The Sun, not to be confused with The Sun: A lesson for students

Every year I work through a number of primary sources with my students, reminding them not to make assumptions based on their own experiences and expectations. The following account, for example, written in September 1794, is meant to poke fun at quidnuncs, individuals obsessed with obtaining the latest news, often found reading an egregious number of periodicals at inopportune times.

Zeal for Intelligence.–Early a few mornings ago, in London a man was detected forcing open the door of a public house with an iron crow. Being taken into custody, he urged in his defence, That he only wanted to see the news in the Sun!

Glasgow Advertiser, 1 September 1794.

Coloured by ongoing debates regarding phone hacking and the ladies of page three, modern readers may find the piece espousing a very different message.

The Best of Wives; or, the Best Poem Published in the Glasgow Advertiser

As my recent work on marital satire and single-female emigration comes to a close (a working paper will shortly be made available), I turn your attention to this lovely bit of British humour, printed in the Glasgow Advertiser 30 October 1801. As far as this historian is concerned, this 212-year-old joke is as fresh as ever.


A man had once a vicious wife
(A most uncommon thing in life)
His days and nights were spent in strife

Her tongue went glibly all day long
Sweet contradiction still her song,
And all the poor man did was wrong,
And ill done.

A truce without doors or within,
From speeches long as statesmen spin,
Or rest from her eternal din,
He found not.

He ev’ry soothing art display’d;
Tried of what stuff her skin was made:
Failing in all, to heav’n he pray’d
To take her.

Once walking by a river’s side
In mournful terms, “My Dear,” he cried,
“No more let feuds our peace divide,
“I’ll end them.

“Weary of life, and quite resign’d,
“To drown, I have made up my mind,
“So tie my hands as fast behind
“As can be:

“Or nature may assert his reign,
“My arms assist, my will restrain,
“And swimming, I once more regain
“My trouble.”

With eager haste the dame complies,
While joy stands glist’ning in her eyes,
Already in her thoughts he dies
Before her.

“Yet, when I view the rolling tide,
“Nature revolts,” he said, “beside
“I would not be a suicide,
“And die thus:

“It would be better far, I think,
“While close I stand upon the brink,
“You push me in–nay never shrink,
“But do it.”

To give the blow the more effect,
Some twenty yards she ran direct,
And did what she could least expect
She should do.

He slips aside, himself to save
So souse she dashes in the waves,
And gave, what ne’er before she gave,
Much pleasure.

“Dear husband help! I sink” she cried;
“Thou best of wives!” the man replied,
“I would–but you my hands have tied,
“God help ye!”

The poem, with its rather wide appeal, appeared in a variety of periodicals and collections throughout the nineteenth century, but its original (printed) home was likely The Sporting Magazine, a London periodical, which published the piece in the early weeks of 1801. Although the author remains a mystery, I do hope the tale was not autobiographical.

Nuts and Old Cheese; or, This is not the cure you are looking for

The following account of hazelnut-related illness brings to mind several important questions. First, was it the hazelnuts that caused the illness, or was this an early e. Coli or salmonella outbreak? Second, what sort of magic cheese cured them, and where can I obtain some?

Several persons have fallen victims to the eating of Nuts to excess. Two young ladies of Southampton-row, last week, from eating immoderately filberts, were both taken extremely ill. One of them died in less than an hour before medical aid could be had; the other was with difficulty saved. Old Cheese was applied with success to
the latter.

The Glasgow Advertiser, 26 October 1801

A spiteful toast, given by a newspaper editor, when drinking alone

Time not permitting the printer of this paper to join the respectable Company who dined together on the 4th March he contented himself with drinking (alone,) in his office, the following toasts:—Here follows twelve toasts, most of them of a political nature. The twelfth is not a little selfish, and somewhat singular, viz.—MYSELF! May the man who takes my paper, and won’t pay me for it, never have money to buy a paper, nor a friend to lend him one: May he remain as ignorant as that man, down yonder, on Bennet’s creek, who never knew there was an Indian war!

The Glasgow Advertiser, 19 June 1801

Satirical Statistics and Censuses

In my current research series, I noted the frequency with which Scottish editors provided apocryphal or otherwise satirical enumerations of the population. The following domestic example appeared in the Glasgow Advertiser on 19 August 1793:

The following calculation has been made of the state of the Married Couples in England.—It is to be hoped it is not quite correct:
Wives eloped from their Husbands — 1348
Husbands ran away from their Wives — 2361
Married pairs in the state of separation from each other — 4120
Married pairs living in a state of open war, under the same roof — 191023
Married pairs living in a state of inward hatred for each other, though under the same roof — 162320
Married pairs in the state of coldness and indifference for each other — 510533
Married pairs reputed happy in the esteem of the world — 1102
Married pairs comparatively happy — 135
Married pairs absolutely and entirely happy — NINE

We concur with the hopes of the printer as to the veracity of these numbers.