When French was still lingua franca, you couldn’t get very far in education until you had learned to read it. That was back in the Jurassic, of course. But being a monoglot of the Anglicized Age, even when your native glot is the mono in every actual and virtual direction, a lack of French can still exclude you from certain categories of knowledge.
Consider the curious photograph above. I don’t recall where I found it, but I understand the subject to be a Belgian by the name of Hans de Winiwarter (1875-1949). That he was a great fancier of things Japanese is obvious. In a memoir titled Mostly in the Line of Duty: Thirty Years with Books, Herman Liebaers, formerly of the Royal Library of Belgium and Marshall of the Royal Household to King Baudouin I, describes cataloging the deceased Winiwarter’s collection of Japanese books and art prints. But unless I learn to read French, it seems, I’m excluded from easy (i.e. Google) access to any more of Winiwarter’s biography beyond the odd suggestion that he was also the same scientist who in 1912 estimated the number of chromosomes in male guineas pigs to be 47 (the correct number being 46).
How to translate the dreamy look in Winiwarter’s eyes and reconcile the collector of Japanese curiosities with the counter of cavia porcellus chromosomes? I don’t know. It’s apparently a closely guarded francophone secret.