June 15

And now for some really good examples of personal vituperation.

Two British public figures slugged it out early in the 21st century. Christopher Hitchens, a witty commentator known for his aggressive atheism and flight from far-left politics to a position which supported the American invasion of Iraq, faced off against Scottish Member of Parliament George Galloway, who courted Muslim voters and backed the Syrian Assad regime. Neither let courtesy get in the way during their debates and writings.

A drink-soaked former Trotskyist popinjay. – George Galloway on Christopher Hitchens

Ba’athist, short-arse, sub-Leninist, Eastend carpet-bagger. – Christopher Hitchens on George Galloway

Made natural history by metamorphosing from a butterfly to a slug. – George Galloway on Christopher Hitchens

How unwise and incautious it is for such a hideous person to resort to personal remarks. Unkind nature, which could have made a perfectly good butt out of his face, has spoiled the whole effect by taking an asshole and studding it with ill- brushed fangs. – Christopher Hitchens on George Galloway

Ready to fight to the last drop of other people’s blood. – George Galloway on Christopher Hitchens

This is not just a matter of which of us can be the rudest, because I already conceded that to Mr Galloway. Or which of us can be the most cerebral, because he already conceded that to me. –Christopher Hitchens on George Galloway

June 12

1925 A monument is approved

Few countries enjoy the bonds of goodwill and friendship that the United States and Canada share. Our common border remains the longest unguarded frontier on earth, and our nations have shared triumphs and tragedies throughout history. It was in this spirit of friendship that in 1925 Canadian Prime Minister MacKenzie King first proposed a memorial to the large number of United States citizens who enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces and lost their lives during World War I. Because the Canadians entered the war long before the United States, many Americans enlisted in Canada to join the fighting in Europe.
On 12 June 1925, President Calvin Coolidge approved the request, and on Armistice Day 1927 the monument near the Memorial Amphitheater was dedicated. Designed by British architect Sir Reginald Blomfield, the monument consists of a bronze sword adorning a 24-foot gray granite cross.
The inscription on the cross reaffirms the sentiment expressed by Prime Minister King regarding Americans who served in the Canadian Armed Forces. Following World War II and the Korean War, similar inscriptions on other faces of the monument were dedicated to the Americans who served in those conflicts.
From: James Edward Peters,  Arlington National Cemetery: Shrine to America’s Heroes

June 11

Time for a few more tidbits from the history of the Eternal City.


When some people–aware of the loose morality of Julia, the daughter of Augustus– expressed surprise that her children looked so much like her husband, Agrippa, she replied, “I never take passengers on board until the ship is loaded.” – Macrobius, Saturnalia


When the cost of buying meat to feed wild beasts that he had bought for a show was too high, Caligula decided to give them criminals to tear apart. Glancing at a line of prisoners, but paying no attention to the chart sheets, he stood in the middle of the colonnade and ordered everyone from ‘this bald man to that bald man to be led away.’ – Suetonius, Life of Caligula

The heretic Arius suffered a stomach upset and went into a public toilet in Alexandria. When he did not come back out, those who were with him with you and to look for him and found him dead. The seat on which she died was never used again, in recognition of his having thus been punished therefore his impiety. – Sozemus, History of the Church

In 1452 a single contractor removed 2,522 cart loads of marble from the Coliseum. Almost none of the marble use in building St. Peter’s Basilica was quarried for the purpose; it was plundered from existing buildings.



June 10

Time for a little look at some Roman oddities. 

Romulus ensured that his city should be large and populous by requiring the inhabitants to rear all their male children and also their firstborn daughters. He forbade the killing of any child under the age of three years unless it was born crippled or with deformities. In such cases he did permit exposure, provided the parents had first showed the child to five neighbours and obtained their agreement. – Dionysius of Halicarnassus

As censor, with the responsibility to defend traditional morality, the elder Cato expelled a member of the Senate for kissing his own wife in broad daylight in front of his daughter. He claimed that he himself never embraced his wife except after a loud peal of thunder, adding that he was happy when it thundered. – Plutarch, Cato the Elder

Putting goat dung in their diapers soothes hyperactive children, especially girls. – Pliny, Natural History

Sometimes we can refute a statement by pretending to agree with it. When Fabia, Dolabella’s wife, claimed to be 30, Cicero said, “That’s true, for I’ve heard her say it for the last 20 years.” –  Quintilian, Education of the Orator.

When the elder Cato was asked what he thought was the most profitable way of utilizing one’s resources, he replied,”Grazing livestock successfully”; what second to that, “Grazing livestock fairly successfully”; what third, “Grazing livestock unsuccessfully”; what fourth, “Raising crops.” When his questioner asked, “What about moneylending?” Cato replied, “What about murder?” – Cicero, On Duties

Dreaming that one is eating many onions is favourable for a sick man, for it means that he will recover and mourn for someone else whereas streaming that one is eating just a few onions signifies death since the dying shed just a few tears, whereas those who mourn ship may. – Artemidorus of Daldis, The Interpretation of Dreams

When Nero was singing, no one was allowed to leave the theatre, even in an emergency. Some women therefore gave birth during his performances, and many people, weary with listening and applauding, secretly jumped over the wall or pretended to be dead and were carried out to be buried. – Suetonius, Life of Nero

From memorial inscriptions it has been calculated that the mean age at death for charioteers was 22 1/2 years.

June 7

1780 The Gordon Riots

On the 7th of June in 1780, London was in the almost unchecked possession of a mob composed of the vilest of the populace, in consequence of a singular series of circumstances. A movement for tolerance to the small minority of Catholics—resulting in an act [The Papists Act,1778] for the removal of some of their disabilities in England, and the introduction of a bill (1779) for a similar measure applicable to the mere handful of that class of religionists in Scotland—had roused all the intolerant Protestant feeling in the country, and caused shameful riots in Edinburgh. A so-called Protestant Association, headed by a half-insane member of the House of Commons—Lord George Gordon [pictured below], brother of the Duke of Gordon —busied itself in the early part of 1780 to besiege the Houses of Parliament with petitions for the repeal of the one act and the prevention of the other.

On the 2nd of June a prodigious Protestant meeting was held in St. George’s Fields —on a spot since, with curious retribution, occupied by a Catholic cathedral—and a ‘ monster petition,’ as it would now be called, was carried in procession through the principal streets of the city, to be laid before Parliament. Lord George had by this time, by his wild speeches, wrought up his adherents to a pitch bordering on frenzy. In the lobbies of the Houses scenes of violence occurred, resembling very much those which were a few years later exhibited at the doors of the French Convention, but without any serious consequences. The populace, however, had been thoroughly roused, and the destruction of several houses belonging to foreign Catholics was effected that night. Two days after, a Sunday, a Catholic chapel in Moorfields was sacked and burned, while the magistrates and military presented no effective resistance.

The consignment of a few of the rioters next day to Newgate roused the mob to a pitch of violence before unattained, and from that time till Thursday afternoon one destructive riot prevailed. On the first evening, the houses of several eminent men well affected to the Catholics and several Catholic chapels were destroyed. Next day, Tuesday, the 6th, there was scarcely a shop open in London. The streets were filled with an uncontrolled mob. The Houses of Parliament assembled with difficulty, and dispersed in terror. The middle-class inhabitants—a pacific and innocent set of people—went about in consternation, some removing their goods, some carrying away their aged and sick relations. Blue ribbons were generally mounted, to give assurance of sound Protestantism, and it was a prevalent movement to chalk up ‘NO POPERY,’ in large letters on doors.

In the evening, Newgate was attacked and set fire to, and 300 prisoners let loose. The house of Lord Mansfield, at the north-east corner of Bloomsbury Square, was gutted and burnt, the justice and his lady barely making their escape by a back-door. The house and distillery of a Mr. Langdale, a Catholic, at the top of Holborn Hill, were destroyed, and there the mob got wildly drunk with spirits, which flowed along the streets like water. While they in many various places were throwing the household furniture of Catholics out upon the street, and setting fire to it in great piles, or attacking and burning the various prisons of the metropolis, there were bands of regular soldiery and militia looking on with arms in their hands, but paralysed from acting for want of authority from the magistrates. Mr. Wheatley’s famous picture, of which a copy is annexed, gives us a faint idea of’ the scenes thus presented; but the shouts of the mob, the cries of women, the ring of fore-hammers breaking open houses, the abandonment of a debased multitude lapping gin from the gutters, the many scenes of particular rapine carried on by thieves and murderers, must be left to the imagination.

Thirty-six great conflagrations raged that night in London; only at the Bank was the populace repelled—only on Blackfriars Bridge was there any firing on them by the military. Day broke upon the metropolis next day as upon a city suddenly taken possession of by a hostile and barbarous army. It was only then, and by some courage on the part of the king, that steps were taken to meet violence with appropriate measures. The troops were fully empowered to act, and in the course of Thursday they had everywhere beaten and routed the rioters, of whom 210 were killed, and 218 ascertained to be wounded. Of those subsequently tried, 59 were found guilty, and of these the number actually executed was twenty.

The leader of this strange outburst was thrown into the Tower, and tried for high treason; but a jury decided that the case did not warrant such a charge, and he was acquitted. The best condemnation that could be administered to the zealots he had led was the admission generally made of his insanity—followed up by the fact, some years later, of his wholly abandoning Christianity, and embracing Judaism. It is remarkable that Lord George’s family, all through the seventeenth century, were a constant trouble to the state from their tenacity in the Catholic faith, and only in his father’s generation had been converted to Protestantism, the agent in the case being a duchess-mother, an Englishwoman, who was rewarded for the act with a pension of £1000 a-year. Through this Duchess of Gordon, however, Lord George was great-grandson of the half-mad Charles Earl of Peterborough, and hence, probably, the maniacal conduct which cost London so much.

See https://georgiasouthern.libguides.com/c.php?g=602478&p=5463809 for an interactive map that charts the mayhem in London.


June 1

1794 “The Glorious First of June”

We should need to bring back the horrors of the first French Revolution to enable us to understand the wild delight with which Lord Howe’s victory, in 1794, was regarded in England. A king, a queen, and a princess guillotined in France, a reign of terror prevailing in that country, and a war threatening half the monarchs in Europe, had impressed the English with an intense desire to thwart the republicans. Our army was badly organized and badly generalled in those days; but the navy was in all its glory. In April 1794, Lord Howe, as Admiral-in-Chief of the Channel fleet, went out to look after the French fleet at Brest, and a great French convoy known to be expected from America and the West Indies. He had with him twenty-six sail of the line, and five frigates. For some weeks the fleet was in the Atlantic, baffled by foggy weather in the attempt to discover the enemy; but towards the close of May the two fleets sighted each other, and a great naval battle became imminent. The French admirals had often before avoided when possible a close contest with the English; but on this occasion Admiral Villaret de Joyeuse, knowing that a convoy of enormous value was at stake, determined to meet his formidable opponent. The two fleets were about equal in the number of ships; but the French had the advantage in number of guns, weight of metal, and number of men. On the 1st of June, Howe achieved a great victory over Villaret, the details of which are given in all the histories of the period.

Thus reads a nineteenth-century account of Howe’s victory. The French, not unnaturally, view the battle differently. Though it was a tactical loss for them, the vital grain convoy made it safely through to France where it was greeted with jubilation and public parades and Admiral Villaret de Joyeuse was promoted.

May 28

A day of two maritime disasters.

1558 The Spanish Armada sets sail

Philip II of Spain was determined to end the rule of Elizabeth I and her Protestant regime. He had waited until the death of Mary Queen of Scots (a rival claimant to the English throne) before starting military operations against England, so that he, or another member of the Habsburg clan, could rule the country. The plan was to assemble an enormous fleet to seize control of the English Channel and provide cover for an invading army to be ferried over on barges from the Low Countries. Ships of the Spanish and Portuguese navies, as well as dozens of others that could be commandeered or hired, gathered in Lisbon and on this date the first of 130 ships set sail. Galleons, galleasses, caravels, naos, pataches, pinnaces, carracks, supply hulks and even (madness!) galleys carried 8,766 sailors, 21,556 soldiers, and 2,088 convict rowers. Over half the ships never returned home.

1905 The Battle of TsushimaA clash of two empires, one in the ascendant and the other in sharp decline. In 1904 Japan launched the Russo-Japanese War, primarily to expel Russia from the parts of China that Tokyo wanted to exploit and to prevent any further Russian expansion in east Asia. It laid siege to the Russian naval base of Port Arthur in northern China and won victories on land and sea. This compelled Russia to order its Baltic Fleet to the rescue. For the next six months the Russian armada made its sluggish way to the Sea of Japan, short on fuel and supplies, and having disgraced itself on the way by attacking a British fishing fleet in the North Sea under the impression it was a flotilla of Japanese torpedo boats.

By the time the Russian navy arrived, Port Arthur had fallen and the new plan of Admiral Rozhestvensky was to make his way to the port of Vladivostok where other Russian ships were waiting. Japanese Admiral Togo foresaw the Russian route; the two fleets met in the Straits of Tsushima off the coast of Korea. The Japanese gunnery and ship handling (both expertly tutored by the British Royal Navy) eviscerated the Russians — only three of their ships were able to escape to Vladivostok. Two Russian admirals were put on trial after their return home. The humiliating defeat contributed greatly to civilian unrest at home, weakening the position of the Romanov dynasty.

May 24

1856 Pottawatomie Massacre

Bleeding Kansas again. John Brown was an abolitionist activist who had recently moved to the Kansas Territory to aid the forces of anti-slavery settlers. In May, 1856, he joined a group riding to the aid of the town of Lawrence, centre of the Free State movement, which was threatened by a pro-slavery militia. Finding, en route, that they were too late to be of any use to Lawrence, Brown, four of his sons, and two other men decided to march toward Pottawatomie Creek, near present-day Lane, Kansas, to the homes of pro-slavery sympathizers. 

On the night of May 24th, 1856, Brown banged on the door of James Doyle and ordered the men inside to come out. Brown’s sons then attacked them with broadswords. They executed three of the Doyles, father and sons (a 16-year-old boy was spared after his mother pleaded for his life), splitting open heads and cutting off arms. Brown himself put a bullet into the head of James Doyle. The gang then sought out other pro-slavery supporters in the area. They traveled to Allen Wilkinson’s home, where, against the protestations of Wilkinson’s wife, who was sick with the measles, they took Wilkinson and hacked him to death, leaving his body alongside the road.

Brown’s men then crossed to the south bank of the creek and approached the home of James Harris. Here Brown’s group found several guests and questioned them about their views on slavery and whether they had participated in the attack on Lawrence earlier in the week. William Sherman’s answers did not satisfy Brown, and he was killed behind the residence and his body left in the creek. The Browns then disappeared into the night.

Proslavery forces launched a manhunt, plundering homesteads as they searched the countryside for the Pottawatomie killers. John Brown took to the woods and evaded capture. His sons did not fare as well; John Jr. and Jason — neither of whom had been involved at Pottawatomie — were savagely beaten. Frederick was shot through the heart at the Battle of Osawatomie and Brown’s Station was burnt to the ground. 


May 19

1962 Marilyn Monroe sings Happy Birthday

Marilyn Monroe was the quintessential Hollywood screen goddess. Some magical combination of voice and facial proportions made her a glamorous legend in her own time and allowed her particular beauty never to go out of style. She was used and abused by men and used and abused men in return. She had intellectual pretensions that were mocked at the time but which seem laudable today. Her three marriages were disasters, her alcohol and drug addictions were expensive for film makers and ultimately fatal for her.

On May 19, 1962 at a New York fundraiser for John F. Kennedy, who is alleged to have had an affair with the actress, Marilyn oozed on to the stage, took off her fur coat and revealed a skin-tight bedazzled dress that caused the audience to gasp. She grabbed the microphone and in a little-girl voice sang “Happy Birthday” to JFK, followed by her own version of “Thanks for the Memories”: “Thanks, Mr. President/ For all the things you’ve done/ The battles that you’ve won/ The way you deal with U.S. Steel/ And our problems by the ton/ We thank you so much.”

This was her last public performance. Within a few months, Monroe was dead, the victim of barbiturate poisoning.

May 11

1812 The Assassination of Spencer Perceval

The only assassination of a British Prime Minister took place on this date when Spencer Perceval was gunned down outside the House of Commons. For some reason, political murders are rare in the British Commonwealth, much less frequent than in presidential systems. Yet another advantage of a constitutional monarchy.

A near-contemporary account reveals the fate of the assailant and his motives.

A weak ministry, under a premier of moderate abilities, Mr. Spencer Percival, was broken up, May 11, 1812, by the assassination of its chief. On the evening of that day, Mr. Percival had just entered the lobby of the House of Commons, on his way into the house, when a man concealed behind the door shot him with a pistol. He staggered forward with a slight exclamation, and fell expiring. The incident was so sudden, that the assassin was at first disregarded by the bystanders. He was at length seized, and examined, when another loaded pistol was found upon him. He remained quite passive in the hands of his captors, but extremely agitated by his feelings, and when some one said, ‘Villain, how could you destroy so good a man, and make a family of twelve children orphans?’ he only murmured in a mournful tone, ‘I am sorry for it.’ It was quickly ascertained that he was named John Bellingham, and that a morbid sense of some wrongs of his own alone led to the dreadful deed. His position was that of an English merchant in Russia: for some mercantile injuries there sustained he had sought redress from the British government; but his memorials had been neglected.

Exasperated beyond the feeble self-control which his mind possessed, he had at length deliberately formed the resolution of shooting the premier, not from any animosity to him, against which he loudly protested, but ‘for the purpose,’ as he said, ‘of ascertaining, through a criminal court, whether his Majesty’s ministers have the power to refuse justice to [for] a well-authenticated and irrefutable act of oppression committed by their consul and ambassador abroad.’ His conduct on his trial was marked by great calmness, and he gave a long and perfectly rational address on the wrongs he had suffered, and his views regarding them. There was no trace of excitable mania in his demeanour, and he refused to plead insanity. The unhappy man, who was about forty-two years of age, met his fate a week after the murder with the same tranquillity. He probably felt death to be a kind relief from past distresses, for it was his own remark on his trial, ‘Sooner than suffer what I have suffered for the last eight years, I should consider five hundred deaths, if it were possible for human nature to endure them, far more to be preferred.’ He had left a wife of twenty years, with a babe at her breast, in St. Petersburg, waiting to be called to England when his affairs should be settled. A more affecting image of human misery can scarcely be conceived.