“Mad Jack”


Some of us just aren’t cut out for the gentry. Shropshire squire John Mytton hunted naked, rode a horse through the Bedford Hotel, fed his dogs on steak and champagne, overturned gigs, pelted babies with oranges, inebriated his horse, and tried to cure hiccups by setting his shirt on fire. He died in debtor’s prison in 1834.

A biographer notes drily that Mytton once rode a bear into his drawing room in full hunting costume. “The bear carried him very quietly for a time; but on being pricked by the spur he bit his rider through the calf of his leg.”

The Savage Breast

That brutal monarch, Louis XI of France, is said to have constructed, with the assistance of the Abbé de Baigne, an instrument designated a ‘pig organ,’ for the production of natural sounds. The master of the royal music, having made a very large and varied assortment of swine, embracing specimens of all breeds and ages, these were carefully voiced, and placed in order, according to their several tones and semitones, and so arranged that a key-board communicated with them, severally and individually, by means of rods ending in sharp spikes. In this way a player, by touching any note, could instantly sound a corresponding note in nature, and was enabled to produce at will either natural melody or harmony! The result is said to have been striking, but not very grateful to human ears.

— J. Crofts, “Colour-Music,” The Gentleman’s Magazine, September 1885

See also That’ll Do It and Attaboy.

“The Spectre Leaguers”


Arriving home late one summer night in 1692, Ebenezer Babson surprised two men leaving his house in Cape Ann, Mass. As they fled, he heard one say to the other, “The man of the house is now come, else we might have taken the house.”

Babson removed his family to a nearby garrison, which by several bizarre accounts was then besieged for two weeks by phantoms dressed as gentlemen, in white waistcoats and breeches. Appearing in groups as large as 11, the “unaccountable troublers” reportedly spoke in a strange tongue, performed incantations, threw stones, beat upon barns with clubs, and made their way through a nearby swamp without leaving tracks. On each sortie from the garrison, they melted into the wilderness, sometimes arising after felled by gunfire.

The siege ended after a fortnight, apparently when the demons tired of their sport. This was the year of the Salem witch hysteria, and it’s likely that pranksters were involved in the later events. But Babson’s curiously specific account does leave questions about his own experience.


It’s been reported that proud Soviet automakers challenged their American counterparts to a competition at the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958.

A Swiss engineer made an exhaustive comparison of a Soviet and an American car, and he favored the American.

After an awkward pause, the Soviet press reported that “in a recent international auto competition, the Russian car placed second and the American car was next to last.”

Bard Capers

According to Oliver Goldsmith, Thomas Parnell once overheard Alexander Pope reading a draft of The Rape of the Lock to Jonathan Swift, memorized the description of the Toilet, and translated it into monkish Latin. The next day he confronted Pope with the counterfeit verse and accused him of plagiarism, “and it was not till after some time that Pope was delivered from the confusion which it at first produced.”

Also: “Mr. Harte told me that Dryden had been imposed on by a similar little stratagem. One of his friends translated into Latin verse, printed, and pasted on the bottom of an old hat-box, that celebrated passage, ‘To die is landing on some silent shore,’ &c. and that Dryden, on opening the box, was alarmed and amazed.”