The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

August 5, 2013

August 5, 1854

War humor is rarely funny. If we just had Chaplin's parody of Hitler, we might not recognize Chaplin's genius. Our excerpt is an example of such humor, a paragraph from Punch Magazine, in an issue dated August 5, 1854, (and collected in Volume 27.) The war in question is the Crimean War, (1853-1856) and we recall that then the British and French were allies, as the Ottoman empire continued it's centuries long decline. Russia was the enemy of a coalition of European powers and the Ottomans; Sevastapol was in the headlines. The Light Brigade had not charged, The 600 were still alive. It was August 5, 1854. 

From Punch,  we have this conceit: that what follows is an article printed in Moscow newspapers, about their enemies. Their enemies of course being the readers of Punch. Biting sarcasm.


Sincerely do we congratulate our readers on the extreme distress and misery in which the English are involved by reason of the impious war which they have dared to wage against our august Lord and Master. Nicholas. We have the happiness to assure the subjects of His Imperial Majesty that those wicked islanders are in a state of absolute starvation. The price of bread has increased to a sum which places it beyond the means of all classes but the most opulent of the nobility: and the scarcity of all other provisions is equally severe. Muttonchops are a sovereign apiece, and thirty pounds are demanded for a joint of meat by the few butchers who manage to keep their shops open. There is not a cat to be seen; and everything would be eaten up by rats and mice if there were anything for the mice and rats to eat; and if those vermin had not all perished of famine, as many as have not been caught, and applied to the same purpose as the cats. The dogs also have disappeared from the streets, and even from the kennels of the aristocracy: thus foxes can no longer be hunted for food...

Owing to the imposition of the Malt Tax, the Mascots of Westminster and Baron Rothschild are the only persons in the country besides the Queen and Prince Albert, who can afford beer: and consequently all the cab-drivers and coalwhippers are in a state bordering on revolt. Whitebait and minnows are sixpence each: whilst aldermen, who this time last year were rolling in wealth, may now be seen fighting in the City gutters for a bone. The few hides imported have been entirely devoured; so that boots and shoes are not procurable, and the population is going barefoot. The same statement applies to tallow: insomuch that the nobility's balls are illuminated by rushlights, and soda and potash being equally deficient, there is now a terrible meaning in the popular inquiry, "How are you off for soap?" Such is the want of hemp, that... the executioner, is reduced to the employment of hay-ropes, and the dearth of paper is so extreme that not only can the boys fly no kites, but accommodation bills cannot any longer be drawn, for lack of material. Nay, it has been found impossible, for the same reason, to carry into effect the issue of banknotes, by which it was in contemplation to establish an artificial currency: for paper in England is now more valuable than gold. It is obvious that the expenses of this unhallowed contest cannot be sustained much longer by the British infidels: in the meantime we may reflect on the gratifying circumstance that they are subsisting on offal, and beginning to think seriously about eating their babies.

You know what, the above is so paltry on the humor scale, and gives inadvertently a glimpse of real hardship at certain times in world history (it actually sounds rather prophetic in terms of the siege conditions the Parisians would suffer in less than twenty years,) we have another quote today, light on cats. but a charming glance into mid 19th century domestic life. Here is the adjoining article, from the same Punch page. The conceit here, is that the list below is a table of contents for an upcoming series of articles.

(By a Strong-Minded Woman...)

The subjects to be treated in this interesting series—and into which will be thrown the experience of a long married life—will be:—

No. 1.—The Air we breathe, and why our dear children (bless them!) always require a change of it at a certain period of the year.

No. 2.—The Cold Meat we eat, and why it generally produces ill humour when there is no pudding after it.

No. 3.—The Joints we cook at home, and the Joints that arc cooked for us in a lodging-house, and how the latter invariably lose so much more in the cooking.

No. 4.—The Pancakes we fry and the wonderful Puddings we contrive, whenever there is a doubt, whether there will be sufficient for dinner.

No. 5.—The Pot Luck that our husbands will persist in bringing their friends home to partake of, and the various Stews ...that always come out of it.

No. 6.—The Luncheons we enjoy when alone, and the Dinners we cannot touch when there is company.

No. 7.—The Sherry we drink ourselves, and the Marsala we give our friends at an evening party.

No. 8.—The Sweets we give our children, and the Bitters we receive from our husbands for so doing, on the absurd plea that it makes the poor little dears ill.

No. 9.—The Sun, we cultivate in our conservatories and out in our balconies, and the Flowers (hyacinths particularly) we rear on our mantelpiece.

No. 10.—The Beverages we infuse after an oyster supper, and the Slops we imbibe when we have a cold.

No. 11.—The Odours (including musk and patchouli) we love best, and the Smells we dislike most, especially that filthy tobacco-smoke.

No. 12.—The Pets we cherish, and the real causes of the illnesses that are generally attributed to our over-feeding them.

No. 13.—The Quarrels we ferment and the Storms we brew, whenever poor mother comes to make a short stay in the house.

No. 14.—The Table-beer we give our servants, and an analysis of the strange rapidity with which it is drunk, though the ungrateful creatures are always complaining of it.

No. 15.—The Tea. And Sugar we allow the Cook and Housemaid, and the extraordinary preference they have for that which is used in the parlour.

No. 16.—What we Breathe, and whom we Breathe For, and the great benefit there is in Stays, by their enabling us to breathe so much better, and how a heated room generally improves the... Ventilation.

No. 17.—The Body we love and nourish and take care of, with an exposure of the absurd fallacy that thin shoes, low dresses, and scanty clothing are in the least injurious to health.

Two kinds of humor, both sarcasm, but one based on denigrating a group,  and the other invoking common shared experiences.  In common is a theme of food. Not sure what that is about; it could not be placed on purpose with the first essay. 

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