Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Monday Papers: Part the Sixth

Girl reading a letter by Vermeer

Tick Tock 

I have always been fascinated by time - the sheer depth of Creation has a majesty that is almost intoxicating.   Recorded human history stretches back approximately 6,500 years, while the Earth itself is vastly older. But considering human history measured in generations, rather than years, there are only two hundred and ninety  generations between us and the men that lived in Sumer.  The past is both near and far away simultaneously, utterly remote and yet always with us.  Considering Creation as all things that are, we are very young indeed, sharks for example have been about for nearly four hundred million years and that is quite a few generations indeed.

Fiction rarely conveys the breadth of time well, but there have been some notable exceptions. I read "The First and Last Men" by Olaf Stapledon, a future history of the human race in secondary school and was very impressed with it.  I'm less impressed by the philosophy these days, which is bleak enough, but it is still a considerable literary achievement in that it manages to communicate the astonishing depth of time and the transience of the individual.  It is a fine book and well worth reading.

On Exactitude in Science

I've always been interested in maps - I think spurred by my father. He received a gift of an etching when I was very small called "Map of a city found in a dragon flies wing".  It was a map of an imaginary city in the style of the Roque maps of London and Dublin, but with each house formed from one of the cells of the wing.  Dad told me there was a house on fire in the city. Despite many hours of careful study, I have yet to find it. I still check whenever I visit the parental home.

The Strange Maps blog is a treasure trove of similar maps, maps that have never been, maps that show unusual things, like the consumption of icecream in the United States or the optimal borders of Poland. If geography is destiny and we are shaped by the environment we inhabit and the environment we imagine we inhabit, you could do a lot worse than visiting the Strange Maps blog. 

Far from the Mahdist crowd

I've been taking a more than usual interest in the British Empire of the 19th century over the last week. This was almost certainly spurred by playing "The Sword and the Flame" and is likely to continue for a while. This happens every so often, usually after I've reread some H. Rider Haggard, an author I am hugely fond of and who was one of the great storytellers in a time blessed with a superfluity of them.

However, rather than re-read "She" again - I came to read "The River War" by Sir. Winston Churchill. It isn't my first time reading it, but as an example of well written narrative history it is hard to beat and it repays study. Churchill may have been an egotist, but he was also a stylist and the sheer brio of his prose never fails to engross me.  The Dover edition is a good one, but if you can't wait to get to a book shop, the always fine Mark Smith of Simpsonville, North Carolina has recorded a free audio edition.


  1. There are fee Kindle editions of The River War available online as well. It's in my pile of stuff to read right now. This may be just the impetus I need to get started.

    1. There a growing number of reasons to invest in a kindle...

  2. A fine post, Conrad, which I very much enjoyed. I love maps - but I have never come across the Strange Maps Blog. So many thanks indeed for that!

    I'm intrigued by the (beautiful) Vermeer. Is there some part of the puzzle it fits into? :)

    1. It's a treasure chest and all the better for being so varied. I'm afraid the Vermeer isn't part of a larger plan - I just always use a picture of someone reading for these posts. I just liked it.

    2. It's a gorgeous picture, and a perfect enough reason to use it!

  3. Ah ! the dear old TSATF one of my all time favorite rule sets !

  4. The River War is good but it can't hold a candle to his "My Early Life".

    I've sometimes found myself pondering the 50,000 to possibly 400,000 years before recorded history. What were we doing with ourselves for all that time? It must have worked to have lasted so long. Then I make a processed snack, shut the weather out of my house,pick up my computer and forget.


    1. It's a hard question - though I read an interesting observation by an American author named Ken Hite who was remarking on the impossibility of writing historical fiction, he said that if you can't understand a 21st century American who voted for Sarah Palin, how can you understand a 1st century Roman?

  5. Your blog is a bit disconcerting at times; I suspect we share a bit of brain. The Strange Maps blog is a treasure, but finding a Haggard fan is astonishing. Most people seem never to have heard of him.


  6. Some details on sharks https://www.sharksavers.org/en/education/biology/450-million-years-of-sharks1/

    These maps might be of interest to your readers http://www.napoleon-series.org/military/c_maps.html

    And the atlas of true names was an interesting idea http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/picturegalleries/3547816/The-Atlas-of-True-Names.html

    http://www.maproomblog.com/ is a good map blog as well.

    I offer these as hopefully useful supplements to an excellent post.

  7. Interesting topic - I'd love to have the DNA testing to determine how much Roman / Celt / Viking etc there is in me, given that I am not obviously say celtic and my natural tendency to not burn in the sun and dark hair would suggest a significant mediterranean percentage. In the days when I could donate blood, my O positive (common garden) was in demand here in the South West as the universal donor as the South West (i.e Celts) are apparently AB majority per the Blood Transfusion service.

    It's not recorded history but remember there are things like this

    My favourite is a fairly simple bone deer (trying to remember the museum) that could have been cult symbol or just a child's plaything given the simplicity of the carving.

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  9. Take two:

    CK: I am quite curious to check out Stapledon. She sounds like someone, like C.L. Moore whom you posted on earlier, who should be better known.
    The first segment of your post reminded me of the film Cloud Atlas which came out last year. Rather arty but it does capture a sense of the vastness of time and the mystery of human life within that vastness.
    The middle segment of your post is cool.
    The last segment reminds me that I have a copy of The River War that I should read this summer.
    Thanks for anotehr stimulating post.