Archive for the ‘Our Gouty British Forebears’ Category

Animal Punishment

March 30, 2013

Animal Punishment


I dont know watt

January 9, 2013

There is a certain charm conveyed in the variant spellings of words in texts written before dictionaries standardized the language. Somehow this charm is doubled when the author is freestyling words from another language. I’ve been reading the journals of John Stedman and quite liked this gem from the French in a passage detailing Stedman’s self-professed prowess with ladies:

I was certainly much beloved amongst the girls, but particularly of a certain sort, not by the best of them… on account of my person which was without vanity allowed to be a lure for most of women species—I had a Je ne say qwoy about me, of the fasquinating kind, which attracted the girls as the eys of the Rattlesnake attrakts Squirls, and unaccountably persuades them to submission. (1786)

Fasquinating indeed.


Sweetmeat Addendum

September 7, 2012

Yesterday, when cruising the web curious for other instances of “sweetmeat motto” I stumbled upon a wondrous newspaper column from Australia. “FASHIONS. From Our London Lady Correspondent”, Western Mail, Perth, Saturday 23 April 1887. The column, reviewing the latest home décor baubles, must’ve been an exquisitely excruciating read for prim ladies dragged to the frontier by the gold rush (or whatever misadventure brought them to the arid edge of the empire). I’ll quote the whole article below because the language is as incredible & florid as the fashions described. Reporting from a visit to the stationery corner of a shop in Picadilly, our penwoman informs us unfortunates marooned in the Outback that “Letter-weights have given rise to all sorts of fanciful designs and grotesqueries—birds, bees, blossoms, and, to be alliterative, beasts in every vagary of nature are there”. To keep us abreast of this season’s trend in “surprise valentines” she tells of a ghastly excitement I can hardly believe she’d allow at her own table. “A melon is served at desert, with a fuse burning from the stalk end. At the right moment there is an explosion, the melon is in fragments, and the table is strewn with every kind of delicious sweetmeat, motto, and verse”. My dear woman, you have carelessly revealed that you are in possession of a wild side!




From Our London Lady Correspondent.

At the time when the decorations on the dinner table seem more important than the menu itself, and when the china glass, and silver pressed into the service are not only of the costliest description but fashioned according to the canons of high art, it is refreshing to be able to describe an arrangement—that word is so delightfully comprehensive—which, when producing a striking and really beautiful effect, costs literally only a few shillings. A certain hostess had taken a number of small dark green wicker baskets of the roughest manufacture, shaped somewhat like a tube lily, and had twisted them into a graceful form. These she filled with flowers of red shading, and placed them at intervals along the table. Small liberty scarves of various tones of red were formed in front into a sort of cornucopia, in which was the menu card; the remainder was gracefully draped. Between each card was a divided space, occupied by a fairy light of the faintest tone of red. The effect was soft and harmonious in the extreme. Speaking of menu cards, the new armorial stand seems likely to be the favourite of the season. As the name indicates, the coat of arms, or simply the crest, is reproduced in silver, and fixed on the base of a stand, behind which the card is placed. I saw at a large shop in Piccadilly a set of six in a handsome case just being sent off as a bridal gift. Another novelty I saw at the same establishment was a fitted writing tray on stand for use in bed. Every requisite for the pen was there in handy form. At a touch the legs of the stand fold under, and as the fittings are easy of removal, it can be used for other purposes. Her Majesty ordered 18 for Windsor. A soft leather-lined basket also attracted my notice and roused my acquisitiveness. This had everything a professional penman, or penwoman either, could desire—scissors, paste, pens galore, and all the little etceteras we of the craft require at our elbow. Letter-weights have given rise to all sorts of fanciful designs and grotesqueries—birds, bees, blossoms, and, to be alliterative, beasts in every vagary of nature are there.

I must find room for a word about the Rhys’ valentines in sweetmeats. You open a fancy box, and lo, a lovely fan, all of almond paste, carried out in every detail. Another box discloses a heart, with a flame issuing from the top, and on one side a tiny cradle with a Baby Bunting in it. But the surprise valentines are the greatest novelties. A melon is served at desert, with a fuse burning from the stalk end. At the right moment there is an explosion, the melon is in fragments, and the table is strewn with every kind of delicious sweetmeat, motto, and verse. A “bomb” is another surprise, and this I am told, explodes with a force that gives quite a shock. I interviewed the collection, and felt in the wonderland of a “Zoo.” From Bismark and his Kaiser, in chocolate, full length figures, to the useful porker in almond paste, the range was varied. I carried off a porker from mere admiration of his well-moulded parts. The best and prettiest model, however, was a Jubilee bust of Her Majesty the Queen, in white sugar. The likeness is perfect.

A very useful riding novelty is the Russia leather strap-bracelet, with a tiny watch in the centre.


Western Mail, Perth, Saturday 23 April 1887

Opening (The Wiccan Gates) Ceremony

July 31, 2012

What was most wonderful about Danny “Slamdog” Boyle’s artistic direction of the Olympic Opening Ceremony was that he took this unprecedented opportunity—a television audience of 1 billion, unlimited artistic budget—to boldly share with the world the unique cultural identity of the British Isles. Above, he generously grants his global audience a sight rarely seen: an insider’s view of the pagan sleep ritual of a gigantic ghoul baby idol (possibly Welsh?) performed by a coven of nurses encircled by a protective ring of imitative devotees each praying that the toddler god (Todd) grants divine sleep / safe passage through the Moon’s Journey, thus protecting their vulnerable souls from GrimBone DarkPuppet (below) who wields the corruptive power of Night Mist with his vulture leg wand and a silken hijab.

Sike, this was his audition to direct the Spinal Tap sequel.

She’s not my type

March 22, 2012

A psychedelic fascist is a person who is overly bossy in minor aesthetic matters.

This useful term comes from an shameful episode wherein the present author rebuked a colleague for his font choice, forcefully insisting that this friendly coworker (for whom English was a foreign language!) never ever use comic sans. Upon reflection, this behavior must’ve seemed not only ludicrously strident, but ludicrously strident about trivial/weird details. I  felt that I had acted not just as a fascist, but a psychedelic fascist.

(I mean, the actual difference between comic sans and more ‘professional’ fonts is… and to a person learning English, whose principal concern about a script is legibility…)

Anyhow! This term has been in doomspirals circulation a couple of years and so I was heartened to make a recent discovery: I believe to have discovered the Patron Saint of Psychedelic Fascism. Ye olde Richard Bentley (1662–1742). Bentley was a professor at Cambridge, a deacon in the Anglican Church, and one of the most gifted & ambitious literary critics & classicists of his era. He produced important works on Horace, Homer, and others, but his edition of Astronomica, the 1st century AD Latin astronomical poem by Manilius, is considered his masterpiece. But! Bentley delayed publication of his masterpiece for forty years because homeboy egghead was a sincere psychedelic fascist…

G.W. Bowersock writes that Bentley, “had, by his own admission, aborted the publication of his Manilius in the late 1680s because he had disapproved of the typography of his publisher at that time.” Dang! Baby no like the fonts! Bowersock [stupid name] speculates that, after several decades of delay, Bentley finally published his masterpiece in the late 1730s “once he had found in Henry Woodfall a publisher who would produce a beautiful volume and typeface.” LoL, I labored over the translation of an obscure, millennia-old five-part Latin poem concerning the nature of the heavenly spheres & the pattern’d motion of the stars… but was compell’d to stash it on the shelf for two score years because I was not feeling yr Sussex PorridgeShire Helvetica…

This post may not be for you if you’re not down with Becky St. Germain

September 30, 2011

The back page of the TLS features a diary-like column called NB. The weekly column—essentially a blog du papier—is filled out with the informal, sometimes droll, often disapproving observations of an Professional Book Worm. Occasionally evidence is presented that the author has been out-of-doors during the week, but mostly him reflects on him’s text-based pets & peeves. ANYWAY. Mine eyes opened wide with amusement when I read this week’s column about his fav parlor game….

From time to time, as part of the effort to cut out the second Babycham before dinner, we fall to compiling lists. Readers with long memories might recall our attempt to find a book for each letter of the alphabet: “A” by Luis Zukofsky; From A to B and Back Again, Andy Warhol; C, Peter Reading… G, John Berger; H, Robert Graves… and so on down to Z by Vassilis Vassilikos, via The L-Shaped Room, pausing only to Dial M for Murder.

The other evening, we picked up The Two Faces of January by Patricia Highsmith, which made us think of the recent novel February by Lisa Moore… [you see where he’s going…]

Soon we’ll get round to plays on days of the week… Then what? How about film titles with numbers from one to ten, starting with The Wild One?

Sir, are you referring to the Movie Numbers Game?! What if I blew yr mynde and told you that such a game not only exists, but is played at the highest level?! Clearly, the author has never seen the documentary Spring Breakdown and has never dreamed of attending Make Your Own Pizza Night—the only evening more fun than Friday Stay-At-Home Karaoke. If he had, he’d know he is welcome to enjoy his second Babycham from a puffy-painted plastic goblet.

"...and 10---we did it!"

Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth

June 11, 2011


Who’s gouty now?

December 10, 2010

‘avin’ a roit propa riot then aren’t they!

Wikipedia Entry of the Day: Usher of the Black Rod

September 9, 2010

Small differences between Canadian and U.S. government:

The Usher of the Black Rod of the Senate of Canada (often shortened to Black Rod) is the most senior protocol position in the Parliament of Canada.

The office is modelled on the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod of the House of Lords of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Black Rod leads the Speaker‘s Parade at the beginning of each sitting of the Senate[1] and oversees protocol, administrative and logistical details of important events taking place on Parliament Hill, such as the opening of Parliament and Speech from the Throne ceremonies.[2][3] Upon the appointment of the first woman to the position of “Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod” on October 20, 1997, the title was changed to “Usher of the Black Rod”.[4]

The letter, perhaps, but not the spirit of doomspirals, captured

August 20, 2010


Some “bloke” has taken the trouble to read five new books on Samuel Beckett’s relationship with Ireland, and so TLS gave him space to write a boring book report. One book under review is a Beckett biography attempted in the style of Beckett. Reviewer Homeboy needs to tighten up his tone.

In writing such a biography, [the author] aims to take heed of the fact that Beckett distrusted life-writing generally, quoting his statement in Proust that it often reduced the “artist’s individuality” to a “cartoon”. He implies that this is the kind of biography Beckett would have written, one which does not valorize the human being but takes as its starting point (quoting Rockaby) the sentiment “Fuck life”.

Craggs’s origins

May 12, 2010

Sorry to post a second low-brow blooper in a row, but I came across another Time Capsule Joke that was just too much. When John Carswell wrote about the South Sea Bubble in the 1950s I don’t think he anticipated how this sentence might read in 2010:

Weekend at Burney’s

April 28, 2010

Here’s an inconsequential & dubious theory: The title & covert of the new Hole album, Nobody’s Daughter, is an allusion/homage to the influential 18th century British author Frances Burney as an attempt by Courtney Love to self-induct herself into the pantheon of haute couture babes… Consider the facts! The cover art—a detail from an oil painting of M. Antoinette by Elisabeth-Louise Vigee-Le Brun—situates the viewer firmly in the world of prominent 18th century women—both celebrities & artists.

Item 2! The reverse cover art prominently features a pendant of the letter ‘B’… which obviously stands for “Burney”.

Item 3: Consider the album’s title in connexion with an excerpt from Catherine Gallagher’s Nobody’s Story: The Vanishing Acts of Women Writers in the Marketplace 1670-1820. In this study of gender & authorship in the Long 18th Century, Gallagher pays particular attention to the diaries of a young Frances Burney:

No further exposition required.

Questions for further reflection: (1) What is the relationship between the concept of Nobody/No-body and the album’s depiction of two ‘decapitated’ women?

(2) Does tension exist between, on the one hand, drawing explicitly on historical precursors and, on the other, claiming to be nobody’s daughter?

(3) If instead the title alludes to Frances Bean and not Frances Burney, how does that rank on the inappropriateness scale?


February 5, 2010

NYT’s been doggin’ our mates ‘cross the pond re: their filthy drinking habits in a couple of articles recently – Quote from a bartender in an AP story they ran about shatterproof pint glasses:

”One time there was a big fight and 50 pints were smashed in one minute,” she said. ”One man smashed a glass over another one’s head. One person’s eye was popping out. It was a bloodbath. There was glass raining. People were hiding behind the counter.”

That’s what they call taking the piss, n’est-ce pas? Entertain the notion of a droll plebe, M. Journalist!

I did enjoy an earlier article about the “scourge” of neds gettin’ loose on Buckfast Tonic Wine. It sounds like an exquisite beverage that I need.

The scourge in action :

Legendary hams

January 20, 2010

Samuel Johnson’s 1738 poem London opens with the narrator reacting to his chum departing the city & its vices, lamenting: “I praise the hermit, but regret the friend”. Among the several tings one might note about this poem, I’d be sure to include: dudes at the time loved themselves a dang hermit!

Exhibit A! “The… appointments and appurtenances which one might find on a wealthy estate are too numerous to discuss here, but suffice to say that eighteenth-century imaginations were fertile…. Looking through the nursery window one might see a pseudo hermitage installed on the estate for color and atmosphere. There might even be an actual hermit, hired to grace the estate with his dour presence. Some had stuffed hermits on their grounds.” (p. 107)

Exhibit B! The grandest of the sixty or seventy pleasure gardens of eighteenth-century London were Vauxhall and Ranelagh. “Vauxhall had a fairytale atmosphere which contrasted with the elegance of Ranelagh…. Vauxhall had a Chinese temple, hermit’s cottage, and smugglers’ cave, a lovers’ walk and musical bushes where an orchestra hidden underground played fairy music. (The musicians complained of damage to their instruments from the dampness.) There were also clockwork mechanisms, trompe l’oeil paintings, and very high prices for refreshments. The ham was legendary for its thinness.” (pp. 80-81)

Cribbed from Richard Schwartz, Daily Life in Johnson’s London (1983)


…or perhaps the strange fascination with the hermit was a holdover from the previous generation’s preoccupation with “heroic romance” (in which the hermit played a featured role). Cf. The Rambler, No. 4. Saturday, March 31, 1750. Third paragraph, my italics.

[The New Realistic Novel]

The works of fiction, with which the present generation seems more particularly delighted, are such as exhibit life in its true state, diversified only by accidents that daily happen in the world, and influenced by passions and qualities which are really to be found in conversing with mankind.

This kind of writing may be termed not improperly the comedy of romance, and is to be conducted nearly by the rules of comick poetry. Its province is to bring about natural events by easy means, and to keep up curiosity without the help of wonder: it is therefore precluded from the machines and expedients of the heroic romance, and can neither employ giants to snatch away a lady from the nuptial rites, nor knights to bring her back from captivity; it can neither bewilder its personages in deserts, nor lodge them in imaginary castles.

I remember a remark made by Scaliger upon Pontanus, that all his writings are filled with the same images; and that if you take from him his lilies and his roses, his satyrs and his dryads, he will have nothing left that can be called poetry. In like manner almost all the fictions of the last age will vanish, if you deprive them of a hermit and a wood, a battle and a shipwreck.

La victime coiffure

January 19, 2010

In the eighteenth century English men and women kept abreast of French styles through the use of “fashion babies,” dressed dolls which were regularly sent from Paris to London. In a period when the bizarre was often commonplace, one of the more striking fashions was the post-Revolution, 1790s technique for imitating the aristocrats who had gone to the guillotine. Englishwomen wore thin crimson ribbons around their necks and had their hair tousled, in a style termed la victime coiffure.

Richard Schwartz, Daily Life in Johnson’s London (1983)

rejoinder style

June 11, 2009

Shortly after assuming the English throne in 1603 King James summoned the nation’s religious leaders to discuss all things theological.

In the discussion on baptism, the Bishop of Peterborough then made a fool of himself. Apropos of nothing much, he said that he knew of one case in which an ancient father had baptized with sand instead of water. ‘Whereto his Majesty answered pleasantly, “A turd for the Argument. He might as well have pissed on them, for that had been more liker to water than sand.”’ The bishop’s reputation never recovered.

A turd for the Argument. Ah yes, from time to time we all have endured conversational contributions such as this. Always on the receiving end, assuredly. Now comes an appropriate expression to put rogue bishops & freethinkers back in their place.

Great Seal of Massachusetts

June 3, 2009

Alerted to the existence of this funny thing by N. Chomsky, by way of Bookforum:

Solids Feeble

August 7, 2008

By way of this New Yorker “Book Bench” post, I found the following excerpt from George Cheyne’s [ancestor of Dick?] The English Malady (1733):

I was born of healthy Parents, in the Prime of their days by disposed to corpulence… I passed my youth in close study … but upon the slightest excesses I always found slippery bowels, or a spitting to be the crise, whence afterwards upon reflection I concluded that my glands were naturally lax and my solids feeble.

Upon my coming to London, I all of a sudden changed my whole manner of living… being naturally of a large size, a cheerful temper, and tolerable lively imagination .. I soon became caressed by them and grew daily in bulk and friendship with these gay gentlemen… and thus constantly dining and supping … my health was in a few years brought into great distress, by so sudden and violent a change. I grew excessively fat, short-breathed, lethargic and listless.

My appetite being insatiable I sucked up and retained the juices and chyle of my food like a sponge and thereby suddenly grew plump, fat, and hale to a wonder, but indeed too fast. However, for near twenty Years, I continued sober, moderate, and plain in my diet and in my greatest health drank not about a quart or 3 pints at most of wine any day … never tasting any supper and at breakfast nothing but green tea, without any eatable, but by these means every dinner necessarily became a surfeit and a debauch, and in ten or twelve years I swelled so such an enormous size that upon my last weighing I exceeded 32 stone. My breath became so short that upon stepping into my chariot quickly and with some effort I was ready to faint away for want of breath and my face turned black…. I was not able to walk above one pair of stairs at a time, without extreme pain and blowing, being forced to ride from door to door in a chariot even here at bath and if I had but an hundred paces to walk was obliged to have a servant follow me holding a stool. About this time, my legs broke out all over in scorbutic ulcers, the ichor of which corroded the very skin where it lay any time and the fore parts of both legs were one continued sore.

Since our wealth has increased and our navigation has been exteneded we have ransasked all the parts of the globe to bring together its whole stock of materials for riot, luxury, and to provoke excess. The tables of the rich and great (and indeed those who can afford it) are furnish’d with provisions of delicacy, number, and plenty, sufficient to provoke, and even gorge, the most large and voluptuous appetite. … Invention is racked to furnish the materials of our food the most delicate and savoury possible: instead of the plain simplicity of leaving the animals to range and feed in their proper element, with their natural nourishment, they are physicked almost out of their lives and made as great epicures as those feeding on them, and by stalling, cramming, bleeding, laming, sweating, purging, and thrusting sown such unnatural and high seasoned foods into them, these nervous diseases are produced in the animals themselves even before they are admitted as food to those who complain of such disorders.


If you don’t have the conversion handy, 32 stone = 448(!) pounds.

I do appreciate his description of imperial epicurean excess & unwholesome pre-Industrial “factory” farming in the last paragraph… though I very much doubt that he would tolerate my insistence that animal husbandry was the sin that cast us out of Eden. One of these days I’ll post selections from the Enuma Elish or the Epic Of Gilgamesh to help make my case…