Posts Tagged ‘nature’
May 19, 2016 | by Edward White
Frank Buckland wanted to save—and eat—as many animals as possible.
This is the first entry in Edward White’s The Lives of Others, a monthly series about unusual, largely forgotten figures from history. He has previously written for the Daily on Carl Van Vechten and rugby.
Every now and then, even Charles Darwin was dumbfounded by the mysteries of the natural world. On those occasions, he reached out for enlightenment to a repertory cast of scientific correspondents, one of whom was Francis Trevelyan Buckland, a raffish, tousle-haired star of the natural-history craze that befell Britain in the mid-nineteenth century. The two made for unlikely pen pals: if Darwin was the dour, sincere prophet who transformed humanity’s appreciation of its place in the universe, Buckland was a professional eccentric, as much showman as scientist. Although he did groundbreaking work in pisciculture (the breeding of fish), Buckland was perhaps best known as a lecturer, beguiling huge audiences with his left-field takes on botany, zoology, and human anatomy. As a general rule, the weirder the subject, the more likely Buckland was to have something to say about it: the fighting behavior of newts, the cannibalistic propensities of rats, the best method for killing a boa constrictor, gigantism, walking fish, flea circuses, conjoined twins (he was a good friend of Chang and Eng Bunker, the original Siamese twins), the uses of human hair as manure, and pagan burial rites. Tellingly, it was Buckland to whom Darwin turned to verify a claim that a dog and a lion had successfully bred in rural Russia. Read More »
February 4, 2016 | by Ben Mauk
Notes on art and apocalypse.
How will the end come? Did it already come? Did we miss it? That we can ask this last question shows just how far our current mood of millenarianism has traveled from its antecedents in the distant and not-so-distant past. As late as Eliot, poets and prognosticators assured us that we would recognize “how the world ends.” Most visions of apocalypse were spectacular, sublime. The possibility that we have instead whimpered our way into some kind of boiling-frog scenario—marked by slow but irreversible global warming, mass human displacement, and a gradually perceptible slide toward famine, disease, war, and extinction—is a radical departure from the convulsive display we’d long been promised.
The first properly apocalyptic writings in the monotheistic tradition are the books of Joel and Zechariah, two of the twelve minor prophets in the Tanakh, or Jewish canon. Joel, whose account may date to the reign of King Josiah, around 800 B.C., and who may therefore be the oldest prophet, begins by describing a coming locust infestation, which he claims will be coincident with famine and widespread misery. The lament transforms into a hallucinogenic description of locusts as God’s army (“the increasing locust, the nibbling locust, the finishing locust, and the shearing locust”), of a fire that consumes the world, and of a day of thick darkness “like the dawn spread over the mountains.” The more famous book of Daniel follows approximately in this mold, albeit with new messianic trappings. Read More »
January 5, 2016 | by Max Nelson
John Clare, Christopher Smart, and the poetry of the asylum.
In an agrarian or preindustrial Britain, a brilliant young man bristles at his assigned vocation. After reading insatiably for years, he starts publishing odd, distinctive poems that cause a local stir. Urged to settle down, he instead experiments with more startling writing and shows more worrying behavior. His wife and family, understandably troubled but also driven by some unsavory motives, arrange for him to be sent to a madhouse, where confinement turns out to be much more to his harm than to his good. As his mental and physical health declines, his poetry starts to develop more radical formal arrangements. It also takes on a new tone: a strange, arresting combination of de-sexed innocence, bitter wisdom, childlike whimsy, and intensity of focus. Well after his death, as literary critics start pillaging the past for works of inadvertent modernism, his surviving poetry becomes a source of inspiration for a new generation of writers by whose books he’d have been equally fascinated and baffled.
This account corresponds roughly to the lives of both John Clare (1793–1864) and Christopher Smart (1722–’71), though it ignores much of what set the two poets apart. An archetypical urban poet, the son of a bailiff, Smart spent years on Grub Street writing satires, poems, attacks on his contemporaries, and flurries of hackwork, much of it under pseudonyms. Years earlier, when he started his career as a brilliant (if eccentric) divinity student at Pembroke College, he’d already received a thorough grounding in the classics. Clare, an agricultural laborer who lived and worked in Britain’s East Midlands during a period of rapid industrialization, grew up to a family of poor tenement farmers and went to school only sporadically. No less intelligent and formally imaginative than Smart’s, his poetry was as closely informed by Helpston’s birds, flowers, and folk songs—he might have been one of Europe’s earliest ethnomusicologists—as his predecessor’s was by the gospels, the classics, and the Grub Street press. Read More »
July 30, 2015 | by Lance Richardson
How Aldo Leopold came to conservationism.
On the first day of April 1944, Aldo Leopold sat down at his desk to craft a confession. Leopold’s reputation was already growing across the country—a champion of modern wildlife management and the father of the Gila Wilderness, he was known as a good man and great teacher—but this would be something new and strange from a figure many would come to revere as the patron saint of American conservation. Leopold had recently received a letter, one in a long series of correspondence with his friend, Hans Albert Hochbaum, critiquing the essays Leopold was slowly producing for a book. Hochbaum mentioned the wolf, an animal that remained conspicuously absent from Leopold’s drafts: “I think you’ll have to admit you’ve got at least a drop of its blood on your hands.”
Hochbaum was talking generally, but the comment reminded Leopold of an incident that dated back to 1909, when he was just twenty-two. Read More »
July 17, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Nicole’s staff pick from earlier today reminded me: I’ve been meaning to draw attention to the riches of archive.org’s Magazine Rack, a clearinghouse for defunct, forgotten, and abstruse periodicals from decades past. Anyone interested in media and design will find something diverting here. They’ve amassed a stupefyingly diverse collection, including such celebrated titles as OMNI (once the best sci-fi magazine around) and more … specialized fare, like The National Locksmith, Railway Modeller, and, of course, Sponsor, the magazine for radio and TV advertising buyers. All of these have been carefully digitized, and they’re free.
The best discovery I’ve made so far is Desert Magazine, a monthly dedicated to everyone’s favorite Class B Köppen climate classification. A journal of the Southwest with a conservationist bent, Desert dates to 1937 and ran for nearly fifty years, ceasing publication in 1985. Its founder and longtime publisher, Randall Henderson, died in 1970, well before I was born, but I like the cut of his jib. (Probably the wrong metaphor—few occasions for sailing in the desert.) In any case, he sounds like a copywriter from the J. Peterman Company: Read More »
April 6, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
“April in the Berkshires,” a poem by William Matthews from our Spring 1987 issue. Matthews died in 1997. “Auden was wrong,” he said in a 1995 interview: “It’s not true that poetry makes nothing happen. It tends to work its wonders in a very small arena. It makes you more interesting to yourself, and you and me, at its best ... It has the power to perform a kind of cleansing, or rinsing of the sort for which for a long part of human history, we had only images of theological intervention to describe.”
Dogs skulk, clouds moil and froth, humans
begin to cook—butter, a blue waver of flame,
chopped onions. A styptic rain stings grit and soot
from the noon air. Here and there, like the mess
after a party, pink smudgily tinges the bushes,
but they’ll be long weeks of mud and sweaters Read More »