Last Thursday I had the privilege of giving a talk in the excellent Damaging the Body lecture series, ably organised at Barts Museum of Pathology, London, by Jo Parsons and Sarah Chaney. Surrounded by hundreds of jars filled with various organs and body parts of dead people (no nibbles were served in case you’re wondering), I performed a post-mortem examination of mesmerism as a historiographical casualty during the birth of German professionalised psychology.
Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, October 10, 1880; Issue 1977
Today marks the centenary of what is, for the feminist movement, a similar event to ‘the shot heard around the world’. On June 4 1913, Emily Wilding Davison, long term campaigner for women’s rights in England, stepped in front of the King’s horse and tried to attach a purple, green and white banner, emblazoned with ‘Votes for Women’ to the King’s Horse at the Epsom Derby.
Whilst on holiday in Suffolk a few weeks ago I bought a small book at a second-hand stall at the market in the lovely little town of Framlingham. Called The Victorian Book of Dreams, it is clearly a forerunner of the little books you might have picked up at the till in Past Times as a desperate last moment Christmas present for someone who has everything (other than a book about Edwardian manners or tips for husbands).
The earliest known mention of Amy Dudley's health occurred on 18 April 1559 in a dispatch of the Count of Feria to his master King Philip II of Spain: “Lord Robert has come so much into favour that he does whatever he likes with affairs and it is even said that her majesty visits him in his chamber day and night.
They lie at rest beneath glass; twisted and curled with art and tears – products of a grief that will not surrender. They are the creations of loss: delicate memories that are kept close in melancholy beauty.
Mourning jewelry was popular during the notoriously sentimental 19th century – a time of disease and fey prettiness. In England, it became especially popular after the death of Prince Albert in 1861, when the Widow of Windsor made grieving an art, shrouding the court in shadow.
The Hanwell Asylum, aka the Middlesex County Asylum, is probably better known - if at all - as St Bernard's. For some reason, I thought it was long-closed, like the Holloway sanitorium in Virginia Water. Or at least moved away like the Bethlem Hospital ("Bedlam") in Lambeth, now the Imperial War Museum.
Not a bit of it. While out and about yesterday, we popped in to where we knew it to be, mainly to see - out of curiosity - what buildings remained.
Every little court and alley in this part of London has its colony of ghosts, and wandering among them I would certainly, sooner or later, stumble upon Gough Square. It is not too easy to find. I usually enter it by Wine Office Court, in which is located the Cheshire Cheese, that famous eating-place which only became firmly identified with Dr. Johnson after his death, because I like to pass and frequently enter the one quaint old tavern which remains exactly as most London taverns were a century or two ago, and because tradition says that Goldsmith lived in this court when he wrote The Vicar of Wakefield.
Reaching the top of this narrow channel and turning sharply to the left, one faces the famous house, Number 17, the house in which Dr. Johnson lived for ten years from 1748 to 1759, during which he compiled the greater part of the Dictionary and wrote innumerable “Ramblers” and “The Vanity of Human Wishes”; from which he dispatched his smashing letter to Lord Chesterfield, and to which he returned “unshaken as the monument ” after the failure of his play, Irene. It is the house, too, in which his wife died and in which, in all likelihood, he wrote Rasselas. It is not an amusing fiction, but I quite agree with the judgment of Christopher North, that “it is a noble performance in design and in execution,” and that never were the expenses of a mother’s funeral more gloriously defrayed by a son than the funeral of Samuel Johnson’s mother by the price of Rasselas, written for the pious purpose of laying her head decently and honourably in the dust.”
Text from Newton, A. Edward. “The Ghosts of Gough Square in The Greatest Book in the World and other papers 1925
Glasgow Herald Wednesday, April 9, 1856; Issue 5591
I’ve spent the last month being part of two amazing initiatives run by the BBC, here in the UK. Firstly, as part of the BBC’s new campaign to increase the number of women it can call on for expert opinions, the aptly titled #ExpertWomen (you can see my brilliantly cringe worthy audition tape here) and then as one of the AHRC and BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinkers.