Advent Connections

We have just started to enjoy our Advent Calendar, a splendid fabric one made by Helen, with little pockets in which sweets can be inserted.

I realised as I was filling it that it is some time since I have written a blog about curious links and connections, so here is one now.

Take another look at the calendar and answer these questions;

How is this picture linked to Peter Pan?

And can you work out the very tangential link to Jane Austen.

Now have a chocolate and think about it.

Right, now for the answer.

You will see from the picture that the sweets we chose to use were Quality Street. If you go back a few years the packaging always included a picture of a Napoleonic soldier and a late Georgian Lady (1830’s ish) who were informally known as Major Quality and Miss Sweetness.

In 1936, when the sweet maker Harold Mackintosh decided to produce a selection of individually wrapped toffees (the range soon expanded to include other types of sweet as well) he looked around for a name for his new collection. He found it in the title of a popular comedy, Quality Street. This had been written by J. M. Barrie, hence the Peter Pan connection.

The story has a suitably comedic plot, set during and after the Napoleonic war, which involves the heroine, delightfully named Phoebe Throssel, pretending to have a flirty niece, played by herself, leading to misunderstandings and rapid costume changes.

As well as being popular on stage, there was a beautiful illustrated edition published.

The illustrations by Hugh Thompson, helped give rise to the images on the packaging of the sweets. While Hugh Thompson is generally considered one of the greatest illustrators of Jane Austen.

So there you are!

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Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

I have just been looking through a collection of extracts from newspapers and other sources for the years 1774 to 6.

Does any of this sound familiar?

The Public Advertiser, Friday, November 3rd. 1775

The present violent Cold and Cough, with which all ranks of people are more or less afflicted, is equally dangerous as general. Thousands are confined to their beds by it; many have lost their speech by it, and one Weston, a broker on Saffron hill, has totally lost his hearing by it.

There is thought not to be a single family in London of which one or more are not affected with a violent cold. The physical people attribute this disorder to a noxious quality in the air; and ’tis observed the same person does not catch it twice.

Supposing the disease was spread by bad air, experiments were made;

The Public Advertiser, Saturday, November 4th.

The malignancy of the air was tried on Thursday morning last in the Spa fields by fixing a piece of raw meat to the tail of a paper-kite, which (after being suspended about forty minutes) came down quite putrefied, and in one part nearly perforated.

The pestilence also affected the arts;

The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser Tuesday, November 7th.

The desertion of the theatres in consequence of the disease with which so many are afflicted, has been productive of one agreeable effect, that of bringing Mr. Garrick forward in Benedict much earlier than was expected. It cannot be matter of surprise that Roscius should have escaped the infection, as his spirits and constitution seems proof against the attacks of age itself; after above thirty campaigns, his ardour and execution appears rather to increase. Last night he supported the character with undiminished excellence, and in the speech where he meditates, and then resolves on marriage, he soared beyond himself.

People seemed to have happily congregated, spreading the pestilence to the profit of the doctors. Some people thought that doctor’s treatments were very ineffective (which they probably were) and self-medicated.

V0042009 The dance of death: the apothecary. Coloured aquatint by T.

George Cumberland, letter to his brother Richard, Friday, November 10th.

At the play. Garrick acted and the house was so full you could not have thrust your little finger in, notwithstanding [the] “plague” sweeps us away by dozens…. Everybody has had cold, and many violent ones too. . . . The sons of Galen have made a harvest of it, and much human blood has been spilt every hour . . . but with the assistance of black currant jelly, warm broth for dinner, egg wine at night, joined to abstinence from malt liquor, I have as nearly got the better of as violent a cold and sore throat as most have had, – a cold . . . that would have produced an apothecary five pounds with good management ….

At least this treatment wouldn’t do any harm!

Reading on in the collection, as today, there were problems with some of the American colonies, but only one case of voter fraud.

The Annual Register, Tuesday, September 17th 1776

At this sessions a gentleman was tried for perjury, in polling twice for Mr. Wilkes at the late election; but it appearing that what he did was the effect of an habitual intoxication or rather permanent stupidity thereby produced, he was acquitted.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as the saying goes.

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The Vicar and the Sleeping Butterfly

Winterborne Tomson, St Andrew

The Rev. Octavius Pickard-Cambridge walked briskly through the stooked wheat sheaves on his way to his tiny church of Winterborne Tomson. As the service commenced he saw a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly fluttering at the window, during his sermon it settled on one of the beams over his head, folded its wings and seemed to fall asleep. He smiled to himself at the idea that his sermons could even make butterflies sleep.

Winterborne Tomson, St Andrew, pulpit

The following week the corn had been carted away, and his path ran through stubble. As he climbed into his pulpit he glanced up, and noticed in surprise that the butterfly was still there. It had settled by a small knot in the wood, so he could tell it hadn’t moved since the previous week.

Winterborne Tomson, St Andrew, chancel roof

The following Sunday it was still there, and the next. Outside the church the seasons changed, leaves browned and fell. The first frost covered the ground, and made patterns on the church windows.

Winterborne Tomson, St Andrew, South wall

But the butterfly slept on.

Christmas came, the singers packed into the West Gallery roared out the ancient Christmas Carols.

Winterborne Tomson, St Andrew, west gallery

But the butterfly slept on.

Snow came, and it was hard to trudge to the church on a Sunday, the water froze in the font so a baby had to be christened with water brought in a kettle from the Manor House.

Winterborne Tomson, St Andrew, font & cover

But the butterfly slept on.

The snow melted and February lived up to its country name of ‘fill-dyke’, water puddled on the church floor.

Winterborne Tomson, St Andrew, interior

But the butterfly slept on.

Until finally the seasons turned, flowers poked their heads through the brown leaves, blossom began to turn the hedges white. As the church door was opened the butterfly finally awoke, and during his sermon the vicar saw it find its way out of the door.

That evening the Rev. Octavius Pickard-Cambridge settled down and wrote an account of what he had seen, the first time anybody had watched a hibernating insect continuously throughout the winter.

Sleeping butterfly1

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The Curious Tale of the Wormesley Pippin

Our village orchard was planted some fifteen years ago, by children from the local school. At the base of each tree there is a little label giving the variety and who planted it. At this time of year there is a regular stream of villagers collecting apples to eat or cook.

A few days ago I went to pick a basket of the lovely Beauty of Bath, a classic eating apple. The adjacent tree had large pale green fruit, and looked like a cooker, curious I picked some and read the label ‘Wormesley Pippin’. The name fascinated me and I looked it up in a very old apple book, and so discovered the tale of the apple and the remarkable Thomas Andrew Knight.

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Thomas Knight was worried, the revolting French might have spread revolution and war across half a continent, but this was much more serious, his new orchard had canker. He knew the disease usually affected older trees, but all of these had been planted in the past three years. He enquired of neighbouring farmers, all told the same story, new trees often got canker.

He had been sent to University with the vague idea of his becoming a clergyman, but he hadn’t enjoyed it, apart from the Botanic Garden, here he learnt of the new discoveries of men such as Stephen Hale and Carl Linnaeus, who had shown how plants actually worked. Now Thomas Knight was to use their methods to solve the problem of apple canker.

He knew that apples never bred true, a pip would grow into an apple unlike its parent tree, and to spread a variety trees had to be grafted. He had learnt to graft when he was a child, attaching a small piece of the desired tree onto a rootstock so it would grow into a prefect replica of the original. Then it struck him, a branch of the original tree! He remembered a sermon he had heard in Oxford, ‘a child carries the seeds of its own death’, the sermon had been a splendidly cheery one, on how as soon as a child is born it should prepare for death. But Thomas Knight wondered, perhaps it could be true in another way. Everything had a natural lifespan, trees certainly lived longer than people, but what about an apple tree? The new trees were essentially parts of the original tree, his orchard might be only a few years old but some of the varieties were centuries old, the new trees weren’t in fact new, they were very old and dying of old age. (He was fortunately very wrong)

He thought he knew the problem, but what was the answer. All the farmers talked of ‘chance-come’ apples or pippins, apples that grew from pips that had good characteristics, but he knew that for a thousand pips sown perhaps one might make a good apple. But he knew something that the local farmers didn’t, Linnaeus had discovered exactly how plants reproduced (he described it in such detail that some people regarded his works as pornographic). He was going to use this new knowledge to selectively breed apples!

Spring came and he begun, developing ways to hand fertilise apples, carefully collecting the fruit and planting the seeds. There were many failures, but enough success to make it worthwhile. As the long French war waged on, as enemy troops landed not too far away, only to surrender to formidable red cloaked Welsh Women, Thomas Knight began to see his new varieties spread.

His fame spread too, Sir Joseph Banks heard of his work, persuaded him to come to London where he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society and became the President of the Royal Horticultural Society. But he never enjoyed London, and as soon as he could he returned to Herefordshire, he still corresponded with the society, his work on selective breeding in plants was used by Charles Darwin, his notes on peas inspired Gregor Mendel and his experiments on the effects of gravity on seedlings directly influenced experiments carried out on the International Space Station.

But that was in the future, now as Napoleon was advancing into Russia, Thomas Knight cut an apple from a new grown tree and tried it for the first time. It was an eater as well as a cooker, he was delighted and later declared it ‘My favourite apple, the best I ever produced.”


And that was the Wormesley Pippin that began this story. (Incidentally it makes excellent Dorset Apple cake)

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The First Flight

This week’s prompt from Charli at the Carrot Ranch is; August 13, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a first flight. It can be anything or anyone that flies. What is significant about the first? Go where the prompt leads!

As readers of my blog will realise, I am fascinated by the early history of flight, so could hardly pass on this prompt. So here is the story of what was probably the first serious attempt to fly, certainly in Europe.

eilmer-pub-sign-1-1

He stood on the edge of the tower, checked his linen covered wings, took a deep breath and jumped.

They worked! He glided for nearly two hundred yards before the gust hit him, he struggled as he dropped, his wings broke his fall.

He awoke in the infirmary with a broken leg. The Abbot beside the bed.

“Brother Elimer, my old friend, there must be no more flying. I don’t wish to bury you next time.”

“But if I had a bigger tail I could fly”

“Not now.” The Abbot was firm, “One day perhaps.”

The year was 1005.

.

.

All true, the story is recorded by the historian William of Malmesbury, who was a monk at Malmesbury Abbey just like Elimer. He almost certainly knew people who had known Elimer in old age.

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How to Tell a Comet

Last night, or rather earlier this morning we saw the comet Neowise, visible in the northern sky. It made me think of this delightful Victorian poem.

How to Tell a Comet, or Astronomy Made Easy.

Though you may not know a planet
From the bird that’s called a gannet,
Nor distinguish Sagittarius from Mars;
Though the beasts in that strange zoo
May all look alike to you,
And you lump the whole caboodle just as “stars;”

Though you cannot place the lion,
Nor correctly trace Orion,
Nor discern the jewelled belt he proudly wears,
Nor the big and little hounds,
Through those happy hunting grounds,
Nightly chasing up the big and little bears;

Though you cannot tell the Dippers
From your grandpa’s old felt slippers,
And to name the constellations you would fail,
There’s one thing that you may know
And be very sure it’s so,
You can always tell a comet by its tail.
Its airy, hairy, winking, blinking, flowing, glowing tail;
Its fiery, wiry, gleaming, streaming, flaring, glaring tail.

Unfortunately I cannot lay my hands on the book where I found it, so I cannot give you any more information about the poem.


The picture comes from, ‘Comets and their General and Particular Meanings, According to Ptolomeé, Albumasar, Haly, Aliquind and other Astrologers’ of 1587.

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A Dream of Airliners

Men dream, these men dreamt of airliners.

The wings vibrated as the tiny steam engine spun.
“Good to go.” Called Henson.
Stringfellow released the tail and the Aerial ran along the line gathering speed, as it came free at the end the wings lifted it and the machine flew across the room, dropping into the catch net at the far end.
For a moment the engineers looked stunned, then grinned and shook each other’s hands.
The world’s first powered flying machine, the first aeroplane (albeit a model), had flown.

The first step to realising their dream had been made.

Stringfellow Monoplane 1848
The First Aeroplane

John Stringfellow and William Henson built the first working model aircraft in 1848, and flew it in a large room of the mill Stringfellow owned in Chard, Somerset.
They dreamt of building a massive steam powered airliner.

ariel-steam-carriage-pscc
The Aerial over London

This was written in response to this week’s prompt at the #carrotranch. Apparently the reference has something to do with pop music, however my knowledge of popular music is limited, particularly after the beginning of the last century, so a true historical tale instead,


June 18, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes good vibrations. What is unfolding? Is someone giving off or receiving the feeling? Where is the story situated? Gather some good vibes and go where the prompt leads!

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The Curious Scissors Net, another Entomological reconstruction

During lockdown people have been encouraged to try handicrafts, also to get out and enjoy nature. Now as a reenactor who enjoys experimental history, there was an obvious thing to do – make an eighteenth century butterfly net.

Some time ago I described how I made a reconstruction of a Clap, or Batfowler net to see how this improbable looking butterfly net functioned. Rereading Moses Harris’s The Aurelian a little while ago I was inspired to make another improbable looking insect net, the Scissors or Forceps Net.

He begins by describing;

Racket Nets. Which are form’d of Wire about the Size of a Raven’s Quill, turned round to a Circle, bending the Ends outwards by way Shanks, which are made fast in a Brass Socket;  this Circle or Ring of Wire is covered with Gause, and bound round with Ferret [A stout tape most commonly made of cotton OED]; a round Stick of about two Feet in Length is fitted to this Socket, by Way of Handle. These Sort Of Nets are what an AURELIAN should at all Times carry about him; a Pair of these of about six Inches Diameter are the most convenient for that Purpose. The chief Use of these Sort of Netts are for catching Moths, sitting against a Tree, Wall, or Pales; or a Moth or Fly sitting on a Leaf, may be conveniently caught between a Pair of these.

The Fly Catching Macaroni

Then he tells us that;

The Scithers Net are no more than a small Pair of these Racket Nets; fixed on two Pieces of Iron which are rivetted across each other, with two of the Ends turn’d round in the Form of Rings, for the Admittance of the Thumb and Finger; in short, a Pair of Toupee Irons, or Curling Tongs, such as is used by a Hair-Dresser, are very well adapted for this Purpose, with a round Net fixed to the End of each Tong with binding Wire, or small Twine well waxed; these Nets are principally adapted to take small Moths, &c.

Scissors Net cartoon

So to make a Scissors Net, I first needed a pair of tongs. Whilst I have (as one does) a pair of Georgian Curling Tongs, I didn’t want to use these so I needed a pair of tongs of similar proportions. After a while I found some old barbeque tongs which could be adapted.

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I then needed to make the wire loops, I unfortunately don’t have a Ravens Quill, but online enquiries (thank you 18th Century Sewing facebook group) suggested just under 1/8 inch diameter. Fortunately wire coat hangers are about the right size.

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Unfortunately I cannot find anybody who produces ferret these days, but it was easy enough to create a stiff cotton tape, and finally create the net.

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Then I had to work out how they were to be used, the delightfully named Letitia Jermyn, in 1824, she tells us that;

The forceps are about ten or twelve inches in length, provided with fans of a circular or other form, and are covered with gauze; they are held and moved like a pair of scissors, and are used to catch the insects when at rest.

In later editions of her book (1836) she adds further advice

The leaves should be expanded as wide as possible, and the prey approached very cautiously, and when within reach, close them upon it suddenly, including the leaf or flower on which it rests.

Whilst William Curtis, in 1771, advised using them to catch wasps and bees as;

These insects being armed many of them with poisonous stings, it will be necessary to use the forcep nets to catch them with.

DSC01105

I soon discovered that they were very easy to use, especially when taking insects sitting on flowers, and on a plant like bramble I was able to capture insects without risking the net being caught. As to why the net fell out of use, I suspect it was simply the problem of carrying a number of nets. Difficult when was no longer accompanied by a servant.

On day I might well make a pair of Racket Nets, as described by Moses Harris, or the oddest of all nets, and also the simplest.

The Casting Net, described by Letitia Jermyn in 1824 (she dropped it from later editions of her book);

If they {insects} are beyond your reach, you must use a casting net, which may be made thus:- tie a weight (a halfpenny for instance), in one of the corners of a piece of gauze, about the size of a common handkerchief, a lighter weight in the second corner, and a bit of very light wood in the third : the inequality in the weight and bulk of these substances, will occasion the gauze to open, when thrown from the hand : a thin piece of twine, a yard to two long, may be tied to the remaining corner, by which the net may be drawn in at pleasure. The art of spreading it to its full extent may be acquired with very little practice.

The vision of a Regency Lady throwing a weighted handkerchief over a butterfly of moth is a delightful one, which it would be lovely to recreate.

Sources

Curtis, William. 1771 Instructions for Collecting and Preserving Insects

Harris, Moses. 1776 The Aurelian or Natural History of English Insects

Jermyn, Letitia. 1824 The butterfly collector’s vade mecum; with a synoptical table of British butterflies.

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The Amazing Jar that changed the world

He looked in amazement at the little fern, growing in the sealed jar. According to Dr Ward it had been growing there for three years.

“But what nourishes it?”

“Sunlight.” He replied, “Water evaporates, and condenses in the jar. Minerals feed the leaves, and return to the soil, all it needs is light.”
“Is it of any use?”
“Use! Glass boxes filled with plants, on a ships deck, will carry them safely around the world. We will move useful plants wherever we want. This could end famines, create industries and beautify gardens, it could change the world.”
It did.

Unpacking a Wardian Case at Kew in the 1920’s photo from Kew Gardens

All true.
In 1829 Dr Nathanial Ward tried to hatch out a moth chrysalis, it died, but a tiny fern seedling growing in the jar continued to grow although Dr Ward did nothing. Realising what this might mean he experimented and a decade later had a successful box for transporting pants around the world. Properly named the Wardian Case, after its inventor, it was used to transport medicinal, food and commercial crops around the globe. It really did change the world.

 

Written in response to this week’s carrotranch prompt
May 7, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story to nourish. The characters can nourish or be nourished. What else can be nourished? A tree? A setting? Does the sunset nourish the soul? Go where the prompt leads!

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Blunders in two Emmas or Anachronistic Tree Blossoms

Jane Austen planned her stories very carefully. She seems to have worked out the action of her tales with a calendar or diary beside her. This has meant that later scholars could work out exactly when they were written but, apart from Persuasion, the actual year the tale is set doesn’t seem to have mattered to Jane Austen. Rather she wanted to avoid the mistakes of other novelists, who can suggest June lasts eight weeks, or summer has eight or nine months.

 

Another aspect of her work is the absence of description, we hardly know what any character or place looked like, so when she does describe a scene it is noteworthy. This comes from Emma, in the novel we are told that it is in June, a party is going to Donwell Abbey to pick strawberries, when they stopped to look at Abbey Mill Farm.

 

The considerable slope, at nearly the foot of which the Abbey stood, gradually acquired a steeper form beyond its grounds; and at half a mile distant was a bank of considerable abruptness and grandeur, well clothed with wood; and at the bottom of this bank, favourably placed and sheltered, rose the Abbey Mill Farm, with meadows in front, and the river making a close and handsome curve around it.

It was a sweet view—sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive.

….. There had been a time also when Emma would have been sorry to see Harriet in a spot so favourable for the Abbey Mill Farm; but now she feared it not. It might be safely viewed with all its appendages of prosperity and beauty, its rich pastures, spreading flocks, orchard in blossom, and light column of smoke ascending.

And this is one of Jane Austen’s most famous mistakes. Can you spot it? well here’s a clue. These pictures were taken in our village orchard yesterday, 7th May.

The apple trees are in full bloom, indeed some are already beginning to go over. As Edward, Jane’s brother, who was a very practical gentleman farmer said.
“Jane, where did you get those apple trees that blossom in June?”

 

Fast forward two hundred years, to the latest film version of Emma, a very entertaining version, with absolutely brilliant costumes. When it comes to the proposal scene, in the film given as mid-summer, in the book it can be dated to 9th July. Emma is seen standing by a Horse Chestnut tree in full bloom,

and guess what is also flowering in our village at this very moment.

Did the film maker deliberately reference Jane’s blunder, or did she just think that the candles of a Horse Chestnut make a beautiful backdrop to a pretty young woman, as indeed they do.

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