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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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"The huntsmen are up in America"
Here's another niggling phrase - this time not mine but Sir Thomas Browne's. Towards the end of The Garden of Cyrus Browne decides it's time to go to bed, and writes: "The huntsmen are up in America, and they are already past their first sleep in Persia."

Marvellous stuff, I'm sure you'll agree. In fact, "The huntsmen are up in America" is a phrase I like so much that I sometimes catch myself saying it round about midnight. It's less infantile than "Up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire," after all. But more often than not I bite the words back - because, as a moment's thought will reveal, Browne (being sleepy) got the Earth's direction of spin wrong. By the time the huntsmen were actually up in America he would have been tucking into his elevenses and the Persians would have been taking afternoon sherbet.

I've considered adapting the phrase to reflect geographical reality. There are several suitable candidates that would preserve the dactylic charm of the original. "The huntsmen are up in Mongolia," for example. However, it's just not the same.

The only other expedient I can see is to move to a part of the world where Browne's phrase would actually make sense. If I lived in Honolulu, for example, saying "The huntsmen are up in America" at midnight would work perfectly, at least for the huntsmen of the east coast (whom Browne no doubt had in mind), while in Iran it would be the small hours of the morning - not ideal, but adequate. [ETA Actually the small hours of the afternoon, of course. Not so good.]

In fact, the more I think about it the more inevitable it seems that some future graduate student will use this phrase as the basis of an article arguing that Sir Thomas Browne was actually a native of Hawaii. I, for one, wish that person well.

'Already past their first sleep in Persia.' Is also intriguing. There's been historical research in the last couple of years putting forward a 'two sleeps' theory. The idea that one sleeps through the night, it seems, is of fairly recent provenance and in earlier times, 'two sleeps' was the norm- one went to bed, rose again later and did whatever (prayers, reading and such) then slept again.

This was influenced by the religious hours and there seems to be pretty good evidence for it as a way of living.

That's really interesting. And, as I just realised my Hawaiian calculation for Persia was twelve hours out, this observation may yet save the phenomena!

(no subject) - heleninwales, 2013-05-13 05:59 pm (UTC)(Expand)
Larry Niven's Ringworld begins with the protagonist celebrating his birthday by using transporter devices to extend the day and attend parties in cities all over the Earth.

Unfortunately, Niven got the direction of the Earth's spin wrong. He fixed it in subsequent printings, after having heard from a lot of people.

I once got a phone call from Australia in the middle of the night from someone who also got the direction of the Earth's spin wrong, so this has practical and not just literary consequences.

It was not until I spent a goodly period of time on the US East Coast that I realized how much, back home in California, I was subconsciously oppressed by the thought that everyone on the East Coast has a three-hour head start on me every day. I wonder if this has also anything to do with the persistent sense that Western Europeans seem to have had for decades of being overshadowed by the Russians. (Along with little things like the Red Army of yore, and so on.)

I wonder if Browne heard from anyone? It's not as if they had jet-lag in his day - indeed, the notion of the Earth spinning at all was a snazzy, up-to-the-century one.

Interesting about that psychological observation. Was it not counterbalanced by the feeling that you got to do all kinds of interesting things after they'd gone to bed, like naughty children? Much probably depends on whether you're a morning person.

(no subject) - kalimac, 2013-05-13 05:37 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - angevin2, 2013-05-13 08:03 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - nightspore, 2013-05-13 08:53 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - houseboatonstyx, 2013-05-13 10:56 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - tekalynn, 2013-05-14 01:31 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - forochel, 2013-05-15 08:20 pm (UTC)(Expand)
Maybe the earth spun widdershins for Browne...


According to Hazlitt, Samuel Taylor Coleridge read it as Arabia, not America. I haven't checked the time zones, but I suspect that makes even less sense, depending on when you think the end of "first sleep" usually is, and when hunters typically get up (before sunrise, I suppose, but surely well after midnight?).

They're only a couple of hours ahead of the UK, I think (and Browne, being based in Norfolk, was at the eastern edge of the England - a good 12 minutes ahead of us here in Bristol).

As for when hunters get up, I can only go by the old song:

The hunt is up, the hunt is up
And it is almost day,
And Harry our king is hunting
For to bring the deer to bay.

So yes, a bit before dawn seems right. However, there's also the question of what exactly the putative Arabian hunters would have been hunting. I associate Arabia with falconry, but not with hunting of the kinds that might necessitate an early start.

(no subject) - ethelmay, 2013-05-14 11:01 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2013-05-15 07:10 am (UTC)(Expand)
The Highlands of Scotland are considered by some to be prime hunting territory, because in mid-summer you can hunt almost all night.

This raises the interesting (and no less crucial than interesting) question of the time of year at which Browne was writing. I don't know whether it's relevant that he followed the huntsman remark with the rhetorical question: "But who can be drowsy at that hour which freed us from everlasting sleep?" Is this a clue that he was writing at Easter? Or at Christmas? These festivals have very different latitudinal implications!

(no subject) - wellinghall, 2013-05-15 11:23 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2013-05-15 12:24 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - wellinghall, 2013-05-15 02:25 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2013-05-15 03:32 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - wellinghall, 2013-05-15 03:37 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2013-05-15 03:43 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - wellinghall, 2013-05-15 03:58 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - ethelmay, 2013-05-15 04:57 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - wellinghall, 2013-05-16 11:27 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - wellinghall, 2013-05-16 11:26 am (UTC)(Expand)
Some very lovely entries here! I found your journal quite by accident--- googling for the Sir Thos. Browne poem you quoted from. Still--- a lovely discovery. I'll be reading along, if you don't mind.

Delighted to have you along for the trip!

(no subject) - aerodrome1, 2013-05-29 01:50 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(I've never been to the Orkneys, but seeing them at mid-summer is very much on my to-do list... And--- the Thos. Browne quote came to mind because Jacob Bronowski quoted it in an episode of "The Ascent of Man", a series that's been a lifelong favourite. By the way...have you read either Jane Smiley's "The Greenlander" or Cecilia Holland's "Two Ravens"? Novels about the Norse in Greenland and in Iceland that you might enjoy.)

I've been to the Orkneys a couple of times, but not at the height of summer, so didn't get the daylight effect (though they have much else to recommend them). My one visit to Iceland was in January: at least I got to bathe al freso in a thermal pool in the dark, surrounded by snow. That was fun!

(no subject) - aerodrome1, 2013-05-29 02:36 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2013-05-29 03:56 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - aerodrome1, 2013-05-29 06:13 pm (UTC)(Expand)
Two things that do come to mind--- things half-remembered from long ago...

Isn't there an idea of a "circumpolar" culture in early megalithic times, with migrations filtering from NE Canada to Greenland to Scotland and Scandinavia? Is that a respectable theory at all? I recall reading about this, but...sigh...fifteen or twenty years ago.

And...weren't there archaeological finds that seemed to show that the last settlers in Greenland had high percentages of skeletal deformities that seemed to indicate genetic problems?

Both those ideas seem plausible and also dimly familiar, but I'm not expert enough to say more!

(no subject) - aerodrome1, 2013-05-29 06:12 pm (UTC)(Expand)