Meet Madame Inès Decourcelle, One of the Very First Female Taxi Drivers in Paris (Circa 1908)

If you can read this, you almost cer­tain­ly know the French word for a pro­fes­sion­al auto­mo­bile dri­ver. That’s because we use the same word in Eng­lish: chauf­feur. French nouns, unlike Eng­lish ones, come in mas­cu­line and fem­i­nine vari­eties, and that -eur end­ing unmis­tak­ably indi­cates one of the for­mer. What, then, to call a woman who works behind the wheel? Chauf­feuse would be the nat­ur­al option, if it did­n’t already refer to a kind of fire­side lounge chair. One could also fem­i­nize cocher, anoth­er word for dri­ver, but cochère, too, is already tak­en by an arched entry­way (which archi­tec­tur­al detail, notably, meets the vehic­u­lar realm in the form of the porte-cochère).

As often, the dif­fi­cul­ty of pin­ning down the right term here reflects the scarci­ty of the under­ly­ing con­cept. In much of the world today, dri­ving isn’t con­sid­ered the most fem­i­nine of occu­pa­tions. That was even truer in the Paris of the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, when the first woman to get her taxi license made his­to­ry — or rather, when the first women to get their taxi licens­es made his­to­ry. A 1908 dis­patch from the Motor-Car Jour­nal’s Paris cor­re­spon­dent describes a cer­tain Made­moi­selle Gaby Pohlen as hav­ing “obtained her dri­ver’s license to dri­ve a motor taxi­cab from the Pre­fec­ture of Police.” Even at the time of writ­ing, “her exam­ple has already been fol­lowed by Madame Decour­celle.”

Accord­ing to Jeroen Booij at, how­ev­er, “three ladies sup­pos­ed­ly began an appren­tice­ship in 1906 to dri­ve a motor­ized car­riage in the City of Light. A lady named Madame Dufaut-Charnier sup­pos­ed­ly got her degree as ear­ly as Feb­ru­ary 1907.” But Madame Inès Decour­celle “is believed to be the first to receive her full taxi licence in April 1908, mak­ing her the first woman in his­to­ry to dri­ve a taxi in the streets of Paris. The fact is that she became the sub­ject of a num­ber of dai­ly news­pa­per arti­cles claim­ing this, as she was seen on so many post­cards from Paris nam­ing her the first ‘femme chauf­feur.’ ” After see­ing one such sto­ry in Le Jour­nal, anoth­er woman “wrote to the paper in a par­tic­u­lar­ly irri­tat­ed way, claim­ing that not Madame Decour­celle but she, Made­moi­selle Gaby Pohlen, earned the title,” hav­ing start­ed dri­ving back in 1906.

The com­menters at have put some thought toward clar­i­fy­ing the mat­ter. Giv­en the era, when the auto­mo­bile itself was still a nov­el­ty, one of them sus­pects con­fu­sion about “whether all those named were licensed horse-drawn or motor cab dri­vers,” explain­ing that Pohlen and Decour­celles “both report­ed­ly obtained licens­es to dri­ve motor taxi-cabs in spring 1908.” While the pho­to­genic and some­what eccen­tric Pohlen may have start­ed out first, “Mme. Decour­celles’ claim to fame was that she was the first to get “diplo­mas” as both a horse ‘cochère’ and a motor ‘chauf­feuse.’ ” This, anoth­er com­menter adds, was “an incred­i­ble achieve­ment at the time,” no mat­ter which word — or words — the Académie Française approves to describe it.

via Messy­Nessy

Relat­ed con­tent:

Beau­ti­ful, Col­or Pho­tographs of Paris Tak­en 100 Years Ago—at the Begin­ning of World War I & the End of La Belle Époque

Paris Had a Mov­ing Side­walk in 1900, and a Thomas Edi­son Film Cap­tured It in Action

The Time­less Beau­ty of the Cit­roën DS, the Car Mythol­o­gized by Roland Barthes (1957)

Take a Vir­tu­al Dri­ve through Lon­don, Tokyo, Los Ange­les & 45 Oth­er World Cities

Robert De Niro’s Taxi Cab License Used to Pre­pare for Taxi Dri­ver (1976)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

When the Grateful Dead Played at the Egyptian Pyramids, in the Shadow of the Sphinx (1978)

In Sep­tem­ber of 1978, the Grate­ful Dead trav­eled to Egypt and played three shows at the Great Pyra­mid of Giza, with the Great Sphinx look­ing over their shoul­ders. It was­n’t the first time a rock band played in an ancient set­ting. Pink Floyd per­formed songs in the mid­dle of the Amphithe­atre of Pom­peii in Octo­ber 1971. But Floyd per­formed to an “emp­ty” house, play­ing to no live fans, only ghosts. (Watch footage here.) The Dead­’s shows, on the oth­er hand, were real gigs, attend­ed by Dead­heads who made the jour­ney over, and they could thank Phil Lesh for putting it all in motion. Lesh lat­er said, “it sort of became my project because I was one of the first peo­ple in the band who was on the trip of play­ing at places of pow­er. You know, pow­er that’s been pre­served from the ancient world. The pyra­mids are like the obvi­ous num­ber one choice because no mat­ter what any­one thinks they might be, there is def­i­nite­ly some kind of mojo about the pyra­mids.”

Logis­ti­cal­ly speak­ing, the con­certs weren’t the eas­i­est to stage. Rolling Stone report­ed that an “equip­ment truck got stuck in sand and had to be towed by camels.” Because the elec­tric­i­ty in Egypt was an “a winkin’, blinkin’ affair,” Bob Weir lat­er recalled, the jet­lagged band had dif­fi­cul­ties record­ing the first of the three shows. But, as with most adven­tures, the incon­ve­niences were off­set by the won­drous nature of the expe­ri­ence.

Weir cap­tured it well when he said: “I got to a point where the head of the Sphinx was lined up with the top of the Great Pyra­mid, all lit up. All of a sud­den, I went to this time­less place. The sounds from the stage — they could have been from any time. It was as if I went into eter­ni­ty.” The Sphinx and Great Pyra­mid date back to rough­ly 2560 BC.

The Dead were joined on this trip by the coun­ter­cul­ture author Ken Kesey (not to men­tion Bill Gra­ham and Bill Wal­ton) who appar­ent­ly cap­tured footage on Super‑8 reels. (Watch it above.) Kesey him­self lat­er tried to explain the sym­bol­ism of the vis­it, say­ing: “The peo­ple who were there rec­og­nized this as a respect­ful and holy event that went back to some­thing we can all just bare­ly glimpse, them and us both. Our rela­tion­ship to ancient humans. To this place on the plan­et. To the plan­et’s place in the uni­verse. All that cos­mic stuff is what the Dead are based on. The Egyp­tians could under­stand that.”

At the very top of the post, you can see the Dead per­form­ing “Ollin Arageed,” with Egypt­ian oud­ist Hamza el-Din and oth­er local musi­cians, before segu­ing into “Fire on the Moun­tain.” The clip gives you a good feel for the awe-inspir­ing scene. Just above, we have a longer playlist of per­for­mances that took place on Sep­tem­ber 16, 1978 — the same night there was a lunar eclipse. The com­plete 9/16/78 show can be streamed on, as can the shows from 9/14 and 9/15. A 2CD/1 DVD pack­age (Rock­ing the Cra­dle: Egypt 1978) cap­tures the Dead­’s vis­it and can be pur­chased online.

To get more on the Pyra­mid con­certs, read Chap­ter 43 of Den­nis McNal­ly’s book, A Long Strange Trip: The Inside His­to­ry of the Grate­ful Dead. And here you can see Dead & Co’s homage to the Egypt adven­ture at the Sphere in Vegas. Enjoy.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Pink Floyd Play Live Amidst the Ruins of Pom­peii in 1971 … and David Gilmour Does It Again in 2016

A Walk­ing Tour Around the Pyra­mids of Giza: 2 Hours in Hi Def

Louis Arm­strong Plays Trum­pet at the Egypt­ian Pyra­mids; Dizzy Gille­spie Charms a Snake in Pak­istan

Pink Floyd Plays in Venice on a Mas­sive Float­ing Stage in 1989; Forces the May­or & City Coun­cil to Resign

Who Built the Egypt­ian Pyra­mids & How Did They Do It?: New Arche­o­log­i­cal Evi­dence Busts Ancient Myths

Isaac New­ton The­o­rized That the Egypt­ian Pyra­mids Revealed the Tim­ing of the Apoc­a­lypse: See His Burnt Man­u­script from the 1680s

The Page That Changed Comics Forever: Discover the Innovative 1950s Comic Book That Almost Went Unpublished

If you grew up read­ing Amer­i­can com­ic books dur­ing the sec­ond half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, you’ll be famil­iar with the seal of the Comics Code Author­i­ty. I remem­ber see­ing it stamped onto the upper-right cor­ner of issues of titles from The Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man to reprints of Carl Barks’ Scrooge McDuck sto­ries to Jug­head Dou­ble Digest, but I can’t say I paid it much mind at the time. This was in the nine­teen-nineties, by which time the Comics Code itself has lost much of its force. But back when it was cre­at­ed, in 1954, it had as much restric­tive pow­er over the con­tent of com­ic books as the “Hays Code” once had over motion pic­tures.

Accord­ing to the video from Youtu­ber matttt above, the Comics Code was imple­ment­ed in response to one pub­lish­er above all: EC Comics, whose grim and graph­ic titles like Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Hor­ror made both a big impact on pop­u­lar cul­ture and a dent in the rep­u­ta­tion of the comics indus­try. Clos­ing ranks, that indus­try formed the Comics Code Author­i­ty to enforce a regime of self-cen­sor­ship, man­gling EC in its gears just as it was about to pub­lish one of the most inno­v­a­tive sto­ries in its form: “Mas­ter Race,” the tale of an ex-SS offi­cer in mod­ern-day New York, by an artist named Bernard Krig­stein.

At its height, EC was a ver­i­ta­ble comics fac­to­ry, with a set of pro­ce­dures in place that ensured the effi­cient pro­duc­tion of cheap thrills — often at con­sid­er­able cost to the poten­tial of the medi­um. Krig­stein, who’d always har­bored high­er artis­tic aspi­ra­tions, chafed at these lim­i­ta­tions, find­ing such workarounds as sub­di­vid­ing rigid­ly defined pan­el spaces into sets of sequen­tial images, the bet­ter to con­vey move­ment and action. Nowhere did this tech­nique prove more effec­tive than in “Mas­ter Race,” with its prac­ti­cal­ly cin­e­mat­ic tour de force sequence in which the haunt­ed Carl Reiss­man slips under the wheels of a pass­ing sub­way train.

Qual­i­ty takes time, and Krig­stein missed the sto­ry’s dead­line just before the Comics Code went into force. “Mas­ter Race” was pub­lished a few months lat­er, albeit in one of EC’s new, san­i­tized, and thus much less pop­u­lar titles. The meth­ods of visu­al sto­ry­telling he refined have now become stan­dard ele­ments of com­ic art, but the medi­um’s enthu­si­asts can sense how far Krig­stein could have gone, if not for the frus­tra­tion that ulti­mate­ly caused him to aban­don comics for a career as a high-school teacher: “Some­thing tremen­dous could have been done,” he said, “if only they’d let me do it.” With the Comics Code long since defunct — and now that EC’s most dis­turb­ing comics look tame — con­tent has become a free-for-all. But what artist dares to be as bold as Krig­stein in push­ing for­ward the form?

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Dis­ney Artist Who Devel­oped Don­ald Duck & Remained Anony­mous for Years, Despite Being “the Most Pop­u­lar and Wide­ly Read Artist-Writer in the World”

1950s Pulp Com­ic Adap­ta­tions of Ray Brad­bury Sto­ries Get­ting Repub­lished

Why the Short-Lived Calvin and Hobbes Is Still One of the Most Beloved & Influ­en­tial Com­ic Strips

How Art Spiegel­man Designs Com­ic Books: A Break­down of His Mas­ter­piece, Maus

George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, Praised as the Great­est Com­ic Strip of All Time, Gets Dig­i­tized as Ear­ly Install­ments Enter the Pub­lic Domain

“Thou Shalt Not”: A 1940 Pho­to Satir­i­cal­ly Mocks Every Vice & Sin Cen­sored by the Hays Movie Cen­sor­ship Code

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

When Slavoj Žižek and Jordan Peterson Debated Capitalism Versus Marxism

Karl Marx was a Ger­man philoso­pher-his­to­ri­an (with a few oth­er pur­suits besides) who wrote in pur­suit of an under­stand­ing of indus­tri­al soci­ety as he knew it in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry and what its future evo­lu­tion held in store. There are good rea­sons to read his work still today, espe­cial­ly if you have an inter­est in the his­to­ry of eco­nom­ic and soci­o­log­i­cal the­o­ry, or in the time and places he lived. But in the almost cen­tu­ry-and-a-half since his death — and more so dur­ing the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, dur­ing which the osten­si­bly Marx­ist project of the Sovi­et Union rose and fell — he’s turned from a his­tor­i­cal fig­ure into an icon­ic specter, rep­re­sent­ing either pen­e­trat­ing insight into or cat­a­stroph­ic delu­sion about the orga­ni­za­tion of human soci­ety.

It was sure­ly Marx’s ten­den­cy to inflame strong opin­ions that got him placed at the cen­ter of a debate between the psychologist/cultural com­men­ta­tor Jor­dan Peter­son and the philosopher/cultural the­o­rist Slavoj Žižek. The event took place in 2019, at Toron­to’s Sony Cen­ter, billed as a clash of the titans on the sub­ject of “Hap­pi­ness: Cap­i­tal­ism vs. Marx­ism.”

In fact, it end­ed up cov­er­ing a wide range of twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry issues, with each of the two unortho­dox, high­ly rec­og­niz­able pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als giv­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic per­for­mances on the eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal ide­olo­gies of the day. Yet they aren’t as opposed as one might have imag­ined: “I can­not but notice the irony of how Peter­son and I, the par­tic­i­pants in this duel of the cen­tu­ry, are both mar­gin­al­ized by the offi­cial aca­d­e­m­ic com­mu­ni­ty,” Žižek remarks ear­ly on.

Indeed, writes the Guardian’s Stephen Marche, “the great sur­prise of this debate turned out to be how much in com­mon the old-school Marx­ist and the Cana­di­an iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics refusenik had. One hat­ed com­mu­nism. The oth­er hat­ed com­mu­nism but thought that cap­i­tal­ism pos­sessed inher­ent con­tra­dic­tions. The first one agreed that cap­i­tal­ism pos­sessed inher­ent con­tra­dic­tions.” Nev­er­the­less, as in many a debate, the sur­pris­ing com­mon ground is more inter­est­ing than the pre­dictable points of con­flict, espe­cial­ly on themes broad­er than any set of ‑isms. “My basic dog­ma is, hap­pi­ness should be treat­ed as a nec­es­sary by-prod­uct,” says Žižek. “If you focus on it, you are lost.” To this propo­si­tion Peter­son lat­er gives his hearty assent. As for what, exact­ly, to focus on instead of hap­pi­ness… well, that’s a mat­ter of debate.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Slavoj Žižek Calls Polit­i­cal Cor­rect­ness a Form of “Mod­ern Total­i­tar­i­an­ism”

Karl Marx & the Flaws of Cap­i­tal­ism: Lex Frid­man Talks with Pro­fes­sor Richard Wolff

Clash of the Titans: Noam Chom­sky & Michel Fou­cault Debate Human Nature & Pow­er on Dutch TV, 1971

Slavoj Žižek Responds to Noam Chom­sky: ‘I Don’t Know a Guy Who Was So Often Empir­i­cal­ly Wrong’

Mil­ton Fried­man & John Ken­neth Galbraith’s Present Their Oppos­ing Eco­nom­ic Philoso­phies on Two TV Series (1977–1980)

An AI Gen­er­at­ed, Nev­er-End­ing Dis­cus­sion Between Wern­er Her­zog and Slavoj Žižek

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Cramps Play a Mental Health Hospital in Napa, California in 1978: The Punkest of Punk Concerts

“We’re The Cramps, and we’re from New York City, and we drove 3,000 miles to play for you peo­ple.” So begins one of the odd­est but also the punk­est of punk rock con­certs in his­to­ry, as The Cramps play for a crowd at a state men­tal hos­pi­tal in Napa, Cal­i­for­nia. The date was June 13, 1978, a time when Napa was more known for the hos­pi­tal than for its bur­geon­ing wine indus­try.

Lead vocal­ist Lux Inte­ri­or made this intro­duc­tion after the first num­ber, “Mys­tery Plane.” The band played on a patio, sev­er­al steps above the court­yard at the insti­tu­tion, while the band’s friends hung out with the 100 or so patients in atten­dance.

“And some­body told me you peo­ple are crazy, but I’m not so sure about that,” Lux con­tin­ues in the video. “You seem to be all right to me.” Indeed, most every­body seems to be hav­ing a hell of a time, some danc­ing as if they’re at a sock hop, oth­ers just com­plete­ly thrash­ing about.

This wasn’t the first band to have played at the insti­tu­tion, as the hospital’s Bart Swain, who invit­ed The Cramps to Napa, often brought in musi­cians to expand the patients’ hori­zons. But on that night a video cam­era was also brought along to record the set. (Swain wor­ried about pre­serv­ing the anonymi­ty of the res­i­dents.)

Anoth­er band on the bill, The Mutants, did­n’t get video­taped, pos­si­bly because the sun had gone down around this time. Either way, it is a very rare slice of punk his­to­ry, with few com­par­isons apart from the Sex Pis­tols play­ing Chelms­ford prison and when a lit­tle known thrash met­al band called Gob­stop­per played a Christ­mas par­ty at a home for devel­op­men­tal­ly dis­abled kids and adults.

Accord­ing to this arti­cle on the event, Napa State still stands but the chances of such a con­cert hap­pen­ing again are slim. The major­i­ty of its ten­ants are now both vio­lent offend­ers and men­tal­ly unsta­ble, too dan­ger­ous a venue for any­body to play, no mat­ter how punk.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

When the Sex Pis­tols Played at the Chelms­ford Top Secu­ri­ty Prison: Hear Vin­tage Tracks from the 1976 Gig

75 Post-Punk and Hard­core Con­certs from the 1980s Have Been Dig­i­tized & Put Online: Fugazi, GWAR, Lemon­heads, Dain Bra­m­age (with Dave Grohl) & More

The Sex Pis­tols Do Dal­las: A Strange Con­cert from the Strangest Tour in His­to­ry (Jan­u­ary 10, 1978)

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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Face to Face with Carl Jung: ‘Man Cannot Stand a Meaningless Life’ (1959)

Carl Gus­tav Jung, founder of ana­lyt­ic psy­chol­o­gy and explor­er of the col­lec­tive uncon­scious, was born on July 26, 1875 in the vil­lage of Kess­wil, in the Thur­gau can­ton of Switzer­land. Above, we present a fas­ci­nat­ing 39-minute inter­view of Jung by John Free­man for the BBC pro­gram Face to Face. It was filmed at Jung’s home at Küs­nacht, on the shore of Lake Zürich, and broad­cast on Octo­ber 22, 1959, when Jung was 84 years old. He speaks on a range of sub­jects, from his child­hood and edu­ca­tion to his asso­ci­a­tion with Sig­mund Freud and his views on death, reli­gion and the future of the human race. At one point Free­man asks Jung whether he believes in God, and Jung seems to hes­i­tate. “It’s dif­fi­cult to answer,” he says. “I know. I don’t need to believe. I know.”

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Famous Break Up of Sig­mund Freud & Carl Jung Explained in a New Ani­mat­ed Video

How Carl Jung Inspired the Cre­ation of Alco­holics Anony­mous

Take Carl Jung’s Word Asso­ci­a­tion Test, a Quick Route Into the Sub­con­scious (1910)

Carl Jung’s Hand-Drawn, Rarely-Seen Man­u­script The Red Book



Behold James Sowerby’s Strikingly Illustrated New Elucidation of Colours (1809)

James Sower­by was an artist ded­i­cat­ed to the nat­ur­al world. It thus comes as no sur­prise that he was also enor­mous­ly inter­est­ed in col­or, espe­cial­ly giv­en the era in which he lived. Born in 1757, he made his pro­fes­sion­al start as a painter of flow­ers: a viable career path in those days, at least to those with Sower­by’s tal­ent and ded­i­ca­tion. It was in 1790 that he began what would end up being the 23-years-in-the-mak­ing Eng­lish Botany, the land­mark 36-vol­ume work for which he remains best known today. Its 2,592 images cap­tured the full range of his coun­try’s flo­ra, some of them in hues that read­ers had nev­er before encoun­tered in real life.

Alas, writes Joyce Dixon at Shap­ing Colour, “as the years passed, Sower­by watched with dis­may as the bright hues of his hand-col­ored engrav­ings began to fade and decay — the inevitable action of time and chem­i­cal insta­bil­i­ty work­ing away at his water­col­or pig­ments.” This inspired anoth­er ambi­tious artis­tic-sci­en­tif­ic project: “to devel­op a stan­dard, uni­ver­sal and per­ma­nent method of rep­re­sent­ing nat­ur­al col­or.” In 1809, he invent­ed a device he called the “Chro­matome­ter,” which “pre­sent­ed a stan­dard, mea­sur­able pris­mat­ic spec­trum to the user.” Look­ing through a prism, that user could the­o­ret­i­cal­ly “pin­point spe­cif­ic col­ors in the spec­trum revealed by the prism, offer­ing a stan­dard ref­er­ence for a spe­cif­ic hue” iden­ti­fied in real­i­ty.

The Chro­matome­ter nev­er proved viable, writes Paul Sorene at Flash­bak, “because it was too fid­dly and botanists often worked at night,” but the work that doc­u­ment­ed it lives on. A New Elu­ci­da­tion of Colours, Orig­i­nal, Pris­mat­ic and Mate­r­i­al: Show­ing Their Con­cor­dance in the Three Prim­i­tives, Yel­low, Red and Blue: and the Means of Pro­duc­ing, Mea­sur­ing and Mix­ing Them: with some Obser­va­tions on the Accu­ra­cy of Sir Isaac New­ton presents a sys­tem of col­or the­o­ry based on red, yel­low, and blue (unlike mod­ern sys­tems, not red, green, and blue). At the same time that Sower­by was devel­op­ing it, his coun­try­man Thomas Young was putting togeth­er a sci­en­tif­ic the­o­ry of his own about how all per­cep­tion of col­or aris­es from the eye com­bin­ing just three wave­lengths — a the­o­ry that turned out to be true.

You can read or down­load A New Elu­ci­da­tion at the Well­come Col­lec­tion or the Inter­net Archive. These dig­i­tized ver­sions include all of Sower­by’s orig­i­nal illus­tra­tions, for use with the Chro­matome­ter and oth­er­wise, which remain aes­thet­i­cal­ly com­pelling these two cen­turies lat­er. But as under­scored by the copi­ous amounts of text, they reflect a time when human­i­ty was com­ing into an under­stand­ing of not just how to repli­cate col­ors reli­ably and accu­rate­ly, but of the nature of col­or itself. Sower­by may not have had the last word on the sub­ject, despite hav­ing cor­rect­ed no less a fore­bear than New­ton, but his inves­ti­ga­tions can only have helped him look even more close­ly at the nat­ur­al king­doms he meant to cap­ture — includ­ing that of min­er­als, which was also beck­on­ing at the time.

via Flash­bak

Relat­ed con­tent:

A 900-Page Pre-Pan­tone Guide to Col­or from 1692: A Com­plete High-Res­o­lu­tion Dig­i­tal Scan

The Woman Who The­o­rized Col­or: An Intro­duc­tion to Mary Gartside’s New The­o­ry of Colours (1808)

Goethe’s The­o­ry of Col­ors: The 1810 Trea­tise That Inspired Kandin­sky & Ear­ly Abstract Paint­ing

A Vision­ary 115-Year-Old Col­or The­o­ry Man­u­al Returns to Print: Emi­ly Noyes Vanderpoel’s Col­or Prob­lems

The Vibrant Col­or Wheels Designed by Goethe, New­ton & Oth­er The­o­rists of Col­or (1665–1810)

The Book of Colour Con­cepts: A New 800-Page Cel­e­bra­tion of Col­or The­o­ry, Includ­ing Works by New­ton, Goethe, and Hilma af Klint

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The “Nonsense” Botanical Illustrations of Victorian Artist-Poet Edward Lear (1871–77)

Since the Vic­to­ri­an era, Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat” has been, for gen­er­a­tion upon gen­er­a­tion in the Eng­lish-speak­ing world, the kind of poem that one sim­ply knows, whether one remem­bers actu­al­ly hav­ing read it or not. As with most such works that seep so per­ma­nent­ly into the cul­ture, it does­n’t quite rep­re­sent its author in full. Though more or less of a piece with his cel­e­brat­ed “non­sense” verse (which I myself read in child­hood, more than a cen­tu­ry after its ini­tial pub­li­ca­tion), it hints only vague­ly at his intense artis­tic engage­ment with the nat­ur­al world, through the obser­va­tion and live­ly por­tray­al of which he made his name as an illus­tra­tor.

“Lear was an atten­tive and informed read­er of Dar­win; he worked with John Gould, the nat­ur­al-his­to­ry entre­pre­neur who had actu­al­ly picked apart the vari­eties of finch that Dar­win had brought back from the Galá­pa­gos Islands,” writes the New York­er’s Adam Gop­nik, not­ing that his work evi­dences a Lin­naean obses­sion “with the pow­er of nam­ing, with stick­ing a tag on a thing which gives it a place at, and on, the table.” Lear gave Latin names to at least two real species of par­rots, but he also fab­ri­cat­ed such chimeras as Phat­tfa­cia Stu­pen­da, Arm­chairia Com­fort­a­bilis, Tigerlil­ia Ter­ri­bilis, exam­ples of which he also illus­trates in his Non­sense Botany series of the eigh­teen-sev­en­ties.

Lear’s “pen­chant for the nat­ur­al world,” says The Dilet­tante, shaped his “knack for invent­ing ridicu­lous land­scapes and anthro­po­mor­phiz­ing all kind of crea­tures and objects. The result is a sur­re­al Leare­an world of Scroobi­ous Pips, Quan­gle Wan­gles, and Great Grom­boo­lian Plains.” His “fan­ci­ful re-sculpt­ing of the phys­i­cal world is bril­liant­ly exem­pli­fied” in his Non­sense Botany, with its “sketch­es and enter­tain­ing cap­tions read as a tax­on­o­my of incon­gru­ous plant-crea­tures.” Whether at the Pub­lic Domain Review or Project Guten­berg, you can gaze upon them all and expe­ri­ence not just light amuse­ment, but also a kind of aston­ish­ment at Lear’s pecu­liar tal­ent: he does­n’t “find the amaz­ing in the ordi­nary,” as Gop­nik puts it; “he finds the ordi­nary in the amaz­ing.”

via Pub­lic Domain Review

Relat­ed con­tent:

Behold an Inter­ac­tive Online Edi­tion of Eliz­a­beth Twining’s Illus­tra­tions of the Nat­ur­al Orders of Plants (1868)

Emi­ly Dickinson’s Herbar­i­um: A Beau­ti­ful Dig­i­tal Edi­tion of the Poet’s Pressed Plants & Flow­ers Is Now Online

Hor­tus Eystet­ten­sis: The Beau­ti­ful­ly Illus­trat­ed Book of Plants That Changed Botan­i­cal Art Overnight (1613)

The Bio­di­ver­si­ty Her­itage Library Makes 150,000 High-Res Illus­tra­tions of the Nat­ur­al World Free to Down­load

An Ani­mat­ed Read­ing of “The Jab­ber­wocky,” Lewis Carroll’s Non­sense Poem That Some­how Man­ages to Make Sense

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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