Richard Dadd

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Today I wrote a post on Richard Dadd, one of the Victorian era's most accomplished artists, who painted most of his masterpieces while in an asylum for the criminally insane, after he started believing he was the son of Osiris and killing his father.

Gladstone Anagrams
I got this post from Futility Closet’s blog here.

“William Gladstone was cursed with a well-balanced name, one that his political enemies found well suited to anagrams. The conservative-minded Lewis Carroll found that WILLIAM EWART GLADSTONE can be rearranged to spell both WILD AGITATOR! MEANS WELL and WILT TEAR DOWN ALL IMAGES?

“The prime minister might have shrugged this off as a coincidence — “wild agitator” might mean anything, after all — but a more painstaking student found that RIGHT HONOURABLE WILLIAM EWART GLADSTONE spells I’M A WHIG WHO’LL BE A TRAITOR TO ENGLAND’S RULE.

“Which is rather too specific to disown.”

I found the following story on Jeff Kacirk's "Forgotten English" calendar from July 11, 2013.

Thomas Bowdler was a reverend and an uptight rogue editor who lived from 1754-1825. "Sanitized synonyms, still known as bowdlerisms ... were found in Bowdler's best-selling 1818 edition of the Bard's works, as well as his editions of such works as the Old Testament and Edward Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. His ten-volume Shakespeare avoided anything 'which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family,' such as Lady Macbeth's admonishment, 'Out, damn'd spot!' -- which was purified to read 'Out, crimson spot!'"





"Bowdler, who had abandoned a medical career three decades earlier because patients made him 'queasy,' explained that he wished to present this material without 'anything that could raise a blush on the cheek of modesty.'"

Okay, 1.) if you have to sanitize the Bible, you might be a bit uptight. 2.) if you sanitize the Bible . . . how are you suppose to understand what lessons are being taught? How on earth would you explain why Ham is cursed?  Pretty sure even bringing up the concept of nakedness would not be appropriate in Bowdler's eyes. So Ham was cursed . . . because. Not to mention the million other references to sin and sex and murder and theft and nakedness and everything else in the Bible.

"Queen Victoria ... who until age 18 was not allowed to read popular books, or even walk outdoors or on stairs unattended -- was likely a fan of Bowdler."


"She wrote to her daughter, Victoria, in 1859, 'By the bye, you went to see the Merry Wifes . . . I have never had the courage to go to see it -- having always been told how very coarse it was -- for your adored Shakespeare is dreadful in that respect, and many things have to be left out in many plays."

Fun fact: I once dated a guy whose last named was Bowdler, who was apparently a distant relation. I knew it was doomed from the start, since I could never associate that name with anything else.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
I found this story on Jeff Kacirk's "Forgotten English" calendar for November 23/24, 2013.

There's loads to be said about Toulouse-Lautrec. I could write you essays about his artwork (which, by the way, if you're not familiar with it, then you should be).

Unfortunately, these are mostly mass-printed as posters and put up by people who think they kinda look nice, but have no idea about the history or social connotations or artistic movements behind them. There were precisely 1 million of these posters up in dorm rooms when I was at university.

No need to check my numbers. These facts are the real deal. Probably.

I could write you a paper about popular conceptions of the aristocracy (Lautrec's father was a French count) as a degenerative, exploitative, debauched group (Lautrec had serious health issues, thought by many to be rooted in his family's inbreeding, since his parents were first cousins; he was also an alcoholic who spent a lot of time slumming it with the lower classes).

I could also talk a lot about representations of him in film. He was my favorite character in Moulin Rouge! (2000), and portrayed as a total baller in the completely unconnected 1952 John Houston film by the same name.

And don't even get me started on Zsa Zsa Gabor, who spends the entire movie wearing dead Muppets on her head.

Rather, today I want to tell a quick story about how his artwork both got him into trouble and out of trouble. Wow, that sentence could be a summary of his whole life.

"This French painter and draftsman's artistic talent contributed to both his landing in an alcohol rehabilitation 'sanitarium' and to his release from it. He was fond of the joie de vivre of cabaret life in Montmarte, where he hastily sketched other patrons and dancers. But he was uncomfortable because of his stunted stature of only four feet six inches due to childhood leg injuries, and he began to drink heavily at clubs like the Moulin Rouge.

"After detoxing for a while, he wanted to prove that he was ready to go home, and managed to convince doctors of this throgh a series of drawings demonstrating his sobriety. Back at the Moulin Rouge in 1891, he was commissioned to create posters publicizing the club's hottest attraction, a strawberry blonde dancer known as 'La Goulue,' or the glutton, who could nimbly kick the top hats off patrons while dancing an early form of the provocative Cancan. The artist's posters became so popular that they were regularly stolen by thieves who carefully removed them from walls before the adhesive had dried".

Shooting Range
Just a quick one today. I heard this story on an episode of QI (series M, episode "Military Matters").

During the Boer War (1899-1902), it was noted that British soldiers generally had poor aim with their rifles. In an attempt to get in more practice from a younger age (because we have all of those colonial interests to protect, wot wot), the government passed laws allowing shooting galleries at carnivals and fairs, with live ammunition.

To this day in the UK (apparently), they can still legal use real rifles with up to .23 ammunition. I don't know if anyone does, but it is allegedly legal.

And because this is is a short post, I'll give you a two-for-one deal.

This, my friends, is a punt gun.


It is used for hunting ducks, in a punt, like so:


One shot form a punt gun could kill 50 ducks at a time. It was used in America in the nineteenth century, before being outlawed in 1860, largely because hunters were just killing too many damn birds.

Mutiny of the Monkeys
I heard of this story on an episode of QI (series M, episode "Military Matters"). It is supplemented by Jeremy Clay's article for the BBC.

In 1890, a British ship called the Margaret was delivering animals from Durban, South Africa, to a zoo in Boston. The cargo included 400 cockatoos, 12 snakes, 2 crocodiles, an assortment of monkeys and parrots, a gorilla, and an orangutan.

It was a bit of a Murphy's Law trip, and the first thing to go wrong was that the rats on the ship ate all of the grain, which was intended to feed the cockatoos. With no food left, all the cockatoos died. I imagine they had quite a large quantity of grain for a several-week trip for 400 birds, so my question is how many rats are on your ship?

Then the ship ran into a storm which, for some reason, enabled all the snakes and crocodiles to escape. The crew, understandably terrified, hid in their cabins. I don't know how they were planning on steering the ship, but thankfully (?) the snakes and crocodiles fought each other to the death.

Or, rather, during the struggle the crocodiles killed all of the snakes, while the snakes only managed to kill one of the crocodiles. So the last crocodile had total reign of the ship . . . until it was killed in an accident by falling cargo. Question two: is NOTHING secure on this ship?

The crew reclaimed the ship, only to have all of the monkeys escape and overrun the ship's rigging. While they were partying it up, the ship ran into another storm, which swept most of the monkeys out to sea, drowning them.

Then the gorilla got out, because of course it did. "Having obtained possession of an iron bar, he commanded all objects within 10 feet of where he was chained," reported the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette. "With this formidable truncheon he threatened to brain every sailor who came within range. The cook one day unwarily approaching heard the bar whistling through the air and ducked, but not in time to save his head, which was half scalped."

Stunned by the blow, the cook was then seized by the gorilla which "would doubtless have throttled him had not a sailor come up with a hatchet and stunned the monster".


At this point, is it just an issue of you guys not providing adequate safety measures to secure your cargo, or is this just the most insane bad luck anyone's ever had?

By the time the ship reached Boston, they only had eight animals to deliver: the gorilla, three monkeys, and four parrots.

Little Sea Day
Two weird bathing-related facts I learned from Jeff Kacirk's "Forgotten English" calendar from August 10/11th, 2013.

First of all, in Alexander Warrack's Scots Dialect Dictionary (1911), there is an actual, specific term for a piece of bread that is eaten immediately after bathing. This word is, "chitterie-chatterie". I don't know when you would ever use it, but . . . you know . . . god speed.

The second fact is about Little Sea Day, which is a "colorful [19th-century] outing celebrated on the [New] Jersey coast on the second Saturday in August for many years until the shore was preempted for more distant vacationists. Whole families were loaded on the wagons and drove out to the sea from the pine woods area of Southern Jersey.

"Everyone went bathing in whatever clothes they had on that day, and stood around and dried off in the sun. There were some who tended to call this day 'Farmer's Wash Day' because of this aspect of the celebration. For those who, for various reasons, were unable to attend on the second Saturday . . . there was a Little Sea Day celebration on the third Saturday in August".

"Locked in a Box"
This story is about Lady Mary Wortley Montague, who is not Victorian, but she is pretty amazing.

"In 1741, while living in Sophia, Turkey [her husband was England's ambassador to Turkey], she found herself enchanted by the goings-on in a women's bath, and afterwards wrote to a friend, 'One of the highest entertainments in Turkey is having you to their baths. When I was introduced to one, the lady of the house came to undress me, which is another high compliment that they pay to strangers.

'"After she had slipped off my gown and saw my [corset] stays, she was very much struck at the sight of them and cried out to the other ladies in the bath, "Come hither and see how cruelly the poor English ladies are used by their husbands. You boast of the superior liberties allowed you when they lock you up thus in a box!"'"

Beer Britches
I found this story on Jeff Kacirks' "Forgotten English" day calendar from August 28th, 2013.

I will preface this by saying that this is a Victorian myth. This was not a real medieval thing. In fact, most medieval 'facts' got their start in the Victorian Medieval Revival. It's still interesting, though, to see what customs captured the Victorian imagination.

"Frederick Hackwood's Inns, Ale, and Drinking Customs of Old England (1909) described a quaint northern European technique for assuring quality control in beer-making:

"'In England and Scotland a couple hundred years ago, ale was tested for no other impurity than sugar. The official ale-tester wore leather breeches. He would enter an inn unexpectedly, draw a glass of ale, pour it on a wooden bench, and then sit down in the puddle he had made. Then he would sit for thirty minutes by the clock. He would converse, he would smoke, he would drink with all who asked him to, but he would be very careful not to change his position [in] any way. At the end of the half-hour he would make as if to rise, and this was the test of the ale. If the ale was impure (if it had sugar in it) the tester's leather breeches would stick fast to the bench. But if there was no sugar in the liquor . . . the tester would not stick to the seat".

I hope he got a discount at the leather pants store. Because that cannot be good for them.

Mary Toft's Rabbit Babies
I found this story on Jeff Kacirk's "Forgotten English" day calendar from August 31/September 1, 2013.

That's right. The title is Mary Toft's Rabbit Babies. Brace yourselves.

"In September 1726, Englishwoman Mary Toft added a page to the book of obstetric oddities. In Godalming, Surrey she apparently began giving birth to stillborn rabbits, even in the presence of local surgeon John Howard. This bizarre activity continued even after the arrival of King George I's anatomist-surgeon, Nathaniel St. Andre, and London's most prestigious obstetrician, Sir Richard Manningheim.

"According to Toft, just before the birthing began she craved roasted rabbit and dreamed of rabbits in her lap. From this, these experts pretended to deduce that 'birth defects' had resulted from Mary's 'maternal impressions'. In all, sixteen small rabbits were whelped before the hoax was finally exposed by Manningheim in late November.

"It seems that in an attempt to gain a bit of fame and coax a pension from the king, Mary had been passed one rabbit after another by her husband, which she stealthily inserted into herself and 'delivered'--until she was placed under 24-hour watch. She was charged with fraud but released, while the not-so-vigilant Howard and St. Andre saw their medical careers ruined by the ensuing ridicule."



There is nothing I can even say about this.

We talking about people being fame-hungry today, but this is not a new phenomenon. You call me when one of the Kardashians starts shoving dead rabbits in her vagina.


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