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Blue, the History of a Color

Dr Jesse Russell reviews Michel Pastoureau’s Blue: The History of a Color in the Claremont Review of Books:

French historian Michel Pastoureau, whose Blue: The History of a Color has just been released to English-speaking audiences, is one of our age’s great librarians of civilization. On its surface, Blue is a dull exercise in scholarly record keeping—but in fact, it is an exhilarating and richly informing book on how the European peoples from the Iron Age until today have decorated themselves and their cultural artefacts with the color blue.  

Pastoureau argues that the color blue is both a naturally occurring phenomenon and a complex cultural construct which is “first and foremost a social phenomenon.” His impressive scholarly narrative does not fall prey to postmodernism’s worse excesses; Blue offers a coherent raison d’être behind Western history, no matter how that story is colored.

Browsing the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

I’ve made my peace with this world of electronic books—I think I’m glad not to have two hundred pounds of encyclopedia sitting on a shelf awaiting an occasional analog read.  I’ll regret not having it when our infrastructure collapses, though.  Anyways, there I was last night idly browsing Project Gutenberg’s 1911 EB when I read about the indomitable Isabella Bird Bishop, a Victorian travel writer.

Here’s a Bird bibliography from John Mark Ockerbloom’s Online Books Page, featuring such classics as Among the Tibetans, Korea and Her Neighbors, Unbeaten Tracks in Japan, and Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan, volumes one and two.

Lake Tahoe, 1873

From Isabella Bird’s epistolary A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains:

I have found a dream of beauty at which one might look all one’s life and sigh. Not lovable, like the Sandwich Islands, but beautiful in its own way! A strictly North American beauty—snow-splotched mountains, huge pines, red-woods, sugar pines, silver spruce; a crystalline atmosphere, waves of the richest color; and a pine-hung lake which mirrors all beauty on its surface. Lake Tahoe is before me, a sheet of water twenty-two miles long by ten broad, and in some places 1,700 feet deep. It lies at a height of 6,000 feet, and the snow-crowned summits which wall it in are from 8,000 to 11,000 feet in altitude. The air is keen and elastic. There is no sound but the distant and slightly musical ring of the lumberer’s axe.

On blogging again

While reading Geekpriest I realized that I consume huge amounts of digital information every day, stuff that goes in and builds up my understanding of everything.  I may as well start blogging again about that sort of thing, like I did years ago.


So I’m reading Geekpriest for the parish book club’s meeting this Tuesday.  Roderick Vonhögen is a Dutch priest, a new-media pioneer and a real geek. He’s a smooth and entertaining writer, and I think he’s actually got me blogging again (at least this one post so far).  The astounding thing about his podcasts is that aside from an occasional shading on a vowel or a too-precise hard consonant, he has a perfect American accent.

Unfortunately, I don’t take in information aurally—a podcast just becomes a bunch of noise after a few moments when my mind starts wandering.  But for those who are into that sort of thing, he’s worth listening to.

Annie Dillard on how we spend our days

I found this a must-read:  An excerpt:

There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life. A day that closely resembles every other day of the past ten or twenty years does not suggest itself as a good one. But who would not call Pasteur’s life a good one, or Thomas Mann’s?

Our house has a history

I stumbled over some clues here this weekend, and subsequent googling led to the new Abraham Lincoln presidential library in Springfield, where the papers of William G. Cloyd and Bryan Wilson, our house’s first two owners, are stored.

The house was built for/by Judge Cloyd, who with his wife Lillian McKinney Cloyd raised six children, one of whom, Margaret Mary, married Bryan Wilson, a lawyer from St. Louis.  Mr. and Mrs. Wilson moved into her childhood home in Bement and lived here until their deaths in the mid-1970s.  The house was vacant and decaying until 1979, when Ron and Dee Mulvaney bought it and spent 25 years fixing up the place and raising their children.  We bought the house from them in January 2004.

So now we need to plan a trip to Springfield to look through the Cloyd/Wilson papers.

If you’re related to the Cloyds or Wilsons or know something about their house, please leave a comment below.

Updates as I find them:

An 1891 biographical notice about William G. Cloyd:

William G. Cloyd. The legal profession is constantly attracting to it men of ability and shrewdness, gifted with eloquence and a deep insight to technicalities and obscure points of the law. The bar of Piatt County numbers among its most talented representatives Judge Cloyd, whose title was fairly earned by long and honorable service as judge of this county. He was born in Kenton County, Ky., Oct. 5, 1848, and was only four years old when he was taken by his parents to Pike County, Mo. There he passed his youth, receiving a common-school education and coming thence in June, 1865 to Decatur, Ill., where for about four years he was engaged in teaching.

In 1869 Mr. Cloyd began the study of the law and two years later was admitted to practice at the bar. Locating in Bement, he has since been a resident of this thriving city and has been deeply interested in its progress. In June, 1879, he was elected Judge of Piatt County, to fill a vacancy caused by the death of Judge William McReynolds. That he filled the position to the satisfaction of the people is shown by the fact that he was re-elected in November, 1882, and served until 1887, being an incumbent of the office about seven and one-half years. Politically, he is a strong Democrat, and is prominent in the ranks of that party. Sine he retired from the judgeship he has devoted his time and attention almost exclusively to the legal profession and his eminent ability in that direction is widely recognized.

The marriage of Judge Cloyd and Miss Lillian McKinny, daughter of the late I. R. McKinny, was solemnized in Monticello, this state, and of their happy union two children have been born – Candace and Walter. Mr. and Mrs. Cloyd are highly esteemed throughout the community where they reside and by their social and benevolent dispositions have become endeared to all who know them.

Tenderness without the source of tenderness

Flannery O’Connor, from her introduction to A Memoir of Mary Ann; also published in Robert & Sally Fitzgerald’s collection of her prose, Mystery and Manners.

One of the tendencies of our age is to use the suffering of children to discredit the goodness of God, and once you have discredited His goodness, you are done with Him. The Aylmers whom Hawthorne saw as a menace have multiplied. Busy cutting down human imperfection, they are making headway also on the raw material of the good. Ivan Karamozov cannot believe, as long as one child is in torment; Camus’ hero cannot accept the divinity of Christ, because of the massacre of the innocents. In this popular pity, we mark our gain in sensibility and our loss in vision. If other ages felt less, they saw more, even though they saw with the blind, prophetical, unsentimental eye of acceptance, which is to say faith. In the absence of this faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long since cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced-labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber.