Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Hot weather and cool study spaces.

In the current hot weather we are aware that certain parts of the Library may be uncomfortable at certain times of the day.

Please note that:

•The temperature in the Library is controlled centrally and only Estates staff can adjust it. This is why users’ requests sometimes might take a while to be implemented, especially at weekends or in the evenings when the  Library is open, but the Estates offices are closed.
• Temperature varies in the Library and there are cooler areas in zones where there are windows that can be opened.

The following areas are slightly cooler and you may wish to take advantage of these throughout the day:

•Audio Visual area near the Reading Room
•Reading Room (silent study)
•Open Access Area
•Room 109

Friday, 26 June 2015

Latest book display - Bloomsbury

Our latest book display is on all things Bloomsbury - including Virginia Woolf, the Bloomsbury Set and other notable denizens of the area, as well as nearby buildings and institutions.

You can borrow these books from our display shelves.

Today's the Day

Anniversaries & Events in Academia & Elsewhere

June 26

June 26 gets started way back in 221, when Roman Emperor Elagabalus adopted his cousin Alexander Severus as his heir. Which was nice of him. Though this turns out to be mainly a futile attempt to put the brakes on his plummeting popularity, which hadn’t been that high to begin with. As it goes, he was never called Elagabalus in his own lifetime, his name being the rather splendid Sextus Varius Avitus Bassianus, though he changed it to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus when he got to be top bod in Rome at the age of only fourteen. He was a Syrian (the Romans didn’t much care for Syrians back then, though it didn’t stop them ending up with some of them as leaders) and he’d happily been spending his time as high priest of the sun god Elagabal when, all of sudden, he found he’d become Emperor. What happened was that, in 217, Emperor Caracalla (another Syrian) was relieving himself by the roadside when one of his own men took a swing at him with a sword and cut him off in his prime. Luckily, on hand to step into the breach was his Praetorian prefect, Marcus Opellius Macrinus, also chief suspect in the Comfort Break Assassination case, which didn’t go down any too well with Caracalla's folks back home. It was about this time that Sextus Varius discovered that, according to his mum (who should know), he was the illegitimate son of Caracalla, so he was rightfully the one who should be in charge, not some seedy Praetorian toilet murderer. Meanwhile, Caracalla's aunt, Julia Maesa, had been stirring things up with the Third Legion and had successfully persuaded them to revolt, mainly through her showing them all her cash and them being easier to bribe than a Cabinet minister, all of which resulted in the Battle of Antioch in which Macrinus hightailed it out of there at top speed, abandoning his troops to their fate. Didn’t do him much good, mind, because he was soon caught up with and promptly executed for being a thoroughly bad egg, at which Elagabalus was declared Emperor by the commander of the revolting Third Legion.

Sadly, they soon discovered that what they’d landed themselves with was something even more revolting and were repenting their decision before they ever got back to Rome. Hardened Romans they may have been, the sort of folk who didn’t turn a hair at scourging and crucifixion, but they now found themselves utterly appalled by the sexual antics of their new ruler. For a start off, he liked nothing better than a session of all-over epilation, followed by the slapping on of some make-up and a wig, and then hanging around the tabernas to see what luck might throw his way, all while he was sporting an audacious selection of mixed silks, when he was wearing anything at all. Then he lavished favours on his male courtiers, declaring a blond charioteer, Hierocles, to be his Caesar (and husband!), whilst another “husband”, the athlete Aurelius Zoticus, was appointed Master of the Bedchamber. Though it wasn’t all just jobs for the boys: his mother and grandmother had by now become the first women to be allowed into the Senate (thus striking a blow for equality, which must’ve gone down like a cup of hemlock with the rest of the assembly), both being granted the title Augusta (Empress) before getting on with the actual running of the show, thus leaving Elagabalus’ hands free to concentrate on his degeneracy.

For form’s sake, the young lad then decided he’d best get himself a proper wife and so he married one Julia Cornelia Paula, though he soon got fed up with her and plumped for a Vestal virgin instead, Julia Aquilia Severa, whom he raped first, just so’s she’d know what she was letting herself in for, all of which outraged Rome, though mainly because the Vestals were supposed to stay celibate for thirty years and, if they did fall off the wagon, it was burying alive for ‘em. Which tends to prove a bit ticklish when there’s an Emperor involved. No sooner had the rumpus over that one died down than he was at it again, taking a third wife, Annia Aurelia Faustina, who, as luck would have it, had recently become a widow, thanks to Elagabalus having had the foresight to see that her hapless spouse was conveniently executed beforehand. But, would you Adam & Eve it, not long after that he decided he didn’t want her anymore either and went back to his Vestal ex-virgin for a bit before hitching himself to a further two women somewhere along the way, though their names aren’t even recorded, possibly because everyone assumed that by the time they’d carved them into the tablet, he’d’ve changed his mind again.

Not surprisingly, by 221, pretty much everyone was utterly ticked off with the flouncing adolescent show-off, the Praetorian Guard especially so over his shameless cavorting with his charioteer chum, and the Guard were the sort of brutish he-men you definitely didn’t want to get on the wrong side of, not if you wanted to carry on being Emperor, that is. Old Grandma Elagabalus (Julia Maesa) could see which way the wind was blowing by now and, being mustard keen to cling onto the power that she’d gotten used to by then, she thought the best thing all round would be to have a substitute warming up on the touchline, so she persuaded Elagabalus – presumably only after protests of “Do I have to?” – that he ought to name someone as his heir. Say, Alexander Severus, for instance. Who, coincidentally, just happened to be her other grandson. Amazingly, this was agreed to and came to pass on 26 June 221 and, for about a year, they shared power. During which time, Elagabalus busied himself with several abortive attempts to have his rival bumped off but, when that all came to nothing, he stripped Alexander of his titles, then put it about that the poor lad was at death’s door. Just to see what the Praetorians thought they could do about that. They demanded to see the pair of them in their camp, which the dim-witted Emperor foolishly agreed to for some unknown reason, perhaps just to see what would happen. What happened was that the soldiers loudly cheered Alexander whilst ignoring Elagabalus completely, leading him to suspect that they might, in fact, prefer his cousin, so he then ordered the summary execution of all those who’d done any of the cheering. Not his wisest move under the circumstances, seeing the Guard were hardly likely to execute themselves, were they? Time to beat a hasty retreat out of there before he found himself on the sharp end. Undaunted, however, what he did next was what any self-respecting Roman Emperor would do in his situation: he hid in a box. Alas, they found him and exit the eighteen year old Elagabalus …

Elagabalus’ downfall was not through religion nor sexuality but simply from having a power-mad granny unlikely to be content with sucking on a Werther’s Original but who did have cartloads of dosh with which to outbribe her none-too-bright grandson who, the minute he was safely murdered out the way (guess who was behind that), set about blackening his memory in a vicious propaganda war, often repeated and garnished by later historians (generally big burly beardy sorts, especially the women) displaying their own prejudices against effeminacy. According to B.G. Niebuhr, “The name Elagabalus is branded in history above all others” because of his “unspeakably disgusting life.” All others? What about Caligula, then? Or was that just a straightforward case of proper manly tyranny, the old “at least he got the trains running on time” argument? Some nameless other wrote, “Two hundred years after Pliny, the use of mixed silks was confined to the female sex, till the citizens of Rome were insensibly familiarized with the example of Elagabalus, who, by this effeminate habit, had sullied the dignity of an emperor and a man.” So there we have it: he corrupted the entire Roman Empire through his daring use of silks. What a perfect rotter, to be sure.

Harking back to the old Vestal virgins for one tiny mo’, it seems that burial alive is one of the most widespread human fears – taphephobia, if we want to get clinical about it. Though the fallen virgins weren’t buried alive so much as sealed up in a cave (technically immurement: being walled up to die) with a bit of bread and water so that, if they really were innocent, the goddess Vesta would pop down and save them. Fat chance of that. But someone who, by all accounts, wasn’t at all taphephobic was St Oran, who was living on Iona in 563 time, just when St Columba was having no end of trouble getting his abbey built there, which would be down to the Devil sticking his oar in, of course, so St Oran, being an all-round decent sort, says, “Tell you what, Columba, why don’t you lot bury me alive and that way I’ll become a kind of human sacrifice.” Quite why he thought that might help in any way, shape or form is a mystery that St Oran took to his grave with him, which is where he pretty soon found himself, seeing that Columba decided to take him up on his generous offer and lost no time in piling the earth on top of him. Some goodly while later, they must’ve had second thoughts about the whole burying alive business because they suddenly decided to dig him up and, lo and behold, he’s still alive and kicking, and he’s also got a tale or two to tell of the Afterlife that he’d seen while he’d been down there. “Bad news, lads,” says St Oran, “there’s no Heaven and there’s no Hell either after all. What d’you reckon to that?” What St Columba reckoned, in a not so saintly moment, was that he wasn’t standing for any of that sort of talk, thank you very much, and immediately ordered that St Oran was buried again …

Everybody remembers where they were and what they were doing on 26 June 1284 because that’s the day on which the Pied Piper lured a hundred and thirty children away from the little German town of Hamelin. Now, you may think that’s a heck of a specific dating for what is, after all, simply a folklore tale, isn’t it – it was a Monday, by the bye – but, as one website helpfully points out, “it actually happened,” and then, of course, it was also the saints’ day of St John and St Paul, which is why people tended to remember it. That, and the fact that there seemed to be no children hanging about the place all of a sudden. The story goes (granted, some of it’s a tad hard to swallow, but stick with it) that Hamelin was suffering from something of an infestation of rats in 1284 but, as luck would have it, along comes this fellow dressed up to the nines in the most colourful clothing you ever did see, thus making him, almost certainly, the first instance of a dude in recorded history, which is where the name Pied Piper comes from – pied just meaning patched with two or more colours, as in magpie or piebald – though to the Germans he’s the more sinister-sounding Rattenfänger von Hameln (Ratcatcher).

Precisely why he’d turned up in all the fancy threads and armed with some kind of flute when he was only there to deal with the rat situation – you’d’ve thought some overalls and a good stout pair of boots would be more the ticket for that caper, wouldn’t you? – is something best to draw a veil over for now. Anyhow, he says to the mayor that he’ll get rid of all the rats for them, for a price so, naturally enough, the Mayor says right you are, you get on with it, matey. Next thing the townsfolk know – it’s 24 June, incidentally – is the bloke in the fancy dress is blowing away for all he’s worth on his pipe and then out come all the rats to follow him, only to end up in the River Weser, where all but one are drowned. Job done, the Piper goes back to collect his fee, only to find that the Mayor’s completely gone back on his word (they do that sometimes, Mayors, though traditionally only over ticket office closures) and is refusing to stump up the cash (in a kind of Medieval austerity measure), which pleaseth the Piper not at all, so off he stamps, only to turn up again on 26 June but this time wearing – uh-oh! – a red hat! Luckily, all the townsfolk (except the children) happened to be “busy” in the church at the time, so they weren’t around to witness such a shocking and terrifying sight, though it also meant they weren’t around when all the children mysteriously disappeared, meaning all they could do then was blame it on the stranger in the red hat, who did look “a bit foreign, now you come to mention it.” Alas, they were all too upset to think things through properly, otherwise someone would surely have suggested, “Look, why don’t we try burying someone alive, see if that helps at all?”

Some small grain of truth must lurk behind the tale, as there was a stained glass window in Hamelin church telling of it as early as 1300 (long since destroyed), but exactly what we shall never know, thanks in part to all the embellishments that have been added down the years, though there have been theories aplenty. We can probably discount the “the kids disappeared into a mountain” scenario, along with the one that reckons that the Piper was a symbol of the Black Death, which didn’t become popular until about 1346. Also slightly implausible is the one about the Piper being a figure like Nicholas of Cologne, said to have lured many away on a disastrous Children’s Crusade because, no matter the numbers involved, small kiddywinks against whacking great Saracens is only ever going to end one way. William Manchester (whose work contains, it has been said: “the most gratuitous errors of fact and eccentricities of judgment”) thought that the Pied Piper was nothing but some psychopathic paedophile working on a grand scale – sounds like the old “mixed silks” hypothesis again – so that one’s a non-starter too. Most likely, however, is that the “children” actually refers to all the townsfolk and that they were recruited by a landowner to go off and repopulate parts of Eastern Europe, possibly Moravia, Pomerania or even … Transylvania. This might mean that they became the founders of the Gypsy or Romany way of life or, more importantly, that one descendant of the Lost Children of Hamelin was none other than Count Dracula himself. And all because of a red hat.

What this does mean is that we’ve left ourselves no time at all to even mention that This Day was when King Richard III took the English throne in 1483, something repeated by William IV in 1830 (George VI died that day); or that, in 1817, Branwell Brontë was born, least remembered of those famous siblings but the better poet (the umlaut is spurious, by the bye, seeing the old man was actually an Irishman called Brunty with pretentions towards grandeur). Or that, in 1857, it saw the first investitures of the Victoria Cross (they’re made out of metal from two cannons captured during the Crimean War - 1,358 have been dished out, “For Valour,” three men having won a Bar (second VC), though one collector now has one tenth of them all, “For Wealth,”). Or that the Universal Product Code (that’s the Barcode to the likes of us) was scanned for the first time to sell a product in 1974 (wouldn’t you know it? A packet of chewing gum), or that, in 1977, Elvis Presley gave his last ever concert performance.

Oh yes, and JFK made a speech in Berlin in 1963. Which nobody ever remembers more than the one line of, possibly because it was in German, probably because of the stir it caused: “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Which means, “I am a Berliner,” of course: I am a citizen of Berlin (lucky he wasn’t giving the speech in Frankfurt – or Luneburg, for that matter). Though, unfortunately, a Berliner is also a jam doughnut, which changes the gist rather, seeing that, if you were a citizen of Berlin, you’d simply say, “Ich bin Berliner,” and that, by adding the indefinite article, “ein,” JFK was showing his support to the soviet-surrounded people by claiming to be a jam doughnut. Adherents will say that he was using the phrase in the figurative sense (sounds a bit like clutching at straws from here), in which case the use of ein would be correct, whilst critics reckon that JFK simply made a huge gaffe, though it seems highly implausible that the world’s most powerful man, who was also aware of his deficiencies in the German tongue (he had to note it down phonetically: ish bin ein Bear-leener), would attempt the feat without the aid of someone who knew what they were talking about and, more importantly, what was actually being said (he had two interpreters, one from Berlin). There is a single rational explanation for his use of this phrasing, which is that it allows both interpretations to remain true. Thus, on the one hand, he stands on the steps of the Rathaus Schöneberg gazing out at an audience of some 450,000 to declare that he’s “a Berliner,” meaning “We Germans are all in this together, so let’s slip into some lederhosen and really show these commie blighters what we’re made of!” And, on the other, he is expressing that he is not some fat old dullard soviet like Khrushchev but actually a durn nice regular guy, through use of the doughnut metaphor, thus anticipating the Python classic, “The Writers” (not for the easily offended) by referencing Whistler’s epigrammatic claim that, “His Majesty is like a jam doughnut – his arrival gives us pleasure and his departure only makes us hungry for more.” Which is why JFK suggested he was like a jam doughnut. He had been intending to do the entire sketch during the speech but, fortunately, his advisors were on hand to prevent him, long before he ever told the Berliners that they, “shine out like a shaft of gold when all around is darkness.”

Elagabalus: L'imperatore romano Elagabalo (203 or 204-222). Roma, Musei Capitolini. Foto di Giovanni Dall'Orto, 15-08-2000

The Roses of Heliogabalus: Lawrence Alma-Tadema [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wise & Foolish Virgins: Friedrich Wilhelm Schadow [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Praetorian Guard (Proclaiming Claudius Emperor): Lawrence Alma-Tadema [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Caligula: Eustache Le Sueur [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

St Columba: By John R Skelton (illustrator) (Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall, Scotland's Story) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Pied Piper Stained Glass Window: By Creator: Augustin von Moersperg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Pied Piper by Kate Greenaway: Edmund Evans [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Black Death: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Branwell Brontë, Self Portrait: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ich bin ein Berliner Speech: YouTube

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Latest book display - Sir Christopher Lee

Our latest book display on Level 1 celebrates the life of Sir Christopher Lee.

Come and get them before the sunlight gets on them!

Friday, 19 June 2015

A Shaggy Dog

… even boffins like to let their hair down sometimes (though, with Foucault, that’s more your figure of speech)

The great academicians and artists don’t spend their whole lives peering down microscopes or deep into outer space or even simply trying to dream up some radically new form of expression that will be misunderstood by the whole world ever afterwards. So A Shaggy Dog proposes to take an imaginative delve into what it might be exactly that they get up to when the lab coats are off and the brushes laid down, how they pass their time, what stories they tell, and what gags and capers they amuse themselves with. Remember, though: A Shaggy Dog should be ingested in a super-saturated saline solution – “cum grano salis” as Pliny never said (what he actually wrote was “addito salis grano,”of course, which is a completely different box of frogs altogether) – and, rather like News International, perhaps you shouldn’t believe absolutely all that you’re told. And now, our very first guest …

Erwin Schrödinger
Like many another outstanding physicist, both before and after him, Schrödinger is perhaps not best remembered for his comedic work, which is a great shame and very much posterity’s loss, seeing he could bang them out like the best of ‘em, once the mood was upon him, though, quite often, you needed to hear them in their original German phraseology in order to catch all their subtle nuances, which can disappear like sub-atomic particles into the ether during the translation process. It has already been well documented as to how his skill as a gifted cracksman and gagster was refined in tandem with his scientific development from a very tender age, and this has often been ascribed to his early interest in the work of Arthur Schopenhauer, the nineteenth century German philosopher who penned the major work, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (in which, you’ll recall, he argued that the phenomenal world is driven by a metaphysical will that perpetually and malignantly seeks satiation) but Schopenhauer was also a comic genius hailed throughout most of Europe at that time as Father of the Knock Knock Construct, which he created in order “to examine the nature of epistemology and experience in the phenomenal world” (see On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, in which he expounds about how the four line model of the Knock Knock format echoes this theory, building steadily up to and then explosively revealing, in its fifth (“endgültig”) line, the phenomenology that underpins it, in what has now become known as the “punchline”). This approach, at our remove and in such a modern and much-changed world, may now appear formulaic or even hackneyed but, in Schopenhauer’s day, it was lauded as one of the greatest ever breakthroughs in existential philosophical reasoning. In order to understand fully how this achievement came about, it is necessary to return once again to the native German, in which we can best see how it was the language itself that was partly responsible for its creation: knock knock in German being Schlagschlag, of course, which doesn’t say much for the Teutonic ability to come up with convincing onomatopoeia, perhaps, but stick with it for now. Thus the process (or “argument,” as Schopenhauer would term it) always opened with the jinglingly singsong lines of: “Schlagschlag.” “Wer ist da?” and so on, down to the “fifth postulation,” as it became known, which strikingly illustrated, via its absurdity, his pet hypothesis that “human desire is futile, illogical, directionless, and, by extension, so is all human action in the world.”

 By September 1858, only two years before his death, he had come up with what he believed was the perfect example of the genre and, indeed, so confident was he of this that he left instructions in his will for a fund to be set up that would award the Schopenhauer Prize of some thirty five thousand marks to any practising philosopher who could come up with a better one and support his claim through reasoned argument and empirical logic. The Prize (never won, incidentally) became so sought after and desired that, by 1902, the Germanic intelligentsia had closed ranks entirely and shrouded even the name itself into densest obscurity, which is why we so rarely hear of its existence today. Though we still have Schopenhauer’s Paragon, the end of which has been translated into English here to make it slightly easier to comprehend:


“Wer ist da?”


“Aitch who?”


As a dedicated disciple and almost evangelical admirer of Schopenhauer and his work, the young Schrödinger yearned to emulate, and even perhaps someday to outstrip, his acknowledged master by assembling a carefully thought-out work of his own that would prove worthy to stand beside that which had fallen from the mighty pen of the great man all those years ago. Thus it was that a good deal of precious time, during his early formative period and throughout all his student days in Vienna, was lost upon futile and often desperate attempts to construct or create a rival Schlagschlag piece as perfect and as valid as the Schopenhauer exemplar had proven, the one that now goaded him ever onward in his search, but only and always into blind alleys and darkened corners from which he could not reason his way out. One dismal night, it is said, just as the clock on the tower of the Kapuzinerkirche was striking the knell of three, his mind made a quantum leap (which, as we all know, is a very small one indeed) to the startling conclusion that the struggle had been, right from the outset, an utterly unequal one and that Schlagschlag was simply not his medium or doctrine. During the weeks that followed, he came to the slow realisation that his future lay not there with Schopenhauer but elsewhere, more in the role of a tale-teller and anecdotist, recounting incidents of observed reality with a sound basis in known and substantiated fact which, by a happy stroke of fortune, would also allow him a bit more time for popping down to the old laboratory and cracking on with some of that sciencey stuff he was supposed to be doing. There was no real eureka moment as such in all this, though there was a distinct and definitive moment that changed his way of thinking forever, as he later recounted in his autobiography, Sie Nur Daran Erinnern die Verdammten Katze.

During the darkest period of his struggle with Schlagschlag Theory, he was much given to escaping into his powerful car and simply letting it take him (and his tortured thinking) wherever it would, even though, on this particular night, he should have been preparing himself to address the distinguished members of the Konferenz der größten Narren an Deutschen Wissenschaftsphilosophiebekannt at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin the following afternoon. Instead, here he was, cruising the streets of Vienna as if nothing mattered much anymore. After a while, Schrödinger relates how he noticed that there was another vehicle right behind, that also, as far as he could recall, seemed to have been following for some significant time now. With Vienna of that time being no place in which to take chances, he waited for the road to clear a little in front of him and then booted his foot down to the firewall, leaving the smell of burning rubber flailing in his wake. Sharp right. Then sharp left. Then sharp left again. And then he eased back down again to a regular speed. Only to discover that not only were the same lights still in hot pursuit but that, an instant later, they would erupt into the dreaded flashing blue and na-na, na-na-ing as a police car swept past waving him in towards the pavement. Helpless, Schrödinger watched as the car pulled up ahead, the way they do, so’s you always get a good long view of Plod as he clambers out and swaggers towards you, buckling on his sarcasm as he comes to lean his head in the window.

‘Good evening, sir,’ the officer is said to have remarked. ‘Would you mind telling me where the fire is, sir?’ Police officers, especially those that end up on traffic duties, must go through special training to achieve that honed edge of sneering contempt that they seem able to imbue a simple word like “sir” with. Schrödinger thought it politic to say nothing as yet, so the burly constable then requested him to “step out of your vehicle for me, if you wouldn’t mind, sir.” Schrödinger naturally complied at once and then readily supplied his name when asked.

‘And what is it you do, might we ask, Mr Schrödinger?’ continued the uniformed fellow, raising a dubious eyebrow at the given response, before adding, “Oh, I see, sir – we’re a particle physicist, are we? And what, if you don’t mind us asking, might you have in your boot just now?” Of course, our Erwin gets a tad edgy at this development and, by way of explanation, repeats that he’s a particle physicist and what he happens to have in the boot of his car right at this moment is … well … there’s a flask of deadly poison, a small amount of radioactive material, a Geiger counter and – and – and a cat.

‘Is that so, sir?’ says the officer of the law, entirely undaunted. ‘We’ve been following you for some time, sir, as you were no doubt aware when you attempted to abscond just now. There can’t have been all that much air in that small boot of yours to begin with for poor old puss to be breathing, so there can be hardly any left at all by now. Wouldn’t you agree, sir?’

By now, Schrödinger can see where all this is leading and knows all too well what’s coming next …

‘So, what would you say, sir?’ the officer enquires innocuously. ‘That cat of yours – is it still alive? Or is it dead?’

The answer that Schrödinger furnished them with, honest though it was, earned him a night in the cells for being facetious to a police officer. However, by the time they threw him out bleary-eyed into the first pearly grey light of dawn (which they do on purpose, so the buses haven’t started running yet and you’re forced to leg it to wherever you’re headed) he had had time enough to contemplate and then to realise (as we all do after, but only after, such mishap situations) that there was something decidedly amusing in the whole escapade and wasn’t it precisely the sort of ice-breaker of a story he needed with which to thaw the lofty brows of the worthies at the Konferenz der größten Narren later that day? But, barely had he gone another two paces than another thought struck him like a thunderbolt out of the blue.

‘Hang it all!’ he cried aloud. ‘With a little tinkering and manipulation, this cat idea could be the very thing to enormously advance our entire thinking on quantum mechanics and to finally bring crashing down into the dust that wretched Copenhagen Interpretation and the jokers that came up with it in the first place.’ And, as we all know, that’s precisely what he did. In the end, the story he did launch his Konferenz address with would become his signature anecdote and what we most remember Schrödinger for today. If you visit the little Catholic cemetery in Alpbach, Austria, where he’s buried, you may care to buy one of the postcards dedicated to him that they sell at the stall outside. On one side is the famous Schrödinger's Quantum Mechanical Wave Equation, though nobody ever has a clue as to what he was on about there, so turn it straight over and you’ll find Schrödinger’s Paragon, the tale he told to Konferenz all those years ago which, oddly enough, features not a cat but a dog. And it’s this:

This takes us back to the time when Erwin and Annemarie (Anny) Bertel were first married and loved nothing better than to spend an evening at the cinema, watching the latest releases. On the night in question, they were somewhat taken aback to see, sitting a few seats to their left, a markedly elderly gentleman with, next to him, what appeared to be his dog. This was not really the done thing, even in those days, but their amour was young still and they were happy and contented enough, so they said nothing and waited for the lights to go down. No sooner did the expected event occur and the images began to flicker silver on the screen than they couldn’t help but notice the behaviour of the dog, who was sat on the very edge of his seat and watching the film intently. During the lighter scenes and the romantic ones, it wagged its tail slowly but happily but, come the sadder moments when tragedy seemed imminent, they heard it whimpering plaintively, its eyes misty and blurred. Suddenly, there was a terrifying incident, shocking and startling, at which the dog took refuge under its chair to watch from safety until it passed, when it resumed its seat once more, watching each moment avidly until the credits finally rolled and the lights came up, at which it gave an almost inaudible bark of utmost approval before clambering down and making its way to the exits, its tail still wagging with indisputable pleasure.

As Erwin and Anny emerged out onto the darkening Berlin streets afterwards, the first thing they saw was the same dog again, standing passively behind his aged and bent owner who, at that moment was attempting to light his pipe in a particularly strong wind. If Schrödinger had one failing, it was his insatiable curiosity and so, without a second thought, he stepped briskly across and greeted his erstwhile companion heartily, as is the German way. And then:

‘Excuse me saying so,’ said Schrödinger (rather excitedly for such a boffin, it has to be said), ‘but my wife and I really couldn’t believe just how much your dog seemed to enjoy the film just now.’

‘Nor could I,’ replied the old gentleman, calmly puffing on his pipe. ‘He didn’t like the book at all.’

Schrodinger: By Nobel foundation [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Arthur Schopenhauer: By Jules Lunteschütz (1822–1893) (Unknown) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Keystone Cops: By Mack Sennett Studios [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Young Schrodinger: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Grave: By User: Karl Gruber (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 18 June 2015

We're having our books cleaned!

Next week, a professional cleaning company will be in the Library cleaning the shelves and books. They will start on the fourth floor and then work their way down, and will only be working on a small area at any one time to minimise any disruption.

We hope you will find the Library is a nicer, cleaner place to use when they have finished.

Image: Philip Wilson, Flickr
CC BY-ND 2.0

Construction work in the Library: Weekends in June - July

Construction work in the Library: Weekends in June - July in and around the Audio Visual area on Level 1

There will be building work taking place during the months of June - July over the weekend to reconfigure staff offices that are located behind the Audio Visual area.  The rest of the Library will continue to function as normal.

The immediate effect of this is that the Audio Visual area will be noisy and on the one of the weekends some of the DVDs will be relocated temporarily but still accessible.

Building work will take place over the following weekends:
•20th - 21st June
•26th (Fri)  - 28th June
•3rd (Fri) - 5th July
•11th - 12th July
•18th - 19th July

We apologise in advance for the disruption and inconvenience that this may cause. If you are looking for a quiet area to study please consider using the 4th floor.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Online EndNote training - free webinars

Want to learn more about using EndNote? The makers of EndNote, Thompson Reuters, are putting on some online webinars that you can sign up for - details and links to sign up are below.

Don't forget, if you would like a training session or some help with using EndNote, you can also contact your subject librarian.

EndNote Desktop & Online for Macintosh
July 7, 2:00 p.m. (14:00) London

EndNote Desktop & Online for Macintosh
July 8, 10:00 a.m. (10:00) London

EndNote Desktop & Online for Windows
July 14, 2:00 p.m. (14:00) London

EndNote Desktop & Online for Windows
July 15, 10:00 a.m. (10:00) London

EndNote Fast Start for Windows
July 15, 6:00 p.m. (18:00) London

EndNote Fast Start for Macintosh
Jul 15, 8:00 p.m. (20:00) London

EndNote Question & Answer
July 22, 10:00 a.m. (10:00) London

EndNote Desktop & Online for Windows
July 29, 6:00 p.m. (18:00) London

EndNote Desktop & Online for Macintosh
July 30, 7:00 p.m. (19:00) London

EndNote Fast Start for Windows
Aug 5, 3:00 p.m. (15:00) London

Friday, 12 June 2015

Giants of Academia & the Arts

… but, then again, nobody is perfect

Spencer Perceval, KC (1 November 1762 – 11 May 1812)
Spencer Perceval was not, perhaps, absolutely the best Prime Minister we’ve ever had – in fact, he wasn’t even a Prime Minister at all as such, being more your First Lord of the Treasury, seeing the PM term was only really coined as one of opprobrious abuse for the fatheaded dullard Walpole and wouldn’t be used on a royal warrant until as late as 1905 – but nor was he the worst, though that’s probably largely due to the especially stiff opposition there’s been down the years for that particular title. Miraculously, though, he remains the only one to have been assassinated – so far: hope springs eternal – which is what he is mainly remembered for. Actually, let’s be honest, that’s all he’s ever remembered for.
Spencer was the seventh son of John Perceval, 2nd Earl of Egmont, a man who had no real need to list his pastimes in Debrett’s, seeing he fathered no less than sixteen children during his two marriages. Though he could still summon up the energy to do other things besides, such as representing Dingle as its member (you couldn’t make that up, could you?) in the Irish House of Commons, and being Lord of the Bedchamber to the Prince of Wales. Oh, and he was also First Lord of the Admiralty for a while, when he wasn’t giving the current Mrs Perceval a stiff broadside amidships. The good Earl’s first wife, Lady Catherine Cecil, pegged out in 1752 for some unknown reason, aged only thirty three, so he went out and got himself another one – Catherine, that is – this one being Catherine Compton, granddaughter of the 4th Earl of Northampton, who would eventually become Baroness Arden in her own right, not to mention the mother of six daughters and three sons, the second of which was our man himself. Spencer, it seems, was an old Compton family name, Catherine’s great uncle having been Spencer Compton, who succeeded Walpole as Prime Minister (as we’ll call it for convenience) and therefore would not have needed to be all that good at the job to have been a vast improvement. Sadly, however, he was absolutely no good whatsoever, being described as, “a plodding, heavy fellow, with great application but no talents,” though, as luck would have it, he died before he could do too much damage.

You might think that, what with his background, being son of an Earl and a Baroness and all that, Spencer Perceval would’ve pretty much had it made, though that wasn’t the case at all. For a start off, he had an older brother, Charles, in whose shadow he would constantly be and who rather put the kibosh on things for him in the old inheritance stakes. After school at Harrow, where he was a disciplined and hard-working pupil (a sure sign that he was undestined for any kind of Greatness whatsoever), he then followed Charlie to Trinity College, Cambridge and, from there, on into a house in Charlton near their old childhood home, where (being chips off the old man’s block) they quickly espied two comely sisters who now happened to be living there with a father who was armed with an enormously capacious wallet and a vast sprawling mansion, so they promptly fell in love. By this point, however, both Perceval parents having gone to their graves, brother Charlie was now the well-heeled Lord Arden with all the perquisites of the title, whilst young Spencer, a mere second son of a second marriage, had been left with nothing but “an allowance of only £200 a year” – in today’s money, that’s barely even a beggarly twenty eight grand, so no wonder the poor wretch found himself right on his uppers and scratching around for some way to drum up a little extra cash. So he plumped for the Law – in those days, it was either that or the Church and nobody ever got fat on vicaring, so beggar that for a game of clergy – and he was duly called to the Bar in 1786. Not that it did him much good when it came to wooing, mind. Whilst Sir Thomas Spencer Wilson (the girls’ dad and yet another Spencer) positively drooled at the prospect of having a son-in-law who was a real-life Lord and came complete with bucketloads of ready loot with which to keep his eldest daughter happy, he did draw the line when it came to the impoverished legal junior of a sibling he had in tow behind him. So he told the poor barrister to naff orff. Which is precisely what he did. To East Grinstead, as it goes. Hand in hand with the younger sister, Jane, the couple eloping together and then moving into lodgings above a carpet shop. Not, perhaps, the absolute pinnacle of romance but it would prove to be the one and only occasion on which he would ever do anything even remotely approaching adventurous. Until someone shot him, that is. Funnily enough, it wasn’t actually the poor girl’s enraged old man …

One thing we can say for certain about Spencer Perceval, without fear of contradiction, is that he was a man of rock-solid convictions and unbending principles. Unless, of course, there was some hard cash on offer, in which case he could shift faster than Usain Bolt’s carpet slippers. He was unwaveringly and steadfastly pro-Establishment (for fat land-owning toffs keeping their snouts firmly in the trough) and equally as unflinchingly anti-reform (against the peasantry, being more your let-them-eat-cake sort of a guy), plus he absolutely could not abide the French, not so much because they were a bunch of dangerous lower-class revolutionaries but simply because they were French. He didn’t much care for the Catholics either, or working people in general, though it was his loathing of all things French that would eventually land him on the Speaker’s table.

Perceval was also something of a man of action and what he turned to next was a spot of pamphlet-writing – anonymously, of course: you can’t be too careful when you’re flinging mud at someone’s good name – the first one denouncing Warren Hastings, who’d had the brass-faced temerity to come back from India with his pockets stuffed with cash, which Parliament instantly decided had to be ill-gotten gains and how, pray, had he managed to get his hands on so much dodgy loot in the first place when he wasn’t even an MP? So a mob of them, including Charles James Fox and the aptly-named Edmund Burke impeached and then tried him. It took two days solid just to read out the counts against him, which was pretty swift going compared to the rest of it, which stretched on over seven years, during which time Hastings spent £71,000 in legal fees and went slowly broke. And then was acquitted. And compensated. Still, it wasn’t all bad news: at least the lawyers had made themselves a tidy bundle. Next up, Perceval penned a tract against sedition, which then caught the eye of no lesser personage than William Pitt the Younger, who thought to himself, “Well now, this gentleman certainly talks the most ineffable twaddle and downright horse manure one has ever come across but, by golly, it’s my kind of twaddle and horse manure, so we simply must have the fellow on board.” So he promptly offered Perceval the appointment of Chief Secretary for Ireland. To which Perceval replied with a firm no thanks, seeing he could make more by being King’s Counsel on a grand a year (about £100,000 today). As it happened, the very next year (1796), Percy’s uncle, the 8th Earl of Northampton, and also MP for Northampton, died and so Spencer took his seat. Which he won unopposed. Only for a general election to come along in which someone had the unmitigated gall to stand against him, but he won that nonetheless, though it did turn out to be the only contested election he would ever win.
Pitt resigned in 1801, though our man saw no pressing need to go with him merely on principle, and certainly not when he was doing rather nicely thanks out of being Solicitor to the Ordnance, even though it meant working for Addington, someone else he couldn’t stand (Fox was another one). Besides which, Addington would first make him Solicitor General and then Attorney General a year later. In 1804, back came Pitt and Perceval stuck to his non-resigning convictions, only for Pitt to inconveniently die in 1806, at which in swept Grenville’s “Ministry of All the Talents” (but, alas, container of almost none), so Perceval finally did fall on his sword, but only because Fox was one of the alleged Talents. Then Grenville went too and along came the Duke of Portland as top bod, who asked our man to become Chancellor of the Exchequer – secretly, Perceval wanted to be Home Secretary (bigger salary, you understand) – so he pleaded that he knew nothing whatsoever about financial affairs. Basic but fatal mistake. Portland said he sounded absolutely ideal, as neither did (or would) any of the other Chancellors. Perceval would now have to raise funds for fighting Napoleon and this was where his troubles really began.

Soon Portland became too ill to continue and resigned. Which pretty much left a choice between a stick and the bucket of pigs’ swill it’s standing in as replacement. There was Canning, who wanted to be Prime Minister or nothing (but he’d only just duelled with Castlereagh on Putney Heath, so he was out); or there was Castlereagh (the duellist, so he was out); Lords Grey and Grenville were asked but they said a resounding No Way; all which left only the bucket of pigs’ swill, so Perceval got the job. His first task was to expand the Orders in Council that restricted trade with France but which, in practice, meant everyone went bust and ended up starving. He received five refusals to take the job of Chancellor, so ended up doing that himself too but with only one Cabinet member in the Commons, his Home Secretary, to support him. And thus this weak government lurched on from crisis to crisis. Still, at least things could only get better …

On the evening of Monday 11 May 1812, a man was seen to be sitting quietly by the fireplace in the lobby of the House of Commons, though there was nothing unusual in that because the fellow often took up a place there, rising whenever he spotted an opportunity to corner a passing member in order to bend his ear over some grievance or other that he happened to be harbouring at that time. This was John Bellingham, a particularly misfortunate individual for whom very little ever seemed to go right: he’d opened a factory in London and that went bust; he then sailed as a midshipman on a voyage to China, only there was a mutiny on board and the ship ended up sinking; then he tried his luck at exports in Arkhangelsk (Russia) and ended up by being flung in jail over a debt that wasn’t even his; and, when he was released a year later in 1805, the Russians put him straight back in clink again for sneaking out of Arkhangelsk in a “clandestine manner.” Eventually, in October 1808, they finally threw him out onto the streets but, even then, he wasn’t allowed to leave until he resorted to petitioning the Tsar himself, who said fair enough, off you go, we’ll say no more about it. That wasn’t quite good enough for Bellingham who, as you can imagine, was more than a mite ticked off about the way he’d been treated by his Russian hosts but, over and above that, he wanted to know just what the British Ambassador had been doing all that time. Apart, that is, from stuffing his face with Ferrero Rocher.

Back home in Britain, and still steaming mad about the whole affair, he decided to do something about getting himself some compensation out of the chronically useless government for their woeful dereliction of him in his time of utmost crisis, only to be told that, “Well now, you see how things stand, Mr Bellingham: this government severed its diplomatic relations with Russia in November 1808, so there’s really nothing to be done.” Not entirely unsurprisingly, this only raised his overheating dander another few notches towards boiling point, not least because they hadn’t done any actual severing (apart from their palpable responsibilities) until long after he’d finally got out of jail, no thanks to them. Which is when he took to hanging around the lobby in repeated but vain attempts to get his case heard and some justice done, even buttonholing the Prime Minister on a number of occasions, only to see a deaf ‘un cocked as the great man stalked away. What was a man to do under such circumstances? Other than to buy himself some hardware and have a large pocket sewn inside his coat?
About a quarter past five time, in strolls Spencer Perceval, on his way to the Chamber to deal with the tiresome business of investigating why his own government’s measures, the Orders in Council, which were largely responsible for the depression and widespread unemployment faced by the country (the usual Tory fiscal policy, in other words), seemed to be upsetting people a tad. As if all that were not quite enough on his plate already, he now finds the same old doggedly persistent blighter making straight for him, ready to get in his face yet again and to start giving it all that. Well, he wasn’t standing for any of that sort of nonsense, was he? And yet there seemed to be no effective way of snubbing the fellow so that he stayed snubbed, this being at least their fifth encounter. There was only one language that blackguards of this sort understood and so, rather than ignoring him completely like something he’d just stepped in, this time he told him to take a running jump. To the premier’s utter astonishment, and not a little chagrin, instead of doing as he had been bidden, the ungrateful Bellingham calmly produced a pistol and shot him in the chest.

As luck would have it, standing by was MP William Smith, later to become grandfather of Florence Nightingale, the renowned Lady of the Lamp, founder of modern nursing and saviour of many a poor wounded soldier in the Crimea. Rather less luckily, alas, Smith himself knew nothing whatsoever about First Aid or dealing with a casualty, so he and a bunch of equally cack-handed colleagues hauled the stricken Perceval to the Speaker’s apartments and there they proceeded to sit the hapless fellow bolt upright on the table, the immediate effect of which was that Perceval died within minutes. Meanwhile, Bellingham, who had quietly returned to his seat by the fire, was apprehended and carted off to Newgate Prison but, so despised were Perceval and his policies by now, a crowd gathered outside the House had attempted to rescue Bellingham en route without success, so it was about midnight before they managed to get the prisoner into his cell and clapped in irons, where he reportedly slept like a top all night.
John Bellingham was tried on Friday 15 May (just four days later) at the Old Bailey, where he pleaded not guilty – his brief wanted him to plead insanity but, having just shot a hated Prime Minister, that would never wash, would it? – stating that, “my family was ruined and myself destroyed, merely because it was Mr Perceval's pleasure that justice should not be granted; sheltering himself behind the imagined security of his station, and trampling upon law and right in the belief that no retribution could reach him.” In other words, “Perceval had been asking for it.” Fat lot of good it did him, though. After ten minutes’ deliberation, he was found guilty and hanged on the Monday morning, two days after his victim’s funeral. And then History began to play curious tricks and repeat itself in odd ways.

A subscription was raised for Bellingham’s widow and children, meaning that, “their fortune was ten times greater than they could ever have expected in any other circumstances,” the grateful Mrs Bellingham swiftly remarrying the following year. Perceval left behind him a widow and twelve children (he clearly took after his dad in that respect) but, despite a lifetime devoted to raking in the cash, not much more than a hundred pounds in the bank. Parliament immediately sprang to the rescue and voted a cool £50,000 on the Perceval brood, with additional annuities for Mrs P and her eldest son. She thanked them in the now-traditional manner by marrying a Lieutenant-Colonel in 1815, which put one or two ministerial noses right out of joint, especially when she saw him off too only six years later. For its last roll of the dice (or is it?), History waited until 1997 in North West Norfolk. The standing MP there, elected in 1983, was one Henry Bellingham, distantly related to our hero – sorry, we mean to the despicable murderer – who would eventually lose his seat fourteen years later, no small thanks to the nigh on three thousand votes taken from him by the Referendum Party candidate, Roger Percival, who claimed kindred to the assassinated Prime Minister.

Spencer Perceval was a small, slight, and very pale man, hugely unpopular and deeply despised. As a Prime Minister, he was as woefully incompetent as many another and far worse than most, a rabid bigot who hated the French, the Catholics and the lower orders, and a zealot who would stop at nothing for the sake of his country, no matter the cost inflicted upon the people. But there was another side to him also. He was a loving husband and a doting father, who clearly liked nothing better than staying in of an evening for an early night with Mrs P, whenever the opportunity arose. He is still the only Solicitor General or Attorney General to have clambered to the top of the greasy pole and, once there and thanks to his disastrous financial policies that had led to raging inflation, was the one to introduce banknotes as legal tender. Also on his cv, he can claim to be the last Prime Minister to have worn a powdered wig tied in a queue (pigtail) or to have sported knee-breeches (culottes), even though they were well out of fashion and he probably only did it simply to thumb his nose at those ghastly French Revolutionaries (the sans culottes), who had torn down the Bastille because of their preference for a full-length trouser. Sadly, Perceval died without recovering consciousness, so he left to posterity no memorable last words.

Unless, of course, they happened to be, “Oh yeah? And what are you going to do about it if I don’t listen to you, eh, Bellingham?”

[All views expressed herein are entirely personal]


Spenser Perceval: By George Francis Joseph [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Earl of Egmont: Thomas Hudson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Charlton House: By Bencherlite (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Spencer Perceval again: George Francis Joseph [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Warren Hastings: By Tilly Kettle (died 1786) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
William Pitt the Younger: John Hoppner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Suicide of Castlereagh: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
John Bellingham: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Assassination: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Florence Nightingale: Henrietta Rae [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A Hanging at Newgate: See page for author [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Henry Bellingham: By Foreign Office [OGL (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/1/)], via Wikimedia Commons