Weblog about culture ca. 1900

The Louis Couperus Society has a very active Dutch weblog about culture from around 1900 CE.

Wells on evolution of mankind

Ends one essay:

Will he go on shrinking, I wonder?–become at last a mere lurking atomy in his own recesses, a kind of hermit crab, the bulk of him a complex mechanism, a thing of rags and tatters and papier-maché, stolen from the earth and the plant-world and his fellow beasts?

And at last may he not disappear altogether, none missing him, and a democracy of honest machinery, neatly clad and loaded up with sound principles of action, walk to and fro in a regenerate world? Thus it was my mind went dreaming in St. George’s Hall. But presently, as I say, came the last word about stomachs, and the bald men woke up, rattled their umbrellas, said it was vastly interesting, and went toddling off home in an ecstasy of advanced Liberalism. And we two returned to the place whence we came.

And begins another:

Of a Book Unwritten

Accomplished literature is all very well in its way, no doubt, but much more fascinating to the contemplative man are the books that have not been written. These latter are no trouble to hold; there are no pages to turn over. One can read them in bed on sleepless nights without a candle. Turning to another topic, primitive man in the works of the descriptive anthropologist is certainly a very entertaining and quaint person, but the man of the future, if we only had the facts, would appeal to us more strongly. Yet where are the books? As Ruskin has said somewhere, à propos of Darwin, it is not what man has been, but what he will be, that should interest us.

Hey, that’s almost as if he’s talking about e-books!

Here. I’ve linked to it before. And before. And beforer.

Now proofreading: Woutertje Pieterse

Met myn zwaard.
Op m’n paard.
En myn helm op het hoofd.
Er op in! En den vyand den schedel gekloofd,
En vooruit!

Read the rest of this entry »

Tolstoy on teaching history

III. The first history lesson

In the first lesson I intended to explain what makes Russia differ from other countries, on what it borders and how it is governed. I wanted to tell who ruled at the moment and when the Czar had ascended the throne.

Read the rest of this entry »

Today’s harvest

For this, our national and rather outdoorsy holiday, rain had been predicted. But although it was very windy, and at times chilly, there was sunshine most of the day.

I acquired 20 books (that’s approximately 160 square meter or 1600 square feet of pages); 11 for myself, 7 for Project Gutenberg, and 2 for a friend. The books weigh over 6 kg, and include 4 comics. I’ve paid 11 euro for 16 of them; 4 came at the end of the day and were free.

No real finds, although I will be glad to re-acquaint myself with Lord of the Flies, a book I like despite the fact that it was an obligatory read in high school.

To read: In het rijk van Vulcaan


Edit: OK, let’s translate a bit. The title means In Vulcan’s Empire, and the subtitle, De Uitbarsting van Krakatau en hare Gevolgen means The Eruption of the Krakatoa and its Consequences.

But from Java’s mountains death shows you its grin more eloquently; it is not the death of the far future, when the ice queen will have conquered even the jungle, but death as it arrives on the battlefield, suddenly, by enemy fire. Because Java is one huge artillery park.

They are not just mountains as they rise from the earth, spread over the entire island, but also active volcanoes. Fifty firebreathing mountains aim their peaks at the sky, all recognisable by that peculiar shape that is unique to volcanoes. You can go nowhere on Java without being covered by these mortars. This is Vulcan’s empire. Java is only four times the size of the Netherlands. Imagine the consequence: imagine that the Netherlands had seven active volcanoes!

Authoring hatred

“In rejecting hatred I should have shown myself a traitor to love.”

Belgian literary Nobel Prize winner Maurice Maeterlinck in his 1916 preface to his collection of essays “The Wrack of the Storm“, on why he cannot write objectively about Germans while they are defiling his country.

Responses to E.C. digital libraries consultation

The responses to the European Commission’s consultation on digital libraries (and related subjects such as orphan works) have been posted on its website. Among the respondents are libraries, museums, accessibility groups, publishers, software houses, and private persons such as li’l ole me.

Bad Medicine

Another story I was going to read over Christmas was Robert Sheckley’s Bad Medicine, from which I quoted the beginning:

On May 2, 2103, Elwood Caswell walked rapidly down Broadway with a loaded revolver hidden in his coat pocket. He didn’t want to use the weapon, but feared he might anyhow. This was a justifiable assumption, for Caswell was a homicidal maniac.

Sheckley writes lovely mild satire. It just happens to take place in the future. I don’t quite get the comparison with Douglas Adams, except that they are both science fiction authors who use humour. I’d compare Sheckley (just on the basis of this one story, mind!) with other satiricists, such as Ephraïm Kishon.

The story is about a homicidal jet-bus driver who represses his tendencies by robot-therapy sessions. Accidentally, he receives a robot that is pre-set to treat Martian conditions…

Definitely got me interested in his other works, several of which he published at Scifiction Magazine, a magazine closed down by its corporate owners, the infamous SciFi Channel. At the time of writing, their archives are still open though.

Bad Medicine by Robert Sheckley, 7/10. Reviewed by Branko Collin on February 22, 2006.

(There is also a human-read (by Sheckley?) audio book version of the story.)

Edit 4 June 2006: adapted this review to the hReview microformat.

Four Max Carrados Detective Stories

As I wrote earlier, I was going to read Bramah and Sheckley over Christmas, which I have. I also suggested that Bramah’s Kai Lung may have influenced Terry Pratchett; but I read a book from that other series of Ernest Bramah, so I won’t be able to compare the authors. Yet.

Max Carrados is yet another soldier in that large army of super-detectives that was so popular during the late 19th and early 20th century: Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown, Hercule Poirot, The Thinking Machine, Bill Clifford, and of course the granddaddy of them all, Dupin.

The four Carrados stories are neither better nor worse than their contemporaries. If anything, the story type is starting to grate a little. Still, great escapist stuff.

Max Carrados is, like Poirot and Holmes claim to be, a consulting detective. They listen to your story, and then, solely based on what you told them, the mud on the gold watch you inherited from your father and the fact that the queen’s stable boy has a cold, solve your “case” using nothing but deduction. Carrados is “aided,” so to speak, by his losing sight in his younger years, sharpening his deductive facilities. (Father Brown’s deductive facilities are aided by extreme bigotry.)

Ernest Bramah, Four Max Carrados Detective Stories, 6/10.

(Bill Clifford, by the way, is like Sherlock Holmes a parody of these types of detectives, written by Dutchman Godfried Bomans, and unfortunately won’t return to the public domain for a long time to come.)