Monday, 8 August 2011

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Dickens, Disability, Cricket

by Charles Dickens

[Full text with supplementary images]

I KNOW that we English are an angular and eccentric people—a people that the great flatiron of civilisation will take a long time smoothing all the puckers and wrinkles out of— but I was scarcely prepared for the following announcement that I saw the other day in a tobacconist's window near the Elephant and Castle:

On Saturday,
A Cricket Match will be played at the Rosemary Branch,
Peckham Rye,
Eleven One-armed Men and Eleven One-legged
The Match to begin at Eleven o'Clock A.M.

Well, I have heard of eccentric things in my time, thought I, but I think this beats them all. I know we are a robust muscular people, who require vigorous exercise, so that we would rather be fighting than doing nothing. Our youth walk, run, shoot, fish, hunt (break their necks, even, in pursuit of health), tramp the world over, and leave their footprints in Arctic snows and Arabian sands. It is to this outward working of the inner fire that we owe our great circum-navigators, travellers, soldiers, and discoverers. Our English arms have built up half the railways in the world; our emigrants are on every sea; we are the harmless Norsemen of the nineteenth century. We can do (some of us) without working our brains much, but we Saxons must all exert our limbs; we pine if we are pent up at desks and ledgers. We are a race of walkers, sportsmen, travellers, and craftsmen. We are (by our arts and colonising) the peaceful conquerors of the world. The days of the old red-handed conquest being now (as it is generally thought) gone by for ever, here these one-armed men go and caricature the national tendencies.

Such were my patriotic thoughts when I trudged down the Old Kent Road — chiefly remarkable, since the old coaching days, as the former residence of Mr. Greenacre—and made my devious way to Peckham. Under swinging golden hams, golden gridirons, swaying concertinas (marked at a very low figure), past bundles of rusty fire-irons, dirty rolls of carpets, and corpulent dusty feather-beds—past deserted-looking horse-troughs and suburban looking inns, I took my pilgrim way to the not very blooming Rye of Peckham.

Rows of brick boxes, called streets, half-isolated cottages, clung to by affectionate but dusty vines — eventually a canal, where boatmen smoked and had dreams of coming traffic—a sudden outburst of green fields, that made me think I was looking at streets with green spectacles on—brought me to the trim, neat public house known by the pleasant aromatic name of "The Rosemary Branch."

A trim bar-woman, with, perhaps, rather too demonstrative a photograph brooch, stood in front of a row of glass barrels labelled respectively "Shrub," "Bitters," and "Sampson," the latter, I have no doubt, a very strong beverage indeed. Nor did I fail to observe a portrait of the last winner of the Derby over the fireplace, and a little stuffed terrier pup above the glass door leading into the little parlour, where a very comfortable dinner was smoking.

I procured my ticket, and was shown through a deserted billiard-room, and down a back lane, to the cricket-field. I delivered up the blue slip to a very fat man with a child's voice who sat with an air of suffering at the entrance-wicket, and I was in the eccentric creatures' innocent field of battle.

There they were, the one-legged and the one-armed, encamped like two neighbouring armies.

Two potboys, girdled with tucked-up aprons white as the froth of bitter-beer, hurried past me as if to relieve the thirst of men wounded in war. After them came odd men carrying more benches for spectators of the one-armed men's prowess. The one-armed men were having their innings; the fielding of their one-legged adversaries, I could see in a moment, was something painfully wonderful and ludicrously horrible.

Totally indifferent to the mingled humour and horror of the day were the costermongers, who, grouped near the gate, threw a fair-day show over one section of the field. Those mere boys, with hard-lined pale faces and insinuating curls like large fish-hooks on each temple, were totally absorbed in drawing pence from the people of  Peckham now that the bloom, so long expected, was undoubtedly on the Rye. There, were boys shooting down an enormous tin telescope for nuts; there, were men bowling clumsily at enormous wooden-headed ninepins. But the crown of the amusements was that corduroy-sheathed lad who had, with true Derby-day alacrity, stuck four slender sticks into hampers of matted sand, and on those shivery columns poised hairy cocoa-nuts, gilt pincushions, and wooden boxes meretriciously covered. One, two — whiz — whirl; what beautiful illustrations of the force of gravity did those boxes and pincushions furnish at three throws a penny! With what an air of sagacious and triumphant foresight did the proprietor bundle up the cudgels under his arm and gingerly replace the glittering prizes!

But while I dally here the eccentric game proceeds; so, avoiding the cannon-shot of chance balls, I pass across the field to the little windowed shed where the scorer sits opposite to the signal-post that, with its 4—6—2 in large white figures, marks the progress of the game. Some boys are playing with a bundle of the large tin numerals that lie at the foot of the signboard-post. Inside the outer and open part of the shed sit a row of Peckham quidnuncs deeply interested in the game—a game which, if it were all innings, I hold would be almost perfect, but, as it is, I deem to be, on the whole, rather wearisome. I seated myself on a garden-roller kept to level the grass, and watched the game. A man driving two calves out of the way of the players informed me that the proceeds of the game were for the benefit of a one-armed man who was going in when the next wicket went, down.

The players were not all Peckham men; that one-legged bowler, so deft and ready, I found was a well-known musical barber, a great dancer, and I believe a great fisherman, from a distant part of Essex.

The one-legged men were pretty well with the bat, but they were rather beaten when it came to fielding. There was a horrible Holbeinish fun about the way they stumped, trotted, and jolted after the ball. A converging rank of crutches and wooden legs tore down upon the hall from all sides; while the one-armed men, wagging their hooks and stumps, rushed madly from wicket to wicket, fast for a "oner," faster for "a twoer." A lean, droll, rather drunk fellow, in white trousers, was the wit of the one-leg party. "Peggy" evidently rejoiced in the fact that he was the lamest man in the field, one leg being stiff from the hip downwards, and the wooden prop reaching far above the knee.

He did not treat the game so much as a matter of science as an affair of pure fun — of incongruous drollery, with which seriousness was altogether out of place. If there was a five minutes' lull for beer, when the "over" was shouted, Peggy was sure to devote that interval to dancing a double-shuffle in the refreshment tent, where the plates were now being dealt round ready for some future edible game. When he took his place as slip or long-stop, he ran to his post while others walked; or delighted the boys by assuming an air of the intensest eagerness and watchfulness, putting a hand on either knee and bending forward, as if he had sworn that no ball should escape his vigilance; or when a ball did come, by blocking it with his wooden leg, throwing himself on it, or falling over it: an ineviuble result, indeed, with nearly all the one-legged faction, as the slightest abruptness or jerk in movement had the result of throwing then off the perpendicular. I do not think that Peggy stopped a single ball unless it hit him; he generally fell over it and lost it until some comrade stumped up, swore at him, and picked the ball out from between his feet or under his arm.

The one-armed men had a much less invalid and veteran air about them. There was a  shapely lad in a pink Jersey, who, from having his hand off only at the wrist, merely looked at a distance like a stripling with his hand hidden by a long coat-cuff. But then, again, there was a thickset, sturdy fellow, in a blue cap, of the "one-leg" party, who, though he had lost one foot, seemed to run and walk almost as well as ordinary people. Then, again, on the "one-leg" side, there was an ostentatious amount of infirmity in the shape of one or two pale men with crutches, yet everybody appeared merry and good-natured, and determined to enjoy the game to his heart's content; while every time a player made a run, before the dull beat of the bat had died away, there was a shout that made the Peckham welkin ring again, and all the crutches and wooden legs beat tattoos of pure joy and triumph. And when the musical and Terpsichorean barber rattled the wickets or made the balls fly, did not the very plates in the refreshment tent dance with pleasure!

Yet, really, Peggy's conduct was most reprehensible. In spite of his "greyhound-in-the-leash" attitude, he was worse than useless; he kicked at the passing ball, he talked to it, he tumbled down to stop it, but for all the success he attained, he might as well have been away; why, Wilkins, with the long crutches and swinging legs, was three times as useful, though he was slow. I suppose, what with the beer, the heat of the day, the excess of zeal, and the fatigue, Peggy began at last to be pretty well aware that he was not doing much good, for he took to lying a good deal on his back, and to addressing the boys, who buzzed round him like flies, on the necessity of keeping a steady "lookout" at cricket. I do not know what Peggy had been, but he looked like a waterman.

Now, a lad who lost his leg when a baby, as a bystander told me, took up the bat and went in with calm self-reliance, and the game went forward with the usual concomitants. Now come the tips, the misses, the by-balls, the leg hits, the swinging blows that intend so much and do nothing the echoing swashing cuts, the lost balls, the stumpings-out, the blocks, the slow treacherous balls, and the spinning, bruising roundhanders; not that our friends of the one leg and one arm swaddled themselves up in any timid paddings or bandages; they put on no india-rubber tubed gloves, no shelter-knuckles, they don no fluted leggings. What is a blow on the knuckles to a man who has lost a leg or an arm, who has felt the surgeon's saw and the keen double-edged knife? Yet all this time there was rather a ghastly reminder of suffering about the whole affair, to my mind. I could fancy the game played by out-patients in some outlying field of Guy's Hospital. I could believe it a party of convalescents in some field outside Sebastopol. Well, I suppose the fact is, that men don't think much of misfortunes when they are once irretrievable, and that these men felt a pleasure in doing an eccentric thing, in showing how bravely and easily they could overcome an infirmity that to some men appears terrible. After all, one thinks, after seeing such a game, one-legged and one-armed men are not so miserable as people imagine. Nature is kind to us in her compensations.

And all this time my eye was perpetually wandering to that blue bulbing dome and the two little pinnacles, that, though from here no larger than a chimney-piece ornament, is, I have reason to believe, Saint Paul's, some five miles distant as the crow flies. How delicate and clean cut its opaque sapphire—how pleasantly it crowns the horizon! That view of Saint Paul's from the Peckham meadows I can strongly recommend to landscape painters as one of the best, because one of the nearest, suburban views of Saint Paul's. I know it, a little blue mushroom button from Banstead Downs, just cropping up above the grey rim of the horizon, where the dark brown cloud ever lingers to mark out London; I know it, a great palace of air from all the winding reaches of the Thames, but I think I never saw it before so beautiful, so unreal, so visionary, so sublime. It seemed more the presiding'genius of the busy, turbulent, uneasy city. I felt quite a love for the old blue monster; the sight of him moved me as the sight of a great army moves me, or as the sight of a fleet beating out to sea, with their white wings set all one way.

And now looking again to the game—the excitement has become tremendous. A man with crutches is in; he props himself artfully up, while he strikes the ball feebly and with lacklustre stroke. A one-armed man with a wavering sleeve, bowls with his left hand, and makes a complicated business of it: the ball moving in a most eccentric orbit. At the opposite wicket Peggy is enthroned: his attitude is a study for Raphael—intense watchfulness, restless ambition, fond love of glory slightly dashed with inebriation, slightly marred by intoxication, visible in every motion. Alas! the first, fell ball comes and damages his wicket. His perfect disbelief in the reality of such a catastrophe is sublime—it typifies the dogged constancy of a nation that never knows when it is beaten.

The one-arms are rudely exulting as Peggy stumps off, not that he ever made a run, but that the look of the man was so imposing. The one-legs droop, the one-arms throw up their caps, or dance "breakdowns," to give vent to their extreme joy. The outlying one-arms skip and trip, the one-legs put their heads together and mutter detracting observations on the one-armed bowling. "There was no knowing what to make of them balls;" "There was no telling where to have them balls;" "They were a spiteful lot, the one-arms, so cheeky, so braggy;" "But the one-legs knew what's what, and they are going to do the trick yet."

Now the clatter of knives and forks and plates in the refreshment tent grew perfectly alarming; it was like a sale in a china-shop. The players, heedless of such poor sublunary things as boiled beef and greens and the smoke of flowery potatoes, played more like madmen than sober rational cricketers. St. Paul's danced before my eyes as if I was playing cup and ball with it, so dazzled did I get with the flying red ball. The leaping catches were wonderful, the leg-hits admirable, the bowling geometrically wonderful, the tips singularly beautiful; the ball smashed at the palings, dashed into thorn bushes, lost itself, broke plates in the refreshment tent, nearly stunned the scorer, knocked down a boy, flew up in the air like a mad thing. As for Peggy's balustrade leg, had he not occasionally screwed it off to cool himself, it would have been shivered into a thousand pieces. You would have thought, indeed, that the bowler mistook his unfortunate "stick leg" for the wicket, he let fly at it so often and so perversely. But in vain all skill and energy; the one-legs could not get at the ball quick enough, their fielding was not first-rate, the one-arms made a gigantic effort, forged fourteen runs ahead, and won. Peggy performed a pas seul expressive of hopeless despair, and stumped off for a pot of stout.

All the Year Round (October 5, 1861), pp. 33-36

Blog 30/1000

Friday, 5 August 2011



'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
    The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
    The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
    Long time the manxome foe he sought--
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
    And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
    The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
    And burbled as it came!

One two! One two! And through and through
    The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
    He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
    Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
    He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe. 

A Poem by Lewis Carroll (Charles L. Dodgson)

From Through the Looking-Glass, 1871


Carnivorous Plant Digests a Bird

The BBC reports that a carnivorous plant has killed a blue tit at a garden nursery in Somerset, UK. (5 August 2011)

"The pitcher plant is a genus of Nepenthes from South East Asia which attracts and traps insects in a pool of liquid which it then digests."

Other common victims are rats,  mice, frogs and lizards.

Hungarian Conjoined Twins

 Hungarian Sisters, Helen and Judith, were born in 1701 at Szony in Hungary. Placed in a convent at 9 years.

Here are some "Verses" inscribed on a bronze statuette of them:

Two sisters wonderful to behold, who have thus grown as one,
That naught their bodies can divide, no power beneath the sun.
The town of Szoenii gave them birth, hard by far-famed Komorn,
Which noble fort may all the arts of Turkish sultans scorn.
Lucina, woman's gentle friend, did Helen first receive;
And Judith, when three hours had passed, her mother's womb did leave.
One urine passage serves for both; - one anus, so they tell;
The other parts their numbers keep, and serve their owners well.
Their parents poor did send them forth, to world to travel through,
That this great wonder of the age should not be hid from view.
The inner parts concealed do lie hid from our eyes, alas!
But all the body here you view erect in solid brass.
(See Fisher, Transactions of the Medical Society of the State of New York, 1866).

You can also find an image of them here.

Examples of Medieval Monsters:

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The Plymouth Monster - Conjoined Twins

Examples of conjoined twins from Pare
A true and certain relation of a strange birth which was 
born at Stonehouse in the parish of Plymouth, 
the 20th of October, 1635. 

Together with the notes of a sermon preached October 23rd, 1635 
in the church of Plymouth at the interring of the said birth: 
by Thomas Bedford, B.D. London, 

printed by Anne Griffin for Anne Bowler, 
dwelling at the Marigold in St- Paul's Churchyard, 1635. 

To the curious beholder of the former picture [not the one above]
Dear countryman, 

Not the mere fiction of the over-daring picturer dost thou here behold, but if he hath done his part, the true portraiture of the work of God, presented to the world to be seen and to be admired.

Two things I have to deliver to thine ear, which this figure cannot convey unto thine eye. First, what it intendeth; next, how thou mayest correct the picture, if it need amending.

For the first, it intendeth to acquaint thee with this story. In the county of Devon, and in the parish of the famous town of Plymouth, there is a village called Stonehouse; viculum piscatorium I may justly term it, a pretty little fishertown, for it consisteth mostly of men that live by the sea and gain their livelihood by the water. In this village there dwelleth one John Persons, a fisherman whose wife, having fulfilled the usual months and weeks of women's burdens, upon the twentieth day of this present month, October, fell in travail, and by the help of a second midwife, (through God's mercy and goodness), was the poor mother, (after the weary travail of thirteen or fourteen painful hours), safely delivered of the burden. A birth not more painful to the mother, (though very painful doubtless, being still born), than strange and wonderful to all the beholders. The eye is not satisfied with seeing with admiration, and, as it falleth out in such a case, soon is the fame thereof spread all abroad. Town and country cometh to see, that hereafter they might, as for my part must, say, I saw the strangest birth in all respects that ever I saw or heard before. Two heads and necks, two backs and sets of ribs, four arms and hands, four thighs and legs; in a word, from head to heel (so far as the eye could discern), two complete and perfect bodies, but concorporate and joined together from breast to belly, two in one.

For the second thing propounded, viz. how to correct the picture, if it need amendment, take this. When I first cast mine eye upon them lying on the table I said, surely if those children had been living, art might have caused a just separation of them, for I conceived them to be no other than two bodies joined together in one common skin. But I soon perceived mine error when putting my finger to feel the collar, the collar bone, (I mean that place where you see them begin to join together), I found that they had but one breast bone common to them both, and by it, as by a partition wall, were their two bodies, (as two chambers), both joined and separated in respect of the internal contents. This concorporation lasted down to the navel, or a little beneath, which also was in common to them both, (I still speak of what the eye could see), happily so soon as that string of the umbilical vessels by which the mother's womb supplied food and nourishment to the birth had passed the skin, it might dispart itself. But outwardly it was one in common. Whence also it was conjectured that though these twins might have several hearts and lungs answerable to their several heads and necks, yet but one common liver to them both. The truth of this conjecture I leave to the College of Physicians to discover that is not my profession, nor will I presume to determine anything in another's art - only this objection I have against it: that supposing one common liver; it must either gird them round or be misplaced in one of them, for turning breast to breast and belly to belly, you join the left side of the one body to the right side of the other, so that I say except the liver do compass it round, it shall be misplaced in the one.

But to return to the story. These two twins were not more nearly joined in the bulk of body than they were in all parts and proportions like to one another where they were disparted, so that two the likest twins that ever you saw were not more like; nay, the glass cannot, (I think), give a truer answer to the face than these were each to other. Which I do the more boldly affirm, because having satisfied mine eye with beholding them on the one side as they lay, I caused the women to turn the other side, and laying them as before, face to face and foot to foot, I could perceive no difference in them at all from what I had seen before. One thing I forgot till it was too late, which I had remembered, I verily persuade myself might have been done, viz., to lay them one upon another. The which I mention, lest happily any might conceive that the jointure of their bodies might lean to one side more than to another. I was about to ask the women whether the mother felt them living in the womb, when presently I corrected myself, seeing each part and limb, yea, and the whole body of either grown, (as indeed it was), to a just maturity. Each by himself, had they been sundered, had been a just birth, having hair on the heads, nails on their hands and toes, nay, which is more, (except the women were much deceived), they had some teeth in their head, and to confess the truth, I thought so too, till some others that had more skill and experience persuaded me to the contrary. Howsoever, the children were each of them as complete and perfect as births use to be.

Upon these grounds I corrected myself in my former intended question, for how should they grow to that perfection of stature had they wanted life? But the midwife and the women told me that they were living and lively some few hours before they were born, so that in all likelihood, had a skilful hand been made use of at the first, they might have lived to see the light, if not to enjoy it. But God, that gave them life and being in the womb, knowing that life upon earth would have been a burden to them, provided better for them, and took them to himself.

Thus have I given a true, and I think, a full narration of this work of wonder which God hath showed here amongst us. And with it, I am content to send abroad some few notes prepared for the confluence of people met together when this birth was laid unto the earth. Something methought was fitting to be commended to them that saw it while the thing was fresh in mind, and that something, such as it is, lo, here it is. Rather would I shame myself in being over busy than be wanting in what I conceit may not be unprofitable to the country wherein I live. Read then these notes, and if thou count not this half hour ill bestowed, thou wilt I trust, (I desire thou wouldst), pray for him, who if thou love the Lord Jesus in sincerity, prayeth for thee that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.


Plymouth, October 30th, 1635.

Hebrews 11 v.3. “Being dead, yet speaketh.”

As the Word of God, so the works of God are for our doctrine and instruction. The works of creation teach us, saith St. Paul, God’s eternal powerhead and Godhead. The works of providence, but much more remarkable in those that are extraordinary, when either the course of nature is hindered, as the sea and sun stopped in the midst of their carrier, or altered as when the sun went backward in the days of Hezekiah. Touching which, saith the Psalmist, "He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered", or as the words stand in the original and the Greek translation, a memorial hath he made to his wonderful works, id est, he hath ordained and commanded that they should be remembered. Good reason, that where God with his finger pointeth forth something in special to the sons of men, they should follow it with the eye of the body, till the eye of the soul, viz., the understanding spirit, have thence received some instruction.

Not only the other creatures, but also the sons of men are otherwhiles made the object of these wonderful works of God: or if you had rather call it the subject matter on which he stampeth the marks of his providence, either in hindering or in altering the ordinary course of nature, sometimes in the conception, sometimes in the births of our expected and desired issue.

Conception I count the natural and proper work of the womb, in receiving, retaining, and ripening the seed for the birth. The womb is, by the hand of God, sometimes closed up, that it receiveth not, as in the case of Abimilech's family, (Genesis 20), sometimes opened, or rather loosened, that it retaineth not, as in the case of abortive and untimely births, sometimes weakened, that it ripeneth not the birth, either not at all, or at least not within the just time. And all these do teach us the presence of God's providence. Well may we say the hand of God hath been there. It is he that thus hath hindered the work of the womb and withheld the blessing of a good conception. So for the birth.

Birth I must call that which properly and from the Latin we might call parturition. This doth God by the hand of his special providence hinder sometimes in part, sometimes in whole, so that whereas all times of the woman's travail and labour are full of sorrow, yea, (as the philosopher saith, Aristotle, De Historia Animalibus, Lib. 7, cap. 9, and the scripture itself doth confirm the same), more full of difficulty and danger than any other creature's, (an evident demonstration of the hand of God visiting the first sin of our grandmother Eve upon all the sex). Whereas I say all times are full of sorrow: of fear and frightfulness some do receive an increase and multiplication by such accidents supervenient and unexpected dangers of births not capable of deliverance till God, by the hand of special art, vouchsafed his gracious help and good assistance. Of these therefore, as of the former, well may we say, digitus dei; it is the finger of God that hath been here and manifested his presence by hindering the common and ordinary course of nature in the birth of the womb.

As in hindering, so also in altering and changing the course of nature, doth God call man to an observation of his providence, nay, here more than in anything else doth he show forth his works of wonder - understand me still to speak of the conception and of the births of the sons of men. What variety of strange births do we see and hear of! Strange births we call them: more properly we might term them strange conceptions, for what the womb in conception formeth, that is not usually altered in the birth. 

What variety, I say, of strange births do we see and hear of! Strange in the quantity of (a) stature strange in the (b) number of parts, strange in the (c) multiplication, strange in the (d) concorporation of several births, but above all, most strange in (e) quality and kind altered and changed. All these, but especially this latter sort, which alter the quality and kind, the Latins call monstra a monstrando, quia monstrantur: I would add ur monstrent. They are showed that they may show the special handiwork of God, and though, peradventure, dead, yet speak, and tell the forgetful world that God himself hath a special hand in forming and featuring the births conceived in the womb. Here, by the way, let me touch upon a case of conscience or two. Whether monsters and misshapen births may lawfully be carried up and down the country for sights to make a gain by them; whether the births being once dead may be kept from the grave for the former ends; whether the parents of such births may sell them to another. For my part, I would be loath to prejudice the better and moral judgements of any. But to speak plainly, I do make scruple of the first, and therefore much more of the two latter cases. For if not living they are to be prostituted to the covetousness of any, much less being dead when the grave calls for the bodies of all christian births: the grave I say, wherein they are to be laid up that therein they may lay down the present dishonour and thence be raised again in glory. And if the parents may not do this, how much less may they deliver it over to another? But you will say to me, suppose them living; why may they not be used to this end, being fit for none employment? My reasons are these. Our delight is to be measured by our desires, nor do I see it lawful to delight in what may not be desired. And who would desire a misshapen birth to be the issue of his own body? Add this: all crosses call for humiliation, and where that is expected, I see not how there can be place either for profit or pleasure to be thought upon.

But to return again to what we had in hand. These births, (as I said), though dead, yet speak and preach to the world the present hand of God in the womb of the mother.
In all these accidents and occasions the philosophers, (and physicians also who build upon the ground of philosophy, nor can well subsist without them), they, I say, would attribute all these impeditions and alterations of nature to secondary causes, either internal, as the defectiveness or excess of seminal materials, or external, as in the dullness of the formative faculty, or the indisposedness of the vessels, or strength of conceit or imagination.

The astrologer may add another cause, powerful in his opinion, to pervert and overthrow the good intentions of nature, sc., the constellations of the planets and configuration or their aspects. And happily, they may pitch upon some reasons for the coalition of these two twins into one. Nor do we deny but the philosopher may be allowed in these his conjectures, nor may he seem to shoot beside the mark that should ascribe it to some accident, colliding and dashing these two new-formed embryones in the womb, casting them so one upon the other as that the contiguity and overmuch closeness of their bodies caused the aforesaid coalition: so have we seen two trees over-closely leaning one upon another grow into one and covered with one bark. The philosopher, I say, may seem to speak reason, (not so the astrologer, at least in mine opinion). Only he and others must be entreated to look higher and to take notice of the special hand of God whose work alone it is to sort and compounds the activities of secondary causes; that what might have been otherwise is now thus disposed of for ends best known to himself.

This is the conclusion which religion teacheth and which it becometh me as a divine to put you in mind of. The astrologer is taught to say, astra regunt homines: the influence of the stars do rule the actions of the sons of men. But the christian knoweth that regit astra Deus: God over-ruleth the stars. So that if we should grant an influence in the planets, and a power in the constellations, yet far be it from us to account it fatal and inalterable. No, we know that God sitteth in the heavens and doth whatsoever he will. David in the Psalms ascribeth to his hand the framing of his body and members in the wombet. "Thine hands have made me and fashioned me. Thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. Thine eyes," (saith he), "did see my substance yet being imperfect, and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned," or (as it is in the margent), "all of them written what days they should be fashioned," when as yet there was none of them. To him therefore belongeth the disposing of the materials and shaping of the birth. Now then, is God so tied to his materials that if there be too much for one, or too little for two complete and perfect features, he can neither detract nor multiply? Must his work be cut off with what the philosopher saith of nature, lavendit quod optimum facit tamen id quod pot est, that is, nature intendeth perfection, but being hindered doth what she can?

Let no man therefore tax me of any excess in religious thoughts, or count it overmuch/ curiosity, if I propound to you an observation or two grounded upon this and the like occasions. Each comet, (as experience hath taught me), is in its kind doctrinal and blazeth forth something or other worthy our observation. Nec in vivum toties arsere cometa: seldom are those superterrestial blazes kindled in vain. Men do commonly count them praenunti belli et calamitatum, forerunners of some imminent calamities, and therefore do call upon one another to appease the wrath of God by fasting and humilation.

I shall not therefore, I hope, transcend the limits of my calling, nor wrong the providence of God, if I take liberty to say, touching this strange birth which God hath caused to blaze here amongst us, and from us to the whole country, to say of it as the apostle saith of the blood of Abel, being dead it yet speaketh. What did or doth the blood of Abel speak, but the irreversible wrath of God against all willful and malicious persecutors of religious persons? I do not say this speaketh so bitter things, but yet it speaketh something in common with the rest of strange and misshapen births, and if I deceive not myself overmuch, something in peculiar by itself. So then, it speaketh two things, perhaps more, but two I pitch upon, not averring them both spoken with the same evidence, but both truly, and which is more, seasonably.

First then this, and all monstrous and misfeatured births speak this: that it is a singular mercy of God when the births of the womb are not misformed, when they receive their fair and perfect feature. A lesson truly worth the noting in this forgetful age; mercies that are ordinary we swallow and take small notice of them. Such a work as this causeth us to see what difference there is betwixt comeliness and deformity, betwixt perfection and imperfection in the body. Doth any make scruple of what I say? Let that man consider the discomfort of deformity, how liable it is daily to exprobation through the evil custom of wicked men, more ready to cast it in the teeth than condole or commiserate, if God hath stamped a deformity upon the body.

Know we not that the members of the body are the organs and instruments of the soul in the service of God and man? Defect or excess must needs breed grief because it createth trouble. Consider we this birth thus double-membered; to have seen them lying upon the table, to see them decyphered upon the paper, might happily be thought a sight not much unpleasant. But let your imagination give them life, and tell me how uncomfortable, yea, burthensome, must they be to others, yea, and to themselves, whenas though two, yet so near incorporated that the one cannot help the other. How should they eat, sleep, walk, sit, or satisfy nature, but with much incumbrance? Is it then discomfort to have a mark of deformity or disadvantage cast upon the births of the womb? And is it not a singular mercy to have them born complete in shape and feature? Doubtless it is.

All reason therefore is that this mercy of God unto us in the issue of our loins should be acknowledged with all thankfulness. If other mercies, why not this? The husbandman when he hath his corn and wine increased, when housed, the merchant when his venture is returned, the owner when his ship is arrived and both have made a good voyage; if there be any religion dwelling in their breasts, will in a solemn manner confess before the sons of men the loving kindness of the Lord. When women have received safe deliverance from the great pains and perils of childbirth, the Church doth call them (and surely it had need to call them), to give hearty thanks to God: and ought not this also to be remembered, that the children born give hope of comfort to their parents? Hope, I say, that a fair and well-featured body may be the comfortable house and habitation of an holy soul? Doubtless it ought. Doth not David intimate so much in the aforementioned Psalm when he saith, "I will praise thee for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvellous are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well"?

Know we not that God hath just cause to blast every birth of ours if he would be extreme? Partly in respect of the abuse of the bed, which, though he hath sanctified to the use of man by the benediction of the Church, that so in the sober use thereof everyone should possess his vessel in sanctification and honour, yet it is too often riotously and wantonly abused. Partly, I say, for these abuses, but specially in respect of that original corruption which cleaveth to the fruit of the womb, even from the first conception, as the Psalmist showeth. From this guilt and filth not one of all the race of Adam is exempted. No sooner do we receive a being, but it is accompanied with sinfulness. In which respect, who can deny but God might justly blast the body with deformity? Which if he do not when he might, is it not a favour, and so to be acknowledged? We acknowledge it a special favour to the soul, (as it is reason we should), that God doth exempt any from that common damnation which is due to all by Adam's transgression. And is it not to be confessed a mercy to the body? For why? When the body doth want its perfect feature, when the soul doth want the exercise of wit and reason, more or less is not this an effect of sin, and so to be accounted? Doth God in this anything more than what justice doth allow? Shall we say it is an act of his absolute dominion? I trow not. What is justly done to some, is it not mercy to do to others? Yes, (my dearly beloved), it is mercy, free and undeserved mercy. O that in this also as in other things, I say, O that men would therefore praise the Lord for his goodness and for his wonderful works to the sons of men!

Contrarily, when the hand of justice hath found any out, when any birth of ours is brought into the world misformed and misfeatured, if God hath, (as it were), spit in the face and laid the black finger of deformity upon the body, ought it not to be entertained with sorrow of the heart and humiliation? Hath God written in great letters the guilt of sin, and in a deformed body drawn aresemblance of the soul's deformity; drawn it, (I say), so that others may see and know that we also are defiled in his sight, and shall we not blush to hear it, to see it thus cast in our teeth, and laid before us?

This for the parties, but is this all? Is it nothing to you all that pass by or that come to see? Methinks it should. Can you, any of you, wash your hands in innocency? Are not you also sinners in the sight of God? What can you allege why this might not have been yours? Did you prevent it by prayer? I trust you will hereafter, and acknowledge the justness of their devotion who remember women with child, but happily you have not hitherto thought upon it. If so, if God might have thrown the Tower of Siloam upon your heads also, if set a mark of his displeasure upon your births and yet hath not done it. Will you not see and say, "The Lord hath done great things for us. Lord, what amI that thou hast spared me? Am I more holy, less sinful than my neighbour? No, no, it is thy free mercy and undeserved favour. O enlarge my heart to praise thy name"?

Here then see and bewail the iniquity and irreligion of this our age, at least of numbers in the same. The common sort make no further use of the prodigies and strange births than as a matter of wonder and table talk, look upon them with none other eyes than with which they would behold an African monster, a misshapen beast. It was not thus in the better ages of the world. We read in the ninth chapter of St John that the disciples when they saw the man that was born blind, they come to our blessed Saviour with, "Quis peccavit; Master, who hath sinned?" See the religion of those times! They looked upon sin as the cause of defective or redundant births. Truth indeed, our Saviour answereth, "Neither this man nor his parents". By which speech of Christ we must not think that they are excused from all sin. Doubtless his parents had sinned, and conceived him in sin, else had not this been cast upon him: no place for defects and deformities in the state of innocence. But why God should take the forfeiture in this rather than in his neighbor, this was merely Dei bene placit; the good pleasure of God, who had in this a purpose to prepare and make way for the glory of Christ in curing the man.

The same happily might be said in these occasions whereof we speak. To the question, quis peccavit; (who hath sinned), happily Christ, (who was acquainted with the counsels of his father), might answer, neque hic; neque parentes, (neither he nor his parents), not to exempt them from sin altogether, but to teach us that some other end and purpose God had beside the visitation of their sin, (though that also we find sometimes to be manifested, when God by such occasions doth awaken the conscience to confess secret and unbewailed sins). Beside, I say, the visitation of sin,sometimes to discover the atheism, irreligion of many; perhaps also their covetousness, who would rather make a benefit of such births, and instead of humiliation for a cross, teach the parents to account such births for blessings which do prove so profitable; sometimes to prompt unto the ministry a word of exhortation needful for the present state of the people, a meditation which happily his text would not afford him. This lesson, as you see, is by this occasion prompted to me, presented to you, that you remember hereafter to acknowledge it as a mercy when children come into the world well-featured, the members of their body in a due proportion aptly each to other corresponding, neither defective or redundant; to bewail it as a cross from God when it is otherwise, that so penitency may provide a remedy either of the deformity by the hand of man, or of the discomfort by the stroke of death. This lesson, I say, is now presented to you and I trust will be remembered by you, and if so, the answer to the question may go on as it is in the words of our Saviour: neither this man nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

To wind up this first observation in a word, I noted the religion of the disciples: they look up to sin as to the cause of God's hand. Nor shall it misbecome us to do the like, provided alway that it be, (what they forgot), in our own occasion rather than in another's. Do I suffer? Let me say, "Lord, I have sinned; thou art just". Doth another suffer? Let me say, "Lord, thou art merciful to me; this case might have been mine. Blessed be thy name forever!"

Something long have I stood upon this because I am sure this is a lesson which all monstrous and misshapen births, though dead, yet speak for the instruction of the living. I will dispatch the other more briefly, which may seem to be peculiar to this one in respect of the shape thereof.

The twins you see are males; brothers had they been born alive. To love as brethren is the duty of christians, a duty frequently remembered by the apostles, and powerfully pressed. To love is to have one soul in two bodies; one not so much by union of essence as by combination of affection. And lo, here is a fit resemblance of this mutual duty, as fit, as lively, almost as can be devised. Here are all the parts and members of consultation and operation for two persons; only here is one body, one breast, one belly. The breast is the seat of the heart, the belly of the bowels. One, I say, not in the identity of substance, but in the conglutination of external parts from breast to belly: whether one heart, one liver, one community of intestines is more than we could see, though all reason indeed giveth them to be two throughout in all parts, yet you see so two in one that had they lived to the years of expression, we might well have expected from them united hearts, entire affections, and more than sympathy, each to other as to himself. Surely these are not more nearly conjoined in breast and belly than christians ought to be in heart and affection. These two were one body; christians are one spirit, though several bodies and souls, yet one and the same spirit diffused into all to enliven and quicken all. Nor would it have been more prodigious for these twins, (suppose they had lived to be men), to have quarrelled and contested one against another than it is for christians to quarrel and contend, specially to live in the mind of irreconcilation. To these twins, (had they quarrelled), a man might have said, "You are one body": to christians a man may well say, "You are one spirit: why do you wrong one to another?" Was that an argument in all reason fit to compound the supposed differences of these? And shall not this be able to persuade peace, nay love, among christians? Methinketh it should. Nay, I am sure, if this do not prevail, the faulty person shall one day smart for it, perhaps when repentance for it will come too late.
Well, I have now acquainted you with my thoughts. I have showed to you how this birth, though dead, yet speaketh. Truth it is: faith alone hath ears to hear these lessons, these instructions. Nature is deaf and reason dull in these occasions. A brutish man knoweth not, neither doth a fool understand. Faith quickeneth the understanding to apprehend, the will to believe, the affections to take pleasure in these meditations.

Which faith, since it is the gift of God, let us now turn ourselves to him to bestow upon us the gift of faith, and all graces, by which we may learn to make an holy use, as of all his works in general, so of this and the like in special, to the glory of his name, and the eternal comfort of our own souls, through Jesus Christ our Lord. To whom, with the Father and the blessed Spirit, Three excellent Persons, one glorious God, be ascribed all honour and praise now, and for evermore, Amen.


No. 25/1000 

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Monster Jockey Within Reason

Having begun to populate and stock my Monster Observatory; and having begun in media res, I owe the reader, or watcher, some form of explanation. What is it all for? To unravel the causes and to engage in post hoc justification is a tricky business. Intuitive foresight and thoughtful retrospectives are timely but difficult while it’s all still in process. We reach for Montaigne’s mercurial practice and retreat from systematic enterprises.

And the monsters keep popping up; at every turn more grotesque specimens appear to view. The project begins to celebrate the unfinished as a condition of humanity, of grand ambitions and heroic failure. It becomes clear that there’s insufficient time to incorporate the multiplying forms and twisted perceptions that deviate from the normal. Is it churlish and rude to begin to exclude? Like Sterne’s narrator in Tristram Shandy, life proceeds at a faster pace than written narratives can accommodate, and the voice of the author, the being of the composer, risks being stuck in embryonic form; a disembodied proto-phenomenon, more monstrous and unfinished than the products exhibited.

If the loosely constructed rationales are judged to be multiple, fluid, and contradictory, then I must claim or plead a degree of decorum with the subject matter – the slippery and unstable world of cultural teratology. Then there’s the curious matter of blogging, and the untold and unthought pre-history of the activity. The table-books and miscellanies spring to mind as collections of oddity and curiosity. More than that is the notion of precursors to social media as a more general project of subjectivized memory, entertainment, education and transmission of potential ephemera. And fleeting but remarkable phenomena.

Let me here make claim to the role of the MJ. You are familiar with the DJ? He or she is raised now to celebrity, wealth and cult status after the gentleman amateur days of disco, birthday parties, retirements and weddings. They were the Lords of Misrule in a Carnival of Ecstasy. Moving on creatively, we have learned to know the VJ, or “video jockey” who creatively manipulates and selects images, in support of, or potentially displacing the sonic mastery of the DJ. It’s a fitting addition to our digital visual era and a new variety of showpersonship.

To the DJ and VJ let’s add the Monster Jockey, a collector of the preternatural; trawler of margins and doodledom; learned in the manipulation or selection of monsters. Accordingly, we MJs assemble our collections with an ear and an eye to pleasurable sequencing, transitions, and collisions. Here is a shocking and delightful communality; a shape-shifting miscellany; day by day the MJ provides a proto-historical realtime mix of content from a "library of monsters."

Let us not forget that long before the building of cinemas it was the fairs and freak-shows that exhibited the permutations and spectacles of teratology alongside the technologies of film. Freaks are consumption, chasing and swallowing their own tails in a state of interminable process and circulation. Monster discworlds. A festival of teratology.

The freak-infested flows of the Blogdom universe provide opportunities for monstrous interactivity, illicit combinations, offering new materials, or recycling old. With delight we welcome the entry of new blogfreaks who set up performances spaces and new avenues opened in the Monster Observatory.

Any requests? Has anyone got a map?

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The Two Jokers

The Joker takes many forms and shapes. Evil is a slippery business.

Let's briefly consider two jokers. The first is familiar from Batman and might be described as

the Clown Prince of Crime (or Chaos),
the Harlequin of Hate (Havoc),the Ace of Knaves

In combat he deploys poisons and explosives as well as comic weapons such as bladed playing cards. In  many cases his victims die laughing, as a result of his Joker Venom

"a deadly poison that infects his victims with a ghoulish rictus grin as they die while laughing uncontrollably."

(The risus sardonicus is a sustained involuntary facial grin possibly caused by tetanus or strychnine.)

The other joker, and origin for the one familiar from Batman, is L'homme Qui Rit 
 (The Man Who Laughs, 1869) a novel by Victor Hugo, and a film of 1928.

The monster protagonist Gwynplaine has been disfigured in infancy by the comprachicos (child buyers/traders)

Let's end the blog with an image from the book and a quotation describing Gwynplaine

L'Homme Qui Rit.



Nature had been prodigal of her kindness to Gwynplaine. She had bestowed on him a mouth opening to his ears, ears folding over to his eyes, a shapeless nose to support the spectacles of the grimace maker, and a face that no one could look upon without laughing.

We have just said that nature had loaded Gwynplaine with her gifts. But was it nature? Had she not been assisted?

Two slits for eyes, a hiatus for a mouth, a snub protuberance with two holes for nostrils, a flattened face, all having for the result an appearance of laughter; it is certain that nature never produces such perfection single-handed.

But is laughter a synonym of joy?

If, in the presence of this mountebank—for he was one—the first impression of gaiety wore off, and the man were observed with attention, traces of art were to be recognised. Such a face could never have been created by chance, it must have resulted from intention. Such perfect completeness is not in nature. Man can do nothing to create beauty, but everything to produce ugliness. A Hottentot profile cannot be changed into a Roman outline, but out of a Grecian nose you may make a Calmuck's. It only requires to obliterate the root of the nose, and to flatten the nostrils. The dog Latin of the middle ages had a reason for its creation of the verb denasare. Had Gwynplaine when a child been so worthy of attention that his face had been subjected to transmutation? Why not? Needed there a greater motive than the speculation of his future exhibition? According to all appearance, industrious manipulators of children had worked upon t his face. It seemed evident that a mysterious and probably occult science, which was to surgery what alchemy was to chemistry had chiseled his flesh, evidently at a very tender age, and manufactured his countenance with premeditation. That science, clever with the knife, skilled in obtusions and ligatures, had enlarged the mouth, cut away the lips, laid bare the gums, distended the ears, cut the cartilages, displaced the eyelids and the cheeks, enlarged the zygomatic muscle, pressed the scars and cicatrices to a level, turned back the skin over the lesions whilst the face was thus stretched, from all which resulted that powerful and profound piece of sculpture, the mask, Gwynplaine.

Ian McCormick's Blog No. 23

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

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Spectacle of Deformity: Freak Shows and Modern British Culture



The Spectacle of Deformity: Freak Shows and Modern British Culture

By Nadja Durbach.
University of California Press (2009)

Publisher's description

In 1847, during the great age of the freak show, the British periodical Punch bemoaned the public's “prevailing taste for deformity.” This vividly detailed work argues that far from being purely exploitative, displays of anomalous bodies served a deeper social purpose as they generated popular and scientific debates over the meanings attached to bodily difference. Nadja Durbach examines freaks both well-known and obscure including the Elephant Man; “Lalloo, the Double-Bodied Hindoo Boy,” a set of conjoined twins advertised as half male, half female; Krao, a seven-year-old hairy Laotian girl who was marketed as Darwin's “missing link”; the ”Last of the Mysterious Aztecs” and African “Cannibal Kings,” who were often merely Irishmen in blackface. Upending our tendency to read late twentieth-century conceptions of disability onto the bodies of freak show performers, Durbach shows that these spectacles helped to articulate the cultural meanings invested in otherness--and thus clarified what it meant to be British—at a key moment in the making of modern and imperial ideologies and identities.


List of Illustrations
Introduction: Exhibiting Freaks

1. Monstrosity, Masculinity, and Medicine: Reexamining “the Elephant Man”
2. Two Bodies, Two Selves, Two Sexes: Conjoined Twins and “the Double-Bodied Hindoo Boy
3. The Missing Link and the Hairy Belle: Evolution, Imperialism, and “Primitive” Sexuality
4. Aztecs and Earthmen: Declining Civilizations and Dying Races
5. “When the Cannibal King Began to Talk”: Performing Race, Class, and Ethnicity

Conclusion / The Decline of the Freak Show


“This is a marvelously researched and engagingly written work of history.”—Bulletin of the History of Medicine

"Nadja Durbach's work generates fresh insights on familiar phenomena such as the Elephant Man, but pushes its enquiry substantially further, extracting significant conclusions from other sensational but hitherto critically unplumbed wonders of the showman's world in the nineteenth century. An excellent piece of historical research."—Peter Bailey, author of Popular Culture and Performance in the Victorian City

Staging Stigma


Michael M. Chemers, with a  Foreword  by Jim Ferris,  Staging Stigma: A Critical Examination of the American Freak Show (Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History), Palgrave Macmillan 2008.

Chemers argues that the freak show

is not an accidental symptom of a general tendency to marginalize persons with disabilities, by a strategic, even premeditated, process of stigma management. Often (but not always) mercenary and exploitative, freak shows nevertheless represent successful attempts by disabled people (and other stigmatized individuals) to gain control of the process of stigmatization. (Chemers 19)

Some readers may find his observations challenging; his view, for instance that we 

“are attracted to freak shows because they are discourses not only of deviance but of getting away with deviance" 

(Chemers 137).


Introduction: The Ugly Word
Staging Stigma
Prurience and Propriety
Enlightenment and Wonder
Pathology and Prodigy
Exploitation and Transgression
Conclusion: God's Own Artwork 

Grotesque Racial Stereotypes

I've just been watching the BBC Shakespeare version of Titus Andronicus. The play is one of The Bard's earliest writings and the action is grotesque and violent on many levels of the physical and the psychological. It reminded me how much the placing of Shakespeare within "classical" literature and the "heritage industry" conceals and erases the shocking and disturbing elements of his work.

Let's recall that the 2006 performances of Titus at the Globe Theatre in London required public warnings and reassurances: more spectators than usual were reported to have fainted during the performance. I'll be devoting a blog to the topic of "consuming violence" and Shakespeare's Theatre of Cruelty at a later date.

Notably, Titus also features a black villain called Aaron, who is perhaps a precursor to the other flawed black killer, and monster of jealousy, Othello.

But we need to be careful in rushing in with comparisons. In a sense, the successor to Aaron is not Othello but Iago, and the "dark matter" is the art of plotting; the dexterity of dissimulation; the playwright's craft. The crafty villain is a theatre artist and his curious plotting mirrors the author's trade.

It's also worth noting that we are often faced in Shakespeare with roles and allegorical typologies, rather than fully embodied characters (in the shape we are accustomed to encountering them since the emergence of novel forms and the discourses of the individual subjectivity/consciousness in the eighteenth century.) Character often becomes caricature where there is a lack of depth or complexity. Reduction is part of the satirist's art and a dangerous form tool of propaganda and oppression.

But I would still suggest that in the later plays, the black/white embodiment of the "other" is more nuanced and less schematic; it is less stereotypical, as we might say. In The Tempest, Caliban is far more complex than his earlier incarnations, and perhaps more difficult to write off or write out. He is less black, for one thing. In his monstrosity he is paradoxically on show and yet difficult to see, to make sense of. A close examination of the language of the play suggests a polymorphous creature whose true nature is difficult to grasp. He stakes his claim to an island; resists the assimilation of an oppressor's language, and ends up with an ambiguous acknowledgement from Prospero ("this thing of darkness I acknowledge mine") V.i.275-6.

As I hinted earlier, the creativity and art-artifice of evil springs out of a kind of darkness. As Aaron confesses in Act II

Away with slavish weeds and servile thoughts!
I will be bright and shine in pearl and gold

The results are to be achieved by a "policy and stratagem" (II.i.104) and "coin[ing] a stratagem" (II.iii.5) which is also the wicked villainy of a hunchback prince such as Richard III, or a crafty Machiavelli. Aaron is rich in cunning but he does not have a monopoly on the theatre of cruelty that dominates the drama.The spectacle of violence is shocking and repulsive, but the language of cunning and cruelty has a poetic justice that is seductive and tempting.

Does Shakespeare's racial and segmented world and its people turn out to be more or less complex than the dreadful stereotypes that a later age was able to produce and enforce? How do the options for a Calibanesque freak show compare with subsequent versions of the black monstrous other? Let's turn the recollection of cases of freakery in Carson McCuller's The Member of the Wedding:

The Wild Nigger came from a savage island. He squatted in his booth among the dusty bones and palm leaves and he ate raw living rats. The fair gave a free admission to his show to all who brought rats of the right size … The Wild Nigger knocked the rat’s head over his squatted knee and ripped off the fur and crunched and gobbled and flashed his greedy Wild Nigger eyes. Some said that he was not a genuine Wild Nigger, but a crazy coloured man from Selma.

Shocking on a first reading, I'd argue that it's not as black and white as it first seems, and it would repay further study in terms of entertainment, pest management and mental illness. More contextual research would focus on the deformity industry of the period and the options to cash in on one's abnormality - as in the case of "Millie-Christine" the black conjoined twins who escaped slavery to embrace fame and prosperity.

Another useful thought experiment with the quotation above replaces "came from" with "arrived in." Taking that further, the physical union of opposites common in discourses of conjoined twins becomes a grim satire on the "civil" war of the "united" states. Also the grim continuities between enlightenment, modernity, paranoia and terror.

As a popular form, Gothic writings often play on terrible racial stereotypes, by raising them up and (sometimes) exorcising them. The monstrous in the nineteenth-century becomes more self-conscious about a romantic notion of the other. In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein the Creature has many likable features before society's hostility and prejudice brings out  and 'produces' his capacity for evil. Victor Hugo's writings also provide an interesting case of redeeming vision, paradoxically through a kind of blindness. (I'm thinking of The Man of Who Laughs, who inspired the Joker in Batman, as well as the better known Hunchback.)

But the recurring monstrous stereotypes need to be re-viewed as constant reminders of civilization's grotesque world. It is with us still. RIP Culture.

Title Illustration:  

The Black Gargoyle

by Hugh Barnett Cave (July 11, 1910–June 27, 2004)

who was a prolific writer of pulp fiction who also excelled in other genres.

Blog 20/1000