Jul 112012

Bowdler-ise, -ize: expurgate (book etc). Hence bowdlerisation. From T.Bowdler, expurgator of Shakespeare, + ize”

So sayeth the Oxford English Dictionary. I have only ever thought of the word as having a pejorative meaning i.e. to spoil the original by cutting out bits which were best left in, or to act as censor, but clearly when the word was first used, it was meant in a complimentary way.

Thomas Bowdler was perhaps something of a prude by modern standards. Born in 1754 in the village of Box (near Bath) he was one of six children. His father was a wealthy banker. He had qualified as a doctor after going to University in Scotland, and had then spent some time travelling in Europe. In 1781 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society, but although he was admitted to the College of Physicians he apparently gave up medicine when he found that it made him feel queasy! It is indeed an unfortunate trait in a doctor…

He devoted his energies to promoting prison reform – and to playing a mean game of chess, at which he was particularly adept. In 1800 he moved to the Isle of Wight and at the age of 52 decided to rush headlong into marriage. And promptly regretted it! The marriage did not last and the couple quickly moved apart.

That left Bowdler with time on his hands; time which he used to reflect on the fact that when he was a boy his father used to recite Shakespeare to all of the children, sitting around the fireside. When he became grown up Thomas realized that his amiable parent had been prone to edit out those passages which were unsuited to the tender ears of the children. Thomas decided that there was a call for a zealously applied red pen to be put to the entire works of Shakespeare so that other, “less circumspect and judicious readers”, could benefit from these necessary reforms.

An advertisement from The Times

The result: in 1807 he brought out The Family Shakespeare, a book which ran to four editions in his lifetime (he died in 1825). Many other editions were published posthumously. The book was a considerable success from the outset: suddenly the works of the Bard were opened up not just to children but to the fairer sex, who might otherwise be offended by the original words. In fairness, Bowdler did not seek, as others had done, to re-write or add new words. He simply struck out anything resembling bad language, and removed anything which might prove alarming or distressing. Hence any suggestion that Ophelia committed suicide was expunged from Hamlet, so that the girl was simply described as having drowned! And where there were particularly immoral characters, well they were removed from the storyline altogether (such as the bawdy Doll Tearsheet in Henry V (Part II).

Mercutio’s “the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon” was changed to “the hand of the dial is now upon the point of noon”. (The wonder really is that there was anything left to fill the four volumes which covered the twenty four plays attributed to Shakespeare!).

The actual expurgating was almost certainly a collaborative process involving Thomas and his sister Henrietta (sometimes called Harriet). Presumably, credit for her input was omitted from the published edition because it would show that she had read all the naughty bits in the first place…

Harriet was an evangelical Christian, about whom it was said  by Gilbert Elliot, Earl of Minto: “She is, I believe, a blue-stocking, but what the colour of that part of her dress is must be mere conjecture, as you will easily believe when I tell you that … she said she never looked at [the dancers in operas] but always kept her eyes shut the whole time, and when I asked her why, she said it was so indelicate she could not bear to look.”

The reasons for the ‘censorship’ were explained fully in the preface to The Family Shakespeare, where Bowdler writes of Shakespeare as follows: “The language is not always faultless. Many words and expressions occur which are of so indecent Nature as to render it highly desirable that they should be erased. Of these the greater part were evidently introduced to gratify the bad taste of the age in which he lived, and the rest may perhaps be ascribed to his own unbridled fancy. But neither the vicious taste of the age not the most brilliant effusions of wit can afford an excuse for profaneness or obscenity; and if these can be obliterated the transcendent genius of the poet would undoubtedly shine with more unclouded lustre.”

And while we may scoff at the prudishness of the Bowdler family, the fact remains that they opened up Shakespeare to a far wider audience than ever before. Suddenly Shakespeare was ‘safe’ for a family with Victorian values, and his works soared in popularity. Apparently ‘Bowdlerised’ editions of the works of Shakespeare were used in schools until the 1960´s.

Thomas Bowdler was buried  in the Churchyard at Oystermouth Parish Church near Swansea (where he had been living for  the last ten years of his life). July 11th  was once described as Bowdler Day – in memory of his birthday.


Picture courtesy of http://www.findagrave.com/


Jul 012012

O.K., I admit it may be a little obsessive, but I enjoy reading obituaries. Old ones. So a chance to meander through the list of “obituaries of remarkable Persons, with Biographical Anecdotes” in the 1794 Edition of the Gentleman’s Magazine was not to be missed. Fortunately the records have been digitised and can be found here

I would challenge anyone to deny that they would have wanted to be at the funeral of “Mr Courtenay, the celebrated performer of the bagpipes. He died of dropsy which he is supposed to have contracted by hard drinking and was buried in Pancras church-yard. The funeral procession was extremely numerous and extended from the Hampshire Hog, in Broad Street St Giles, a considerable way into Tottenham-court Road. The number of those in mourning could not be less than 30 or 40 couples, who were preceded by two Irish pipers one of whom played on the union pipes used formerly  with such wonderful effect by the deceased.. The body was waked at the Hampshire Hog….Courtenay was a wet soul, and everything about the body to its interment, was entirely correspondent. During the continuance of the wake the greatest profusion of liquors was distributed. At the church-yard the same liberality in the distribution of liquors to everyone who chose to drink was observed, and the company happily departed without fighting

The description “union pipes” was an anglicised version of the word Uilleann, from the Irish word uille, meaning ‘elbow’, emphasizing the use of the elbow when these pipes were being played. I just love the idea of “waking” the  dead – and of the deceased being a ‘wet soul’.

The Racquet Grounds at Fleet Prison

January 1794 saw the early demise of the 26 year old Charles Lewis Esq at his house at Park Lane Knightsbridge “a gentleman well known, and what is more rare, well respected at Newmarket and other such fashionable places.The eventful history of Mr Lewis’ life to a common observer has much the air of a tale of other times. He was the only son of Mr Lewis, a tradesman in London, who from encumbered circumstances was in the Fleet Prison, attended by his Wife, when his son was born, and where he continued some years.” Curiously, the debtors prison had a racquet court, which perhaps explains the paragraph in the obituary which states that the late Mr Lewis had “an unalterable regard for Tom Clark, his playmate and a fellow sufferer with himself, but not quite so happy, being left an orphan at a very early stage of his life, and reared only by the bounty of the prisoners. Clarke was a lad of parts…. and by making the balls and stringing racquets … has since supported his wife and family.”

“While Mr Lewis’ father was in the Fleet prison his wife lived housekeeper with a gentleman of fortune, who left him (Mr Lewis), in groundrents in and about Piccadilly, a fortune of 500 pounds a year.”
Mr Lewis appears to have been engaged to be married, to an heiress called Miss Edwards ”who had also a considerable fortune in her own power, and was said to be a relation of the gentleman who was his benefactor. Miss Edwards was of a consumptive habit, and though very ill, the day of their union was fixed, when from weakness a slight delirium seized her. Whether from accident or otherwise we know not, she fell from a two-pair of stairs window, and lived only a few days, leaving all her fortune to Mr Lewis.”
His friend Tom Clark is sole executor to all his fortune, which is considerable, as well as the debts of honour due to him on the turf, Tennis Court etc which are of a considerable amount, and some of them from gentlemen of the first rank.
Mr Clarke, we are informed, has sold his interest as maker of tennis balls and stringer of racquets for the court in James Street to a pupil of his, Mr John Cater, for 75 pounds. Mr Cater is a genius of some note, and of a very respectable family in the west of England, in which he is said to be the heir to a fortune  of 100 pounds a year.”
I find this a fascinating insight into a world where chance tossed some people down and propelled others upwards: to go from the debtors prison to a world of considerable fortune, mixing with the great and the good, gambling at the Races, playing tennis for money, and so on. It leaves unsaid whether Mr Lewis proposed marriage to Miss Edwards because of her fortune, and where he was standing when she decided to take flight from a second storey window! There is also no mention of the illness from which he himself died. But what is clear is that the real winner was good old Tom Clark – an orphan raised in the Fleet who made good through hard work and enterprise and who went on to inherit Mr Lewis’ entire fortune.
Not so fortunate was  the fate which befell John Edwards, labourer “at Swerford, under all the agonies of that dreadful malady hydrophobia” (i.e. rabies). Apparently he had been bitten by a mad dog “about three quarters of a year ago, but did not apply to the surgeon until the fifth day after the accident, when the part affected was cauterized and such medicines were administered as are deemed to be most efficacious….Neither the  poor man nor his wife in the least suspecting the cause of his complaint, the convulsions increased to a violent degree and further medical assistance was called in, but all to no purpose. He was perfectly sensible during the whole of his illness, knew everyone who spoke to him and took an affectionate leave of his wife. He shewed the greatest abhorrence to all liquids till some hours previous to his dissolution, when he was so desirous of drinking that he could not be satisfied.”
 My ancestor had this useful remedy for rabies, writing in his notebook: “The following receipt for the Bite of a Mad Dog was taken out of Calthorp Church in Lincolnshire; the whole Town being bitten by a Mad Dog, all that took this Medicine did well, & the Rest died Mad. And it has since been found effectual in every instance, not only in human-kind but to Dogs, cattle, and other animals.” Basically he recommended a concoction of rue, garlic and treacle along with some scrapings of pewter boiled over a slow fire in two quarts of strong ale. A suitable dose was nine spoonfuls of the gollop “to be administered at seven in the morning to a Man or Woman…six to a dog”
And if that did not work immediately, then “rub some of the Ingredients from which the liquor was strained to the bitten Place.”  Simples!
May 022012

Given that interest rates are in the news again, I thought it might be helpful to see what Richard Hall had to say about the changes in interest rates in the period from the reign if Henry VIII through to George III:

I am sorry that I cannot get the diary extract any clearer (the sermon on the other side of the paper keeps coming through!) but basically what Richard recorded is that on 31st January 1545 the Legal Rate of Interest was fixed at 10%, that this was repealed by Edward VI four years later, and then re-introduced by Queen Elizabeth on June 15th, 1571. It was reduced to 8% by James Ist. Charles II reduced it still further to 6% in 1660 (right at the start of the Restoration of the monarchy) and Queen Anne reduced it yet again on September 29th 1714 ‘to its present standard of 5 per cent’

Both Richard Hall and his brother in law William Snooke lent money to friends and colleagues, as well as to members of the aristocracy, at a rate of four and a half per cent. Hence at the date of his death Richard’s estate included a debt of one thousand pounds due to him from Lady Skipworth. Loans of up to a hundred pounds were dealt with by a simple I.O.U (i.e. a promissory note); from £100 to £1000 was covered by a bond i.e. under seal; and anything above that was protected by a mortgage.