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50 posts categorized "Rare books"

15 January 2019

Cats and games of forfeit

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Did you play any board or parlour games with friends or family over the festive period?  In our Cats on the Page exhibition we feature a small pamphlet entitled The Pretty, playful, tortoise-shell cat: a new game of questions and commands.

Pretty  playful  tortoise-shell catThe Pretty, playful, tortoise-shell cat: a new game of questions and commands (London, 1817) © British Library Board

Facing this title-page there is an image of a group of children sitting round the (slightly over-performing) fire with their cat - apparently about to begin playing the game.  The publisher, John Marshall, seized this opportunity to promote two more of his games, namely The Hopping, prating, chatt’ring magpie and The Frisking, barking, lady’s lap-dog which he also published in 1816-17.

 
Pretty playful catThe Pretty, playful, tortoise-shell cat (London, 1817) © British Library Board

Other titles produced around the same time include The Noble, prancing, cantering horse, also printed by Marshall, and The Pretty, young, playful, innocent lamb, printed for J. and E. Wallis.  (There were also similar games based on the rhyme The House that Jack built and derivatives such as The Barn that Tom built and The Mill that Charles built!).

Several are subtitled ‘a new [entertaining] game of questions and commands’ and essentially they are cumulative memory games with forfeits.  Generally someone is appointed Treasurer and passes a small item such as a thimble to the first player with the command “Take this”.  The first player asks “What’s this?” and the Treasurer replies with the first section of the rhyme (e.g. “The Pretty, playful, tortoise-shell cat…” ).  The first, and subsequent players, then repeat these actions until the thimble returns to the Treasurer.  It is then passed round again with the addition of the second section of the rhyme and so on until the entire, lengthy, rhyme has to be memorised and repeated by each player.  Should a player make a mistake or forget the rhyme a forfeit has to be paid to the Treasurer.  At the end of the game, another player is appointed to devise appropriate tasks for the retrieval of the forfeits – tasks might include solving a riddle, spelling a long, nonsensical word or being tickled.      

There seems to have been a brief flurry of these titles from about 1815 to around 1830.  Though Marshall was not the only publisher of such works he does seem to have made these games a speciality.  Presumably they were profitable since his widow subsequently assigned some of the titles to David Carvalho who continued to print them until around 1830. 

However their origin appears to have been earlier.  As you can see, there was a formula to the titles, which seems to have drawn on The Gaping, wide-mouthed, waddling frog.  This is believed to have been first recorded in print around 1760 in The Top book of all, for little masters and misses as ‘The play of the wide-mouth waddling frog, to amuse the mind, and exercise the memory’.  It is found again, with instructions, in Mirth without mischief around 1800 and we have a copy of the game based on the rhyme published by A.K. Newman & Co. around 1825.  A version of the verses was also illustrated by Walter Crane in the late 19th century.

Gaping wide-mouthed waddling frogThe Gaping, wide-mouthed, waddling frog (London, ca. 1825) © British Library Board

Many of the catalogue records relating to the booklets published in the early 19th century by Marshall suggest that the illustrations were by Isaac Robert Cruikshank.  We shall be looking into stories about his early life in our next post.

Alison Bailey
Lead Curator, Printed Heritage Collections 1901-2000

Further reading:
The Pretty, playful, tortoise-shell cat: a new game of questions and commands. Embellished with fourteen coloured engravings. London: Printed and sold by John Marshall, 1817. C.194.a.968.
The Top book of all, for little masters and misses. London: sold only at R. Baldwin's, and S. Crowder's, and at Benj. Collins's, Salisbury, [1760?]. Ch.760/5.(1.). Pages 15-31.
Mirth without mischief. London: printed by J. Davenport, for C. Sheppard, [1800?]. Ch.780/110. Pages [17]-33.
The Gaping, wide-mouthed, waddling frog: a new and entertaining game of questions and commands. With proper directions for playing the game and crying the forfeits. Embellished with fifteen coloured engravings. London: A.K. Newman & Co., [ca. 1825] C.194.a.842.
The Oxford dictionary of nursery rhymes. Edited by Iona and Peter Opie. New ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.  YK.1997.a.6456.
Brian Alderson and Felix de Marez Oyens, Be merry and wise: origins of children's book publishing in England, 1650-1850. London: British Library, 2006. LC.31.b.2656.

Cats on the Page exhibition supported by

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07 January 2019

Blanchard! Where are your trousers? The first crossing of the English Channel in a balloon

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On 7 January 1785 Jean-Pierre Blanchard and Dr John Jeffries took their lives in their hands and set off across the Channel in a balloon.  It’s no exaggeration to say this was a life and death moment.  French inventor Jean Francois Pilâtre de Rozier and his co-pilot proved this clearly when they crashed and were killed trying to cross the Channel in the opposite direction in June the same year.

Blanchard balloonColumn erected to mark landing place of Blanchard and Jeffries' balloon from A Narrative of the Two Aerial Voyages of Dr. J. with Mons. Blanchard

After a week of detailed preparations, and with the experience of a flight from London into Kent in the previous November, Blanchard and Jeffries prepared to set off from Dover.  With a keen eye on the winds, they first flew a kite, ‘a paper Montgolfier, and a small gaz balloon’, and then they felt sufficiently confident to launch.

During the crossing, they threw their ballast over the side to keep the balloon airborne.  By the time they were half way across, all of this was gone.  At about half past two, about three quarters of the way across, and as the French coast became clearer before them, the balloon started descending again.  This time they were obliged to throw food, fittings, and some of their equipment into the sea.  This included silk oars, constructed in the expectation that they might be able to ‘row’ through the air.  Still they did not rise.  They stripped off their jackets, and Blanchard even threw away his trousers.  Finally the balloon rose again, and onward they flew until they were over land.

The danger continued as they flew fast over dense woodland, dropping closer and closer to the trees.  Fearful that they would yet crash, they looked around for anything else they could do to lighten the load.  They threw off their life jackets made of cork, since they were no longer over the sea, but still they descended.  Finally, continuing to look for weight, Blanchard reflected: 'it almost instantly occurred to me that we could supply it from within ourselves … from the recollection that we had drunk much at breakfast, and not having had any evacuation, and from the severe cold, little or no perspiration had taken place, that probably an extra quantity had been secreted by the kidneys, that we might now avail ourselves of by discharging … we were able to obtain, I verily believe, between five and six pounds of urine; which circumstance, however trivial or ludicrous it may seem, I have reason to believe, was of real utility to us'.

Thus saved from crashing into the trees, as they slowed they were able to grab branches alongside and gradually lower themselves to the ground, at around 4.30 in the afternoon, when they were well met.  'In a short time, many persons made their way to us in the Forest, from whom we received every form of civility and assistance, particularly, in sparing from themselves clothing for us'.

Huw Rowlands
Project Manager, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:
John Jeffries and Jean-Pierre Blanchard,, A Narrative of the Two Aerial Voyages of Dr. J. with Mons. Blanchard: With Meteorological Observations and Remarks. The First Voyage on the Thirtieth of November, 1784, from London into Kent: The Second, on the Seventh of January, 1785, from England into France (London, 1786) Online version

21 December 2018

Hey for Lubberland!

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Before the end of the 19th century, catching a sight of cheap ballad-sheets, broadsides, chapbooks, and almanacks is how most people in England came into contact with the printed word.

Lubberland 8A 17th-century ballad ‘An Invitation to Lubberland’. BL Shelfmark C.20.f.8.(226)

Ballads often blended strands of traditional fable, myth and lore into topical themed entertainment.  In the 17th-century ballad ‘An Invitation to Lubberland,’ a ship’s captain and crew spread news of a far-off land, an English version of the medieval legend of a Land of Plenty, known throughout Europe as ‘Cockaigne’.  This utopia of gluttony and idleness has also been known in northern Europe as Luilekkerland (‘Lazy Luscious Land’) or Schlaraffenland (‘Sluggard’s Land’).

Lubberland 1Verses from the ballad tell of ‘streets are pavd with pudding-pies,’ and ‘hot roasted pigs’ that ‘run up and down, still crying out, Come eat me’. ‘The rivers run with claret fine, the brooks with rich canary’. ‘Hot custards grows on eery tree, each ditch affords rich jellies’. BL Shelfmark C.20.f.8.(226)

The word Lubberland in part comes from the Swedish word for lazy.  ‘Lubber’ is popularly associated with the salty, derogatory language of nautical folk.  It is maritime characteristics that are found in this ballad from the English tradition.  An island status necessarily means that such an earthly paradise can only be reached by voyaging the sea.

Lubberland 2 ‘Cocagna, as we say Lubberland’ perhaps the first printed mention of the English variant of the earthly paradise in Florio’s A Worlde of Wordes, or most copious and exact Dictionarie in Italian and English. 1598. BL Shelfmark 1560/4535

Elizabethan poets frequently repeated the spirit of the classics, nostalgically longing for perfect conditions that might be found on the ‘Fortunate Islands’ or the ‘Isles of the Blessed’.  Cheap ballads, chapbooks and broadsides represent a less sophisticated and more popular literature. Lubberland appealed to many an ‘ordinary’ person faced with the all-too-often grim reality of life.

Lubberland 3 ‘The Mapp of Lubberland or the Ile of Lasye’. An English print (ca. 1670) which is a take on Pieter Breugel the Elder’s ‘Interpretation of Land of Cockaigne’ (1567) ©Trustees of the British Museum.

It’s not always possible to be precise when tracing the use, reception and meaning of particular ballads.  Many are thematically ambiguous, dubious or have multiple meaning and intent.  Of course the land where ‘rocks are all of sugar candy’ and a person is ‘paid fourteene pence a day for snorting’ and lazing around is the stuff of nonsense and make-believe but it does reflect peoples’ dreams.  The necessities of food, shelter, clothes and a pleasant environment are all satisfied in the Land of Plenty, but there are also subversive traces in Lubberland:

‘There is no law nor lawyers fees. all men are free from fury, For eery one dos what he please, without a judge or jury’.

A hankering for justice, freedom and better conditions is projected to far-off lands.

Lubberland 4William Hawkins’ play Apollo Shrouing where' fourteene pence a day' can be earned in Lubberland.  BL Shelfmark C.34.d.59

The ballad must surely be mocking such wishful thinking; a life of ease where, ‘They have no landlords rent to pay, each man is a free-holder’ must be just a tall tale – the colourful yarn of sailors!

Lubberland 5Just a bit of Lubberland fun in Poor Robin Almanack , 1720. BL Shelfmark  P.P.2465.

Lubberland is commonly depicted as a land of fools and n’er-do-wells, an unreal place, a place of ‘child’s geography’.  The term becomes employed to denigrate, ridicule or satirise political outlooks that seek to change society.  Walter Scott described Napoleon as, ‘A Grand Elector, who was to be the very model of a King of Lubberland’, and in 1784 Benjamin Franklin insisted, ‘America is a land of labour, not what the English call Lubberland’.

The Topsy-Turvydom of Lubberland seems not simply to be just a bit of fun.  Subversive emotion and impulses which carry the tradition of Cocagna can be seen in other cheap printed literature from the period, like in the tale of  Lawrence Lazy.

Lubberland 6The History of Lawrence Lazy ca. 17550.  Lawrence Lazy, put on trial in Lubberland for casting spells on tradesmen which force them into instant slumber. Lawrence is acquitted by the Jury after supplicant apprentices testify that Lawrence gained them respite from being worked to death by their masters. BL Shelfmark 1079.i.14.(16)

The British Library was pleased to host recently The London Sea Shanty Collective singing sea songs from our collections, including a reinterpretation of ‘An Invitation to Lubberland’ with the assistance of the historian and author, Oskar Cox Jensen. 

Lubberland 7The London Sea Shanty Collective singing at the British Library, Summer 2018.

There are thousands of ballads to be found in the British Library’s printed heritage collections.  A new guide is available.

Christian Algar
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
Theresa Bane, Encyclopedia of Imaginary and Mythical places (2014)
Leslie Sheppard, The History of Street Literature (1972)
The London Sea Shanty Collective @LondonShanty

 

19 December 2018

Christmas bound

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'Do give books - religious or otherwise - for Christmas. They're never fattening, seldom sinful, and permanently personal.' Sound advice from American magazine editor Lenore Hershey (1919-1997).

Naughty Boys and Girls11526.f.1. 19c green paper over boards on Naughty Boys and Girls [1852].

Those of us born ‘non digital’ would have regularly received a festive book or two; an annual, collections of fairy tales, ghost stories or Christmas verse.  Whatever the subject, the bindings were invariably attractive. Mass production techniques developed in the 19th century meant that books once hand-bound in leather were now available in inexpensive cloth or paper covers.  The emerging middle classes in Victorian England had money to spare for the purchase of extras, notably books, and if they were instructional as well as aesthetically appealing, all the better.  Artists were employed to decorate the bindings and they often ‘advertised’ by incorporating their initials into their designs.  Notable were John Leighton, also Albert Henry Warren, William Harry Rogers and William Ralston.  Examples of their work are below.

Naturally, Christmas would not be Christmas without Charles Dickens, particularly as many of his stories were set in the festive season.  Their popularity was a money-spinner for author and publishers alike.

Dickens - Christmas Stories12623.g.25. Christmas Stories from the Household Words. Conducted by Charles Dickens. [The extra Christmas numbers for 1850-1858.]

Victorian publishers exploited this lucrative new market to tailor books to the tastes of children, although the two depicted in the song book below seem somewhat depressed at the prospect!

 Stories for the Little Ones11602.cc.30. Gold blocked cloth binding designed by William Ralston.  Note the initials WR towards the centre of the tail edge.

Some children’s picture books retained a didactic flavour.  The upper cover of Simple Hans and other funny pictures and stories proclaimed 'Oh children, children come and see / This funny picture-book for you and me/ Bought by our Mama dear! / So that we may grow good and wise / And ‘neath a merry laugh’s disguise/ Learn naughty ways to fear'.

Other themes were more fun, ranging from the snowy weather to seasonal tales and traditional toys.

Jack Frost & Betty Snow
12807.b.53. Gold blocked cloth binding designed by John Leighton.

King Nut Cracker12806.e.12. Paper binding over boards on King Nutcracker, 1854.

Tales of the Toys12807.ee.35.  Gold blocked cloth binding designed by Albert Henry Warren on Tales of the Toys, 1869 and bound by Bone and son of London.

Books could also promote sociability and enhance family life.  After the grand Christmas dinner, chapters containing stories, jokes, nonsense verse and other favourites could be read aloud and enjoyed by everyone.
 

Hunting of the SnarkW14/4782.  Gold blocked cloth binding on Lewis Caroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, 1876.


Bushel of MerrythoughtsRB.31.a.43. Paper binding over boards on A bushel of merry-thoughts, 1868 designed by William Harry Rogers (his intertwined initials are beneath the red pennant to the left).

Serious-minded relatives or godparents who held themselves responsible for the spiritual or moral well-being of their young kinsfolk, sometimes felt it appropriate to give them devotional or educational works.  One can only hope that they were not quizzed on the contents!

Five spinesSpines from gold blocked cloth bindings (taken from the Library’s online image databse of bookbindings).

Annuals were popular, particularly as gifts to older children who could be trusted to read quietly to themselves (perhaps whilst the adults had an after dinner nap).

Peter Parley's AnnualPP.6750. Gold blocked publisher’s cloth binding on an 1860 annual (note the designer’s signature MAC below the date). This was a gift from father to son as indicated by the manuscript notes inside: "Dec. 21st 1859. To My Dear Son Denis. A Reward for attention to his studies. D H Donnell".

 

London Out of Town12352.a.3. Detail from the paper cover of London out of town.  The price was one shilling.

In 1844, John Leighton wrote and illustrated the amusing London out of town. Or the adventures of the Browns at the sea side.  It was one of the earliest comic books and appealed to old and young alike.

Merry Christmas and merry reading!

Christmas Rhymes and New Year's Chimes11649.f.22. Blocked in colours on cloth. Mary D Brine, [Christmas Rhymes and New Year's Chimes ... Illustrated.] [1890] 

P. J. M. Marks
Curator, Bookbindings. Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
Edmund M. B. King, Victorian Decorated Trade Bindings, 1830-1880: A Descriptive Bibliography. The British Library and Oak Knoll Press, 2003.
The Victorian Web

With thanks to Gillian Ridgley.

 

06 November 2018

Hogarth’s London in the 18th century Latin poetry of Benjamin Loveling

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In 1738 an anonymous book of Latin and English poetry was published ‘by a Gentleman of Trinity College, Oxford’. Its author was Benjamin Loveling (1711-1750?), a clergyman, satirist and one-time rake, who documented his liaisons in the inns and brothels of 1720s and 30s Covent Garden and Drury Lane in Latin poems inspired by the Roman poets Horace and Ovid. Loveling’s poems primarily take the form of verse epistles addressed to a circle of male friends. They are often funny – and sexually explicit.

  IMG_9302British Library, General Reference Collection 641.i.14. The title page motto is taken from Horace’s Epistles 1.14.36: nec Lusisse pudet, sed non incidere Ludum (‘there’s no shame in playing, but in not bringing an end to play’).

However, Loveling’s bawdy humour was not only at the expense of the sex workers of 18th century London. He also composed realistic and sympathetic depictions of prostitutes living in poverty, and Hogarthian social satire of the over-zealous moral reformers of the age. One such target was John Gonson, a notorious magistrate whose enthusiastic raids on brothels and harsh sentencing was satirised in William Hogarth’s A Harlot’s Progress (1731-2). Loveling addresses Gonson in his ode Ad Joannem G[on]s[o]num, Equitem (pp. 21-2):

  IMG_9303 2

Pellicum, G---s—ne, animosus hostis,
Per minus castas Druriae tabernas
Lenis incedens abeas Diones
                                                                     Aequus Alumnis.
Nuper (ah dictum miserum!) Olivera
Flevit ereptas viduata maechas,
Quas tuum vidit genibus minores
                                                                     Ante tribunal.
Dure, cur tanta in Veneris ministras
Aestuas ira?

(‘Gonson, fearless enemy of prostitutes, advancing on bawds throughout the less virtuous taverns of Drury, may you look kindly on the pupils of Dione [i.e. the mother of Venus] and be gone. Recently (ah it is wretched to say!) Oliver wept, bereft of her stolen whores, whom she saw on bended knees before your tribunal. Harsh man, why do you rage with such anger against the attendants of Venus?’)

He sympathetically represents the plight of the women affected by Gonson’s harsh punishments:

Nympha quae nuper nituit theatre
Nunc stat obscuro misera angiportu,
Supplici vellens tunicam rogatque
                                                                   Voce Lyaeum.

(‘The girl who recently shone in the theatre now stands wretched in a dark alley, and tearing at her dress she begs for wine [i.e. ‘the loosener’] with humble prayer.’)

With typically irreverent humour, Loveling ends the ode by suggesting that Gonson might change his mind if he were to experience the delights of brothel for himself, to be entertained by wine, or a ‘skilful prostitute’ (pellex … callida).

  Harlots-progress-f60135-32Plate 3 of Hogarth’s A Harlot’s Progress, a series of 6 paintings depicting the decline of Moll Hackabout, an innocent country girl who is drawn into a life of prostitution in London. This image shows Gonson entering with bailiffs to arrest Moll. 

Why write in Latin in 18th century England? Loveling was certainly not unusual; most educated men of this period still wrote and read Latin. Given his subject matter the desire to restrict his readership to a select male audience – and obscure the identity of himself and his addresses – is obvious. He perhaps also intended to create an amusing contrast between his ‘low’ subject matter and carefully crafted Latin verse. But most of all Latin was a medium that implicitly excluded most women, and within a closed circle of male readers gave him relative freedom and privacy to give voice to the underworld of 18th century London.

How do we respond to the undoubtedly masculine – and potentially misogynistic – associations of these Latin poems today?

Sara Hale
AHRC Innovation Placement Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Manchester
British Library, Heritage Made Digital

Further reading:
Latin and English poems. By a Gentleman of Trinity College, Oxford, London, 1738 (British Library, General Reference Collection 641.i.14) [2nd ed. 1741]
See quotations from Loveling’s poems used to ‘illustrate’ Hogarth’s works in: Edmund Ferrers, Clavis Hogarthiana: or, Illustrations of Hogarth, London, 1817
And in: John Nichols, Biographical Anecdotes of William Hogarth, 3rd ed., London, 1785

British Library website on Georgian Britain 

 

31 October 2018

Three women accused of witchcraft: a unique pamphlet from the height of the witch craze

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We associate witches with broomsticks, evil potions and fairy tales but we should remember that in early modern Britain witchcraft really was something to fear, especially for those women accused of it.  The British Library holds the sole surviving copy of a pamphlet called A Detection of Damnable Driftes, Practized by Three Witches Arrainged at Chelmifforde [Chelmsford] in Essex, at the Late Assizes There Holden, Which Were Executed in Aprill, 1579.  It describes the cases against women accused of witchcraft, three of whom were found guilty and hanged in 1579.

Photo 1

Elizabeth Fraunces, of Hatfield Peverel, was by all accounts a fairly notorious witch, having been to court twice before this trial.  In her previous confessions, she admitted to possessing a familiar that took the shape of a white cat unhelpfully called Satan.  She also confessed to stealing sleep and killing one Andrew Byles, who would not marry her after getting her pregnant.  The cat told her what herbs to drink to abort the pregnancy.  Elizabeth also confessed to killing her six-month-old daughter and making her second husband lame.  She was imprisoned and pilloried.  During her third and final trial, Elizabeth confessed to bewitching her neighbour Alice Poole because she refused her some yeast.  Elizabeth employed a spirit to bewitch her that took the shape of a “little rugged dogge”.  She was a spinster by this time.  Before being put to death, Elizabeth named other local witches; it was common for women to incriminate others; it took suspicion away from themselves.

Photo 2
Elleine Smith, of Maldon, was a young women who refused to give her father-in-law a portion of the money she’d received from her mother, who had been executed for witchcraft years before.  They argued and Elleine purportedly told him that he’d regret crossing her.  He wasted away soon afterwards.  She was also accused of inflicting great pains on her neighbour because, during these pains, the neighbour noticed a rat run up his chimney and change into a toad.  He apparently thrust it into the fire and it turned blue.  Lastly, and most horrifically, Elleine was accused of killing a four-year-old girl by breathing on her. She was found guilty and hanged.

The last execution described in the pamphlet is that of Mother Nokes, who was accused of making a young man lame after he stole her daughter’s gloves.  Mother Nokes then discovered that her husband was having an affair and that they were expecting an illegitimate child.  She told them that they wouldn’t keep the baby for long and, shortly afterwards, it died.

The causes of the witch craze are still hotly debated but it was undoubtedly a febrile social phenomenon that spread like wildfire through communities.  Early modern people were superstitious and the witch craze was a period of widespread moral panic; they certainly believed in witchcraft.  The vast majority of those accused were women cast out of their communities and victims in their own right.  In this pamphlet alone, we have a woman who was abandoned and left to abort her pregnancy, a young woman whose father-in-law was trying to take her money and a wife whose husband had an affair.  Whether they were falsely accused or took revenge by witchcraft or more natural means, this pamphlet is testament to the plight of three women in desperate situations.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
More about Elizabeth Fraunces

 

09 October 2018

Hungary Water for Missionaries?

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In November 1764 the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge wrote to the Court of Directors of the East India Company for permission to send a number of ‘sundry items’ out to their missionaries in India on the ships sailing that season.  The Society sent out various supplies to their missionaries each year and their lists often included unexpected items such as the Four Cheeses in Lead and a Harpsichord sent out in 1762 and featured previously on Untold Lives.

The 1764 list of sundry items included the surprising entry of two bottles of Hungary Water.  Hungary Water, also often known as “The Queen of Hungary’s Water” was one of the first alcohol based perfumes to be produced in Europe and was primarily made with rosemary.   It was the most popular fragrance and remedy in Europe until the development of Eau de Cologne in the late 18th Century.  The water has many myths associated with it, the most common one being that it was named after the Queen of Hungary who used it and at age 70 was believed to have looked so youthful a 25 year old Duke asked for her hand in marriage believing her to be of a similar age.

Hungary waterAdvertisement for Hungary Water in Homeward Mail from India, China and the East 9 June 1857

Hungary Water was most commonly used as a cure-all beauty tonic and was believed to help maintain a youthful appearance and beauty.  It was also considered to have health benefits when digested including to improve strength and eyesight and to dispel gloominess.  The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge presumably sent it to their missionaries for the health benefits, rather than to maintain their youthfulness and beauty.

The Toilet of Flora Title PageThe Toilet of Flora (1775)   Noc


The 1775 publication The Toilet of Flora features a recipe to make what is refers to as ‘Genuine Hungary Water’:

'Put into an alembic a pound and a half of fresh pickt Rosemary Flowers; Penny royal and Marjoram Flowers, of each half a pound; three quarts of good Coniac Brandy; having close stopped the mouth of the alembic to prevent the spirit from evaporating, bury it twenty-eight hours in horse-dung to digest, and distill off the Spirit in a water-bath.

A drachm of Hungary Water diluted with Spring Water, may be taken once or twice a week in the morning fasting.  It is also used by way of embrocation to bathe the face and limbs, or any part affected with pains, or debility.  This remedy recruits the strengths, dispels gloominess, and strengthens the sight.  It must always be used cold, whether taken inwardly as a medicine, or applied externally.'

More recipes from the publication The Toilet of Flora featured in the 2013 Untold Lives blog post Lip Salve and Worms in the Face.

Karen Stapley
Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
J Broughton, Secretary to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge to Robert James, Secretary to the Court of Directors of the East India Company, Nov 1764. IOR/E/1/46, ff 737-739

 

01 October 2018

Strange fish: A distant cousin of the Beluga whale in the River Thames

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We have always been both fascinated and saddened by whales finding their way into rivers or being stranded on strange beaches. The beluga whale in the Thames near Gravesend last week is the latest in a long line of chronicled incidents. They have been recorded in print since the sixteenth century, and in manuscript from even earlier. I am researching early modern printed ballads and pamphlets about these ‘strange fish’ that were paraded as exotic marvels, heralded as signs from God or feared as omens. It was only late in the seventeenth century that whales became natural rather than divine wonders. This is a timely moment to share one of my favourite pamphlets.

Photo 1

Strange News from the Deep, BL N.788 Public Domain

In 1677, a whale became stranded in a river near Colchester in Essex and tragically died. We know this because a pamphlet was printed, probably within days of the whale’s death, which exists today in only three copies. Strange News from the Deep: Being a Full Account of a Large Prodigious Whale, Lately Taken in the River Wivner, within Six Miles of Colchester was printed by one still unidentified “W.H.”. Of the two copies at the British Library, one has a fantastically large woodcut of Jonah being swallowed whole by a whale. This copy once belonged to Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), a physician, naturalist and collector whose collection became the foundation of the British Museum, the British Library and the Natural History Museum. The other British Library copy is part of another important collection, albeit one formed a generation later – that of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), the botanist who sailed with Sir James Cook.

Photo 2

Strange News from the Deep, BL N.788

Public Domain

This rare pamphlet describes how a “strange whale” was seen swimming up “the Wivner-River”. Villagers watched as it floundered on the shallow sand banks; its tail “shovelled the sands so high” that they showered over the spectators’ heads and the thrashing of its body caused waves to swell out over the banks. She continued to struggle until the tide went out and left her stranded in the shallow water. In her desperation, the whale broke her tail and her blood dyed the river red. Eventually she died in the water, “being of so large a bulk that the river could not cover her”.

The anonymous author tries to explain why the whale became stranded. He refers to Pliny’s theory that their “unnatural wandrings” are caused by sickness. He then suggests the sheer strength of the tide could’ve hurled the young whale into the river mouth. He then resorts to the traditional beliefs that whales are brought to land as a sign of “insuing judgment” or are a “favourable warning given us by the Almighty”. This opinion is “perhaps the least authentick”.

P84Image taken from page 84 of Narrative of the Wreck of the “Favourite” on the Island of Desolation: detailing the adventures, sufferings and privations of J. Nunn, an historical account of the Island, and its whale and seal fisheries. Edited by W. B. Clarke, British Library Flickr Commons, https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11012011156/ 

Stranded whales are almost as mysterious today as they were in the early modern period. A recent theory is that the phenomenon may be caused by the same solar surges that affect the northern lights. Others suggest the melting of the Arctic sea ice, the beluga whale being an arctic animal. These whales have become ominous portents once more, only now they warn of climate change rather than divine wrath. Whether they are reported in seventeenth century pamphlets or on Twitter, their plight evokes the same dread, fascination and pity as it has for centuries.

Maddy Smith,

Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading and references:

Strange news from the deep: being a full account of a large prodigious whale, lately taken in the river Wivner, within six miles of Colchester. Declaring the strange manner of its coming up, and by what unusuall means it was seized upon by the neighbouring inhabitants. Also an account of the like prodigious accidents in general. Printed for W.H. in the year 1677. British Library N.788 and 1257.d.29.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/sep/26/thames-beluga-whale-omen-changing-climate-gravesend

http://estc.bl.uk/R236823

http://estc.bl.uk/R42904