Plus: Summer – what summer? When did women stop fainting in public?
William Blake was a radical Christian, so his dark satanic mills were not the factories of the industrial revolution but the orthodox churches of the establishment. Is this true?
William Blake did see a dark and satanic mill. At one time he lived in "lovely Lambeth" and every time he walked into the City of London he would have passed by the blackened and roofless shell of the Albion Flour Mills that stood for 18 years after being burned down in 1791. The site of the mill was between the present Tate Modern and Blackfriars bridge on the River Thames.
The mill, only five years old when it burned down and equipped with the latest steam-powered rotary machinery, could grind wheat night and day, and hence alarmed the owners of wind- and water-powered mills in London and the south-east. Arson was suspected: it was said local millers were seen dancing on Blackfriars bridge in the light of the flames.
Also in 1791, and only a mile away, the Rev John Wesley, the founder of Methodism – which was thought to be subversive and would lead the lower orders against their betters – had died. So it could be true that the satanic mills were the orthodox churches.
Peter Butt, Romford, Essex
Blake's dark satanic mills are indeed the orthodox churches of the establishment. But they were all churches, all forms of worship, all formal education, and anything that attempted to mould the mind into orthodoxy and received opinion. Blake is the radical's radical.
Georgina Robinson, Ruardean Woodside, Glos
I aways believed Blake was referring to the universities, Oxford and Cambridge in particular, when he referred to the "dark satanic mills".
Ruth Eversley, Lees, Oldham
It has been said that the first part of Jerusalem is a series of questions and demands to which the answers are No, No, No, No and Get them yourself.
The nights are drawing in. Was this the shortest summer ever?
The year without a summer was 1816. Snow fell in June and July in England and in Massachusetts. The eruption of Mount Tambora in the (then) Dutch East Indies had caused a sort of nuclear winter across the globe. It also triggered a cholera epidemic that spread from Asia to Europe, arriving in Britain in the 1830s.
Nigel Aga, Hitchin, Herts
Living in the Lake District causes me to question this notion of "seasons"; I'm informed that (theoretically) they exist, but I have little evidence to back that up. As far as I'm aware, May to September is wet and October to April is even wetter, with little variance in the temperature save perhaps a week in January when it's advisable to wear two pairs of socks.
When did women stop fainting in public?
I suffer from vascular syncope (N&Q, 6 September); it has been the plague of my life since I was around 13 years old. Weirdly, my biggest worry on my wedding day was that I might faint at the altar.
With regards to fainting in public, I am a regular swooner. Unfortunately I don't do it with quite the same amount of drama as the maidens of old. I tend to just drop down while standing in queues, or after exercise. My parents, husband and siblings have got used to it: my sister finds it hilarious when I just stand there, say "give me a second", collapse to the floor, then get straight up again and say: "I'm fine, let's go."
I wish I could time it to do dramatic swoons when I am overcome with emotion like something out of Jane Austen though. That would make what is actually a very inconvenient medical condition far more fun.
Jenny Bourne, who described "keeling over dramatically in the aisle, to the dismay of my date and most of the audience in our row" while watching Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves (N&Q, 6 September) wasn't fainting. That was seasickness brought on by the absurdly shaky hand-held camera.
Is there any evidence that the medieval practice of putting wrong-doers in the stocks and throwing rotten food at them actually worked as a deterrent to crime?
Mike Durham, London EC1
How best to avoid being bitten by a menacing dog?
Douglas Lawson, Cheltenham, Glos
What is the atheist equivalent of "bless you" when someone sneezes?
Louise Morrey, Barlow, Derbys
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