January 4th, 2009 | Published in Serendipity
Horace Walpole may seem an unlikely subject for a website on Wireless Connectivity, being best known for his help in reviving the Gothic style in Victorian times, both with his mini-castle at Strawberry Hill and his early Gothic novel “The Castle of Otranto”.
What’s always intrigued me more about him is that he is credited with introducing the word “serendipity” into the English language, which is why he’s here. I’ve always liked the fact that a scholar and Member of Parliament would revert to a memory of a children’s story – “The Three Princes of Serendip” as his source. In it, Walpole explained, the heroes, the Three Princes of Serendip were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of. It suggests a man who has not had the misfortune of having to behave as a grown-up all of the time.
By referring to it as a Children’s book, Walpole devalued the fact that it is a much older story with nobler lineage, going back in oral tradition to stories of the life of the Persian King Bahran V. But for the current purpose, that’s by the by. I’ve always felt that it describes perfectly a lot of what is best and most satisfying in science and R&D – stumbling across something valuable that’s not what you expect. Hence my choice for all of the bits and pieces that I find interesting that don’t fit under the more definitive categories of this site. I hope you enjoy them
As an indication that one’s actions can come back to haunt you, in the best gothic fashion, one other serendipitous claim to fame comes from Walpole’s cat Selima. When it died, it provided Thomas Gray the inspiration to write his Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes.