In the sixth century British monk Gildas – now thought to have been Scottish, gathered up snippets of history and formed them into his work: De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain).
Around 830 CE the Welsh monk Nennius collected scraps of history and legend, collating them into a collection now known as Historia Brittonum.
Much later, Sir Isaac Newton collected his thoughts about gravity, explaining:
‘I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.’
This British tradition of assembling what seems curious and interesting is good – and it is one that I share. A giant on whose shoulders I now stand is WJ Thoms. His fascinating Notes & Queries was first published in 1849 as a weekly periodical academic correspondence magazine, in which people could exchange knowledge on folklore, literature and history.
Wikipedia says:‘The magazine has been likened to a nineteenth-century version of a moderated Internet newsgroup.’
The Notes & Queries concept was copied by The Guardian newspaper in 1989 in its weekly column of the same name.
The idea is sound. We find our shiny pebble; we study it, play with it, and this usually leads to some other fact or clue. Away we go, through the wonderful gardens of knowledge, myth, and legend.