Monthly Archives: August 2018


Yes: that’s my word-for-the-day.

Today, I see, celebrates the ‘decollation’ of St John-the-Baptist.

Unless you are a classical scholar (as … ahem … I could once claim to be) or a spiky High-Catholic or a dictionary freak, take a moment to muse on what the word might mean.

Where’s your collar?

I’ve just been re-admitted to the arcane realms of the on-line Oxford English Dictionary, and find this:

The action of decollating or beheading; the fact of being beheaded; Obstetrics, severance of the head from the body of a fœtus.

Feast of the Decollation of St. John the Baptist: a festival in the Roman, Greek, and other Christian churches in commemoration of the beheading of St. John the Baptist, observed on the 29th of August.

There comes an self-revelatory moment, reading that, when somewhere deep inside one’s mind reflects: “too much information”.

Now, what’s the distinction between ‘decollation’ and ‘decapitation’? Why do we need both words?

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St Augustine’s Day

It has always struck me as odd how Augustine survived — and prospered —  as a saint of the Roman church.

Christianity is rather like one of those ‘veteran’ cars, which sell for bushels of money, have proudly had over their time three new engines and two reconstructed bodies, but are still ‘authentic’.

Augustine, at the end of the fourth century AD, was just such a re-modeller. Before he became Christian, Augustine had led a merry life (which is why he is the patron of brewers), and had more-than-sampled the alternative philosophies on the market: Platonism, Manichaeism, and other current Hellenistic trends. He had serious problems with the notion of the Trinity (that business of the filioque). Much of his philosophy belongs outside the main trends of orthodox Romanism then, and for long after — especially on ‘free will’ and ‘predestination’. Which was why the Reformers were so fond of him and his works.

We need to remind ourselves that most of those church dedications are to the other Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury.

Lammas term

Today is also the formal start of the ‘Lammas Term’ for Scottish courts, and a ‘quarter day’ (when rents were due). Though it only got to 28th as recently as 1990, having been transposed from 1st August.

Lammas had long been formalised as 1st August — but it was ever something of a wandering, uinfixed date, at any time during the month of August. A strange word: it derives from Old English hláfmæsse — ‘bread mass’, the bringing of the first ripened corn to the altar — which suggests why the day might shift from year-to-year, from harvest-to-harvest.

For those early ancestors, it was a crucial turning-point of the year. The crop had to be planted (so Eastertide) and now the harvest is in (Lammastide).


For the Celts, of course, Lammastide was the time for the harvest games of Lugh, Lugos or Lleu (depending to which Celtic lot one belonged) — the god of light.

Lough seems to me to be a borrowing from some very early myths. We are told that Lough was the son of Eithne, and she was the daughter of Balor of the Evil Eye. Balor, it had been prophesied, would die at the hand of his own grandson, so — as a prophylactic — had Eithne closely confined. Balor’s error was to steal Glas Ghoibhneann, the wonderful cow that never went out of milk, from Cian of the Tuatha De Danann. When Cian came looking for his beast, Eithne recognised the man of her dreams — and consummation and conception ensued, with the aid of the female druid, Birog.

Lugh has now to be whisked away and fostered (shades of Paris and the fall of Troy), so by further coincidences that prophecy could be delivered.

One way or another the Lugh story takes us back to the very origin of myth, before Greeks, before Celts, before anyone had got around to formal Augustinian debate of inevitability and choice.

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A bigger bang

I see today was the anniversary of Krakatoa blowing its top in 1883.

There were, it seems, four separate explosions — the biggest was heard over two thousand miles away.

It was four times greater than the largest H-bomb yet detonated (accepting that Kim Jong-Un might have ambitions).

It did for at least 36,000 people, several species, and the local terrain.

It shot eleven cubic miles (make sure you read and appreciated that quantity) into the upper atmosphere, which made for pretty sunsets around the northern hemisphere for years after. It also reduced global temperature by a degree or so.

It’s still active:

Whatever problems today brought us, that was your comparator.

Meanwhile, nearer home, it is the holy day of St Ninian. He doesn’t get much recognition outside Scotland.

Ninian is another of those shadowy figures who fills the pages of early Brtish Christianity. He is supposed to have blown into Galloway around the start of the 5th century, and established his cell at Whithorn. He has a death-date of AD432.

If that’s true, he chose well. The Isle of Whithorn is one of those places that tourists should be told to avoid: it’s far too good for them. The Steam Packet Inn should be visited by everyone but only briefly, to eat and watch just one glorious sun-set: the atmosphere, the peace, the fresh sea-food are too good, too close to heaven.

At Isle of Whithorn we discovered a remarkable phenomenon: mobile ‘phones log onto the Isle of Man.

On the way out make sure to spend time and money at Wigtown, among a plenitude of second-hand books.

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Great minds think, etc

Allow me to repeat the kernel of yesterday’s post. It attempted to parallel Norman Tebbit’s much criticised shibboleth:

A large proportion of Britain’s Asian population fail to pass the cricket test. Which side do they cheer for? It’s an interesting test. Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are?

with Jeremy Corbyn cosying-up to the Hamas-front operation in London:

[British Zionists] clearly have two problems. One is they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either.

My attempt at a punch-line was a question:

  • Why was Jeremy Corbyn’s 2013 “ironic” less racist or culturalist or über-nationalist than Norman Tebbit’s 1990 “cricket test”?

For that I received the usual in-coming Jeremiads, that it was all a foul plot by the Daily Mail to undermine the Dear Leader. I’m not disagreeing, since that is what the highly-partisan Daily Mail is all about. All I would suggest is, after forty years a-politicking, Jeremy Corbyn should have long recognised that Phrases Make History Here, and measured his expressions accordingly.

Now to this day

I open my Observer and reach Barbara Ellen’s regular page. And this:

Corbyn leader of a prejudice-free party? Now that’s ironic

In 1990, Norman Tebbit delivered his “cricket test”, saying that Asian or black Britons who didn’t support England were insufficiently integrated. Now, this idea – of people not being “properly” British – comes courtesy of Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

At a 2013 pro-Palestine event, Corbyn referred to another speech, observing that it was “dutifully recorded by the thankfully silent Zionists in the audience” (“thankfully silent”, eh? Nice). Corbyn deduced that these Zionists, by which he meant English or British Jews, didn’t want to study history and, “having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either”.

So, first, the cricket test, now the history/irony exam. Any Corbyn apologists still there: please explain how these weren’t directly expressed, unprovoked racist sentiments? Not violently done, I’ll give you, no shit through letterboxes. (Though the words hit home.) This is how it works in more mannerly circles: a nod to how a group of people retain an essential “otherness” and fail at being fully British. It was vile enough from Tebbit, but from Corbyn, the self-avowed anti-racist leading a traditionally anti-racist party, it’s as grotesque as it’s blatant. Sometimes, there’s nowhere left to hide.

The inevitable synapse

I’m now stuck with an ear-worm. It’s one of the first LPs, and the second by Joan Baez, I bought (back around 1962):

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The width of a cigarette paper between them?

In April 1990 the old controversialist Norman Tebbit bowled the Los Angeles Times (I kid you not) a googly:

A large proportion of Britain’s Asian population fail to pass the cricket test. Which side do they cheer for? It’s an interesting test. Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are?

Presumably the LA Times, educated by Sir C. Aubrey Smith’s Hollywood Cricket Club, had some appreciation of the social rules (as opposed to ‘Laws of Cricket‘) of the game:

Few A-list names, from David Niven to Errol Flynn to Ronald Colman, failed to pay a ritual call to Smith’s villa at 2881 Coldwater Canyon Drive, where the raised Union Jack denoted a sort of semi-ambassadorial status. Many more found themselves pressed into spending long hot Sunday afternoons in the field, where Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes) mingled with the likes of George Coulouris (Citizen Kane) while P.G. Wodehouse took notes from the boundary. Like every major star before him, Olivier dutifully joined the consensus that spring morning in 1933. He showed up at the ground in size 13 boots hurriedly borrowed from Boris Karloff. Smith himself remained an active member of the side throughout his 70s, and an occasional player into his 80s. Dubbed `Round the Corner’ because of a peculiar crablike run when bowling, he not only regularly took 50 wickets a season but also interested himself in literally everyone and everything behind the scenes. An annual general meeting early in the Second World War included a vote of thanks to the president, Karloff, Cary Grant and others `in connection with the large sums raised for the Commando Fund’, while at the AGM of May 1945 he spoke at length not about victory in Europe but rather the knotty problem of moles damaging the wicket.

That’s from here, by the way. Worth the trip for the rest of the piece.

In 2013 Jeremy Corbyn, not yet enstooled as patron-saint of all-things Momentum, pontificated at a London meet, sponsored by the propaganda arm of Hamas, and the Palestine Return Centre:

[British Zionists] clearly have two problems. One is they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either.

Since history tells me that the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 began with a military coalition of Arab states to drive Jews into the sea, with various re-matches since, and Hamas was founded to establish an Islamic state across modern Israel and Palestine, I’m not sure Jeremy Corbyn’s interpretation of ‘history’ should stand unchallenged.

However, for the moment, two thoughts — the relation of the second to the rest of this post may require some ‘parallel thinking’:

  • Why was Jeremy Corbyn’s 2013 “ironic” less racist or culturalist or über-nationalist than Norman Tebbit’s 1990 “cricket test”?
  • Today is the saint’s day of Louis IX Capet (King of France 1226 to 1270). He was one of the more competent of his dynasty — thanks to close guidance by his mother, Blanche of Castile, and later (mainly clerical) additions to his circle. That competence meant his reign was critical in the ‘nation-building’ of France, was greatly facilitated by a lack of familial discord (as affected the neighbouring kingdoms), and he managed a working arrangement with the troubled papacy. His sponsorship and participation in two Crusades (though he pegged out at Tunis in his second — the Eighthen route) earned his prompt canonisation in 1297.

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St Bartholomew 2

Robert Merle’s serial novels on the Fortunes of France reach the St Bartholomew’s massacre in volume 3, Heretic Dawn. Merle ascribes responsibility to Catherine de’ Medici:

Catherine, the true sovereign of the kingdom since the death of her husband, Henri II, appeared to have no religious zeal whatsoever. Niece of a Pope who was so blatantly dishonest that no one believed him even when he spoke the truth, you would have said that this Machiavelli in skirts had developed a disorder that could best be defined as “indifference” and that spread from her to those around her until the entire court was infected with it. Catholicism, the reformed religion—it was all the same to Catherine. To convince the Cardinal de Bourbon to preside over the marriage of Margot and Henri de Navarre, she produced a letter from the papal ambassador that falsely proclaimed that the Holy Father had given his authorization to this marriage “against nature”. It was so widely known that Catherine didn’t care about the heresy of her future son-in-law that the priests and people of Paris hated her for having arranged this “infamous” union, calling her “Jezebel” and throwing all sorts of accusations at her, condemning her to public obloquy. It was not to defend a religion, which she cared about as much as a fish cares about an apple, but by political calculation that, in order to maintain her personal power against that of Coligny, she stumbled, through an unpredictable concatenation of events, from the murder of a man to the most vile massacre in our history. When Navarre was forced to recant his Huguenot faith after the St Bartholomew massacre and went to hear Mass for the first time, Catherine, turning to the foreign ambassadors, laughed out loud, as if the horrible apocalypse that the kingdom had experienced during the night of 23rd–24th August had, in her eyes, merely been a farce, and the conversion of a prince, accomplished by holding a knife to his throat, a cause for unbridled mirth. [page 422]

Cooler heads, addressing merely the history, merely find her partly responsible for starting the French Wars of Religion.

The Peace of Saint-Germain

5 September 1570: Charles XI Valois signed for the Roman Catholics; Admiral Gaspard de Coligny for the Huguenots. De Coligny was regarded by his political enemies as the instigator of the assassination (by a Huguenot, Jean de Poltrot de Méré) of the Duke of Guise.

There was a series of incidents where denominational tensions became bloody  — Rouen had a troubled history, and the massacre at Notre-Dame-de-Bondeville (18 March 1571 — about forty Huguenots killed) was a foretaste of the coming horror.

De Coligny (0ne of the clearer-eyed bods around) could see that the Peace was precarious, and came up with a distractor. France, with Charles IX as figure-head, would invade Spain: this would unite the factions against the common national foe, would strike a geo-political blow, and extract Charles from the control of his mother. It also provided the cause that united all of de Coligny’s personal opponents.

A right, royal wedding, and its consequences

The symbolic core of the Peace of St-Germain was the wedding of Henry III of Navarre and Margaret of Valois (18 August 1572). This was condemned by recently-enthroned Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni, by the Guise faction, by many Catholics across France enthused to do so from pulpit and preachers. Courtiers and the Parlement were notably absent from the ceremony.

Nor did it help that the harvest had been bad, and market prices had soared.

The day after the wedding, with Paris already in a state of tension, a house rented by an associate of Henri de Guise was used by Charles de Louviers (lord of Maurevert — so that name is often applied by texts) to take an arquebus-shot at de Coligny. De Louviers/Maurevert had begun his career as a page in the household of François, Duke of Guise. De Coligny seems to have escaped, losing only a finger. De Louviers did a runner, and took shelter with another close associate of Henri de Guise. At this point it is possible to argue either a plot by de Guise himself, or the de Guise hangers-on machinating to involve the Duke. That apart, a year later, when some of the dust was settling, de Guise disposed an annual pension of 2,000 livres tournois on de Louviers.

On 23 August there was a Huguenot gathering at the house of the wounded de Coligny. It was alleged that a revenge attack on de Guise was proposed, ‘even if it were at the king’s feet’. Paris being aflame with gossip, that quickly reached the Court, and a colloquy in the King’s circle agreed this was lèse-majesté. So, at this Court gathering, on the late afternoon or evening of 23 August, the summary execution of the leading Huguenots was ordered.

Can one argue this was somehow prophylactic? Arrest and trial of the Huguenots would be difficult, and inflammatory — however, not pursuing the would-be assassins breached the Peace of St-Germain. De Guise was believed to be on the point of re-igniting the religious wars — and clearly the King would have to ally with the majority Catholics against the Huguenots.

De Guise gets his man, and all hell breaks loose

De Guise received the royal warrant summarily to execute de Coligny. There was a melée in de Coligny’s house, ending with a Bohemian servant (Karel z Janovic, a.k.a. ‘Besme’ — who accordingly gets his mention in Les trois mousquetaires) driving a sword through de Coligny, and the body defenestrated to land at de Guise’s feet. De Guise sent the severed head to the King; the King intended it to be posted on to the Pope (it went missing on the way — but the Pope returned the compliment with a golden rose).

De Guise is then said to have ordered: ‘Be brave, soldiers, we have done well, let’s go for the others, since the king orders it… it is the king’s will, his express command’. Whether that was an instruction to his band of killers to limit the slaughter to de Coligny’s immediate circle, or not — to the Parisian mob it was heard as the go-ahead for a pogrom on all Huguenots (and anyone who could be assumed to be so).

Much of the killing was done by the militia, wearing white crosses on their headgear — who would be mainly aspiring ‘middle-class’, and so we have a class-element, as well as opportunities for personal revenges and looting.

Worse and worse

By 25 August it was time for the King to try and regain some control. His next order was to round up the Huguenots, and imprison them — presumably intended as ‘protective custody’.

In practice this meant the massacres spread to a dozen provincial cities. Holt’s authoritative 2005 study reckons on 2,000 dead in Paris and a further 3,000 elsewhere. This is the bottom-end of most calculations.

He also suggests a pattern for the atrocities. All occurred in cities with a significant Huguenot population (which might seem self-fulfilling), all had experienced inflammatory preaching — the main offender being Edmond Auger SJ, most had a previous history of religious conflict, and in most cases the city governance had fallen under Huguenot control at some point in the previous Wars.


As our protestant historians happily told us, the good news was the mass emigration of Huguenots. That brought a whole swathe of craftsmen and women out of France to the Low Countries and to England.

Of course, Nigel Farage claims his weird surname is of Huguenot origin, that Georgius Ferauge (born Fumay, 1681) shipped up in Swallowfield, Berkshire, and the surname was Anglicised as ‘Farridge’. There is no evidence of a Georgius Ferauge in Fumay. More likely, the paternal line comes from the Ferridges.

In fact, many of those Huguenots reached England only after 1688 — and, in religious terms, one can see why.

After the Williamite settlement, the newly-coined Earl of Galway ( Pierre de Ruvigny) sent his agent, Louis Crommelin, to survey the prospects for a linen industry in Ireland. Crommelin fixed on Lisburn, and imported 70 Huguenot families from Holland — that initial settlement quickly increased to 120. Which is significant to me, because that’s one descent for my children, through their maternal line.

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St Bartholomew 1

If yesterday, 23rd August, was one of those days where significant anniversaries don’t leap to mind, today (24th August) is the precise opposite.

Bits and pieces

For a start, it has a major saint to its name, named in three of the Gospels.

Locally, Emma of Normandy managed two successive marriages to kings: first to Æþelræd (he the poorly-advised, so unræd), then to Cnut Sveinsson. She presented Canterbury Cathedral with the sacred relic of St Bartholomew’s arm. She had, it seems, been flogged this limb by a passing monk from Benevento, which had a surplus of his bits. By one of the wonders that passeth all understanding, other bits are in the keeping of Rome’s Basilica di San Bartolomeo all’Isola, and his skull features under the main altar of Kaiserdom Sankt BartholomäusFrankfurt-am-Main.


I’m trying to suppress the one about the brothel in the leper-colony, which failed because business kept falling off. Ooops … sorry: that slipped out.]

Basilica di San Bartolomeo all’Isola is crucial to the English connection in a different way. That church is on the site of a temple of Aesculapius. Hence the healing and caring thing. Rahere was a canon of St Paul’s. He took a pilgrimage to Rome, fell ill, and had a visionary experience of St Bartholomew. He returned to duty in London, and in AD1123 established a priory at Smithfield, with a hospital on the side. When Henry VIII Tudor did down monastic establishment, the importance of Bart’s was recognised, and it became the House of the Poore in Farringdon in the suburbs of the City of London of Henry VIII’s Foundation. The first superintendent was the monarch’s own surgeon, Thomas Vicary.

Bartleme Fair

Within a decade of the founding of Bart’s Hospital, Smithfield had became the site for the annual St Bartholomew’s Fair. Rahere (see previous paragraph) had wangled a Charter from Henri I Beauclerc (arguably one of the few kings of England with a requisite number of brain-cells). The Charter allowed the Fair: the Fair subsidised the hospital: the hospital was an essential resource for the festering slums of north London — prot0-NHS in action.

Although the Fair formally opened on St Bartholomew’s Eve (wish I spotted that for yesterday’s post), it ran for three days, which was later extended to a full fortnight. Like all such events, at first it was dedicated to the marketing of woollen cloth. Work it out: the sheep were shorn in high summer, by August the wool was ready for sale. Bartholomew Fair was a main trading post for the wool exports.

And so the Fair, like Topsy, just grow’d. It transcended mere wool and cloth, and became the mainstay of the London entertainment business. From which it is but a slight wiggle and twerk to debauchery. And that as the ground for the Fair’s suppression, as late as 1855.

The Fair was well down that road when Ben Jonson made it the subject of his 1614 comedy. Justice Overdo sets about investigating the baser happenings at the Fair, and ends up himself in the stocks. Various ladies get embroiled in devious doings, etc., etc. Somehow all this develops a bit better than farce — but remains pungent social satire.

Richard Brathwaite had come down from Westmoreland, via the University of Oxford, to satirise and lambaste soppy southerners. In 1631, he let fly at the Fair:

No season throughout all the yeere accounts hee more subject to abomination than Bartholomew faire: Their Drums, Hobbihorses, Rattles, Babies, Jewtrumps, nay Pigs and all, are wholly Judaicall. The very Booths are Brothells of iniquity, and distinguished by the stamp of the Beast.

This moral soul joined the Royalists in the Civil War; and set up a school by his second wife’s estate near Catterick, where he would be interred with honour in 1673, in his mid-80s.

1668: Pepys:

Our Sammy is on the pull:

Up and all the morning at the office busy, and after dinner to the office again busy till about four, and then I abroad (my wife being gone to Hales’s about drawing her hand new in her picture) and I to see Betty Michell, which I did, but su mari was dentro, and no pleasure. So to the Fair, and there saw several sights; among others, the mare that tells money,  and many things to admiration; and, among others, come to me, when she was bid to go to him of the company that most loved a pretty wench in a corner. And this did cost me 12d. to the horse, which I had flung him before, and did give me occasion to baiser a mighty belle fille that was in the house that was exceeding plain, but fort belle. At night going home I went to my bookseller’s in Duck Lane, and find her weeping in the shop, so as ego could not have any discourse con her nor ask the reason, so departed and took coach home, and taking coach was set on by a wench that was naught, and would have gone along with me to her lodging in Shoe Lane, but ego did donner her a shilling . . . and left her, and home, where after supper, W. Batelier with us, we to bed. This day Mrs. Martin come to see us, and dined with us.

Three days later, the Fair and our Sam are still in business:

Up, and met at the Office all the morning; and at noon my wife, and Deb., and Mercer, and W. Hewer and I to the Fair, and there, at the old house, did eat a pig, and was pretty merry, but saw no sights, my wife having a mind to see the play Bartholomew-Fayre, with puppets. Which we did, and it is an excellent play; the more I see it, the more I love the wit of it; only the business of abusing the Puritans begins to grow stale, and of no use, they being the people that, at last, will be found the wisest. And here Knepp come to us, and sat with us, and thence took coach in two coaches, and losing one another, my wife, and Knepp, and I to Hercules Pillars, and there supped, and I did take from her mouth the words and notes of her song of “the Larke,” which pleases me mightily. And so set her at home, and away we home, where our company come home before us. This night Knepp tells us that there is a Spanish woman lately come over, that pretends to sing as well as Mrs. Knight; both of which I must endeavour to hear. So, after supper, to bed.

1722: Daniel Defoe takes Moll Flanders to the Fair:

It was now a merry time of the year, and Bartholomew Fair was begun. I had never made any walks that way, nor was the common part of the fair of much advantage to me; but I took a turn this year into the cloisters, and among the rest I fell into one of the raffling shops. It was a thing of no great consequence to me, nor did I expect to make much of it; but there came a gentleman extremely well dressed and very rich, and as ’tis frequent to talk to everybody in those shops, he singled me out, and was very particular with me. First he told me he would put in for me to raffle, and did so; and some small matter coming to his lot, he presented it to me (I think it was a feather muff); then he continued to keep talking to me with a more than common appearance of respect, but still very civil, and much like a gentleman.

He held me in talk so long, till at last he drew me out of the raffling place to the shop-door, and then to a walk in the cloister, still talking of a thousand things cursorily without anything to the purpose. At last he told me that, without compliment, he was charmed with my company, and asked me if I durst trust myself in a coach with him; he told me he was a man of honour, and would not offer anything to me unbecoming him as such. I seemed to decline it a while, but suffered myself to be importuned a little, and then yielded.

Moll gets treated, and bedded: As for the bed, etc., I was not much concerned about that part. […] he did what he pleased with me; I need say no moreOn the return, drink gets the better of the ‘gentleman’, so Moll took a gold watch, with a silk purse of gold, his fine full-bottom periwig and silver-fringed gloves, his sword and fine snuff-box, and made her escape from the carriage near Temple Bar.

1802 (or so): Wordsworth in London:

From these sights
Take one,— that ancient festival, the Fair,
Holden where martyrs suffered in past time,
And named of St. Bartholomew; there, see
A work completed to our hands, that lays,
If any spectacle on earth can do,
The whole creative powers of man asleep! …
What a shock
For eyes and ears! what anarchy and din,
Barbarian and infernal, — a phantasma,
Monstrous in colour, motion, shape, sight, sound!
Below, the open space, through every nook
Of the wide area, twinkles, is alive
With heads; the midway region, and above,
Is thronged with staring pictures and huge scrolls,
Dumb proclamations of the Prodigies;
With chattering monkeys dangling from their poles,
And children whirling in their roundabouts;
With those that stretch the neck and strain the eyes,
And crack the voice in rivalship, the crowd
Inviting; with buffoons against buffoons
Grimacing, writhing, screaming, — him who grinds
The hurdy-gurdy, at the fiddle weaves,
Rattles the salt-box, thumps the kettle-drum,
And him who at the trumpet puffs his cheeks,
The silver-collared Negro with his timbrel,
Equestrians, tumblers, women, girls, and boys,
Blue-breeched, pink-vested, with high-towering plumes. —
All moveables of wonder, from all parts, Are here —
Albinos, painted Indians, Dwarfs,
The Horse of knowledge, and the learned Pig,
The Stone-eater, the man that swallows fire,
Giants, Ventriloquists, the Invisible Girl,
The Bust that speaks and moves its goggling eyes,
The Wax-work, Clock-work, all the marvellous craft
Of modern Merlins, Wild Beasts, Puppet-shows,
All out-o’-the-way, far-fetched, perverted things,
All freaks of nature, all Promethean thoughts
Of man, his dulness, madness, and their feats
All jumbled up together, to compose
A Parliament of Monsters. Tents and Booths
Meanwhile, as if the whole were one vast mill,
Are vomiting, receiving on all sides,
Men, Women, three-years’ Children, Babes in arms.

By which we can assume a good time was had by almost all.


This weekend — the nearest to St Bartholomew and his Fair — something similar occurs in Notting Hill.

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23rd August

About the most interesting thing about this day is it was the Roman celebration of Volcanalia. This was a minor festival which — seemingly — involved driving animals through a fire.

Which is of little import in itself, except — as somehow linked to the fire-god and smith Vulcan — in AD 79 was the start of the eruption of Vesuvius, which did for Pompeii and much more of that locality.

Even the Roman Church can only muster St Rose of Lima and Philip Benizi as names for the day. Rose of Lima (née Isabel Flores de Oliva) would today be ‘in care’ for self-harming; but seems to be big in South America and the Philippines.

So, here am I meditating that today must have some significance. Apart, that is, from the disclosure that my grandson has stellar exam results; and I am once again proven the dumb klutz of the family. Does  Schadenfreude also cover the joy that is greater than mere achievement: that one’s own achievement is more notable than that of others around?

Still, backtracking to one I missed three days ago, there is the Gunfight at Hide Park (though some sources render that as the Hyde Park Gunfight — very confusing to those of us who think first of W2 2UH or of FDR).

The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway…

… reached Newton, Kansas, in the high summer of 1871. The town (now an incorporated city, no less) was named for the Massachusetts home of some railway high-up. Immediately Newton displaced Abilene as the loading-point for cattle brought up the Chisholm Trail. And, as immediately, was populated by all the low-lifes and ‘service-industries’ associated therewith.

Newton yearned to achieve respectability, to have a town organisation, to have elections. Ah … there’s the rub.

Hailing bullets

A couple of special policemen, Texan Billy Bailey (or Baylor) and Ohioan Mike McCluskie — both of whom had ‘previous’, fell to blows over politics while drinking in the Red Front Saloon; and ‘took it outside’. It, as these things do, ended in gun-play, with Bailey fatally wounded. McCluskie took to the hills, but — a few days later, because Bailey’s previous had caught up with him, felt it safe to return to town on the assumption that he had ‘self-defence’ on his side, and settled to a card game in Tuttle’s Dance Hall.

We have finally arrived at the ‘Hide Park’ locale of Newton.

McCluskie found himself challenged by former mates of Bailey (they are named as Kearns, Garrett, and Wilkerson), but the protagonist was Hugh Anderson. Anderson started the gunplay, the other three joined in — this time with McCluskie on the losing end. Two down: more to come. The quartet then retreated, blazing away to cover their exit.

A young acquaintance of McCluskie, James Riley, was possessed of two Navy Colts — but very little experience of their use. Shooting wildly, he did for a would-be peace-maker (who made it across the street to expire), a bystander, and terminated Garret and Kearns (scores three, four, five and six). The floor of Tuttle’s Dance Hall was littered with seven bodies, including the no-longer walking wounded Anderson and Wilkerson. Riley then wandered off into obscurity.

We aren’t finished!

Beowulf reckoned he’d finished with Grendel — but hadn’t reckoned on Grendel’s mum coming calling.

Similarly, Arthur McCluskie had it in for the recovering Anderson, who meantime was lurking down in Texas.

Two years later Anderson showed up in Medicine Lodge.

4th July 1873, McCluskie issued the challenge — guns or knives? Anderson accepted, choosing guns. The two started with the guns, then resorted to the cutlery and mutually concluded each other. Scores seven and eight.

So why don’t we hear more of the Hide Park Shootings? The death-count more than doubled the attrition in the better-known Gunfight at the O.K. Corral  — but that had the services of graphic and literary (not to mention cinematographic) artists over the next century.

Fame, and infamy, is not what we know, but who was involved.



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a.d.XI Kalendas Septembres

Were a decaying missal to come one’s way, in it one might find the rituals for the Immaculate Heart of Mary. That seems to be a regular dedication for Roman parishes in the ‘fly-over’ States. Or, in the porch of a spiky-high church, there may be an acknowledgement of 22nd August as the ‘Queenship of Mary’ — this side of the Atlantic, my guess is such antique Mariolatry is more likely in one of the weirder outposts of Anglicanism.

Else one is reduced this day to celebrating St Timotheus, one of those martyred under Diocletian. Look for him in vain in authenticated sources: like so many other tales of the early Church he is little more than a fiction.

Catherine Nixey, in The Darkening Age, is particularly revisionist:

… although martyr stories have often made for arresting and compelling drama, very few, if any, of these tales are based on historical fact. There were simply not that many years of imperially ordered persecution in the Roman Empire. Fewer than thirteen— in three whole centuries of Roman rule. These years may have loomed understandably large in Christian accounts but to allow them to dominate the narrative in the way they have — and still do — is at best misleading and at worst a gross misrepresentation. During these first centuries of the new religion, local persecutions of Christian occurred. But we know of no government-led persecution for the first 250 years of Christianity with the exception of Nero’s — and Nero, with even-handed lunacy, persecuted everyone. For two and a half centuries the Roman imperial government left Christianity alone. [page 58]

All that aside, there is one small relic of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Longfellow’s The Poet’s Calendar:

The Emperor Octavian, called the August,
  I being his favorite, bestowed his name
Upon me, and I hold it still in trust,
  In memory of him and of his fame.
I am the Virgin, and my vestal flame
  Burns less intensely than the Lion’s rage;
Sheaves are my only garlands, and I claim
  The golden Harvests as my heritage.

Through the window of the East Coast Main Line, it was patently obvious that the golden Harvests of August were — this year — largely north of the Trent.

Oh, and it’s the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth Field, when Henry Tudor did for Richard III Plantagenet. And that’s where a far-distant ancestor, one Henry Piggott, also met his end.

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Long gone. Too long gone.

I used to walk through here daily, Crossing Stephen’s, that is, my green, from school, then at the top of Harcourt Street. Later, I’d come from the other direction, to Rice’s which used to be on the corner (now gone), opposite where the Green Lin now stops.

To my shame, I didn’t recognise the image from this perspective.

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