The WHAT'S NEW! page contains the latest medical updates. If you're wondering how I'm going as far as health is concerned, this is the place to start. Latest: Wed 27 Nov 2013. 7.20AM

The Joys of Gutenberg

I've moved the whole Gutenberg project to its own website. I'll leave what's below here as it's part of this blog, but the full site for what I'm drawing from is now separate. I love doing it, but it's very time-consuming. Time's what I have little of.

001 added 09-03-2012
002 added 10-03-2012
003 added 11-03-2012
004 added 12-03-2012
005 added 13-03-2012
006 added 14-03-2012
007 added 15-03-2012

I really don't know how this project will develop. I'll modify how I present it as I go along.

I continue to be amazed at the wonderful diversity of items on the free public reading site, This part of the blog is dedicated to it; snippets from all sorts of sources, serious or frivolous or just plain whimsical. 

This posting was something of a model for it. I will try very hard to keep the snippet size - and my commentary - down!

The problem, I know, is that those who are attracted to this are also the same ones who will have countless other reading pursuits, and will never have time enough. If you are frustrated by the desire to read more but have to cheat on other things, then its purpose will have been fulfilled!

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007 A naughty boy and a tyrannical perfectionist.

Life of Beethoven 
by Anton Schindler

Beethoven's education was neither particularly neglected nor particularly good. He received elementary instruction and learned something of Latin at a public school — music he learnt at home, and was closely kept to it by his father, whose way of life, however, was not the most regular.

The lively and often stubborn boy had a great dislike to sitting still, so that it was continually necessary to drive him in good earnest to the piano-forte. He had still less inclination for learning the violin, and on this point I cannot help adverting to a tale, so ingeniously invented and so frequently repeated, relative to a spider, which, "whenever little Ludwig was playing in his closet on the violin, would let itself down from the ceiling and alight upon the instrument, and which his mother, on discovering her son's companion, one day destroyed, whereupon little Ludwig dashed his violin to shatters."

This is nothing more than a tale. Great Ludwig, highly as this fiction amused him, never would admit that he had the least recollection of such a circumstance. On the contrary, he declared that it was much more likely that everything, even to the very flies and spiders, should have fled out of the hearing of his horrid scraping.

— —

It will perhaps be remembered that, in speaking of the performance of Fidelio, in the second period, I observed that Beethoven was in the habit of paying little attention to the possibility of the execution of what he wrote for the vocal parts. Innumerable proofs of this assertion may be found again in the second Mass and in the ninth Symphony, which, during the rehearsals of the chorus and solo parts, led to many unpleasant discussions.

With due deference for the master, it was not possible to avoid telling him that this and that passage could not be sung. The two ladies, Mademoiselle Sontag and Mademoiselle Ungher, who undertook the soprano and alto solos, came several times to practise them at Beethoven's house, and made the remark to him beforehand.[87]

[Illustration: *** The passages marked with a *, and inserted in small notes, indicate the high notes alluded to. — ED.]

*** This is the very part I did alter, as shown in the above illustration; for if, as the sequel shows, a Sontag had perseverance and means sufficient to work it out, the same could not be expected from every singer, and least of all from the Chorus, which repeats the same passage after the Solo performers. — ED.]

Mlle. Ungher did not hesitate to call him the tyrant of singers, but he only answered, smiling, that it was because they were both so spoiled by the modern Italian style of singing that they found the two new works difficult.[88] "But this high passage here," said Sontag, pointing to the vocal Quartett in the Symphony,

Küsse gab sie uns und Reben

"would it not be possible to alter that?" — "And this passage, M. van Beethoven," continued Mademoiselle Ungher, "is also too high for most voices. Could we not alter that?" — "No! no! no!" was the answer,[89] — "Well then, for Heaven's sake (in Gottes Namen), let us work away at it again," said the patient Sontag.

As for the poor Soprani, in the chorus parts of the Mass, every day did they complain to Beethoven that it was out of their power to reach and sustain the high notes so long as he prescribed. In some places the tyrant remained inexorable, though it would have been easy for him, by a transposition of some of the intervals, to render those passages easier for the voices, without altering anything essential.

Umlauf, the most strictly classical conductor I have ever known, to whom Beethoven had committed the management of the whole, also made some modest remarks on this difficulty, but equally in vain. The consequence of this obstinacy was, that every chorus-singer, male and female, got over the stumbling-block as well as he or she could, and, when the notes were too high, left them out altogether.[90]

The master, however, standing in the midst of this confluence of music, heard nothing of all this, was not even sensible of the tumultuous applause of the auditory at the close of the Symphony, but was standing with his back to the proscenium, until Mademoiselle Ungher, by turning round and making signs, roused his attention, that he might at least see what was going on in the front of the house.

This acted, however, like an electric shock on the thousands present, who were struck with a sudden consciousness of his misfortune; and, as the flood-gates of pleasure, compassion, and sympathy were opened, there followed a volcanic explosion of applause, which seemed as if it would never end.[91]

Invitation to attend Beethoven's funeral

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Unless you have a masochistic streak, this is not a volume I urge you to read, but I couldn't help including it, because of a number of intriguing features. It's the correspondence between a gentleman, Sir Nicholas J. Nicolas, and British Museum Library staffer, Mr. A. Panizzi,  over being brought only four of five books he was after.

Infuriated by the inconvenience a man of his standing was put to, he wrote a letter of complaint, which was answered politely but not to his satisfaction. A long exchange of correspondence followed, with the matter ultimately being brought to the British Museum Board. It's a wonderful model of style; a triumph of form and stamina over substance.

The volume shows the inner workings of the British Museum borrowing system, but of more interest is the style of exchange of correspondence and procedures arising from it. It must have taken incalculable time and energy, even in penning the letters of increasing length and petulance, to reach a conclusion. 

Sadly, this ultimately proved to be no resolution at all. I can only imagine the barely repressed fury behind the flowing words.

At last, it seems, Mr. Nicolas lost his upper class temper.

On the Supply of Printed Books from the Library to the Reading Room of the British Museum
by Anthony Panizzi (1846)

"The requisition to insert the Titles and Press-marks on the tickets is not merely reasonable but it is indispensible, if the Library is to be conducted with satisfaction to the Public and to the Librarians. If people will not take the trouble to comply with Rules, which, so far from being vexatious, are absolutely necessary for their own comfort, they have no right to complain. The fault is theirs, if mistakes and delay arise; and it is as absurd as unjust to impute the effect of their own ignorance or carelessness to the Officers of the Museum." 

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The Conflict of Religions in the Early Roman Empire 
by T. R. Glover (1910)

Close examination reveals a good deal of Judaism surviving in Paul, – a curious way of playing with the text of Scripture, {156} odd reminiscences of old methods, and deeper infiltrations of a Jewish thought which is not that of Jesus. Yet it does not affect our feeling for him--he stands too close to us as a man, too much over us as the teacher of Augustine, Calvin and Luther – a man, whom it took more genius to explain than the church had for fifteen centuries, and yet the man to whom the church owes its universal reach and unity, its theology and the best of the language in which it has expressed its love for his master.

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There is a huge variety amongst these tales, and perhaps these are not representative, but they are all intriguing as much for the behaviour of others in the story as the heroine.

Noble Deeds of American Women
by J Clement

  Fair was her face, and spotless was her mind,
  Where filial love with virgin sweetness joined.

The winter of 1783 was unusually severe, and the sufferings of the poor in the city of New York were very great. One family, consisting of the husband, wife and one daughter, were, on one occasion, reduced to the last stick of wood, and were wholly destitute of provisions. 

The daughter, who had thus far supported her aged and infirm parents by her industry, was out of work, and knew not what to do. At this juncture of affairs, she recollected that a dentist had advertised for sound fore-teeth, and offered three guineas a piece for all he was himself permitted to extract. 

In the midst of her grief, the generous girl suddenly brightened up, and hastened to the dentist's office. She made known the condition of her parents, and offered to dispose of all her fore-teeth on his terms. The dentist, instead of extracting a tooth, with tears in his eyes, placed in her hands ten guineas, and sent her, rejoicing, to the relief of her parents.

Noble Deeds of American Women by J. Clement

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The A.E.F. 
by Heywood Broun

It is well enough to say that all the romance has gone out of modern war, but you can't convince a nineteen-year-older of that when he has his first khaki on his back and his first anti-typhoid inoculation in his arm. They boasted of these billion germs and they swaggered and played banjos and sang songs. 

 Mostly they sang at night on the pitch black upper deck. The littlest ambulance driver had a nice tenor voice and on still nights he did not care what submarine commander knew that he "learned about women from her." He and his companions rocked the stars with "She knifed me one night." 

 Daytimes they studied French from the ground up. It was the second day out that I heard a voice from just outside my porthole inquire "E-S-T--what's that and how do you say it?" Later on the littlest ambulance driver had made marked progress and was explaining "Mon oncle a une bonne fille, mais mon père est riche."

 Romance was not hard to find on the vessel. The slow waiter who limped had been wounded at the Marne, and the little fat stewardess had spent twenty-two days aboard the German raider Eitel Friedrich. There were French soldiers in the steerage and one of them had the Croix de Guerre with four palms. He had been wounded three times.

 But when the ship came up the river the littlest ambulance driver--the one who knew "est" and women--summed things up and decided that he was glad to be an American. He looked around the deck at the Red Cross nurses and others who had stood along the rail and cheered in the submarine fight, and he said:

 "I never would have thought it of 'em. It's kinda nice to know American women have got so much nerve."

 The littlest ambulance driver drew himself up to his full five feet four and brushed his new uniform once again.

 "Yes, sir," he said, "we men have certainly got to hand it to the girls on this boat." And as he went down the gangplank he was humming: "And I learned about women from her."

 The A.E.F. by Heywood Broun

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This is a very perceptive book, going in scope far beyond the boundaries of this snippet. Note especially the final paragraph. "Sensuality without seduction."

In Morocco 
by Edith Wharton

The eldest of the group, and evidently the mistress of the house, was an Algerian lady, probably of about fifty, with a sad and delicately-modelled face; the others were daughters, daughters-in-law and concubines. The latter word evokes to occidental ears images of sensual seduction which the Moroccan harem seldom realizes.

All the ladies of this dignified official household wore the same look of somewhat melancholy respectability. In their stuffy curtained apartment they were like cellar-grown flowers, pale, heavy, fuller but frailer than the garden sort. Their dresses, rich but sober, the veils and diadems put on in honour of my visit, had a dignified dowdiness in odd contrast to the frivolity of the Imperial harem.

But what chiefly struck me was the apathy of the younger women. I asked them if they had a garden, and they shook their heads wistfully, saying that there were no gardens in Old Fez. The roof was therefore their only escape: a roof overlooking acres and acres of other roofs, and closed in by the naked fortified mountains which stand about Fez like prison-walls.

After a brief exchange of compliments silence fell. Conversing through interpreters is a benumbing process, and there are few points of contact between the open-air occidental mind and beings imprisoned in a conception of sexual and domestic life based on slave-service and incessant espionage.

These languid women on their muslin cushions toil not, neither do they spin. The Moroccan lady knows little of cooking, needlework or any household arts. When her child is ill she can only hang it with amulets and wail over it; the great lady of the Fazi palace is as ignorant of hygiene as the peasant-woman of the bled.

And all these colourless eventless lives depend on the favour of one fat tyrannical man, bloated with good living and authority, himself almost as inert and sedentary as his women, and accustomed to impose his whims on them ever since he ran about the same patio as a little short-smocked boy.

The redeeming point in this stagnant domesticity is the tenderness of the parents for their children, and western writers have laid so much stress on this that one would suppose children could be loved only by inert and ignorant parents. It is in fact charming to see the heavy eyes of the Moroccan father light up when a brown grasshopper baby jumps on his knee, and the unfeigned tenderness with which the childless women of the harem caress the babies of their happier rivals.

But the sentimentalist moved by this display of family feeling would do well to consider the lives of these much-petted children. Ignorance, unhealthiness and a precocious sexual initiation prevail in all classes. Education consists in learning by heart endless passages of the Koran, and amusement in assisting at spectacles that would be unintelligible to western children, but that the pleasantries of the harem make perfectly comprehensible to Moroccan infancy. At eight or nine the little girls are married, at twelve the son of the house is "given his first negress"; and thereafter, in the rich and leisured class, both sexes live till old age in an atmosphere of sensuality without seduction.

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I sincerely hope that the good surgeon did not experiment on his lunatic patients. I'm giving you the contents page to show you what it's about. It's riveting reading - seriously. He must have made a bundle out of it.

Curiosities of Medical Experience 
by J. G. Millingen


  Obesity                                                      1
  Dwarfs                                                       9
  Gigantic Races                                              12
  Unlawful Cures                                              19
  Voice and Speech                                            32
  Ecstatic Exaltation                                         37
  Varieties of Mankind                                        44
  On the Inhumation of the Dead in Cities                     54
  Buried Alive                                                63
  Spontaneous Combustion                                      66
  Brassica Eruca                                              70
  Cagliostro                                                  71
  Lunar Influence on Human Life and Diseases                  73
  Spectacles                                                  76
  Leeches                                                     77
  Somnambulism                                                79
  Medical Powers of Music                                     88
  The Food of Mankind                                         96
  Influence of Imagination                                   125
  Ancient Ideas of Phrenology                                135
  Perfumes                                                   136
  Love Philters and Potions                                  141
  Ventriloquism                                              148
  Chaucer's Description of a Physician                       151
  Démonomania                                                152
  The Plague                                                 164
  Abstinence                                                 185
  Poison of the Upas, or Ipo                                 190
  Homophagous and polyphagous                                196
  Causes of Insanity                                         202
  Leprosy                                                    221
  The Aspic                                                  227
  Selden's Comparison between a Divine, a Statesman, and
    a Physician                                              229
  The Lettuce                                                230
  Medical Fees                                               231
  Enthusiasm                                                 237
  Medical effects of Water                                   252
  Proverbs and Sayings regarding Health and Disease          259
  The Night-mare                                             262
  Incubation of Diseases                                     266
  Quackery and Charlatanism                                  269
  On the use of Tea                                          277
  Mandragore                                                 281
  Barber-Surgeons, and the Progress of Chirurgical Art       285
  On Dreams                                                  295
  On Flagellation                                            312
  On Life and the Blood                                      317
  Of the Homoeopathic Doctrines                              337
  Doctrine of Signatures                                     365
  Coffee                                                     370
  Aqua Tophania                                              374
  Plica Polonica & Human Hair                                377
  Animal Magnetism                                           384
  Poisonous Fishes                                           397
  Memory & the Mental Faculties                              404
  Affections of the Sight                                    420
  Hellebore                                                  426
  Sympathies and Antipathies                                 428
  The Archeus of Van Helmont                                 439
  Monsters                                                   443
  Longevity                                                  453
  Cretinism                                                  472
  Temperaments                                               476
  Solar Influence                                            482
  Sweating Fever                                             485
  Smallpox                                                   491
  Drunkenness                                                507
  Decapitation                                               516
  Mummies                                                    518
  Hydrophobia                                                527
  Rise and Progress of Medicine                              534
  Medicine of the Chinese                                    552
  Experiments on Living Animals                              559


Fat is a fluid similar to vegetable oils, inodorous, and lighter than water; besides the elements common to water, to oils, and wax, it contains carbon, hydrogen, and sebacic acid, which is pretty similar to the acetic. 

Human fat, like that of other animals, has been frequently employed for various purposes. A story is told of an Irish tallowchandler, who, during the invasion of Cromwell's army, made candles with the fat of Englishmen, which were remarkable for their good quality; but when the times became more tranquil, his goods were of an inferior kind, and when one of his customers complained of his candles falling off, he apologised by saying, "I am sorry to inform you that the times are so bad that I have been short of Englishmen for a long time."

Obesity may be considered a serious evil, and has exposed corpulent persons to many désagrémens. The ancients held fat people in sovereign contempt. Some of the Gentoos enter their dwellings by a hole in the roof; and any fat person who cannot get through it, they consider as an excommunicated offender who has not been able to rid himself of his sins. An Eastern prince had an officer to regulate the size of his subjects, and who dieted the unwieldy ones to reduce them to a proper volume. In China this calamity is considered a blessing, a man's intellectual qualities are esteemed in the ratio of corporeal bulk. 

Chinese medicine

Medicine was taught in the imperial colleges of Pekin; but in every district, a physician, who had studied six years, is appointed to instruct the candidate for the profession, who was afterwards allowed to practise, without any further studies or examination; and it is said, that, in general, the physician only receives his fee when the patient is cured. This assertion, however, is very doubtful, as the country abounds in quacks, who, under such restrictions as to remuneration, would scarcely earn a livelihood. 

Another singular, but economical practice prevails amongst them--a physician never pays a second visit to a patient unless he is sent for. 

Whatever may be the merits of Chinese practitioners both in medicine and surgery, or their mode of receiving remuneration, it appears that they are as much subject to animadversion as in other countries:--a missionary having observed to a Chinese, that their medical men had constantly recourse to fire in the shape of moxa, redhot iron, and burning needles; he replied, "Alas! you Europeans are carved with steel, while we are martyrized with hot iron; and I fear that in neither country will the fashion subside, since the operators do not feel the anguish they inflict, and are equally paid to torment us or to cure us!"

Curiosities of Medical Experience by J. G. Millingen

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  1. "Conversing through interpreters is a benumbing process, and there are few points of contact between the open-air occidental mind and beings imprisoned in a conception of sexual and domestic life based on slave-service and incessant espionage."

    I wonder how much has really changed in the near century since those words were written? It would be good to think the modern age and its technology has liberated the women of the Islamic world (who do not all inhabit physical harems, of course), but I have my doubts. However, when it comes to the oppression of women, the West is in a class of its own. It's a case of 'same, but different', and only chauvinism allows us to pretend otherwise.

    1. One of the interesting things about these travel books from c. 100 years ago is that they can be compared with more recent accounts. I've seen doccos on Morocco from 40 years ago which showed that in many respects things hadn't changed a great deal, but international TV makes inroads like never before into perceptions by women in such places. This doesn't necessarily mean that women behind closed walls can change things markedly.

      As you're implying, it's all a question of power. Women pay a price for 'freedom' and that often is another form of slavery to illusions. Both genders can become trapped in illusions no matter what the society, as you say.

      In the end, it's the belief in having the power of choice that matters. But it's a bit early in the morning for me to explore that.

      I'm very glad you read this and hope you'll keep an eye out for new extracts as they come in. I have so many!


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