Tag Archives: historicalmiscellany

Historical Miscellany #32 – A list of objections: Charles Darwin and the Beagle [1831]

(Watercolour of HMS Beagle by Conrad Martens) On 29 August 1831 twenty two year old Charles Darwin, freshly graduated from Cambridge University and poised to begin a life as a clergyman, received a letter from Professor George Peacock. It contained an incredible offer. Peacock told Darwin that a naval captain, Captain Robert FitzRoy, was seeking […]

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Historical Miscellany #31 – Capell Lofft – Georgian Literary Agent [1800]

Robert Bloomfield’s long poem The Farmer’s Boy was one of the most popular publications of the Romantic period – apparently selling around 100,000 copies in the first three decades of the nineteenth century. One contemporary observed, ‘I have been informed by persons who travel into every quarter of the country, that almost the only books […]

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Historical Miscellany #30 – Abbots Bromley and the Horn Dance

I grew up in a little village called Abbots Bromley in east Staffordshire. Every September the village hosts a peculiar custom, the Horn Dance, which involves a Maid Marion, a hobby horse, a child with a triangle and a cluster of men who parade around the parish with ancient stag horns on their head. The […]

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Historical Miscellany #29 – Aunt Vera’s New Year wishes

I remember my Aunt Vera very clearly from my childhood. She lived well into her nineties in a neat little bungalow outside Worcester with a mini parked on the drive outside. Aunt Vera had a magnificent mischievous grin and to her end she was one of life’s cheerful souls. A few years ago I found […]

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Historical Miscellany #28 Once in a blue moon [1950]

In September 1950 a blue moon was sighted over the Scotland and the north of England. An alluring and mysterious atmospheric phenomena, it was almost certainly caused by an enormous and devastating wild fire in Canada. A blue moon has become shorthand for extreme rarity – even more so than the Preston Guild. Here is […]

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Historical miscellany #27 – John Constable writes to John Dunthorne [1802]

In May 1802 the artist John Constable wrote this visionary letter to his childhood friend and mentor John Dunthorne. Here he sets out his ambition to become a natural painter – inspired only by nature and not the work of others. At this time Constable was aged 26, he was struggling to establish himself as […]

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Historical Miscellany #26: Edmund Burke, Speech to the Electors of Bristol [1774]

I’ve just finished Jesse Norman’s biography of the eighteenth century politician and philosopher Edmund Burke, so that’s where I’ll turn for this week’s dose of historical miscellany. Burke lived in the great age of political oratory and this is an extract one of his most enduring and celebrated speeches, outlining the independence of a political […]

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Historical Miscellany #25 – Christopher Colombus writes home [1493]

I’m in Madrid so I’ve picked an Iberian themed miscellany this week. This is an extract from one of Christopher Colombus’ letters to Luis de Santangel, one of Ferdinand and Isabella’s chief ministers. As for monsters, I have found not trace of them except at the point in the second isle as one enters the […]

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Historical Miscellany #24 Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s cheese catastrophe

A letter from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Thomas Poole, 16 October 1797 Dear Poole, From October 1779 to Oct. 1781. – I had asked my mother one evening to cut my cheese entire, so that I might toast it: this was no easy matter, it being a crumbly cheese – My mother however did it […]

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Historical Miscellany #23 – Dew, Aristotle’s Explanation [c.350BC]

To fit this scorching summer weather I’ve picked a meteorological snippet for this week’s miscellany. In the fourth century BC the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote a fascinating tract, Meteorologica, explaining a wide variety of atmospheric phenomena, as well as earthquakes, shooting stars and other mysterious curiosities. His theories held for centuries after his death, although […]

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