Sunday, 7 September 2014


TRICKING THE AUTHORITIES IN 1542

Antonius Schorus (b. 1525 in Hoogstraten)  sympathized with the Protestant reformers. This did not go over well with the Catholic authorities. He narrowly escaped being arrested. In a letter to his friend Franciscus de Encinas he described his flight.

You may have heard about my exile or rather my escape from Babylonian captivity, he wrote.He was forced to flee to Strasbourg because he had professed the pure faith more freely than the tyrants could stand.

One night, during a heavy downpour an officer was sent by the Margrave. He left his fellow officers at the gate of the building so he could lure me outside more easily. I asked him what he wanted. He said the Margrave had told him to call me. I was quick on the uptake and asked him to wait a little so I could put on my coat which I had left behind in the bedroom, for I had already undressed to go to bed.  He gave me permission, and I escaped out the backdoor, since I had the opportunity.

The officer waited some time, then harangued Schorus’ wife, but to no avail.

The Margrave immediately sent seven guards to keep an eye on the house all night to prevent anyone from taking anything away…Afterwards they carefully inspected my books , but they found nothing.

They claimed however that my flight showed that I was conscious of having committed a crime and confiscated my household goods.

Schorus’ wife and child eventually joined him in Protestant Strasbourg.

(Source: Encinas, Epistolario, Span. Trans. I. Garcia Pinilla)

Thursday, 4 September 2014


SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELY TO ANIMALS? NOT IN NAPLES, 1594

When Fynes Moryson arrived in Naples in 1594, it was the shape of the buildings that first attracted his attention: They are four stories high, but the tops lie almost flat, so as they walk upon them in the cool time of the night. The windows are all covered with paper or linen cloth; for glass windows are most rare in Italy, and as it were proper to Venice.

The streets were so narrow, they cannot use coaches. One fashion pleased me beyond measure, that at the end of many streets they have chairs, commonly called Seggioli di Napoli, which those that are weary do enter, and they being covered round about, and only having windows on the sides, he that is carried therein cannot be seen of any, and yet himself may see all that pass. Two porters carry these chairs by two long staves fastened thereunto, and lift them but little from the ground, and so for a moderate price carry the passenger to any part of the city.

Near the city, he visited the Cave of the Dog, so-called because dogs were used to test the poisonous air in the cave. They paid a woman for a dog fastened to a long staff, and so thrust him into the cave, holding him there, till he seemed dead, and being taken out, would not move for any blows we gave it. Then according to the fashion, we cast the dog into the lake, and when he was drawn out, he began by little and little to move, and at last being come to his senses, ran away as if he had been mad. A Frenchman was incautious enough to omit the dog test and ventured into the cave trying to fetch a stone and paid for his curiosity by unrecoverable death.

(From Fynes Moryson, An Itinerary; English modernized)

Monday, 1 September 2014


AUSTRIA TOO CAUTIOUS TO RISK WAR?This man didn’t see WWI coming.

From John Corson’s travelogue, 1848:

The Austrian government was intrusive.  
  • My baggage was searched for seditious publications.
  • To obtain a permit to remain in Vienna, I had to give the names of the friends to whom I had letters of introduction, the business that brought e to Vienna, the time I wished to remain, and the studies and pursuits I intended to follow.
  • They also required me to fully declare his intentions, much as a father does when speaking to  the suitor of his daughter.
  • Friends warned me that the police kept an eye on visitors, and if you talk politics freely in the cafes, you will probably hear of them, and if you are refractory and very meddlesome, you may be sent to the frontier under an escort.
Corson fully expected to find a land of despotism and darkness.
  • It came as a surprise to find that the common people are the most carefully educated of any country in Europe, except Prussia. Books and instruction are free. No person can marry or set up in business without a written certificate that they have attended school.
  • At the same time, education serves as a means of indoctrination. The government makes sure that its favourite religion (Catholicism) and passive loyalty are carefully taught.
Austria strenuously opposed all liberal tendencies, Corson found.
  • Doubtless her leading motive is fear. ..She is much weakened by being divided into several distinct nations differing in language and religion, some of whom are discontented. Parts of Galicia were in a state of dangerous anarchy. Hungary demanded more reforms. Bohemia was asking for an extension of its liberties. Austrian Italy is seeking for a constitution.
  • But Corson was convinced that such unrest would not lead to war. Austria is probably too cautious and temporizing to risk an aggressive war.
But revolts broke out in the very year Corson published his travelogue. And two generations later…WWI.
(From Dr. John W. Corson, Loiterings in Europe, 1848)

Thursday, 28 August 2014


HOW TO ACHIEVE “CONTENTED GAYETY” IN VIENNA, 1848

When John Corson visited Vienna in 1848, what struck him most about Viennese was their contented gayety. How do they achieve this sublime state of Gem├╝tlichkeit?
  • First of all: The Viennese drink wine.
  • Also: Food, clothing, the necessaries, and even the luxuries of life are exceedingly cheap.
  • And – Harper and Wynne, listen up! –the government, for political purposes, carefully assists in providing for the amusement of all classes. They stage shows to prevent them from thinking of politics.

Good advice on Viennese etiquette:
  • It is a mortal offense to enter into any establishment without taking your hat off.
  • If a woman is married to a government official, she must be addressed by her husband’s title, with a female ending: Madame Directress, Madame Judgess, Madame Generaless.
  • It is customary to address persons by titles above their real rank, and to be profuse with compliments.
  • A customary form of saying good-bye to a lady was (and is): I kiss your hand, gracious madam. To Corson’s great surprise, the action is sometimes suited to the word, and the gentleman actually kisses the lady’s hand!
(From Dr. John W. Corson, Loiterings in Europe, 1848)

Sunday, 24 August 2014


Helping the poor in 1848

From Dr. John W. Corson, Loiterings in Europe, 1848:

The Problem: Poverty is tempting the lips of the poor to lie, and their hands to steal.

The Paris Solution: Uplift them. There is a society in Paris, each member of which adopts some young criminal from the House of Correction, leads him back to virtue, and becomes his guardian angel for life. Let us go and do likewise. Let us make some erring child the inheritor of all that we have of goodness.

The German Solution: Open a savings account. A Prussian pastor, having with him a number of students in theology, prevailed upon them to assist him in managing a kind of penny savings’ society (Spargesellschaft) for the poor of his parish…and on the day for depositing, the good minister frequently assembled them, and addressed them on subjects designed to improve [their minds].

The Belgian Solution: Shudder! In Belgium, however, the silk spinners are incorrigible. They are an improvident race, however, and in times of distress, when work is scarce, they often suffer fearfully…The pale, corpse-like faces, the haggard expression that, at a glance, tells of want, vice, and herding in loathsome abodes, will often excite a deep shudder.

Another Paris solution: Pot luck.  In the Faubourg St. Martin there is a huge pot boiling, filled with choice bits of flesh, of different sizes, gathered from various sources, where by staking two sous, you may get your dinner in a sort of soup lottery. A large iron fork lies across the mouth of the huge cauldron, and each payment gives you one strike.  You may fish up meat for a dinner, or, like all risky adventurers in this world, you may come off with nothing.  It is said, once upon a time, some hungry mortal, with a vigorous thrust, brought up on the end of the fork the front of a soldier’s cap. The police came and searched, but the owner was not to be found.