Odd (as in miscellaneous, and as in strange) images from the previously mentioned Cassell’s Book of Sports and Pastimes (1896).
Extraordinary feat. Yes… yes, that’s one way of describing it.
Communicating by means of the telephone. HE’S TEN FEET AWAY, JUST OPEN THE DAMN WINDOW.
This last image is a postcard that was not from the book, but was tucked inside it as a bookmark when I bought it. The postcard could be nearly as old as the book– I can imagine a boy at the turn of the 20th century on a dismal Snowdonian holiday, stuck indoors with Cassell’s while the rain batters down outside– but what’s really interesting to me is the fact that for a while I lived about three miles from this place and knew it immediately the moment it leapt out of the book. It’s in Conwy, sandwiched between the north coast of Wales and Snowdonia National Park. There must have been a vanishingly small chance of me finding an antique postcard of a place I’m very familiar with but that few people in Britain have heard of, in a century old book that was the only one I picked up out of thousands in that particular second-hand book shop, which is itself in a small town by the sea on completely the opposite side of the British mainland. But I did.
Next time: SQUIRRELS.
1911 edition from the Wellcome Collection. Nicer cover than mine overall, though in much worse condition, and mine has a little drawing of a man with a bowler hat and a walrus moustache ice skating.
The next few posts will be a miscellany of items from one of my most cherished and precious books, Cassell’s Book of Sports and Pastimes from 1896. It’s dedicated to “moderate indulgence” in “athletic and other manly exercises”. These include not just manly (again) games and exercises but also “minor out-door games”, lawn games, games of skill, recreative science, the workshop, and home pets. Yes, you heard me: keeping canaries and building miniature steam engines are both officially manly exercises.
Incidentally, will anyone cherish a DRMed file of a 2013 ebook in a hundred years time? I seriously doubt they’ll be able to even if they might want to.
It’s time to get manly, fill the various offices and ask the male friend you’re straddling “Buck, Buck, how many fingers do I hold up?” No, stop, I said offices. Continue Reading
Francesco Carancini, Italy, circa 1890s?
As psychic powers or ways of communicating with spirits go, being able to lift living room furniture a few feet off the ground in the dark has to be one of the more useless and absurd. And yet it was a thing that persisted in the repertoire of mediums for several decades. I’ve mainly been enjoying these pictures as exercises in domestic surrealism rather than as documentation of unknown powers. They’re from a (long out of print, 1981) book called Photographs of the Unknown, which seems to be associated– although not by name– with Fortean Times. In the photo above I like the fact that couple on the right are gripping each other’s hand apprehensively while the fellow on the left is still nonchalantly puffing away on his cigarette. The position of his left hand suggests slight annoyance that his ashtray has just been whisked away telekinetically. Continue Reading
This is real hard drive detritus: two obscurely named files in a folder from 2006 called “Harmsworth 1892”. I’m guessing 1892 might be the year, but I haven’t been able to find out any more about these images, which seem to show the recompense a man could expect to receive from a court if he was injured either at work or possibly in war. They’re interesting, anyway. Note that in the first diagram, losing one’s moustache (third from right) appears to be worth an impressive (for a century ago) £10, while losing an ear (second from left) is only worth three times as much at £30. And if you’re lucky enough to lose both arms and both legs, you could be in for £1000. Then you could buy 100 moustaches to console yourself.
“The Mysteries of Freemasonry revealed by Léo Taxil.” Circa 1892-1897.
1890s flyer for a talk in Paris by Léo Taxil, part of a lengthy campaign in which he “exposed”– or in truth, made up– connections between Freemasonry, Satanism and other esoterica of the kind that still exercises simple-minded conspiracy theorists to this day. Taxil or his printer has appropriated occultist Eliphas Levi’s already iconic image of Baphomet (not Satan).
One pretty obvious tip-off should have been that he was already well-known as a disillusioned former Catholic who’d written satirical, mocking books about the evident absurdities, incongruities and logical errors present in Church doctrine and in the Bible, particularly if one took the Bible literally. One of his books was called The Amusing Bible. In the 1880s he alighted on some already existent conspiracy theories about Freemasonry, then spent over ten years puffing them up into grand accusations about the worship of Satan in modern Paris. He had a huge and lasting influence on popular Western culture, though unfortunately most people don’t know that he was making fun of the credulous and didn’t for one moment believe that evil fraternities ruled the world in cahoots with Satan. Taxil’s still sometimes cited in crank texts as an “authority” on occultism or Masons. The image of Baphomet was re-appropriated to Anton La Vey’s little club of genuine Satanists in the 20th century via Arthur Waite, via Taxil; many of their Satanist practices were actually made up originally by Taxil as well. Future founder of Scientology L. Ron Hubbard, Aleister Crowley and the pioneering rocket scientist Jack Parsons were also involved to various degrees in Satanism or occultism created in reality from Taxil’s fiction. I think I need a flowchart or something. Probably not until H.P. Lovecraft was there another individual who so inadvertently and yet so thoroughly provided a gateway for fiction to seep through into the real world.
Taxil was nearly lynched by a Catholic audience in Paris when he revealed that he’d been taking the mickey, thereby finding out that satire and subtlety are wasted on most people; even he had underestimated the gullibility and confirmation bias of the ostentatiously religious, and also their fury at having their pet conspiracy theories attacked with logic. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.