July 1

1867 The birth of Canada

A Happy Dominion Day to my Canadian reader. 

I have always said that it was a sad day in Canadian history when the dark powers that ruled the nation changed the name of our national celebration to Canada Day. What a weak tea of a term, barren of meaning and historical weight. Pfui! I fart in its general direction.

June 26

The recording industry has a long history of one-hit wonders, artists who produced only a single moment of musical glory and who then faded back into obscurity, “unwept, unhonoured, and unsung”. “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians; “Who Let the Dogs Out?” by Baha Men; “Harper Valley PTA” by Jeannie C. Riley will ring distant bells in the minds of my generation.

The same can be said for public speakers. Beyond the “Checkers” speech, who remembers the oratory of Richard Nixon? Can anyone recall one line in the rhetorical career of Dwight Eisenhower beyond his “military-industrial complex” warning? Will Greta Thunberg make it into the Verbal Eloquence Hall of Fame on only the strength of “How dare you!”?

Let us, therefore, honour today the contribution of not-quite-immortal Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, a one-term Mississippi legislator whose 1952 farewell address will live on the annals of He Only Gave One Speech but It Was a Doozy. The subject was the state regulation of the liquor trade.

My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, this is how I feel about whiskey:

If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

June 25

Even more last words in history

“I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.” – Leonardo da Vinci, 2 May 1519

“I desire to go to hell, and not to heaven. In the former place I shall enjoy the company of popes, kings, and princes, while in the latter are only beggars, monks, hermits, and apostles.” – Niccolò Machiavelli, 21 June 1527



“All my possessions for a moment of time.” – Elizabeth I, 24 March 1603

“Oh, would to God I had never reigned! Oh, that those years I have spent in my kingdom I had lived a solitary life in the wilderness! Oh, that I had lived alone with God! How much more secure should I now have died! With how much more confidence should I have gone to the throne of God! What doth all my glory profit, but that I have so much the more torment in my death?” – Philip III of Spain, 31 March 1621

I would never have married had I known that my time would be so brief. If I had known that, I would not have taken upon myself double tears.” – Alexis of Russia, 8 February 1676. For his two marriages Alexis held a Bachelorette-type competition, something that Byzantine emperors had occasionally done. Out of a hundred or so daughters of nobility, Alexis gave a handkerchief and ring to a young woman not favoured by his advisors. They diagnosed the poor girl with epilepsy and hustled her and her family off to Siberia. 

“I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with Blood. I had, as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.” — John Brown, 2 December 1859

June 23

1917 A very interesting game of baseball

On June 23, 1917 the Boston Red Sox were hosting the Washington Senators at Fenway Park. While Boston had an enviable recent record, having won the World Series in 1915 and 1916, their guests were less successful, the butt of the joke “Washington: First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League”.

On the mound for the Bosox was Babe Ruth. He gave up a walk on four pitches to the first batter which provoked him into a confrontation with the umpire Brick Owens who had a lengthy history of encounters with enraged players and fans. Ruth politely contended that the vision of the irascible overseer was somehow deficient on this occasion (his exact words were “Why don’t you open your god-damned eyes?”) and Owens promptly excused the Babe from further participation in the contest. The Bambino responded by punching the cantankerous arbiter on the way out. The Crimson Hose were then obliged to call for a replacement. Manager Bill Carrigan’s gaze fell upon Ernie Shore, no slouch as a hurler of the horsehide orb, who was allowed only five warm-up pitches and stood upon the hill almost cold. What followed was major league history.

Shore, “the Carolina Professor” (he taught mathematics in the off-season), eyed Ray Morgan, the Griffsters’ runner at first base; Morgan eyed Shore, and on the latter’s first pitch headed toward second base where he was ignominiously thrown out. The next 26 batters were set down in order by Shore with the last out being served up by Washington pitcher who (it is shameful to recall) attempted a bunt, thus violating the Unwritten Rule against late-inning bunts in a potential no-hitter.

At the time Shore was credited with a perfect game but the statisticians now consider the game to be a shared no-hitter.

 

June 22

Still interested in famous last words? Here are some more.

“You urge me in vain. I am not the man to provide Christian flesh for pagan teeth to devour, and it would be so acting if I delivered unto you that which the poor have laid by for their subsistence.”
— Ælfheah of Canterbury, (aka AlphegeArchbishop of Canterbury (19 April 1012), refusing to pay ransom before being killed in the hideous “blood eagle” fashion by his Danish captors. He was the first Archbishop of Canterbury to be martyred. Three more would follow in the next six centuries.

“I have loved justice and hated iniquity; therefore I die in exile.”
— Pope Gregory VII (25 May 1085), in exile in Salerno due to his conflicts with Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor. One of the more quarrelsome popes of the Middle Ages, he excommunicated the Emperor Henry three times, waged war with the help of the rapacious Normans, and was driven from Rome by an angry populace.

“Pope Clement, Chevalier Guillaume de Nogaret, King Philip! I summon you to the Tribunal of Heaven before the year is out!” — Jacques de Molay, last Grand Master of the Knights Templar (11 or 18 March 1314), before being burned at the stake. This famous curse on the trio who had plotted the demise and plunder of the Templar order had great effect: all three died within the year.

“What have I done, or my children, that I should meet such a fate? And from your hands, too, you who have met with friendship and kindness from my people who have received nothing but benefits from my hands.”— Atahualpa, last Sapa Inca of the Inca Empire (26 July 1533), prior to execution by strangling. The Incans were a nasty bunch of human-sacrificing imperialist oppressors but the Spanish conquistadores led by the loathsome Francisco Pizarro who ended their domination were just as bad.

“All right then, I’ll say it. Dante makes me sick.” — Lope de Vega, Spanish playwright, the equivalent of Shakespeare in Hispanic culture, (27 August 1635). In the end, everyone is a critic.

June 18

Time to consider some last words of famous folk in history.

“Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, A women slew him.” Abimelech, king of Schechem, wounded by a stone thrown by a woman during the siege of Thebez, 12th century BC

“Heaven has turned against me. No wise ruler arises, and no one in the Empire wishes to make me his teacher. The hour of my death has come.” – Confucius, 479 BC. The Chinese sage and philosopher was, like Plato, often asked to consult on political matters and suggest reforms but, like Plato, saw few of his suggestions implemented.

 

Acta est fabula, plaudite.”  “Have I played the part well? Then applaud, as I exit.” Emperor Augustus, 14 AD

Seventeen centuries later, Samuel Johnson made this comment, alluding to the last words of Augustus:

A little more than nothing is as much as can be expected from a being who, with respect to the multitudes about him, is himself little more than nothing. Every man is obliged by the Supreme Master of the universe to improve all the opportunities of good which are afforded him, and to keep in continual activity such abilities as are bestowed upon him. But he has no reason to repine, though his abilities are small and his opportunities are few. He that has improved the virtue, or advanced the happiness, of one fellow-creature; he that has ascertained a single moral proposition, or added one useful experiment to natural knowledge, may be contented with his own performance; and, with respect to mortals like himself, may demand, like Augustus, to be dismissed at his departure with applause. 

“Vicisti, Galiaee.” “And yet Thou hast conquered, O Galilean!”

Julian the Apostate, Roman emperor (26 June 363 CE), mortally wounded in battle in battle against the Persians. Christian legend says that he was stabbed in the midst of the battle by the ghost of St. Longinus, the centurion who had supervised the execution of Jesus. His alleged last words were meant to acknowledge the triumph of Christ over Julian’s paganism.

I have now reigned above fifty years in victory or peace; beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honours, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation, I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot: they amount to fourteen:—O man! place not thy confidence in this present world!

Abd al-Rahman III, Caliph of Córdoba, 961 was the founder of a new caliphate in Andalusia. He was a very successful politician and general, the scourge of the Christian kingdoms in Spain.

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.