Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Miseries of Human Life

Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Loretta reports:

James Beresford’s The Miseries of Human Life, which first appeared in 1806, is still funny.  I own the Past Times 1995 adaptation, whose cover bears the Cruikshank illustration, The Head ache, shown at left, and from whose spine a ball & chain dangles.  This version drops the numerous Latin phrases of the original, as well as the dialogue form--a style popular in the late 18th and early 19th C, which modern readers may find a bit arch and artificial.  Yet I’d suggest you try the original anyway, because it’s full of funny little bits, and many of its miseries apply today as well as then.

MISERIES PERSONAL, EXISTENTIAL AND OF THE BODY
The horror of contriving how to adjust one’s legs and arms at the age of nineteen in a drawing room.

MISERIES OF TRAVELLING
In speeding through towns and turnpikes, the nervous habits and desperate manoeuvres to which you are perpetually driven, to avoid gratifying successive shoals of children, in their eager wishes and strenuous endeavours to be run over.

MISERIES OF SOCIAL LIFE
Sitting down alone in a large party upon a sofa that makes an equivocal noise.

MISERIES OF FASHIONABLE LIFE
Being a lady of a certain age, throwing yourself into your carriage at daybreak, after some long and fatiguing orgy, finding yourself face to face with your gentleman escort, with the killing consciousness that the beams of the rising sun, by pointing at certain derangements in the composition of your countenance, are gradually rectifying a few chronological errors in your own history, into which you had been leading him an hour before.

MISERIES DOMESTIC
Squatting plump on an unsuspected cat in your chair.

Being serenaded at your window, all night long, by the tender war-whoop of two cats, performed with demoniacal variations and professional enthusiasm.

MISERIES OF THE TABLE
Slipping your knife suddenly and violently from off a bone, its edge first shrieking across the plate (so as to make you hated by yourself and the whole company), and then driving the plate before it, and lodging all its contents—meat, gravy, melted butter, vegetables, &c., &c., partly on your own breeches, partly on the cloth, partly on the floor, but principally on the lap of a charming girl who sits by you, and to whom you had been diligently endeavoring to recommend yourself as a suitor.

While swallowing a raspberry, discovering by its taste that you have been so unhappy as to occasion the death of a harmless insect!

Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruikshank, among others, illustrated the book.
“The Head-ache” and “Cat-sitting," shown here, are Cruikshank’s work.

9 comments:

News From the Holmestead said...

Oh, how I laughed out loud! I have had the misfortune to sit on a leather club chair at a bookstore and have it emit an embarrassing sound into the suddenly dead silence as the air deflated from its overstuffed cushion. Trying to explain to strangers that it wasn't *me* would have been useless, due to my incriminating red face.

And yes, I have been at a party and didn't know what to do with my hands and feet, and I have sat on my cats more times than I can count, including one memorable time when I raced urgently into the bathroom without turning on the light and sat on a cat trying to get a drink out of the toilet. I'll leave the rest to your imagination.

nightsmusic said...

LOL, Sherrie!!

I really laughed at the Miseries of Fashionable Life.

Seems to me though that some of these still hold true today. I have found myself squirming, trying to look comfortable and composed at a party where I know no one. It never works.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Those are hilarious, and are so, so true. As someone who has the sad habit of spilling food on herself all the time, I can really relate to the miseries of the table.

ingrid said...

I too have the Past Times edition. It has a plastic ball and chain attached to it, which makes it awkward to park it in a bookcase, or anywhere. A perfect fusion of form and content.

LorettaChase said...

LOL, Ingrid. It is perfect.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Why have I never seen this book before? Quick, quick, add to the "to buy" list at once! *g*

Arabella said...

oh, that head ache illustration is perfect and just about how I feel right now. What a wonderful book. I'll have to buy it.

LorettaChase said...

Arabella, I think it may be the best representation of a headache, ever--and I speak as a migraine sufferer of many years.

jean said...

having learned calligraphy at college with the dip pen, I too have a misery of writing, in that the pen leaks all over the fingers marking me for a number of days, just as Jo was prone to in Little Women.

 
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