Side-Eye

jealousy glass

This is sneaky: Operagoers in the 18th century could spy on their neighbors using a “jealousy glass” — you’d appear to be watching the stage but a mirror would direct your view to the side, like a horizontal periscope. Marc Thomin, optician to the queen of France, wrote in 1749:

It is sufficient to turn this opening in the direction of whatever one wishes to observe and the curiosity is immediately satisfied. Its usefulness is confined to letting us see surreptitiously a person we seem not to be observing. This lorgnette may have been called a decorum glass because there is nothing more rude than to use an ordinary opera glass for looking at some one face to face.

Hanneke Grootenboer writes in Treasuring the Gaze, “Apparently, it was very convenient in allowing one to keep track of latecomers entering the opera without having to turn one’s head.”

(From J. William Rosenthal, From Spectacles and Other Vision Aids: A History and Guide to Collecting, 1996.)

Needs Analysis

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I do not believe in freedom of will. Schopenhauer’s words, ‘Man can indeed do what he wants, but he cannot want what he wants,’ accompany me in all life situations and console me in my dealings with people, even those that are really painful to me. This recognition of the unfreedom of the will protects me from taking myself and my fellow men too seriously as acting and judging individuals and losing good humor.

— Albert Einstein, Mein Glaubensbekenntnis, August 1932

Circumstance

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In the afternoon I went upon the river to look after some tarr I am sending down and some coles, and so home again; it raining hard upon the water, I put ashore and sheltered myself, while the King came by in his barge, going down towards the Downs to meet the Queen; the Duke being gone yesterday. But methought it lessened my esteem of a king, that he should not be able to command the rain.

— Samuel Pepys, diary, July 19, 1662

Epigram

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Midas, they say, possessed the art of old
Of turning whatsoe’er he touch’d to gold;
This modern statesmen can reverse with ease —
Touch them with gold, they’ll turn to what you please.

— John Wolcot (1738-1819)

The Size of It

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

During World War II the poet Robert Lowell refused to register for the draft and spent a few days in the West Street Jail next to mobster Louis “Lepke” Buchalter.

Lepke told him, “I’m in for killing. What are you in for?”

Lowell said, “I’m in for refusing to kill.”

Old Man River

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Because of its importance to the region’s Māori people, New Zealand’s Whanganui River is legally a person, with rights, duties, and liabilities, including the right to be represented in court proceedings.

Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson said the river will be recognized as a person “in the same way a company is, which will give it rights and interests.”

Gerrard Albert, lead negotiator for the Whanganui iwi (tribe), said, “We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that from our perspective treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as an indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management.”

In 2011, residents of Ecuador sued the provincial government of Loja on behalf of the Vilcabama River to stop a road-widening project that was forcing rocks and debris into the watershed. A “rights of nature” provision in Ecuador’s constitution permits people to sue on behalf of an ecosystem. A judge decided in favor of the river, and the municipality had to cancel the project and rehabilitate the area.

Cold Facts

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Victorian and Edwardian boys could send confidential questions to the Boy’s Own Paper and look for responses in the “Answers to Correspondents” column:

  • “We are not sure of the colour of the South-Eastern Railway Carriages. The paint is rarely visible owing to the thick covering of dirt by which it is concealed.” (July 28, 1888)
  • “Your insect was smashed in the post, but we have identified the fragments as those of Cetonia aurata, the common rose-beetle. Next time you send us a specimen, put it in a box.”
  • “You cannot safely treat rupture yourself.” (July 1888)
  • “It is extremely unlikely that Victor Hugo would ever answer any of your letters, even if we forwarded them. He has been dead quite some years.”

One of the editors, Scottish physician Gordon Stables, seemed to have a particular favorite remedy for health questions:

  • “Rise not later than 7 and cold tub immediately. In very cold weather massage yourself all over before turning out, and then with the rough towel after the cold tub. Breakfast at 8, but only after ten minutes in the open air.”
  • “Swimming in winter (Mac.). — Few can stand it, but judge for yourself if you can get a good reaction. Dr. Gordon Stables tells us that he joined his swimming club in December when a student. Keeps it up all the year round. Has swum for his life with his heavy clothes on in the Arctic regions. Took no hurt. Others might.” (January 1905)
  • (To a girl who “wanted to get strong like the boys”:) “You have tried the really cold tub and the B.O.P. dumb-bell exercises every morning before breakfast, my dear?”

When one boy said he longed for a fine pair of whiskers, he was told that “a really cold tub” was his only hope. A New Zealand reader who asked for something to help his nerves was advised to “take plenty of exercise in the open air and a cold tub every morning before breakfast.”

What if there was no tub in the house? “Douche yourself regularly 365 days a year in the mornings on rising, and 366 in any Leap Year, with 30 sponge loads of the coldest water obtainable. We presume there is somewhere around where you can do this with discretion.” (Footnote: “The water must be really cold.”)

To a boy in Northern Ontario: “On no account should you ever cut a circular hole in the winter ice to get a cold tub. You would certainly freeze to death very quickly but it is also probable you might well provide a tasty meal for some hungry seal lurking below. In your case, wait for the spring thaws.”

Stables didn’t mince words. In 1905 he wrote, “The children of the wealthy and well-to-do in cities are apt to be spoiled by pampering and coddling and over-feeding. Cargoes of such little fat boys would sell well in some parts of new Guinea, but in this country they do not assist in the very least to keep the crown on the King’s head.” To a boy inquiring about “bad habits” in 1902, he wrote, “Coffins are cheap and boys like you are not of much use in the world. We do not answer by post.” Admonished for this, he published a modified reply in the Boy’s Own Annual for that year: “If you go on as you are, there is nothing before you but an early and dishonoured grave. Pray God to forgive and help you to resist temptation.”

(Jack Cox, Take a Cold Tub, Sir!, 1982.)

In a Word

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diremption
n. a forcible separation; a tearing asunder

phronesis
n. practical judgment; the faculty of conducting oneself wisely

obsecrate
v. to entreat (a person) earnestly

rescribe
v. to write back; to write in reply

From Betty’s Weekly, Feb. 19, 1916:

Dear Betty — My boy has been in the trenches for six months, and expects to get furlough any moment. What I want to ask is that, if you were me, would you meet him at the station, or would you wait for him at home?

You ask me a difficult question, little girl, and I find it hard to advise you. Were I you I’d want with all my heart and soul to be the first woman my boy would see when he arrived. And yet, dear, the meeting him after all he’s been through would mean so much to me and to him, too, that I don’t think I could bear to see him in public. Really and truly, were I you, I’d wait for him alone somewhere — at home, if possible. Somehow, such a meeting is too sacred to be witnessed by anybody. But be sure you go to see him off when he leaves for the Front again, and be as brave as you can, dear.

Perspective

On Wednesday, July 6, he was engaged to sup with me at my lodgings in Downing-street, Westminster. But on the preceding night my landlord having behaved very rudely to me and some company who were with me, I had resolved not to remain another night in his house. I was exceedingly uneasy at the awkward appearance I supposed I should make to Johnson and the other gentlemen whom I had invited, not being able to receive them at home, and being obliged to order supper at the Mitre. I went to Johnson in the morning, and talked of it as a serious distress. He laughed, and said, ‘Consider, Sir, how insignificant this will appear a twelvemonth hence.’–Were this consideration to be applied to most of the little vexatious incidents of life, by which our quiet is too often disturbed, it would prevent many painful sensations. I have tried it frequently, with good effect. ‘There is nothing (continued he) in this mighty misfortune; nay, we shall be better at the Mitre.’

— James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson, 1791

Decorum

In Notorious there’s a strangely chaste scene of passion in which Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant hold one another, gaze into each other’s eyes, and declare their love, but only intermittently kiss. Grant even places a phone call during the clinch. The reason is the Hays code, a set of moral guidelines that Hollywood had adopted in 1930. Among other things, it declared that:

The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld … Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown.

The practical rule was that a screen kiss must not last more than 3 seconds. So Alfred Hitchcock simply toed that line. Bergman later recalled, “We just kissed each other and talked, leaned away and kissed each other again … the censors couldn’t and didn’t cut the scene because we never at any one point kissed for more than three seconds … we nibbled on each other’s ears, and kissed a cheek, so that it looked endless.” In fact it lasted two and a half minutes.