Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"If it's Truth you're looking for, Dr. Tyree's philosophy class is right down the hall."

Today is the 414th birthday of Rene Descartes!  Perhaps best known as the cogito ergo sum guy, the works of Descartes were rooted in methodic doubt: grinding one's own beliefs and sensory input up against rigourous skepticism.  Only by pounding away the falsehoods of irrational thought could one attempt to discover Truth.

More importantly (sorry, philosophy majors), the guy kinda invented analytic geometry, laid the foundation for modern calculus, discovered the law of reflection (and first published the law of refraction), and devised exponential notation.  For a guy who spent most of his time thinking his basic senses were lying to him, he was kind of a genius.

That's why the early Library Society picked up a 1664 copy of his Principia Philosophiae.  Before Descartes' Principia Philosophiae, European colleges were teaching physics with the works of Aristotle.   Think about that the next time you see a middle school complaining about thirty-year old civics books (not that I can remember a teacher ever getting past WWII, anyway).

How to get young males interested in physics:
put Wisdom in a tight breastplate and have her show some midriff.

FACTS: The CSO has suspended operations, but the concerts scheduled for the Library Society this spring are still going to happen.  The first one is Friday, April 9th.  Tickets are $15, available though the CLS.  Also, Gordon Rhea is giving a lecture here on April 15th.  There's no cover, and if you like War-Between-the-States history, you should be there.  Call 843.723.9912, or email us at

Monday, March 22, 2010

This Post, by Clifford Jacobs (with Maxine Paetro)

It's March 22nd!  Happy 63rd birthday James Patterson, and a happy day to the dozens of other babies born on other dates but celebrating "collaboratively" under his name.

Last week was the last week of Bret Lott's Writing Salon here at the Library Society.  It was, by all accounts, a runaway success: if there was a problem, it was only the disappointment of the people who discovered its existence too late to sign up.  To make sure that problem doesn't repeat itself, we are announcing the next two groups for this "Lifelong Learning" series months ahead of time.  This fall, Bret Lott will return for another Writing Salon; and Nan Morrison, former chair of English at The College of Charleston, will host a six-week course on the tragedies of Shakespeare.  We couldn't be more excited about both programs...

 Keanu Reeves as Don Juan: actual Shakespearean tragedy, dude.

Friday, March 19, 2010

When the seersuckers come back to St. Phillip's...

"When the swallows come back to Capistrano,
That's the day I pray that you'll come back to me"
                             -"When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano", Leon RenĂ©

It's St. Joseph's Day, the day the cliff swallows (in theory) return to San Juan Capistrano.  Charleston might not have petrochelidon pyrrhonota punctually popping in, but we do have our own sure signs of the season... Mr. Michaux's camellias start to bloom; tourists clot every crosswalk; CofC coeds treat Marion Square like a beach teach Wendell Gilliard about the first amendment...

Leon RenĂ© might never have written a song about the onset of spring here in the Holy City, but it is very nice nonetheless.  Also nice?  Upcoming Library Society Events!

NEXT MONTH:  CSO Brass Ensemble, evening of the 9th.  Later, on April 15th, we're hosting a talk by attorney, author, and guy-who-knows-more-about-Grant-and-Lee's-Overland Campaign-than-anyone-else-on-the-planet, Gordon Rhea.  Mr. Rhea will be sharing the story of Charles Whildon.  An unsung hero during the American Civil War, Whilden grew up on Magazine Street, and his father was editor of the Carolina Gazette, begun in about 1820. Whilden fought in Virginia and his story was movingly told in Rhea's book, Carrying the Flag.  More info soon.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bestriding the narrow world...

Happy Ides of March!  It's been 2054 years since Julius Caesar took a trip to the theatre, and 24 hours since your loyal blogger took a (pre-)St. Pat's trip to Savannah...  Happily (for me, if not for Republican Rome), I made it through my trip in better shape than Caesar did his.  Sorry, Julius, the fault wasn't in your stars, but in yourself.

Last Thursday's lecture and book signing for Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America was a massive success.   A big thanks both to John Avlon for lecturing, and to all of our members who attended for attending.  And not to preach, but last Thursday should also be a reminder of the increasing importance of RSVPing early: I think the days of having empty chairs at lectures are now long gone!

This week: the NEGHS event is this Thursday: more info here

Next week: Steve White, director of the Karpeles Manuscript Museum and founder of the Charleston Historical Society, amongst other things, will be giving a talk on March 25th at 7:00 PM up at the Karpeles (68 Spring Street) on Irish president Eamon DeValera's 1920 visit to Charleston.  Steve's been doing a good bit of the research for this stuff down here at the Library Society, and has kindly treated your loyal blogger to some early insights from his work... lemme say now, this is going to be a great lecture.

Week after that: Spring Book Sale...  see you at the Barnwell Annex, Saturday the 27th!

Next thirty days: Charleston Symphony Orchestra's Brass Quintet will be here, the Charleston Bible Society will have a big anniversary bash, and a lecture from noted American Civil War historian Gordon Rhea.

Monday, March 8, 2010

From the collections: Happy 264th, Andre! edition

While I should plunge right into reminders of this month's full event's schedule, I'll put that off for tomorrow.  More importantly, it's the 264th birthday of French botanist Andre Michaux.  While Michaux had some formal education early in life, his great botanical skills were developed working on his father's farm near Versailles.  This proximity to the royal palace, coupled with Michaux's ability to grow almost anything, brought him to the attention of the French court.  He was sent to learn under the best botanists in the country, and soon sent to work as a botanist in the field.

It's this field work that brought Michaux into contact with the Library Society.  After a three-year trip through the Middle East, he was named the Royal Botanist, and sent to North America.  He spent some time in Philadelphia: hanging out with Ben Franklin, establishing a research garden.  After about a year, he sailed south for Charleston.  He grew his experimental plants- crepe myrtles, mimosas, camellias- at Middleton Place; and he met with the foremost scientific minds in Charleston - the intellectual heirs to Alexander Garden and John Lining- here at the Library Society.

Though further travel led him all across North America, he kept a home base here in Charleston until his return to France in 1796.  From the time of his arrival here, until his death in 1802, Michaux would send books and manuscripts back to Charleston.  One of these, the Ikhtiyarat-i Badi'i, is pictured here:

 The leg-bone's connected to the thigh bone...

The Ikhtiyarat-i Badi'i, written in 1492, is one of the oldest manuscripts the Society possesses.  It is a medical textbook from Isfahan, Persia, written at what, in the 15th century, was the world's most advanced hospital.  Today it's available for viewing here at the Society (and available for reading if you can read middle Farsi...), so come by soon and ask for the Ikhtiyarat-i Badi'i by Haji Zayn al-Attar, Zayn al-Din 'Ali ibn al-Husayn al-Ansari (but be sure to pronounce it right so we know what you're talking about).

Monday, March 1, 2010

"Thanks to Heinz Baked Beans, every day is a super day!"

John Avlon has sold out.

Not "sold out" like the Stones during the Windows 95 launch, or Dennis Hopper with those blasted Ameriprise commercials, or Led Zeppelin selling Cadillacs, mind you.  There are just no longer tickets available for his event here at the CLS on the 11th.  Sorry, Charlie, should have RSVP'ed sooner.

"Sorry, Charlie" copyright StarKist Co.  
Mmm... StarKist Tuna, the official tuna of the Charleston Library Society.  Buy some, today!