English: "A Mad Dog in a Coffee-House" (1809) by Rowlandson, showing a rabid dog terrorizing a coffee house in 18th century England (possibly Garrison's or Jonathan's, near the Exchange)
Such chaos! Such mayhem! Okay, that's all I've got. There's a caricature in here somewhere, but I'd have to do a little research to figure it out. Unfortunately, I don't have the time...Once again, I need to take an extended coffee break, aka temporary blog hiatus. I knew I was having a minor problem when I kept starting posts with no time to finish them.
- The introduction of chocolate into 17th England? A fascinating tale of politics and intrigue, but one that will have to wait.
- The real story of St. Patrick...Happy St. Palladius Day anyone? Yup, I wanted to tell that tale too, but ran out of time. I'll tell it next year.
So I'll be finishing gallons of coffee in my attempt to balance work, teaching and writing...all while doing publicity stuff for A Murder at Rosamund's Gate...did I mention that it's coming out April 23? :-) But I'll be back soon!
In the meantime, I'll leave you with the above image as a writing prompt. What's going on here? What schemes are afoot? Or most simply of all, Who let the dog in? Happy writing!
A QUICK EXPLANATION OF THE IMAGE!!!
I just had to research the meaning behind this image (despite being on my self-imposed blog hiatus). In doing so, I came across this interesting work by Joseph Grego, who wrote extensively about Rowlandson in 1922. He offers an interesting explanation of the painting that gets at the shifting economic concerns at the time.
In his own inimitable words, Grego writes:
"March 20, 1809. The advent of a nondescript animal, … assumed to be a ferocious mad dog, has produced the utmost terror and confusion amongst the grave frequenters of a mercantile coffee-house… All the city brokers, and pillars of change found therein are seared out of their sober senses; some…are paralyzed with fear; others are trying to creep under the tables; a few are seeking escape by the door which they are effectually blocking; and groups of affrighted fugitives are endeavoring to gain the refuge of the staircase….Comfortable citizens are thrown on their backs, like turtles, and trodden on, while the pressure of viler bodies above is expressing a stream of specie from the well-filled pockets of the overthrown…."
So what does all this mean?
Essentially, something seemingly innocuous has pervaded the economy, and it will cause mayhem. The explanation for this mayhem apparently can be found on the advertisment (notice) stuck on the back wall, which offers an important piece of shipping intelligence.
The notice warns 'lay off Barking Creek," the location of a large fishing fleet in London.
Barking Creek...rabid dog, get it?
(but now back to writing!)
Mary Amelia Ingalls (1865-1928)
Until yesterday, if you had asked me what I knew about scarlet fever, I would have been able to tell you two things: A lot of people seemed to have contracted it in the nineteenth century, and in severe cases, a person could die, or at least go blind.
My evidence? Well, Laura Ingalls Wilder of "Little House" fame attributed her sister Mary's blindness to scarlet fever.
I, for sure, took this diagnosis at face value. Why wouldn't I?
However, as it turns out, Mary probably suffered from viral meningoencephalitis. In a recent Pediatrics article, Dr. Beth Tarini and some colleagues reported their reassessment of Mary's condition, having spent years pouring over Laura's letters and other documents which alluded to Mary's symptoms. Even though Mary had indeed contracted the disease as a child--in both the TV show and the book, we were infomed that "her eyes had been weakened as a child"--other symptoms were more telling. She went blind as a teenager, in 1879. Half her face had apparently been paralyzed, along with her eye muscles. Most telling of all, Laura later refers to Mary's "spinal sickness" in a letter to her daughter Rose. In 1881, Mary went to the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School.
Helen Keller, 1880-1968
Interestingly, a thousand miles away in Alabama, Helen Keller--an infant-- had also just contracted a disease that caused her to lose her sight and vision. Like Mary Ingalls, her condition was also attributed to scarlet fever. Physicians now suspect, however, meningitis was the more likely culprit.
Was the assumption of scarlet fever simply a misdiagnosis?
In the case of Helen Keller, this is quite possible. In the case of Mary, no. Dr. Tarini's team concluded that the family was aware of Mary's true disease, but that Laura had deliberately obscured the nature of her sister's condition when she discussed it in her books.
Why would Laura have changed her sister's disease?
Dr. Tarini conjectured that scarlet fever, being a common malady, would have been more relatable to the author's audience. There's something to that hypothesis, for sure.
However, at the end of the nineteenth century, there was a real stigma associated with "brain fever," a catch-all term for neural sicknesses like meningoecephaliti and meningitis). After all, this was the era of both the rise of psychology and neurology, and the accompanying classification of mental disorders and illnesses. So Laura's rewriting of her sister's history was likely because scarlet fever was more palatable, not just more relatable.
Laura is certainly not the first person to hide her family's secrets, or to rewrite her narrative. The tragedy of her own husband--Almonzo--is another example of how she reconstructed her past.
But perhaps that's the greatest feat of a storyteller. Telling the story we want to hear, not what really happened. In this case, however, Laura's retelling has probably caused generations of people to associate scarlet fever with blindness, which is certainly incorrect.
Yet another reason to constantly question what we read; to question what we know to be true.
But what do you think?
17th c. detective of poisons
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the first female literary sleuths, and since then I've since been wondering about the real first "detectives." I don't mean just any investigators of criminal activity, for surely, those have existed since time immemorial.
But I was curious about when the term "detective" emerged as a recognizable title and/or occupation. The word does appear in the Early English Books Online as early as 1634. However, the word detective was not used as a noun, but rather as a verb, referring to the process of detecting.
Specifically, the "famous chirugion [surgeon] Ambrose Parey" detective the effects of deadly poisons on the human body.
Turning to my trusty Oxford Etymological Dictionary, I found that as a noun, "detective" was not used before before 1843. According to the Chambers Edinburgh Journal, "Intelligent men have been recently selected to form a body called the ‘detective police’‥at times the detective policeman attires himself in the dress of ordinary individuals." (12: 54).
The word was later referenced in Willis' discussion of modern thief-taking in 1850: "To each division of the Force is attached two officers, who are denominated ‘detectives’" (C. Dickens, Househ. Words 13 July 368/1).
Prior to 1850, those conducting investigations might have been called a searcher (1382), intracer (?a1475), inquisitor (?1504), inseer (1532), theif taker (1535) (my favorite, and the one I use!), peruser (1549) investigator (1552), tracer (1552), scrutineer (1557), examiner (1561), revisitor (1594), researcher (1615), examinant (1620), indagator (1620) (that's a great one!), ferret (1629), (another great one!), pryer (1674A), probator (1691), disquisitor (1766), grubber (1776), prober (1777), plant (1812), grubbler (1813), and plain clothes (1822).
After 1850, additional colorful slang variants were used: Plainsclothesman (1856), mouser (1863), sleuth (1872), tec (1879), dee (1882) (shortened version of detective), sleuth-hound (1890), split (1891) (evolution of informer, turning against another person), hawkshaw (1903) (a character in a play), busy (1904), gumshoe (1906), (from the quiet stealthy shoes detectives began to adopt), dick (1908) (comes from a colloquial collapsing of 'detective'), and Richard (1914) (the common surname for nickname Dick). (Most of these expressions, it should be noted, came from criminal slang)
And the first real person to be called detective?
Well, it's hard to say...
In literature, the first detective is usually considered to be August Dupine in Edgar Allen Poe's Murder in the Rue Morgue (1841) (although I don't think he's referred to in the original version as a detective).
Paul Collins, an associate professor at Portland State, a.k.a. the literary detective, has made the case for Charles Felix's detective in Velvet Lawn (1862) as the first of the genre. (On my list to read!).
Others have argued for Inspector Buckett from Charles Dickens' Bleak House (1853), who may well have been based on a real private investigator that Dickens knew.
"We never sleep?!" Hey, that's my motto
These works, demonstrating the emerging professionalism of detectives (or inspectors), clearly were influenced by larger nineteenth-century trends--most notably the ongoing reform efforts (which called for systematic, often covert, investigations into the corrupted and abusive practices found in factories, prisons, schools, hospitals, etc).
Something else accompanied that change.
As an investigator, the nineteenth-century detective was trying to systematically solve problems, using science to find solutions to the puzzles that plagued society. The "new" detectives were adopting a scientific, logical quality to the process of capturing criminals.
The first known (and organized) private detective agency emerged in France in 1833. This occurred under the auspices of Eugène François Vidocq, a soldier turned privateer, who lived much of his early life on the run from from the law.
(Apparently, Victor Hugo was so impressed with Vidocq that he based not one, but two, of his most important characters in Les Miserables--both Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert--on the man).
Officially, however, at least in the U.S., Allen Pinkerton, a transplant from Glasgow, Scotland became Chicago's first detective in 1849. Soon after, he set up his famous Pinkerton National Detective Agency in the 1850s.
Ultimately, this professionalization of the detective--with its' new emphasis on applying science, logic and technology to catching criminals--gradually reshaped the image of the investigator from "thief taker" to puzzle solver. These trends seem to have substantially influenced at least the first few generations of literary detectives, maybe more.
Enter Sherlock, Poirot and all those who rely on "their little grey cells" to solve mysteries...
(I do think the recent trend of paranormal crime solvers indicates the inevitable backlash, however, but that's another story). What do you think?