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.

IMG_1839

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.

IMG_1842

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.”

IMG_1840

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.

IMG_1843

“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.

withered_tree

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!

IMG_1808

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

footnotes

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…

IMG_1814

“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:

IMG_1815

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:

IMG_1817

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.

IMG_1818

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?

IMG_1821

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.

IMG_1822

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:

IMG_1799

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:

IMG_1789

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:

IMG_1788

(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):

IMG_1792

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%:

IMG_1795

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

IMG_1797

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.

Art//Archives Sneak Peek: Terrestrial Research

As a natural complement to last week’s sky-themed Art//Archives, tomorrow Special Collections will have earth-themed visual research hours. IMG_1646

We’ll be featuring books from our historic collections with fantastic images of glaciers, geological cross-sections, fossils (including a fossil elk), prehistoric flora, and water flow patterns.

As always, open research hours will be tomorrow (Tuesday) from 10:30 until 1:00. Special Collections is on the third floor of the library, at the top of the marble staircase. Please stop in!

Bad Children of History #6

Back in the 1830s, Horace Selwyn decided something that children have been deciding for centuries: No more homework! No more adults telling me what to do!

IMG_1600

Yes, that’s right, Horace decided to be his own master. After all, he was almost 13, and he was tired of being treated like a baby.

Since these were the days before Minecraft, the newly-liberated Horace decided to go visit a farm– despite his father’s advice to stay home because of gathering rainclouds. And we all know what happens when you ignore your father’s good judgment:

IMG_1602

By the time that Horace and his companion arrived at the farm, they were soaked to the skin; to add insult to injury, they found the countryside to be boring when the weather’s poor. Horace spent the day moving things around the farmhouse and feeling “lonesomeish”.

What did this rainy excursion teach Horace? Nothing, apparently, because soon after arriving home, he decided to build a gunpowder volcano on a hillside above a military parade. His brother reminded Horace of their father’s exhortations not to play with gunpowder without his special permission (didn’t I read about that on a parenting blog somewhere?), but Horace, being his own master, just told his brother to stand back.

Horace’s brother, being both cautious and obedient, hurried home to fetch their father and bring him to the hillside; they arrived just in time to hear “a loud noise like the explosion of a cannon, and a wild piercing shriek”.

IMG_1605

Yikes! Because this is a Victorian-era children’s book, i.e. a book from the times when children could still travel alone to farms and withstand gruesome storytelling, Horace is found “with his legs torn and bleeding, prostrate on the ground, covered with smoke and sand”. Swooping in to the midst of tragedy, his father carries him home, where he spends many weeks in bed recuperating from his injuries before he can again walk and play.

And what did Horace learn this time? While lying in convalescence, he spells it out for the reader: “Oh! How could I be so foolish as to suppose I had the wisdom, judgment and knowledge of my father.–But I never wish to be my own master again–no, never, never!”

Impeccable Science: the perils of hot tea

Today’s impeccable science comes from the 1841 volume A Treatise on Domestic Economy, for the Use of Young Ladies at Home, and at School.

This book has some great advice (eat your vegetables, remember to bathe, don’t drug your babies when they start crying), some dubious advice (treat arsenic poisoning with huge quantities of sugar water, wake up at dawn if you want to be a good American, don’t let babies wear hats), and some downright bad advice (don’t read books unless you want to be mentally ill, and don’t give books to smart children unless you want them to experience “suffering, derangement, disease, and death”).

Our treatise, in the section on healthful food and drink, talks at great length about warm and stimulating beverages. For instance: don’t give your children a lot of sugary coffee (check!), don’t drink too much caffeine if you’re prone to nervousness (check!), and don’t drink very hot tea unless you want all of your teeth to fall out (huh?).

The warning against excessive steaming tea isn’t too far out in left field, as there have been numerous studies noting that scaldingly-hot caffeinated beverages in enormous quantity can cause health problems ranging from esophageal cancer and prostate cancer to bone brittleness and skeletal fluorosis. That said, the book’s Impeccable Science stems from its taking this reasonable premise to a completely illogical conclusion.

IMG_1586

This stern warning begins by describing how, obviously, “if any person should hold a finger in hot water, for a considerable time, twice every day, it would be found that the finger would gradually grow weaker”. (I’ll admit that I haven’t tested this to see if it’s true.)

If you haven’t been too derailed by the image of giving your finger a daily hot water bath, you’ll notice that what follows is somewhere between xenophobic, dentally questionable, and outright incorrect.

The frequent application of the stimulus of heat, like all other stimulants, eventually causes debility. If, therefore, a person is in the habit of drinking hot drinks twice a day, the teeth, throat, and stomach are gradually debilitated… It has been stated to the Writer, by an intelligent traveller, who visited Mexico, that it was rare to meet an individual with a good set of teeth; and that almost every grown person, he met in the street, had only remnants of teeth. On inquiry into the customs of the country, it was found, that it was the universal practice to take their usual beverage almost at the boiling point; and this, doubtless, was the chief cause of the almost universal want of teeth in that Country.

Dear so-called “intelligent traveller”: I’m not sure where you found and surveyed an entire country’s worth of toothless Mexicans, and even if you did encounter some dental atrocities in your travels, your scientific approach is, at best, a fine example of illusory correlation.

venn diagram

Now I’m going to go drown my sorrows in a cup of black tea. Don’t try to stop me.

Impeccable Science: Finny Tribes, Horse Fishing, and Dental Apparatus

Today’s post highlights science writing which is not only impeccable, but also delightfully florid, with selections from Dr. G. Hartwig’s The Harmonies of Nature, or, the Unity of Creation (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1866). The book itself is an interesting reflection on homeostasis within ecosystems through predator satiation, various instinctual behaviors, and a balance of “passive and active defences“.

The Harmonies of Nature includes some satisfyingly grotesque scientific diagrams, like this cross-section of the “dental apparatus of the Lamprey, & fang fixed to the roof”.

IMG_1550

If that fang fixed to the roof isn’t enough for you, take a gander at this illustration of horses being used to capture electric eels. Hartwig describes it as a “highly entertaining and animated scene”.

IMG_1547

(In the spirit of scientific inquiry/ morbid fascination with this mass of writhing aquatic horses, I had to investigate whether Hartwig’s described equine fishing method was a real thing. Apparently 18th and 19th century scientists were very interested in electrical impulses within animals’ bodies, and did scores of somewhat ghastly experiments including one where the charge from an electric catfish stimulated the sciatic nerve in a recently-amputated frog’s leg, causing the leg to kick a little bell. I can’t make this stuff up.

Anyway, among the electrically-curious minds of history was that of German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, who convinced understandably leery Guayquerie Indians to help him capture electric eels for study and documentation. In his account of this process, the Guayquerie drove about 30 wild horses and mules into the river, where the animals thrashed about, driving the eels out of the mud and subsequently tiring them out by absorbing numerous benumbing shocks. The exhausted eels could then be pulled to shore with small harpoons. You can read the text of von Humboldt’s distressing account of ‘horse fishing’ here.)

Steering our conversation back to The Harmonies of Nature, let me leave you with one of the most impressive and reassuring sentences I’ve read in a good while:

IMG_1552

Under the protection of an Almighty Lawgiver the equilibrium of the inhabitants of the ocean is thus constantly renewed though constantly assailed; and though the scythe of death is indefatigably mowing throughout Neptune’s domain, it is but to celebrate the eternal triumph of life.

From a current perspective, Hartwig’s earnest confidence in the resilience of Nature’s systems is almost touching. Let’s all keep our collective fingers crossed for the oceanic eternal triumph of life.