Thursday, March 11, 2010

Malays were pretty fierce back then it seems

While we are on the subject of opium, it would be remiss of the Amateur Historian not to mention Thomas de Quincey, whose rambling but fascinating narrative Confessions of an English Opium Eater, is not only an intriguing look at addiction, altered states of consciousness, English Romanticism and 18th-19th century England, but a repository of bizarre happenings, such as the Malay Incident. It is best to leave most of the description of this even in de Quincey's own words.

‘One day a Malay knocked on my door. What business could a Malay have to transact among the recesses of the English mountains was not my business to conjecture, but possibly he was on the road to Seaport, about forty miles distant’.

Though the servant girl, 'who had never seen an Asiatic before' was left in mutual bewilderment with the Malay, who spoke English as well as she spoke Malay, de Quincey took it upon himself to see to it that said nameless Malay got a place to stay and something to it. Then de Quincey gave him a parting gift in the form of (you guessed it!) a large lump of opium. de Quincey writes:

‘I was struck with some little consternation when I saw him suddenly raise his hand to his mouth, and bolt the whole, divided into three pieces, at one mouthful. The quantity (of opium) was enough to kill some half-dozen dragoons, together with their horses, supposing neither bipeds nor quadrupeds were trained opium-eaters.'

The Malay was perfectly fine, though de Quincey had highly symbolic nightmares for several pages after that.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bad Romanc...ticism

The Amateur Historian has often thought that Lady Gaga's music videos were best understood under the influence of something and would like to suggest that opium is as good as any- which this delightful music video on Samuel Taylor Coleridge shows perfectly:

Monday, March 8, 2010

It's only a flesh wound!

Wellington wasn't the only Brit at Waterloo with the stiffest of upperlips. During the battle, the Earl of Uxbridge reamarked to Wellington, "By God, sir, I have lost my leg!"

Wellington replied, "By God, sir, so you have!" at which point Uxbridge went to have the shattered remains of his leg amputated. His only reaction to the excruciating field surgery was to remark, "The knives appear somewhat blunt."

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Stiff Upper Lip, what what?

The Duke of Wellington, among other things, was well-known for his hilariously matter-of-fact approach to difficult situations. During his political career (which is often forgotten, perhaps wisely, in favor of battlefield heroics), a madman burst into Wellington's office. Wellington asked what he wanted.

The madman replied that he wanted to kill the duke of Wellington.

"Does it have to be right now?" the Iron Duke demanded.

When the madman hesitated, Wellington waved him away and told him to come back later.

Unsurprisingly, Wellington escaped this assassination attempt unscathed.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Rather a sticky situation

Ever since the New York delegation to the 1776 congress arrived in Philadelpha, unable to do much more than abstain from voting because the New York legislature had never been too busy arguing to give them any instructions (an oft-repeated quote from the film 1776: "New York abstains. Courteously!"), New York has had something of reputation for being the homebase of large, quarreling groups whose actions tipped into the bizarre.

The Amateur Historian enters the Molasses Gang evidence. This gang, first formed in 1871, had a peculiar form of robbery. One member would walk into a store and ask the storeowner to fill up his hat with molasses, saying that he had a bet with a friend on just how much molasses his hat could cold. The gangmember would thereupon stick the hat, full of molasses, on the head of the shopkeeper and the gang- presuming they hadn't gotten bored and wandered off halfway through, as was often the case- would loot the store.

The Amateur Historian does not quite blame the gang members for getting bored. It must have taken a very long time to fill anything up with molasses, let alone a hat.