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“Here lies one whose name was writ in water” was the entire epitaph a rather discouraged John Keats directed should be inscribed on his tombstone which can be found in Rome at the Cemitero Acattolico. As this article from The Paris Review outlines, all the editorial comment above those two lines was added by Keats’ friends. The bitterness was theirs: Keats was quietly resigned to death and assumed he was being taken before he could properly work out his poetic mission. The anonymity he wished for is achieved. The date of death is off by one day; he died on the 23rd.

Now The National Trust announces the construction of a reflecting pool at Runnymede which has picked up and run with the writ in water idea. The structure was designed by Mark Wallinger in collaboration with Studio Octopi. Mr Wallinger presents it here:

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The inscription reflected in the pool, a quotation from the Magna Carta, signed of course at Runnymede, reads “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.” Those of us who grew up with letterpress printing may be almost as capable of reading the inscription upside down and back-to-front as in its right-reading reflection in the pool. I frequently found this ability of use when confronting bosses across their desk.

Thank you Nathan Barr for the link.

The Book of Riddles by Fabrice Mazza and Sylvain Lhullier is the source of the fascinating puzzle in the video below, forwarded to us by David Crotty at The Scholarly Kitchen.

The Book of Riddles can be found here. It is, according to Amazon, published by Charwell Books, an imprint of Quarto. This can be confirmed by the Look Inside feature, however I can’t find the book on the Quarto site. Puzzle books have long been a staple of the catch-penny end of the trade. Here is a PDF of one example: a 19th century book, published in Portland by Bailey and Noyes. What looks like exactly the same book, this time published by John F. Brown in Concord is available at Project Gutenberg with a publication date of 1846. The PDF of the Bailey and Noyes has an intrusive “Concord” on the second title page. This suggests it came after the Project Gutenberg book, and was printed from the same type with a few corrections.

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I swear I almost got it: well half-way anyway.

This has nothing to do with books, but it is fascinating. Just think of the thrill of slowly building this object bit by bit and then having it actually work. A wondrous mania.

But how often would you play it? The repetition might become a little trying.

In a way its complexity reminds me of the music typewriter I recently wrote about.

Link via Open Culture.

We know about cli-fi. Here comes ecologically sensitive poetry which I choose to name eco-po.

The Guardian brings us a selection of poems about insects selected by Carol Ann Duffy. In her introduction the poet laureate writes “Earlier this year, the journal Biological Conservation published the first global scientific review of the insect population, recording that more than 40% of species are declining and a third are endangered. The journal concludes, ‘unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades. The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic.’”

We tend to assume, even those of us without the Bible to direct our thoughts, that animals are there pretty much for our benefit, or, from the other end of the telescope, that insects are there just to annoy us, and that getting rid of them would be a great thing. Just the other day, Mike Bloomberg, pretty woke on climate issues, was calling for the elimination of the mosquitos who carry malaria. But hang on: sure we don’t like them, but we’d be pretty disgusted if some Mosquitoese speaker revealed to us that these little toughs were actually calling for the elimination of humans. This, as we really do know, would be a bad idea from the mosquito’s point of view, and isn’t one they’d be stupid enough to espouse. They know that human blood is an integral part of their life cycle, and eliminating their blood bank would be sui-genocidal. If only we could bring the same sort of wisdom to our attitudes to the world around us.

Mike McCarthy’s The Moth Snowstorm, published in Britain in 2015, and in USA the following year, is all about the vast losses in the numbers of members of almost all species of wildlife. His moth snowstorm refers to a phenomenon I can just remember from my childhood: driving in the evening with headlights on and finding so many moths attracted to the light source that it became hard to see your way forward, just as if you were driving though a snowstorm. Anyone a bit younger than me has never experienced this. The main reason for the population thinning appears to be the use of agricultural pesticides, though there are enough reasons to fill a book. Now the good news: I wrote recently about the rewilding of Knepp in Sussex, also discussed in a book from New York Review Books, due this fall, and the author, Isabella Tree told us that they have, after very few years of cutting out chemicals and allowing nature to reestablish its unaltered state, run into moth snowstorms themselves on the estate.

Not as dramatic as the 3D maps I wrote about yesterday, and also a day late for Shakespeare’s birthday (or a couple of days early), but here’s another map post.

Charles Webb has created an online map indicating locations mentioned in history plays by Shakespeare. The Collation, the Folger’s blog, brings an account. His initial impulse was the fact that “in the beginning of Antony and Cleopatra Antony’s trip from Alexandria to Rome takes only twenty pages in the Folger Edition of the play, which corresponds to only three scenes on the stage. According to ORBIS, however, this trip would have taken Antony at least sixteen days if he had perfect weather conditions and made no stops”.

Antony and Cleopatra results

The mapping program can be found here, though it doesn’t seem to show the length of that particular journey.


Atlas Obscura has a story about The National Library of Scotland’s (Leabharlann Nàiseanta na h-Alba in Gaelic) improvement of their 3D tool which allows you to see elevation in maps with contours or even a consistent shading system to indicate slope. This 3D tool has apparently been available since 2016 and has now been tweaked to allow a more emphatic indication of verticality.

Galashiels, Borders. Meigle Hill, Gala Hill and Buckholm Hill did always tend to look higher from the middle of town.

The 3D map viewer uses open-source technology from Cesium, a geospatial 3D mapping platform.

The National Library’s website gives several examples, but you can visit the site and noodle around. Pretty cool.

The Collation, the Folger Library’s blog, has a post on early almanacs with this fascinating illustration showing us which Zodiac signs govern which parts of our body. Who knew?

STC 501, [A4r]

I wrote about almanacs last year.

Not altogether sure how I’m following Canuck Carl, and this post of his has absolutely nothing to do with books, but I find the story fascinating. Read about Shrek the New Zealand sheep who ran away and lived in a cave for six years. Wild sheep are able to shed their coats each year, but because we have bred Merino sheep to produce wool and hold onto it until we come along and cut it off, that’s what Shrek did, and after six years he was carrying 60 pounds of wool around and suffering from heat exhaustion. See him being released from his self-imposed sweater captivity at Canuck Carl’s post. (You can see a video of the event at YouTube.)

I recently read Isabella Tree’s Wilding (due from New York Review Books this fall*) and was lucky enough to visit Knepp Castle in Sussex where she and her husband have been progressively rewilding their farm since 2001. This involves letting plants grow as they will and most importantly eliminating chemical fertilizers and the antibiotics in animal feed, while introducing grazing animals to mimic the putative prehistoric European environment. They have brought in English longhorn cattle, Dartmoor ponies, Tamworth pigs (all three the closest surviving relatives of ancient progenitors) and red deer. These animals look after themselves year round and graze the grass, plants and trees as presumably they would “in a state of nature”. The government prohibited the rewilders from going the whole hog and leaving any dead animals to decompose! But this is of course how things would/should be. Here are a few of the cattle after overwintering on their own, looking in fine fettle (photo taken on March 14th. You can enlarge it by clicking on it).

Observe the little bramble thicket in the right foreground. This is where oaks grow. Their acorns are stashed away all over in the ground by jays, and when they sprout they are quickly munched down by the grazing animals. Only those sheltered by prickly undergrowth can prosper and grow. Thus Mother Nature arranges things.

Any tree or tree limb that falls down at Knepp is left to decompose in situ. We were told that an oak has three life stages, 300 years growing, 300 years as a mature tree, and 300 years dying. There are plants and animals who need a dead tree in order to thrive, and some of these are quite rare. Supplies of hollow dying trees are generally a bit short — we humans tend to assume a tree without leaves needs cutting down.

Of sheep there are none at Knepp: they are notoriously efficient grazers and reputedly account for the fact that the Highlands of Scotland are basically treeless. (Nor presumably were they present in the European post-glacial environment.) The effect of ceasing to apply chemicals and allowing everything to look after itself has been dramatic. The diversity of insect life has increased immensely: in one research project 12,178 individual dung beetles from 13 species were collected, 11,666 from Knepp, and the rest (only 512) from the control sites, two nearby organic farms. The Knepp sample contained 11 different species whereas the organic farms had 6 and 8 species. This difference in numbers shows the effects of restraining our impulses to modify nature. Very encouraging, to me, was the speed at which species diversity increased: even one year made a big difference. Birds seem to know Knepp offers riches, and home in on the place on their migration. England is in the process of losing its nightingales, but in one field at Knepp we were told “In a month or so there’ll be 15 nightingales singing in this field alone”. Turtle doves have returned. It’s almost as if the information is passed around among these long distance commuters as they meet at some busy crossroads over northern Africa. A note about species diversity at Knepp can be found here.

Rewilding seems unambiguously good for the ecosystem. The trouble with intervention in a complex system is that we always run into unexpected effects. Yellowstone, wolves, and willows is one familiar example. There’s no top predator at Knepp. Should there be? It’s probably far too small to be able to accommodate a couple of wolves! It is, however, reassuring to know that once we humans have managed to eliminate our own species the world looks likely to be able to hit the restart button quite quickly and try again as if we’d never tinkered.


Wilding was published in Britain by Picador in 2018, and has just come out there in a paperback edition.

Dr Zweder Masters tweets this picture of a mural in Utrecht. Apparently the artists, Jan Is De Man and Deef Feed, asked locals for the titles of their favorite books and incorporated the results into their painting.

Here’s a reminder, courtesy of David Crotty at The Scholarly Kitchen, that color can mean different things to different people because there are multiple ways of measuring it. The video, by Tom Scott, who posts lots of videos on YouTube exploring quaint bits of science, is an introductory tour of The Forbes Pigment Collection at the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at Harvard, conceived as a means of validating the pigments used in artworks.

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