In 1798, Mr. Dexter returned to Newburyport, and August 15th of the same summer he bought the large house on High street that had been erected by Jonathan Jackson in 1771. Its situation is high, and commands an extensive view of the coast and the Isles of Shoals. The grounds were laid out by intelligent landscape gardeners. Everything about the house was in excellent order; but not to his wish. He raised minarets on the roof, and surmounted them with gilt balls. He caused it to assume a gaudiness and cheapness that was most undesirable to a person of taste.
Directly before the front door of the house, on a Roman arch, he erected a figure of Washington in his military garb, and on his left, a figure of Jefferson, and on his right one of Adams, the latter being hatless. On columns erected in the garden were figures of Indian chiefs, generals, philosophers, politicians, statesmen, and goddesses of Fame and Liberty. He changed the name of the statues by the aid of the painter's brush as he pleased. General Morgan was thus transformed into Bonaparte, and to the latter Dexter always touched his, hat. There were more than forty of these figures, including four lions, two couchant, and two passant. These images were of wood, life size, and fairly well carved. The lions were open-mouthed and looked fierce. The figures were made by a young ship carver who had just come to Newburyport, named Joseph Wilson, and were gaudily painted. The images were all in good condition when Dexter died, and the first to fall was an Indian. The remainder stood until the great September gale of 1815, when all but the presidents were cast prostrate upon the earth. The images were sold at auction, the specimen that brought the most money, five dollars, was the goddess of Fame. William Pitt was sold for a dollar, and the "Travelling Preacher," fifty cents. It is said that the arch and figures of the three presidents, all the presidents there had been in Dexter's day, cost at least two thousand dollars, the lions two hundred dollars apiece, and the other images a similar amount.
"Monkey hanger" is a term by which Hartlepudlians are often known. According to local folklore, the term originates from an incident in which a monkey was hanged in Hartlepool, England. During the Napoleonic Wars, a French ship of the type chasse marée was wrecked off the coast of Hartlepool. The only survivor was a monkey, allegedly wearing a French uniform to provide amusement for the crew. On finding the monkey, some locals decided to hold an impromptu trial on the beach; since the monkey was unable to answer their questions, and many locals were unaware of what a Frenchman might look like, they concluded that the monkey was in fact a French sailor. Being found guilty, the animal was duly sentenced to death and hanged on the beach. The vertical part of the ship's mast he was hanged from is still visible on the beach between the Pilot pier and the Heugh.
Translation: Brief consideration of the judicial question: whether a pregnant woman, bearing a child while traveling in a stagecoach, is obliged to pay a fare for it or not.
Substitute Greyhound bus for stagecoach, and you have a question still relevant for present-day weird news scenarios.
Dr. Klüver's answer was: No, the woman doesn't have to pay an extra fare for the newly arrived baby.
His reasoning was that: 1) the baby wouldn't take up an extra seat if the mother held it in her lap.
And 2) The driver must have seen that the woman was pregnant when she boarded the coach, so he should have been aware of the possibility of her giving birth and charged her extra at that time, if he felt it was necessary.
In the parochial register of Lymington, for the year 1736, is entered a curious minute, which, for its singularity, deserves notice. The words run thus: —
"Samuel Baldwin, Esq. sojourner in this parish, was immersed without the Needles, sans ceremonie, May 20, 1736. It was ever his request, whilst living, that his body might be so disposed of after his death, from a superstitious notion that his wife, in the instance of her surviving him, would dance over his grave, actuated by a spirit of vindictiveness for his conjugal infidelity."
Lymington Parish Church
Update: "without the Needles" refers to a location — Needles Point.
I recently picked up a copy of George Soloveytchik's biography of the eighteenth-century Russian statesman Grigory Potemkin at my local used bookstore (Maxwell's House of Books in La Mesa). Potemkin was fantastically rich, one-eyed, and the lover of Catherine the Great. (Wikipedia link). But he was also more eccentric than I ever realized. For instance, he sometimes received official visitors wearing an old dressing gown and no pants. This anecdote also caught my eye:
He could be vulgar and cynical beyond belief. One day he was passing through his dressing room with two important courtiers who stopped to admire his famous silver bath. "If you can excrete enough to fill it," said Potemkin to one of them, "I will give it to you." The courtier turned to his companion, who was notorious for his voracity, and said: "How about attempting this business on a fifty-fifty basis?"
A group of fanatical religious terrorists, holed up in their mountain redoubts and battling an occupying government. Surely this description must apply to some modern-day group and situation, such as in Afghanistan, or perhaps Africa...? And the terrorists will in all likelihood be Islamic, right?
I learned about this historical incident from reading Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey. (You can find the entire text of the book here.) Stevenson traveled through the region once ruled by the Camisards, and evoked the romance of their rebellion.
There, a hundred and eighty years ago, was the chivalrous Roland, "Count and Lord Roland, generalissimo of the Protestants in France," grave, silent, imperious, pock-marked ex-dragoon, whom a lady followed in his wanderings out of love. There was Cavalier, a baker's apprentice with a genius for war, elected brigadier of Camisards at seventeen, to die at fifty-five the English governor of Jersey. There again was Castanet, a partisan in a voluminous peruke and with a taste for divinity. Strange generals who moved apart to take counsel with the God of Hosts, and fled or offered battle, set sentinels or slept in an unguarded camp, as the Spirit whispered to their hearts! And to follow these and other leaders was the rank file of prophets and disciples, bold, patient, hardy to run upon the mountains, cheering their rough life with psalms, eager to fight, eager to pray, listening devoutly to the oracles of brainsick children, and mystically putting a grain of wheat among the pewter balls with which they charged their muskets.
Pretty weird, huh? And right in Europe, not all that long ago.
The last sentence from Stevenson is particularly intriguing, since it conjures up comparisons to the Mai-Mai rebels in the Congo today, who believe that certain magical charms protect them against bullets; that their own bullets are invulnerable to counter charms; and that ritual cannibalism of their enemies is still a grand idea.
Once Europe had its own Mai-Mai's. Perhaps someday Africa will be rid of theirs.
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Books Selected and Endorsed for Pure Weirdness by Your WU Team