Sunday, 31 July 2011

Beyond Oz: Wooden Gargoyles Attack

“Lyman Frank Baum (May 15, 1856 – May 6, 1919) was an American author of children's books, best known for writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He wrote thirteen novel sequels, nine other fantasy novels, and a host of other works (55 novels in total, plus four "lost" novels), 82 short stories, over 200 poems” – Wikipedia.

"The Country of the Gargoyles is all wooden!" exclaimed Zeb; and so it was. The ground was sawdust and the pebbles scattered around were hard knots from trees, worn smooth in course of time. There were odd wooden houses, with carved wooden flowers in the front yards. The tree–trunks were of coarse wood, but the leaves of the trees were shavings. The patches of grass were splinters of wood, and where neither grass nor sawdust showed was a solid wooden flooring. Wooden birds fluttered among the trees and wooden cows were browsing upon the wooden grass; but the most amazing things of all were the wooden people—the creatures known as Gargoyles.

These were very numerous, for the palace was thickly inhabited, and a large group of the queer people clustered near, gazing sharply upon the strangers who had emerged from the long spiral stairway.

The Gargoyles were very small of stature, being less than three feet in height. Their bodies were round, their legs short and thick and their arms extraordinarily long and stout. Their heads were too big for their bodies and their faces were decidedly ugly to look upon. Some had long, curved noses and chins, small eyes and wide, grinning mouths. Others had flat noses, protruding eyes, and ears that were shaped like those of an elephant. There were many types, indeed, scarcely two being alike; but all were equally disagreeable in appearance. The tops of their heads had no hair, but were carved into a variety of fantastic shapes, some having a row of points or balls around the top, other designs resembling flowers or vegetables, and still others having squares that looked like waffles cut criss–cross on their heads. They all wore short wooden wings which were fastened to their wooden bodies by means of wooden hinges with wooden screws, and with these wings they flew swiftly and noiselessly here and there, their legs being of little use to them.

This noiseless motion was one of the most peculiar things about the Gargoyles. They made no sounds at all, either in flying or trying to speak, and they conversed mainly by means of quick signals made with their wooden fingers or lips. Neither was there any sound to be heard anywhere throughout the wooden country. The birds did not sing, nor did the cows moo; yet there was more than ordinary activity everywhere.

The group of these queer creatures which was discovered clustered near the stairs at first remained staring and motionless, glaring with evil eyes at the intruders who had so suddenly appeared in their land. In turn the Wizard and the children, the horse and the kitten, examined the Gargoyles with the same silent attention.

The Gargoyles had backed away a distance when they heard the sound of talking, for although our friends had spoken in low tones their words seemed loud in the silence surrounding them. But as soon as the conversation ceased the grinning, ugly creatures arose in a flock and flew swiftly toward the strangers, their long arms stretched out before them like the bowsprits of a fleet of sail–boats. The horse had especially attracted their notice, because it was the biggest and strangest creature they had ever seen; so it became the center of their first attack.


But the Gargoyles were clever enough not to attack the horse the next time. They advanced in a great swarm, having been joined by many more of their kind, and they flew straight over Jim's head to where the others were standing.
The Wizard raised one of his revolvers and fired into the throng of his enemies, and the shot resounded like a clap of thunder in that silent place.
Some of the wooden beings fell flat upon the ground, where they quivered and trembled in every limb; but most of them managed to wheel and escape again to a distance.

From L. Frank Baum, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, Illustrated by John R. Neill (1908)


Stones - Lithotomy

Carel van Savoyen’s Portrait of Jan de Doot, 
holding the kidney stone he removed from himself.

Stones are sometimes formed inside hollow organs, such as the kidneys, bladder, and gallbladder. Unable to exit naturally through the urinary system or biliary tract they cause considerable pain and sometimes death. Lithotomy from Greek for "lithos" (stone) and "tomos" (cut), is a surgical method for their removal.

Many famous people who suffered from kidney stone include Napoleon I, Louis XIV, George IV, Oliver Cromwell, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, Samuel Pepys, Lyndon B. Johnson, Benjamin Franklin and Michel de Montaigne.

Surgical accounts are common in the eighteenth century:

On the first of December 1739 a negro, of about 15 years of age, died in St George’s hospital. The preceding day the lateral operation had been performed on him, for extracting a stone, the symptoms of which he had laboured under for several years, and of which the surgeons were convinced, by the sounding of the probe. […] Many curious gentlemen were present at the aperture of the carcass; there was found in the internal and posterior lateral part of the bottom of the bladder, a bony cystis, as large as a chestnut, and full of a stony substance, which form’d a round hard body, that sounded against the point of the probe; this body was engaged in the internal membrane of the bladder, with which it was cover’d by a large base, which rose from the bottom of that organ, and rested on the rectum; so that, in the discharges of the excrements and the urine, and in certain situations of the body, it stopp’d up the entrance of the urethra, and irritated that orifice, so as to produce those symptoms which had been attributed to a stone in the bladder. (268-9)

Some days ago, M. Guerin, the father, shew’d me the bladder of a man of 50 years of age, who had been cut for the stone last year. He had found a great deal of resistance in introducing the probe into the bladder. The incision being made in the ordinary manner, he had introduced the pincers, and at once extracted two pieces of fungous excrescences of flesh, and thirteen stones, shaped like those of the patient I have before-mentioned, but smaller. He used injections, with a view to bring away a stone which he had touch’d with the the probe, but could not lay hold of it; the patient, however, died eight days after. Upon opening the carcass, twenty-seven stones, like the former, were found included in in particular cellules, some presenting one of their angles, and others one of their small faces to the mouths of their respective cellules. There was also on the right side of the bladder, an excrescence, in form of a mushroom, which in some measure stopp’d up the orifice of the bladder. (272)

From Memoirs of the Royal Academy of Surgery at Paris: containing a great variety of Cases in the chief branches of the Art, many of them very surprising and uncommon. Volume II (1750)

Memoir XII recounts a “Remarkable cure by cutting a new anus, and its mechanism” (247-63)
But the magnified images of stones are incredibly beautiful, as can be seen here.

Finally let's remind ourselves of the famous essayist Michel de Montaigne, whose affliction provided an opportunity to reflect on the misfortunes that accompany old age:

We must learn to suffer what we cannot evade; our life, like the harmony of the world, is composed of contrary things—of diverse tones, sweet and harsh, sharp and flat, sprightly and solemn: the musician who should only affect some of these, what would he be able to do? he must know how to make use of them all, and to mix them; and so we should mingle the goods and evils which are consubstantial with our life; our being cannot subsist without this mixture, and the one part is no less necessary to it than the other. To attempt to combat natural necessity, is to represent the folly of Ctesiphon, who undertook to kick with his mule.—[Plutarch, How to restrain Anger, c. 8.]

I consult little about the alterations I feel: for these doctors take advantage; when they have you at their mercy, they surfeit your ears with their prognostics; and formerly surprising me, weakened with sickness, injuriously handled me with their dogmas and magisterial fopperies—one while menacing me with great pains, and another with approaching death. Hereby I was indeed moved and shaken, but not subdued nor jostled from my place; and though my judgment was neither altered nor distracted, yet it was at least disturbed: 'tis always agitation and combat.

Now, I use my imagination as gently as I can, and would discharge it, if I could, of all trouble and contest; a man must assist, flatter, and deceive it, if he can; my mind is fit for that office; it needs no appearances throughout: could it persuade as it preaches, it would successfully relieve me. Will you have an example? It tells me: "that 'tis for my good to have the stone: that the structure of my age must naturally suffer some decay, and it is now time it should begin to disjoin and to confess a breach; 'tis a common necessity, and there is nothing in it either miraculous or new; I therein pay what is due to old age, and I cannot expect a better bargain; that society ought to comfort me, being fallen into the most common infirmity of my age; I see everywhere men tormented with the same disease, and am honoured by the fellowship, forasmuch as men of the best quality are most frequently afflicted with it: 'tis a noble and dignified disease: that of such as are struck with it, few have it to a less degree of pain; that these are put to the trouble of a strict diet and the daily taking of nauseous potions, whereas I owe my better state purely to my good fortune; for some ordinary broths of eringo or burst-wort that I have twice or thrice taken to oblige the ladies, who, with greater kindness than my pain was sharp, would needs present me half of theirs, seemed to me equally easy to take and fruitless in operation, the others have to pay a thousand vows to AEsculapius, and as many crowns to their physicians, for the voiding a little gravel, which I often do by the aid of nature: even the decorum of my countenance is not disturbed in company; and I can hold my water ten hours, and as long as any man in health. 'The fear of this disease,' says my mind, 'formerly affrighted thee, when it was unknown to thee; the cries and despairing groans of those who make it worse by their impatience, begot a horror in thee. 'Tis an infirmity that punishes the members by which thou hast most offended. Thou art a conscientious fellow;'

      Quae venit indigne poena, dolenda venit:
      "We are entitled to complain of a punishment that we have not deserved." (Ovid, Heroid., v. 8.)

consider this chastisement: 'tis very easy in comparison of others, and inflicted with a paternal tenderness: do but observe how late it comes; it only seizes on and incommodes that part of thy life which is, one way and another, sterile and lost; having, as it were by composition, given time for the licence and pleasures of thy youth. The fear and the compassion that the people have of this disease serve thee for matter of glory; a quality whereof if thou bast thy judgment purified, and that thy reason has somewhat cured it, thy friends notwithstanding, discern some tincture in thy complexion. 'Tis a pleasure to hear it said of oneself what strength of mind, what patience! Thou art seen to sweat with pain, to turn pale and red, to tremble, to vomit blood, to suffer strange contractions and convulsions, at times to let great tears drop from thine eyes, to urine thick, black, and dreadful water, or to have it suppressed by some sharp and craggy stone, that cruelly pricks and tears the neck of the bladder, whilst all the while thou entertainest the company with an ordinary countenance; droning by fits with thy people; making one in a continuous discourse, now and then making excuse for thy pain, and representing thy suffering less than it is. Dost thou call to mind the men of past times, who so greedily sought diseases to keep their virtue in breath and exercise? Put the case that nature sets thee on and impels thee to this glorious school, into which thou wouldst never have entered of thy own free will. If thou tellest me that it is a dangerous and mortal disease, what others are not so? for 'tis a physical cheat to expect any that they say do not go direct to death: what matters if they go thither by accident, or if they easily slide and slip into the path that leads us to it? But thou dost not die because thou art sick; thou diest because thou art living: death kills thee without the help of sickness: and sickness has deferred death in some, who have lived longer by reason that they thought themselves always dying; to which may be added, that as in wounds, so in diseases, some are medicinal and wholesome. The stone is often no less long-lived than you; we see men with whom it has continued from their infancy even to their extreme old age; and if they had not broken company, it would have been with them longer still; you more often kill it than it kills you. And though it should present to you the image of approaching death, were it not a good office to a man of such an age, to put him in mind of his end? And, which is worse, thou hast no longer anything that should make thee desire to be cured. Whether or no, common necessity will soon call thee away. Do but consider how skilfully and gently she puts thee out of concern with life, and weans thee from the world; not forcing thee with a tyrannical subjection, like so many other infirmities which thou seest old men afflicted withal, that hold them in continual torment, and keep them in perpetual and unintermitted weakness and pains, but by warnings and instructions at intervals, intermixing long pauses of repose, as it were to give thee opportunity to meditate and ruminate upon thy lesson, at thy own ease and leisure. To give thee means to judge aright, and to assume the resolution of a man of courage, it presents to thee the state of thy entire condition, both in good and evil; and one while a very cheerful and another an insupportable life, in one and the same day. If thou embracest not death, at least thou shakest hands with it once a month; whence thou hast more cause to hope that it will one day surprise thee without menace; and that being so often conducted to the water-side, but still thinking thyself to be upon the accustomed terms, thou and thy confidence will at one time or another be unexpectedly wafted over. A man cannot reasonably complain of diseases that fairly divide the time with health.

I am obliged to Fortune for having so often assaulted me with the same sort of weapons: she forms and fashions me by use, hardens and habituates me, so that I can know within a little for how much I shall be quit. For want of natural memory, I make one of paper; and as any new symptom happens in my disease, I set it down, whence it falls out that, having now almost passed through all sorts of examples, if anything striking threatens me, turning over these little loose notes, as the Sybilline leaves, I never fail of finding matter of consolation from some favourable prognostic in my past experience. Custom also makes me hope better for the time to come; for, the conduct of this clearing out having so long continued, 'tis to be believed that nature will not alter her course, and that no other worse accident will happen than what I already feel. And besides, the condition of this disease is not unsuitable to my prompt and sudden complexion: when it assaults me gently, I am afraid, for 'tis then for a great while; but it has, naturally, brisk and vigorous excesses; it claws me to purpose for a day or two. My kidneys held out an age without alteration; and I have almost now lived another, since they changed their state; evils have their periods, as well as benefits: peradventure, the infirmity draws towards an end. Age weakens the heat of my stomach, and, its digestion being less perfect, sends this crude matter to my kidneys; why, at a certain revolution, may not the heat of my kidneys be also abated, so that they can no more petrify my phlegm, and nature find out some other way of purgation. Years have evidently helped me to drain certain rheums; and why not these excrements which furnish matter for gravel? But is there anything delightful in comparison of this sudden change, when from an excessive pain, I come, by the voiding of a stone, to recover, as by a flash of lightning, the beautiful light of health, so free and full, as it happens in our sudden and sharpest colics? Is there anything in the pain suffered, that one can counterpoise to the pleasure of so sudden an amendment? Oh, how much does health seem the more pleasant to me, after a sickness so near and so contiguous, that I can distinguish them in the presence of one another, in their greatest show; when they appear in emulation, as if to make head against and dispute it with one another! As the Stoics say that vices are profitably introduced to give value to and to set off virtue, we can, with better reason and less temerity of conjecture, say that nature has given us pain for the honour and service of pleasure and indolence. When Socrates, after his fetters were knocked off, felt the pleasure of that itching which the weight of them had caused in his legs, he rejoiced to consider the strict alliance betwixt pain and pleasure; how they are linked together by a necessary connection, so that by turns they follow and mutually beget one another; and cried out to good AEsop, that he ought out of this consideration to have taken matter for a fine fable.

The worst that I see in other diseases is, that they are not so grievous in their effect as they are in their issue: a man is a whole year in recovering, and all the while full of weakness and fear. There is so much hazard, and so many steps to arrive at safety, that there is no end on't before they have unmuffled you of a kerchief, and then of a cap, before they allow you to walk abroad and take the air, to drink wine, to lie with your wife, to eat melons, 'tis odds you relapse into some new distemper. The stone has this privilege, that it carries itself clean off: whereas the other maladies always leave behind them some impression and alteration that render the body subject to a new disease, and lend a hand to one another. Those are excusable that content themselves with possessing us, without extending farther and introducing their followers; but courteous and kind are those whose passage brings us any profitable issue. Since I have been troubled with the stone, I find myself freed from all other accidents, much more, methinks, than I was before, and have never had any fever since; I argue that the extreme and frequent vomitings that I am subject to purge me: and, on the other hand, my distastes for this and that, and the strange fasts I am forced to keep, digest my peccant humours, and nature, with those stones, voids whatever there is in me superfluous and hurtful. Let them never tell me that it is a medicine too dear bought: for what avail so many stinking draughts, so many caustics, incisions, sweats, setons, diets, and so many other methods of cure, which often, by reason we are not able to undergo their violence and importunity, bring us to our graves? So that when I have the stone, I look upon it as physic; when free from it, as an absolute deliverance.

And here is another particular benefit of my disease; which is, that it almost plays its game by itself, and lets 'me play mine, if I have only courage to do it; for, in its greatest fury, I have endured it ten hours together on horseback. Do but endure only; you need no other regimen play, run, dine, do this and t'other, if you can; your debauch will do you more good than harm; say as much to one that has the pox, the gout, or hernia! The other diseases have more universal obligations; rack our actions after another kind of manner, disturb our whole order, and to their consideration engage the whole state of life: this only pinches the skin; it leaves the understanding and the will wholly at our own disposal, and the tongue, the hands, and the feet; it rather awakens than stupefies you. The soul is struck with the ardour of a fever, overwhelmed with an epilepsy, and displaced by a sharp megrim, and, in short, astounded by all the diseases that hurt the whole mass and the most noble parts; this never meddles with the soul; if anything goes amiss with her, 'tis her own fault; she betrays, dismounts, and abandons herself. There are none but fools who suffer themselves to be persuaded that this hard and massive body which is baked in our kidneys is to be dissolved by drinks; wherefore, when it is once stirred, there is nothing to be done but to give it passage; and, for that matter, it will itself make one.
I moreover observe this particular convenience in it, that it is a disease wherein we have little to guess at: we are dispensed from the trouble into which other diseases throw us by the uncertainty of their causes, conditions, and progress; a trouble that is infinitely painful: we have no need of consultations and doctoral interpretations; the senses well enough inform us both what it is and where it is.

By suchlike arguments, weak and strong, as Cicero with the disease of his old age, I try to rock asleep and amuse my imagination, and to dress its wounds. If I find them worse tomorrow, I will provide new stratagems. That this is true: I am come to that pass of late, that the least motion forces pure blood out of my kidneys: what of that? I move about, nevertheless, as before, and ride after my hounds with a juvenile and insolent ardour; and hold that I have very good satisfaction for an accident of that importance, when it costs me no more but a dull heaviness and uneasiness in that part; 'tis some great stone that wastes and consumes the substance of my kidneys and my life, which I by little and little evacuate, not without some natural pleasure, as an excrement henceforward superfluous and troublesome. Now if I feel anything stirring, do not fancy that I trouble myself to consult my pulse or my urine, thereby to put myself upon some annoying prevention; I shall soon enough feel the pain, without making it more and longer by the disease of fear. He who fears he shall suffer, already suffers what he fears. To which may be added that the doubts and ignorance of those who take upon them to expound the designs of nature and her internal progressions, and the many false prognostics of their art, ought to give us to understand that her ways are inscrutable and utterly unknown; there is great uncertainty, variety, and obscurity in what she either promises or threatens. Old age excepted, which is an indubitable sign of the approach of death, in all other accidents I see few signs of the future, whereon we may ground our divination. I only judge of myself by actual sensation, not by reasoning: to what end, since I am resolved to bring nothing to it but expectation and patience? Will you know how much I get by this? observe those who do otherwise, and who rely upon so many diverse persuasions and counsels; how often the imagination presses upon them without any bodily pain. I have many times amused myself, being well and in safety, and quite free from these dangerous attacks in communicating them to the physicians as then beginning to discover themselves in me; I underwent the decree of their dreadful conclusions, being all the while quite at my ease, and so much the more obliged to the favour of God and better satisfied of the vanity of this art.

Blog 17/1000

Friday, 29 July 2011

Grotesque Architecture and Horace

The Art of Architecture

In Imitation of Horace’s Art of Poetry

John Gwynn


Should you, my Lord, a wretched Picture view;
Which some unskilful Copying-Painter drew,
Without Design, Intolerably bad,
Would you not smile, and think the Man was mad?
Just so a tasteless Structure; where each Part
Is void of Order, Symmetry, or Art:
Alike offends, when we the Mimick Place;
Compare with Beauty, Harmony, or Grace.
Painters, and Architects are not confin’d
By Pedant-Rules to circumscribe the Mind:
But give a Loose, their Genius to improve;
And midst the pleasing Fields of Science rove.
But then the Laws of Nature; and of Sense,
Forbid us with Contraries to dispense:
To paint a Snake, engend’ring with a Dove;
Or build a Prison ’midst a shady Grove.
At setting out, some promise mighty Things,
Temples they form, and Palaces for Kings;
With a few Ornaments profusely drest,
They shine through all the Dulness of the rest.

At some long Vista’s End, the Structure stands;
The Spot a Summit, and a View commands:
The wide-extended Plain appears below,
And Streams, which through the verdant Meadows flow.
Here Towns, and Spires, and Hills o’er Hills extend;
There shady Groves, and Lawns, the Prospect end.
Through lavish Ornaments, the Fabrick shines
With wild Festoons of Fruits, and clust’ring Vines:
Luxuriant Decorations fill each Space,
And vast Incumbrances; void of Rules or Grace;
Without Coherence, crowded in each Place.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Anthropomorphic Monster Map - John Bull

Johnny Bull on a Whale: Geography Bewitched or, a Droll Caricature Map of England and Wales, 1793, Designed by Robert Dighton; published in London by Bowles & Carver.  Image source: British Museum.

"John Bull" was the beer-drinking patriotic English "yeoman" created in 1712 by John Arbuthnot, a friend of Jonathan Swift ("Gullivers' Travels") and satirist Alexander Pope. 

Early versions depict John Bull in opposition to the French "Louis Baboon" (House of Borbon) and later to Napolean Bonaparte (see below)

Blog 14/1000

Want to know more? See

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Cyclops, Brontës and Polyphemus

Polyphemus [one of the Cyclops] by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, also known as Goethe-Tischbein (15 February 1751  – 26 February 1828) was a German painter.

The Account of Chaos and the birth of the Cyclops from Hesiod's Theogony:

In truth then foremost sprang Chaos, and next broad-bosomed Earth, ever secure seat of all the immortals, who inhabit the peaks of snow-capt Olympus, and dark dim Tartarus in a recess of Earth having-broad-ways, and Love who is most beautiful among immortal gods, Love that relaxes the limbs, and in the breasts of all gods and all men, subdues their reason and prudent counsel. But from Chaos were born Erebus and black Night; and from Night again sprang forth Aether and Day, whom she bare after having conceived, by union with Erebus in love. And Earth, in sooth, bare first indeed like to herself (in size) starry Heaven, that he might shelter her around all sides, that so she might be ever a secure seat for the blessed gods: and she brought forth vast mountains, lovely haunts of deities, the Nymphs who dwell along the woodland hills. She too bare also the barren Sea, rushing with swollen stream, the Deep, I mean, without delightsome love: but afterward, having bedded with Heaven, she bare deep-eddying Ocean, Caeus and Crius, Hyperion and Iapetus, Thea and Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, and Phoebe with golden coronet, and lovely Tethys. And after these was born, youngest, wily Cronius, most savage of their children; and he hated his vigour-giving sire. Then brought she forth next the Cyclops, having an over-bearing spirit, Brontes, and Steropes, and stout-hearted Arges, who both gave to Jove his thunder, and forged his lightnings. Now these, in sooth, were in other respects, it is true, like to gods, but a single eye was fixed in their mid-foreheads. And they from immortals grew up speaking mortals, and Cyclops was their appropriate name, because, I wot, in their foreheads one circular eye was fixed. Strength, force, and contrivances were in their works. 

(Hesiod’s Theogony translated by Rev J. Banks London: Bohn’s Classical Library, 1856, pp. 7-10)

Other famous versions of the Cyclops monster myth occur in Homer, Ovid and Virgil. Modern version include Joyce's Ulysses and an episode in the Coen Brothers 2000 film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou.

The Brontë family can be traced to the Irish Clan Ó Pronntaigh, which literally means 'grandson of Pronntach'. 

We can only speculate that Patrick Brontë was aware of the Cyclops "Thunder" Brontë connection.


Also entertaining was Castle Film's Doctor Cyclops which plays on Jonathan Swift's little people in Gulliver's Travels.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Hunchback Cruelty and Laughter

If you thought that the hunchback narrative started in the nineteenth century with Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame, or with film in the twentieth century - think again!

With a Chapter on Hunchback narratives, see the New Book by Simon Dickie: Cruelty and Laughter: Forgotten Comic Literature and the Unsentimental Eighteenth Century  University of Chicago Press  (November 2011)

Publisher's Notice:
"Eighteenth-century British culture is often seen as polite and sentimental—the product of an emerging middle class. Simon Dickie contests these assumptions in Cruelty and Laughter, a wildly enjoyable but shocking plunge into the forgotten comic literature of the age. Beneath the veneer of Enlightenment civility, Dickie uncovers a rich strain of cruel humor that forces us to recognize just how slowly ordinary sufferings became worthy of sympathy.
Delving into an enormous archive of jestbooks, comic periodicals, farces, variety shows, and minor comic novels, Dickie discovers a bottomless repository of jokes about cripples, blind men, rape, and wife-beating. He also finds epigrams about scurvy and one-act farces about hunchbacks in love, powerful proofs of the limits of compassion in the period. Everyone—rich and poor, women as well as men—laughed along. In the process, Dickie expands our understanding of many of the century’s major authors, including Henry Fielding, Samuel Richardson, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Tobias Smollett, Frances Burney, and Jane Austen. Cruelty and Laughter is an engaging, far-reaching study of the other side of culture in eighteenth-century Britain."


Introduction: The Unsentimental Eighteenth Century, 1740–70

1  Jestbooks and the Indifference to Reform      
Nasty Jokes, Polite Women      
How to Be a Wag

2  Cripples, Hunchbacks, and the Limits of Sympathy      
Dancing Cripples and the London Stage      
Streets and Coffeehouses      
Poetry and Polite Letters      
Damaged Lives      
Disabled Bodies and the Inevitability of Laughter

3  Delights of Privilege      
Laughing at the Lower Orders      
Contexts from Social History      
Frolics, High Jinks, and Violent Freedoms      
Lovelace at the Haberdasher   

Joseph Andrews and the Great Laughter Debate      
Narrative from a High Horse      
The Ethics of Ridicule      
Fielding’s Problem with Parsons 

5  Rape Jokes and the Law      
Laughter and Disbelief      
Modesty and the Impossibility of Consent      
Functions of an Assault      
Accusing, Making Up, and the Local Magistrate      
Humors of the Old Bailey

In Conclusion: The Forgotten Best-Sellers of Early English Fiction      
Ramble Novels and Slum Comedy      
Reading for the Filler      

Blog 12/1000

The world of Tom Thumb and Gulliver and others

Tom Thumb (from an 1855 text)
The Little Everyman
Stature and Masculinity in Eighteenth-Century English Literature
Deborah Needleman Armintor

University of Washington Press
£23.99 PB 2011 

From the publication of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels in 1726 to Josef Boruwlaski's Memoirs of the Celebrated Dwarf in 1788, eighteenth-century English literature, art, science, and popular culture exhibited an unprecedented fascination with small male bodies of various kinds. Henry Fielding's Tom Thumb plays drew packed crowds, while public exhibitions advertised male dwarfs as paragons of English masculinity. Bawdy popular poems featured diminutive men paired with enormous women, while amateur scientists anthropomorphized and gendered the "minute bodies" they observed under their fashionable new pocket microscopes. Little men, both real and imagined, embodied the anxieties of a newly bourgeois English culture and were transformed to suit changing concerns about the status of English masculinity in the modern era. The Little Everyman explores this strange trend by tracing the historical trajectory of the pre-modern court dwarf's supplanting in the 1700s by a more metaphorical and quintessentially modern "little man" who came to represent in miniature the historical shift in literary production from aristocratic patronage to the bourgeois fantasy of freelance authorship. Armintor's astute close readings of Pope, Fielding, Swift, and Sterne highlight little recognized aspects of some of the classic works and writers of the period while demonstrating how, over the course of a single century, the little man became an "everyman." Intervening in current cross-disciplinary discussions of literature and art, the history of science, extraordinary bodies and disability, and eighteenth-century literary and cultural studies, Armintor makes a major contribution to our understanding of how questions of masculinity and gender, the sociology of marriage, and the economics of commodity capitalism converge in central literary works of the English eighteenth century. 

Deborah Needleman Armintor is associate professor of English at the University of North Texas and the co-editor of Eighteenth-Century British Erotica, Vol. 2

"Armintor mounts an historical argument that dwarfs move from serving as representatives of aristocratic court culture to models of the bourgeois man of feeling that was so prominent in the culture of the end of the century. In the process, she teases out the rich and ambiguous reciprocity between morality and physicality, between power and febrility, between the big and the small, between sexuality and mentality." -Barbara Benedict, Trinity College

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Edward Lear's Grotesque Ornithology, Anti-Colonial Bestiary

Reading Vivien Noakes's biography of nonsense poet and illustrator Edward Lear (1812-1888), I was struck by his fascination with birds.

and insects

He earned his living in his early years drawing birds in the Zoological Gardens. His Illustrations of the Family of of Psittacidae, or Parrots, was an example of his early work in 1830-1.

"he did not first kill the animal and draw the gradually decaying carcass; instead he drew the live, moving screaming bird." (Noakes: 30)

"Sitting in the parrot house he was obviously regarded as something of a curiosity himself, for the visitors came and stared at him and his work, and as a change from drawing birds he would make indignant, Doyle-like sketches of the bonneted ladies and startled gentlemen who peered at him." (Noakes: 30)

He was at his best when he was drawing majestic, unpretty birds like ravens and owls; he endowed them with sagacious personalities and it is tempting to wonder if Lear found a common bond with the birds, for they too were at the mercy of unscrupulous men. 'Comme il est charmant ce monsieur avec ses beaux yeux de verre!' a small girl said of him years later. 'Ah, que vos grand lunettes vous donnent tout /a fait l'air d'un grand hibou!'

In another line of enquiry, I recently came across further examples of the bird/human double in several shadow pictures from Japan. Are they examples of a grotesque visual ingenuity? Or simply, and wonderfully, the monstrous art of looking sideways?

Blog No. 10/1000

Further Reading

Ann C. Colley. "Edward Lear's Anti-Colonial Bestiary."  Victorian Poetry 30.2 (Summer 1992): p109-120.  

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences (2013) ... 
also available on Kindle, or to download

Eight Aspects of grotesque kitsch and freaky metamorphosis

I am grateful to An Anatomy of Literary Nonsense by Wim Tigges for making the link between kitsch and the grotesque.

The grotesque typically combines heterogeneous categories: in this case an animal and inanimate object.

Contrary to the notion of the lack of utility of such combinations it is clear that the example of the ashtray is functional.
The kitsch combination is grotesque on several other levels:

  1. A creature 'low' in the scale of being - associated with earth and water (Compare Shakespeare's Caliban in The Tempest)
  2. A figure of evil; Satan, in Milton's Paradise Lost shifts shapes accordingly.
  3. Open-mouthed is the popular form of the open-body identified by Bakhtin in Rabelais and His World.
  4. A figure of metamorphosis, in its life-cycle, mirrors the unstable nature of the grotesque world
  5. Elements of play, humour, and the ridiculous
  6. Body-part exaggeration of size - mouth / tongue.
  7. A reminder of death - this is, finally, an ash-tray. The grotesque, finally, is the decomposition of bodies
  8. But laughter asserts life against death.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Horrific Tongue Parasite Attacks

"Weaver fish off the Jersey coast have fallen prey to a horrific parasite: an isopod that devours the fish's tongue and then replaces it with itself. Fortunately, it doesn't eat human tongues, though it will bite."

BBC reported

Marine researcher Paul Chambers, from the Société Jersiaise, was one of the fishing party and identified the find.

He said he was surprised to find the isopod away from the Mediterranean sea.

Isopods are normally about 2cm (1in) long and live in fish, surviving on the animal's blood, in warm waters.

Mr Chambers told BBC Jersey: "When we emptied the fish bag out there at the bottom was this incredibly ugly looking isopod.

"Really quite large, really quite hideous - if you turn it over its got dozens of these really sharp, nasty claws underneath and I thought 'that's a bit of a nasty beast'.

"I struggled for weeks to find an identification for this thing until, quite by chance I stumbled across something that looked similar in a Victorian journal.

[blog no. 8/1000)

Frankenstein in Scotland

My Video (see below) explores Alasdair Gray's novel Poor Things.

A contemporary grotesque novel that plays on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and other monster narratives.

The book is recommended reading if you are a Gothic Literature enthusiast.

My Article "Alasdair Gray and the Making of a Scottish Grotesque" (1994) was published here.

See also:

"Bella and the Beast (and a Few Dragons, Too): Alasdair Gray and the Social Resistance of the Grotesque"
Author(s): Cristie March, : Critique 43.4 (Summer 2002): pp. 323-346. 

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences (2013) ... 
also available on Kindle, or to download

Sooterkin - half boy, half seal

Set in Tasmania, Tom Gilling's fantasitic-ludicrous fiction The Sooterkin describes how Sarah Dyer was delivered of a monstrous seal-pup child in 1821.

The novel presents a variety of comic responses to the event from an array of characters and caricatures who people the whaling town of Hobart. The place itself is rendered in its grotesque physical reality: blood, guts, mud, and `rancid with blubber'.

Hobart is land reminiscent of the primeval mud of the Nile, which according to the ancient writer, Pliny, breeds monsters. The land is marked by manifest signs of the colonised but these vanish into the undifferentiated as soon as the agents of `culture' stray too far beyond the town.

The Chaplain, Mr Kidney, finds that the country `seems primordial, uncouth, devoid of any human presence save his own.' The darkness seems to `conjure disembodied noises' (121) and he feels finally `taunted by a monstrosity that science and the Bible have been unable to explain.' (183).

The story parallels then, the conjoined history, one of a monstrous birth, the other the `birth' of Australia. Both are essentially unreadable, despite competing theories.

Crimes, like Mrs Jakes' unnamed abortions (`a parcel the size of a cauliflower' (184), lie buried in the ground. `He didn't ask what she was doing and he never said.' (184).

I have taught this book as part of a second-year University course on the gothic and the grotesque and can confirm that it was well-received by the majority of students. A minority of readers was irritated by the fantastic elements of the plot - though these are not materially significant and are easily exaggerated.

There was a lively debate on the allegorical features of the novel: to what extent is the story a version of Australian history as a grotesque narrative of monstrous births and colonisers' discourses?


A sooterkin is a fabled small creature about the size of a mouse that certain women were believed to have been capable of giving birth to. The origin of this initially jocular fantasy lies in the 18th century, and came to be considered factual by some eminent physicians of the day. It is attributed[1] to a tendency of Dutch women to use stoves under their petticoats to keep warm, hence causing the breeding of these small animals, which when mature would be born.

The English physician John Maubray published a work entitled The Female Physician, in which he proposed that it was possible for women to give birth to sooterkins. Maubray was an advocate for maternal impression, a widely held belief that conception and pregnancy could be influenced by what the pregnant mother dreamt of, or saw.[2]

Maubray warned pregnant women that over-familiarity with household pets could cause their children to resemble those animals. He was involved in the case of Mary Toft, who appeared to vindicate his theory by giving birth to rabbits, although the whole affair turned out to be a hoax.[3]

A sooterkin may also be used to refer to an abortion, an abortive scheme, or a failed plan.[4]

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Matthew Buckinger - the Human Trunk


An Elegy on the much lamented Death of Matthew Buckinger, 

the famous little Man (without Arms or Legs,) who departed this life at Edinburgh. (after 1733?)

Poor Buckinger, at last is dead and gone!
A lifeless Trunk, who was a living one:
Trunk did I say, wherein all Virtues met?
I should ha’ call’d him a rich Cabinet.
No wonder in Life’s Warfare he should die,
Who wanted Hands to fight, and Feet to flie.

Nature to form so great a Life to come,
Wisely took care to maim him in the Womb.
So when we take young Eagles, 'tis thought best
To clip their Wings and Talons in the Nest,
For lop the Limbs, and then the Soul confin’d,
Collects it self, and double mans the mind.
So Suckors prun’d, and Fibres from the Root,
Make the tree not die, but flourish in their Fruit.
He was, altho’ he had not e’er Limb,
A Man, I’ll prove it, every Inch of him:
No huge two handed Man! but when he dy’d,
‘Twas a good Body, ev’ry mortal cry’d.
Pious he was, as holiest Devotees;
For sure he always was upon his knees;
And that he us’d to pray, his Widow knows,
As often as he Fingers had and Toes.
So blameless, he defy’d the World to rail,
Or any Man to say, Black was his Nail.
He never made one False Step all his Life,
Except, in marrying his second Wife:
And, tho’ they went together in pure Love,
They did not hit it, nor were Hand-and-Glove:
Altho’ he suffer’d from her many Ills,
A Clog he could not call her at his Heels;
But sure he might have quitted her in haste,
If Spitting in his Hand was holding fast.
Some call’d him Vagabond, and said they knew’t.
How could he strole, who never stirr’d a Foot?
He of his Pen had very great Command;
If he wrote any, ‘twas no running Hand.
He play’d all Games with Skill, but was most nice,
Tho’ without Slight of Hand, at Cards and Dice;
And tho’ he won at Play, yet no one can
Say, That he made a Hand of any Man.
He practis’d Musick too; it did appear,
Tho’ he no Finger had, he had an Ear.
He visited most Places in the Land,
And rode, but never kept a Bridle-Hand.
Nor Galls on either Side his Horse did feel
His Spur was in his Head, not in his Heel.
He was a Manager, we may believe,
For he was ne’er thurst his Arm beyond his Sleeve.
And tho’ his Bread was but of daily Growth,
No Man cou’d say, He liv’d from Hand to Mouth.
Not spiteful, for, altho’ provok’d a-deal,
He ne’er oppos’d a Man both Tooth and Nail.
He wou’d be reconcil’d with small Amends,
And, tho’ he shook not Hands, he would be-friends.
Some envious Men thought him dishonest, but
He was not light of Finger or of Foot.
He never pick’d Mens Pockets or their Locks;
Or, if he had, he might defy the Stocks.
The Papist wont believe his Pardon seal’d;
Because he liv’d, and dy’d too, unanneal’d.
He was no Flatterer, nor apt t’applaud,
Spoke civilly to all Men, never claw’d.
Kind in his Actions too, as well as Speech,
And ne’er gave Box o’th’Ear, or Kick o’th’Breech;
Courteous to all, up to the highest Peg;
If you would kiss his hand, he’d make y’a Leg.
Inimitable both Alive and Dead,
No man could ever in his Footsteps tread.
Compliance with all Humours he has shown,
Any Man’s Shoe would fit him as his own.
And yet not to reflect upon his Dust,
He knew not where his own Shoe pinch’d him most.
No Confidence in cunning Men he put,
No Man could get the Measure of his Foot.
And yet some Men did with him grow so bold,
He could not keep ‘em at Arms length, I’m told.
Bookish he was, I speak it to his Praise,
But yet he ne’er thumb’d a Book in all his Days;
And that which very much his sense commends.
His learning was not at his Finger’s Ends.
He could n’t do a Hand’s Turn with Ease,
But what he did was all with Elbow-grease.
As his old Grannam bid him do, he’d cry,
I always with my Elbow scratch my Eye.
He was no Rambler he, but kept the House,
And wealthy grew, but never scrap’d a sous,
Nor was close-fisted more than you or I.
Nor had his Hand upon his Ha’penny;
And yet for fear of debt, or being dipt,
His Money never thro’ his Fingers slipt.
‘Thus safe to trust him, for he never show’d,
A Pair of Heels for what he justly ow’d;
Nor could it welll be said, with any Face,
That being on his last legs was his Case.
Sincere he was, and void of Care and Art;
But never laid his Hand upon his Heart.
And was so little mov’d with Lies or Tales,
He never, for Vexation, bit his Nails.
Some Men, who did not love him, us’d to think,
That, till he cou’d not stand on’s Legs, he’d drink.
But tho’ he never palm’d his Glass, yet some,
Can prove he never drank Supernaculam.
And tho’ in Liquor he some Money spent,
His Legs ne’er cut Indentures as he went.
Some that he lov’d his Gut, for Reason gave,
He only with his Teeth could dig his Grave.
In short time little Failings well might pass,
Since he, ad Unguem, factus Homo, was.

The Epitaph

Here sleeps among good Christians dead,
One. who vi’lent Hand ne’er laid
Upon himself, nor any other;
But was a peaceful harmless Brother:
He neither injur’d Life nor Limb.
Why then should Death lay Hands on him,
But I mistake, Death took no Grip
Of him, nor up his Heels did trip;
But at a Distance shot a Rover,
And tipp’d him (like his Nine pin) over.
One poor Escutcheon in his Due,
Who in his Time so many drew:
Thus, more than when alive he’ll have
Arms and Supporters to his Grave.

Further Information:

James Caulfield's Portraits, Memoirs, and Characters of remarkable persons,
from the Revolution in 1688 to the end of the reign of George II.

(1819-20). 4 vols.

Want to know more? See

The 13 Reasons Why Monsters Appear

According to French surgeon and writer Ambroise Paré (1573) there are several situations that cause monsters:

The first is the Glory of God.
The second, his Anger.
The third, Excess of Seed.
The fourth, too little Seed.
The fifth, the Imagination.
The sixth, the Narrowness or Smallness of the Womb.
The seventh, the indecent Posture of the Mother during Pregnancy; when she has sat too long with the her Legs crossed, or pressed against her Womb.
The eighth, as a result of a Fall, or Blows struck against the womb of the Mother, being with Child.
The ninth, through hereditary or accidental Illnesses.
The tenth, through rotten or corrupt Seed.
The eleventh, through mixture or mingling of seed.
The twelfth, through the Artifice of wicked Beggars.
The thirteenth, through Demons and Devils.

Paré’s Preface explains that Monsters occur outside the course of Nature; but they may still be signs of an impending misfortune. Examples of monsters are those with supplementary or deficient digits, arms, legs, heads.

Marvels are completely against nature, such as a woman giving birth to a serpent or a dog.

Examples of the maimed are

The blind
The one-eyed
The hump-backed
Those who limp
Those with six digits on the hands or feet (or less than five; or fused)
Those with arms too short
The nose too sunken or flat-nosed
Those with thick or inverted lips
Girls with closed genitals or excessive flesh
People bearing spots, warts, or wens

… Or any other thing that is against Nature …

Paré’s book Des Monstres was first published in 1573.

War Against War - Ernst Friedrich

Ernst Friedrich (1894-1967), founder of the Berlin Peace Museum, anarchist and pacifist, was the author of War Against War (1924) which used photographs of mutilated victims of the First World War.

"When the rich make war, it is the poor who die."
— Jean Paul Sartre

"If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities."

"Fight against Capitalism - and you fight against every war!

The battle-field in the factories and the mines, the hero's death in the infirmaries, the mass graves in the barracks, in short, the war, the apparently eternal war, of the exploited against the exploiters!

Do - you not - realise - all - this?

The war against war signifies:

    The war of the victimised against the profiteers!
    The war of the deceived against the deceivers!
    The war of the oppressed against the oppressors!
    The war of the tortured against the torturers!
    The war of the hungry against the well-fed!

From Ernst Friedrich, War Against War (1924)

“He [Ernst Friedrich] printed a unique collection of previously unpublished photographs exposing the horrors of war, and interspersed them with complacent and bombastic utterances by military leaders and imperial politicians.” 

(David Midgley, “Remembering the War” in  Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations: Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front – New Edition, New York: Infobase 2009, p. 131)

Discussing the impact of the First World War, Leah Dickerman has stated that 

'The disparity in effectiveness between methods of killing and those of self-protection led to previously inimagined mutilations of the body, with injuries and deaths of a new kind and unprecedented scale [...] More than twenty million were wounded. Several hundred thousand marked by the greatest disabilities - who suffered disfiguring facial wounds or who had lost limbs and sight - were labeled grand mutilés in French and Schwerkriegsbesächdigte in German. The sight of horrendously shattered bodies of veterans returned to the home front became commonplace. The accompanying growth in the prosthetic industry struck contemporaries as creating a race of half-mechanical men and became an important theme in dadaist work.'

( Dada, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2005, pp. 3-4.)

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)