Far From Home

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This is a detail from the allegorical painting Taste, Hearing and Touch, completed in 1620 by the Flemish artist Jan Brueghel the Elder. If the bird on the right looks out of place, that’s because it’s a sulphur-crested cockatoo, which is native to Australia. The same bird appears in Hearing, painted three years earlier by Brueghel and Peter Paul Rubens.

How did an Australian bird find its way into a Flemish painting in 1617? Apparently it was captured during one of the first Dutch visits to pre-European Australia, perhaps by Willem Janszoon in 1606, who would have carried it to the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and then to Holland in 1611. That’s significant — previously it had been thought that the first European images of Australian fauna had been made during the voyages of William Dampier and William de Vlamingh, which occurred decades after Brueghel’s death in 1625.

Warwick Hirst, a former manuscript curator at the State Library of New South Wales, writes, “While we don’t know exactly how Brueghel’s cockatoo arrived in the Netherlands, it appears that Taste, Hearing and Touch, and its precursor Hearing, may well contain the earliest existing European images of a bird or animal native to Australia, predating the images from Dampier’s and de Vlamingh’s voyages by some 80 years.”

(Warwick Hirst, “Brueghel’s Cockatoo,” SL Magazine, Summer 2013.) (Thanks, Ross.)

The Long View

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Hitler’s chief architect, Albert Speer, favored a “theory of ruin value” in which German buildings would collapse into aesthetically pleasing ruins, like those of classical antiquity. “I want German buildings to be viewed in a thousand years as we view Greece and Rome,” he said.

Using special materials and applying statistical principles, Speer claimed to have created structures that in 1,000 years would resemble Roman ruins. “The ages-old stone buildings of the Egyptians and the Romans still stand today as powerful architectural proofs of the past of great nations, buildings which are often ruins only because man’s lust for destruction has made them such,” he wrote.

Hitler liked to say that the purpose of his building was to transmit his time and its spirit to posterity. Ultimately, all that remained to remind men of the great epochs of history was their monumental architecture, he remarked. What then remained of the emperors of the Roman Empire? What would still give evidence of them today, if not their buildings […] So, today the buildings of the Roman Empire could enable Mussolini to refer to the heroic spirit of Rome when he wanted to inspire his people with the idea of a modern imperium. Our buildings must also speak to the conscience of future generations of Germans.

Hitler endorsed the idea, favoring the use of durable materials such as granite to reflect his soaring ambitions. “As capital of the world,” he said, “Berlin will be comparable only to ancient Egypt, Babylon, or Rome!” Ironically, this came true: When ancient Rome collapsed, its greatest buildings were pillaged for building materials, and when the Russians demolished Speer’s grandiose Chancellery in 1947, its marble was reused to build a metro station.

Romance Denied

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James Bosworth survived the Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854 and went on to become a railway stationmaster in Southampton, England, where he died in an accident at age 70. His epitaph reads:

Though shot and shell flew around fast,
On Balaclava’s plain,
Unscathed he passed, to fall at last,
Run over by a train.

(Thanks, Doug.)

Choosing Seats

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Daniel Webster had two chances to become president via the vice presidency. In 1840 the Whig party nominated William Henry Harrison for president and Harrison offered the vice presidency to Webster. Webster turned it down and Harrison died after a single month in office; his death would have made Webster president.

Eight years later Webster competed with Zachary Taylor for the Whig party’s nomination. Taylor won and invited him to be his running mate, and Webster again shunned the office, saying, “I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead and in my coffin.” Taylor won the White House and died 16 months afterward, which again would have made Webster president if he’d accepted.

Related: In the election of 1880 James Garfield simultaneously won the presidency, retained his seat in the House, and won a Senate seat — he’d been elected to all three offices at once.

Appalling Slave Punishments

From A Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper, From American Slavery, 1848:

“A large farmer, Colonel McQuiller in Cashaw county, South Carolina, was in the habit of driving nails into a hogshead so as to leave the point of the nail just protruding in the inside of the cask; into this, he used to put his slaves for punishment, and roll them down a very long and steep hill. I have heard from several slaves, (though I had no means of ascertaining the truth of this statement,) that in this way he had killed six or seven of his slaves.”

Roper himself escaped from slavery at least 16 times throughout the American South, most often from the prolifically sadistic South Carolina cotton planter J. Gooch. Examples:

“Mr. Gooch had gone to church, several miles from his house. When he came back, the first thing he did was to pour some tar upon my head, then rubbed it all over my face, took a torch with pitch on, and set it on fire; he put it out before it did me very great injury, but the pain which I endured was most excruciating, nearly all my hair having been burnt off.”

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“This instrument he used to prevent the negroes running away, being a very ponderous machine, several feet in height, and the cross pieces being two feet four, and six feet in length. This custom is generally adopted among the slave-holders in South Carolina, and other slave States. One morning, about an hour before day break, I was going on an errand for my master; having proceeded about a quarter of a mile, I came up to a man named King, (Mr. Sumlin’s overseer,) who had caught a young girl that had run away with the above machine on her. She had proceeded four miles from her station, with the intention of getting into the hands of a more humane master. She came up with this overseer nearly dead, and could get no farther; he immediately secured her, and took her back to her master, a Mr. Johnson.”

http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/roper/roper.html

“This is a machine used for packing and pressing cotton. By it he hung me up by the hands at letter a, a horse, and at times, a man moving round the screw e, and carrying it up and down, and pressing the block c into a box d, into which the cotton is put. At this time he hung me up for a quarter of an hour. I was carried up ten feet from the ground, when Mr. Gooch asked me if I was tired? He then let me rest for five minutes, then carried me round again, after which, he let me down and put me into the box d, and shut me down in it for about ten minutes.”

“To one of his female slaves he had given a doze of castor oil and salts together, as much as she could take; he then got a box, about six feet by two and a half, and one and a half feet deep; he put this slave under the box, and made the men fetch as many logs as they could get; and put them on the top of it; under this she was made to stay all night.”

Roper finally escaped to the North in 1834 and moved to England, where he published the book and toured making abolitionist speeches. He died in 1891.

“The Sons of Our Sons”

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In 1919 Russian author Ilya Ehrenburg wrote a message to posterity:

The sons of our sons will marvel,
Paging the textbook:
“1914 … 1917 … 1919 …
How did they live? The poor devils!”
Children of a new age will read of battles,
Will learn the names of orators and generals,
The numbers of the killed,
And the dates.

They will not know how sweetly roses smelled above the trenches,
How martins chirped blithely between the cannon salvos,
How beautiful in those years was
Life.

Never, never did the sun laugh so brightly
As above a sacked town,
When people, crawling out of their cellars,
Wondered: is there still a sun?
Violent speeches thundered,
Strong armies perished,

But the soldiers learned what the scent of snowdrops is like
An hour before the attack.
People were led at dawn to be shot …
But they alone learned what an April morning can be.
The cupolas gleamed in the slanting rays,
And the wind pleaded: Wait! A minute! Another minute!
Kissing, they could not tear themselves from the mournful mouth,
And they could not unclasp the hands so tightly joined.
Love meant: I shall die! I shall die!
Love meant: Burn, fire, in the wind!
Love meant: O where are you, where?

They love as people can love only here, upon this rebellious and
tender star.

In those years there were no orchards golden with fruit,
But only fleeting bloom, only a doomed May.
In those years there was no calling: “So long!”
But only a brief, reverberant “Farewell!”
Read about us and marvel!
You did not live in our time — be sorry!
We were guests of the earth for one evening only.
We loved, we destroyed, we lived in the hour of our death.
But overhead stood the eternal stars,
And under them we begot you.

In your eyes our longing still burns,
In your words our revolt reverberates yet
Far into the night, and into the ages, the ages, we have scattered
The sparks of our extinguished life.

Double Jeopardy

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On Jan. 30, 1835, as Andrew Jackson was departing a U.S. representative’s funeral service at the Capitol, troubled English house painter Richard Lawrence confronted him, drew a pistol from his pocket, pointed it at Jackson’s heart, and pulled the trigger.

“The explosion of the cap was so loud that many persons thought the pistol had fired,” said Sen. Thomas Benton, who heard it from the foot of the steps. It hadn’t — only the cap had exploded.

Realizing the misfire, Lawrence dropped the pistol and drew another of the same make and design from his pocket. He cocked it, aimed it at Jackson’s heart, and pulled the trigger. A second shot reverberated through the rotunda, but again only the cap had exploded. The crowd subdued Lawrence, who was later found to be insane.

The sergeant-at-arms at the Capitol recovered both pistols and found that they had been properly loaded. Meriwether Lewis Randolph found that they had contained “powder of the best quality, & the balls rammed tight,” but “the percussion caps exploded without igniting the powder.” Jack Donelson recapped the pistols and tested them to see if they would fire, and they did, perfectly.

An expert on small arms estimated the odds of two successive misfires of perfectly loaded pistols with high-quality powder at about 125,000 to 1. Benton wrote, “The circumstance made a deep impression upon the public feeling and irresistibly carried many mind to the belief in a superintending Providence, manifested in the extraordinary case of two pistols in succession — so well loaded, so coolly handled, and which afterwards fired with such readiness, force, and precision — missing fire, each in its turn, when leveled eight feet at the President’s heart.”

Presidential Misgivings

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George Washington: “So much is expected, so many untoward circumstances may intervene, that I feel an insuperable diffidence in my own abilities.”

John Adams: “If I were to go over my life again, I would be a shoemaker rather than an American statesman.”

Thomas Jefferson called the presidency “a splendid misery.” He said, “To myself, personally, it brings nothing but unceasing drudgery and daily loss of friends.”

John Quincy Adams called his term “the four most miserable years of my life.”

Andrew Jackson: “I can with truth say mine is a situation of dignified slavery.”

Buchanan to Lincoln: “”If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning [home], you are a happy man indeed.”

Lincoln: “You have heard about the man tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail? A man in the crowd asked how he liked it, and his reply was that if it wasn’t for the honor of the thing, he would rather have walked.”

Ulysses Grant: “I have been the subject of abuse and slander scarcely ever equaled in political history.”

Rutherford B. Hayes, on leaving office: “The escape from bondage into freedom is grateful indeed to my feelings. … The burden, even with my constitutional cheerfulness, has not been a light one. Now I am glad to be a freed man.”

James Garfield: “My God! What is there in this place that a man should ever want to get in it?”

Grover Cleveland: “I believe I shall buy or rent a house near here, where I can go and be away from this cursed constant grind.”

Teddy Roosevelt, to the incoming Taft: “Ha ha! You are making up your Cabinet. I in a lighthearted way have spent the morning testing the rifles for my African trip. Life has its compensations.”

Taft: “I’ll be damned if I am not getting tired of this. It seems to be the profession of a president simply to hear other people talk.”

Taft to Wilson: “I’m glad to be going — this is the lonesomest place in the world.”

Woodrow Wilson: “I never dreamed such loneliness and desolation of heart possible.”

Warren G. Harding: “This White House is a prison. I can’t get away from the men who dog my footsteps. I am in jail.”

Herbert Hoover: “A few hair shirts are part of the wardrobe of every man. The President differs from other men in that he has a much more extensive wardrobe.”

Harry Truman: “Being a president is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.”

Bill Clinton: “Being a president is a lot like running a cemetery: There are a lot of people under you, but nobody’s listening.”

There’ll Always Be an England

From the Daily Telegraph obituary of British Army major Digby Tatham-Warter (1917–1993):

Digby Tatham-Warter, the former company commander, 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, who has died aged 75, was celebrated for leading a bayonet charge at Arnhem in September 1944, sporting an old bowler hat and a tattered umbrella.

During the long, bitter conflict Tatham-Warter strolled around nonchalantly during the heaviest fire. The padre (Fr Egan) recalled that, while he was trying to make his way to visit some wounded in the cellars and had taken temporary shelter from enemy fire, Tatham-Warter came up to him, and said: ‘Don’t worry about the bullets: I’ve got an umbrella.’

Having escorted the padre under his brolly, Tatham-Warter continued visiting the men who were holding the perimeter defences. ‘That thing won’t do you much good,’ commented one of his fellow officers, to which Tatham-Warter replied: ‘But what if it rains?’