17 July 2010

The New Wonderful Museum, and Extraordinary Magazine

Your Humble Author, mining the libraries of the world for forgotten antiquarian baubles of knowledge. 

I recently came across a curious curio of a book on that great treasure trove of copyright-free media, Google Books, called:

The New Wonderful Museum, and Extraordinary Magazine: Being a complete repository of all the wonders, curiosities, and rarities of nature and art, from the beginning of the world to the present year 1802, comprehending a valuable collection (all well attested, and from respectable authorities) of Authentic and entertaining Descriptions, and Copper-plate Representations, of the most Wonderful, Remarkable, and Surprifmg Volcanos, Cataracts, Craters, Waterfalls, Whirlpools, and other Stupendous Phenomena of the Earth, resulting from Earthquakes and the general Deluge; strange Customs, peculiar Manners of remote Countries, wonderful Occurrences, singular Events, heroic Adventures, Absurd Characters, remarkable for eating, drinking, sailing, walking, etc., memorable Exploits, amazing Deliverances from Death and various other Dangers, strange Accidents, extraordinary Memoirs, astonishing Revolutions, etc., Including, among the greatest variety of other valuable matter in this line of literature (from an illustrated edition of the Rev. Mr. James Granger's celebrated Biographical history) memoirs and portraits of the most singular and remarkable Persons of both Sexes, in every Walk of human Life, from Egbert the Great to the Present Time, Consisting of many very eccentric Characters famous for long Life, Courage, Cowardice, extraordinary Strength, Avarice, astonishing Fortune, as well as genuine Narrations of Giants, Dwarfs, Misers, Impostors; singular Events, Heroic Adventures, Absurd and Vices and Virtues; uncommon Eclipses, Storms, remarkable Providences, heroic Achievements, supernatural Occurrences, strange Discoveries of long-concealed Murders, etc., etc., Forming altogether a New and Complete History of the Extraordinaries and Wonders of the World, the whole selected from the most approved and celebrated Historians, Voyagers, Travellers, Philosophers, Physicians and other eminent and distinguished Persons of every Age and Country, and from the most expensive Works and Manuscripts.

Written by a certain William Granger, Esquire, about whom little is known, the book, first published in 1802 in multiple volumes, is a kind of Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not meets natural history meets Daily Mail-style tabloid meets--you guessed it-- a curiosity cabinet. Below I will share with you some of the terrific illustrations from the book with brief (and not embellished!) descriptions from the same.

I begin with John "Blind Jack of Knaresborough" Metcalf, the blind surveyor of highways in Derbyshire, etc., a man of advanced years still plying his trade when The New Wonderful Museum was published. The author assures us that he was responsible for surveying most of the highways and sundry roads in his corner of England, despite his visual disability. But, hey, couldn't anyone be a surveyor back then? I mean, that syphilitic ignoramus George Washington made it his stock-in-trade, right?

Next we have John "That Incorrigible Turkophile" Kelsey, a man of Restoration-era (1660-1688) England, who tried to convert the Ottoman sultan to Anglicanism! Only speaking English, Kelsey attracted much attention as a curiosity to the residents of erstwhile-Constantinople before spending six months (SEVEN by the Islamic lunar calendar) in a "madhouse." Fortunately, a guard there recognized his Pentecostal language as English. Kelsey was sent back to fair Albion on a ship, but he escaped and reappeared in the capital of the Turkish empire, later establishing a coffeehouse in the city called The Englishman's Head.

Then there is the curious example of Old Thomas Parr, a 152-year-old dude who is so interesting that I will pass over him now to devote an ENTIRE FUTURE POST to his story.

Mal (or Moll) Cut Purse, the stage name of Mary Frith, an infamous criminal of seventeenth-century London. Mal/Moll was of a "very masculine spirit and make...commonly supposed to have been an hermaphrodite." Her many discretions included acting as a "prostitute and procuress, a fortune-teller, a pick-pocket, a thief, and a receiver of stolen goods." In her illicit activities, she enlisted the help of her menagerie of gonofs, pictured above, including a monkey, lion cub, and a murder of crows.

Daniel "The Remarkable Miser" Danser, Esq., "who died in a Sack, and is a most Remarkable Example of UNACCOUNTABLE AVARICE." A wealthy penny-pincher in rural England, Danser scrimped and saved, wearing the meanest clothes and subsisting on the most meager allowances. He had a low opinion of many professions, feeling that "bellows-makers, undertakers, and trunk-makers are very extravagant fellows, on account of their great waste of nails, which profusion he thought unnecessary." He was found during his terminal illness wearing "an old sack, without even a shirt, remonstrated against the impropriety of such a situation," because, "having come into the world without a shirt, he was determined to go out of it in the same manner." After he had died, his executors found money hidden all over his estate, including:

£500 in an old coat in his barn
£2500 in a manure-heap
£200 in the chimney
£600 in a teapot (one Pound Sterling in 1800 would be worth at least $25,000 in today's money)

*     *     *

Those are all the stories I have time to share right now. But perhaps I will continue these tales in a future post, where we will learn the histories of the "Fake Czar," the "Bird Hermit," and the "Runaway Bridegroom"!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...