Monday, November 28, 2011

November 30, 1900 --- A Death in Paris

At two in the afternoon, Oscar Wilde dies in his rather dingy room at the Hotel d'Alsace in Paris. He was 46. A gruesome final hemorrhage brings to an end to several days filled with agonizing pain, eased somewhat by frequent doses of morphia.

Modern scholars believe the cause of death was cerebral meningitis, complicated by syphillis. Frank Harris claimed that the two years in an English prison had killed his friend. Still, disapproving of Oscar's "pet vice," Harris wrote: "If it is true that all those who draw the sword shall perish by the sword, it is no less certain that all those who live for the body shall perish by the body, and there is no death more degrading."

Almost to the end, Oscar remained true to character. He quipped that he was dying as he lived, beyond his means and bemoaning the wallpaper in his room, he cried, "It's killing me, one of us has to go." With death certain, a Catholic priest arrives to give the last rites. Oscar had asked that no priest be sent until "I'm no longer in a condition to shock one." As word of his death spread around Paris, dozens of the curious paid their respects, if only timidly as the French press noted the callers included "various English persons, using assumed names."

Lord Alfred Douglas, his beloved "Bosie," paid for Wilde's funeral and burial at Bagneux. In 1909, Wilde's body was moved to Pere Lachaise in Paris where he rests today beneath an inscription taken from his Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898). The story of his 18-month imprisonment, shunned by London's established imprints, was handled by the infamous Leonard Smithers, publisher and practitioner of the pornographic arts. It was an instant success, going into several printings; albeit in such small increments that a penniless Oscar complained that Smithers is so used to having his books suppressed, he's suppressing his own.

The epitaph reads:
Yet all is well; he has but passed
To life's appointed bourne.
And alien tears will fill for him
Pity's long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men
And outcasts always mourn.

November 29, 1872 --- The Stars & Stripes in London

Color-Sergeant Gilbert Bates of the United States Army arrives in London, the destination of his 330 mile march from Gretna Green on the Scottish border.  For the entire journey, the Yankee soldier carried aloft the American flag. 

It's all to prove a point and, not the least of it, to win a wager made with some fellow soldiers.  The bet was $1000 to his own $100 - that Bates could carry the American flag from northernmost England to the Imperial capitol itself without insult or incident. Bates reports receiving nothing but the most cordial reception along the way, leaving Gretna Green on the 6th of November and passing through Carlisle, Manchester, Birmingham, Oxford and on into London. After a rest in Shepherd's Bush, Sgt. Bates carries his flag to the Guildhall, traveling the final miles by carriage (sketch). In fact, in Bond Street, an enthusiastic crowd unharnessed the horses and pulled him the final two miles by hand. In return for his efforts, Sgt. Bates is presented with the Union Jack, which he promises to carry home to America.

The American press is remarkably unsupportive. The London correspondent for one newspaper referred to Bates as "an ass," whose effort to show British respect for the flag has only confirmed "a fact, the truth of which needed no proof, and which proved nothing if it was true." The New York Times wholly disapproved of the venture, condemning the "preposterous proceedings of this cheap military person (whose) unwarrantable liberties taken with a respectable and helpless flag, deserve the punishment of popular reprobation."

The good sergeant found a second career as a standard bearer in countless parades back in America.  He returned to London, appearing as "the renowned Sergeant Bates" in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in 1887.

The Penny Illustrated Paper

November 28, 1862 --- Garrotte-Mania

Harsh sentences and stern lectures are handed out to two thugs convicted of garroting their victims. 

The plague of violent street crime - dubbed "Garrotte-mania" - has literally strangled London with fear. The sentences imposed are meant to be exemplary severe --- James Anderson gets life, while his cohort George Roberts receives 20 years, for the daylight mugging of a medical student near the British Museum. The victim had been beaten unconscious, left in the street with his clothes nearly torn away in the frenzy to rifle his pockets. The two men are also believed to have committed the sensational attack on an MP in the heart of Clubland.

London is in the grip of an unprecedented crime wave; street robberies are commonplace, the preferred method being the garrotte, the Spanish means of execution. Working in pairs, the bandits jump their victims from the rear, one pulling a cord or stick across the throat, while the second loots the pockets. The Illustrated London News received dozens of letters from gentlemen, "bemoaning the prevalence of garrotting, and urging that they cannot enjoy a quiet rubber of whist or take their evening tumbler and havanna without running the risk of being strangled and plundered on their way back to chambers."

Many of the perpetrators are men who would have been transported to the Antipodes in the past. However, reformers had abolished transportation. When domestic gaols became overcrowded, inmates were released early - given a "ticket-of-leave." Both Roberts and Anderson are "ticket-of-leave" men, the latter having 17 convictions on his record! From the bench, Baron Bramwell shows no mercy to either: "Utterly destitute of morality, shame, religion, or pity, and if they were let loose they would do what any savage animal would do - namely prey upon their fellows." If tougher sentences don't work, Bramwell will recommend "alterations in the punishment."

Early in 1863, Parliament brought back flogging for convicted garrotters. The Times scoffed at those who felt chronic criminals could be reformed, calling it a "mere delusion, founded upon the weakness or concert of some theorist or some simpleminded gaol chaplain."

The sketch, from Punch, shows the satirical magazine's "patented anti-garrotte costume."

November 27, 1895 --- The Liberator Frauds

A London jury convicts Jabez Balfour, MP from Burnley, in one of the greatest financial scandals on the Victorian era.  The guilty man was reviled by The Times as "the most impudent and heartless swindler on record."

Balfour was a Croydon man who rose to financial and political eminence in the 1880's, managing a variety of enterprises, the most successful being The Liberator Building Society. With quasi-spiritual rhetoric, he promoted the bank as a great regenerator of the masses. He recruited prominent Non-Conformist ministers to serve on the board (as well as attract depositors from their flocks) and vowed that the LBS profits would go toward housing and improving the standard of living for Britain's downtrodden. To further such laudable aims, Balfour was soon elected MP, taking his seat in the Liberal ranks. By 1888, the LBS had amassed assets of £750,000. While some small-scale "good works" were funded by the LBS, Balfour used most of the money - other than to maintain his own comfortable lifestyle - to engage in speculative investments, abounding in the booming early 90's.

The crash came in 1892. When rumors swept the City of money problems at the LBS, depositors clamored for their savings. In October, the LBS shut its doors. At least 25,000 people were ruined, many of them decent God-fearing folk who'd put in their life savings at their cleric's behest. Balfour levanted to Buenos Aires, along with his wife - still spending money skimmed from the LBS.  Scotland Yard finally tracked him down and he was extradited to England, returning to London amid general execration.  Balfour - helped by expensive legal counsel -- delayed his legal reckoning for over two years. But when it came, it was severe. He gets fourteen years in jail; the judge expressing the hope that "No prison doors can shut out from your ears the cry of the widow and the orphan whom you have ruined."

The wrath of The Economist was typical:  "To the worldly-wise, the mixing up of religion and business, and the public appeals for Divine guidance in company matters, are regarded, and rightly regarded, as marks of the Pharisee, and as danger-signals which it would be unwise to ignore. Balfour's conduct would have been bad enough under any circumstances, but the hypocrisy which permeated it from beginning to end made it infinitely more contemptible than if he had been an ordinary financial scoundrel."

Balfour lived out his remaining years comfortably - aided by profits from his best-seller, My Prison Life.

The sketch from The Penny Illustrated Paper.

November 26, 1878 --- An Artist and his Critic

A London jury finds England's foremost art critic John Ruskin guilty of libelling the irascible Jimmy Whistler; the damage award however is but a farthing.

In July of the previous year, writing in his eccentric personal journal Fors Clavigera, Ruskin had famously condemned Whistler's Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket: "I have seen and heard much of Cockney impudence before now, but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face."

The painting depicts - in Whistler's description - a fireworks display at London's Cremorne gardens. On the witness stand, the artist conceded that he had he "knocked it off" in two days.  Ruskin's attorney queries: "And for the labor of two days you ask 200 guineas?" Whistler made the famous reply: "No. It was for the knowledge gained through a lifetime." Cheers and laughter filled ancient Westminster Hall.

The brief trial, followed with amusement in the "secular" world, divides the art community, creating lasting enmities. The highly strung Ruskin is too unnerved even to attend. Edward Burne-Jones, leader of the Pre-Raphaelites, appears on his behalf. He describes the Nocturne as "totally and bewilderingly formless." Asked if he considered it a work of art, Burne-Jones answers: "No, I cannot say that it is." (Whistler never tired of joking: "If you get seasick, you throw up a Burne-Jones.")

Ruskin's attorney claims for his client a "perfect right" to severe criticism, even ridicule, if fair and honest; to hold otherwise would be an "evil day for art in this country." Whistler's counsel seizes upon the issue of fairness; Ruskin's review was a "personal attack ... [a] pretended criticism on art."

Whistler celebrated his "victory" by wearing the famous farthing on his watch-chain but the court costs drove him into bankruptcy and he relocated to the continent until his fortunes improved. Ruskin's legal bills were covered by his admirers; some of the donors were accused of currying favor with the critic.

Within days of the trial however, Ruskin quit the Slade Professorship of Art at Oxford. "The professorship is a farce, if it has no right to condemn as well as to praise."

Nocturne in Black and Gold (The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, USA)

November 25, 1871 --- A Star is Born

At London's struggling Lyceum Theatre, there any many empty seats on this opening night for a little known melodrama starring a fairly unknown actor from the provinces. Soon, however, all London's theatre world would be talking about The Bells and its star, the 33-year-old Henry Irving.

The actor plays Matthias, a wealthy innkeeper who is haunted by his conscience for the murder and robbery of a rich Jewish traveler, who had sought shelter at his inn during a severe storm many years before. On the eve now of his daughter's wedding, amidst the recurring sound of sleigh bells, Matthias dreams of his exposure, conviction and hanging. He awakens and dies in a fit.

While the audience at the Lyceum is described as "neither numerous nor distinguished," the critics are uniform in their praise: The Athenaeum hailed Irving for "histrionic power of the rarest kind," the owner of The Daily Telegraph was among the first-nighters and tells his reviewer, "Tonight I have seen a great actor ... Write about him so that everyone shall know."

Irving and the play are a sensation, "Have you seen The Bells?" is on everyone's lips. For Irving, it is a night of professional triumph, after more than a decade as the proverbial struggling actor.  But the evening bears its cost. Leaving an opening night party, at which he celebrated perhaps too much, Irving and his wife, Florence, the daughter of an Irish surgeon, enter a cab for the ride to their West Brompton home. On the way, Irving - quoting the actor Kean following a similar triumph - exults: "Maybe now we can afford our own carriage." To which Florence replies: "Are you going to go on making a fool of yourself like this all of your life?" Ordering the cabman to stop at Hyde Park Corner, Irving got out and never saw nor spoke to his wife again.  They had been married two years with two sons.  They never divorced.

Irving continued to support his wife while enjoying a thriving on and off stage partnership with Ellen Terry, the leading lady of the late-Victorian stage. Frank Harris thought Irving was "more than an actor" and ranked him ahead of Parnell and Gladstone among the great personages of the period. Only one man could match him, wrote Harris, "Irving, like Disraeli, took the eye with him and excited the imagination."

In 1895, Irving became the first actor to earn a knighthood.

Irving as Matthias in The Bells, from

November 24, 1859 --- My Accursed Book

Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life is published by John Murray in London. Bookdealers sensing controversy and, of course, sales, buy up all 1200 copies the first day at a cost of 15 shillings apiece.

"God knows what the public will think," wrote Darwin to a friend. The author - who suffered from a variety of health problems - has retreated to the spa town of Ilkley in Yorkshire: "I am here hydropathizing and coming to life again, after having finished my accursed book."  The work is based on research as much as two decades old that Darwin had heretofore hesistated to publish. But when rivals began to come forward - most notably Alfred Russell Wallace - Darwin had to go to print.

In brief, he argues that life is governed by three factors: (1) living things tend to vary from their parent, (2) the variations tend to be very minor, and (3) by the process of natural selection, those variations fittest for survival live on, those unfit die off.  In a famous passage, he concludes, "There is grandeur in this view of life ... from so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved."  Herbert Spencer later coined the phrase "survival of the fittest" which Darwin admitted "is more accurate, and is sometimes equally convenient."

The reviews are mixed. In The Times, the scientist Thomas H. Huxley is favorable; in The Spectator, Darwin's old professor at Cambridge, the Rev. Adam Sedgwick is not: "You cannot make a rope out of a string of air bubbles." The most virulent attacks are from the clergy. Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, in The Quarterly Review, rejects the "ape" theory, or as he put it, the "degrading notion of the brute origin of him who was created in the image of God."

Darwin, other than making respectful references to "that heroic little monkey," left to others the public debate, confident that though "all the world might rail, ultimately the theory of Natural Selection would prevail."  By early December, the publishers announced a second printing and it has not gone out of print to this day.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

November 23, 1875 --- "You Have the Canal, Ma'am"

Egypt's bankrupt Khedive Ismail - the self-styled "Ismail the Magnificent" (left) - agrees to sell Great Britain his 176,602 shares (44% of the total) in the Suez Canal company. The Khedive's price is high, £4,000,000, and his need is immediate.

Acting on a tip from the City, with Parliament out of session, Prime Minister Disraeli must move quickly and discretely, for he hopes not to alert or alarm the rival French interests in Egypt. His Private Secretary, Montague "Monty" Corry, is quietly dispatched to New Court, the headquarters of the Rothschilds in the City. According to the legend, the negotiations are brief:
Baron Rothschild. "How much do you want?"
Corry. "4 million pounds."
The Baron. "When do you need it?"
Corry: "Tomorrow."
The Baron (pausing to meditatively chew a grape): "What is your security?"
Corry: "The British Government!"
The Baron. "You shall have it." (At the then hefty rate of 2.5% interest.)
A euphoric Disraeli presents the canal to the Queen. "It is just settled; you have it, Madam!" In truth, she doesn't have anything. The Khedive's shares are heavily mortgaged and carry no voting rights until 1895. Victoria, however, is no less delighted: "It is entirely the doing of Mr. Disraeli, who has very large ideas and very lofty views of the position this country should hold. His mind is so much greater, larger, and his appreciation of things great and small so much quicker than that of Mr. Gladstone."  The public reaction was more cautious; The Graphic conceded that the risks were worth taking  as "we cannot run any risk of the highway of the East falling into the hands of a rival Power."

It would be left to Disraeli's rival, Mr. Gladstone, to deal with the messy entanglements in Egypt created by the need to "hold the canal."  The Grand Old Man must have once again cursed his (by then deceased) rival whom he accused of "hoodwinking" the people of Britain.

Sketch from The Penny Illustrated Paper

November 22, 1875 --- Murder in Whitechapel

At the Old Bailey, Henry Wainwright answers "Not Guilty" to charges he murdered, then dismembered, his mistress, Harriet Lane.  The apparent respectability of the accused adds a special horror to the gruesome crime.

Henry Wainwright had lead a double life. A respected businessman, he owned a brush-making firm. He lived in Tredegar Square with his wife and four children and was active in his church.  Unbeknownst to all, he also kept a second establishment in the East End where he was known as Percy King and Harriet was "Mrs. King."  Wainwright managed to juggle all this duplicity until his business affairs soured.

To save expenses, Wainwright decided to move his mistress into smaller quarters at a squalid address. She was understandably displeased about the new arrangements and threatened to go to his wife. Wainwright lured her to his Whitechapel warehouse for a meeting.  There, he shot her twice in the head. He then "inexpertly" chopped her body into ten pieces and buried it in lime beneath the floor. One year later to the very day, having now been evicted from the warehouse and fearing discovery of the ghastly grave, he dug up and boxed Harriet's remains.

He got one of his workmen to help him load the parcels onto a wagon. He made a poor choice. Stokes - who later claimed a "supernatural" voice urged him to "Open that parcel!" - looked inside one crate and discovered a decomposed human hand. Following the wagon on foot, Stokes alerted a constable and the two of them tailed Wainwright and his boxes to a pub in the Borough where he was arrested.

The trial will last eight days; Wainwright remaining self-possessed, even "jaunty," throughout although his feeble defense - a far-fetched claim that Harriet had committed suicide - failed to impress the jury. Found guilty, he spent his final days saying farewell to family and friends. The Spectator found him to be: "A curious mixture of complete callousness and capacity for affection."

Having made a full confession, Wainwright was hanged on 21 December.  An eyewitness wrote: "His handsome features were lighted up with an expression of resignation unmixed with anything approaching bravado."

Sketch of Wainwright from The Penny Illustrated Paper

November 21, 1887 --- A Fallen Flesh Broker

The infamous Mary Jeffries is jailed for six months for "keeping a disorderly house."

Mrs. Jeffries managed a network of brothels; perhaps the most popular of her establishments was on Church Street, in Chelsea, where four houses had been interconnected by hidden doors.  She catered to clients of all tastes and income; the Prince of Wales was whispered to be among her regulars and the King of the Belgians reportedly paid her a monthly retainer of £800.

For more than two decades, Mrs. Jeffries had been well known to the police but not much troubled in the operation of her enterprises.  In the mid 80's, however, the rapidly growing "purity" movement targeted Mrs. Jeffries and recruited Jeremiah Minahan, a former Inspector of Scotland Yard. While on the force, Minahan's zeal in this area received little encouragement from his superiors; in fact, he was warned off his "highly improper" investigation. 

When arrested first for the first time in 1885, Mrs. Jeffries rode to court in a carriage loaned her by an unidentified Earl; she was ribaldly escorted by cheering Guardsmen. She accurately predicted, "Nothing can be done with me as my clients and patrons are of the highest social order." She plead guilty and had her token fine paid by admirers. The Sentinel, journal of the purity forces, denounced "the state of moral corruption" in London. Still, Mrs. Jeffries was forced to close a few of her brothels that had become so notorious that they no longer could offer the requisite privacy.

The purity police had not finished with her.  After taking some time off, she returned to her profession and The Society for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic struck again. They recruited several witnesses, including the cook and coachman and neighbors who describe the activities at 15 Brompton Square. This time, Mrs. Jeffries must go to jail. Acknowledging her age (although her lawyers overstate it by 15 years) and poor health (a failing heart), the judge stipulates her six months be served without hard labor.

W.T. Stead - whose Pall Mall Gazette had focused attention on Mrs. Jeffries and her ilk (see 6 July) - nonetheless offered sympathy:  "We wonder what the Kings, Princes, Peers and officers who found the old lady so convenient for the gratification of their pleasures, think of her now. Probably, if the truth be told, they never spare a thought for their fallen flesh broker."

Photograph: Women & Crime in the Nineteenth Century

November 20, 1884 --- The Beauty and the Peer

A celebrated breach-of-promise trial ends with the highest settlement of its kind.

Arthur Henry Cairns, Viscount Garmoyle, was 22 in 1883 and a young officer in training at Sandhurst.  His father was the Lord Chancellor, a brilliant but dour Ulsterman lawyer who gave speeches that “flowed like water from a glacier.”  Lord Cairns also held a great antipathy for the "Stage."  Thus the news that Garmoyle was engaged to an actress did not overly please him.  Miss Emily Finney, a coal merchant’s daughter, had acted in Gilbert & Sullivan productions under the stage name of May Fortescue.  A society paper described the young pair as “quite happy and desirably spooney.”  The engagement was publicly announced but, in February 1884, it was just as publicly called off.

Literally within minutes of the latter announcement, Frank Harris, editor of the Evening News was closeted with the jilted bride-to-be and her story was headlined “The Beauty and the Peer.”  Miss Fortescue placed all of the blame on Garmoyle’s father who considered the theatre “the ante-chamber of hell.”  She also coolly announced her intentions to seek the staggering sum of £30,000 damages for her “breach of promise.”

Efforts to privately settle the matter failed and the case of Finney v Cairns had been eagerly awaited.  Sir Charles Russell, for Miss Finney, said there was no argument: a promise had been made, accepted and broken.  Lord Garmoyle had pressed her to leave the stage, hoping to please his pater who thought the profession was “ungodly and profane.”  Having made that promise, she was then affectionately received by her future in-laws.  But the engagement did not go smoothly.  Earl Cairns urged the couple to delay the wedding, to allow Garmoyle to finish his military training.  Garmoyle suddenly cancelled a New Year’s visit.  And then, the “Dear Emily” letter arrived.  While professing his “deepest love and greatest admiration,” Garmoyle had decided to break off the engagement “acting in the interests and on suggestions of others.”  Inside the courtroom and out, the great weight of public sentiment was on the side of this disappointed young woman.

Sir Henry James, for the Viscount, disputes none of this and adds only that his client wishes to make plain that the unhappy decision was in no way based on Miss Finney’s conduct for she had behaved at all times in a manner becoming “a high-minded English gentlewoman.”  He also revealed that the Cairns family had offered and Miss Finney had agreed to accept damages in the amount of £10,000.

The size of the settlement, coupled with the fact that the Cairns were not particularly wealthy by the standards of the peerage, drew much criticism from the more thoughtful papers.  The Spectator wondered what a young woman jilted someday by a sprig of the Rothschilds might require for her solace.  The Telegraph took a more economical view: The Earldom of Cairns is one of quite recent creation, so that the young lady would not lose so much as if she had been matrimonially allied to our “old nobility.” Still, “an Earl’s an Earl for all that.”

Ironically, within six months of the trial, Earl Cairns died.  The new Earl, the erstwhile Viscount, now free, presumably, to marry Miss Finney, and get some of his money back, made no efforts in that direction.  Instead, he was jilted by an American heiress and eventually married a clergyman’s daughter.  Unfortunately, Earl Cairns (Garmoyle) died during the flu epidemic in January of 1890.  He was 29, left no children, and the title passed to his brother.

The Viscount (2nd Lord Cairns) from Vanity Fair

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

November 19, 1880 --- Mr. Boycott

Their work done and accompanied by their ubiquitous escort of 1000 armed militiamen, a contingent of volunteers -Ulstermen all - marches out of Ireland's remote County Mayo having saved the harvest of the embattled Captain Charles Boycott, the land agent for Lord Erne. The trouble began in September when the Captain - until then, a fairly popular man in the area - evicted several tenants for non-payment of rent. Soon, no one would work the fields at Lough Mask House.

Boycott has become the first victim of the Irish M.P. Parnell's "Plan of Campaign." To pressure London to reform Ireland's land laws, he called for a rent strike. If any tenant be evicted, let no man take his place. For Parnell, this was his alternative to the fruitless and counter-productive violence against landlords and agents. Parnell spoke in Ennis: "When a man takes a farm from which another has been evicted, you must show him in the streets of the town ... even in the house of worship, by leaving him severely alone, by putting him into moral Coventry, by isolating him from his kind as if he were a leper of old ... your detestation of the crime he has committed."

It cost the government £10,000 to save his Lordship's "praties."  England is alive with indignation; The Times declares, "When it becomes necessary to send troops to prevent laborers engaged in commonplace farm-work from being attacked, we have certainly got into the region of the abnormal." The Irish Secretary, Mr. Forster, declared "Unless we can strike down the boycotting weapon Parnell will beat us." The Illustrated London News notes the new word: "To 'Boycott' has already become a verb active, signifying to 'ratten', to intimidate, to 'send to Coventry' and to 'taboo.'"

The eponymous Captain Boycott soon sought the safety of England. Parnell and his lieutainants were tried in Dublin but, predictably, acquitted. Evictions all but halted; over 1900 tenants had been removed in the first nine months of the year, but after "the boycott", less than 200 were forced out in the rest of 1880.

Capt. Boycott by Spy in Vanity Fair.

November 18, 1852 --- Wellington's Funeral

The "Iron Duke" is laid to rest in the crypt at St. Paul's.

The Duke of Wellington had died more than two months earlier, on 14 September, at Walmer Castle in Kent. He had awakened in his old Army cot with a complaint of "some derangement" in his chest and, after requesting his morning tea, lapsed into a coma and died that afternoon at 83. The Queen ordered services for the "Dear Old Duke" delayed until Parliament's return.

More than a million people, hats in hand, line the procession route from Westminster Hall - where the body had lain in state - to the Cathedral. The cortege passes Buckingham Palace to afford the Queen a glimpse. She weeps at the sight of the old Duke's riderless horse, with boots reversed in the stirrups. She was not permitted to attend a subject's funeral, not even for (in her words) "the greatest man this country has produced." Prince Albert reported to her that the services were "most affecting."

Albert had played a lead role in the design of the huge funeral wagon which, bearing the coffin, is pulled by a team of magnificently costumed dray horses. Few would forget the sight. Carlyle wrote: "Of all the objects I ever saw the abominably ugliest." Dickens added: "For form of ugliness, horrible combination of color, hideous motion, and general failure, there was never such a work achieved as the Car." 27-feet long and weighing some 18 tons, the wagon lurches to a halt in Pall Mall when the roadbed gives way. 30 soldiers must drag it free.

At St. Paul's, an icy November wind howls down the main aisle of the great Cathedral as the massive doors swing open to receive the body. Tennyson, the new Poet Laureate, prepares an Ode for the occasion
Lead out the pageant:  sad and slow,
As fits an universal woe,
Let the long procession go,
and let the sorrowing crowd about it grow,
and let the martial music blow;
the last great Englishman is low.

November 17, 1868 --- The Last Campaign of Trollope

After what he described as "the most wretched fortnight of my manhood," the novelist Anthony Trollope fails in a bid for a seat in Parliament. Trollope's Palliser series is set in Westminster and he thought serving in the House of Commons should be the "highest object of ambition to every educated Englishman."

Alas, Trollope chose to stand as a Liberal for a traditional Tory seat in the notoriously venal town of Beverley, in Yorkshire. The Times quipped, "In 1854 there really was a pure election, but it was quite an accident." Trollope vowed to support Mr. Gladstone, the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland and state-funded schools, but he found that the electors of Beverley "cared nothing for my doctrines, and could not even be made to understand that I should have any." In a four man field, he finishes a distant fourth. The corrupt Tory incumbent Sir Henry Edwards is returned to Westminster.

Trollope received some measure of solace when he was called to testify at a subsequent Parliamentary inquiry which uncovered widespread fraud and bribery. So many of Sir Henry's votes had been bought (at an average price of 17s 6d) that Beverley was stripped of its seat. In his autobiography, Trollope wrote: "Beverley's privileges as a borough and my Parliamentary ambitions were brought to an end at the same time ... Nothing could be worse, more unpatriotic, more absolutely opposed to the system of representative government than the time honored practices of the borough of Beverley [where] political cleanliness was odious to the citizens."

Never to try again for Parliament, Trollope took fictional revenge on Beverley in his 1871 novel, Ralph the Heir, creating "that most iniquitous borough of Percycross." Trollope was hardly the only Victorian author to hanker for the House and be disappointed. Mr. Thackeray in Oxford, H. Rider Haggard in East Anglia, and Arthur Conan Doyle in Edinburgh, were also rejected by the voters.

November 16, 1861 --- The Nellie Clifden Affair

Prince Albert writes a heartbroken letter to Bertie, his son, the Prince of Wales. The father is distraught at having learned that his son is all but engaged to an Irish "actress," Nellie Clifden, whom he met and bedded while taking military training at the Curragh, near Dublin.

Making the news worse, Albert learned of the affair from his trusted eminence grise, Herr Stockmar, who reported from Coburg that the scandal had become the talk of Europe. It was "the gossip of all gossips." Lord Torrington confirmed for Albert that the whispers and snickers were being heard in London clubs as well. The word was that Bertie had even dared to bring Nellie back to London with him, and he'd dared to take her on a tour of Windsor Castle. Sparing the Queen "the disgusting details," an obviously anguished Albert writes to his son "with a heavy heart upon a subject which has caused me the greatest pain I have yet felt in this life." Amid worst case gossip that Nellie is with child, Albert imagines the worst, a lurid paternity suit:
There with (the Prince of Wales) in the witness box, she will able to give before a greedy Multitude disgusting details of your profligacy for the sake of convincing the Jury; yourself cross-examined by a railing indecent attorney and hooted and yelled at by a Lawless Mob!! Oh, horrible prospect, which this person has in her power, any day to realize! and to break your-poor parents' hearts.

So upset is the Prince Consort that, although unwell, he traveled through a cold rain to meet Bertie at Cambridge where son confessed to father and vowed the affair had ended. Returning to Windsor, from his sickbed, Albert wrote a second letter, "You must not, you dare not, be lost. The consequences for this country, and for the world, would be too dreadful!" In two weeks, Albert was dead (See 14 December).

The Queen, who knew enough of the details, told an old friend, that Albert had never recovered his strength after that "dreadful business at the Curragh."

The Prince of Wales in his military uniform

November 15, 1890 --- Capt. O'Shea's Revenge

The proceedings commence in O'Shea v Parnell, indisputably the most significant divorce case of the Victorian period.

Capt. William O'Shea - a former MP for Galway - had named as correspondent his erstwhile Parliamentary leader Charles Stuart Parnell. The latter's relationship with "Kitty" O'Shea (left) had been a longstanding one which, if discreetly conducted, was no secret in political circles. O'Shea, himself, appeared to accept the fact in exchange for Parnell's assistance in fostering his, alas singularly ineffectual, political career. In his testimony, O'Shea denies any connivance in his wife's infidelity. Parnell and Mrs. O'Shea opt to stay away from the court and make no defense.  Those in attendance are rewarded with "the squalid details" of adultery. For all intents, Parnell lived with Mrs. O'Shea at her seaside retreat it Brighton. Yet, when Capt O'Shea would arrive, Parnell - according to the servants - clambered down a rope out a back window to shortly reappear at the front door as a casual guest.

The jury quickly found for Capt. O'Shea and the presiding judge denounced Parnell as "one who takes advantage of the hospitality of the husband to debauch the wife."  The verdict proved the ruination of Parnell politically. The Times, pathologically anti-Parnell, regarded the verdict as "incapacitating a man from asserting the moral ascendancy that ought to be possessed by a political leader." However, citing Fox, Palmerston, Wellington and "others too numerous to mention," The Bristol Mercury thought the public reaction was "arrant hypocrisy."

Prime Minister Gladstone, with whom Parnell had warily co-operated on efforts to win Home Rule for Ireland, called for the Irishman's resignation, declaring that the scandal had produced "the gravest mischief to the cause." Challenged as Irish leader for the first time in more than a decade, Parnell fought to remain "Master of the Party." Blows were only narrowly averted when a dissident cried out, "And who is to be the Mistress?"

In June, 1891, Parnell quietly married Katherine at a Registry Office, issuing a statement. "I can truly say that I am now enjoying greater happiness than I have ever experienced in the whole of my previous life." It would be short-lived. Broken in reputation and in health, Parnell died that October at the age of 45.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

November 14, 1896 --- The Meet of the Motor Cars

Celebrating the end to the 4MPH speed limit on the Queen's highways, several "motorists" assemble in London for a ceremonial procession to Brighton.

After a lengthy effort, the so-called "Red Flag" Act of 1865 had been finally repealed. In addition to the speed limit, the law had required operators of steam carriages to employ a man to run on foot ahead of the vehicle waving a red flag to warn of the oncoming contraption.

Today, despite heavy rains, a huge crowd gathers to watch "the first public trial of what is doubtless to become one of the most important branches of locomotion." 54 machines have entered ranging from German-made Daimlers to mere motorized bath-chairs. (The Times declared that these strange contrivances, "for the sake of brevity, may conveniently be styled 'cars.'") 

The first vehicles wheezed off at 10:30 from Trafalgar Square.  Fully one-half of the vehicles never make it south of the Thames. It's slow going for everyone. Despite the new speed limit of 12MPH, it takes the leading vehicles a full hour to make it the three miles to the first checkpoint in Brixton. Gaining speed in the open country, the motorcars follow the route of the present day A23. A fork in the road in Reigate confuses more than a few drivers and many of them get lost.  This disarranges the plans for a grand entrance into Brighton and, instead, the surviving motorcars straggle in one at a time.

The "winner" - a German-made vehicle, the partisan Press must concede - arrives at the Royal Pavilion at 2:30 making good the boast that the 50 mile journey can be made in four hours. In Brighton, the motorcar promoter Harry Lawson proclaims, "Thank goodness this day has come at last, a day of the great deliverance of our roads and highways from the reign of quadrupeds."

The only blot on the day's events was word that an excited child had been struck by a vehicle in Crawley.  The injuries were fortunately slight.  Lawson says, in effect, these things are going to happen, "Is it not a serious thing to waste the time of 37 millions of people for fear some person may not look where he's going?"

Sketch from the Penny Illustrated Paper

November 13, 1887 --- Bloody Sunday

London police, backed up by the Life Guards, successfully prevent a major demonstration in Trafalgar Square. Amid continuing unemployment and social unrest, Sir Charles Warren, the Commissioner of Police had closed the Square - which, in theory at least, belonged to the Crown. This, of course, quickly prompted a coalition of jobless, socialists, anarchists, Irish nationalists, and other radicals to set a date for the largest assembly yet.

The police and soldiers are out early to secure the main access routes. The young socialist Bernard Shaw sets out from Clerkenwell Green with a large group, most of whom "skeedaddled" when met by police in Holborn. Some of them run all the way to Hampstead Heath in what Shaw called "the most abjectly disgraceful defeat ever suffered by a band of heroes outnumbering their foes a thousand to one."

Fewer than a hundred make it to Nelson's Column. Before a small audience, a magistrate reads the Riot Act. The conservative Saturday Review offered "hearty and ungrudging praise to the guardians of liberty and order." The Times said the marchers were primarily "worthless, vicious" denizens of London's slums, lead by persons with "a diseased craving for notoriety."

One of those who does make it to the square is R.B. Cunninghame-Graham, a Scottish MP, who chains himself to a railing, waving a red flag. He later wrote in the Socialist journal Commonweal: “I saw repeated charges made on a perfectly unarmed and helpless crowd: I saw policemen not of their own accord, but on the orders of their superiors, repeatedly strike women and children; I saw them invariably choose those for assault who seemed least likely to retaliate.” The police were much criticized and, as a result, most of the rally organizers were let off with only minor punishment.   A future Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, who defended several of the marchers, declared, "No doubt the police lost their heads and acted in a most brutal and unjustifiable manner."

Shaw thought the "violent farce" proved the folly of directly challenging the authorities, "They will provoke; we will defy; they will punish. I do not see the wisdom of that."

Sketch from The Graphic

November 12, 1895 --- A Book to be Burned

Under the headline "Jude the Obscene," The Pall Mall Gazette joins the rush to condemn Jude the Obscure, the newest novel by Thomas Hardy. The Gazette dismisses Hardy's despairing tale with a mock plot summary: “To the best of our reckoning, a total of six marriages and two obscenities to the count of two couples and a half - a record performance, we should think. And they all lived unhappily ever after, except Jude, who spat blood and died.”

Elsewhere, the official paper of the Church of England, The Guardian, called it "a shameful nightmare." The Bishop of Wakefield boasted from his pulpit that he had burned the book. The London World headed its review, "Hardy the Degenerate," and the respected Athenaeum called it "a titanically bad book." Even a generally favorable critic, Edmund Gosse, writing in The St. James Gazette, called it a "gloomy, even a grimy story." Many of the offending passages in the novel, including a reference to a pig's pizzle (penis), had to be be cut out of the serialized version which appeared in Harper’s Magazine. The editor refused to print anything which "could not be read aloud in a family circle." W.H. Smith announced that the book would not be sold in its nationwide chain of railway bookstalls.

Making matters worse for the author, his wife abhorred the book. Although the story that Mrs. Hardy tried to have it suppressed is now widely doubted, she did tell a friend it was the first novel that her husband had not let her read and had she read it, she vowed, it would not have been published.

This is not Hardy's first brush with a censorious press and public. A few years before, stung by the harsh reception to Tess of the D'Urbervilles, he had written, “If this sort of thing continues, no more novel-writing for me. A man must be a fool to deliberately stand up to be shot at.” With the venomous response to Jude, Hardy had had enough. In his revised preface to the novel in 1912, he wrote "the experience completely curing me of further interest in novel-writing."

November 11, 1842 --- The Difference Engine

Mathematician-inventor Charles Babbage storms out of 10 Downing Street.  This unsuccessful confrontation with Prime Minister Peel may be said to have pushed the development of the computer into the 20th Century.

In 1823, Babbage first received government assistance for his work on a massive calculating contraption he called his "Difference Engine." In 1834, he announced that he had developed a new analytical device which, while superseding what he had been working on, could be easily incorporated in "Difference Engine No. 2." Whitehall sceptics, with nothing to show for all the monies expended thus far, ordered an end to all funding for the project.

The impasse lasted eight years until Babbage demanded a yes-or-no from Mr. Peel's government. While bowing to the "ingenuity and labor" expended on the project, the answer is no. “The expense which would be necessary to render it either satisfactory to yourself, or generally useful, appears on the lowest calculation far to exceed what we should be justified in incurring.” Grudgingly granted an audience with Peel, Babbage arrives with charts and ledger books, none of which the PM cares to consider. Babbage blames the delay in achieving results on the "harassing state of uncertainty" in funding and pleads, "I thought that the services I had rendered ought not to be utterly unrequited and unrewarded." In his notes, Babbage recalls, “Sir R. Peel seemed excessively angry and annoyed during the whole interview...Finding [him] unwilling to admit that I had any claim, I merely remarked that I considered myself as having been treated with great injustice, but that as he seemed to be of a different opinion, I could not help myself, on which I got up and wished him good morning.”

Peel had offered a compensatory knighthood. It was rejected. Babbage continued to work on his "engine" using personal funds and small gifts from supporters.  Yet, he produced no results. 

He became a figure easily mocked: e.g. Disraeli who suggested the machine be used to calculate the "millions squandered" on it. Babbage left his papers to Cambridge; when mechanical technology caught up with his theories, he earned the title "Father of the Computer."

The Difference Engine at

Sunday, November 6, 2011

November 10, 1871 --- "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"

In the village of Ujiji, on Lake Tanganyika, Stanley finds Livingstone. The Scottish missionary-explorer has been missing five years and feared dead.

Henry Stanley, an illegitimate Welshman who had become one of America's first foreign correspondents, was sent into the jungle by his newspaper, The New York Herald; his mission - find Livingstone or bring back proof of his death. After more than six months of fevers and tribal warfare, Stanley had almost given up when natives told his bearers about an old man with a white beard in a village near the lake.

In his account of the legendary meeting, Stanley wrote how he struggled to control his emotions, so as to "not detract from the dignity of the white man." He recalled: “I walked deliberately up to him, took off my hat and said, 'Dr. Livingstone, I presume?' 'Yes,' he said with a kind smile, raising his cap slightly ... and then I said aloud, 'I thank God, Doctor, I have been permitted to see you.' He answered, 'I feel thankful that I am here to welcome you.'”

Stanley stayed with Livingstone for several months. Livingstone refused to return with him to England, explaining he could not leave until the Nile question was settled. Stanley arrived back in England in the summer of 1872 and was accorded almost heroic status. He met the Queen who was decidedly unimpressed, "a determined, ugly, little man - with a strong American twang." Stanley thought anti-American prejudice was responsible for the rather chilly reception he also received from the Royal Geographical Society, which had - after all - been embarrassed by the repeated failures of their own search parties. In fact, despite a letter in Livingstone's hand describing his meeting with Stanley, some dismissed the whole story as a hoax.

Modern chronologists believe Stanley may have been, understandably, confused and the actual date of the historic event cannot be given with any certainty.  We shall use the traditional date.

The Penny Illustrated Paper (July 13, 1872)

November 9. 1841 --- A Prince is Born

Queen Victoria, after "very severe" sufferings and numerous false alarms, gives birth to a "fine large Boy" at 10:48 in the morning. The boy is the Queen's second child, but her first son, and thus becomes the presumptive heir to the throne. This was quite a big deal as not since the reign of George III, eighty years before, had a reigning monarch announced the birth of a legitimate son.

The infant is taken soon after his birth for the traditional presentation (inspection?)to the Government ministers who had been assembled in an adjoining room, including Prime Minister Peel, the Duke of Wellington and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The latter, the victim of some of those false alarms, arrives late for the ceremony.

The boy, notes the Queen in her diary, has "very large dark blue eyes" and "a finely formed but somewhat large nose." She writes her uncle Leopold, King of the Belgians, "You will understand how fervent my prayers ... to see him resemble his angelic dearest Father in every, every respect." The baby arrives on the Lord Mayor's Day, an additional reason to celebrate. The Times calls the countrywide reaction, "one universal feeling of joy."

Perhaps the only person to resent the arrival was the 2-year old Princess Royal. Punch quipped that the little girl had developed an alarming "affection of the nose, which is said to be quite out of joint since the royal stranger came into existence." Created Prince of Wales in December, the infant wasn't christened until late January at Windsor, amid full pomp costing £5000. No one could doubt that the boy would be christened Albert, for his father, although the ex-Prime Minister Lord Melbourne urged the "more English appellation, Edward." It would be 59 years before Albert Edward, called "Bertie" from infancy, would become King Edward VII.

One additional note: there was much favorable comment at word that a Mrs. Brough, a former housemaid, would be wet-nurse for the Prince. It was said to be a good thing that the young Prince would owe his nourishment to the very humblest of his people. In 1854, Mrs. Brough went mad and murdered her six children.

Winterhalter's family painting; "Bertie" is given pride of place with Mama.

November 8, 1886 --- The Late Fred Archer

Not only the sporting world, but all Britain is shocked by the suicide, at only 31, of the legendary jockey, Fred Archer.

An inn-keeper's son, Archer - nicknamed "The Tinman" - had ridden 2746 winners, including five Derby champions.  The “greatest jockey that ever sat in a saddle,” he earned as much as £8000 per year. Trusted by his employers, who included the Duke of Westminster and the Prince of Wales, Archer was envied – if not despised – by his rival riders.  But he was "simply worshipped" by the railbirds who loved his fearless style: “He never hesitated to take the inside of the turn while more mature jockeys, afraid of their necks, were taking wide bends round the corner and losing lengths and often the race by the manouvre.”

When his young wife died two years before, the nation grieved with him. Now, at Archer’s end, The Times wrote: "Hardly anything that could befall an individual would cause a more widespread and painful sensation throughout England." The jockey had been unwell. Like all riders, he fought to keep his weight down, employing a regimen of Turkish baths coupled with primitive diets known, appropriately, as "wasting." In late October, he stopped eating for several days to make his weight (119 lbs) for the Cambridgeshire Cup, the only major race he hadn't won. But 1886 was not to be his year; aboard St. Mirin, he fell short again. Racing next in Brighton, subsisting on champagne and the odd biscuit, Archer collapsed at the end of a cold, wet day.

The rider was taken home to Newmarket to be cared for by his sister. The anxious public was reassured that his condition seemed to be improving. On a Monday afternoon, he asks his sister to open the sickroom curtains so he might see the heath. Moments later, a shot. He'd pulled a pistol from beneath the coverlet and blew his brains out. It is the anniversary of his wife's death.

Many newspapers questioned the fitness of a mere jockey for such hero's status; but, as The Times put it, Archer's death was "an almost personal loss literally to millions." Added The Saturday Review: "A country may as well admire a popular jockey as a popular preacher of a common modern sort."

Archer in Vanity Fair

November 7, 1863 --- Horror in a Hansom

London is shaken by the discovery of a mother and her two daughters found dead in a hansom.

The cabman tells police he picked up a well-dressed man, with full moustache, along with the three victims, in Shoreditch.  He was given an address in distant Westbourne Grove. At one point, whilst in the City, the man asks the driver to stop at a pub and bring him a pint of ale. The cab then rolls on until High Holborn where the gentleman cries out, "Hold hard, Cabbie! I'll get out here." The gentleman tipped handsomely and orders the cabman to drive on.

Through the teeming streets on a Saturday night, the cab finally reaches the Royal Oak, Westbourne Grove, where the horrifying discovery is made. The victims - unidentified save for some faded laundry marks - had been poisoned, the ale had apparently been laced with prussic acid.

The sensation is immediate; The Times shudders: "The very crowd, noise, bustle and lights of the streets, and the indifference of the thousands... may veil a hideous crime more effectually than the darkness of the forests or caves with which romance usually shrouds such deeds." A reward of £100 was posted.  Londoners talked and read of little else. 

The vast anonymity of the city proved no protection for the killer. A suspicious postman in Camberwell told police of a man named Hunt who had two daughters by an unhappy marriage and who had talked of "doing" his wife. Detectives called on this Samuel Hunt who insisted he'd been in Margate all weekend. He told police that a suspicious mustachioed man had been seen calling upon his wife. When told that he would have to come along to perhaps identify the bodies, Hunt slipped away long enough to take a lethal draught of aconite poison. In his final retches, he confessed: "She was always very jealous, and, Oh! she led me a dreadful life."

A salesman for a firm of “seedsmen, herbalists and druggists” in Covent Garden, Hunt had slowly amassed the poisons he needed. At the inquest, a barber in the Strand swore that he had sold a false moustache to the clean-shaven Hunt. Although Hunt had a well-constructed alibi, The Spectator expressed relief that most men are "not equal to the effort" of concealing such "pitiless crimes."

November 6, 1895 --- A Ducal Wedding

Crowds line Fifth Avenue in New York City hoping to catch a glimpse of the 9th Duke of Marlborough and his 18-year old American bride, Consuelo Vanderbilt. While hardly the first, the wedding is the most heralded linkage between the English peerage and American wealth. It may also have proven to be among the most disastrous.

The 25-year old Duke bears one of the proudest names in the realm, though tarnished somewhat by the profligacy of his father, the recently deceased and unlamented 8th Duke.  Consuelo is the granddaughter of the great Commodore Vanderbilt, the American railroad baron. The New York Times reports the wedding, with a price tag rumored at $400,000 (£80,000), was "the most magnificent ever celebrated in this country." Beneath the pomp, however, is the undeniable fact that the marriage is more a financial transaction than a love match; a title in exchange for desperately needed funds to satisfy the creditors circling the historic seat of the Marlborough’s, Blenheim Palace. Alva Vanderbilt admitted, "I forced my daughter to marry the Duke." "Sunny" - an inappropriate nickname for a melancholy young man - didn't come cheaply; the Vanderbilts ponied up $2,500,000 in railway stock, plus $100,000 a year apiece for Duke and Duchess.

The marriage was a spectacular failure. Even their wedding, delayed a day so as not to fall on Guy Fawkes Day, gave rise to disagreement. In her best-selling autobiography, The Glitter and the Gold, Consuelo later grumbled, "This was only the first of a series of, to me, archaic prejudices inspired by a point of view opposed to my own." She recalled spending the hours before her wedding in tears. Of the service, she wrote: “The usual hymns glorifying perfect love were sung, and when I glanced at my husband shyly I saw that his eyes were fixed in space.”

After a grand honeymoon across Europe, the Duke and his new Duchess returned to Blenheim, where, at the estate gates, their carriage horses were unhitched and, as Consuelo recalled, "our employees proceeded to drag us up to the house." Separated in 1906, they divorced in 1921.