The Reason Why, pp. 183 – 184

Under terrific fire — forty guns were trained on the river, and the bullets whipped the surface of the water into a bloody foam — the first British troops began to struggle across the Alma, the men so parched with thirst that even at this moment they stopped to drink. Everything was confusion: the advance on the two-mile front was obscured by dense clouds of smoke, the Russians had fired a village on the British left after stuffing it with straw, and on the slopes before the Great Redoubt piles of brushwood were set alight. Men could not see each other, could not see their officers . . . It seemed impossible that the slender, straggling line could survive — huge columns of Russian infantry raked it with fire, heavy guns in the Great Redoubt poured round shot, grape, and canister into it at a distance of a few hundred yards. Again and again large gaps were torn in the line, the slopes became littered with bodies and sloppy with blood, but the survivors closed up and pressed on, their officers urging, swearing, yelling like demons.

Oh, good job, Cecil Woodham-Smith. The battle is so vividly described that self almost felt sure you were a man.

Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.

The Incredible Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava

We are not there yet, dear blog readers.

In fact, up to this point in The Reason Why — self is at p. 142, a little over halfway — self has read pages and pages about the English class sytem and the Irish potato famine, but precious little about battles.

She read the backstory of stupid Lord Brudenelle. And now is reading the backstory of (marginally less stupid) Lord Lucan.

. . . he was leading his staff “a terrible life,” rising every morning at four, never pausing for a moment during the day or allowing anyone else to pause. Kinglake, who accompanied the Army, found it impossible to believe that “this tall, lithe, slender, young-looking officer was fifty-four years of age. He enjoyed perfect health, saw like a hawk, and pursued his duties as commander with a fierce, tearing energy and a dramatic intensity rare among English men. When issuing orders, his face would all at once light up with a glittering, panther-like aspect, resulting from the sudden fire of the eyes, and the sudden disclosure of the teeth, white, even and clenched. Orders poured from him in a stream; no detail was too small to escape his all-seeing eye, no trifle too insignificant to receive his meticulous attention.

The Reason Why, by Cecil Woodham-Smith

Skibbereen During the Potato Famine

  • When the Duke of Wellington visited Skibbereen. . . he discovered “six famished and ghastly skeletons, to all appearances dead, huddled in a corner, their sole covering what seemed to be a ragged horse cloth, and their wretched legs hanging about, naked above the knees. I approached in horror and found by a low moaning that they were alive, they were in fever — four children, a woman and what had once been a man . . . In a few minutes I was surrounded by at least 200 of such phantoms, such frightful spectres as no words can describe. By far the greater number were delirious either from famine or fever . . . Within 500 yards of the Calvary Station at Skibbereen, the dispensary doctor found seven wretches lying, unable to move, under the same cloak — one had been dead many hours, but the others were unable to move, either themselves or the corpse.” — p. 112, The Reason Why

Paris, 1823

The Thursday Murder Club was so lovely. Self finished reading it yesterday. The ending was bittersweet. But her favorite characters are still alive. So, conceivably, there might be a follow-up.

What she appreciated most of all about TTMC was its tone. The slyness, the wry detachment with which human failings and affairs of the heart were viewed. Oh, of course there was heartache. But there was no angst.

Now, she is reading a book about the English aristocracy in the first half of the nineteenth century. This was the class that produced the officers who ordered the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava, in the Crimea. Hence, the title of the book (taken from the Alfred, Lord Tennsyon poem about the battle): The Reason Why. Of course, we must get to know all about this class. One of the major players was James, the Seventh Earl of Cardigan.

Young, handsome, prevented from joining the Army because he was his parents’ only male heir, he

had taken to spending a considerable amount of time in Paris. The pleasures which Paris offers, her elegance, the refinement of her luxury, had never been in sharper contrast to London than in 1823. Paris had invented the restaurant, and in place of the rough, bawling, steamy eating-houses of London were novel resorts with wood fires, thick carpets, snowy table-cloths. In place of the gargantuan excesses of the Regency, tables groaning under a mass of food, diners pouring bottle after bottle down their throats until they slid under the table, eating and drinking were raised to a delicate art. The city itself was still intricate, fantastic, and medieval.

The Reason Why, by Cecil Woodham-Smith, pp. 10-11

Quote of the Day from . . . Still that Book!

“The rainforest looks a lot better on TV.”

— Mario Croft-Hahn, American ornithologist in Brazil

At first it seemed to me there was nothing moving anywhere around us, but then Cohn-Haft began pointing out the signs of insect life and I began to see lots of activity going on in, to use Wilson’s phrase, the “little world underneath.” A stick bug hung from a dead leaf, waving its delicate legs. A spider crouched on a hoop-shaped web. A phallic tube of mud sticking up from the forest floor turned out to be the home of a cicada larva. What looked like a monstrous pregnancy bulging from a tree trunk was revealed to be a nest filled with termites.

— Chapter IX, The Sixth Extinction

Sentence of the Day: You Know the Source

The ruins of reefs from the Triassic, for example, can now be found towering thousands of feet above sea level in the Austrian Alps.

— Chapter VII, The Sixth Extinction

Thursday Trios, Week of 17 June 2021

Thanks to Mama Cormier for hosting the Thursday Trios Challenge.

This week, self’s post is on: Summer Reads & Fresh Cherries

Sentence of the Day, Which Fortunately Is From the Book Self Is Still Reading

Balanus perforatus is a grayish barnacle that resembles a tiny volcano.

— Chapter VI, The Sixth Extinction

The Six-Mile Wide Asteroid

It “arrived from the southeast, traveling at a low angle relative to the earth, so that it came in not so much from above as from the side, like a plane losing altitude. When it slammed into the Yucatan Peninsula, it was moving at something like forty-five thousand miles per hour and, due to its trajectory, North America was particularly hard-hit . . . “Basically, if you were a triceratops in Alberta, you had about two minutes before you got vaporized,” is how one geologist put it to me.

— p. 86, The Sixth Extinction

Darwin’s On the Origin of Species

Darwin “observes that animals inevitably become rare before they become extinct.”

The Sixth Extinction, Chapter III: The Original Penguin, Pinguinus impennis

Chapter III charts the extinction of a sea bird, the great auk, that once numbered in the millions. Where have you been all self’s life, Elizabeth Kolbert.

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