Last semester, I wrote a paper about Perceval, Galahad and how the Grail Quest became spiritual. In this paper, I examine the influence of the Cistercian Order and St Bernard as well the religious culture of the time to analyze the Vulgate Cycle. I also pull in Chretian De Troyes’s Perceval as as comparison point. I’m particularly proud of it so check it out!
Hildegard Von Bingen:
A true (Pre) Renaissance Woman!
Hello everybody. Starting this year, I’m planning on posting at least once every week if not more. Make that a commitment. Anyway
This week I’m going to be discussing my 12th century favorite writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, nun, visionary, doctor, linguist, poet and illustrator of all time.
I also forgot to mention that she made a really good cookbook!
Of course, if you’ve heard of Hildegard Von Bingen before it is almost certainly for her musical compositions. So let’s just get this out of the way. First of all, you have to understand her role aas being an actual attributed medieval composer. That was a rarity back in the medieval era, with most songs not receiving any attribution at all.
The second thing you have to understand is that Hildegard was pushing the constraints of the music of her era, which if you know anything about it is essentially a lot of chants. For instance, take a look at this recording of Hermannus Contractus, a contemporary composer at the time.
The thing about Hildegard’s music is that the music just soars so much more. Nothing against Hermannus, an incredible figure in his own right but this is lovely to listen to.
We see a lot of surprisingly modern elements within Hildegard’s music. It pushes the boundary of the time period in a completely distinct fashion. Additionally, examine how melismatic the music is in comparison to Hermannus’s. It is really cool. Finally, the text is a lot more intimate than essentially all of our contemporaries at the time. It’s free verse, and highly original within the context of the period which she composed in.
Music was always an important element in Hildegard’s life. She believed it as being the highest form of prayer, a medium which divinely united heaven and earth and had a form of spiritual beauty unlike anything else. Hildegard near the end of her life was actually forbidden from singing due to an interdict (essentially mass excommunication) from the church when they refused to dig up the body of a man in their monastery. One of the punishments were the forbidding of singing absolutely anything.
As a result, Hildegard wrote an angry letter to the archbishop which basically threatened that the archbishop would go to hell unless he lifted the interdict. Which he did, just a few months before her death.
This will be brought up later but also Hildegard essentially wrote the first musical in Ordo Virtutum which is pretty freaking cool.
If you’re further interested in her music, A Feather on the Breath of God (Gothic Voices, 1985) is one of the best albums of her work.
All in all, this quote from her sums up
“There is the music of heaven in all things. But we have forgotten to hear it until we sing.”
Just an all out outstanding composer in the history of classical music.
This one is a personal favorite of mine, just because I think it is extremely cool. Alright, so do you guys know what a conlang is? It’s exactly what you think it is. It’s a language consciously deviced and created, think like Klingon. The most widely spoken conlang is Esperanto, with around 100,000 speakers worldwide. You can find out more about it here.
So yeah,. Hildegard was known to claim divine inspiration for her works, like her music for example. This also applies in the case of the conlang she created, which was a set of 23 letters. All that remains of the language is 1011 words and a few short manuscripts containing the language. There is very little other information about this language, with even her contemporaries noting that the knowledge of it would be lost after her death.
The only idea regarding grammar with Litterae Ignotae is that it seems like it has a similar grammar structure to Latin. Therefore in that case it looks like it may be a reflexation, which is taking one language’s vocabulary and substituting it into another’s grammar. But yeah, that is all there is to Litterae Ignotae. Fun fact, if you were to consider this to be a conlang this would absolutely be the first one by far. The consensus first conlangs don’t show up until the 16th century!
This one is also pretty neat! Health had appered a lot in Hildegard’s writings before, but in 1151 she wrote the book Physica. This work was a lot more down to earth than her spiritual writings, being a legitimately fairly comprehensive list of scientific and medical properties of various things. Everything from fish to animals to plants was carefully documented. It’s 16 chapters long and tells you about stuff like how to cure rabies or surprisingly preserve beer using hops.
However, Physica cannot even hope to compare to her next work. Hildegard’s Causae et curae is an immense work with over 300 chapters of information. Hildegard even bothered to discuss women’s health as well in sections on relevant issues such as menustral cramps. It is amazing what you can write when you don’t subscribe to Aristotlean assertations of sex, and actually treat men and women equally. Now, I won’t say that this advice is good or even safe. Hildegard describes that you should take “the amount that a thirsty person can swallow in one gulp” blood from somebody which is just very not good. But, there are some legitimately true pieces of advice in there. Hildegard calls for a good diet, rest and moderation in activity as well as material cures over spiritual ones. She didn’t think of disease as a natural thing, but rather as a failing of the body which is pretty obvious to us today but not before. Additionally she even advocated for diagnosis via checking the patient’s blood, pulse, urine, and stool.
I’m of course skipping over all the weird stuff here, such as eating a goat liver for male infertility or the power of nature to cure people but it is remarkable for what it is. There is a reason why she is one of only four women to hold the position of Doctor of the Church, when Pope Benedict XVI anointed her to that position in 2012. No matter the veracity of the information today, you have to deeply admire the commitment to create such wide spanning and diverse medical texts in an area of limited information. It clearly worked too, as according to accounts many sick and suffering people were brought to her monastery to be healed.
Poet, Writer, Philosopher
I could spend a looong time discussing all of these individually, but that would probably delve into an overly lengthy discussion on theology and nobody wants to see that.
There are three primary theological writings to discuss when examining Hildegard’s visionary theology. We’ll first start by talking about Scivias
At this point, Hildegard was 42 and had been suffering from blinding visions since she was 5. Finally one day though she received a direct order from God to share her visions in writing and she did so. Surprisingly not without hesitation though, as indicated by a letter to St Bernard of Clavriux (who you might know about if you’ve read my research!)
In 1147 a delegation from Disibodenberg arrived at Hildegard’s convent and took a copy of the writings as they were at the time. Subsequently, Pope Eugene III not only approved of the writings but also authorized her to essentially write whatever she wanted with her visions.
By the way, in regards to the illustrations Hildegard almost certainly did not do them, but may have at least helped create an outline or dictate their content. This can be seen on the frontispiece
Tangent: Ordo Virtutum
So, Scivias has 26 visions described in details. The 26th one however is unique because it contains a play within it! After Hildegard describes her final vision and how she “saw the lucent sky, in which I heard different kinds of music (symphonia), marvelously embodying all the meanings I had heard before.”, we are treated to a set of 14 songs.
Afterwards, we get this really fascinating drama! It’s by far the earliest morality play, a play genre popular in 14th centuries. Baiscally all that happens in it is some angels, demons and personified concepts like “truth” try to convince a generic protagonist to their side. Unlike those morality plays, Hildegard’s is sung! It’s incredibly fortunate that both the text and the music have survived for so long, and it is quite cool to see how musical dramas even worked in an era of plainchant.
Shoutouts to the devil by the way, who can only yell or grunt in the play because singing is divine harmony.
Liber Vitae Meritorum
This one is pretty boring, so I’ll go fast. It espouses on the themes of Ordo Virtutum by continuing to place virtues against sins in these dramatic confrontations about life. It’s pretty cool!
Liber Divinorum Operum
Now this is more like it. Liber Divinorum Operum has some of the most dramatic and large scale visions Hildegard ever wrote about, worthy of “an extraordinary mystical vision”
It is very much difficult to describe the scope of Liber Divinorum Operum but I will try my best. Essentially it is this grand cosmic drama with the idea of divine love of God being at the middle. The first vision tells us everything from arc of salvation history, from the creation and fall of the angels, through the creation and fall of humans, to their redemption.
I saw as if the head of an eagle that had eyes of fire, in which
appeared the brilliance of the angels as in a mirror. But at the tip of the arc where the left wing
curves back there was as if a human face that shined like the brilliance of the stars.
In the remainder of the first part of the work, Hildegard goes on to discuss the place of humans within the vast universe. The next part looks at the beginning of Genesis through multiple intepretations. Finally, the third part uses this poetic and cosmological imagery to examine salvation history and the final judgement of God. Trust me, it’s a lot. I’ll leave a link here if you are interested in reading some insane stuff.
Yes, Hildegard Von Bingen was a brilliant creator but also a savvy political force. She exerted a tremendous amount of influence on Western Europe at the time, becoming friends with multiple Popes and Emperors. We have nearly 400 letters addressed to a variety of different political figures, which shed quite a bit of light upon her life. Hildegard traveled quite a bit as well which is astonishing given her gender, circumstances and the era. She even went places as far as Belgium, Switzerland and France!
The fact that she not only went on these tours but was widely accepted speaks to her power as an individual at the time. Keep in mind that she wasn’t just going to other monasteries to preach, Hildegard was preaching in front of large crowds publicly. It’s not like she was content to just give safe, bland sermons as well she actively denounced the church’s selling of offices and fervently called for reform. In an era where women’s voices were few and far between, hers rang out strikingly.
Frederick Barbarossa himself invited her to meet with him, and several years later praised her prophecy skills. All in all, she communicated with four popes, two Prussian emperors, King Henry II of England, and Phillip, Court of Flanders. Don’t forget the countless bishops, clergy and archbishops she talked with which are far too many to count. Finally, in regards to Saint Bernard and his relationship to Hildegard. Saint Bernard actually specifically sought out Hildegard to try and use her influence to spark interest in a Crusade which tells you a lot about how powerful she was. Seriously, Saint Bernard the guy who founded the Cistercian Order asking Hildegeard for help? Incredibly impressive.
All in all, there was so much more to talk about here. I could have discussed her poetry, minor theological works, lasting influence and so on. However I leave that to you the reader to do so. I think that Hildegard is legitimately on of the most fascinating figures in all of history. When we think of polymaths like Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Lebiniz and so on she should be right there in the pantheon. I hope that my post has taught you something new today and I look forward to seeing you next time.
What’s up next time? Well, my first foray in film criticism. See you then.
l wrote this a while ago for my daily art stuff. Figured I might as well post it here.
The Night Watch is undoubtedly one of my favorite paintings of all time. There are so many little details to analyze and fully break down in their whole. For instance, did you know that the Night Watch actually takes place during the daytime? It only appears as if it is in the dark because of all the layers of dark which have obscured it over time. However, today I would like to discuss something which I feel has gone somewhat unnoticed. In the Night Watch, I feel something that makes the painting as great as it is would be the use of position.
First of all, look at the hand of the man dressed in black. The way that it is pointed gives it an almost three dimensional quality. It looks like it is popping out of the painting directly towards the viewer, almost inviting them to join the officers. This applies similarly to the spear which the lieutenant clutches right beside him. The spear is angled in a way where it juts out of his side, appearing to enter the space of the onlooker. That’s what gives this painting a sort of spontaneous theme. We don’t feel like this is somebody painting a scene from ages ago, we feel as if this scene is happening right now in front of us. That is not all though. Behind the two central figures, we see action directly taking place. On the left, a man in red is beginning to load gunpowder into his musket. In the middle we can see the smoke from a gunshot which just happened. On the right we can see an old man dressed in red who is blowing out the powder from his weapon. What this does is add this sense of urgency to the painting. It’s almost like a still frame from a film because so many things are going on at once. There’s no static nature to it because clearly there’s some sort of conflict happening and shots have been and will be fired.
I also really appreciate the contrast between the captain and the drummer.
On the left, to the northwest of the man in black we see a captain triumphantly raising a standard. The heroic pose he strikes, with his arm confidently sticking out and his head tilted up suggests utmost confidence in victory. His other arm is tucked in, displaying this gentlemanly quality in the chaos of a fight. The drummer boy on the other side seems to be a different story. He is almost bent out of the frame, clearly awkward and clumsy as a lone dog barks at his music. The way he stands implies an inexperience, in sharp contrast to the well organized well experienced captain. This could imply that not all members of the militia feel the same patriotic sense of duty as it would seem.
I turn your head towards the man in the black hat talking to another person. The way which the man in the black hat points suggests a sort of leadership quality present in the two men in front. The one on the very right turns his head towards the crowd of people, perhaps confused about what is happening or who the leader is. His companion points to the two officers in the front as if to explain “Hey, these two are in charge here. Ask them if you have any questions.”, and his casual pose with a musket slung across his shoulder belts a blunt indifference to the happenings. These two figures may have just burst through the crowd to lead the march, contextualizing the obviously uncertain pose which the militia member on the very right conveys.
One of the more interesting aspects of the Night Watch is the golden girl in the middle of the painting. Her presence brings up several interesting questions. Who is she? What is she doing in the middle of such a scene? What are the strange objects on her waist? Let us try to dissect this bit by bit.
Shown below is the chain of the Amsterdam Company of Arquebusiers (musketeers). Some of the links are decorated with claws—the musketeer emblem. Thus, the chicken around her waist makes sense.
Look at the plucked chicken. It is clear now that the girl is some sort of mascot for the militia as odd as it seems. She carries not only the emblem of the musketeers but also the ceremonial drinking horn. The fact though that this is simply a plucked chicken and not an elaborate chain raises several ideas. What is clearly implied is that this militia was assembled in a rush. They couldn’t find the chain so they were forced to snatch a neighbor’s chicken and kill it to somewhat use as a mascot. At the same time, I sense that Remberant is making a bit of a mockery of the milia. At this time they had lost much power, so it would make sense that instead of a beautiful chain they would be resorting to random chickens killed out of necessity. Remberant is maybe telling us that despite the glowing appearances, this milia is more rugged than one would think.
I’m almost done here, I promise. Here’s something lse cool. In between the captain and the mustached man next to him, you can see a beret wearing person’s eye. That’s Rembrandt himself! Talk about a careful cameo from yours truly.
Let’s wrap this up. One thing that saddens me is the fact that this painting is too big. Many years after this painting was created, it was moved to the town hall of Amsterdam. Unfortunately the painting was so big that it wouldn’t fit on the wall. What did they do when they found this out? Well, they cut off four pieces of the painting. Those pieces have never been found. Luckily an early copy gives us some impression of what those four pieces looked like. It just sucks that the early copy A. isn’t too great of a painting and B. almost certainly is quite different from the actual four pieces.
Here’s a look at the early copy. Thank you and goodbye.
On Being Asian in America
through some thoughts or whatever.
Hey everybody. It has been a while since I last showed up. I have been busy.
This is going to be a lot different than basically all of my other thoughts. It was just kind of a spur of the moment thing. I hope you still read an enjoy regardless.
You know, I never realized how much I got bullied as a kid. It took until one of my friends offhandedly throwing out a remark deep into high school which said “Oh man Felix, you got really badly bullied in elementary school”
It’s hard to look back now and remember. The way that I saw all those names and jokes as a sign of endearment. Or how I was hyped up every time I stepped up to participate in an athletic competition during gym despite my terrible lack of skills.
I am not asking for your pity, really. Those times are long gone now. I do things. I read books and write a lot and try to make jokes.
Which are basically the same things which I did back in those days as well. but that’s not a large concern.
I think part of the reason why I didn’t notice is because I didn’t want to notice. That’s the thing about the children of Asian American immigrants which I’ve noticed. A lot of us are quiet. Maybe it’s because we understand the struggles that our parents faced trying to cross the ocean. Maybe because it’s just easier that way.
I wouldn’t know much though about the Asian American immigrant life. I grew up in a near all white community.
There is this interesting flux which Asian-Americans exist in. It can be even seen by the name.
Asian. American. The idea that you can be the model minority, you’re great at math and academics and you play the piano, win some science prizes and show off a great beaming smile in all those photos of success.
At the same time though, the knowledge that no matter how hard you try you will never really fit in. I have never been physically attacked or harassed for my race. I have not experienced the open hate which many other people have suffered. But I have experienced constant strings of indignities over who I am. The constant jokes about the food I eat, the language I can speak, the parents I have.
I remember going to the movies when I was a kid and wondering to myself why there weren’t any people in them that looked like me. I quickly got used to that. Being an Asian in Hollywood means that you get to be the sidekick. The cook in the back of the kitchen. A generic henchman. A haggling merchant. Hey, maybe even the kung fu guy. If you worked hard enough.
Like so many others I struggled to consolidate and reconcile with these feelings for the longest time. “How could we have anything valid to feel or say about race when we, as a model minority, were supposedly accepted by American society? asks Cathy Park Hong. But it is also true as she later notes that just because we were supposedly accept doesn’t mean we were actually accepted. I think that sentiment was always bubbling down inside us.
That’s why I wasn’t particularly surprised when Asian American hate crimes started popping up one by one. That capacity for violence and anger towards us didn’t just appear out of nowhere. It was always there, just waiting underneath the surface. When the leader of the free world called COVID the kung flu, I wasn’t even outraged. I had seen the exact type of jokes countless times on playgrounds and classrooms in my life.
So, again and again we try to prove that we can be what Americans think is great.
“This is what it means to be a model minority: to be invisible in most circumstances because we are doing what we are supposed to be doing, like my parents, until we become hypervisible because we are doing what we do too well”- Viet Thanh Nguyen
Elements of fragility are always there. Anybody want to remind me how many people of Japanese heritage we interned during World War II? Oh, right. 127,000. How long did it take for an apology? 1988.
141 members of the House voted against that, by the way.
I guess all that I’m saying is that for the longest time and still even today, I never felt entirely at ease. Just a vibe you know? The nonthreatening kind of person of color and nothing more.
Even now, I still feel like I shouldn’t be saying this. As if I am doing something wrong. This is a common thread I have seen among so many articles and blog posts and journals throughout these last few months. Kids who grew up into adults who were never told what an ugly world it was out there. Silence is insulation, after all. I was always told how hard they worked and that I could succeed too. It’s a wonderful dream. Yet masking over those cracks with tape still leaves them there, waiting.
I get why they didn’t talk about race all that much when I was younger. I really do. They wanted me to feel like I belonged. I was taught to be polite and listen to what the teacher had to say and study hard and get good grades. So, I went to school, chatty and happy but always wondering why I was every day the person who watched the others play at recess.
The feelings within the community have been sitting for hundreds of years. Too often are we covering up our own ability to speak and be seen. We hide those thoughts deep in our hearts and push through our work instead. Just as we are always invisible in the minds of others, we also stay invisible through tragedy and pain.
I am deeply proud of how the Asian American community has responded recently. It would be easy to just go about our lives until the wave fell and we got back to being at arms distance again. But maybe things has changed. I certainly hope so. For the first time, maybe ever I feel like my voice is being listened to by somebody, somewhere.
You know journalists and sociologists weaponized stereotypical Asian cultural ideas against black and latino people? Like, “Wow you guys suck, why can’t you be like those good Asians over there?” We went from being a non white minority to be a non black minority. The white person’s favorite per say. Until we do what they perceive as being wrong, like being just too good.
I am tired of lumping all Asian-Americans under the same banner . There are 22 million of us in the United States, all with a different story. Stop pretending like every Asian is the one you want them to be. I don’t know who that person is. But I really really dislike them. It’s not just about being reated with respect. I have enough of that. And I also have enough of those polite, but tinged with a slight edge questions. Oh, you’re Chinese? Can you speak some mandarin for me? There was always a limit for me somewhere within. It seems like I have finally found it. .
I am terrible at ending posts like this. I’ll just leave you with this note. Beyond Instagrapm graphics, fundraisers on GoFundMe and strongly worded tweets what will you do? When society gives us back the role we so wish to not occupy, are you going to do anything to change it?
I know I will. For all those bullies I never knew.
An Introduction to Lost Literature
Hi everybody. I am trying out a new format here. While I work on my next big project, (which aims to be by far my biggest yet), I will be interspersing it with some smaller posts in between. So let’s get started with one of my favorite topics, lost literature
A funny thing happened one time…
There was once a cartographer by the name John Warburton who lived from 1682 to 1759. His life wasn’t all together too significant. Primarily if you look up his name today, you’ll find a C list early British actor and an orthopedic surgeon.
However, John Warburton did have something peculiar about him. When he wasn’t drawing maps, he loved to collect old books. Particularly play manuscripts. However despite his avid collection he was frustratingly poor at maintaining it. On one time, he got drunk and proceeded to get swindled by a dealer which he attempted to swindle. This other time though, was quite different.
I do not feel like discussing the intricacies of the British paper trade, so all you need to know is that it was extremely expensive and valuable. Paper wasn’t exactly something you could just pick up in a grocery store easily to put it that way.
So Mr. Warburton comes home one day and looks forward to checking out his immaculate collection. He looks around and around though and he cannot find any of them. Just then, his cook Betsy Baker comes around with a freshly made pie. Of course you can’t have a pie without something to line the dishes right? And Betsy just so happened to find a wonderful paper collection all stacked in the kitchen….
After I had been many years collecting these MSS. Playes, through my own carlesness and the ignorance of my ser… in whose hands I had lodged them, they was unluckely burnd or put under pye bottoms.”John Warburton
Needless to say, he was pretty torn up about this. I mean, I would too because he lost over 50 manuscripts! Only 3 remained from his precious collection of manuscripts, many of which were unreleased or unpublished.
This is only one of the fascinating, interesting and bizarre stories in the world of lost literature. In this post I am going to be separating lost literature into three distinct categories in order to give you a good starting point into exploring a world which never existed.
Works lost from External Circumstance
Yes, I understand this is an absolutely massive category. But I will still defend it as being a valid one albeit with quite a few subcategories. Here are a few.
Subcategory 1: Lost by Time
From a personal standpoint, this is absolutely the category which is the least interesting to explore. The fact of the matter is that the majority of literature which is written is erased to the sands of time. Particularly in the pre-paper era, it required extraordinary circumstances for works to be preserved to the modern day.
Let’s take for instance, the legendary Greek woman poet Sappho. An absolutely adored poet of her era, she was called the “Tenth Muse” and “The Poetess”. Yet essentially we have two complete poems from her* and some very scrappy fragments.
*Ode to Aphrodite and the Tithonus poem.
That is essentially the problem you run into the farther back in time you get. There are countless great authors who we will never be able to know about because we do not have a time machine that we can take to read their works. I will finish off this category with a brief discussion of a work we do have from antiquity.
Though this is veering off topic, it is incredible that a 4000 year old tablet can still convey truths and ideas about the human condition which still resonate with us today. It is unbelievable that we have the privilege to read and appreciate such works like this today. Anyway, moving on.
Subcategory 2: Lost by Accident
You already know about the story mentioned above. But this is absolutely the category which can lead to some of the most comical incidents in literary history ever happening. A particular one which I enjoy is the tale of how Ernst Hemingway lost basically everything.
In 1922, Hemingway was working for the Toronto Star writing about such interesting topics as “Trout Fishing All Across Europe: Spain Has the Best, Then Germany.” Needless to say, he needed a distraction. He was covering a peace conference in Geneva at the time and sent for his wife, who was living in Paris. As per his instructions the sick feeling Hadley Richardson packed up all of his work into a suitcase and got on the train. However, realizing that she was pretty thirsty and it was an eight hour ride she went off the train to buy a bottle of water. Leaving the suitcase on the train of course. And when she got back it was gone.
Anyway, Hadley spent the next 8 hours in tears because of what happened. When she arrived and saw Ernst at the train station she again burst into tears. Ernst noted carefully though that he had carbon copies back in Paris as well as handwritten notes for a novel so it should all be okay. Right. Right?
Needless to say, Ernst was pretty upset when he had learned that Hadley had packed absolutely every bit of his literary work into the suitcase, including the carbon copies.
In actuality, the work in that suitcase was probably not very good. Hemingway at this point was nonexistent as an author after being rejected by several publishers. Still though, Hemingway kept his chin up and changed his writing style to be shorter, snappier and quicker. Perhaps his goal was to finish a work before he ever had to take a train again. Seems like that went pretty well
Works destroyed by their creators
Another interesting segment. Let’s begin with the tale of Robert Louis Stevenson.
A roasted manuscript
One night, Stevenson’s wife Fanny Stevenson was awoken by a loud cry. She rushed over to Robert’s room, waking him up. Naturally the response she got was
“Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale.”
What happened next was one of the most audacious, stupendous and dangerous literary feats which has ever happened. Robert Louis Stevenson, so inspired by his dream proceeded to write the entire book in three days
Keep in mind that this is a person who essentially could not get out of bed and suffering from a horrible fever.
Alright, well it was the 1800s so every person did too.
Anyway, you would expect after such a frenetic writing spree Stevenson would have emerged with something spectacular right? Well, Fanny Stevenson was always the first person that Robert turned to for literary criticism. Let’s see what she thought
“A quire full of utter nonsense”.Fanny Lewis Stevenson
Needless to say, she was absolutely not pleased. In fact she even threatened to destroy it herself because it was so bad. In her comments on the draft she essentially tore the entire thing apart as being an allegory arbitrarily written as a story. As the legend goes, Robert Louis Stevenson was so upset that he burned the entire manuscript.
Then, he started over. It took him quite a bit longer to finish this time. By that I mean, SIX DAYS
‘That an invalid in my husband’s condition of health should have been able to perform the manual labour alone of putting 60,000 words on paper in six days. He was suffering from continual hemorrhages and hardly allowed to speak, his conversation carried on by means of a slate and pencil.”Fanny Lewis Stevenson
It’s truly absurd that Robert Louis Stevenson burned his manuscript and then proceeded to do it all over again. Thankfully instead of destroying it after he was done, he spent four to six weeks weeks editing it and releasing it to a smash success.
Works destroyed by others
Now this is the category which I have always found the most interesting. It’s one thing to destroy your own works, it’s another thing for them to be lost because of external circumstances. But if somebody else burns them? It must be really special.
The problem is, not many people want to admit to being the person to destroy a legendary literary work.
Except for in the case of Lord Byron’s Memoirs.
Lord Byron is a fascinating figure that I could go into for days. However, if you don’t know who he was I’ll give you a brief summary. He was a brilliant poet of such works as Don Juan and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, friends with Peter and Mary Shelley, a politician in the House of Lords, a complex and scandalous lover, and finally a Greek war hero killed in combat.
Phew. I think I got mostly everything.
Wouldn’t you love to hear about this guy from his own words? Well, clearly he thought so too. Between 1818 and 1821, Lord Byron wrote an astounding 120,000 words about his life, thoughts, loves and world. He gave it all to his friend Thomas Moore (Irish poet not the Utopia guy) under warning to never publish them while Byron was alive. However, Moore was free to distribute it to friends as he liked. He sold them to Byron’s publisher John Murray for a nice lump of cash in 1821 and let it escape his mind.
Then, Lord Byron died just 3 years later.
What happens next is more than a little confusing and the vast web of conflicting stories, letters and attacks makes it tough to tangle out. I am going to try to summarize it as best I can so bear with me.
This is John Hobhouse
If Thomas Moore was Byron’s friend 1a, then Hobhouse was friend 1b. Unlike Moore however, Hobhouse wanted no shred of any Byron memoirs on the planet. In fact, when Byron started writing a memoir in 1808 Hobhouse convinced him to destroy it despite Byron’s objections.
On Friday May 14th 1824, the day that he learns that Byron has died Hobhouse begins his plan of action.
After thefirst access of grief was over I then determined to lose no time in doing my duty by preserving all that was left to me of my dear friend – his fame: my thoughts were turned to the Memoirs of his Life, given to Thomas Moore, and deposited by him in Mr Murray’s hands for certain considerations.John Hobhouse, 1824
Hobhouse goes over to see Murray and finds that Murray also wants them destroyed. Good. Now what does Thomas Moore think?
We (Moore and friend Henry Lutrell) told what we had proposed and he (Lord Lansdowne, friend of Moore) considered it highly fair—only conceding, in his opinion, rather too much, as it ought to rest with me what parts were to be rejected and what preservedThomas Moore, 1824
We can see that Thomas Moore thinks that the Memoirs can be salvaged somewhat by excising all the inappropriate bits and pieces.
Things are about to come to a head. The clash between Moore and Hobhouse would commence when they met on May 17, 1824
There has been since I saw you yesterday a sort of modification of
the agreement then agreed between us which was suggested by my own
friends Luttrell, Rogers, and Lord Lansdowne, and concurred in by Mr
Wilmot Horton and Doyle, whom I saw on the subject – I trust that this
arrangement will be equally satisfactory to you – as the first step
towards it I mean to redeem the Mss – this morning from Murray at
eleven o’clock (in Albemarle Street) and it would be perhaps as well
that you should be there –
Very truly yours
Prior the meeting, Moore, Lutrell, Murray and Hobhouse all held a meeting at Hobhouse’s residence. It’s at this meeting where we see how heated the situation becomes. Moore starts by offering Murray a straight lump of cash for the manuscript. No check, just the money right up front which Moore had already collected. Murray flat refused and this absolutely incensed Moore to the point of threatening to challenge him to an actual duel
Hard words, Mr. Murray—but, if you chuse to take
the privileges of a gentleman, I am ready to accord them to youThomas Moore
It’s at this point where everybody decides to chill out a bit and head over to Murray’s place. There, they meet Wilmot Horton, who is acting for Byron’s half-sister Augusta Leigh, and Colonel Francis Doyle, acting for Lady Byron.
Thomas Moore makes the very reasonable argument that destroying the Memoirs would be going against Byron’s wishes and would be completely unjust.
However, Hobhouse has a trump card up his sleeve. Moore agrees that whatever that whatever Wilmot Horton (representing Augusta Leigh) decides on he will go with no matter what. Unfortunately for him, Hobhouse had been bullying Leigh all weekend and didn’t really have much choice in the matter either.
Thus ultimately the memoirs of Lord Byron were thrown into the fires at 50 Albemarle Street London in what is now known as the greatest literary crime in history. Of course, when the public heard about it Hobhouse proceeded to throw Moore into the fire and bash him wherever he could. It’s only in the last century or so that we see Moore recognized as one of the few forces standing against Hobhouse’s camp.
I leave you with this poem Moore wrote of his thoughts about Byron’s memoirs as you continue to contemplate this.
Let me, a moment, think what thousands live
O’er the wide earth this instant, who would give
Gladly, whole sleepless nights to bend the brow,
Thank you for reading. I hope that you’ve found the information which I’ve presented you to be interesting and worth your time. Lost literature and lost media in general is one of my pet topics so I was really excited to be able to talk about it. In the future, I may dedicate a LitCast episode or another blog post to a specific lost work such as Byron’s Memoirs. Also, I would like to give a shoutout to Cambridge Scholar’s The Burning of Byron’s Memoirs: New and Unpublished Essays and Papers for being a wonderful guide in the last section. You can find it here. https://www.cambridgescholars.com/resources/pdfs/978-1-4438-6815-0-sample.pdf I’ll see you next time for something grandiose. Here’s a little sneak peek of what’s coming.
The LitCast: Episodes 1-4
Welcome to my new podcast series, the LitCast. This show is an examination of literature throughout the ages and I am happy to present the first four episodes of the series to you today. Check it out!
Episode 1: The Romantic Era
Episode 2: The Victorian Era
Episode 3: The Modernist Era
Episode 4: The Contemporary Era
And check out my conclusion to this podcast as well!
Thank you to my good friend Ansh Gupta for helping me clean up some of the audio. I could not have done this without you.
Felix University: Episode 1
Look at this painting. When do you think it was created?
It seems grotesque. Ugly. Almost painful to the eyes. So when do you think it was created? Perhaps it was the 1800s? The early 1900s? Maybe even a 1700s work, shockingly?
In an era when artists began looking more and more towards the past to find balance and clarity, Giuseppe Arcimboldo embraced the exact opposite. He leaned into the weird, the odd and some might even say the surreal
Is it fair to call Arcimboldo a proto-surrealist? I say so. But first, to understand his art more we have to take a deeper dive into the person himself. Who was he? How did he get the chance to make this sort of art? And how did others see him at the time? Let’s take a look
Part 1: Beginnings
Giuseppe Arcimboldo was born the son of a painter. From all accounts, not a particularly prominent or important painter, but one who had steady work and a steady life regardless. His grand uncle meanwhile held the prestigious position of the Archbishop of Milan, and as such it’s likely that Giuseppe met with quite a few prominent figures in his youth. This, along with painting training by his father would clearly influence the path he would take in life.
Like his father, Giuseppe started out doing stained glass works In fact, some records of the Milan Cathedral tell us that his father and him worked together on several works. Some of them still exist today! Here’s an example of a stained glass window which Giuseppe executed.
As one can see, the work is admirable and we see some of the characteristics that make his later portraits so fascinating. Giuseppe began doing stained glass works at 21 and it was only until he turned 35 that he decided he needed a change. One can imagine that after so long doing stained glass work with consistently similar themes, he needed something else. A new place.
That place was…..
Part 2: A Royal Court?
“This is a painter with a rare talent, who is also extremely knowledgeable in other disciplines; and having proved his worth both as an artist and as a bizarre painter, not only in his own country but also abroad, he has been given the highest praise, in that word of his fame has reached the Emperor’s court in Germany.”
Now, what kind of art could a guy who looks like this possibly want?
You might imagine that the Holy Roman Emperor would want something serious. Some propaganda, scenes of triumph, the usual. This is going to be another one of those “court painter vs monarch stories”, isn’t it? Well, let’s see the first project that Giuseppe gave him*
*One does has to note that technically Giuseppe began as a court painter to Ferdinand II, albeit for two years. However Maximillian II from what I have researched is absolutely the dominant influence
The Hapsburgs didn’t like the portraits. They loved them. Maximillian II had a second set of the portraits created (which is how we actually have most of these). But most of all, and this is actually real: Arcimboldo directed a festival where the members of the court dressed up as the season elements. Maximillian himself chose to dress as Winter. Imagine that. Your patron loves your work so much that he gets into a ridiculous costume just as a sign of appreciation.
It’s easy to see why though. The level of detail on these works is simply astounding. They’re so full of visual puns and imperial references. For instance, look how Winter has a cloak with an M placed on it (for Maximillian) or how Autumn is made up of the fruits of the harvest.
Plus you know, the implication that your royal family rules over the literal seasons probably gives you some points.
“This noble and inspired man fashioned a great number of rare and delicate works of art which caused considerable amazement among all the illustrious noblemen who used to congregate there, and his lord and master was very pleased with him.”
Arcimboldo excelled at the court. In fact, he worked at the court for 26 years until he retired. The Hapsburgs reveled in imaginative, avant garde works and Arcimboldo was only too eager to indulge them.
I do get the sense that some of his works had double meanings. Take this one for example. To a casual onlooker or the royal family, it seems just like a silly painting. Just a librarian made of books, ha! But examining int on a different level, it seems clear to me how cutting this is. It’s a mockery of those who own books simply to brag about owning them, instead of actually reading them evidently. Being around so many high class people, Arcimboldo must have gained a huge awareness of these people.
From all accounts, Arcimboldo had a huge influence in all matters of the court, not just in painting. He was a decorator, costume designer, planner, water engineer, architect and more. In a sense, Arcimboldo served as an important advisor to Maximillian II, which is incredible. He did things like expand Ferdinand I’s cabinent of curiousities which later turned into the Kunstkammer Vienna Museum. Arcimboldo planned out the wedding and coronation of Maximillian’s successor, Rudolf II, Maximillian obviously rewarded him with a comfortable salary and lavish titles.
The Final Period: Arcimboldo the Biologist
The late period is defined by fish, flowers and some of the greatest portraits which I have ever seen.
Luckily for Arcimboldo, Rudolph II was also into paintings and fine arts. But he let his other interests creep in.
See, Rudolph the II absolutely loved exotic things. Precious stones, mummies, stuffed birds, gigantic fish and more. He would use and weild his power to discover and bring back the odd. Arcimboldo, ever the opportunist catered to the person paying him his salary.
I adore this work. Rudolph wanted to be an Emperor at the intersection of nature, art and science so Arcimboldo painted him as all three. Each flower, each fruit, or leaf is from an identifiable species in Rudolph’s collection. A lot of these specific species are from the New World too, so Arcimboldo is saying “Hey, Rudolph isn’t just a master of the Old World, but of the New World too!” The corn is a clear indication of that. There’s also the title, Verumnus. The God of Seasons. So hey, Arcimboldo is declaring Rudolph to be the master of seasons and change as well! Good for him.
The End and Legacy
There’s so much more I could get into but I need to wrap this up eventually. In 1592, Arcimboldo left the Hapsburg service at last to return to Milan. After so long, his time at the court was over. He had already been granted permission to return to Milan in 1587 but occasionally returned back to court to make stuff like Vertumnus. Basically, he was a freelancer from 1587 to 1592 if that makes any sense. In any case, Rudolph treasured his beloved court artist so much that he awarded him the prestigious title of Count Palatine and given 1500 Rhenish guilders for being such an influential painter in the court.
Finally, at the age of 67 on July 11, 1593 Giuseppe Arcimboldo died in Milan.
Unfortunately for him, Rudolph II loved art but was terrible at ruling. Sweden shortly after invaded Prague. Many of Arcimboldo’s works were taken from Rudolph’s collections and most likely destroyed or lost to eh mists of time. We only have 26 confirmed paintings by him now.
And though he was adored and praised by the contemporaries of his time, he became an obscure figure in the centuries to come….
Until the 20th Century. You have Arcimboldo to thank for serving as an inspiration for such surrealists like Dali.
So in the end, Arcimboldo’s genius has been recognized once again as it should. He was one of the greatest Mannerists of his time, a brilliant portraitist and a forward thinker who saw the future of surrealism. His imagination and vision deserve to celebrated now and for all time. I leave you with a final painting and allow you to draw your own conclusions on what it means.
First blog post
Hi! Welcome to my blog. I’m glad to have you.
On this blog, I will primarily examining some of my interests in a fresh and easy to understand manner. These interests include but are not limited to classical music, art history, infotech and world literature. I hope that my blog can be not only informative, but also interesting to outsiders of the fields which I discuss. I look forward to providing you with more content to come soon.