Saturday, July 07, 2018

Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth


Opening Passage: Since, as noted in the introduction, I deliberately read the work in two different translations, and the difference is considerable, I present them both here for comparison. The (often loose and sometimes modifying) 1871 George & Raffan, used by the Heritage Press edition and the most widely read version:

Looking back to all that has occurred to me since that eventful day, I am scarcely able to believe in the reality of my adventures. They were truly so wonderful that even now I am bewildered when I think of them.

My uncle was a German, having married my mother's sister, an Englishwoman. Being very much attached to his fatherless nephew, he invited me to study under him in his home in the fatherland. This home was in a large town, and my uncle a professor of philosophy, chemistry, geology, mineralogy, and many other ologies.

One day, after passing some hours in the laboratory -- my uncle being absent at the time -- I suddenly felt the necessity of renovating the tissues -- i.e., I was hungry, and was about to rouse up our old French cook, when my uncle, Professor Von Hardwigg, suddenly opened the street door, and came rushing upstairs.

The more faithful 1876 George Routledge and Sons, used by the Dover Thrift edition:

It was on Sunday, the 24th of May, 1863, that my uncle, Professor Lidenbrock, came rushing suddenly back to his little house in the old part of Hamburg, No. 19, Königstrasse.

Our good Martha could not but think she was very much behindhand with the dinner, for the pot was scarcely beginning to simmer, and I said to myself:

"Now, then, we'll have a fine outcry if my uncle is hungry, for he is the most impatient of mortals."

You'll notice that, while they describe exactly the same event, they are in some ways not the same story at all. This is typical all the way through: the events described are the same, and the structure of the plot thus the same, but the differences of the George & Raffan continually accumulate to make it a rather different tale.

Summary: Professor Otto Lidenbrock is a great scientist in an age of great scientists, a corresponding member of scientific societies throughout the 'five parts of the world' -- a French expression meaning all the inhabited continents. He is a genius of geological classification and notable scientific names from all over the globe send him samples to classify. Nor is geology the limit of his interests; he is a true nineteenth century scientist, a specialist, yes, but with generalist interests. He is excited because he has just managed to get a rare edition of the Icelandic saga, Heimskringla, by Snorri Sturluson. He is yet more excited when he discovers in it an encoded message by the sixteenth century alchemist, Arne Saknussemm, which claims that Saknussemm had discovered a path, through the dormant volcano Snæfellsjökull, to the center of the earth. Lidenbrock believes it, and drags his nephew Axel off to Iceland to see if they can follow in Saknussemm's footsteps.

There are many admirable features of this story that can show up even through the most defective translation. The handling of the message at the beginning of the tale is probably the most effective narrative use of basic cryptography ever written, and the ancient-message trope is probably only rivaled by H. Rider Haggard. The itinerary element inevitable in a standard tale by Verne, in this case to Denmark and Iceland, blends seamlessly with the larger voyage promised by the title. The foreseeable dangers of such a descent -- lack of water, lack of food, the difficulty of not getting lost, the danger of losing one's head -- are each handled in turn, and the adventure is spiced with plentiful unforeseen dangers -- surely there are few scenes more striking than primitive monsters battling in a sea far underground. The twist with the compass is splendidly done, and the problem of where they could possibly come out (and how they would manage to get there in a bearable amount of time) is handled well.

But Verne was not just sketching a story, and there are features of the tale that can easily be lost in translation. One of Verne's standing interests is what might be called the 'poetry of science', which he interweaves with the 'poetry of scenery' provided by his itinerary-plots. Verne likes going a bit into the scientific classifications and terminology, the natural history, and the discussions of the big scientific theories of the day, because he has a good sense of how these things enrich the language of the tale. This comes out very clearly in comparing the two translations I read: the George & Raffen version, which regularly simplifies and sometimes cuts out the scientific lists and technical terminology, often comes across as vague in its descriptions, whereas the George Routledge and Sons version, which usually keeps them, stands out as clearly and vividly and richly described.

More than that, the George & Raffen translation makes modifications that are materially detrimental to the story. (As I've mentioned before, it was once very common for translators of popular works to make whatever changes in translation they thought would make the story more popular with the target audience.) It changes, as I mentioned, the character names, which is relatively minor, and it makes the narrator English rather than German -- one presumes on the assumption that readers would have difficulty accepting a German Everyman. But, far more than this, it also elides and simplifies parts of the story that are important for understanding the characters involved. In the George & Raffen story, Professor Hardwigg regularly comes across as something of a crackpot: he is stubborn beyond all reason, he refuses to take obvious arguments seriously, and he insists on elaborate theories for which there is no evidence. This is like a parody of the actual scientist that Professor Lidenbrock is. Lidenbrock is portrayed by Verne as stubborn and impatient, but Verne puts an immense amount of effort into portraying him as fundamentally rational. Verne's professor is not following an alchemist's tale on some personal conviction of his own, nor even on Saknussemm's reputation alone. Lidenbrock is an associate of many scientists; he has discussed the interior of the earth with Sir Humphry Davy, the great chemist, and the theory he is upholding is Davy's. Davy convinced him that it had some superiority over the common scientific view by a cleverly designed experiment. So when Lidenbrock discovers Saknussemm's message, he sees it as a possible further confirmation of a theory he has independent reason to think might be right, even if it is not widely accepted. And, of course, the only way to make sure that the possible confirmation is a real confirmation is to go and see. He is out to turn a testimony into a scientific fact to consolidate a theory that so far has only indirect evidence for it.

Lidenbrock is therefore presented by Verne not as chasing a crackpot theory, but instead a minority theory seriously discussed by major scientists, who recognize him as a colleague of considerable talent, and that is championed by at least one other scientist of impeccable credentials, indeed, no less than Humphry Davy, one of the most respected scientists in the world; and Lidenbrock's own inclination to believe it is based on experimental evidence and careful argument from it. But the experiment, being indirect, only really establishes a sort of likelihood; if the Saknussemm lead turns out to be right, though, he can add incontrovertible proof. Moreover, Lidenbrock's view of science, which comes out more clearly in the George Routledge and Sons than in the George & Raffen, is that scientific theories are approximations based on limited evidence, increasingly refined over time. He is the ultimate falsificationist, willing to go literally to the center of the world at risk to his own life in order to test a scientific theory, no matter how accepted it might be, because he thinks of science as something always to be improved. This fits very nicely with a theme that is common in a lot of Verne's early works: that the grand scientific theories are fascinating food for thought, but the real heart of the scientific adventure only comes about when you go and see. Lidenbrock is indeed stubborn and impatient -- but he is a scientist to the core.

There is a curious twist in the George Routledge and Sons translation that I think is interesting. The ending sentence of the book is translated:

I need not add that her uncle was the illustrious professor Otto Lidenbrock, corresponding member of all the scientific societies, geographical, and mineralogoical, in the five quarters of the globe. (p. 155)

'Five quarters of the globe' is a curious phrase that reminds one of the joke about trying to translate on the basis of etymology, that if you translated the first sentence of Caesar's Gallic Wars entirely by etymology you would get "Undivided Gaul is halved into three quarters." The French has nothing so curious; it just uses the phrase I mentioned before, cinq parties du monde, an idiomatic expression for the inhabited world. But the oddity is a happy twist of translation, I think. 'Five parts of the earth' is not a particularly English phrase; we would indeed expect 'four quarters'. But, of course, Lidenbrock has gone beyond the four quarters of the surface of the globe to an entirely new realm beneath; there is, indeed, in a certain sense, a new quarter. I don't know if it was deliberate, but it's a rare case of a translation improving on the original.

Favorite Passage: A good passage for capturing the 'poetry of science' that a good translation of Verne needs to capture (from the 1876 George Routledge and Sons edition, of course):

The electric light made the schists and limestone and old red sandstone sparkle magnificently. We might have thought ourselves examining some excavations in Devonshire, a county which gives its name to the series. Specimens of magnificent marbles clothed the walls, some of a grey agate, fantastically streaked with white; others of rich crimson or yellow, with red patches. Then came specimens of speckled marbles in dark colours, relieved by the light shades of the limestone.

The greater part of these marbles bore the imprint of primitive animals. Since the day before, creation had made evident progress. Instead of the rudimentary trilobites, I noticed the débris of a more perfect order: amongst others of fishes, the Ganoids and the Sauropterygia, in which palaeontologists have sought to discover the earliest forms of reptiles. The Devonian seas were people with a large number of animals of this species, and they deposited them by thousands in the rocks of the new formation. (pp. 72-73)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.


Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Dover (Mineola, NY; 2005).

Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Heritage Press (New York: 1966).

Friday, July 06, 2018

Evening Note for Friday, July 6

Thought for the Evening: Parental Rights and the Right to Parental Protection

There are a number of different accounts of parental rights. For instance, one kind of account grounds parental rights in the genetic relationship between parents and children. Another account is based on labor: by the time the child is born, the parents have already shouldered burdens for the sake of the child, and taking the child away would be unfair to them. A third account takes it that parental rights arise from the fact that the child is in some way the parent's own. And so forth. As often happens in philosophy, there is reason to think that each account does well for a certain class of parental rights and not for others. You can find traces of each in the way we talk about parental rights and responsibilities, but none of them do any good at tying everything together.

One thing that has always surprised me has been the fact that it rarely occurs to people to ground parental rights in the rights of the child. There is good independent reason to think that children have the right to parental protection. So let's take that as the basic, and see how it fares.

The simplest, most common, and most natural way to be a parent is obviously to be a biological parent; so if the child has the right to parental protection, he or she has, derivatively, the right to protection by biological parents. Thus, and also derivatively, the biological parents have the right to take reasonable steps to protect the child, and the particular kinds of protections the child needs would yield the particular kinds of parental rights the biological parent has.

However, in the actual practice of giving parental protection, it is pretty much never the case that the biological parents are the sole agents; aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors will on various occasions step up in supplementary ways -- watching the kids for a while, helping keep order, and so forth. None of this supercedes the parental rights; but there is a perfectly straightforward way, seen on a regular basis, in which people can contribute to the parental protection without being the biological parent.

Suppose that the biological parents fail to fulfill the role as parental protectors, either voluntarily (neglect, abuse) or involuntarily (external inability, death). Since we started with the child's right to parental protection and not a particular right of the parent, this right is still on the table: the child has a right to parental protection, even if the biological parents cannot provide it. But we know already that biological parents are not the only ones who contribute to make sure that parental protection is given; other adults act as, so to speak, instruments of the parents, when it's necessary. This is typically limited, but we do know that they can provide what is required. So it is in fact possible for other adults to step up, as a matter of necessity, and do what is required to guarantee that the child gets the parental protection to which they have a right. This might be other family members, or adopted parents, but we independently know it's possible for someone to step into the parental role.

The status of adopted parenthood is always a complication for genetic accounts; by grounding the parental-rights-conferring aspect in the right of the child, however, there is no actual difficulty, because parental acts are already mixed with the acts of other adults, because it is extraordinarily hard to give children the protection to which they arguably have a right, if you have no help. The account can recognize biological parenthood as the default, but recognizes that there needs to be a parent role even if a biological parent is not available -- thus giving us a reason in cases of necessity to take some other adult to fill that parental role. Foster parents are easily handled by this account as well. Labor accounts usually have problems with adoption and fostering as well (the parental rights in such cases often seem to precede the labor) and on the difficulty of seeing how paternal rights enter into even the biological case, given that mothers do the lion share of the prenatal work. But with an account focused on the rights of children, there is less of a problem with the latter: the child's right posits a parental role that is not dependent on how much labor you have put in as well. Likewise, any account based on something voluntary has difficulty with cases in which you involuntarily gain parental rights; but if your having the rights is derivative of someone else's rights, that is accounted for. One can go through other variations on these and other accounts and point out ways that this account would be better.

It's pretty clear that it can't be the whole story, however. Parenting doesn't occur in a moral void; it occurs in the midst an entire world of moral obligations, rights, and responsibilities. This complicates every account. Discussions of labor accounts, for instance, often fail to recognize that mother and father will typically already have rights and obligations with respect to each other, which will form a context for any kind of parenting. Proprietary accounts tend to miss the obligations of parents to society at large. And this account likewise cannot cover everything, because some of what we call parental rights may well derive from other moral sources into whose path the actual work of parenting happens to fall (deference to elders, gratitude to benefactors, and so forth). In addition, the way in which biological connection serves as a default for parenting is massively stronger than you'd expect just from the right of the child alone; some part of this probably does arise from other sources.

Various Links of Interest

* Being Poirot, a documentary with David Suchet on playing the Belgian detective

* Rob Mullins, Legal Postivism and Deontic Detachment (PDF)

* Christian Wallace, The Jackie Robinson of Rodeo, on Myrtis Dightman, one of the great bullriders of all time, in Texas Monthly

* Paul R. Golden, Xunzi, at the SEP

* Kenny Pearce, Richard Hooker's Influence on Locke's Epistemology, at "The Mod Squad"

* Matteo Ravasio, Analytic Perspectives in the Philosophy of Music, at the IEP

* Kenneth Chang, Asteroids and Adversaries, discusses the dust-up over an amateur's discovery that there were flaws in NASA's asteroid catalog.

* Lucy Bellwood discusses how to draw a sailing ship correctly.

* Steven Nemes, On the Priority of Tradition: An Exercise in Analytic Theology

* An interview with Emmanuel Falque on phenomenology and the body of Christ

* Bethany Barnes, Targeted: A Family and the Quest to Stop the Next School Shooter, at The Oregonian, looks into a school board's harassment of an autistic student because they thought he showed warning signs of being a possible school shooter.

* Colin Chamberlain, A Bodily Sense of Self in Descartes and Malebranche

* Christopher M.P. Tomaszewski, Intentionality as Partial Identity

* Srecko Kovac, On causality as the fundamental concept of Gödel's philosophy

* Robert P. George and Patrick Lee, Acorns and Embryos

* Vincent Garton, Catholicism and the Gravity of Horror, at Jacobite

Currently Reading

Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth
John C. Wright, The Golden Transcendence
Kathrin Koslicki, The Structure of Objects
Edmund Husserl, Ideas

Thursday, July 05, 2018

A Quick Trip to Scotland, Part VI

From Inverness we went down to Loch Ness. The sun was still bright.

Loch Ness, which fills Glen More, the Great Glen of Scotland, is one of the big lakes of Scotland. It is not the longest lake (that is Loch Lomond), nor is it the deepest lake (that is Lake Morar), but it is long and deep (it is in fact the second longest and the second deepest), and because of this it is the lake with the largest volume of water. There is so much water in Loch Ness that if you took all of the rivers and lakes of England and Wales combined, you could not find enough water to fill Loch Ness.

It's very interesting being out on the water, because as soon as you get away from the shore, the water is pitch black. It is like boating on a lake of ink. The reason for this is that the soil all around the loch is peaty. The obscurity of the waters no doubt helped to support the Loch Ness legend; you can easily imagine a deep, black lake to be hiding all sorts of things, and can easily take a wave effect to suggest something stirring below the surface. While there is a story from the sixth century of St. Columba facing down a water monster somewhere in the River Ness, the stories of the Loch Ness Monster really only get started in the 1930s, and have since, of course, been just part and parcel of the tourism of the lake, with plenty of people hoping to see something Nessie-like. The legend has probably also been helped by the tendency of debunkers to flail around in proposing alternatives.

And we came to Urquhart Castle, on the western shore, east of Drumnadrochit.

Urquhart Castle was a very large castle in its day. The castle ruins mostly date from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but there is evidence of various fortifications at the location that goes back to the eleventh century at least. It is often thought that the fortress of Bridei, King of the Picts, who was visited and converted by St. Columba, was here, but it seems much more likely that this would have been closer to Inverness. By the early sixteenth century, the castle that had been there was falling into disrepair, so King James IV gave the castle to John Grant of Freuchie on the condition that he rebuild and repair it. This turned out to be more difficult than one might think, because it was a prime target for the MacDonalds, who at the time saw themselves as independent 'Lords of the Isles' and were not on good terms with the King of Scotland. There were several battles over who would control Urquhart Castle, with the possession seesawing back and forth precariously between the MacDonalds and the Grants. The last big fight was the Great Raid of 1545, when the MacDonalds sacked the castle and stripped it bare, but were unable to hold it. The Grants finally had a chance to rebuild and develop the castle. The very noticeable tower was built, essentially as the living quarters of the lord and lady of the castle. However, the fortunes of the Grants had also considerably improved, with the result that they were only at the castle occasionally.

They have a trebuchet on display, which was rather neat:

When England unilaterally attempted to depose James VII of Scotland and II of England and Ireland, the Grants were one of the Scottish families that sided with William of Orange, and garrisoned the castle against the Jacobites. The castle was besieged, but as it was well provisioned, it endured; the siege was lifted when the main Jacobite army was defeated at the Battle of Cromdale in 1690. But the siege convinced the Grants that the castle could too easily fall into Jacobite hands, so they moved everything out, packed it with barrels of gunpowder, and blew it up. The tower mostly survived the gunpowder explosion, but time and storms would eventual break it down to the ruin it is now.

And after our morning at Loch Ness, we went back to Inverness and took a train to Glasgow. I confess we were in some ways rather disappointed with Glasgow. Everything suggests it is a friendly and sociable place, but it was also remarkably drab and dirty. Most elsewhere in Scotland, we saw very little litter beyond cigarette butts (the amount of smoking in Scotland is remarkable). Perhaps it's just the size, or the fact that it doesn't have a clear and definite 'tourist area' the way many European cities, or perhaps the Glaswegians just have other things on their mind; I don't know.

Glasgow is not as famous as Edinburgh for its sights, but one of the notable spaces there is George Square, the main square, which was laid out as part of the New Town that was built in the late eighteenth century. The name comes from the same flattering practice that gave the names to the streets in Edinburgh's New Town; it was named for George III. It's a nice square, with an excellent collection of statues. (These are actually from the next day. We were mostly in Glasgow itself in the evenings, as you can see from the difficulty I started having in getting enough light in the perhaps fifteen minutes I was there.)

The pillar is a monument to Sir Walter Scott. The original plan had been to put a statue of George III in the middle, but the loss of the American colonies and the King's growing madness rather soured his name among the very practical-minded merchants of Glasgow, who made their fortunes by trading across the Atlantic. Eventually they decided Scott would do, and it became the first public monument for the writer. Here it rises behind a statue of Gladstone:

The Cenotaph at one end, dedicated to Glaswegians who fell in World War I:

Looking from across the other end:

One of the things that struck me about both Edinburgh and Glasgow was the sensibly relaxed attitude to public monuments: the monuments don't just stand there, but people congregate around them, using them as meeting places, and the like, which is exactly as it should be.

The reason we were in Glasgow, however, was not Glasgow itself; we had wanted to do a Highland tour, and it was actually just more practical to do it from Glasgow than Edinburgh. That's what we would do the day after our arrival in the largest city in Scotland.

to be continued

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Civil Liberty and Virtue

It is a truth of no little importance to us in our present situation, not only that the manners of a people are of consequence to the liability of every civil society, but that they are of much more consequence to free states, than to those of a different kind. In many of these last, a principle of honour, and the subordination of ranks, with the vigour of despotic authority, supply the place of virtue, by retraining irregularities and producing public order. But in free states, where the host of the people have the supreme power properly in their own hands, and must be ultimately resorted to on all great matters, if there be a general corruption of manners, there can be nothing but confusion. So true is this, that civil liberty cannot be long preserved without virtue. A monarchy may subsist for ages, and be better or worse under a good or bad prince; but a republic once equally poised, must either preserve its virtue or lose its liberty, and by some tumultuous revolution, either return to its first principles, or assume a more unhappy form.

[John Witherspoon, Sermons on Interesting Subjects, Sermon XXIII: Delivered at a public thanksgiving after peace, The Works of John Witherspoon, Volume 5, J. Ogle (Edinburgh: 1815) p. 266.]

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Witherspoon on Hume's Moral Theory

Tucked away in one of his theological works, An Essay on Justification, John Witherspoon (best known as one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence) has an interesting footnote on David Hume:

There is one late writer, David Hume, Esq. who, it must be confessed, hath excelled all that went before him in an extraordinary account of the nature of virtue. I have taken no notice above of his principles, if they may be called so, because I think both him and them worthy of the highest contempt; and would have disdain'd to have made mention of his name, but that it affords me an opportunity of expressing my sense of the wrong measures taken by many worthy and able men, who, in sermons and other discourses, give grave and serious answers to his writings.

In essence, Witherspoon thinks Hume's moral theory reduces itself to absurdity:

As to himself, that man must be beyond the reach of conviction by reasoning, who is capable of such an insult upon reason itself, and human nature, as to rank all natural advantages, mental and corporeal, among the virtues, and their contraries among the vices. Thus he hath expressly named wit, genius, health, cleanliness, taper legs, and broad shoulders among his virtues; diseases he also makes vices; and consistently enough, indeed, takes notice of the infectious nature of some diseases, which, I suppose, he reckons an aggravation of the crime.

This is an often-overlooked feature of Hume's account of virtues, which assigns virtues in terms of both immediate pleasure and utility. He discusses wit, genius, and cleanliness in 3.3.4 as natural abilities, but also denies that there is a clear distinction between natural abilities and natural virtues. He explicitly lists "[b]road shoulders, a lank belly, firm joints, taper legs" as natural virtues for men in Treatise 3.3.5, and also mentions "an air of health" in the same way (with "a sickly air" as its opposite). Witherspoon is arguably not being fair on the infection point; the disease that Hume mentions as infectious (in a completely different part of the Treatise) is "the itch" -- that is, scabies. On the other hand, the reason Hume gives for our being ashamed of such diseases is that they "are either dangerous or disagreeable" to the people who have them (Treatise 2.1.9), which could be read as putting it in a category of natural vice, on Hume's account of how vice is to be understood.

Witherspoon takes this all to be obviously absurd, and continues:

And, as to mankind in general, if they were at that pass as to need a refutation of such nonsense, as well as impiety, it would be in vain to reason with them at all. If I were to contrive an answer to this writer, it would be a visible, instead of a legible answer: it would be to employ a painter to make a portrait of him from the life; to encompass him with a few hieroglyphics, which it would not be difficult to devise; to inscribe upon his breast these words, HEALTH, CLEANLINESS, and BROAD SHOULDERS; and put the following sentence in his mouth, which he hath adopted from a French author, "FEMALE INFIDELITY when it is known is a small matter, and when it is not known, is nothing." This would be very proper when applied to his writings, who, as well as his friend and coadjutor without a name, makes "our most important reasonings upon many subjects to rest ultimately upon sense and feeling."

The "friend and coadjutor without a name" is Henry Home, Lord Kames, and the quotation is from Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion, which itself criticizes Hume's Treatise extensively (although Home was indeed Hume's friend). Witherspoon is primarily satirizing the notion of immortalizing a person for their health, cleanliness, and broad shoulders, but there may be a sharper bite here, as well, if one thinks of this in terms of this engraving of Hume, which Witherspoon possibly could have seen (I believe it is found in the History in 1754; the essay on justification was first published in 1756):

David Hume 1754

Imagine 'Health, Cleanliness, Broad Shoulders' blazoned as a eulogy on that.

The French author is La Fontaine; Hume quotes it in "A Dialogue" as part of a broader notion that female chastity is treated as a virtue because it is taken to have public utility. Hume's position is arguably more sophisticated than is attributed to him, on this topic, at least, but if you look at criticisms by other people of Hume's account of morals, this exact point is a common objection, and Witherspoon is very far from being the only person pitched to sarcasm by it.

Witherspoon ends the footnote by dismissing people who think he should be nicer about a matter like this.

It is probable some over delicate persons will think this is not treating him with sufficient decency; but till there be a plan agreed upon, of the measures of decency due from infidels to Christians, and from Christians to infidels, whether he does not deserve far worse treatment from any who believes the gospel, I leave to the judgment of those who will read his writings.

This is not the only place that this criticism of Hume comes up; he mentions it again, with less sarcasm but more dismissal, in his moral philosophy lectures, and a couple of other places, but this is the passage where he develops the point most.

Voyages Extraordinaires #16: Les Indes noires

To Mr. F. R. Starr, Engineer, 30 Canongate, Edinburgh.

If Mr. James Starr will come to-morrow to the Aberfoyle coal-mines, Dochart pit, Yarrow shaft, a communication of an interesting nature will be made to him.

“Mr. James Starr will be awaited for, the whole day, at the Callander station, by Harry Ford, son of the old overman Simon Ford.”

“He is requested to keep this invitation secret.”

Such was the letter which James Starr received by the first post, on the 3rd December, 18—, the letter bearing the Aberfoyle postmark, county of Stirling, Scotland.

The Indies are a symbol for an extraordinary source of wealth and prosperity; 'Black Indies' is a vast resource of coal. Historically the phrase seems to have been used for Newcastle upon Tyne and the surrounding area. Verne, however, is using the phrase more generically, since The Black Indies (a.k.a. The Underground City, a.k.a. The Child of the Cavern, a.k.a. Black Diamonds) takes place near Aberfoyle, Scotland. Aberfoyle was only ever known for tin, not coal, but it's very clear that Verne has chosen his impossible location for a coal mine deliberately. Since most of Verne's novels are structured on an itinerary of interesting places to see and visit, I suspect he mostly just wanted a story in the Trossachs of Scotland, and it merged with an independent story idea about a city in a coal mine, without regard for geology. It actually works; Verne is drawing on Scottish folklore and Sir Walter Scott to give a fairy-tale spirit of romance to Coal City, a sense of the fantastic in the modern-day. It blends beautifully as tale.

James Starr, the former engineer for the now-defunct Aberfoyle coal mines, receives a mysterious letter from a former foreman in the mine, Simon Ford, asking him to come to the coal-mines; then, shortly afterward, a different message telling him not come. His curiosity piqued, he vists the mine, where he finds Simon Ford and his family, including Ford's son Harry, living in a cottage in the mine. As Star expected, Ford had discovered a new seam of coal, and together they put the mine back in motion, and a city grows up within the mine itself, Coal City. But there are many strange things happening in the mine; they discover a mysterious girl, Nell, and people have had experiences of a great winged thing flapping about, and there is evidence that there is someone in the caverns connecting to the mines who is hostile to their entire project. Can Harry and Nell win through to a marriage? What malice flies through the caverns and above the underground lake of Loch Malcolm? Can Coal City survive the trials of water and fire that will be unleashed by the King of Darkness and Flame? You'll have to read to see.

Monday, July 02, 2018

A Quick Trip to Scotland, Part V

We headed out by train for Inverness. The Firth of Forth from the Forth Rail Bridge:

Somewhere in Cairngorms National Park, I believe:

Inbhir Nis means the Mouth of the Ness. One of the tricks to getting the right pronunciation to many Scottish place name is recognizing that many of them are Anglicized versions of Gaelic phrases, and despite being squished together they are still pronounced like they are broken up. Thus 'Inverness' is pronounced like two words, Inver-Ness. Inverness, 'the Capital of the Highlands', is, as the name suggests, on the River Ness. It is famous for Inverness Castle:

There has been a castle on the location for a very long time, but the current picturesque sandstone castle was built in 1836 by the architect William Burn. It's currently government offices, so you can't go into most of it; I think they recently opened the North Tower to the public at certain times, but we didn't even look into that.

The famous Flora MacDonald statue in front, by Andrew Davidson, was erected in 1896. Flora MacDonald, of course, was the person who risked her life to help Bonnie Prince Charlie escape by dressing him up as a maidservant. She earned time in the Tower of London for that, but it was a short stint, and she was pardoned in the Act of Indemnity in 1747. Samuel Johnson met her in 1773 and was favorably impressed by her. (The best known account of the escape of the Prince is Boswell's, drawing on what MacDonald told Johnson and other sources available to him.) The statue has a quotation from Johnson, in fact. She and her husband, who were poor, went to North Carolina to try their fortunes, but the timing was not good; her husband fought for the British in the Revolution and was captured and held as a prisoner of war, while their farm was destroyed and they lost pretty much everything. They returned to Scotland in 1779.

From the castle we walked along the River Ness to the Ness Islands and back on the other side of the river. It was a splendid day.

The Faith, Hope, and Charity statue was also by Andrew Davidson, originally designed to decorate the top of a YMCA building.

A World War I memorial:

It's a very nice walk. The Highland Council is apparently working up a project to introduce more riverside art. Most of the proposals look rather awful, so we can all look forward to artists ruining yet more scenery. It's not usually possible for even the most resolute artists to be unrelentingly bad, so perhaps something good will come of it. The local community has apparently already nixed various attempts to force certain artworks on them, too, so who knows? Perhaps the unlikely will happen and local sensibility for what will actually work in the community will win out over people who like weird ideas that work only on paper.

Across the river from the castle to the northwest is St. Mary's. Our Lady of the Annunciation was the first Catholic church to be built after Catholic Emancipation, opening in 1837. St. Mary MacKillop, while born in Australia, came from an Inverness-shire family, so when she was fundraising for her schools, she went to a number of churches throughout Inverness-shire, including St. Mary's.

And that was a day.

to be continued

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Immediate Book Meme

(ht: The Darwins)

There are plenty of memes that want to know all about your book history and your all-time greats and your grand ambitions, but let's focus on something more revealing: the books you're actually reading now, or just read, or are about to read. Let's call it The Immediate Book Meme.

1. What book are you reading now?

Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth
Jules Verne, The Underground City
I am reading through Verne this year; Journey is the Fortnightly Book, and I'll have a note up sometime this next week about The Underground City.

David Daube, Law and Wisdom in the Bible
The second volume of his Gifford Lectures, as part of my long-term project of Gifford Lecture reading.

Kathrin Koslicki, The Structure of Objects
Only just started this.

John C. Wright, Titans of Chaos

2. What book did you just finish?

Mary Hesse, Forces and Fields
David Daube, The Deed and the Doer in the Bible
John C. Wright, Fugitives of Chaos
John C. Wright, Orphans of Chaos

Michael Flynn, In the Country of the Blind
I read this one pretty much every year.

3. What do you plan to read next?

Lady Mary Shepherd, Essays on the Perception of an External Universe
Edith Stein, Potency and Act
Pierre Hadot, The Inner Citadel
These will be re-reads.

Frederick Douglass, Autobiography
Booker T. Washingtom, Up from Slavery
These will probably be the next Fortnightly Book, unless something cuts in line in front of them.

4. What book do you keep meaning to finish?

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John
Xunzi: The Complete Text

The Thousand and One Arabian Nights
I did Volumes 1 and 2 for the Fortnightly Book, and have been waiting for a good time to do Volume 3.

5. What book do you keep meaning to start?

Lady Mary Shepherd, Essays on the Perception of an External Universe
Henrik Ibsen, Three Plays
Edmund Husserl, Idea

6. What is your current reading trend?

Of course, as noted above, I'm reading Verne this year; I have been reading more Scotland-related works because of my trip to Scotland; I have been reading quite a bit of Rosmini's moral and legal philosophy, although I'm in a slight pause on that; and my philosophical reading has slowly been spiraling back to things at least marginally related to the topic of the external world.