Thursday, 29 January 2009

News from 1731

A website with digitised searchable images of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century newspapers has just been released. I got an e-mail about it at about 3.30 yesterday afternoon, which according to google reader stats is the slowest part of my day, so I decided to investigate the reports of the Cottonian fire. Most of the digitised images are taken from British Library copies of the journals, so it was interesting to see large crosses in the margin by the mentions of the fire, added perhaps by Madden? Here's the Daily Advertiser for Monday October 25th 1731, in their miscellaneous news section:

On Saturday Morning about 2 o'clock, a very terrible Fire broke out at the late Earl of Ashburnham's House near Westminster Abbey, where the Cottonian Library was kept: It did great Damage to the House, and consum'd several valuable MSS. belonging to that Collection; but by the Diligence of the Firemen, and others who assisted thereat, the St. James's and Alexandrian Libraries were preserv'd, tho' with great Difficulty.

This is fair enough, though the "Alexandrian Library" is, as far as I know, just one book, the Codex Alexandrinus. But the next paragraph of news caught my eye:

The Mail from Chelsea of the 19th Instant informs us, that a Person who lives not many Miles from the Church in that Town, was dreadfully frighted by 12 Specters who came posting thro' the Room where he was in Bed, burst open the Curtains, and bristling up, cry'd out, Blood and Thunder; he observ'd that their Noses were of an uncommon Length, and they breath'd their Words thro' their Nostrils; which gave them a Twang that was not over delicate, and not far unlike the Sound of a Bag-pipe. The poor terrified Creature would not describe the Shape of these Visions. ----- But our last Letters from the above mentioned Town relate, that a dozen Hogs were cruelly murthered by a Butcher within the Atmosphere of it, and suffer'd to run about the Streets (the Blood streaming all the way) the instant the Knife had pierced their Entrails, to the great Dismay and Scandal of the human Parts of the Inhabitants.

Perhaps heartened by the thought of the spectres with noses of uncommon length, the writer went on in speculative vein:

A Gentlewoman in but indifferent Circumstances, having a Ticket in the Lottery that came up a prize of 1000 l, was seiz'd with such sudden Joy, that she burst into a Flood of Tears, and continu'd in that extasy for four and twenty Hours. As Joy is productive of such fatal Effects, it perhaps would be necessary that the Bodies of the several Adventurers in the State-Lottery, should be prepar'd in something after the same manner as for Innoculation.

I have no idea what precautions were taken when people were innoculated in 1731 -- probably something more substantial than just sitting down for fifteen minutes like you have to at my doctor's.

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