Spes Phthisica and the Heights Of Consumption

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Spes Phthisica and the Heights Of Consumption

A while ago Tamara bought me a book, ‘As Kingfishers Catch Fire‘, and I opened it and started reading where it fell open, at the chapter on the skylark.

You can see the words spes phthisica near the end of the text that I have quoted here, and I wondered whether the authors were being figurative or whether it was a real medical condition.

RICHARD JEFFERIES AUTOBIOGRAPHY, The Story of My Heart, tells us almost nothing of its author’s short, sad life. It was written in 1883, as the tuberculosis that would kill Jefferies began to show itself in bloodspotted handkerchiefs and digestive complaints. He would live for four more years, long enough to see his third child die of meningitis, long enough to write his mesmerising post-apocalyptic masterpiece, After London. He was thirty-eight when he died, the age I will be when these words are published, and he’s buried in Broadwater Cemetery, Worthing, not ten minutes’ walk from where I grew up, on the rim of land between the chalky South Downs and the sea. The Story of My Heart is the record of Jefferies’ spiritual development, of the way that, through nature, he accessed his ‘strong inspiration of soul thought’. It is a lavish, joyful book, some passages coming close to madness, touched perhaps by the spes phthisica that is said to induce a kind of euphoria in consumptives…

I looked up spes phthisica and found that it is a medical term that means a state of euphoria occurring in patients with pulmonary tuberculosis.

The phrase is pronounced SPACE THIZICA.

I also found an article that suggested that the Romantic poets and artists were romantic precisely because they suffered from TB and were given to romantic euphoria because of spes phthisica.

As we know, TB causes anaemia and worse symptoms. And anaemia is characterised by a deathly pallor to the skin.

Because of that effect, the article also suggested that various pale and ghostly figures that appeared in Romantic books and paintings were the deadly embrace of TB.

Historic Newspapers

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Politics

I just read an article on Simplenote about writing posts for WordPress.

Simplenote is a note-taking app made by Automattic, which is the company that owns the community version of WordPress.

The article says that if I write in Simplenote using Markdown to format the post, then I can paste the text into WordPress and it will preserve all the formatting and just ‘work’.

So that is what I am doing here.

I am pretty sure I wrote about Simplenote at some time in the past, and I’ll add a note about that below this sentence when I get to it and before I paste into WordPress.

I did write about Simplenote

Yes, I did – in 2013 where I also described how to use Markdown to format text.

But I am also writing about historic newspapers

Today has been an historic day for the British Parliament, according to just about every news outlet you read or listen to.

The Government lost the vote on its key proposal for how the UK is to leave the European Union.

It lost by such a huge margin that commentators are referring back to a vote in 1924 for a comparison.

But what does it mean? What is the next stage?

Is Brexit dead or will there be some wrangling in the corridors that will get it back on course?

We wait with a sense of hope and dread. (In case you don’t know where I stand on this, I want Britain to stay in the EU.)

Today’s newspapers might be historic.

They might be historic in more ways than one. Read on…

Guardian newspaper showing MPs in the voting corridor

Look at the cover of the Guardian. It shows the MPs filing down the corridor to register their NO vote.

No one photographs down there. No press photographers photograph down there.

But MPs themselves broke with tradition last night and photographed themselves in the corridor.

The Speaker Of The House

A couple of days ago the speaker of the House allowed an amendment to a motion. He broke with tradition in doing that. His justification was that the House (the House Of Commons) is paramount, and no executive branch (the Government and the Cabinet) has the power over it or to stop it.

The courts are bound by previous decisions. That is why they go to extraordinary lengths sometimes to distinguish one case from another when they want wiggle room to decide differently than they did before.

It is also why the courts make decisions by inches. They make pronouncements of principle as tightly drawn as possible to give them room to wiggle later on.

Parliament is different.

When the Speaker of the House broke with tradition about amendments, he was reestablishing a basic principle, that the House will not fetter itself.

What that means is that if the House votes for X at a certain point in time, it is always free to vote against X later. It will not be bound by its previous decisions.

That principle might be very important in the days to come.

But What Shall We Do For A Ring

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Greeting Cards
Tarry Valentine's Day Card with boat and two flowers and quote from Edward Lear's The Owl and The Pussycat 'Oh let us be married, too long we have tarried' - and Be My Valentine' as the name of the boat. All set against an impressionistic blue see with waves.

But What Shall We Do For A Ring

A boat and two flowers and a quote from Edward Lear’s poem The Owl and The Pussycat.

And topped off with ‘Be My Valentine’ as the name of the boat.

With all of it set against an impressionistic blue sea with toy waves.

Edward Lear

In case you don’t know it, the quote ‘Oh let us be married, too long we have tarried’ is from the second verse of the poem. It goes:

Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried,
But what shall we do for a ring?

Too Long We Have Tarried

There is a whole story tucked in those words ‘too long we have tarried’, isn’t there. It is the story of a couple who have been romantically entwined for ages, for forever, but until how have not taken the step into marriage.

This is of course leaving aside that in this particular case we are talking about crossing the species boundary – so children probably aren’t going to be in the picture for the couple’s future life together.

Still – love is love.

My Favourite Line

My favourite line from the poem is the one that goes:

Dear Pig, are you willing
to sell for one shilling
your ring?
Said the Piggy, “I will.

The more prosaic and direct way to have phrased it would have been to ask whether the pig was willing to sell the ring. And then to offer a price, something like:

Will you sell the ring, I can offer you one shilling.

But that is not what the poet does. He makes his character do a little musical sidestep mid sentence by mentioning the price with the words ‘for one shilling’. It is just delightful.


The card at the top of this article is one of the Valentine’s Day cards now available at Flying Twigs.

The Bridge Of Sighs

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Photography

This is the second time I have photographed this bridge. You can see the earlier attempt from 2017 here.

Sigh

The dictionary of etymology says that the word sigh dates to the 1200s and is probably echoic of the sound of the act of sighing.

The name of the Bridge of Sighs in Venice was said by Lord Byron to originate in the sigh given by convicts seeing their last view of Venice as they crossed the bridge to their summary execution in the time of the inquisition.

But in fact not, because by the time the bridge was built the inquisition was long over and there were no more summary executions.

The Bridge of Sighs in Cambridge is a covered bridge at St John’s College, Cambridge University. It was built in 1831 and crosses the River Cam between the college’s Third Court and New Court.

It has nothing in common architecturally with that in Venice, save that both are covered and so the one echoes the other.

Photograph

The bridge cries out for a photograph, and I snapped it with my phone on the way to a talk a few weeks ago about strategies for reducing the use of throwaway plastic.

What’s In A Name: Harehills

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Photography

I started school when I was about five years old. The school was Harehills Junior School on Roundhay Road in Leeds. I used to catch a bus to school down Easterly Road to get there.

Roundhay Road was the main road and if you walked up the hill you came to Harehills Road and then Harehills Lane.

It was not until I was well into adulthood that I thought about the meaning of Harehills. Oh me oh my – it means hills where there are hares.

I had always just wrapped the two parts into one bundle of a word, like everyone did. I never unwrapped it to look at what it meant. I put the stress on the first syllable, just like everyone did. Until I unpacked the parts, it didn’t mean anything at all: It was just a name, Harehills.

And Roundhay Road, a road that went where hay was gathered. And Easterly road – a road to the east!

Which leads me on to something I read today.

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge runs more or less north-south for thousands of kilometres along the seabed in the middle of The Atlantic Ocean.

The ridge is formed by the Earth’s mantle throwing up material as the tectonic plates move apart. At the same time, the land between the plates sinks.

In effect, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge has a deep score line running along the top of it along its whole length. When I say ‘score line’, I am talking on a geologically large scale. From close up it is a long valley running along the top of the ridge.

An analogy would be a cake that has risen and collapsed in the middle as it is baking.

For most of the length the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is under water. However, it goes right through Iceland and there it is visible on land.

I was just now looking at photographs of the Thingvellir Rift Valley in Iceland, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are moving apart.

They are not moving very fast. The Universities Space Research Station says the gap between the plates has widened 230 feet (70 m) and sunk by 131 feet (40 m) in the last 10,000 years.

When I read about the ‘Thingvellir Rift Valley’, I thought of the other rift valley that I know – the Great Rift Valley.

It too is caused by the splitting apart of tectonic plates and it runs from the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon down through the Dead Sea in Israel, on through Ethiopia and Kenya and down to Mozambique.

The thing is that I have known about the Great Rift Valley for years, but for whatever reason, I thought the word ‘Rift’ was something from the language of the region.

It wasn’t until today when I thought of the word ‘rift’ associated with Iceland that I realised that the word is effectively an adjective, a description. It is a rift – a crack, a split, a division, a break.

How could my brain have not woken up to realise that?

Maybe I was led astray by the word Rif – a mountainous region in the north of Morocco? (Nice try, David)

Do you do that kind of thing – not see the meaning because you are so ‘close’ to the word?

I think we all do things like that with names, although maybe not as blind as I was over the word ‘rift’.