Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Frankel


Ridden by Tom Queally, trained by Sir Henry Cecil  and owned by Prince Khalid Abdullah, Frankel wins the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood, making  a strike rate of  8 wins from 8 races ! Frankel's other big wins include - the Juddmonte (aged 2 in 2010) and this year the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and the Saint James Palace Stakes at Ascot. After Frankel's win Sir Henry Cecil stated on camera that he was probably the best horse he had ever trained. Frankel is now being compared to racing legends such as Shergar and Sea the Stars.

Postscript: Nine out of nine as Frankel wins the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on October 15th 2011.

In 2012 Frankel won these Group One races in England the Lockinge Stakes  at Newbury in May 2012,  the Queen Anne stakes at Ascot in June and the Juddmonte at York in August.

Goodwood Races

Racehorses owned by the Duke of Richmond exercising at Goodwood 1759

Because of its setting, Goodwood race-course is often described as the most scenic of all race-courses; from the Grandstand there is a superb view of the rolling Sussex Downs landscape. Day two of the five day Glorious Goodwood meeting includes the much anticipated match between two horses at the peak of their powers, 'Frankel', trained by the recently knighted Sir Henry Cecil and 'Canford Cliffs', trained by Richard Hannon. Although the weather forecast is none too brilliant I'm sure that the meeting will be awash with classy fashion, Pimms and the tradition of free strawberries. As ever the meeting is being broadcast by the excellent team of Channel 4 Racing.

As stated before, in many ways horse-racing was until the advent of football in the 20th century, the true national sport of England. For centuries the best thoroughbred horse-racing in the world was held in England, ever since the introduction of three Arabian stallions in 1759.

British horse-racing remains greatly indebted to three major Arabian sponsors, namely Sheikh Mohammed, his brother Hamdan-Al-Maktoum and Prince Khalid Abdullah. Without their patronage for over 30 years now, horse-racing in England would have been a much less exciting affair, with smaller, inferior quality fields. It's in no way guaranteed that these wealthy Arabian horse owners will continue to send their  very best horses to England for training. The high quality horse-racing which the English public enjoy throughout both the Flat and National Hunt season is seriously threatened. Because of poor management, weak sponsorship and prize money, along with a sometimes indifferent to all but profit betting industry, horse-racing  in England is in serious decline.  Other nations continue to develop blood-lines and breeding stock to match those of English stud-breeding. Other sports compete with horse-racing for gambling and spectator participation. As with life itself, there is no absolute guarantee that the present-day status quo will continue especially during the present-day economic depression. Even though attendances continue to rise at race-meetings, the industry continues to decline because of the aforementioned factors.

The sport of horse-racing is highly conscious of its public image and at present the spotlight is on the jockey's whip and whether its use should continue. There are already strict rules about how frequently the whip may be used. With video-recording every aspect of a jockey's ride can be analysed and judged by the stewards. Those who accuse the sport of animal cruelty have little idea of the loving care and attention each and every horse in training receives from stable-staff, trainer and jockey. As ever its a case of wanting to score a point in political correctness, or in this case, animal welfare, without any real understanding of the high quality of care and enthusiasm of the sport throughout the horse-racing industry.

View of Sussex Downs at Goodwood

Monday, July 25, 2011

Evening Cloudscape



He cannot see the heavens, nor the flow 
Of  rivers, nor hill-flowers running wild 
In pink and purple chequer, nor, up-piled, 
The cloudy rack slow journeying in the west, 
Like herded elephants; nor felt,nor pressed
Cool grass, nor tasted the fresh slumbrous air;

from John Keats (1795-1821)  Endymion Book 1 lines 285-290

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Man in the Moon


The man in the moon came tumbling down
And asked his way to Norwich;
He went by the south and burnt his mouth
With supping cold pease porridge.

It's quite surprising these days just how many Norvicensians are unfamiliar with this medieval 'Mother Goose' nursery rhyme. But what's far more interesting is the fact that the 15th century 'Norwich School' stained glass at the Norfolk church of St Mary at Burnham Deep, (above) is one of the oldest representations of  'the man in the moon' extant in the world. The glass [1] was in all probability painted by a skilled member of the 'Norwich school' who may well have known of the nursery rhyme. In any event its quite an androgynous, heavy-lidded and sleepy-looking moon face. It's also believed that originally this quite unique depiction of 'the man in the moon' would have been accompanied by a crucifixion scene together with a sun representing a face. 

The man in the moon is puzzled over by the poet John Lyly (1553-1606) in the prologue to his Endymion (1591) who stated-  There liveth none under the sunne, that knows what to make of the man in the moone.

From the invention and use of the telescope by Galileo (1562 -1642) among others, speculation in the 17th century upon whether the moon was inhabited and the mapping of its surface, rocketed astronomically. Sometime in the 1620's Bishop Francis Godwin (1566-1633) wrote a book entitled The Man in the Moon which argued how a voyage to the moon is no more fantastic than a voyage to America was once earlier. Godwin proposed  that the earth is magnetic and that only an initial push would be necessary to escape its magnetic attraction. When on the moon Godwin discovers it to be inhabited by tall Christians living in a pastoral paradise. Godwin's book influenced John Wilkins (1614-72) to pen his A Discovery of a new world in the Moon (1638)But its to the credit of the Dutch astronomer Johannes Hevelius (1611-87) that the first scientific mapping of the moon's surface was made in his Selenographia (1647).  

Sir Thomas Browne in his encyclopaedia Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646-72) queried -

The sun and moon are usually described with human faces: whether herein there be not a pagan imitation, and those visages at first implied Apollo and Diana, we may make some doubt. [2]

Browne's vivid imagination noted of an egg sent to him-

The egg you sent with this notable signature of the figure of a duck so fully detail'd as to the body, head, eye & bill somewhat open'd from the shell, all in a... colour, was a point greatly remarkable & one, not made out by phancy butt apprehended by every eye, is a present greatly remarkable. In stones we find trees & often in common flints: in agates sometimes arise figures beyond all help of imagination & in such pit stones we have found screws, snakes, darts, cockles &c.

The like I had not formerly seen though have very intentively looked upon the goose egg in Aldrvandus with man's head & hair sped fury-like & terminating in some shape of geese heads.Though not meeting with any discourse thereon, I suspected much made out by fancy in that description.[3]

Once defined by the psychologist C.G.Jung as the alchemist's 'active imagination', today all such seeing of faces in phenomena such as clouds, egg-shells, or the moon's surface are now defined as a product of pareidolia. According to Wikipedia, pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon which involves vague and random stimulus such as patterns and markings found in nature being perceived as significant to the viewer. What was until quite recently known simply as plain imagination is now defined as a psychological aberration !



Just as stained glass was a source of wonder to the medieval spectator, so too the viewing of motion pictures were an equal marvel for early 20th century spectators. In the pioneering cinematography of George Méliès' (1861-1938) the creator of  A trip to the Moon (1902), the man in the moon, far from being a remote or mysterious figure, is hit in the eye by a spaceship! Méliès' famous image is an innocent farewell to belief in 'the man in the moon'  and a handsome anticipation, not only of man's great achievement of 1969, but also of his cavalier exploitation of a new and pristine environment.


[1]  Saint Mary's south porch west window, Burnham Deepdale, Norfolk.
[2]  P.E. Book 5 chapter 22
[3] On Eggs in miscellaneous writings
Wikilink - Man in the Moon

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dance of Death



At present there's a season of films by the Swedish film-director Ingmar Bergman being broadcast on Channel 4. Included in the season is Bergman's classic film, 'The Seventh Seal' (1957). Early in the film one of the most iconic images of cinema is depicted, the figures of  Death and a Knight playing a game of Chess by the sea. 'The Seventh Seal' makes several such references to the 'Dance of Death', a frequently-worked theme by the medieval artist. 

It was during the Medieval era that the Black Death occurred. The pandemic reached its peak in the years 1348-50 and is believed to have devastated Europe's population by an estimated 40-60%. In addition, high infant mortality, poor sanitary conditions, crop failure, war and famine resulted in a short life for many. Because death was ever-present in the lives of all strata of medieval society, the 'Dance of Death' became a frequently-worked morality genre for artists, featuring in mystery plays and printed wood-cuts; however the sole surviving medieval stained glass depicting the 'Dance of Death' in England can be found at Norwich, in the church of Saint Andrew's.

The city of Norwich was once famous for the artistry of it stained-glass. In fact the city had a flourishing and distinctive school of glass painting during the 15th century. Characteristics of 'Norwich School' stained glass include excellence of drawing and colouring, motifs of ears of barley and patterns using seaweed and chequers. The Saint Andrew's glass uses the chequer pattern allegorically, perhaps as an allusion to the game of chess. According to the expert Christopher Woodforde the fifteenth century glass craftsmen of Norwich - avoided the suggestions of sweetness and sentimentality which mars some contemporary work….there is a bracing strength and vigour which well accords with the Norfolk climate and character.

Throughout the county of Norfolk and in several Norwich churches superb examples of medieval stained glass can still be viewed. In Saint Andrew's stained glass window dated circa 1510, the figure of Death is seen leading a bishop by hand to his death. The message of medieval  'Dance of Death'  imagery being that all levels of society, whether pawn-like peasant, knight or bishop, are under the rule of Death.

Wall mural north of Stockholm circa 1480 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

John Dee


On this date (July 13th) in 1527 the mathematician, astrologer, alchemist and occasional tutor and advisor to Queen  Elizabeth I, John Dee was born. Dee was one of the most learned men in Europe and highly influenced by the Neo-Platonic, Pythagorean philosophy inaugurated by the Italian scholar Marsilio Ficino (1433-99). Curiously, John Dee's eldest son, Arthur Dee was also born on July 13th in 1579. From these dates it can be calculated that John Dee became a father for the very first time on his 52nd birthday ! 

Time and inclination don't permit elaboration upon the many influences that John Dee's esoteric inclinations have emanated throughout the centuries, many others have done so. Shakespeare for example, may have modelled the character of Prospero in his drama The Tempest upon John Dee. It is however worth noting that the author Peter French stated of Dee's eldest son, Arthur that -

'Little is known of this son of Dee's; one cannot help but wonder however, how much he may have influenced Browne, who was one of the seventeenth century's greatest literary exponents of the type of occult philosophy in which both the Dee's were immersed'. 

Books - Peter French - John Dee 1972
Peter Ackroyd - The House of Doctor  Dee 1993
Gustav Meyrinck - The Angel of the Western Window 1927
Wikilinks -  John Dee
Correspondence by Sir Thomas Browne - On John and Arthur Dee

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Neptune


Today the planet Neptune completes one full revolution of the Sun since its discovery in 1846. Neptune has of course  been orbiting the Sun for millions of years, taking 165 years to orbit our nearest star,  but its only since 1846 that its existence has been known  by humans. It was the first planet to be discovered by mathematical calculation, being not visible except by telescope.  

In mythology Neptune was the ruler of seas and oceans and this is reflected in its designated symbol of a Triton. Neptune is also associated with the horse, the god often being depicted riding a shell-shaped chariot drawn by horses. 

Roman Mosaic 2/3 century CE

Astrologically Neptune is the ruler of the Zodiac sign of Pisces as well as hospitals, prisons, mental institutions and monasteries; in fact all places which involve a withdrawal from society  are believed to be under the rule of Neptune as well as psychic phenomena such as dreams, hypnotism, extra-sensory perception, illusion and deception in general. Alcohol and drug-taking, especially hallucinogenic mushrooms, along with melodrama and cinema are all classic examples of Neptunian influence. Neptune is also associated with humility and spiritual illumination.

Neptune was a popular subject for Renaissance and baroque fountains in Italy, in particular Berni's Trevi fountain in Rome. The Roman god of the seas influence in popular culture continues in the curious ritual  of paying homage to Neptune when crossing the equator, especially upon cruises.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sooty

In a world full of troubles and suffering, it's cheering to read today that the naughty bear Sooty is to return to British Television. 

The much-loved  puppet was first seen on British television in 1952 with  his creator Harry Corbett. His son Matthew Corbett took over the show in 1978. It has recently been announced that Sooty will star in a new 26 part production. The new Sooty Show has been updated to satisfy modern sensibilities and political correctness; Sooty however  remains  mute to the audience, communicating only by whispering into the ear of his operator and will continue to perform upon the xylophone, play tricks with his water pistol and wave his magic wand to the accompaniment of  his catch-phrase- "Izzy wizzy, let's get busy".

In essence the hand-puppet Sooty and his friends Sweep  the dog and Soo the panda bear are a highly original variant upon Punch and Judy, complete with much of the slap-stick comedy of the sea-side booth performers but without any of the inherent misogyny and violence associated with Punch and Judy. Sooty celebrated his  60th birthday on 19 July 2008 and because his birthday was close to Nelson Mandela's  90th birthday, he sent him a birthday message. When Harry Corbett received an O.B.E. for his charitable work Sooty responded by squirting Prince Philip with his water-pistol !

A very early appearance of Sooty on British T.V. accompanied by his creator, Harry  Corbett
Link to Sooty's  Official Web page

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Venus and Mars
























As for the famous network of Vulcan, which inclosed Mars and Venus, and caused that inextinguishable laugh in heaven; since the gods themselves could not discern it, we shall not pry into it; Although why Vulcan bound them, Neptune loosed them, and Apollo should first discover them, might afford no vulgar mythology.


Thus does Sir Thomas Browne allude to the union of the goddess of love with the god of war and their subsequent entanglement, caught inflagrante delicto by Vulcan with his cunning network, in  the Discourse, The Garden of Cyrus. However, the Classical myth of Venus, the goddess of love, taming Mars, the god of war, was first elaborated upon by the Renaissance Hermetic scholars Marsilio Ficino (1433-99) and Pico della Mirandola (1463-94) as symbolic of the victory of love over war and the supremacy of Harmony over strife.

Indeed the planet Earth itself orbits between the planets Venus and Mars, symbolically intermediate between peace and war. The Classical myth was also a lesser representation of the coniunctio of the alchemists and more frequently alluded to as the union of  Sol et Luna, Sun and Moon, it was also alluded to as the astrological phenomenon of the Eclipse, an event which continues to exert a fascination upon humanity.

For the alchemist the uniting of the opposites was the primary objective of the 'Great Work' or magnum opus. And it's interesting to note in passing that C.G. Jung's deepest and final writing on alchemy is entitled Mysterium Coniunctionis (1955-56).























Paintings - Mars and Venus captured by Vulcan - Luca Giordano 1670's
Below- Mars and Venus united by Love - Paulo Veronese c.1578  
See Also - Vulcan 

Monday, July 04, 2011

American Corrections


Aristotle whilst he labours to refute the Idea's of Plato, falls upon one himself.   

How Sir Thomas Browne would have loved the internet! But as a conscientious scholar he'd probably also quickly recognise its potential as a powerful, instantaneous source and distributor of much false information. His vast encyclopaedia Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646-72) devotes a whole book upon the causes of error. Adherence to authority and antiquity, the unreliability of human memory, exaggeration, poetic licence and artistic imagination are each examined and cited as causes of error. But for Browne the devout Christian, the principal agent  of error was  none other than the Devil. And indeed it's interesting to note that even today the colloquial phrase still exists that, 'the Devil's in the detail'.

Just how amused or frustrated Browne was from false statements attributed to him can be gleaned from the official publication of his Religio Medici. Following several years of pirated editions which conflated and interpolated his thoughts with those of others and as if with a game of Chinese whispers played on the internet in mind, Browne describes how the pirated edition of his private meditations degenerated-

which being communicated unto one, it became common unto many, and was by transcription successively corrupted untill it arrived in a most depraved copy at the press. He that shall peruse that worke, and shall take notice of sundry particularities and personall expressions therein, will easily discern the intention was not publik: and being a private exercise directed to my self, what is delivered therein was rather a memoriall unto me then an example or rule unto any other:

Aware  of conflation infiltrating pirated editions and the powerlessness of the author to redress the effects of error, Browne had little option  than to issue an official edition of Religio Medici in 1643. 

But because  things evidently false are not only printed, but many things of truth most falsly set forth; in this latter I could not but think my selfe engaged: for though we have no power to redresse the former, yet in the other the reparation being within our selves, I have at present represented unto the world a full and intended copy of that Piece which was most imperfectly and surreptitiously published before.

In modern times Browne has himself frequently been the subject of error. The two most frequent errors currently available online both involve him in cases of mistaken authorship.American authoress Madeleine L'Enge (1918-88) mistakenly named Sir Thomas Browne as the author of a poem whose opening line begins,  'If thou could'st empty all thyself of self'.  L'Enge's error of mistaken authorship has now travelled the globe far and wide, courtesy of internet bloggers. However, James Eason, webmaster of the wonderful online resource of Sir Thomas Browne's major works, in true detective style, identifies the poem's real author. Madeleine L'Engle's simple mistake, attributing the verse of  T.Brown, a 19th century minor poet, to Sir Thomas Browne was an innocent error and the likelihood of Sir Thomas Browne being the author of  a  poem chosen by her is discussed by James Eason at False.

What's more worrying in the internet age is the sheer proliferation and  dissemination of error world-wide. There's also this quotation which is currently attributed to Sir Thomas Browne doing the rounds among cut and paste scholars who never stop to question their sources.

No-one should approach the Temple of Science with the soul of a money-lender.

The source of this mistaken attribution is believed to be from American author Dwight J. Ingle, in his book entitled -  'Principles of Research in Biology and Medicine'. [1]  However, although Browne is credited with the first usage of the word scientificall in his writings, [2] he would never have employed such an  idolatrous phrase as 'the temple of science' as Science  in the 17th century was more often known as Natural Philosophy; while the pecuniary notion of exploiting science in order to acquire a quick dollar is a decidedly  Anglo-American inclination of  later origination than the 17th century scientific revolution. 

To be fair to both authors Madeleine L'Enge and Dwight Ingle, neither quotation really violates or misrepresents Browne's intellectual preoccupations, Science and the psyche being two dominant spheres of interest to the enigmatic 17th century polymath. Nor can it be forgotten that in fact, by far the greatest scholarship on Browne throughout the 20th century originated from  America,  including literary criticism by William Dunn, Norman Endicott, J.S.Finch, Frank Huntley and Leonard Nathanson for starters.

Digressing ever so slightly, in contrast to a golden age of Victorian literary criticism on Browne, in the 20th century the silence of British literary criticism upon Browne, is near deafening. After Edmund Gosse's vitriolic character assassination of 1905, Sir Thomas Browne was in effect largely shunned by all except the most broad-minded and independent of  British writers. The Bloomsbury novelist Virginia Woolf  however recognised the genius of his literary style and thought, as did the painter Paul Nash. They held and passed on  Browne's flame in the inter-war years. Myself and many others were introduced to Browne's writings by C.A. Patrides in his 1977 Penguin edition of the major works. Refreshingly, C.A.Patrides pays more than a casual nod of acceptance and understanding  of Browne's hermetic inclinations.

At the current time of writing the author most likely to introduce the enquiring reader to Sir Thomas Browne is the German-born author W.G.Sebald (1944 -2001). Although it may be questioned just how much grasp Max Sebald had upon the stylistic niceties and elaborations of Browne's baroque prose ( he himself wrote in German, a treasure-trove of work for future translators) what cannot be questioned is Sebald's deep interest and appreciation of Browne, especially in The Rings of Saturn (1998). Indeed Sebald's hybrid work The Rings of Saturn, part autobiography, part history and geography lesson, part musing upon time and decline is not unlike Religio Medici, both being literary works which  indulge in philosophical excursions and rambling meditations.

An apprehensive Brunonian scholar, or indeed, choose any one of your own favourite authors reader, might well fret that statements utterly uncharacteristic and even defamatory can now be widely disseminated  instantaneously on the world wide web. But in truth, the internet invariably weeds out much error and serves truth with more vigour. The success of Wikipedia, with all its caveats, proves this. To argue  otherwise would place the printing-press along with the book in court and judged as guilty in aiding and colluding with error more than truth. The internet, along with the book, is merely a tool of human communication. It's how such tools are used which is of greater significance. But a sharp discerner observing our internet age, might  equally question the reliance of storing vital information and knowledge upon a hard drive or disc in the eventuality of  a system crashing or even  a cut electricity supply. 

Actually the word electricity is one of  Browne's numerous neologisms as well as computer (as in the verb to compute) check them out in the OED. There's also his first ever recorded usage of the word Network, meaning an artificial connection  to consider. The word occurs firstly in the long running title of his 1658 Discourse The Garden of Cyrus or the Quincunciall Lozenge or Network Plantations of the Ancients, Naturally, Artificially, Mystically considered. And indeed throughout the discourse Browne elaborates concisely and elegantly upon networks discerned in art and nature, sometimes displaying a frame of mind not unlike what Jung  once described as the alchemist's 'active imagination'.

Browne's coining of words such as electricity, computer and network along with his love of knowledge and awareness of the ever-present factor of error in every-day life, as any computer user is well aware,  place him firmly as a scientist who anticipated much of the modern-day internet age.

My plea to fellow bloggers globally, is to stop and think, whenever encountering any orphaned and unsourced profound or archaic sounding quotation, before claiming it was written by Sir Thomas Browne !

Header quote - A great example of Browne's humour Religio Medici Part 2:15
[1] published in 1958. Philadelphia: JB Lippincott Co. p.19
[2] Pseudodoxia Epidemica Book1, chapter 7
See also Browne on America