Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

February 24, 1827: A Midsummer Night’s Prayer Meeting

“The Family Shakespeare — in which nothing is added to the original text,censored-shakespeare but those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family. My great objects in this undertaking are to remove from the writings of Shakespeare some defects which diminish their value.”

Thus read an introduction for the 1807 edition of Shakespeare’s works, finally made suitable for general audiences by Thomas Bowdler some 200 years after the Bard was safely buried. Certainly Shakespeare, were he alive, could not have objected to having the defects which diminished their value removed from his works. Shakespeare and family values — together at last.

Shakespeare no doubt would have thanked Thomas Bowdler who joined him in the hereafter on February 24, 1827.

Bowdler undertook this project, along with his sister Henrietta, thanks to childhood memories in which his father had entertained his family with readings from Shakespeare. Only later as an adult did Bowdler realize that his father had been leaving out some of the naughty parts of the plays, anything he felt unsuitable for the ears of his wife and children. Realizing that not all fathers were clever enough to censor on the spot, Bowdler decided it would be worthwhile to publish an edition which came already sanitized and “expletive deleted.” True to his word and to his credit, Bowdler did not add anything to the Shakespeare texts as some earlier tinkers had (Poet Laureate Nathum Tate had, for example, given King Lear a happy ending.)

More than a century later, scholars decided that sister Henrietta had a somewhat heavier hand in the expurgations than previously believed. Naturally, as an unmarried lady, it would have been scandalous for her to admit having read, much less understood, the naughty stuff removed.

Later publications by Bowdler demonstrated his interest in and knowledge of continental Europe (with France presumably excised). His last work was a rather monumental expurgated version of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — no togas, no orgies — published posthumously in 1826. His version of Lady Chatterley’s Acquaintance turned out to be three pages long.

Bowdler has been recognized for his contributions to English literature by being awarded an adjective — bowdlerize, to change a book, play, movie, etc. by removing parts that could offend people.


Day of Note

February 24, 1969  –  Happy 50 Morgan Daybell




Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

February 19, 1912: I Don’t Care If I Never Get Back

Born back in 1896 with the slogan “The More You Eat The More You Want,” the molasses-flavored, caramel-coated popcorn-peanut combo called Cracker Jack is widely considered to be the first junk food. Oddly enough, this treat that is synonymous with “that old ball game” limped along without prizes inside the box for 16 years. Prizes first appeared on February 19, 1912. These “surprizes” included such valuable items as rings, little plastic geegaws, stickers, trading cards, whistles and tattoos. They spawned the catchphrase “came in a Cracker Jack box” used to disparage an item not deemed of great value. (Not valuable? An early metal horse and wagon from a Cracker Jack box is now worth $300.)

When Frito-Lay gained control of Cracker Jack, trinkets were replaced by paper items and in 2016 by digital codes that would “allow families to enjoy their favorite baseball moments through a new one-of-a-kind mobile experience, leveraging digital technology to bring the iconic prize inside to life.” Ho-hum.

53 Cents and a Cracker Jack

When Parcel Post was initiated in 1913, it was especially a boon to folks living in rural areas of the United States. The Pierstorff family lived in one of those rural areas — Grangeville, Idaho. They had been planning to send their daughter, five-year-old Charlotte May to visit her grandmother in Lewiston, Idaho, a 73-mile trip, but found the train fare prohibitive. Fortune smiled on the Pierstorffs. Charlotte May was a little slip of a thing, weighing just 48 pounds; the limit for Parcel Post was 50 pounds.

Yes kids, the Pierstorffs mailed Charlotte May to her grandmother. They didn’t put her in a box or anything like that; they simply attached the 53 cents postage to her coat and dropped her off at the post office on February 19, 1914. She spent the entire trip in the train’s mail compartment.  In Lewiston, the mail clerk delivered her safe and sound to her grandmother’s home. How’s that for service, you Postal Service detractors?

Charlotte May, who lived to be 78, never traveled by mail again. Soon after her trip, postal regulations were changed to prohibit sending a person or persons through the mail.

Thar She Blows

Earlier, much earlier, back in the 16th century, the natives of Arequipa in the Andean mountains of Peru led a simple, uncluttered existence, pounding stuff on volcano1rocks, doing folk dances and sacrificing bits of clothing, animals and virgins to the neighborhood volcano, Huaynaputina. The sacrifices kept Supay, the god of death, happy. It’s always best — though not necessarily easy — to keep the god of death happy. But then along came the buttinsky Spanish to colonize South America, and right away they outlawed the practice of sacrifice. Well, we we can be certain Supay was not amused. In fact, Father Alonso Ruiz of Arequipa in 1599 predicted an imminent “hit from heaven.”
Sure enough, Huaynaputina began to noisily pass gas.  The local natives scrambled to appease the volcano, preparing virgins, pets, and flowers for sacrifice. Huaynaputina just kept chugging and rumbling and carrying on as though it were about to blow its top, and on February 19, 1600, it did. With a huge fiery explosion, it spewed volcanic ash into the Peruvian sky. Rivers of lava flowed down the mountain. Supay was throwing one mean tantrum. Within 24 hours, Arequipa was covered with a foot of ash, and most everyone around was dead.

Not only did Huaynaputina do a number on Peru, it also affected a good part of the world. In the northern hemisphere, 1601 was the coldest year in six centuries. There was a famine in Russia. In China, the peach trees didn’t bloom. In France, the wine harvest was late.

All for the want of a virgin or two.