Bad Children of History #14: A Macabre Maiden

Today’s story comes from Dolly and I, an 1872 volume penned by the improbably-named Oliver Optic.

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The star of our tale is a ten-year-old girl named Katy, daughter of a factory agent, and a “pretty good girl”, although we’re told from the get-go that she was a demanding baby and, as she grew older, “she did not like to see others have any thing which she could not have.”

The text of Dolly and I is full of the detailed goings-on of dolls (I imagine this is appealing to the book’s intended audience), but to make a long story short: Katy is gifted a beautiful wax doll, and she doesn’t want to share it with her sweet-tempered sister Nellie, who must make do with numerous broken-ish dolls.

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Despite Katy’s meanness, Nellie is still kind to her. As a reward for her kindness and good nature, Nellie herself is gifted a wax doll– and this one has eyes that open and close!!

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Wow.

As I’m sure one can imagine, Katy is 100% furious. How dare Nellie have a blinking doll, when Katy only has a beautiful non-blinking doll? (Mind you, Nellie is so empathetic, she feels guilty about her doll’s niceness and her sister’s anger.)

What does Katy, blinded by her envious rage, do? She stumbles up the dark stairs after dinner one evening, makes her way into her poorly-lit play room, and then:

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Golly. The accompanying narrative makes it even creepier:

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‘Your dolly shall not be better than mine any longer,’ she said to herself. As she said this, she took the scissors from the work basket on the bureau, and finding one of the eyes with her fingers, she struck one of the points right into it. Then she turned the scissors, so as entirely to destroy the eye. Not content with this, she spoiled the other eye in the same manner.

Sneaking the defiled doll back into her drawer, Katy slinks downstairs and tries to act cool. When dear, sweet Nellie suggests some pre-bedtime doll-playing, Katy demurs, feeling “just as though she should sink through the floor”. Nellie, completely unaware of her sister’s inner turmoil, runs upstairs, grabs her blinking doll, brings it down to the table, and…

…wait for it…

Nellie’s doll IS TOTALLY FINE and HER EYES HAVEN’T BEEN POKED OUT BY A SEWING IMPLEMENT.

Is it magic?

No, it’s the retributive tendency of the otherwise marvelous universe, for in her jealous frenzy, Katy accidentally poked out the eyes of her very own wax doll.

Our story ends with Katy’s mother scolding her, Katy crying herself to sleep, and the non-blinking wax doll being “utterly ruined”. Tell us, Oliver Optic, what’s the moral of this sad, sad tale?

When you envy others, although you may not punch out the eyes of your own doll, you hurt yourself more than any one else.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Bad Children of History #12: Lessons (Rapidly) Learned

We’ve seen some bad children of history learn lessons through brute force (lighting on fire, sustaining injury from a porcupine, being tossed into a tree by a drunken bull), but today we’re going to see a bad child learning proper behavior in a gentler way– through The Force of Example.

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Here’s the (anti-?)hero of today’s tale, a schoolboy named Charles.

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The telling illustration above really lays the groundwork: we can see that Charles has a loving mother who wears a ruffly bonnet and guides him toward school with a firm yet gentle hand. We can see the rough floorboards and simple door indicating that these aren’t fancy folks, but they’re not so down and out that Charles would go to school in anything but clean trousers and a wee top hat with a floppy brim. We can see Charles uncertainly pointing at the open door, showing that he’s not entirely thrilled at the prospect of another day of lessons.

Charles begins the trek to school, but as he passes into the woods, he realizes that it’s nice outside– far nicer than it would be inside his classroom. (I realize this same thing whenever I have to spend another perfectly good beach day inside the library.)

Wait a minute! Charles can just stay in the woods, and not go to school at all!

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Slumped forlornly on a stump, his sweet realization is suddenly overshadowed by the reality that playing outside by one’s self is kind of boring.

Other, less-bad children are on the way to school, so Charles needs to expand his search for a playmate. He approaches various creatures, including a bee (desperate much?), a dog that looks like a bear, a goldfinch, and a free-ranging horse. Here’s a sloppy montage of those interactions:

animal_montageMind you, and I know this is hard to believe– no one wants to play. The bee can’t remain idle because she has to pursue some honey, the dog can’t remain idle because he has to herd some sheep, the bird can’t remain idle because she has to build a soft nest, and the horse can’t remain idle because she has to plough a field (I know we’ve all heard that one before).

Poor Charles is despondent.

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Here’s where Charles admirably guides himself to the correct, moral decision, after observing the gainfully-employed examples of various fauna. He wipes away a tear and proclaims, to no one in particular,

Why how foolish it is,
To sit here and cry!
I will hasten to school,
And my tears I will dry;
When I’m there, I’ll be steady,
And try to excel;
For if I take pains,
I may learn to read well;
Then I’ll be attentive,
My book I will mind;
For he who is busy
Is happy, I find.

Hey, thanks, busy animals! Now maybe you can give me a pep talk as I head into my office on this beautiful day.

Bad Children of History #11: The Era B.A.S. (Before Alka-Seltzer)

Look, I found the least-subtly-titled children’s book of all time:

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It’s Little Nancy, or, the Punishment of Greediness: A Moral Tale. It was published around 1810 by Morgan & Yeager, the fine Philadelphians who also brought you Little Sophy, or, the Punishment of Idleness and Disobedience (not joking).

When we first meet little Nancy, she’s at home, and she’s just received a delightful invitation.

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Little Nancy one day
Was invited to play,
And with her young friends to make merry;
In a garden so fine,
Where fruit, cakes, and sweet wine,
Were provided to make them all cheery.

When the letter was brought
She was pleased at the thought,
And a dozen times over ’twas read;
On each word did she dwell,
Till by heart she could tell
The whole letter, ‘ere she went to bed.

Extreme slant rhyme of “merry” and “cheery” aside, I’d say this sounds like a typical little girl who is very, very excited to go to a party with her friends.

The next morning, before little Nancy leaves for the party, her mother reminds her not to eat greedily, “as she much wish’d to break her of this”. Nancy tries to bear this advice in mind, but then she gets to the party, where she runs around with her friends and proceeds to see this:

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What warm-blooded human could possibly resist that basket of fruit, those extremely tiny plates, that enticing egg cup, or that round thing on the end that might be a pie?

Not Nancy, unfortunately. She eats as much as she can. In fact, she keeps eating until her friends drag her away, whereupon she slumps in a glade, overcome by her spate of gluttony.

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Gosh. Now that’s a little girl overcome by “the pain that intemperance brings”, if ever I’ve seen one.

Nancy’s not fit to play tag in the forest any more, so she’s taken home and put to bed.

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Now being unable
To return to the table,
Yet anxiously wishing to stay;
She was sent home to bed
Crying out, (though half dead)
“I will never again disobey!”

We’re not really told how little Nancy makes the transition from “stomach ache” to “half dead”, so we’ll have to take Morgan and Yeager’s word for it. Luckily, she seems to have a good adult by her side, ready to help her don her bonnet and remove her long socks, especially as she seems to have learned her lesson entirely through a single treatment of aversive therapy. And you, young readers– you don’t even have to eat a whole bunch of pie off of extremely tiny plates to learn this lesson! You can just read Nancy’s tale and take heed.

Art//Archives, and a Human Combustion Addendum

First: today (right now!), from 10:30 – 1:00, we’re having our regular open hours in Special Collections. This week we’re featuring books on the topic of fruit, in honor of the raspberries and mulberries that are currently attracting huge numbers of birds to my backyard, much to the detriment of the car parked in the driveway.

Above left are some plums from George Brookshaw’s 1817 Groups of Fruit, Accurately Drawn and Coloured After Nature, with Full Directions for the Young Artist: Designed as a Companion to the Treatises on Flowers and Birds. Above right you can see a frankly terrifying “Banana Trumpeter” from the 1935 children’s book Tommy Apple and His Adventures in Banana-Land.

Second: as a follow-up to our post a couple of weeks ago on the flames of intemperance, I received an email from someone who may or may not have been my mother with a link to this excellent article on the spontaneous human combustion scene in Dickens’s Bleak House, as well as the corresponding 19th century furor over the fact that Dickens was purportedly fueling “a world of spontaneous combustion truthers”.

Here’s Bleak House illustrator Hablot Knight Browne’s rendering of the gruesome scene:

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Bad Children of History #10: Beware the Drunken Bull

Today’s Bad Child of History is, in my estimation, not bad so much as annoying. His name is Jack, and he comes from Charles Bennett’s 1863 book Little Breeches.

Unlike other bad children, who crash about with no regard for the mess they leave behind, or for the stress they cause to undeserving nurses and kind butchers, Jack is a bit of a hand-wringer.

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Here one can see Jack in his perpetual state, namely: positively beside himself with terror. In true 19th-century style, he wanders about the countryside completely unsupervised, leading to a series of terrifying encounters with scary animals, after each of which he wails for his father.

A “genteel Wasp” inquires about the time (which would, truthfully, give me a fright, as well); an upright cat in a jacket with some sort of lumpy club asks “civilly” for directions; a Francophone gander wearing a Chemex as a hat says nothing at all; and yet each time, Jack shouts for assistance.

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Why is he crying for his father? Well, “when anybody said anything to him, he was afraid lest they should hurt him; so he would call out ‘Father!’ as loud as he could, although his father might not be near at the time, and if he were would only be very angry with him for being so silly.”

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As if this isn’t scary enough, Jack also encounters a spider who needs help finding a fly, an oversized frog in pants (alarming enough to cause Jack to fall into the pond), and a bull who is inexplicably wearing leather breeches, smoking a pipe, and enjoying a mug of beer.

Seeing Jack’s state of abject terror, the bull wisely offers him some of the beer (for what negates fear like a mug of ale that probably just had bull lips on it?). Of course, in response, Jack (you guessed it) cries “Father!”

If this is truly to be the story of a Bad Child of History, of course, something ill must befall Jack such that he learns his lesson.

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“Very well,” said the Bull, looking after him. “I tell you what it is: if you come crying ‘Father’ to me any more, I think I know where you’ll go to.”

And the next morning the silly boy did meet the Bull again; again the Bull offered him some beer; the boy cried “Father!” and the Bull, who always kept his word, ran after him. Where do you think he went to?

Why, up into the withered tree, for that was where the old Bull tossed him, and there he is now for all I know.

Modern translation: don’t have a childhood anxiety disorder, or a drunken bull could toss you into a withered tree.

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Impeccable Science, or, the Flames of Intemperance

What do you do when you want to evaluate if an article is a reliable, credible source of information? Purdue’s Online Writing Lab, my favorite wellspring of writing advice, counsels that “responsible, credible authors will cite their sources so that you can check the accuracy of and support for what they’ve written.” Sensible advice, in my opinion.

Bearing that in mind, let’s take a look at this July 1812 issue of The Emporium of Arts and Sciences (vol. 1, no. 3), which features some of the most fantastically impeccable science I have ever encountered in my short but highly scientific life.

The name sounds pretty legit, no? It even says “sciences” in the title!

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How reliable is the author? Does he cite his sources so that we can examine the support for what he’s written?

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Ooo, yes, plenty of (poorly photographed) footnotes, and some of them are even in French! This author does his homework, and he’s bilingual, to boot. I’m leaning towards deeming this a trustworthy source for information about…

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“Combustion of the Human Body, produced by the long and immoderate use of Spirituous Liquors”.

Hang on, what? Drinking too much can make your body catch on fire? I’d consider that “destitute of probability”, as author Pierre-Aime Lair notes that some readers, myself apparently included, may be apt to consider. He promptly addresses our collective doubts:

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Is it more surprising to experience such incineration than to void saccharine urine, or to see the bones softened to such a degree as to be reduced to the state of a jelly? The effects of this combustion are certainly not more wonderful than those of the bones softened, or of the diabetes mellitus.

Point taken– the human body can be strange and marvelous. I still want more proof, though.

In physics, facts being always preferable to reasoning, I shall here collect those which appear to me to bear the impression of truth; and, lest I should alter the sense, I shall quote them such as they are given in the works from which I have extracted them.

Oh good, facts! The author’s “facts” are henceforth presented in nine thoroughly footnoted pages of wildly gruesome recollections wherein women, in their drunkenness, were reduced to piles of ash, often with a few extremities preserved in near-perfect condition. It’s an awful lot to take in, and I’ll spare you the bulk of it, lest you be haunted by nightmares like the ones I’m sure to have tonight. Highlights include a woman whose maid found her as “a heap of ashes, in which could be distinguished the legs and arms untouched”, a room full of “a moist kind of soot” which was “conveyed to a neighbouring kitchen… a piece of bread in the cupboard was covered with it, and no dog would touch it”, a woman whose trunk had “the appearance of a log of wood”, and an ash pile next to an extremely small hearth with a “right foot… found entire, and scorched at its upper junction”.

So, that’s terrifying. For readers who are, no doubt, feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of this horrific evidence, the author sums up commonalities in a handy list:

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1. The persons who experienced the effects of this combustion had for a long time made an immoderate use of spirituous liquors.
2. The combustion took place only in women.
3. These women were far advanced in life.
4. Their bodies did not take fire spontaneously, but were burnt by accident.
5. The extremities, such as the feet and the hands, were generally spared by the fire.
6. Water sometimes, instead of extinguishing the flames which proceeded from parts on fire, gave them more activity.
7. The fire did very little damage, and often even spared the combustible objects which were in contact with the human body at the moment when it was burning.
8. The combustion of these bodies left as a residuum fat foetid ashes, with an unctuous, stinking, and very penetrating soot.

All of my modern, feminist sensibilities are offended by the idea that this fate only befalls older women. Why do women have to bear the brunt of the ill effects of heavy drinking? How on earth do fiery accidents distinguish between male and female bodies in the first place? How does one become so deeply imbued with liquor that one’s body is essentially a figgy pudding?

Not to fear, Pierre-Aime Lair can explain.

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The female body is generally more delicate than that of the other sex. The system of their solids is more relaxed; their fibres are more fragile and of a weaker structure, and therefore their texture more easily hurt. Their mode of life also contributes to increase the weakness of their organization. Women, abandoned in general to a sedentary life, charged with the care of the internal domestic economy, and often shut up in close apartments, where they are condemned to spend whole days without taking any exercise, are more subject than men to become corpulent. The texture of the soft parts in female bodies being more spongy, absorption ought to be freer; and as their whole bodies imbibe spirituous liquors with more ease, they ought to experience more readily the impression of fire.

Um. Women have weak fibers and are spongy. But why older women, specifically?

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Dancing and walking, which form salutary recreation for young persons, are at a certain age interdicted as much by nature as by prejudice. It needs therefore excite no astonishment that old women, who are in general more corpulent and more addicted to drinking, and who are often motionless like inanimate masses, during the moment of intoxication, should experience the effects of combustion.

Older women are “spongy”, AND they’re “motionless like inanimate masses”?! They’re more likely to be drunk, and therefore more likely to light on fire while going about their daily business? This is amazing! This is impeccably scientific! Surely our female readers are now convinced not to imbibe in excess.

Does that mean that nothing bad ever happens to men who drink? Not the case, according to dear old Pierre-Aime. It’s just that men don’t burn in place, leaving behind forlorn hands and feet, but rather tend towards having flames shoot out of their bodies.

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Sturmius says, that in the northern countries flames often burst from the stomach of persons in a state of intoxication. Three noblemen of Courland having laid a bet which of them could drink most spirits, two of them died in consequence of suffocation by the flames which issued with great violence from their stomachs. We are told by Thomas Bartholin, on the authority of Vorstius, that a soldier, who had drunk two glasses of spirits, died after an eruption of flames from his mouth.

There are the facts, folks. I’ll let them speak for themselves.

Bad Children of History #8, or, “Mom, I’m bored!”

In mid-June, we’re just entering school vacation season, which means a few things: sunburns, beach trips, ice cream trucks, complicated daycare/camp logistics, and, of course, bored children engaging in mischief. For example, take a look at this guy:

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Master Jacky here is on his school holidays, and he is “bored to death”. He’s already read all the books in the house, flopped around on the couch, and peered through whatever that vase-on-a-stick-thing is.

What’s a kid to do? The answer to that query is deftly illustrated in “Young Troublesome”, a veritable mid-19th century montage of the shenanigans of a bad child of history.

Master Jacky begins his misdeeds by playing sports inside the house, much to the horror of a guy carrying an enshrouded dinner tray:

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He  encourages the other children in the house to join him in his tomfoolery, although he does, thankfully, have the forethought to put an elegant cushion at the bottom of this banister to soften their landings:

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(Notice the distressed adults at both the bottom and the top of the stairs.)

He develops new, filthy habits (and no, he isn’t vaping):

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He even drags his visiting schoolmate into the fray, which is so shocking that it causes a woman in a bonnet to throw her scissors into the air, increasing the ambient danger by at least 75%:

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Gosh! Is there anything Master Jacky wouldn’t do?

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Nope, I guess not. Here’s my advice to those of you with bored children flopping around your house and peering through vases on sticks: do NOT show them this book, historically accurate and educational as it may be, or you may find yourself with a gang of indoor-cricket-playing rascals and/or with ash and charcoal marring the backs of your pristine white knee socks. Try the community pool instead.