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Parental Guidance

  • Siobhan O'Shea
  • January 17, 2019 05:11:40 AM
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Horrible History, mythology, and folklore for Adults All history is interesting if looked at in the right way. Think of the weirdest, grossest, bizarre thing you can and multiply it by infinity. That's how weird history is. Did you know.... The CIA's had a secret spy cat project. Victorian fashionistas wore live insect jewellery. The East German police stole people's underwear. Tobacco smoke enemas were a polular medical treatment in the 18th century. We tell you the history your teacher never told you..and you wish they did!

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Shakespeare and Cannabis: Did the Barb imbibe

Should we call William Shakespeare the Bard, His Bardness, Barder, or El Barderino? A South African anthropologist named Thackeray thinks that some of Shakespeare’s poems suggest that he enjoyed marijuana. He particularly finds Sonnet 76 suspicious. It contains the verse, “Why write I still all one, ever the same/ And keep invention in a noted weed,” as well as a reference to “compounds strange.” Thackeray and his team analyzed centuries old pipe fragments from in and around...

Should we call William Shakespeare the Bard, 

A South African anthropologist named Thackeray thinks that some of Shakespeare’s poems suggest that he enjoyed marijuana.

He particularly finds Sonnet 76 suspicious. It contains the verse, “Why write I still all one, ever the same/ And keep invention in a noted weed,” as well as a reference to “compounds strange.”

Thackeray and his team analyzed centuries old pipe fragments from in and around Stratford-upon-Avon, including several from Shakespeare’s birthplace and his later home at New Place. The tests found strong evidence for use of nicotine and, more surprisingly, cocaine.

doobie or not doobie

As for the “noted weed”, the study ultimately concludes that “the results are suggestive but do not prove the presence of cannabis.”Tobacco and binge drinking were more the Tudor’s chosen poison. At one point, Elizabeth I had to personally step in by banning of a high-strength drink referred to as ‘double double beer.’

Actually, the heady term “noted weed” probably means “famous type of clothing” and “compound strange” is nothing more than an unusual word construction.

But never mind a few coy words. Consider what happens in Shakespeare’s plays:

  • Macbeth sees dagger floating in the air above him
  • Hamlet is visited by his father’s ghost
  • Othello babbles on about “goats and monkeys”
  • Pretty much everyone in Midsummer Nights Dream is on drugs or sleeping potions at some point

Dig him up to find out the truth, you might say. Or you probably wouldn’t, but Thackeray tried. What’s certain is that people are endlessly hungry for details about Shakespeare’s life. Chalk up was he a stoner along with the suggestions that he was a secret Catholicor gay, or you know, did he even write any of those plays?

What is more interesting is that Shakespeare may have had a co-author on up to a third of his plays.  What they did to get the creative juices flowing, we don’t know.

Perhaps we should all just chill. Queen Victoria took cannabis for the relief of period pains and every poet worth his or her salt in the 19th century ingested a mountain of opium and laudanum. Prithee, t’would give Keith Richards pause.

The post Shakespeare and Cannabis: Did the Barb imbibe appeared first on Interesly.


Medieval Dentistry or Killing the tooth worm

This is how Medieval dentistry explained the toothache : a worm busy eating a way out of the jawbone into the tooth and peeping out through the cavity. Not a bad description of what a cavity actually feels like. (Am I alone in picturing a nano-version of the movie “Alien” peering out of your kisser? Probably.) Much of Medieval dentistry involved ‘killing’ this worm or putting it to sleep. Using cloves, peppers or herbs steeped in wine to ‘kill the worm’, at least helped to fight...

This is how Medieval dentistry explained the toothache : a worm busy eating a way out of the jawbone into the tooth and peeping out through the cavity.

Medieval dentistry manuscript

Not a bad description of what a cavity actually feels like.

(Am I alone in picturing a nano-version of the movie “Alien” peering out of your kisser? Probably.)

Much of Medieval dentistry involved ‘killing’ this worm or putting it to sleep. Using cloves, peppers or herbs steeped in wine to ‘kill the worm’,

at least helped to fight infection and numb pain.

This can of dental worms was opened in Babylonian medicine, discussed in first-century Rome, and referred to in Arabian and late Anglo-Saxon sources. A Medieval remedy, gasping the smoke of hot henbane seeds, was mentioned by the Roman doctor, Scribonius Largus.

Medieval Dentistry Cures

Welsh ‘cures’ against the tooth worm include:

‘Take a candle of sheep’ suet, some eringo (sea holly Eryngium maritimum) seed being mixed therewith, and burn it as near the tooth as possible, some cold water being held under the candle. The worms (destroying the tooth) will drop into the water, in order to escape from the heat of the candle’

The severe pain caused by the tooth worm was commonly treated by inhaling the smoke from hot henbane. Possibly the burnt henbane seeds looked like small worms, suggesting a successful remedy. The worms had fled the teeth!

Toothache Cures

Not surprisingly, the major concern in Medieval dentistry was toothache.

There are several bizarre recipes for powders for painless tooth extraction:

‘Take some newts, by some called lizards, and those nasty beetles which are found in fens during summer time, calcine them in an iron pot and make a powder therof. Wet the forefinger of the right hand, insert it in the powder, and apply it to the tooth frequently, refraining from spitting it off, when the tooth will fall away without pain. It is proven’

‘Seek some ants with their eggs and powder, have this powder blown into the tooth through a quill, and be careful that it does not touch another tooth’

John of Gaddesden suggests applying the fat of a green tree frog, partridge brain or dried cow dung to help a decayed tooth fall out. To regenerate the teeth, try smearing the brain of a hare to the gaping jaw. If all else fails, pray to St Apollonia on her feast day. She is the patron saint of dentistry by virtue of having all her teeth extracted, before being burnt alive. However, even contemporary physicians considered John a mountebank, rehashing “the worst of medical lore”

Advanced Medieval Dentistry

If you were lucky enough to have money and live in a larger city or university town, you could avail of quite advanced Medieval dentistry. Dentures, teeth whitening, fillings, and treatments for oral cancer are all mentioned in Medieval texts. Early cavities were filled with delicacies like gall nuts, pig grease and myrrh, sulphur, camphor, beeswax, and arsenic.

Early whitening attempts included aqua fortis (diluted nitric acid). This did actually whiten teeth, but had the unfortunate side effect of eating away at the tooth enamel, so if used too often it destroyed the teeth. A slightly safer method of tooth whitening was boiling together equal parts of honey, vinegar and wine to brighten teeth. Another tooth powder was made from ground up alabaster mixed with jelly that could be rubbed on the teeth, which sounds a little less harmful.

Peasants had to make do with local barber surgeons, their own traditional remedies, and their friends. Untrained tooth-pullers often dislodged other teeth in the process of extraction. They could even dislocate the jaw, break the bone or cause severe haemorrhaging. The victim would not only have to pay for their brutal “care”, but would also be charged to buy his own tooth back!

In an odd case, a royal hobbyist stepped up. King James IV of Scotland (1473-1513) was an enthusiastic amateur physician and paid some of his subjects to allow him to extract their teeth and bleed them!

The post Medieval Dentistry or Killing the tooth worm appeared first on Interesly.


When Medieval Prostitutes, Harlots, and Strumpets dressed as men

When Medieval prostitutes broke the laws regulating clothing, they often dressed as men. Perhaps this is because male fashion was both titillatingly outré and more form-fitting? In the 14th century, men began to wear daringly short doublets, tights, and codpieces. Women with their full skirts were a mystery below the waist. In Italy, dressing as a man certainly seems to be a signal that the lady is “up for anything”. By the time one could browse books on fashion (c 16th century), the...

When Medieval prostitutes broke the laws regulating clothing, they often dressed as men. Perhaps this is because male fashion was both titillatingly outré and more form-fitting?

In the 14th century, men began to wear daringly short doublets, tights, and codpieces. Women with their full skirts were a mystery below the waist.

In Italy, dressing as a man certainly seems to be a signal that the lady is “up for anything”. By the time one could browse books on fashion (c 16th century), the typical Venetian courtesan is shown wearing men’s breeches beneath her womanly skirts.

In the century after 1450, thirteen women were accused of sexual misconduct by London’s governors for cross-dressing as men.

Their punishment was to marched through an angry city, shamed at Cornhill, and exiled forever.  They sometimes carried signs (H for ‘harlot’) or wore a striped hood and were required to carry a mysterious “white rod”.  In what must have been quite a scene, they were escorted by minstrels and the “music” of basins and pans. Perhaps, sometimes, they danced.

This was the common punishment for a Medieval prostitute or bawd (pimp). Only a token penalty was added for the extra offence of cross-dressing. Bizarrely, the badge of shame was often a man’s hat!

Medieval Prostitutes, Strumpets and harlots

Elizabeth Chekyn was caught wearing a priest’s gown in 1516. Probably, she was having sex with priests. The court preferred the version in which she was mocking the priesthood. Her attire offended on two fronts- status as well as gender.

Margaret Cotton allegedly obtained her man’s gown from a tailor and her hat from a servant. Her manly hat ticked two boxes. It hid her long hair and conferred masculinity.

Margery Brett, Margery Smyth and Margery Tyler were more direct or perhaps daring. They cut their hair short in 1519, an action deemed a ‘lewd pleasure’ and ‘a great displeasure of God and an abomination to the world’.

Brett, Smyth and Tyler were indicted, along with Elizabeth Thomson, as ‘strumpets and common harlots of their bodies’ during a crackdown in 1519. The only difference from a common prostitutes’ punishment was the men’s bonnets they were forced to adopt.

 

Badges of dishonour

In various places, the law decreed that Medieval prostitutes were:

  • Not allowed to wear jewels, embroidery, or other finery
  • Required to wear striped hoods (English cities)
  • Explicitly and repeatedly banned from wearing fur-lined hoods (also England), or fur-lined clothing (France, 1360)
  • Forced to wear types of badges or decoration on their dress (Provence, Burgundy) or cloak (various Italian cities)

Requiring prostitutes to wear striped hoods to mark themselves was partly to discourage other women from trying prostitution as a way to make money, and to remind everyone that prostitutes were lower status.

Southwark’s brothels had a particularly odd rule : no aprons allowed. Aprons might have been a indication of respectable traders. And even in the 15th century, aprons may already have been the “uniform” of a good wifey.

They could have been a satirical dig at the bishop of Winchester, whose ecclesiastical outfit included an apron. The good bishop owned the brothels in Southampton, and gleefully taxed the prostitutes known as the “Winchester Geese”. Heaven help you if you were “bitten by a Winchester goose” or suffered from “goose bumps”. These are better known as “the clap”.

London banned whores from dressing like “good and noble dames or damsels”. Specifically, prostitutes couldn’t wear fur-lined hoods. Striped hoods became a symbol of prostitution, so much so that Bristol issued a law that proclaimed “Let no whore walk in the town without a striped hood.”

Gloves and Bells

Cities enforced their own quirky badge or symbol for Medieval prostitutes.

Beaucaire: a mark on the left arm

Berne: red cap.

Bristol: striped hoods.

Castres: a man’s hat and a scarlet belt.

Florence: gloves and bells on the head (in the hair?) and high-heeled slippers.

Languedoc: a cord belt.

Leipzig: yellow cloak trimmed with blue.

London: striped hoods.

Mantua: white cloak and badge on chest

Marseilles: striped tunic.

Milan: black cloak.

Nimes: a sleeve of a special colour.

Pisa: a yellow headband.

Strasbourg: black and white sugarloaf hat.

Toulouse: a mark on their sleeve.

Venice: yellow scarf.

Vienna: yellow scarf.

Zurich: red cap.

 

The gloves and bells of Florence sounds jolly, until you remember: oh, yeah, leprosy.

 

Click for more on Medieval cross-dressing, sex with clergy, and prostitution.

 

Sources

Early, Erotic and Alien: Women Dressed as Men in Late Medieval London

The oldest profession: Prostitutes of medieval England

Common Women: Prostitution and Sexuality in Medieval England

Prostitutes’ Symbols

 

The post When Medieval Prostitutes, Harlots, and Strumpets dressed as men appeared first on Interesly.


If Day – the day Winnipeg staged a massive Nazi Invasion

The Canadian city of Winnipeg staged an enormous Nazi Invasion in 1942. On If Day (French: “Si un jour”), the “Nazis” (played by young Board of Trade members in German uniforms borrowed from Hollywood) attacked Winnipeg at dawn in -24°C.  Some painted sabre scars on their faces to look even more vicious. Super efficiently, they got Winnipeg’s surrender at 9:30 am, and renamed the city Himmlerstadt by noon. In one fell swoop, they abolished Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Masons,...

The Canadian city of Winnipeg staged an enormous Nazi Invasion in 1942.

Nazis driving tanks down Portage Avenue, Winnipeg

On If Day (French: “Si un jour”), the “Nazis” (played by young Board of Trade members in German uniforms borrowed from Hollywood) attacked Winnipeg at dawn in -24°C.  Some painted sabre scars on their faces to look even more vicious. Super efficiently, they got Winnipeg’s surrender at 9:30 am, and renamed the city Himmlerstadt by noon.

In one fell swoop, they abolished Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Masons, Knights of Columbus, Odd Fellows, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, and trade unions.

The authentic features of the If Day invasion included:

  • A real blackout of the city
  • Radio warnings to rural Manitoba in advance to prevent a War of the Worlds-style panic
  • An internment camp
  • An enormous gun fight (with explosions using real dynamite!)
  • The local newspaper was ‘taken over’ and published a front page entirely in German
  • Anti-aircraft guns fired blanks at fighter planes that flew over the city.
  • Dynamite charges were placed on the ice below bridges. They were then “blown up” using smoke generators and coal dust

There were many advance “warnings” in newspapers about If Day. Nevertheless, some people managed to miss the advance publicity and must have got quite a shock.

Laugh or be imprisoned

Simulated German soldiers harassing a newspaper carrier during If Day

The Winnipeg Tribune was renamed Das Winnipeger Lügenblatt (“The Winnipeg Lies-sheet”), a ‘Nazi’ publication featuring heavily censored columns and a front page written almost entirely in German.

One satirical story noted that:

“this is a great day for Manitoba …The Nazis, like Der Fuehrer, are patient, kind and tolerant, but THEIR PATIENCE IS RAPIDLY EXHAUSTED BECOMING”.

Another included an “official joke”, approved by the German authorities, at which all readers were ordered to laugh or be imprisoned. 

Q: “Who was that lady last night I saw you out with?”
A: “That lady was my wife!”
(Joke) Ha Ha Ha!

At 6 p.m., the head of the family MUST read this column out loud, while family members laugh three regulation German laughs in unison at each joke. Dissidents were to be reported to the Gestapo by other members of the family. Only official jokes from this column may be told and all of them must be memorised. Official “laughing classes” were to be set up as soon as possible to better instruct the population in German humour.

Books were burned in front of the main Carnegie branch of the Winnipeg Public Library. Don’t worry – no books were actually harmed. They had been pre-selected for incineration as damaged or outdated. 

Fake currency

Fake German Reichsmarks; the reverse features an ad for Victory Loans

At one local elementary school, the principal was arrested and replaced with a ‘Nazi’ educator dedicated to teaching the “Nazi Truth”. Most children were allowed to leave school at 11:30 am to listen to the radio play “Swastika over Canada” on the Canadian  Broadcasting Corporation. 

Canadian currency was replaced with fake German Reichsmarks, the only propaganda notes that Canada created during the war. Early morning customers at coffee shops were forced to take their change in “worthless paper Reichmarks”. Two dozen German soldiers barged into the cafeteria at Great-West Life, forced men and women from their luncheon tables and stole their food!

In the new food rationing, milk was only given to children five years old or younger—3½ cups per week. The Nazis were appalled at the huge amounts of soap available, and immediately reduced this to one tablet per family per month—including detergent.

One recipe had the Nazi seal of approval:  “a meat dish approved and recommended by Der Fuehrer: a hamburger made from a cow’s udder.”

Internment

City officials being arrested and taken to the internment camp

City officials were rounded up and taken to an internment camp at Lower Fort Garry.  Among those marched off were Premier John Bracken, Mayor John Queen, Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba, and even visiting Norwegian ambassador to the United States Wilhelm de Morgenstierne.

One council member, Dan McClean, escaped but was recaptured after a rigorous search! Chief of Police George Smith avoided capture because he was at lunch when soldiers arrived at his office. So they went upstairs (to a store on the second floor of the police station) and confiscated dozens of buffalo coats. It was, after all, freezing.

The Union Flag at Lower Fort Garry was replaced with the swastika.The city was renamed “Himmlerstadt”, and Main Street was termed “Hitlerstrasse”

If Day casualties

The first mock casualty was reported at 8:00 am. Dressing stations were set up at strategic points to give the ambulances and medical officers some practice. They also treated the two real casualties of If Day– a soldier who sprained his ankle, and a woman (a Miss Gorin) who cut her thumb preparing toast during the early-morning blackout.

The simulation was over by 5:30 pm. A parade down Portage Avenue featured signs urging residents to buy victory bonds because “It must not happen here”. Over C$3 million was collected in Winnipeg on that day. 

If Day Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/If_Day

Life Magazine

The Patriotic Consensus: Unity, Morale, and the Second World War in Winnipeg

By Jody Perrun

Manitoba Historical Society

Elinorflorence.com

 

 

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Queen Victoria had a beautiful, clever teenage sister

Queen Victoria’s only real friend during her childhood was her almost unknown half-sister Feodora. Victoria’s half-sister, the beautiful, clever Feodora, was packed off at 21 to a penny-pinching life in a draughty German castle. Victoria was only nine years old. Feodora was glad to escape; she admitted to Victoria in one of their hundreds of letters that she “might have married I don’t know whom – merely to get away”. Captives at Kensington The two girls were rarely allowed...

Queen Victoria’s only real friend during her childhood was her almost unknown half-sister Feodora.

Victoria’s half-sister, the beautiful, clever Feodora, was packed off at 21 to a penny-pinching life in a draughty German castle. Victoria was only nine years old. Feodora was glad to escape; she admitted to Victoria in one of their hundreds of letters that she “might have married I don’t know whom – merely to get away”.

Captives at Kensington

The two girls were rarely allowed beyond the palace gardens. Poor teenage Feodora remembers that her only happy time was driving out with Victoria and her governess : “then I could speak and look as I like”.

Feodora, and especially Victoria, lived under The Kensington System. It was a strict and elaborate set of rules designed by her mother Victoria, Duchess of Kent, along with her attendant (and possibly lover) Sir John Conroy.

 

  • Victoria was not allowed any privacy. At all times she was to be accompanied by an adult
  • She was not allowed to walk up or downstairs without holding her mother’s arm. Ever.
  • She had to sleep in the same room as her mother until she became queen at age 18.
  • Morning lessons began at 9:30 sharp with a break at 11:30. Lessons would resume for the afternoon at 3:00 and would last until 5:00.
  • All her activities and daily doings would be recorded in pen and ink. Everything.

 

Like a pair of cartoon villains, Conroy and the Duchess schemed to make Victoria Queen. They were horrified at the chance that King George IV might marry Feodora. Victoria let slip that the King “paid great attention to my Sister, and some people fancied he might marry her!”

Conroy also wanted Feodora gone because he feared her influence. She might encourage Victoria to rebel. He advised the Duchess:

“It is necessary for your and the Pss. Victoria’s interest that it should take place – the interest you ought to have over her [Victoria] will be endangered if she sees an older sister not so alive to it as she should be – and recollect, once your authority is lost over the Princess V. you will never regain it”.

Romance for Feodora

One Stephen, an Irish furrier, trotted after Feodora when she drove around St. James Park, and wrote Cabinet Ministers, the King, and every member of the royal family that the Princess loved him. Even a short prison stay didn’t dampen his passion. Auguste D’Este, son of the Duke of Sussex, wrote letters and even attempted to slip Feodora a gold ring.

Conroy rejected suitors who were based in England, or were too rich and powerful. He chose the 32 year old German Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, from a family almost ruined by the Napoleonic wars. With an income of £600 a year, Feodora would be too poor to visit her half-sister. With glee, Conroy writes: “her life would be unmarked by anything very splendid”.

Luckily, Feodora seems to have been happy with her Ernest of Hohenlohe-Langenburg. While she assures Victoria that she wishes she could fly in at her window on her birthday like a little robin, she deadpans that her Ernest would miss her and that he was “rather tall and heavy for flying”. She went on to have six children with Ernest – in six years!

 

Sibling Awkwardness

If you have some award moments with your siblings, just be relieved that you’re not on different sides of European dynastic wars. Victoria and Feodora were at odds over the whole Franco-Prussian War and the Schleswig-Holstein affair. Awkward!

But when they were widowed within a year of each other, Victoria hoped that Feodora would come and  live with her. Feodora visited in 1863, but couldn’t put up with her sister’s unrelenting grief. Victoria went on to mourn for 30 years! Not fun at family get-togethers.

There’s no evidence that the Feodora in the TV series “Victoria” – ambitious, calculating- is true at all. Fun, certainly, not not at all how the sisters felt about each other.

Just look at the touching letter Feodora left for Victoria, to be read upon her death:

“I can never thank you enough for all you have done for me, for your great love and tender affection. These feelings cannot die; they must and will live on in my soul – till we meet again, never more to be separated -and you will not forget”

Happy National Sibling Day (April 10)!

Sources:

Queen Victoria: A Biographical Companion

By Helen Rappaport

Becoming Queen

By Kate Williams

 

 

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A very trusted Madman and The Oxford English Dictionary

No one at the Oxford English Dictionary suspected that their most industrious contributor was a madman, a murderer, and an American. Presumably, in that order. In an early version of crowd sourcing, Oxford English Dictionary editor James Murray appealed in newspapers for readers who would report “as many quotations as you can for ordinary words”. He preferred words that were “rare, obsolete, old-fashioned, new, peculiar or used in a peculiar way”. These unknown...

No one at the Oxford English Dictionary suspected that their most industrious contributor was a madman, a murderer, and an American. Presumably, in that order.

Dr. W.C. Minor. Source

In an early version of crowd sourcing, Oxford English Dictionary editor James Murray appealed in newspapers for readers who would report “as many quotations as you can for ordinary words”. He preferred words that were “rare, obsolete, old-fashioned, new, peculiar or used in a peculiar way”.

These unknown volunteers were charged with the painstaking work of finding literary passages that could be slotted into the definitions.

Murray edited the Oxford English Dictionary from a corrugated iron outbuilding called the “Scriptorium” which was lined with wooden planks, book shelves, and 1,029 pigeon-holes for the quotation slips.

As definitions were collected, Murray discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand – sometimes at a rate of over 100 a week.

Minor always signed his address in the same way: Broadmoor, Crowthorne, Berkshire. He was detained “in safe custody until Her Majesty’s Pleasure be known.”

This rather lovely phrase has a waft of tea and cucumber crumpets. In fact, it meant that Minor was locked up in Broadmoor asylum for the criminally insane. With no fixed release date.

He was to remain there for 38 years.

The Irish Problem

The Professor and The Madman Movie, with Mel Gibson and Sean Penn. Source

Minor was beset by twisted, terrifying dreams involving Irish people trying to kill him. And sometimes force him to go to brothels.

According to Simon Winchester, in “The Professor and The Madman”:

“Men would then break into his rooms, place him in a flying machine, and take him to brothels in Constantinople, where he would be forced to perform acts of terrible lewdness with cheap women and small girls.”

Minor’s break down is often traced to a Civil War incident where, as a surgeon, he was forced to brand an Irish deserter on the cheek with a 1.5 inch letter “D”.

The movie “The Professor and The Madman” based on the relationship between Minor and Murray also broke down on an Irish sticking point. Mel Gibson was unhappy that the Oxford scenes were actually shot in Trinity College, Dublin.

The Sean Penn and Mel Gibson’s beard-off movie is probably now best known for Gibson and director Farhad Safinia basically disavowing it. The movie is credited to “P.B. Shemran”, an W.C. Minor-like alias if there’s ever been one.

In any case, Minor’s behaviour became increasingly bizarre. While stationed on Governor’s Island in New York Harbour, he began carousing nightly with prostitutes.

He was transferred to Florida, where he became increasingly paranoid—he would accuse his superior officers of plotting against him—and violent.

By 1868, even Army doctors had to diagnose him as “delusional,” “suicidal” and “homicidal”. Sinking deeper into paranoia, Minor shot and killed George Merritt, a stoker, believing he had broken into his room.

A Private Library

Murray in the Scriptorium at Banbury Road, before 1910 at work on the Oxford English Dictionary

Murray in the Scriptorium at Banbury Road, before 1910.  Source

Minor discovered the dictionary about 1881. He may have seen a mention of the project in the Athenaeum. A more poetic version is that the widow of the man he murdered, a regular visitor, delivered all unknowing a copy of Murray’s famous Appeal for Readers.

Finding the slip of paper between 2 volumes, Minor may have read it and discovered the work that would, to some extent, redeem him.

He rented a SECOND cell in the asylum, basically turning his two cells into an substantial private library. Another inmate built him beautiful, teak bookshelves. His army pension and family money allowed him to buy expensive antique books from bookstores not only in England, but from America as well.

Minor certainly made an enormous contribution to the dictionary over the years. Murray said Minor’s contributions were so great they

“could easily have illustrated the last four centuries [of words] from his quotations alone”.

Self-Surgery

After 30 years in Broadmoor, Minor had been there longer than any other patient. A powerful sense of guilt about his youthful sexual escapades – and nightly torments, during which he claimed to have uncontrollable sexual relations with thousands of women – never abated.

Without fail, he barricaded his door every night, pushing his writing desk across it. Of course this didn’t stop his imaginary abusers.

One evening in his quarters in Block 2, he tied a thread around the base of his penis, then with one swift motion of his pen-knife, amputated his penis. He flung it into the fireplace and watched the “evil flesh” burn.

Minor apparently recovered uneventfully, physically at least.

Scholarship in a padded cell

In 1915, a fictionalised account of a meeting between Minor and Murray appeared in Strand magazine, and took on a life of its own.

It described how, following Minor’s failure to attend the Great Dictionary Dinner in 1897, Murray decided to visit Minor himself, to find out who this mysterious man was.

When shown into the study of Broadmoor’s director he naturally assumed this man was the mysterious Minor. Only then did he find out that Minor was actually an inmate of the asylum.

The Pall Mall Gazette swooned: “No romance is equal to this wonderful story, of scholarship in a padded cell”.

A very cinematic treatment of the story -one wonders if that’s the version in ““The Professor and The Madman”.

In truth, Murray’s suspicions were aroused in the late 1880s, when a visitor from America thanked him for his kindness to the “poor Dr Minor”.

Minor’s troubled history was finally revealed, and Murray was nonplussed. While it was still till many years before he visited Broadmoor, (in 1891 not 1897), in the intervening years Murray wrote to Minor with sensitivity, never letting on that he knew about his mental illness.

In a case of truth being better than fiction, the real meeting was the start of a lasting friendship. Murray visited Minor at Broadmoor many times over 20 years and pulled strings to have him released to America in his final years – with the first half-dozen completed volumes of the dictionary.

Further Reading

The New York Times – “The Strange Case of the Madman with a Quote for every word

The Nation – “A Minor Exception: On W.C. Minor and Noah Webster

The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary By Simon Winchester

BBC – Broadmoor’s Word Finder

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