Archive for July, 2006

Thomas Lovell Beddoes (1803-1849)

Posted in history, literature with tags on July 30, 2006 by Philonous

My attention was drawn to this most macabre of poets by a programme in the series on poetry societies on Radio 4. He seems to have led a rather colourful life, being born in Bristol in 1803 into the relatively well off family of Dr Thomas Beddoes, a famous physician. The origins of his taste for the gothic may be traced to a fascination with the dissections performed in the house in the name of scientific enquiry. His early years are characterized by intelligence and a flair for the literary accompanied by disruptiveness and rebelliousness. Having studied at Pembroke College Oxford, writing plays and poetry while he was there, Beddoes was on the brink of a successful literary career as a romantic poet when he left for Germany. Some cite a homosexual’s desire for anonymity as his reason for leaving, but this remains an open question.
In Germany, his literary studies were replaced by anatomy and medicine. His involvement in radical politics, drunken and disorderly behaviour and general troublemaking caused his being expelled from various universities and states. On his travels, he continued his writing however and produced his celebrated work “Death’s Jest-book”.

His life had always been plagued by intermittent bouts of alcoholism and depression. In 1848, such an occasion resulted in an attempted suicide in which Beddoes cut open his own femoral artery with a dissecting scalpel. The wound was in fact not fatal, but led to the amputation of his leg, variously attributed by him in letters to his family as the result of a riding injury and accidental injury sustained during a dissection. The following year, he finally ended his life once and for all, taking poison and pinning the following characteristically black and eccentric suicide note (to his solicitor in London) to his jacket.

My Dear Phillips
I am food for what I am good for -– worms. I have made a will here which I
desire to be respected – – and add the donation of ₤20 to Dr Ecklin my physician -–
W. Beddoes must have a case (50 bottles -– ) of Champagne Moet 1847 growth to drink my health in
Thanks for all kindnesses Borrow the ₤200 You are a good & noble man & your children must look sharp to be like you.
Yours if my own, ever, T. L B
Love to Anna Henry -– the Beddoes of Longvill and Zoe & Emmeline
King -– also to Kelsall whom I beg to look at my MSS and print or not as he thinks fit.
I ought to have been among other things a good poet; Life was too great a bore on one peg & that a bad one. -–
Buy for Dr Ecklin above mentioned Reade’s best stomach-pump

His poetical works have mustered an underground following for many years, but only recently was he embraced by the literary pantheon as a romantic poet. Tim Burton lists Beddoes among his influences and a cursory glance at both of their repsective work makes clear the influence.
Related Links: A set of links to his various works and biographies –

Play Pumps

Posted in Activism, tech on July 30, 2006 by Philonous

““We shall not finally defeat AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, or any of the other infectious diseases that plague the developing world until we have also won the battle for safe drinking water, sanitation and basic health care.” Kofi Annan

There are apparently over a billion people in the world with no access to clean drinking water. Various government and non governmental organisations exist to try and alleviate the problems by providing wells and pumps to (generally rural) communities: after all, how can healthcare, education etc improve without more fundamental infrastructure. In my internet meanderings, I came across a project that seems to work mostly in South Africa which is sheer genius.

Remember the roundabouts in playgrounds when you were a kid? Get it spinning, climb on and experience dizzy ecstasy for a little while. Someone had the awesome idea of attaching a roundabout to a water pump. Kids playing on the roundabout inadvertently raise groundwater to surface storage tanks as they spin the wheel around. Placing such pumps near local schools provides free and willing labour and enough water to supply the community and even excess for agriculture. What a good idea.

Related links: The Pay Pumps website –
Water Aid website –


Posted in history with tags on July 27, 2006 by Philonous

Society, it seems, has always found a place for the eccentric. Swaddled in philosophy and drifting seamlessly through the ether of erudition, he trips and stumbles through life’s more mundane and necessary tasks. In academia lies the only repose. Those red brick sanatoria for the gifted but incapable are at the same time bastions of learning and shelter from the tangible and concrete.

The other day, I came upon the origins of the word academia and academic. They are derived from Plato’s academy (cited by some have been founded long before Plato), which, rather than being the great marble hall of Raphael’s imagining, was in fact more of a walled public park. It seems that the academy began as a series of impromptu meetings of various of the ancient lovers of knowledge to discuss ideas away from the hubbub of the necessary. The site contains various temples and was the setting for various games involving men racing along narrow tracts between altars. Plato’s school took its name from the area of Athens in which the meetings took place. This in turn is derived from the name of the Attic hero Hekademus, which was corrupted first into Akademus and then into Academus. Apparently, Helen of Troy was originally a girl from Argos who at the age of 12 was carried of by Theseus (of golden fleece fame) and Pirithous, who were otherwise good men. Having won the lots they took to decide who would marry her, Theseus then hid her in Aphidnae under the care of his mother. In the process of trying to find Pirithous a wife, Theseus was imprisoned and Pirithous killed. In the mean time, rescuers were searching for Helen in vain until…

“Akademus, who had by some means discovered that she was concealed at Aphidnae, now told them where she was; for which cause he was honoured by the sons of Tyndareus during his life, and also the Lacedaemonians, though they often invaded the country and ravaged it unsparingly, yet never touched the place called the Akademeia, for Akademus’ sake.” XXXII, Plutarch’s Lives, Volume I (of 4)

(For the full text, check out project Gutenberg)
The park in which Plato and the other philosophers met was indeed by tradition, the same land given to Akademus to form the Akademia. Thank goodness then for our own little slices of Akademia, be they parks with marble temples or edifices of brick and concrete.