Thursday 28 August 2014


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.

Thursday 21 August 2014


Here is what a tourist would have seen in Venice, 1594:

Gondolas:The boats are very neat and, except for the ends, covered with black cloth, so as the passengers may go unseen and unknown, and not be annoyed at all with the sun, wind, or rain. And these boats are ready at call any minute of the day or night.

Holy relics at St. Mark:  A piece of a bone of Philip the Apostle, a piece of the cheekbone and four teeth of the Martyr St. Biagius, pieces of bones of St. Bartholomew and St. Thomas of Canterbury…and part of the hair of the blessed Virgin, and a piece of a finger of the Evangelist Luke, and a piece of a rib of St. Peter …which shows how they worshiped images in a more modest though superstitious age.

The Ghetto: The Jews have a place to dwell in separately, called Il Ghetto, where each family has a little house and all have one court-yard in common, so that they live as it were in a college or alms-house and may not come forth after the gates are locked at night, and in the day they are bound to wear a yellow cap.

Palazzi: The palaces have one door towards the land, and another towards the water, and most of them have gardens. The floors of the upper rooms are not laid with boards, but plastered with lime tempered with tiles beaten to dust.  The windows are for the most part very large, lying almost altogether open to receive air, but the lodging chambers have glass windows whereof the Venetians brag, glass being rare in Italy, where the windows are for the most part covered in linen or paper.

This noble city is rightly called in Latin Venetia, as it were “Veni etiam”, come again!
(Source: Fynes Moryson, An Itinerary)

Sunday 17 August 2014

WOODSTOCK: The Clean-up.

The Woodstock Festival happened 45 years ago this weekend. Here are some reminiscences:
Hog Farmers stayed on a week to clean up, and literally thousands of others.  It got windy and cold just before they finished, but the big job got done very fast with flair and fun. A long plastic tube with “Peace” written on it was stuffed with napkins and other soft materials and inflated with hydrogen. It took off through the air like a big snake until it was out of sight. Garbage was collected and then shaped to form the word “Peace” which could be seen in its entirety only from the air. A person started designing with bottles as they came in. It was creative-play garbage! The festival mood of joy and playfulness prevailed to the end.
(Jean Young &Michael Lang, Woodstock Festival Remembered)

John Roberts, co-producer of Woodstock, on the aftermath of the festival:
One of the things that happened over the ensuing months was that in order to meet our debts we had to sell the large portion of what we owned of that movie to Warners; they paid us a substantial amount of money for it.  We kept a residual percentage, which still pays royalties today; and we used that money to pay off the bank.  The bank had funded us a lot of money to cover the million-plus in debt that we incurred over the course of that weekend. And then the hundreds of thousands in debt we incurred in cleaning it up after it was over, and settled with Farmer Brown whose cows didn’t give milk for three days, and fighting the owner of Monticello Raceway who sued us because we blocked his entrance, and that sort of thing – none of which is particularly interesting to anyone, I guess, but ourselves, but all of which went on and had a lot to do with Woodstock.

(Joel Mackower, Woodstock. The Oral History)


Thursday 14 August 2014

DIRTY CHILD AVOIDS BEATING. A cautionary tale, 1807.

A tradesman in London, who had a numerous family of children…permitted them to play in a large court adjoining his house, giving them a strict charge not to go out of it.

But little George was wearing his first breeches. Desirous of showing himself to all his little friends, he left the court. In his haste, he ran against a chimney-sweeper and stumbled into the drainage ditch.

The sweeper was a lad of compassion. He helped the crying boy up and began to hug and embrace him to keep him quiet.

As a result the boy was not only dirty by his fall in the ditch, but very much sooted by the embraces of the sweeper.

Moral of the story: Obey your parents or terrible things will happen to your clothes.
So what was little George’s punishment?

So pitiful was his countenance…that his parents could not in reason beat him.


Another touching story:
A maid servant was diverting William Hewet’s daughter on the edge of an open window. She slipped out of her hands and fell into the Thames. 

An apprentice jumped out of the shop-window into the river after the child, and to the great joy of many spectators brought the child safe on shore.

Her father became rich, was knighted, and afterwards chosen lord mayor of London. When his daughter arrived at the age of maturity, she had many suitors, but her father rejected them all and gratefully betrothed her to the apprentice who had saved her life.

Moral of the story? Not sure: If your daughter falls into the Thames, you will be rewarded with a splendid career? If you fall into the Thames, make sure your rescuer is handsome because you will be forced to marry him?

(From William Darton, Accidents and Remarkable Events Containing Caution and Instruction for Children)


Sunday 10 August 2014

NOT JEALOUS OF A NAKED TOUCH.  Having fun in a Swiss spa, 1592

More from Fynes Moryson’s Itinerary Containing His Ten Yeeres Travell:

[In Baden, three miles from Zurich] diverse baths are contained under one roof of a fair house, and without the gate are two public baths for the poor.

These waters are so strong of brimstone, that the very smoke warms those that come near, and the waters burn those that touch them…One is so hot it will scald off the hair of a hog.

Many visitors have no disease but that of love, even if they fain sickness of body. They come hither for remedy, and many times find it. Women come hither as richly attired as if they came to a marriage, for men, women, monks, and nuns all sit together in the same water, parted with boards, but so that they mutually speak and touch, and it is a rule here to shun all sadness, neither is any jealousy admitted for a naked touch. 

The waters are so clear that a penny may be seen in the bottom, and because melancholy must be avoided, they recreate themselves with many sports while they sit in the water, namely at cards, and with casting up and catching little stones, to which purpose they have a little table swimming upon the water, upon which sometimes they do likewise eat.

These baths are very good for women who are barren. They are also good for a cold brain and a stomach charged with rhume [stomach flu], but are hurtful for hot and dry complexions.
The town of Baden makes great profit of the spa, by the great concourse of sickly person.

(Spelling modernized)

Thursday 7 August 2014


More from Fynes Moryson’s Itinerary Containing His Ten Yeeres Travell:

 We coasted the land of the Philistines, and first did plainly see the City of Gaza. On Friday we entered the Haven of Joppa [Jaffa] and [entreated the ruler] to give us leave to pass to Jerusalem.

The shore of the Philistines seemed to be a wild, narrow and sandy plain near the sea with mountains pleasant and fruitful towards the East upon Palestine. The City of Joppa had some ruins of walls standing, but not so much as any ruins of houses. [We encountered only] the exactors of tribute come out of two ruinous towers, and some ragged Arabians and Turks lying within certain caves.

We thought it better to stay on our ship, especially since the place afforded no entertainment for strangers. Our mariners brought us eggs and fruit, and we had with us wine and biscuits, which we hid, lest the Arabians or Turks should take them from us.

On Monday, [the ruler sent us a guide] and an interpreter, a Maronite Christian. They brought us asses to ride upon. The asses had panels instead of saddles, ropes for bridles, and ropes laid across the panels and knotted at the ends instead of stirrups.

In the port of Joppa we had bought apricots, but we were afraid of eating too much of such dainties. The intemperate eating whereof, we had read, has often killed Europeans.

In Ramma we were brought into a house, where pilgrims used to be lodged…but at this time more fit to lodge beasts than men…The rooms were full of dust, and we hardly got straw to lie upon.

Someone in the name of the ruler brought us a present of some flagons of a medicinal drink made of cooling herbs and sold in the taverns, as we sell wine.

[We hired a watchman] to protect us from wrong, who being a man of very great stature, was called Goliath, and he walked all night and sang or rather howled with his hoarse voice continually.

[We rode toward Jerusalem at dawn] and were warned to be silent lest we waken the Arabians, Turks, or thieves…who were likely to offer us violence or at least to extort some money from us. The Arabians are not unlike the wild Irish…and cannot be brought to due obedience, much less to abstain from robberies.

We were within two miles of Jerusalem when a spachi (or horseman under the great Turk’s pay) riding swiftly and crossing our way, suddenly turned toward us and with his spear …rushed upon us…By the grace of God his spear lighted in the panel of an ass and never hurt the Frenchman, his rider.

[When the guide asked the reason for his violence, the horseman said]: Why don’t these dogs get down on foot and honour me as I pass? …We presently tumbled from our asses and bent our bodies to him. And we did not act basely in doing so, but wisely, for woe be to the Christian who resists any Turk!

(The English spelling has been modernized. Map by Sebastian Munster, 1598:

Sunday 3 August 2014


Fynes Moryson, the son of a Lincolnshire gentleman, travelled in Europe to observe local customs and economic conditions. Here are some extracts from his Itinerary Containing His Ten Yeeres Travell, first published in 1617.

  • The citizens of Hamburg have a strong dislike for Englishmen. It is unsafe to walk out of the gates after noon, for when the common people are once warmed with drink, they are apt to do them injury.
  • The porters demand to be paid up front, for this is proper to the Germans that they will be paid ere they begin to work.
  • In Wittenberg Moryson was shown the house in which Luther gently died….but this is not the place where he died, neither was there any bed…They tell many things of Luther which seem fabulous. Among other things they show an aspersion of ink cast by the devil when he tempted Luther.
  • Moryson was not impressed with Wittenberg, a city, where there is nothing but whores, students, and swine.
  • In Dresden he read a Latin inscription of which he approved: Aut nulla ebrietas, aut tanta sit ut tibi curas demat, which he twists a little in his translation: Be not drunken, or no more than may cares assuage.  In my opinion it means: Either don’t get drunk or get so drunk that it takes away your sorrows.
Any Latinists out there want to referee this?