Was the poet John Keats a graverobber? Short answer: Who knows? Long: “The involvement of medical students themselves in assisting more seasoned body snatchers is a phenomenon that dates back to the very earliest recorded incidents of graverobbing, as the prosecution in 1319 in Bologna of four young medics, caught exhuming and dissecting an executed criminal, demonstrates . . . There is some reason to think that, during the period of time when Keats himself was studying, more hands than usual might have been called upon to keep the teaching theatres at Guy’s Hospital and at the adjoining St Thomas’s Hospital School (where Keats assisted in operations most afternoons) supplied with corpses. In 1816, the year Keats was promoted to dresser, a menacing crew known as The Borough Gang (one of London’s most notorious body-snatching syndicates, founded by Ben Crouch, a former porter at Guy’s Hospital), resolved to embargo bodies flowing to St Thomas’s until its teachers agreed to pay an extra two guineas per corpse. To suggest that the surgeons and students at the adjacent institutions, including Keats, resolved to take matters into their own hands by procuring bodies themselves is speculation at best. What is incontestable, however, is the gruesome and gritty turn that Keats’s imagination takes when describing a grave the following year in his narrative poem Isabella.”
The story of Faber & Faber: “There aren’t many independent publishing houses of Faber’s scale anymore—what might be called small majors. They’ve either resolutely remained small presses, like New Directions or Graywolf or City Lights, or have been bought by bigger firms, as F.S.G. was, by the Holtzbrinck group, of Germany, in 1994. (One American exception is W. W. Norton, which has a strong academic branch and is owned coöperatively by its employees.) What ‘The Untold Story’ makes clear are the ways in which editorial sensibility and independence—renewed and reasserted at key points in the firm’s history—have combined with sheer luck, over the course of nearly a century, to sustain an operation that might very well have gone under more than once.”
Has college gotten too easy? “An astonishing number of students start college in America without finishing it: Roughly 40 percent of college enrollees don’t go on to get a degree within six years of starting to work toward one. The good news is that in recent decades things have gotten a bit less bad. By one calculation, at four-year state schools that didn’t make the top 50 public universities in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings, the graduation rate within six years rose from about 40 percent for students starting in the early 1990s to about 50 percent for students starting in the late 2000s. (The phenomenon was not limited to non-elite schools.) When Jeff Denning, an economist at Brigham Young University, started looking closely at the data on college-completion rates, he was a bit perplexed by what, exactly, was driving this uptick. He and some of his BYU colleagues noticed that a range of indicators from those two decades pointed in the direction of lower, not higher, graduation rates: More historically underrepresented groups of students (who tend to have lower graduation rates) were enrolling, students appeared to be studying less and spending more time working outside of school, and student-to-faculty ratios weren’t decreasing. ‘We started thinking, What could possibly explain this increase?’ Denning told me. ‘Because we were stuck with not being able to explain anything.’”
The Louvre is the latest organization to get into luxury cruises: “The Parisian museum has announced that it is partnering with French luxury cruise company Ponant to organise two cultural voyages around the Adriatic and the Persian Gulf, set for 2020.”
Benjamin Schwarz reviews James Grant’s biography of Walter Bagehot: “Walter Bagehot (1826-77) — the British literary critic, banker, journalist, political sociologist, analyst of finance, social psychologist and editor of The National Review and The Economist — has never lacked for admirers. His devoted friend George Eliot concurred with the verdict of another close friend, Lord Bryce, that his ‘was perhaps the most original mind of his generation.’ Gladstone confided that both Liberal and Conservative governments so prized Bagehot’s financial acumen that they looked to him as a ‘supplementary chancellor of the Exchequer.’ His posthumous idolaters have included Woodrow Wilson (who defined Bagehot’s role as nothing less than ‘to clarify the thought of his generation’); Herbert Read, the modernist poet, anarchist philosopher, art critic and literary critic, who pronounced Bagehot’s literary criticism ‘the best of its time’ save for Matthew Arnold’s; Jacques Barzun, the intellectual historian, who for decades championed him as ‘the greatest Victorian’; and Ben Bernanke, who, in a memoir of the most recent financial crisis, cited Bagehot more often than any living economist. Nevertheless, Bagehot is fated to be best known for not being better known.”
How did the ancients dance? “By its nature, dance poses unique challenges for scholars. There’s no universal notation system, and the various ways we have to document it are incomplete and unreliable. Dances are taught from one practitioner to the next. Choreographers speak of making a dance ‘on’ a ballerina; the form is ephemeral, embodied in the dancers themselves. ‘Memory is central to the art,’ Jennifer Homans writes in her history of ballet, Apollo’s Angels, ‘and dancers are trained, as the ballerina Natalia Makarova once put it, to “eat:” dances—to ingest them and make them part of who they are. These are physical memories; when dancers know a dance, they know it in their muscles and bones.’ There is no full way to capture the presence of dance except through dance itself. This tension—between dance and the representation of dance—is always at the heart of dance; dancers feel it, too, and so do the people who watch dance and the people who write about it. The recent exhibition “Hymn to Apollo: The Ancient World and the Ballets Russes” at NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World reminded me how intriguing this tension is. The show—beautifully curated by Clare Fitzgerald and Rachel Herschman, and accompanied by an illustrated catalog that includes essays by Herschman and others on the study of ancient dance and the Ballets Russes—explored the influence of ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian representations of dance on a group of groundbreaking Modernist artists based in Paris.”
What does the story of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison’s summer road trips between 1914 and 1924 tell us today? That the “American summer tourist of 2019, rolling along in a giant air-conditioned motorhome, lives in many ways as well as the wealthy of a hundred years ago. What we lack in servants, we have gained in mechanics. All those thousands of bus-sized campers parked at Niagara Falls, Mount Rushmore, and the Grand Canyon? Each of them represents ordinary folk with comforts known only to people as rich as Henry Ford, a century before. Ever since the industrial revolution began, we have seen peaks of income inequality hardly known in the earlier history of the world. And yet, because many of the eras of great new fortunes were born in technological innovation, we have also seen the middle class and even good swaths of the lower class arrive at material conditions that rank with the wealthy of a hundred years before. Relatively speaking, the average American may be far behind the current crop of industrialists, tech giants, and robber barons. But objectively speaking, middle-class people today are all little Henry Fords.”
Essay of the Day:
In The California Sunday Magazine, Brooke Jarvis writes about the launch of WA 38 after two decades of research and development. WA 38 is an apple:
“When he started his own company in 1976, Scott was the Son part of McDougall & Sons; nowadays, he is the McDougall, and the company is a large, vertically integrated grower-packer-shipper. In those early days, the company, just like almost everybody else in Washington, primarily produced Red Delicious apples, plus a few Goldens and Grannies — familiar workhorse varieties that anybody was allowed to grow. Back then, the state apple commission advertised its wares with a poster of a stoplight: one apple each in red, green, and yellow. Today, across more than 4,000 acres of McDougall apple trees, you won’t find a single Red; every year, you’ll also find fewer acres of the apples that McDougall calls ‘core varieties,’ the more modern open-access standards such as Gala and Fuji. Instead, McDougall is betting on what he calls ‘value-added apples’: Ambrosias, whose rights he licensed from a Canadian company; Envy, Jazz, and Pacific Rose, whose intellectual properties are owned by the New Zealand giant Enzafruit; and a brand-new variety, commercially available for the first time this year and available only to Washington-state growers: the Cosmic Crisp.
“Like Clark Kent or the Scarlet Pimpernel, the apple has two identities. One is its biological self, which currently exists in the form of a mother tree on the edge of a weedy orchard by the Columbia River — you wouldn’t give it a second glance as an ornamental in front of a newish McMansion — and millions and millions of that tree’s perfect clones, lined up acre after acre like spindly little factories. These trees are protected under a patent as WA 38, and that is what people on the breeding and growing side of things tend to call both them and their fruit. But the rest of us will know the apple by its other, more public identity, a name that I am supposed to write with a ™ after it. You might, like I did, think this distinction to be basically academic, but you would begin to learn otherwise when the first person told you that she is able to answer only WA 38 questions, and not Cosmic Crisp ones.
“The Cosmic Crisp is debuting on grocery stores after this fall’s harvest, and in the nervous lead-up to the launch, everyone from nursery operators to marketers wanted me to understand the crazy scope of the thing: the scale of the plantings, the speed with which mountains of commercially untested fruit would be arriving on the market, the size of the capital risk. People kept saying things like ‘unprecedented,’ ‘on steroids,’ ‘off the friggin’ charts,’ and ‘the largest launch of a single produce item in American history.’”
Photos: Portuguese wildfires
Poem: W. H. Auden, “Moon Landing”
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