A Victorian Era Criminal Leads Police on a High Speed Bicycle Chase

Bicycle Detail, Poster of the Société Parisienne, 1895.

Bicycle Detail, Poster of the Société Parisienne, 1895.

In September of 1896, British newspapers reported the remarkable use of a bicycle in a New Jersey murder case.  The case involved two men who had both emigrated to America from London in the early 1890s.  One of these men was a farmer named Mr. Haggett who settled down with his family on a farm near Somerville.  The other man was a fellow named Mr. Clossen who Haggett employed as a farm laborer.  Sometime in 1896, Haggett caught Clossen stealing.  In consequence, he not only fired him from his job, but also refused to pay him the thirty dollars in wages that Clossen believed he was owed. Continue reading

The Victorian Demagogue: 19th Century Words on a Modern Day Danger

“No organist can manipulate the stops and keys of his instrument with more dexterity than the demagogue exhibits in playing upon the different weaknesses, errors, and absurdities of the untutored mind.”  Kent & Sussex Courier, 1874.

The House of Commons by Sir George Hayter, 1833.

The word demagogue is thrown around quite a bit in politics today, but the term itself is nothing new.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines a demagogue as a “political agitator who appeals to the passions and prejudices of the mob in order to obtain power.”  In the Victorian era, such a man was considered dangerous.  Philosophers, poets, and newspapermen alike sought to warn the public, reasoning that the better one understood the repertoire of a demagogue, the less chance the demagogue would have of success.  Their commentary is incredibly modern and (as in the case of a poem on demagoguery) occasionally quite humorous.  In today’s article, we look at a few of the highlights.

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Literary Obituaries: Death Notices for Austen, Byron, Brontë, and Dickens

Austen, Byron, Bronte, and Dickens Black and White

Jane Austen, Lord Byron, Charlotte Brontë, and Charles Dickens.

Today, Jane Austen, Lord Byron, Charlotte Brontë, and Charles Dickens are generally recognized as four of the greatest authors in English literature.  But how did their contemporaries view them?  Were their works appreciated?  And how did the 19th century public feel when three of them, still in their prime, met an untimely end?  To discover the answers to these questions, one might delve into the legions of biographies written over the years or have a look at their letters, journals, or contemporary reviews of their poems and novels.  However, since it is less than a week until Halloween, I thought we might instead take a brief look at their obituaries. Continue reading

The Origins of the Unicorn

The Maiden and the Unicorn by Domenichino, 1602.

The Maiden and the Unicorn by Domenichino, 1602.

According to historians, the legend of the unicorn first emerged in 398 BC courtesy of the Greek physician Ctesias.  Ctesias wrote an account of India, titled Indica.  He attests that all recorded within his account are things that he has witnessed himself or that he has had related to him by credible witnesses.  This account of India, though largely lost, has been preserved in a fragmentary abstract made in the 9th century by Photios I of Constantinople.  In the twenty-fifth fragment, Ctesias writes of the unicorn, stating: Continue reading

Robert Southey and the Cats of Greta Hall

Greta Hall in Keswick by Johann Jacob Weber, 1843.

Greta Hall in Keswick by Johann Jacob Weber, 1843.

Born of humble origins in 1774, Robert Southey went on to become Poet Laureate of England from 1813 until his death in 1843.  A contemporary of 19th century Romantic poets like William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he was an incredibly prolific writer, both of poetry and of prose.  He was also a great lover of cats, as evidenced in his vast correspondence with friends and family. Continue reading

The Plight of the Pet Monkey in 19th century Literature and History

“Properly trained and looked after, there is no pet which can be so interesting or amusing as a monkey.”  Hardwicke’s Science Gossip, 1889. 

The Monkey Who Had Seen the Word by Edwin Henry Landseer, 1827.

The Monkey Who Had Seen the World by Edwin Henry Landseer, 1827.

Throughout most of the 19th century, it was not at all uncommon for a family to keep a monkey as a household pet.  Monkeys were playful, mischievous, and adept at mimicry.  In short, they were amusing.  They were also human-like enough to be regarded by some affectionate owners as no more than naughty children.  Indeed, for some, the pet monkey may even have filled the vacant role of child in a childless family. Continue reading

The Pet Parrot: As Depicted in 18th and 19th Century Art, Literature, & History

Woman at the Piano with Cockatoo by Gustave Léonard de Jonghe, (1870).

Woman at the Piano with Cockatoo by Gustave Léonard de Jonghe, (1870).

When thinking of 18th and 19th century pets, we inevitably imagine dogs or cats or small, caged canaries.  Large and colorful exotic birds are not generally the type of animal we envision inhabiting the pages of a Georgian or Regency novel, much less an actual Georgian or Regency home.  It may surprise you to learn that parrots were, in fact, quite popular as pets during the 18th and 19th centuries. Continue reading

The Legend of Lady Godiva: Depictions in Art, Literature, and History

Lady Godiva by John Collier, 1897.

Lady Godiva by John Collier, 1897.

The scandalous tale of Lady Godiva’s ride has been in circulation for nearly ten centuries.  In that time, it has provided inspiration for innumerable poets, painters, and sculptors.  Inevitably, Lady Godiva is depicted as naked on horseback, covered only by her long hair, as she rides through the town of Coventry.  But did such a ride ever take place?  Continue reading

Grimalkins, Gothics, & Beware the Cat

“I knewe these things wil seem mervelous to many men, that Cats should understand and speak, have a governour among themselves, and be obedient to their Lawes…” (Beware the Cat by William Baldwin, 1570.)

A Naturalistic Cat by Louis Wain, (1860 – 1939).

A Naturalistic Cat by Louis Wain, (1860–1939).

In the year 1553, during the reign of Edward VI, printer’s assistant William Baldwin penned the first English novel ever written: Beware the Cat.  Before this time, all works of fiction in English of short-story length or longer were not original texts.  They were translations or adaptations from other languages, such as French or Latin. Continue reading