Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Previously Undescribed

 At one point, a collective of academic figures and literary luminaries discussed the creation of a journal dedicated exclusively to brief notices of new findings in the humanities. The project was abandoned due to a crippling preposition shortage in the Midwest, but the following four short pieces exemplify the style and subject matter that was in contemplation.  

Worminster's Monkey
First reported in 1879 by the Reverend Thomas St. Jude Worminster, this small creature was thought to be extinct, primarily because no one but Worminster ever subsequently claimed to see one; some reservations were expressed by others on the grounds that, as far as can be determined, Worminster himself never left England. However, recent extensive surveys of remote Sumatran forests have produced one blurry trail camera picture, backed up by numerous cell phone shots taken by students on holiday, of a small monkey that clearly matches Worminster's description: an animal with four legs, two ears, and a coat of brown fur. (This is Worminster's description of the monkey, not a description of Worminster - Ed.)

Worminster's notes on the animal's call -- something like a first-year Divinity student, reading Milton aloud -- could not be confirmed. On the strength of the photos, though, Worminster's Monkey, Cercopithecus Miltoni Worminsterii, was immediately given IUCN's Critically Silly status.

Bishop's Lacklustre, Warwickshire, UK
Bishop's Lacklustre is a small port on the Yangtze River, thirty versts below Copenhagen. In 1809, Viscount Nelson turned a blond eye to his orders from Neville Chamberlain and burnt the town, along with its copra-processing facilities. In the mid-nineteenth century, the eponymous Bishop attempted to undercut Canadian fur prices by establishing huge beaver farms in the vicinity, located along the plashy verges of the Nile tributaries, resulting in municipal, Episcopal, and moral bankruptcy. Bombed by both sides in the Second World War in an effort to destroy the Voysey Wallpaper Works, the town no longer exists. In 2003, a paper published by Lars-Erik Flendt of the Max Planck Institute seriously questioned whether it ever had.

Girl with a Chip on Her Shoulder, by Vincent van Gogh
While the light and the rustic scenes of Arles may have driven Van Gogh's high period, there is a body of documentary evidence that the local people had their effects as well, perhaps in a less positive fashion, on the output of his last years. The somewhat sardonic expression of Madame Ginoux in 1890's L'Arlésienne is explained by a newly-authenticated letter from the artist to his brother, Theo, in which he describes a cousin (or perhaps housemaid?) of Ginoux as being "... très difficile ..." and " ... toujours se plaignant au sujet des tripes ... " (always complaining about the tripe.) The girl in question is thus almost certainly the one depicted in his last portrait from Arles, showing a young woman of about 30, standing, dressed in a blue gown, and threatening the viewer with a broom. A dog, prefiguring in many ways Matisse's much later Interior with Dog, is scrambling, with a greater sense of motion and urgency than we often see in Van Gogh's work, to get under the couch.

The Battle of Old Sodbury
For many years, the battle of Old Sodbury was considered to have been a skirmish between mounted elements of the Scots and English armies, maneuvering in the week prior to the more conclusive fight at Flodden. Only one contemporary chronicler, Auld Wattie's Daub (the Bard of the Bog) provided any details. However, nothing loathe, a number of recent historians have used differential analysis and applied numeric norms to arrive at estimates of the forces engaged. By working from the typical composition of early sixteenth century armies, both Parker and his Netherlandish colleague, Henri-Joost Wafle, estimated that 150 to 200 Scots light cavalry or “prickers” rode south toward Old Sodbury on the morning of September 1st, 1513, where they discovered a slightly smaller force of English scouts, numbering around 130. A short engagement resulted, with both sides falling back toward their respective main forces.

On the strength of these analyses, the Town Council of Old Sodbury erected in 1972 a stone cross on the high street, giving the date, a brief description, and the names (somewhat speculatively) of the commanders of each party. Unfortunately, more recent scholarship, involving a better translation of Daub's Scots/Flemish manuscript, has revealed that in fact, the forces engaged on each side numbered exactly one each; the battle consisted of a disagreement between a Scotsman and an Englishmen who were drinking together in a public house and who fell out over the attentions of a bar maid. Neither was killed, since they set upon each other not with sword and lance but with ale flagon and bar stool, and when last seen, the combatants were walking away, arm in arm with the bar maid, in a generally easterly direction. Furthermore, the fight took place not at Old Sodbury, nor further south at Market Sodbury, nor even as has been suggested, a bit farther toward London at the hamlet of Miserable Old Sodbury, but somewhere along Jamaica Street in Glasgow, some 96 miles to the Northwest. The town council has so far taken no action to revise or remove the monument.

The Diet of Bad Wissenschaft

Held in 1560 to reconsider the wisdom of conclusions arrived at the previous year in the Diet of Bad Entscheidungen. Topics included the previous year's proclamation of Empire-wide religious tolerance on the basis of Cujus Bovio Eius Religio. Essentially, it established Catholicism, Lutheranism, or Calvinism in any given governmental unit based on who had the best cow.

Other contentious issues included the Papal assertion of the divine right of things and the lengthy and inconclusive war between the Markgrave of Saxe-Phonendorf and the Elector of OstWestland. This conflict was prolonged because neither the latter person nor place could be located.

The assembled nobility and clergy were initially inclined to make substantial changes in these and other, prior measures, but in the event, no conclusions were reached. This was primarily due to the proximity of another, more attractive hot-springs town, Bad Mädchenplatz, to which the delegates essentially transferred the proceedings. No record was filed of transactions thereafter.

To be reported In next month's issue:
  • The Late Woodland Bark Biter Culture of Central Ohio
  • Stocking Sorter's Syndrome
J. F. McLuggage

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