents, first frightening and then soothing their clients. Bumptious post-Napoleon England got angry and then pushy in reaction: "They would rather fight for a bad reason than bow before the attempted intimidation of a people for whom they had come to have nothing but an amused contempt."

The only beautiful thing that seems to have come out of the opium trade is the design of the opium clippers, smaller faster sleeker and more profitable than even the tea clippers, the last perfection of sail.

Find in a Library: Foreign Mud, Maurice Collins.

So wrote clew.

June 13, 2010

For All the Tea in China, Sarah Rose

One Robert Fortune, a naturalist and explorer, went on two illegal trips into China to gather tea cuttings, seeds, and workers so that the East India Company could grow good tea in India and break China's monopoly. This required some subterfuge, although not as much as you'd think, as Fortune hired two servants who knew he was travelling illegally but didn't turn him in. It required more science, mostly the newish Wardian cases -- small greenhouses -- in which plants could survive transport by sail through inimical climes. People had been trying to collect global gardens for hundreds of years, but the Wardian case made it possible.

So the East India Company got stronger, China got even weaker, and cheap tea with milk and sugar powered the army and the manufactures of Great Britain, because boiled water with caffeine in it prevents diseases as well as beer and wine do, but leaves workers more effective. All of these are interesting stories, but I think I've read all the parts about everything but Fortune in better versions elsewhere, and one can read Fortune's memoirs themselves online. This is a smooth enough light summary if you're new to the story, but it's not particularly vivid. The discursive bibliography is interesting.

I was surprised to read that Chinese porcelain was packed to protect the tea shipments, and not the other way around; in a museum of the VOOC, the porcelain is buried in tea in tea-chests, but Rose says it lined the hull and provided some waterproofing.

Find in a library: For all the tea in China

Robert Fortune, Two visits to the tea countries of China and the British tea plantations in the Himalaya, available from the UHongKong libraries.

So wrote clew.

March 28, 2010

The Map that Changed the World, Simon Winchester

William Smith was a working man, a largely self-taught surveyor in the enclosures-and-canals era of England. He could not, therefore, travel around the world like Charles Darwin and spend decades afterwards thinking about what he saw; but he was intensely attentive to the rocks his mines and canals cut through, and the fossils in them, so much so that he invented stratigraphy, the science of understanding geology by looking at the layers rocks are laid in. He was most professionally interested in knowing where coal was likely to be, and where canals wouldn't leak.

England seems to be a pretty good place to do this, but still: most people didn't cotton on. No-one else thought of mapping the geology of Britain, the whole thing!, by dint of travelling across just about all of it personally, taking notes and samples. Several people admired the map that resulted enough to plagiarize it, though; because Smith was not gentle, and not suave, he had a long bad stretch of life in which no-one arranged reward or payment or even interesting work for him. (He gets a patron before he dies, though.) Grand formal English science was half built on excluding outsiders (n.b.; how did Humphry Davy wedge himself in? Faint ties to gentility and friends in the Friends, looks like).

Find in a Library: The Map that Changed the World

So wrote clew.

January 16, 2010

The Voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin

Of course this is mostly about the biology Darwin observed on his trip; it is absolutely amazing how much he observed -- geology nearly at its birth, fluid mechanics and its use by organisms to eat and disperse, the variation of species... but also all the people he met. It is profoundly obvious that he was of the egalitarian, liberal Wedgewood temperament. He admires the dashing horsemen of South America, but only when their gallantry extends to middle-aged native women; he is furious at the exclusion of a talanted black officer in a nowhere in the grasslands.

Also, when learning to use the bolas, he brings down the horse he's riding at the time.

Project Gutenberg file#944, The Voyage of the Beagle

So wrote clew.

The Afghan Wars, 1839-42 and 1878-80, Archibald Forbes

There must be a book explaining how the last couple wars in Afghanistan were unlike the previous ones, but it might be short. I'm sure it would get reviewed in Foreign Affairs, though; 'this time it will work.'

Project Gutenberg file#8428, The Afghan Wars

So wrote clew.

September 27, 2009

Tournament of Shadows, Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac

"The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia"; from the 1830s to the moving present. I can't begin to summarize this, as it's an enormous thick book which is, itself, nearly a summary.

It's entertaining, as anything with the First Afghan War and the 1857 Mutiny, Madame Blavatsky and Younghusband and 'Kim' Philby ought to be. It has rhythm, derived from the repetitions and revenges of Central Asian politics. It's still, exhaustingly, relevant.

Find in a Library: Tournament of Shadows

So wrote clew.

'The best way to make a small fortune...'

'...is to start with a large one' that you've borrowed. The Splendid Pauper certainly did, well-dressed and well-fed to the end of his days, despite borrowing so much and so unfruitfully from his friends and family and own children that he was nicknamed 'Mortal Ruin', after his actual name Moreton Frewen.

He was high Victorian gentry, the uncle of the eventual Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a second son; and his plans to make big fortunes ranged over the US (cattle ranching, silver mining, currency reform), Canada (cattle ranching, developing a new city), South Africa (mining), Kenya (land-grab colonialism), India (financial interest in proving corruption in other people's mines), Australia (mining). He was physically tough, reasonably kindly, not exactly financially honest but not nearly as much a scammer as some of his famous peers, clearly golden-tongued, well-connected, lucky in his marriage, and not even stupid about the schemes he was investing in; but he didn't make up with persistence and thrift for the capital he lacked, so the plans that did come to fruit made fortunes for other people.

His biographer winds up the story by arguing that Frewen was trapped by his emotional connection to a gentry that made its money from agriculture, when English agriculture was becoming a money-sink rather than a source of wealth. Still, some people made the jump from the old connections to the new money, and Frewen had more chances than most. His children had pretty good lives, the ones that survived the wars, and at least one of the houses stayed in the family until the twenty-first century.

The Hills at Home is fiction, the first of three novels, about a New England family down on its upper crusts, retreating to the family home pour mieux sauter. It's charming for its review of many irritatingly self-absorbed people, irritating each other; and fun in a flashy movie way for the family wealth they casually ruin to make themselves feel better (chipping the Ming vases, dragging the fur coat in the mud), and fun because they do rebound, they make clever connections and pull in favors and turn out to be more ruthless than feckless and the family fortunes bend upwards again.

If you actually found yourself near anyone like any of these people, historical or fictional, the safest plan would clearly be to attend one delightful dinner -- with your wallet left at home -- and never see them again.

Find in a Library: The Splendid Pauper

Find in a Library: The Hills at Home

So wrote clew.

November 11, 2008

The Log School-House on the Colombia, Hezekiah Butterworth

Butterworth actually visited Seattle - talked to Yesler, Denney [sic], and to "Old Angeline" Seattle; and still he shows the local tribes with feathered war-bonnets and tipis. Apparently there was only a little stretch in the mind of an 1890 Bostonian.

All his goal was to show the glory of the mission work that brought the Oregon Territory into the United States; the blurring of religious and economic conversion is pretty dire, especially since we were really fighting with England. I can't even comment on the lackadaisical acceptance that a successful missionary might convert the natives but not mind that obviously they're all going to die because of colonization. The other world is better for me but not for thee, etc. And even then people would say so:

"As a missionary," said the old hunter, "you would teach the Indians truth; as a pioneer, you would bring colonies here to rob them of their lands and rights. I can respect the missionary, but not the pioneer. See the happiness of all these tribal families. Benjamin is right—Mrs. Woods has no business here."

Mrs. Woods defends herself on the grounds that she works, and to my sorrow no-one points out that the Indians work nor suggests that she pioneer on the inherited estate of an East Coaster who doesn't... Consciousness-raising is not enough; the past knew what it was doing, so I suspect knowledge won't do good by itself in the present either.

It was already obvious that the US wanted the Sound as a gateway to trade with the Far East.

The story is clunky, and full of painful dialect from poor Mrs. Woods and a lot of article-free imagery from the 'noble savages'. Strangely, the final violence of the locals is prevented not by Christian prayer, but by a German immigrant girl playing Traumerei on her violin. I know Jacques Barzun, for instance, was greived that high aesthetic culture had not guaranteed high moral culture in Germany; but I'm always a little surprised when I run across the old belief that it would.

I was delighted when I realized that this is a multi-media work. On the left-hand page, '...then the Traumerei lifted its spirit-wings of music on the air'; on the right:

Sheet music for Traumerei

And, since many nineteenth-century readers were fluent in written music as well, they would have heard the strains.

I am indebted to the Project Gutenberg HTML version of the book which not only has the scans of the music in the right place, but will play it as a MIDI file for those of us who aren't sufficiently skilled, and have translated it into Lilypond! I started this blog entry a couple years ago, didn't get the scan right, moved away from the Seattle Public Library that has the book in the stacks, and only just discovered that it's now available online to all.

Find in a Library/OCLC/Worldcat:The Log School-House on the Columbia; or the Project Gutenberg HTML version with dubious illustrations and music and all, The Log School-House on the Columbia.

So wrote clew.

May 22, 2007

Masters of the English Novel, Richard Burton

Burton writes about his favorite novelists as though they were everyone's favorite novelists. This isn't very useful if you haven't read the works in question -- Sterne, Richardson, Scott, just down to Trollope and Stevenson. By modern standards, I don't think it's criticism at all; there is authorial intent and there's hardly any theory.

However, SF&F fans might enjoy his discussion of how Romance, in the old sense of the fantastic, the heroic, the otherworldly, was displaced by its much younger sibling Realism. He doesn't dislike Realism, but -- as is not at all surprising, in Richard Burton -- his heart is clearly with Romance.

The Novel seems to have been the special literary instrument in the eighteenth century for the propagation of altruism; here lies its deepest significance. It was a baptism which promised great things for the lusty young form.
We are now ready for a fair working definition of the modern Novel. It means a study of contemporary society with an implied sympathetic interest, and, it may be added, with special reference to love as a motor force, simply because love it is which binds together human beings in their social relations.
This aim sets off the Novel in contrast with past fiction which exhibits a free admixture of myth and marvel, of creatures human, demi-human and supernatural, with all time or no time for the enactment of its events. The modern story puts its note of emphasis upon character that is contemporary and average; and thus makes a democratic appeal against that older appeal which, dealing with exceptional personages--kings, leaders, allegorical abstractions--is naturally aristocratic.

Project Gutenberg etext #12736: Masters of the English Novel

So wrote clew.

April 27, 2007

The End of Barbary Terror, Frederick C. Leiner

Subtitle: America's 1815 War against the Pirates of North Africa

This is a ripping adventure story about a heroic Navy attacking a slaving nation; and a rather less straightforward diplomatic story about why it was that particular navy, and that particular kind of slavery; and underlying it is, possibly, something illuminating about international commerce in the time.

The adventure story will be, I think already is, a comfort and example to pro-war parties in the United States. The Barbary Terror were a few city-states, Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, Morocco, on the south coast of the Mediterranean, which made their living by piracy: they attacked commerce from practically any nation and either ransomed their captives or sold them as slaves. The richer trading nations, especially Britain and for a while the U.S., paid annual tribute for exemption; this probably increased their trading advantage overall. The pirate nations were technically Ottoman subjects, although I get the impression that the Sublime Porte denied any inconvenient responsibility.

The U.S., under a series of more-or-less official envoys (it was a long round trip for letters from the States: our diplomats seem to have made use of this everywhere), became outraged by the capture of a US trading vessel, strengthened our navy, and destroyed Algiers. Bombed it out. Caught the Algerian navy, sailed up to the guns under the city walls, and beat them both until the dey surrendered their traditional right to commit piracy.

So far heroic; and the U.S. disgust at Britain's willingness to pay tribute sounds good, too. Also, of course, the U.S. and Britain had hardly finished the War of 1812. The complicated bit is that this was the middle of the end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and Britain was using persuasion and armed force to stop it (the Napoleonic wars are involved, and the British navy attacked Algiers in 1816); but slavery was still legal in British territories (query: but not GB itself?) as well as in the U.S. In toto, the efforts of the U.S. and U.K. to end slavery might be about equal at this point.

It is striking that each nation is endeavoring to end slavery in the other's backyard, which is not offhand the obvious strategy. All other nations seem to have assumed that the shopkeeping Anglos were simply plotting for own commercial success; this is not unbelievable for our mercantile nations. I'm pretty curious about whether direct trade through the Mediterranean was significant for U.S. commerce; a connection to India? To the silk road? To markets for materials?

There was considerable argument over whether Britain had any excuse to complain about black slavery before ending white slavery. Leiner seems reasonably convinced by this argument, calling the whole campaign "a way station in the gradual evolution of Western thinking that regarded all slavery as abhorrent", and citing Benjamin Franklin's point that white people attacking white slavery but enjoying black slavery is hypocritical. But it seems to me that Leiner is making a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. This reminds me of the bitter arguments played out in the footnotes to Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; his critics complain that he didn't give Christianity credit for being incompatible with slavery, and therefore ending it in the Roman Empire; his defenders laconically remarked that Gibbon was an active opponent of slavery under the uncontestedly Christian government of his day. Leiner's second elision is treating U.S. politics as unitary when it was and is obviously divided on this point. Franklin and his political descendants were not in charge. Going far overseas to end white slavery, while benefiting from black slavery at home, probably made slavery worse because it made it a racial, not merely economic, condition; essentialist, rather than random. We are still paying for the belief that some of our people deserved to live and die slaves.

Find in a Library: The End of Barbary Terror

So wrote clew.

April 07, 2006

The Professor and the Madman, Simon Winchester

The collaboration of the Professor (and first editor of the Oxford English Dictionary) and the Madman (also murderer, Civil War surgeon, and important volunteer for the OED) make a nice little story. Winchester fills in details of that little story which connect it to much else in history. I particularly like the light touch of the connections; Winchester is satisfied to point out coincidences or explain the context, the contemporaneous feeling, in historical connections, without writing as though he had found the puppet-strings of history.

One of the contexts was the interest of Irish regiments in fighting for the Union in the Civil War; on top of the crabs-in-a-bucket competition between the Irish and blacks, many in the Irish regiments were practicing warfare in order to throw the English out of Ireland.

Another was the unprovable-but-obvious connection between the English desire to make a Dictionary of their language, and the rise of science, with its new ability to define some things precisely.

Find in a Library

So wrote clew.

November 05, 2005

History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 4, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, et al., eds.

And probably no class of women have been such sticklers for the cultivation of all woman's modest, unassuming home duties as have been the great, ambitious teachers on this suffrage platform....
But this will not be the training of the girl of the future. It is not the sort of preparation to which the boy of the present is urged. "Jack of all trades, good at none" is the old epithet bestowed upon a man who thus diffuses his energies. You do not expect a distinguished lawyer to clean his own clothes, a doctor to groom his horse, a teacher to take care of the schoolhouse furnace, a preacher to half-sole his shoes. This would be illogical, and men are nothing if not logical. Yet a woman who enters upon any line of achievement is invariably hampered, for at least the early years, with the inbred desire to add to the labor of her profession all the so-called feminine duties, which, fulfilled to-day, are yet to be done to-morrow, which bring to her neither comfort, gain nor reputation, and which by their perpetual demand diminish her powers for a higher quality of work....
Everywhere there is too much housekeeping. It is not economy of time or money for every little family of moderate means to undertake alone the expensive and wearing routine. The married woman of the future will be set free by co-operative methods, half the families on a square, perhaps, enjoying one luxurious, well-appointed dining-room with expenses divided pro rata. In many other ways housekeeping will be simplified. Homes have no longer room for people--they are consecrated to things. Parlors and bedrooms are full of the cheap and incongruous or expensive and harmonious belongings of a junk shop. Plush gods hold the fort. All the average house needs to make it a museum is the sign, "Hands off."...
The girl of the future will select her own avocation and take her own training for it. If she be a houseworker, and many will prefer to be, she will be so valuable in that line as to command much respect and good wages. If she be an architect, a jeweler, an electrical engineer, she will not rob a cook by mutilating a dinner, or a dressmaker by amateur cutting and sewing, or a milliner by creating her own bonnet. The house helper will not be incompetent, because the development and training of woman for her best and truest work will have extended to her also, and she will do housework because she loves it and is better adapted to it than to any other employment. She will preside in the kitchen with skill and science.
The service girl of the future will be paid perhaps double or treble her present wages, with wholesome food, a cheerful room, an opportunity to see an occasional cousin and some leisure for recreation. At present this would be ruinous, and why? Because too frequently the family has but one producer. The wife, herself a consumer, produces more consumers. Daughters grow up around a man like lilies of the field, which toil not, neither do they spin. Every member of every family in the future will be a producer of some kind and in some degree.

Lo; we may or may not still be the Victorians but we're certainly still having their arguments.

That was from "the address of Mrs. Ruth C.D. Havens (D.C.) on The Girl of the Future"; the previous extract was a Just-So story, not overtly evo-socio-bio-psych but identifiably of the breed, explaining that the 'protective' duties of Man towards Woman were a result of Woman having left off her original tigress-like warring first, because her inventions of production and trade, as well as her biological investment in the young, showed War up as a bad deal.

This volume is going through Distributed Proofreaders, will show up on Project Gutenberg in due time.

So wrote clew.

October 13, 2005

Darwin's Plots, Gillian Beer

Turns out I can't read this (excellent) summary of how Victorian literary language shaped, and was shaped by, Darwin's ideas and prose right now. I need to read too many science papers on ecophys and other evolutionary forces, and I can't read them while teasing apart their language for the inheritances from storytelling that Beer brings out so elegantly. The points of view are too close in their subject, and too far apart in their object.

One of the points early in the book is that Charles Darwin himself had difficulty finding language that didn't imply planning and intent where he didn't mean to imply it.

I recommend it to anyone who likes Victorian writers, though, especially late Victorian writers. I especially liked the connections to the Symbolists and the proto-Freudians and the general teeming, interconnected density of the Vicky view. Coleridge, Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, all the gang.

I suspect that George Eliot's intersection with Darwinian themes was more austere and systematic, but I only skimmed the chapter on it.

Find in a Library

So wrote clew.

August 26, 2005

Axel's Castle, Edmund Wilson

Well, how embarrassing. I think I thought about some of Wilson's analysis of Symbolist literature, but I only remember the parts that agreed with suspicions I already had. Principally I'm comforted that The Remembrance of Things Past wasn't going to get less depressing than Swann's Way and that all the people were in fact self-defeating in more or less morally unpleasant ways. I'll happily forgo the technical skill of Proust's dying world; if I want to be in it I'd rather visit, say, the jolly brothers Goncourt.

And second recognition; T. S. Eliot goes all high-church & his verse turns into iffy Yeats.

The chapter on Gertrude Stein is unusually convincing in its argument that she's unreadable but fundamentally important, like the Velvet Underground I suppose; and the one on James Joyce is fun because it was written during Finnegans Wake's original serialized publication. Wilson is not so overcome by Joyce's method. There are publications devoted to Joyce and hypertext, though there seems to be no hypertext of FW or U; famously the surviving holder of copyright is "a Joyce not a Joycean", so there probably won't be, either. Pity.

Axel of the eponymous Castle sounds a totally unreadable pile and madly seductive to the touchy young: like The Fountainhead or The Flame of Araby. Castles! Cryptonomicon-sized piles of gold! gorgeous young Rosicrucian aristocrats who fall in love while trying to kill each other, only Axel persuades her to an immediate joint suicide because even for them no life could be as good as their fantasies... It's really just as well I didn't come across this at fourteen. To my surprise, Axel isn't online; not on Project Gutenberg, not at the Online Books Page. There are hard copies, some in what sound like lovely nineteenth-c. editions, what with Symbolists enjoying the decorative arts. The author Villiers de l'Isle-Adam (count de, etc.), is all biographized and everything.

There's a nice bit about the importance of sleep to the Symbolists, both as a naturally Symbolist realm and a suitably lethargic revolt against the demands of the modern world. It might cross Rosicrucianism, too; The Pagan Dream of the Renaissance mentioned that some esoteric adepts regarded sleep as a mystic art, one with which they could see or do what they could not waking.

With that in mind, I was dubious of Wilson's closing paragraph, which is largely a defense of the Symbolists' dreaming retreat into "things that are dying—the whole belle-lettristic tradition of Renaissance culture perhaps, compelled to specialize more and more, more and more driven in on itself, as industrialism and democratic education have come to press it closer and closer&mdash" Well, but the whole tradition includes the parts that did and the parts that didn't have science and democracy as their descendants. Not that there's a clear line between those parts, any more than The Metaphysical Club could lay out distinct parentage for modern political alliances. I get massively annoyed by accounts that assume the only 'real' or interesting part of the past was the part most like us (e.g., The System of the World) and on nearly the same principle am annoyed by accounts that assume that the only 'good' or interesting part of the past is the part we've given up.

Find in a Library

So wrote clew.

August 22, 2005

The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America, Louis Menand

It's tempting to read this history of several score influential American thinkers, active from the Civil War to the New Deal and the Espionage Act, as allegories of current politics; certainly there's not much new in politics and the rhetoric is reused. It is not immediately useful to read it so. The ideas and interests were allied in ways they aren't now, as in the Dartmouth case, for example, p. 240 and following. The Epilogue is readable on its own, either as a summary or as a bridge from its period to the politics of the twentieth century.

The variable alliance of a principle is itself one of the large philosophical ideas fought over by the subjects of the book. I'm terrible at philosophy, so I probably still don't understand pragmatism, but what I got is that pragmatism is the belief that the principles on which we act are chosen more by their results than by our abstract beliefs. Or perhaps, that the principles we think we have aren't the ones we really have, and our real ones tend to be more practical.

The vivid example from early in The Metaphysical Club is of divided sentiment, but undivided loyalty, in our Civil War; one man in particular was long remembered by Oliver Wendell Holmes and his friends for being, by nature, a Cavalier, more sympathetic to the style and maybe the principles of the South than of the Federals; but he fought with his Boston friends and with courage that could not be surpassed by a martyr in a chosen cause. Holmes, according to Menand, derived his pragmatism partly to explain this.

Chewing this over, maybe the connection between this and the everday use of 'pragmatic' is that a pragmatic person, if faced with a dilemma, picks one horn to attack; someone of a more Hamlet temperament commits mutually confounding actions, or none. There's still much I don't get, though. Near the end, Menand sums it up as "we know we're right before we know why we're right" (p. 353), but how do we square that with our memories of sometimes being plump wrong?

Swedenborg appears, causing religious conversion instead of science-fiction, which is surely contingent on era: the father of William James and Henry James reported "some damnèd shape squatting invisible to me... raying out from his fetid personality influences fatal to life." (p.82). This is called a 'vastation', than which H. P. Lovecraft could have done no better. Other guest appearances: Leibniz' monads (p. 270); gravity as something that evolved by natural selection (p. 278), a concept that made less sense without the many-worlds hypothesis; Dewey vs. Plato (p. 361), Dewey holding that ideas are instruments, like hands or forks, not anything pertaining to the Ideal.

As a historical group, the pragmatists seem to have been good at ameliorating problems but not at changing the underlying system. The Civil War had been enough of the latter. Jane Addams is in this crowd, with others from How Women Saved the City, and I don't know who fed more bodies or changed more laws while arguing that all the important change was done in personal beliefs. This non-radical-ness comes up most clearly in their weak reactions to the race problem. Holmes could fight for the Union but not for universal suffrage, and his intellectual descent was insufficient support for the Civil Rights movement. P. 441:

The great movement to secure civil liberties in the United States during the Cold War arose out ofa religious community, black Southern Baptists, and it was founded on the belief that every individual has an inalienable right to those freedoms by virtue of being human—precisely the individualism that Holmes and Dewey felt they needed to discredity

On the other hand, though Menand doesn't quite say so, the residual habits of the pragmatists may have kept the Cold War from going everywhere Hot. As I say, a good system for ameliorating problems.

There are two connected sub-themes I'm not even trying to summarize, one on the science of race (Agassiz, Boas) and the other on the development of academic freedom and university structure in the US. The "educational organicism" (p. 248) reminded me tangentially of an excellent essay on education by Dorothy Sayers; each come to conclusions they share with other people but they build on contradictory axioms.

Find in a Library

So wrote clew.

June 16, 2005

Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire, David Cannadine

In four words, empire gets you hats. That's the argument made by the pictures; there are some stupendous hats. (There is a Girl Genius Jagermonster joke about hats; but they couldn't outdo the real hats.)

The argument in words is more of a counter to the exploded view that the Empire was a work of virtue, incidentally profitable; and the more current view that it was a work of racism, incidentally profitable. Cannadine argues that the people in charge were reinforcing, or less successfully introducing, societies that looked like their vanishing ideal of England; theatrically hierarchical, romantically rural. They ranked a 'well-bred' foreigner well above a 'low' native Englishman. There are several telling direct quotes, my favorite being the Prince of Wales forcing the crown prince of Germany to give precedence to King Kalakaua of Hawaii. I like this best for two bitter reasons. One, it's not clear the Prince of Wales himself was expected to give precedence (as host, or merely as the more powerful?); a summary of what this politics did to all the lowly. The other is that Victoria's Daughters predisposed me to suspect Queen Victoria's family politics of snubbing Kaiser Billy into starting WWI. It's like searching through a Rube Goldberg drawing for the candle and the half-scorched string.

The details are interesting as the background to Victorian literature, economy, and politics; for the scale and wealth of the British Raj; for hints at how this reified fantasy of pre-Industrial pageantry damped the fires of Industry's imposition. It's easy to scorn the stiff people painted in their funny hats, and quoted saying such rude things, but I was uncomfortably convinced that triple-decker fantasy sagas are the popular descendants of the Durbar pageant and the Kenya villa.

I would have liked much more explanation of why the English masses went along; they clearly didn't like many of the effects on their position. Seduced by tea and sugar, weakened by wage competition? Not powerful enough to do anything anyway? Everyone who really objected moved to a Commonwealth country and subjugated the natives? Some of each?

I greatly liked the final Recessional third about the limitations of Carradine's own interpretation, and the end of the empire, and the incomplete view of it all he had as a child.

ISBN: 0195146603

So wrote clew.

May 22, 2005

How Women Saved the City, Daphne Spain

A dozen threads of US history cross here, and Spain keeps them competently aligned. I'd enjoy a book of more reckless assertions as to what caused what, but this careful one would have to be written anyway.

Threads: the Woman Question; good government; architecture; volunteerism, especially the US strain; racism, ditto; immigration; urbanization; de-urbanization; religion; urban planning. Dear me, that's only ten threads, but the Woman Question here is wound up of at least three.

The city saved women while women saved the city. In the late nineteenth century, US habits were fracturing. More and more women had jobs and educations; work flooding into the city off the farm; the cities were jammed with immigrants. The world barely knew how to build for such dense crowds of people. City governments were weak or laissez-faire or outright corrupt; they weren't always trying to build physical infrastructure, let alone the social service network that would keep immigrants and refugees from remaining an immiserated class. Some of the movement was of black citizens, out of the rural South, and the immiserated classes were played against each other.

These fractures aligned and into them women drove a lever that shifted the whole mass. Many respectable young women had to support themselves, and arrangements for their living in the city had to be made. Also, women were going to work, including well-off women who did not work for pay: as Dr. Harriet Clisby wrote,

women who wanted to escape the "immense imprisonment of life which was stifling them" (p. 187).

Some of them avoided direct competition with men by doing the work men left undone. Finally, in a brilliant ideological feint, they combined these two things by phrasing the whole project of making cities livable as housekeeping and mothering. Many a leaflet accepted, sweetly, that women had their proper sphere; but made clear that the sphere was considerably larger than one family home. The home could not be kept safe and clean until the city was safe and clean.

If that argument didn't take, there were theological ones:

Settlement workers... were among the first to identify it [urban poverty] as a systemic problem rather than a personal failing. ...the Social Gospel defined poverty as a public issue warranting institutional reform... Thus the Social Gospel strongly justified women's work outside the home. (p. 63)

The YMCA, the Salvation Army, and the NAACP all grew in this era and worked on these problems. The YMCA of course built huge, complicated domiciles in the cities, which were homes to many poorish working women and must have been fascinating work for the women running them. I love the floorplans; the Cleveland YMCA headquarters had an interior gymnasium with a running track, as well as a library, classrooms for millinery and bookkeeping and more, and of course bedrooms offices dining-hall and chapel.

And in other places there were precedents; the last clean, well-drained Cities Beautiful had been Roman. I hadn't previously thought about the logical association of classical style with public, everyday, mens sana in corpore sano construction, but I should have, even if they didn't combine baths and libraries:

New York City's [public] baths were huge, with one hundred showers (and fewer tubs). They were modeled on Roman public baths with classical pilasters, columns, arches, and cornices. (p. 132)

The settlement houses didn't survive in their own names, largely because so many of their functions were absorbed into city government (and subsequently run by professionalized men). The settlements were houses for college women living in some of the tougher poor neighborhoods, with the intent of improving the lot of the neighborhoods by living among them and sharing knowledge, rather than going among them and granting bounty. (Certainly some of this knowledge was useful-connection knowledge, e.g. how to shame the city into collecting street trash.) The most famous of these was Hull House; Jane Addams' Twenty Years at Hull House is at Project Gutenberg. Hull House itself is mostly gone. Spain has some rather trenchant comments on how many of these practical donation-funded buildings were destroyed as unimportant, despite having been 'firsts' of many kinds - often the first public libraries or baths, for instance, only later supplanted by Carnegie or city edifices that spent some of their money on famous architects. She calls the humbler works 'vernacular architecture', referring to John Brinckerhoff Jackson's 'vernacular space', always shared.

The women's clubs are less famous now, but I think they were more accepted then. A hundred years ago many nice respectable quiet wives and mothers were also clubwomen, that is, member's of women's clubs, and some of them may have played bridge all day but some of them built refuges for unwed mothers. Spain's book doesn't talk about them much; it seems to me that they intentionally fluttered under the radar and looked harmless at all times. Seattlites might remember that the Harvard Exit movie house is in a building originally built for a women's club; surviving members are occasionally interviewed, and they usually come off as not feminists but precursors of feminists.

Clubwomen might have been more likely to talk about the City Beautiful than to agitate for labor rights, for instance, but in doing so they served as infiltrators rather than shock troops. It wasn't all cornices; that City needed to start with paving the streets. (Somewhere in here is a contemporaneous remark assuming that the mess of overhead wires will, of course, be buried as city development catches up with technological change. Oops; we haven't gotten there yet.) Urban planning became a feminine concern because the lack of air and water was unclean and unhealthy, the lack of schools unfitting, the lack of playgrounds unwise. No-one needed playgrounds when rich children lived in parks and farms and poor ones worked; city parks and playgrounds had to be retrofitted into corners. They were ambitiously designed, with sandboxes and educational vegetable gardens. They were also segregated by race and often by gender, and not separate-but-equal.

The failure of these various movements to attack racism is depressing. The Salvation Army might have done the most of the white-founded groups; it was originally English. Various branches of groups that theoretically worked for all poor people refused to work for blacks, and the ideology of sweet womanhood didn't stretch to cover it. The schools and colleges built by black women are all the more heroic, and there were decent exceptions, but it's a repeated failure of principle elsewhere. There's an awfully familiar ring to some of it, the seemingly irreducible residuum of underpaid, necessary, labor in the reproduction of labor. Nannie Helen Burroughs, who was not willing to save only the 'talented tenth',

advocated the unionization of domestics because "the women voters will be keen to see that laws are passed that will give eight hours a day to women in other industries, but they will oppose any movement that will, in the end, prevent them from keeping their cooks and house servants in the kitchen twelve or fifteen hours a day." (p. 164)

On the other hand, the Social Gospel was reliably willing to stand up with organized labor and worker's rights, as they were then being developed; and there were scientists and utopians reducing the required effort. Some had read Edward Bellamy, and were probably planning neighborhood cafeterias (how old is deli?); others built the Rumford Kitchen with the science of Home Ec.

The June 2005 Heifer International newsletter, World Ark, that arrived as I was reading this has a review of How to Change the World, by David Bornstein, which is apparently about the rise of nonprofit entrepreneurial

"citizen sector" and the tremendous growth of nonprofits that are tackling social problems that government or business have failed to solve or even address. (p. 25)

After a volume on the comprehensive invention of social-goods institutions a hundred years ago, this didn't sound all that new, but the big change is that the ideology then was female Virtue, Religion, and Cleanliness; and now the ideology is Entrepreneurship. The substances overlap constantly, since they're attacking similar problems, but the metaphors are tremendously different. It's probable that there are insoluble contradictions in the new hopeful ideology, too, but I expect there's a generation of work to be extracted from it first.

ISBN: 0816635315

So wrote clew.

May 01, 2005

Hetty, Charles Slack

Subtitle: The Genius and Madness of America's First Female Tycoon

There probably is a great psychological drama in Hetty Green's life. She's famous for making an extraordinary amount of money as a Robber Baron, and for being an ill-dressed and peculiar miser. Her marriage was odd. Her parenting was very odd. She probably did love her family, but her miserliness was cruel to them.

She was also a woman of rock-ribbed New England manners, so she didn't leave a lot of personal information. Slack is sticking to biography, not 'novelization', so there's a fair amount of perhapsing and hypothesis. I don't find this satisfying. There might be a great adventure story left in the financial records of her swashbuckling empire, but Slack only adumbrates, he doesn't lead us through it.

ISBN: 006054256X

So wrote clew.

February 25, 2005

London Labour and the London Poor, Vol.2, Henry Mayhew

In some trial works near the metropolis sewer water was applied to land, on the condition that the value of half the extra crop should be taken as payment. The dressings were only single dressings. The officer making the valuation reported, that there was at the least one sack of wheat and one load of straw per acre extra from its application on one breadth of land; in another, full one quarter of wheat more, and one load of straw extra per acre. (p. 415)

This followed by a description, precise to the names of streets and ponds, of where the sewers of London were going to be constructed. I think many of the neighborhoods were among London's good ones, at the time of construction, which is rather a reminder of the stench in which mid-Victorian luxury must have lived. The poor south side of the Thames had less political pull and naturally worse drainage, and as this book was being written plans for its sewerage were incomplete.

The civil engineers are not much named, which is a pity, as they had bold hearts: the size and fall of the system was great enough that one major line was to go over the river Lea, while another went forty-seven feet under the river at the same place; eventually the lower was to be pumped up to meet the first (two steam-engines were needed, so three were specified) and... well, not applied to agriculture:

"the level of the inverts of the parallel sewers will be eight feet below high-water mark, and here it is intended to collect the sewage into a reservoir during the flood-tide, and discharge the same with the ebb-tide immediately after high-water; and, as it is estimated that the reservoir will be completely emptied during the first three hours of the ebb, it may be safely anticipated that no portion of the sewage will be returned, with the flood-tide, to within the bounds of the metropolis."

Mayhew does optimistically point out that since all the refuse will be collected in one place, it could the more easily be sold if a market for it was finally established.

No link or citation; I picked this up proofreading at Distributed Proofreaders. Eventually the result will be available at Project Gutenberg, but it's a large book in small type and isn't going through the system very quickly...

There is a decent chance that WorldCat can find you a copy in a local library.

February 19, 2005

The Great Hedge of India, Roy Moxham

This is a hunting-through-libraries story, and a lost-history story, and it's all about a hedge (though not, alas, really a hedgerow), and there's useful medical knowledge in it and supporting evidence for one of the nastier indictments of imperialism. I am disposed to like any of these, and the parts were put together featly and neatly. It's a tremendous shame that the book doesn't have more pictures, but Roy Moxham keeps a website which does.

The story is Ozymandish; the successive British powers in what are now India and Pakistan extended the occasional salt taxes of previous regimes to a profitable and murderous degree. They couldn't afford to build a wall between the salt-bearing and salt-lacking regions, but they ran extensive patrols and eventually built a hedge 2,300 miles long, broken by customs forts. The hedge lasted for at least a decade (the tax much longer) but then vanishes from the records. Moxham came across a reference by chance and spent years of spare time in London archives looking for the evidence of where it had been. He did find it mapped. Apparently one of the lessons is that 12,000 men and some vast funds were not really very large, in the scale of the records of India.

He also went several times to look for the remains of the hedge itself. This is a good hook for a travel story, as the search for the hedge could cover (on foot)a transect of India, especially the less-rebuilt parts; and requires talking to the village elders, a few of whom remembered the hedge, but mostly not. It's gone. The right-of-way was used for roads; where the right-of-way was lost, the fields are ploughed; much of it was dry thorn woven across desert; and the species involved aren't especially long-lived. (This last is a sad surprise for enthusiasts of temperate hedgerows, which are so long-lived that 'Hooper's Rule' is a useful estimate of a hedgerow's age in centuries.)

The wonder of the Internet, and of amiable fellow enthusiasts, and of public-domain books, has also turned up an aside of a few paragraphs in an autobiographical account of the 1857 'Mutiny': in a night-ride between forts, the strange light on the horizon is the Customs hedge, burning. Well, no wonder it was gone so quickly.

The tax lasted long enough for Gandhi's peaceful revolutionaries to defy it, of course. Moxham did another round of research on the salt tax; a little bit on the public-power-for-private-gain that encouraged the English to extend it, some on the collusion of the rich in India who preferred the salt tax to an equal-income sugar tax, which wouldn't have hurt the poor as much. There were certainly people in India and England objecting strenuously to the tax and its cruelty, who left estimates of the damage it was doing. There's an interesting medical digression on how much salt we need and what happens when you don't have enough. There's not a lot of evidence on the first, except in the logistic plans of armies; but salt loss is one of the ways dehydration kills you, and we do know something about that. Thing one, you don't crave salt when you need it; your body keeps losing water to maintain your salinity, sometimes through nausea and diarrhea. Very probably death from salt loss was sometimes mistaken for infectious disease; certainly each made the other more lethal. Thing two, one of the main symptoms is listlessness. One doubts the tax was intended to make the poor apathetic, but one also doubts that the apathy wasn't useful to the taxers.

The other unbearable salt tax was in France, the famous gabelle; as in India, it was so expensive that peasants in some regions couldn't give their animals salt licks, which only made their farms poorer. Some communes successfully revolted against it, but it lasted off and on until 1946.

As a gloomy convergence, the French salt tax seems to have started as a national (war-funding) tax and then been captured and farmed for private profit; the East India Company picked up the idea in their private-enterprise stage, and the British Empire ran with it.

I don't seem to have summarized Late Victorian Holocausts, by Mike Davis. Davis and Moxham cover similar ground for the famines in India during British rule, Moxham with less intent to pin down blame but nearly as much success. To summarize the former, it was repeatedly the practice of England to conquer/buy up enough of a nation to put wholly on the market systems that had been mixed; say, mixed market, subsistence, religious, and (feudal) welfare food systems. In fat years, this was not too hard to impose, as most people profited from (e.g.) a train system that took spare harvests to the ports for sale. In lean years, the harvests still went to the ports, millions upon millions of people starved in the lanes, pestilence followed famine, and at the end the merchants and capitalists owned most of the land. This happened over and over. There were apologists explaining that the savages would be even worse off without exposure to market forces: the historical evidence that this is not so is pretty strong: water-systems and granaries were systematically encouraged to fail by people who could profit in good or bad markets.

Davis' book has two strong connections to current political debates, because not only does it describe a vicious use of globalized trade, but the first lethal force was always terrible weather; usually ENSO wierdness that caused flood or drought or both. Farming requires predictable weather even more than it requires any particular weather, something that makes it difficult for me to be sanguine about even mild predictions of climate change.

ISBN: 1841192600

December 19, 2004

Victorian Houses, N. Rena Goff, ed.

Subtitle: House Plans, Model Homes & House Articles from Harper's, Scribner's, Godey's Lady's, &c. 1850-1900.

The first floorplan shown points up the pre-industrial condition of labor being cheaper than material:

This neat little dwelling contains only one large room or kitchen, a; a small bed-room, b; and a store closet, c. The servant is supposed to sleep in the kitchen [...]

The servant's bed takes up probably a fifth of the kitchen; the 'small bed-room' is barely twice the size of its bed. Saved on heating, I'm sure.

Were the readers of Godey's Lady's Book building small cottages for themselves, or their servants; or looking at plans for them to increase by contrast the pleasure in "A Small Villa, For A Gentleman Much Attached to Gardening"?

It is nice to have the context for Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1860s articles on rational, honorable, domestic industry, the Christian rescue of woman's profession. Clearly doomed, basically; the intermediate article on thrift, with its daily rations costed out to the penny (onions by the bushel, a Philharmonic and library subscription, servant hire; no annual budget attempted at the servant's wage) is soon drowned out by contrivances to keep up with the Joneses while decrying the (inaccessible and ) overelaborate Jones-Smiths.

The Beecher & Stowe article does fore-run Ikea, etc., by its cunning double-use furniture allowing a family to live a respectable Victorian life in a house of two rooms and a connecting kitchen. I wonder if actual people ever had a piano and two conservatories before building a bedroom with a door. If so, no wonder they wanted a sliding storage wall to screen off the bed, though I can't believe that pasting ornamental paper on it ever made it look better than makeshift.

ISBN: 0971733716

November 20, 2004

Jacquard's Web, James Essinger

Bruce Sterling divides technology into string and glue, doesn't he? String is older. Information technology was first a child of string (some children were lost).

Most people who care already know that the Jacquard loom used punch cards to store the amazingly complex patterns of fashionable brocade and damask cloth; Essinger can only stretch that out into a few chapters, mostly related to the economic importance of cloth, because not a lot is known about Jacquard's life and what is mostly comes before his inventing. The rest of the book is about the currently-more-interesting descent of computing, of which Jacquard's looms were parents twice: once to part of Babbage's machines, d.s.p., again to telegraphic paper tape, most fruitfully to Hollerith's punchcards. Hollerith was related to a weaver/industrialist who used Jacquard looms.

Quite a lot of this book is devoted to the history of I.B.M., descended mostly from Hollerith's company but also some others, including one that made cheese-slicers... Remington Rand is a more suitable example, since it was a powerful maker of typewriters partly from its experience in making sewing-machines, which required speed, precision and enough reliability to run without a dedicated maintenance team. It's not actually very surprising that clothing should have several times impelled a technological leap. It's a tempting use of capital, since so much money is spent on it at all times, and the standards are high; really good handwork is still better at some things than what machines can do. If the next industrial revolution is 'mass customization', it will probably start in clothes again. I hope so, because it's an offense to aesthetics that so many people have so many clothes that don't really fit.

I wonder if Hollerith's cards were the first time data lived naturally in a database. It's an error-inviting pain to fill out even a two-dimensional table by hand, let alone a deeper one.

It's a pity that information never went from cloth back into the machines; I imagine it as long-term storage: punch the cards until the design is right, weave a reference sample, and when the cards wear out unweave the sample through a machine that generates cards from cloth: then save the first weaving from those cards as the new reference. This wouldn't be a good idea, since punching more cards from cards is easy.

I also wonder where Jacquard got the idea for punched cards. (Or where one Falcon, who built the first but worse punchcard loom got it, if Jacquard got the idea from Falcon.) I have a Theory, actually; bobbin-lace patterns. Bobbin-lace was as expensive and slow to make as brocade, and the patterns changed with fashion much faster than one person could make up a suit of lace. Complicated patterns require pinholes punched into stiff card, which give a skilled lacemaker enough direction to make up the pattern. Middlemen made up many many cards corresponding to small pieces of a fashionable pattern and handed them out to lacemakers as they picked up the finished pieces from the last pattern. It would have been important that the patterns lined up well to be invisibly sewn together, although the threads did not weave from one piece into the next. I think there must have been a lot of these cards around, especially in a town as devoted to luxury clothing as Lyons was. It's still a big intellectual jump to switch from a human feeling with a pin to know where thread-crossing should go, to a machine that always crosses in the same places feeling a card to decide whether a crossing should happen; but it would explain why sheaves of punched cards 'looked like' information storage.

Online glossaries give 'lace cards' as a synonym for punchcards, but they also sometimes suggest that that only refers to a card with all possible holes punched out, giving it a resemblance to simple lace. On the other hand, that resemblance would provide an easy false etymology.

I can't find an online picture of how the early automatic lacemaking machines work, although Nottingham has a promising history of mostly-Nottingham lace machine inventions; the Jacquard idea came in after decades of improving knitting-frames to approximate the action of lace-twisting.

ISBN: 0192805770

September 02, 2004

The Cute and the Cool, Gary Cross

Cross picks three contradictions out of the twentieth century structure of life, family, and childrearing, and pretty neatly shows how they reinforce each other. When technology pushed productive work out of the home, the home was represented as a sacred place, free of the unpleasantnesses of work. Women got to be the Angel in the House, and children even more so: children were angels still shining from heaven. Consumerism and advertising were rising at the same time, and they found steady profit in selling to the sense of 'childlike wonder', the untrained, therefore innocent, therefore all-deserving desire of the very young. Adults who are supposed to divide their lives between unpleasant work and the goblin-market joys of consumerism are, first, easy marks for buying their children 'real joy', and second, eager to coddle their own 'inner children', who were never as happy as the ads say they deserved to have been.

One of the problems this papers over is that childish innocence has two strong meanings; not just the 'wondrous innocence' that should get what it wants, but 'sheltered innocence' that needs to be protected. These are incompatible views, and they call out political divides between adults who have different sticking-points about what children absolutely have to be protected from. But "for the children" is a nearly untouchable political argument, the only claim strong enough to counter the ideology of the free market. Therefore it gets used more than it could support even if it weren't weakened by incommensurable beliefs regarding children's 'true natures'.

And finally, since children grow up and don't want to be tiny rois faineants forever, children turn wide-eyed cute into eyebrow-raised cool, which their parents experience as a betrayal. Great for the marketers, though, as it gives them a whole new segment.

All the above is my summary of Cross' argument, which is laid out with a lot more historical example. The evolutions of Christmas, of candy advertising, and especially of Halloween considerably strengthen his points. Halloween went from unpleasant but undangerous mumming, to cute kids and their candy, to a marker of fear; Cross points out that it is at least a little strange that parents would feel safer taking their children to the mall for trick-or-treating than letting them visit their neighbors. Little could be more telling about the decline of community trust than this. Finally, Halloween is becoming a grown-up party with drink and naughty costumes, the squares' Mardi Gras.

I don't think Cross and I share many political viewpoints, but he seemed grudgingly fair when describing 'my' side's views.

ISBN: 0195156668

August 31, 2004

A Calculating People, Patricia Cline Cohen

Subtitle: The Spread of Numeracy in Early America

The spread of numeracy is reasonably interesting if you're interested in economic history, or in how skills travel between "rote skills" and trade schools, and "knowledge" and liberal schooling. Reckoning was a practical, even embarrassingly practical, skill for hundreds of years of the rise of commerce; the first colonialists weren't especially numerate, since the Puritans believed in theological studies instead, and the tobacco planters were above such petty things. (I overstate.)

Some people found argument by number irresistible as soon as it was imaginable, though; for instance, the Virginia Company got into a long brangle over how many of its colonists had died, and of what. Also, of course, the rise of the organized state and of mercantilism paid for surveying, muster-lists, etc. Reckoning became a strength of the state. Around this time the rhetorical claim that women couldn't do arithmetic was swept under the rug in the interest of hiring math teachers out of a cheap labor supply.

My favorite chapter is on the Census of 1840, though, and most of that is about an error in the census, probably exacerbated by difficult form design, which followed a decade of brangling in the courts and had results that probably lasted through Jim Crow.

The most controversial "finding" was that the black population of the North appeared to be beset with epidemic rates of insanity, which suggested to some that "science," as revealed by tables of figures, had proved freedom to be detrimental to blacks.

By 1840 physicists had learned that you can't carry out chains of calculations on bad data and get good results; but most number-enthusiasts apparently started with the belief that a number, however arrived at, had more credibility than words. Sir William Petty, for instance, was more precise than accurate.

What was measured by the 1840 census was already skewed by interest. The age groups for blacks and whites were different, possibly to preclude comparing mortality. Insanity was to be measured to judge outlay for the support of dependents, employment was measured in more categories than the 1820 census had needed, the president wanted to know about military pensioners, education and literacy took up another several columns.

Each schedule contained seventy-four columns, with headings in microscopic type printed across the tops of two pages.

It would be only mildly interesting if a complex form had produced randomly untrustworthy data; but this one probably invited a particular error. Because the error was pleasant to racists, it became a popular claim even though it was inconsistent with the rest of the data in the same census, and was often explicitly disprovable.

So Jarvis checked for internal consistency and was mortified to find that many of the towns reported to harbor insane blacks in fact had no black population at all! A study of the printed statistics of other northern states turned up the same pattern...
...individual assistant marshals had indeed entered digits in the columns for "insane and idiot" blacks in families where there were no blacks.

This Jarvis, who was a member of both the American Statistical Association and of the Massachusetts Medical Society, worked out with his colleagues that it was common in the North for "insane or idiot" white family members to be listed in the column for black family members. The Census had already gone through a conflict, or even scandal, over who had the right to print it; and the printer Weaver made an excellent front for the political interest, i.e. John C. Calhoun, who wanted to use the results. Much I'm-rubber-you're-glue was printed, and I would guess that most of the country was already tired of the whole issue. Jarvis got no traction.

Cohen consulted the manuscript returns on microfilm, and has a theory as to why the error was systematic:

Suppose, then, that a certain number of senile whites were considered idiots in the common parlance but not insane; suppose that some fraction of them were entered in the column for insane and idiot blacks merely because the word "idiot" was not prominent in the section for whites, while the word "colored" was not prominent in the section for blacks. It stands to reason, then, that a series of ratios comparing insane blacks to the total black population would exhibit an interesting gradient from North to South and from East to West, because there was an excess of elderly people in the East and a deficiency of black people—the denominator of the ratio—in the North. In regions with large black populations, such as the South, the small numbers of errors recording senile whites would fade into insignificance.

Parallells to ballot design and climate data crunching are an exercise for the reader.

Genealogists use census data, so if you're willing to pay a modest sum, you can buy online access to images (of the microfilms of?) the census returns. Where the data is available as a database, I haven't found the categories relevant to this error listed at all. It looks as though many large libraries have the censuses in microfilm, at least the local censuses; but I admit I'm probably not going to hunt down an actual image of an inconsistent return, having failed to find one online.

ISBN: 0226112845

May 17, 2004

The Warden, Anthony Trollope

Every time I read this, I'm surprised that no-one in The Warden proposes to extend Hiram's bequest to more of the poor of Barchester.

The plot revolves around a medieval bequest, leaving land and the income from it to support twelve poor old men, two nice buildings for them, and one clergyman in charge. In the succeeding centuries the town has grown, and the land is now providing urban rents, not cow-pasturage. The increased profit has all been absorbed by the clerical position, which is now somewhere between very comfortable and a luxurious sinecure. (Henry George's motives become clear.) Several scandals of the kind were current in the day, sometimes involving startling wealth paid to a clergyman who didn't do any of the work of his cure. Trollope leaves those cases to novelists of sentiment and sensation; the Warden of this novel is a mild, absentminded but inarguably good man, and the meat of the story—as I see it—is how the habits of Church and society have made it easy for a good and generous man to profit hugely without thinking about who profits less; and how less good and absentminded men stand behind his virtue as behind a scrim and defend their less loving behavior (and greater profits) in the name of his virtue as well as the Church's honor.

Trollope is more inclined to honor money and rank and tradition; I think he means it when he writes that no-one can walk through various calm and elegant gardens and not think it fitting that bishops should be rich.

Trollope accordingly has most of the indigents in the hospital fire up with the hope that they'll get a 'hundred pounds a-year' as their share of the flourishing bequest. I don't really see that twelve virtuous indigents deserve it less than one virtuous precentor, but their cupidity is clearly thought both comical and ungrateful in their time.

(In the next novel, Parliament amends the bequest to build a second hospital for twelve indigent old women, who get slightly less per day than the men do; and provides for a matron for the women's side, who gets £70 a-year; this halves the Warden's income to more than £400 a-year, not counting the value of his lovely house. Parliament had read the sentimental and sensational novels, one assumes, but wasn't radical about it.)

Project Gutenberg text #619

March 01, 2004

Behind the Bungalow, EHA

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master; Abraham Lincoln. Behind the Bungalow is a humorous description of all the kinds of servant available to someone in the British administration of India in the, oh, mid-1800s. All of them are all flaws, they're flawed from birth, their flaws are petty, their religions and scholarship are petty, their poverty is laughable... I quit three-fifths of the way through the book. The subject was so corrosive to EHA's civility and fairness that I was afraid it would be corrosive to mine.

A "two kinds of people" dichotomy: one kind naturally mocks people with less power, and the other naturally mocks people with more. (Some are reckless enough to mock everyone, and I've known two or three people who had senses of humor but were so kindly, or good-mannered, that they never mocked anyone but themselves.)

Gutenberg etext 7953

December 17, 2003

The Ladies' Hand Book of Fancy and Ornamental Work, Florence Hartley, R. L. Shep, ed.

Boy howdy, are the domestic decorations in this book hideous, for instance the Hour Glass Candle Stand on p. 21. There are also more makeshifts in technique than I expected - glue and ink to edge and back things, for instance. Probably my expectations are off because it's the fully fashioned doo-dahs that lasted long enough for me to see them.

Some of the patterns given might be useful in the way the Dover Publications art books are, and most of the text specifies material and color for each item, which is mildly historically interesting. Some of the techniques are explained well enough to learn without other example, esp. the point-lace stitches; I don't know about the tatting, netting, and crochet instructions.

There were engravings designed for Potichomanie - goodness, it really was the sticker industry of its day.

My favorite oddity is the firescreen of wings:

Fire screens composed of the wings of pheasants, or other game, are both pretty and useful; and when hung at the fireside, below the bell pull, form a nice addition to the decorations of a drawing-room. The wings must be cut off when the bird is fresh killed, and as near the body as possible; being careful not to ruffle the feathers.

Unfortunately it goes on to stretch the wings out as straight as possible, and then iron them flat, which sounds much less attractive than a wing with a bit of the wing's original grace left in it.

Patchwork quilt patterns are given, simple regular ones like Nine-patch; the author doesn't like silk patchwork, unless the silk really is scraps.

There is, in this State, an institution for the reformation of girls who have been imprisoned for some crime; they are taught to sew neatly, and each one is allowed to exercise for her taste and ingenuity in the manufacture of a patch work quilt, which she is allowed to take away with her when she leaves. I have seen one hundred and fifty beds in this institution, each covered with a different pattern of patchwork quilt; some very tasteful and pretty, others not.

ISBN: 0-914046-13-6

November 25, 2003

The Book of Household Management, Isabella Beeton

Distributed Proofreading and Project Gutenberg have provided a plain-text version of this classic of mid-Victorian domestic competence and social uneasiness. As its title-page now says,


Comprising Information for the





She argues that domestic comfort has commercial competition¹, and therefore a housewife needs to be even more competent than in the past. The details of what a good under house maid should do were probably pored over by the women who couldn't afford a housemaid at all.

Possibly because Mrs. Beeton wasn't brought up a housewife, she researched and wrote a compendium that isn't just full of detail and instruction but is usefully laid out, sort of like an O'Reilly Nutshell handbook - it starts with an Analytical Index, with pointers given not by page-number but by section-number. I suspect this made it easier to collate and update. (It was certainly easier to adapt to the plain-text version, which is just as well - the layout was complex; sidebars, inline illos., different type sizes and faces².)

This is a wonderfully informative book if you read nineteenth-century literature. It has, for instance, a table of the usual yearly wages for two dozen servant's jobs, with or without particular benefits and expectations[21]; the legal standing of the I.O.U., and which feints to disavow one would or wouldn't stand in court[2723]; a summary of the fiscal responsibility of a woman in and out of marriage[2725]; details of what outer garments a lady sheds during what kinds of courtesy calls[27]; recipes for cleaning cloth[2267], mending china[2331], preserving food[822]; and historical side-notes and jokes, so that Bay-leaves have one culinary entry warning about use and overuse[180], but another that begins with a recipe for a fish sauce[512] and ends with a poetic essay:

THE BAY.--We have already described (see No. 180) the difference between the cherry-laurel (_Prunus Laurus cerasus_) and the classic laurel (_Laurus nobilis_), the former only being used for culinary purposes. The latter beautiful evergreen was consecrated by the ancients to priests and heroes, and used in their sacrifices. "A crown of bay" was the earnestly-desired reward for great enterprises, and for the display of uncommon genius in oratory or writing. It was more particularly sacred to Apollo, because, according to the fable, the nymph Daphne was changed into a laurel-tree. The ancients believed, too, that the laurel had the power of communicating the gift of prophecy, as well as poetic genius; and, when they wished to procure pleasant dreams, would place a sprig under the pillow of their bed. It was the symbol, too, of victory, and it was thought that the laurel could never be struck by lightning. From this word comes that of "laureate;" Alfred Tennyson being the present poet laureate, crowned with laurel as the first of living bards.

That's a typical leap; one is toddling along in the cookie-recipes and gets a archaeological reconstruction of the spread of cereal grains after the Deluge, or the provision of water to the metropolises of the ancient world. Miss Nightingale's opinion of strengthening digestible food might turn up in the baking section or next to the Invalid's Cutlet[1865].

I haven't tried any of the recipes, but they look well-thought-out. Most of them have heading for ingredients, mode (instructions), time, average cost, volume or servings produced, and when the recipe is seasonable. In honor of Patrick O'Brien and the wholly decent movie, I might try Aunt Nelly's Pudding[1224], which seems to be as much treacle as suet. There's even a recipe for portable soup[180], if I want to spend more than twenty hours cooking.

URL: http://www.gutenberg.net/1/0/1/3/10136/. Versions ending "-8" are in ISO-8859-1, the others are in US-ASCII.

¹ From fancy saloons, for instance, or men's clubs, as discussed in Consumer Society in American History: A Reader.

²Yes, I did a little of the gruntwork. Love me now, avoid the rush. I am really impressed by whoever did the post-processing to smooth everybody's attempts at the gruntwork into one usable text; the credits given are for Jonathan Ingram & Sandra Brown.)

September 23, 2003

The Growth of Victorian London, Donald J. Olsen

Olsen ascribes most of the pleasures of London, the built environment, to the work of the Victorians. In so doing, he spends much time defending the suburbs, particularly the richer ones with varied architecture. He often makes the argument that anything still as enjoyable as the Victorian suburbs were and are is in itself good.

Oddly, on the way, he made their Victorian inhabitants seem less and less charming. The social and aesthetic argument he returns to again and again is that the Victorian taste is individualist, for variety and specificity and self-expression, and that the changes in experience that a suburb-and-city life provides on a daily schedule are wonderful.

But most of the houses built were really very like each other, by his own admission, and although he argues that that was 'only' to save money, he admits that they were popular. The Victorian impulse to make things distinct also wanted to put them in a hierarchy of value, especially anything involving class, and the suburbs practically invented class segregation:

Why England, for centuries one of the freest and most open of European societies, should have become by the twentieth century the one most obsessed by class is a question to which no satisfactory answer has yet been given. Whether or not the social geography of Victorian London helped to further that obsession, it certainly reflected it.

And, on inspection, most of the evidence that individual expression was the goal of architecture is from builders' and architects' professional journals. Obviously they gained profit and professional status by making this claim. It seems to me that the inhabitant only wanted the new style when it had been approved; a great many of the nonprofessional statements are not about style, but about how important it is to keep anyone poor from living near anyone richer, even if the poor are decent and their housing isn't being replaced.

Really, compared to shoving everyone below you on the social ladder further down, attempts to climb up after the rich look benign.

Classification, family sentiment, and a combined envy and scorn of the French turn up as often as individualism. All were concerned in the insistence on houses instead of flats. In a flat, one might—even a lady might—pass someone of a different station on the stairs. Nor did they allow Panopticon oversight of one's servants. Olsen quotes Builder, vol. xxxiv (1876) p.291:

The most important of these [objections to living in flats] is perhaps the manner in which the servants of all the families inhabiting the same house are lodged together in the upper or mansard story, with a separate entrance from the street, and thus entirely apart from all supervision from their employers except when actually on duty.¹

All the rooms, numerous even if they had to be tiny, provided each member of the family room for self-development, or maybe presented a hierarchy of power and privacy and propriety. I can believe it depended on the family as much as the architecture. I still like the fact that Oliver Sacks' large Edwardian childhood house had two piano rooms, so people could practise in clashing musical styles. Still, I'm not convinced that it was an innately good impulse, or even usually a benign one.

One essential suburban quality, repellent to its detractors, cherished by its inhabitants, is that of make-believe, the denial of the economic basis of its existence, the exclusion of other classes and of any sort of manufacture, the relegation of essential trades to segregated back streets. ... The most successful suburb was the one that possessed the highest concentration of anti-urban qualities: solitude, dulness, uniformity, social homogeneity, barely adequate public transportation, the proximity of similar neighborhoods - remoteness, both physical and psychological, from what is mistakenly regarded as the Real World.

Mmmm. Condemned out of his own mouth again, I think. If the city depended on the suburb the way the suburb did on the city, or if I thought the image of the perfect, pretty, moral life were not used to transfer actual power from the poor to the rich, then it would not matter what was Real. But the Victorian suburbanization depended, as ours does, on always selling people the outside ring, which gets more depressing and cheaper specifically because suburbs leapfrog past it. What it liked it destroyed. Some neighborhoods and ex-towns were luckier or better planned, but on the whole it's still beggar-thy-neighbor.

I wish I were more familiar with London, the author assumes it. I was amused by his explaining that the Victorians thought of railways what 1970s Londoners thought of motorways (although, of course, the Victorians thought of roads with horses and bicycles on them, and the 1970s had seen both rail and autos.) Apparently the thing about traffic is that no successful city has ever built its way out of it (so we might as well walk).

Other subjects: the wide variety of intentions and results from the noble and foundational estates, which kept ownership of the property and could (didn't always) control what was on it, through 99-year building leases and 21-year repairing ones. The poor are always with the argument, though they don't say much nor is much said about them. They finally escaped the slums when the railways were ?required? to provide workingmen's fares - at 5.30 AM the trains into town were cheaper than for the 9 AM office commuters. Not clear whether this was for the benefit of the poor, or because there couldn't otherwise be any workers living in reach of London's massive needs. All sorts of private enterprise for infrastructure, sometimes possible because of the huge contiguous estates, very frequently bankrupt before finishing.

¹ Heaven forfend.

ISBN: 0 14 055182 4

September 08, 2003

Politics, 1841 and - forever?

MANAGER.--Of course, then, the Tories will take office----?
PUNCH.--I rayther suspect they will. Have they not been licking their chops for ten years outside the Treasury door, while the sneaking Whigs were helping themselves to all the fat tit-bits within? Have they not growled and snarled all the while, and proved by their barking that they were the fittest guardians of the country? Have they not wept over the decay of our ancient and venerable constitution----? And have they not promised and vowed, the moment they got into office, that they would----Send round the hat.
MANAGER.--Very good, Mr. Punch; but I should like to know what the Tories mean to do about the corn-laws? Will they give the people cheap food?
PUNCH.--No, but they'll give them cheap drink. They'll throw open the Thames for the use of the temperance societies.
MANAGER.--But if we don't have cheap corn, our trade must be destroyed, our factories will be closed, and our mills left idle.
PUNCH.--There you're wrong. Our tread-mills will be in constant work; and, though our factories should be empty, our prisons will be quite full.
MANAGER.--That's all very well, Mr. Punch; but the people will grumble a leetle ii you starve them.
PUNCH.--Ay, hang them, so they will; the populace have no idea of being grateful for benefits. Talk of starvation! Pooh!--I've studied politicaI economy in a workhouse, and I know what it means. They've got a fine plan in those workhouses for feeding the poor devils. They do it on the homoeopathic system, by administering to them oatmeal porridge in infinitessimal doses; but some of the paupers have such proud stomachs that they object to the diet, and actually die through spite and villany. Oh! 'tis a dreadful world for ingratitude! But never mind----Send round the hat.
MANAGER.--What is the meaning of the sliding scale, Mr. Punch?
PUNCH.--It means--when a man has got nothing for breakfast, he may slide his breakfast into his lunch; then, if he has got nothing for lunch, he may slide that into his dinner; and if he labours under the same difficulties with respect to the dinner, he may slide all three meals into his supper.
MANAGER.--But if the man has got no supper?
PUNCH.--Then let him wish he may get it.
MANAGER.--Oh! that's your sliding scale?
PUNCH.--Yes; and a very ingenious invention it is for the suppression of victuals. R-r-r-roo-to-tooit-tooit! Send round the hat.
MANAGER.--At this rate, Mr. Punch, I suppose you would not be favourable to free trade?
PUNCH.--Certainly not, sir. Free trade is one of your new-fangled notions that mean nothing but free plunder. I'll illustrate my position. I'm a boy in a school, with a bag of apples, which, being the only apples on my form, I naturally sell at a penny a-piece, and so look forward to pulling in a considerable quantity of browns, when a-boy from another form, with a bigger bag of apples, comes and sells his at three for a penny, which, of course, knocks up my trade.
MANAGER.--But it benefits the community, Mr. Punch.
PUNCH.--D--n the community! I know of no community but PUNCH and Co. I'm for centralization--and individualization--every man for himself, and PUNCH for us all! Only let me catch any rascal bringing his apples to my form, and see how I'll cobb him. So now --send round the hat--and three cheers for PUNCH'S POLITICS.

Punch, Jul-Dec. 1841.

September 04, 2003

The Difference Engine, Doron Swade

Subtitle: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer

The subtitle is subtly wrong. It should be "Quests", plural; Babbage's own, and much later that of Swade and his colleagues at the Science Museum in London to build a working model from Babbage's surviving plans. In both cases, we get as much detail about the search for funding as about the technical challenge. All right, this is important to the history of science: how things get done, how other things are smothered. One Fowler, just after Babbage, came up with a plausible calculator design that wasn't as comprehensive but was much more buildable, probably got no funds because Babbage had poisoned the well.

Nor were Babbage's Engines relevant to the later development of computing, according to Swade himself. The 1991 machine wasn't a reconstruction of a lost piece of the past, it was a reconstruction of a piece of an unlikely and expensive alternative past. But computer-related money was flowing in the 1990s, and there was no little amount of British pride involved, and the thing is lovely in all its precision-machined gleaming parts.

Still, I'd have liked more detail about the parts, more annotated line-drawings of how they fit together, more tables or equations expressing what each stage in the physical machine did. Flip-book illustrations in the corners, for that matter; there was a video of the innards of an Engine at the Museum, a few years ago while the exhibition was still above the fold; not on the website now.

ISBN: 0-670-91020-1

September 03, 2003

The Man Who Broke Napoleon's Codes, Mark Urban

Despite the title, this is principally an account of Wellington's campaign from Corunna to Waterloo, with particular regard to communications among the French, their interception and their decoding.

Interception, and especially decoding and decryption, occupied George Scovell, a professional soldier of no social connections. Wellington did not favor soldiers of no social connections - he thought anyone who wouldn't inherit land couldn't be trusted not to foment rebellion, and preferred dashing cavalry officers who looked aristocratic. During the campaign, Wellington recognized the importance of Scovell's work and Scovell's particular talent for it; afterwards, he denied it. This fit Wellington's anti-popular political career and certainly made Wellington himself look more like a solitary miltary genius.

Fortunately, Scovell - who seems to have been a pleasant man - had made enough friends among the dashing that some of them looked after his career. Not too much is known of him; part of looking after his career was not teaching the skills he had learned during the war. Both depended on his talent for languages. The encrypted messages he teased out were often captured by his Corps of Guides, who were recruited from several armies and all classes, spoke many languages, and had to map not only the enemies' movement but the country they were moving through.

On p. 54, this force is referred to as the Corps of Mounted Guides; in the index, including the entry pointing to p. 54, as the Corps of Mountain Guides. Elsewhere it's Scovells' Guides or Corps of Guides. 'Mounted' seems more likely than 'Mountain'.

One of the reasons for Napoleon's failure to hold Spain was his desire to run everything personally. He had promoted merit to great effect as he rose, which was one of the reasons that Wellington suspected meritocracy of being innately revolutionary. Napoleon wouldn't delegate power, though, so while Wellington was invading Spain the French generals there were mostly politicking against each other and against King Joseph, Napoleon's brother. One French officer had the delicate job of taking a letter from Soult, accusing Joseph, to Paris; when there, he discovered that he had to take it to Napoleon in Moscow itself. He arrived there just in time to follow the retreat from Moscow - and he made it back to Paris.

ISBN: 0-06-093455-7

July 07, 2003

The Journals of George Sturt, 1890-1927, George Sturt

Sturt inherited a wheelwrights' (wagonmakers) in a medium-small town in England; wanted to be a literary man, knew some leading lights.

His journals have some waffly Mauve Decade aestheticizing. He wanted to publish more of this. Fortunately, what he could get published was descriptions of hte 'vanishing rural life', which seem to have been taken down from a particular garden laborer who didn't get much credit or any money for it.

In one of the New York prisons, criminals are treated in on this principle, by massage and Turkish baths, and the soul's sensitiveness grows with that of the skin. May not one reform the criminal in himself, by like means?(29 November 1890 )
It would be an impertinence to criticize Brown. As someone was fond of saying, 'John Brown himself was right': and then, so too was Emerson right, in his attitude of non-resistance to slavery. ... He may have precipitated the Secession War; probably he did so. But slavery could not have lasted much longer. There were others who hated it, besides Brown...Rather I believe, that a man's weight can only tell once: that his force was narrowed to gain that intensity: and that America is now suffering and will have to suffer, for the narrowness of the issue decided by the Civil War. ... It may be, that had the emancipation been deferred, moral force would have been much more powerful to affect it, and much of the war-misery might have been avoided: though of course this would have been balanced by the prolonged sufferings of the slaves. (28 Dec. 1890)
(In because relevant to an argument I was in recently. Not much more in Sturt than what I've quoted. To look up: Emerson's attitude & actions.)
Again, the philosophy I have seemed so much my own, a thing fought for with hard thinking; carved out of experience with my own powers of reason. But in reading a book of Sir Henry Maine's, where Roman Law was dealt with, in its influence on European thought, I begin to have doubts of the value of my philosophy. The form of it (so far as it has form) is gathered from this or that author, distilled by him from who knows what philosopher? It has no more connection with life, than decorative work on bronze, traditional from prehistoric times. And this intellectual repouseé, thought-hammered, bears tool-marks of ways of thinking that are also traditional. Very eclectic too it is; or so I suspect; so that, not knowing what school I belong to, I cannot tell in what direction fresh hints are to be found.(21 Nov. 1891)
...many things which science now undertakes with certainty of success, were are one time only possible to genius, working blindly. Art precedes science, teaching us first to take an interest in a thing, and then to discover its laws.(4 June 1892 )
For the exigencies of the soil are so peculiar, varying so much from day to day and from one crop to another, and demanding so much judgement and experience to meet them, that we recur again and again to the subject, discussing it as eagerly as a game of skill. That is, indeed, its character: with the added excitement of a large element of chance, afforded by the vagaries of the weather. ... (Grover) is effectual not as a talker, but as a cottage-gardener. His toil this year will produce enough to support perhaps half a dozen people for twelve months.(6 & 7 June 1896 )

Description of a hop fair in the 1850s, with ribbons for the horses of the first wagons, a horned headdress for newcomers, lots of beer, songs for the purpose; 19 June 1896. Generosity and forbearance of very poor families, 25 December 1897; "Knowing this sort of thing, it makes me savage to hear talk of the 'improvidence' of the poor."

Does their wealth spring from others' poverty? At least in return they (the well-trained women amongst them) are exhibiting to us types, and in their own persons putting before the English race specimens of the clean-bodied creatures that it will by and by expect all its womenkind to be.(18 May 1899 )

(Actually, the Mrs. Stovold he compares to the well-trained wealthy - Mrs. Stovold was competent and benevolent enough to kill a neighbor's pig when they needed it done - has moved up in the Feminine Valor stakes; especially if she can now afford a bath and dentistry.)

Louise Michel mentioned, 9 August 1899; I must look her up.

LCCCN: 67-10779
Cambridge University Press, 1967

June 18, 2003

Sidelight on Tahitian tourism

Found something relevant to Sultry Climates; Bellona Times' (scroll down a bit) reproduction of Henry Adams' Tahiti; written because a tourist running from grief fell in love with a seventy-year-old woman whose language he couldn't speak.

Sultry... did have examples of tourism that wasn't totally unpleasant for the natives, but even those - if I recall correctly - tended to be a bit accidental, since the tourists were omphaloskeptic. It seems Adams fell in love in a sense I recognize, a plain delight in the particulars of a person or thing, not in how he was reflected by it.

"I do not know whether Papara is commonly thought to be one of the beautiful parts of Tahiti. I imagine not. Travelers can find so much that charms them elsewhere, and so much variety in the charm, as to make them indifferent to all scenery but the most impressive. Among a dozen books that have been written by visitors to the island, I am not sure that one of them, except Moerenhout, devotes a dozen words to Papara. To the Tevas and their chiefs, naturally, Papara is the world, and probably no part of the island compares with it for association, pride and poetry. Every point, field, valley, and hill retains a history and a legend. Purea's Marae of Mahaiatea still rises, a huge mass of loose coral, above the level of the plain. Aromaiterai at Mataoae could fix on the spot where his own Marae -- Teva's Marae -- of Mataoa invited him home, where in his time each of the two chiefs had a seat or throne on either side of the altar. " (ch. 4)

In this troubled world... I see that James' experience grew out of the decline of Tahiti, and maybe depended on it. I can't say beforehand what 'appreciations' of other cultures are mocking, derivative, Orientalist, parasitical. Still, often, I meet something I can't explain except as a hopeless love of something other and useless. It's what makes Cowboy Bebop good, and justifies many a tiny yappy dog.

URL: http://www.kokonino.com/tahiti/index.html

May 19, 2003

Fanny Trollope, Pamela Neville-Sington

Subtitle: The Life and Adventures of a Clever Woman.

The first chapter is slow, as it would very much like to establish an actual meeting between Jane Austen and Fanny Trollope, but can get no farther than showing that it's not unlikely there was one. Thinking of Trollope as a character in an Austen novel is also a okay approximation until her marriage. But if it were common for a woman's life to expand after marriage the way Trollope's did, not even comedies could justify ending with wedding-bells.

She married a barrister Thomas Anthony Trollope; she was thirty, nearly old by the marriage-standards of the day. Their letters are charmingly literate. They had six children,built a big house on rented land, and it all started going wrong.

Thomas Anthony was depressive or something very like it: he antagonized most of the people he knew and couldn't finish, or even start, necessary work. He irritated an elderly uncle into marrying to get an alternate heir, was too attached to his expectations of genteel inheritance to work himself out of the hole, and late in life turned out to have failed to put Fanny's marriage settlements in order, so that he had squandered her money as well as his. As a barrister, he should have known better. No-one implies that he had planned to take advantage, merely that he always took the laziest route, hoping gloomily that it would come right.

Fanny had an opposite temperament, adn generally put two plans in motion to attack any single problem. In 1827, partly to cover their need to rent out their expensive house, she set sail for a new utopian community in the United States. She took three children, two servants, a wagon of furniture, and optimistic hopes that she would help build a truly free society in the republican idyll of Tennessee.

That particular idyll, Nashoba, was a muddy failure - and certainly Fanny had had no idea what pioneering was like. Fanny took the children away promptly, traveling with a young French painter Hervieu who had hoped to be an artist of the New World. They landed in Cincinnati, nearly penniless, with no letters of introduction. Society, such as it was, did not recognize her, especially because Hervieu's earnings (scant) were often supporting the whole crew.

Fanny developed another plan: she was the brains behind two sensationalist and successful waxwork shows - like Haunted Houses, with her children working the special effects. Emboldened by this success, she decided that Cincinnati needed an entire new building of preposterous style, to rent out meeting-rooms and lecture halls and symphony performances. Letters to her husband asked for investment; he sent ill-chosen shop goods instead of capital. Between that, and getting rooked by the builders, and general inexperience on her part, the Trollopes lost their shirts on the venture.¹

After struggling back to England under a cloud of suspicion (that French painter²), she wrote up her disappointed views of the United States in Domestic Manners of the Americans. I think she's unfair in comparing her experience as a penniless nobody in the US to her experience of society as a well-connected, if indebted, woman in England; but she was probably accurate in showing up the pretentious manners and coarse habits of the new republic³, and she was vividly condemnatory of slavery. It was, politically, a receptive moment for such a book in England, and both Tories and abolitionists took it up. It sold well. It sold even better in the States, but she didn't get any royalties from that.

Next, a potboiler novel set in the States, to reuse her notes while making more money; after that, twenty years of success and incredibly hard work as a writer. She was an equal of Dickens in some ways - output not least - she could keep several serialized novels going at a time, she wrote about Issues that reviewers considered improper for a lady, she has some minor 'firsts' for the English novel; sequels, an ex-policeman private eye. She churned them out like plain sewing while nursing her husband and three children through their deaths (TB), while running away from creditors to the Continent, while traveling around revolution-haunted Europe to find cheaper living or material for books.

Her son Anthony Trollope is the better writer, but not quite as much better as he thought he was - he was so Victorian in his conventionality and expectation of ease, where she was still a bit rough and clear-spoken like the late Georgian she was. They both have novels that are easy to read as versions of each other's lives; he resented her for leaving for the States (he hadn't gone, and was extra sympathetic to his father), she could tell he was shy and ambitious even before he began to write. She didn't live long enough to read his Autobiography, which was particularly dismissive of her.

Neville-Sington chooses to believe that the unkind representation of the writing woman in Anthony's The Way We Live Now is not like Fanny, maybe not even like what Anthony finally remembered of the mother who supported him. Instead, she quotes a bit of his description of Glencora Palliser: "...in her disposition and temper she was altogether generous. I do not know that she was at all points a lady, but had Fate so willed it she would have been a perfect gentleman."

¹ The building seems to have been a modest success once it existed, though.

² There doesn't seem to have been any romance between them, but they were loyal coworkers for decades.

³ Mark Twain thought so.

ISBN: 0-670-85905-2

Low Life, Luc Sante

Here are 356 pages of enjambed facts on New York City's low criminal life from 1840 to 1919, laid out neatly by subject (theater, drugs, police, orphans, riots). Figurative and specific characters repeat from subject to subject, as do waves of immigration, unrest, graft, fiscal panic, and fire after fortuitous fire. Everything happens three or four times, getting bigger and more professional and dirtier by the half-generation. All the specifics are horrible: brass eye gougers, child-gang saloons with child-prostitutes, riots the size of battles, disease, crowding.

Edith Wharton wrote about "Old New York" at the end of Sante's period. Two books could be made of the border between his version and hers. One could be on the power relations between the people they described - nothing is made in Low Life; death rates are terrific; all the money, and most of the people, have to come from some marginally more stable world.¹ Another could be on the difference and similarities of their nostalgia. Sante's was both for the abandoned cheap Lower East Side he lived in in the 1970s, and the shreds of neighborhood and myth it had; and those myths were half post-WWI radio and movie plays made of scraps of memory of the late Bowery and gangland and immigrant days; and their loyalties and turfs dated back to Civil War stresses.

Petty error of fact: he gets the intent and itinerary of Fanny Trollope's visit to the States wrong. He cites the 1949 edition of her Domestic Manners of the Americans; maybe she obfuscated it herself. More oddly, he writes that "...about the rest of America she is remarkably unsnobbish, and her book was something of an advertisement for the young country." That isn't what the Tories in England thought; it isn't what she meant; and I don't think it was the received view in Cincinnati in Trollope's day. More on that later.² Sante, drenched in accounts of bloodshed and immiseration, might not have taken her descriptions of the unmannered provicials as she meant them.

¹ See Fat of the Land, Benjamin Miller, for how the working poor lived in and on garbage.

² A biography of Fanny Trollope says "...wax figures of Mrs Trollope appeared in the form of a goblin; she was portrayed as an ugly harridan talking to a black devil... and satirized... One American reviewer commented on the 'curious coincidence of her name' (p. 174; Fanny Trollope, Pamela Neville-Sington.)

ISBN: 0-679-73876-2

March 28, 2003

Mr Loudon's England, Gloag

Loudon was a workaholic Scot w/no sense in investing or medicine. He wrote enormously on lots of things, especially gardening and all domestic design. Unusual interest in comfort & safety of all classes, several clever inventions - glasshouse frames, for instance. Gloag thinks his biggest legacy is the taste-neutral Vict. mishmash of design styles. I shall look for more on his gardening & by his wife, who was also a writer.

Update: Here's a plan for a whole farmstead, hosue and all, by Loudon; designed, among other things, to be built with small timber (like almost all US houses now) instead of masonry or big post-and-beam. Much attention to how the work gets done; lots of covered space built for drying washing or veg., windows in the sewing room, a whole complex of pits & gutters for different kinds of manure (and orchard trees in the enclosure with the barns: I wonder if the animals were let out to eat the windfalls, or if fruit was as vulnerable to theft as the animals).

If the text discussing "Expression" in the design of this cottage is Loudon's, he was certainly conscious of the "mishmash" of styles.

This circular wooden house is not by Loudon, but I had to throw it in because some of the construction details are so modernist - the cleanly-vanishing sash and blinds - and the floorplan actually looks pretty good.

So wrote clew.

March 18, 2003

Traditional Country Skills, Sheila Buff, ed.

The back cover describes this a a "comprehensive collection of farm-and-country wisdom and know-how", which is wrong. The Storey or Foxfire books are better for that; or current small farm journals or the extension service. This is mostly illustrated with catalog pages and illustrated articles from American Agriculturalist and other farm papers and journals. Except when a whole page is reproduced, with its header, the date & other useful information about the original source is usually not given.

The glue text is a useful summary of why the stuff being illustrated (cheap illos. were fairly new, too) was profitable or affordable or necessary. It concentrates on the 1880-1910 era when there was a lot of innovation but not a lot of motor power; this brief period included some of the most profitable periods of American farming, and our largest farm population. That's probably why that era remains our image of rural quaintness - there's plenty of metal stuff left over to hang on the wall, and printed material like the substance of this book, and a few people living who remember farming that way. The politics and economics that came out of those innovations are also still relevant, barely.

A few very funny engravings of prize pigs, shaped like bricks with tiny pointy feet and noses; and handsome pictures of famously un-safe cultivators and harrows drawn by improbably light-boned, curvetting horses.

ISBN: 1-58574-155-8

So wrote clew.

February 08, 2003

Isabella and Sam : the story of Mrs. Beeton, Sarah Freeman

Isabella Beeton was a perfect Victorian, though she wasn't exactly a perfect Victorian woman. She was, like her husband Sam, an enormously hard worker, practical, thrifty, happily married, successful. She wasn't demure or shy or sentimental.

Their name is still famous because of the Beeton guide to Household Management. A slew of "how-to" books were published under the Beeton name, one a guide to investment written just after Sam had lost everything in a bank crash and sold the firm; not his fault, though, and I bet he had an interest in the subject afterwards. Household Management, similarly, benefited from Isabella's undomestic upbringing - as one of a large family's children who lived in the cavernous Epsom Downs race building fifty weeks of the year. She recognized the need for a good clear no-previous-knowledge book on housekeeping, and made some minor but useful changes to how recipes are written and laid out. UI design, you might say. The Beeton books were part of a flood of cheap useful literature that followed technical and tax improvements. Sam - he was the idealist of the couple - had an early enthusiasm for boy's literature that boys would actually enjoy reading; later the self-education manuals; finally some of his periodicals got an enormous boom of more-or-less prurient letters, wildly popular but also scandalous, like a comment BBS out of control. He went out of control himself and embarrassed his friends and controlling publisher before dying.

Isabella had died young long before.

So wrote clew.

January 03, 2003

The Trial of Queen Caroline, Roger Fulford

I think it's been explained to me why the Anglican church finds it unacceptable for the King or Queen of England to be divorced, but the logic will not stick in my head. From outside that church and country, "divorced" seems perfectly traditional and much preferable to "beheaded, died". Many things look different from the inside.

Di-worshippers should consider the trial of Queen Caroline, wife of George IV, who was a total lout as a husband but took exception to Caroline's traveling Europe and the Holy Land with a bunch of third-rate nobility and one, mmm, probably negotiable young man. The case against Caroline is awfully familiar by modern Di (and Clinton) watcher standards; witnesses remember nothing, or more than is plausible; stains on the bedlinen, unlikely gifts, restroom arrangements, and "what anyone would assume" are dragged into the record; Caroline's infidelity would have counted as treason, except that her young man was neither an English subject nor on English soil. Popular opinion swung from one party to the other. In the end, the Bill of Pains and Penalties against her was neither rejected nor passed - it was shelved - leaving it as an embarrassment to everyone.

So wrote clew.

November 07, 2002

Making the Mass Market

Satisfaction Guaranteed, Susan Strasser is a fine book on "The Making of the American Mass Market", but I think her books on housework (Never Done) and garbage (Waste and Want) are better.

Land of Desire, William Leach, covers a lot of the same territory as Satisfaction... but more vividly.

Strasser's books, taken together, describe the changes in household habits that moved the US to modernity; from a producer society to a consumer society. Satisfaction Guaranteed and Land of Desire both describe the changes in opinion, as well as production and retail, that made this possible. Packaging, advertising, pure-food laws, the parcel post, the idea that the 'good life' is made of goods, and the acceptance of credit - all rose together. Credit might be the most surprising one; that a nation proud of its Puritans managed to accommodate itself to the easy extension of credit at all, let alone for frivolities, is surprising.

Strasser is clear on the practical impediments to selling and buying in the modern way, and how they were overcome. Leach's book is more interesting when he's making clear how dreamy, hypnotic, seductive, and new advertising and the big department stores were. Some of the department-store pictures are breathtaking now, and put fancy modern stores to shame. There was a higher standard set by the decorative standards of the magnificoes and the decorative possibilities of swoony Orientalism; without gilding and pneumatic tubes and white-gloved ranks of attendants, I am not going to be impressed. I am also never going to read L. Frank Baum quite as innocently; he was an advertising man, and Leach's description of Oz as shopping-land is persuasive. I do want to see the beautifully color-printed edition of The Wizard of Oz, though. I read a bit of The Gardens of Allah, which Leach mentioned as symbolic of the new indulgence, but the characters were too irritating to go on with.

So wrote clew.

June 26, 2002

The Big Spenders, Lucius Beebe

Oh! magnificoes! Money in the Gilded Age had a really excellent time, completely proportional to the grinding misery of the poor in the same era. The poor do not get even a look-in in this book. Beebe was a tail-end of money himself, and squired the failing heirs of massive wealth around - in between some lively newspaper work of his own - and was an enthusiast of and expert on spending money. You;d think this would be irritating to read, but it was distant, sounds entertaining, and besides many of these people came to a bad end, if you need schadenfreude. (Spelling?)

"Private varnish", that is, privately owned train cars, are at the top of Beebe's list - are there any left running, do you suppose? With several maid's bells and gold-plated plumbing? (An investment in efficiency - "saves polishing".)

Interesting detail of between-the-wars travel, when money could not be pulled out of an ATM, or even most banks: In a day before American Express credit cards and traveler's checks, a letter of credit was a formidable document issued by one's home bank in the amount of a sum sequestered against it in Boston, New York, or Cleveland. This bedsheet-sized document handsomely engrossed and sealed was presented at the bank's European correspondents... who advanced what the traveler might need in pounds or francs and wrote the amount on the back of the letter of credit. It was the only known way of financing travel.


The opening move was to dispatch either by hand or through the post a letter to, say, Baring Brothers' main office in the city acquainting the management with one's identity, references, family and financial background, and warning of one's impending arrival with the intention of drawing against a letter issued by the Old Colony Trust of Boston, It was wise to suggest a date for the rendezvous at least four or five days in the future...

On the appointed morning the party of the first part arrayed himself as for a garden party at Buckingham Palace, braided-edge morning tail coat, black silk hat, umbrella, and wash gloves. ...

It would take until the afternoon to secure the currency from the vaults, count it, and record the serial numbers of banknotes. First there would be lunch at the Travellers' Club....Colchester oysters, Melton Mowbray pie, a cold lobster, Stilton cheese, claret, Port, and cigars followed in the ritual of the busnessman's luncheon, after which a state progress in reverse to the bank was in order.

So wrote clew.