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Grave-Robbing Monks
I found this story on the BBC here, where it was originally written by the delightful Jeremy Clay.

"From the moment he saw her, he was utterly transfixed. But it wasn't love at first sight that sent the widower's heart racing, and nor was it lust. He couldn't care less for the stranger's looks. No, he only had eyes for her frock.

"And the longer he stared, the more certain he became. That dress she was wearing. It wasn't just similar to his wife's favourite gown, it was the exact same one.

"He'd know that silk dress anywhere; his poor wife had adored it, which is precisely why she'd worn it to the grave a few weeks before.

"With distress mixed with disbelief, the still-grieving soldier demanded to know how the peasant woman came to be parading around in a robe which was a) fancier than she could afford and, more pressingly, b) supposed to be six feet under the ground, adorning a corpse.

"Her answer uncovered a trail of guilt that led to the lair of a rather unlikely set of criminals.

"And so, on an autumn day in 1874, a body of policemen headed purposefully towards the Capuchin monastery in the Sicilian town of Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto.

"At their head was the local magistrate, and he was eager to speak to three friars who tended the town's cemetery.

"They, it soon became clear, were less keen to speak to him, but there was no use protesting their innocence. The incriminating evidence of what British newspapers called their 'odious profanation' was quickly nosed out. Half-destroyed coffins. A jumble of clothing. Slippers. Women's hair. The burial booty of the bodies they were meant to safeguard.

"It was, according to the Edinburgh Evening News, a 'story illustrative of the low morality of the Sicilian priesthood'.

"'Night after night the three brothers went down into the vaults,' explained the paper, 'exhumed the dead bodies, and after having stripped them of all they had on, returned with their spoils, including even the coffins, to a secret chamber in the monastery.

"'The coffins they converted into tables, which were sold with the other effects through subordinate agents. This horrid traffic had been going on for years.'

"The monks were convicted and marched off to prison, 'amid the curses of the populace', noted the Evening News.

"And the dress? The paper never got round to saying what became of that, but there's a good chance it had lost much of its cut-price allure."

I found this story on Futility Closet's blog here. The original source was E. Shelton's The Book of Battles (1867).

It was customary with Frederick the Great of Prussia, whenever a new soldier appeared in his guards, to ask him three questions–viz., ‘How old are you? How long have you been in my service? Are you satisfied with your pay and treatment?

It happened that a young soldier, born in France, and who had served in his own country, desired to enlist into the Prussian service, and his figure was such as to cause him immediately to be accepted. He was totally ignorant of the German language, but his captain gave him notice that the King would question him in that language the first time he saw him, and therefore cautioned him to learn by heart the three answers he was to give.

The soldier learned them by the next day, and as soon as he appeared in the ranks Frederick came up to interrogate him. His Majesty, however, happened to begin with the second question first, and asked him, ‘How long have you been in my service?’

Twenty-one years,’ answered the soldier.

The king, struck with his youth, which plainly indicated he had not borne a musket near so long as that, said to him, much astonished, ‘How old are you?’

One year, an’t please your Majesty.’

Frederick, still more astonished, cried, ‘You or I must certainly be bereft of our senses.’

The soldier, who took this for the third question, replied firmly, ‘Both, an’t please your Majesty.’

‘This is the first time I ever was treated as a madman at the head of my army,’ rejoined Frederick.

The soldier, who had exhausted his stock of German, stood silent; and when the king again addressed him, in order to penetrate the mystery, the soldier told him in French that he did not understand a word of German. The king laughed heartily, and after exhorting him to perform his duty, left him.

Benjamin Franklin is Still a Sarky Bastard
I found this story on Futility Closet's blog here.

I've done a few posts on Benjamin Franklin, who I guess spent most of his time thinking up cheap pranks to pull on people for the lolz, or being generally badass. Here's a post where he shows his softer side . . . before ultimately burying that softer side under a mountain of sarcasm.


"On a voyage to England in 1757, Ben Franklin narrowly escaped shipwreck.

"Afterward, he wrote to his wife, 'The bell ringing for church, we went thither immediately, and with hearts full of gratitude, returned sincere thanks to God for the mercies we had received.

“'Were I a Roman Catholic, perhaps I should on this occasion vow to build a chapel to some saint, but as I am not, if I were to vow at all, it should be to build a light-house.'"

Trollope and Australia
In honor of Trollope's 200th birthday on Friday, allow me to do a quick post about his feud with Australia. I first found this story in this article here.

In 1871, Anthony Trollope, famous Victorian novelist, finished his 28th novel, The Eustace Diamonds. He decided to treat himself to a literary tour around Australia for an entire year, a tour for which Australian citizens were very excited. Australia obviously imported a great deal of British culture but, considering how far away it was, didn't get much opportunity to see favorite British celebrities in the flesh.

Australians were also wary of Trollope's long journey: many British visitors to Australia considered it to be a backwards place and had publicly insulted the country. Sure enough, two years after the start of his trip, Trollope published an 815-page, two-volume memoir about his visit.


Although it was mostly a positive view of Australia and New Zealand, the press there was quick to jump on anything they viewed as an insult, 'censuring the accuracy of his reporting, castigating his manners, and disparaging his facility as a writer.'

What they objected to in particular was his classification of Australians as braggarts, guilty of what he called 'blowing'. Trollope writes:

'You are told constantly that colonial meat and colonial wine, colonial fruit and colonial flour, colonial horses and colonial sport, are better than any meat, wine, fruit, flour, horses, or sport to be found elsewhere … Now if I was sending a young man to the Australian colonies, the last word of advice I should give him would be against this practice. “Don’t blow,” – I should say to him.'

Troloppe then specified that the county of Victoria and, more accurately, the city of Melbourne were the worst 'blowers'

So when Trollope returned to Australia a further two years later, he found the colonists in a less than forgiving mood and was subjected to a trial-by-media. Newspapers dug up everything they could on Trollope, one newspaper remembering an instance in 1871 when Trollope had delivered an unimpressive speech during a lunch at which he was the guest of honor, and appeared to be drunk at the table.

'The Adelaide Observer was similarly scornful, finding Trollope’s book “very dreary reading” and “not to be trusted”. The eminent novelist, according to the Observer, lacked “the mental qualifications” for a work of this nature.'

'Melbourne’s Argus, responding to those slights concerning Victorian aggrandisement, employed sarcasm in a three-column review on the front page of its Saturday supplement. The celebrated author, it suggested, was not averse to some bragging of his own:

"[He] may entertain a very disparaging opinion of the things and persons he encounters in his travels, but he manifestly entertains the highest respect for Mr Anthony Trollope."'

When Trollope died just a few years later in 1882, the grudge was still maintained. Melbourne's Argus said in their obituary that Trollope's works were below those of 'the first rank of novelists', while the Sydney Morning Herald wrote that 'He had no place in the front rank of the great English writers of fiction.'

As someone who personally detests everything I've ever read of Trollope's, I am inclined to agree with them. And I don't even have a blood feud to back up. If you'd like to look at some of my recaps of Trollope's work, see my entries on Can You Forgive Her?, Barchester Towers, and Phinneas Finn. I've read much, much more Trollope than that, but this was all I had the stomach to recap.

Die Laughing
Just a really quick one today. I saw this article about people who have actually died from laughing (okay, it probably wasn't the laughing itself that killed them, but exhaustion, insufficient air flow, or heart problems that resulted from the laughing. Still). There are loads of them, but I'm only going to record the one that was nearest to the Victorian era (albeit 50+ years away):

'1782. Northhamptonshire resident Mrs. Fitzherbert, [died] after attending a Wednesday-night performance of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera. The "whimsical appearance" of the actor playing Polly made her laugh "without intermission until Friday morning, when she expired"'.

The Beggar's Opera must have been good, since it was (at the time of its original run) the second-longest running performance in theatre history, and has since been called 'the most popular play of the eighteenth century'. It spoofed Italian opera, using popular tunes with different lyrics (broadside ballads, hymns, folk songs, etc). It has since be re-adapted and turined into the (probably more well-known) Three-Penny Opera

Bizarre Sex Tips
I found these sex tips in a Salon article here. These quotations come from a book written by French physiologist Eugene Becklard, M.D., who
'wrote a sex book for the masses, with a title as hard to swallow as the advice itself. “Becklard’s Physiology: Physiological mysteries and revelations in love, courtship and marriage: an infallible guide-book for married and single persons, in matters of the utmost importance to the human race.”'

The article says the book was published in the 1850s, but I found references to editions of this book from 1844, and it could possibly be even older.

Here are some things Becklard got wrong about sex, biology, and life itself. All are direct quotations from Becklard's book or from the article:

1. Uterine suction prevents rape

“The mouth of the uterus, be it known, is very narrow, so narrow in fact, that the fecundating principle would not enter it, but that it craves it, and inhales it by real suction — a proof, by the way, that a rape can never be productive of real offspring.”

The uterus: storing fetuses and sucking out rape since 1850!

2. Orgasm Contests

Becklard also believed that, when trying to conceive, the child would turn out more like whoever had the best orgasm. “[T]he party whose temperament predominates in the child was in the highest state of orgasm at the period of intercourse.”

3. Dancing and horse trotting to thwart pregnancy

If one is trying not to beget a child, Becklard advised that, immediately after the conjugal act has occurred, “dancing about the room before repose, for a few minutes, might probably have that effect.” This is, of course, contrary to logic (and to the plot of Dirty Dancing, which is where we get all of our sex advice).

But if you really don’t want to get knocked up, “trotting a horse briskly over a rough road on the following day would ensure it.” He also noted that “strong victuals” and “spirits that promote thirst” are also “great enemies to reproduction.”

4. Masturbation will stunt your growth and make you crazy

“Solitary practices,” as masturbation was called (also the “solitary vice” and “onanism”) were discouraged because “they arrest the growth of stature” and “stop the growth of the organs, and the development of the various functions … and produce an artificial ripeness which must soon wither and dry up.”

But doctor, will I also become impotent? “Indeed, the confirmed onanist becomes incapable of consummating the rights of marriage.”

Now for a few random sex tips, no longer by Becklard. My comments are in brackets:

5. Prevent the “solitary vice” by eating bland foods

J.H. Kellogg, of Kellogg’s Cornflakes, [who we've looked at before on this blog] created his famously bland food brand in order to help stave off masturbation in men. According to The Victorian Guide to Sex: Desire and Deviance in the 19th Century by Fern Riddell, Kellogg believed a tasteless diet quelled sexual appetites, and that the following should be avoided: mustard, pepper, rich gravy, beer, wine, cider and tobacco.

6. Make your kids too tired to masturbate

Aside from eating cornflakes, another book titled Sexual Health: A Plain and Practical Guide for the People on All Matters Concerning the Organs of Reproduction in Both Sexes and All Ages by Henry Hanchett, encouraged parents “to run their children around throughout the day in wild play so the children would be too tired to masturbate before bed.” Female children weren’t much of a concern, as they were believed to have a “low, almost nonexistent sex drive, so only truly deranged females would succumb to the temptations of masturbation.”

7. Flirtation leads to disease

Hanchett, despite succumbing to the common beliefs over masturbation’s evils, was one of the more progressive advice givers of his day. For instance, he believed people should have access to sexual knowledge and that we shouldn’t have bodily shame. “[I]t is no shame to have organs which can house and nurture a budding human life,” he wrote. But he also advised women not to get carried away, as “flirtatious women cause men to visit brothels for ‘relief,’ which only adds to the spread of disease.”

8. If you can’t come at the same instant as your partner, you are a failure

One of the few "rights" granted to Victorian wives was the ability to refuse sex if their husband could not achieve “mutual adjustment,” that is “the orgasm of the woman and the ejaculation of semen of the man in the same instant.”

[As a note: I don't think I believe this last one. I'd like to see any documentation of court cases or rulings that gave this judgment. I'd also like to know WHEN during the Victorian era this became law, if it ever did. The debate over women's rights in marriage, especially when it came to refusing sex and marital rape, were pretty fraught during most of the Victorian era].

9. Have sex with your husband as little as possible

But really, you should seldom be boning your husband, at least according to Ruth Smythers, who authored “INSTRUCTION AND ADVICE FOR THE YOUNG BRIDE on the Conduct and Procedure of the Intimate and Personal Relationships of the Marriage State for the Greater Spiritual Sanctity of this Blessed Sacrament and the Glory of God” in 1894.

Smythers writes that brides should: “GIVE LITTLE, GIVE SELDOM, AND ABOVE ALL, GIVE GRUDGINGLY. Otherwise what could have been a proper marriage could become an orgy of sexual lust.”

To aid in this feat, Smythers recommends: “Feigned illness, sleepiness, and headaches [which] are among the wife’s best friends in this matter.” If that doesn’t work, “Arguments, nagging, scolding, and bickering also prove very effective, if used in the late evening about an hour before the husband would normally commence his seduction.”

[Wow. That sounds like a healthy marriage.]

10. “Commence seduction” in complete darkness

“Sex, when it cannot be prevented, should be practiced only in total darkness,” added Smythers. Is this for modesty reasons?

“When he comes groping into the room she should make no sound to guide him in her direction, lest he take this as a sign of encouragement. She should let him grope in the dark. There is always the hope that he will stumble and incur some slight injury which she can use as an excuse to deny him sexual access.”

[That sounds like the most messed up game of Marco Polo EVER.]

When he asks you about the random bear traps you’ve placed on the bed, feign surprise, then accuse him of masturbating in his youth as the reason he can’t consummate the marriage.

Men, too, were advised to have sex in the dark, but only so they wouldn’t have to look at their “ugly” wives, according to Aristotle’s Masterpiece, which was, as you can probably guess, neither a masterpiece nor written by Aristotle: “[I]f she is ugly, the advice is: do it in the dark.”

11. Does your husband want to kiss you? Plan your escape

Here’s good ol’ Ruth again: “If he attempts to kiss her hand, she should make a fist. If he lifts her gown and attempts to kiss her anyplace else she should quickly pull the gown back in place, spring from the bed, and announce that nature calls her to the toilet.”

That’s all well and good in the moment, Ruth, but how can I get my husband to stop wanting sex for the rest of our lives?

“As soon as the husband has completed the act, the wise wife will start nagging him about various minor tasks she wishes him to perform on the morrow. Many men obtain a major portion of their sexual satisfaction from the peaceful exhaustion immediately after the act is over. Thus the wife must insure that there is no peace in this period for him to enjoy.  Otherwise, he might be encouraged to soon try for more.”

12. Don’t sneeze

For those few regrettable times when husbands and wives MUST bone for procreative reasons, Riddell’s book noted that strict protocol should be observed: “At the conclusion of the sexual act, the wife must not talk, cough, or sneeze, lest this impede conception.”

13. Lazy sex will turn your children ugly

Other ways you can ruin your future children’s lives forever include not being in love: “Any union without true love, according to the manuals of the day, would bring forth ‘ill-looking, sour and spiritless offspring,’ while those hoping for good-looking children should remember that sex must not be ‘faintly or drowsily performed.’”

14. And whatever you do, don’t have sex on stairs

A child that was begat upon a set of stair is most likely to be born with a crooked back and given in no small way to the fault of staring.”

Okay, got it. No sex while tired, only perform it begrudgingly, claim incontinence if your husband tries to get “freaky” by kissing you, don’t have sex on stairs, don’t sneeze, cough, flirt, or east mustard, and come at the precise moment that your husband does. Phew. If that seems like a lot to remember, especially for the poor Victorians who had basically zero sexual knowledge and experience, just wait — there’s more.

[Woah woah woah. The Victorians had just as much knowledge about sex as we do. They just didn't put it into their entertainment and average conversation in the same ways that we do, so obviously we tend to think, 'Oh, if they never wrote about it explicitly in books, they must not have known what it is!' Sex in literature in the Victorian tended to be a lot more coded, and while it was understood by people of the day, we have lost a lot of the meaning and the skill in reading it. I hate this false idea that the Victorians were all innocent prudes who were like, 'Coitus? What is this coitus? Oh, that sounds just awful!"]

15. Pay attention to wind

Here’s Riddell again, who wrote that if Victorians wanted strapping children, they had better be keeping tabs on wind patterns. Children “begat when the wind is blowing from the north” will turn out stronger than those begat during an easterly wind.

And what of south or westerly winds? VIctorian wisdom is conspicuously absent on the matter, but based on all the above anecdotes, we’d guess that it probably causes your kids to be born with flippers.

Pucker Up
I was first alerted to these stories by Saladin Ahmen on Twitter here. He links to a longer article from the Telegraph (where facts were compiled by the QI elves), which can be found here. This article has three specific pieces of Victoriana.

1.) Victorian guide books advised women to put pins in their mouths to avoid being kissed in the dark when trains went through tunnels.

2.) A court case of 1837 involved a man named Thomas Saverland who had kissed a Miss Caroline Newton at a party “by way of a joke” and in return she’d bitten off a chunk of his nose. Saverland took her to court but lost as the judge ruled, “When a man kisses a woman against her will, she is fully entitled to bite off his nose, if she so pleases”, to which her barrister added, “and eat it up, if she has a fancy that way”.

3.) An 1819 German travel guide to London claimed, “The kiss of friendship between men is strictly avoided as inclining towards the sin regarded in England as more abominable than any other.” A recent poll said that 53 per cent of Yorkshiremen would hit a man who tried to kiss him.

Silas Marner: Part Two
I am recapping George Eliot's 1861 novel, Silas Marner. The first entry was on Monday, and I'm finishing up the short novel today. If you'd like to read it yourself, the full text can be found here.

Brace yourself for a lot of swearing. In addition, I wrote down this recap as I was reading it, so I occasionally make predictions about the text. These are not spoilers, just merely the direction I thought the text was headed.

Where we left off, Silas Marner, a local weirdo weaver, has had bad luck happen to him not once, but TWICE, involving improperly secured gold, and it's broken his spirit. Godfrey Cass, the heir of a wealthy man, has a secret drunken wife, which is really hurting his chances of getting with the reprehensibly virtous Nancy, mostly because Godfrey is being blackmailed by his evil debauched brother, Dunsey, imapler of horses and burglar of the poor.

Godfrey and his family are still having their big New Year's Eve party, where he can perv on Nancy, who is all, 'NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN, BUDDY'. Little does Godfrey know that there is a plan afoot . . . a plan designed to seriously harsh his buzz . . .

Silas Marner: Part Two

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Silas Marner: Part One
As many of my blog readers know, I occasionally read a book that triggers my 'WTF-o-meter' and I end up recapping it here, usually with a surfeit of expletives. I just finished reading George Eliot's 1861 novel, Silas Marner and while this was actually a pretty decent and solid book (especially compared to the MIND-BOGGLING STUPIDITY of some of the other things I've recapped), it was still juuuust weird enough for me to want to talk about it.

If you'd like to read it yourself, the full text can be found here. It's a fairly short and quick read. I doubt it would take more than a couple of days.

Anything with page numbers after it is a direct quotation. Again, I apologize for the swearing that is about to take place. One character in particular really annoyed me. It will not be difficult for you to determine which one. I also wrote this recap chapter by chapter as I read it, so any predictions I make are not spoilers. It's purely what I was thinking at the time.

Silas Marner: Part One
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That's the end of Part One here on the blog. Part Two will be up on Wednesday. It will have (mercifully) 100% less horse impalement, but 100% more toddler scalping.

Kids Say the Darndest Things
I found this story on Futility Closet's blog here. The original source was Caroline Bigelow Le Row's English as She is Taught: Genuine Answer to Examination Questions in Our Pulbic Schools (1887).

The below are genuine answers to questions about English history that  American school children wrote on exams, as reported to Ms. Le Row.

  • “England was named by the Angels.”

  • “The Celts were driven out of England into Whales.”

  • “Julius Caesar invaded England 400 years B.C. The English condition was in a rude state.”

  • “The Brittains were the Saxons who entered England in 1492 under Julius Caesar.”

  • “The Britains conquered Julius Caesar and drove him ignominiously from his dominions.”

  • “The Britons founded the Druids. They ust to hold religious services out of doors.”

  • “The Druids were supposed to be Roman Catholicks.”

  • “The Crusaders were fanatics who fought in tournaments.”

  • “The Habeas Corpus Act said that a body whether alive or dead could be produced in court.”

  • Alfred the Great reigned 872 years. He was distinguished for letting some buckwheat cakes burn and the lady scolded him.”

  • “Rufus was named William on account of his red hair. He established the curfew fire bell.”

  • William the Conqueror was the first of the Mormons.”

  • “Edward the black Prince was famous for founding chivalry.”

  • “Chivalry is a fight on horseback between two horsemen in an open plain.”

  • “A night errant is a man who goes around in the night in search of adventures.”

  • “The Middle Ages come in between antiquity and posterity.”

  • “The War of the Roses was between the white and the red.”

  • Henry Eight was famous for being a great widower having lost several wives.”

  • “Lady Jane Grey studied Greek and Latin and was beheaded after a few days.”

  • Queen Mary married the Dolphin.”

  • “Elizabeth was called the Virgin queen because of her many accomplishments and she had a great many fine dresses.”

  • “The unfortunate Charles First was executed and after he was beheaded he held it up exclaiming Behold the head of a trater!”

  • “Cromwell was only a parallel with Bonaparte.”

  • Queen Victoria was the 4th son of George Third the Duke of Kent.”

  • “John Bright is noted for an incurable disease.”

  • “Lord James Gordon Bennett instigated the Gordon Riots.”

This is absolutely adorable.

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