Best of the Friday Fun Facts: Collection #9

Here are this week's Friday Fun Facts about Diana Gabaldon's books. This is a collection of some of my favorite items from previous FFF posts. I hope you enjoy them!

1) This photo, from Wikipedia, shows what moveable type slugs for an 18th-century printing press looked like. Click on the photo for a bigger view. The object in the foreground, where the letters are formed into words, is called a composing stick.

"I ha’ fought wi’ sword and dirk many times, but to every warrior comes the day when his strength will fail him.” He shook his head and stretched out a hand toward his coat, which lay on the floor.

“I took these, that day wi’ Tom Gage, to remind me of it,” he said.

He took my hand and put into it the things he had taken from his pocket. They were cool, and hard to the touch, small heavy oblongs of lead. I didn’t need to feel the incised ends to know what the letters on the type slugs were.

“Q.E.D.,” I said.

“The English took my sword and dirk away,” he said softly. His finger touched the slugs that lay in my palm. “But Tom Gage put a weapon into my hands again, and I think I shall not lay it down.”

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 27, "Up in Flames". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

The terms "upper case" and "lower case" that we use today come from the wooden cases used to hold the lead type. I took this photo in the printshop at Colonial Williamsburg in October 2013. If you look closely at the photo, you can see a diagram showing where each letter belongs in the case. (For more about my trip to Williamsburg and Yorktown, look here.)

Here are some tips for setting type by hand.

2) Claire was surprised to learn in DRAGONFLY IN AMBER that urinoscopy was still practiced at L'Hopital des Anges:
I bent over a pallet at the edge of the floor. A very thin woman lay listlessly under a single blanket, her eyes drifting dully over us without interest. It wasn’t the woman who had attracted my attention, so much as the oddly shaped glass vessel standing on the floor alongside her pallet.

The vessel was brimming with a yellow fluid--urine, undoubtedly. I was mildly surprised; without chemical tests, or even litmus paper, what conceivable use could a urine sample be? Thinking over the various things one tested urine for, though, I had an idea.

I picked up the vessel carefully, ignoring Sister Angelique’s exclamation of alarmed protest. I sniffed carefully. Sure enough; half-obscured by sour ammoniac fumes, the fluid smelled sickly sweet--rather like soured honey. I hesitated, but there was only one way to make sure. With a moue of distaste, I gingerly dipped the tip of one finger into the liquid and touched it delicately to my tongue.
(From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 12, "L'Hopital des Anges". Copyright© 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The painting above, by 17th-century Dutch artist Evert Oudendijck, shows a doctor examining a flask of urine. This was a special type of flask known as a matula, used for urinoscopy. The wicker basket at his feet was used to carry the flask.

Here is an example of a urinoscopist's color wheel, used to diagnose illness based on the color, odor, and taste of the patient's urine. (This one is from the early 16th century. Click on the picture for a bigger view.) For more information about the history of urinoscopy, look here.  There's a collection of historical paintings on the subject here.

3) Here's an example of a pie safe from Colonial North Carolina.  Click on the photo for a bigger view.  I like to think it might have been similar to the one Jamie and Claire had in their house on Fraser's Ridge.
"No!” I said, my voice sounding rather louder than I intended. “I’m not...damaged.”

He said something in Gaelic under his breath, short and explosive, and shoved himself away from the table. His stool fell over with a loud crash, and he kicked it. Then he kicked it again, and again, and stamped on it with such violence that bits of wood flew across the kitchen and struck the pie safe with little pinging sounds.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 29, "Perfectly Fine". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.) 
According to this site, the purpose of a pie safe is to keep mice and flies away from baked goods, while still providing enough ventilation (through the tiny holes in the pierced-tin panels) so that the food doesn't spoil.

The panels on these pie safes were often beautifully decorated.

4) The sculptures shown above are the "Four Humors of Man", from the gardens of Versailles.  (Top to bottom: Le Sanguin, by Noël Jouvenet (1675-1680); Le Mélancolique, by Michel de Perdrix (1680); Le Cholérique, by Jacques Houzeau (1675-1680); and Le Flegmatique, by Matthieu Lespagnandelle (1675-1679).  Photo credit: Nikolai Buryakov.)  Click on the photos to enlarge them.
I paused beside a statue of a half-draped man with grapes in his hair and a flute at his lips. A large, silky goat nibbled hungrily at more grapes that were cascading from the marble folds of the draperies.

“Who’s this?” I asked, “Pan?”

Jamie shook his head, smiling. He was dressed in his old kilt and a worn, if comfortable coat, but he looked much better to me than did the luxuriously clad courtiers who passed us in chattering groups.

"No, I think there is a statue of Pan about, but it isna that one. That’s one of the Four Humors of Man.”

“Well, he looks fairly humorous,” I said, glancing up at the goat’s smiling friend.

Jamie laughed.

“And you a physician, Sassenach! Not that sort of humor. Do ye not know the four humors that make up the human body? That one’s Blood”--he motioned at the flute-player, then pointed down the path--“and there’s Melancholy.” This was a tall man in a sort of toga, holding an open book.

Jamie pointed across the path. “And over there is Choler”--a nude and muscular young man, who certainly was scowling ferociously, without regard to the marble lion that was about to bite him smartly in the leg--“and that’s Phlegm.”

“Is it, by Jove?” Phlegm, a bearded gent with a folded hat, had both arms crossed on his chest, and a tortoise at his feet.

(From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 9, "The Splendors of Versailles". Copyright© 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

5) Here's a video of the children's counting song, "The Ants Go Marching".
He had a song in his head--again. They sneaked in when he wasn’t looking, melodies singing in his inner ear like sirens from the rocks, ready to dash him in pieces.

Not this one, though. He smiled to himself, as he nudged the bar of the astrolabe and sighted on a tree on the opposite bank. It was a children’s song, one of the counting songs Bree sang to Jemmy. One of those terrible songs that got into one’s head and wouldn’t get out again. As he took his sightings and made the notations in his book, he chanted under his breath, ignoring the cracked distortion of the sounds.

“The...ants one.”

Five thousand acres. What in hell was he to do with it? What in hell was he to do, period?

“ ggetout...atha RAIN...bum, bum, bum..."

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 82, "A Darkening Sky". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Many of you will remember this little song (I certainly did!), but I thought those of you who live outside the US might not be familiar with it.

I hope you enjoyed this 9th installment of the Best of the Friday Fun Facts! Here are the previous collections:

Best of the Friday Fun Facts: Collection #1
Best of the Friday Fun Facts: Collection #2
Best of the Friday Fun Facts: Collection #3
Best of the Friday Fun Facts: Collection #4
Best of the Friday Fun Facts: Collection #5
Best of the Friday Fun Facts: Collection #6
Best of the Friday Fun Facts: Collection #7
Best of the Friday Fun Facts: Collection #8

Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts.

Many thanks to Diana Gabaldon for mentioning Outlandish Observations, and my Friday Fun Facts, in the Acknowledgements to WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD!! I'm thrilled that she enjoys the FFF, too!

1 comment

Laura's Reviews said...

I loved that she mentioned them as well - congrats!

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