Thursday, March 31, 2011

April 30, 1877 --- Advertising for a Husband

The London based weekly, Matrimonial News is a "public nuisance," declares Sir Richard Malius, Vice-Chancellor of the Chancery Court.  "It deserves to be put down if there were any means to do so."  The publication carries what we now would call "personal ads." 

Sir Richard's outburst is prompted by the predicament facing a widow from Monmouth. Mrs. George, whose late husband, a wealthy solicitor, had left her with seven children, had placed the following notice in the aforesaid periodical:
A widow lady, aged 39, dark, ladylike, of good family, nice residence, and income of 700 pounds a year, would like to correspond with a gentleman from 50 to 60, with a view to marriage.

Not surprisingly, she soon received a response:

A widower of 50, medium height, considered good-tempered and a good man of business, exceedingly fond of children, and possessed of some property (real)..

After a brief correspondence, and against the wishes of her brothers, Mrs. George agreed to marry Arthur Clark. She also agreed, on her very wedding day, to a revised marriage settlement - handwritten in parts - transferring "first life estate" in her property to her new husband. Predictably, difficulties arose.  Arthur Clark was not exactly who he said he was.  He came to the marriage with nothing but four children. He was insolvent; his "property" was nothing more than some nebulous American claim. In the Chancery action, Mrs. Clark sued her lawyer and Sir Richard rules in her favor, returning her control of her estate.

What with its "happy ending," the case offered a good deal of amusement, however, The Spectator called it evidence of the "rank injustice" of the laws involving a woman's property: "The man, in fact, can only be robbed if he wishes it, while the woman must be robbed unless she appeals to law to protect her against robbery."

Matrimonial News persisted, exasperating Sir Richard.   He had cited a recent ad from a young lady, "tall and attractive" with £1200 a year.  "No one can believe that a young lady in such a position need advertise for a husband!"

April 29, 1884 --- Women at Oxford

In a rowdy session that follows months of anguished debate, the Oxford Convocation, ruling body of the ancient University, votes to admit women to "Honors" programs leading to a full degree. The first women's halls at Oxford - Lady Margaret and Somerville - had opened in the late 1870's but the young ladies could not sit for exams and would only receive diplomas, not degrees.

Acceptance was slow in coming. Ruskin would not have women in his art classes, claiming "they would occupy the seats in mere disappointed puzzlement." Not for nothing is Oxford known as "the home of lost causes" and opponents of women's education mounted a furious campaign to defeat the resolution. The ultraconservative don, J.W. Burgon (right) waxed wrathful in a sermon at New College, Oxford: "Has the University seriously considered the inevitable consequences of this wild project?" Specifically, in a curriculum dominated by "the classics," Burgon fears exposing women to "the obscenities of Greek and Roman literature ... the filth of old-world civilization." He ends his sermon with the prayer, "Inferior to us GOD made you; and our inferiors to the end of time you will remain."  Thomas Case, master of Corpus Christi college, warns: "Sound learning and the midnight lamp will be succeeded by light literature and the art of conversation at tea-parties."

It is the most crowded meeting of the Convocation in years, undergraduates eagerly take all the remaining seats. The traditional voice vote, ayes and nays, results only in an indiscriminate roar. The members must file out through two doors, proctors taking the head count. The result is 464 for the question, 321 opposed; it is received "with great enthusiasm."

Noting that Cambridge, Edinburgh and the University of London had already admitted women to their degree programs, The Times reports that it was obvious that the Convocation was "not prepared to leave the direction of women's education in other, and as all Oxford men are bound to think, less competent hands."

A modest victory for women at the university level; still, women could not take degrees at Oxford or Cambridge until 1920.

April 28, 1870 --- "Gentlemen" in Female Attire

The Boulton-Park affair, which either amused or shocked England for over a year, begins with the arrest of two well-bred young men in women's clothing.

Ernie Boulton is wearing a cherry-colored silk gown while his companion Freddy Park wears a dark green satin dress, with low-cut bodice. As "Stella" and "Fanny," the two often appeared as women in lesser stage productions. Arrested in the Haymarket, an area rife with prostitutes, the two are suspected of blackmail or worse. They're taken to a nearby station house where a police surgeon examines them "for evidence of unnatural practices." Boulton, Park and four others are soon charged with "conspiring and enticing persons to commit an unnatural offence.''

The co-defendants included Lord Arthur Clinton, younger son of the Duke of Newcastle, who had appeared in public with Boulton as "Mr. and Mrs. Clinton." He died, an apparent suicide, before the trial. Also charged is the U.S. consul in Edinburgh, John Fiske, implicated by his many letters to Boulton. In one of them, Fiske professed "a heart full of love and longing."

The six-day trial was not held until May of 1871 and offered a titillating glimpse at life in the demi-monde. One of the beadles at Burlington Arcade provided some chuckles in his testimony about chasing the whores and perverts from his domain. An acquaintance of Boulton's shamefacedly admitted that he "kissed him, she, or it." Two days were devoted to intensely personal medical testimony; a defense doctor from the Royal Medical College stating that he could find no evidence of pedication in his examination of any of the defendants. Lawyers acting for Fiske concede he wrote the "execrable" letters but portray him as a moral young man who often "sought the society of ladies." Boulton and Park's attorneys depicted them as young men "out for a lark," foolish perhaps, but not criminal.

Despite Chief Justice Cockburn's outburst that cross-dressing is an "outrage" and suggesting time on the treadmill for its devotees, the jury took less than an hour to acquit them all. The Times, while not questioning the outcome, nonetheless worried that "the rising generation is more effeminate than its predecessors, and such degeneracy is wont to spread very rapidly."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

April 27, 1844 --- The Case of Mary Furley

To the relief of almost everyone, 40-year old Mary Furley will not hang. The miserable woman had tried to drown herself and her child in Regent's Canal. A passing boatman - hearing a woman's moans - rescued Mary but the little boy was never seen again. 

At her trial, Mary Furley's story became clear. Abandoned by her husband, she had been sent to the Bethnal Green workhouse. While there, her child had gotten lice in his hair,  A drunken barber employed to shave the lad cut him badly.  Mary fled the workhouse and sought work as a needlewoman. Her first meager earnings had been promptly stolen. Faced with a return to the workhouse, she said "I preferred death for myself and my child."

Her pathetic tale notwithstanding, Mary Furley was sentenced to die for infanticide. Sent to hang at Newgate, she was advised to "turn your mind to your spiritual affairs." The Times was merely the most prominent voice urging mercy: "No, the rich, the respectable, the comfortable members of society cannot imagine, cannot picture to themselves, a condition so deplorably miserable as to prompt a woman to
infanticide. Let them be thankful that they cannot; but let them show their humility and their gratitude by judging lightly of a fellow creature.'

On 26 April, Mary was informed that all pleas for mercy had been considered and rejected; her execution would take place on 8 May. She collapsed in her cell, "insensible with grief." The very next day, however, she was told Her Majesty "had been pleased" to respite her sentence. Punch called it "capriciously wicked" and attacked the Government: "In the name of outraged humanity, in the name of a most miserable woman, scourged to agony and madness by the cruelty of unmerited ill-fortune, we ask [the Home Secretary] wherefore this atrocity was committed? Did he not know the wretchedness, more complete in its horror than any labored tale of fiction, that step by step had scourged the woman from the workhouse to the river's brink?"

Mary Furley was ordered transported to Australia for a period of seven years. The Examiner asks: "If such be the Royal clemency, what is the rigor?"

April 26, 1871 --- The Eltham Murder

At five a.m., a passing constable comes upon an injured woman in the woods near Blackheath. "Oh, my poor head, just let me die," she cries before lapsing into a coma. The woman's head had been "battered in a fearful manner." Police find a bloody hammer nearby. The victim died never regaining consciousness. Police made a quick arrest but "the Eltham murder" would not be so easily solved.

The victim is Jane Clousen, a servant girl most recently in the employ of the Pook family, Mr. Pook being a prosperous printer in the City. At her death, she was two months pregnant. Jane had told a friend the father of her baby was 20-year old Edward Pook and their intimacy had led to her dismissal. Police quickly took Pook fils into custody. They found an ironmonger who claimed he'd sold Edward a hammer - identical to the murder weapon. Witnesses reported seeing Edward and Jane together the night of her death. A bloody shirt was taken from his room.

Despite the confidence of the police, Edward had a strong case. He claimed he'd been in Lewisham at the time of the murder. Further, the man who bought the hammer wore light colored trousers, Edward owned only dark. Subject to fits, Edward often bit his tongue, explaining the bloody shirt. Several of the Crown witnesses proved unreliable.  The defense claimed they were "the very dregs of Greenwich." In the end, no one could verify the dead woman's claim that the two young people had been lovers. The Lord Chief Justice told the jury there was "not a tittle" of evidence that the unborn child was Edward's. Edward was quickly acquitted to the "loud and thrilling cheers" of his friends but the verdict wasn't universally popular.

The radical press suggested that it was now open season for masters to rape and kill their servants. 4000 people marched on the Pook home to stage a grim tableaux vivante of the murder. Poole's father complained to the papers of being "hooted and yelled at in the public streets in a most frightful and disgraceful manner." The Times urged the public to direct its anger instead at the police whose mishandling of the case was as "as stupid as it was reprehensible"  The leaderwriter only wished that the detectives "had the acumen with which their class is credited in fiction."

Jane Clousen's murder was never solved.

April 25, 1854 --- Mrs. Ruskin's Bolt

Her disastrous marriage unconsummated after six years, Euphemia Gray Ruskin leaves her husband. While she travels north to her family home in Perth, her attorneys call on the well-known artist & critic John Ruskin in London.  They arrive with two envelopes; in one, is her wedding band, and in the other, a suit for nullity of the marriage.

In March, Effie had written her parents of her situation: "I do not think that I am John Ruskin's Wife at all!" Recalling her wedding night (10 April 1848), Effie wrote: "The reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person." In his response to the suit, Ruskin admitted as much, stating that his wife's body "was not formed to excite passion." While some biographers believe that Ruskin's fragile sensibilities were disarranged by Effie's unfortunately timed period on her honeymoon, others cite what can be called "body hair trauma." Accustomed solely to the hairless nudes of the canvas, Ruskin was not ready for the sight of pubic hair.

Psycho-analytic speculation aside, Ruskin soon declared that he married for companionship and children would only be a hindrance to his work. To a friend, he wrote, "I will not allow the main work of my life to be interfered with." The formalities proceed. Effie underwent an embarrassing medical exam to prove herself "virgo intacta." In a statement for his attorneys, Ruskin insisted his caresses had been rejected "as if I had been a wild beast." While expressing no wish to reconcile, he offered to demonstrate his "virility." He told friends he suffered from Rousseau's affliction, i.e. an addiction to masturbation. It was, however - so to speak -out of his hands.

An annulment was granted on grounds of Ruskin's "incurable impotency." A year later, Effie married Ruskin's protegee, John Everett Millais. Ruskin was accused, with little evidence, of having thrown Millais into his wife's company. Admittedly, the three spent several months together in Scotland and the young artist could hardly fail to notice the nature of the Ruskin's marriage and he and Effie were soon in love. Ruskin wrote spitefully: "If there is anything like visible retribution in the affairs of this life, there are assuredly dark hours in the distance for her to whom he has chosen to bind his life."

The Millais' had eight children. Ruskin never re-married.

April 24, 1871 --- The Match Tax

Police outside the House of Commons clash with a stone-throwing crowd of protesters, drawn thither by a proposed tax on matches. The author of the controversial levy, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Robert Lowe, avoids the angry mob by entering Westminster via an underground passageway.

Lowe (left) proposed to meet an expected deficit with a ha'penny tax on a box of wooden matches, a full penny on the "more aristocratic" waxed matches. In a speech to the Commons, Lowe had jested that the public would not object to a tax on matches when it was explained that it did not apply to "matrimonial engagements." His confidence was premature.

The "riotous assemblage" at Westminster includes hundreds of boys and girls employed at the sprawling Bryant & May matchworks in the East End. The company had predicted the tax, which would not apply to imported matches, would drive down sales and force hundreds of workers onto the streets. Even the Queen was alarmed, "The tax will seriously affect the manufacture and sale of matches, which is said to be the sole means of support of a vast number of the very poorest people and little children, especially in London, so that this tax, which it is intended should press om all equally, will in fact be only severely felt by the poor, which would be very wrong and most impolitic at the present moment."

The march to Parliament had been peaceful until labor agitators rally the crowds with inflammatory speeches. A placard reads: "Agitate, Agitate, Agitate, and insist upon the withdrawal of this iniquitous tax on British industry." The crowd is subjected to some rather rough-handling by police ordered to clear New Palace Yard; soon "an ill-behaved gathering [becomes] a resisting, howling mob."

Support-for the tax, never very strong, quickly collapsed and a chastened Mr. Lowe - greeted with mock cheers and sneering laughter - was forced to report to the Commons that the proposed match levy had been withdrawn. Poor Lowe - who had acted on the advice of several renowned economists - was made to look the fool. The Hornet - for example - caricatured him as "The Naughty Boy who played with the Lucifer matches and burnt his fingers."

April 23, 1875 --- The Gaekwar of Baroda

"The odious Gaekwar of Baroda" is deposed by order of the Viceroy of India, Lord Northbrook. Described as "a debauchee and an imbecile," Mulhar Rao is charged with "notorious misconduct and gross misgovernment." The Viceroy took his action despite the verdict in one of the most sensational state trials in the history of the Raj.

The British resident in the principality, Col. Phayre, had accused the Gaekwar of trying to have him poisoned. Believing the evidence to be strong, the Viceroy seized the opportunity. Proclaiming the fairness of British justice - he named a six-judge panel, three Europeans and three Indians to hear the charge. In addition, Serjeant Ballantine, one of the leading barristers at London's Old Bailey was sent out to handle the Gaekwar's defense at government expense.

Col. Phayre testified that, on one afternoon the previous November, his daily dish of pummelo sherbet had given him "a most unusual sickness of stomach." Traces of arsenic and diamond dust were found; the latter, by native legend, was a virulent poison but harmless. Ballantine focused his defense on the accuser, claiming Phayre was "fussy, meddlesome and thoroughly injudicious'' and he was "greedy to listen to every accusation against the Gaekwar." Ballantine conceded that the Gaekwar had many enemies.  He suggested that any of them might have tried to poison Phayre and then frame frame the Gaekwar for his murder.  In the end, the panel of judges split, all the Europeans for conviction, all the natives for acquittal. No surprise; one English sceptic harrumphed "It was like relying on a Jesuit ... where the Pope was concerned."

The Viceroy's hopes were frustrated and he dithered for weeks. Finally, ignoring the verdict, he sacks the nettlesome Gaekwar anyway. The Spectator thought it was a mistake, "It is impossible to be satisfied with a decision which seems to involve a breach of faith." The Times called it a "mischievous blunder" even if the Empire is rid of "one of the worst specimens of one of the worst types of humanity - an Eastern Prince."

The exiled Gaekwar died unmourned while his infant successor, Sayaji Rao, lived until 1939, hailed as "one of the most enlightened of the Indian princes."

April 22, 1884 --- Earthquake in England

At 9:20 in the morning, the worst earthquake since Elizabethan times rumbles across south-east England. Centered in Essex, near the mouth of the River Colne, the quake all but flattened several remote villages. In Langenhoe, the old village church came down (right). Two people died, a child killed by fallen debris and an invalid who simply died of fright.

A resident of Witham -some ten miles away from the center of the quake - wrote The Times to describe the experience.  "I heard a noise which I can only compare to the rumbling of the Underground railway combined with the rushing of a strong wind."  In London, fifty miles away, the quake catches several workmen atop the Victoria Tower at Westminster. They were reported to be "greatly alarmed at the sudden undulatory motion [and] collected together in amazement." The Superintendent of the Works reports the tower swayed four inches out of perpendicular.

Understandably, the quake excites much concern throughout England where such events are rare; The Spectator declared, "There is nothing on which Englishmen pride themselves more than their firmness and stability of mind, but firmness and stability of mind are just the qualities which liability to earthquake most undermines."

An inspector from London reported that it was "almost impossible, either by description or illustration, to convey to the public generally the immense extent of the damage."  The so-called "Essex quake" is linked with the massive Pacific quake at Krakatoa the previous August and a major quake at Madrid the following December. Scientists conclude "a general though slight realignment of earth pressure is taking place."

A Mansion House fund soon raised over £10,000 pounds for the villagers left homeless. The benevolence of the English public is once again recognized, although some London publicans may have felt otherwise. According to Punch, in the Strand numerous persons who had been taking their morning draught at various liquidational establishments, rushed out of these places in so great a hurry that they forgot to pay for the refreshment they had consumed. "This has fixed the time of the event on the minds of the proprietors of these places."

April 21, 1860 --- A Brutal Schoolmaster

A 15-year old schoolboy dies of his injuries after being beaten by his headmaster. Thomas Hopley - "a person of high attainments and irreproachable character" - operated a small school in Eastbourne for difficult children of the upper middle classes.  Reginald Cancellor was the son of a London attorney who thought his "stolid and stupid" son might benefit from the sea. and Hopley's equally bracing discipline. The boy suffered from what doctors then labeled "water on the brain."

The headmaster soon complained of the boy's obdurate ways and sought permission to use the rod.  From London came word from Cancellor's pater: "Act as you think fit." Sadly, the family was soon informed by Hopley that Reginald had been found dead in his bed. Summoned to claim the body, Reginald's elder brother, a clergyman, became suspicious as the corpse was unusually clothed; elbow length gloves and long socks to mid-thigh. He demanded a police inquest. When the clothing was ordered cut away, it revealed a horrible sight: "legs and arms a dark & livid color, and swollen from extravasated blood—the skin of the thighs reduced to a perfect jelly."

Hopley was tried in Lewes for manslaughter amid "intense interest."  He admitted beating Reginald with a skipping rope for refusing to do his sums and for refusing an order to go to his room. He called the death "an unfortunate accident" and insisted, "Heaven knows I have done my duty by that poor boy."  Hopley is undone however by a servant girl whose testimony detailed the boy's terrible screams and the subsequent frantic efforts of Hopley and his wife to clean the blood spattered room. The schoolmaster got a four year sentence, which many thought insufficient; The Times, for example. "There is nothing to be said for this man ... [it was] not discipline but murder."

Adding to the public outrage was the fact that Hopley had won some attention for his speeches and writings about the abuse of children in England's factories. The Illustrated London News recommended that Hopley be "set in a pillory to be lapidated by an indignant mob."

April 20, 1868 --- A Medium in Court

Britain's foremost "medium", Daniel Dunglas Home, faces an embarassing lawsuit filed by a 75-year old widow. Mrs. Jane Lyon claims she turned £60,000 over to the 35-year old "table-turner" while under his psychic sway.

Scottish-born, raised in America, Home claimed, among his varied "special powers," the ability to contact the dead. He'd held seances for Dickens, the Brownings, Napoleon III, and even compared notes with the Pope. In 1866, Mrs. Lyon came to his "Spiritual Athenaeum" on Sloane Street. Near his death in 1859, her husband had assured her he would speak to her in seven years. It took three visits, but Home reached the dearly departed. Through tablerappings, deciphered by Home, he said: "I love Daniel, he is to be your son." Almost at once, she transferred £24,000 to Home, noting "this is an entirely FREE GIFT!" The visits and rappings (and gifts) continued and soon - from beyond the grave - came an order to draft a new will naming Daniel Home-Lyon as beneficiary. Humbled and grateful, he agreed.

When a rival sage warned her she was being fleeced, Mrs. Lyon sued to save her fortune. Home's counsel argues the problems began only after the much younger Home had rejected her more than maternal "attentions." He introduces letters addressed to "My Darling" and witnesses to her alleged amorous conduct. The plaintiff's lawyer dismissed the theory as "disgusting." In truth, Mrs. Lyon is a rather pathetic figure; The Times thanked her, nonetheless, "for affording the public such an interesting psychological study." Yet, in the end, Vice-Chancellor Giffard orders Home to return it all, denouncing his activities as "most mischievous ... calculated on the one hand to control the believers in it and to assist the plans of the needy and the designing." The Illustrated London News labeled the entire proceedings ludicrous; "a place of justice being converted into a lecture room for a juggler."

Home survived the scandal. In fact, that December, several responsible people claimed they were there when he levitated out one third floor window and in another, high above Victoria Street!

April 19, 1881 --- The Death of Disraeli

At home in Curzon Street, Mayfair, Lord Beaconsfield (Benjamin Disraeli) dies at the age of 76.

Increasingly frail, afflicted by asthma and gout, the great statesman had been under the care of Dr. Joseph Kidd, London's leading homeopathic physician. He had prescribed claret (not port) for the gout and arsenic for the cough. Alas, returning from a dinner one frigid March evening, Disraeli caught a fatal chill.

It took a command from the Queen to overcome the jealousies of the medical profession and permit a bronchial specialist to consult with the despised Dr. Kidd. It was too late, even Dizzy told a friend, "Whatever the doctors may tell you, I do not believe I shall get well." Asked if he would like a personal visit from his "Faery Queen," he quipped, "It is better not. She would only ask me to take a message to Albert." He did send her a final note: "At present, I am prostrated but devoted - B."  A stream of callers did attend upon the sickbed, including his bitter enemy of 40 years, Prime Minister Gladstone. However, Disraeli took his enmity with him to the grave, railing on to the end about Gladstone, calling him "the primary cause of our encircling difficulties."

Death comes in early morning. Rising up in bed as if to speak, he sinks down and passes away silently. The Queen gets the news from John Brown, "His sad and tearful face had too plainly told that a heavy blow had fallen." Gladstone anguished so much over the eulogy he would have to give in the Commons that he came down with diarrhea. In the end, he called Disraeli's career "remarkable" and admitted to no "personal antipathy." He offered a state funeral and burial in Westminster Abbey but Disraeli's will calls for burial beside his wife at his country seat at Hughenden. Gladstone sourly noted, "As he lived, so he died - all display, without reality or genuineness."

At the funeral, the coffin was borne by tenants of the estate. The Queen, kept away for reasons of protocol, sent wreaths of primroses from Osborne House. "His favorite flowers," wrote the Queen. To this day, people wonder whether she meant Disraeli's or her Albert's.

April 18, 1874 --- Dr. Livingstone's Funeral

The body of the fabled Doctor Livingstone is laid to rest in Westminster Abbey. The epitaph now reads: "Brought by faithful hands over land and sea, here rests David Livingstone."

The story of the explorer's "last journey" is as fascinating as any of his African adventures. While on yet another trek to settle "the Nile question," Livingstone fell, ill with a mortal fever. Near Lake Bangweolo at the village of Chitambo, on 1 May 1873, he was found dead in his tent, kneeling by his cot as if in prayer. He was 59.

His two most trusted servants, Chuma and Susi, took charge of the body. Eviscerating the corpse, they replaced the internal organs with salt and then set the body in the sun for two weeks to dry. Bathed in brandy, the body was then rolled inside a cylinder of bark, which was wrapped with sailcloth and sealed with tar. The small party of Livingstone's "faithful followers" bore the body to the coast presenting it to the British consul at Bagamoyo. Chuma and Susi were brusquely dismissed, their expenses paid.

One native boy, Jacob Wainwright, a student at one of Livingstone's mission schools, was allowed to accompany the body to England aboard HMS Vulture. The primitive "embalming" process worked so well that doctors at the Royal Geographical Society were able to identify the body from the scars of a lion's bite thirty years before. Young Wainwright rides with the body in the procession to the Abbey: "His devotion to Livingstone appears to have been almost romantic," wrote The Times. Mourners note a wreath of azaleas from the Queen. The pallbearers include several veteran explorers, including the presumptuous Henry Stanley.

Prominently sited in the Abbey nave, Livingstone's memorial concludes with his last written words, a reference to his struggle to end the African slave trade: "All I can add in my solitude is may Heaven's rich blessing come down on everyone, American, English or Turk, who will help to heal this open sore of the world."

April 17, 1860 --- The Great Bout

30,000 "sportsmen" gather in a Hampshire field near Farnborough for a prize-fight between the British champion, Tom Sayers, and America's best, J.C. Heenan.  Special trains run from London.  Heenan was billed as "half-horse, half-alligator, and a bit of snapping turtle." The boxers and their handlers have managed to evade an almost nationwide manhunt mounted by "busy-bodies" hoping to prevent the long-rumored bout.

The smaller, older Sayers draws first blood, but Heenan scores the first knockdown. The bare-knuckled brawl surges back and forth for some forty rounds. Finally, the police arrive. The crowd surges forward, however, in effect protecting the fighters but reducing the ring to a 6 foot circle. At last, the contest is declared a draw, although Sayers partisans accuse Heenan of cheating by trying to strangle the plucky Briton. The combatants stagger away; Heenan - "almost unrecognizable as a human being" - literally has to be led off and Sayers, his right arm limp at his side, shows a "mouth and nose dreadfully beaten."

Such bouts - and the high-stakes gambling thereon - are illegal and the Horne Secretary promises a full inquiry. Prime Minister Palmerston, however, rumored to have been ringside himself, adroitly scuttles the probe. The Times praises the boxers for their skilled practice of a "miserable trade," but wonders what it means when: "The two great divisions of the Anglo-Saxon race [are] worked to the pitch of excitement by ... two half-naked men pounding each other's countenances for some hours in a meadow."  The Spectator is more tolerant; praising the pugilists for "their temperance, chastity, subjection to discipline, victory over animal desires and animal appetites. Few of their critics have ever subjected themselves to anything so wholesome." 

Friends of Sayers raised over £3000 on his behalf in return for a pledge to quit the ring. He lived only a few more years.  Dead at 36, he was buried at Highgate after a riotous funeral procession, prominently featuring Lion, his faithful mastiff (whose statue now keeps silent vigil at his master's grave).

[Photo of Tom Sayers: Cyberboxingzone]

Monday, March 28, 2011

April 16, 1892 --- Velocipedomania

A letter-writer signing himself "Pedestrian, London, W." complains to The Times that the growing number of cyclists is resulting in a "Tyranny of the Road." The new pneumatic tire has ended the era of the aptly named "boneshaker" and made speed possible. "Pedestrian" complains that his country walks are now regularly interrupted by hurtling wheelmen like a horde of Apache or Sioux Indians, conches shrieking and bells ringing and woe betide the luckless man or aught else coming in their way ... Can nothing be done?"  He proposes a 6 mph speed limit.

The letter prompts a flurry of correspondence. "Two Sisters from Fulham" complain of being terrorized by cyclists.  When they made a remark, they were greeted with "impertinent leers and frivolous remarks." Taking leave of his "velocipede" long enough to respond, E.A.P. fires back that cyclists "not only have to avoid being run over by vehicles but also to avoid running over pedestrians, the latter seeming to go out of their way to afford facilities in that direction."

The letter-writing battle raged for weeks. The Times, opposing speed limits, thought two-legged and two-wheeled ramblers could equally enjoy the quaint countryside, if cyclists might go "at a pace which would enable them to use their eyes." The courts quickly applied the "furious driving'' statutes, drawn up for coachmen, to speeding cyclists who soon became known as "scorchers."

Punch contributed a gleeful ode on the subject:
I mean to go spinning, and 'owling and grinning,
At twelve mile an hour through the thick of the throng.
And shout, without stopping, whilst frightened and flopping,
My elderly victims like ninepins are dropping,
"So long!"
Photo: Cycling History

April 15, 1874 --- Lady Randolph Churchill

In one of the first of the great Anglo-American unions, Lord Randolph Churchill marries Jenny Jerome in a brief ceremony at the British Embassy in Paris.

Churchill is 25, his 20-year old bride is the daughter of a prominent New York investor and sportsman. The rapid romance, which began during Cowes week festivities in 1873, was not without family opposition. Randolph's father, the Duke of Marlborough, labeled his son's prospective father-in-law, "a sporting, and I should think, a vulgar sort of man." For his part, Leonard Jerome feared the effects of inbreeding which he believed had weakened the British aristocracy.

Those concerns aside, it was the financial settlement that proved most difficult. At one point, the matter of who would pay for all the trans-Atlantic cables threatened to sunder the two young lovers forever. Trans-Atlantic legal differences also come into play. Jerome wanted his daughter to have control of her own money, "I can but think your English custom of making the wife so entirely dependent upon the husband is most unwise." Lawyers for the Marlboroughs, meantime, thought the idea of a financially independent wife was "most unusual." In the end, Jerome set up a £50,000 while the Duke paid off his son's considerable debts.

Neither of Randolph's parents attend the wedding, but the Duke writes to wish his son "a united existence of happiness." However, he adds: "She is one you have chosen with less than usual deliberation." A brief continental honeymoon follows before Randolph must return to London to take the family seat in the Commons and Jennie's introduction to society.  She recalled, "I settled in London to enjoy my first season with all the vigor and unjaded appetite of youth—we seemed to live in a whirl of gaieties and excitement."
The whirl would soon slacken.

The couple's first son was born in November, less than seven months after their wedding. Tart tongues wagged that Jennie was likely with child on her wedding day.  According to the official announcement: On the 30th Nov., at Blenheim Palace, the Lady Randolph Churchill, prematurely, of a son.  He would bear the name Winston.

April 14, 1862 --- In Memoriam

At Osborne, the Queen meets her Poet Laureate Albert Tennyson for the first time.

Tennyson had recently dedicated his new Arthurian work, Idylls of the King, to the late Prince Albert: "These to His Memory...Hereafter, thro' all times, Albert the Good." Tennyson considered the Prince his patron as the latter had urged his selection for the Laureate vacancy created by Wordsworth's death in 1850. The dedication stanzas quite deeply touched the Queen; Princess Alice wrote the poet: "They had soothed her aching, bleeding heart. She knows also how he would have admired them."

Moreover, in the four months since Albert's death, Victoria had found great solace in Tennyson's classic, In Memoriam, heavily annotating and underlining her copy. With the grieving widow and Tennyson both in residence on the Isle of Wight, the poet received a rare invitation to visit. As usual, she finds her artistic guest unusual: "[He] is very peculiar-looking... oddly dressed, but there is no affectation about him."

Tennyson thinks the Queen has a "kind of stately innocence, such as I do not remember to have seen in any other woman." Tennyson writes a friend: "I was conscious of having spoken with great emotion... but I have a very imperfect recollection of what I did say." He did recall, with embarrassment, having said Albert would have made a great King: "As soon as it was out of my mouth, I felt what a blunder I had made." To his relief, however, the Queen quickly agrees. She notes in her journal: "When he spoke of my own loss, of that of the nation, his eyes quite filled with tears." In her mourning, the Queen compares herself to the subject of one of Tennyson's earliest poems, Mariana, a lonely widow whose grim refrain was, "I am aweary, aweary. I would that I were dead.'''

The meeting spawns a friendship lasting until the poet's death in 1892.

April 13, 1855 --- A Thief Trainer

In a case that seems to step right out of the pages of' Oliver Twist, a plain-clothes policeman is accused of managing a ring of youthful pick-pockets. For several years, Charles King had been employed by the police to mingle in crowds and keep a wary eye out for such nimble-fingered villains.  His efforts were described as "without being altogether successful." It became clear why. 

13-year old John Reeves is King's leading accuser. Brought from the Westminster House of Correction to testify, the young man describes how King recruited him as a boy of ten and took him to Hyde Park on a crowded Sunday, helpfully pointing out likely targets as they strolled the shores of the Serpentine. In a good week, Reeves estimates his take could reach £100 pounds, enough for the young man to afford his own pony.  Reeves' decision to give "Queen's evidence" is not appreciated in some circles; at an earlier arraignment, the lad had to be rescued by the police when he was set upon by "a number of the worst class of thieves who infest the locality of the Seven Dials." King, meanwhile, who maintained a jaunty demeanor throughout, is lustily cheered by the unsavory characters who crowd the pavement outside Bow Street Police Court.

Another urchin tells of working with King at the Zoological Gardens in Regent's Park. A uniformed officer recalls seeing King in the company of Reeves in Hyde Park, loitering near a hollowed out tree where several discarded purses were later discovered. King's lawyer attacks the messenger, claiming that the Crown's case is based solely on the word of a "most expert and hardened young thief." Regardless, the verdict is speedy and the sentence harsh. King is sentenced to be transported for a term of 14 years.

Mr. Bodkin, the presiding magistrate, calls King's crime "an offence of the very vilest character... casting discredit upon a most useful body of men." Indeed, the case is closely watched by top officials from Scotland Yard who, while unwilling to end the practice of plain-clothes operatives, insist that in the future "none but officers of established character" will be employed.

April 12, 1886 --- The Pimlico Mystery

Adelaide Bartlett stands trial for poisoning her husband Edwin, a successful London grocer. Life was rather odd in the Bartlett home above the store in Pimlico.  Their marriage had been arranged and after ten years, at least according to Adelaide, they had made love just once.  

In late 1885, Rev. George Dyson, their Wesleyan minister, began calling upon Adelaide, with Edwin's knowledge and encouragement. In December, Bartlett fell ill with severe pain in his jaw.  His dentist decided to saw the teeth to the gumline, prior to extraction.  (British dentistry?)  After the removal of eighteen teeth, Edwin was well enough New Year's Eve to enjoy a full meal. The following morning, he was found dead in his bed. An autopsy detected the strong presence of chloroform.  Adelaide suggested that her husband, depressed by his poor health, may have taken a fatal draught of chloroform and brandy.

Police soon discovered that the chloroform had been purchased by the Rev. Dyson who, not very gallantly, protested that he had been "duped by a wicked woman." Adelaide is charged with murder. Dyson, briefly held as an accessory, was freed to the hisses of most who felt his conduct had been unmanly. For her defense, Adelaide managed to afford Britain's best, the redoubtable Sir Edward Clarke. In his memoirs, Clarke revealed that the grocer's wife was "the unacknowledged, daughter of an Englishman in good social position" who paid all her legal bills. Sir Edward brilliantly sculpted the suicide defense. Who forced Edwin to take the fatal drink? Why hadn't he cried out for help from the servants? Edwin Bartlett was often depressed and talked of suicide. He'd been heard to say that "no doubt" Dyson will take care of Adelaide. In excruciating pain, knowing his wife had found sexual companionship with a man he respected, Bartlett, argues Sir Edward, decided to end it all.

The "not guilty" verdict is a popular one and Clarke is cheered in the streets. As for Adelaide, she disappeared, to America most likely. There were doubters then as now; the Queen's personal physician quipped, "In the interests of science, she should tell us how she did it.''

April 11, 1890 --- The Elephant Man

Joseph Merrick is found dead in his bed at the London Hospital, Whitechapel. He was 29. A victim of neurofibramatosis and hideously deformed, Merrick had been a resident at the hospital for most of the past five years. He was under the care of the noted surgeon, Dr Frederick Treves, who'd rescued Merrick after the poor man had been abandoned by the owner of a traveling freak show.  Merrick was exhibited as "The Elephant Man." 

As for the cause of death, Dr. Treves wrote: "He often said to me that he wished he could lie down to sleep 'like other people.' I think he must, with some determination, have made the experiment. The pillow was soft, and the head, when placed on it must have fallen backwards and caused a dislocation of the neck. Thus it came about that his death was due to the desire that had dominated his life - the pathetic but hopeless desire to be 'like other people.'"

A coroner's jury quickly agreed, death by suffocation. Merrick's career had first come to the public's attention in 1886 by a letter to The Times from the hospital superintendent, Mr. Carr Gomm. He described Merrick as "so dreadful a sight" that women and "nervous persons" are likely to "fly in terror." However, Carr Gomm insisted, "He is superior in intelligence, can read and write, is quiet, gentle, not to say even refined." He concluded with a request, "Can any of your readers suggest to me some fitting place where he can be received?" The letter brought brief celebrity status to the unfortunate Merrick. At dedication ceremonies for a new wing at the hospital in 1887, the Prince and Princess of Wales paid a private call.

For six months, he left the hospital to stay in a secluded gamekeeper's cottage in the country but his final days were spent back in Whitechapel. On Easter Sunday morning, only a few days before his death, Merrick took communion and the hospital chaplain reported that Merrick had ""acknowledged the mercy of God which had brought him to this place."

[Playbill 1979, The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomerance]

April 10, 1848 --- The Chartists

London is an armed and fearful city as the day of the great Chartist demonstration arrives.

Chartist leaders had predicted as many as a million people would march on Parliament to present their "Charter" demanding manhood suffrage, the secret ballot, and various economic and political reforms.

There is genuine concern that the revolutionary "Spirit of 48," which already toppled the French King, has crossed the Channel. The Queen, with a new baby but a fortnight old, has gone to Osborne. Professing unconcern, she writes, "Great events make me calm." The Duke of Wellington, now almost 80, commands a small army of special constables, vowing "It will end to the credit of the Government and the country." Displaying the talent for the defensive he developed in the Peninsular wars four decades before, he quickly secures the Thames bridges. Lord Palmerston went so far as to pass out muskets at the Foreign Office.

Across the river, a disappointing turnout of some 30,000 Chartists gathers at Kennington Common. A steady rain falls through the day, "the Queen's weather" no doubt. Amid the mud and general confusion, the Chartist leader Feargus O'Connor is cajoled by police to cancel the march and instead accept their personal escort to deliver his petitions by cab. At Westminster, the petition in four bundles is presented, filed and forgotten. The boasted five million signatures proves wildly overstated and many of the names - e.g. Victoria Rex! - are obvious frauds.

The day north of the Thames passes for a holiday, the stores are closed and the public enjoys itself at the expense of the motley "specials [whose] varieties of stature and dress forced upon the spectator associations of the comic." The day ends with but a few scuffles, a handful. of arrests, and more accolades for the great Duke.  The Queen declares, "What a pity he is not 59 instead of 79."

Chartism never recovered. The last time Chartists gathered in any numbers was, appropriately, for O'Connor's funeral in 1855. He'd gone mad three years before.

April 9, 1856 --- Death of a Lunatic

A patient's death at the Surrey Lunatic Asylum in Wandsworth prompts a national outcry over the treatment of such unfortunates.

65-year old Daniel Dolley, not a violent man but described as "excitable and foolish," had that morning struck Dr. Charles Snape, the resident Superintendant.  Dolley landed a "good sharp blow" to the doctor's head with his fist before being subdued by three "keepers." The angered Snape orders that the man be placed in a narrow shower-bath; "Pull the string, keep him in a half-an-hour." For 28 minutes, drenched by unheated waters, Dolley remains in the cubicle, less than two feet square, secured by an iron bar. Removed by an orderly, the poor man is dead within a quarter hour's time. At a perfunctory inquest at "the dead house," Dr. Snape pressures the autopsy surgeon to conclude that death was due to a bad heart.

The surgeon, however, surreptitiously removed Dolley's heart, which he then carried round to several London physicians, none of whom saw evidence of significant heart decay. The Commissioners in Lunacy soon charged Dr. Snape with "unlawfully causing the death of an aged lunatic." With an unblemished record, Snape admitted he had never treated a patient like that before, but he had never been struck by a patient before either. He's also supported by several experts who testify to the efficacy of the shower-bath in calming unruly madmen. Investigators for the Commissioners computed that Dolley had been drenched by some 618 gallons of cold water. One doctor even spent nine minutes in the cramped bath, he called the experiment "quite disagreeable," conceding that the experience had been probably even worse for "an exciteable lunatic."

Although the charge was reduced to manslaughter, a grand jury refused to indict. The Times, though acknowledging the "universally asserted" benefits of the shower-bath, called for restraints on its use, "It would be extremely difficult to convince twelve jurymen, not selected from the inmates of Bedlam, that any human being could endure the rush of water from a shower bath of unusual severity for half-an-hour without imminent hazard of life."

[The Surrey Lunatic Asylum from British Heritage]

April 8, 1886 --- To Pacify Ireland

Despite teeming rain, the way from Downing Street to Westminster is crowded with those who come to cheer or jeer the "Grand Old Man."   Prime Minister Gladstone is to propose Home Rule for Ireland. Believing his mission is to pacify Ireland, Gladstone awoke to "a message," a voice which told him, "Hold thou up thy goings in thy path, that my footsteps slip not."

Gladstone speaks for four hours. He calls for a Parliament in Dublin with "complete and separate self-government in Irish, not in Imperial, affairs;" promising "reasonable safeguards" to the Protestant minority. His daughter Mary looks on from the gallery: "The air tingled with emotion ... Not a sound was heard, not cough even, only cheers breaking out here and there - a tremendous feat at his age. His voice never failed."

Even The Times, rabidly against Home Rule, hailed his performance as "marvelous as the work of a man in his 77th year." In his own journal, Gladstone writes: "Voice and strength... were granted to me in a degree beyond what I could have hoped." Victory, however, was not.

Home Rule split Parliament and London society as did no other issue in Victorian politics. Guest lists were made up to gather or exclude pro's and anti's. Longstanding party alliances ended; 93 Liberals fled Gladstone's banner, led by the Marquis of Hartington, to form a Unionist Party. When Home Rule came to a vote in June, confronting his opposition, both across the aisle and on his own backbenches, Gladstone closed the debate just after midnight: "You have power, you have wealth, you have rank, you have station ... What have we? ... We have the people's heart! Ireland stands at your bar, expectant, hopeful, almost suppliant."

At 1:30 in the morning, the Commons divided; the tally: Nays 343, Ayes 313. With the announcement of the result from the Speaker, jubilant Unionists climb upon their seats, throwing hats in the air. Irish MPs retaliated with "Three cheers for the Grand Old Man!" The single word, "Beaten," spread by human telegraph to a huge crowd waiting in the darkness outside Westminster. Within days of his defeat, Gladstone resigned.

April 7, 1879 --- A Reference for a Servant

In historic Guildhall, the Duchess of Westminster, wife of the richest peer in England, is acquitted of libeling her former lady's maid.

Jane Jones had been employed for almost a year at the Duchess' splendid Thames-side estate at Cliveden. Her Grace, opting to go with the fashion of employing a French maid, gave Jane her notice. The young woman became insolent and had to be released in the custody of her brother. Nonetheless, the Duchess provided her a cordial reference; Miss Jones is a "perfectly honest, sober and trustworthy" hair dresser and dressmaker.  After Cliveden, Jane found, but could not hold, several new positions. Finally, back in Taplow, near Cliveden, she opened a dressmaker's shop.  When she felt shunned by "the Hall," Jane threatened to publicly harass the Westminsters. Again, she was placed under the care of her family.

The Duchess then received an inquiry from a Mrs. Chapman of Knutsford. The exasperated peeress replied in full warning that Jane was "quite out of her mind."  The Duchess begged that "Mrs. A. Chapman will not quote her if it can be avoided." Unaccountably, Mrs. Chapman shared the letter with Jane.

During the trial, testimony from "below stairs" detailed Jane's eccentricities. A doctor who had "handled" Miss Jones discussed her mental state but refused to define "quite out of her mind." The most amusing moment came when the Duchess admitted that she had explicitly warned her sister-in-law, the Countess of Macclesfield, not to hire Jane under any circumstances.  Then why a reference for others?  The Duchess replied:  "I should have been very sorry for the other people but they would not be my own relations." Her lawyers argue that the letter was perfectly justified, merely fulfilling a "painful but imperative duty to answer freely, unreservedly and truly."

The jury took very little time to find the Duchess not guilty.  The Saturday Review reserved its scorn for the indiscreet Mrs. Chapman, whose action, although "happily rare," cannot be condoned.  "In the interest of the community it is of the utmost importance this kind of imprudence should spread no further [otherwise] the whole custom of giving and receiving servant's characters would degenerate into an empty farce."

[The Duchess, as a young woman, painted by Winterhalter]

April 6, 1864 --- More She Cannot Do

In the day's Court column, The Times publishes a statement from Buckingham Palace.  When the letter arrived at Printing House Square, John Delane, the paper's venerable editor, immediately recognized that the handwriting was that of the Queen herself. Victoria bids to counter mounting criticism of her continuing seclusion, now more than two years after Albert's death. On 1 April, April Fools Day, The Times inserted a brief note: "Her Majesty's loyal subjects will be very pleased to hear that their Sovereign is about to break her protracted seclusion."

The Queen's reply, in part, read: "An erroneous idea seems generally to prevail ... that the Queen is about to resume the place in society which she occupied before her great affliction. This idea cannot be too explicitly contradicted.  The Queen heartily appreciates the desire of her subjects to see her, and whatever she can do to gratify them in this loyal and affectionate wish, she will do."  However, she adds that she has no plans to resume any purely ceremonial duties which "can be equally well performed by other members of her family:" Reminding the country of Her Majesty's "utter and ever-abiding desolation," the statement concludes. "More the Queen cannot do and more the kindness and good feeling of her people will surely not extract from her."

Some of the Queen's friends are dismayed by the letter; Lord Clarendon called it "infra dig." Nor did it satisfy all her critics. Rumors of abdication are spread by unfriendly newspapers. Great play is given to a handbill posted on the gates to Buckingham Palace offering the property for rent, "The late occupant having retired from business." In late June, the Queen was allowed to be seen in an open carriage being driven from the Palace to Paddington for her train to Windsor. She wrote to her uncle, King Leopold of Belgium, "It was quite unexpected, and, though very painful, pleased people more than anything."

April 5, 1899 --- Turned Away at the Inn

In a major disappointment to the "Rational Dress" movement, an Ockham innkeeper is found not guilty of "willfully and unlawfully neglecting and refusing to serve victuals" to Lady Harberton.

A Viscount's wife, Lady Harberton had been cycling in Surrey when she stopped for a midday tea at the Hautboy Hotel.  Her Ladyship was "clad from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet" in so-called "rational dress", i.e. pants.  Martha Sprague, the hotel's landlady refused the knickered noblewoman admittance to the coffee-room. Instead, she directed her to a side bar. Lady Harberton found the conditions in the smoky bar, filled with "workmen," to be abominable and insisted upon a table in the coffee-room. "No, not in that dress," came the reply once again.

The issue was no mean one for lady cyclists.  Their magazine Ladies in the Field had warned: "There is ever danger of full long skirts catching in the spokes and bringing the wearer in humiliation and sorrow to the ground." The Viscountess and the Cyclists Touring Club believed they now had the perfect test case and pressed charges. Curiously, The Rational Dress Gazette urged readers not to appear in court in "rational" dress for fear of offending judge or jurymen. The landlady's lawyer insists that she never refused service to Lady Harberton at all, describing the plaintiff as an overly fastidious woman who disliked the smell of smoke and the company of "workmen."  The Hautboy was on the Portsmouth Road which was much-traveled by sailors.  Mrs. Sprague must insist upon her standards; it would be "fatal to her business" were she to admit some of the women who plied the road in their "skin-tights." Lady Harberton's lawyer, Lord Coleridge predicted such attire would soon be commonplace and the attitudes of the innkeeper would be scoffed at as "purblind and perverted."

The all-male jury acquitted the doughty Mrs. Sprague within minutes. The Times found some amusement out of the discomfiture of the dress reformers, agreeing with the good landlady, that, with some women, "it is even possible to look too nice."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

April 4, 1846 --- Killed by Tom Thumb?

A private opening for "friends and select connoisseurs" launches Benjamin Robert Haydon's exhibit at London's Egyptian Hall. A one-time prodigy now out of favor at 60, Haydon is a muralist of the grand historical school. Bitterly disappointed when his latest paintings had been passed over for the new Houses of Parliament, Haydon hopes the showing will prove that his work is still popular. He displays "The Burning of Rome by Nero" and "The Banishment of Aristides."  The Times critic thought the latter work was "perhaps the best picture ever painted by the artist; it deserves to secure a fitting reward for his labors."

Unfortunately for Haydon, however, also holding court in the Egyptian Hall is the sensational 31-inch dwarf Tom Thumb. The disconsolate artist can only complain to his diary:  "They rush by thousands to see Tom Thumb. They push, they fight, they scream, they faint, they cry help! ... They see my bills, my boards, my caravans, and don't read them ... It is an insanity, a rabies, a madness, (etc). I would not have believed it of the English people."

In desperate newspaper ads, Haydon reminds the public that he has "devoted 42 years to improve the taste of the people," but the tactic serves only to add to his debts. In one week, Haydon recorded: "Tom Thumb had 12,000 people. B.R. Haydon had 133 1/2." The exhibition closed on 18 May, with Haydon owing the Hall over  £111. Prime Minister Peel, hearing of the artists's distress, provided £50 pounds. But on 22 June, in his studio, in front of his newest canvas, "Alfred the Great and the First British Jury," Haydon shot himself after first cutting his throat. His 16 year old daughter, one of four children, found the body and his diary; the final entry read: "God forgive me! Amen. Finis."

The obituary in The Times, amid polite comment on his work, noted that Haydon's demise had "been hastened by pecuniary embarrassment." Another contemporary account, however, was more to the point: "It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that poor Haydon, the historical painter, was killed by Tom Thumb."

April 3, 1847 --- Frederick Douglass at Sea

A regrettable incident concludes the freed American Negro Frederick Douglass' 19-month lecture tour across Britain.

In Liverpool to board the Cunard liner Cambria, sailing for America, he is informed by the dockside agent that his booking is no longer valid. Further, he will not be allowed to board unless he agrees to remain in his cabin throughout the voyage, meals included. Anxious to return home, Douglass agrees. But, before sailing, he complains in a letter to The Times.  Douglas stated that he had inquired at the London ticket office "if my color would prove any barrier to my enjoying all the rights and, privileges enjoyed by other passengers" and he had been assured it would not. Douglass, whose journals had sold 13,000 copies in England, noted that he had been treated with "utmost kindness" while in Britain. He observed, with irony, "It was not till I turned my face towards America that I met anything like proscription on account of my color."

The outcry is immediate. The Times labels the dockside dispute "a proceeding wholly repugnant to our English notice of justice and humanity." Cunard officials explained that on Douglass' voyage. to England, he had been the cause of a near riot aboard the Cambria. During the revelry that marks the last night at sea, the Captain had invited Douglass up from steerage to address the saloon passengers. He was heckled with cries of "Down with the n****r" while others argued to let him speak. The brawl ended with burly crewmen clapping some of the drunken combatants into leg-irons. The Cunard representative insisted that any passenger would have been required to make the same assurances "had he been the whitest man in the world."

When a bogus letter from "a Cunard director" appeared in the papers claiming that the passengers had objected to Douglass' smell, the great Sam Cunard himself came forward to declare:  No one can regret more than I do the unpleasant circumstances respecting Mr. Douglass' passage; but I can assure you that nothing of the kind will again take place."  Douglass was given a stateroom for the voyage but was required "not to place himself in view of the other passengers" during the sixteen day crossing.

April 2, 1861 --- A Rejection Letter

The editor of The Cornhill Magazine, no less than the great Thackeray himself, after lengthy deliberation, rejects a poem submitted by Elizabeth Browning. Writing to "My dear kind Mrs. Browning," Thackeray compares  himself to a man with an aching tooth who "never had the courage to undergo the pull." The proffered poem is "Lord Walter's Wife," a tale of the mutual attraction between a young married woman and her husband's best friend.

But why do you go?" said the lady, while both sat under the yew...

When flirtatious banter follows, the young gentleman declares his respect for Lord Walter:
"Oh, that," she said "is no reason. You smell a rose through a fence:
If two should smell it, what matter? Who grumbles and where's the pretense?"

The response, several couplets later:
At which he rose up in his anger, Why, now, you no longer are fair?
Why, now, you no longer are fatal, but ugly and hateful, I swear."

Lord Walter's wife, understanding that she was never more than a sexual fantasy to her admirer, dismisses him:
I determined to prove to yourself that, whate'er you might dream or avow
By illusion, you wanted precisely no more of me than you have now.
Thackeray confesses that Mrs. Browning's "account of an unlawful passion, though you write pure doctrine" would offend "my squeamish public." Privately, Mrs. Browning professed amusement. She wrote a friend, with a hint of pride, "Thackeray has turned me out of the Cornhill for indecency." To Thackeray, however, after thanking him for  his "gracious and conciliatory manner", she argues:  "I am deeply convinced that the corruption of our society requires not shut doors and windows, but light and air; and that it is exactly because pure and prosperous women chose to ignore vice, that miserable women suffer wrong by it everywhere."

April 1, 1893 --- "The Squire"

The legendary "Squire Abingdon" is laid to rest in the land of his birth, the Scottish borders.  Born George Baird, the only surviving son of a coal millionaire, they said the Squire was the richest commoner in the realm with an annual income of £250,000. Poor in school and shunning business, he gravitated to the Turf, opening his own stables as "the Squire." He became a colorful fixture in London's demi-monde. A friend recalled his "engaging habit" of spitting drinks on strangers in West End bars.  He was a financial "angel" to several actresses and dancers, among them Lily Langtry.  Their's was a stormy relationship, at one point the gossips reported that he beat her up, leaving Lily with a shiner. The rueful Squire apologised with a gift of £25,000.

Not a man to tarry with any woman, he move on to a dalliance with "Doll Tester," another ex-actress who had won the hand of the caddish Marquis of Ailesbury. He sent "Doll" home to her Marquis with £100,000 in reparations. When Baird wrote a check for £100,000 to the Kirk of Scotland, wits dubbed it the "largest fire insurance policy" in memory.

In addition to the turf, the Squire had recently taken an interest in prize-fighting. Backing an Australian boxer named Jim Hall on an American tour, Abingdon worked in Hall's corner in a losing bout with the American, Fitzsimmons. The New Orleans fight venue was a drafty old barn, and on a chilly March evening, he was ill-dressed for the elements. Undismayed by his man's defeat, the Squire joined in a "general round of dissipation" which followed, but, within hours, he collapsed. His death on 8 March was attributed to pneumonia, but The New York Times acknowleged: "His appearance of late has shown the effects of a very fast life."

Accountants closing the estate estimated that, in his short life, the Squire expended something near £2,000,000.  Racing World concluded that "he probably got less enjoyment out of money expended than any turf celebrity on record."  He left his mother a million pounds.


Monday, March 7, 2011

March 31, 1855 --- Death at the Parsonage

At home in Haworth Parsonage, Charlotte Bronte dies at 38. Her doctor mistakenly ascribed the death to tuberculosis, a fearsome killer on the windswept moors of West Yorkshire. After all, in the space of eight months, from September, 1848, to May, 1849, consumption had carried away Charlotte's ne'er-do-well brother Bramwell and her two sisters, Emily, the author of Wuthering Heights, and Anne, the author of Agnes Grey. The disease was a speedy killer; Charlotte wrote: "Never in her life had [Emily] lingered over any task that lay before her, and she did not linger now."

All but alone, Charlotte lived on at the parsonage with her father, the Rev. Patrick Bronte, now blind. She wrote a friend: "I do hope and pray that never you, or any one I love, be placed as I am. To sit in a lonely room - the clock ticking loud through a still house - and have open before the mind's eye the record of the last year, with its shocks, sufferings, losses, is a trial."  In mid-1854, overcoming both her father's objections and her own reluctance, she married his curate, the Rev. Arthur Bell Nichols.

Soon pregnant, she suffered awfully from nausea and faintness.  Taking to her bed, she wasted away. Modern medical experts trace her death to hyperemesis gravidarum, or pernicious vomiting. Easily treated today, it was mortal then. Charlotte's last gasping words to her husband are, "Oh? I am not going to die, am I? He will not separate us, we have been so happy."

She was laid to rest in the parsonage crypt in a coffin not five feet long. In distant London, her death passes without much notice. The Times carries only the briefest obituary, noting that Mrs. Arthur Nichols, "the authoress of Jane Eyre," had died. After some literary magazines began repeating the attacks on Charlotte which followed the publication of Jane Eyre (see 16 October), Rev. Bronte urged the novelist Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte's friend, to write the story of her life.  Mrs. Gaskell agreed, vowing to "make the world honor the woman as much as they admired the writer."

March 30, 1881 --- A Call for Murder

Johann Most, editor of Freiheit, an obscure journal published in London by the Communist Workers Improvement Association, is arrested on a charge of seditious libel.

Two weeks before, Tsar Alexander Il of Russia had been assassinated. Under the headline "AT LAST!," Most had written: "For an hour and a half, [the Tsar] underwent the most horrible suffering and was able to meditate on his guilty life. At last, he died as a dog dies ... Every success has the wonderful power of not only inspiring respect but of inciting to imitation. Hence, they are trembling from Constantinople to Washington for their long forfeit heads."

The Tsar's murder had caused alarm across Europe. In England, security surrounding the Queen was intensified. Travel plans for her regular spring visit to Osborne were secretly changed; she went by armed train and crossed the Solent aboard an Admiralty yacht.  Freiheit, the German word for freedom, was printed in German and its British circulation numbered only 300.  The weekly had been tolerated on English soil.  But when Most urged his readers to commit an assassination a month, police acted quickly.

A defense fund, including contributions from several radical MP's, obtained for Most the services of an eminent lawyer who argued that Shakespeare, Milton, Byron - yes, even Gladstone and Disraeli - had encouraged regicide, at one time or another. To no avail, Most is ordered jailed for eighteen months. The Lord Chief Justice accusing the editor of cowardice: "A man, himself under the shield of a great and free people, sitting at home at ease, may excite others to run into fearful dangers, which he himself shivers from attempting."  Freiheit remained in print until May 1882, when it was suppressed for articles hailing the perpetrators of the Phoenix Park murders (see 6 May).

Most was a German exile left badly deformed by a childhood accident.  He was no stranger to jail, having spent several years in an Austrian prison. Released from prison, Most left for America where he soon published a pamphlet on how to make and plant explosives. 

Sketch from The Graphic

March 29, 1859 --- Death in the Hunting Field

At Curraghmore, his estate in Ireland, the 3rd Marquis of Waterford is killed in a riding mishap. At the inquest, the laconic verdict was read: "Failing on his head, Lord Waterford dislocated his neck." At 49, he is much-mourned, hailed as "universally popular and respected," and hunt companions erect a marker at the site of the unfortunate accident.

Such encomiums at death would have been unexpected two decades earlier.  He was then known as "the Mad Marquis." Waterford is the stuff of legend.  In no particular order:
(1) He put a donkey in a stranger's bed at an inn.
(2) He petitioned, unsuccessfully, the local Irish railroad to stage a collision between locomotives for his pleasure; he would, of course, pay the bills.
(3) He started a riot at a Haymarket pub by standing free drinks for all the whores.
(4) He drove his carriage down the Piccadilly sidewalk, scattering pedestrians. 
(5) For a time, he and friends made sport of stealing brass door-knockers in the West End.
(6) Assisted by some fellow Etonians, He raided the old school and made off with the flogging block upon which he no doubt had often felt the rod of the fearsome Dr. Keate.
(7) He often amused himself by tossing eggs from his carriage at passersby.
And finally (8), in Melton Mowbray, he and his playmates held down a local bobbie and painted him red. All fines were cheerfully paid, the last being the largest, £100 pounds.

Credit for reforming the Marquis went to his wife Louisa, daughter of Lord Stuart de Rothesay.  He met her at the madcap Eglinton Tournament (see 30 August) in 1839. In its obituary, The Illustrated London News comments: "Lord Waterford, under the influence of an admirable marriage, sedulously labored to efface all discreditable reminiscences, and to distinguish himself as a kind and wise Irish landlord whose loss will be deeply and deservedly deplored." 

The Victorian hunting fields are a dangerous place; Waterford is the third peer in a year to die while hunting.

March 28, 1854 --- War!

"It is with deep regret that Her Majesty announces the failure of her anxious and protracted endeavor to preserve for her people, and for Europe, the blessings of peace." After almost four decades of continental peace, the Crimean War begins as Britain, following by one day her French allies, declares war on Russia.

The Tsar, taking advantage of what he called the "sick man of Europe," the crumbling Ottoman Empire, had smashed the Turkish fleet at Sinope.  He had now set himself and the Russians in the role of protector of the Christians in the Holyland. Britain was long pro-Turk for the Turks guarded the Bosporus, keeping the Russian Navy out of the Mediterranean thereby securing Britain's water link with India.

Victoria, at first sceptical of the "mischievous blustering" of the Russophobic press, now concedes the move to strike the Tsar is "popular beyond belief." The war fever of The Illustrated London News is typical: "The most sincere prayer of every honest man in the civilised world will be formed for the speedy downfall of the Imperial Barbarian - an insult to the right feeling and common sense of mankind."  The war dragged on for two years and two days.

The war effort was hamstrung by inefficiency and graft. The radical MP John Bright coined the anagram. "Crimea is a crime." An unprecedented Parliamentary review of the Government's handling of the war toppled Prime Minister Aberdeen who was replaced by the wildly popular Lord Palmerston.

The allies having finally subdued the great Russian fortress at Sebastopol, the growing mood for peace led to the signing of the Treaty of Paris. As one historian has suggested, "There have been worse treaties after better wars." The Russians ceded back their pre-War gains and agreed to a neutral Black Sea. The British deaths exceeded 25,000, the Tsar is thought to have spent a half-million lives.

March 27, 1883 --- Mr. Brown

John Brown, the Queen's "particular ghillie," dies at Windsor Castle. But 57 years old, he died of erysipelas, a virulent fever, complicated, certainly, by years of heavy drinking. The Court Circular contains unusual praise for a servant:  [Brown was] "a trustworthy, discreet and straightforward man [who] filled a position of great and anxious responsibilities, the duties of which he performed with such constant and unceasing care as to secure for himself the real friendship of the Queen." 

John Brown, of course, was no mere domestic. A crofter's son, born near the Queen's beloved Balmoral, Brown had been with her for 34 years. In 1865, she brought him to London: "Have decided that Brown should remain permanently & make himself useful in other ways besides leading my pony as he is so dependable." He was soon proclaimed "The Queen's Highland Servant" at a princely salary of £120. His relationship with the Queen was unique; she once greeted him in a letter as "My darling one," he was heard to address her roughly as "wumman."

It all gave rise to ribald comment in society and worse slanders from less responsible quarters. In 1866, a Swiss newspaper reported a child had been born to "the Empress Brown" and placed with a Protestant family in Vaud. Despite a protest from the Foreign Office, the story soon won a "wide vogue." While the claim of a bastard bairn can easily be discredited, Brown remains a riddle. He's been labeled a bodyguard, jester, drinking-buddy, even - through the famous second-sight of the Highlanders - the Queen's medium to reach her long lost Albert. 

Brown's death leaves the Queen bereft. To a grandson, she wrote: "I have lost my dearest best friend whom no one in this World can ever replace." To a friend: "Weep with me for we have all lost the best, the truest heart that ever beat. My grief is unbounded." Victoria soon produced for publication a John Brown memoir. She was firmly dissuaded by her aghast family and staff. It was burned.

When King Edward VII took the throne, he ordered most Brown memorabilia destroyed. A life-sized statue by Boehm, that the Queen had given pride of place at Balmoral, was re-situated along a rarely traveled wooded path. Tennyson had composed the inscription:
Friend more than Servant, Loyal, Truthful, Brave
Self less than Duty, even to the Grave. 
[Photograph from the Daily Telegraph]