Popular Science Monthly/Volume 21/September 1882/Entertaining Varieties


—— Spanish Enterprise.—Peter Bayle holds that it is sufficient for the glory: i nation to have produced one superlative man in every department of human merit, and by that rule the Spaniards can hardly be charged with a want of enterprise. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, when the autos-da-fé of the Infallible Church had turned Southern Europe into a moral cinder-heap, a Spanish gentleman by the name of Saavedra, and possibly a relative of the immortal Miguel, resolved to profit by the prevailing tendency of the age and graft his fortune upon the one flourishing branch of human industry. After devoting a few years to the art of counterfeiting handwritings and the selection of discreet accomplices, he suddenly appeared at Lisbon with a train of a hundred and twenty followers and presented his credentials as a papal plenipotentiary. The spread of heresy, he informed the astonished king, called for extraordinary measures, and his Holiness had resolved to invest the Casa Santa with discretionary powers and had sent him as a special legate with instructions to institute immediate proceedings against the prominent heretics, Moslem and Jews, of the kingdom. Some three thousand persons were summoned before the new tribunal, and, while the bewildered authorities prepared a protest against the threatened innovation, the bailiffs of the legate had arrested six hundred suspects, and forcibly collected two hundred thousand crowns as fines for contempt of court. When the relatives of the prisoners expostulated in rather emphatic terms, the legate expressed his regret at the necessity of fining them too; and, when the discontent threatened to assume the form of a general revolt, the plenipotentiary considered it painful duty to arrest the ringleaders as abettors of heresy, and, after a formal trial and the confiscation of their property, three hundred of the malcontents were actually burned at the stake, June, 1539. The tribunal was just preparing to fine the entire city of Lisbon, when by some indiscretion of a tax-collector the imposture was discovered, but, when the citizens flew to arms, the man of God had disappeared. He was afterward captured near Seville and sent to the galleys, but, in consideration of his zeal in behalf of the holy faith, he was soon pardoned, and the Pope, moreover, confirmed the decrees of the extemporized tribunal, and, as Voltaire remarks, thus rendered sacred what before was merely human.

—— Had the Ancients Cheap Books?—Mr. S. E. Dawson remarks, in his lecture on copyright, that it is a very common error to suppose that the ancient world was very badly supplied with books—to transfer to the times of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian civilization the darkness and dearth of mediæval Europe. The fact is, that in those days every gentleman's house had its library and every city had its public library. In every wealthy household was a servant to read aloud and another to copy books. Atticus, Cicero's friend, kept a large number of slaves transcribing and made a good deal of money by the sale of the books manufactured. In those days a publisher or bookseller kept a staff of skilled slaves. When a book was to be published one of these read and the others wrote, and in that manner, by the means of cheap slave-labor, large editions of books were published. The literary activity of the countries round the Mediterranean was very great, and we underestimate it. Horace has preserved for us the names of the booksellers in whose shops he used to lounge. Martial refers a shabby fellow called Lupercus (who wanted to borrow his epigrams) to his bookseller Atrectus. He tells him the shop is "opposite the forum of Caesar, and placards are posted outside giving the names of poets," evidently as is the custom of booksellers to this day. The price of the volume—the first book of his epigrams—he says is five denarii, equivalent to three shillings and sixpence sterling. Now, this first book contains one hundred and nineteen epigrams, or over seven hundred verses. It appears elsewhere that cheaper copies were provided. Martial refers to copies well rubbed with pumice and adorned with purple. The cheaper copies could be had at half that price, but this was in the best style. So that if we compare the price with the published price in England of "Maud," or any of the original small volumes of Tennyson's poems, which were issued at five or six shillings, the Roman publisher does not seem to be much dearer than the English one.

—— The first evidence on record of an author's right of copy is in the case of "Paradise Lost." This transaction is usually misrepresented. The bargain was that Simmons was to pay £5 cash, £5 more when thirteen hundred copies were sold, and £5 each for the second and third editions. It took seven years to sell the first thirteen hundred copies, and in 1680 Milton's widow sold her interest for £8 more.

—— In reference to his conversion, Sir Charles Lyell says: "The question of the origin of species gave me much to think of, and you may well believe that it cost me a struggle to renounce my old creed. One of Darwin's reviewers put the alternative strongly by asking 'whether we are to believe that man is modified mud or modified monkey.' The mud is a great come-down from the 'archangel ruined.' Even in ten years I expect, if I live, to hear of great progress in regard to 'fossil man.'"

—— Broderip says that, in spite of all the dogs and cats which float down the Thames, none of their remains have been found in recent excavations in the Thames deposits.

—— An Earthly Paradise.—Unless the Garden of Eden was planted in the very happiest latitude, the work of the gods seems for once to have been excelled by the achievement of a mortal. Toward the end of the tenth century. Abderrahman III. the Caliph of Cordova, conceived the idea of turning a whole mountain-range into a pleasure-park. On the heights of the Sierra de Peñas he built the famous Hischam Russáva, the summer-castle, with a pedestal of massive terraces girt with lakes and artificial cascades. The western slope of the Sierra, according to Ibn Caldir, an area of forty square leagues, was planted with all the trees known to the Arabian botanists—palms, laurels, chestnuts, oaks. and mountain-firs—all ranged in groves at different altitudes, according to the higher or lower latitude of their natural habitats. Ship-loads of foreign plants were landed at the harbor of Alicante, and the transport of these botanic cargoes is said to have employed sixty caravans for more than four years. "Not Shiraz, nor Araby the Blest, had such a wealth of odoriferous shrubs," says the historian; roses trained into trees, copses of lilac and jasmine-bushes loaded the air with perfume, and the Cordova gardeners seem to have known a method for ripening winter crops without hot-houses, for the orchards of the lower slopes furnished a perennial supply of fresh fruit. On the upper levels the Caliph had his game-preserves in vast plantations of pinabetes, a sort of Alpine fir that formed almost impenetrable thickets, while the highest crest of the Sierra was laid out in pleasure-walks, mountain-meadows alternating with groups of cedar-trees and rocky altamiras or lookout-places. Special buildings Lad been provided for the acclimatization, or rather localization, of whole colonies of singing birds, which were bred in-doors for a number of years till they were tame enough to be trusted at large. From the summer-palace, at an elevation of three thousand feet over the level of the Guadalquivir, an avenue led down to the east gate of Cordova by such nice gradations that the road-bed seemed to be a perfect level, and from various directions shady trails, apparently artless, but equally well graded, wound up to the summit of the mountain-range, where the Caliph had an astronomical observatory.

Landgrave Wilhelm of Hesse-Cassel built his mountain-palace on the proceeds of six thousand of his faithful subjects, sold to England at sixty-five pounds apiece, but Abderrahman III had no need of killing his fowls to get their eggs. During the reign of the first three caliphs, Cordova was, next to Bagdad, the richest city of the world; the valley of the Guadalquivir contained thirty-six towns and eighteen hundred prosperous villages, and the contemporary historians of the West vie in extolling the beauty and luxuriance of the Boscál, the orchard-region that surrounded the Moorish capital with a wreath of evergreen gardens.

The Sierra de Peñas is now a naked rock, Cordova a labyrinth of ruins, infested with pigs and begging friars, and the observatory of the impious Unitarians has been turned into a shrine of San Isidro. The Boscál has become a sandy desert, but on the south side of the river there are still some good bottomlands, and the thrice-blessed cherry-trees of the orthodox peasants continue to yield an excellent kind of brandy.

—— Starting a New Religion.—Professor Seeley remarks, in his new book on "Natural Religion": "It is said that the theophilanthropist Larevellère-Lepeaux once confided to Talleyrand his disappointment at the ill-success of his attempt to bring into vogue a sort of improved Christianity, a benevolent rationalism which he had invented to meet the wants of a skeptical age. 'His propaganda made no way,' he said. 'What was he to do?' he asked. The ex-bishop politely condoled with him, feared it was indeed a difficult task to found a new religion, more difficult than could be imagined—so difficult that he hardly knew what to advise. 'Still'—so he went on after a moment's reflection—'there is one plan which you might at least try: I should recommend you to he crucified and rise again on the third day!'"

—— Seeley on Theological Differences.—"Why should we be so willful as to forget that the error of monstrously overestimating doctrinal differences has been all along the plague of theology? There can be no greater mistake than to measure the real importance of a dispute by the excitement of the disputants. It has often been remarked of theological controversies that they are never conducted more bitterly than when the difference between the rival doctrines is very small. This is nearly correct, but not quite. If you want to see the true white heat of controversial passion, if you want to see men fling away the very thought of reconciliation and close in internecine conflict, you should look at controversialists who do not differ at all, but who have adopted different words to express the same opinion."

—— Origin of the Arab Horse.—Letter of the Emir Abd-el-Kader, from "The Horses of the Sahara," by General E. Dumas, 1857:

"Praise be to the one God!

"To him who remains ever the same amid the revolutions of this world:

"To our friend General Dumas.

"Peace be with you, through the mercy and blessing of Allah, on the part of the writer of this letter, on that of his mother, his children, their mother, of all the members of his family and of all his associates.

"To proceed: I have read your questions, I address to you my answers.

"You ask me for information as to the origin of the Arab horse. You are like unto a fissure in a land dried up by the sun, and which no amount of rain, however abundant, will ever be able to satisfy.

"Nevertheless, to quench, if possible, your thirst (for knowledge), I will this time go back to the very head of the fountain. The stream is there always the freshest and most pure.

"Know, then, that among us it is admitted that Allah created the horse out of the wind, as he created Adam out of mud.

"This can not be questioned. Several prophets—peace be with them!—have proclaimed what follows:

"When Allah willed to create the horse, he said to the south wind:

"'I will that a creature should proceed from thee—condense thyself!' and the wind condensed itself. Then came the angel Gabriel, and he took a handful of this matter and presented it to Allah, who formed of it a dark bay or a dark chestnut horse (koummite—red mingled with black), saying:

"'I have called thee horse (frass); I have created the Arab, and I have bestowed Upon thee the color koummite. I have attached good fortune to the hair that falls between thy eyes. Thou shalt be the lord (sid) of all other animals. Men shall follow thee wheresoever thou goest. Good for pursuit as for flight, thou shalt fly without wings. Upon thy back shall riches repose, and through thy means shall wealth come.'

"Then he signed him with the sign of glory and of good fortune (ghora, a star in the middle of the forehead)." <section end="horse">

—— Carlyle on Liberty-Caroline Fox, in her "Memories of Old Friends," gives a vivid sketch of her last meeting with Carlyle, whose "look and most of his talk were so dreary," at Mentone. After railing "at the accursed train, with its devilish howls and yells, driving one distracted," Carlyle went on: "Oh! this cry for liberty! liberty! which is just liberty to do the devil's work, instead of binding him with ten thousand bands just going the way of France and America, and that sort of places. Why, it is all going down-hill as fast as it can go, and of no significance to me I have done with it. I can take no interest in it at all, nor feel any sort of hope for the country. It is not the liberty to keep the ten commandments that they are crying out for that used to be enough for the genuine man but liberty to carry out their own prosperity, as they call it. And so there is no longer anything genuine to be found. It is all shoddy. Go into any shop you will, and ask for any article, and ye'll find it all one enormous lie. The country is going to perdition at a frightful pace. I give it about fifty years yet to accomplish its fall."