BOB'S BITS

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 22 Jul 2019, 10:52

"Stand inside the circle. Put // Your hand on stone. Listen// To the past's long pulse." UA Fanthorpe on the megaliths at Stanton Drew, Somerset.

In my senior report card, my English teacher, Oakley V. Ethington, noted my sudden interest in poetry. “Bob,” he wrote, “has blossomed out this year.” In Des Moines it took me a while to live that down. But I blossomed as a taster rather than a diner and have continued in that mode ever since. The penalty has been that I have missed much in contemporary poetry while jumping (rather arbitrarily) between the recently dead (e.g. William Carlos Williams) and the long gone (e.g. John Milton). Among the voices I thus missed was one with whom I shared a small patch of real estate for three years, 1983-86, when she was poet in residence at St. Martin’s College, Lancaster: Ursula Askham (aka UA) Fanthorpe, born on July 22, 1929. Since she’s now “recently dead” (admiring obituaries appeared everywhere in 2009) I may take her up. She’s been an autobiographical poet, a habit I like, and some of her later poetry has reflected on how WWII disrupted her happy childhood exploring rural Kent: “We knew how bombs sliced off a house’s flank//uncovering private parts.” With thousands of other children she was taken away for safety’s sake and like many of them she felt, ever after, an outsider, another theme in her poems. But UA’s “years of solitary dissidence” ended when she met Rosemarie Bailey (another literary academic) in the 1960s and established a household, somewhat clandestinely at first but openly well before the couple celebrated their civil union in 2006. Besides personal stories, much of UA’s poetry is historical, poetizing past myths and realities for their intrinsic interest but also (another of my preferences) for the perspective they offer on current follies and foibles. Her first poetry volume came out only in 1979; by the 1990s she was being considered for Oxford’s poetry chair and even as Poet Laureate. Her death was thus considered early, to have come too soon even though she was 80, and her Quaker funeral and her Anglican memorial service drew great crushes of people who had been wise enough to read her while she lived and wrote. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 23 Jul 2019, 12:37

"The American Medical Association has demonstrated as much interest in the health of the Negro as Hitler has in the health of the Jew." Louis Tompkins Wright.

On July 23, 1891, Louis Tompkins Wright was born in LaGrange, Georgia. His father—born a slave—was minister in the local African Methodist Episcopal church, but had been a medical doctor, surely one of Georgia’s first black doctors. He died soon after Louis’s birth, and Louis’s mother, Lula, then married William Fletcher Penn, the first black graduate of Yale Medical College. So perhaps Louis Wright was fated to become a doctor, which he did in 1915, as one of the first black graduates of Harvard’s college of medicine. Despite graduating fourth in his class, he found it impossible to secure a residency in a Boston area hospital, and so completed his training at Howard University’s Freedmen’s Hospital, From there, Wright moved into the US Army’s medical corps, and after American entry into WWI he served in a military hospital in France, close enough to the front lines that he was wounded in a mustard gas attack. He suffered ever after from respiratory ailments, and would die of tuberculosis in 1952. Even so, he fashioned a distinguished medical career as a surgeon, mainly at Harlem Hospital in New York City, where he was a pioneer in the use of chemotherapy in cancer treatment. Despite his busy medical schedule, Wright was also a leader in the ongoing struggle for equal civil rights. His own career was a paradigm of that struggle. While at Harvard, he successfully protested against several racial prohibitions, and at the Harlem hospital he was the first person of color to serve as a physician, then as administrator, and finally as director of research. In the wider world, outside of medicine, Wright was an active member of the NAACP, a frequent contributor to NAACP publications, and ultimately served eight years as NAACP chairman. Both his children continued the family tradition by becoming doctors and civil rights activists. His daughter Jane Cooke Wright also achieved distinction in chemotherapy research and treatment, and served for many years as director of research at NYU’s medical college. ©.
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 24 Jul 2019, 11:30

The African Tragedian in Whiteface, Ira Aldridge of New York.

Shakespeare wrote The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice in (probably) 1603. Moorish actors being in short supply, the title role was traditionally performed by whites in blackface, and it was not until May 1825 that an English theatre witnessed a black Othello. “a gentleman of color, lately arrived from America.” Most critics thought it a successful debut, and some expressed surprise that a person of African descent could manage Shakespearean language so very well. They should have been astounded that the actor in question was just short of his 18th birthday, for he was Ira Aldridge, born in New York City on July 24, 1807. In New York, as an adolescent, he’d been involved in a couple of black companies, but their performances were subject to disruption, their main theatre was burned to the ground, and young Ian chose to emigrate as valet to the English thespian James Wallack. It appears that his motive was, from the first, to establish himself as a great actor. He early invented the middle name of Keene, a play on the great Edmund Keane, but more to the point he studied English, briefly, at Glasgow University. Some early critics did question his accent, but they were few and if it was a problem Aldridge soon solved it. By the 1830s he was widely considered a great actor. His signature role was Othello, and he played other black roles too (various factors conspired to create a number of them, and there was always Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, a 1688 precursor). But soon he played white roles, often or always (the issue is not clear) in whiteface, including (as he aged) a magnificent Lear. Besides migrating into white roles, Aldridge acted in European theatres, achieving his greatest success in Prussia, Austria, and Russia. Indeed he died (1867) in Lodz, then in Polish Prussia, where today his gravestone, in black granite, is tended by the Society of Polish Artists of Film and Theatre. Behind him, in London, Aldridge left two daughters who became noted operatic singers, and a rather nice 3-storey house at 5 Hamlet Road, London, SE, whereon today you will find a blue ‘English Heritage’ plaque announcing that it was once the home of Ira Aldridge, American Actor. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 25 Jul 2019, 11:43

"As an ingredient, Scotchness was admirable; taken neat, it was as abominable as ammonia." Josephine Tey, in The Singing Sands, her final Inspector Grant mystery.

When novelist and playwright Elizabeth MacKintosh (born in Inverness, July 25, 1896) came down with cancer she kept it secret, and in 1952 most of her close friends did not know she was ill until they heard of her death, Sir John Gielgud by reading an obituary just before taking the stage for a matinee performance. But she was by nature a very private person, and (as far as I know) never wrote under her real name. She began life as a rather jolly games mistress, having been trained to it in colleges in Inverness and Birmingham. That career was brought to an end by an accident and by being called home to care for her mother and then, after her mother’s death and for many years, for her father. She began to write for money in the 1920s and chose two pen-names, Gordon Daviot for most of her plays and Josephine Tey for most of her fiction. Besides caring for her parents in Inverness, she spent much time in England, generally staying with her younger sister in a London suburb, and she was very much an Anglophile. At her death she left most of her estate and all of her royalties to the National Trust for England. Her desire for privacy was generally respected, ultimately by the London Times obituary that identified her only as ‘Gordon Daviot.’ Today Elizabeth MacKintosh is remembered mostly as Josephine Tey and thus for her crime fiction and for her Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Alan Grant. The Daughter of Time (1952) has Grant confined to bed (nursing a broken leg) while investigating King Richard III’s alleged murders (circa 1483) of the ‘princes in the tower.’ Dissenting from Shakespeare, Inspector Grant finds Richard III not only innocent but perhaps a rather pleasant character. This imaginative (and rather scholarly) turnabout was in 1990 named the greatest-ever mystery novel by the British Crime Writers’ Association and is ranked 4th by the Mystery Writers of America. It is still in print, and still under the name of Josephine Tey who, in real life, was Elizabeth MacKintosh’s great-great grandmother. Some secrets never die. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 26 Jul 2019, 12:20

"The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent . . . We must supply our own light." Stanley Kubrick, 1968.

Stanley Kubrick’s first successful, that is profitable, excursion into graphic art was with a still camera, a Graflex. It was a picture of an old man, mourning, artfully framed by his dark cloth cap, the window of his news agent’s stall, and the headlines announcing the death of the president, FDR. The photographer was then only 16, but the picture netted him $25 (almost $400 today) and a job with Look magazine. Stanley Kubrick was born in Manhattan on July 26, 1928, and the Graflex was a present with a purpose; his physician father, distressed by Stanley’s lackadaisical attitudes, had hoped to excite him about something other than playing the drums in his school’s jazz band. It seems to have worked, albeit indirectly. Stanley’s job at Look gave him time to read, reading led him to the cinema, and his hours at the cinema convinced him that he could make better films than those he watched, and there are critics who tell us that Kubrick’s mark, in all his films, lies in their photographic imagery. I’m not qualified to comment on that, for several of Kubrick’s most notable films have story lines that I try to avoid, notably A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Shining (1980), and Full Metal Jacket (1987), and I avoided them. But Paths of Glory (1957) moved me deeply when I saw it later on late night TV. I thought Lolita (1962) excellent, until I read the novel, much later. I also quite liked 2001: A Space Odyssey, (1968, but I didn’t see it until sometime in the 1990s). But above them all I would rank Dr. Strangelove, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). I saw Strangelove when it came out, with my Penn flatmate, Paul Cohen, and his sister Laura, a recent Connecticut College graduate. It didn’t teach me how to stop worrying, quite the contrary, but an after-film argument led me to concede, to Paul and Laura, that that its final photographic image, the gung-ho Air Force major, T. J. “King” Kong (Slim Pickens), bull-riding the Bomb as it fell towards a nuclear Armageddon, was as horribly funny as it was chillingly evocative. A kid at 15, playing at photography with a Graflex, could not have done better. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 27 Jul 2019, 12:58

We dare not stop short of serving ourselves or even our own nation, but must look to people of other nations as if they had been let into the family circle. Joan Mary Fry, 1915.

Middle-class radicalism and high Victorian culture must have been compatible, for there were a great many Victorian middle-class radicals. But it was a volatile, conflicted mixture, perhaps especially so for its women. Take for instance Joan Fry, whose 20th-century biographer, Ruth Fawell, saw her as both, and at once, “austere and tender.” Joan Mary Fry was born in suburban London (Highgate) on July 27, 1862, an elder but not the oldest of nine children of Sir Edward Fry. In this family the girls especially were expected to be ‘proper,’ an expectation intensified by the family’s Quakerism. So while her younger brother Roger Fry kicked over the traces sufficiently to become a member in good standing of the Bloomsbury Group (a lover of Vanessa Bell and a leading painter and critic), Joan and her two famous sisters Margery and Ruth never married. Joan was 30 before she was allowed out of the house unchaperoned and did not darken a theatre’s doors until she was 60. So much for austerity. When we come to tenderness, Joan Fry became a radical reformer, a leading public face (writer and speaker) for English Quakerism and a militant pacifist. Fenner Brockway always remembered her services (as chaplain and legal advisor) to WWI CO’s, and (as prison visitor) she is credited with saving the life of a CO who was being brutally mistreated. Joan’s pacifism carried on post war when she led Quaker efforts to mitigate the brutalities visited on Germany by the Versailles ‘peace.’ Their food relief mission was so effective that, briefly, Germans coined a new word for feeding babies and children, “quakern.” As for her somewhat wayward brother Roger, she moved in and cared for his two children through at least one of his love affairs. Still, she found time to mount relief efforts for Britain’s working poor through the strikes of the 1920s and the privations of depression and another war. Ever tender and tough, Joan Mary Fry into her 90s could be found in London playing racing games with her grandnieces and grandnephews. She died in 1955. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 28 Jul 2019, 11:21

Combatants in the Bone Wars: Cope and Marsh.

Well before the scientific community agreed on evolutionary theory (whether Darwin’s, Lamarck’s, or anyone else’s), there arose a popular appetite for fossils. The fever grew acute when it became evident that the American west was littered with ancient bones. There was also a lot of money floating around, and while most of it went into oil, steel, and railroads a good deal was spent on cultural competition. Patrons of cities already great and cities growing felt that a true metropolis must needs have a natural history museum (or two), and while such places might hold dioramas featuring the vanishing buffalo, they were built around vanished specimens, the fierce raptors and huge thunder lizards of the Age of Dinosaurs. Contributing to the fever—and fed by it—were the bone hunters, amongst whom two stand out, Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh. Cope, born in Philadelphia on July 28, 1840, had the advantage of family money. Marsh had better connections, including a very rich uncle, George Peabody. Wherever the wealth came from, they plundered it in what became known as the Bone Wars. These two met in Berlin in 1863 as youngish men, perhaps avoiding the Civil War but certainly polishing their credentials, and at first were friends. By the 1870s, while George Custer was setting out to subdue the Sioux, Marsh and Cope were at daggers drawn, or rather shovels, paying bone scouts, seeking favors from territorial governors, government surveys, and railway companies, and sabotaging each other’s expeditions. In the end, Marsh had the better of it. He lived longer, found more dinosaur species, and never did exhaust the Peabody fortune. Cope died sooner (in 1897) and would have died poor but he had sold his collections, for peanuts really, to museums in Washington, DC, and at his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. His funeral was a silent, Quaker affair, the only noise a reading from the Book of Job, no doubt counseling patience. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 29 Jul 2019, 12:18

"It's a psychological thing, really." Mary Roebling, on the success of women's banks and women bankers.

During the Great Depression, banks were in the news for all sorts of bad reasons, and they deserved it. But in January 1937 one of New Jersey’s largest banks, the Trenton Trust Company, made headlines of a different sort by electing a woman as president. She was Mary Gindhart Herbert Roebling, by her gender an unusual choice, so the media made much of her looks (Time magazine, suffering as always from adverbial overkill, said she was “probably the prettiest bank president” in the country), of the fact that she was the widow of the bank’s previous president, and—into the bargain—pointed out that Mary Roebling was “only” 30 years old. In fact she was 31 at the time (she was born on July 29, 1905) but in 1937 all this patronizing rhetoric carried a hint of expected failure. But as Mary’s father-in-law predicted, she confounded them all. In her first two decades at Trenton Trust, she trebled the bank’s capital value, not only by good investments but through customer-friendly innovations, including making her own office accessible, indeed visible, to ordinary depositors. By the time she retired, in 1984, it was a billion-dollar bank. But she’d accomplished much more than that, notably as the first woman governor of the New York Stock Exchange (1958-62), but also as the founder of the country’s first woman’s bank, Woman’s Bank N. A. of Denver, in 1978. And as philanthropist, fund-raiser, and volunteer board member, she played leading roles in the civic life of her state and nation. There wasn’t much in her background to predict all this. When she died in 1994 obituarists grabbed on to two points. As a girl in New Jersey she’d picked strawberries to earn pocket money. And when she was first widowed, in Philadelphia, at 19 and with a baby daughter, she went to the Wharton School, at night, to learn what to do about her predicament. As for the woman herself, Mary Roebling thought two bouts of marriage, housewifery, and motherhood taught her much of what she needed to know. Women, she often said, had great power and should use it. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 30 Jul 2019, 12:15

"My first feeling was that of being absolutely on top of the world," Truda Benham, on climbing Kilimanjaro at the age of 61.

For years it seemed likely that my grandmother Lillian would (as with many younger daughters of her era) care for her parents and then live out a longish spinsterhood, in her case as a schoolteacher. Clearly it didn’t turn out that way for Lillian (she married at 33, and a recent family reunion numbered her genetic progeny at 40—and counting), but it did turn out that way for Gertrude Emily Benham, born a few years before my grandmother, in London, in July 1867. Benham has turned up in the excellent New York Times series, “Overlooked No More,” obituaries of people (mainly women) who should have had obituaries when they died. Today, no one knows her exact birthing-day, so I’ll arbitrarily give “Truda” Benham July 30, 1867, and say that when her mother died in 1903 (her dad had passed in 1891) Truda took off for the hills. Literally. By the time she finished, in 1938, Truda had ‘climbed the world,’ or at least 300 recognized peaks, in Asia, Australia, and of course Europe. But she began in Canada, at the northern end of the Selkirk Range, in the beautiful (and breathtakingly precipitous) Valley of the Ten Peaks. Only recently opened up by railway construction, they were just being climbed, and in the summer of 1903 Truda Benham was the first mountaineer of any gender to climb three of them, vastly irritating an American man-climber who’d had one of them named after him before he’d even climbed it. Truda beat Charles Fay to the top of Mount Fay, clearly a case of lèse majesté. Nearby Mount Truda was named after her, as is the challenging route she took to climb it. After that, the world was her oyster, and she financed her travels and her climbs with a small inheritance (£250 p.a.) and by selling her needlework (that, and mountaineering were things my grandmother never learned to do). Truda Benham’s real memorial is her second mountain, but you can also find her photos, her botanical and climbing notebooks, and her battered boots in the City Museum and Art Gallery in Plymouth, England. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 31 Jul 2019, 13:01

Graduated Reading: Comprising a Circle of Knowledge in 200 Lessons. The title of Charles Baker's most widely reprinted text, originally intended for deaf and dumb children, 1848.

Excluded from established schools, the universities, and many ‘normal’ professions, English dissenters turned their energies elsewhere, for instance banking, chocolates, and colonies. They also formed their own schools, “dissenting academies,” whence emanated (in the 18th century) much good scientific work. A late entry was the “Lancasterian” school, brainchild of the Quaker Joseph Lancaster (1778-1838). Based on peer mentoring and peer discipline, the Lancasterian system had a spotty record, but not (apparently) in the superachieving family of the Lancasterian headmaster Thomas Baker. Several of his children had distinguished careers (in surgery, the law, and the Unitarian Church), and a daughter (Harriet) may have blotted her ‘Dissent’ copybook by mothering a future Archbishop of Canterbury. Today we’ll take the second son, Charles Baker, born in Birmingham on July 31, 1803, a pioneer in the education of deaf and dumb children. He had no particular training, but began as a young assistant in Birmingham’s School for the Deaf and Dumb. He took with him some Lancasterian precepts, notably peer mentoring, but left others behind, including (apparently) the Lancasterian use of public humiliation in discipline. (One mark of Baker’s career was the affection he inspired in his students.) At Birmingham and then Doncaster (where he established a new Deaf and Dumb school intended to serve all Yorkshire), he enjoyed great success and wielded an influence that spread throughout Britain and beyond, to Europe, North and South America, India, and China. His methods (based on reading and writing) are now regarded as old fashioned, but during his long lifetime they won Baker royal patronage in France and an honorary degree from the Columbian Institution for the Deaf and Dumb in Washington, DC. So effective were his teaching texts (‘programmed learning’ as we might call them today) for deaf and dumb children that they were used widely in conventional education, including in the large family of Victoria and Albert, of whom you may have heard already. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 01 Aug 2019, 12:05

Claudia Cartimandua and the misogynist historian Tacitus.

A few years ago these notes featured the Emperor Claudius and his incorporation of Britain into the ‘civilized’ Roman Empire. So it seems only fair to ‘do’ Cartimandua today, for she was the leader, call her the Queen, of the Brigantes, the largest tribal grouping in the north of the Roman province. We don’t know her birthdate (or her death date), but she almost certainly reigned from 51CE to 69CE and even, conceivably, met Claudius. We don’t know her ‘first’ name, either, but if it was indeed Claudius to whom she pledged the Brigantes’ fealty, then she would have been known as Claudia Cartimandua, and then we could analogously give her Claudius’s birth day, August 1. For poetry, let’s give her August 1, 22 CE, which would make her 21 when Claudius invaded, in the year 43. Whenever she became queen of the Brigantes, it was the year 51 when she was queen enough to hand over to the Romans a particularly valuable prisoner, Caratacus, chief of the Catuvellauni, an East Anglian tribe that had so resisted the blessings of civilization that they carried their rebellion westwards into Wales. It was a negotiated deal; the Romans did not execute Caratacus but took him to Rome to serve as Exhibit A—a place of honor—in Claudius’s celebration of his conquest, and Queen Cartimandua probably got her cut. What little we know about Cartimandua comes mainly from the Roman historian Tacitus’ disapproval of the northern tribes’ habit (in Germany as well as in Britain) of making women into rulers. That was not the Roman way, nor had it been the Greek way, and it was yet another reason to mark the Brigantes down as barbarians, along with their animal skin clothing, their single-storey dwellings, and their merely superstitious religions. Despite her bad press from Tacitus, who thought she exhibited all feminine vices and no feminine virtues, Cartimandua reigned for a good while, at least 18 years, and she did not (like the Emperior-God Claudius) fall victim to poison and a palace coup. That was what civilized folk did, in Rome. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 02 Aug 2019, 12:47

"In dealing with academics, it is absolutely superb to be able to say you're a mathematician! " Mina Rees.

My career-long efforts to become ‘familiar’ with the main branches of knowledge have had mixed success, nowhere spottier than in the higher mathematics (despite several colleagues’ patient efforts). So when I say that a mathematician moved from associative algebra to computer science, I have no idea of the nature of the journey. Luckily for me, the mathematician in question made a great many contributions outside her home discipline, including (in 1971) becoming the first woman president of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. She was Mina Rees, born in Cleveland, OH, on August 2, 1902. She was educated in New York City’s public schools system and graduated summa (1923) in mathematics from Hunter College. At this point she learned that graduate faculty (at Columbia) were “not interested” in having a female PhD candidate, so she took a roundabout route to secure the degree (at Chicago) in 1931. Another nine years at Hunter followed, but then came the war, and for Mina Rees, liberation. Her wartime service was ‘only’ as “Technical Aide-Executive Assistant” in the maths unit of the war office, but she proved her mettle, particularly her ability to recruit good people and get them to work together on vital projects. Post war, Rees was made Director of Mathematics at the Office of Naval Research, which proved a perfect fit for her people skills and her new professional interests in computing and statistics. In 1953 she returned to Hunter as Professor and head of department, and was thus in a perfect position to take the lead in graduate studies when the city institutions decided to coalesce, and in 1961 Rees was appointed the first president (and, of course, the first woman president) of Graduate Studies in the City University of New York. While there she created, by bureaucratic sleight of hand, a superb graduate library for a new and (then) struggling institution. So today the ‘other’ name of the nation’s premier municipal library, the New York Public Library, is “The Mina Rees Library.” There are other memorials, and great obits (Rees died in 1997), but that honor I can understand. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 03 Aug 2019, 11:11

"Great restorer of the good old Stage// Preacher at once and Zany of thy age." Alexander Pope on John Henley.

Wikipedia mistakenly identifies Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park as the location of the speech, and the arrest, that led (in 1999) to Lord Justice Sedley’s eloquent extension of free speech rights to include “not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative provided it does not tend to provoke violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.” To be fair to Wikipedia, Sedley did identify Speakers’ corner as a place where English folk, traditionally, could speak freely, but the “irritating” and “unwelcome” utterance that brought the case into his court was delivered on the steps of Wakefield Cathedral, well north of Hyde Park. But in fact Speakers’ Corner has been a place where all sorts could take a load off their minds by speaking of it, from at least the days of the Chartists’ protests. And before Speakers’ Corner there was The Oratory, where there was plenty of contentious and heretical talk, and hecklers to go with it. But the difference was that only one could speak there, its owner, John Henley, aka Orator Henley, an orthodox churchman turned dissenter and then turned heretic. Henley was born on August 3, 1692. He seemed destined for the orthodox ministry that had sustained his family for several generations, but life’s disappointments (and, perhaps, a lunatic strain) led him out of the church and into The Oratory. This was, really just an unusually elaborate, large room in Clare Market, London, where (instead of provisions or dry goods) Henley sold admission tickets, attendance medals, and theological tracts, held forth in increasingly strange ways about the delusions of Christian orthodoxy, and (besides hecklers) attracted the attention of the great satirists of his age, including a cartoon by William Hogarth. The poet Alexander Pope told his readers

How Henley lay inspir’d beside a sink,

And to mere mortals seem’d a Priest in drink.

In 1756, John Henley was finally silenced, though not by the authorities. His dicey liver did him in. Henley’s grave is unmarked, but his memorial may be Speakers’ Corner. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 04 Aug 2019, 11:06

"The most daring move seen in track." The New York Herald Tribune on John Woodruff's triumphant 800 meters at the 1936 Olympic Games, August 4, 1936.

In my generation, certainly, everybody knew about James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens (1913-1980), the track star who spoiled Hitler’s 1936 Olympics by winning four golds. Just in case I had missed it, Owens was the parade marshal at the 1959 Drake Relays, which I attended. Owens’ stupendous achievement tended, however, to conceal the fact that there were 17 other African-Americans in that Olympic squad, and collectively they brought home 14 medals, including 8 golds. They were pretty well aware of what they’d done, aware enough that on the way home most of them tossed overboard the Black Forest saplings they’d been given, by the Nazi government, for their participation. One black athlete kept his, brought it home and planted it at his Connellsville (PA) H. S. football and track field. John Woodruff, “Long John” his friends called him, was born in Connellsvile in 1915, the grandson of slaves. He won his Olympic Gold, in Berlin, in the 800 meters, on August 4, 1936. It was a remarkable race. Woodruff, boxed in early, feared disqualification if he forced his way out, so he stopped running. He then moved to the outside and won the race “easily.” At 6’4” “Long John” was not by nature a sprinter (his distances were the 800 and 1500, and, in the US, the mile), but clearly he could sprint. He went the distance, too, serving in WWII as a 2nd Lt., and in Korea as a Lt. Colonel (and battalion commander of the 369th Artillery) and then as a teacher, track coach, and referee. Just after his Olympics gold, Woodruff was disqualified from a track meet at the US Naval Academy (because he was black, the Academy would not house him). He lived long enough (92 years) to receive apologies not only from the Academy but also from his alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh, which did not stand firm against the racial exclusions of 1937. Today, if you visit Connellsville, you can see John Woodruff’s Black Forest oak tree, that sapling he brought home from Hitler’s Germany. At over 80 ft. tall, it stands as a far better memorial than an overdue apology. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 05 Aug 2019, 11:41

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles. Title of a children's book, 2018, by Patricia Valdez.

Unless they die spectacularly, those who die young don’t ordinarily make their way into encyclopedias, biographies, or children’s books, but in her short life Joan Beauchamp Procter made an exception of herself. Born into an established middle-class family on August 5, 1897, Procter early developed an unusual fascination, nay affection, for reptiles, and on jaunts abroad and into the English countryside she began collecting them, and keeping them (dead or alive) in the family home. This may have distracted her from the chronic, sometimes severe, intestinal pain that plagued her life and issued in a cancer that, in her last years, forced her to work from a specially-constructed electric wheelchair. Well before then (in 1923, aged 26) Procter had been appointed Curator of Reptiles at the London Zoo, and even before that (in 1916, aged 19) she’d presented her first scientific paper (on a South American pit viper). All this was despite having no formal academic qualifications (she was offered a place at Cambridge but turned it down for health reasons). Rather she began working as a volunteer at the British Museum (Natural History) and, very soon, so impressed the naturalists there that they hired her, mentored her, directed her into scientific research. For her part, she became expert at natural history (not only of reptiles). In addition, she developed a startling expertise in the exhibition of animals, mainly dead ones at the Museum, then live ones at the zoo, and added to all that several innovative successes in veterinary medicine. The Reptile House at London Zoo was her creation, pioneering enough at its opening in 1931 that it’s still in use (Harry Potter has his first conversation with a snake there, in The Philosopher’s Stone, 2001). “Miss Joan’s Ride,” at Whipsnade Zoo, follows the route of her favorite wheelchair ride there. Joan Procter became an international figure, making the news (as a very young woman who was also a very distinguished scientist) not only in London but in such places as Reading PA and Woodville MS, and getting her Doctor of Science, honoris causa, at the University of Chicago. My guess would be that she was, and remains, the youngest person ever to receive that degree. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 06 Aug 2019, 11:36

"A Life of Genius and Madness." The subtitle of Richard Buckle's biography of Diaghilev, 1979.

One imagines that when Dicky Buckle showed up at his officers’ mess dressed in a bridal gown he’d scavenged from a ruined Italian town, he might have said ‘I couldn’t find my kilt,’ for he was a wit and he was in the Scots Guards. He was also a brave soldier, sometimes recklessly so, mentioned in dispatches in WWII campaigns—particularly at Monte Cassino—and with battlefield promotions to a captaincy. Perhaps it was Buckle’s way of remembering his father, a major, killed in battle in 1918. Christopher Richard Sandford Buckle was born in Warcop, Westmorland, in the beautiful Eden Valley, on August 6, 1916. After his father’s death he was brought up by his mother and a tribe of doting aunts. They were drawn from both families, minor gentry on his father’s and high aristocracy on his mother’s side, and the whole thing left Buckle with a memory of genteel poverty and an ambition never to be genteelly poor, nor obsequious. Through much of his adult life he was neither, an insanely fashionable man living in good bachelor quarters in central London and, more importantly, a ballet aficionado: critic, scholar, publicist, and even qualifying as an impresario. If, in 20th-century England, the ballet was a financially successful and popular art form, it owed much to Dicky Buckle. But the debt sheet was a complicated one, for he could also be ungovernably spiteful. At one point the formidable Nanette de Valois took the young critic in hand to teach him a degree of moderation, and she was successful—for a season or two—but then many remember his unkind and cutting review of Margot Fonteyn’s last performance. Better monuments to his memory may be found in his scholarship, notably biographies of Nijinsky (1971) and Diaghilev (1979). The last was published when his life (and income) as a leading critic were over; he’d retired to a remote country cottage and, depressed, chronically ill, and isolated (partly by his refusal to learn to drive), gave himself over to scholarship and memories. Buckle died in 2001, by which time obituarists had to reach back decades to explain his importance. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 07 Aug 2019, 12:49

"Herewith you have the Recipe you desired . . . and a paper on the Distribution of Heat." Benjamin Franklin to James Bowdoin, 1763, enclosing his recipe for Milk Punch and a Russian report on an experiment with heat.

America’s role as an asylum for political refugees is traditional. One of the earliest infestations came with a flood of Frenchmen (and women) after Louis XIV’s Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Among them was Pierre Baudouin, who arrived in Maine (then part of Massachusetts) in 1690. He set about rebuilding his life and amassed a fortune (in trade and land). That work was continued by his son James, who changed his surname to the slightly less foreign Bowdoin, and then bequeathed a greater fortune to his son, James Bowdoin II, who was born in Boston on August 7, 1726, and would survive long enough to become a leader of the American Revolution, thus showing just how dangerous refugees can be. James II continued the family’s success story in trade and land speculation, but also its efforts at assimilation. This included active participation in the colony’s cultural life, including a strong interest in science. Indeed, aged only 17, he traveled south to Philadelphia to meet another scientist, Benjamin Franklin, setting up a correspondence and friendship that would flower in Revolution as well as in scientific experiment and speculation. Several of Bowdoin’s speculations have turned out to be more or less correct, including the great extent of the universe and the phosphorescence of some marine organisms, and his scientific endeavors won him an honorary degree from Edinburgh. He rose also in Massachusetts’ royal patronage system, but then bit the hand that fed him by joining the opposition and becoming Massachusetts’ first revolutionary governor. Bowdoin was a conservative revolutionary, not a contradiction in terms but certainly controversial, and in another term as governor, in 1786, he played a crucial role in suppressing Daniel Shays’ rebellious farmers. Governor Bowdoin died in 1790 of consumption, which had plagued him most of his life. His son James III, philanthropist and diplomat, decided (in 1794-1802) to found and build a college in Maine, funding it with old Pierre’s landholdings but (appropriately) naming it after his father. And so we have Bowdoin College, an early fruit of our occasionally interrupted habit of welcoming political refugees. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 08 Aug 2019, 12:03

"Somewhere beyond the sink-hole, past the magnolia, under the live oaks, a boy and a yearling ran side by side, and were gone forever." Marjorie Rawlings, 1938.

Before ‘young adult fiction’ became a marketing category, there was The Yearling, a 1938 novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Its mixture of sentiment and realism attracted the famed Scribner’s editor, Maxwell Perkins, who also midwifed the works of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and its enthusiastic reception by readers and critics vindicated his judgment. Its author was born Marjorie Kinnan, in Washington, DC, on August 8, 1896, and she began to write stories almost as soon as she began to talk. There was, ‘back then,’ an extensive market for that sort of thing, published in local and trade newspapers, and Marjorie Kinnan took the habit with her to college (at the University of Wisconsin), where she also met her first husband, the journalist Charles Rawlings. The couple embarked on a professional voyage through several newspapers and trade journals in New York and Kentucky before 1928, when a small inheritance (from Marjorie’s mother) took them to a small freeholding at Cross Creek in Alachua County, Florida, a landlocked but water-soaked area at the base of the panhandle region. Cross Creek, and its human inhabitants, became for a decade Rawlings’ writing lab. Her stories and novels were modestly successful until she hit it just right with The Yearling, which won the Pulitzer Prize (fiction) for 1939. It has since been made into a movie (twice, in 1946 and 1994), and the first one helped Marjorie and her new husband (Norton Baskin, a hotelier) establish a new house at Crescent Beach. She died in 1954, willing much of her estate to public use. Unlike many of my teen-aged friends, I never read any of Rawlings’ stories, although I did write a research paper (for a PhD literature seminar) on the genre of ‘popular fiction’ in the 1930s, the sort that did appear in local newspapers and trade journals. I thought it used poor peoples’ lives to produce fictional endorsements of middle-class values. But I had better read Rawlings before extending that prejudgment to her works, several of which are still in print, including (of course) The Yearling, now called an “American Classic.” ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 09 Aug 2019, 11:56

"I met a lady in the meads,// Full beautiful—a faery’s child . . ." From John Keats, "La Belle Dame sans Merci," 1819.

Women who associate themselves with famous men run the terrible risk that posterity will blame them for their man’s weaknesses and refuse to credit them for his strengths. This unkind fate was suffered by Olivia Langdon Clemens at the hands of Samuel Clemens’ (Mark Twain’s) biographers and critics, who cast her as Twain’s prissy and puritanical editor (of his works and his habits) until she was rescued by Ron Powers (Mark Twain: A Biography, 2006). A woman who suffered an even unkinder fate was Frances (Fanny) Brawne, but she in a sense rescued herself. Fanny Brawne was born in Hampstead (now part of London) on August 9, 1800. In 1818 John Keats, five years her senior, moved in next door and, though it was not love at first sight, Keats soon fell for her like the proverbial ton of bricks. Most of his friends and her family didn’t approve, so their engagement was ‘private’ to themselves, Keats’s sister (also “Fanny”), and a few friends. It was a short engagement. Upon Keats’s death (1821) Fanny Brawne made it public by going into mourning for six years. But the publication of Keats’s letters to her (in 1878) brought Fanny’s reputation down. His jealousies seemed beneath him, his passion for Fanny seemed above her merits, and she became (in his biographers’ eyes) vain, shallow, calculating, possibly stupid and certainly unpoetic. It was a comforting thought that death had saved the young genius from permanently tying himself down to such a woman. But then her own letters turned up, in 1934, 101 years after her marriage to a Portuguese wine merchant and six decades after her death. Many of them were to Fanny Keats (whom the Brawne family took in after John’s death), and they showed Fanny Brawne to be a young person of sympathy and intelligence. They were published (in 1937), and (together with further details on Ms. Brawne’s capabilities) forced recantations from those of her posthumous critics who still lived. Fanny Brawne seems now, like Olivia Clemens, to have had a more positive influence, in her case on the brief years of Keats’s greatest poetic output. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 10 Aug 2019, 12:31

"Prodigal heaven gave Mozart everything: grace and strength, abundance and moderation, perfect equilibrium." Charles Gounod.

Today, if you’re lucky enough to be within range of a National Public Radio classical station, you can hear (inter alia) two famous Mozart compositions, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and Symphony 41, aka the Jupiter. The reason? Mozart dated manuscript scores, so we know that he completed Nachtmusik on August 10, 1787, and the Jupiter one year later, on August 10, 1788. Mozart composed so many works, and in so short a life, that it seems doubtful to me that he noticed any great coincidence in these common dates, and the two pieces are quite different; but scholars and critics think that these two dates bookend a most creative period for Mozart. They probably aren’t thinking of Eine Kleine Nachmusik. As delightful as it is, and as much enjoyment as it brings, it is considered a light piece, even trivial. But in the year that followed, Mozart produced three of his greatest symphonies, not only #41 but #40, the “Great” G Minor symphony, and #39, in E flat major. It’s not known how long these compositions took, but they were completed between June 26 and August 10 in the summer of 1788. Perhaps the composer used Eine Kleine Nachtmusik for light relief while he struggled to produce what came to be seen as his “testament,” symphonies that he never heard and (maybe) intended never to hear. That’s probably an invention, although it gave rise to Albert Einstein’s marvelous comment on Symphony #40, that it was Mozart’s “appeal to eternity.” It’s a good story, one to ponder, a kind of mirror image to Beethoven’s deafness at the end of his career, but unless we think that Mozart planned to die in 1791 it’s difficult to credit. Plus it now seems likely, almost certain, that Mozart did hear (at least) #40, possibly more than once. So today, tune in to Nachtmusik and to the Jupiter symphony (by the way, it acquired the name after Mozart’s death), and consider the astonishing talent that first made them happen. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 11 Aug 2019, 11:43

"Leave something for someone but don't leave someone for something." Enid Blyton, from her story Five on a Hike Together

Although I (and I hope my children) have loved Mole, Ratty, and brave Mr. Badger, a Francophone elephant called Babar, and also (despite Dorothy Parker’s warnings) Pooh, Piglet, and Tigger, I do think there’s something culturally specific about children’s books. This may be why, despite the fact that both our children were born and raised in England, I was never able to love Enid Blyton or any of her mountain of children’s stories. My loss, no doubt, but also, inevitably, my kids’ loss, for while children are very young they live in a house of (parental) censorship. At any rate, the very famous Enid Blyton, author of over 600 children’s books, was born on August 11, 1897, in suburban London. Her apparently idyllic childhood was interrupted when, in 1910, her favorite parent, her father, absconded with “another woman,” but she rode it out, continued to develop the talents he had encouraged, and embarked on a teaching career and then, in 1924, the first of two marriages. By then she had already begun to write and to sell her stuff, and it’s likely that she was the weight of the family income and the spirit that moved the ménage from an urban flat to countrified residences whose names tell their own story, ‘Elfin Cottage,’ ‘Old Thatch,’ and finally ‘Green Hedges.’ It was at Green Hedges (in Beaconsfield) where Enid Blyton moved from being a general children’s writer (factual pieces and advice as well as fiction) to writing fiction only. And again, as with the names she gave her houses, the new series’ title tells its own tale, “Enid Blyton’s Sunny Stories.” Sunny they were, I guess, but I cannot remember a single one, although now the title The Naughtiest Girl in the School (1940) seems promising enough. Perhaps I will one day read that one to my granddaughter, to see how it goes down. Although a second marriage (in 1939) brought Enid Blyton real happiness, her last years were clouded by controversy as critics and child psychologists took her to task for what they called the shallow sentimentality and impoverished vocabulary of her many books. She died in a nursing home called ‘Greenways’ in 1968. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 12 Aug 2019, 12:24

"Distinguished Parisians understand us . . . there is no such thing as color prejudice, especially among the upper classes." Lillian Evanti, reported by the Chicago Defender in a story about her Paris performances in 1925.

The African American Heritage Trail in Washington, DC, has too many stops to make it in a day, but if you’re musically inclined one stop not to miss is the Evans-Tibbs house in the Shaw neighborhood, north of the capitol. A large row house, its window grills (one still remains, on a second-floor window) were decorated with harps, placed there by its most distinguished occupant, Lillian Evans Tibbs, an operatic soprano and, in her own right, a composer and impresario. She’s better known as Madame Lillian Evanti, but she was born as Lillian Evans on August 12, 1890. Her grandparents, though born in the slavery era, were born free and achieved much. Henry Evans, for instance, fled North Carolina to operate out of Oberlin, Ohio, as a ‘conductor’ on the Underground Railway. Lillian was educated in Washington and graduated from Howard, in music performance, in 1917. She sang at her commencement, and her performances were noticed, though only in the black press. She married Roy Tibbs, scion of a well-established family, and with his financial support set of for Europe, further training, and operatic success (for instance in Nice, Monaco, and Paris). Back in her native USA, difficulties abounded, including a divorce. But she never “broke in” to the ‘American’ opera, almost certainly because of her color rather than her voice. She made headway on her own with performance tours in Europe, a Washington concert with Marian Anderson, and in 1935 a private recital in the White House, the venue provided by Eleanor Roosevelt. Later, Madame Levanti was a founder of the National Negro Opera Company, sang leading roles for it (some on a theatre barge in the Potomac). She died in 1967. Her grandson, Thurlow Tibbs, engineer and urban planner, was also a distinguished art collector. When he died, in 1997, he donated the house as a museum. He had already given his collection (of African-American art) to the Corcoran Gallery. Many of the items in it were first purchased by Madam Evanti. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 13 Aug 2019, 12:15

"Behind every work of art lies the enormous pretension of exhibiting one's vision of the world." Amelie Nothomb.

In Britain aristocrats still have a political home, the House of Lords; it is much diminished but will probably survive Boris Johnson, too much the arriviste to dare tweaking their lordships’ noses, let alone cutting them off. Elsewhere in Europe, monarchies survive here and there, but their noble “cousins” have been retired from politics. In Belgium, some still sneak into the Senate, but now that ‘upper house’ has only a handful of coopted members. One Belgian noble house, the Nothombs, has produced some interesting folk, for instance the distinguished diplomat Patrick Nothomb. His uncle Paul was a communist revolutionary who fought in the Spanish Civil War and then (in Belgium and France) in La Résistance, and survived all that to become a notable figure in the French literary establishment. But today let’s highlight Patrick’s daughter, Fabienne-Claire Nothomb, born in Japan on August 13, 1967. As Amélie Nothomb, she’s become modestly famous even in the Anglophone world as a novelist, and in France and Belgium she’s copped most of the top literary awards. Amélie has written a lot, about a novel per year since her first, Hygiène de l’assassin (1992, in English Hygiene and the Assassin). I have yet to read any of them, but thumbnail reviews (not to mention her literary prizes) suggest that I should. Amélie spent her childhood on tour, so to speak, much of it in Asia, but must have been conscious of her family’s distinctions (in literature, politics, and war), not only her father and grand-uncle Paul but another grand-uncle (Charles-Ferdinand, one-time Belgian foreign minister) and grandpapa Pierre, novelist and historian. This is perhaps why so much of her work has been autobiographical, but observational rather than confessional. I think I’ll start with her Métaphysique des tubes (2000: in English The Character of Rain. It’s about a 3-year old Belgian kid, living in Japan, and just learning about languages and life. It’s both fraught and light, and in the end the little girl is rescued from her fascination with water, rain, rivulets, oceans, and a carp pond. As for Amélie herself, her distinctions in life were recognized by royal decree in 2015, and she is now a non-hereditary baroness. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 14 Aug 2019, 11:57

For King and Another Country. Title of the 2010 autobiography of Mohinder Singh Pujji.

Just as our Tuskegee airmen struggled for post-war recognition of their courage and skill, so too did the ‘coloured’ soldiers, sailors, and pilots who served Britain in the great wars of the 20th century, wars that in retrospect sounded the empire’s death knell. One fruit of that struggle is a statue in Gravesend, Kent, erected in November 2014. It is of an RAF officer, standing heroically in his off-duty greatcoat, a familiar enough figure if you’ve seen war films, but atop his head is a Sikh turban. It’s a memorial “to commemorate those from around the world who served alongside Britain in all conflicts, 1914-2014.” But it represents also a single person, RAF Wing Commander Mohinder Singh Pujji, born in the Punjab on August 14, 1918. Already a civilian pilot in India, he volunteered at the outbreak of WWII, in 1939, and received his RAF commission in August 1940. He compiled a distinguished record in three theatres, first in the ‘Battle of Britain,’ then covering the North African retreat, and finally in SE Asia (the reconquest of Burma). He was shot down (and survived) once in each. He flew Hurricanes, Spitfires, and the American Tomahawks, was mentioned in dispatches, and played an important role in organizing the Indian air force. Throughout, including in the RAF, 1940-43, he wore his turban, and a military that badly needed his talents did not object. Sometime after the war he settled in Britain, pursued a number of careers (including with the Metropolitan Police), and campaigned for the British to recognize the contributions, the courage, and indeed the existence of its imperial soldiery. With the rise of the British National Party, he redoubled his efforts, for he was outraged by the BNP’s symbolic use of the Spitfire: both a personal insult and an historical distortion. Mohinder Singh Pujji lived a long time, did not forget, and did not countenance forgetfulness in others. Finally, aged 90, in early 2009, he was guest of honor at the opening a permanent exhibit at the RAF Museum, Cosford, “celebrating the racial diversity” of its history. But he did not live to see the dedication of the Gravesend statue. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 15 Aug 2019, 11:38

"We each dedicate this book to the other, without whom it could not have been written." The dedication to National Parks: Conservation or Cosmetics? By Ann McEwen and Malcolm McEwen, 1982.

In a crowded country that is indelibly marked by millennia of human agriculture and industry, ‘back to nature’ national parks are not possible, so in Britain we find national parks that seek to preserve (and to prosper) both human and ecological communities. Possibly the most successful of these ‘partnerships,’ and certainly ravishingly beautiful, is England’s Lake District National Park. The park is a constant tussle between traffic jams (cars, hill walkers, pub crawlers), ‘nature,’ and traditional hill farming, and it’s a wonder. Among its wonders is that it embodies another kind of partnership between two remarkable persons who, if ever they had met, might not have hit it off: Beatrix Potter (1866-1943), famed writer of children’s books, and Ann Maitland McEwen, socialist town planner and architect. Potter has been noted before in this series. Ann McEwen was born Ann Radford on August 15, 1908, like Potter a child of the London middle class but a branch of it long loyal to socialism. She rebelled to become a communist (breaking with the party after Hungary, 1956), qualified as an architect in 1939, and through two marriages (her first husband was an RAF pilot killed in 1945) and three children gave her life to town planning and, after about 1970, to the preservation of the British countryside as a place for communities: people, animals, plants, and their landforms. In National Parks: Conservation or Cosmetics? (1982) and Greenprints for the Countryside? The Story of Britain’s National Parks (1987), which might be read as manifestoes, Ann and her second husband Malcom McEwen added intellectual backbone and economic substance to Beatrix Potter’s poetic (or nostalgic) vision and gave us all, and one hopes our progeny, the chance to crowd into these places and understand their charms. To Ann McEwen’s credit we might add the preservation of central Edinburgh, for in the 1960s she led the campaign to keep other “planners” from vandalizing that magical city with a motorway bridge to ‘connect’ the new town (Princes Street, etc.) to the Old Town on the mount. A modern planner with a heart of green, Ann McEwen died, widely mourned, in 2008. ©
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