Friday, February 28, 2014

A Rare Book's Roll-Call of Dishonest, Immoral, and Unusual People

by Stephen J. Gertz

In 1813, James Caulfield published a new, expanded, three-volume edition of his  Portraits, Memoirs, and Characters, of Remarkable Persons, From the Reign of Edward the Third, to the Revolution, containing 109 engraved plates and 292 pages of accompanying text,  finishing the work originally issued in two volumes 1794-1795 with sixty plates and 214 pages of biographical material.

Caulfield's purpose was to embellish with prints the "twelfth class" section found in James Granger's Biographical History of England, from Egbert the Great to the Revolution, consisting of Characters dispersed in different Classes (2 vols., 1769), the "twelfth class" being those ‘such as lived to a great age, deformed persons, convicts, &c.’

It is, in short, an illustrated rogue's gallery of the odd, the dubious, the notorious, the eccentric, and the disreputable including:

Mother Damnable, the epitome of ugliness and the cursing, scolding, fuming, fire-flinging shrew not to confused with Mother Louse;

Blash De Manfre, the human Trevi Fountain commonly called the Water Spouter, who earned fame for drinking water in large quantities and regurgitating it as various sorts of wine, simple waters, beer, oil, and milk;

Elynour Rummin, the famous Ale-Wife of England, with "nose some deal hooked, and curiously crooked, never stopping but ever dropping; her skin loose and slacke, grain'd like a sacke, with a crooked back," but whose ale was renowned as A-1;

Margaret Vergh Gryifith, who had a six-inch horn protruding from her forehead;

Mrs. Mary Davis, who one-upped Margaret Vergh Gryifith with two horns growing on her head that would shed and grow again;

Francis Battaglia, alas not known as "Frankie Batts," who would devour half a peck of stones within 24-hours and six days later excrete them as sand through a colon with true grit;

John Clavell, the gentleman highwayman who wrote elegant poetry that begged mercy from judges, nobles,  and King, and was the author of A Recantation of an ill-led Life: Or, a discovery of the Highway Law (1627);

Archibald "Archie" Armstrong, the sharp-tongued master of buffoonery while jester to James I and Charles I, who earned renown and fortune as a Jacobean wise-acre, retired and became a loan-shark, and wrote A Banquet of Jeasts. Or Change of cheare: Being a collection of moderne jests. Witty ieeres. Pleasant taunts. Merry tales (1630);

Ann Turner, "a gentlewoman that from her youth had been given over to a loose kind of life, of low stature, fair visage, for outward behavior comely, but in prodigality and excess riotous," and was executed for murder;  

 Innocent Nat Witt, a poor, harmless idiot;

Moll Cut-Purse, "a woman of a masculine spirit and make [who] practised or was instrumental to almost every crime and frolick;"

Roger Crab, the sack-cloth wearing vegan hermit;

Mary Aubrey, who murdered her abusive husband then chopped him to pieces and cast him thither and yon;

Robert Fielding, gambler, bigamist, suspected murderer, and the vainest of all fops; 

Augustine Barbara Venbek, aka Barbara Urselin, whose "whole body and even her face was covered with curled hair of yellow color and very soft like wool";

Mary Carleton, who used more aliases than any knave in the Kingdom, was married three times, robbed and cheated several people, was often taken to be a German princess or at least a woman of quality, and was tried for bigamy and acquitted;

Mull'd-Sack, b. John Cottington, the genius pickpocket and miscreant who, one night while drunk, accidentally married an hermaphrodite named Aniseed-Water Robin (credited with twice impregnating himself and giving birth to a boy and a girl) in Fleet prison, "the common place for joining all rogues and whores together"; and many more.

James Caulfield (1764–1826) was an author and printseller. "Many old English portrait prints were too rare and valuable to supply the extraordinarily large demand for them. To this end, many old plates were republished and many old prints were copied. Caulfield came to specialize in prints illustrating Granger's twelfth class of people—‘such as lived to a great age, deformed persons, convicts, &c.’—whose portraits were very often the hardest to come by. In 1788 he began his work Portraits, Memoirs, and Characters of Remarkable Persons, a series of reproductions of old portrait paintings and copies of rare old or popular prints accompanied by letterpress biographies" (Oxford DNB).

(In a bibliographical aside, Granger's book made fashionable the practice of extra-illustrating historical or topological books, i.e. pasting in illustrations from other sources, which became known as "grangerizing" existing texts).

In 1819 Caulfield further extended his book to include Portraits, Memoirs, and Characters, of Remarkable Persons, from the Revolution in 1688 to the end of the Reign of George II.

CAULFIELD, James. Portraits, Memoirs, and Characters, of Remarkable Persons, From the Reign of Edward the Third, to the Revolution. Collected From the Most Authentic Accounts Extant. A New Edition, Completing the Twelfth Class of Granger's Biographical History of England; With Many Additional Rare Portraits. London: Printed for R.S. Kirby, 1813.

New edition, expanded and completing the original two volumes 1794-95. Three tall octavo volumes (10 x 5 7/8 in; 254 x 149 mm). viii, 104; [2], [105]-198; [2], [201]-292 pp. 109 engraved plates (one folding), including engravings based upon the drawings of Marcellus Laroon (1653-1702). Publisher's original blue paper covered boards with white printed spine labels

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I love these - I would really like to see more of these.


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