Notes from a fascinating world.
The world is like a bazaar, full of interesting odds and ends, and I've been exiled into it. This is my all-over-the-map (literally and metaphorically) attempt at capturing some of the world's many wonders.
In 1754, the 4th Earl of Oxford, the gothic novelist and Whig politician better known to us by his real name Horace Walpole, found himself reading a Persian fairytale called “The Three Princes of Serendip.” Actually he was probably reading the Italian translation of the story, “Peregrinaggio di tre giovani figliuoli del re di Serendippo,” published in Venice in 1557.
The story begins by explaining that once upon a time, “in the country of Serendippo, in the Far East,” the king had three sons. As the tale progresses, the three princes embark on many adventures and experience many twists and turns before finally reaching a happy ending.
In a letter to Horace Mann (a lot of Horaces back then) dated January 28, 1754, Walpole summed up the tale as one in which its heroes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.” With this quality of fortuitous happenstance in mind, Walpole coined a new word, “serendipity,” now defined (in Merriam-Webster) as “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for; also: an instance of this.”
Over four centuries ago, in 1612, Francis Bacon published his essay “Of the True Greatness of Kingdoms and Estates” as part of the enlarged second edition of his “Essayes: Religious Meditations. Places of Perswasion and Disswasion. Seene and Allowed.”
Bacon, first Viscount St. Alban, Lord Chancellor of England, and father of empiricism and the scientific method, was a lawyer, statesman, philosopher, scientist, and author. According to some, including no less than Friedrich Nietzsche, he was even the true writer behind the works of William Shakespeare (although this Stratfordian begs to differ — that’ll have to wait for a later post).
In “Of the True Greatness of Kingdoms and Estates,” Bacon made his feelings on the inclusion of outsiders and naturalization of non-citizens very plain: “all states that are liberal of naturalization towards strangers are fit for empire.”
He went on:
A few weeks ago I was in Hakone, Japan, in the shadow of Mt. Fuji, famous for its hot springs. I was playing cards with some backpackers when an American couple in their 20s, Kevin and Jenny, came in. We asked if they wanted to join us. They demurred. I asked what they did. Kevin turned out to be a programer, board game designer, and former pro-StarCraft gamer. Jenny was working on a math Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon.
So they were huge nerds, but so am I. In college I originally meant to study math and physics and become a physicist. I mentioned this to Jenny as the card game wound down and Kevin and I began to play Go, the ancient chess (except far more complex than chess) game that Confucius used to play. Then somehow I mentioned that many of the writers on The Simpsons were mathematicians and wrote many a math joke into the show. “There was one, for example,” I said, “about taxicab numbers.” (Actually I was wrong about this - it was Futurama.)
A Johnny Depp pirate allusion for International Talk Like a Pirate Day.
The story of the Kingdom of Redonda begins in 1865, when, so the story goes, a Methodist preacher named Matthew Dowdy Shiell claimed the island as his own. Shiell was from Montserrat in the British West Indies, and he supposedly applied to the British Colonial Office for permission to lay claim to Redonda. Alternatively, simply no nation had thought of claiming it until Shiell did.
Writer, traveler, lawyer, dilettante. Failed student of physics. Not altogether distinguished graduate of two Ivy League institutions. Immigrant twice over. "The grand tour is just the inspired man's way of getting home."