Saturday, December 20, 2014

19-22, All the Others

Number Six in a Series on Countries Named after Peeps

Well, it has been a long time. Here are the last four peeps who have given their names to current countries:

19. Saud ibn Muhammad ibn Migrin c.1680-1740?
Emir of Al-Diriyah and father of Muhammad ibn Saud, who was the founder of the first Saudi state.


20. Thomas Gilbert c.1750-1820?
21. John Marshall 1748-1819
These gentlemen were the captains of two vessels belonging to the East India Company that were chartered to bring convicts to Australia in the First Fleet. Gilbert was captain of the Charlotte and Marshall of the Scarborough. Once they had gotten rid of their cargo of ne’erdowells, they sailed off for Canton to pick up some tea for the journey back to England. And I guess because no one had ever had any particular reason to sail as quickly as they could manage from Australia to China before, they ended up cutting through an expanse of ocean that no European vessel had been recorded going through before. This expanse of ocean had some previously undiscovered islands, which they humbly named the ‘Kingsmill Islands’ and ‘Lord Mulgrove’s Range’, but they ended up being called, respectively, the Gilbert Islands and the Marshall Islands. Apparently thanks to the enthusiastic renaming efforts of the Russian explorer Adam Johann von Krusenstern (see below).
This is Adam Johann von Krusenstern, in a break between renaming islands
Who also, it seems, renamed the Hervey Islands after Captain James Cook.

The language of the Gilbert Islands, like Hawaiian, doesn’t have an ‘L’ sound or a ‘G’ sound, so ‘Gilberts’ is written ‘Kiribati’.

You might remember it as the country that used to straddle the international date line, which was shifted so that the whole country could be the same day at the same time. It has 100,000 people spread over three time zones and is all atolls no more than a few metres above sea level.

Then there are the Marshall Islands, which also have a great flag – it was one of my son’s favourites when he was very small and very keen on flags - and the unenviable distinction of being the site of all kinds of nuclear weapons tests.

So those are the only two countries named after Englishmen. There isn’t much information about Thomas Gilbert on the interwebz, but John Marshall would be a good subject for a series of historical novels. He was born in Ramsgate on the 15th of February, 1748, and was sent to sea as an apprentice at the age of 10, spending most of the next sixty years at sea. As well as taking part in the First and Second Fleets, he fought the dastardly rebel colonists of North America in their rebellion and was severely wounded fighting a French privateer in the Napoleonic wars.

When I was born, both of these countries would not have counted on this list, being colonies, but there was a much more populous country named after a third Englishman, which has since taken its place in the dustbin of history.

22. Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios Ponte y Blanco (24 July 1783 – 17 December 1830)
Who started this series. Bolivia is named after him, and of course the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. I have just ended up linking to Wikipedia mostly, anyways, so you can use your own initiative to look him up.

I don't know who these people are. But they are looking very festively Bolivarian.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Accept No Substitutes

I finally got around to reading Milton’s Comus the other night, through the simple expedient of spending all night reading at Sydney airport so as to save money on accommodation before my flight home. I have been meaning to read Comus because of the mentions of it in Alex Waugh’s ‘Loom of Youth’, which I read because I read Evelyn Waugh’s autobiography. 

Near the end of Comus I suddenly had a feeling a deja vu.

The song is being sung to Sabrina, incarnation of the river Severn:

May thy lofty head be crowned
With many a tower and terrace round
And here and there thy banks upon
With groves of myrrh and cinnamon
(lines 934-937)

And there echoed in my head these other four lines about the vicinity of Alph, the sacred river:

So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills
Where blossomed many an incense bearing tree

In form and content that is just too close to be coincidence, methinks.

Line 926 of Comus ends with ‘rills’, by the way. And line 990 contains the word ‘cedarn’, which the notes to the poem say is a uniquely Miltonic word that the blind poet made up, but I had only ever met in Kubla Khan. A few lines down (941) is ‘With some other new device’,  which is echoed by ‘It was a miracle of rare device’. Line 1002 of Comus has an Assyrian queen, which is echoed in Kubla Khan by an Abyssinian maid. Wikipedia tells me Mount Abora was originally Mount Amara, which is mentioned in Paradise Lost. We can safely assume Coleridge, like any educated Englishman of his time, to be thoroughly steeped in Milton.

Here’s my theory.

Coleridge didn’t dream any old poem. He dreamt an alternate ending to Comus. Which of course, being a paean to the glory of chastity, suggests a very obvious alternate ending. Instead of the virgin Sabrina, we have Alph, the sacred river (which is probably a reference to the lecherous Alpheus of the Pellopennese). You will remember how it was ‘flung up momently’ in a ‘mighty fountain’ ‘with ceaseless turmoil seething, as if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing.’

Here's the corollary to my theory. 

Any analysis of Kubla Khan that does not mention Comus (which is all of them that I can find so far) is a load of toss.

Ending 1, Sabrina:
Mortals, that would follow me,
Love virtue; she alone is free.
She can teach ye how to climb
Higher than the sphery chime;
Or, if Virtue feeble were,
Heaven itself would stoop to her.

Ending 2, Alpheus:
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.