The Fortsas Bibliohoax

Posted by Shannon

Jean Nepomucene Auguste Pichauld, Comte de Fortsas, was a man with a singular passion. He collected books of which only one copy was known to exist. If he ever discovered that one of the volumes in his library had a duplicate anywhere in the world, he would immediately dispose of it. So when he died on September 1, 1839 he possessed only fifty-two books, but each of them was absolutely unique.

His heir, not sharing the old man’s passion for book collecting, arranged for an auction to sell off the library, and so a catalog of this small but highly unusual collection was mailed to bibliophiles throughout Europe. The auction, the collectors were told, was to be held in the offices of Mâitre Mourlon, notary, 9 rue de l’Église, in Binche, Belgium on August 10, 1840.

Unfortunately for those collectors, neither Comte de Fortsas nor the collection existed.

The man behind the hoax was a local antiquarian named Renier Hubert Ghislain Chalon (1802-1889). The planning that had gone into the deception was incredible. He had carefully researched the interests of all the major bibliophiles in Europe in order to ensure that they would make the long and fruitless trek to Binche. And he had done all this merely for the sake of a practical joke.

The hoax proved not to be a total loss for its victims. The catalog they had received itself became a highly coveted collector’s item. Within a few decades it had more than quadrupled in price.

Librarian and bibliophile Jeremy Dibbell has posted the contents of said catalog to LibraryThing. You can also view scans of it on Google Books.

[via ZPi]

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John H. Richardson in Esquire:

As a man wise in the ways of human madness once told me, “You think it’s money with the Republicans and sex with the Democrats, but really it’s the other way around.” That’s why folks in the Bible Belt buy more porn than anybody else, and why their pregnancy and abortion rates are the highest in the nation. Because it is always the Other that we desire. Crazy two-legged beasts that we are, teetering in this awkward upright posture, we define our civilization by carving sins out of the category of acceptable human behavior — and then immediately begin committing them with the most feverish enthusiasm.

It’s no accident that much of this impulse comes from the southern states, which recent polls suggest are virtually united in their opposition to President Obama. After all, this is the region that fought government intrusion upon its freedoms by forming its own government to intrude upon its freedoms, that imposed the Fugitive Slave Law on other states in the name of states’ rights, that fought for slavery in the name of liberty. None of this was particularly logical, but then again, logic is just another iron law of compulsion.

Read on.

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McClatchy:

On Wednesday, Fagan’s 7-foot statue of the nation’s 40th president will be unveiled at the U.S. Capitol, replacing the likeness of a lesser-known California hero, Thomas Starr King. Nancy Reagan is expected to attend, along with Fagan.

It’s the end of an era for Starr King, a 19th-century San Francisco Unitarian Universalist preacher who’s received star billing at the Capitol for 78 years.

It also caps a five-year effort by California Republican Rep. Ken Calvert, who launched the campaign to remove Starr King shortly after Reagan’s death on June 5, 2004.

I thought, well, you know, he was a great person, but he’s been here for a while. Maybe we can replace him with Ronald Reagan,” Calvert said. “And one thing led to another. … We were able to get it done.”

Because Reagan is underrepresented in the public sphere? Also, nice logic. “Washington was a great guy, and all… but the city’s been named after him for a while. Why not change it to Mister T, DC?” Link

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Michael Bérubé:

[I]n 1974, I was a freshman at Regis High School in New York, where I heard one of my more conservative classmates say, in the course of a discussion about affirmative action, that he had been the victim of reverse discrimination for too long. Exasperated to the point of flummoxation, I noted in reply that (a) affirmative action showed up only yesterday, (b) you’re thirteen years old, d00d, and (c) you’re attending an elite, tuition-free Jesuit high school that does not admit women. And the reason I remember that moment 35 years later is that it has never gone away: guys like Stuart Taylor and Fred Barnes are still thirteen years old, still the victims of reverse discrimination, and still questioning the credentials of smart women while campaigning for the protection of conservative white men under the Endangered Species Act. Taylor graduated from Princeton in 1970; Barnes from the University of Virginia in 1965. Neither of them had to compete with women for admission; Princeton started opening its doors to that half of the population in 1969, Virginia a year later. That’s why guys like these worry so much about the decline of standards in college admissions since 1970, you understand. Because things were tougher and people were smarter when white guys only had to compete with 44 percent of the population for admission to elite colleges, positions of power and influence, and so forth.

Read on. Via Pharyngula

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Neat Wikipedia Entry #9

Posted by Shannon

Coal torpedo

The coal torpedo was a hollow iron casting filled with explosives and covered in coal dust, deployed by the Confederate Secret Service during the American Civil War, and intended for doing harm to Union steam transportation. When shoveled into the firebox amongst the coal, the resulting explosion would at the very least damage the boiler and render the engines inoperable, and at most cause a catastrophic boiler explosion that would kill crewmen and likely start a fire that would sink the vessel.

Read on.

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Spiegel Online:

According to the recipe, the meat was to be cut into small pieces or slices, sprinkled with “myrrh and at least a little bit of aloe” and then soaked in spirits of wine for a few days.

Johann Schröder, a German pharmacologist, wrote these words in the 17th century. But the meat to which he was referring was not cured ham or beef tenderloin. The instructions specifically called for the “cadaver of a reddish man … of around 24 years old,” who had been “dead of a violent death but not an illness” and then laid out “exposed to the moon rays for one day and one night” with, he noted, “a clear sky.”

Read on.

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Atomic John

Posted by Shannon

The New Yorker:

In the decades since the Second World War, dozens of historians have attempted to divine the precise mechanics of the Hiroshima bomb, nicknamed Little Boy, and of the bomb that fell three days later on Nagasaki, known as Fat Man. The most prominent is Richard Rhodes, who won a Pulitzer Prize, in 1988, for his dazzling and meticulous book “The Making of the Atomic Bomb.” But the most accurate account of the bomb’s inner workings—an unnervingly detailed reconstruction, based on old photographs and documents—has been written by a sixty-one-year-old truck driver from Waukesha, Wisconsin, named John Coster-Mullen, who was once a commercial photographer, and has never received a college degree.

Read on.

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East European Quarterly:

Anne Applebaum, the author of the recent major synthesis of the evolution of the Soviet Gulag, mentions a number of such phenomena. (12) As an example, in May 1933, 6,114 peasants were being deported to the uninhabited Nazino Island of the Ob River, beyond the Artic Cir le, where they were deposited without any food. On the very first day of their arrival 295 of them died. Three months later, when a party functionary visited the island to examine the situation, he was forced to report that of the original six thousand only about one-third were still alive, but only because they lived off the flesh of their deceased comrades. (13) According to one of the Gulag-inmates, who encountered several of the former Nazino-inhabitants in a prison at Tomsk, the former “settlers” of Nazino appeared to him like “walking corpses.” (14) They were imprisoned at Tomsk for their cannibalistic activities, even though it was cannibalism that had kept them alive while on Nazino.

Read on.

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Neat Wikipedia Entry #8

Posted by Shannon

Sweating sickness:

Sweating sickness, also known as the “English sweate” (Latin: sudor anglicus), was a mysterious and highly virulent disease which struck England and later Europe in a series of epidemics, the first beginning in 1485 and the last in 1551, afterwards apparently vanishing. The onset of symptoms was dramatic and sudden, with death often occurring within hours. Its cause remains unknown.

Read on.

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That would have been the headline in the Autumn of 1872 if the journalists in New York could have correlated the information pouring into The New York Times about the spread of the worst equestrian catastrophe in the history of the nation – and perhaps the world.

Imagine an equestrian health disaster that crippled all of America, halted the government in Washington DC, stopped the ships in New York, burned Boston to the ground and forced the cavalry to fight the Apaches on foot. It was an equine tragedy so deadly that one wave of the infection swept south like a Biblical plague from its origin in Toronto, Canada, down the Atlantic Seaboard to Havana, Cuba, leaving everything in its path in ruins in weeks, while another branch simultaneously raced west to the Pacific.

Now imagine if knowledge of the greatest equine epidemic in North American history had been lost – until now.

Link! Via MeFi.

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