John of Gaunt Describes England

A young boy, probably about eight years old, sat on a high stool in a black and cavernous chamber lit by only two wax candles – one in his left hand and the other nearby his father, who was watching him from a sprawled position on the ground.  In the boys other hand was a thick book.

The father checked his watch and looked up at his son, “… and begin.”

The boy proceeded to read aloud from the book:

“This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle…”

And the boy continued to read from Shakespeare’s Richard II, glancing up at his father every few words.

“You’re slurring, Jack, try to maintain yourself” the father interrupted.

The boy nodded and continued:

“Againsht zhe envy of lesh shappier landsz, this bleshed plot … thish…”

And his voice trailed off.  The book fell from his hand and then the candle as he slumped in half and slid down the stool until he was like a puddle on the floor.  In less than a minute, though, the boy began to blink his eyes.

The father carefully looked into the boy’s bloodshot eyes and began snapping his fingers.

“Are you here?”

“I think so… how far did I get?” the boy asked.

The father laughed and rubbed his son’s head.

“My boy, you didn’t even finish John of Gaunt’s speech!  The next time you have a question about firedamp, we’ll bring one of your Guina Pigs instead, eh?”

The self-experimental work on toxic gases in mines by John Haldane and his son John Haldane led not only to the invention of the gas mask in time for WWI, but to the placing of two canaries in every British coal-mine for seventy-five years until they were officially  replaced by reliable gas detectors on December 30, 1986.


cyurkanin said...

These lifelong masochists were both beyond fascinating and I could have picked a trillion moments in each of their lives to write about. I heartily recommend clicking the links and exploring their bios a little, especially the son, J B S Haldane. Cheers!

Enbrethiliel said...


Father-son teams are just classic.

But is there anything about the long-suffering wife/mother?

Enbrethiliel said...


PS -- So are canaries.

cyurkanin said...

Not one word...