An Aristocratic Smithy


Part of a Persian prince’s education included gaining proficiency in a craft.  Here a youth in a bright orange robe and henna-stained fingernails is making a horseshoe. This painting and three others in the Read Persian album appear to be copies of lost works by Ḥabīb-Allāh al-Mashhadī, an important painter at Governor Shāmlū’s court.

The Persian album was begun by Husain Khān Shāmlū, governor of Herat (r. 1598–1618), and possibly continued by his son and successor, Hasān Shāmlū (d. 1646).

c. 1600

The Village Blacksmith

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1840

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.

And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.

He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter’s voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother’s voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.

Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.


The Gross Clinic


by Thomas Eakins

A famous surgeon and academic writer, Dr. Samuel Gross is shown here leading a clinic of five doctors operating on the thigh of a patient and demonstrating to students the relatively new surgical procedure he had developed to treat bone infections. As a teacher, he was considered remarkable for his ability to enliven the standard medical lecture by using anecdote and humor.

Thomas Eakins – The Gross Clinic – 1864 – oil on canvas – 8′ x 16’6″

Kaufman Department Store Murals

By Boardman Robinson

In 1929, Edgar Kaufman commissioned a series of murals by Boardman Robinson to hang on display for the customers in his downtown Pittsburgh department store. Robinson’s ten 8’ x 15’ panels on the History of Commerce began with the Persians and Arabs, then progressed to the Venetians, the Dutch, and the slave traders in the Americas, and finally to an industrialized city scene of the 20th century.  When the store was demolished in the 1950s, the murals were housed in storage until their acquisition by the Fine Arts Center of Colorado Springs, where Robinson taught in the affiliated school.

Here are two of the panels: Slave Trade in America, and Modern Industrialized City

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Boardman Robinson, oil on canvas, 1929

[from] The Plague

[from] The Plague

by Albert Camus

[In a fictional account of a plague epidemic in Algeria during the 1940s, Camus describes the destruction of relationship, feeling, hope, and other essential elements of human nature when the scourge of the disease, believed to be contagious, overtakes the town. 

At the early stages of the outbreak, Dr. Rieux is unable to persuade the authorities to be honest with the people about what is happening.  Finally, it becomes obvious and the town’s society breaks down.  Dr. Rieux never gives up his efforts to relieve the suffering of the sick, despite his own growing sense of futility and loss of the ability to care.]

“Lifting the coverlet and chemise, he gazed in silence at the red blotches on the girl’s thighs and stomach, the swollen ganglia.  After one glance, the mother broke into shrill, uncontrollable cries of grief.  And every evening mothers wailed thus, with distraught abstraction, as their eyes fell on those fatal stigmata on limbs and bellies; every evening hands gripped Rieux’s arms, there was a rush of useless words, promises and tears; every evening the nearing tocsin of the ambulance provoked scenes as vain as every form of grief.  Rieux had nothing to look forward to but a long sequence of such scenes, renewed again and again.  Yes, plague, like abstraction, was monotonous; perhaps only one factor changed, and that was Rieux himself.  Standing at the foot of the statue of the Republic that evening, he felt it; all he was conscious of was a bleak indifference steadily gaining on him as he gazed at the door of the hotel…”

The Plague, by Albert Camus, 1947. Translated from the French by Stuart Gilbert. Copyright © 1948 by Stuart Gilbert; renewed in 1975 by Stuart Gilbert

[from] Housekeeping


Marilynne Robinson

[Sylvie, a drifter, has been called back to civilization to take care of her deceased sister’s two young daughters. Taking note of Sylvie’s unorthodox approach to housekeeping and mothering, the town authorities are closing in to take public custody of the one daughter, speaking here, who seems to be choosing Sylvie’s way of life.]

           … [N]either Sylvie nor I had any thought at all of inviting neighbors in.  The parlor was full of the newspapers and magazines Sylvie brought home.  They were stacked pretty neatly, considering that some of them had been rolled, perhaps to swat flies.  Nevertheless, they took up the end of the room where the fireplace had been.  Then there were the cans stacked along the wall opposite the couch.  Like the newspapers, they were stacked to the ceiling.  Nevertheless, they took up considerable floor space.  Of course, we could have made other arrangements, if we had planned to entertain, but we did not.  The visitors glanced at the cans and papers as if they thought Sylvie must consider such things appropriate to a parlor.  That was ridiculous.  We had simply ceased to consider that room a parlor, since, until we had attracted the attention of these ladies, no one ever came to call.  Who would think of dusting or sweeping the cobwebs down in a room used for the storage of cans and newspapers – things utterly without value?  Sylvie only kept them, I think, because she considered accumulation to be the essence of housekeeping, and because she considered the hoarding of worthless things to be proof of a particularly scrupulous thrift.

Housekeeping.  Copyright © 1980 by Marilynne Robinson