27 March 2010


Serendipity is a wonderful word. It was coined by Horace Walpole who formed it from the title of the fairy tale, '’The Three Princes of Serendip”. The princes make discoveries not by questing but by accident. “Serendipity”, for Walpole, was the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident.

Robert King Merton (not to be confused with his son, Robert C. Merton, who won a Nobel for economics) wrote a history of serendipity (with a bit of help from Elinor Barber) which he stuck in a drawer for 45 years before is saw the light of day as The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity: A Study in Sociological Semantics and the Sociology of Science. Merton’s history began with a bit of serendipity when the young Merton was sitting around reading his beloved 13-volume 1933 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary and happens upon an odd noun "serendipity.” (Let me just say now how much I adore dictionary readers… but I digress…)

Merton, besides writing about serendipity, coined the oft over-used phrase "self-fulfilling prophecy."
Why, you may ask as a self-fulfilling prophecy, am I blathering on about “serendipity” when there is a picture of a big old house on the page? Well, serendipity, of course.

On Tuesday, I had company in Shirley, West Virginia from Vermont including, Barbara Carter.

Barbara Carter’s father was Shirley Carter, a painter.

Shirley Carter painted a nude entitled, Lucinda. (Though not of this Lucinda.)

On Thursday, Barbara Carter left after mailing a note from the Shirley, Post Office.

She told the postmistress that her father was named Shirley.

Shirley Carter was named for Shirley Plantation.

Shirley Plantation is Virginia's first plantation named for Sir Thomas West’s wife, Lady Cessalye Shirley.

Shirley, West Virginia was named for Shirley Plantation as family members moved north.

Shirley Plantation was inherited by Elizabeth Hill, who married John Carter in October 1723.

Barbara’s brother is named John Carter.

When I turned on my computer, I had an e-mail from Garden & Gun about a new book, Great Houses of the South and the photo that was featured was of Shirley Plantation.

Serendipity at its finest!


  1. Yes that is great!
    Wonderful word and love dictionaries.
    When I started blogging I wanted to write as 'The Serendipitous Gardener' but someone had already got there first! And I design rather than garden so it didn't seem appropriate!

    Best Wishes

  2. I am hearing the theme of the "The Twilight Zone" playing in my head. Your post would have been even more perfect if my word verification had been "shoiley"!


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