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D.W. Brogan

© National Portrait Gallery, London

From the Reeve* collection. D.W. Brogan's books have become somewhat hard to sell but he is here recalled as a great lecturer by a connoisseur of lecturers (and Dons.)

SIR DENIS BROGAN

From what I had read and heard I hoped to see an attractive man, when I attended a lecture at King’s College, in London. I was not disappointed. He must be one of the most interesting lecturers in Cambridge; and his memory, particularly concerning American history is certainly uncanny: a phenomenon which must have been apparent to millions of people who have heard his ready responses to questions from America which surprised the American questioner, who had evidently expected to puzzle the Cambridge don with unusual questions.
  Few at the lecture had seen him previously; and his fresh complexion, sturdy body, unostentatious delivery and pleasing voice, was that of a cultured countryman. The audience of seventy were rewarded by an enjoyable hour of lecture and discussion. I can remember a few meetings as enjoyable, but we were learning something new in the best possible environment, and I dare not hope to enjoy a happier afternoon.
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The Miseries of Modern Life

Miseries of Travel (Rowlandson 1806)

In 1806 a witty Oxford don called James Beresford published The Miseries of Human Life, or The last Groans of Timothy Testy and Samuel Sensitive, in which a pair of curmudgeons railed against all the 'injuries, insults, disappointments and treacheries of everyday life'.Today they would probably be diagnosed with clinical depression, but Bereford’s book turned out to be a huge best-seller, proving that black humour is always popular in the UK. Indeed, rarely has mental illness been a source of such razor –sharp observations as those that emerged from the mouths of these Regency Victor Meldrews.

Some of the wit directed at miseries associated with coachmen, ostlers and taverns is very much of its time, but much of it has remained timeless and can still raise a smile today. I particularly like the following examples from their observations on ‘ Miseries of the Table ‘

After eating mushrooms—the lively interest you take in the debate that accidentally follows on the question ‘whether they were of the right sort ?’

Nicholas 'Horse Whisperer' Evans and his disastrous Scottish mushrooming party of a few years ago, gravely ill after consuming specimens of cortinarius speciosissimus, might wince at this one.

Or what about this ?

On taking your dinner from an a-la-mode beef house –the relish of your favourite dish disturbed by the perpetual recurrence of a doubt whether the animal you are feeding on was a native of the stall or of the stable

Seemingly, horse meat was ending up in fast food outlets even in Regency times!

To be continued… [RR]