Category Archives: History

Books History Women's history

From How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer by Sarah Bakewell

p. 150
Libertinism remained a minority pursuit, but a disproportionately influential one, because out of the libertins would evolve the Enlightenment philosophers of the following century. They gave Montaigne a dangerous yet positive new image, which would stick. They also spawned a less radical breed of salon socialites,: aphorists such as La Bruyere and La Rouchefoucauld whose Maximes gathered together brief, Montaignean observations on human nature:
At times we are as different from ourselves as we are from others.
The surest way to be taken in is to think oneself craftier than other people.
Chance and caprice rule the world.
And, as it happens, one La Rochefoucauld maxim provided a neat comment on Montaigne’s own 17th-century predicament:
We often irritate others when we think we could not possibly do so.

p. 174
According to Giovanni Botero, an Italian political writer living in France in the 1580s, the French countryside of that decade was so rife with thieves and murderers that every house was obliged to keep “watch of the vineyards and orchards: gates, locks, bolts and mastiffs’. Apparently Botero had not visited the Montaigne estate: there the only defender was a person whom Montaigne described as ‘a porter of ancient custom and ceremony, who serves not so much to defend my door as to offer it with more decorum and grace’.
Montaigne lived this way because he was determined to resist intimidation, and did not want to become his own gaoler. But he also believed that, paradoxically, his openness made him safer … Locks made a place look valuable, and there could be no sense of glory in robbing a household where one was welcomed by an elderly doorkeeper. Also, the usual rules of fortification hardly apply in a civil war, ‘your valet may be of the party that you fear’ … far better to win the enemy over by behaving with generosity and honour.
,, once travelling through a forest in a dangerous rural area, he was attacked by 15 to 20 masked men … “I owed my deliverance to my face and the freedom and firmness of my speech’… this was the kind of confrontation that could happen at any time, to any person, and Montaigne often wondered about the best way of dealing with it. Is it wiser to face up squarely to your enemy and challenge him, or should you curry favour by showing submission. Should you throw yourself on the aggressor’s mercy and hope that his sense of humanity will make him spare you? Or if that foolhardy?”

p. 179 “For Montaigne, all humans share an element of their being, and so do all other living things … ‘There is a certain respect, and a general duty of humanity, that attaches us not only to animals, who have life and feeling, but even to trees and plants. We owe justice to men, and mercy and kindness to other creatures that may be capable of receiving it. There is some relationship between them and us, and some mutual obligation’….
We owe other beings the countless small acts of kindness and empathy that Nietzsche would describe as ‘goodwill’ … Montaigne added this remark about his dog: “I am not afraid to admit that my nature is so tender, so childish, that I cannot well refuse my dog the play he offers me or asks of me outside the proper time.” He indulges his dog because he can imaginatively share the animal’s point of view: he can feel how desperate the dog is to banish boredom and get his human friend’s attention.”

p. 291 “Marie le Jars de Gournay, Montaigne’s first great editor and publicist … was a woman of extreme enthusiasm and emotion, all of which she uninhibitedly threw at Montaigne on their first meeting in Paris … her family, minor provincial nobles, lived partly in Paris and partly at the Picardy chateau and estate of Gournay-sur-Aronde, which her father bought in 1568. In adulthood, Marie took her last name from this estate. Such a right was normally reserved for sons, but it was typical of her to ignore this rule … By 1580, Marie was confined to a provincial world … she did what she could to educate herself using the books in the family library. By reading Latin works alongside their French translations, she gave herself the best classical ground she could. The result was a patchy knowledge, unsystematic but deeply motivated.”

Books Feminism History Politics Women's history

Notes from The Kingdom of Women: Life, Love and Death in China’s Hidden Mountains by Choo Waihong

p. 120 The very existence of a woman-centric society in a sea of patriarchy that has inundated the whole world … calls into question the inevitability of human society involving as the male-dominant archetype. The Kingdom of Women has shown that it is possible to have an alternative model … forging a better environment in which a woman can e nurtured and fostered to reach her full potential as a complete, confident person ready to contribute as meaningfully as a man to society … the Mosuo model that puts the female at its centre without downgrading the male to purgatory appears to be a much better option. In a mad moment … I had a vision that I must have been a Mosou woman in a past life. How else could I make sense of the feeling of connectedness I feel in the midst of my Mosuo friends, never again having to fight against covert male chauvunusm in my previous law firms in Singapore or be as aggressive as the next man in an all-male network of lawyers in Los Angeles.”

p. 121. “Gumi … her direct maternal ancestor is Malaxshimi, whose clan is found today in the southern parts of Asia and on the islands of the Pacific as well as in Mongolia, Korea, India and Pakistan.”

p. “I became curious to find out where Zhaxi’s ancestors [a particularly prominent, popular, six-foot man] came from … his genes revealed that he was descended from the paternal clan ancestor of Sigurd, the dragon-slayer of Norse mythology. Here was a he-man from Lugu Lake who could trace his ancestry to the Vikings of Norway .. it might suggest why Zhaxi and his Musou brothers look so different from the Chinese and other ethnic minority groups in this part of the world.”

p. 147 “An axia pair may decide to go on meeting on a regular basis that progresses over time into a stable relationship, and this is when their affair is more open, with the ‘walking’ man not hiding his presence in front of the woman’s family … the male axia comes and goes openly, though still only at night “

p. 149 “the ‘nuclear’ family is a separate unit consisting of the grandmother and her children and all her matrilineal descendants’”

Books History Politics

Notes from Britain’s Europe: A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation by Brendan Sims

p. 4 “England acquired her French empire by dynastic happenstance, and her kings expanded it for reasons of ambition, but its retention soon acquired a strategic rationale. In the pre-modern age, sail was the fastest form of travel, making northern France and Flanders much closer to London than to northern England. The Channel was not a barrier but a conduit across the ‘Narrow Sea’. … Proximity was good for trade, but bad for security. There was no way the infant navy could be sure of intercepting an invasion force once it had embarked. … Whoever had access to the sea in the Middle Ages – and for long after – could cross if they had the shops to do so. This meant that England would either have to attack an enemy fleet before it left harbour, as she did with great success at Bruges in 1213 and Sluys in 1340 or, better still, to control the far shores to prevent embarkation in the first place. Channel posts such as Dover and Calais were thus understood as strategically interdependent, both as bastions against Europe and as sally ports into the continent.”
p.52-55 “The British elite knew about Europe, and knew more as the 18th century progressed. A considerable number had fought there during the war of Grand Alliance against Louis XIV, and were to do so again in the 1740s and 1750s. Some of them studied there, including William Pitt the Elder, who spent time at the University of Utrecht. Many more went on the Grand Tour. British statesmen frequently accompanied the king to Hanover … in the parliamentary sphere, … embarrassing gaffe or manifest geographical ignorance were rare, at least before 1760. … Two of the most prominent experts of the time, Luke Schaub and Francois Saint-Saphorin, were foreign born and routinely reported to London in French from their diplomatic posts….the world 18th-century British statesman inhabited – certainly before 1760 – was still a firmly Eurocentric one… of course, there were tose who attacked the British strategic consensus on Europe and espoused a naval and insular destiny in its stead … exploded with renewed force in the 1730s in a popular and parliamentary clamour for a maritime war against Spain… former secretary of state and arch-Tory Bolingbroke in his trace The Idea of A Patriot King, 1738 …”Great Britain is an island’. She should avoid continental wars and devote ‘a continual attention to improve her natural, that is her maritime strength… like other amphibious animals, we must come occasionally on shore: but the water is more properly our element, and in it, like them, as we find our greatest security, so we exert our greatest force’… All the same, the prevailing elite sense was that Britain was an integral part of Europe … partly a question of economic interest, as trade with Europe far exceeded that with any other part of the world. In November 1755, the Lord Chancellor the Earl of Hardwicke observed that ‘No man of sense or integrity will say that you can quite separate yourselves from the continent.” .. the Earl of Sunderland [1716] the “old Tory notion that England can subsist by itself whaever becomes of the rest of Europe was “justly exploded ever since the revolution [of 1688].”

p. 57 “Britain had not merely a calling to maintain the balance, it also had a clear interest in doing so. It was only the European balance that stoof between Britain and the threat of ‘universal monarchy’, which would not only destroy British commerce but would bring in its train the return of the Stuarts and the subversion of the Revolution Settlement of 1688.
p. 67 Central to the culture of intervention … was a realization that British power was limited and that British interests could be achieved only in cooperation with other states. There was a resulting reliance on diplomacy and European alliances, often backed up with Britain’s formidable fiscal power in the shape of subsidies. It was for this reason that the former arch-universalist William Pitt announced in late 1759 that he had “unlearned his juvenile errors, and thought no longer that England could do it all by herself”.

p. 105 The primacy of Europe in British stategy throughout most of the Napoleonic period was to be demonstrated again and again. Whever the opportunity presented itself, Britain engaged the French on land: in 1799 in Holland; in north Germany in 1805-6; in Walcharen in 1809; in the Peninsula after 1808; and, of course, in the Low Countries in 1815…Only two major operations were mounted against colonial targets: those to the Cape of Good Hope in 1805 and South America in 1806-7; the latter, it should be added, was simply an opportunistic exploitation of an unauthorized initiative by Sir Home Popham which ended in tears…. London saw colonial possession as pawns with which to re-establish the European balance of power. For example, the Cape of Good Hope was, temporarily, restored to the Dutch in 1802”.

p. 134 (1880s) “the Maquis of Salisbury … was in fact deeply critical of the ‘sterile’ and ‘dangerous’ policy of isolation. Salisbury was entirely clear that Britain’s destny la on the continent. ‘We are part of the community of Europe,’ Salisbury remarked,’ ‘and we must do our duty as such.’

Books History Women's history

Notes from Ottonian Queenship by Simon Maclean

p. 1 “one of the features of the Frankish world in the 10th century which distinguishes it clearly from the 9th-century heyday of the Carolingian Empire. The Carolingian kings and emperors of the 9th century had always married social inferiors, usually aristocrats from families within their own kingdoms with whom they wished to strengthen an alliance. Some of these queens were powerful; some left little more on the historical record than their names. But after the end of the empire in 888, one of the strategies used by kings representing the new dynasties struggling to project themselves as authentically royal was precisely to seek marriage with women from more prestigious royal families in neighbouring kingdoms. A practice which had in the early 9th century been expressly forbidden by Carolingian rulers anxious to limit the size of the royal family became, in the 10th, a routine dynastic strategy.” The historian Richer of Rhems in the early 990s claimed it was a matter of principle.

p. 2 Richer’s comment on the appropriate status of West Frankish queens was certainly informed by the spectacular power of the Ottonian empresses of his own day, whose careers and posthumous reputations mark them out as some of the most famous queens in medieval history. The Byzantine princess Theophanu, widow of Otto II, was in effect the ruler of the kingdom in place of her inant son between her husband’s death in 983 and her own in 991 – such was her status that we have a document of 990 dated to the years of her reign as ‘Theophanius imperator’”… her mother-in-law the Empress Aldelheid, was not only Otto I’s second wife but also a daughter, sister, mother, and widow of kings. She presided over three generations of Ottonian power in east Francia and Italy before her death in 999.”

Books History

From Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places Ursula Le Guin (1989)

On how science fiction faces the issue of nuclear war

p. 102 “The Post-Holocaust story must be in part rehearsal, or acting out, variously motivated. One motivation is unmistakeably desire. Rage, frustration and infantile egoism play out the death wish: Let’s press that button and see what happens! Another motivation is fear, the obsessive anxiety that keeps the mind upon the worst that could happen, dwelling on it, in the not entirely superstitious hope that if we talk about it enough maybe it won’t happen. Rationally controlled, this fear motivates the cautionary tale: Look what would happen if -! So don’t! And the stories where people flee Earth altogether would seem to be pure wish fulfilment, escapism…. A great many have come from America and England … across the Iron Curtain writers seem not to write about World War III… perhaps … feel it ethically wrong to write about nuclear holocaust, because by doing so they would trivialize and familiarize the ultimate act of evil. … for the ultimate selling job on ultimate violence one must read those works of fiction issued by our government as manuals of civil defense in which, as a friend of mine puts it, you learn that there’s nothing to be afraid of if you’ve stockpiled lots of dried fruit.”

Books History Politics

Notes from Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America By Theodora Kroeber

A powerful read – and a reminder of the horrors our societies inflicted on others.

p. 5 “San Nicolas Island, one of the Channel Islands of the Pacific Ocean some 70 miles offshore from Santa Barbara…. In 1835, the padres of Mission Santa Barbara transferred the San Nicholas Indians to the mainland. A few minutes after the boat had put off from the island, it was found that one baby had been left behind. It is not easy to land a boat on San Nicolas; the captain decided against returning for the baby; the baby’s mother jumped overboard, and was last seen swimming towards the island. Half-hearted efforts made to find her in subsequent weeks were unsuccessful. It was believed she had drowned in the rough surf. In 1853, 18 years later, seal hunters in the Channel waters reported seeing a woman on San Nicolas, and a boatload of men from Santa Barbara went in search of her. They found her, a last survivor of her tribe. Her baby, as well as all her people who had been removed to the Mission, had died. She lived only a few months after her “rescue” and died without anyone having been able to communicate with her, leaving to posterity this skeletal outline of her grim story, and four words which someone remembers from her lost language and recorded as she said them. It happens that these four words identify her language as having been Shochonean, related to the Indian languages of the Los Angeles area, not to those of Santa Barbara.”

p. 1 “The story of Ishi begins for us early in the morning of the 29th day of August in the year 1911 and in the corral of a slaughterhouse. It begins with the sharp barking of dogs which roused the sleeping butchers. In the dawn light they say a man at bay, crouching against the corral fence – Ishi.”

He was the last survivor of a group of Yahi who in c. 1870 p. 90 “retreated to the inner fastness of their own heartland … what A.L. Kroeber calls ‘the smallest free nation in the world, which by an unexampled fortitude and stubbornness of character succeeded in holding out … 25 years longer even than Geronimo’s famous band of Apaches’ … [initially probably 15/16, soon only “two men, two women, and a child.”

p. 94 know none of their names “not even Ishi’s, for Ishi is not a personal name, it means simply ‘man’.”