Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘history’

08 JUNE, 2012

Queen Victoria’s Drawings

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An unprecedented look at the private journals of Britain’s longest-ruling monarch.

Queen Victoria may be best-known for lending her name to the historical era of social and sexual restraint, but she was also a lively intellectual, a reflective thinker, and a dedicated artist since childhood. Joining these noteworthy digitization projects are Queen Victoria’s journals, spanning the period from her childhood days to her rise to the throne, her marriage to Prince Albert, and her Golden and Diamond Jubilees. (She was the first monarch to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee — her reign of 63 years was longer than that of any other British monarch and any other female monarch in history.) The collection, digitized by Oxford University’s Bodleian Libraries and the Royal Archives, contains the surviving thirteen volumes penned in Victoria’s own hand; the remaining volumes were transcribed after Queen Victoria’s death by her youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice, on her mother’s instructions.

But perhaps most striking are the Queen’s drawings, a fine addition to these peeks inside the notebooks and sketchbooks of famous creators. From her subtle yet rich watercolors to her seemingly austere but remarkably expressive black-and-white ink sketches (with a style reminiscent of Wendy MacNaughton’s), the drawings complement her observations of daily life and capture everything from members of the Royal Family to foreign military uniforms to the people and places the Queen encountered during her travels, and even her faithful dog.

Queen Victoria's children in costume for a Twelfth Night performance: ink and watercolour sketch by Queen Victoria, Tuesday 6th January 1852

A French soldier (Garde Chasse): pen and ink sketch by Queen Victoria, Saturday 25th August 1855

Women and children of Cherbourg: pen and ink sketches with watercolor by Queen Victoria, Tuesday 18th August 1857

Poste Postillion: pen and ink sketch with wash and watercolor by Queen Victoria, Wednesday 6th September 1843

French charabanc: pen and ink sketch with wash and watercolor by Queen Victoria, Sunday 3rd September 1843

Belgian infantryman: pen and ink sketch with wash and watercolour by Queen Victoria, Friday 15th September 1843

Scottish fisherwomen: pen and ink sketch with watercolor by Queen Victoria, Saturday 3rd September 1842

Eos sitting: pen and ink sketch by Queen Victoria, Thursday 1st August 1844

Wounded soldiers at the military hospital, Chatham: pen and ink sketches with watercolor by Queen Victoria, Saturday 3rd March 1855

Princess Louise dressed as a Highlander: pen and ink sketch by Queen Victoria, Tuesday 18th December 1849

Victoria, Princess Royal and Queen Victoria in costume: pen and ink sketch with watercolor by Queen Victoria, Friday 6th June 1845

Prince Albert in Bal Costumé outfit: pen and ink sketch with watercolor by Queen Victoria, Thursday 12th May 1842

Queen Victoria in Bal Costumé outfit as Queen Philippa: pen and ink sketch with watercolor by Queen Victoria, Thursday 12th May 1842

See more of the drawings, alongside handwritten journal pages and a timeline of Queen Victoria’s life and times, on the project site.

@matthiasrascher

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08 JUNE, 2012

Cargo Cult Science: Richard Feynman’s 1974 Caltech Graduation Address on Integrity

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“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself.”

As an aficionado of exceptional commencement speeches and of Richard Feynman — Nobel-winning physics icon, curiosity champion, graphic novel hero, bongo drummer, wager-maker, no ordinary genius, “The Great Explainer” — I was delighted to find out, via a passing mention in Dan Ariely’s new book on dishonesty, that Feynman addressed the graduating class at Caltech in 1974.

Titled The Cargo Cult Science, his exquisite speech uses the Cargo cult religious practices of Melanesian and Micronesian societies — an anthropological curiosity wherein, after WWII, pre-industrial native tribes would simulate and imitate the objects and behaviors they had observed in American and Japanese soldiers, in hopes of bringing back the material wealth soldiers had brought to them during the war — as a metaphor to make an articulate case for integrity over righteousness and sensationalism, a message all the timelier today as the fear of being wrong has swelled into an epidemic and media sensationalism continues to peddle pseudoscience to laymen ill-equipped or unwilling to apply the necessary critical thinking.

Though the talk was never recorded, you can read it in full here and hear it narrated below:

Feynman laments that the kind of integrity he talks about isn’t baked into the science education system — which hardly comes as a surprise, given it’s largely a system premised on certitude at all costs and not on the very admission of ignorance that fuels science:

This long history of learning how not to fool ourselves — of having utter scientific integrity — is, I’m sorry to say, something that we haven’t specifically included in any particular course that I know of. We just hope you’ve caught on by osmosis.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.

Feynman concludes beautifully, with his penchant for focusing the anecdotes of the specific into a masterful beam of the universal:

I have just one wish for you — the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain your position in the organization, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom.

Feynman, of course, can attest to the pride in a lifetime of never holding a “responsible position.”

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07 JUNE, 2012

Dorothy Parker Obituary, 1967

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Treasure-hunting for literary history gems in second-hand books.

On her 70th birthday, Dorothy Parker — prolific poet, celebrated satirist, keen critic, astute observer of literary culture — noted wryly:

If I had any decency, I’d be dead. Most of my friends already are.

Less than four years later, on June 7, 1967, she suffered a heart attack in her New York City hotel suite and died. The following day, The Kansas City Times published the following obituary, which my friend Wendy found tucked inside the pages of an old copy of Enough Rope, Parker’s first volume of poetry — a living testament to the wonders tucked inside second-hand books.

Once, reviewing a performance of Katherine Hepburn on Broadway, Miss Parker wrote: ‘She ran the gamut of emotions from A to B.’

For a proper celebration of Parker’s genius, treat yourself to the Penguin Classic The Portable Dorothy Parker, edited by Parker biographer Marion Meade.

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