Archive for the ‘1800s’ Category


Blackface (1750- ) is where an entertainer makes his face black to play a black character. Mostly white men did it to make a laughingstock of black men. In the 1800s the whole minstrel show industry in America was built on it. Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny have all done blackface. It is how Mickey Mouse got his white gloves.

Blackface became rare after the 1950s, thanks in part to the NAACP. Bugs Bunny last did blackface in 1953.

Although now much rarer, it is still with us in 2008. Look at Shirley Q. Liquor, a white man who plays a black welfare queen. It is mean stuff. You also hear about whites doing it from time to time at universities.

A gentler form of blackface is still seen in film and television, as when Fred Armisen (white and Asian) plays Barack Obama on “Saturday Night Live” and Angelina Jolie (white) played Mariane Pearl in “A Mighty Heart” (2007). A curious thing in a country with so much black acting talent.

At least until 1930 whites thought blackface characters were true to life. Even Mark Twain thought so. Part of the attraction of the minstrel show was that it was supposed to be a window onto black life. While it was based on music and dance that was at least part black, most of it was stereotype. Yet it shaped how whites saw blacks.

Blackface seems to go back as far as 1750. By the 1790s blackface characters began to appear in the travelling shows that crossed America.

In the early 1830s a white man named T. Daddy Rice came to New York and made blackface big. He had a song, “Jump Jim Crow”, and an amazing dance to go with it, which he did in blackface. Some say he took the song and dance from a black man in Ohio. It became a huge hit, not just in America but in Britain too.

Soon, by the early 1840s, whole shows were based on blackface characters. These were the minstrel shows. White people could not get enough of them. They became their main form of family entertainment till the 1880s. Minstrel shows started dying out in the 1920s.

Blacks also did blackface. It was about the only way to make a living as a performer in the late 1800s. They painted their faces black too: their skin was not dark enough. The Apollo Theater in Harlem had blacks performing in blackface as late as the 1940s.

Blackface was so much a part of American life that it appeared in the first full-length film that had sound, “The Jazz Singer” (1927). In it Al Jolson sings “My Mammy” in blackface.

Al Jolson was at his best in blackface. He said it made him freer. If you watch him do the same song in blackface and then in his own face you see what he means: as strange as blackface seems now, he seems even stranger performing in his own face. Because you expect white men to be more reserved than that.

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Minstrel shows (1843-1950s) were one of the main forms of entertainment in America in the middle 1800s. White men (and later black men too) would paint their faces black – called blackface – and then sing and dance and make whites laugh at black people. At the time whites considered it to be wholesome family entertainment.

Most songs that Americans know from the 1800s come from either church or the minstrel show. Songs such as “Dixie”, “Camptown Races”, “Oh Susannah”, “Old Folks Home” and “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” started out as songs in minstrel shows.

The minstrel show started in 1843. In a land without television, minstrel acts travelled America, and even England, going from town to town. They also played on Broadway. In the 1860s New York had 20 separate minstrel shows going at the same time! (The more I find out about the past the worse it gets.)

In the 1880s vaudeville grew out of the middle, singing part of the minstrel show. Vaudeville killed off its parent. By the 1920s minstrel shows no longer made money, but amateur ones lasted into the 1950s.

The radio show “Amos ‘n’ Andy” and Al Jolson’s blackface character in “The Jazz Singer” (1927), the first full-length film with sound, grew out of the old minstrel shows.

Al Jolson, a Jew who came to America from Russia, was perhaps one of the greatest American performers of all time. He got his start in minstrel shows. He was better in blackface than in his own face. He said blackface made him freer.

Blackface is older than the minstrel show. By the 1790s there were travelling shows in America that had blackface characters. Jim Crow, who would later become one of the main characters in the minstrel shows, started in 1828. But it was not till 1843 that whole shows were based on blackface. White people could not get enough of it.

Blackface is still with us in 2008, by the way. Look at Shirley Q. Liquor.

In the late 1800s blacks started performing in minstrel shows. They wore blackface too: their own skin was not black enough. In those days it was about the only way for blacks to make a living as a performer. One of them wrote a huge hit song of the 1890s: “All Coons Look Alike To Me”.

This came at a huge cost: the laughable images of blacks that minstrel shows spread lived on in the minds of white people for years.

Minstrel shows painted blacks as a people who sang and danced and laughed their troubles away. They did not mind being slaves or being poor.

The minstrel show is dead but something very much like it has arisen since the late 1990s: hip hop songs and music videos that picture blacks as violent and oversexed. Most of the people who watch and listen to them are not black but white. Those images will live on in the minds of white people for years.

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Jim Crow

Alabama in 1956. Picture by Gordon Parks.

Jim Crow (1877-1967?) was the way of life in the American South for about a hundred years after the black slaves were freed. It kept the races separate with blacks at the bottom. It fed on fear. The laws that it was built on were torn down in the 1950s and 1960s by Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King, Jr and others in the civil rights movement.

Many older white Americans are still Jim Crow racists in their thinking, but most younger whites are colour-blind racists.

Jim Crow was named after one of the main blackface characters from the old minstrel shows of the 1800s.

Under Jim Crow blacks (then called coloureds) went to separate schools, hospitals, waiting rooms and so on. They had to sit at the back of the bus. In most cases they were not allowed to eat with white people, much less marry them. They could not call white people by their first names – they always had to show them respect. Blacks could not vote in elections or hold public office. They could not even kiss in public.

If you did not know your place as a black person you were dealt with. First white people would break your windows or burn a cross in front of your house as a warning. If that was not enough, then they would come and lynch you: beat you up and then kill you by hanging you from a tree. That is what Billie Holiday sings about in “Strange Fruit”.

The Ku Klux Klan was behind much of this violence. They were white men dressed in white sheets with two eye holes and a point at top. They kept blacks down by striking terror into their hearts.

The sheriff and the judge in town knew what was going on but they looked the other way. Because blacks could not vote or stand for office, the government and courts were completely white. Even the juries.

In those days no white man was ever thrown in prison for raping a black woman, much less put to death. But a black man or even a black boy could turn up dead for so much as whistling at a white woman, like Emmett Till. His killers would walk free.

The stated reason for Jim Crow was to keep the white race pure. If blacks were equal to whites, then the races would mix. The South, which is mainly white, would become mainly brown. The white race would be destroyed.

Jim Crow laws even had the backing of the highest court in the land. In 1896 the Supreme Court said that it was not unjust to separate blacks from whites so long as everything was kept equal. Only in 1954 did it come to see that in practice separate meant unequal. In 1967 it said blacks could marry whites.

Jim Crow as law was now dead. But, as we saw in 2006 in Jena, it still seems to live on in the hearts of some white people.

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Woman holds a mobile phone to her ear, c. 2011

A telephone (1876- ), or phone for short, is an invention that allows you to talk to someone far away. If you both have a telephone then you can hear each other’s voices through it and talk.

To talk to someone on his telephone you must know his telephone number and put it into yours. This is called dialing the number. Your telephone then calls his telephone. His telephone rings, telling him that someone wants to talk to him. If he answers his telephone, opening the connection between the two, you begin to talk. When you are both done, most likely a few minutes later, you hang up, ending the call.

The telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, but it did not become common in America till the 1920s. Making telephones was not the hard part – it was setting up the telephone network. All the telephones had to be connected together by lines of copper, called telephone lines.

A telephone uses the network to open a connection to another telephone. Then it converts your voice into something that can go through the network. When it gets to the telephone at the other end, it is converted back into your voice. The other person can then hear what you said.

Some of the sound in your voice is lost so that two people could sound alike. The sound quality is good enough for talking but not for singing.

In the 1990s mobile phones – also known as cellphones or handphones – become common. They are small enough to take anywhere – you can put them in your pocket or your bag. They send your call through the air to a nearby tower. So now you can call anyone almost anywhere. Worldwide about two telephones in three is now a mobile phone.

When you call someone you are using a part of the network called a circuit. No other call can use that circuit at the same time. While the network is designed to handle thousands of calls at once, there is a limit. If everyone calls at the same time, like on 9/11, then the network will run out of circuits and you will hear a message that says “All circuits are busy. Please try again later.”

The longer your call lasts and the longer the distance, the more of the network you are using up. The telephone company will charge you accordingly.

This way of running the network is called circuit switching. It was designed for a time before computers when people called operators connected calls together on a big switchboard.

With computers you can run a telephone network the same way the Internet is run using something called packet switching. This makes calls much cheaper, so cheap that time and distance barely matter. At first the Internet was not fast enough and good enough for telephone calls, but now it is. So in time most telephone calls will go over the Internet. Some already do.

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Creoles, in the American sense of the word, are the French who founded New Orleans and Louisiana, whether they be white, black or mixed in colour. Many are part French, Spanish, African and Native American. Many light-skinned black Americans with French names are Creoles. Among other things, Creoles gave us jazz, zydeco, Mardi Gras, the paper bag test, the old New Orleans and creole cooking. Audubon was Creole. Beyonce is part Creole.

Creoles are not the same as Cajuns. The Cajuns are French too, but they came to Louisiana later, coming from Canada. They are whiter and more country.

Creole roots go back not to the four Englands that created America, but back to the Caribbean, France and even Senegal in Africa, back even to the Mali empire. They are Latin, not Anglo. That is why the old New Orleans is in some ways more like Havana or Rio than New York or Chicago. That is why it does not seem like such a grey place.

The Creoles were a separate people in the 1700s and 1800s. They were Catholic and spoke French, not English. But these days most have become ordinary Americans.

Where Americans came in two main colours – black and white – Creoles came in three colours: black, white and mixed. Like in Brazil, they did not follow the One Drop Rule. Between the white Creoles at the top and the dark-skinned slaves at the bottom was a broad middle made up of free people of colour.

Most mixed Creoles were not slaves but free. They were shopkeepers, dressmakers, silversmiths and traders. They owned houses and could read. Many had been sent to France to get an education. In war they fought under their own commanding officers. These are the people who would later give the world jazz music.

But they were not completely equal to whites: they could not vote or hold public office; they could not marry a white person or sit in the white part of the opera house.

There were not many white women in Louisiana in the old days. Yet white Creole men thought quadroon women, who were one-fourth black, were very beautiful. Often a white man in his 20s would take a quadroon lover, buy her a house, have children by her and support the family. This was known as placage. Later in his 30s he might marry white and have a second family. If he did not, then his wealth would go to his mixed children.

Creole law saw slaves as humans while American law saw them as property. Under Creole law a slave could take his master to court or even earn money and buy his freedom.

Napoleon sold Louisiana to America in 1803 to raise money for his wars. It was largely left alone till the late 1800s. Then white Americans started to take over. They brought in their One Drop Rule. Some Creoles stayed and became black Americans or Cajuns. Others moved away, especially to Texas, California and Chicago.

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The Mammy stereotype was the main way white Americans looked at black women from the early 1800s to the 1950s. Think of Aunt Jemima, Hattie McDaniel in “Gone with the Wind” (1939) and even Nell Carter in “Gimme a Break” (1981-1987). Regina Taylor in “I’ll Fly Away” (1991-1993) was the anti-Mammy and probably ten times truer to life.

The Mammy pictured female household slaves as:

  • fat,
  • middle-aged,
  • dark-skinned,
  • undesirable, at least to white men,
  • given enough power to run the household,
  • happy to serve whites, always smiling and laughing,
  • perfect straight, white teeth.

This is a complete and utter lie.

The ugly truth is that they were:

  • thin, because they barely got enough to eat;
  • young, because only one in ten ever saw age 50;
  • light-skinned, a daughter of rape;
  • desirable to white men and therefore raped;
  • utterly powerless,
  • extremely unhappy.

And most likely had bad teeth too since the rest of the stereotype is such a lie.

Even after the slaves were freed the Mammy stereotype continued to put a happy face on black women’s lowly position in society, helping to set at ease the hearts of good white people everywhere.

Mammies were so happy to serve whites that in the American films of the early 1900s they are shown giving up riches and even their freedom for the chance to continue serving “their white family” (their own husbands and children be damned, apparently).

Household slaves were not as common as you might think. While slaves working in the field picking cotton made their masters money, slaves working in the house did not.

Black women working in the houses of white people only became common after the slaves were freed. From the 1860s to the 1950s almost the only way for a black woman to make money was to become a maid, cook or washerwoman. A well-to-do white family could afford a black maid who cleaned, cooked and looked after the children.

Since well-to-do whites mainly knew black women as maids, the Mammy stereotype became the main one, especially in Hollywood.

Mammy was so much a part of American life that the very first song ever heard in a film was “My Mammy” by Al Jolson in 1927. You can see her two feet in the old “Tom & Jerry” cartoons.

The most famous Mammy by far was Aunt Jemima. Modelled on Nancy Green, she became the face and name of a just-add-water pancake mix. Green was at the 1893 World’s Exposition in Chicago, making pancakes, singing songs and telling stories of the old South when black people and white people were so happy. She became known across the country. “I’se in town, honey.”

You can still see her on the box. She now has a perm instead of a kerchief to cover her hair, but she still has the Mammy dark skin, perfect white teeth and smile. Happy to serve.

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Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829) was a British scientist who discovered the elements potassium, sodium, barium, strontium, calcium and magnesium. He also discovered laughing gas, proved that iodine was an element and that diamonds are just a form of carbon.

But his greatest discovery was a man: Faraday, one of the greatest scientists of all time.

Davy’s big trick, the reason he discovered so many elements, was that he built the world’s biggest battery. That is why he could discover so many elements. With the electricity that it created he passed it through different substances to break them down into simpler ones. Some of these simpler substances were elements that no one had ever seen before.

For example, he thought potash had some kind of metal in it. He passed his electric current through the stuff and out came little shining balls of metal. He called the metal potassium.

Guy-Lussac was doing the same sort of thing in France. In one case he beat out Davy, finding boron nine weeks before he did.

When Davy was young he studied medicine and wanted to be a poet. He loved to fish and walk through the woods and look at the mountains. In one pocket he had his fishing hooks and in the other he had stones that he found along the way.

As a poet Davy was friends with Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey, some of the best British poets of the time.

But he was not to become a famous poet: at age 19 he read Lavoisier’s book on chemistry. It hooked him for life. A friend of Davy’s let him use his library and chemistry laboratory, one of the best in England as it turned out.

Davy started out by trying to understand out how batteries work. Once he understood that he saw they could be used to break down substances into simpler ones.

Davy came to London. It turned out that he was a great speaker, even though his Cornish English sounded strange. The women liked his handsome looks. His talks on chemistry made him famous and helped to give science a good name. One person who came to see him was Faraday. Davy later hired him.

Davy did not believe in Dalton’s atoms. We take them for granted now, but it was a new idea then, one that was slow to catch on.

Davy was not all that careful: sometimes things blew up, one time he almost went blind.

He made a habit of breathing in any gas he created. He wanted to learn as much as possible about it. Once this paid off when he discovered laughing gas. Another time it almost killed him. But over the years it destroyed his health. He only lived to be 50.

One of the best things he did was to make mines safer with his invention of the safety lamp. He worked out a way for the lamp’s flame to burn without being in danger of blowing up inside the mine.

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John Dalton (1766-1844) was a British scientist who proved that ordinary matter is made up of atoms. It is an old idea that goes back to Democritus and the ancient Greeks. Many believed it to be true, but no one could prove it till Dalton.

The idea is this: take anything and cut it in half. Then cut it in half again and so on. Sooner or later you will get to a piece of it that you cannot cut no matter what. It is not a question of how good your cutting instrument is: the thing you are cutting has to be made of something, however small it might be. If you could go on cutting forever that would mean it was made of nothing, which is impossible.

Those small little bits that the thing is made out of, the bits you cannot cut no matter what, were called atoms by Democritus. Atom is Greek for “uncuttable“.

What Dalton called atoms are cuttable, as it turns out, but no one knew that for a hundred years, so the name stuck.

For a piece of bread, by the way, you would get to the level of Dalton’s atoms after cutting it in half about 80 times.

The Greeks thought atoms were different shapes: water atoms were round, fire atoms were sharp, etc. Dalton said atoms were all alike except for their weight. All gold atoms, for example, have the same weight and no other atom has that weight. It is how you tell them apart. That is what made Dalton’s atoms new and different. And provable.

Dalton noticed that when oxygen and hydrogen are put together to make water, the oxygen that goes to make up the water always has a weight eight times greater than the hydrogen.

And it was not just water. All the substances that scientists knew how to make back then out of elements were the same way. The weights were always the same for a given substance and the numbers were always small and simple, like 3 to 8 or 6 to 1.

Nothing made sense of this but Dalton’s atoms with their different weights. But it took a while for the idea to firmly take hold.

Earlier Dalton had studied the weather and wrote one of the first books about it. He made his own instruments and, like Benjamin Franklin, recorded the weather every day for nearly 60 years.

From studying the weather he became interested in the nature of air. That brought him to the work of Boyle, which in turn brought him to chemistry at age 30. Seven years later, in 1803, he came out with his ideas about atoms. The book followed in 1808.

Most groundbreaking ideas like that come to people when they are in their middle to late 20s, not their late 30s. But Dalton’s case shows that it is not age that matters but how long you have been in the field.

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The Portuguese empire (1415-1999) was the first and the last of the empires of western Europe. It sold black pepper from the Spice Islands and black men from Africa. It helped to spread the Catholic faith, especially to Africa and Asia, and made Portuguese a language spoken by more people than French. The empire gave birth to Brazil, Angola, Mozambique and other countries.

At one time or other Portugal ruled parts or all of Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Indonesia, East Timor, Bahrain, Barbados, Nagasaki in Japan, Tanzania, Kenya, Yemen, Morocco, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, Goa in India and Macao in China, among others.

From 1000 to 1300 the Portuguese Christians took over what is now Portugal from the Moors. But in a sense they never stopped: in the 1400s they kept on going, down the coast of Africa. By 1498 they had reached India, by 1571, Japan. They had ports and outposts all along the coasts of Africa and Asia, from Lisbon to Nagasaki. The empire was at its height – not in land, but in power, trade and wealth.

Treaty of Tordesillas: The groundwork for this was laid in 1494, two years after Columbus discovered the Americas. The pope divided the world outside Europe in half between Portugal and Spain. In effect Portugal got Brazil and all of Africa and Asia except the Philippines.

The agreement held long enough among European powers to shape both empires. Portuguese power in its half of the world was not challenged till the 1600s by the Dutch. In 1500 the Portuguese had the best ships in the world, but by 1600 it was the Dutch.

The Dutch fought the Portuguese everywhere, even in Brazil. Portugal managed to hold onto Brazil, but lost Ceylon and the Spice Islands (Sri Lanka and Indonesia). Worse than mere land, they lost control of trade from the East. The glory days of the empire were over.

In the 1700s Brazil became the jewel of the empire. Brazil had sugar, gold, diamonds, cacao and tobacco. Black slaves worked the land. With the growth of Brazil inland, the empire reached its height in terms of land.

Extensão máxima do Império Português no século XVII.

The early 1800s brought the wars of Napoleon. The king fled to Brazil. Rio, not Lisbon, was the seat of the empire for a while. But after the wars Portugal was no longer strong enough to hold onto Brazil. It became independent in 1825.

This was a huge shock. To make up for its loss, Portugal turned its attention to its possessions in Africa, especially Angola and Mozambique.

In the late 1900s the empire came to an end.

In 1974 Salazar fell from power in Portugal and nearly all of the remaining countries of the empire were freed: Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Sao Tome & Principe and East Timor. Some of these sank into wars of succession, particularly Angola and Mozambique. Indonesia took over East Timor, killing a third of its people.

But even then Portugal still had Macao near Hong Kong. That was given back to China in 1999, the last bit of the empire to go.

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Hegel (1770-1831) was a giant of Western philosophy in the 1800s. He affected much of the philosophy of the time, especially that of Marx, who read history in light of his thinking.

As a boy Hegel studied the great works of the Greeks and Romans and wanted to become a Protestant minister. So he went to study at Tubingen. There he became friends with Schelling and Holderlin. Schelling would later make his mark in philosophy and Holderlin became a famous poet.

Hegel changed his mind about becoming a minister and became a private teacher instead. But then when he was 27 his father died. Hegel became rich and never had to work a day in his life again. He studied philosophy and in time taught it first at Heidelberg and then at Berlin, where he became famous.

Hegel taught that a simple process, the dialectic, governs everything – not just nature, but art and society too:

thesis + antithesis -> synthesis

In the beginning is the thesis, but before long this brings about its opposite, the antithesis. A period of disorder follows as the two battle, trying to get the upper hand. Neither wins. Instead a new order arises: the synthesis. It puts the thesis and antithesis together to create something newer and better. That is how history progresses, how things get better over time.

But the synthesis now finds that it has become the new thesis, which brings about a new antithesis. And so on.

And so by this process earth becomes plant, plant becomes animal, animal becomes man, man becomes the state and so on. It is how worship of nature became Christianity. (Hegel saw Christianity as a sort of Hegelianism for the masses.)

And so from bad and simple beginnings come good and wonderful things. Things are always changing but, in the long run, getting better. Much better.

This process comes to an end in what Hegel called the Absolute Spirit when we will know everything and see God.

Marx saw history in these terms: the capitalists, the rich moneymen, would bring about their opposite, the workers. The two would battle and in the end communism would arise to replace them both and bring an end to their division:

capital + workers -> communism

Hegel was deeply affected by the Greeks, Spinoza, Rousseau, Kant, Fichte and his friend Schelling.

Hegel himself affected not just Marx but also Kierkegaard, Sartre, Dewey and Royce and, of course, the Young Hegelians, who wanted to unite Germany.

Hegel is still important, given how often his works are still cited, but he is no longer the giant he was in the 1800s. His chief influence now comes through Marx.

His books:

  • 1807: Phenomenology of Mind
  • 1816: Science of Logic
  • 1817: Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences
  • 1821: Philosophy of Right
  • 1837: Philosophy of History
  • 1838: Philosophy of Art

In the “Phenomenology” he first presented his new philosophy and in the “Encyclopedia” he laid it out in detail.

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American money in 1897 was counted in dollars and cents:

1 dollar = 100 cents

Ordinary people started to write bank cheques in the 1890s, but for the most part money still took the form of gold and silver coins. There was paper money, but it did not become widely used till a generation later.

The following were the coins in common use (along with their rough value in metric pennies, which have 0.5 grams of silver):

  • $20.00 double eagle (2110) – gold
  • $10.00 eagle (1054) – gold$10 gold eagle
  • $5.00 half eagle (527) – gold
  • $2.50 quarter eagle (264) – gold
  • $1.00 dollar (105) – silver
  • $0.50 half dollar (53) – silver
  • $0.25 quarter (26) – silver
  • $0.10 dime (11) – silver
  • $0.05 nickel (5) – nickel
  • $0.01 penny (1) – copper

So the American penny in 1897 had about the same value as Shakespeare’s penny! Or Leonardo’s soldo. About $0.20 in current money.

Most coins had a woman’s head on one side (Liberty) and an eagle on the other. Most day-to-day money was silver, not gold.

Even though the dollar had 48 metric pennies of silver (24 grams), by this time its value had more than doubled to 105. There was not enough silver and gold to keep up with the growth of industry. Money became more valuable and prices went down, not up. This hurt debtors, like farmers in the west, but made creditors rich, like the bankers in the east.

But 1897 brought some good news for the farmers: wheat sold at 40 pennies a ton, high for those days, and gold was discovered in the Klondike. It was the beginning of good times for everyone.

What people made (in pennies a day):

   133 a day's work for most men, give or take

Most men made a bit more than a dollar a day, working more than nine hours a day and part of the day Saturday. Sundays off. Making more than two dollars a day was rare. Most had never finished high school.

Prices, many from the Sears catalogue itself (given in pennies):

  8000 surrey (horse-drawn carriage)
  2500 graphophone (yes, an early sort of phonograph)
  1995 Encyclopaedia Britannica
  1530 camera
  1150 telephone
  1050 bed for two (iron frame)
   950 overcoat
   800 man's suit
   295 boots
   240 gold ring (14k)
   195 Complete plays of Shakespeare
   195 Bible
   175 eyeglasses
   165 shoes
   168 Webster's Unabridged dictionary
   135 vest
   125 trousers
    75 a metre of velvet
    60 book
    55 tea, kg
    53 butter, kg
    50 dress shirt
    50 record (1 song)
    47 belt
    40 denim overalls
    40 a ton of wheat (high for those days)
    39 underwear
    35 scissors
    31 flour, kg
    31 potatoes, kg
    25 a metre of cloth (to make a dress)
    24 cheese, kg
    22 pepper, kg
    21 cap
    19 eggs, dozen
    12 beef, kg
    12 lock
    12 sugar, kg
    10 strawberries, kg
    10 dozen buttons
    10 magazine (Harper's Bazaar)
     8 pair of socks
     8 knife
     7 milk, L
     5 subway fare
     3 newspaper (New York Times)
     2 send a letter
     1 candle
     1 8 cups of tea

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vizio de Elena Blanko

Ellen G. White (1827-1915) was an American prophet who helped to establish the Seventh Day Adventist church, a Protestant church which now has 14 million believers worldwide. She was not its founder, but its first leading light. Adventists interpret the Bible according to her writings.

God sent White more than 2000 visions so that she could tell Christians that Jesus will soon come back. That is what the Advent of “Adventist” means: when Jesus Christ will come back to judge the living and the dead on Judgement Day.

White was born in Maine at the north-eastern end of America, one of two twin sisters. When she was eight a stone struck her in the nose and she lay unconscious for three weeks. When she recovered she did not go back to school – she no longer seemed to have enough  intelligence.

Three years later she went with her parents to hear William Miller. He said that Christ would return in a few years on Tuesday October 22nd 1844. They became his followers.

The day came and went. Nothing happened. This was called the Great Disappointment. Miller lost most of his followers, but Ellen remained. She tried to make sense of what had happened. She prayed and read the Bible. Then one morning in December she received her first vision. She saw the Adventists on a journey to the City of God. Other visions followed. It helped to hold some of the Adventists together, the ones who later became the Seventh Day Adventists.

Other Adventists interpreted the Great Disappointment differently. Some of these became the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

So how did the Adventists become the Seventh Day Adventists? Ellen married an Adventist preacher, James White. They both read “The Seventh Day Sabbath” by Joseph Bates and were persuaded that Christians, not just Jews, should observe the seventh day, Saturday, as a day of rest and worship. Six months later God told her she was right in a vision.

Most Christians go to church on Sunday and see that as the day of rest. Sunday was when Jesus rose from the dead. But Bates pointed out that this change from Saturday to Sunday is no where mentioned in the Bible. Therefore it was instituted by man, not by Christ.

Her husband led the new church while she helped to guide it through her visions and writings. She saw the church grow from a few thousand to over 136,000. It now has over 14 million, most of them now outside of North America.

Of her many books the one to read, or read first, is “The Great Controversy”. It is both history and prophecy: it details the history of the world from the year 70 to Judgement Day. It is her reading of Christian history and the book of Revelation in the Bible, painting history as a war between Satan and God. Like it or not, she says, we are fighting on one side or the other.

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Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) is one of the great English poets of the early 1800s. He wrote grand, beautiful poems about nature, love and liberty. His writing is uneven, his word choice often careless, but he more than makes up for it.

Mary Shelley, his second wife, is the one who wrote “Frankenstein”. She was the daughter of a philosopher that he wrote to.

He was a friend of Lord Byron. He admired Wordsworth, Coleridge and Keats, who influenced him deeply along with Southey.

Like them he was one of the Romantic poets: he wrote as an expression of his feelings and passions, especially about nature and love. He wanted to free writing from the old, dry rules of the 1700s.

Of all he wrote, the best known is “Ozymandias”. Here it is in full:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

He died a month before he was to turn 30. His boat overturned in the sea on his way back from a visit with Byron (who died two years later).

At first he wrote political prose – he wanted to change the world. Not bit by bit in the English way, but all at once. This was in an age when America and France had overturned their kings not long before. One of his best friends was named after Thomas Jefferson.

Shelley was a great believer in liberty. If man could be freed from the old kings and the old gods, he could become perfect. (He thought Christ was made up.)

Later, though, he turned from writing prose to change the world to writing verse to show how he felt about the world. That came from reading Wordsworth and Coleridge. It is his verse, most of it written in Italy, that made him an intellectual angel.

People either loved him or hated him. He lived life to the full according to his passions and his high ideas. He was not one for half measures or heeding the words of older, wiser heads.

So, the Shelley who would not put sugar in his tea because it meant making slave masters rich, was the same Shelley who abandoned his first wife and their two little children because of his passion for another woman. Shelley married that other woman – the same one who later wrote “Frankenstein” – just a month after his first wife killed herself.

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Karl Marx (1818-1883) was a German political philosopher who founded the school of Marxism, known also as communism. Marx said the workers will overthrow the capitalists, the moneymen. They will set up a society with no private property, no rich and poor. Even government itself will wither away in time.

Many saw this as the wave of the future and so it was:
in the 1900s many countries ordered their societies according to Marx’s ideas, in whole or in part:

  • In backward countries, the communists overthrew the government and remade society according to Marx’s ideas. There was no more private property – the government owned all the land, all the mines, all the businesses, all the houses, everything. There was no more freedom of religion, no more free political thought. Those who disagreed with the government and would not shut up were taken away. Examples: Russia, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Ethiopia.
  • In democracies, socialists formed parties to represent workers. When they got in power they used the government’s power to tax to take from the rich and give to the poor. They gave money to those too old to work, made businesses pay workers fairly, gave workers the right to strike, provided money for higher education, and so on. Examples: Britain, Sweden, Chile under Allende, Israel.

In 1991 communism fell in Eastern Europe. It no longer seemed like the wave of the future, but a bad period in history. Yet even today Marx’s ideas live on in left-wing political thinking:

  • The purpose of government is to bring justice through equality, doing away with rich and poor.
  • To improve man you must improve society.
  • Man can be understood by his material conditions alone: to understand man, follow the money.

When Mother Theresa was in India helping the poor, some laughed at her because she only helped one poor person at a time. They said she should work to change an unjust society instead. Mother Theresa thought like Jesus Christ, those who laughed at her thought like Karl Marx.

In the old days land was power, so the great landowners ruled society. Then came the rise of traders and bankers – the capitalists. Power moved from the land and farming to money and industry. The capitalists overthrew the old ruling class, the landowners.

Marx, who spent his days studying history in the British Museum, said this was going to happen again, only this time the workers will overthrow the capitalists.

The power of the capitalists came from profits made from putting money into businesses. But where did the profits come from? From underpaying workers. As soon as the workers understood this, they would overthrow the capitalists and take power for themselves.

Marx did not believe in God. He said religion was “the opium of the people.” – something to keep them from feeling the pain of living in an unjust society.

Marx was influenced by the philosophy of Hegel. Like Hegel he saw history in terms of opposites creating something new and better. Thus progress.

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Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was a British scientist who discovered the theory of evolution by natural selection, explaining the history of life on earth. He wrote about it in the “Origin of Species” (1859) and the “Descent of Man” (1871).

The Bible says God created the species – all the kinds of plants and animals. Darwin said no: all life belongs to the one large family, each branch developing or “evolving” into different creatures. Over time fish came from worms and men from monkeys. His theory shook – and still shakes – the West.

The son of a rich family, Darwin went to Cambridge but he had no direction in life. The only thing he seemed to love was nature, especially beetles. Then he heard the HMS Beagle was about to sail round the world. Darwin signed up.

Along the way they came to the Galapagos islands. Each island had its own kind of finch. Yet they were all similar to the same bird found nearby in South America. How did this happen? Did God create a finch for each island? If not, how did they change or evolve for each island?

On the ship Darwin read Charles Lyell’s “Principles of Geology”. Lyell said that the mountains, the rivers and so on were not created suddenly, either by God or some sudden natural calamity. Instead everything was created bit by bit, by slow, everyday change that is still going on.

This is called uniformitarianism. It makes for great science: Science is not about one-off changes like acts of God but about what can be observed to happen over and over again.

So Darwin thought that if the finches had changed for each island, it was a slow change that was going on all the time right under his nose. But what was it?

One night years later when Darwin was back from sea he read a book by Malthus. Malthus said that more children are born than can be fed, so some die, chiefly among the poor.

That was it: too many finches are born. Only those best suited for the island would live long enough to give birth to the next generation. Over time the fit would multiply and the unfit die out. That is how each island got its own finch. That is how evolution happened. No acts of God were required.

For over 20 years Darwin kept the theory to himself and some close friends. But then one day Darwin got a letter from Alfred Russell Wallace. Wallace had also sailed around the world, he had also read Malthus and he had also come up with the same theory. He asked Darwin what he thought of it.

This forced Darwin’s hand. In 1858 they jointly made the theory public. A year later Darwin explained the theory in his book, the “Origin of Species”.

The theory destroyed Darwin’s Christian faith, but not Wallace’s. Wallace did not see how evolution could explain man, especially his mind. Darwin thought it could and wrote about it in the “Descent of Man”.

Darwin died rich and famous but without hope of heaven.

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