June 16

1745 Fortress Louisbourg surrenders

To secure their hold on their North American colonies the French built an impressive fortress on the Cape Breton peninsula in what is now Nova Scotia. Designed by the Marquis de Vauban, Louis XIV’s military engineer, the fort with its ditches, thick walls, and cannon looked impregnable.

In 1744, Britain was drawn into conflict with France as part of the larger War of the Austrian Succession. The Anglo-French clash would be known in the British colonies as King George’s War. Until this time, Louisbourg had not participated in any military actions, although the fortress had provided refuge for Indigenous people allied with the French who raided English settlements. Louisbourg also offered a safe harbour for French privateers who preyed on fishing fleets and ships from New England.

On 24 May 1744, a force of soldiers from Louisbourg aboard a fleet of 17 vessels, under the command of Captain François du Pont Duvivier, made a surprise attack on the small English fort and settlement at Grassy Island, near Canso (on the present-day Nova Scotia mainland), forcing the British garrison there to surrender. The French destroyed the settlement and took the British to Louisbourg as prisoners. While the British awaited transfer to Boston in a prisoner exchange, their officers were free to move about the town. They took note of weaknesses in the so-called “impregnable” fortress.

In Boston, the freed officers reported their observations to Massachusetts governor William Shirley. They told him that Louisbourg’s garrison was undermanned, and that morale among the French troops was low, largely because of poor food and because they hadn’t been paid in months. They also said that due to poor construction, parts of the seemingly formidable walls were crumbling. They also revealed the presence of nearby ridges and hills overlooking Louisbourg’s landward walls. And they made sketches of Louisbourg’s defences, which they gave to Shirley.

Shirley raised a force of more than 4,000 New Englanders, commanded by William Pepperell, for an expedition against Louisbourg. The colonial army would be supported by a Royal Navy squadron under Commodore Peter Warren. In April 1745, Pepperell established a base at Canso, where he met with Warren in early May to plan a land and sea operation.

The first siege of Louisbourg began on 11 May 1745. Pepperell had captured strategic points near the fortress, and Warren’s ships blockaded the harbour. The colonial army used sledges to haul artillery across marshy ground to high points from which the guns could bombard the town and batter the walls. The French warship Vigilant carrying vital supplies and reinforcements, was captured by Warren’s squadron. By 16 June, Louisbourg’s walls had been breached and Warren’s fleet was poised to enter the harbour. Short of supplies and ammunition, and under pressure from the town’s merchants to capitulate, French governor Louis DuPont Duchambon surrendered.

Arrangements were made for most of the population to be transported to France. Warren was promoted to rear admiral, and Pepperell was rewarded by Britain with a baronetcy. Under the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle of 1748, the British returned Louisbourg, and all of Île Royale, to the French, much to the disgust of the New Englanders, who considered it an act of betrayal by the British government.


June 15

Back in the days when JFK ruled in Camelot and Dief was the Chief in Ottawa, the Bowler family summer vacations were spent on highways in the American West. On our way in a Detroit land yacht to Deadwood, Mount Rushmore, or some fabled snake farm, my brother and I misbehaved in the back seat. Having exhausted all possible car games, and tired of comic books, we came alive when our parents spotted red signs by the road ahead. We sprang to the windows to read the Burma-Shave signs as we sped by.

The Burma-Shave company erected thousands of examples of sequential advertisements from the 1920s to the early 1960s when they were discontinued on the advice of lawyers who feared suits for causing distracted driving.

A Man A Miss
A Car - A Curve
He Kissed The Miss
And Missed
The Curve

Saw The Train And
Tried To Duck It
Kicked First The Gas
And Then The Bucket

A Beard
That's Rough
And Overgrown
Is Better Than
A Chaperone

Every shaver
Now can snore
Six more minutes
Than before
By using

Shaving brushes
You'll soon see 'em
On the shelf
In some

June 14

On this day nine years ago, Merle Haggard (1937-2016) is presented an honorary doctorate in fine arts by California State University, Bakersfield.

Mentioning this gives me a springboard to my real topic of the day: witty country and western song titles. Though I am not a huge fan of country music (especially in its latest and tamest iterations) I recognize that its lyrics come closest to being the best artistic expression of the thoughts of the average working-class American. It is also the genre that is least afraid to poke fun at itself and its audience as we can tell songs listed here.

“She’s Out Doing What I’m Here Doing Without”
“Come Out of the Wheatfield Nellie, You’re Going Against the Grain”
“Run for the Roundhouse Nellie (He Can’t Corner You There)”
Ever Since I Said ‘I Do,’ There’s a Lot of Things You Don’t”
“Tennis Must Be Your Racket ‘Cause Love Means Nothin’ To You”
“If I Had It To Do All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You”
“Did I Shave My Legs for This? “
“Did I Shave My Back for This?”
“Get Off The Stove, Grandma, You’re Too Old To Ride The Range “
“I Fell Into A Pile of You and Got Love All Over Me “
I May Be Used, But Baby I Ain’t Used Up”
“I Went Back to My Fourth Wife for the Third Time and Gave Her a Second Chance to Make a First Class Fool Out of Me”
“If the Phone Don’t Ring Baby You’ll Know It’s Me”
“She Got The Ring And I Got The Finger”
“She Got the Gold Mine and I Got the Shaft”
She’s Got the Rhythm (And I Got the Blues)”
“It Took a Helluva Man to Take my Anne, but it Sure Didn’t Take Him Long “
“It Only Takes One Bar (To Make A Prison)”
Meet Me In the Gravel Pit, Honey, cuz I’m a Little Boulder There”

“Messed Up In Mexico, Living On Refried Dreams”
“We Used To Kiss On The Lips, But It’s All Over Now “
“I’m Going to Put a Bar in the Back of My Car and Drive Myself to Drink”
“I’d Rather Have a Bottle in Front of Me Than a Frontal Lobotomy”
“Get Your Tongue Out Of My Mouth, Because I’m Kissing You Goodbye”
“Oh, I’ve Got Hair Oil On My Ears And My Glasses Are Slipping Down, But Baby I Can See Through You”
“I’m So Miserable Without You It’s Like Having You Here”

June 13

1893 Birth of Dorothy Sayers

Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an advanced old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force. – Dorothy Sayers

Dorothy Sayers loved to provoke. Born the daughter of an Anglican clergyman in 1893, she learned Latin at age 6, entered Oxford before women were granted degrees, and began writing poetry to shock traditional Christian pieties. She scorned popularity to the extent that she asked a friend to set off a scandal by writing a letter to the Church Times denouncing her new book. In her collection of essays entitled Unpopular Opinions, she included pieces such as “Are Women Human?” Speaking to an audience of British Christian leaders, she described her fellow believers as “tiresome, stupid, selfish, quarrelsome, pig-headed, and infuriating.”

Sayers’ unorthodoxy carried over into her private life. She conducted an affair with a Russian poet but dumped him when he proposed marriage. She then moved on to a relationship with a married car salesman who got her, at age 30, pregnant. Sayers gave birth secretly to a son whom she gave up to some relatives to raise – though she later adopted the boy he never lived with her and never learned her secret until after her death. Two years later she entered into a troubled marriage to a shell-shocked war veteran .

It was in these tumultuous years that Sayers fashioned herself into a very successful writer of mysteries during the Golden Age of that genre. Her detective stories featuring the effete English nobleman/sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey and the unassuming travelling wine salesman Montague Egg were best-sellers, making her comfortably well off. But equal to her fame as an author of middle-brow fiction was her place as a defender of Christianity. Despite (or, perhaps, because of) her feisty character and challenging life circumstances, she was also a bold and effective expositor of religious truth.

Sayers believed that Christianity in the twentieth century had grown soft, undemanding and compromised. People had come to believe they were practising their religion when they were merely conforming to local social traditions and being nice. “The people who hanged Christ,” she said, “never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore – on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mild’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.” The solution, Sayers thought, was to shock them into reconsidering their position.

She did this first through the medium of radio. In her 1938 play about the Nativity of Jesus entitled He That Should Come, and The Man Born to be King, a cycle of 12 other BBC productions about the life of Christ, Sayers challenged a 300-year-old law that banned the portrayal of God in staged drama. Other shocks included actors speaking contemporary English, instead of King James Version-era Biblical speech, and characters whose daily concerns mirrored those of the vast audience the plays reached. Sayers was unmoved by the uproar she had created, saying, “Let us, in heaven’s name, drag out the divine drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slipshod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction. If the pious are the first to be shocked, so much worse for the pious—others will pass into the kingdom of heaven before them. If all men are offended because of Christ, let them be offended; but where is the sense of their being offended at something that is not Christ and is nothing like him? We do him singularly little honour by watering down his personality till it could not offend a fly. Surely it is not the business of the Church to adapt Christ to men, but to adapt men to Christ.” The plays were enormously successful, often translated into other languages and frequently restaged.

Sayers continued her attack on religious complacency in books such as The Mind of the Maker and Creed or Chaos?, a book often compared to C.S. Lewis’s classic Mere Christianity. She continued to insist that real faith must be grounded in more than emotion and sentiment; it must rest on a knowledge of, and acceptance of, the fundamental truths defined by the early church. She stated “It is fatal to let people suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; it is vitally necessary to insist that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe. It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting, and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and incompromising realism. “

Dorothy Sayers died on December 17, 1957. Every year on that date she is commemorated by the Episcopal Church with this prayer: Almighty God, who strengthened your servant Dorothy Sayers with eloquence to defend Christian teaching: Keep us, we pray, steadfast in your true religion, that in constancy and peace we may always teach right doctrine, and teach doctrine rightly; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The great advantage about telling the truth is that nobody ever believes it. 

As I grow older and older,/ And totter toward the tomb,/ I find that I care less and less,/ Who goes to bed with whom.

None of us feels the true love of God till we realize how wicked we are. But you can’t teach people that – they have to learn by experience.

The worst sin – perhaps the only sin – passion can commit, is to be joyless.

June 11

1540 Birth of an anti-Catholic poet

June 11 is St Barnabas’ Day and thus it was natural for Robert and Margaret Googe of Chilwell, Nottinghamshire to name their new-born son Barnabe. Young Barnabe grew to be a well-connected lawyer and politician during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I but his chief fame is as a poet, not necessarily a very good poet but an influential one. In literary circles he was renowned as one of the first English pastoral poets and to historians of Tudor Protestantism he is famed for his religious commentary, particularly that found in his translation of Thomas Kirchmeyer’s Regnum papisticum of 1555, a compendium of attacks on Roman Catholicism — in 1570 Googe rendered this as The Popish Kingdome, or reign of Antichrist.

To give you a flavour of his artistry, here is his description of the Catholic celebration of St John’s Day, December 27:

Nexte John, the sonne of Zebedee hath his appointed day,

Who once by cruell tyraunts will, constrayned was they say 

Strong poison up to drinke, therefore the papistes doe beleeve

That whoso puts their trust in him, no poyson them can greeve.

The wine beside that halowed is in worship of his name,

The prestes doe give the people that bring money for the same.

And after with the self same wine are little manchets made

Agaynst the boysterous winter stormes and sundrie such like trade.

The men upon this solemne day do take this holy wine

To make them strong. So do the maydes to make them faire and fine.

June 10

1525 The Great Cursing

Yesterday’s post was about Old Testament and Roman curses. None of the imprecatory psalms or the curse tablets, however, could come close in maleficent power to the Great Cursing and Monition of Gavin Dunbar, the Archbishop of Glasgow. He summoned the Almighty to thoroughly plague the English and Scottish border raiders known as reivers. Every parish priest in Scotland was obliged to read it from the pulpit. Here is a taste of it in the Scots dialect.

I curse their heid and all the haris of thair heid; I curse thair face, thair ene, thair mouth, thair neise, thair tongue, thair teeth, thair crag, thair shoulderis, thair breist, thair hert, thair stomok, thair bak, thair wame, thair armes, thais leggis, thair handis, thair feit, and everilk part of thair body, frae the top of their heid to the soill of thair feet, befoir and behind, within and without.

In contemporary English:

I curse their head and all the hairs of their head; I curse their face, their brain, their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their forehead, their shoulders, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their womb, their arms, their legs, their hands, their feet, and every part of their body, from the top of their head to the soles of their feet, before and behind, within and without.

I curse them going and I curse them riding; I curse them standing and I curse them sitting; I curse them eating and I curse them drinking; I curse them rising, and I curse them lying; I curse them at home, I curse them away from home; I curse them within the house, I curse them outside of the house; I curse their wives, their children, and their servants who participate in their deeds. I (bring ill wishes upon) their crops, their cattle, their wool, their sheep, their horses, their swine, their geese, their hens, and all their livestock. I (bring ill wishes upon) their halls, their chambers, their kitchens, their stanchions, their barns, their cowsheds, their barnyards, their cabbage patches, their plows, their harrows, and the goods and houses that are necessary for their sustenance and welfare.”

May all the malevolent wishes and curses ever known, since the beginning of the world, to this hour, light on them. May the malediction of God, that fell upon Lucifer and all his fellows, that cast them from the high Heaven to the deep hell, light upon them.

He goes on for some time, urging the repetition of the ills that befell Pharaoh and the Egyptians, Sodom and Gomorrah, Pontius Pilate, Herod, and Julian the Apostate. The Archbishop goes on to excommunicate the, forbid anyone from having any dealings with them, and concludes:

And, finally, I condemn them perpetually to the deep pit of hell, there to remain with Lucifer and all his fellows, and their bodies to the gallows of Burrow moor, first to be hanged, then ripped and torn by dogs, swine, and other wild beasts, abominable to all the world. And their candle (light of their life) goes from your sight, as may their souls go from the face of God, and their good reputation from the world, until they forebear their open sins, aforesaid, and rise from this terrible cursing and make satisfaction and penance.

June 9

When we think of petitions to the celestial powers we usual think of blessings. But, since time immemorial, people have also sought to invoke the gods to bring harm upon their enemies. Consider, for example, the Imprecatory Psalms of the Old Testament where God is beseeched to smite one’s enemies.

Let their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not; and make their loins continually to shake. Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold of them. Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents. (Ps. 69: 22-25).

Then there were the Roman curse tablets inscribed on lead and thrown into wells or tombs, or buried in the earth so that through closer contact with the chthonic powers their potency is increased.

Spirits of the netherworld, I consecrate and hand over to you, if you have any power, Ticene of Carisius. Whatever she does, may it all turn out wrong. Spirits of the netherworld, I consecrate to you her limbs, her complexion, her figure, her head, her hair, her shadow, her brain, her forehead, her liver, her shoulders, her heart, her her eyebrows, her mouth, her nose, her chin, her cheeks, her lips, her speech, her breath, her neck, lungs, her intestines, her stomach, her arms, her fingers, her hands, her navel, her entrails, her thighs, her knees, her calves, her heels, her soles, her toes. Spirits of the netherworld, if I see her wasting away, I swear that I will you every year. will be delighted to offer a sacrifice to

I curse Tretia Maria and her life and mind and memory and liver and lungs mixed up together, and her words, thoughts and memory; thus may she be unable to speak what things are concealed.

Chariot races were hugely popular in the Roman and, later, the Byzantine world. Drivers worked for the various organizations named after colours: the Greens, the Blues, etc. These groups functioned variously as mutual-aid groups, religious sects, political partisans, and criminal gangs.

I call upon you, o demon, whoever you are and ask that from this hour, from this day, from this moment, you torture and kill the horses of the Green and White factions, and that you kill and crush completely the drivers Clarus, Felix, and Romanus, and that you leave not a breath in their bodies.

June 8

Some thoughts on men and women

You know that look that women get when they want to have sex? Me neither. – Steve Martin 

At the age of eleven or thereabouts women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies. – P.G. Wodehouse, Uneasy Money, 1916

“A woman’s always quicker than a man at such jobs as ’tater setting. They can bend easier, and they’re nimbler-handed nor we. My missis can pick peas twice as quick as I can. But there,” he added, in male extenuation, “a woman’s always handling ’taters, so she ought to know the way on’t.” – Adrian Bell, The Cherry Tree, 1932

A woman in love is capable of anything. Exactly like a woman not in love. – Roberto Gervaso (1937-)

A man who moralizes is usually a hypocrite, and a woman who moralizes is invariably plain. – Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan, 1892

On the one hand, we’ll never experience childbirth. On the other hand, we can open all our own jars. – Jeff Green, 1999

The true man wants two things: danger and diversion. Therefore he wants woman, the most dangerous plaything. – Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, 1883

“When I speak of women,” said the doctor, “I speak of a sex so fragile, so variable, so changeable, so inconstant, and so imperfect … that Plato, you will recall, was at a loss where to class them. …  For nature has placed in their bodies …  certain humors, brackish, nitrous, boracious, acrid, mordant, shooting, and bitterly tickling …  by which the entire feminine body is shaken …  all senses ravished …  all thought thrown into confusion …  sometimes so violent that the woman is thereby deprived of all other senses and powers of motion as if she had suffered from heart failure, syncope, epilepsy, apoplexy, something like death.” – François Rabelais,  Gargantua and Pantagruel, c. 1532

“I was thinking”, he answered absently, “about Euripides; how, when he was an old man, he went and lived in a cave by the sea, and it was thought queer at the time. It seems that houses had become insupportable to him. I wonder whether it was because he had observed women so closely all his life.” – Willa Cather, The Professor’s House, 1925

She looked at nice young men as if she could smell their stupidity. – Flannery O’Connor, “Good Country People”, 1955

A man experienced in dealing with the female sex knows that the policy to pursue, when a woman issues an order, is not to stand arguing but to acquiesce and then go off and disobey it. – P.G. Wodehouse, Ice in the Bedroom, 1961

A girl much given to dancing can hardly find acceptance in the eyes of a man of true delicacy. Such a man’s mind must revolt more or less at the idea of his mistress twirling round in the waltz, or quadrilling it with a set of fellows, the very touch of whose fingers upon her delicate person he must feel as a sort of sacrilege. For this reason, young ladies should dance little, or not at all, in the presence of their lovers. – Robert Macnish, Aphorisms, 1834

June 7

1495 Treaty of Tordesillas

By the late 15th century European marine architecture had advanced to the point that long ocean-going voyages were possible. The nation states on the Atlantic coast invested in exploration whose purpose was to find a sea-route to Asia and its trade riches. The country that achieved this might thus cut out Mediterranean middle-men and avoid dealing with hostile Islamic powers. Portugal was first to take up this challenge and a series of expeditions down the coast of Africa in the 1480s and 1490s would eventually find a way to round the southern cape and reach India. At the same time Castile, the leading Spanish power, financed Christopher Columbus’s attempt to reach Asia by a western route, a serendipitous blunder that ended up in the discovery of the Americas. When Columbus returned from the Caribbean in March, 1493 he was sure that he had touched on the offshore islands of Japan and the Khanate of Cathay

The problem was that Columbus’s voyage violated two papal bulls and a Spanish-Portuguese treaty that awarded Portugal the right to explore and occupy non-Christian lands “in the Ocean Seas” (in mari oceano) and usque ad Indos – all the way to the Indies. After all sorts of diplomatic moves, Pope Alexander VI, a Spaniard, issued the 1493 bull Inter cetera which bolstered Spanish claims:

Among other works well pleasing to the Divine Majesty and cherished of our heart, this assuredly ranks highest, that in our times especially the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself. …[W]e … assign to you and your heirs and successors, kings of Castile and Leon, … all islands and mainlands found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered towards the west and south, by drawing and establishing a line from … the north, …to …the south, … the said line to be distant one hundred leagues towards the west and south from any of the islands commonly known as the Azores and Cape Verde.

The Portuguese were unhappy with this rather vague division of the globe and saw that it precluded their hopes of claiming rights in India. They secured their future by negotiating the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas with Spain. This agreement, which ignored the papal bull, drew a north-south line down the Atlantic, giving Portugal territory to the east and Spain the lands to the west. Interestingly, the treaty specifically forbade any appeal to the pope.

June 5

1864 The Great Leicester Balloon Riot

Henry Coxwell (1819-1900) was Britain’ pre-eminent aeronaut of the mid-Victorian period, dazzling crowd throughout Europe with his ballooning feats. He and his partner James Glaisher had ascended in 1862 to a height  of 35,000 feet, an altitude at which Glaisher fainted and Coxwell lost feeling in his hands. They would have perished had not Coxwell been able to engage the gas release mechanism with his teeth and land safely.

In 1864 he proposed to ascend in his balloon, dubbed the Britannia, as part of an Order of Foresters celebration at Leicester Racecourse. Because such feats were novel at the time, an estimated crowd of 50,000 people showed up. As Coxwell was making his preparations, a bystander remarked that Coxwell’s balloon seemed rather small. In fact, the man charged, the people of Leicester were being robbed of a chance to see a bigger and better balloon.

Though Coxwell would later dub this a “cruel libel,” the man’s allegations seemed to stir the large crowd into a surly mob that began jockeying for a better look at this disappointing craft. Some had paid to accompany Coxwell into the air, but so many spectators surrounded the balloon that it made take-off impossible. This in turn sparked a rumor that Coxwell was refusing to operate it, which only made them angrier.

People were acting so aggressively that the Britannia began to suffer damage. Coxwell scolded the crowd and insisted they behave, or else he would simply let the gas out. He made good on his threat. The balloon quickly collapsed, ending any hope of a spectacle. The act also reinforced the idea that Coxwell was trying to present them with an inferior balloon.

Already incited, they began tearing the balloon to pieces. The basket was set on fire. Two policemen, Inspector Haynes and Sergeant Chapman, arrived in an attempt to control the scene, but it proved difficult. They soon turned their attention to getting Coxwell away from the area before the crowd—already screaming for his head—began tearing into him.

Coxwell escaped intact, though Leicester’s reputation did not. Maligned by Coxwell as “balloonatics,” the spectators were criticized for their behaviour, though townsfolk blamed visitors. The incident proved embarrassing, but some chose to cash in on the notoriety. Pieces of the trampled balloon were sold as souvenirs.