Posts filed under “History”


This is a day of freedom for all Americans; slavery makes slaves of us all, and one who believes that our life on earth is only a prologue to eternity may be forgiven for supposing that the slaveowner spends a longer time in more discomfort. In honor of the new federal holiday, here are some articles that have appeared in the Historical Spectator on the subject of slavery:

Slavery Is the Original Sin

The Real Motives of the American Colonization Society

Slaves of the Baker

Runaway Phil

A Frenchman Looks at American Race Relations

Now, here is an interesting exercise in historical research. How and when did the name “Juneteenth” come into use? It is quite possible that one of our readers knows, but Dr. Boli does not, and his sources of information have failed him. Wikipedia does not mention the question, let alone answer it. You can ask the Internet “Where did the name ‘Juneteenth’ come from?” and the Internet will helpfully tell you that it is a contraction of “June” and “nineteenth.” Yes, you guessed that, but where did that contraction come from? When was it first used? You will see people asking that in forums, and being told that it comes from “June” and “nineteenth.” When they politely remark that they knew that, but it wasn’t the question they were asking, they may be told the same thing in capital letters: IT COMES FROM “JUNE” AND “NINETEENTH.” There are articles with headlines that purport to explain the origin of the name, and they tell you that it comes from “June” and “nineteenth.”

But it is a distinctive contraction, isn’t it? It is not obvious that “June” and “nineteenth” should produce “Juneteenth.” We do not celebrate the Declaration of Independence on Julourth. It seems to Dr. Boli that some graduate student has a thesis topic here that would lead to some fascinating and fruitful byways of history. When was the name first used, and by whom? Dr. Boli will mention that the earliest use he could find was in 1890, but it seemed to refer to a celebration already well known by the name Juneteenth. Can anyone do better?


Chronica de Hespanya fo. XX verso

This is a very small cut from a Catalan chronicle printed in 1547, and here Dr. Boli must confess that he is not as much of a Catalan reader as he ought to be. It is a frustrating experience, because the language is close enough to French that it seems as though one ought to be able to read it; but aside from the language barrier, the book is printed virtually without punctuation, and words divide at the ends of lines without any such warning as a hyphen or a “dangerous curve” sign, and proper names are printed without capitals, and abbreviations are frequently employed—all of which makes the text just a little difficult. But it seems like something one would want to know about. Clearly if things like this were happening in Spain, then Spain was a very exciting place.

So we turn to Google and search by image, uploading this picture to see what Google can find. And here is what Google tells us:

Possible related search: dot

When used as a diacritic mark, the term dot is usually reserved for the interpunct, or to the glyphs ‘combining dot above’ and ‘combining dot below’ which may be combined with some letters of the extended Latin alphabets in use in Central European languages and Vietnamese. Wikipedia

So naturally the first site in the results is the Department of Transportation.


Now, having looked a little further at the text, Dr. Boli believes he may have recognized the story. He will provisionally identify it as the tale of King Wamba (spelled bamba in the Catalan chronicle, which is easily explained by the Iberian inability to distinguish the V and B sounds) and St. Giles, in which Wamba, out hunting, had accidentally shot and wounded Giles, and then cared for the wounded saint and ultimately built a monastery for the pilgrims who came to the spot. On this identification, the figure with the bow is meant to be Wamba—but why so skeletal? Dr. Boli had tried to stretch the point and suggest that this was the engraver’s attempt to represent the king in armor, but he was assured by an expert in medieval and Renaissance armor that there was no possibility that any engraver, no matter how lacking in skill, would make armor look like that. Otherwise the interpretation is plausible, since the other characters in surrounding text are known figures in the history and legend of Wamba. Clearly, however, the woodcut brings many incidents from different times together, and Dr. Boli does not pretend to understand all the symbolism.


Third Series.


Stonedwall Jackson in his battle jacket, by our staff artist.

Stonewall Jackson. The Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson received his nickname from the distinctive camouflage he wore. In rural Virginia, which is crisscrossed by stone walls, it was very effective in concealing him from Union forces; but it also rendered him nearly invisible to his own side, leading to his unfortunate but probably inevitable demise.


This utterly charming scene is used as the frontispiece to a history of toys from 1882, where it is labeled “Les Jouets de l’enfant Jésus, d’après une peinture sur bois de la fin du XVe siècle” (The Toys of the Child Jesus, after a painting on wood from the end of the fifteenth century).

Even better, though, is what you get when, hoping for more information about the painting, you use DuckDuckGo to look up “jouets de l’enfant Jésus” (“toys of the child Jesus”):

Images for jouets de l'enfant jésus

Now we know what Jesus was doing in the years between the return to Nazareth and the trip he made to Jerusalem at the age of twelve.


Madame de Pompadour, the maîtresse-en-titre of Louis XV, enjoyed dressing up as less important people to experience the thrill of being an ordinary person who was not required to dress up all day. She was often painted in these roles. Here are some of her favorites:

Madame de Pompadour as a gardener.

Madame de Pompadour as a Vestal virgin. This was said to be her most difficult impersonation.

Madame de Pompadour as a person who might be interested in books.

Madame de Pompadour as the goddess Diana.

Madame de Pompadour as Louis XV.

Madame de Pompadour as Stonewall Jackson.

Madame de Pompadour as a bunch of fruit.



The ancient world’s most notorious model-railroading enthusiast: Time-Travel Retrosketch by our staff artist.

Augustus was all-Rome marbles champion sixteen years in a row. He accumulated so many marbles from defeated opponents that Roman wits said he had found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marbles.

Nero built his Golden House on the ruins of the burned districts of Rome largely to accommodate his model-railroad layout.

The philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius was also an amateur magician of some skill. His most famous trick involved setting a Christian and a lion in the same arena and making the Christian disappear.

Diocletian, the last and most ferocious persecutor of the Christians, secretly collected Precious Moments nativity sets.

Constantine built a replica of Rome on the Bosphorus at 1:1 scale.

Honorius, a well-known poultry fancier, replaced his only successful general with a chicken.

By a strange historical irony, Romulus Augustulus, the last of the Roman emperors in the West, was also an avid marbles player, but lost every game.


Assassin of our martyred president.

Adolf Hitler made a comfortable living selling landscapes to illustrated monthlies, and out of sheer boredom France declared war against England.

Henry Ford concluded that cars would sell best with the slogan “Quality, Not Quantity.”

Edgar Allan Poe was nursed back to health by a Franciscan nun in Baltimore, and was chiefly remembered for his disparaging obituary of Rufus Wilmot Griswold.

James A. Garfield survived the attempted assassination by Charles J. Guiteau, but was torn to pieces by rabid woodchucks on the White House lawn two months later.

Vincent Van Gogh earned a fair income designing advertisements for La Fontanelle’s Sunflower Oil.

James Watt observed the lid of a kettle rising by steam power and invented the first commercially successful pressure cooker.

Tim Berners-Lee was assassinated by a traveler from an alternate universe, and Minitel became a global information network.