VITALOGY, Lesson the Third: How to Become Fat or Plump, and The Evils of the Waist Belt

This will be our third lesson in 19th-century health management, and we’ll start, as in the previous two, with some information about the source:  Vitalogy, or Encyclopedia of Health and Home was originally published in 1899 (I believe), and my edition is dated 1922.  It was published by the “Vitalogy Association, Chicago, Illinois,” and there are two copyrights:  1904 and 1913.

The authors are Dr. Geo. P. Wood, and Dr. E. H Ruddock, whose photos appear in the banner image.  In their book they instruct the reader on various aspects of turn-of-the-century (19th to 20th century) medical practice, which can be quite surprising from our 21st century perspective.

Here are some excerpts that you might find interesting:

waist belt


This and its kindred waist compressor are the most destructive inventions to human health on the Face of the Globe.  King Alcohol claims his victims by the hundred thousand; but these by the millions.  Abominations:  Dr. Ellis, in his Book on Health, says:  “The majority of our women are partial invalids, and most of our misses are miserably ‘peaked or puny,’ because they or their mothers before them wore those abominations, and that many of them are unfit, and should not be allowed to become, mothers of families.”  He further adds:  “The strong arm of the law should by all means be evoked to stay this deterioration and destruction of the human race.”

The very least compression, almost, on the waist is a great foe to the human system and to health.  The consequence is, no father should ever allow a Waist Belt to enter the portals of his home.

Deaf to Reason:  It is often said that it is useless to protest, preach or proclaim against this evil.  It is true that the ignorant and giddy are deaf to reason or advice, but not always so with the more thoughtful.

Diseases Produced by Tight Clothing

Medical authorities agree on the following as being a list of the principal diseases that are caused by tight dressing:  Apoplexy, headache, consumption, giddiness, jaundice, womb diseases, cancer of the breast, asthma, spitting of blood, palpitation of the heart, water on the chest, cough, abscesses in the lungs, eruptions, diseases of the kidneys, also of the liver in some of its manifold complications, bad digestion and loss of appetite.  And to these consequences should be added that of bearing generally unhealthy and deformed children, a large proportion of which soon find a premature grave, while others swell the list of the inmates of asylums and almshouses, thus carrying into the next generation the ill-starred fruit of a sinful indiscretion.

And in case anybody doesn’t already know…


Activity of mind or body prevents fattening.  Sufficient rest and sleep must be taken.  Persons who desire to become plump and remain so should retire about 9 or 10 p.m. and sleep until 6 or 7 a.m.  A brain-worker needs more sleep than a muscle-worker.  Pleasure or recreation, before going to bed at night, is desirable.  A drink of water should be taken immediately on rising.  It should be fresh water, and not that which has stood in lead pipes or in a pail, nor should it be too cold.  The breakfast should be plain and substantial, the year round, especially in summer.  A course of fresh, ripe fruit should first be eaten, then potatoes, meat or fried mush, or oatmeal porridge, bread and butter.  The drink may be cocoa, or milk and water, sweetened.  If tea or coffee is used, it should be weak and taken with plenty of milk.  A drink of water may be taken an hour or two after a meal; it aids digestion.  If one becomes faint before dinner, a cracker should be taken with a glass of water.  The hearty meal of the day should not come later than five hours after breakfast.  Soup should be taken at this meal; it helps digestion.

There are certain Brahmins or Priests in Asia who are very corpulent.  Their diet consists of vegetables, milk, sugar, sweetmeats and “ghee.”  Dr. Fothergill states that a strict vegetable diet produces fat more certainly than any other means.  Condiments, spices, and stimulants should not be taken unless they are very mild.  Much cold water, at meal-times, should be avoided.  It chills the stomach.  Every meal should be eaten slowly and with pleasant company, and a half hour, at least, of rest taken afterwards if possible.  If a full, hearty meal lies heavily on the stomach, as it often does, with dyspeptics, a drink of hot water, sweetened or salted to the taste, aids much to complete digestion.  About 3 or 4 p.m. a drink of water should be taken.  Supper should be light; bread and butter and tea, with some mild sauce.  Children and old people should retire early.

Another method of becoming plump is a free diet of oysters.  They may be taken in any form, raw or cooked, but they should be eaten without vinegar or pepper.  To sum up, then:  to become plump one must use plenty of water, starchy food, oysters, fats, vegetables, sweets, and take plenty of rest.

Strangely, I cannot find anything in this 971-page volume on ‘diet’ or ‘weight loss.’

I find it interesting that much of the advice for gaining weight in Vitalogy is what we are told for losing weight today…drinking water, eating vegetables, getting sufficient sleep.  And if one is feeling faint before dinner, why not have a little something more substantial than a cracker with a glass of water if one wants to GAIN weight?—although perhaps the rationale was to avoid impairing the appetite before a main meal.  And how does Dr. Fothergill imagine that “a strict vegetable diet produces fat more certainly than any other means”?  Perhaps we’d have to look at how vegetables were prepared and served at meals for the answer to that.  Maybe they used pastries and/or rich sauces…creamed peas and suchlike.  And what made them think that a “free diet of oysters” would promote weight gain?  One raw oyster might contain around 10 calories, and there’s nothing sweet, fatty or starchy about it.  But again, it may have to do with preparation.  (Six Oysters Rockefeller pack a calorie count of 220.)

I think the good doctors were a little ‘over the top’ in their condemnation of the waist belt, but I suppose we have to assume that the purpose of the belt in their day was never to hold clothing in place on the body, but to cinch the waist unnaturally tightly for reasons of fashion.

This photo of Lillie Langtry might explain why there was no need to counsel people on ways of losing weight.  If, as we believe today, one of the main causes of weight gain could be too-generous portion sizes at a meal, the fashion for a constricted waistline in the late 19th century might have been the reason that obesity was not a problem in that era.  A surgeon today might put a ‘gastric band’ around an obese person’s stomach to reduce its size and prevent excessive food intake.  In the late 19th century, it seems that the waist belt or band did the same job…

Lillie Langtry

Be well!



You Can’t Get There From Here

I was sitting at a traffic light the other day, and since it was a busy time on the roads (when is it ever NOT a busy time on the roads in my part of Ontario?), I had about three changes of the light at the same intersection to sit through.  Plenty of time to listen to the French language radio station and repeat some of what I was hearing, for practice.  Nobody thinks you’re odd to be in a car all by yourself while talking anymore, thanks to the cellular phone.   Traffic being what it is these days, most people are probably talking to themselves out there.

Not much to see in the lines of traffic all around me on that day, or any other day, come to that.  Cars are all ‘much of a muchness’ aren’t they?  They all look alike to me.  I don’t know how many times I’ve walked from a shopping mall to the parking lot and tried to get into somebody else’s car.  Thankfully there’s usually no one sitting in them at the time.  Except once.  People really ought to keep their car doors locked when they’re sitting in a shopping-mall parking lot–so that strangers won’t walk up and try to get into the car with them.

As I was saying, on that day I sat at the intersection (and sat and sat) and finally noticed the name on the back of the car ahead of me.  It was a Prius.  That piqued my interest a little.  Where did they come up with that name?  Where do they come up with car names in general?  Take Volkswagen, for example.  The word volkswagen means “People’s car” in German, as I think we all know.  The car company was founded in 1937 at Adolph Hitler’s instigation for the express purpose of manufacturing a car that would be affordable for the average worker.  The first beetle (although not called that initially) was designed with aerodynamics in mind by Ferdinand Porsche, in case you didn’t know.  Porsche’s own company made car designs for other companies at the time, so he needed Hitler’s collaboration to make the Volkswagen.early Volkswagen2

And also, as we all know, the name ‘Beetle’ evolved over time based on its appearance, and it is now officially the name of the car model—or its present incarnation.  I like the Beetle for the same reason that I like the Mini Cooper…it’s distinctive, and easily recognizable.

I was shopping for a small SUV a couple of years ago, and the Volkswagen Tiguan was looking like a good bet.  It was hard to get excited about it, mind you, but it looked solid enough and I expected a Volkswagen to be a good quality vehicle.  So I test-drove it, and got a price quote from the sales rep.  One key feature under consideration at that time was colour choice—I knew I’d have to pay extra for a non-standard colour, so I wanted to know what colours were on offer as a standard.  She said to me that they had five colours:  grey, black, red, and two shades of white.  I said, “So you only have one colour?”  She said, “No, we have five.”  I said, “No, you have one…white, grey and black are not colours.”

I lost interest after that, and never bought the car.  If cars all look alike, the only thing you can do to add an interesting feature is select a pleasing colour.  I forget what I would have had to pay for something other than white, black, grey or red, but I was so bored with the car-shopping experience by that time I just abandoned the project.

I guess I’m spoiled by the car designs of yesteryear.  Thunderbirds and Cadillacs and Corvettes and Mustangs all had something to say in terms of design back in the 50s and 60s.  I drove a Camaro Berlinetta at one time–1980s, I think–in a sable-brown colour.   Wish I’d kept it.

For me, performance, reliability, reputation, are all good, but why can’t we have something ‘fun’ to look at?  Something with a luxury interior as well.  Is that so wrong?  Am I asking too much?

Nobody writes songs about cars anymore, have you noticed that?  There are songs about driving, but no songs about particular car makes or models—at least none that I can find.  The most recent songs that mention particular car models are Little Red Corvette, (Prince, 1983), and Freeway of Love, (Aretha Franklin, 1985)–Aretha’s music video features a 1950s pink Cadillac.   [Here’s a great place to look at 1950s tail fins, incidentally:] .

Freeway of Love (Aretha Franklin, 1985)

We goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love

Wind’s against our back

We goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love

In my pink Cadillac


Then there are The Beach Boy songs…

Fun Fun Fun (The Beach Boys, 1964)

Well she got her daddy’s car

And she cruised to the hamburger stand now

Seems she forgot all about the library

Like she told her old man now

And with the radio blasting

Goes cruising just as fast as she can now

And she’ll have fun fun fun

Till her daddy takes the T-bird away.

The Little Old Lady from Pasadena (ca 1964)

The Little Old Lady from Pasadena (Go Granny, Go Granny, Go Granny, Go)

Has a pretty little flower bed of white Gardenias (Go Granny, Go Granny, Go Granny, Go)

But parked in a rickety old garage

Is a brand-new, shiny-red, super-stocked Dodge

And of course, Wilson Pickett…

Mustang Sally (1966)

I bought you a brand new Mustang

A 1965

Now you come around

Signifying woman

You don’t want to let me ride.

And this one was fun…

Hot Rod Lincoln (1972)

All of a sudden in a wink of an eye

A Cadillac sedan passed us by

I said, “Boys, that’s a mark for me.”

By then the tail-light was all you could see.

Now the fellas was ribbin’ me for bein’ behind,

So I thought I’d make the Lincoln unwind.

Took my foot off the gas and man alive,

I shoved it on down into overdrive.

A Thunderbird, Cadillac, Mustang, Corvette, and a souped-up Lincoln and Dodge…I think we’re unlikely to see the same car-centric songwriting again anytime soon.

Even the 1983 horror movie, Christine, which was based on a Stephen King novel by the same name, featured an older-model car:  a 1958 Plymouth Fury that went around killing people.  (Well, you’d hardly expect a 1972 Toyota Corolla to try to kill you, right?  Even if a Toyota Corolla DID try to kill you, it’s not something you, or the movie-going public, would be too awfully worried about beforehand.)  My friend Christine used to have the bumper sticker ad for the Christine movie stuck on her fridge door:

Watch out for me

I am Pure Evil


Let’s have a look at some of those old cars–they weren’t all T-birds and Mustangs.  When I saw this model (below), I immediately thought of George F. Babbitt from Sinclair Lewis’s novel, Babbitt, although he dates from at least a couple of decades earlier.  Don’t know the exact year of this one, but it’s probably ca 1955.  The car is a ‘Zephyr’—which means a ‘soft, gentle breeze.’  It looks a little too ‘bowler hat’ to suit that name, I think…

george babbitt2


Here’s a bit from ‘Babbitt’…

Babbitt’s spectacles had huge, circular, frameless lenses of the very best glass; the ear-pieces were thin bars of gold. In them he was the modern business man; one who gave orders to clerks and drove a car and played occasional golf and was scholarly in regard to Salesmanship. His head suddenly appeared not babyish but weighty, and you noted his heavy, blunt nose, his straight mouth and thick, long upper lip, his chin overfleshy but strong; with respect you beheld him put on the rest of his uniform as a Solid Citizen.

The gray suit was well cut, well made, and completely undistinguished. It was a standard suit. White piping on the V of the vest added a flavor of law and learning. His shoes were black laced boots, good boots, honest boots, standard boots, extraordinarily uninteresting boots…

He was, to the eye, the perfect office-going executive—a well-fed man in a correct brown soft hat and frameless spectacles, smoking a large cigar, driving a good motor along a semi-suburban parkway.

And there was just something about the front-end of this car that put me in mind of C-3PO from Star Wars.  Something about the eyes…

3cpo and car

Granted, this car is evidently of more recent vintage, but I thought it was interesting that they might have borrowed some features from a creature…

Shark and Car

Some of those old vehicles looked dangerous, too…they had TEETH…


And evil eyes…


They carried missiles…MISSILES2

And as for distinctiveness, here are three red cars.  Would you ever mistake one for the other?maybe corvette3

maybe pontiac belair2

mustang convertible2Found an article on the internet (on ‘’) that agrees with me on the ‘generic’ character of vehicles these days.

When Jim Mattison was growing up in the early 1950s, he remembers visiting Detroit car dealerships with his family each fall to check out the new models. By the time he was in kindergarten, he could name any car’s make and model just by looking at the hubcaps. “At 60 miles an hour and 60 feet away, you could identify a Chrysler from a Ford from a DeSoto,” said Mattison, who spent his career in the auto industry and now runs a Pontiac archive.

These days, even Mattison has trouble telling one brand from another. Government regulations, increased competition and profit-squeezed carmakers have filled the streets with bland look-alikes. With the cost of developing a new car easily climbing to $1 billion, automakers are loath to take risks.

[See more at:]

So car manufacturers don’t have the same flexibility and independence in terms of design anymore, and we end up with all these vehicles looking practically alike.

There’s only one good way through the wind. You can’t have a wide variety of shapes and have them be aerodynamically correct,” said Jack Nerad, editorial director of Kelley Blue Book.

I don’t know why anybody is worried about aerodynamics and saving fuel when you can’t get above 15 km/hr on the highway because there are so many other dratted cars out there that you can’t move.

Well, I started out talking about the names of vehicles…”Prius” as you may know, means “something that precedes or takes precedence.”

Cadillac, on the other hand, has written its own definition into the Oxford dictionary:

  1. a large luxury car that is the most prestigious brand of General Motors
  2. something that is an outstanding example of its kind, especially in terms of luxury, quality, or size

So, if you say that something is ‘the Cadillac’ of something-or-other, it means that it is among the best of its type.

I doubt that any of the car manufacturers these days will find their products written up in the Oxford dictionary—unless it’s already there, like ‘Prius.’  And not because it’s a car.

Also, I’m pretty sure we won’t be singing about them.

I suppose that cars are ultimately just a means of conveyance, unless you’ve got a squillion to spend and can afford something REALLY fun.  But they’re expensive enough for us average types, and I wish there were more to be had from the car-buying and car-ownership experience.

Oh, and I forgot one.  This is Janis Joplin, 1970…

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz

My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.

Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,

So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

Amen to that.


VITALOGY, Lesson the Second: How to Choose your Life’s Partner, and Warnings against ‘Secret Vice’

In this second installment, I’ll just repeat that the information comes from a wonderful book I discovered at a flea market, with the title of, “Vitalogy, or Encyclopedia of Health and Home.”  It is described on the title page inside the cover as:  “Beacon Lights for Old and Young, Showing How to Secure Health, Long Life, Success and Happiness, from the Ablest Authorities in this Country, Europe and Japan.”  The date of publication is 1922, it’s published by the “Vitalogy Association, Chicago, Illinois,” and there are two copyrights:  1904 and 1913.

The authors are two doctors by the names of Dr. Geo. P. Wood, and Dr. E. H Ruddock, and their photos appear in the banner photo for this article.  I’ve been trying to discover some biographical information on the authors, but can’t find anything on the internet.  It seems that the first edition of this book was in 1899…at least that’s the earliest edition I can see ‘out there.’

In any case, judging by the photos, the doctors were over 50 years old at the time of writing it, so likely received their medical training in the 1870s.  That’s an important point to note in terms of this particular article, because their advice on choosing a marriage partner largely derives from physiognomy (analysis of a person’s character based on physical attributes, predominantly facial features), which was the predecessor to phrenology (analysis of a person’s character and intellectual attributes based on the shape or irregularities of the head or skull).  The doctors have expanded on the main focus of  physiognomy to include other physical attributes, but it’s the same basic premise:  that the interior of a person can be learned from their exterior.

Physiognomy has been around a long time, apparently, and was posited by the ancient Greek, Aristotle—or at least the school of Aristotle, if not Aristotle himself.  “The principal promoter of physiognomy in modern times was the Swiss pastor Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741–1801).  The principal sources from where Lavater found ‘confirmation’ of his ideas were from the English physician-philosopher Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682), and the Italian Giambattista Della Porta (1535–1615).”  (Wikipedia)

The following gives us an idea of the type of interpretation that would be applied to various features.  This is from Faces we meet and how to read them, by R.D.B. Wells, published by Vickers, London, in 1870, p 14:

Anatomical interpretations :

The forehead is the principal seat of reasoning, reflective and perspective qualities.  Prominence of the lower part of forehead is indicative of a desire to see the world, to study science, learn languages and master matters of fact. Fleshy and blunt foreheads show obtuseness of mind, dullness of comprehension and weakness of understanding. Large and prominent eyes indicate power of expression. Deep-seated penetrating eyes suggest far sightedness and shrewdness. Upward and oblique eyes are seen in cunning, plotting and enthusiastic people. In men a large nose is suggestive of strong character and endurance, whereas in women a large nose is suggestive of aggressiveness and of dominance. A short, flat and upturned nose indicates weakness, inquisitiveness and dependant nature. A large mouth shows possession of good character. If the corners of the mouth are drawn downwards, it shows a gloomy and morose nature. A pointed and narrow chin indicates that the person may be crafty while a small and square chin shows an affectionate nature. If the chin is retreating, the person may show lack of perseverance and feebleness of organization. Large ears suggest generosity while small ears suggest greed for money.

Physiognomy and phrenology were largely discredited as pseudosciences during the late 19th century, but would have had a following during the time Drs. Wood and Ruddock were in training, or in the early years of their medical practice.  Which explains a lot, as you will see from these sections excerpted from Vitalogy

woman to shun

“A Man Hater” Sexually

It is in the nature of things that man should desire to “multiply and replenish the earth.”  With some women and with many men the chief object and aim in marriage is to bring into the world healthy, intelligent and robust children to illumine their early and cheer their declining days.

With all who seek the married state the expectation is that it shall result in a prolonged intimacy with the chosen one and in securing a home—a peaceful, happy home.  It is not then of the utmost importance that steps should be taken, intelligently, to so choose as to gain the ends desired? And is it not the height of folly to go blindly into this, by far the most important relation of his lifetime?

If a man is full-blooded, sexually vigorous and strong, do you suppose that he could reasonably expect satisfaction if he married a girl like the one illustrated as “A Man Hater Sexually”?  A woman whose sexual development was arrested in early youth—who has not enough sexual passion to last her through two years of wedlock?  Assuredly not.  Such women usually have flat chests, narrow hips, bloodless and thin or peaked features, indicative of arrested sexual development and a lack of that warmth and softness that attracts and holds the affections of men.  Some women marry because they want a man to support them.  They will have a horror of bearing children or rearing a family.  Sexually they are man haters.  Let them alone, young man, unless you likewise are indifferent to such things.

How to Find Happiness in Conjugal Relations

When mother or sister perceive, as they are apt to do, that the son or brother designs to “get married” to or is “keeping company” with some member of the other sex whom they have reason to believe would be altogether unsuitable as a life companion, it is of the most vital importance that promptly and tactfully some word of warning be given to that son or brother before it is too late—before the final step is taken that is to result, and so often does result, in a life of misery and sometimes of sin or of crime.  The young man, as a rule, is blind to the facts, attracted by some fancy or some alluring trait; he cannot distinguish its evanescent quality or note that this attraction of feature or mind, as it may happen to be, will not stand the test of intimacy or of time.

If, then, other and sterling qualities are lacking in the woman of his choice love soon fades to discontent, then to apathy, and then to disgust and loathing.  Hence the importance of “whispering in his ear” the timely word that as he values his future happiness or would avoid a life of misery and wretchedness he must stop.  Many may not listen to the timely warning but more will, and thousands of affectionate sisters and often mothers have thus saved a much-loved brother or son from that “hell on earth”—an unhappy, mismated married existence.

woman to marry

Test for a Good Husband

Prof. Goodrich, one of the greatest experts in reading human character, was once asked by a young lady to tell her how she could determine whether a certain young man, who was keeping company with her, would make a kind-hearted husband.  She was a little afraid about getting married because it was such a very important step.

The professor declared that his best advice was, to introduce her young man to some old lady and leave him alone with her for awhile, the longer the better.  Then ask the old lady what she thought of him.  Also, to introduce the young man, incidentally of course, to a young baby, and “do not stay around yourself.”  Get the baby’s opinion of the young man from the baby’s mother or nurse.  If the baby likes him and pulls his mustache or “crows” to him, it is a sure sign that the young man may be trusted.  Babies and very old persons are the very best judges of human nature.  With either, the young man will be off his guard, unless he thinks that he is being watched, and act out his inner nature.  The baby will intuitively feel an unkind presence and promptly turn from it.  The old lady whose sight has grown dim depends more upon her inner or intuitive impressions, and is rarely mistaken when she does.  This, he declared, was his very best advice.


The man who has what is often termed a “bad eye” or a crafty expression should be shunned, as he will surely lead any woman who marries him a miserable life.  Sometimes these eyes are fierce, often restless, while the eyebrows have a tendency to lower.  Notice them when their possessor meets strangers or people he does not like, and the evil spirit back of the eye will be apparent, although otherwise well hidden.  Then, too, we hear much said nowadays about degenerates, not because people have changed, but simply because some scientific students have gathered the actual facts about the number of people who have been deteriorating and have given the proofs to the world.

Anybody looking at the young ladies in any of our large cities cannot help noting how the very slim, narrow-hipped, and narrow-shouldered girls and young women predominate.  This is attributed by the scientists to the very general habit of wearing tight clothing and of tight lacing that prevailed among their mothers a generation ago.  These pretty, trim, vivacious, nervous, sexually undeveloped young women make the poorest kind of wives and still worse mothers.  They are degenerates suffering for the sins of their ancestors.

Young men would do better and be happier to remain bachelors than to marry such girls.

man to shun

Defects of Men

In any city or town one has not far to go to find young men with a more or less slouchy gait, low forehead, chin narrow, jaw widening rapidly until it becomes prominent under the ear, eyes near together, and generally restless, receding forehead and chin, back of head almost in line with the back of the neck, etc.  Such a man, even though of pleasing address, will prove to be cruel, selfish, heartless, liable to fail in business or commit some crime,–if a workman, likely to engage in strikes and frequently out of work.  They are degenerates in whom the natural mental qualities are illy developed and who are sadly deficient in that most important of all qualities, self-control.  They are like an engine without a safety-valve or balance wheel.  They may run all right for a time, but trouble is sure to come before long.  So it is with the degenerate.  He may make a fairly good appearance for a time, but it is not in him to do well.  He, too, will cause trouble.  To a careful observer, the signs of degeneracy are always apparent, and such persons should be shunned for companions and especially avoided when matrimony is the end of the companionship.

True, not many will show all the signs of degeneracy noted in a very marked degree, but some will show marked deficiency in some one feature and slighter ones in others.  Some will show slight deficiency in nearly all, though marked in none.  But all alike are unfitted for parenthood.  It is not their fault, but their misfortune, and society must come to the point where it shall protect itself from the perpetuation of such blemishes of character before it can hope to make real progress and secure a preponderance of noble, capable citizens.


There are various names given to the unnatural and degrading vice of producing venereal excitement by the hand, or other means, generally resulting in a discharge of semen in the male and a corresponding emission in the female.  Unfortunately, it is a vice by no means uncommon among the youth of both sexes, and is frequently continued into riper years.

Symptoms—The following are some of the symptoms of those who are addicted to the habit:  Inclination to shun company or society; frequently being missed from the company of the family, or others with whom he or she is associated; becoming timid and bashful, and shunning the society of the opposite sex; the face is apt to be pale and often a bluish or purplish streak under the eyes, while the eyes themselves look dull and languid and the edges of the eyelids often become red and sore; the person can not look any one steadily in the face, but will drop the eyes or turn away from your gaze as if guilty of something mean.

The health soon becomes noticeably impaired; there will be general debility, a slowness of growth, weakness in the lower limbs, nervousness and unsteadiness of the hands, loss of memory, forgetfulness and inability to study or learn, a restless disposition, weak eyes and loss of sight, headache and inability to sleep or wakefulness.  Next come sore eyes, blindness, stupidity, consumption, spinal affection, emaciation, involuntary seminal emissions, loss of all energy or spirit, insanity and idiocy—the hopeless ruin of both body and mind.  These latter results do not always follow.  Yet they or some of them do often occur as the direct consequences of the pernicious habit.

The subject is an important one.  Few, perhaps, ever think, or ever know, how many of the unfortunate inmates of our lunatic asylums have been sent there by this dreadful vice.  Were the whole truth upon this subject known, it would alarm parents, as well as the guilty victims of the vice, more even than the dread of the cholera or small-pox.

How to prevent Secret Vice

[Along with preaching the evils of it to the young…] The regular daily use of the sponge bath conduces greatly to the cure or prevention of self-abuse.  The too free use of meat, highly-seasoned dishes, coffee, wine, late suppers, etc., strongly tend to excite animal propensities, which directly predispose to vice.

A Terrible EvilIn the City of Chicago in one school, an investigation proved that over sixty children under thirteen years of age were habitually practicing this degrading, health and life destroying habit, while among the older ones the habit was even worse, though not so easily detected.

In a country school in Black Hawk Co., Iowa, one bad boy secretly taught all the rest until the entire school practiced this private vice during the noon hour when the teacher was away.

In New Orleans nearly all the pupils in a large female boarding school were practicing this horrible vice and the scandal of the fearful discovery is not yet forgotten.

Worth MillionsThe foregoing article on self-abuse should be in the hands of every young person as it would be the means of saving many bright intellects from becoming stupid or imbeciles, or lunatics or from filling premature graves and be worth to them more than Astor’s millions.

And so we are given photos of this unfortunate fellow, whose name is published, along with his city of residence, Harris, Pennsylvania.  As we are told in the captions, the second photo was taken three years after the first, when the practice of ‘secret vice’ began to take its toll (helped along by a bit of manual touching-up, we think!).  Puts me in mind of The Portrait of Dorian Gray…

vice before and after

I’m fascinated that photos of actual people are included in this book, only one of whom (the type of woman a man may safely marry) might find it complimentary.

In any case, I trust that you are now well instructed as to the best means of choosing a suitable mate, as well as stringently warned of associated evils.  If this advice comes too late to save you from error, I humbly apologize, on behalf of the good doctors, that their wise words were not brought to your attention in a more timely fashion.

Be well.


Mustard: From Prehistoric Pot to Ballpark Dog

This is my favourite condiment, absolutely.  I have a book on mustard:  A Dash of Mustard, Mustard in the Kitchen and on the Table, by Katy Holder and Jane Newdick, Firefly Books, 1996]

Mustard has a long history–not only in our cuisine, but also in our medicaments.  Most of us have heard of a ‘mustard plaster’ no doubt, although its utility has passed out of fashion long since.  Where did the use of mustard for food or medicine start, we wonder?  Archaeological evidence tells us that early humans used mustard seeds to season their food…

Prehistoric Humans Used Spices Too

Shards of 6,000-year-old cooking pots from northern Europe show traces of mustard seed, likely used as a seasoning for fish and meat

By Joseph Stromberg,, August 21, 2013

A new analysis of food residue encrusted on millennia-old pottery shards collected from sites in Germany and Denmark shows that prehistoric humans used the spice mustard seed to season the plant and animal staples that made up the bulk of their diet. The artifacts…are between 5,750 and 6,100 years old, an era during which people in the area were in the midst of transitioning from hunter-gatherer to nomadic societies. []

pottery with mustard seed

Food residue encrusted on 6,000-year-old pottery fragments from Northern Europe, such as the one above, show traces of mustard seed, which was likely used as a seasoning for fish and meat. Image via Hayley Saul

So how did mustard wend its way from prehistoric Europe to a baseball fan’s ballpark hotdog?

First a few basics, for ‘them as doesn’t know’ (which included me until I read this).  The flower of the mustard plant is always yellow, but the ripened seeds are of three types:  white, black, and brown.  White (sinapis alba, a.k.a. brassica alba) is naturalized throughout northern Europe and North America; black mustard (brassica nigra) is native to southern Europe and western Asia; brown mustard (brassica juncea) is native to India.  Mustards are part of the same plant family that includes all the cabbages and broccolis, radish and watercress.  None are poisonous.  (p. 10, A Dash of Mustard)

Here’s a bit on medical uses:

“Mustard seeds when crushed produce an oil which is fierce and pungent.  Used externally, this oil first irritates then partially anesthetizes the sensory nerves and so it has been used for centuries to relieve the symptoms of rheumatism, gout and arthritis as well as colds and fever.  Taken internally in large quantities, mustard oil is a powerful emetic, but used in smaller doses it has the effect of a digestive and diuretic, and also a stimulant.  Other remedies incorporating mustard include chewing the seeds to relieve toothache and gargling for a sort throat with an infusion of mustard and warm wine.  Mustard footbaths were a popular everyday treatment until quite recently, and mustard baths for the whole body have been in and out of fashion over the centuries.  Poultices have definitely gone out of vogue, but these messy “bandages” were regularly prescribed for all manner of ailments at one time and often included mustard in their list of ingredients.”  (p. 7, A Dash of Mustard)

I’ve heard of mustard plasters, but not mustard poultices…

While most people have heard of “mustard plasters”—and some still remember from their childhoods when their mothers stuck those smarting congestion-alleviators on their chests—there is less awareness of mustard “poultices,” used not only by Hippocrates, but well into the 20th Century in the United States.

What is a poultice? Picture mixing some mustard into a hot porridge, wrapping it in a towel and putting it on your chest. That’s the basic concept.

Applying a mustard poultice was less drastic than using a plaster (mustard paste spread inside gauze, towels, or other dressing). A medical doctor, Finley Ellingwood, explained in his 1919 work, “The American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy”:

“When mild counter-irritation only is desired, which is to be prolonged for some hours, a poultice is made in the proportion of one part of mustard to four or six of linseed meal or flour. This is not, however, effective in acute pain, but only where there is soreness or prolonged distress. Vinegar and mustard also make a good poultice for prolonged use, as vinegar destroys an excess of activity of the mustard.”

REMINISCING (Column), Metropolitan News-Enterprise, Page 15

Mustard Poultice: a Gushy Version of the Mustard Plaster

By ROGER M. GRACE, Thursday, February 24, 2005,

And as for the origins of mustard for medicinal use…

The ancients held that mustard was good, and good for you, if not a virtual panacea. The Greeks credited Aesculapius, son of Apollo and god of medicine, with creating it. Dioscorides, the first-century a.d. Greek physician whose De re medica was the standard pharmacological text for centuries, prescribed mustard for everything from swollen tonsils to epilepsy, and as a tonic against “feminine lassitude.” The Roman scholar Pliny the Elder ground mustard seed with vinegar and used it as a poultice for snakebite and scorpion stings, while the Greek physician Hippocrates favored mustard poultices for treating bronchitis, pneumonia, rheumatism and neuralgia—ample precedent for today’s folk medicine remedy of a mustard plaster for many of the same ills.

—Smithsonian, June 1, 2000

In medieval cooking, mustard was used to make old meat or fish edible by masking rancid flavours.  The seeds were either roughly crushed or used whole.  At one point in its history it was considered a cheaper way of adding heat to a dish, instead of the more costly black pepper, and it was around before the arrival of chilies in Europe.  (p. 8, A Dash of Mustard)

The Romans first introduced mustard to France (or Gaul, as it was then known).  The epicenter of the French mustard industry was and is Dijon in Burgundy, which is also a major wine- and vinegar-producing area.  It seems that the mustard makers of this region adapted Duke Philip the Bold’s motto (Moult me Tarde) for their own commercial trademark, and it is surmised that this was abbreviated to “moutarde”—the French for “mustard.”  The Dijon area saw the beginning of the great family companies Maille and Grey Poupon (this last named for the partnership formed by  Maurice Grey and Auguste Poupon in 1866).  (p. 9, A Dash of Mustard)

Very little mustard seed, however, is actually grown in France today; most of the world’s supply comes from western Canada.

Here are a couple of interesting anecdotes from the days of mustard’s popularity in medieval France:

“King Louis XI of France (1423-83) carried his own personal pot of mustard, made for him by a Dijon mustard maker.  He had a disconcerting habit of arriving unannounced to eat with his Parisian subjects, producing the mustard pot at each meal.” Louis-XI

King Charles VI (1368-1422) of France also had a weakness for mustard in all his food, especially a peasant dish consisting of herb-coated chicken with a mustard sauce.  (p. 17, A Dash of Mustard)Charles VI of France

In Britain, mustard was used as frequently in cooking as it was in France, being a very cheap spice and also native grown.  Mustard was essential eating with salt fish, particularly herrings and stockfish (dried and salted cod and similar fish).  Tewkesbury was an early centre for mustard production, primarily in the 16th and 17th centuries, as immortalized in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part II:

DOLL TEARSHEET:  They say Poins has a good wit.

FALSTAFF: He a good wit? hang him, baboon! his wit’s as thick as Tewksbury mustard; there’s no more conceit in him than is in a mallet.

Another manufacturer was Keen’s from Garlic Hill in London, established in 1742 and believed to be the reason for the saying, “as keen as mustard.”

Their advertisements united beef with mustard in the public imagination, so that beef and mustard were inextricably linked, although serving these two together had a long history preceding that point in time.  There’s apparently an expression that embodies this culinary pairing:  “Sympathy without relief is like to mustard without beef.”  The origins of the expression are apparently unknown, but perhaps connected with this conversation from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew? (ca 1590-92)…


I cannot tell; I fear ’tis choleric. What say you to a piece of beef and mustard?


A dish that I do love to feed upon.


Ay, but the mustard is too hot a little.


Why then, the beef, and let the mustard rest.


Nay then, I will not: you shall have the mustard, Or else you get no beef of Grumio.


Then both, or one, or any thing thou wilt.


Why then, the mustard without the beef.


Go, get thee gone, thou false deluding slave,

Beats him

That feed’st me with the very name of meat: Sorrow on thee and all the pack of you, That triumph thus upon my misery! Go, get thee gone, I say.

Colman’s is another famous mustard name, and well known to this day. When the appeal of mustard was waning in the 1920’s in Britain, Colman’s advertising agency came up with a campaign that used the sides of London buses for the message, “Has father joined the Mustard Club?”  The members of the club were fictitious characters, and there was a list of rules published for Mustard Club members:

  1. Every member shall on all proper occasions eat Mustard to improve his appetite and strengthen his digestion.
  2. Every member when physically exhausted or threatened with a cold, shall take refuge in a Mustard Bath.
  3. Every member shall once at least during every meal make the secret sign of the Mustard Club by placing the Mustard pot six inches from his neighbour’s plate.
  4. Every member who asks for a sandwich and finds that it contains no Mustard shall publicly refuse to eat same.
  5. Every member shall see that the Mustard is freshly made, and no member shall tip a waiter who forgets to put Mustard on the table.
  6. Each member shall instruct his children to “keep that schoolboy digestion” by forming the habit of eating Mustard.

The Password of the Mustard Club was “Pass the Mustard, please.”

Colman's Mustard Shop and Museum

I’m going to gratuitously include a photo of my particular favourite, along with some of its variations and permutations.:

Mustard-Family Frenchs

The following excerpt from an article by Joanna Blythman and Rosie Sykes is for ‘the foodies’ and comes from The Guardian online, Monday 18 November 2013:

Mustard, and mustard seed, is an indispensable ingredient in any cook’s larder. Whole, mercury-black mustard seeds, either dry roasted, or “tempered” in a hot oil with fresh curry leaves, show off their nutty character in southern Indian cooking. Once ground, mustard seed releases its warmth, earthiness and pungency. Smooth mustard brings a kick to otherwise mild and cuddly dishes, such as croque monsieur, quiche and cauliflower cheese. The emulsifying properties of smooth mustard make it handy in vinaigrette, or to help bring together and thicken a sauce. It’s a taste thing whether you go for the yellow, English, sinus-clearing type, or the mellower European sort. Wholegrain mustards can be aggressively vinegary, so be sure you want that acid note before you add it too enthusiastically.

Why is mustard good for me?

The Greeks and Romans were on to something when they used mustard seeds for medicinal purposes. The mustard plant, like broccoli, radish and cabbage, belongs to the brassica family, a group of vegetables that contain health-promoting glucosinolates. Enzymes in the seeds then break these down into isothiocyanates. These compounds give mustard its eye-watering pungency, and many studies now suggest that they also seem to inhibit the growth of cancer cells, most notably in the gastrointestinal tract and colon. Mustard seeds are an excellent source of selenium, a trace element that is also thought to have an anti-cancer effect.  UK soils are generally low in selenium so eating mustard, and mustard seeds, can help boost your selenium level.


And here’s a reference to mustard seed in the Bible, which reminds me of a dear friend who wore a mustard-seed pendant beginning at the time her baby son was born with a heart defect…

Matthew 17:20 – And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

necklace, all things are possible

And so the mustard seed became a symbol of faith and hope, and that, as inscribed on the pendant pictured above, “All Things Are Possible.”

And finally, what is the origin of the phrase “doesn’t cut the mustard”? There are a variety of explanations on the internet, but I thought this one was the most plausible:

“WHEN MUSTARD was one of the main crops in East Anglia, it was cut by hand with scythes, in the same way as corn. The crop could grow up to six feet high and this was very arduous work, requiring extremely sharp tools. When blunt they “would not cut the mustard.” All this and everything else you could ever want to know about mustard can be found at the Mustard Museum in Norwich.”  [,5753,-2242,00.html]

Of course the expression “doesn’t cut the mustard” usually means that someone is not capable of meeting requirements in some way.

So, while it’s nice to be ‘keen as mustard,’ it’s even better to be ‘cutting the mustard.’

If you are suspected of ‘cutting the cheese,’ however, it would be quite another matter.


VITALOGY, Lesson the First: Baldness, and How Hair Indicates Your Character

I have a wonderful book that I picked up at a flea market.  Its title is, “Vitalogy, or Encyclopedia of Health and Home.”  It is described on the title page inside the cover as:  “Beacon Lights for Old and Young, Showing How to Secure Health, Long Life, Success and Happiness, from the Ablest Authorities in this Country, Europe and Japan.”  The date of publication is 1922, it’s published by the “Vitalogy Association, Chicago, Illinois,” and there are two copyrights:  1904 and 1913.

It gives us a snapshot of medical knowledge at the turn of the century—last century, that is.  I find it hugely entertaining, and suspect that there may be hidden gems in it as well.  At the very least, it is a captivating history of medicine in the pre-antibiotic days, when there was much confusion about the causes of disease–and perhaps a little too much confidence in anecdotal evidence regarding potential cures.  Be that as it may, I’ll give the authors, Dr. Geo. P. Wood, M.D., and Dr. E. H Ruddock, M.D., Ph.D.,  top marks for trying.

I think that I’m going to make this a series, and present two or three excerpts from the book each time, detailing the causes and cures of various ailments.  May we all learn thereby ways to improve our health and happiness…


Causes—Excessive action of the brain, such as intense study, great mental anxiety, etc., producing unnatural heat of the brain-surfaces, thus causing the hair to drop off.

Remedies—People are often led to try many so-called specifics to prevent the hair falling off, but they are generally either useless or worse.  Doubtless, there are many thousands of pounds of hog’s fat sold every year as bear’s grease, etc., to cause the hair to grow abundantly and prevent its falling off.  Washing the head often with warm salt water and combing it with a fine comb, together with regular and temperate habits, are the best preservatives and restoratives of the hair.

The head should be as thoroughly washed as any other part of the person, and that weekly.  When the hair is very thick and long, its roots can be washed without wetting its entire length.  This is important for ladies and those children whose custom and fashion it is to wear the hair long.  The outside of the head has more to do with its inside than many people suppose.  A muddy and confused mind is often the effect of external dirt and neglect.  The natural perspiration is thereby suppressed, and serious evils are sometimes the result.

A very common cause of injury to the hair-glands is the practice, among families as well as barbers, of using the combs and brushes of others.  A comb or brush for the head should no more be used in common, by two or more persons, than a brush for the teeth.

The following is one of the best remedies in general use for baldness.  It has produced a luxuriant growth of hair for persons who have been bald for many years, and will nearly always restore it, if the hair-follicles are not dead.

Tincture of Spanish fly (Cantharides), one ounce; aromatic spirits of ammonia, one ounce; oil of rosemary, one drachm; alcohol and water, of each, two tablespoonfuls.  Mix.  With a sponge, rub this mixture well over the scalp, so that it will come in contact with the roots of the hair.  The use of it may have to be persevered in for six months or a year, and should be applied twice a week.

A celebrated physician called our attention to a fine head of hair succeeding baldness, which was obtained by a moderate use of kerosene, gently but persistently rubbed on the bald spot.


The character of persons is sometimes indicated by the color of the hair.

The bilious temperament, black hair and dark skin are generally found associated.  These indicate strength of character and sensuality.

Fine hair and dark skin show purity, goodness and strong mind.

Stiff, straight and abundant black hair and beard are usually combined with strong, unyielding, straight-forward and rather bluff character.

Fine, brown hair indicates exquisite sensibility, with a strong will for what is good and right, when unperverted.

If the hair is straight and lies flat on the head, the temperament is melancholy, but you may safely rely on that person, be it man or woman.

If the hair is coarse, black and sticks up, there is not much sociability, and much that is stubborn, sour and harsh, in the character.

Coarse, red hair indicates much fire and energy, with unusual strength and firmness.

Auburn hair, with a florid face, gives purity, intensity, and great capacity for enjoyment or suffering.

Fine, silky, pliable, easily dressed hair indicates delicacy, sensibility and goodness.

Hasty, impetuous and rash people have crisp, curly hair, but if it is straight and smooth, even and glossy, a warm heart, a clear head and superior talents are indicated.

White hair, as a general rule, indicates a good, easy, lazy fellow.

The hair, naturally parting in the middle and falling on either side, indicates womanly refinement, purity and delicacy.  When the hair extends and lies on the forehead in rings, it indicates a frank, open and genial nature.

The light-haired races are the thinkers, the poets and the artists of the world.

Dark-brown hair combines the two, and is the most desirable.

To sum up:

Black hair indicates physical strength.

White hair, mental vigor.

Red hair, a fiery temperament, passion and devotion.

Wavy hair, a pliable, yielding, accommodating disposition.

Straight, stuck-up hair, stubbornness and fidelity.

Very smooth, close-lying hair is “Oily Gammon.”

The good doctors do not tell us what sort of a character a bald person would have.  Evidently these people are capable of tremendous mental activity (which, as we are informed, is what caused their hair to fall out), so it seems likely that they might be the entrepreneurs of the world.

bald headed entrepreneur

Image by marin at


At least I think we can agree that this white-haired man might be a good, easy, lazy fellow with mental vigor…



But some of us would have a hard time agreeing that the light-haired races are exclusively the thinkers and artists of the world.


Well, there you have it.  I trust that you will use this information to your general betterment.  I’ll just finish with a disclaimer regarding the advice to use kerosene for curing baldness…if you decide to try this, stay away from any and all sources of open flame.  Or you’ll be missing more than your hair.

Be well, and don’t use anyone else’s hairbrush, okay?


Sugar in the Morning, Sugar in the Evening, Sugar at Suppertime…

…be my little sugar, and love me all the time.  (‘Sugartime’ song written by Charlie Phillips and Odis Echols and published in 1958.  The McGuire sisters made it popular at the time—and, strangely (for me), ‘The Man in Black,’ Johnny Cash, also recorded it in 1961, six years after ‘Folsom Prison Blues.’)

But back to sugar…yes, it would never do to live in our world of convenience foods and not like sugar.  The trouble is that sugar is the current demon responsible for the epidemic of obesity in the Western world–the root cause of high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritic joints, etc., secondary to the excess body fat produced by over-consumption, perhaps.

And it’s hard to avoid sugar, if one uses convenience foods.  Food manufacturers put it in darn near everything that they process, package and sell.  I once wrote a letter to Dempsters, telling them that their multigrain bread was TOO SWEET.  If I want a sweet bread, I’ll buy a sweet bread (although I would never want a sweet bread).  I can make French bread in my bread machine and not put a grain of sugar in it—so why can’t they?

A problem (maybe THE problem) with sugar seems to be that it turns off our ‘satiety switch’…the physiological indicator that we’ve had enough and can stop eating.  So the point at which we should want, or need, to eat any more food at one sitting is thereby hidden from our awareness and consequent behaviour.  We continue to eat to the point where our stomach is stretched beyond its normal dimensions–if the doctors performing gastric bypass surgery on the “My 600 lb Life” television program are to be believed.   So, if we eat to the point of discomfort–until we’re in pain and our eyes bug out–next time we feel hungry we’ll need more food.  And so the fat is larded-on to our skeletal frame with consequent health problems of all sorts.

And sugar is implicated in other disease processes, not necessarily related to obesity (although possibly connected in some cases)…cancer for one.  It has been noised abroad that cancer cells somehow feed on sugar/glucose in our systems.

This is from the Canadian Cancer Society site:

Over the past few years, there have been reports, e-mails and websites that say eating sugar feeds cancer or that sugar makes cancer grow faster. All cells in your body consume sugar as they grow and divide, but eating sugar does not make cancer cells grow faster.

Here’s their website:

Hmmm, okay…but let’s examine that further…

I’ve read anecdotal evidence of people with certain cancers changing their diets to follow the macrobiotic diet–just for palliative purposes, to alleviate some of the symptoms of the cancer–and then after a time experiencing a remission of their disease.

But you’ll wait a long time before you can find any medical acknowledgement of this possibility.  (Please note that I’ve said POSSIBILITY.)  And why is that, we wonder?  I just did a quick search on ‘macrobiotic diet and cancer’ and hit on this link from the U.K…

They say (the emphasis in all cases is mine):

“Available scientific evidence does not support claims that a macrobiotic diet can treat or prevent cancer.”


“Some people think that a macrobiotic lifestyle may help them to fight their cancer and lead to a cure. There is no scientific evidence to prove that a macrobiotic diet can treat or cure cancer or any other disease.”


“Some organisations say that a macrobiotic diet and lifestyle can help people with cancer and other health conditions. But researchers have not tested macrobiotic diets in randomised controlled clinical trials as a way of preventing, treating or curing cancer. So we don’t know whether they work.”

The trouble is that the earlier statement, “available scientific evidence does not support claims that a macrobiotic diet can treat or prevent cancer” indicates to me that the “available scientific evidence” is the result of investigation.  Then there’s the later statement, “there is no scientific evidence to prove that a macrobiotic diet can treat or cure cancer.”

Ah, SO…if there IS NO scientific evidence, WAS there an investigation, we ask?  And the third statement is the clincher, “researchers HAVE NOT TESTED macrobiotic diets.”

AHA! we say.  So THE EVIDENCE doesn’t support it—but wait a minute–THERE IS NO EVIDENCE—and why not?–because researchers HAVE NOT TESTED macrobiotic diets in connection with cancer treatment.

That is my biggest gripe with the medical profession…that they somehow feel justified in claiming that something does-or-doesn’t help, OR is-or-isn’t bad-or-good DEFINITIVELY, as a bald statement of FACT, even though they really don’t know one way or the other.  Because they don’t have any proof.

I’d prefer that they said, “Well, there’s anecdotal evidence that this is helpful, but there are no scientific studies to support it.”  And then go on to assess whether the alternate therapy would help or hinder in terms of a particular person’s overall physical condition and stage of disease.  What would be wrong with that?

Maybe because then they’d have to explain why there are no scientific studies, for or against.  I hate to cast aspersions, but the pharmaceutical industry (Big Bad Pharma) would not profit from a prescription for a macrobiotic diet.  There’s no MONEY in it.

And then there’s this from “Oncology Nutrition,” from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (

They say:

The idea that sugar could directly fuel the growth of cancer cells can lead some people to avoid all carbohydrate-containing foods. This is counter-productive for anyone struggling to maintain their weight while dealing with side effects of cancer and treatments. More importantly, the inevitable anxiety of trying to completely avoid “all sugar” creates stress. Stress turns on the fight or flight mechanisms, increasing the production of hormones that can raise blood sugar levels and suppress immune function. Both of these things may reduce any possible benefit of eliminating sugar in the first place.

Much research shows that it is sugar’s relationship to higher insulin levels and related growth factors that may influence cancer cell growth the most, and increase risk of other chronic diseases. Many types of cancer cells have plenty of insulin receptors, making them respond more than normal cells to insulin’s ability to promote growth.

All carbohydrates you eat are broken down to simple sugars in the intestine, where they are absorbed into the blood, increasing blood sugar levels. The pancreas releases insulin in response, which travels throughout the blood stream, and performs several important jobs…

Good grief.  Trying to avoid sugar in one’s diet might produce stress at a level sufficient to trigger the ‘fight or flight mechanism’?  Very bizarre statement.  One would have to be pretty neurotic to experience an  adrenaline rush from the stress of declining the chocolate cake after a meal.

“When our fight or flight response is activated, sequences of nerve cell firing occur and chemicals like adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are released into our bloodstream. These patterns of nerve cell firing and chemical release cause our body to undergo a series of very dramatic changes. Our respiratory rate increases. Blood is shunted away from our digestive tract and directed into our muscles and limbs, which require extra energy and fuel for running and fighting. Our pupils dilate. Our awareness intensifies. Our sight sharpens. Our impulses quicken. Our perception of pain diminishes. Our immune system mobilizes with increased activation. We become prepared—physically and psychologically—for fight or flight. We scan and search our environment, “looking for the enemy.””

Yes, where lurks the murderous mousse, the killer cake, the predatory pudding?  This is the stuff of which nightmares are made.

And what’s wrong with me that I don’t get this…they appear to be saying that sugar does not directly fuel the growth of cancer cells BUT that research shows that, “it is sugar’s relationship to higher insulin levels…that may influence cancer cell growth” AND that “many types of cancer cells have plenty of insulin receptors, making them respond more than normal cells to insulin’s ability to promote growth.”

So, they say:


But that sugar is not implicated in cancer in any way.

And we’re supposed to believe that.

Oh well…

We started with a song and we’ll end with a song…

For a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,

the medicine go down, the medicine go down.

Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,

in a most delightful way.

I’m sure you’re right, Mary Poppins.


Having the Last Word

When my sister and I toured Italy some years ago, we made a point, during our stay in Florence, of visiting the English Cemetery.  It seemed only right to pay our respects to Elizabeth Barrett Browning while we were there.

Elizabeth Barrett-Browning 2

Number 43 from ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.

I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;

I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.

Her tomb surprised me.  I found it beautiful in design, but surprisingly devoid of words for a monument of remembrance to a poet who had been married to another famous poet (Robert Browning).  She died in 1861 and he died in 1889, so it wasn’t that he predeceased her and could have no say in the inscription on her monument.  Mind you, I think now that the words would have interfered with the design, and were probably superfluous anyway.

Elizabeth_Barrett_Browning, tomb in the English Cemetery, Florence

I wonder what the Scorpioni thought of it.  They were, as you may know, a small group of genteel, expatriate English ladies who lived in Florence in the 1930s and 1940s, and who were in the habit of visiting the English Cemetery.  Supposedly they were called Scorpioni (scorpions, in English translation) because of their arch humour and stinging wit.

I cannot tell you how much I love that.  I picture–rightly or wrongly–a 1930s/40s Italian world wherein the choices of ideal womanhood would be divided between the voluptuous young woman (à la Sophia Loren/Gina Lollobrigida), or the plump, kitchen-loving mama.  In that world, I imagine elderly women subsided into black-shawled nonentities scuttling back and forth between home and market–on those rare occasions when they could be seen at all.

What would Italians of the time possibly have made of these English ladies?  OF COURSE those women would have packed a sting like a scorpion for the dominant sex in Italy.  They operated outside the cultural boundaries for that time and in that place.  There must have been occasions when the Scorpioni and the local Italian authorities locked horns over one issue or another, with neither side willing to give an inch, because it would be unthinkable for either that they should need to.  Franco Zeffirelli’s movie, Tea with Mussolini (1999), gives us a small window on that worldI wish I could discover what happened to the Scorpioni after they were sent to an internment camp at the start of WWII.

Back to my topic, which, incidentally, is the character of inscriptions on grave markers for famous writers, poets, philosophers, and suchlike–people who worked with, and lived for, words and ideas.  I was curious about what words might have accompanied them (or their family members, in some cases) to their last resting places.  It’s a large topic with plenty of scope, and I can only skim the surface.

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish playwright, novelist, essayist, and poet, who died at the ‘dingy’ Hôtel d’Alsace in Paris of meningoencephalitis secondary to chronic right middle-ear disease.  It is believed that Wilde had a cholesteatoma, a destructive form of chronic suppurative otitis media (for you medical types).  The ear infection first occurred in 1896 during his imprisonment for sodomy, four years before his death on November 30, 1900.  (Ashley H. Robins, Sean L. Sellars, The Lancet, Vol 356, November 25, 2000)

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde is buried in Père Lachaise cemetery, where he was re-interred in 1909 after his first burial at Bagneux at the time of his death in 1900.

The inscription on his tomb consists of these lines from The Ballad of Reading Gaol, written by Wilde in 1897…

And alien tears will fill for him

Pity’s long-broken urn,

For his mourners will be outcast men,

And outcasts always mourn.

Wilde was bankrupt at the time of his death, and so his friends could provide only un enterrement de sixième classe (a sixth-class burial) at Bagneux, outside the city.  Robert Ross, Wilde’s friend and literary executor, eventually succeeded in annulling Wilde’s bankruptcy with the sale of some of Wilde’s works, and subsequently purchased a burial plot “in perpetuity” at Père Lachaise.  Helen Carew, a friend of Ross’s who had known Wilde in his heyday, anonymously offered £2,000 to commission a monument for Wilde by sculptor Jacob Epstein. This was unveiled in 1914.  (This information was taken from The Guardian, Nov 27, 2011; they were quoting Merlin Holland, Wilde’s grandson.)


I can’t discover who chose the words from The Ballad of Reading Gaol for the inscription on Wilde’s tomb, but it was likely Robert Ross.  Another possibility might be Helen Carew. In any case I think that those lines are very suitable, reflecting, as they appear to do, not only his broken life and career but his self-imposed exile.  Wilde’s wife even had to change her surname and that of their children to ‘Holland’ to escape notoriety.  It was tantamount to a total erasure of his former life.  How tragic that someone with such sparkling wit and humour–who gave us so much enjoyment and entertainment–should have been ostracized, reduced to poverty, and tormented with terrible suffering before his too-early death.

Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) had more than his share of family grief, with the loss of an infant son to diphtheria in 1872, the loss of his daughter, Susy, from spinal meningitis at age 24 in 1896, the loss of his wife at age 58 in 1904, and the loss of his 29-year-old daughter, Jean, from an epileptic seizure which resulted in her drowning in the bath at Christmastime, 1909.  Of his four children only his daughter Clara outlived him; she died in 1962 at age 88.

Mark Twain

Susy, it seems, was a particular favourite of Twain’s.  In a 64-page unpublished document he wrote after her death, he said: “She was a magazine of feelings, & they were of all kinds & of all shades of force; & she was so volatile, as a little child, that sometimes the whole battery came into play in the short compass of a day. She was full of life, full of activity, full of fire, her waking hours were a crowding & hurrying procession of enthusiasms … Joy, sorrow, anger, remorse, storm, sunshine, rain, darkness – they were all there: They came in a moment, & they were gone as quickly.”

Susy Clemens, ca 1885

“In all things she was intense: in her this characteristic was not a mere glow, dispensing warmth, but a consuming fire.”  (Ed Pilkington quoting Twain in The Guardian, April 21, 2010)

For her gravestone, Twain borrowed from the poem “Annette” by poet Robert Richardson published in a book titled Willow and Wattle (1893).

These are the actual lines borrowed from Richardson’s poem…

Warm summer sun, shine friendly here/Warm western wind, blow kindly here;/Green sod above, rest light, rest light,/Good-night, Annette!/Sweetheart, good-night!

Susy Clemens tombstone

As we can see, Twain altered the poem a little for Susy.  Interestingly, when the poem is viewed in its entirety, there is a line shortly before the ones chosen by Twain that says, “Broke a foolish heart in twain.”  By her early death, Susy did indeed break a heart in Twain.

As for Twain’s own tombstone, it has no verse.  I should imagine that this would have been according to his wishes, since his daughter Clara would have been there in 1910 to carry out his burial arrangements.

Mark Twain headstone

Here’s an interesting anecdote…In 1909, Twain said:

“I came in with Halley’s comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’ Oh! I am looking forward to that.” (Mark Twain: A Biography, The Personal and Literary Life of Samuel Langhorne Clemens by Albert Bigelow Paine.)  [The perihelion (point at which it comes closest to the sun) of Halley’s Comet for 1835 was November 16th; for 1910 it was April 20th.  Twain was born on November 30 of 1835, and died on April 21 of 1910.]

I tried to find George Bernard Shaw’s tombstone inscription, since various internet sources report it to be:  “I Knew If I Stayed Around Long Enough Something Like This Would Happen!”  It looked a bit unlikely to me, and in fact that does not appear to be correct–at least, not that I can find.  I’ve read that he was cremated after his death on November 2, 1950, his ashes mixed with those of his wife who predeceased him in 1943, and then scattered in the garden of his home, Shaw’s Corner, in Ayot St. Lawrence, Hertfordshire, England.

George Bernard Shaw

Internet sources for tombstone epitaphs can be very unreliable—I believe it only when I see the photographic evidence.  To borrow a quote from David Hume, “A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.”  Also wise women, I think—or at least women making an effort to be wise.

For example, the following was advertised on some internet sites as the inscription on David Hume’s own monument in Edinburgh:

David Hume (1711-1776)

“Within this circular idea/Called vulgarly a tomb/The ideas and impressions lie/That constituted Hume”

…but I couldn’t find it. I read all sorts of articles about the tomb, but this inscription was in nothing that I read. Just as well, since I find that inscription pretty feeble. The ideas and impressions that constituted Hume lie in his tomb? Hmmm…don’t think so, actually.

Hume was a “Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism.” (Encyclopedia Britannica’s description) He also shocked the ordinary folk of his time with his atheism. It was apparently expected by them that he would do a volte-face and embrace religion as he lay dying of what is thought to have been an abdominal cancer of some kind. After Hume’s burial, his friends reportedly had to stand armed guard in case his grave was interfered with–so many people lurked nearby to see if the devil would come to claim him.

David Hume

“The populace of the day took a certain interest in his interment, but it was not of a flattering kind. They visited the cemetery afterwards, expecting to find a rifled sepulchre. Satan, it was confidently believed, would come, or had come, in person to remove the body of his very own. Not without a certain horror the citizens for years watched the figure of an elderly gentleman with broad face and benevolent smile and a somewhat corpulent habit of body though his life was simplicity itself. Day by day he trod their streets, as familiar as the Tron Kirk or the Crown of St Giles. As the years went by the step became less active and the corpulency more accentuated, but there was always the same placid smile, with a depth of humour and irony which none probed.” (Edinburgh and The Lothians (1912), by Francis Watt, Chapter XV – The Graveyards of Edinburgh, from

These are the instructions Hume left in his will, concerning his memorial:

“I also ordain that, if I shall dye any where in Scotland, I shall be bury’d in a private manner in the Gallon Church Yard [also known as the Calton graveyard], the South Side of it, and a Monument be built over my Body at an Expence not exceeding a hundred Pounds, with an Inscription containing only my Name with the Year of my Birth and Death, leaving it to Posterity to add the Rest.”

The Ancient-Roman-style cylindrical mausoleum was designed by Hume’s friend, the famous architect Robert Adam, and construction was completed in 1778.

Old_Calton_David_Hume tomb

Interestingly, the mausoleum became something of a family vault, and subsequently adulterated with religious symbols and a decidedly Christian-inspired verse above the doorway:

“Behold I come quickly Thanks be to GOD which giveth us the victory, through our LORD JESUS CHRIST.”

This was added much later, when Hume’s nephew memorialized his wife by inscribing her name on a funerary urn in a niche above the door, with the religious verse shown between it and David Hume’s name. It was intended for her and not him, but it would be difficult to determine that from looking at it.

David Hume monument inscriptions

It does rather give the impression that the great man’s atheism was little more than a rumour.

So, be ye hereby warned: if you wish for something in particular to be engraved on your memorial stone after your passing, you might want to get busy now, while you’re still around to see that things happen as they should.

Otherwise, chances are that somebody else will be having the last word.




Remember this?…  “Do you feel lucky?   Well…do ya, PUNK?”

I love Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry films.  As long as Our Hero was always right, we didn’t mind that he played fast and loose with the rules, did we?  Who cares about a serial killer’s rights, when you KNOW he ‘done it’!

Okay, that’s fun in a movie, and maybe we like to feel that someone, somewhere, can even the score with the bad guys on our behalf; but in real life such behaviour does leave the door open to abuses.   We’ll keep Dirty Harry in celluloid, and avoid promoting the careers of his imitators in our municipal police forces, shall we?  Because his imitators cannot be relied upon to know who the bad guys are–and who they are not–since they won’t have a scriptwriter who is all-seeing and all-knowing.  The imitators might confuse ME or YOU with the bad guys in real life, and that would not be good.

Me dear ol’ Dad and I went to Bingo at the retirement residence recently.  (Yes, yes, it’s a bit of a stretch from Dirty Harry to Bingo with Daddy, but work with me, all will be well…)

I won diddly-squat from the Jackpot, as did Dad.  It was Lorraine’s day to win Bingo, twice.  I don’t begrudge it to her, because she usually doesn’t win at all, and Dad and I have won a few times previously.  But the Bingo gods did not smile upon us that day.  We will, however, be trying again…oh yes.

And that was essentially the impetus for this article, because I went on to wonder about luck, and the absence thereof.  Some people can win multiple lottery prizes, and the others don’t get a shoe-in.  How is that?

When I arrived home after visiting me dear ol’ Dad, I picked up my mail on my way into the house, and amongst my letters were two envelopes to my husband and me from the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency, for ‘them as doesn’t know’).

WHY do I automatically think that somehow I’ve done wrong and will have to pay for my sins when I receive unexpected official government correspondence?  My husband and I keep our noses CLEAN when it comes to squaring-up with The Tax Man.  We deprive him of NOTHING.  It is our earnest desire that he should partake of ALL our worldly goods, in much the same fashion as we pledged to each other on our wedding day.  But even so, I looked at those envelopes from the CRA, and I automatically felt worried.  The doors to the torture chamber and the rat-infested dungeon gaped wide.

It was nothing, as it happens.  Something our accountant did that required some forms to be filled out and signed.  No biggie.

But this momentary discomfort put me in mind of the times I’ve returned to Canada from foreign parts and had to pass through Canada Customs (another government authority).  Never a good thing.  Our Canada Customs Agents were given an exemption from Charm School, God Bless their bureaucratic, authoritative, snarly souls.

What is it about these people that makes me  nervous?  I was born here.  I do not bring goods into the country above the dollar limit allowed by law.  I have not got baggies of illicit drugs stuffed up my wazoo.  And yet the sweat beads on my forehead and I quake in my shoes when I hand the Canada Customs agent my passport with trembling fingers.  I always know that it’s only a short walk from there to a private room for an orifice search.

We live in a country where democracy and human rights are, or should be, evident whenever we  come in contact with government representatives.  But I try not to expect that, to avoid disappointment.

I’ve often wondered whether there might be another reason why I have an instinctual fear of authority figures; because, really, why should Customs Agents and envelopes from the CRA make me nervous?  Does this hearken back to my elementary school days where, as a shy eight-year-old, I was subjected to abuse from a tyrannical school principal?  Not sexual abuse, I hasten to add, just unjustified physical punishment and garden-variety terrorism.  Or does it recall my first job, working part-time at a grocery store while going to school?  My boss there was another loud-mouthed bully who had good sport terrorizing a timid, 16-year-old girl.  Perhaps the earlier one primed me for the later.

My first school principal and my first boss were nasty, rough men (not kindly, gruff men—I do know the difference; one causes pain and injury, and the other would cut his own throat before doing so).  These two were the earliest authority figures in my life outside of my family.

Coincidentally, they were somewhat similar physically.  One (the store manager) was larger than the other one, but neither was tall.  The elementary school principal was five-foot-nothing.  The store manager was maybe five-foot-seven, and stocky.  They were both men in their late 50’s who had eyeglasses, grey brushcuts, small moustaches centred above their upper lip (Hitler-style, but possibly a little wider), and brusque manners.  One would take them for brothers—the one perhaps better-fed in his developing years than the other–if one saw them together.

And I did see them together.

I remember the day the elementary-school principal and his wife checked through my register at the grocery store.  I hadn’t seen him since my childhood, six to eight years previously, and remembered his abuse of me vividly.  My blood turned to icewater on that day, but I managed to go through the motions of checking-through and bagging his groceries while he stood there and studied me, whistling almost soundlessly (as was his habit), not saying a word.  Then I saw the store manager come down from his office and exchange boisterous greetings with the elementary school principal.  I discovered in that moment, to my eternal astonishment, that they were good friends.

What are the odds that these two men should have been friends?  They were so similar, I almost think that the mother of one of them might have some ‘splainin’ to do.

And so I will not stop buying lottery tickets, nor playing Bingo with me dear ol’ Dad, because I have seen quite clearly that things of chance can easily happen.

The question in my mind at this point is whether these two men are the reason why my encounters with anyone in authority will, to this day, provoke feelings of uneasiness and anxiety.  Is it because I KNOW, thanks to them, that it is possible to be  completely innocent of wrongdoing and STILL be subjected to punishment?  After the age of eight I had to be on tranquillizers or I couldn’t go to school.  Thankfully I was able to discontinue these shortly before leaving high school.  My parents never knew why I needed them in the first place.  I could not tell them until I was in my late forties.  I couldn’t tell them that when I learned for the first time that violence could be done to me gratuitously and at any time by someone in authority–someone whose power over me was (to my mind) absolute–it rocked my world.

I remember being that 16-year-old cashier at the A&P on that day, and for one mad moment having the thought of following the elementary-school principal, his wife, and their buggy-load of groceries out to the parking lot to give him a tongue-lashing for his crimes against my eight-year-old self.

It would have been madness, because I was upset well past the ability to speak intelligibly.  But I didn’t do it only because I knew that there would have been more than my own head on the chopping block afterwards.  That store manager would have fired my mother as well as me.  Her long years of service to the company, her ability and her dependability would have counted for nothing.  My mother could do fast mental calculations—a real advantage in those days before scanners.  (Twelve oranges cost $1.72…how much are 5?  Quick!)  She could remember the price of every item in the store, and could multi-task under pressure while continuing to be courteous to the most obnoxious of customers like no one I’ve ever seen.  She was a lady, and a clever one.  I saw that the manager seemed to like her, and he held her in grudging respect, but I readily believe he would have fired her as well as me.  I’m quite sure the pleasure of exercising power while simultaneously causing pain would have been too irresistible.  Somebody else would have had to hire and train her replacement, and mine, anyway.  No skin off his nose to lose two employees simultaneously.

And so, we come back around to the subject.  Luck.  It was my luck–bad luck–to have been thrown in the way of these horrible men at vulnerable, early stages in my life.  How I wish they were alive today, because I feel ready, finally, to ask them some questions, and to demand answers.

When I hear about other people who have been abused, I am able to understand that it is often down to luck and nothing else if one manages to pass through the early stages of life without permanent injury.

I’ll finish this with some good, practical advice to all abusers:  choose very young victims, and—mark this carefully—only cause harm to them while you are in late middle age.  That way you stand a chance of being dead before they are older, stronger, and able to come looking for you to talk about ‘old times.’

Because it might be a very unwelcome, unpleasant, UNLUCKY renewal of acquaintance for you, Punk.


Icons of Style: Fran Lebowitz and Quentin Crisp

“Frances Ann (Fran) Lebowitz (born October 27, 1950) is an American author and public speaker. Lebowitz is known for her sardonic social commentary on American life as filtered through her New York City sensibilities.  Some reviewers have called her a modern-day Dorothy Parker.”  (Wikipedia)

Some of her books (I have these three):

  • Metropolitan Life, Dutton, 1978.
  • Social Studies, Random House, 1981.
  • The Fran Lebowitz Reader, Vintage Books, 1994.

“Quentin Crisp became a gay icon in the 1970s after publication of his memoir, The Naked Civil Servant, detailing his life in homophobic British Society. […] Quentin Crisp was born Denis Charles Pratt in Surrey, England, on December 25, 1908. A self-described flamboyant homosexual, Crisp changed his name in his early 20s as part of his process of reinvention. Teased mercilessly at school as a boy, Crisp left school in 1926. He studied journalism at King’s College London, but failed to graduate. He then moved on to take art classes at Regent Street Polytechnic. […] He moved to Manhattan in 1981, when he was 72 years old; settling in a studio apartment in the Bowery. […] Quentin Crisp died in November 1999, just shy of his 91st birthday, while touring his one-man show.” (These biographical details were taken from

He once described himself in this way:  “I am the last of Britain’s stately homos.”

So what have these two got in common?  For a start, the ‘sardonic social commentary’ that Fran Lebowitz is famous for, was practiced with equal skill by Quentin Crisp.  And they both lived in New York City.

For those unfamiliar with Lebowitz’s writing, here’s a taste from her essay, “My Day:  An Introduction of Sorts” from The Fran Lebowitz Reader:

12:35 P.M. – The phone rings.  I am not amused.  This is not my favorite way to wake up.  My favorite way to wake up is to have a certain French movie star whisper to me softly at two-thirty in the afternoon that if I want to get to Sweden in time to pick up my Nobel Prize for Literature I had better ring for breakfast.  This occurs rather less often than one might wish.


1:20 P.M. – I go downstairs to get the mail.  I get back into bed.  Nine press releases, four screening notices, two bills, an invitation to a party in honor of a celebrated heroin addict, a final disconnect notice from New York Telephone, and three hate letters from Mademoiselle readers demanding to know just what it is that makes me think that I have the right to regard houseplants—green, living things—with such marked distaste.  I call the phone company and try to make a deal, as actual payment is not a possibility.  Would they like to go to a screening?  Would they care to attend a party for a heroin addict?  Are they interested in knowing just what it is that makes me think that I have the right to regard houseplants with such marked distaste?  It seems they would not.  They would like $148.10.  I agree that this is, indeed, an understandable preference, but caution them against the bloodless quality of a life devoted to the blind pursuit of money.  We are unable to reach a settlement.  I pull up the covers and the phone rings.  I spend the next few hours fending off editors, chatting amiably, and plotting revenge.  I read.  I smoke.  […]

Yes, she reads, she smokes, she writes, she gives interviews, and she has performed in a television drama (as a judge in ‘Law and Order’)–and I had to force myself to stop typing any more of ‘her day’ or this would have been a very long article in which I would have said nothing on my own account, which I feel a strange compulsion to do.  You may prefer to read more of what Fran has to say, and I wouldn’t blame you, but for that you will need to purchase one of her books (see above).  I believe there may be more than the three I’ve listed.

And speaking of my strange compulsion to write things, she says (again in The Fran Lebowitz Reader, p. 12)…

Very few people possess true artistic ability.  It is therefore both unseemly and unproductive to irritate the situation by making an effort.  If you have a burning, restless urge to write or paint, simply eat something sweet and the feeling will pass.  Your life story would not make a good book.  Do not even try.

All well and good if the aspiring amateur enjoys sweets, Fran.  My personal preference is for salty/savoury, and I’m afraid that that would not produce the desired effect.  I will need another means of diversion.

And now I’m going to call on Quentin Crisp in support of a person trying to express themselves in some way…

First, the profound:

“Ask yourself, if there was to be no blame, and if there was to be no praise, who would I be then?”

Then, the glib:

“There are three reasons for becoming a writer: the first is that you need the money; the second that you have something to say that you think the world should know; the third is that you can’t think what to do with the long winter evenings.”

Maybe the glib is more profound than I think.  It is February, after all, and I started this blog last month, in January.  The winter evenings have been very long indeed.

As for Quentin Crisp’s own means of earning a daily crust, he wrote books (The Naked Civil Servant, How to have a Lifestyle, Manners from Heaven: a divine guide to good behaviour, and Resident Alien, The New York Diaries, among others.)  He also did theatre and film work, as well as interviews.  Here’s a quote from Resident Alien, The New York Diaries:

When I go on television, I remember that there only one law prevails:  the survival of the glibbest.   If your interviewer asks the question, ‘What is the secret of the universe?’, you do not stutter, you do not hesitate, above all you do not say, ‘A good question.’  You say, with a gracious smile, ‘I am happy to tell you there is no secret.’  The remark is inane, but you are smiling and your lips are moving.  You’ll be back.

Back to Fran, this time in the Paris Review, Summer, 1993, No. 127, Fran Lebowitz, A Humorist at Work, Interviewed by James Linville and George Plimpton:

I used to love to write. As a child I used to write all the time. I loved to write up until the second I got my first professional writing job. It turns out it’s not that I hate to write. I hate, simply, to work. I just hate to work, period. I am profoundly slothful. Practically inert. I have no energy. I never have. I just have no desire to be productive. Now that I realize I don’t hate to write, that I just hate to work, it makes writing easier.


There are few books written by people in their twenties that, even if they are great books, are not in some way young people’s books. It’s that base longing of youth that really irritates me. I like a person who is more embittered. That embittered sensibility is not possible in a young person. You can be nasty when you are young, but you really have to be older to achieve bitterness.

Well then!  Slothful and embittered…this is the stuff of which writers are made. I’m quite sure that I can find these attributes somewhere in my nature without looking for too long. I have been cultivating them for some considerable time, and have finally, in the past few years, realized some success.

Doesn’t matter, anyway.  Even if I never rise above the level of dilettante as a writer, I’m having fun doing this blog. But never mind that, here’s an interesting thing…

“In September 2007, Lebowitz was named one of the year’s most stylish women in Vanity Fair’s  68th Annual International Best-Dressed List.  She is known to wear tailored suits by the Savile Row tailor Anderson & Sheppard.”  (Wikipedia)

I found that a little startling, I have to say.  Fran has always dressed in a ‘mannish’ sort-of way…most often a shirt, a suit jacket, jeans, and cowboyish boots.  This mode of dress seems to have been pretty consistent throughout her life.

Fran on windowledge

The very first time I ever saw Fran Lebowitz was in a television interview with someone a very long time ago (probably more than 20 years).  The format was for the interviewer and Fran to be sitting on chairs facing one another in a pool of light with the surrounding set dark, if I remember correctly.  I was fascinated, because I couldn’t decide whether she was male or female.  Her voice was low—probably the result of her heavy cigarette habit—and her mannerisms were somewhat ambiguous from a gender standpoint.  She had no makeup, her hair told me nothing, and even the way she sat in the chair did not specifically signal ‘male’ or ‘female.’

I came to the interview late, so I didn’t hear her introduction at the beginning of it.  I’m not sure that there was any internet then to enable me to find out anything more about her.  I may have heard her name mentioned, but ‘Fran’ can also be a man’s name (Fran Tarkenton, for one).  So I listened to the interview not only for interest in the subject matter (whatever it was), but also for a clue as to her gender.  It was an interesting exercise, and I’m not sure that I resolved the conundrum during the program.

This puts me in mind of the very first time I saw k.d. Lang, as well.  That was in the music video of the song, ‘Crying’ with Roy Orbison.  I thought she was a young guy.

So either I’ve got a problem, or these women are sufficiently androgynous to fool some of us.

The fact that Vanity Fair thought Fran Lebowitz was one of the year’s most stylish women in 2007 begs the question of what constitutes ‘style,’ I think.  ‘Stylish’ evidently does not mean that a woman dresses in haute couture from one of the major fashion houses.

And here I’m going to call on Quentin Crisp again, this time to define ‘Style’ for us.  Incidentally, I have one of Quentin’s books, Resident Alien, The New York Diaries.   I also have the movie based on his autobiographical book, The Naked Civil Servant, which starred John Hurt as Quentin Crisp–so I do have a little more original material than just ‘Quentin Quotes’ from websites.  The DVD also has a documentary of the man himself as an added feature.

Here’s Quentin Crisp’s definition of ‘Style’ as distinct from ‘Fashion’:

“Style, in the broadest sense of all, is consciousness.  More specifically it is a consistent idiom arising spontaneously from the personality but deliberately maintained.”


“Fashion is what you adopt when you don’t know who you are.” reporter Kathleen Hale interviewed Lebowitz on March 24, 2015, about her unwavering devotion to men’s shirts, suit jackets and Levi’s…

Kathleen Hale: You don’t have a uniform, per se, but you wear a jacket, a men’s shirt with cufflinks, Levi’s jeans, cowboy boots, two gold rings, and tortoiseshell glasses every single day.

Fran Lebowitz: Yes.

Walk me through your outfit.

This jacket is from Anderson and Sheppard in London. I don’t go there, they come to me. Or they did. Now they have a dummy made of me.

What people don’t know is: Clothes don’t really fit you unless they’re made for you. Especially when you wear men’s clothes, like I do. American women think that clothes fit them if they can fit into them. But that’s not at all what fit means. I get all my shirts at Hilditch and Key. There’s one in Paris and one in London. There’s not one here, I don’t know why. They’re men’s shirts—they don’t really fit—but I don’t really care if shirts fit perfectly. I have all my suits and jackets made, but I’ve never had a shirt made. I’ll have them shortened, so that there’s not three yards of cloth hanging down. But it’s not as important to me that they fit perfectly.

I used to buy all my shirts at Brooks [Brothers], but that was completely ruined about 20 years ago. They discontinued the shirt I liked. If I had only known this—I mean, if you’re going to discontinue an item that thousands and thousands of people buy, announce it. Say, ‘We will no longer be making our excellent Brooks Brothers cotton shirts that we made for 5,000 years. We’re going to change them in some awful way. We’re alerting you so you can buy a lifetime supply.’ Shirts don’t go bad, they’re not peaches.

Quentin Crisp on the other hand, while he didn’t actually dress in drag, was effeminate and wore makeup to enhance eyes, lips and complexion.  His clothes were essentially male in character, but given flair and individuality usually with a silky cravat and a fedora set to a rakish angle atop his tinted coiffure.

Quentin Crisp 5

His definitions of ‘style’ and ‘fashion’ work very well for Fran, I think.  She is definitely stylish rather than fashionable, and her mode of dress is certainly a “consistent idiom arising spontaneously from the personality but deliberately maintained.”  That also works very well for Quentin, himself.

Choosing quotations from a womanish man to explain the personal style of a mannish woman seemed very apt, to me.  I don’t know if they ever met in person, and I can’t find evidence of what they might have thought of one another.

I like it that Quentin and Fran blur the lines between the sexes a little in the way they present themselves.  Once one discards surface appearance for being a meaningless way of defining a person, what’s left is the essential human being.

Both Fran Lebowitz and Quentin Crisp are self-revelatory and insightful in their writing, while being witty, engaging and sometimes acerbic.  Possibly they’ve exaggerated aspects of their personal lives, as well as their thoughts and opinions, for their reader’s or listener’s entertainment–and to pay the rent, of course–but I’ve enjoyed their writing, and am intrigued by their personalities.

Sadly, Quentin has left us long since, but I expect to hear more from Fran.  I believe we need people who are capable of showing us the world as they see it; people who are not swept along by media hype and marketing and technology, and who can point out different aspects of our lives–and theirs–in a quirky, humorous way.  That’s what Quentin did, and what Fran has done and is doing.

I like their style.

Sir Charles Petrie, Historian

He was the younger son of Sir Charles Petrie, 1st Baronet, and his wife Hannah.  Born in Liverpool, he was educated at the University of Oxford, and in 1927 succeeded to the family baronetcy.

He was also my second cousin, twice removed.

He was my father’s second cousin, once removed.

He was my grandfather’s second cousin.

He was my great-grandfather’s first cousin, once removed.

And he was my great-great grandfather’s grand nephew.

Aren’t family relationship charts fun?

I somehow ended up in the blogsite, ‘Tea at Trianon’ one day, which had an article posted about Sir Charles Petrie.  I was a little surprised that they described him as being an outsider during his time at Oxford University, owing to his being both a Liverpudlian and a Catholic.

I know that he was born in Liverpool on September 28, 1895, and that his father settled there some eighteen years before he was born, but his family was not Catholic.  Not that it would matter, except for the fact that the writer says his Catholicism had a great influence on his work and his life.

Here is the information from Sir Charles’s autobiography Chapters of Life, (1950) that refutes the assertion that “his family derived from the Irish Catholic aristocracy”:

We attended Sefton Park Presbyterian Church, then in the days of its glory under Dr. Watson, the great “Ian Maclaren” and later under Mr. Connell.  Rarely have I seen a church so crowded as it was every Sunday morning:  even pew-holders had to be in their places a quarter of an hour before the service began, and there was a majesty about the church officer that would not have shamed a Lord Chamberlain. (Chapters of Life, p. 20)

He’s a funny sort of a Catholic to be going to a Presbyterian church every Sunday morning.

Here’s a quote from the ‘Tea at Trianon’ article:

“It was not at all that he wore his Catholicism on his sleeve. Indeed he seldom discussed religion overtly in any context. (When he helped establish the Military History Society of Ireland, he insisted on the complete avoidance of sectarian disputes; to this end, he successfully offered society membership to Lord Rathcavan — Protestant Speaker of the Ulster Parliament at the time — and De Valera.) Nevertheless Petrie’s Catholicism did give him a habit of mind which he would not have harboured if he had sprung from the agnostic or atheist upper-middle-class environment which has produced most recent British scholars.”

The article I’m referencing is pasted-in towards the bottom of this article. I subsequently discovered that she (the Trianon blogger) lifted her text out of the online article referenced immediately below:

In search of Sir Charles Petrie

by R. J. Stove

National Observer Australia’s independent current affairs online journal No. 83 (June – August 2010).

And thus is misinformation propagated on the internet!

If they’d just said that his family was Catholic, I would have said, “Well, that’s not right, but who cares?” However, you can see that they are presenting ‘his Catholicism’ as somehow being an influence on his work–his ‘habit of mind.’

Perhaps they thought that was a fit because of his writings about the Jacobites and his sympathy (supposedly) for the Stuarts, and maybe because amongst his 50-ish books there are biographies of three Spanish Kings?

He did a biography of Louis XIV as well, who would have been Catholic, but he also wrote about the Four Georges, who would not.

Maybe somebody decided he was Catholic when he wrote for the Catholic Herald (which he apparently did, according to Wikipedia), although one did not need to be Catholic to write for the Catholic Herald. I looked through the past contributors for that publication, and did not see Sir Charles listed. The list does include Malcolm Muggeridge, however, who once wrote a column, “Why I am not a Catholic.” Interestingly, as Wikipedia says, “he (Muggeridge) later became a Catholic and a columnist for the Herald.”  We assume they mean, “regular columnist,” since he had already written a column when he was not a Catholic.

Conversion to Catholicism seemed to be a thing some of the literati were doing during the past century; among them were G.K. Chesterton, Graham Greene, Anthony Rhodes, Evelyn Waugh, and Tennessee Williams (although I hesitate to include Williams since he was not British).

So possibly Sir Charles Petrie converted, although I can’t find evidence of it.  In any case, they say that his family derived from the Irish Catholic aristocracy, and that wouldn’t be right.  In fact, his/our family derived from the Scottish aristocracy, since we can trace our lineage in a direct line to Robert the Bruce, (King Robert I of Scotland), through my 5x great-grandmother, Elizabeth Colville, daughter of the 6th Lord Colville of Culross.  (She would be Sir Charles’s 3x great-grandmother.)

I wonder whether Sir Charles was aware of our connection to the Kings of Scotland.  Perhaps he didn’t look at the females in our ancestry.  Some of them had very interesting pedigrees indeed.

The information that follows comes from Sir Charles’s biography, Chapters of Life, 1950.

As stated above, he was born in Liverpool on September 28th, 1895, and it was his home until the outbreak of the First World War.

The Petries originally came from Scotland, Aberdeen and Kincardine. In the early years of the reign of Charles II, one Robert Petrie, laird of Portlethen, was Provost of Aberdeen on several occasions, and was M.P. for that city from 1665 to 1667 and again from 1669 to 1674. He was knighted by the Duke of York, afterwards James II.

According to Sir Charles…

Not long afterwards the family fortunes declined, for the Petries supported the Stuarts after the Revolution.” He goes on to say that Sir Robert’s great-grandson, and his own great-great grandfather was George Petrie, soldier, and that as a subaltern George was captured with his regiment, the 21st Foot, at Saratoga.

I have a small problem with this—and wish I didn’t—because it would be nice to know for a certainty that there is a line of descent from Robert Petrie of Portlethen to George.  I’m not saying that there isn’t, but I haven’t found the intervening connections.

I know that George was the son of Robert Petrie and Elizabeth Colville; and that she was the daughter of the 6th Lord Colville of Culross (again, it is through the Colvilles that we are connected to Robert the Bruce).  Therefore, George was Sir Charles’s great-great grandfather, and my 4x great-grandfather.  BUT, I personally can’t fill the gap between Robert Petrie of Portlethen and the later Robert Petrie, my 5x great-grandfather, George’s father.  I’m still working on that.

The reason I’d like to know that Robert of Portlethen was a direct ancestor of George (and me), is because Robert of Portlethen married Anna Forbes, who was the daughter of Sir William Forbes.  Sir William, the first Baronet of Craigievar (created by Charles I, apparently), built–or rather, finished building–Craigievar Castle in 1626, and it is now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.

I do love Craigievar Castle; it looks like something out of Disney.  I think it would be such fun to say that this was one of my ancestral homes…owned by my 7x (?) great-grandfather.


Well, I can’t claim it directly, not yet.  But I will continue to try.  In any case, Sir Charles, a historian, believed that we are linked to Robert of Portlethen and Anna Forbes.  I wish I could see his sources.

Sir Charles also says,

More remarkable than George Petrie was his wife, Margaret.  She was born in Canada in 1750 and died in 1857.”  This would have made her 107 years’ old at the time of her death.

I have to take issue with that.  I’ve found George’s will (he died in Ceylon/Sri Lanka), and there’s no indication there that he was married.  If he was married to a ‘Margaret’ and she outlived him, he obviously didn’t know anything about it.  Also, there should have been mention of their only surviving son, Peter, in his will, and there is nothing.  So Sir Charles’s assertion that George Petrie married Margaret is something I have yet to validate–but I’m very doubtful.

He goes on to say,

My father was five at the time of her death, and he remembered her description of Wolfe’s capture of Quebec.  This event had naturally impressed itself upon the old lady’s memory, for she was a MacDonald by birth, and her father (James MacDonald, a younger brother of Aeneas MacDonald, one of the Seven Men of Moidart) had managed to escape to Canada after fighting for the Stuarts in the Forty-Five.”  (Chapters of Life, p. 12)

Again, I can find no ‘Margaret MacDonald’ who married George Petrie.  The census information for Ireland does not record the existence of Margaret.  I suspect that the elderly lady Sir Charles’s father remembers was Jane Thomson or Thompson, who was the widow of Peter Petrie, purported son of George.  Jane would know nothing of Wolfe’s capture of Quebec.  I suspect that Sir Charles’s father’s childhood memory was faulty.

As Sir Charles says, our branch of the Petrie family “had left Scotland for Ireland, and had settled near the mouth of the River Moy on the borders of Mayo and Sligo.”

I can add here that they left Scotland from Dundee, where my great-grandfather, Alexander Petrie, was born.  (My great-grandfather Alexander was born on February 21, 1845, and died in Bay of Islands, Newfoundland, on July 29, 1892.)

Another of his links with the past was his grandfather, Alexander Petrie, whom he says was

…born in 1823 and he did not die until 1920.  An elder of the Presbyterian Church, a strong Radical, and a supporter of Home Rule, he was a man who did not know what compromise meant, but he was universally respected, and he is still remembered in Ballina.

Sir Charles’s grandfather, Alexander of Carrowcarden, was the brother of my great-great grandfather, William of Rosserk.  My great-grandfather, Alexander (son of William of Rosserk), was named for his uncle.  [No doubt this family connection stuff is very confusing and not a little boring! I include these details in the expectation that my cousins will want to see them.  My sincere apologies to anyone else reading this.]

Sir Charles relates an anecdote about his grandfather, as follows:

It must, however, be confessed that humour was not his strong point, and there is a story which illustrates this weakness on his part.  One Sunday morning during a very hot summer in the seventies when he arrived at Ballina Presbyterian Church he was told by the minister, Mr. Duff, that instructions had come from the General Assembly, then meeting in Belfast, for prayers to be said for rain.  “All right,” replied my grandfather, “pray away:  but it isn’t much use while the wind is in the East.” (Chapters of Life, pp. 13-14)

I find the details of daily life in those times fascinating.  Sir Charles tells us:

One rose at six, and breakfasted very substantially at seven:  there were light refreshments between twelve and one, but they amounted to no more than sherry and biscuits, and the pangs of hunger had to be repressed until five when there was a truly gargantuan repast which centred round, if the season was right, a salmon which had been boiled whole.  When the gentlemen joined ladies later in the evening, tea was served and, after a last look round outside to see that everything was all right, one retired to bed at nine.  Although my grandfather was advanced in his opinions he was conservative in his habits:  smoking indoors he would not tolerate, there was no lighting save lamps, and the closets were of the earth variety.  He was wonderfully active until almost the end of his life as is attested by the fact that he drank a whole bottle of whiskey to his own cheek in the Moy Hotel, Ballina, on his ninetieth birthday. (Chapters of Life, p. 14)

[I’d like to talk about Sir Charles’s grandfather’s brother, my own great-great-grandfather, William of Rosserk, but I’ll need to do that separately or things will get confused.  We’ll carry on with Sir Charles’s immediate family…]

Sir Charles says,

When my father was Lord Mayor of Liverpool in 1901-2 heavy eating was still the order of the day.  Here, for example, is the menu of a dinner which he gave in honour of Lord Rosebery:

Caviar             Anchois

Tortue Claire

Saumon, Sauce Médoc           Filet de Sole à l’Adelphi

Poulet, Reine Demidoff        Asperge en Branches au Beurre

Quartier d’Agneau

Filet de Bœuf Hollandaise

Granit au Kümmel

Canard Sauvage         Bécasses           Russian Salad

Pouding Impérial       Macédoine au Fruits      Méringue au Crème

Pouding Glacé à la Chantilly


Private dinner parties of eighteen or twenty people were the rule rather than the exception, and the small dinner was unknown.” (Chapters of Life, p. 18)

“In the provinces, as in the capital, King Edward VII had been on the throne for some years before there was any general relaxation of the customs which had obtained during the later decades of his mother’s reign.  Social relationships were subject to a rigid code of etiquette.  All women who had any social pretensions had “At Home” days to which they strictly adhered:  my mother’s, if I remember aright, were the second and fourth Thursdays in each month.  (Chapters of Life, p. 18)

I doubt that this level of formality ever existed at my great-grandfather’s house in Bay of Islands, Newfoundland.  My great-grandfather would have been Sir Charles’s father’s first cousin.  (More boring relationship stuff.)

This is a rather fun comment on Sir Charles’s writing style, as provided by R.J. Stove in the Observer article, “In Search of Sir Charles Petrie”:

As for Petrie’s prose style, one of its most appealing features is the formal elegance with which he could trash his opponents. A few instances will serve. Here, from A Historian Looks at his World, is Petrie’s agreeably catty verdict … on Stanley Baldwin:

“Baldwin also possessed the supreme merit of being able to learn from experience; indeed, it may be said to have been the only way in which he did learn.”

[A note:  Stanley Baldwin was the British Prime Minister during the abdication crisis of 1936.]

And here is Petrie delivering the coup de grâce to Mussolini’s Foreign Minister:

“Whereas Edda [the Duce’s daughter] was very good company indeed, with her diverting stories of Shanghai, where she and her husband had lived for a time, Count Ciano seemed to me to be one of those people of whom it could be said that if one bought him at one’s own price and sold him at his there would be a considerable profit on the transaction.”


Below is the Tea at Trianon blog site article (which is an extract from R.J. Stove’s Observer article)—and its comments about the influence of the (Presbyterian) Sir Charles Petrie’s “Catholicism”:

In Search of Sir Charles Petrie

One of Britain’s finest, and yet most completely forgotten, modern historians.

Meanwhile other men who called themselves historians, and lacked even one tenth of Petrie’s learning, received honours piled on honours, such as Petrie never enjoyed. This was the case even when they consciously and deliberately betrayed Britain itself, by siding with civilisation’s enemies. More of them later on.

First of all, Petrie belonged to a very different social class, and a very different geographical background, from the average British academic. He was born in 1895 in Liverpool, where his father was Mayor; but his family derived from the Irish Catholic aristocracy, and his father had been educated in Dublin. Through his father he met, at an early age, a great many notabilities, both British and, in particular, foreign.

Liverpool was, and is, largely Hibernian-Catholic in its population; and during Petrie’s youth it was mostly despised in Oxford, Cambridge and London. The days when the Beatles would make Liverpool’s public image not merely interesting but fashionable lay unimaginably far ahead. As a consequence of this background, Petrie, while he did go to Oxford, was separated from most of his fellow Oxford students by his creed and his city of origin. This separation marked his whole life. For all his conviviality of temperament, he had what was very much a Latin outlook, a European outlook, retaining little patience for English parochialism. It was not at all that he wore his Catholicism on his sleeve. Indeed he seldom discussed religion overtly in any context. (When he helped establish the Military History Society of Ireland, he insisted on the complete avoidance of sectarian disputes; to this end, he successfully offered society membership to Lord Rathcavan — Protestant Speaker of the Ulster Parliament at the time — and De Valera.) Nevertheless Petrie’s Catholicism did give him a habit of mind which he would not have harboured if he had sprung from the agnostic or atheist upper-middle-class environment which has produced most recent British scholars.

[So…he didn’t wear his Catholicism on his sleeve.  Perhaps, since he was Presbyterian, that might be expected?]

The following is Sir Charles Petrie’s entry in “The Peerage”:

Sir Charles Alexander Petrie, 3rd Bt.1

M, #549078, b. 28 September 1895, d. 23 November 1977

Last Edited=25 Feb 2013

Sir Charles Alexander Petrie, 3rd Bt. was born on 28 September 1895. He was the son of Sir Charles Petrie, 1st Bt. and Hannah Lindsay Hamilton.  He married, firstly, Ursula Gabrielle Borthwick Dowdall, daughter of  Harold Chaloner Dowdall, on 7 October 1920.  He and Ursula Gabrielle Borthwick Dowdall were divorced in 1926. He married, secondly, Jessie Cecilia Mason, daughter of Frederick James George Mason, on 24 February 1926. He died on 23 November 1977 at age 82.

He was educated privately. He fought in the First World War. He gained the rank of Lieutenant in the service of the Royal Garrison Artillery. He graduated from Corpus Christi College, Oxford University, Oxford, Oxfordshire, England, in 1919 with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.). He graduated from Corpus Christi College, Oxford University, Oxford, Oxfordshire, England, in 1921 with a Master of Arts (M.A.). He was a historian. He was invested as a Fellow, Royal Historical Society (F.R.Hist.S.). He was a corresponding member of the Royal Spanish Academics of History and Hispanic Society of America.

He succeeded to the title of 3rd Baronet Petrie, of Carrowcarden, Castleconnor, Tieragh, co. Sligo [U.K., 1918] on 13 December 1927.

He wrote the book The History of Government, published 1929.1 He wrote the book George Canning, published 1930.1 He wrote the book The Jacobite Movement, published 1932.1 He wrote the book History of Spain, published 1934, with Louis Bertrand.1 He wrote the book The Four Georges: a revaluation, published 1935.1 He wrote the book The Stuarts, published 1937.1 He wrote the book Life and Letters of Sir Austen Chamberlain (Volume One), published 1939.1 He wrote the book Life and Letters of Sir Austen Chamberlain (Volume Two), published 1940.1 He wrote the book Diplomatic History 1713-1933, published 1946.1 He wrote the book Earlier Diplomatic History 1492-1713, published 1949.1 He wrote the book Chapters of Life, published 1950.1 He wrote the book The Marshal Duke of Berwick, published 1953.1 He wrote the book The Carlton Club, published 1955.1 He wrote the book Wellington: a reassessment, published 1956.1

He was invested as a Commander, Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in 1957.1 He was invested as a Knight, Order of Civil Merit (Spain).1

He wrote the book The Royal House, published 1958.1 He wrote the book The Powers Behind the Prime Ministers, published 1959.1

He was Honorary Counsellor in 1959 at Institute of Fernando Catolico, Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain. He was invested as a Knight, Order of Isabella the Catholic (Spain).1

He wrote the book The Victorians, published 1960.1 He wrote the book The Modern British Monarchy, published 1961.1 He wrote the book Philip II of Spain, published 1963.1 He wrote the book King Alfonso XIII, published 1963.1

He was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) by University of Valladolid, Valladolid, Castile-Leon, Spain, in 1964.1

He wrote the book Scenes of Edwardian Life, published 1965.1

He was invested as a Commendatore, Order of the Crown of Italy.1 He was decorated with the award of the Order of George I (Greece).1

He wrote the book Great Beginnings, published 1967.1 He wrote the book Don John of Austria, published 1967.1 He wrote the book The Drift to World War 1900-1914, published 1968.1 He wrote the book King Charles III of Spain, published 1971.1 He wrote the book A Historian Looks at His World, published 1972.1

Child of Sir Charles Alexander Petrie, 3rd Bt. and Ursula Gabrielle Borthwick Dowdall:

Sir Charles Richard Borthwick Petrie, 4th Bt.  b. 19 Oct 1921, d. 1988

Child of Sir Charles Alexander Petrie, 3rd Bt. and Jessie Cecilia Mason:

Sir Peter Charles Petrie, 5th Bt.  b. 7 Mar 1932


Sir Charles’s second son is the present Baronet:

PETRIE, Sir Peter (Charles) is the 5th Bt, and lives in France.  He’s married to the Countess Lydwine Maria Fortunata von Oberndorff, and they live at The Hague and Paris.

He was ‘Adviser on European and Parliamentary Affairs’ to the Governor of the Bank of England, 1989 – 2003; and HM Diplomatic Service, retired.

Wonder if I should call ’round for a cup of tea, sometime?

After all, we’re third cousins once removed…his father was my second cousin, twice removed…his grandfather was…oh never mind…