Waters of the World: The Story of the Scientists Who Unraveled the Mysteries of Our Oceans, Atmosphere, and Ice Sheets and Made the Planet Whole
by Sarah Dry
At the end of July 2019 in the English Lake District, half a mile from the spot known as the wettest place in Britain, the river was low, the waterfalls silent. A heat wave was scorching Europe and there were wildfires across the Arctic Circle. Clare Nullis, from the UN …
In Pursuit of Civility: Manners and Civilization in Early Modern England
by Keith Thomas
“Civility,” Keith Thomas notes, “was (and is) a slippery and unstable word.” “Civil” and “civilian” evoke the social life of a people not under military rule, the world of the civitas—the organized community—the only place, according to Aristotle and Cicero, where the good life is possible. While “courtesy” relates to the values of the court, “civility,” Thomas writes, is “the virtue of citizens”: in his Dictionary (1755), Samuel Johnson defined it as both “politeness” and “the state of being civilized.” Thomas explores the understanding and use of the term in England from 1500 to 1800, when it referred both to manners in daily life and manners as mores: the customs and attitudes of the allegedly civilized nation as a whole.
The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age
by Leo Damrosch
The Literary Club, known simply as “The Club,” was established in early 1764 after the portrait painter Joshua Reynolds became worried about his friend Samuel Johnson, who was sinking into a black depression. An old Oxford friend, William Adams, had visited Johnson the previous autumn and “found him in a deplorable state, sighing, groaning, talking to himself, and restlessly walking from room to room.” Johnson told Adams, “I would consent to have a limb amputated to recover my spirits.” An evening of talk with friends, Reynolds suggested, was a less drastic remedy.
On August 26, 1768, a day of fresh winds and cloudy skies, James Cook guided his ship, the Endeavour, past the coast of Cornwall into the open sea. On board, he noted in his journal, were ninety-four men, “Officers Seamen Gentlemen”—including the wealthy young naturalist Joseph Banks—and the ship carried …
The complex, sometimes conflictual, relationship of man and machine is a constant thread in “The Art of Innovation,” at London’s Science Museum. Recalling how the mechanical telling of time itself became contested during the Industrial Revolution, as the historian E.P. Thompson described in a famous 1967 Past & Present article, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism,” here is a handsome double-dialled clock from a Macclesfield mill, dating from 1810. In the catalog, the curators tell us that while the lower dial showed the actual time, the upper dial was connected to the silk mill’s waterwheel: if the waterwheel ran slowly, or stopped, “mill time” was slowed or suspended, and the workers would have to make up the lost production time, “ruled by the pace of their machines.” Paradoxically, machines could also make men and women feel free as never before.
The Blake exhibition at Tate Britain, the first major exhibition in nearly twenty years, shows 300 of his prints and paintings, with manuscripts and printed books, gathered from galleries and libraries across the world. To corral this, the curators have imposed a chronological arrangement, setting Blake’s work in the context of the French Revolution, the spread of industry and the growing British empire, and devoting rooms to his patrons and his career as an engraver to show how he scraped a living until the relative freedom of his final years. Far from being dwarfed by the vast Tate rooms, within these controlling boxes Blake’s shining art explodes with energy, sometimes mystical, sometimes rippling with anger, sometimes leaping with delight.
This haunting show, in the cool gallery spaces high above the city that Dora Maar knew so well, makes it clear that she was indeed a star, a leading figure in Surrealist photo-montage of the mid-1930s. Maar’s largest exhibition in France, it contains over 400 of her works, yet, like the model in the banner, she turns away, and hides her face, remaining enigmatic in her work. In Self-Portrait with Fan (1930), she shows only her reflection in a mirror, her serious gaze shrouded by the circles of an electric fan. She looks as if she might blow away, dissolve into fragments.
“Czech Routes” contains works by twenty-one painters, printmakers, and sculptors who left Czechoslovakia at different times in the past century. One fine bronze by Irena Sedlecká, who stayed in Britain after the USSR crushed the Prague Spring in 1968, is a sculpture of Kafka she made in 1967. “Reading The Trial,” Sedlecká said, “I understood for the first time what it means to be Czech. He made sense of those terrible times when the authorities would simply pull you in for questioning, without your ever knowing the reason. That experience has shaped our national psyche.”