Tuesday, September 06, 2016


John Amos Comenius
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My first contact with Comenius (1592-1671) was during the (academic) year I spent in the College of Europe in Brugge (Bruges).

Each year's class, or promotion as it was called, was named after some well known figure from the past, preferably one who had contributed to European civilisation in some way. Comenius, who gave his name to my promotion, was one such person, a teacher ahead of his time who introduced many modern methods into teaching, including systematic illustrations in books for teaching children.

I just came across a link to a post on one of his books, Orbis Sensualium Pictus or Visible World.

Originally written in Latin and High Dutch in 1658, it was designed to teach Dutch children Latin. The format is parallel text and the content covers much of human existence. The Dutch part was translated into many languages with an English translation appearing in 1705. Quite apart from its linguistic aspect it is like a mini encyclopedia, and just like the Grave Matters book it provoked many resonances with people and trades I came across in following up my family history.

My godmother's people from way back were blacksmiths from Kilkenny. And yes, she's family as she's also my mother's cousin. There was a time when Dubin was crawling with blacksmiths/farriers in the age of the horse, before the advent of the internal combustion engine put most of them out of business.

Her father, PJ Medlar was an undertaker in James's street and I have another undertaker on my father's side of the family in East Limerick.

I must say I was tickled by the text. There's really no folks like dead folks. They used to burn them but now they bury them. Reminded me of the Church taking against cremation in the Middle Ages, initially because they felt it disrespected the sacramental body and later as a reaction against those who promoted cremation as a denial of the afterlife.

Nicholas P Fleming, a grand uncle, was a cooper. They were the gentlemen of the brewing trade. Nicholas married three women, including two of my granny's sisters, thus bequeathing his grandson Gerry four grannies when you add in the mere one on the other side of his family.

One maternal great grandfather was a master bootmaker in James's Street, and there were a number of shoemakers scattered around on the mother's side.

The other great grandfather on the mother's side was a carpenter. Married a girl half his age and having begot a family went and died of septicemia, whether from a rusty nail or a burst appendix is not recorded.

One of the great failures of my family history research has been the inability to come up with a single ODC (Ordinary Decent Criminal) though I do have a suspect but, so far, no evidence.

The punishments reserved for criminals were varied. I don't see any drownings among the listed penalties on the above page or its continuation. So maybe that one was introduced at a later stage and meted out informally.

Finally, I couldn't resist the printer, though I am the only one in my family, having invested in an Adana handpress in my student days. Not very profitable but a great insight into the old world of printing.

And if you haven't already done so check out Comenius, a fascinating guy. And don't forget to have a look at the book.

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