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 this peculiar age of ours, when Neo-Nazis are apparently getting a new and sympathetic hearing, it’s worth remembering those remarkable individuals, even national icons, who were not the race we typically think of them. There will be more posts like this one coming up.
Let’s begin with Alexandre Dumas, pere, the most popular French novelist of his time and author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, and father of Alexandre Dumas, fils, the great French writer and playwright.
He was black.
I’d like to think that Voltaire would be shocked to learn that the merits of vaccination remain up for debate, or rather are up for debate once again, nearly three centuries after he wrote extolling the practice.
From 1726 to 1729, the great Enlightenment Philosophe lived in England. Drawing on experiences from these years, in 1733 he published a volume of essays now known as Letters on the English or Letters on the English Nation. Letters, because each essay was written as though a letter addressed to his fellow French. Covering a wide range of topics from Westminster parliamentarianism to Isaac Newton to Alexander Pope, the Letters generally presented the British in a favorable light in contrast to the French. They were, in a way, well-intentioned propaganda to goad the French into catching up with their rivals across the Channel wherever, in Voltaire’s view, they had fallen behind.
And in Letter XI, Voltaire addressed the practice of inoculation or vaccination. In his telling, Lady Wortley Montague, wife of an ambassador to the Sublime Porte of Ottoman Turkey, brought knowledge of smallpox inoculation back with her to Britain, where the practice was now widespread.
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."