Tag Archives: Miseries of Modern Life

Miseries of Twenty First Century Life – Travelling

Miseries of travelling picMiseries of Twenty First Century Life (inspired by James Beresford’s 1806 masterpiece).

Miseries of Travelling.

Arriving at Middlesborough station and finding your way somehow to your B & B in some godawful back street, you are show to your room but after unpacking your suitcase, find that a mini-monsoon has prevented you from leaving your room in search of a pub, and with the town centre over a mile away. The TV doesn’t seem to be working, you can’t get a signal on your mobile , so for entertainment you first inspect the walls for perhaps an old steel engraving of a local beauty spot or two and find instead a reproduction of a rural scene by Helen Allingham and a daub of a cat by a girl aged 8; you then turn in desperation to a couple of shelves opposite the bed and find a Goss china souvenir of Harrogate, a lamp made out of a Chianti bottle, a pottery frog and a leaping dolphin hand crafted from grey resin. You look among some likely looking books and find nothing but three scruffy paperbacks of James Herbert, a mint copy of The Maid of Buttermere by Melvyn Bragg, a slimmer’s cookbook with an introduction by Gloria Hunniford, four Joanna Trollopes, two chicklit novels by women called Charlotte Gibbons and Vicki Manderson, an Argos catalogue of 2003, a battered poetry anthology by C Day Lewis, an odd volume of the works of Walter Scott, undated but c 1880, the autobiography of Alan Shearer, a paperback of popular astrology by Dale Winton, a local bus timetable dated 1985, a 1970s guide to Athens and an old copy of This England with several pages missing… [R.M.Healey]

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More Miseries of Modern Life

So many of the world weary observations in James Beresford's brilliant best-seller of 1806 (The Miseries of Human Life, or The last Groans of Timothy Testy and Samuel Sensitive), are applicable today. Take some of his London miseries:

In your walk to the city, with a morning full of pressing business on your hands—to be blockaded by endless files of Charity children ( 3 or 4 schools in the lump), or Volunteers---a fresh-caught thief attended by his Posse Comitatus—the Bank Guard—a body of Fireman in their new dresses --&c &c, who either pin you up to the wall, if you keep the pavement , or compel you to escape them by grovelling through the mud.

Reminds me of the behaviour of tourists on Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon. Plenty of Charity Muggers there too, and also Posses, who might do a lot worse than pin you to a wall…And talking of Oxford Street..

To be persecuted by the whimpering whine of an able-bodied beggar, close at your heels through the whole length of Oxford Street

Then there’s Bonfire Night, aka:

The 5th of November, or the Anniversary of squalling petitions to “ remember Guy Fawx, alias “ Poor Guy”---whom you would most willingly forget for ever , and whose “Plot” you now consider  as by much the most venial part of his misconduct

Regency gigs could be exasperating too:

At a concert, between the acts—after quitting an excellent place on an expedition to the Refreshment Room—finding on your arrival, every table besieged—and on your return the first song, together with all chance of another seat, completely over. [RRR]

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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]