Friday, October 16, 2009

Have a Wilde One!

Happy birthday, dear Oscar Wilde, wit until the end.

Though his witticisms and one-liners have so entered into the collective subconscious the Amateur Historian has been reluctant to post about them, she cannot help but mention her favorite.

Wilde spent his last few years in the Hôtel d'Alsace, where he kept up with his pleasures and with various intellectual circles. About a month before his death, Wilde quite glibly informed his friends, "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go."

Friday, October 9, 2009

It also tastes delicious with butter

The French Romantic period had a number of authors who took Romanticism to its illogical extremes. One such poet was Gerard de Nerval, who, like many young writers, took it upon himself to shock the bourgoise in order to display the falseness of society and his role, as a poet, in breaking them free of their shackles. To this end, he joined the 'bosingos', which, though an important force in the 1830s Revolution, spent a lot of time doing the weirdest things they could imagine. Since the group de Nerval belonged to was an offshoot, the 'bouzingos', were mostly poets who placed art above politics and tended to annoy the monarchists just for the hell of it instead of out of legitimate political protest, they came up with some pretty bizarre stuff even for Romantics. The Amateur Historian believes that at one point the 'bouzingos' decided it would be a great idea to hold a literary salon in the nude and then any follow it up with a concert, despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that none of them could play an instrument. The Amateur Historian believes that the 'bouzingos' were still nude when they did this.

De Nerval fit in with the bouzingos perfectly. He liked to go out walking with a lobster on a pale blue ribbon and, when asked why, replied that the lobster did not bark and that it knew the secrets of the deep.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Quit Monkeying Around

It is sometimes difficult to remember that, during the Napoleonic Wars, there still existed very isolated villages with little to no contact with the outside world, whom the Enlightenment appeared to have passed over in lieu of more interesting citizens.

The village of Hartlepool is a case in point (though, depending on who you ask, it might actually be Boddam). During the Napoleonic Wars, a storm destroyed a French chasse-marée, or a little fishing vessel, and the wreckage washed up on the shores of Hartlepool. Among the debris, there was one lone survivor, a monkey.

The crew had dressed up the monkey in a French uniform for their amusement, but this turned out to be a bad idea for poor Curious Georges. The villagers of Hartlepool had no idea what a French person might look like and decided to hold a trial for it on the beach. Despite the fact that the villagers had a. no idea what a monkey looked like, and b. no idea that there might be a language barrier even if the monkey had not been a monkey, the villagers concluded that since the monkey did not respond, it was probably a French spy, sentanced it to death and hung it on the mast of a fishing boat on the Headland.

One wonders how the villagers dealt with Darwin's theory of evolution later in the 19th century.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Sort of Romantic Avoidance

Being a medical student is a difficult, exhausting and sometimes disgusting process and being one in the nineteenth century was no better. Hector Berlioz (here showing that the neckbeard is a bad fashion choice no matter what century) was forced into the medical field, one in which he had no interest what-so-ever, by his parents and was thoroughly unprepared for the dissection room.

He writes in his memoirs: "The sight of that horrible human charnel house, these scattered limbs, grinning heads, open skulls, the bloody cesspool in which we walked, the revolting smell which emanated from it, the swarms of sparrows wrangling over scraps of lungs, the rats gnawing bloody vertebrae in their corner--all this filled me with such terror that I leapt through the window of the dissecting-room."

One hopes that the window was open, lest Berlioz be forced to return to the medical school in a still less agreeable position.