I heard the following stories on an episode of QI (series J, episode “Journalism”). As they are only quick ones, I’ll list a couple of them here in one post.

1.) The longest obituary ever published in the Times was for Queen Victoria which is unsurprising, really, considering the length and breadth of her reign. What is surprising, though, is that her obituary was 60,000 words long.

My PhD dissertation, which took 3 years to write and is 250 pages long, is 90,000 words. They must have had a journalist composing her obituary bit by bit for years, just gearing up for the day she died. There is no way someone would be able to write this in a few days, let alone hours, after her death.


This shows what a journalism neophyte I am! Commenter Reynardo over on my livejournal sister-site writes:

“As the daughter of a long-time Newspaper person, I can tell you that yes, they have a library of biographies, ready to be trotted out when the person gets an honour, produces a child, or dies. While I’m not sure how far back they did that, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Times started theirs in the 1880s or so. It’s a good task to put your new trainee journos on, to hone up their writing and investigation skills. (The rest of the time, they’re on the Shipping News and the Legal Notices.)”

2.) There is a rumor (totally unsubstantiated) that Alfred Nobel once read his own obituary (printed under the misapprehension that he was dead, when he wasn’t); this obituary supposedly referred to him as a “merchant of death”, due to his invention of dynamite, and he was so horrified that this would be his legacy that he founded the Nobel Prize.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Duellists

Just a quick one today. I’m reblogging this from Futility Closet’s blog here.

“In 1794, at Strasbourg, the French Hussar François Fournier-Sarlovèze challenged a young man to a duel and killed him. When his fellow officer Pierre Dupont de l’Étang denied him entrance to a ball on the eve of the funeral, the fiery Fournier challenged him to a duel. The two fought with swords, and Fournier was wounded.

“When he had recovered he challenged Dupont to a second duel, and wounded him. In their third meeting each inflicted a slight wound on the other. Finally the two agreed to a private war that would continue until one of them confessed that he was beaten or “satisfied.” They even drew up a contract:

  1. Every time that Dupont and Fournier shall be a hundred miles from each other they will each approach from a distance to meet sword in hand.
  2. Should one of the contracting parties be prevented by service duties, he who is free must travel the entire distance, so as to reconcile the obligations of service with the demands of the present treaty.
  3. No excuse whatever, excepting those resulting from military obligations, will be admitted.
  4. The present being a bona fide treaty, no alteration can be made to the conditions agreed upon by the contracting parties.

Over the ensuing 19 years the two fought at least 30 duels, each eventually rising to the rank of general. Finally, after a particularly savage meeting in Switzerland in 1813, in which Dupont ran his sword through Fournier’s neck, Dupont explained that he would be married soon and wanted to conclude the matter with a pistol duel in a nearby wood. Dupont twice tricked his opponent into firing at empty clothing, then advanced on him with pistols primed and claimed his victory. In The Duel, Robert Baldick writes, ‘Thus ended after a total period of nineteen years, the longest, friendliest and most mobile duel in history.’

“(This story is so absurdly romantic that I doubted whether it happened at all, but every source I can find confirms at least the essentials. Joseph Conrad found an account of the rivalry in a provincial newspaper and turned it into his 1908 short story ‘The Duel,’ and Ridley Scott turned Conrad’s story into the 1977 film The Duellists)”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Pleasures of the Water Cure

I recently attended a conference where a paper was given on the idea of the Victorian Water Cure and discovered the below illustrations. In the Victorian era, water became a big concern when it came to health. This was especially true at the mid-century when the cause of cholera (i.e. diseased water) was discovered and as sanitation improved (the Great Stink of 1858 was enough to make anyone desire clean water).

Air pollution and the toxicity of dyes in fashionable wallpaper and cloth also lead to the mistaken assumption that sea air was just better for people, when in reality they were just getting away from an unhealthy environment for a while and perhaps bathing more frequently.

Whatever the myriad reasons, Victorians were obsessed with the purity of water and a great deal of their health fads and beauty regimes and spa treatments revolved around it. Much like today, some of these treatments were more akin to torture and seemed ridiculous to contemporaries.

Enter illustrator Thomas Onwhyn. At some point in the late 1850s or early 1860s (if someone has a more specific date, please let me know–I’ve seen 1858 and 1860 both listed), he gave us a very clear idea of what he thought about the “water cure” with his production of 12 illustrations entitled Pleasures Of The Water Cure: By A Patient Who Has Been Well Drench’d And Wrench’d And Restored To Health. They are as follows:

Water Cure 1

Image 1: “First morning at Water Cure. Bathman brings the Wetsheet. ‘But I am sure I shall get my death of cold.'”

Image 2: “Sitz [?] Bath & Wet sheet. 6 o’clock winter’s morn! ‘This is delightful. ‘Very!””

Water Cure 2

Image 3: “THE ASCENDING DOUCHE. Now, Sir, please to take a seat here.”

I cannot stop laughing at that one. “The ascending douche.” Give me a moment to collect myself.

Image 4: “THE FOOT BATH. Doing penance in the Stocks for past transgressions.”

Water Cure 3

Image 5: “Costume of the Establishment. ‘Doing Penance’ in the Wet Sheet”.

Image 6: “Preparing for the packing. ‘Why my nearest and dearest friends wouldn’t know me. I’m a perfect mummy.'”

Water Cure 4

Image 7: “THE RAIN BATH. ‘You must be shut in for 15 minutes, Sir.'”

Image 8: “The Douche. Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!!!!!!!!!!”

In fairness, a douche was just when something sprayed water on you, including showers and bidets and (possibly?) taps. It didn’t necessarily have the same vaginal connotations that it does today.

Water Cure 5

Image 9: “THE PACKING. ‘Now this is what I call being jolly.”

Image 10: “THE PACKING. ‘Don’t I look very like a Mummy.”

Water Cure 6

Image 11: “The Shallow Bath. ‘Ah! this and the water can is the best Doctor after all.'”

Image 12: “A patient at the Water Cure, getting drench’d, wrench’d, and restored to health.”

I don’t know about you guys, but I read every one of these picture titles in the voice of the Monty Python chapter title reader.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Kiss the Bride

I found the following story in Fern Riddell’s A Victorian Guide to Sex, which not only reports on the facts or common beliefs found in actual Victorian guidebooks, but also mimics the various styles of these books. Riddell writes,

“A note here on the conclusion of the [wedding] ceremony. It has become the usual custom of those in the middle-class rank of life to allow the bridegroom, at the end of the vows, to kiss his wife in celebration. This practice is to be decidedly avoided, as it is never done by the people of the best society. Only  bride’s elderly relations are allowed to kiss her when congratulating her whist the rest of the wedding party, friends and onlookers may pass on their best wishes. There is no finer example of the purity of such actions than the Queen herself. On the Royal wedding day, the Queen was kissed by the Duke of Sussex [her 67-year old uncle], but not by Prince Albert [her new husband]” (57).

This custom has lasted quite a long time. It is my understanding that the first Royal wedding kiss was between Prince Charles and Princess Diana, and that wasn’t even at the wedding, but rather after, on the balcony as they waved to the crowd. The crowd was chanting “Kiss, kiss!” so much that Diana suggested they just go for it. The second Royal wedding kiss was only with Will and Kate (again, not at the wedding proper). Things move a bit more slowly in Royal circles.

On a personal note, I got married in the UK and when the registrar pronounced us married and said we could kiss, she rather grimly and strictly added, “BRIEFLY.” Maybe kissing still isn’t done in the best circles in Britain?


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

“His New Wife Is Too Quick For Him”

I found this hilarious illustration in Fern Riddell’s A Victorian Guide to Sex. This illustration first appeared in the Illustrated Police News, 18 September, 1897.

bridegroom wanted drink ipn 9 18 1897

I cannot.



The worst part, though, is that I’ve read the whole digitized issue of the Illustrated Police News and they give absolutely NO CONTEXT for this picture. I was really hoping there would be an article in there explaining what was going on and precisely why this was newsworthy. The digitized version of this picture claims that there is an article of 75 words attached, but I’ll be damned if I can find it.

Can anyone provide me with the article, assuming that it exists in the first place?


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Six Stages of Mending a Face

I found the following in Hannah Greig’s The Beau Monde: Fashionable Society in Georgian London (2013).

The below illustration is called Six Stages of Mending a Face dedicated with respect to the Rt Hon Lady Archer, by Thomas Rowlandson, 1792.


This may have been dedicated “with respect”, but it’s obvious from this drawing that Rowlandson meant anything BUT respect for the 51-year old Lady Archer, whom he depicts here as a hideous saggy-boobed crone who only becomes young and beautiful through artifice and falsehood.

This is “read” in rather a peculiar way, starting with the upper right-hand picture, showing Lady Archer presumably just out of bed. She wears a night cap and her breasts are exposed in her deshabille gown. Tears stream out of an empty eye socket and her open mouth exposes a lack of teeth.

In the second picture (upper middle), she fits in a glass eye. In the third (upper left), she puts a wig on her bald head. In the fourth (bottom right), she fits in false teeth. In the fifth (bottom middle), she applies her makeup. In the sixth (bottom left), she is revealed to be a beautiful young woman, holding a mask. Her breasts now appear to be firm and round, as do her arms, which were once drawn as stringy and corded.

It seems that debates about makeup have existed pretty much as long as makeup itself has existed. There was a lot of anxiety in Georgian England about what it meant to be aristocratic and “elite”, and if true beauty only really came from nature. The idea that aristocratic women were in some way faking their beauty cast doubt upon their fitness to be social and political leaders. People were not kind.

It didn’t help, as well, that Lady Archer was part of the Faro Ladies group, which set up gaming opportunities for women (who weren’t supposed to gamble and game in public–that luxury was reserved for their husbands and fathers). Lady Archer was ridiculed in the popular press for her “immoral” behavior and was represented frequently as either masculine, or a step above a prostitute. Adding to the fact that she was a naturally plain woman, who attempted to aid her looks to keep in line with styles of the day, led many to view her as someone riddled with social vices and not a “natural” woman.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Final Countdown

Just a quick one today. I found the following in Raymond Lamont-Brown’s  Royal Poxes and Potions: The Lives of Court Physicians, Surgeons and Apothecaries (2001), p. 135.

The use of chloroform was made extremely popular in Britain in 1853 when it was used on Queen Victoria to relieve the pain of childbirth. She was delivered safely of Prince Leopold, and used chloroform again in 1857 when she delivered Princess Beatrice.

Chloroform had been gaining traction as a standard medical anesthetic before this, of course, but much as with Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and inoculation, it sometimes takes a very high-profile person vouching for a new and possibly risky procedure for it to really take off with the public.

Before chloroform, however, surgeries and amputations were horrific events. Reading accounts of author Fanny Burney’s mastectomy in 1811, a modern reader is left wondering how someone could survive such a procedure while awake. The fact is, many people didn’t. People can die from shock remarkably quickly, so surgeons in the early nineteenth century and before were experts in performing operations with incredible speed (made all the more incredible when you think about the tools they had to work with).

Surgeons were required to amputate a leg in 120 called-out seconds, or . . . extract a gallstone in 54 seconds. Opium and whisky were the most employed pain-deadeners, while others experimented with mesmerism” (135). The fear, of course, of plying a patient with alcohol was that they would bleed out before the operation–even ones as rapidly completed as these–was over.

Does anyone else know how long other operations were supposed to take? I find it fascinating that they could pin-point it to such a specific time. Not 60 seconds, not 55 seconds, but precisely 54. Let me know and I will update!

ETA: Commentor Reynardo on my livejournal sister site writes:

“In fact, the fastest leg amputation was by Robert Liston, to quote Richard Gordon who wrote a wonderful book about Medical Disasters:

“Amputated the leg in under 2½ minutes (the patient died afterwards in the ward from hospital gangrene; they usually did in those pre-Listerian days). He amputated in addition the fingers of his young assistant (who died afterwards in the ward from hospital gangrene). He also slashed through the coat tails of a distinguished surgical spectator, who was so terrified that the knife had pierced his vitals he dropped dead from fright.

“That was the only operation in history with a 300 percent mortality.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment