So, halfway through Ivanhoe (which, as I mentioned on Twitter
, is just as awesome as Edward Eager said, once you get used to the pacing) I found an awesome chapter-heading epigram which made me curious enough to look up the original play it was from. Unfortunately the only copy I could find online was on the Internet Archive
and full of OCR errors, but I persevered and read the whole thing because it was just that awesome.
The play was Basil: a Tragedy
and it's part of a series of plays about the passions, in this case love. Our hero Basil is the bestest general ever, he doesn't care about anything except victory until he sees our heroine Victoria, at which point he goes through all the traditional proofs of being in love in quick succession and lingers at court while his friend says "Dude, two hours ago you were really desperate to be heading off to this war we're supposed to be fighting!" and Basil says "Shut up, I don't like you anymore. No, wait, I'm sorry, I'll come and fight! --Ooh, is that Victoria?" And then it turns out that Victoria's father is a traitor and is using her to keep him there. And people keep saying awesome things in iambic pentameter that make me go "Tee hee!" or "Ooh!" or "Aw!" and "How come I've never even heard of Joanna Baillie before?"
Oh right, because she's a woman. It turns out that Joanna Baillie
was an 18th/19th century Scotswoman, and she was really well-known and loved in her time, and she was friends with everyone, and this one guy said her play sucked and she said "Hmpf" and refused to meet him, but then she met him and they became good friends because she was just that awesome. And she gave half her writing proceeds to charity and helped out other struggling writers and saved the Enterprise and married Spock. We don't seem to have a colour image of her but I'm pretty sure her eyes were purple.
The tragic ending itself was a bit weak for my taste but it's worth it because then I had a revelation: you know how when your favourite author dies and you realise you've read all their books and there'll never be any more? It doesn't matter
because this random Scotswoman you never heard of has also written a whole bunch of cool stuff and you can read all of that instead!
But this is not actually the awesome thing. The awesome thing is this:
Newe vuerfarne treffenliche vortheile zu allerhand Kriegsübungen im veld und bevestungen durch Veitt Wolffen von Senfftenberg aus Österreich Itzo der von Dantzig Czeugmeistern fürggeben Anno 1568. Dresden Sächsische Landesbibliothek: "Item, in cities, castles, and hamlets which one must abandon after a long siege, one can with such hidden, buried explosives throw such an obstacle in the face of the enemy so that within two or three days he will come to regret this conquest: namely by placing buried into the rooms, here and there also in the stables, with a running clock attached with a fire lock, everything properly arranged as best one can. A number of such hidden explosives can be delayed as long as one wishes, and set at such an hour as one desires. Indeed, with such a setup or in such a brief time many marvelous things can be done afterwards and with the cocked fire lock, it is more than one can relate."
Dohrn-van Rossum, G. (1996). History of the hour: clocks and modern temporal orders.
(Trans. Thomas Dunlap). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (p. 310)
But alas! if you try to write a time-delay bomb in the 16th century everyone will think you're just being silly. :-(