It is possible to know innumerable things and understand very little: to have a magpie kind of mind which collects facts as if they were in themselves treasures and not the merest accessories of thought. This book is like a Cabinet of Curiosities, full of little pieces of information all out of context; ordered only by alphabetical headings, one may read page after page and still learn nothing. Never mind, my copy is rather impressively marbled, and that's what counts.
As the title suggests, the content is principally concerned with when things happened, but since the bare dates are given with no relation to anything else, it is left to the reader to invent a context. In their mechanical repetition of matter from ill-assorted and often uncredited sources of uneven reliability, at times the articles attain a sort of higher dullness which is almost poetry. Here are some of my favourites:-
CORPULENCY. The most extraordinary instances of corpulency occur in England, where many persons are loaded with flesh or fat. Cornaro. In Germany some fat monks have weighed eighteen stone. Render. Of modern instances known, in this country was Mr. Bright, a tallow-chandler and grocer, of Maldon, in Essex, who dies in the 29th year of his age. Seven persons of the common size were with ease enclosed in his waistcoat. He was buried at All Saints, Maldon, Nov. 12, 1750. Daniel Lambert, supposed to have been the heaviest man that ever lived, died, in his 40th year, at Stamford, in Lincolnshire, weighing ten stone more than Mr. Bright, June 21, 1809. He is said to have weighed 52 stone, 11 pounds. James Mansfield died at Debden, Nov 9, 1856, aged 82, weighing 33 stone 14 pounds.
PROFILES. The first profile taken, as recorded, was that of Antigonus, who having but one eye, his likeness was so taken, B.C. 330. Ashe. “Until the end of the third century, I have not seen a Roman emperor with a full face; they were always painted or appeared in profile, which gives us the view of a head in a very majestic manner.” Addison.
SAW. Invented by Daedalus. Pliny. Invented by Talus. Apollodorus. Talus, it is said, having found the jaw-bone of a snake, employed it to cut through a piece of wood, and then formed an instrument of iron like it. Beecher says saw-mills were invented in the seventeenth century, but he errs. Saw-mills were erected in Madeira in 1420; at Breslau, in 1427. Norway had the first saw-mill in 1530. The bishop of Ely, ambassador from Mary of England to the court of Rome, describes a saw-mill there, 1555. The attempts to introduce saw-mills in England were violently opposed, and one erected by a Dutchman in 1663 was forced to be abandoned.
Be honest now, weren't you blindly ignorant before you read that? Imagine how it would be to read the whole book... What do you mean, you'd rather be out in the sunshine playing with your friends? You little swine, you'll never qualify as a library catalogue compiler if you don't apply yourself.
Scribbled by Alfred Armstrong 17 years 11 months ago