Sunday, April 29, 2012

The grumpy small town lawyer

Ardres, Département Pas-de-Calais, hometown of television pioneer Constantin Senlecq

Constantin Senlecq (1842-1934) was a lawyer living in the sleepy small town of Ardres, northern France, close to the English Channel. The cities in the Département Pas-de-Calais are small and the sky is often grey. It is as far as you can possibly get, in 19th century France, from the posh Parisian hot spots of science and lively intellectual debate. Senlecq was an educated amateur with a passion for science. And he was up to date on his topic. In 1878 he wrote an article on the mechanics of "seeing by electricity" that was widely reprinted in European and American newspapers. Yet, the constant grey sky hoovering over the northern cities had a deplorably displeasing effect on Senlecq's character. When more and more reports on Portuguese, British and American inventions appeared, Senlecq wrote cantankerous letters to Parisian newspapers vociferously claiming his priority in the invention, pretending everybody else had copied his ideas, which was not true. In 1880, he published a brochure with newspaper clippings on "seeing by electricity" - imitating Portuguese inventor Adriano de Paiva who had published such a brochure three months earlier. Many years later, in 1907, he got a patent for an advanced model of his invention which was not put into commercial use. Let us believe it made him happy. Constantin Senlecq spent his whole life in Ardres which looks like a terribly boring place on the picture above and probably really was.

Exercise: How do you think Senlecq kept himself up to date on electrical science? a) By subscribing to international electric and scientific magazines which the very efficient 19th century post office system brought to his house b) over the internet. Explain what you would do if you were forced to live in a tediously tiresome, dull and quintessentially dreary place like Ardres? Did you know how to pronounce "vociferously" and "cantankerous"? Listen to the examples!

Four residents of Ardres, France, discussing science in 1878:

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