Richard Dadd, St Helena, Self-Awareness, Martial, Cystic Fibrosis, Medieval Fashion


Hic sunt camelopardus: this historical edition of The Browser is presented for archaeological purposes; links and formatting may be broken.

The Madman As Painter

Theodore Dalrymple | City Journal | 31st May 2016

Richard Dadd was a painter of brilliance, and insane. Nowadays his diagnosis would probably be schizophrenia exacerbated by cannabis. His 1864 masterpiece, The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke, shows evidence of micropsia, “a condition in which everything seems much smaller than it is”. He cut his father’s throat before setting off to Vienna to assassinate the Austrian emperor, but was arrested in France after trying to murder a fellow-passenger in his train carriage, and sent to Bethlem (3,100 words)

The Vet, The Tortoise And The Airport

Joe Hollins | BBC | 21st May 2016

Diary notes from the only permanent vet on the tiny mid-Atlantic island of St Helena, whose main job is to look after Jonathan, a giant tortoise believed to be the world’s oldest living land animal. Jonathan was at least 50 when a ship brought him in 1882, making him at least 184 now. Since the ending of slavery, little fundamental has changed on the island in his lifetime — but a shock is coming. St Helena, the world’s remotest settement after Tristan da Cunha, is about to get an airport (1,290 words)

You Don’t Know Your Own Mind

Keith Frankish | Aeon | 27th May 2016

Do we know what we believe? Yes, but only in the same way that we know what other people believe. To know other people’s beliefs we observe what they do and listen to their outer speech. To know our own beliefs we observe what we ourselves do and listen to our inner speech. We have more information about ourselves. But it is fairly easy to show experimentally that we are mistaken, or at least inconsistent, in some of the things that we claim to be our beliefs (1,100 words)

You Should Be Reading Martial

Brooke Clark | Partisan | 26th May 2016

If classical literature were a garden party, Martial would be “the drunken uncle who shows up uninvited and tells dirty jokes”. His epigrams are “social, satirical, lewd, abrasive, disgusting, tender”. They hit the spot as surely now as they did 2,000 years ago because human nature has changed so little in that time, at least deep down. “You’re an informer and a lying witness, a defrauder and a middle-man, a c******r and a provocateur, Vacerra. I can’t understand why you’re not rich” (2,600 words)

Wild, Salty Body Of Water

Christine Schrum | Rumpus | 23rd May 2016

Lyrical account of living with cystic fibrosis, an incurable condition caused by gene mutation which constricts the lungs and threatens other internal organs. “Think of genetic illness as a story: it’s a twisted yarn whispered from ancestor to ancestor through the generations. Think of mutations in your DNA as page-length mispronunciations murmured into the ears of every cell you contain. As a result, the book of your body never quite makes sense, all because of one or two jumbled passages” (2,980 words)

Dedicated Followers Of Fashion

Susannah Clapp | Times Literary Supplement | 25th May 2016

Such a tragedy that Matthäus Schwarz was born six hundred years too soon for social-media stardom. In 1520 he began a diary recording in lavish detail what he wore every day, maintained it for forty years, and commissioned paintings of the best outfits. “The result is a gorgeous record of hose and codpiece, bonnets and jerkins, wreaths, garters, cuffs and gilded toothpicks. It colours history with its scarlets, its shades of clove, its violets and daffodil yellows. It is an oblique biography” (1,725 words)

Video of the day: The Turing Test

What to expect:

Ted-Ed short explaining why Alan Turing thought it useful to test a computer’s capacity to pass for a human (4’41”)

Thought for the day

Rules are there so that you think before you break them
Terry Pratchett

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