Domestic Spies
Just a quick one today. I found this on Futility Closet's blog here. The original source was The Laws of Etiquette, by “A Gentleman,” 1836.

Servants are a necessary evil. He who shall contrive to obviate their necessity, or remove their inconveniences, will render to human comfort a greater benefit than has yet been conferred by all the useful-knowledge societies of the age. They are domestic spies, who continually embarrass the intercourse of the members of a family, or possess themselves of private information that renders their presence hateful, and their absence dangerous. It is a rare thing to see persons who are not controlled by their servants. Theirs, too, is not the only kitchen cabinet which begins by serving and ends by ruling.”

Toxic Love
I found this decidedly messed-up story on @HistoryWeird's blog here.

The original source was Dr C. Mangor's “The history of a woman poisoned by a singular method” in Transactions of the Royal Society of Copenhagen, v.3, 1787; Sir Robert Christison, A Treatise on Poisons &c., London, 1832.

"In the late 18th century a Danish physician, C. M. Mangor, delivered a curious report to Copenhagen’s Royal Society. It concerned a series of 'fiendish murders', carried out by an unnamed farmer living near the capital. According to Mangor, the farmer had gone through three young wives in the space of a few years. Each wife had been in good health but died within a day or two of contracting similar symptoms. The farmer’s own behaviour also aroused local suspicions. Six weeks after the death of his first wife he married a servant girl – however she lasted but a few years before falling victim to the mystery ailment, allowing the farmer to marry yet another maidservant. Eventually, in 1786, wife number three died from the same malady:

“'About three in the afternoon, while enjoying good health, she was suddenly seized with shivering and heat in the vagina… Means were resorted to for saving her life but in vain: she was attacked with acute pain in the stomach and incessant vomiting, then became delirious, and died in 21 hours.'

At this point Dr Mangor, then serving as Copenhagen’s medical inspector, arrived to investigate. He discovered the farmer had been poisoning his wives by 'introducing a mixture of arsenic and flour on the point of his finger into the vagina' after sexual intercourse, a theory supported by Mangor’s postmortem examination:

“'Grains of arsenic were found in the vagina, although frequent lotions had been used in the treatment. The labia were swollen and red, the vagina gaping and flaccid, the os uteri gangrenous, the duodenum inflamed, the stomach natural.'

"The farmer was arrested and placed on trial. To prepare for his testimony Dr Mangor conducted a number of experiments on cows. 'The results clearly showed that when applied to the vagina of these animals', he wrote, 'it produces violent local inflammation and fatal constitutional derangement'. The farmer, as might be expected, was found guilty; his punishment is unrecorded but it seems likely he was executed. The number of cows to die in the name of vaginal-arsenic justice is also not recorded."

Field Work
I found this story on Futility Closet here.

"In 1891, Robert Baden-Powell wandered the mountains of Dalmatia with a butterfly net and a sketchbook. If he was accosted by one of the forts in the area, he would show his drawings to the soldiers and explain that he was hunting a particular species, and they would send him on his way.

"In fact he was working as an intelligence officer for the British government. 'They did not look sufficiently closely into the sketches of butterflies to notice that the delicately drawn veins of the wings were exact representations, in plan, of their own fort, and that the spots on the wings denoted the number and position of guns and their different calibres':

"The large dots denote the locations of the fort’s main guns, and the smaller show field artillery and machine-gun emplacements.

“'Fortunately for us, we are as a nation considered by the others to be abnormally stupid, therefore easily to be spied upon,' he wrote in his 1915 memoir My Adventures as a Spy. 'But it is not always safe to judge entirely by appearances.'”

Closing Arguments
I found this story on Ludicrous Scenes's blog here. The original source was The Western Daily Press, July 1, 1871.

"A despatch from Dayton, Ohio, dated June 16, states that the Hon. Mr Vallandigham accidentally shot himself that day at Lebanon."

As the story goes, a man named Myers was shot in the abdomen and killed. A trial was taken up, accusing another man named McGehan of the murder of Myers. McGehan's lawyer was the Hon. Mr Vallandigham.

The Hon. Mr Vallandigham was trying to prove that it was possible for Myers to have shot himself--that there was reasonable doubt that his death was murder at all. During the trial, someone accused Mr Vallandigham of his theory being totally impossible. Myers could not have possibly shot himself.

"Mr Vallandigham took up a pistol from the table, saying he would show [everyone] in half a second. There were two pistols on the table, one of which was loaded, and he, by mistake, took up the loaded one, put it in his pocket, and withdrew it, keeping the muzzle next his body; and just as he was withdrawing it, the pistol went off, and shot the unfortunate gentleman in exactly the same part of the body where Myers was shot."

I have no idea if McGehan was acquitted or convinced, but I'm sure Mr Vallandigham's death in the middle of a courtroom was a powerful motivator for acquittal.

The Evils of Railroads
I found this story on Futility Closet's blog here. The original source was the Vincennes, Ind., Western Sun, July 24, 1830: It reveals a canal stockholder’s argument against railways:

"He saw what would be the effect of it; that it would set the whole world a-gadding. Twenty miles an hour, sir! Why, you will not be able to keep an apprentice-boy at his work: every Saturday evening he must take a trip to Ohio, to spend the Sabbath with his sweetheart. Grave plodding citizens will be flying about like comets.

"All local attachments must be at an end. It will encourage flightiness of intellect. Veracious people will turn into the most immeasurable liars; all their conceptions will be exaggerated by their magnificent notions of distance. ‘Only a hundred miles off! Tut, nonsense, I’ll step across, madam, and bring your fan!’ ‘Pray, sir, will you dine with me to-day at my little box at Alleghany?’ ‘Why, indeed, I don’t know — I shall be in town until twelve. Well, I shall be there; but you must let me off in time for the theatre.’

"And then, sir, there will be barrels of pork, and cargoes of flour, and chaldrons of coals, and even lead and whiskey, and such like sober things, that have always been used to sober travelling, whisking away like a set of skyrockets. It will upset all the gravity of the nation.

"If two gentlemen have an affair of honour, they have only to steal off to the Rocky Mountains, and there no jurisdiction can touch them. And then, sir, think of flying for debt! A set of bailiffs, mounted on bomb-shells, would not overtake an absconded debtor — only give him a fair start.

"Upon the whole, sir, it is a pestilential, topsy-turvy, harum-scarum whirligig. Give me the old, solemn, straightforward, regular Dutch canal — three miles an hour for expresses, and two for jog-and-trot journeys — with a yoke of oxen for a heavy load! I go for beasts of burthen: it is more primitive and scriptural, and suits a moral and religious people better. None of your hop-skip-and-jump whimsies for me."

There were actually a lot of fears about trains in the early 19th century, some of which were merited, others not. There were plenty of houses, and even whole sections of towns, that were bought out and demolished to build the railroads, so plenty of people lost their homes and had to relocate. And it DID make it easier for people to flee crimes, but it also made it easier for the police to catch them and for them to be tracked.

There was  a great deal of anti-railroad poetry which depicted beautiful, bucolic Britain turning into some charred, blackened, iron-laid, screaming nightmare landscape. They thought that if you tried to connect all towns to the railroad, it would pockmark the entire country.

And while we may laugh at his fear at going 20 miles per hour, there were plenty of scientists and physicians who thought that traveling so fast could not be done, that the force of it would cause severe brain damage to those traveling. And while train travel certainly did not cause brain damage, it actually was the cause of a lot of deaths--there were a shockingly high number of train accidents in the Victorian era, so many so that the fatal 'train accident' became a huge part of a lot of sensation fiction, like Wilkie Collins's No Name and Mrs. Henry Wood's East Lynne.

Bad Dracula Book Covers
Every now and then, I discover a novel from the 19th century that has had some really questionable book covers. They are surprisingly hard to find. I've done Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, and The Moonstone, and had been desperately searching around for another one. The thing is--the book needs to be famous enough that you will all dimly know the plot and therefore understand WHY one cover is bad and another is good. It also needs to have never been out of print, so we can get as wide a range of covers as possible. And finally--and here's the tricky part--it needs to be at least a little bit batshit insane to merit some truly "what the sweet, sweet hell was that art department thinking?" covers.

Then Tine Hreno, who I follow on Twitter, did a post on her blog about Dracula covers (you should all read her blog post, because it's far more grown-up, scholarly, and interesting than anything I'm going to post here).


So here we go again. As usual, I have attempted to use only real publisher's covers, not fan art. However, if some fan art has accidentally made it on to this list and I ridiculed it, 1.) I am sorry, and 2.) it was good enough to fool me into thinking that it could be slapped on a book and sold at Barnes & Noble, so congrats. You are one talented mofo.

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If anyone knows of any other 19th-century books with excellent covers, please suggest them in the comments!

Benjamin Franklin's Investment
Fun story I found on Futility Closet here.

"Benjamin Franklin once wrote, 'I have sometimes almost wished it had been my destiny to have been born two or three centuries hence.' In one ingenious way he managed to touch the 20th century directly.

"In 1785, French mathematician Charles-Joseph Mathon de la Cour wrote a parody of Poor Richard’s Almanac in which the idealistic main character deposits a small amount of money to collect interest over several centuries, enabling him to fund valuable projects after his death. Franklin, who was 79 years old, thanked him for the idea and bequeathed £1,000 each to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia, stipulating that it gather interest for 200 years. When it came due in 1990, the Philadelphia fund had accumulated $2 million, which the city spent on scholarships for local high school students. The Boston trust amassed nearly $5 million, which went to establish the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology.

"'What astonished me in reading his will was how much energy, intelligence and vigor came through after 200 years,' lawyer Gerard J. St. John, who oversaw the distribution of the Philadelphia funds, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. 'I began to have a greater appreciation for Franklin’s place in history."”

Tea Harlots
I found this hilarious story on Emily Brand's "History of Love" blog here. You should really read her article instead of my poxy little reblog. Sister be funny.

Anyway, in the article she discusses something about which I had absolutely no idea: there was a strong anti-tea movement in 18th-century England. I knew that at one time or another, there were anti-coffee and anti-smoking movements, but anti-tea? This is ENGLAND, for god's sake! Tea is at least 4 of the 5 main food groups (the other being, of course, 'boiled things') (I joke) (sort of) (in the '50s it was, okay? Shut up).

But after the first wave of rapid British colonial expansion in the 17th century, I suppose it makes sense that that popular foreign products might make some people back home suspicious. It's a "them-vs.-us" idea, where the generic "people over there"  have constitutions that can handle certain things, but we can't--it'll make us sick.

Or, conversely, it's the reason why we're "better"--the "people over there" were able to be conquered, and that's because they eat this suspicious food product, which somehow has properties to make them weak, unhealthy, or morally inferior.

You'd be amazed at some of the reasons people have given for imperialism. The mental gymnastics are so impressive they should compete in the Olympics.

As a side note, my fiance's grandmother, who is a proper Little Englander and has never set foot outside the country, absolutely shocked me by revealing that she'd never eaten pasta or rice once, because it's "foreign muck" that she has absolutely no interest in trying. Why would she eat that weird, unhealthy stuff when she can have good, hearty English meat, potatoes, and pastry?

So this is a very prevalent attitude that still actually affects people today. ANYWAY, back to the tea.

Emily Brand writes:

"This terrible foreign invader encouraged young men to stay “a lurking in the bed” rather than earning an honest wage. It turned women to harlotry and insolence, caused atrocious child neglect, and was armed to carry everyone off to their grave a decade early.

"The philanthropist Jonas Hanway lamented that 'Men seem to have lost their stature, and comliness; and women their beauty. Your very chambermaids have lost their bloom, I suppose by sipping tea.' But social reformer William Cobbett’s fevered rant about the moral and national implications of tea-drinking was even more vehement (emphasis my [Emily Brand's] own):

“'Tea drinking fills the public house, makes the frequenting of it habitual, corrupts boys as soon as they are able to move from home, and does little less for the girls, to whom the gossip of the tea table is no bad preparatory school for the brothel… the girl that has been brought up merely to boil the tea kettle, and assist in the gossip inseparable from the practice, is a mere consumer of food, a pest to her employer, and a curse to her husband, if any man be so unfortunate as to fix his affections upon her.'

"In short, Cobbett viewed the plant 'as a destroyer of health, an enfeebler of the frame, an engenderer of effeminacy and laziness, a debaucher of youth and a maker of misery for old age.'

"And the solution to this terrible moral poison? Every household brewing its own 'good and wholesome Beer.' Obviously."

A Town By Any Other Name

Sorry, guys, just a really quick one today. I found the following story on Futility Closet's page here.

"Ixonia, Wisconsin, was named at random.

"Unable to agree on a name for the town, the residents printed the alphabet on slips of paper, and a girl named Mary Piper drew letters successively until a name was formed.

"The town was christened Ixonia on Jan. 21, 1846, and it remains the only Ixonia in the United States."

In order to supplement this meager tale, allow me to provide you with another weird Victorian town-naming convention of my own.

In Vermont (where I'm from), there's a village near the state capital, Montpelier, called Adamant. Adamant, Vermont, was originally formed in the mid-19th century, but was originally called 'Sodom, Vermont.' As you can imagine, some residents took umbrage at the name.

I have no idea why it was named that originally (I just picture some drunk city planners going, "Guys, guys. No, shut up, listen, I have the most hilarious idea"). I have even less of an idea how that name lasted so long, but it was called 'Sodom' for about 50 years before some residents petitioned the state legislature for a name change.

As legend has it, they were so 'adamant' that the name MUST be changed, that that became the new name for their village.

A friend told me about this (possibly apocryphal) Battle of Karánsebes, a 1788 battle during the Austro-Turk War in which the Austrians attacked their own troops not only once, but twice within about an hour; these two fights cost them 10,000 men out of the 100,000 in their army, and allowed the Turks later to easily take the city of Karánsebes (today spelt Caransebeş, in what is now Romania).

This story is ridiculous, and also potentially untrue. The only sources for this battle were written many decades after the fact.

Basically, here's what happened:

The whole damn Austrian army was getting read for a huge fight with the Turks. The Austrians camped out around Karánsebes, obviously split up their army into smaller camps and groups, and sent some of those groups out to scout for Turks. One of those groups was the army's hussars: light, fast mounted soldiers, who also dressed like total pimps and looked like this (roughly):

Their uniforms have nothing to do with the story. They're just cool.

Okay, so, the hussars went out scouting and found precisely no Turks. What they DID find, however, was booze, because OF COURSE THE HUSSARS WERE THE ONES TO FIND THE BOOZE. They ran into a group Romani and bought a butt-load of schnapps (that's a metric butt-load, by the way, because they're European) and proceeded to get drunk-drunkity-drunk-drunk.

Then some of the Austrian infantry (foot soldiers) caught up with them and were like, "PARTAAAAY!" But the hussars went, "Nope." And the infantry were like, "Guys, we do all of the horrible, horrible fighting, face-to-face, on foot. We deserve a booze or five. Give us a schnapps."

And the hussars went, "We don't partaaay with the likes of you. Have you seen our jaunty jackets?"

And the infantry went, "Srsly, share."

And the hussars went, "No. Shan't."

And the infantry went, "Right-o. I guess we'll be fighting, shall we?"

And the hussars went, "Oh, I should think so."

The hussars decided to REALLY protect their booze, so they actually took barrels and carts and horses and drunkenly built fortifications around their schnapps. The infantry then decided to besiege their fortifications. A scuffle ensued. Somewhere inside the scuffle, someone (from which side is unclear) fired a shot. This immediately escalated the battle from a squabble to full-blown combat.

This is "The Austrians Attack Themselves #1".

In the midst of them killing each other, some of the infantry (for some reason, I have NO idea why) started to shout, "THE TURKS! THE TURKS!" This made both the hussars and the rest of the infantry think they were about to be surprised by the Ottoman army, so everyone promptly fled (and presumably left the schnapps unguarded).

Now, keep in mind that the Austrian empire covered HUGE territory and its army comprised not just Austrians, but also Italian regiments, Balkan Slavs, and many other ethnic and linguistic groups that couldn't understand each other or their leaders beyond a few simple commands. So when some of the leaders at this drunken skirmish realized that they weren't being attacked by Turks, and tried to yell "Halt!" ("Anhalten" in German), many soldiers who did not speak German misheard this as "Allah!" and were confirmed in their fears that the Turks had arrived.

Now there were two huge regiments running and screaming through all of the Austrian camps in the middle of the night, saying that they were under immediate attack from the Turks. One of the corps commanders at the camps, who could see practically nothing in the dark apart from a huge surge of mounted troops barreling at them (that would, of course, be their own mounted hussars attempting to flee back to camp), though that the hussars were Ottoman cavalry bearing down on the camp while they slept.

He ordered artillery fire and shot his own troops.

This would be "The Austrians Attack Themselves #2".

There was such a blind panic that the entire 100,000-person army actually packed up and retreated from the imaginary enemy, occasionally firing on itself. This killed one out of every ten men--and gives us a literal example of the word 'decimation' (which actually means: "killing one out of every ten", not just "suffering huge losses" like many people think it means).

Two days later, the Ottoman army actually DID arrive. They found heaps of wounded and dead soldiers, but no actual army to speak of. So they took Karánsebes. The End.

(For a brief summary of the whole war, not just this one incident, see this).

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