My wife and I are on the seventh of the Aubrey-Maturin books, The Surgeon’s Mate (which means we’re eating them up at a rate of almost one a month—see this post for the start of the voyage—and will have finished the series sometime in the spring of 2013, and what will we do then?), and when I read the start of Chapter Three, “The Diligence tided it down the long harbour during the night, and before daybreak she was clear of the Little Thrumcap,” of course I had to know where and what the Little Thrumcap was. The Nova Scotia Pilot provides the answer [text below the cut for those who can’t see the Google Books image]:

But another question remained: what’s a thrumcap? Here we turn to the OED and find “Thrum… A short piece of waste thread or yarn…; pl. or collect. sing. odds and ends of thread… thrum cap, a cap made of thrums.” You can see a couple of illustrations (including one from the movie Master and Commander!) here, as well as read “The Ballad of the Caps” (“The Saylors with their Thrums do stand/ On higher place than all the land”).
Oh, and here‘s a splendid painting, “H.M.S. Shannon Leading Her Prize the American Frigate Chesapeake into Halifax Harbour,” in case you too are a devotee of O’Brian and would enjoy seeing such a thing.

The Nova Scotia Pilot quote:

Little Thrumcap Islet, about 2 miles westward of Devil Island, is 33 feet high and 300 yards long, and connected with the southwestern extremity of Macnab Island by long shingle beaches, inclosing a shallow lagoon; its cliff of red sand and clay is fast wasting by the action of the sea. Big Thrumcap is 800 yards northeastward of it.


  1. MW says thrum is related to ohd. drum. The modern German word (das) Trumm apparently is related to what the singular form of the familiar word Trümmer might be, if it had one. Trümmer, the rubble remaining after (usually) a building has been destroyed, is one of them pluralia tantum.
    The Trümmerfrauen were the women who cleared away the rubble from streets and building sites in German cities for several years after WW 2. There weren’t enough men left over to do this, you see. The WiPe article says all women between 15 and 50 years of age were ordered by the occupying forces to report for the job. That this was not a case of selfless volunteer patriotism must be such common knowledge that it is not mentioned explicitly in documentaries, or only briefly, so I didn’t know it.
    On a lighter note: thrumcaps are made from short pieces of waste thread or yarn, but flying from the mast tops in the painting are what appear to be extremely long pieces of yarn. Are they like ribbons in a bonnet, put on for triumphant occasions ? I imagine they would get in the way of ordinary sailing.

  2. Those are pennants, and special ones were brought out for such triumphal occasions; as you surmise, they were not part of the ordinary rigging of the ship.
    Very interesting stuff about OHG drum and the Trümmerfrauen.

  3. …and will have finished the series sometime in the spring of 2013, and what will we do the[n]..
    Did you ever start The Tale of Genji ?

  4. No, and that’s definitely a possibility. [Thanks for the typo alert; I’ve fixed it.]

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    “Tale of Genji” is terrific. I should warn you that I ended up staying up late to finish the last quarter or so, something I would have frankly thought an outright impossibility when I was slogging with great difficulty through the first quarter. Either Murasaki just gets better and better as she goes along, or it just takes a long time to get used to one of the most alien societies one is likely to encounter in a classic of world literature. It took me a long time to see why Shining Genji himself is regarded so highly by practically everyone in the novel who’s not just insanely jealous of him.

  6. Charles Perry says

    When you finish reading, try reading them again. New things pop up. I originally thought Jack Aubrey communicated with Mediterranean types in broken Spanish, but later I wondered whether it might be Spanish by way of Lingua Franca.

  7. Tale of Genji
    [After consulting Amazon:] Will the Waley translation do ? In German there’s a 1954 translation for 10 EUR, and a 1966 hardback translation for 100 EUR.
    It sounds like the kind of novel I would want in a critical edition, 1/3 of which is explanatory notes. I do not hesitate to buy such annotated editions even of German, English and French novels of the 19C and before. It’s, like, I don’t have to read the notes, but they are there when I want them, like linen napkins at a barbecue.

  8. My God, I’ve read a book that Language hasn’t read. The Tale of Genji’s great. I suppose you’re planning to read it in Japanese or something, but there’s nothing wrong with Arthur Waley. What do you mean “do”, Stu? You should be so lucky as to have an Arthur Waley translation.

  9. David Eddyshaw says

    I’ve read the Seidensticker and the Waley versions. They’re both pretty good in their somewhat different ways. Waley is more impressionistic and literary, somewhat like a recreation in some ways; Seidensticker tries to be more accurate and deliberately aims at a sparer sort of style. I’ve got the Tyler version but haven’t read it yet. It looks like the one to go for if you wanted copious notes. I got a bit put off Tyler by his translations of some Noh plays which seemed a bit precious, but that’s eminently subjective.

  10. I suppose you’re planning to read it in Japanese or something
    I’m afraid I let slip the Japanese I was allegedly fluent in at the age of four, so it’ll have to be one of the translations. I own Seidensticker and Waley and was already agonizing over which to read when the Tyler came out, so now I’m in a real pickle. I don’t want to buy a third version unless I have to, but I do love notes.

  11. I see that the inexpensive, (according to this) “frequently reprinted” 1954 German edition was translated by one Herbert E. Herlitschka from the Waley translation. Are there well-known examples of this piggyback strategy producing satisfactory results ? Or at least ones that please the public, even if experts wag their weary heads over them ?

  12. I don’t know about satisfactory results, but the piggyback strategy is certainly a common one when dealing with obscure languages (the English versions of most of Ismail Kadare’s novels, for instance, are translated from French rather than the original Albanian). But I must say I’m shocked they couldn’t find a German who could translate from Japanese in 1954. I’d say more, but

  13. That’s partly a copyright issue: the French versions are under the international copyright regime, which means permission can be and is granted to translate them. In Albania, copyright barely exists, and anglophone publishers don’t want to take the risk of infringing rights they can’t buy.

  14. J.W. Brewer says

    Hmm. I would think an English translation from the French translation might, if unlicensed, infringe both the French translation and the Albanian original (assuming both of those versions still to be under copyright in the relevant jurisdiction(s)) unless the French translator’s original license from the Albanian author permitted such sublicensing. But I could be wrong. I do have a sense (even though my youthful intention to specialize in copyright law did not come to fruition) that in general derivative works based on other derivative works (e.g. a film version of a Broadway musical based on a book . . .) are a recipe for legal complexity.

  15. The English WiPe says Kadurie has “divided his time between Albania and France since 1990”. Being a lifetime member of the French Académie des sciences morales et politiques, perhaps he has special arrangements with a French publisher.
    The WiPe says that the Pope is an associate member of that Académie, as well as the Prince of Wales.

  16. Kadare, for Pete’s sake, not Kadurie. Is there another writer named Elie Kadurie, or something like that ?

  17. Wow, I’d just love to know the pope’s opinion about les sciences morales et politiques, that would be really, really interesting. They’ve spelt Prince Charles’s name wrong, but I don’t care.
    It’s not just a lifetime appointment, apparently. Two of the associate members, Otto von Habsburg & Václav Havel, are dddécédés. They’ve recently removed one of the Weizsäckers, he died in ’07. Can’t be too careful, have to be quite certain he was dead and that sort of thing.

  18. Perhaps you shouldn’t be so harsh on them, Crown. It appears to be just an Old Boy’s club, like the Drones. HOMMES: Harmless Old Men Muttering Egotistic Shite.
    There’s one woman on the roster – to top up the drinks, probably. They must throw crazy parties.

  19. I mean, like, what distinguished academies do I belong to ? Who is going to check whether I’m really dead when I have turned to dust ? Due to the large quantities of it already present in my apartment, that will not be easy.

  20. J.W.: The issue is fundamentally that Albania only nominally respects copyright. For many decades until 1994, there was no copyright treaty at all, so any books before that date are in the public domain outside Albania, a state of affairs that always worries publishers — they mostly want to buy rights and not just presume they have them. Now the Albanian government has joined Berne and TRIPS, but whether individual Albanians actually pay any attention is a question.
    As for the derivative work of a derivative work problem, the English-language publishers license the French version, so there is no infringement there. And from what I can see, the Albanian rights-holder could at most sue for breach, not for infringement. Apparently the French publisher considers the business risk negligible, since Albanian authors need French translations (to make their works accessible outside Albania) far more than French publishers need translated Albanian works.
    Details here.
    I am not a lawyer; this is not legal advice. However, it is not the unauthorized practice of law either.

  21. I may have erred in my wodehouseing. The Drones Club seems to have been for the young and idle.

  22. I read the Seidensticker version. Unlike David, I found it harder going towards the end, after being totally engrossed earlier. I found it became a bit repetitious.
    On piggy-back translations: isn’t it a recipte for error? I was once in a situation where news from Latin America, having been originally written in English, was then translated into French and German. We then translated it into English, for our service, and others then put it into Spanish or Portuguese for their services. I always wondered if that end product bore any resemblance whatsoever to the original news… (To spare the blushes of the organisation involved, I will not name it…).

  23. David Eddyshaw says

    If I could only take one translation of Genji to my desert island (it’d be a great choice, come to think of it) it would be the Seidensticker.
    I gather most people agree with you about the latter parts of the novel. I actually knew that beforehand, was expecting a letdown, and was surprised. I think the end sheds a lot of retrospective light on the earlier parts of the novel, myself. Would say more, but I suppose that might be spoileriffic (my daughter has never forgiven me for innocently supposing that everyone knows how Anna Karenina ends.)

  24. David E.: I’ve read the Seidensticker and the Waley versions. … I’ve got the Tyler version but haven’t read it yet.
    !!?? Now you could learn German, so as to read even more versions … Which of the English translations painlessly helps to cope with the “names” of the 400-or-so characters, i.e. without one’s having constantly to consult notes ?

  25. I think there are only two fat-and-luscious novels that I have read more than twice – at least five times, actually – but in the original. These are Middlemarch and Der Zauberberg. So I can easily imagine your interest in different versions of the Tale of Genji.
    Apart from that, every 3-4 years I read Barchester Towers again, plus a new Trollope.

  26. J.W. Brewer says

    Sure, if the Albanian original is public-domain wherever you’re going to publish your English translation, you have no risk on that front, although you don’t have any *greater* risk if you translate directly rather than from a French edition. There might be business/reputational reasons to be seen to be acting in a way that the original author would approve of, but that’s a different issue.

  27. David Eddyshaw says

    @Grumbly Stu:
    Well, yes … given that Genji is well worth reading more than once it didn’t seem unreasonable to try different translations, especially as they’ve all got good reputations.
    I didn’t find the dozens-and-dozens-of-characters aspect as bad as all that. In any one scene it’s not too hard to keep track. At least the modern versions actually give the characters unique individual names, unlike Murasaki, who just assumes you’re as clever as she is herself at keeping it all straight.
    I had more trouble with the fact that M also assumes that you’re as clever as she is in being able to work out why her characters are acting the way that they do, without needing to have it all impolitely spelt out to you as if you were some sort of commoner … or even foreigner …

  28. plus a new Trollope.
    My daughter was recently left a complete set of Trollope’s novels by her great uncle, and it’s enormous, about fiftyish books. I had no idea.

  29. My wife and I are planning to start on Trollope at some point; I’ve never read him, but I have fond memories of the BBC’s Pallisers series from the ’70s.

  30. “… the sweet bliss of connubial reciprocity is not so common as it should be among the magnates of the earth.” [from “Doctor Thorne”]

  31. Just one more reason to avoid becoming a magnate of the earth.

  32. Yes, exactly. It is an occasional example of Trollope’s brilliant turns of phrase: “sweet bliss of connubial reciprocity”. The magnates to which it refers immediately are Dr. and Mrs. Proudie.

  33. <tries to resist, but fails …> The earth’s magnates are poles apart from the common people.

  34. JWB: Under normal circumstances, American publishers (except for specialized ones like Dover) don’t even bother to find out if the books they want to publish are in the public domain. There is no registry, after all, only a frighteningly complicated set of rules — read ’em and weep. Furthermore, the downside risk is some $50,000 per work in statutory damages, with no proof of actual damages required, if the publisher has infringed the author’s rights.
    Here’s Eric Flint again, this time with his editor’s hat on:

    By the way, as aside, most commercial publishers would pay the author something, anyway. Laws are laws, economic realities are economic realities, and public relations are public relations. The cost of buying the rights for a long out-of-print story by an obscure writer is so low that most publishers will gladly do it just to avoid, if nothing else, the hassle of trying to determine whether the work is in the public domain and/or the potential backlash they’d get from public opinion if they didn’t. I’ve reissued over twenty volumes of stories by old authors, either as the sole editor or working with other editors, and I can tell you that in no instance did we try to determine if something was in the public domain or not.

    To give an example, when I began my reissue of Christopher Anvil’s writings for Baen Books, we bought the right to publish anything Anvil had written of a science fiction or fantasy nature up to the time of the contract. (He’s since written new stories which we bought separately — one of which, as it happens, appears in this volume of Universe.) In the course of my negotiations with Anvil, he expressed the concern that he thought some of his works might have fallen into the public domain because he wasn’t sure if he’d renewed the rights to a few stories. His concern was that he didn’t want to be misrepresenting anything in the contract, since we were paying for all the stories. I told him I simply didn’t care, and neither did Jim Baen. Neither one of us is going to go chasing after stories that might have fallen into the public domain, when we are reissuing the work of an author or an author whose estate we’re dealing with. Leaving aside any ethical issues, it simply wouldn’t be worth it in purely cold-blooded commercial terms. It takes time and labor — often, lots of it — to determine if something is in the public domain. Why bother, when it’s so much cheaper and easier to just pay the author or the estate — and thereby also avoid any risk of triggering public antagonism?

  35. The earth’s magnates are poles apart from the common people.
    Once again, thanks. I didn’t know about Polish magnates (they sound a bit like Johnson & Johnson).

  36. The abstract of this article seems to suggest that even those magnates who are monopolists may experience some reciprocity.

  37. My wife and I are planning to start on Trollope at some point
    Few pleasures beat settling down in bed with a Trollope – particularly the thrill of finding the author’s own deliberate double-entendres in the text. My favourite – I may have mentioned it before – is “There’s nothing like a good screw”, from Phineas Redux. (“Screw” here meaning “broken-winded horse”.)

  38. How do you know which double-entendres are deliberate?

  39. Here’s quite a convincing explanation that this one is deliberate (and here’s the passage itself).

  40. Dammit. Here.

  41. empty: Dirac showed that if any magnetic monopoles exist in the universe, then all electric charge in the universe must be quantized. The electric charge is, in fact, quantized, which suggests (but does not necessarily prove) that monopoles exist.
    Logic apparently behaves unusually in the presence of monopoles. Whoever wrote that passage thinks that A->B and B together “suggest” that A.

  42. Crown, at the top of that page appears “Out of the full heart the mouth speaks”. That’s one of those Biblical sayings with combinatorial possibilities:
    1) Only the heart speaks when the mouth is full
    2) Out of the full mouth bad manners speak
    3) When the heart is in the mouth, one is afraid to speak

  43. Out of the full heart the mouth speaks. ‘Nice girl, Miss Palliser,’ he said to Phineas, forgetting that he had expressed himself nearly in the same way to the same man on a former occasion.
    ‘Very nice, indeed. It seems to me that you are sweet upon her yourself.’
    ‘Who? I! Oh, no⎯I don’t think of those sort of things. I suppose I shall marry some day. I’ve a house fit for a lady to-morrow, from top to bottom, linen and all. And my property’s my own.’

    If you wrote that today, it would have to be something like:

    ‘She’s hot,’ he said to Phineas, forgetting that he had expressed himself nearly in the same way to the same man on a former occasion.
    ‘Very hot. It seems to me that you are sweet upon her yourself.’
    ‘Who? Me! No way. Too busy.’

  44. Stu: That kind of “logic” is used by sleuths of all kinds, from criminal investigators to appliance repairmen to solvers of crossword puzzles. It works, too.

  45. Yes, affirming the consequent is useful (but not to be mistaken for proof, of course) if you have reason to expect that the system you are investigating has a design. It can be understood as a presumption against coincidence. For example: where there are cows there are calves; here is a calf; there must be a cow somewhere about.

  46. Of course it can be useful to show that something not known to be the case has theoretical consequences compatible with what is known to be the case. But this is only a model-theoretic line of argument. By model I mean something similar to what John calls design and a presumption against coincidence.
    I think it’s misleading to claim that heuristic assumptions just plain “work”. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. After all, if they always worked they wouldn’t be heuristics. What almost always happens in sleuthing, crossword puzzle solving etc is that many assumptions compatible with what is known are made and discarded one after another, until (maybe !) one is found that that is not just compatible, but demonstrable.
    This is a trial-and-error procedure. For various reasons people often like to characterize these procedural activities – after a successful conclusion if there is one – as trial-and-find activities. The errors are swept under the carpet as uninteresting.
    Another kind of heuristic situation, equally interesting, occurs when it is found that a model is incompatible with what is known to be the case. Then you can tinker with the model, or conclude that you don’t know what is the case, or both. This has been happening in astrophysics over the last 10-20 years, with respect to “dark matter”.
    What I find most remarkable about this is the gung-ho search now underway for alternative accounts of the whole goddamn universe – no more fretting and fighting over the metaphysical status of quantum peanuts. Astrophysicists seem to be grown-up constructivists. Many of the rest of us still cling to belief in Reality and Santa Claus.
    [Declaration of interest: after working through much of Ludwik Fleck’s books and articles, I am now rereading The Structure of Scientific Revolutions to see how much Kuhn owes to Fleck. Preliminary answer: pretty much everything.]

  47. Stu, they don’t just plain work, but they work: they are a useful aid to investigation.
    I like the word “sleuth”.

  48. In Chaucer, “slewth” occurs for “sloth”. How to recognize a German: ease in pronouncing “sluice”, difficulty in pronouncing “sleuth”.
    empty: Anyone – as I do – who finds the ideas of epistemic constructivism to be useful in understanding how knowledge functions, should not be surprised that there are different points of view about things, including constructivism itself. Nevertheless, I am repeatedly astonished to find that the ideas themselves meet with blank stares, if not grim dismissal.
    I thought that in my comment I had done a fairly good (though all too brief) job of putting heuristic assumptions in a realistic light. Essentially: if you choose the “right” ones, you get “right” answers, and if you don’t, you don’t.
    That claim by itself is not at all “constructivistic”. It seems to me to be a homely, accurate claim, unsurprising and not involving any kind of sneaky metaphysical commitment. And yet you don’t appear to agree, and would prefer to ignore, say as being unimportant, the fact that generally, in concrete situations, a large proportion of guesses fail to lead anywhere – except when the smart guys are at work. Is this a fair representation of your views on what actually happens in the course of scientific investigation, including mathematics ?
    Perhaps you think there is some kind of hair-raising, science-degrading implication lurking in what I wrote. Or perhaps you think: “Don’t need all that talk. I don’t know anything about knowledge, but I know what I know” ? I myself subscribe on Mondays and Fridays to the view expressed by the second sentence there, but not the first one.

  49. and would prefer to ignore, say as being unimportant, the fact that generally, in concrete situations, a large proportion of guesses fail to lead anywhere – except when the smart guys are at work.
    Not at all. I take it for granted that there are wrong turns along the way to the truth. Looking for evidence of the kind we are talking about, and using it the way “the smart guys” do, is only one way of lessening the incidence of those wrong turns.
    I was a little startled by
    For various reasons people often like to characterize these procedural activities – after a successful conclusion if there is one – as trial-and-find activities. The errors are swept under the carpet as uninteresting.
    It seemed like either a straw man or a side issue, and I let it lie. I ignored it in the sense of not responding directly to it right away, but I did not ignore it “as being unimportant”.
    Of course one will usually be more interested in the right answer that one finally got to than in the wrong answers that one rejected along the way; that’s not the same as pretending that there were no wrong turns. And yes I’m sure that some people do make that pretense sometimes, and also that the conventions of scientific writing encourage people to conceal some of the evidence of their wrong turns.
    “Don’t need all that talk. I don’t know anything about knowledge, but I know what I know”
    That’s it exactly.

  50. Well, that’s at least one heuristic assumption I got right.

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