EB Odds & Ends

A Newsletter of Eagles Byte Historic Research
March 1998 No. 29

The intended subject for this March issue turned out to be much more elusive than I expected and will end up being the April article. Meanwhile, so there will be a March issue (just barely), I am adapting a recent series of my radio scripts for the following article. I'm also beginning a new FEEDBACK section for your comments on the newsletters and articles. You'll find it below.

MMG 101, 102, 103

"I am the very model of a modern Major-General."

You may have heard those words from Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance before. For those of you who haven't, the first part of the lyrics follows:

GENERAL: I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;
I'm very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o' news,
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

ALL: With many cheerful facts, etc.

GENERAL: I'm very good at integral and differential calculus;
I know the scientific names of beings animalculous:
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

ALL: In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
He is the very model of a modern Major-General.

GENERAL: I know our mythic history, King Arthur's and Sir Caradoc's;
I answer hard acrostics, I've a pretty taste for paradox,
I quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus,
In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous;
I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dows and Zoffanies,
I know the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes!
Then I can hum a fugue of which I've heard the music's din afore,
And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore .

ALL: And whistle all the airs, etc.

GENERAL: Then I can write a washing bill in Babylonic cuneiform,
And tell you ev'ry detail of Caractacus's uniform:
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

ALL: In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
He is the very model of a modern Major-General.

Now, test yourself. Do you have the necessary knowledge to qualify for the post of modern major-general, at least as it existed in Victorian and Edwardian times? No? Well perhaps its time for a brush-up. We'll skip a few of the more arcane pieces of knowledge, particularly the math. There'll be no "equations, both the simple and quadratical"; no "binomial theorem...with many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse." We'll also have none of the "integral and differential calculus", or "scientific names of beings animalculous." In other words, the boring bits. (Sorry math nerds). Count your blessings.

Let's turn instead to another section of this military braggadocio. The MMG goes on to state, "I know our mythic history, King Arthur's and Sir Caradoc's." We're most of us quite familiar with the myriad tales, legends, musicals and theories about King Arthur. But who is this Caradoc. He must have been chosen by William S. Gilbert for some other reason than to just rhyme with "paradox."

Actually, the rhyme proves to be rather apt. For there seem to be more than one Caradoc. Number One is the Welsh saint, who died in the year 1124. Onetime harp-player to King Rhys, prince of South Wales, one of the early Tudor clan, he was dismissed for losing one of the prince's favorite greyhounds (doggone!). He went off to serve the Bishop at Llandaff, in today's Cardiff, where he became a hermit, eventually ending his days on an island off the Pembroke coast. He was never formally canonized, in spite of the intervention of the chronicler Gerald of Wales.

Caradoc Number Two turns up in the royal line of the Kings of Brittany in the fifth century. Number Three is the twelfth-century historian Caradoc of Lancaruan, who wrote a History of Cambria and a Life of Gildas , another British monk-historian. In the latter work Caradoc becomes one of the first writers to introduce Guinevere into the Arthurian legends.

Confusing? But hold. There's a Number Four. It turns out that the name Caradoc is a Celtic form of the Roman name Caractacus. Caractacus is almost as much of a legend as Arthur. A British chieftain, he fought the Romans around 48 to 51 AD, until being captured, hauled off to Rome and executed.

Helio Dolly

Class, be seated! It's time for the next session. Our modern model tells us, "I quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus." Helio-who?

Attend. If you're well-grounded in the classics you may remember (I didn't) that Julia Maesa, maternal aunt of the emperor Caracalla, had her 14-year-old grandson Varius Avitus named emperor in 218 A. D. His mother was apparently no better than she should be, to use a old fashioned expression, and it was rumored that the boy was named Varius because a number of candidates could be considered as the boy's father. When Caracalla was murdered, Julia and Varius hied themselves off to western Syria, where he was soon appointed high priest of the god Elagabalus, a.k.a. Heliogabalus, the boy's new name. Several weeks after his appointment, Caracalla's killer-successor Macrimus was defeated near Antioch (in today's Turkey) and Julia had her grandson declared emperor.

He returned to Rome, had his Syrian god declared chief deity, and launched his own reign. What of the aforementioned "crimes"? The Encyclopedia Britannica of 1911 delicately refers to "horseplay of the wildest description and...childish practical joking." Not to mention, "shameless profligacy...to shock even a Roman public." Don't ask!

We'll maintain some of the encyclopedia's delicacy - this is a family zine - but apart from personal depravity, Varius, now known as Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, had no trouble offending vast numbers of people. He did make an attempt to get women involved in politics, sort of, allowing a woman on the floor of the Senate for the first time. It was his mother; that may have added to the insult. He established a women's senate, which immediately passed laws governing matrons in such weighty matters of state as who might wear gold or jewels on their shoes. He removed holy shrines, sold political offices, tortured and sacrificed human victims - much the usual catalogue of imperial Roman vices. How much of this is reputable documented fact, and how much is the product of political enemies and those who would write for supermarket tabloids today? It's probably impossible to know. Suffice it to say, Heliogabalus was about as popular as ten plagues.

He eventually made the ultimate mistake; he meddled with the military. They turned on him, murdering him in a latrine where he was hiding, dragging his body around the Forum and throwing the weighted corpse into the Tiber. Sic semper tyrannis.

That Infernal Nonsense

Let it not be said that dramatist William S. Gilbert, who poked good natured fun at almost everything else, couldn't target himself and partner Sir Arthur Sullivan.

"Then I can hum a fugue of which I've heard the music's din afore,
And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore."

We know what he's referring to when he mentions Pinafore. But who were Gerard Dow and Zoffanies. I'm glad I asked. I'll tell you. (That was about as subtle as a song cue.)

Gerard, or Gerhard Dow (or Douw) was a Dutch painter, born in Leyden on April 7, 1613. By the time he was fifteen, Dow had been apprenticed in painting on glass and engraving. He spent the next three years studying with the painter Rembrandt. His own early works were very much in the style of the Flemish master, but he soon developed his own style, probably a 17th century version of an Andrew Wyeth, for his paintings were described as displaying, "all the details...down to the most trivial." Not being able to obtain brushes fine enough for his purpose, he manufactured his own. It's said he spent five days painting a single human hand. Models soon became scarce - no one could sit still long enough. No one could touch him when it came to painting scenes lit by candles or lanterns, such as in The Evening School . Dow's paintings brought high prices and the president of the Hague paid him a thousand florins a year for the right of first refusal. Dow died in 1680.

Johann Zoffany was born in Frankfort-on-Main in 1753, to the architect of the prince of Thurn and Taxis (in Bavaria). Running away from home at the age of thirteen, Johann made his way to Rome, where he studied painting for the next dozen years before making his way to England in 1758. He struggled for a few years before royal commissions from George III and Empress Maria Theresa put him on the map. Speaking of the map, Zoffany was all over it. After spending time in Austria and once again in Italy, he traveled to India, where he painted for three years before returning to England, dying there in 1810. Dow and Zoffany certainly give the lie to the stereotype of the starving artist dying in poverty.

The stereotype of the ignorant military man also bites the dust. Just think of all the wonderfully obscure facts our man keeps under his kepi. If he were alive today he'd probably go on Jeopardy! Now you can, too.


Last month's piece on Frederick McKinley Jones and refrigeration elicited the following memories from several of our Odds & Enders.

Edith Lank wrote:

My family lived at the head of Keuka Lake, and the ice house was about a quarter-mile east of us, on the shore. As a child I did see them cutting ice and transferring it into the ice house. Right after the second world war the building was converted into deepfreeze lockers. I remember my husband ran into a farmer who was selling dressed chickens for $1 apiece and we took a locker and stored a few dozen there...it wasn't long, of course, before everyone had at the least a refrigerator with a frozen food compartment and that was the end of that.

And from Ralph Raimi:

I was born in Detroit in 1924 and lived with an icebox in the house until at least 1934 though by then several of our relatives had refrigerators. I'm not entirely sure we had a refrigerator even in 1934, though that was the year when we moved to a considerably posher neighborhood. Even if we did have one, icemen still made the rounds of our neighborhood, even as did the milkman and the postman.

The iceman's truck was a covered van and had many thick blankets of padded material separating the layers and blocks of ice, which were divided into pieces of fifty or a hundred pounds with notches in some of the edges to show where to divide them if the customer wanted a 25 pound piece. A couple of stabs with an ice pick would split a block of ice very close to halves, so that people didn't worry about weighing them when they bought them. You could go out in the street and buy one, or you could have them delivered on a route like newspapers. The iceman would pick up a block with a tool that looked like a giant calipers but was designed to snag the ice, not measure it; he would sling it over his shoulder, holding on to a chain or rope attached to the hinge of the calipers, and bring it into the house and put it in the icebox. He had a padded cloth on his shoulder, something like what a violinist might have to protect his neck but bigger. There was space for 50 pounds in most iceboxes, but I suppose larger ones could hold 100. Since ice melted at different rates according to the season, and the usage of the icebox, one couldn't be sure how many pounds would be needed each day (or perhaps three times a week, or four -- I can't remember what the schedule for regular delivery customarily was). Each house on the route therefore had a square white card, about ten inches square, marked on each edge with one of the numerals 25, 50, 75, or 100. We would place the card in the front window of the house with the number of pounds desired that day in the uppermost position, so that the iceman could see from the street how many pounds we wanted, and thereby save a trip. Since the lady of the house was always home, or made it her business to be there at about the scheduled arrival time of the iceman, there was no problem about delivery. (The same was true of groceries and things from department stores. Before 1934, and later, too, many of the things people bought were delivered by truck or wagon, since the purchasers were pedestrians, not motorists.)

If the iceman came in the afternoon when school was out, or in the summer when I was home, there would always be a crowd of children out on the sidewalk watching him: split the ice, grab it with the pincers, carry it to the house. Each time he split the ice there would be a few chips scattered on the floor of his truck, which we would grab and suck on like Popsicles. Our parents always cautioned us not to do this, because the ice "was made with ammonia", and therefore presumably poisonous. This was false and we knew it, but it was like so many other false cautions given us by parents and other relatives. I conjecture the ammonia story arose from the time that ice began to be manufactured, rather than cut from the river in the winter and kept in icehouses all year round for eventual sale. Surprising how little got lost by melting in an icehouse, even by July and August. At any rate, the manufacture of ice was more common by the time I was growing up, though still new in the time scale our parents lived by, and they were suspicious of the process, as they were of all such technology. Electric refrigeration requires a refrigerant fluid, and it might well have involved ammonia in 1930; I don't know. But I am sure my parents confused the idea of a refrigeration fluid used to make ice with the idea of an additive to the ice itself.

There you have it. A slightly truncated Odds & Ends for this month, but I hope you've enjoyed it. Keep those comments coming, and enjoy the Spring.

David Minor

© 1998 David Minor / Eagles Byte