Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Samuel Johnson and his Famous Dictionary

Samuel Johnson reading the "Vicar of Wakefield"
On April 15, 1755, after nine years of intensive labor, Samuel Johnson publishes his "Dictionary of the English Language", sometimes published as Johnson's Dictionary. It is among the most influential dictionaries in the history of the English language.

Samuel Johnson showed signs of great intelligence quite early and his parents decided to start his educational program, when he was only three years old. At the age of nine, he was already promoted to the upper school. The financial situation of the Johnson family decreased and next to his studies, the young Samuel began stitching books. He entered the entered Pembroke College at Oxford in 1728 and also began writing several poems. Due to financial issues, Johnson had to leave Pembroke early without a degree.

Johnson spent a lot time looking for positions where a degree was not necessary and taught for a while under Wolstan Dixie, 4th Baronet. After an argument with his wife however, Johnson had to look for a different position. During this period, Johnson spent much time with his friend Edmund Hector, who was living in the home of the publisher Thomas Warren. Johnson was asked for help with his Birmingham Journal, which improved his connection to Warren. In 1735, Johnson had applied unsuccessfully for the position of headmaster at Solihull School and he made the conclusion that he would become a successful teacher only if he ran his own school. In the same year, Johnson opened Edial Hall School as a private academy with only 3 students at first. However, the school turned out to be unsuccessful. Many historians assume, that the Tourette syndrom he was suffering from was responsible for his failing as a schoolmaster. Johnson then began working on his first masterpiece, the historical tragedy 'Irene'. Johnson soon found employment as a writer for The Gentleman's Magazine and moved to London.

In 1746, a group of publishers approached Johnson with an idea about creating an authoritative dictionary of the English language. Johnson agreed and claimed to be finished in three years. He did finish the work 'only' after nine years, but in comparison, the Académie Française had forty scholars spending forty years to complete their dictionary. Even though, the dictionary was later also criticized, it was still referred to as "one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship, and probably the greatest ever performed by one individual who laboured under anything like the disadvantages in a comparable length of time". Johnson's dictionary became the most commonly used and imitated for the 150 years between its first publication and the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1928. It is said, that Johnson's Dictionary offered insights into the 18th century and "a faithful record of the language people used". The Dictionary was finally published in April 1755, with the title page acknowledging that Oxford had awarded Johnson a Master of Arts degree in anticipation of the work. It contained 42,773 entries and an important innovation in English lexicography was to illustrate the meanings of his words by literary quotation, of which there were approximately 114,000. Next to writing his dictionary, Johnson also spent the nine years writing several essays and poems. He produced a series titled as "The Rambler" which were published every Tuesday and Saturday. The popularity of The Rambler took off once the issues were collected in a volume, they were reprinted nine times during Johnson's life.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a Gresham College video lecture by Henry Hitchings on the history of the dictionary entitled 'Dr Johnson, I presume?'.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

The Kinetoscope and Edison's Wrong Way to Invent the Cinema

The 1895 version of the Kinetoscope with earphones
that lead to the cylinder phonograph within the cabinet
On April 14, 1894, chief engineer William K. L. Dickson in the team of Thomas Alva Edison, presents the newly invented Kinetoscope, an early motion picture exhibition device designed for films to be viewed by one individual at a time through a peephole viewer window at the top of the device.

Ok, according to Edison, the cinema would never have become the silver screen you know, but would have remained a cheap fairground attraction. The movies Edison produced and presented in his Kinetoscopes worked more or less like in a peep show. You stand in front of the apparatus, looking into it from the top, insert a nickle and follow the most times funny movies of only a few minutes length. That's it. Can you imagine that a movie like Star Wars would have been produced if cinema would just have stayed like that? I doubt. But, let's have a look at Edison's invention of the movie industry.

The works and ideas of photographic pioneer Eadweard Muybridge appear to have spurred Thomas A. Edison to pursue the development of a motion picture system. On February 25, 1888, in Orange, New Jersey, Muybridge gave a lecture that may have included a demonstration of his zoopraxiscope, a device that projected sequential images drawn around the edge of a glass disc, producing the illusion of motion. Two days later, Muybridge and Edison met at Edison's laboratory in West Orange to talk about a collaboration to join Muybridge's device with the Edison phonograph — a combination system that would play sound and images concurrently. But, the collaboration never happened. Moreover, in October 1888, Edison filed a preliminary claim, known as a caveat, with the U.S. Patent Office announcing his plans to create a device that would do "for the Eye what the phonograph does for the Ear". In March 1889, a second caveat followed, which gave a name to the proposed motion picture device, the Kinetoscope, derived from the Greek roots kineto- ("movement") and scopos ("to view").

Edison assigned Dickson, one of his most talented employees, to the job of making the Kinetoscope a reality. Edison's original idea involved recording pinpoint photographs, 1/32 of an inch wide, directly on to a cylinder with a synchronized audio cylinder for sound recording. Although expanded in later testing, the coarseness of the silver bromide emulsion used on the cylinder became unacceptably apparent. Thus, they tried sensitized celluloid sheets wrapped around the cylinder, providing a far superior base for the recording of photographs. The first film made for the Kinetoscope, and apparently the first motion picture ever produced on photographic film in the U.S., may have been shot at this time, known as Monkeyshines, No. 1, it shows an employee of the lab in an apparently tongue-in-cheek display of physical dexterity. Attempts at synchronizing sound were soon left behind.

A trip of Edison's to Europe and the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889 gave Edison new ideas for the realization of his Kinetoscope. There, he met scientist-photographer Étienne-Jules Marey, who had devised a "chronophotographic gun", the first portable motion picture camera. He also came across early European film pioneers like French inventor Charles-Émile Reynaud, who used images painted on gelatine frames as well as German inventor Ottamar Anschütz. Their crucial innovation was to take advantage of the persistence of vision theory by using an intermittent light source to momentarily "freeze" the projection of each image; the goal was to facilitate the viewer's retention of many minutely different stages of a photographed activity, thus producing a highly effective illusion of constant motion.

By early 1891, however, Edison's team had succeeded in devising a functional strip-based film viewing system. In the new design, whose mechanics were housed in a wooden cabinet, a loop of horizontally configured 19 mm (3/4 inch) film ran around a series of spindles. The film, with a single row of perforations engaged by an electrically powered sprocket wheel, was drawn continuously beneath a magnifying lens. The lab also developed a motor-powered camera, the Kinetograph, capable of shooting with the new sprocketed film. On May 20, 1891, the first public demonstration of a prototype Kinetoscope was given at the laboratory for approximately 150 members of the National Federation of Women's Clubs. The New York Sun described what the club women saw in the "small pine box" they encountered: In the top of the box was a hole perhaps an inch in diameter. As they looked through the hole they saw the picture of a man. It was a most marvelous picture. It bowed and smiled and waved its hands and took off its hat with the most perfect naturalness and grace. Every motion was perfect... On April 14, 1894, the first commercial exhibition of motion pictures in history was given in New York City, using ten Kinetoscopes. This can be considered the birth of American movie culture.

At yovisto you can watch some of the early kinetoscope productions from Edison's filmstudios from the years 1894-1896.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Catherine de Medici and St. Bartholomew's Day

Catherine and Henry's marriage
On April 13, 1519, Italian noblewoman and Queen of France Catherine de' Medici was born. Catherine played a key role in the reign of her sons, and is blamed for the excessive persecutions of the Hugenots in particular for the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572, in which thousands of Huguenots were killed in Paris and throughout France.

Catherine de' Medici was born into a very influential family. Her father was made Duke of Urbino by his uncle Pope Leo X and her mother was from one of the most prominent and ancient French noble families. Unfortunately, her parents passed away early, wherefore she grew up with further family members. However, the family's power decreased in 1527 and Pope Clement had to crown Charles Holy Roman Emperor. Charles' troops laid siege to Florence and Catherine was supposed to be killed or exposed naked and chained to the city walls. The city surrendered in 1530 and Clement had Catherine move to Rome. When Francis I of France offered that his second son, Henry, Duke of Orléans, would marry Catherine and Clement highly supported the wedding. It took place in 1533, but the 14-year old's saw only little of each other during their first year of marriage. Also it is assumed, that Prince Henry showed only little interest in his wife at all and for a quite long time they failed to produce any children. Unfortunately, Henry's mistress gave birth to a daughter, which proved that he was fertile. He openly acknowledged her and added much pressure on Catherine. After quite a while, divorce was even discussed and Catherine now tried anything to get pregnant and in 1544, she finally gave birth to a son. The couples marriage did not improve after having several children, but Catherine was still respected as Henry's consort. After the death of King Francis I, she became the queen consort of France and was crowned in the basilica of Saint-Denis.

However, Catherine's political power was very limited and Henry gave the Château of Chenonceau, which Catherine had wanted for herself, to Diane de Poitiers, who took her place at the center of power, dispensing patronage and accepting favours. After a sport accident, King Henry first lost his sight and speech and passed away on 10 July, 1559. Francis II became king at the age of fifteen and Catherine was not strictly entitled to a role in Francis's government, because he was deemed old enough to rule for himself. Still, it is assumed that she played a major role in his decision making. When her son died in 1560, Catherine was appointed govenor of France and the nine year old Charles IX became King, who cried during his coronation. On 1 March 1562, in an incident known as the Massacre of Vassy, the Duke of Guise and his men attacked worshipping Huguenots in a barn at Vassy, killing 74 and wounding 104. Guise, who called the massacre "a regrettable accident", was cheered as a hero in the streets of Paris while the Huguenots called for revenge. The massacre lit the fuse that sparked the French Wars of Religion. For the next thirty years, France found itself in a state of either civil war or armed truce. Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Condé raised a large army, formed an alliance with England and started seizing town after town in France. After further conflicts with her allies as well as her enemies, Catherine now rallied Hugenot and Catholic forces to retake Le Havre from England.

When Charles IX was declared of age, he still showed only little interest in government and Catherine decided to enforce the Edict of Amboise and revive loyalty to the crown. Philip II sent the Duke of Alba to tell Catherine to scrap the Edict of Amboise and to find punitive solutions to the problem of heresy. In 1566, Charles IX of France and Catherine de Medicis unsuccessfully proposed to the Ottoman Court a plan to resettle French Huguenots and French and German Lutherans in Ottoman-controlled Moldavia. In 1570, Charles IX married the daughter of Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor. Catherine was also eager for a match between one of her two youngest sons and Elizabeth I of England. After Elisabeth died in childbirth in 1568, Catherine had touted her youngest daughter Margaret as a bride for Philip II of Spain. Now she sought a marriage between Margaret and Henry III of Navarre, with the aim of uniting Valois and Bourbon interests. Margaret, however, was secretly involved with Henry of Guise, the son of the late Duke of Guise and she faced great problems when Catherine found out about it.

When Admiral Coligny was shot and wounded through his window, Catherine, who was said to have received the news without emotion, made a tearful visit to Coligny and promised to punish his attacker. Many historians have blamed Catherine for the attack. Two days later, the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre took place. It stained Catherine's reputation ever since, since there is no reason to believe she was not party to the decision when on 23 August Charles IX ordered, "Then kill them all! Kill them all!". Catherine and her advisers expected a Huguenot uprising to avenge the attack on Coligny. They chose therefore to strike first and wipe out the Huguenot leaders while they were still in Paris after the wedding of Henry and Catherine's daughter Margaret. The massacre lasted for almost one week and spread across France where it persisted into the fall.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lectureby Barbara Diefendorf on 'The Saint Barthomomew's Day Massacre' held at the University of Boston.

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