"Until recently, it was the habit of preachers to enumerate the points they made in their sermon. The phrase ‘fifthly and lastly, dear brethren’, or whatever number it was, was a familiar one to churchgoers. St Mary Magdalen Church in Bermondsey Street, London, once had a Puritan preacher who, some four hundred years ago, preached a sermon from sixty pages of notes concluding with the words ‘one hundred and seventhly and lastly, dear brethren.’"

N.T.P. Murphy, A Wodehouse Handbook, 2013

Rongo Rongo: The Mystery Script of Easter Island

Easter Island was first visited by Spanish explorers in the 1770s. There they encountered the indigenous Easter Islanders, or the Rapa Nui. They had been living on Easter Island since at least the 1200s CE, and possibly since the 300s CE.

Sometime between 1650 CE and 1860 CE, the Rapa Nui developed a type of picture writing called “rongo rongo” or “to recite.” There is great debate about whether they independently invented writing. Or whether the Spanish gave them the idea of symbols to represent sounds. Unfortunately, by the 1860s the Rapa Nui had forgotten how to read the script. Today it remains undeciphered.

The Highwayman Who Said Thank You When He Stole

John Nevison is remembered today as the politest highwayman in Britain. He robbed from the rich and gave to the poor -- nothing interesting there -- but Nevison always robbed people in the politest way possible. Nothing but pleases and thank-yous and ma’ams. Today, Nevison is probably remembered best for a daring escape in 1676. So daring, in fact, that many later highwaymen took the credit.

Here’s how it went down. Nevison was conducting a pre-dawn robbery in Kent, in southern England, when his face was recognized. As soon as he finished up robbing the unfortunate victims he used a ferry to cross the Thames River then galloped all-out to York, a city in northern England. He rode 227 miles in 15 hours. Nevison arrived in York by sunset and played a gambling game with the Lord Mayor of York, providing himself with a very strong alibi. When Nevison was arrested for the robbery in Kent he just had to produce the Lord Mayor. No one could believe that someone could get that far, in that short a time, and Nevison was let go.

Of course he went right back to being a highwayman. A few years later Nevison was caught when an innkeeper betrayed him. Tried for highway robbery, as well as the murder of a constable, he was hanged at York in 1684.


"Heaven won’t fail the dedicated heart. Sleeping on brushwood and tasting gall, 3,000 Yue soldiers at long last can defeat the Wu."

Every Chinese schoolchild knows the idiom "sleeping on brushwood, tasting gall." It means — roughly — that grueling hard work will always pay off in the long run. The quote is a couplet by writer Pu Songling in the 1600s, who wrote it after repeatedly failing the notoriously difficult Qing Dynasty-era civil service exam. But the idiom predates Pu.

You have to back pretty far in Chinese history to find the source of the saying, to the war-filled Spring and Autumn period. In the early 400s BCE, King Goujian of the Yue state was defeated by the Wu state ruler and forced to be his servant for a time, before being allowed to return home. Goujian kept his resolve strong with hard living, eating peasant food and literally tasting bile to remind him of the bitterness of servitude. He eventually triumphs over his nemesis — who leads a more luxurious, lazy life — and annexes his rival’s kingdom.

Today, people are urged to become a “21st-century Goujian” through hard work. But they might want to consider Pu Songling’s case, too. Sometimes hard work takes too long to pay off. Pu, a schoolteacher, lived and died in relative obscurity, despite having written numerous short stories about the supernatural. It was not until some 50 years after his death that he gained a following as a writer. Too late for Pu to enjoy it.

Ohaguro: An Interesting Japanese Beauty Standard

Women in ancient Japan blackened their teeth with dye. White teeth were considered ugly. Evidence for this practice, called ohaguro, exists from as far back as the Kofun Period and (250 to 538 CE) in bone remains and on clay human figurines.

Ohaguro continued until the late 1800s and the Meiji Restoration.

A Very Good Sheep

The Mughal tradition of making portraits of strange or favorite animals was initiated by the fourth Mughal emperor, Jahangir (ruled 1605-1627) and was continued by both later Mughals and Rajput patrons. This study of a ram is from the reign of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (ruled 1628-1658), who you may know for building the Taj Mahal.

These Engagement Rings Know How To Bring The Drama

Although it can make two separate rings, they can also be conjoined, and worn as one ring. When separated, one can see the secret message on the inside of each ring. On the diamond ring is “QUOD DEUS CONIUNXIT.” On the ruby ring is “HOMO NON SEPARET.” Translated from Latin, it means "Whom God has joined together, let no man tear asunder."

Such conjoined rings, called gimmel rings, were popular in the 1600s in Europe. This particular example is from 1631 in Germany. Traditionally, the members of a newly betrothed couple would receive one hoop each. At the wedding ceremony, the two rings would be joined.

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    HISTORICAL NON-FICTION

    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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