View of Orford and the Orford Ness
from the Orford Keep.
The Orford keep is the remains of the original Orford Castle in Orford, located at the mouth of the river Alde, which at this point is an estuary of the sea. The castle was built mostly in 2 years, starting 1165, under the reign of Henry II. It had two purposes: to control the unruly Bigod family which was a threat to his authority in the region, and to counter the threat of a foreign invasion in this area. The castle definitely lost its purpose after 1280, but even today the keep is in perfect condition.
It is of interest that Orford is somehow related to the term serendipity. The story is as follows. In 1754 the term serendipity was coined by Horace Walpole (1717-1797), 4th Earl of Orford, the son of England's Prime Minister under George II, to describe a property of the Three Princes of Serendip (previously Ceylon, now Sri Lanka), as described in a Persian fairy tale. The three princes, after a solid education, refused to succeed their father and were therefore sent away. Walpole explains his concept in one of his many letters to Horace Mann as follows:
« I must tell you a critical discovery of mine (.....) This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word, which, as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavour to explain to you: you will understand it better by the derivation than by the definition. I once read a silly fairy tale, called "The Three Princes of Serendip;" as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right -- now do you understand Serendipity? One of the most remarkable instances of this accidental Sagacity, (for you must observe that no discovery of a thing you are looking for comes under this description,) was of my Lord Shaftsbury, who, happening to dine at Lord Chancellor Clarendon's, found out the marriage of the Duke of York and Mrs. Hyde, by the respect with which her mother treated her at table. »
In another letter he wrote to Miss Hannah More (Sept. 1789):
« People, I know, do not love to be put out of their old ways: no farmer listens at first to new inventions in agriculture; and I don't doubt but bread was originally deemed a new-fangled vagary, by those who had seen their fathers live very comfortably upon acorns. Nor is there any harm in starting new game to invention: many excellent discoveries have been made by men who were à la chasse of something very different. I am not quite sure that the art of making gold and of living for ever have been yet found out: yet to how many noble discoveries has the pursuit of those nostrums given birth! Poor chymistry, had she not had such glorious objects in view! »
It was not until 1833 that the word serendipity appeared in print, when a letter written in 1754 to his great friend Horace Mann, British minister to the court of Tuscany in Florence, was published.
The fairy tale of the three princes of Serendip was first published in Persian (1302) under the title Hasht Bihist (Eight Paradises) written by the poet Amir Khusrau. It was translated into Italian (1557), then into French (1719) and subsequently into English; Horace Walpole read the English version.
The term serendipity was introduced into literary circles in 1875 by the bibliophile and chemist Edward Solly in "Notes and Queries". Walter Cannon, professor of physiology at Harvard Medical School, introduced the word into the scientific world in "Gains from Serendipity" in his book "The Way of an Investigator" (1945) .