Friday, 12 December 2008

Ralph Waldo Emerson didn't like tattoos. Or burking.

"Slavery is an evil, as cholera or typhus is, that will be purged out by the health of the system. Being unnatural and violent, I know that it will yield at last and go with cannibalism, tattooing, inquisition, dueling, burking".

- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Lecture on Slavery (1855)

10 comments:

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

For those of you unfamiliar with the ways of burking (like me, until two minutes ago), the word derives from the name of a Mr Burke, "a notorious criminal executed at Edinburgh in 1829, for smothering many persons in order to sell their bodies for dissection" (thank you, OED). On a moral parr with tattooing for certain, then.

Anonymous said...

Yes, indeed - a well known entrepreneur, and co-founder of that leading supplier of medical and anatomical teaching prerequisites, Burke and Hare.

Never mind the OED, fine and definitive though it be; Wikipedia is an excellent source on Burke and Hare, not to mention the London burkers, Bishop and Williams.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Oh, that Burke. The Burke-and-Hare Burke. Gotcha.

And so when Mary Shelley republished Frankenstein in 1831, charnel houses and smotherers and dismemberers were very much in people's minds?

Thanks, Anon.

eyrie said...

The Newgate Calendar on William Burke's crimes, trial and execution (very long and very lurid).

TimT said...

Aw, no duellling, either? Emerson won't let you have any fun.

Clearly President Andrew Jackson wouldn't have been a favourite with Emerson. He had thirteen duels, and apparently had so many bullets in his body that he 'rattled like a bag of marbles'.

TimT said...

You may not have known of Jonathan Blurk was another famous London criminal, with a habit of 'dropping his guts' at each of his crime scenes. He was described in the London papers as 'one of the great chunders of the world'. And so, the word 'blurking' came into the language.

Isn't etymology a wonderful and magical science?

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

When I was a wee underdrag, the University of Sydney Union hired a performer for our scholarly delectation, this performer styling himself "The Regurgitator". I probably shouldn't reveal things like this on the internet. This is the kind of stuff the anti-student-union mob use to support their anti-student-unionism. (Bit late for me to worry about that now, though; no thanks, Howard government and its senate majority.)

Meanwhile, you make me larf, you do, Timoth.

And Eyrie, that is an excellent document what you done point me to. Makes me proud to be a bagpiper. Trust you to have the library of Babel up your sleeve.

TimT said...

Ever since the making of the Bazza McKenzie films, chunder has become a fixture of Australian culture. In my DVD of 'Barry McKenzie Holds His Own', a news documentary on the films is included in the extras - it has a hilarious interview with Barry Humphries.

Humphries proudly defends the vomit scenes, comparing them to classic art works by Breughel. "In every classic work by Breughel," he says, "You'll find a little detail, in the corner, of someone sticking their head out of a window and having a chunder."

So you can see why Barry Humphries is such a genius, now, can't you!

Ampersand Duck said...

I think that whole list is alive and well in Zimbabwe...

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Eek. Maybe not the dueling so much, but I could be wrong.