Saturday, 15 March 2014

HOW many candles?

It is Bruges, 1944. A British soldier runs between shadows to the doors of the Cathedral. He opens one, and the piercing light of a hundred candles‡ pierces the gloom.  There is nobody in the vestibule, but the candles glare out nonetheless. In wartime Belgium candles were presumably not rationed. And it must have been one of the first takes, because most of the candles are nearly full length. For this is not Bruges, Belgium; it is Bruges, Hollywood.

Home-made  still, REWOP from IMDB trailer

This excerpt from The Monuments Men reminded me of the expression not to be worth the candleIn 1611, Randle Cotgrave published A dictionarie of the French and English tongues, where the expression appears in the form Le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle†, but its first appearance in English
was ca. 1690 in Sir William Temple's Works:
"Perhaps the Play is not worth the Candle."
Maybe Sir William was making a bilingual pun on jeu , as I believe he may have been talking about lighting a theatre; he didn't make enough in ticket receipts to pay for the lighting.  Lighting a theatre, like lighting a cathedral, required a significant outlay.
<autobiographical_note date_range="1969-1970">
I have first-hand experience of  naked flames in a  theatre – but gaslight rather than candles. The Watford Palace Theatre must have been one of the last to use gaslight. I was queueing for interval drinks (in a slow-moving queue on a spiral staircase) and the first I knew of anything being amiss was when my companion turned and said 'Bob, your hair's on fire'. Happy days...
I mean to investigate this further, but I'm preparing for a jaunt to Leeds, so am not, as they say. 'time-rich'. And I have more to say about candle-based metaphors.

This is what Etymonline has to say about candle:
Old English candel "lamp, lantern, candle," an early ecclesiastical borrowing from Latin candela "a light, torch, candle made of tallow or wax," from candere "to shine," from PIE root *kand- "to glow, to shine, to shoot out light" (cf. Sanskrit cand- "to give light, shine," candra- "shining, glowing, moon;" Greek kandaros "coal;" Welsh cann "white;" Middle Irish condud "fuel").

Candles were unknown in ancient Greece (where oil lamps sufficed), but common from early times among Romans and Etruscans. Candles on birthday cakes seems to have been originally a German custom. To hold a candle to originally meant "to help in a subordinate capacity," from the notion of an assistant or apprentice holding a candle for light while the master works (cf. Old English taporberend "acolyte"). To burn the candle at both ends is recorded from 1730.
<autobiographical_note date_range="late-1950s">
In my days as an altar-boy I was from time-to-time called upon to be, to use that Old English word, a taporberend – 'taper-bearer', geddit? (The only person I held a candle to was the Abbot of St Benedict's.)


Update 2014.03.15.21:55 – Added  bits in blue.
Update 2014.03.18.11:15 – Added this note:
† This is the entry, which I didn't have time to track down at the time of writing:

Cotgrave entry
Update 2014.04.04.10:45 – Added this note:
‡ Perhaps I'm exaggerating a bit here. The scene was quite short, and I don't  have the lightning reflexes of a Wordsworth ("Ten thousand saw I at a glance". Chan Canasta has got nothing on this guy.) But there were dozens of  those candles.

Update 2014.05.02.14:15 – Updated footer

Update 2014.05.30.14:55 –  Added this note:

 †† According to a televised version of the candle-lit Duchess of Malfi, the candles cost about £400 per night.

Update 2015.05.07.16:15 –  Added photo (for Pinterest).

Update 2020.02.04.15:50 –  Deleted old footer

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