The Troll

This litigious humour is bad enough: but there is one character still worse — that of a person who goes into company, not to contradict, but to talk at you. This is the greatest nuisance in civilised society. Such a person does not come armed to defend himself at all points, but to unsettle, if he can, and throw a slur on all your favourite opinions. If he has a notion that anyone in the room is fond of poetry, he immediately volunteers a contemptuous tirade against the idle jingle of verse. If he suspects you have a delight in pictures, he endeavours, not by fair argument, but by a side-wind, to put you out of conceit with so frivolous an art. If you have a taste for music, he does not think much good is to be done by this tickling of the ears. If you speak in praise of a comedy, he does not see the use of wit: if you say you have been to a tragedy, he shakes his head at this mockery of human misery, and thinks it ought to be prohibited. He tries to find out beforehand whatever it is that you take a particular pride or pleasure in, that he may annoy your self-love in the tenderest point (as if he were probing a wound) and make you dissatisfied with yourself and your pursuits for several days afterwards. A person might as well make a practice of throwing out scandalous aspersions against your dearest friends or nearest relations, by way of ingratiating himself into your favour. Such ill-timed impertinence is ‘villainous, and shows a pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it.’

— William Hazlitt, “On the Conversation of Authors,” 1820

Okay, Cupid

Here’s a familiar idea — in 1820 an enterprising Englishman advertised “an establishment where persons of all classes who are anxious to sweeten life by repairing to the altar of Hymen, have an opportunity of meeting with proper partners.” If you were seeking a mate you’d sign up by a paying a fee according to your desirability; the handbill gives these rather blunt examples:

Ladies.

1st Class. I am twenty years of age, heiress to an estate in the county of Essex of the value of 30,000l., well educated, and of domestic habits; of an agreeable, lively disposition, and genteel figure. Religion that of my future husband.
2nd Class. I am thirty years of age, a widow, in the grocery line in London — have children; of middle stature, full made, fair complexion and hair, temper agreeable, worth 3,000l.
3rd Class. I am tall and thin, a little lame in the hip, of a lively disposition, conversible, twenty years of age, live with my father, who, if I marry with his consent, will give me 1,000l.
4th Class. I am twenty years of age; mild disposition and manners; allowed to be personable.
5th Class. I am sixty years of age; income limited; active, and rather agreeable.

Gentlemen.

1st Class. A young gentleman with dark eyes and hair; stout made; well educated; have an estate of 500l. per annum in the county of Kent; besides 10,000l. in three per cent. consolidated annuities; am of an affable disposition, and very affectionate.
2nd Class. I am forty years of age, tall and slender, fair complexion and hair, well tempered and of sober habits, have a situation in the Excise, of 300l. per annum, and a small estate in Wales of the annual value of 150l.
3rd Class. A tradesman in the city of Bristol, in a ready-money business, turning 150l. per week at a profit of 10 per cent., pretty well tempered, lively, and fond of home.
4th Class. I am fifty-eight years of age; a widower, without encumbrance; retired from business upon a small income ; healthy constitution; and of domestic habits.
5th Class. I am twenty-five years of age; a mechanic of sober habits; industrious, and of respectable connections.

“The subscribers are to be furnished with a list of descriptions, and when one occurs likely to suit, the parties may correspond; and if mutually approved, the interview may be afterwards arranged.”

I can’t tell how well it succeeded. “It is presumed that the public will not find any difficulty in describing themselves; if they should, they will have the assistance of the managers, who will be in attendance at the office, No. 5, Great St. Helens, Bishopsgate Street, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, between the hours of eleven and three o’clock. — Please to inquire for Mr. Jameson, up one pair of stairs. All letters to be post paid.”

(From Henry Sampson, A History of Advertising from the Earliest Times, 1875.)

Opting Out

On New Year’s Eve 1819, 33-year-old London tea dealer Elton Hamond committed suicide. A man found guilty of deliberate self-murder would forfeit his estate, so Hamond composed this plea:

To the Coroner and the Gentlemen who will sit on my Body.

Norwood, 31st December, 1819.

Gentlemen,

To the charge of self-murder I plead not guilty. For there is no guilt in what I have done. Self-murder is a contradiction in terms. If the King who retires from his throne is guilty of high treason; if the man who takes money out of his own coffers and spends it is a thief; if he who burns his own hayrick is guilty of arson; or he who scourges himself of assault and battery, then he who throws up his own life may be guilty of murder, — if not, not.

If anything is a man’s own, it is surely his life. Far, however, be it from me to say that a man may do as he pleases with his own. Of all that he has he is a steward. Kingdoms, money, harvests, are held in trust, and so, but I think less strictly, is life itself. Life is rather the stewardship than the talent. The King who resigns his crown to one less fit to rule is guilty, though not of high treason; the spendthrift is guilty, though not of theft; the wanton burner of his hayrick is guilty, though not of arson; the suicide who could have performed the duties of his station is perhaps guilty, though not of murder, not of felony. They are all guilty of neglect of duty, and all, except the suicide, of breach of trust. But I cannot perform the duties of my station. He who wastes his life in idleness is guilty of a breach of trust; he who puts an end to it resigns his trust, — a trust that was forced upon him, — a trust which I never accepted, and probably never would have accepted. Is this felony? I smile at the ridiculous supposition. How we came by the foolish law which considers suicide as felony I don’t know; I find no warrant for it in Philosophy or Scripture. It is worthy of the times when heresy and apostacy were capital offences; when offences were tried by battle, ordeal, or expurgation; when the fine for slaying a man was so many shillings, and that for slaying an ass a few more or less.

Every old institution will find its vindicators while it remains in practice. I am an enemy to all hasty reform, but so foolish a law as this should be put an end to. Does it become a jury to disregard it? For juries to disregard their oaths for the sake of justice is, as you probably know, a frequent practice. The law places them sometimes in the cruel predicament of having to choose between perjury and injustice: whether they do right to prefer perjury, as the less evil, I am not sure. I would rather be thrown naked into a hole in the road than that you should act against your consciences. But if you wish to acquit me, I cannot see that your calling my death accidental, or the effect of insanity, would be less criminal than a jury’s finding £10 Bank-of-England note worth thirty-nine shillings, or premeditated slaying in a duel simple manslaughter, both of which have been done. But should you think this too bold a course, is it less bold to find me guilty of being felo de se when I am not guilty at all, as there is no guilt in what I have done? I disdain to take advantage of my situation as culprit to mislead your understandings, but if you, in your consciences, think premeditated suicide no felony, will you, upon your oaths, convict me of felony? Let me suggest the following verdict, as combining liberal truth with justice: — ‘Died by his own hand, but not feloniously.’ If I have offended God, it is for God, not you, to enquire. Especial public duties I have none. If I have deserted any engagement in society, let the parties aggrieved consign my name to obloquy. I have for nearly seven years been disentangling myself from all my engagements, that I might at last be free to retire from life. I am free to-day, and avail myself of my liberty. I cannot be a good man, and prefer death to being a bad one, — as bad as I have been and as others are.

I take my leave of you and of my country condemning you all, yet with true honest love. What man, alive to virtue, can bear the ways of the best of you? Not I, you are wrong altogether. If a new and better light appears, seek it; in the meantime, look out for it. God bless you all!

Hamond left the letter with his friend Henry Crabb Robinson: “Mind you don’t get yourself into a scrape by making an over-zealous speech if you attend as my counsel. You may say throughout, ‘The culprit’s defence is this.'” Robinson, fearing a scandal, passed it unread to Hamond’s relations, and the jury found Hamond insane.

In a Word

agamist

n. an unmarried person

Schedule of a bachelor’s life, from the Yorkshire Observer, Nov. 30, 1822:

At 16 years, incipient palpitations are manifested towards the young ladies.
17. Blushing and confusion occurs in conversing with them.
18. Confidence in conversing with them is much increased.
19. Is angry if treated by them as a boy.
20. Betrays great consciousness of his own charms and manliness.
21. A looking-glass becomes indispensible in his room.
22. Insufferable puppyism exhibited.
23. Thinks no woman good enough for him.
24. Is caught unawares by the snares of Cupid.
25. The connection broken off from self-conceit on his part.
26. Conducts himself with airs of superiority towards her.
27. Pays his addresses to another lady, not without hope of mortifying the first.
28. Is mortified and frantic at being refused.
29. Rails against the fair sex in general.
30. Seems morose and out of humour in all conversations on matrimony.
31. Contemplates matrimony more under the influence of interest than formerly.
32. Begins to consider personal beauty in a wife not so indispensible as formerly.
33. Still retains a high opinion of his attractions as a husband.
34. Consequently has no idea but he may still marry a chicken.
35. Fails deeply and violently in love with one of seventeen.
36. Au dernier desespoir! another refusal.
37. Indulges now in every kind of dissipation.
38. Shuns the best part of the female sex.
39. Suffers much remorse and mortification in so doing.
40. A fresh budding of matrimonial ideas, but no spring shoots.
41. A nice young widow perplexes him.
42. Ventures to address her with mixed sensations of love and interest.
43. Interest prevails, which causes much cautious reflection.
44. The widow jilts him, being as cautious as himself.
45. Becomes every day more averse to the fair sex.
46. Gouty and nervous symptoms begin to appear.
47. Fears what may become of him when old and infirm.
48. Thinks living alone irksome.
49. Resolves to have a prudent young woman as housekeeper and companion.
50. A nervous affection about him, and frequent attacks of the gout.
51. Much pleased with his new house-keeper as nurse.
52. Begins to feel some attachment to her.
53. His pride revolts at the idea of marrying her.
54. Is in great distress now to act.
55. Is completely under her influence, and very miserable.
56. Many painful thoughts about parting with her.
57. She refuses to live any longer with him solo.
58. Gouty, nervous, and bilious to excess.
59. Feels very ill, sends for her to his bed-side, and intends espousing her.
60. Grows rapidly worse, has his will made in her favour, and makes his exit.

Opting Out

A fellow at Windsor, who lately ate a cat, has given another proof of the brutality of his disposition — an instance too ferocious and sanguinary, almost, to admit of public representation.

He was at a public-house at Old Windsor, one day in the course of last week, and, without apparent cause, walked out of the house, and with a bill-hook severed his hand from his arm. His brutal courage was strongly marked in this transformation; for the inhuman monster made three strokes with the instrument before he could effect his purpose, and at last actually made a complete amputation. He asigns no other reason for this terrible self-attack than his total disinclination to work, and that this step will compel the overseers of his parish to provide for him during the remainder of his life.

General Evening Post, Jan. 30, 1790

Higher Education

Proper technique for examining an undergraduate, from a letter from Lewis Carroll to Henrietta and Edwin Dodgson, Jan. 31, 1855:

It is the most important point, you know, that the tutor should be dignified and at a distance from the pupil, and that the pupil should be as much as possible degraded.

Otherwise, you know, they are not humble enough.

So I sit at the further end of the room; outside the door (which is shut) sits the scout; outside the outer door (also shut) sits the sub-scout: half-way downstairs sits the sub-sub-scout; and down in the yard sits the pupil.

The questions are shouted from one to the other, and the answers come back in the same way — it is rather confusing till you are well used to it. The lecture goes on something like this:–

Tutor. What is twice three?

Scout. What’s a rice tree?

Sub-Scout. When is ice free?

Sub-sub-Scout. What’s a nice fee?

Pupil (timidly). Half a guinea!

Sub-sub-Scout. Can’t forge any!

Sub-Scout. Ho for Jinny!

Scout. Don’t be a ninny!

Tutor (looks offended, but tries another question). Divide a hundred by twelve!

Scout. Provide wonderful bells!

Sub-Scout. Go ride under it yourself!

Sub-sub-Scout. Deride the dunder-headed elf!

Pupil (surprised). Who do you mean?

Sub-sub-Scout. Doings between!

Sub-Scout. Blue is the screen!

Scout. Soup-tureen!

“And so the lecture proceeds. Such is Life.”

“The Value of a New Point of View”

Sailing westward from the Island of Fata Morgana, I came upon Pierrot in his little white boat. We were old acquaintances, and I asked him if the gods were still using him kindly, and how things were looking on the Moon, his home.

‘I have been away from home for some time,’ he replied, but am just about to return. ‘Will you come with me?’

So I clambered into his little boat, and told my own ship to return to the Island of Fata Morgana. We sailed on and on, Pierrot enlivening the dim hours with his strange Moon-songs, until at last he brought the boat to anchor in a little bay, and I landed, for the first time, at the pale country of the Moon.

‘You know,’ I said to Pierrot, as we wandered among the fantastic green shadows, ‘I have always longed to visit the Moon. The World is so dull, now, and the Moon always seemed to us such a mad and merry place.’

Pierrot stared — ‘That is very strange! Up here we have always believed the reverse of that. And with good reason. Look for yourself!’ and he led me to the edge of the Moon; we peered over, and there, far below, was the great shining World, looking as big as ten Moons, and a hundred times madder and merrier.

‘Pierrot,’ I cried, ‘I have mis-judged the World! Good-bye, my friend!’ and I leaped into space.

I landed on the roof of the Headquarters of the Society for the Extension of Commercial Careers for Women.

— J.B. Priestley, Brief Diversions, 1922

Penny Wisdom

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Samuel_Foote_by_Jean_Fran%C3%A7ois_Colson.jpg

Samuel Foote on “the advantages of not paying our debts”:

It is the art of living without money. It saves the trouble and expense of keeping accounts; and makes other people work, in order to give ourselves repose. It prevents the cares and embarrassments of riches. It checks avarice, and encourages generosity; as people are commonly more liberal of others’ goods than of their own: while it possesses that genuine spark of primitive Christianity, which would live in a constant communion of all property. In short, it draws the inquiries and attention of the world on us while we live, and makes us sincerely regretted when we die.

Rules of Thumb

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“If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible he is very probably wrong.” — Arthur C. Clarke

“When, however, the lay public rallies around an idea that is denounced by distinguished but elderly scientists and supports that idea with great fervor and emotion — the distinguished but elderly scientists are then, after all, probably right.” — Isaac Asimov