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Friday, June 22, 2007


I do like my feculence.

Review in today’s Independent of Emily Cockayne’s Hubbub, which as far as I can work out is a history of filth and dirt. Gutters in Pepys’s London, we learn, were clogged with ‘turnip-tops and drowned puppies’, which, combined with the ‘marauding pigs’, induced pedestrians to ‘run along as if they were pursued by bailiffs’. ‘Immersing the body fully in water was seen by many as eccentric if not dangerous.’

See whether Smollett’s description of a ball in Bath doesn’t remind you of the narrator of Beckett’s First Love and his disdain for the ‘sticky foreskins and frustrated ovules’ of the not-yet-dead: ‘a high exalted essence of mingled odours, arising from putrid gums, imposthumated lungs, sour flatulencies, rank armpits, sweating feet, running sores and issues, plasters, asafoetida drops, musk, hartshorn and volatile; besides a thousand frowzy streams which I could not analyse.’ Among the ailments of the day were psorophthalmy (eye-brow dandruff), scabies, impetigo and black morphew (leprous or scurvy skin). Among the ingredients for one cure were brimstone and dog-turd.

Milton’s nephew Edward Phillips’ description of a ‘drab’: she had ‘a lank belly, hemp-like red hair, a hammer head, a beetle brow, plump cheeks festooned with carbuncles and warts’ and a ‘scattering of teeth enamell’d with blew, and black, and yellow.’

Feculence. Shittiness. The stuff of life.


M.D. said...

She's on the radio here:

Oh, this is going to be a wonderful read.

John said...

She was on History Talk last night. Read Hubbub as soon as it came out. As a lover of all things corrupt and decaying, I was disappointed. It's rather drier than I anticipated and not all adequately leavened by the anecdotes and examples the author uses.

My favourite part of the entire book is the author's name.

John said...

The author is Emily Cockayne, not Andrea Stuart.

puthwuth said...

My capacity to process the written word is obviously corrupt and decaying too. Andrea Stuart wrote the review. Error now corrected.