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Two-minute tales from history, myth and fiction, accompanied by word games, grammar games and writing practice, all based on traditional school textbooks.

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Glorious John
Music: Johann Baptist Cramer
JB Cramer was one of the finest pianists of his day, though his reverence for Mozart made his own music more popular in the drawing room than the concert hall.

BY 1784, thirteen-year-old Johann Baptist Cramer was such a naturally gifted pianist that Muzio Clementi, his distinguished teacher, performed a duet with him in public. Four years later, Johann toured Europe, and again in 1799, attracting the notice of both Haydn and Beethoven, who declared him the finest pianist of the day.

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Six Posts
Judicial Iniquity
Music: Charles Villiers Stanford
John Stuart Mill reminds us that governments and the courts must never be allowed to criminalise matters of belief or opinion.
By John Stuart Mill
(1806-1873)

BORN in an age and country abounding in individual greatness, this man [Socrates] has been handed down to us by those who best knew both him and the age, as the most virtuous man in it; while we know him as the head and prototype of all subsequent teachers of virtue, the source equally of the lofty inspiration of Plato and the judicious utilitarianism of Aristotle, the two headsprings of ethical as of all other philosophy.

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Burning Daylight
Music: Ignaz Moscheles
George Stephenson argued that his steam engines were solar-powered.
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)

ONE Sunday, when the party had just returned from church, they were standing together on the terrace near the Hall, and observed in the distance a railway-train flashing along, tossing behind its long white plume of steam. “Now, Buckland,” said Stephenson, “Can you tell me what is the power that is driving that train?”

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Japan’s First Railway
two-part story
Music: Gustav Holst
As Japan’s ruling shoguns resist the tide of progress, a Nagasaki-based Scottish entrepreneur steps in.

FOR over two centuries, Japan isolated herself from the rest of the world, a policy vigorously pursued by the Tokugawa shogunate that had sidelined the Emperors. But from 1853, zealous American, Russian and British merchants and their modern wares were grudgingly admitted into selected Japanese ports.

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The ‘Raindrop’ Prelude
Music: Frederic Chopin
As the storm raged around him, raindrops fell like music on the pianist’s heart.
By Georges Sand
(1804-1876)

HE saw himself drowned in a lake; heavy, icy drops of water fell rhythmically upon his breast, and when I made him listen to the sound of the drops of water which really were falling rhythmically on the roof, he denied ever having heard them.

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The Prisoner’s Friend
Music: Cipriani Potter
Thomas Wright never earned more than a foreman’s wage, but he helped hundreds of prisoners back into society.

WHEN Thomas Wright learnt that a fellow employee at the Manchester foundry where he worked was to be sacked just because he was an ex-convict, he put down £20 as a guarantee of the man’s good behaviour. But by the time Wright reached the man’s lodgings, bursting with good news, the poor fellow had packed up and fled.

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Dr Wollaston
Music: Johann Baptist Cramer
William Hyde Wollaston discovered new elements and helped Faraday to greatness, all from the top of a tea-tray.

AFTER graduating in medicine from Gonville and Caius in 1793, and practising as a rural doctor in Cambridgeshire for a few years, William Wollaston came into family money and settled in London, free to indulge his passion for chemistry.

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All Posts
Tagged Victorian Era (62 posts)
page 1
1 Glorious John
From performance and composition to instrument-making, Clementi left his mark on British and European classical music.
2 Japan’s First Railway
As Japan’s ruling shoguns resist the tide of progress, a Nagasaki-based Scottish entrepreneur steps in.
3 The Free-Wheeler
By Ethel Smyth
(1858-1944)
Composer Ethel Smyth buys a new-fangled ladies’ bicycle, and scandalises the neighbours.
4 Thomas Brassey
The unsung surveyor from Cheshire, who built railways and made friends across the world.
5 A Leader by Example
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
George Stephenson won the admiration of French navvies by showing them how a Geordie works a shovel.
6 The Liverpool and Manchester Railway
Businessmen in Liverpool engaged George Stephenson to build one of his new-fangled railways.
page 2
7 Judicial Iniquity
By John Stuart Mill
(1806-1873)
John Stuart Mill reminds us that governments and the courts must never be allowed to criminalise matters of belief or opinion.
8 Not the World’s Policeman
By Richard Cobden
(1804-1865)
Richard Cobden questioned both the wisdom and the motives of politicians who intervene on foreign soil.
9 ‘My English Joy’
By Sir William Sterndale Bennett
(1816-1875)
In 1837 William Sterndale Bennett, then regarded as England’s most exciting young composer, made history in quite another... field.
10 Sir William Sterndale Bennett
Acclaimed in Germany as a composer on a par with Mendelssohn himself, Bennett sacrificed his life and talents for music in Britain.
11 Paxton’s Palace
Sir Joseph Paxton not only designed the venue for the Great Exhibition of 1851, he embodied the festival’s most cherished principles.
12 Russia’s First Railway
Sixteen-year-old John Wesley Hackworth brought a locomotive over to St Petersburg, and Russia’s railway revolution was ready for the off.
page 3
13 Guardian of Peace
By John Stuart Mill
(1806-1873)
J. S. Mill argues that free trade has done more to put an end to war than any political union or military alliance.
14 A Monument to Liberty
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
Samuel Smiles explains why the London and Birmingham Railway was an achievement superior to the Great Pyramid of Giza.
15 The Grievances of the South
By Richard Cobden
(1804-1865)
Victorian MP Richard Cobden believed British politicians supporting the slave-owning American South had been led a merry dance.
16 Dixie on Thames
By Richard Cobden
(1804-1865)
Victorian MP Richard Cobden offered a startling analogy for the American Civil War.
17 Inquire Within
By John Stuart Mill
(1806-1873)
Philosopher and social activist John Stuart Mill discusses the most liberating kind of education.
18 India’s First Railway
The opening of the Bombay to Thane line was the real beginning of British India.
page 4
19 The Railway Clearing House
All but forgotten today, the RCH was one of the most important steps forward in British industrial history.
20 Character Witness
A former convict gives his own account of his debt to Thomas Wright, the prisoner’s friend.
21 The Great Baby
By Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)
Charles Dickens rails at the way Parliament and do-gooders treat the public like an irresponsible child.
22 The Prisoner’s Friend
Thomas Wright never earned more than a foreman’s wage, but he helped hundreds of prisoners back into society.
23 A Selfish Liberty
By Frederick Douglass
(1818-1895)
American anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass contrasts two kinds of ‘nationalist’.
24 Douglass in Britain
Frederick Douglass, the American runaway slave turned Abolitionist, spent some of his happiest days in Britain.
page 5
25 Douglass’s Debt
By Frederick Douglass
(1818-1895)
British statesmen were among those who inspired the career of one of America’s greatest men, Frederick Douglass.
26 Dr Wollaston
William Hyde Wollaston discovered new elements and helped Faraday to greatness, all from the top of a tea-tray.
27 Mr Faraday
Faraday’s work on electromagnetism made him an architect of modern living, and one of Albert Einstein’s three most revered physicists.
28 Sir Sandford Fleming
What George Stephenson was to the railways of England, Sandford Fleming was to the railways of Canada.
29 How Britain Brought Football to Chile
British expats in Valparaíso kicked off the Chilean passion for soccer.
30 The London and Birmingham Railway
The textile moguls of Manchester and Liverpool engaged the Stephensons to complete their link to the capital.
page 6
31 The Obstinacy of Fowell Buxton
Fatherless teenage tearaway Fowell Buxton was not a promising boy, but the Gurney family changed all that.
32 The Boer Wars
South African settlers of Dutch descent could not escape the march of the British Empire.
33 The Unselfishess of Free Trade
By Richard Cobden
(1804-1865)
Victorian MP Richard Cobden pleaded for Britain to set the world an example as a nation open for business.
34 Huskisson’s Legacy
By Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)
Charles Dickens explains how cutting tax and regulation on Britain’s global trade made everyone better off.
35 The Founding of Australia
Within little more than half a century a British penal colony turned into a prosperous, free-trade democracy.
36 How Liberating the Slaves also Clothed the Poor
Based on an article by Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)
The closure of slave plantations following the Abolition of Slavery Act in 1833 had a curious side-effect.
page 7
37 Burning Daylight
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
George Stephenson argued that his steam engines were solar-powered.
38 Muzio Clementi
From performance and composition to instrument-making, Clementi left his mark on British and European classical music.
39 The Siren ‘Greatness’
In encouraging women into music, Alice Mary Smith thought promises of ‘greatness’ counterproductive.
40 David Livingstone
The Scottish missionary and medic believed that slavery could better be eradicated by trade than by force.
41 The Ashes of English Cricket
How the cricketing rivalry between England and Australia got its name.
42 ‘Risoluto’
Music by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford
(1833-1897)
Despite setback after setback, Stanford was determined to hear his music played in public.
page 8
43 Grace Darling
Mild-mannered Grace Darling persuaded her father to let her help him rescue the survivors of a shipwreck.
44 Cragside: the Home of Modern Living
Lord Armstrong’s home was an Aladdin’s cave of Victorian technology.
45 How the British Invented Cool
Michael Faraday showed that gases could be compressed and evaporated to preserve food and make ice.
46 The Pig-and-Potato War
In 1859, peaceful co-existence on the Canadian border was severely tested by a marauding pig.
47 The Iron Horse and the Iron Cow
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
Railways not only brought fresh, healthy food to the urban poor, they improved the conditions of working animals.
48 A Nation’s Wealth
By Richard Cobden
(1804-1865)
It is not politicians and their policies that create wealth, but the hard work and ingenuity of ordinary people.
page 9
49 Character and Learning
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
Intellectual learning is to be respected, but it should never be confused with good character.
50 Elias Parish Alvars
Music by Elias Parish Alvars
(1808-1849)
Eli Parish of Teignmouth in Devon became one of Europe’s most celebrated virtuosos.
51 Bird’s Custard
Alfred Bird’s wife could eat neither eggs nor yeast. So being a Victorian, Alfred put his thinking-cap on.
52 The Rewards of ‘Patience’
How appropriate that the comic opera ‘Patience’ should introduce the world to the results of thirty years of labour.
53 The Anglo-Zanzibar War
It lasted barely forty minutes, but it brought slavery to an end in the little island territory.
54 Cecil Rhodes
The ruthless diamond magnate who donated his fortune to the education and empowerment of Africans.
page 10
55 Brahms: Three Intermezzi Op. 117
A Scottish widow’s lullaby for her fatherless child inspired his music, but Brahms’s message struck closer to home.
56 The ‘Raindrop’ Prelude
By Georges Sand
(1804-1876)
As the storm raged around him, raindrops fell like music on the pianist’s heart.
57 The Harmonious Blacksmith
Music by George Frideric Handel
(1685-1759)
Handel called it ‘Air and Variations’, but by Charles Dickens’s day everyone knew it as ‘The Harmonious Blacksmith’.
58 ‘Better Habits, Not Greater Rights’
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
The extraordinary productivity and social mobility of the Victorian era is to the credit not of the governing class, but of the working man.
59 The Character of George Stephenson
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
A self-made man who never forgot his humble beginnings.
60 Sir Titus Salt
His alpaca-wool mills near Bradford proved the social benefits of private enterprise in the right hands.
page 11
61 Peace By Free Trade
By Richard Cobden
(1804-1865)
The blessing of trade free from political interference was one of most important insights in British, indeed world history.
62 Ignaz Moscheles
Music by Ignaz Moscheles
(1794-1870)
Moscheles taught his adopted country how to write enchanting music for decades to come.
Authors
1 post
Richard Cobden (1804-1865)
6 posts
Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
2 posts
Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)
2 posts
Ethel Smyth (1858-1944)
1 post
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
3 posts
Georges Sand (1804-1876)
1 post
Samuel Smiles (1812-1904)
7 posts
which is ‘English Style’ ?

Word Play: Opposites

Suggest words or phrases that are opposite in meaning to the words below.

Begin. Learn. Few.
JB Cramer was one of the finest pianists of his day, though his reverence for Mozart made his own music more popular in the drawing room than the concert hall.
By Percy Bysshe Shelley
(1792-1822)
Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley says that the pinnacle of political achievement is the government not of others, but of ourselves.
By John Keats
(1795-1821)
Poet John Keats speaks of the beauties of Autumn, her colours, her sounds and her rich harvest.
By Percy Bysshe Shelley
(1792-1822)
Poet Percy Shelley calls on November’s sister months to watch by the graveside of the dead Year.
Cut
Make as many words as you can from the letters of a nine-letter word.
Make as many words as you can from the letters of a nine-letter word.
Make as many words as you can from the letters of a nine-letter word.
Make as many words as you can from the letters of a nine-letter word.
Polyword ‘Heft’
Make as many words as you can with the letters below. All your words must be at least four letters long, and must also include the highlighted letter. What’s the nine-letter word?

SEE how many words you can make using the letters below. All your words must be at least 4 letters long, and must include the letter (change).

We found commonly used words, plus one 9-letter word. Can you do better?

Use each letter only once. But if there are e.g. two As, you can used them both.

Don’t count proper nouns such as April, Zeus, or Newcastle (pretty much anything that has to be spelled with a capital letter at the start), or acronyms like HMRC.

Don’t just add -S for plurals or third person singular verbs, e.g. CAT → CATS or SPEAK → SPEAKS.

Note: You can find more Polywords and other games on our Nine Lives puzzle page, and most of our stories are accompanied by games with words, grammar and numbers.

More Puzzles
Find the magic letter that can change three words into three different ones.
Make opposites from these words using prefixes, like lucky → unlucky.
Changing one letter at a time, see if you can start with NEAT and finish with TIDY.
Changing one letter at a time, see if you can start with FALL and finish with RISE.
Do you know ‘additional’ (5), and ‘reject contemptuously’ (5)?
See if you can guess these words letter-by-letter.
A word-making and word-searching game with a dash of strategy to it.
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History (379)
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letters game

What is the longest word you can make using these letters?

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numbers game

Work across from the number on the left, applying each arithmetical operation to the previous answer. What’s the final total?

Tip: Click any of the four inner squares to check your running total.

More like this: Maths Steps (Mental Arithmetic Game) Mental Arithmetic