While Katie J was in town a little while back, we played Scrabble a couple of times, using my Oxford Universal Dictionary for interest (as it was a little too old for challenges).  Katie became slightly obsessed.  Reading it by herself in the kitchen, taking notes, carrying it with her to Rosa’s graduation party, sleeping with it under her pillow, etc.  It’s a ponderous tome, published in 1955 as an OED abridgment—probably to much acclaim & at great expense—but I got it for a dollar at The Book Eddy.  How the great have fallen!  Anyways, I was so happy to have it and have treasured it—like the OED, it catalogues uses of words chronologically, and even casual reading can teach me so much.  (“Casual”—as Katie discovered—a case in point.)  All that to say, I love words.  And I know a few of you do, too.  SO—

Rewind a couple of years, to when I was really poor and under-employed and did some occasional dumpster-diving at the local recycling station.  Once, sticking my head into the paper recycling dumpster, I noticed a pile of really old encylopedias, and—why not—loaded all eight of them into my car and took them home.  They turned out to be volumes from the very big American Encyclopaedic Dictionary, published in 1894, and in beautiful condition.  I love these books.  The font is lovely, the illustrations are gorgeous, the pull-out maps, marbled endpapers, and color pictures are unbelievable, and the entries themselves are almost always delightful or surprising in some way.  I kind of didn’t look at them again for a while, and just recently picked them up again.  I’m slightly obsessed.  Here are a few things I figured I should pass along:

Cape Colony, a British colony in South Africa, named from its position near and including the Cape of Good Hope. […]  In entering upon the government of this large territory the British found themselves face to face with a race of a totally different sort from that of the purposeless Hottentot—a people styled Caffirs, mainly of Arab descent, consisting of tall, athletic, finely formed men, of warlike dispositions, with an incurable propensity to steal from any one, provided he was not of their tribe, and particularly if he was a foreigner” (97).

Hystero-epilepsy, a nervous disease of women, occurring during the fertile period of life, first observed and described by Prof. Charcot, of Paris.  As yet it has rarely been observed in Great Britain.  Its phenomena are very extraordinary, and serious doubts have been entertained by eminent authorities as to their substantiality, it being asserted that they are merely manifestations of ordinary hysteria, intensified by a process of education.  But these doubts are being rapidly dissipated by the observations of competent observers.  The disease is of a paroxysmal nature, and its symptoms [include]…extreme sensitiveness over the region of one or (less frequently) both ovaries, and…complete insensibility to pain in one lateral half of the body, the side on which the ovarian tenderness exists.  Sight is sometimes implicated, manifested by a peculiar form of color-blindness.  Perhaps the most remarkable phenomenon presented in this disease is that…these impairments of sensation may be shifted to the other side of the body on the application of magnets and plates of metals, the originally affected side regaining sensibility so long as the opposite one is insensible. […]  The mental faculties are generally weakened, and the disease is for the most part incurable” (302).

Halley’s Comet.—This was the first of the periodic C[omets] whose return was predicted.  It has a period of about 76 yrs., which was discovered by Halley from the similarity of its orbit in 1682 to those of the C. of 1607 and 1531, and he then identified it with the great C. of 1456, 1301, 1145, and 1066, and predicted its return in the early part of 1759.  It actually passed perihelion on March 13 of that yr.  In 1835 it came within two days of its predicted time, and it will appear again about 1911, but the perturbations of the planets have not yet been computed for this return so as to predict the time with accuracy.  The appearance of this comet in 1066 is figured on the Bayeux tapestry as a propitious omen for William the Conqueror, and at its appearance in 1456 it is reported to have been excommunicated in a papal bull, though there is some doubt whether this really happened” (140).