A rare Friday away from the office has given me the time I’ve needed to reflect on various thoughts that have been swirling around like a gale force wind in recent times. Bottom drawer fodder, probably.
I copied out a chapter from an old reference book from the 1930s that fascinates me at this, the death of my youth, like an old ‘Pears’ Cyclopedia’ that often kept my mind busy when I was a daydreaming child in the final throes of boyhood.
The Chapter I copied entitled ‘The Civilization of the Middle Ages’ led to some interesting thoughts about current news events that roll frantically like an aimless wheel, with nowhere to go but round and round, in ever decreasing circles.
When did civilization become civilisation?
I notice a lot of old English books, at least ones before the 1950s tend to prefer ‘z’ to ‘s’. I am interested to know the significance in ‘ise’ vs. ‘ize, but I’m not quite interested enough to get to the bottom of that matter now.
I am beginning to think that it may be possible that we are still living in the Middle Ages now. It seems to me like a reasonable thing to think.
I do not mean we have gone back to the Middle Ages. I suspect that we are still there trying to make sense of why we are, whilst highly intoxicated on the fumes of revolutionary industrial leaps forward; highly distracted by the nano-chip revolution that does not seem to show any signs of slowing down any time soon.
How would the great minds of the past antidepressant-free Middle Ages have fared in these social, political and seemingly (to me) soulless conditions of our present little wind pocket of current modern affairs?
I recently read somewhere:
‘The division of recorded time into ancient, medieval, and modern history is purely arbitrary: the story of mankind runs steadily down the centuries from before the earliest known era to the present day and, for all that is known to the contrary, will continue into future millennia even though civilization of the 20th century pass into oblivion..’
I am not sure who is responsible for writing those words, it is from a book published in the late nineteen-fifties ‘Practical Knowledge For All’, the editor’s name is Gordon Stowell, so I’ll attribute the quote to him.
A pretty standard statement of fact that will appear in thousands of different history textbooks I imagine. It makes sense, it is logical to split up the history of mankind into different ages and eras. We are living in the modern era of course. I refuse to state that we are living in ‘post-modern’, ‘post-truth’ times etc., because to me that implies that we have got way ahead of ourselves, which is probably true in many ways, but how can getting ahead of one’s self ever be a good thing?.
After putting what had been copied from my favoured book from 1933 on my ‘blog’, along with a few photos I gathered from the great worldwide inter-web in a cloud, I eventually set off to see what the local charitable shop bookshelves had to offer.
For a total of £6 I bought three secondhand books. The 2009-2010 edition of ‘Pears’ Cyclopaedia’, A 1991 edition of ‘Kings & Queens of Britain’ by David Williamson, and the 1989 edition of ‘The World At Arms: The Reader’s Digest Illustrated History of World War II’ by too many Major Contributors to mention.
According to The Guardian ‘The great almanac remains Pears’. I will leave it at that. It is a lot prettier and excessively ‘post-modern’ than the old cyclopaedia I frequently referred to as a child, but I do feel richer for owning it.
The rather large glossy hardback by David Williamson is the sort of history book my grandfather would have bought me for my birthday or Christmas when I was a child. Before deciding whether Kings & Queens of Britain was the book for me, it was important to check the credentials of the author by checking the section of the book titled ‘The Plantagenets: The House of York’.
You see, I am not particularly well-read when it comes to the kings and queens of Britain. Trivia-wise, I could hold my own quite well if a question came up on one of those multi-choice quiz shows, but I am currently (very slowly) reading ‘The Daughter of Time’ by Josephine Tey.
I’m reading the book at such a slow pace because it is so good that I don’t want it to end and it is teaching me about how to conduct research, something that should never be rushed into in case one forms bad habits that can’t easily be reversed. I’m an expert in forming bad habits that are very difficult to reverse, I hope reading at a snail’s pace is not another bad habit that has been formed!
I may be only about eight chapters in, but ‘The Daughter of Time’ has helped me find a good way to check out the credentials of an author of a factual book about kings and queens of Britain— to find out what he or she has to say about Richard III.
David Williamson wrote:
‘That Richard III has gone down in history as the archetype ‘wicked uncle’ and an evil monster is due almost entirely to the effective hatchet job carried out by Tudor propagandists in the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII and perfected by Shakespeare in the reign of Elizabeth I. He had to wait nearly 300 years for his first apologist and found a doughty champion in the person of Horace Walpole, who in 1768 published his Historic Doubts on Richard III, in which he questioned Richard’s guilt. Thereafter the move towards rehabilitation has grown steadily and in the present century Josephine Tey’s ingenious novel “The Daughter of time”…’
It seems to me that ‘Kings & Queens of Britain’ will prove to be a good investment at a mere £2.
‘The World at Arms’, is a book I vividly remember being on the shelves of my most memorable childhood home, at least when I wasn’t in possession of it.
My grandfather had a modest collection of Reader’s Digest books on various shelves in his home. The book I bought today was published in 1989, the year that my grandfather died, and it was a book that I sunk my teeth into quite often in my dark teen-age years.
It is a very useful book about the Second World War, the long list of acknowledgements and ‘indebtedness to books, which were consulted for reference’ makes its worth the £2 alone. I imagine it may have been the last book that my granddad might have bought. It feels good to be in the company of a copy of it again.
I have the urge to write a lot more about many different topics of interest, but it’ll have to wait. I need to inspect the house and make sure it is looking respectable enough for the impending arrival of the hard-working despotic, but ever-loving domestic dictator that I love most dearly—my wife-to-be.
I will leave you with a quote from the book I copied from earlier that is energy for the imagination, at least for me it is!
‘The universities were only casually organized at this time, and the “College” system had hardly begun to take shape. A few hostels were provided for students, generally through the generosity of some benefactor who would give or bequeath an endowment for that purpose, but as a rule the students lodged how and where they could, and attended what lectures they chose, attaching themselves to some Master of Arts who would arrange their studies and give them tuition in return for their fees.
Riots broke out between townsmen and students, and fights between scholars of different races. Someone might repeat the time-honoured jest that all Englishmen had tails, and then blows would fall thick and fast. There were always thieves and other unscrupulous persons ready to prey upon the students, to rob them and lure them into disreputable taverns where they might drink and gamble away the money intended to pay for their studies.
Many of the students were pitiably poor, and they were often given licence or permits to beg. Some broke away from the universities and roamed the countryside, earning a precarious living by their wits and by writing and singing lyrics of their own composition. Life in mediæval university was varied and full of colour, and provided a grand training for the acute philosophical discussion which was meat and drink to the mediæval mind.’