Resources for Thinkers' Dinner XI


The Theme for Thinkers' XI was Historical Truth

A selection of links and materials from Thinkers' XI, held on 17th November 2010:

The invention of eye-glasses in Italy around 1280 is the subject of some fascinating attempts to falsify history:
An accurate account of what is known on the subject, together with some reproductions of medieval paintings featuring early eyeglasses is worth a look
Whilst in this section of the same site you can see some of the other claims made over the years some, remarkably, still repeated as recently as 2004 in as respectable a publication as The Chambers Book of Facts.

In 1681, on this day, John Dryden published what is widely regarded as the greatest poem of political satire in English:
Absalom and Achitophel
Wikipedia article on the poem
The full text of the Poem

In 1973, on this day, Nixon issues this statement to some 400 Associated Press editors in Orlando
People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook
The words, widely reported the following day, have haunted Nixon's legacy ever since

Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin to J. C. C. Davidson, this day in 1935
I feel we should not give him [Churchill] a post at this stage. Anything he undertakes he puts his heart and soul into. If there is going to be war - and no one can say that there is not - we must keep him fresh to be our war Prime Minister.
We looked at a short extract from the autobiographical Notes on a Life by Liz Bartlett - presented here is an extract more relevant to the theme that was too long to cover at the Dinner:

Sliced white bread
Heroes of Discovery in South Africa
The house was in the right road but it was not big enough and it was not detached. Neither was it in the right place; it should have been up the hill, preferably at the top where Oak Tree Road flattened out. There the houses stood far back from the road, protected by high stone or brick walls, some by impenetrable hedges. All were totally detached from any others. This is what Dad really aspired to but at least he had managed to get a mortgage on a house in Oak Tree Road. It was a heroic achievement for a boy who had left school at fourteen to work in the iron foundry.
As foreman, he wore a bowler hat and it hung on a coat hook just inside the front door; as a status symbol, it was every bit as significant as the address he had fought for.

The Sunday School Prize
This battered and well-worn book has been at the back of one or other of my bookshelves for over forty years. His Wesleyan Sunday School originally presented it to my father, as a ten year old. It comes from the Carnarvon Series and is called 'The Heroes of Discovery in South Africa' Originally written in the late 1880s, there is a foreword dated 1899. Reading it today in the 21st century, it is fascinating to see how the attitudes and opinions of our forbears must have influenced children like my father. They would have believed that all white men were brave adventurers anxious to bring civilization and Christianity to the natives, all over the world. And the natives, variously called Kaffirs, Hottentots or savages, were either portrayed as violent killers or simple, primitive people. Arriving in villages, 'our heroes' as they were routinely called in the narrative, often took possession of the largest and best dwelling place. One wonders at the natives' thoughts about this.

It seems an amazing coincidence to come across this passage, given that at the time this book was presented to my father, I hadn't even been thought of, let alone grown up and married a Bartlett:

Moffat ... remaining himself with one man by the wagon. Very great were the sufferings in the few days which followed, on a burning plain, with scarcely anything to eat or drink, and with no sound to break the silence but the occasional roar of a lion; but just as he was beginning to despair of rescue, Mr. Bartlett, a missionary from Pella, arrived on horseback, followed by two men, with quantities of mutton dangling from their saddles.

The meeting between the two missionaries may be imagined. Bartlett, accustomed as he was by long residence to the burning climate of Namaqua Land, declared that what Moffat had endured was exceptional, even for that district, and after much refreshing intercourse, the two, already capital friends, rode together to Pella, where Moffat was most hospitably entertained by Mr. & Mrs. Bartlett.

The sublime confidence of these people is nowhere made clearer than at the very end of the book when the author comments on the Berlin Conference of 1884-85; '. . . which defined the spheres of influence of the various European Powers [and] brought to an end the age of pioneers of exploration . . . Small missions are dispatched from time to time to explore those few and unimportant tracts of country which yet may contain secrets that must be wrested from them to satisfy the restless craving of the human mind.'