Corona Diary – Day 76

Sunday, 31 May, Nathan Söderblom and Gustaf Fröding

A fine summer day with intense blue and light green overpowering the gloomy pine. I make for Luthagen west of the river, next in line in the expansion of my familiar Uppsala. There are more buildings here by Gunnar Leche but I leave these for later and make for Stabby prästgård, originally a prebendal house for the professor of theology (picture on facebook). Its origins are in the sixteenth century but only the cellars remain from earlier times of what is now a nineteenth century building. It’s known latterly because the renowned cleric Nathan Söderblom lived there for over a decade before becoming archbishop of Uppsala and moving down to the archbishop’s palace. Then it was on the edge of the city and it’s still pleasantly relaxing to sit in the garden, which is permitted when the building is not let.

After communing with nature, I continue to the old cemetery, finding a place with a number of bikes already parked where I can hopefully achieve flock protection from cycle carnivores. Compared with Park St and especially compared with some tumbledown romantic jungles in the UK, the cemetery is very orderly with its neat rows and no stones lying at crazy angles. I photograph the list of graves of the great and the good for a planned visit later and content myself with Carl Peter Thunberg, Linnaeus disciple who went on botanical excursions in South Africa with fellow botanist Lady Anne Monson on her way to Calcutta, social success and an early death. And then down to the end to look at the poet Gustaf Fröding’s grave; his funeral was in Stockholm before being taken by train for interment in Uppsala. Nathan Söderblom by then archbishop said the following bierside words “Tre små böcker kom ut – och ett helt språk har sorg”. “Three small books were published and a whole language is in grief” (from the translation of Nathan Söderblom’s bio I believe). I presume that this was at the funeral service in Stockholm as Erik Axel Karlfeldt, fellow poet and later winner of the Nobel prize, held a speech at the interment and it sounds rather a jostle if the archbishop was trying to get a word in there too. In fact, I can only claim a half point for Fröding as I saw the grave but seized by the idea of an anonymous, epitaph-less wordless poet’s grave, I was convinced that it was an unmarked marble column nearby. Even the half point is fragile as I haven’t read Fröding – my knowledge of Swedish poetry is weak. But ideal David Kendall is going to fix this (as well as reading Nathan Söderblom’s bio and getting a better grasp of the cultural environment at the turn of the last century. I will at least return soon to the cemetery and tweak this irritating memory.

I’ve never been inside the cemetery before but I’ve known the area well for years, visiting it many times in the 1980s when I was a doctoral student in Uppsala. It was here that I had my Damascene moment when listening to an academic expatiating on some convoluted system with, (IMO), more than a whiff of merde de taureau. And the thought struck me what am I doing putting all this effort into obtaining an entrance ticket to an environment that bores me. And not so long afterwards my research object disappeared in the upheavals in eastern Europe, easing the passage of the jumble of pretend thesis papers to the recycling skip. It was just as well – butterfly minds shouldn’t try to do PhDs.

Corona Diary – Day 74

Friday, 29 May

I notice that life is not normal when I feel disproportionate pleasure about fixing something now rather than post-Corona; the joy of receiving a humble roll of blue cotton thread to mend an Indian shirt, which the seller managed to send me in a small letter-box friendly consignment and not in some grossly oversized container that had to be picked up elsewhere. And a copy of Mats Walberg’s Uppsala Gatunamn, the first book I’ve bought in hundreds of years.

Walberg’s book, almost four hundred pages not just of explanations of Uppsala’s street names but dealing with the history of the city, the academic feuds about the origin of its name and more.

Uppsala has many street names referring to Nordic mythology, especially where I live close to Gamla Uppsala. I know a bit but I’d like to know more and, if I’m in Sweden this summer as is likely, it seems a good time. I’ve lived in Sweden for almost half a century so a knowledge of the Icelandic sagas and some idea of Old Norse is a minimum requirement for a civilised person. It would be amusing to sit close to the old kings’ grave mounds and read about Old Norse (although the prospect of conversation practice seems unlikely even in the mystic twilight of a midsummer night).

Today, I took another bike ride to look at buildings, this time the older area around the cathedral with the aid of Dan Thunman’s “Uppsala vandringar” published by the municipality (see pictures on my Facebook page). I discover a street behind the cathedral, which I hadn’t seen before, a kind of cathedral close with three or four rather lovely buildings. It would be pleasant to live in such a place although perhaps not now when extensive renovation work is taking place at the cathedral.  There are not many really old secular buildings in Uppsala although there are some with origins in the middle ages with the older parts encased in later refurbishment. There was a fire in 1702 that destroyed much of the town leading to new building in the eighteenth century. The name Carl Hårleman (1700-1753) often crops up as the architect of new or refurbished buildings, restoring the fire-damaged castle and parts of the cathedral. He was also active in Stockholm and other places in Sweden, went to France a number of times and is referred to as the architect who introduced the Rococo style to Sweden. The buildings I looked at today – the Old Senate House (Gamla konsistoriehuset) and the Cathedral Chapter House (Domkapitelhuset) didn’t fit in with my concept of the rococo. But I wouldn’t challenge anyone to a duel to defend my ideas about the rococo so I should probably get hold of Göran Alm’s (1993) Carl Hårleman och den svenska rokokon and tidy up. The other book I want to read, which I already own is Frederic Bedoire’s two-volume Den svenska arkitekturens historia. I want to draw up reading lists in a number of areas that interest me. While I can’t tackle them all at once, it would be good to have such lists for a structured approach as too much of my reading is spontaneous – I catch sight of something that takes my fancy, often serendipitously but some structure wouldn’t be bad – at least I could attempt to keep my brain in some kind of order.

I left one major building, Holmgren’s nineteenth-century main University building, for another day. I’d like to do a tour focusing on the nineteenth century and will probably include it then. I also want to go to the old cemetery and the English Park, which I haven’t visited yet.

It’s very pleasant that I have been able to devote time to my surroundings, which are becoming much denser and richer in associations, enhancing my feeling that I actually live in Uppsala, not just using it as a base or hub/extension of my usual semi-nomadic existence (a place in its own right in my life rather than a kind of London E350…).

Corona Diary – Day 73

Thursday, 28 May

In Sweden, 192 people under the age of 60 have died from covid-19 up to 27 May. Approximately half of the number of deaths of all ages have been in the county of Stockholm. This isn’t an argument in favour or against the Swedish light touch model. But these much lower statistics than the total number of deaths do stress the importance of looking beyond aggregated statistics to understand what’s happening.

It might be so that Sweden’s light touch model “sacrifices” the old and frail. But there could also be other reasons apart from the strictness or otherwise of lockdown/social distancing for the deaths among the older population. How great a proportion of these deaths occurred in care facilities and when did infection take place? Are there systematic differences between the way that care facilities for the aged are organised in Denmark or Norway compared with Sweden, for example, as regards the number of privately-owned care providers? What effect has the system of competitive procurement with its focus on complying with contractual demands (and perhaps not “over-compliance”) had on the conduct and preparation of those companies organising care (for instance, as regards the availability and use of protective equipment)? Has this been better or worse or about the same as public providers? What impact has the “balkanisation” of care providers had as regards stocks of emergency equipment?

These questions may or may not lead to sharp conclusions but they again stress the importance of looking beyond aggregated statistics.

I have now been in voluntary social isolation for 73 days. I have met my elder daughter who brings me groceries once a week (keeping our distance from one another) but almost no one else. I’ve had a plan of activities for home and work organisation and various reading projects, which has worked well. As I usually spend a lot of time sitting at a desk reading, it’s been to a great extent business as usual but with less interruptions from external temptations. And the ability to get out and explore the nearby countryside and Uppsala on my foot and by bike has made a great difference as have the social media.

But once the lockdown eases internationally and Sweden’s light touch becomes lighter still, I will have to decide what’s reasonable for me as a 70 plus person with a couple of underlying medical conditions.

Social isolation and no international travel for 500 days or, however long it takes before protection is available doesn’t seem a great prospect but neither does getting covid-19 (my early training as an economist is floating around in the back of my head with enjoyment of life and life threat curves cutting at some equilibrium point where the marginal unit of threat to life is equated with the marginal unit of life enjoyment…..). Summer in Sweden is probably a safe assumption so that I shall start working on what I want to see in the county of Uppsala so that I will be well prepared once I feel it’s reasonable to take my bike on the commuter train and “fragilise” my social isolation.

I haven’t blogged for a few days as too much seems similar. Workwise, it’s been quiet – a few small jobs. I’ve sorted and indexed my collection of glossaries (15 files on various topics) and sorted out absurdities (removing a list of Iranian boy’s names from my Economy/Finance glossary file, for instance).

I’ve finished reading my report from the Investment Association. I don’t understand everything that I’ve read but at least recognise some of the landmarks in this relatively new landscape. I have read a long article on the development of Christianity in Dorset, which was an interesting background to the church part of my Dorset project. And worked regularly on Bengali and French. And am now about to embark on a book written by a late friend of mine which I’ve never read but which pricks my conscience every time I catch sight of it.

I’m still having problems with structuring time, working too long and then getting tired and demoralised until I’ve slept at some weird hour. I’ve started to define my working day better so that I have a goal for the day and stop by a particular time to do other non-work-related things. And taking exercise at least every other day.

My problem is that my non-work-related things usually involve sitting in front of a computer and reading and dousing myself with blue light or whatever it is that interferes with sleep. I probably have to structure my non-work-hours better into a hard part (more computer-related) and a soft part (more reading) and again make a better plan for the day to compensate for the lack of structure (both external and internal).  

It’s a weird combination of what’s normal and even better than normal (lack of interruption, improved eating habits with better food and less wastage) and what’s missing (social contact, inability to visit libraries). And, at the times when it doesn’t feel so great, trying to work out what exactly is missing or badly organised. Hopefully, I can develop habits of self-discipline and structure that will be useful post covid-19.

Corona Diary – Day 69

Sunday, 24 May

This morning I struggled through about half of “Investment Management in the UK 2018-2019”, the Investment Association’s Annual Survey. It’s a struggle because I’d much rather be learning Bengali or learning more about Dorset but I want to know what’s going on in the UK, especially to understand why parts of the financial sector made such a hash of defending their interests in the Brexit process (or to understand their interests better). Every time I find a concept that I don’t know, I look it up. It’s slow progress but still progress but my spirits cringe as I find money rather dull.

I rewarded myself by making a start on another project that’s been in abeyance for a while.

I’ve downloaded and printed over 90 pictures of St Jerome, the patron saint of translators. My next aim is to find out more about the artists and hopefully sharpen my eye by comparing different treatments of the same theme. It’s very lush and I feel content to float around in the mediaeval world after my struggling with active and passive management of assets and annualisation. I’d eventually like to put the pics of St Jerome somewhere but am not quite sure where in my 45 square metre flat or how I could best do it without damaging the photos. It wouldn’t be bad to have them on the ceiling like the Sistine Chapel but my flat probably looks eccentric enough already and the pics are a bit too small.

Starting or rather renewing work on a project made me think of my Corona Plan that I drew up at the beginning of my social isolation in March. Altogether I established about 20 project areas, including Anglia organization (my company), Anglo-Saxon, Art (St Jerome), Bengali, Contract Law, Dorset Churches, Family History, Flat Organization, French, Friends and Relatives, German, Health and Nutrition, Latin, Music, News and Orientation,  State of the UK, Technical, Uppsala and Writing, I have fulfilled my interim goals in 14 of these areas (although I’ve taken much longer than the two-week period I originally envisaged).

The areas I haven’t made a start on are Contract Law. This project stems from a session I was going to hold at ATA’s Washington conference some years ago. I had to pull out because of lack of clarity about my health insurance but I’ve retained the plan of studying contract law as part of my own further training. And I haven’t read a newspaper article every day in German as I had planned to do. I have worked regularly on my French so I’ve partly fulfilled my goals there but haven’t read Robinson Crusoe in Provencal as I had planned (I’m interested in the history of the French language and would like to look more at differences between the two major branches of the French language to obtain a more precise idea of the influence of the Franks).

I have wanted to study music for some time to get a better idea of the construction of classical music that I listen to but this hasn’t happened yet. I’ve done what I planned to do in the Technical area apart from checking whether it’s possible to teach Alexa, my AI assistant, to sing (sounds jokey but as a way in of understanding better how it works so that our communication is not limited to me asking what day it is). I’m very satisfied about the progress in some areas, in particular, I have got to grips with exploring Uppsala and reading about the county, I’ve organized a lot of paper but that has been swilling around me for decades and the Bengali alphabet seems less impenetrable than it once did.

I’m too tired today to draw up a new plan but I will do tomorrow as it looks as Corona (covid-19) is going to be with us for a while yet.

Corona Diary – Day 65

Wednesday, 20 May

Rather reluctantly I went to the police station today to renew my ID. I’d planned to postpone this until post-Corona but then realised that I would have to do something about it before a vaccine was available. And, judging from the few bookings on the net, there would be far fewer people there now than there would be later when travel is possible again. So off I went on my bike and the place was empty as I hoped. Rather satisfactory to tick one post-Corona postponement off my list.

As I’d already cycled into town and the weather was fine, I decided to continue south of the city to visit the riverside Kungsängen (King’s Meadow) nature reserve. You’re not allowed into the nature reserve but there is access at one point where you can go to see the fritillaries in bloom, a purple or sometimes creamy white lily. They are actually called Kungsängslilja (Kungsäng Lilies) in Swedish as the meadow is well known in the county with its large number of this flower (it’s Uppsala County’s official flower). I’m not sure whether the area would be defined as flood plain but the meadow is probably damp at the best of times as it’s close to the river and at times actually covered by water, which this flower appreciates. It’s not native to Sweden but from further south (the Crimea and Southern Europe) and here it is an escaped garden flower.

It takes me a while to spot it. Some of them look a bit sad, perhaps because we have had an unusually cold week and even night frost. But then I see more and more and, as the place is empty, I can also go into a barn where there is an exhibition about the history of the plant.

Its English name fritillary comes from the Latin Fritillarius, which means dice box, presumably because of the white spots on the purple flower.

It has a wonderful collection of common names in English – snake’s head (the original English name), chess flower, frog-cup, guinea-hen flower, guinea flower, leper lily (because its shape resembled the bell once carried by lepers), Lazarus bell, chequered lily, chequered daffodil and drooping tulip.

I was tired when I got back from what was my longest cycle ride yet. Not a great day on the reading front but I review a historical text and do my daily Bangla. And yesterday, I worked on my Dorset church project making a list of all the churches in the county and their dedications (which saint they are named after) to see what one might learn from that (I know now that there are over 300 churches to visit in Dorset, that St Mary is the most popular dedication and that the dedication of some churches is unknown). And I’ve started to nibble at an article on investment capital as part of my efforts to understand the finance sector in the UK better.

Corona Diary – Day 62

Sunday, 15 May

As I’ve decided to study the local river more closely, I go and look at it where it curves around Old Uppsala close to my flat. The open countryside is green and soothing despite the uncertain weather and I see my first cowslips of the year. The place where the road reaches the river is marked as a bathing place but it’s bleak and uninviting. There’s no path here but it’s easy to follow the course of the river downstream. I’m curious to look at a dead straight road which crosses the river a mile or so ahead. It’s a straight line on the map for mile after mile and looks like a roman road but, of course, can’t be in these northern parts. There was, however, an indirect Roman connection as it was apparently ordered to be built by Queen Christina (though I don’t think she was planning to flee to Rome this way). The road was once the main road to the north before the motorway was built and I spend a while resting on the bridge imagining the Austins and Morrises of yesteryear chugging northwards (in the good old days before the Brits became zombie industrialists…).

After completing 11,500 steps, my body feels content and harmonious but my planned effortless switch to the life of the mind is sluggish and weakly perceptible. I work for a while translating a certificate for a private customer, sleep for a while, make food and then talk to my nephew in Somerset about some family matters, after a struggle with my mobile phone, which has become a serial autonomous muting device. But that was about it….not good enough.

I console myself that I have at least got to grips with T.M. Charles-Edwards “Wales and Britons 350-1064” which I’d almost given up on after I got bogged down in the language chapter.

I need to do some more work on this chapter but I got through it after struggling with my fricatives and plosives and the phonetic script. The following chapters on the shifting identities of the British Celtic population are fascinating. It took the Anglo-Saxons a couple of centuries to complete their conquest of what was to become England. They occupied early on the part of the then Britain which had been most Romanised language-wise and culturally. But there remained for a couple of centuries an uninterrupted Celtic Britain from Strathclyde down to Cornwall before the Anglo-Saxon victories led to them breaking through to the Bristol Channel. During these centuries, the Britons remained Christian while the Anglo-Saxons were initially pagan, Charles-Edwards discusses the extent to which the Celtic Britain retained their Roman identity after the Roman army left and discusses the conclusions that can be drawn from the written sources and inscriptions from analysing, for example, the gradual weakening and eventual disappearance of the Roman system of declensions.

Unlike the situation in France where the Gauls were more thoroughly latinised than the Celtic-speakers in Britain and fused with the Frankish invaders to speak a common post-Latin language, British Latin eventually became extinct, and the incoming Anglo-Saxons kept their Germanic language with Scandinavian influences, although with a heavy impact from French after the Norman conquest before it developed into English.

English national identity bears some imprint of its muddled origins. The Norman conquest of 1066 is a watershed year, later kings and queens are numbered from that time so that despite there being at least one Edward before the Conquest, Edward I is the first post-conquest Edward (and the royal family hasn’t shown much enthusiasm for names like Ethelred). But the incoming Normans were a thin layer of aristocrats and retainers and while they governed the country whose aristocracy was largely French-speaking for three centuries, the Anglo-Saxons continued to form the bulk of what was to become the English people.

And as English identity became stronger towards mid-millennium, the non-French part of our identity was pressed into use and some of the stories from the Anglo-Saxon period, from, for example, the time of King Alfred eventually became a more important part of England’s perceived history. There are also stories from Roman times and the Celts who opposed the Romans, for example, the victory of Vespasian in West England and Boudicca’s rebellion and the burning of Londinium. The post-Roman Celtic period is shrouded despite having been a society sophisticated enough to have institutions that could engage in complicated discussions on Christian themes. Before the Romans came, some Celtic tribes minted their own money and pottery was made in Britain, a skill that was later lost when Britain became integrated into the trading networks of the Roman Empire (as a student of India, this sounds familiar, but at least the Romans didn’t go rabbiting on about the wonderful system of roads they left for us). An interesting example of the combination of development and undevelopment that follows from being incorporated into the economic networks and interests of an empire.

Otherwise, I find a master’s thesis on the Battle of Fyrisvallarna, a critical survey of the state of research and sources, which sounds like the kind of guide I need to help me through the tangled net of ideology and history about a major battle close to what is now the Fyris river. And thought about place names along the river and which names are based on names of Nordic gods and goddesses reflecting their probable status as cult places. I need to know more about Nordic mythology and the Nordic sagas. I will sleep with my An Introduction to Old Norse under my pillow tonight and if that doesn’t help try Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus tomorrow night to see if I can negotiate another 24 years so that I have time to complete my plans.

Corona Diary – Day 61

Friday, 15 May

This morning I woke up before 5.00 which is not uncommon. But it’s very often the case that I don’t get started on the day’s work before 10.00 or even 11.00. I’m rather curious how I manage to take five or six hours to get going. I reckon that I have about 20 morning routines. I won’t list them but it’s nothing remarkable – more or less the things I’ve always done. I’m not consciously aware of having slowed down but I must have done so and somehow transformed my matinal rituals into a northern version of the Japanese tea ceremony.

The explanation was easier today. I felt I needed to move on from Linnaeus as many of the logical next steps involve visits to currently closed indoor environments. And as the weather is improving, my thoughts have turned to the river Fyris, previously an important communication route with many ancient sites along its banks.

To begin with its name. It has ancient roots but not as a river name. I read in Wikipedia (source Nordisk Familjebok 1908) that Olof Rudbeck (not sure which one…) was responsible for the change of name from Salaån (River Sala) in the latter half of the seventeenth century.

The change of name was intended to associate the river more closely to the Battle of the Fyrisvellir in 980 between Eric the Victorious and his nephew Styrbjörn the strong which was thought to have taken place at Fyrisvellir, a marshy plain south of Gamla Uppsala “where travellers had to leave their ships to walk to the Temple of Uppsala at Gamla Uppsala. According to the sagas, Styrbjörn had sacrificed to Thor while Eric had enlisted the aid of Oden who sent a shower of arrows to kill Styrbjörn’s troops, the Joms Vikings. The battle being considered a Swedish victory only needed Olof Rudbeck to make it part of the glorious history of great power Sweden.

Early on in my Swedish life, I read through a multi-volume history of Sweden. I’ve thought for some time that I should do it again as the original reading, valuable as it was then, has faded in my memory and it would in any case, after almost 50 years of exposure to Sweden, be a different David Kendall who read it today. And I’d also like to read the sagas which describe the battle and make a journey of my own upriver from Flottsund where the Fyris pours into Lake Mälaren up towards the source at Dannemora or at least as far as my shoes will take me before they fall apart (the County of Uppsala is large – much bigger than Dorset – more like Somerset and Dorset combined).

I thought about that and about the expression “kith and kin” which I came across recently and wondered about the etymology of “kith”. From the Shorter Oxford Dictionary, I learn that there were originally three meanings of kith, knowledge or information, one’s native land or region, one’s friends and neighbours (presumably in the sense of the “known people”. Only the third meaning has survived in modern English and then only enshrined in the expression “kith and kin” with its somewhat dubious connotations. But “kith” itself is a fine old word which has reached us through Anglo-Saxon and Old German. It is also connected with the word “uncouth” which meant unknown or uncertain before being filled with associations of fellow train passengers eating hamburger with their mouths open and asking if they might borrow your comb.

I wonder whether there is a dictionary or list of such words that have only survived in special expressions like “kith”. I shall write “kith” on a piece of paper and put it in a file and start collecting them.

And after Fyrisvillir and Kith, I got started on the day’s work and wondered why so much time had elapsed since I woke.

Corona Diary – Day 59

Wednesday, 13 May

With reference to my previous blog posting

According to “The South Park Street Cemetery Calcutta” (sixth edition, 2016),

“On the 19th October 1774, Lady Anne arrived in Calcutta where her husband Hon. George Monson had now been named as one of the Supreme Council of Bengal. Warren Hastings was Governor-General and had previously known Lady Anne. She gave good dinner parties and was “a very superior whist player.”

In her two short years in India, she made a great impression on those around her, and when she died in 1776, Macrabie wrote remorsefully in his diary “Lady Anne is no more…the loss of such a woman is generally felt by the whole Settlement but we who had the honour of her intimacy are deprived of a comfort which we shall long regret.”

The life expectancy of Europeans in Calcutta at that time was “two monsoons” – “The Monsons were the first to go.” Lady Anne was buried in South Park Street Cemetery where seven months later her husband joined her.

And so ended a remarkable life, one that deserves to be remembered along with her contribution to science. As James Lee’s partner John Kennedy wrote “her enthusiasm knew no bounds and (her) liberal and fostering hand contributed more perhaps than any of her contemporaries, by her encouragement and example to the….study of botany.” Sadly none of her botanical drawings survived.

It was then her first trip to Calcutta and she made her impression on Calcutta “society” in the short period between her arrival and her decease. She must have been among the early burials as the cemetery opened in 1767, nine years previously. I was disappointed to read that none of her drawings survived as I have already been imagining a William Darymple-type excursion to the National Library in Calcuttta to look at drawings by her. Hopefully they have other material about her.

Corona Diary – Day 57

Monday, 11 May

The eastern end of the von Bahrian hedge was not so exciting. After a hundred metres, a day care centre blocked the route and the few trees continuing behind it looked uncared for. But what I really wanted to see was a monument to female botanists who had been close to Linnaeus including his daughter, Elisabeth Christina, also a botanist, who lived nearby. I don’t find the monument but I do find a path named after her which passes through old cultivated ground near where her house used to be. It’s a curious old area, at the same time wild and not wild close to Gränbystaden, Uppsala’s out-of-town shopping mall (there is a Sara Stinas torg (square) at the mall but I don’t think she’d enjoy sipping a latte there).

I like the old gnarled trees and hummocky enclosures and the instructions not to drop fish in the pond as they will eat the salamander eggs. There are information placards about Elisabeth Christina, sadly not in prime condition after the winter, but also about other female botanists, Eva Ekeblad de la Gardie (1724-86) who was interested in potato cultivation and was the first female member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, elected in 1748. Elisabeth Christina was also in contact with the Academy, and wrote an article about the small flashes which Indian cress appears to produce (much later found to be an optical effect).

And then I see a grubby picture of Lady Anne Monson (1727-76), according to Wikipedia a great grandchild of the inveterate seed scatterer [my epithet] Charles II. The placards put up by the municipality inform us that Lady Anne Monson translated Linnaeus’s sexual system into English. Wikipedia’s take is more cautious – “It was claimed by her contemporary J.E. Smith that it was Lady Anne who assisted James Lee in translating Linnaeus’s Philosophica Botanica”. Then the plot thickens as Wikipedia mentions that “Later Lady Anne is mentioned by James Lee in her letters to Linnaeus” so we have a female James to factor in  while trying to steer the frail ship of science between the drive to find the lady on the one hand and the unthinking dismissal or belittling (or at times deliberate disguise) of women’s contributions on the other. Some time I must check these sources, during the next epidemic perhaps.

Lady Monson, whatever her translation skills, was undoubtedly a serious botanist, she later married a Colonel George Monson who was in the Indian army. She travelled out to Kolkata in 1774 via the Cape where she met another collaborator of Linnaeus, Carl Peter Thunberg and pursued her botanical interests there. There is a South African flowering shrub named after her Monsonia, one variant of which is called Monsonia Patersonii so perhaps this was a joint discovery. This may not have been her first journey to Bengal as her marriage was in 1757 (I shall try to check this). According to Wikipedia, she became a prominent member of Kolkata society but died already in 1776 so that she must have a had a rapid career in Calcutta society if it was her first trip (I read in Echoes from Old Calcutta that there was a gathering at Lady Monsons on 1 September 1775, three whist tables and two chess and that Lady Monson was a fine whist player). She died in 1776, her husband not long after. She is buried in Park St cemetery and Calcutta revisited tells us that Warren Hastings was among the pall bearers. The grave was renovated in 2005 and according to the write-up in a Kolkata paper a chorus of koels sang through the re-dedication ceremony (which I believe is a cuckoo-like bird). I must visit this grave next time I’m in town. I hunted for my book with locations of graves in Park St cemetery but I think it must be in our joint Indian library in Kolkata.

A satisfactory walk and I got home without getting soaked (spring and winter tussled today, blue sky to lift up the spirits then cool bleak cloud with spots of hail and rain).

Corona Diary – Day 56

Sunday, 10 May

Books as far as we know don’t suffer from giddiness. But if they did, the book I’m reading or trying to read “Wales and the Britons 350-1064” by T.M. Charles Edwards would be at risk.  I’ve put it back on the shelf a number of times, taken it down again and then put it back again, full of admiration for the book but defeated by the dense text on the effect on Brythonic, the British Celtic language, of Latin and French, and the later emergence of Welsh, Cornish and the Celtic languages or dialects of Cumbria and Strathclyde. Charles-Edwards deals at length with the impact of Latin on the stress patterns of Brythonic and how, among other sound changes, lenition, the feature of the Celtic languages where the initial consonant of a word changes in certain situations (softens from, for example, a plosive to a fricative sound). But he doesn’t just do this. He makes this analysis in the light of a very broad sweep of the development of the post-Latin languages in the various European countries so that Pietro in Italian and Pedro in Spanish also attract his attention. And he aims further to use these insights to understand the large quantity of inscriptions in early Welsh that throw light on Britain in this period (Dark Age is something of a misnomer as it’s not completely black but a twilight and then perhaps a kind of dawn with deep shadows and uncertain figures flitting around in a way that is hard to interpret and ambiguous but none the less fascinating).

The Celtic languages, language development in Britain and the transition from Latin are all subjects that greatly appeal to me. I want to learn more and value this book. But unfortunately, while my brain is a reasonably congenial partner to work with as far as general knowledge of European languages is concerned, it is a basket case when it comes to pronunciation. Despite having studied French for 63 years, I still mishandle quite basic things. Not to mention Swedish which I’ve mouth mauled for 47 years; I am still restrictive about making concessions to local ideas about how things should be pronounced and stressed.

When I read a book like Charles-Edwards and he gets deep into thin Ts, fricatives and voiceless single stops, I am easily overwhelmed. After a while, the book goes back on the shelf and I turn to one of my other projects and start to read “Investment Management in the UK 2018-2019” or look at my Dorset churches or my St Jerome project. But it doesn’t feel good. Charles-Edwards book is a mountain blocking my way and every time I think about the early history of the British language, there will be the mountain oppressively towering over me .

I’m affected too by the British Library’s attempts to jolly along its readers. I opened a recent message and there was an invite to a virtual party to celebrate the “birthday” (anniversary of date of birth in normal mortal speak) of “Mary Wollstonecraft” with a jolly jingle. She’s a person I admire but I’m put off by the popularising birthday song and how I imagine the state of mind of its propagators. I don’t investigate it properly and am probably being unfair or old or both (emotionally I would find it satisfying if they were prosecuted for cultural vandalism…). I long for the more serious approach to academic matters of my younger days when the mountain was there to be arduously climbed and not broken down into small gaily-coloured clamber-friendly rocks.

And bearing this in mind, I cannot give up on my Celtic opus. When things get difficult that’s when they become interesting, it’s a signal that you are approaching the borders of what you know and should be an encouragement to redoubled effort as beyond is the potential for change and development.

I have to tackle the book but preferably without it completely dominating my life for the next five years.  

Before resuming reading it, I shall learn the phonetic alphabet and the terminology for where sounds are made in the mouth which I only have an incomplete command of so that I don’t get distracted by terminology.

I’m also going to check through his sources and where they might be found. Uppsala is an excellent place to be for Celtic Studies as it’s a major academic centre in Sweden and the libraries are well equipped in this field.

Perhaps eventually either on the net or through the university I’ll find someone who can discuss some aspects of the book with me, whom I can discuss with when I get stuck.

This process has anyway helped me in one respect. I am extremely promiscuous (or perhaps butterfly romantic would be a more pleasant word) when it comes to languages; I fall in love at the drop of a morpheme. Scots Gaelic, Provencal, Manx, Cornish, the innumerable dialects in the French-Italian border areas and Breton have all attracted my attention without it leading to any serious relationship. My progress with the Celtic languages has been impeded by my inability to decide which one to focus on. But I’ve now decided that it has to be a Celtic language in the P-group (Welsh, Breton, Cornish) to start with and not the Q-group (Irish, Scots Gaelic, Manx) as the P-group is closer to/derives from Brythonic. Cornish is too fragmentary and Breton complicated by the relationship to French and less easily available to me, so I think it has to be Welsh (despite the romance of Scots Gaelic and Irish (I have Irish ancestors) pulling at the strings of my heart (or the tangled cords of my brain…).

This should keep me busy at least until Day 500 of the Corona crisis.