Good Boy

In 1921, when someone complimented Warren G. Harding on a particularly fine speech, he said, “The best thing I ever wrote was an obituary for my dog. I felt that, and anybody can write when he feels very strongly upon his subject. Some day I’ll find a copy of that tribute to my dog and you’ll agree with me that it was good.”

He had published the piece while editing the Marion, Ohio, Star. Managing editor George Van Fleet retrieved the obituary from the newspaper files and sent a copy to the White House. Here it is:

Edgewood Hub in the register, a mark of his breeding, but to us just Hub, a little Boston terrier, whose sentient eye mirrored the fidelity and devotion of his loyal heart. The veterinary said he was poisoned; perhaps he was — his mute suffering suggested it. One is reluctant to believe that a human being who claims man’s estate could be so hateful a coward as to ruthlessly torture and kill a trusting victim, made defenseless through his confidence in the human master, but there are such. One honest look from Hub’s trusting eyes was worth a hundred lying greetings from such inhuman beings, though they wore the habiliments of men.

Perhaps you wouldn’t devote these lines to a dog. But Hub was a Star office visitor nearly every day of the six years in which he deepened attachment. He was a grateful and devoted dog, with a dozen lovable attributes, and it somehow voices the yearnings of broken companionship to pay his memory deserved tribute.

It isn’t orthodox to ascribe a soul to a dog — if soul means immortality. But Hub was loving and loyal, with the jealousy that tests its quality. He was reverent, patient, faithful; he was sympathetic, more than humanly so, sometimes, for no lure could be devised to call him from the sick bed of mistress or master. He minded his own affairs, especially worthy of human emulation, and he would kill or wound no living thing. He was modest and submissive where these qualities were becoming, yet he assumed a guardianship of the home he sentineled, until entry was properly vouched. He couldn’t speak our language though he somehow understood, but he could be and was eloquent with uttering eye and wagging tail, and the other expressions of knowing dogs. No, perhaps he had no soul, but in these things are the essence of soul and the spirit of lovable life.

Whether the Creator planned it so, or environment and human companionship have made it so, men learn richly through the love and fidelity of a brave and devoted dog. Such loyalty might easily add lustre to a crown of immortality.

The Golden Arrowhead

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The flag of Guyana was designed by a college student. In 1960, as that country was emerging from British colonial rule, Whitney Smith, then a 20-year-old undergraduate at Harvard, wrote to independence leader Cheddi Jagan and asked what flag the new country had chosen. Jagan told him no decision had been made and asked him for ideas. Smith designed a flag, got his mother to sew it, and sent it in, and Guyana adopted it, with some slight modifications.

Smith went on to create the journal Flag Bulletin; found the Flag Research Center; design flags for the Saudi Navy, Bonaire, and Aruba; organize the First International Congress of Vexillology (and coin that term); help to found the North American Vexillological Association and the Flag Heritage Association; and write The Flag Book of the United States, Flag Lore of All Nations, and more than 250 flag histories for the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

“I’m a monomaniac, that’s clear,” he told People magazine. “But I’m more fortunate than most people because I have something that infuses my whole life. I relate flags to everything.”

Memorial

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

In Vienna’s Judenplatz stands a construction of steel and concrete that takes the shape of a library turned inside out. Its walls are filled with books, but the spines are all turned inward, so the knowledge they contain is inaccessible. It bears two large doors, but these do not open.

It is a memorial to the Austrian victims of the Holocaust. Artist Rachel Whiteread said, “It was clear to me from the outset that my proposal had to be simple, monumental, poetic and non-literal. I am a sculptor: not a person of words but of images and forms.”

At the unveiling, Simon Wiesenthal said, “This monument shouldn’t be beautiful. It must hurt.”

Big Man on Campus

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

The balcony of Woolsey Hall at Yale has one extra-wide seat: Carpenters enlarged it to accommodate William Howard Taft, who returned to his alma mater after losing his re-election bid for the presidency in 1912.

Most of the seats in Woolsey measure 18″ x 17″; Taft’s measures 25″ x 20″. He once convinced an usher to admit him by leading him to the customized chair — he told another patron, “I lost my ticket, but was fortunately able to establish my identity by the breadth of my beam and the corresponding breadth of this seat.”

Summary

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A letter to the Daily Telegraph, Feb. 26, 1913:

Sir,

Everyone seems to agree upon the necessity of putting a stop to Suffragist outrages; but no one seems certain how to do so. There are two, and only two, ways in which this can be done. Both will be effectual.

1. Kill every woman in the United Kingdom.

2. Give women the vote.

Yours truly,

Bertha Brewster

Simplest Terms

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English geographer Halford Mackinder’s 1914 paper “The Geographical Pivot of History” helped to found the study of geopolitics. In it, he described his Heartland Theory, in which the world’s land surface was divided into the “World-Island,” meaning Europe, Asia, and Africa; the “offshore islands,” including Britain and Japan; and the “outlying islands,” including the continents of North America, South America, and Australia. At the world’s center lies the Heartland, stretching from the Volga to the Yangtze and from the Himalayas to the Arctic.

In 1919 he reduced his theory to three startlingly stark statements:

Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland.

Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island.

Who rules the World Island commands the World.

He thought the “pivot area” was impregnable to attack by sea and thus capable of building a land power that could conquer the world.

“No mere academic theoretician, Mackinder injected his Heartland thesis into the 1919 Paris Peace Conference that followed World War I,” write Mark Monmonier and George Schnell in Map Appreciation. “He recommended buffer states in Eastern Europe to prevent any nation(s) from gaining control of the Heartland, especially through a German-Soviet alliance. The conference’s subsequent creation of independent states from territories that had been parts of Austria-Hungary, Germany, or Russia varied little from Mackinder’s proposal and included Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (along the Baltic Sea) and Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia (extending from the Baltic to the Adriatic).”

Onlookers

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In a letter written home from the Western Front in May 1915, 2nd Lt. Alexander Gillespie of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders describes a striking midnight experience:

Presently a misty moon came up, a nightingale began to sing … It was strange to stand there and listen, for the song seemed to come all the more sweetly and clearly in the quiet intervals between the bursts of firing. There was something infinitely sweet and sad about it, as if the countryside were singing gently to itself, in the midst of all our noise and confusion and muddy work; so that you felt the nightingale’s song was the only real thing which would remain when all the rest was long past and forgotten. …

So I stood there, and thought of all the men and women who had listened to that song, just as for the first few weeks after Tom was killed I found myself thinking perpetually of all the men who had been killed in battle — Hector and Achilles and all the heroes of long ago, who were once so strong and active, and now are so quiet. Gradually the night wore on, until day began to break, and I could see clearly the daisies and buttercups in the long grass about my feet. Then I gathered my platoon together, and marched back past the silent farms to our billets.

Another front-line soldier, J.C. Faraday, noticed the same effect. He wrote to the Times in July 1917, “You will have a terrific tearing and roaring noise of artillery and shot in the dead of night; then there will be a temporary cessation of the duel, with great quietness, when lo! and behold and hear! Hearken to his song! Out come the nightingales, right about the guns … And another kind of love music is introduced to our ears and souls, which does us good. Think? It makes you think — and beautiful thoughts come along to relieve you from the devilment of war and the men who cause it.”

(From Stephen Moss, A Bird in the Bush: A Social History of Birdwatching, 2013.)

Eventful

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Letizia Ramolino was born in 1750. In her 85 years of life she gave birth to Napoleon Bonaparte, saw the French monarchy collapse, witnessed the French Revolution, and saw her son crowned emperor. Then she saw his death, the collapse of his empire, and the restoration of the monarchy.

She died in 1836, 15 years after her most famous son.

With All Speed

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The earliest photograph of a human figure on paper is “The Footman” by William Henry Fox Talbot, from 1840. Footmen came in several varieties; an early breed that quickly went extinct was the running footman, who would advance as a herald before his master’s carriage and also deliver urgent dispatches. In What the Butler Saw, E.S. Turner gives some amazing examples:

  • As the table was being laid for dinner in his castle at Thirlstane, the Duke of Lauderdale was informed that there was a shortage of plate, so he sent a running footman over the Lammermuir Hills to his other castle at Lethington, near Haddington, 15 miles away. The man returned with the additional plate in time for dinner.
  • In his Recollections of 1826, the writer John O’Keeffe remembers a running footman he saw in his youth in Ireland: “He looked so agile, and seemed all air like a Mercury; he never minded roads but took the short cut and, by the help of his pole, absolutely seemed to fly over hedge, ditch and small river. His use was to carry a message, letter or dispatch; or on a journey to run before and prepare the inn, or baiting-place, for his family or master who came the regular road in coach-and-two, or coach-and-four or coach-and-six; his qualifications were fidelity, strength and agility.”
  • One evening the Earl of Home sent a running footman from his Berwickshire castle to Edinburgh on important business. On going downstairs the following morning he found the man asleep in the hall. He was about to chastise him when the man told him he’d already been there and back, a distance of 35 miles each way. (If we allow 12 hours for this that’s 6 mph, allowing for a few breaks to eat and rest. That seems accurate — Turner says that a footman running before his master’s coach “was prepared to cover sixty miles and more in a day, at an average of six to seven miles an hour.”)

“In London the fourth Duke of Queensberry (‘Old Q’) continued to employ running footmen until his death in 1810. He would try out applicants in Piccadilly, lending them his livery for the occasion, and then stand watch in hand on his balcony to time their performance. There is a story that he said to one candidate: ‘You will do very well for me.’ The reply was, ‘And your livery will do very well for me,’ with which the runner bolted.”

The Open Christmas Letter

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Image: Flickr

In December 1914, as the first Christmas of World War I approached, 101 British women suffragists sent a holiday message “To the Women of Germany and Austria.”

“Some of us wish to send you a word at this sad Christmastide,” it ran. “The Christmas message sounds like mockery to a world at war, but those of us who wished, and still wish, for peace may surely offer a solemn greeting to such of you who feel as we do.”

Though our sons are sent to slay each other, and our hearts are torn by the cruelty of this fate, yet through pain supreme we will be true to our common womanhood. We will let not bitterness enter into this tragedy, made sacred by the life-blood of our best, nor mar with hate the heroism of their sacrifice. Though much has been done on all sides you will, as deeply as ourselves, deplore — shall we not steadily refuse to give credence to those false tales so free told us, each of the other?

We hope it may lessen your anxiety to learn we are doing our utmost to soften the lot of your civilians and war prisoners within our shores, even as we rely on your goodness of heart to do the same for ours in Germany and Austria.

The following spring they received a reply:

If English women alleviated misery and distress at this time, relieved anxiety, and gave help irrespective of nationality, let them accept the warmest thanks of German women and the true assurance that they are and were prepared to do likewise. In war time we are united by the same unspeakable suffering of all nations taking part in the war. Women of all nations have the same love of justice, civilization and beauty, which are all destroyed by war. Women of all nations have the same hatred for barbarity, cruelty and destruction, which accompany every war.

Women, creators and guardians of life, must loathe war, which destroys life. Through the smoke of battle and thunder of cannon of hostile peoples, through death, terror, destruction, and unending pain and anxiety, there glows like the dawn of a coming better day the deep community of feeling of many women of all nations.

It was signed by 155 women of Germany and Austria.