"Thee haveth lowly on the north side of Our Lord the foul smelling ditch of Tarsilla, though she be a saint in the eye of man; yet, on the south side of the Redeemer there be sunk a Stephen. Most fetid, rank and unclean ... like a pile from the unwashed wound, he clingith on as an evil smelling sore." -- Anon., Persicus 2nd
This far side of Our Lord's birthday bracket certainly promises to keep the 25th as the only bit of the high ground in the neighborhood. Wescott does his best to give him a good face:
The first martyr's face during his trial, it is said, was like an angel's – amethyst, topaz, and amber. Perhaps the ordinary stones which the crowd of self-righteous Jews found handy turned precious in the air, before they reached the exalted body.
We have all come to know it as just plain "NEWNES" ... yes, in caps. The caps originated with me. The full title of the book, as the 'author' would have you remember it, is "Newnes Dictionary of Dates and Anniversaries." The compiler of the work, and its copyright owner, is Robert Collison. To my knowledge there were but two editions of the work: the first in 1962, the second (a revised one) came out in 1966.1
1 Sometime in the mid-seventies, after I moved back to America, I wrote to Wiley's (a highly respected London book monger) and asked about further editions. Their reply was brief and unpromising. Apparently Collison was dead and no one had shown any interest in keeping up the title.
"But, who is Newnes?"
Fair question! Let's turn to NEWNES himself. He is sandwiched between "Newmarket" (an English racing center, first developed as such by King Charles I) and "Newport" (of Rhode Island, U.S.A., first settled in 1639).
That's it! Digging deeper (but still between its covers), the copyright page also yields that the book was "set in eight point plantin". Further, it was "made and printed in Great Britain by Morrison and Gibb Limited, London and Edinburgh for George Newnes Limited, Tower House, Southampton Street, London, W.C.2"
Aside from the preface2 there is very little more to say. Facing the copyright page Collison allows a quotation from something by Coventry Patmore3:
When all work is done, the lie shall rot;
The truth is great, and shall prevail,
When none cares whether it prevail or not.
2 Though the preface is short (and, but a single sentence for the second edition), I would like to reserve getting into it until I have more time.
3 Using NEWNES for NEWNES, my guess is that 'something' is from his "The Angel in the House". Whatever, here is the listing (sandwiched between "Pathology" and "Paton, John Brown): Patmore, Coventry, English writer (The Angel in the House, 1854 – 1862); b. 1823, d. 1896.
"So, what does NEWNES have for us for today?"
Given the dates, their lives must have overlapped. Melvil was born in 1851 when George was but a lad of fourteen years (hardly ripe for the rank of Admiral). Whether they shared blood (as they did a name) we just don't know; and NEWNES does not help.
But, dear reader, I actually got into NEWNES this morning just to bring you this one ... for I really like the spot to where this link will take you:
And, as long as I am 'milking' for links to my earlier pages, here is one thanks to Madonna and Guy Ritchie. As you may recall, Annie and I boated around the Outer Hebrides this last summer. One of our visits was to Skibo Castle. It was here where The Material Girl and her film director husband had their wedding. After their Scottish nuptials the two joined Sting (a Palio link from '99) in Southampton.
"People" in NEWNES'S world are always walking around this place in the past tense. First, they were "born" ... later on they "died."
But, every so often, NEWNES allows them do something with a certain style. Almost always this 'something' is an elaboration on the way they leave us ... a twist in their personal path toward death ... a signature exit, so to speak ('birth', by contrast, is so limited in its menu that it next-to-never needs anything more clarifying than just plain being 'born'). And, as the roads out of here lead in so many different directions, NEWNES'S choice of exit language can be just as colorful and illuminating as the ways in which his people are dispatched to their next stop. Yes ... dear reader ... those of you who have been here with me for even a few short months have had the chance to see how the big and the great of this world ended there time on it. Most have died just plain vanilla style, but not a few have marched out of here in a rainbow of colors:
Finally, dear reader, there is the death ... just a simple one ... of a man whose life work had more of an impact on the readers of NEWNES than all of the lives that came before or after him:
If you are puzzled, check back here in a day or so for the answer.
Wescott tells us more:
The 'Bambini Martiri,' the babies of Bethlehem put to death by King Herod in hopes of the Messiah's being among them, are sometimes regarded as the protomartyrs, instead of St. Stephen.
The job of 'researcher' at Neuilly-sur-Seine is probably a frustrating one. Something really super in the century-old pile might have to share the stage with a boring bit from 1925. And, there is no guarantee that 'anything' will be found. But, every so often, there is a triple play. Today is an example:
NEW YORK – A telegram from Florida says the Southern Bell Telephone Company has been conducting remarkable experiments with telephoning under water. Tests were made on a cable running in the Gulf of Mexico between Key West in Florida and Havana, Cuba, and were more successful than anything of the kind heretofore attempted. Leading scientists declare that in the light of this latest exploit in electrical invention, it may not be long before the people of England and America will be able to talk to each other by telephone.
NEW ORLEANS – Mr. George Hart, the New York artist, tried to slip quietly out of New Orleans to bury himself deep in the interior of Mexico. Mr. Hart, it develops, is tired of civilization and believes that it will strangle any artist "worth his salt." In a word, he is sick of it all and freely admits that white collars, teacups, steam-heated houses, subways and taxicabs "get my goat." Mr. Hart intends settling in Tehuantepec, where he will have only primitive Indians as neighbors.
LONDON – The ghost of Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, will appear on television screens, if she chooses to walk on Jan. 10. Catherine, beheaded in 1542 on Henry's orders, is one of Britain's best authenticated ghosts. Three British Broadcasting Corporation television cameras will be focused on the "watching chamber" in Hampton Court Palace and an infra-red spotlight will be used to bring out Catherine's color if ordinary spotlights fail.
Dear reader ... David and Adriana ... Watcharee and I ... we all went to Ayutthaya yesterday. We are planning something special for January 7th. Ostensibly, we went there just for lunch. Watcharee's cousin prepared the meal. His wife helped. But, that is just the tip of what's to come. Stay tuned!
The French Embassy has been thoroughly gutted! Yes, nothing remains but a shell. Perhaps the 'frogs' were inspired to action by all the renovation and restoration that was done to their immediate neighbor to the south, The Oriental. But, being French, they will never admit it, will they? At the time, back in May, they looked sullen and horrified at the same time ... gazing first at the enormous siege engines that ALIMAX had tapped for the job ... second, stealing embarrassed peaks over their shoulder at the mess that their own property presented to the towns-folk. Dear reader, as I have a choice perch for this job, I shall now take it upon myself to keep you informed of what happens next door.1
1 Ideally, I should mount a web-cam on my porch. One constantly aimed at the doings of my French neighbors. No doubt, this would be 'popular' in France, especially with the bureaucracy that oversees overseas. Shy of this, I could easily build a file of construction 'stills'. At precise and predictable intervals ... like once a 'something' (hour, day, week, fortnight, month?) my file could be updated with fresh views of the work. Paul, can you create something along this line for our French visitors? Also, can you dig up some pre-construction photos of the property?
Christopher Plantin? Why is he so important to the reader of NEWNES? Any ideas? Come back tomorrow for the answer.
NEWNESIAN fans will be disappointed with his program for the 30th. There is not a rich lode of funerals from which to choose ... three yards of crepe will do the whole lot. A champion of women's rights, a surgeon and an actress take up the day's coffins:
But, those born today surely do deserve the effort:
(Alf, clearing throat and putting NEWNES aside): "Wescott ... "
(Voice from the back of the packed room): "That's it? You promised us ... (fumbling with papers) ... Plantin. Yes, Chris Plantin! What about HIM?"
(Alf, pretending surprise ... reopening book): "So I did."
(Crowd, murmuring contentedly): "Mrmrmrm ... mumble ... mumble ... "
(Alf, drawing his index finger to the bottom of the page): "Christopher Plantin was a French printer ... (drum roll starts) ... who was born in 1514 ... he died in 1589 ... "
(Crowd, impatiently): "Yes ... well, what?"
(Alf): "We don't know whether this was a unilateral decision on the part of the publisher ... or, whether Collison had any say in the matter. We have to go with what is printed at the bottom of the copyright page. Let me just read what's there: 'SET IN EIGHT POINT PLANTIN'. Full stop! That's it! No more."
(Voice from the back of the room. Probably the same voice that asked the first question): "Do all books tell you what kind of type they use?"
(Alf): "I am not sure if it is required. I think not. But, let me look at Wescott and see what happened there."
(Alf, busying himself with pages): "Nope. Nothing about 'type' here. Though he does tell you who did the cover design ... a Kate Emlen."
(Alf, anxious to get on with the day's lesson): "As long as it's open, shall we ... .?"
For breaking the image of Jupiter, this bishop had his hands cut off and was forced to look on while his deacons were tortured to death, which was harder for him than to die himself. With his handless arms, he blessed a blind boy, and restored his eyesight. The Governor of Tuscany, Venustianus, who had ordered his mutilation, then asked to see him, having sick eyes himself, and was cured and converted, with the women of his household. Thus in a cycle of infirmities and cures, the faith spread, as if by a sort of contagion. In this instance, the emperor put a stop to it by having them all killed.
NEW YORK – [Collated opinions having reference to the passing of the century:] Mr. J. D. Long, Secretary of the Navy, writes: "Human ingenuity may devise some entirely different system of currency, which will not be dependent upon the fluctuating value of a precious metal." The Commissioner of Navigation, Mr. Eugene T. Chamberlain, writes: "One hundred years hence, under favorable conditions, the United States should be the most powerful maritime nation." Mr. W. R. Merriam, director of the United States census, estimates that the population of the country is likely to reach 400,000,0001 before the end of another century. Mr. Albert Henschel, secretary of the Greater New York Commission, is confident that the airship will become a common method of communication.
BOSTON – If anyone of anyone's acquaintance ever says that he, or she, has a snake in his, or her, stomach, medical aid should be summoned at once. It is held by the medical profession to be an almost unfailing symptom of a psychosis. In a word it is a delusion.
LONDON – The National Association of Schoolmasters today approved the "neat and trim" costumes worn by British teen-age students and warned against "an American bobby-soxers complex" that might induce girls to discard their black wool stockings for nylons. The schoolmasters cautioned that if girls were allowed to change their traditional outfits and don nylons, form-fitting dresses and high heels, they might even put on lipstick and fur-lined boots.
Dear reader, a little more than a week ago I bought a Sony VAIO notebook computer. I wanted something really small ... something much smaller than my laptop. During the past few years laptops have grown in size and weight ... almost to the point of being as 'luggable' as some desktop machines. With built-in everything: floppies, CDs, DVDs, 8Xs of this and 12 billions of that ... to say nothing of woofers and weavers ... and, much, much more ... well, they all just didn't fit where I wanted to put them.
Also, the Sony is loads of fun. It has a built in camera that allows for candid shots. For example, this is from my lobby. I will try something more daring after I have mastered this little engine.
1 Right now the United States population of the U.S. is just above 281 million. I heard it on CNN this morning. That means Merriam was 'off' by about 120 million.
How is it possible not to be 'moved' by this tale? Is it just a coincidence that Silvester's1 day should fall on the last page of the Christian calendar? Or, did our Big Guy design it this way? Laid into these two paragraphs from Wescott is practically everything that any '60s cigar-chomping Hollywood studio-head could ever want. How is it that the brains that brought to every grimy little neighborhood Cinemascope, Doris Day, 3-D glasses, Technicolor, and Victor Mature failed us so miserably at year's end? Not to package the life of Silvester into a star-studded script is grounds for a class action suit. Where were the Gilbert brothers2 when this did not happen?
1 NEWNES, like the creator of the cartoon character, prefers "Sylvester." Wescott uses "Silvester".
2 The Gilbert brothers were the "Ralph Naders" of shareholders ... in the 50's and 60's. Owning one or two shares of stock in almost every traded corporation, they were entitled to attend stockholder meetings and register their displeasure with uncomfortable questions and proposals. Unlike Nader, they eventually died.
The pope who governed the church during the reign of Constantine the Great. Still a pagan, the emperor caught leprosy – so the story goes – and his court-physicians could suggest nothing better than baths in children's blood. Three thousand children were herded together for that purpose; but Constantine, pitying them and their parents, refused the treatment. Finally Pope Silvester cured him by means of simple baths of spring-water, and, perhaps, by baptism.
It then seemed expedient to make Christianity a legal religion, perhaps even the official religion of the Western empire. The Empress-mother Helena was displeased by her son's plans. So he summoned a hundred and forty philosophers, rabbis, and other specialists in supernatural matters, and presided over a debate between them and Pope Silvester, followed by a public trial of magic arts, the white against the black. It was held in the Coliseum,3 and must have been a great occasion for the pleasure-mad Romans, as it certainly was for the millions of men who have been born and died since. One of the rabbis, the greatest magician of the day, announced that he knew the name of Omnipotent. A bull was brought into the arena; the rabbi whispered the name into its ear; and it fell down dead. Then Pope Silvester said that the true God was not a killer, but a life-giver; and defied the magician to bring the animal back to life. Black magic did not suffice to do this; and, with the sign of the cross, Silvester not only resuscitated the bull but changed its nature. It rose to its feet, gentle as a new-born calf, amid universal applause. All the infidel doctors – among whom every prejudice of waning orthodoxy, every new philosophic fancy, every selfish interest, and manias and caprices of all sorts, must have been represented – then were willing to be Christians.
And that, dear reader, ends the year. Tomorrow, we'll start at the beginning of the book, with Telemachus, an Eastern hermit who felt strongly about mortal sword dueling.
What is unusual about this NEWNES entry?
Only four years separate these two events:
Yesterday's front page of the International Herald Tribune featured the story of that ill-fated British Airways 747 flight from London to Nairobi ... the one which a disturbed passenger tried to drive into the ground. The accompanying photograph, taken from the rear of the first-class cabin (just behind the cockpit), showed what appeared to be a hog-tied person lying in the aisle. But, what is of real interest to us is the profile of "British pop singer Bryan Ferry". Captured on film...without make-up, hair all asunder from sleep, recently on death's edge, and not knowing what to do with no stage lighting about him ... he is just like anyone else.
Also yesterday, Watcharee and I visited the gym. Ning was on duty; she was in a chatty mood. On our way back to the Oriental side of the river we caught a glimpse of the French Embassy ... or, what is left of it.
3 Wescott insists that the best spelling is "Colosseum".
Up next: 2001