Poetry has linked war and disease for centuries


Julia M. Wright, Dalhousie University

War has been widely used — and criticized — as a metaphor for dealing with COVID-19. But the metaphor didn’t come out of nowhere. Writers have long linked war and disease, and not only because war often contributes to the spread of disease.

In my study of British and Irish literature from around 1800, including writing about medicine, it’s clear that people struggled to understand disease without having evidence of bacteria or viruses. In a chapter on “Contagion” in his 1797 handbook on medicine, the physician Thomas Trotter even laughed at the suggestion that diseases were spread by “little animals.”

William Heath’s satirical drawing ‘Monster Soup’ in the British Museum shows artists in the early 1800s understood medicine and disease before technology.
(British Museum.), CC BY-NC-SA

Yet the idea persisted. In 1828, cartoon satirist William Heath imagined river water as “Monster Soup.” In 1854, English physician John Snow used what we might now call contact tracing to show that a London water pump was at the centre of a cholera outbreak. The same year, Italian physician Filippo Pacini used a microscope to identify the cause of the disease.

An easy step from disease to war

Writers were aware of public and research interests in medicine and drew on them, as in the familiar example of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in 1818. Writers also used medical metaphors: for instance, William Blake called the influence of Greek and Latin literature a “general malady and infection.”

These writers are using figures of speech to link concepts together: war is like a storm, disease is like war, and disease is like a storm, spread through clouds of bad air, raining contagion.




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Metaphors aren’t simply decorative. They help explain unfamiliar ideas, and help us remember them by making them vivid or surprising. When Shakespeare had Hamlet talk about picking up weapons to fight “a sea of troubles,” he was communicating a sense of overwhelming odds. The metaphor was good enough to stick and is still widely used. Metaphors can also pass judgement, like Blake associating Greek and Latin literature with disease because it promoted war.

Writer and poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was one of many British writers who used storms as metaphors for battles which were, in turn, used as metaphors for diseases.
(National Portrait Gallery, London), CC BY-NC-SA

War was almost constant for Britain at this time, and writers often turned to thunderstorms to capture the terrible sound of battles. Blake’s 1793 poem about the American Revolutionary War describes the new United States as “darkned” by storm clouds while “Children take shelter from the lightnings” and leaders speak “in thunders.” A few years later, in his poem “Fears in Solitude,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote about “Invasion, and the thunder and the shout.”

Medical writers of the era thought that bad air carried disease because they didn’t have the technology to see further. But they were able to connect the spread of disease with soldiers and ships. This made it an easy step from disease to war — with weather still in the mix.

In “Fears in Solitude,” Coleridge associated British imperialism with a spreading infection, carrying “to distant tribes slavery and pangs” “Like a cloud that travels on, / Steamed up from Cairo’s swamps of pestilence.” In “Adonais,” P.B. Shelley wrote of “vultures to the conqueror’s banner true … whose wings rain contagion.”

King Cholera goes to war

Two hundred years ago, disease wasn’t an “Invisible Enemy” or a “little animal”. It had power to kill, much like the kings who sent armies around the globe.

In her influential 1792 essay, Vindication of the Rights of Woman, English writer Mary Wollstonecraft wrote that “despots” are the source of a “baneful lurking gangrene” and lead to “contagion.” A quarter of a century later, the cholera pandemics began.

In John and Michael Banim’s 1831 poem “The Chaunt of the Cholera,” cholera doesn’t just “Breathe out the breath which maketh / A pest-house of the place.” It is a mercenary working for Europe’s monarchs: “Kings!–tell me my commission, / As from land to land I go.” Others, like English cartoonist John Leech, called the disease Lord Cholera or King Cholera.

John Leech’s cartoon showing the association of cholera with squalor. A child stands on his head on top of a rubbish heap in the left-hand corner. An old woman scavenges from the heap, another child shows off his own find, and washing flutters in the breeze overhead.
(Wellcome Library), CC BY

John Leech’s 1852 cartoon, “A Court for King Cholera,” relayed a message we’re hearing now: inequality feeds pandemics. The 1853 poem “King Cholera’s Procession” also details the unsanitary conditions of the urban poor while condemning “Those that rule” for being King Cholera’s “friends.”

In her 1826 novel about a devastating pandemic, The Last Man, Mary Shelley also links rulers, war, and disease. The plague “shot her unerring shafts over the earth,” a shower of arrows, and becomes “Queen of the World.” Shelley idealizes the leader “full of care” who doesn’t want victory — only “bloodless peace.”

The coming storm

To these writers, war was a metaphor for the problem, not the solution.

In our time, business media suggest “battle metaphors” are overused. We have television shows like Robot Wars and Storage Wars, training sessions called “bootcamps” and elections in “battleground states.”

War is all too real and devastating in many parts of our world. But as a metaphor it is worn out — perhaps no longer vivid, no longer explanatory. Writers such as Coleridge, the Shelleys, and Blake may have seen close connections between war and disease, but their work also hints at another possibility.

Instead of talking about a war on COVID-19, let’s consider those storm metaphors. We need to stay inside and wait for it to pass.

And, while we are, perhaps we can also look to the past for help in understanding our present. Before they had evidence of germs, they could see that war and inequality spread disease.The Conversation

Julia M. Wright, University Research Professor, Dalhousie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Website: Electric Literature


What is the site ‘Electric Literature’ all about? The best answer to that question would be to go to the about page and find out for yourself there. The reason for the site’s existence is expressed on that page and yeah, it’s all about literature in a changing age.

There is an online magazine called ‘Recommended Reading,’ which you can subscribe to via the linked site. You can also get copies of the Electric Literature publications also, via the online store.

For more visit:
http://electricliterature.com/
http://recommendedreading.tumblr.com

Free Book: A God Entranced Vision of All Things – The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards


The link below is to a Blog where you can get a free ebook copy of this book, which is edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor. This book examines the character and teaching of Jonathan Edwards, a pastor from the era of the Great Awakening in the USA.

How do you get a copy? Simply leave a request in the comments section of the post linked to below.

If you would like other books visit the Blog, subscribe to it to keep up to date on what books are available and tell your friends about the site.

To Obtain a Copy of the Book, Visit:
http://searchandtrace.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/a-god-entranced-vision-of-all-things-the-legacy-of-jonathan-edwards/

Visit the Blog at:
http://searchandtrace.wordpress.com/

 

Book Review: Currently Reading – Print is Dead, by Jeff Gomez


I have been reading ‘Print is Dead – Books in our Digital Age,’ by Jeff Gomez. Having just read chapter two, ‘Us and Them,’ I must say that his point in that chapter is well made. The demise in traditional book sales has not been because ebooks have taken the world by storm – at least not at this stage – but because other areas of the digital world have. Generations of younger people have turned away from books in all their forms and have sought entertainment in other things, such as the Internet and video games, to name just a couple. It is reading itself that is being passed by, so the advent of the ebook is not that which is killing off the traditional book and by extension the bookseller/bookshop, but rather ‘dumber’ forms of entertainment.

Books will always be around in one form or another (at least I believe that), whether they remain as prolific as they now are is quite another thing, it is the habit of reading that may fall away dramatically and cause books to be cast aside – at least in the wider community. I think there will always be a group or community of diehard book readers, who eventually will have ebooks as their primary source of books and reading material. There are those who will not be lost entirely to less intellectual forms of entertainment, though perhaps some of these other forms of entertainment may play a role in the ‘reading’ of the future in the digital world (linked to videos, etc). Reading is a great skill that is being lost and the medium for ideas through the ages faces its greatest threat from a lack of it.

The next chapter, ‘newspapers are no longer news,’ deals with newspapers as a source of news and book reviews, or rather, how they are rapidly loosing their ascendency to online applications and tools. In a world that is rapidly changing and access to news as it happens online, newspapers are becoming a too infrequently updated source of news and information. Online access to news and events as they happen are so readily accessible, that the traditional source of news is fading away. As for book reviews, the avenues of discussion about books on the web via social networking, Blogs and the like, opens the opportunity for all to join the discussion. Book reviews in newspapers, like movie reviews, are opportunities for the reviewers to pontificate and/or push their own views onto a public unable to respond – online however the avenues of discussion are legion and varied. All may be involved – or not at all. The decision as to how one may be involved is left to the individual, which also translates to news stories in a similar manner. Interaction with the news and books has never been so simple and as rich an experience.

See also:
http://www.dontcallhome.com/books.html (Website of Jeff Gomez)
Podcast (Excerpts from the Book)
Google Books
Amazon

This Little Church Went to Market – The Church in the Age of Entertainment, by Gary Gilley


I have decided to start reading this book again. I have mentioned ‘This Little Church Went to Market’ in an earlier post in At the BookShelf and this is linked to below:

https://atthebookshelf.wordpress.com/2010/10/30/this-little-church-went-to-market-by-gary-gilley/

Back in October 2010 when I started to read this book I put it aside for some reason – I may have gone on holiday and forgot about it on my return. Anyhow, I decided to take it up again and then to read the two other books that come after it as per my original post. So that is my plan over the next few weeks and months.

This Little Church Went to Market, by Gary Gilley, was first published in 2002 by Xulon Press (ISBN: 1 5916 0049 9). The edition I have is that published as a paperback by Evangelical Press in 2010 (ISBN: 0-85234-596-8 & ISBN-13 978-085234-596-2). The book was revised and updated in 2006. My edition has 142 pages, so it isn’t a large book by any means.

So about to start reading the book – feel free to read it also and join in the discussion on it.

 

Book Group

I have added this book to read at the book group at BookClubIt. Please join in the discussion at the book group or add your thoughts here on the Blog.

At the BookShelf (book reading group at BookClubIt):
http://www.bookclubit.com/bookclub.php?id=404

 

The Book – Get a Copy

At Goodreads:
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2275230.This_Little_Church_Went_to_Market

At Shelfari:
http://www.shelfari.com/books/6229162/This-Little-Church-Went-to-Market-The-Church-in-the-Age-of-Enter

Purchase a copy of the book at Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/This-Little-Church-Went-Market/dp/1591600499
http://www.amazon.com/This-Little-Church-Went-Market/dp/0852345968/

Or Visit:
http://www.monergismbooks.com/This-Little-Church-Went-to-Market-p-16471.html

 

Note: This is a completely independent review – I have received nothing for it.

 

Site Libraries and At the BookShelf


I have been working on the two book libraries (of sorts) that I have on two of my websites. These libraries are being redeveloped and there is quite a bit of work to be done on both of these sites. Let’s look at the two libraries in a little more detail.

 

Tracing our History – History

The first library is hosted at Tracing our History and this library is part of the History section of the site. This library is the smallest of the two libraries, though it will continue to grow in size over time.

History is the main page of the History section of the Tracing our History site and doubles as the main directory to the History library. At the moment the library is a library of links to works on Australian history in particular and other areas of history that I am interested in. Works that were previously hosted at Tracing our History are currently unavailable until they have been reviewed and made available in pdf format. There are however a number of books available via links that are of a high quality and in my opinion, very important and/or valuable works.

Visit the History page at:
http://tracingourhistory.com/history.html

 

The Book Room

The second library is hosted at particularbaptist.com and is called simply ‘The Book Room,’ where old books are not forgotten. It is also known as The Particular Baptist Library, with an emphasis on Particular Baptist and good, solid, Reformed works. The Book Room features a directory to the various sections of the library in the right column of each page. This makes navigation of the site a relatively simply exercise.

As with the previous library at Tracing our History, there are a large number of books available via links to other sites. Most of these links should now be in working order, having recently been checked. As with the previous library, works hosted at particularbaptist.com are being reviewed and being replaced by PDF versions. This will take time to complete and currently those works are still available in HTML format.

Future plans for The Book Room include having dedicated pages for each work hosted at particularbaptist.com, including sections on each book page for book reviews, a Scribd widget for reading and downloading PDF versions of the book, additional resources on the book, links to other versions of the book and purchasing options for the book via online bookshops like Amazon. An example of this approach is ‘The Sermons of Hugh Latimer,’ which can be found at:

http://particularbaptist.com/library/latimer_sermons_contents.html

The Book Room can be found at:
http://particularbaptist.com/library/libraryindex.html

 

At the BookShelf

This Blog, ‘At the BookShelf,’ will be linked to both of these libraries, being the vehicle whereby news of added content, book reviews, and so on, will be broadcast. Of course At the BookShelf will remain a place for reviewing books and sharing my experience of them, but I do plan for At the BookShelf being a way of sharing what I read in a more valuable way also – by actually making available what I read to those who are entering into my reading experience, be that by way of an ebook hosted on one of my sites, an ebook hosted elsewhere or by links to places where the book may be purchased.

At the BookShelf and the two libraries already mentioned will also interact with my other book reading and sharing activities on the World Wide Web at such places as Goodreads, Shelfari and Book Crossing, as well as at other sites that I may become involved in over time. There will also be interaction with Quotista (a site for sharing quotes) and possibly another Blog I maintain for the purposes of quotes from books (which currently I use for private purposes).

With all of my involvement in book sharing social networks, web applications, web sites and the like, At the BookShelf will be a rich meeting place for all things to do with books and should be the better for it. I hope it will be a place of interest and usefulness for others. It will also be a place for sharing my personal experiences with books, which may or may not be of interest to visitors of this Blog. I guess time will tell.

 

Visitor Interaction

I welcome visitor interaction on all of my sites, including this Blog. On all of my sites I try to make available the means for interacting with visitors for sharing information, making comments, etc. Please make use of the means for doing so, though I do reserve the right for removing content that I don’t approve of (such as Spam, offensive comments, etc).