1st february 2006

Some days are peculiar; they start off strange and the taste just doesn't go away.
The dictionary this morning was acting up:

chide chīd, v.t. to scold, rebuke, reprove by words: to be noisy about, as the sea. [my italics: this makes no sense to me at all grammatically]

v.i. to make a snarling, murmuring sound, as a dog or trumpet [my italics again: this isn't a dictionary entry, this is some kind of poetry]

I was right about chidden, though.  But then there was

grape'fruit a fine variety of the shaddock, the pompelmoose, with sometimes a slightly grapelike taste.

Wot? This was too much all at once. Never mind the curious pompelmoose
between its drawling commas, referring whether to the shaddock or the
grapefruit I didn't know (and being defined elsewhere as the shaddock, esp. the grapefruit, also pampelmoose, pampelmouse, pumple-nose (Dutch; origin obscure); but there was shaddock,
a word I'd never heard before, which it turns out is a family of fruits
named for Captain Shaddock of the East India company who brought plants
from Malaysia to the Caribbean. And tasting like grapes? I've never

After all this one is expected to go to work; ludicrous.

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3rd february 2006

le soleil même la nuit revisited

The observation you mention . . . I once made upon myself with the hazard of my eyes. The manner was this. I looked a very little while upon the Sun in a looking-glass with my right eye & then turned my eyes into a dark corner of my chamber & winked to observe the impression made & the circles of colours which encompassed it & how they decayed by degrees & at last vanished.
This I repeated a second & a third time. At the third time, when the phantasm of light & colours about it were almost vanished, intending my fancy upon them to see their last appearance I found to my amazement that they began to return & by little & little to become as lively & vivid as when I had newly looked upon the Sun. But when I ceased to intend my fancy upon them they vanished again.
After this I found that as often as I went into the dark & intended my mind upon them as when a man looks earnestly to see anything which is difficult to be seen, I could make the phantasm return without looking any more upon the Sun. And the oftener I made it return, the more easily I could make it return again. And at length by repeating this without looking any more upon the Sun I made such an impression on my eye that if I looked upon the clouds or a book or any bright object I saw upon it a round bright spot of light like the Sun. And, which is still stranger, though I looked upon the Sun with my right eye only & not with my left, that my fancy began to make the impression upon my left eye as well as upon my right. For if I shut my right eye & looked upon a book or the clouds with my left eye I could see the spectrum of the Sun almost as plain as with my right eye, if I did but intend my fancy a little while upon it. For at first if I shut my right eye & looked with my left, the spectrum of the Sun did not appear till I intended my fancy upon it; but by repeating this, appeared every time more easily.
And now in a few hours time I had brought my eyes to such a pass that I could look upon no bright object with either eye but I saw the Sun before me, so that I durst neither write nor read but to recover the use of my eyes shut myself up in my chamber made dark for three days together & used all means to divert my imagination from the Sun.
For if I thought upon him I presently saw his picture though I was in the dark. But by keeping in the dark & employing my mind about other things I began in three or four days to have some use of my eyes again & by forbearing a few days longer to look upon bright objects recovered them pretty well, though not so well but that for some months after the spectrum of the Sun began to return as often as I began to meditate upon the phenomenon, even though I lay in bed at midnight with my curtains drawn. But now I have been very well for many years, though I am apt to think that if I durst venture my eyes I could still make the phantasm return by the power of my fancy.

- Isaac Newton, Letter to John Locke, 1692

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16th february 2006

The Moneychanger and his Wife, Quentin Metsys, 1514

Your task as an art critic: to discuss this picture without reference to the moral aspects of moneylending in 16th century Flanders. From what you read, you'd think it couldn't be done; but what a waste of ink. The 'elongated curved fingers suggestive of avarice' (yet see any contemporary works involving saints, with the same hands); in particular the 'woman's gaze having strayed from her book - with its depiction of the Virgin and Child - and fixed itself upon the gold in the hands of her husband.'
That gaze is what I like most about this picture. She's not looking at the money, it's easy to see that. Her eyes look defocussed and her mind is far away; even as she turns the page she's begun to aller en bateau, lulled by the familiar environment and the calm, precise movements of the man next to her. She's become part of a still life. Which of us doesn't know and love that feeling?

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20th february 2006

numinoscopy revisited

Back when this weblog was in its infancy, receiving plaudits from all and sundry ('here we have something that is taut, elegant, alert . . . ' Blog-U-Like.com hem hem) there was an entry about cloudwatching. Four years later, the site still shambling towards Jerusalem, I come across this, from James Thomson's long poem The Castle of Indolence:

Oft as he traversed the cerulean field,
And marked the clouds that drove before the wind,
Ten thousand glorious systems would he build,
Ten thousand great ideas filled his mind:
But with the clouds they fled, and left no trace behind.

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21st february 2006

departed, left no forwarding address

The vehement persuasion and entreaty of his friends could nothing avail, to divert him from a wilful resolution of going through in his Frigate the Squirrell, which was overcharged upon its decks, with fights, nettings and small artillery, too cumbersome for so small a boat that was to pass through the Ocean sea at that season of the year, when by course we might expect much storm of foul weather . . . but when he was entreated by the Captain, Master, and other his well willers of the Hind, not to venture in the Frigate, this was his answer: I will not forsake my little company going homeward, with whom I have passed so many storms and perils.

We had brought the Islands of Azores south of us, yet we then kept much to the north, until we had got into the height and elevation of England: we met with very foul weather, and terrible seas, breaking short and high Pyramid-wise. Howsoever it cometh to pass, men which all their life-time had occupied the Sea never saw more outrageous Seas. We had also upon our main yard an apparition of a little fire by night, which seamen do call Castor and Pollux. But we had only one, which they take an evil sign of more tempest.

Monday the ninth of September, in the afternoon, the Frigate was near cast away, oppressed by waves, yet at that time recovered: and giving forth signs of joy, the General sitting abaft with a book in his hand, cried out unto us in the Hind (so oft as we did approach within hearing) We are as near to heaven by sea as by land.

The same Monday night, about twelve of the clock or not long after, the Frigate being ahead of us in the Golden Hind, suddenly her lights were out, whereof as it were in a moment we lost the sight, and withal our watch cried, the General was cast away, which was so true. For in that moment, the Frigate was devoured and swallowed up of the Sea. Yet still we looked out all that night, and ever after, until we arrived upon the coast of England.

- Hakluyt, Voyages (the death of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, 1585)

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