There are many kinds of fame, some to be desired, some, perhaps, to be avoided. One of the strangest is that which preserves the name of the man alone, while the man himself is entirely forgotten.–Their Names are Writ in Webster
This week’s feature looks at the strange fame some men’s names have achieved. We’ll begin with an Englishman who died around 1900. He was the son of a clergyman (weren’t they all?), and served as an officer in the British Army before retiring to take a job as an agent for a wealthy landowner. We’ll call our man Mr. X.
The landowner was having trouble with his tenets, who wanted a reduction in their rents, at first 10%, then they demanded a 25% reduction. Landowner refused. Mr. X’s job was to force them to pay, or evict them. He got notices of eviction, called in to police to serve them, but an angry crowd met them and drove the police and servers away. The tenet famers had a union, and vowed to make the landowner–and his representative Mr. X–pay for not reducing the rent. Mr. X himself had a farm, but no one would work on it. It was rundown. His cattle were stampeded. His harvest would have rotted in the fields were it not for workers he brought in from outside the region. When he left his house, he was “yelled at and spat upon.” He was sent threatening letters. He was mobbed. He was hung in effigy and the effigy “burned to ashes.”
Political considerations intervened, and eventually things returned to normal. But to this day, “anyone who has been shunned and ignored and treated as an outcast has been said to suffer a boycott, after Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott.”
For the gardeners, “consider the Lord of Villemain, whose name was Jean Nicot.” In his day, he was “noble and distinguished,” the French Ambassador to Portugal. We’re told, in this 1960s article, that he’s not mentioned in Britannica (though he now has a short page at That Infallible Source). His name’s claim to fame? When he returned to Paris he brought with him a strange new herb that had been imported from recently discovered America, where the natives dried the leaves and smoked them. It was named Nicotiana in his honor.
Michel Bégon, and Pierre Magnol similarly give us the begonia and magnolia, repectively.
Quite a bit is spent on the Earl of Sandwich, for whom there is no biography, and the seventh Earl of Cardigan. But the most interesting story is that of forgotten Saint Etheldreda.
She was a Saxon lady, and apparently she was beautiful, for she loved dressing up and wearing fine jewelry. But she became more and more withdrawn from the world and devoted to religion. When she was dying, she said the tumor on her neck was God’s punishment for her love of necklaces.
An annual fair was held to “commemorate her virtues.” Cheap necklaces made of bone and wood, along with lace neckpieces were sold at the fair. As time went on,
her name, Etheldreda, was smoothed our into Audrey, and the easily tarnish lace sold at the fair of Saint Audrey was called tawdry lace. So now any cheap frippery is known to us as tawdry.–Gilbert Hight, Horizon May 1960, pg. 128
There is more to the story, and wouldn’t you know, it’s on the internet! So she’s not really forgotten.
In addition to the TOC as it appears in the magazine, I’ve listed titles with subtitles, or first few lines, below to give you a better sense of content. As always, please let me know if there are articles you’d like me to scan and post here. It’s very easy for me to post pdfs of text, or jpegs of images.
Our Face to the World: As the grudging inheritor of imperial power, America exports huge cultural influence despite itself, and now see its image reflected around the globe. Text & photos
The Housatonic: A lean New England river carved a valley that has become a haven for the creative spirits from Hawthorne’s time to Thurber’s. Here man and nature still collaborate. Its leading in habitants today compose a brilliant gallery of talents. Texts and lots of beautifully staged photos of folks lighting cigarettes in the country.
A Memorandum. From: Eleanor of Aquitaine; To: Abigail van Buren and Ann Landers; Subject: The Present Condition of Love-Counselling. Text.
The Childhood Pattern of Genius: What kind of early life fosters exceptional mental growth? A study of twenty great minds points to two prime conditions–and leads to a startling conclusion in the last sentence of the article. Text, including biographical sketches
Where the Romans Enjoyed “Omnia Commoda”: Bodily immersion is rudimentary today compared to the “every convenience” offered to patrons of the world’s most luxurious bathing establishments. Text & illustrations
The Spectral Poets of Pittsburgh: Emanuel Morgan, Anne Knish, and Elijah Hay created a literary sensation when their work first appeared–and another when the truth about them became known. Text and drawings
The New Wave: It all began with B.B. whose sudden fame gave a group of young French film makers their chance to launch The New Wave. Text and photos
In Search of the Etruscans: A Great People Still Shadowed in Mystery Emerge through the Newest Tools of Archaeology. Text, photos, Etruscan art and artifacts
Out of a Fair, A City: Victor Gruen proposes a plan for the 1964 Fair that could be converted into a permanent community–a full-scale demonstration of what the city of the future could be. Text, photos and drawings [Didn’t we go to the first World’s Fair in Paris with Mark Twain?]
A Passion for Ivory. Since prehistoric times men have prized it, risked their lives for it, used it in art and sometimes in magic–yet it is a fragile substance that readily warps, cracks, breaks. Text and photos
The Rampant Fox. Because his public principles were as high as his private morals were low, Americans benefitted from this brilliant Whig. [Charles James Fox] Mostly text
An Eastern Art Goes Western: The traditional Japanese wood block is being revolutionized by influences from across the seas. A prominent collector describes the process and introduces a portfolio of new prints. Some text, mostly art
How to Make the Round Table Square: The pencil is mightier than the lance, for Sir James used it to turn a gang of sixth-century hoods into clean-living Boy Scouts. Text
Better English for the 1960’s?
Me: Two excerpted paragraphs from one Prof. Ralph B. Long’s Febrarury 1960 College English (a journal) paper titled, “English Grammar in 1960.” The Professor’s final sentence: Such sentences as me and him was friends cannot be called standard; but they occur, their structure is clear, and they are in fact the kind of thing the language has long tended toward, as in the historical displacement of ye by you and rid by rode. Me again. Word and spelling changes over time are not the same as allowing and encouraging the ungrammatical. Further, Ralphy, many do still–60 years on–know and appreciate when to use whom, shall, can, and may. So no, dude. The “pathetic elegancies of school-ma’am English must” NOT “be given up.”
Their Names are Writ in Webster: Poor Saint Audrey is buried in an adjective, but Bégon blooms in the garden and Lord Sandwich’s name is literally on everyone’s tongue. Text, featured above
Through the Ages in the Best Beds: Solace and Civilization have been combined in them. Photographs