I loved the Narnia books as a child and borrowed them all from my local public library. I read most of them multiple times, and knew them pretty well. But I stopped reading them once I got to about 12 or 13 and have never gone back and reread them. I wondered what rereading them as an adult would be like. So I picked one at random. Well not quite at random. The Silver Chair was the one I remembered least, and couldn’t actually remember the plot. So that was as good a reason as any.Continue reading
Ever been a bit short of cash? If so, consider getting together with a close friend and revolutionising poetry. It worked for Wordsworth and Coleridge.
The Lyrical Ballads were knocked up to fund a holiday in Germany. Poets have never been known for their financial prowess, but this pair seem to have hit on a winning formula. They were unknown at the time but pretty savy in the growing romantic movement. The financial partnership was just a means to an end and when they got to Germany they split up. Creative differences led to Coleridge staying on to soak up German philosophy, while Wordsworth came to a deeper appreciation of the English countryside and returned home to write poems about it. Continue reading
I like the unpredictable. So today as a way of doing something I would not have chosen to I decided to go and see whatever was on at my local theatre. As it turned out it was Present Laughter by Noel Coward. Continue reading
Reality turns out not to be what it seems. I have a feeling that there was never a time when people who thought about it actually believed that the Earth was flat. But we have certainly believed lots of things that are equally untrue since we evolved brains that had the capability to ponder these matters. Continue reading
In Victorian Britain married women were firmly under the control of men. They were obliged to be obedient to their husbands and could not own property independent of him. Okay it sounds great in theory, but how did it actually work? Continue reading
Thurston Hopkins became famous in the forties and fifties as a photographer on the Picture Post. But I can confirm that before this in 1928 he was the author of a small guide book to Sussex. It has to be said that he was better at taking pictures than writing.
But he is good if slightly irritating company in this book describing his travels around Sussex. The nineteen twenties were the only time a book like this could have been written. The car and the railways enabled him to get to most of the county easily enough but they weren’t yet advanced enough for Sussex to become London’s backyard. Sussex would soon become first an extension of Bloomsbury and then a dormitory which it is still today. But it was still a largely rural environment at the time this book was written. Continue reading
There isn’t much really good evidence that Jesus actually existed. In fact, it is pretty much dependent on the account in the Bible. Without that, he really doesn’t count as an historical figure. But I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. The main reason for this is that the Bible story of his execution rings true to me. The incidental details just seem to be how things really happen rather than how someone making a story up would describe them. Continue reading
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Oozymandias is Percy Shelley’s most famous poem and one of the most popular in the English language. It is a very simple account of being told about a ruin in the desert in Egypt. It is interesting that this one from all his output should prove to be so enduring because on the face of it, it is quite a light bit of work. The narrator is in an antique land, or in other words one that compared to early nineteenth century England is undeveloped. He is guided to a fallen statue which has seen better days. That the boastful message on the pedestal is at odds with how time has treated it is described but not commented upon.
When I read, and indeed learned by heart, this poem as a boy I had no idea that it was describing a real monument. I had assumed that Ozymandias was a name made up for the poem. But it turns out that it is in fact a common name for the Egyptian pharaoh Ramasesses II. His statue was obtained by the British Museum at around the time the poem was written, though the poem was written before it actually arrived. Even so, it seems likely that the news that it was on its way was what inspired Shelley to write.
Although it does have a simple rhyming structure, I don’t think the rhyme is particularly prominent. You can read it without noticing them. It’s very conversational. You could imagine someone in a pub just saying it and not realising that it is poetry. As such I think it is an early example of literary writing becoming less formal.
I’d be really interested in what you think of it.
In the late Roman Empire most people were poor. The state was in the hands of a hugely wealthy elite who called all the shots. The logic for a religion was inevitable. The only source of converts was to appeal to people in poverty. The only source of cash was the government. The winning formula turned out to be highly centralised Christianity. This combined stuff that would appeal to the broke who stood to inherit the Earth if sufficiently meek while guaranteeing that that which was due to Caesar would actually be rendered unto Caesar. Anything that convenient had to be true. It was also worth wiping out any competition. So we ended up with Christian monoculture. Continue reading
I was glad I made the time last summer to visit the National Gallery’s exhibition of the pigments artists have used over the years. It was a fascinating business, and it is a bit sobering to remember just how much work the great masters of painting had to do before they even got to the stage of getting to the actual painting. It was also interesting to note that changes in the availability of raw materials and the technology for processing them have had a big influence on what could be done and therefore what was done. Continue reading