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Drury Lane (Covent Garden) Portrait painter John Baptiste de Medina was born in Brussels in 1659, the son of a Spanish officer serving in the Southern Netherlands (his mother’s identity is unknown, but she may well have been from the Low Countries). Attracted by the economic advantages of the English art market he settled in London where he stayed for some eight years at a studio in Drury Lane. His technique and style of painting were firmly Netherlandish, Dutch (in the style of Godfrey Kneller) rather than Flemish.

Although he was primarily a portrait painter, among his earliest recorded works in London was a series of eight illustrations for an edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost, published in 1688 by Jacob Tonson. Among Medina’s London clients were a number of members of the Scottish nobility. They were instrumental in persuading Media to move with his Flemish wife Jeanne Marie Vandale and their children to Edinburgh in order to fill the void in the Scottish portrait market. Between 1697 and 1708 Medina completed his most ambitious project in Scotland, a series of twenty-nine portraits of members of the Royal College of Surgeons at which, at their request, a self-portrait of Medina was added.

The inclusion underlines the status the painter had gained in Scottish society which was further confirmed by a grant of naturalization by the soon to be dissolved Scottish parliament. John Baptiste de Medina was the last person to receive a knighthood in an independent Scotland. He died in 1710.

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For considerable time almost every London church had its own cemetery. Before 1800 there were more than two hundred such graveyards in the capital. St George’s at Hanover Square, Mayfair, was built between 1721 and 1724 to the designs of John James (George Frederick Handel was a regular worshipper here). The church originally sat in open countryside in the middle of its own burying place . Paddington Street Gardens were originally formed as an additional burial ground for St George’s. Burials at St George’s included that of Ann Radcliffe and Laurence Sterne. The latter was born in 1713 in Clonmel, Ireland, into a military family, the second of seven children. Since the age of ten he lived in Yorkshire, away from his parents and by the age of twenty he entered Jesus College, Cambridge. His education prepared him for taking clerical orders, and in 1737 he accepted the assistant curacy of St Ives, Huntingdon. Four years later, he assumed the vicarage of Sutton on the Forest, a village eight miles north of York which remained his home until 1760. This cosmopolitan mind spent most of his adult life serving a rural parish. He lived his life in relative obscurity participating on occasion in local politics – until 1759. That year he offered bookseller and publisher Robert Dodsley a manuscript of what eventually became the first two volumes of Tristram Shandy. The book was an immediate success and Sterne became the literary toast of the day. He died in London on 18 March 1768. He was buried four days later at St George’s.

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Physician Charles Collignon was the son of Paul Collignon, a minister of the Dutch church in Austin Friars. Charles began lecturing at Cambridge University in 1754. He stressed the significance of anatomy, the desirability of a legal supply of bodies for dissection, and the importance of post-mortems to improve medical knowledge. His Compendium anatomico-medicum (1756) provided a general introduction to students of anatomy. When giving a seminar on dissection someone in the audience recognized the corpse waiting to be cut up. It was that of Sterne. It appeared that the body had been stolen by some of Collignon’s students and taken to Cambridge. Charles had it sent back to London to be reburied, but no marker was placed on the grave.

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Robbing graves in order to facilitate the study of bodies and bones has been a long standing tradition in art and medicine. Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were known for stealing corpses from morgues in order to research human anatomy. In the early eighteenth century, when dissection became an integral part of medical studies, grave robbers prospered in Britain. They were feared and despised by the public at large. In the folklore of every culture interring the remains of the dead is heavy with rituals that must be observed if the souls of the deceased are to prosper and the living not troubled by their ghosts. A body should be buried in its complete state. If a limb is missing the deceased might risk spending eternity without an arm or leg. People preserved their lost teeth so that they might be buried with them. When it comes to interment yet more superstitions apply. Sites towards the eastern and southern boundaries of a graveyard were the most desirable. The cold and dark northern quarter was allocated to criminals and suicides. The opening of a new graveyard posed a serious challenge to undertakers. No caring person would volunteer a deceased relative to be interred first, because of the widespread belief that the Devil would claim the soul of that particular corpse for himself. The difficulty was overcome by the initial burying of an animal.

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The earliest recorded medieval anatomies were also carried out on animals. The beginning of modern surgery was held back by theologians who stressed the unlawfulness of meddling with a corpse. The human body was recognized as the temple of the Holy Spirit. Hence Tertullian denounced Greek physician Herophilus, deemed to be the first anatomist, as a butcher. In 1248, the Council of Le Mans forbade surgery to monks. During the Crusades a practice arose that when a nobleman was killed in battle far from home, the body would be defleshed and his bones transported back to his estate for burial. In response, Pope Boniface VIII promulgated a law in 1299 which excommunicated anyone who disemboweled bodies of the dead or boiled them to separate the flesh from the bones. He further decreed that bodies which had been so treated were to be denied a Christian burial. Such ideas were deeply rooted in the mind of the universal Church. For considerable time surgeonship was judged to be a dishonourable profession. However, from the thirteenth century onwards, the body became increasingly part of a theological discourse. The physicality of Christ was highlighted in works of art; stories of saints and martyrdom came to include gruesome details of physical mutilation; descriptions of mystical experience took on a physical form, the most spectacular manifestation of which was the reception of stigmata as in the case of Francis of Assisi. The change in focus also made the practice of anatomy acceptable and more widespread.

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The first dissection of a human body was performed around 1315 by Mondino de Liuzzi in Bologna, but the activity remained as yet relatively isolated elsewhere in Europe. In other countries, and especially in Britain, dissections occurred much later. Physician David Edwardes was educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he was made a fellow in 1524. A year later he was in Venice where he helped to complete the Aldine version of Galen’s works in Greek and it is probable that he spent time studying in Padua, then a centre of medical excellence. In 1528 he moved to Cambridge. He is credited with being responsible for the first recorded dissection of the human body in England which took place in 1531. Anatomy teaching which included the dissection of a human corpse did not become standard practice until the middle years of the sixteenth century. Finding suitable corpses was one of the main problems. Usually, the bodies used were those of criminals or heretics – predominantly males in other words. The occasional dissection of a woman, it being a public event, attracted large numbers of spectators by the prospect of the exposure of female organs. A public dissection in those early days was both spectacle and instruction. It was a ritual attended by professionals, artists and the curious alike. A dissection was the highlight of the academic term. Within medical circles, the cutting up of a body was regarded a celebration of scientific progress.

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Medical schools in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries found it difficult to teach anatomy because the supply of bodies for dissection was limited. Legally only the corpses of convicted murderers might be used, and even those were hard to obtain because of public revulsion. Battles between family and friends with the authorities over the remains of the condemned had started to occur since the introduction of the ‘Murder Act’ of 1752 which established the public dissection of murderers following their execution. The underlying idea was the process would not only serve science, but also overwhelm the crowd with a graphic set of images that restored the deterrent element of the legal process. Dissection replaced the earlier punishment of hanging, drawing and quartering, in which the four quarters were exhibited on spikes in various parts of the city. A continuous shortage of bodies however meant that academics had to improvise their teaching methods. Some practitioners carved up the bodies of family members. Rondeler of the Montpellier Medical School dissected his own child before his students – the ultimate act of clinical detachment. William Harvey dissected the bodies of his father and sister. As a consequence of the shortage of bodies, a clandestine trade grew up of grave robbing. A dead body had cash value: it could be bought and sold – the corpse as commodity. Anatomists paid resurrectionists (the name given to those who were involved in body snatching or grave robbing) to go out at night, especially in winter when the cold would slow down putrefaction, to dig up freshly interred bodies and convey them to the medical schools. The authorities turned a blind eye to grave robbing because surgeons and students were working to advance medical knowledge. They kept publicity to a minimum in order to avoid public outrage. Moreover, body snatching was not an offence. The body was not regarded as property, and, once dead, could not be owned or stolen. Until the passing of the Anatomy Act of 1832 body snatchers were hard at work. The passing of this act allowed unclaimed bodies to be turned over to the medical profession, effectively substituting the poor and destitute for the executed.

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The public panic (often resulting in riots) created by the shenanigans of anatomists and grave robbers obscured the fact that at one time the study of anatomy was the sexiest of all scientific disciplines. Some of the most sumptuous books of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are studies on that particular academic subject. A spectacular example is the enlarged second edition of William Cowper’s Myotomia reformata, or A New Administration of the Muscles. The book was published in London in 1724, fourteen years after Cowper’s death, and is considered to be one of the best of anatomical atlases of the eighteenth century. The first edition of the book was published in 1694 as an octavo volume containing just ten plates after the author’s own drawings of subjects which he felt had previously not been properly illustrated. In addition, an appendix was added describing the anatomy of the penis and the mechanism of erection.

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On 18 April 1693, London-born physician Richard Mead registered at the University of Leiden. It is likely that he arrived there several months earlier because he became a close friend of Archibald Pitcairne, who had settled in the city as Professor of Medicine in the spring of 1692, leaving abruptly in the summer of 1693. Mead lived in Pitcairne’s house for a time, along with Herman Boerhaave, then also a student. He left Leiden early in 1695 without taking a degree, and went on a tour of Italy before returning to London in 1696 to set up a medical practice in Stepney. He made a spectacular career and was elected to the Royal Society in 1703. Henry Pemberton arrived in Leiden in August 1714. There he joined many other English students who had crossed the Channel to study medicine under Boerhaave. Back in London, he was appointed Gresham Professor of Physics which brought him in close contact with Isaac Newton who invited him to superintend the third edition of the Principia. Mead and Pemberton joined forces to prepare the second edition of Cowper’s Myotomia reformata. Cowper had worked until his death in 1710 on a revised and expanded edition of his famous study. The book was published under Mead’s supervision and sponsorship. This substantially enlarged version that includes sixty-six plates appeared with an introduction by Pemberton. Thomas Hearne, a Bodleian librarian at the time, called it the most beautiful book ever printed in England.
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The status and popularity of anatomy made it a highly competitive domain of academic research. Rivalry in art and science is an inherent part of the creative process and has produced many noble achievements. However, if the means applied are corrupt, competition is often the cause of controversy. A notorious case is the ugly conflict between Bidloo and Cowper. In 1685, physician and anatomist Govard Bidloo published his Anatomia humani corporis in Amsterdam, using 105 plates drawn by Gerard de Lairesse which were engraved by the talented Amsterdam-born artist Abraham Blooteling. Bidloo originally accompanied the plates with a brief Latin text. A Dutch version was printed in 1690, entitled Ontleding des menschelyken lichaams. The plates were magnificent. Liège-born De Lairesse was a prolific and popular Baroque artist working in a French style (he is sometimes referred to as the ‘Dutch Poussin’). In his anatomical illustrations, which include dissected pregnancies and prematurely born infants, he portrays his subjects in classical and dramatic poses without sacrificing the harsh realism of anatomic features. Tools of dissection are also represented, including the pins, ropes, and props used to position the body parts, thus effectively pairing aesthetic refinement with graphic detail. There is room for artistic licence as well: a fly perching on a cadaver, or a smiling skeleton holding an hour glass in a mausoleum.

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Neither of Bidloo’s editions sold many copies which enabled Oxford publishers Samuel Smith and Benjamin Walford to purchase plates of the Dutch edition from its publishers in Amsterdam. Cowper used these plates and published them in his 1698 Anatomy with new and more extensive accompanying texts based upon his own original research which are often critical of his Dutch predecessor. Lettering in (offensive?) red ink was added to the plates to accommodate Cowper’s observations which, by his own count, amount to above seven-hundred references. He also commissioned nine plates drawn by Henry Cook and engraved by Antwerp-born artist Michiel van der Gucht, among which were front and back views of the entire musculature. In 1698, the first edition of this large and weighty folio (nine kilograms) was published under Cowper’s name with a faint and almost ‘hidden’ reference to Bidloo. The original engraved title-page was amended with a piece of paper that reads: The Anatomy of Humane Bodies. It covers the Dutch title. Cowper also replaced Bidloo’s portrait with one of his own. At the time of publication, the study containing 114 illustrations was hailed as the most comprehensive atlas of human anatomy. Over time the book raised the standard British approach to the study of anatomy and the practice of surgery.

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A number of vitriolic exchanges took place between these two eminent scientists which serve as an illustration of an early intellectual property dispute. An outraged Bidloo claimed that Cowper published his plates without properly crediting him, but he had no legal recourse. He (in vain) petitioned the Royal Society to revoke Cowper’s member status and wrote a series of pamphlets admonishing his actions. Just how Cowper acquired the plates is a matter of dispute. Although the plates were purchased from Bidloo’s publishers, some accounts argue that Cowper had crossed the Channel on multiple occasions to secure them under false pretences. It was in fact a common practice in the history of anatomical publication that plates were used and re-used over and again. Critics nevertheless have called Cowper’s Anatomy a blatant act of plagiarism. Our legal understanding of plagiarism of course does not apply at a time when national – let alone international – copyright laws were not in operation. Historically, governments issued monopoly-rights to publishers for the sale of printed work. Great Britain was the first to change this in April 1710 with the passing of the ‘Statute of Anne’ which stated that authors and not publishers had the right to claim a monopoly on the work. It limited exclusive rights to twenty-eight years, after which a printed work would be released to the public domain. Moreover, the plates were legally purchased in a transaction between publishers. The ‘crime’ in a world of emerging academic pomposity was Cowper’s lack of respect for the research achievements of his Dutch rival. The bitter dispute between the two anatomists made an impact on the discussion of copyright law and academic integrity in the late seventeenth century in which Britain played a leading role.

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What in the meantime had happened to the remains of Laurence Sterne? When St John’s Wood burial ground opened in 1814, St George’s was officially closed leaving some 80,000 unattended graves behind. In 1886, the grounds were turned into a recreation area and in the process most of the tombs were swept away. During the First World War the land was covered with top soil and used for growing vegetables. In 1969 the area was completely cleared and sold off for redevelopment. Urban expansion does not acknowledge the past and even in death city-dwellers find no peace. Faced with the relentless demands of progress, history sinks into the abyss of oblivion. Just prior to the indiscriminate disposal of human remains from the site, Kenneth Monkman – a keen collector of Sterneana – recovered what is believed to be Sterne’s skull. The top had been sawn off, indicating the involvement of medical students. It was reburied in the graveyard of St Michael’s Church in Coxwold, North Yorkshire, close to his former home at Shandy Hall.

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Johan van Oldenbarneveldt – the powerful Secretary of the States who lost his head in 1618, accused of treason by prince Maurice of Orange. His dead ended the first great struggle between the princes of Orange and the Dutch regents. More were to follow.

Half way a biography of the Dutch pensionary Johan van Oldenbarneveldt  published in 1648, almost 30 years after his death on the scaffold, the text takes an unexpected turn. When you turn to page 3f-recto the text suddenly breaks off in mid-sentence and the publisher takes up the pen. A dramatic effect that was used two centuries later by the famous Dutch author Multatuli to shock his readers who thought they were reading a novel and now were confronted with the harsh realities of colonialism.

Multatuli’s 17th century forerunner wrote something like this: ‘Dear reader. We had come this far with the printing of this book when on 12 march 1648 at half past nine in the evening the bailiff and three of his henchmen kicked in the door of the printer’s office. They had blank cutlasses in their hands and they also carried blinded lanterns as if they were common burglars. One of them posted himself at the door, another at the stairs to the first floor. Then the bailiff went through the premises, turning over tables and type-cases, kicking at the type that was waiting to be printed and tearing up already printed paper.  They had been stumbling back and forth from the attic to the cellar for at least two hours when at last the bailiff called for the printer. He told him that they had come on on orders of the burgomasters for the book that was on the press Het leven en sterven van Johan van Olden-Barnevelt (Life and Death of Johan van Oldenbarneveldt). The printer remarked that it was an offense to break in a house like that to seize a book that was not even finished. The bailiff told him to shut up and to hand over the copy. The attic, where the printed paper was kept in parcels, was sealed and guarded. The next day the bailiff came back with a few helpers and carried of the copy and all printed matter he could lay his hand on.’

And so, the publisher continued, I took the decision to publish this book as soon as possible, even when it was not complete since it lacked the chapter the bailiff had found and taken with him.

This little anecdote is a rare description of Dutch censorship in action: the bailiff dropping in after dark, kicking in doors, making threats and creating havoc before taking the copy with him. It has indeed all the trappings of censorship in action. Except for one thing. Not only did the printer answer back to the bailiff but he also told him that he could expect legal action. Which is what he did.  And when the bailiff and his minions had left printing went on. That a chapter was missing was something the readers had to put up with. The publisher promised that in time a second, completed, edition – and indeed such a book would appear ten years later. It counted twelve extra pages so we can calculate the damage the bailiff had done. Since the print run of the first edition seems to have been about 1700 copies, it may have costed the publisher about 50 guilders in profits. Of course the printing shop had to be cleared and type reset, which might have taken a few days.  Still one cannot but wonder if this paltry sum was the reason to sue the bailiff for years on, even up to the High Court at The Hague. Probably the publisher felt that the insult and the desultory way in which his rights as a citizen were disregarded deserved to be punished. The little scene also shows another peculiarity of Dutch censorship. It was not only arbitrary, it was also personal in the sense that the people who were involved knew each other, if not personally, at least by face. Censorship was an affair of individuals. There were no set rules for publishing in the Dutch Republic, nor was there a secret police working for a distant and indifferent government, that locked people up and no questions asked, as in France. Nobody was tortured or died at the stake on a public square.

The Dutch historian Paul Valkema Blouw spend a major part of his life on the study of 16th century subversive printing. Apart from tracing most if not all these subversive publications and bringing together the scarce facts on the lives of their printers, Blouw showed that printing forbidden books was a dangerous affair in the 16th century. The government did it’s best to catch and punish subversive elements and printers who were caught lost everything, often including their lives. It is in fact surprising to see how few where actually caught, but also how tenacious they kept on printing, moving their presses from town to town and often abroad, probably under difficult circumstances. The difference with the seventeenth century is striking. We know of a printer that was whipped because he had offended a powerful member of the Amsterdam oligarchy and also of one author of subversive pamphlets who ended on the scaffold – but not because of what he had written. Two died in prison, Koerbagh, who was convicted to ten years in a workhouse because of his atheism while pamphletist Eric Walten was kept there without a trail because of pamphleteering but also for his shady political deals.

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The Rasphuys where Adriaen Koerbagh is often supposed to have been worked to death. In fact he was kept somewhere else where the work was light but the circumstances bad and there, after a year, he died of a disease.

The most striking characteristic of 17th century censorship – or it’s absence – is perhaps that on the one hand very few titles were forbidden but that bookshops also abounded with pamphlets that were illegal because the publisher had not printed his name and address on the title-page. In most years almost half of all published pamphlets did not carry the name of it’s publisher (nor that of the author of course) but in some years the percentage could climb as high as 80%. The standard fine for this kind of publication was 500 guilders, a substantial sum that was to be shared with the informer. The profit that a publisher made on his illegal pamphlet – most of them seem to have reached an edition of about 200-250 copies – was perhaps twenty guilders so it is obvious that the government did not spend much time maintaining their own placards. Nor was the promise of a substantial reward enough for the public to bring booksellers to justice. The avid readers seem instead to have run to the bookseller to ask for the latest pamphlet. Illegal publications were sought after and sometimes more expensive than their legal brothers. Thus they were the source of an interesting bit of extra income for the booksellers – if the publication had the succes they hoped. But that extra income would never have covered the costs of an arrest and condemnation so the risk must have been very small.

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Henricus Slatius, the only Dutch author to die on the scaffold. He was accused of plotting against the life of prince Maurice of Orange and confessed under torture. But the real reason was probably his virulent pen that he used to poke fun at the calvinists. 

In most cases nowadays scholars can trace these illegal publications to their makers without much effort. One only has to compare the ornaments and historiated initials to find out who printed a specific text. But there are publications that hide their origins very well. The differences between the traceable pamphlets and the untraceable ones are of course of the greatest interest if you want to know what was dangerous and what was not.

(to be continued …)

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Introduction

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Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) lived in Rotterdam, where he published his rightly famous Dictionaire in 1697. The importance of this book for the dissemination of the ideas of Descartes and Spinoza can hardly be underestimated.

According to the French writer and philosopher Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) there was no country in the world where writers and their publishers enjoyed so much license as in the Dutch Republic. Bayle remarked that Milton would not have written his De typographia liberanda if he had only lived in the Netherlands, as it would never have occurred to him that the press was not free, let alone that it needed to be liberated. In the Calvinist United Provinces catholics and protestants of all denominations used the press to disseminate their views without questions asked and according to Bayle catholics were indeed more free to publish in the Netherlands than in catholic countries. [Nouvelles de la Republique des Lettres. Mois de Mars 1684. Amsterdam, Henry Desbordes, 1684: *2-verso-*3-recto]

By 1684 Bayle had been living in Rotterdam for three years and he must have known by then how the Dutch society functioned, with it’s special form of liberty. A liberty that was in fact circumscribed by unwritten rules that may have been hard to fathom for a foreigner. Indeed Dutch censorship differed radically from the usual practice in other European countries in the sense that it was not institutionalized. From time to time publications were forbidden but for anyone who, like Bayle, compared the Dutch republic to, for instance, France, it must have seemed clear that the press was free and that Holland was indeed an author’s heaven. The grand total of forbidden publications in the period 1570-1720 was about 200: less than 0.1 percent of the number of titles counted for that period in the Short Title Catalogue, Netherlands (that contains about 200.000 editions at the moment).

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Spinoza’s work was published in the Netherland and of course banished. In fact the government took little notice of this book, although it’s invitation to atheism was duly noted. But the author was left alone and was never prosecuted by the government. Imagine how he – an outcast jew and supposed atheist – would have ended up in France.

A recent study paints a bleak portrait of censorship in the Dutch Republic. Although the author does not deny that the actual number of forbidden books was small, writers and publishers had, according to her, constantly to cope with clear and present danger. This view of the Dutch Republic as a sort of police state deserves to be redressed. It makes heroes out of men who probably saw themselves as honest businessmen and who indeed would have been surprised to find themselves framed as champions of the free word. Probably another Frenchman, who in 1687 called Amsterdam the Mecca for writers was more to the point – especially as he was not the only one to think so. As we will see censorship in the United Provinces was in fact a quirky affair that largely depended on individual whims, on local magnates but also on ambassadors or even on kings and of course on orthodox calvinists who roamed the streets looking for dissident opinions. [Olga van Marion. Verboden in de Gouden Eeuw. p. 31. In: M. Matthijsen. Boeken onder druk. Amsterdam 2011. The  unknown 'frenchman' of Van Marion was the in fact the philosopher Pierre Silvain Regis (1632-1707) who was a follower of Descartes. For those who - like me - are interested in the genesis of footnotes: he is 'a frenchman' too in her source and in the source of that source. Regis never left France and became a respected member of the French Academy in 1699. His observation on the Dutch 'Mekka of authors' was of course wishful thinking of a 'modern' thinker, haunted by reactionaries and not based on any direct experience with the Dutch.]

From time to time the States General or the States of Holland (the province were about 90% of all Dutch publications were printed) would forbid a specific book or even whole categories, like pamphlets that concerned themselves with foreign heads of state, but Dutch booksellers cared little for their placards. In a certain sense it can it be said that they practised self-censorship. When they expected that they might run into difficulties they published their books and pamphlets without the name of the printer or publisher (and of course without the name of the author!). This was explicit forbidden by laws that were repeated time after time but few seem to have cared about it.

[To be continued ...]

PD.

A preview of our forthcoming book that will grow this summer to 500+ pages and then will be published in print. The price will be 60 euros but suscribers will pay 40 (avoiding the cost of the bookstore). Read and enjoy. For orders: contact me at p.dijstelberge@uva.nl

We will publish all posts on our website and also in our digital book, that can be found at issuu for free.

 

issuu.com/bookhistory/docs/jaap?e=1212395/3619042

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We tend to associate the charm of cities with the architectural splendour of cathedrals, palaces, museums, monuments, or bridges. Few of us would mention the beauty of an abattoir. We pay attention to the face rather than the function of architecture. And yet, the nineteenth-century city is unthinkable without the introduction of the slaughterhouse.

Early maps of London show numerous stockyards in the periphery of the city where slaughter occurred in the open air. An obsolete term for such an open-air slaughterhouse and meat market is a shambles. Without adequate sanitary facilities or hygiene regulations, guts, offal, and blood were thrown into a runnel down the middle of the street where the butchering was carried out. By extension, any scene of disorganisation and mess is now referred to as ‘a shambles’. Several towns have preserved the street name Shambles or The Shambles. In York, the street was once known as The Great Flesh Shambles, derived from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Fleshammels’, a word used for the shelves on which butchers displayed their products. As recently as 1872 there were some twenty-five butcher shops in this well-preserved medieval cobbled street. Not a single one survives in what is now the most popular tourist destination of the city.

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A 1938 oil painting ‘York: The Shambles’ by Harry Tittensor provides a nostalgic image of a butcher standing outside his shop (with shelves) in conversation with two female customers. This was a type of escapist art aimed at those who see the past as a picture postcard. Although the butchers have vanished, some of the timber-framed shops still have meat-hooks hanging outside and, below them, shelves on which meat would have been displayed.

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Among the buildings of the Shambles is a shrine to Saint Margaret Clitherow, known to some as the Pearl of York. Born Margaret Middleton, she married butcher John Clitherow in 1571 and converted to Catholicism at the age of eighteen in 1574. Her husband remained a Protestant. She assisted the local Catholic population and held Masses in her home. In 1586, Margaret was arrested and executed by being crushed to death on Good Friday.

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Meat was a British obsession, a symbol of status and a measure of living standards. London butchers were, socially and politically, a powerful lobby. The Worshipful Company of Butchers is one of the oldest Livery Companies of the City of London. Its Charter of Incorporation was granted by James I in 1605. The first hall was the parsonage house of the medieval church of St Nicholas Shambles on the corner of Butcher Hall Lane (now King Edward Street) which was destroyed in the Great Fire. By Shakespeare’s day, dining out had become relatively commonplace in London. In Westminster cook shops (places where cooked food was sold to those on the move), were beginning to serve restaurant style meals to the general public by the mid-1370s, but it was not until about 1460 that this practice spread to the inns and taverns of the City itself. During the mid-sixteenth century such establishments offered one dish a day at a fixed time and price, served at a common table. The meal was called the ordinary. By the late 1600s, the beef-loving reputation of the English became slowly established.

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In his Memoirs and Observations of Travels over England (1719) French traveller Henri Misson, while staying in London in 1698, notes that ‘it is common practice, even among People of Good Substance, to have a huge Piece of Roast-Beef on Sundays, of which they stuff until they can swallow no more, and eat the rest cold, without any other Victuals, the other six Days of the Week’. With the increased consumption of meat, the urban shambles of public slaughter became an issue of concern. From the 1830s to the turn of the century reformers campaigned to abolish private London slaughterhouses operated by independent butchers in favour of municipal abattoirs.

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They argued that the congestion created by livestock in the city streets, the dirt and smell of refuse in residential areas, and the health concerns about diseased meat, made stricter control over the trade a necessity. However, such was the continuing power and muscle of the London butchers that they were able to defend their craft from any political or humanitarian interference.
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With the massive expansion of the capital, large volumes of livestock were handled in the heart of London. Much of the growth in business was accommodated by the railways. Euston became a major cattle handling terminal. Smithfield meat market was some two miles away from the station. By the middle of the century more than 100,000 cattle arriving at Smithfield were transported by train and hurded through the streets of inner London. No urban area had ever encountered such volume of animals that were prepared for slaughter in countless privately owned slaughterhouses.

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In Paris, the situation was different. Initially, animals were slaughtered in butcher shops all over the city, but Parisians started to complain about the stench and continuous flow of blood in the streets. Reformers demanded that slaughterhouses be relocated to the outskirts of town. Nothing happened during the Ancien Régime because the guild of butchers opposed any intervention into their business. The French Revolution abolished all guilds to promote freedom of commerce. As a consequence, meat was sold anywhere and slaughter took place without supervision or inspection. Napoleon took action and ordered that five municipal abattoirs be built in a ring around the city. Work began in 1810, but became caught up in the financial havoc caused by the war effort. Construction continued during the Bourbon Restoration era. When they finally opened in 1818, these public abattoirs were the first of their kind in Europe. Operated by the municipality and located away from populated districts, they provided a model of slaughter that would be followed elsewhere. Public hygiene became a politically important issue. During the 1830s and 1840s, alongside prostitution, hospitals and sewers, abattoirs were a battleground in the struggle to improve the physical and moral hygiene of Paris. A major problem was the geographical separation of the livestock market and abattoir. Since they were located in different parts of the city, livestock herds continued to be a visible sight in the streets, adding to traffic congestion and street pollution. Rail transport offered a solution. The railways enabled the expansion of agriculture, but they also necessitated the greater concentration of markets in the city. In 1858, Haussmann proposed the building of new slaughterhouses combined with markets and connected to railroads. Construction began in 1860. The chosen site was located in one of the newly annexed districts in the northeastern corner of Paris where La Villette offered a site with ready connection to Paris’s railways. The market was completed in 1862, and the slaughterhouses opened in 1867 during the Paris World Exposition. It housed three market halls for the trade of livestock, numerous stables for cattle, sheep, and pigs, and several administrative buildings. The design of the grand halls followed that of Victor Baltard’s markets at Les Halles, combining stylish form with commercial function. The opening of Le Marché & Les Abattoirs de La Villette completed the centralization of slaughter and its exclusion from the inner-city. The abattoir was an architectural monument of industrial design based upon the application of iron and glass.

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The situation in the United States differed fundamentally from Europe. Chicago grew faster than any other city in the nineteenth century. Up to the early 1860s a small number of livestock dealers were able to satisfy local demand. With the arrival of railroads in the early 1860s, the city developed into a hub connecting East and West. In December 1865, the foundation of the Union Stockyards and Transit Company centralized the market and initiated the development of an industrial model of large-scale meat packing. Three decades later Chicago was the largest producer of meat in the United States. In nineteenth century Europe livestock was raised in small herds, while in America large herds grew with minimum effort on the prairie. Slaughter facilities had to match this capacity and more efficient technologies were in constant demand.
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The Union Stockyards illustrate how the pull of markets initiated unprecedented mechanization. One of the inventions was the two-story disassembly line. It consisted of an overhead rail system by which animals were hoisted and moved through thirteen compartmentalized workstations, where one man would slit the animal’s throat, another would tear off its hide, a third split the carcass, etc. With this process it took less than twenty-four hours from the moment an animal arrived until it was slaughtered, dressed, and shipped off as meat. Such mechanization was possible because Chicago was not entrenched in the traditions of butchering. Reforms in London or Paris constantly met with resistance by butchers who were intent on preserving their traditional habits. In Chicago the stockyards were built as a factory of meatpacking. They did not employ butchers, but a casual work force largely consisting of recent immigrants. By the turn of the century, the stockyards were surrounded by ethnic neighbourhoods that housed poor and underpaid workers and their families. Upton Sinclair captured their harsh existence in his 1906 novel The Jungle.

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The disassembly line gave Henry Ford his ideas of a prototype for the production of cars. In his autobiography My Life and Work (1922) he revealed that his inspiration for assembly-line production came from a visit he made as a young man to a Chicago slaughterhouse. In introducing their ideas on the division of labour, both Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson had warned of the potential dangers of mechanization and the brutalizing effect his system might have on workers. If labour was reduced to some purely mechanical manipulation, the worker himself would become an extension of the machine.

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In Chicago these warnings were ignored. Machines were used to speed along the process of mass slaughter, leaving men detached, reducing them to mere accomplices, forced to conform to the pace and requirements set by the assembly line itself. Killing was neutralized. To Theodor Adorno, it was but one step from the industrialized killing of American slaughterhouses to Nazi Germany’s assembly-line mass murder.

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He insisted that Auschwitz had begun at the slaughterhouse. In J. M. Coetzee’s novel The Lives of Animals, the protagonist Elizabeth Costello tells her audience that ‘it was from the Chicago stockyards that the Nazis learned how to process bodies’. There is a parallel connection in this barbaric context. The lethal chamber first emerged during the Victorian era as a humane means of killing stray dogs and cats. Benjamin Ward Richardson was a distinguished medical specialist and reformer. In the 1884 volume of The Asclepiad (a quarterly book of original research and observation), Richardson relates a proposal he had made in 1869 to the RSPCA to build a lethal chamber for the humane slaughtering of animals. He constructed a trial model in 1878.
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Richardson’s original blueprints show a large panelled chamber serviced by a tall slender tank for carbonic acid gas and a heating apparatus. In 1884 the Battersea Dogs Home – set up in London’s Holloway in 1860 by Mary Tealby before it moved to Battersea a decade later – became the first institution to install the device. In the 1880s and 1890s, it took in some 40,000 stray dogs in a single year (underlining the canine problem in the big cities). Richardson introduced the concept of the lethal chamber at a meeting of the Royal Society of Arts in December 1884, and in March 1885 he published a paper in the American journal The Popular Science Monthly with the title of ‘The painless extinction of life’. By the turn of the century a number of charitable animal institutions were using the chamber. This solution for unwanted pets was almost immediately contemplated as a solution for criminals, the feeble-minded social misfits. The concept of the ‘lethal chamber’ was in common vernacular by the turn of the century.

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When the phrase was mentioned, it needed no explanation. Everyone understood what it meant. George Bernard Shaw, in his preface to Major Barbara (written and premiered in 1905, first published in 1907), represents a point of view which any social Darwinst would have applauded. If, he argues, ‘a dog delights to bark and bite, it goes to the lethal chamber. That seems to me sensible. To allow the dog to expiate his bite by a period of torment, and then let him loose in a much more savage condition (for the chain makes a dog savage) to bite again and expiate again, having meanwhile spent a great deal of human life and happiness in the task of chaining and feeding and tormenting him, seems to me idiotic and superstitious. Yet that is what we do to men who bark and bite and steal. It would be far more sensible to put up with their vices, as we put up with their illnesses, until they give more trouble than they are worth, at which point we should, with many apologies and expressions of sympathy, and some generosity in complying with their last wishes, then, place them in the lethal chamber and get rid of them’.

When it comes to social engineering English eugenicists introduced some extreme ideas into the socio-cultural discourse, but even by that standard the notion of the lethal chamber is shocking. The reference to the lethal chamber appears in eugenicist literature during the last decennium of the nineteenth century. Where did the term originate from? There is a clear link to fiction in this case. Novels and plays of the period, such as Shaw’s Man and Superman (1905), or H.G. Wells’s The New Machiavellian (1911), are suffused with the language of de-vitalization and regeneration. In 1914 Richard Austin Freeman published his novel A Silent Witness of which chapter five is entitled ‘A lethal chamber’. In 1921, the novelist took part in the degeneration discussion with the publication of his Social Decay and Regeneration. There is however an earlier literary source. The King in Yellow is a collection of loosely related fin-de-siècle horror stories by Robert Chambers, written in 1895. They have the common setting of an imagined future in America and Paris during the 1920s.

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Yellow is a colour indicative of the decadent and aesthetic attitudes fashionable at the end of the nineteenth century. Yellow also suggests quarantine, decay, and (mental) illness. The most representative story in the collection is ‘The Repairer of Reputations’ which is set in a militaristic New York City, circa 1925, where immigration is controlled and suicide legalized with the introduction of ‘Government Lethal Chambers’. The juxtaposition of the degeneration theme with a regime of regeneration must have made considerable impact at the time. The lethal chamber became a metaphor used in connection with eugenicist thinking in England and America, before the gas chamber became the most horrific symbol of the holocaust during the Nazi rule of terror.
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Butchering and skinning animals were practices that civilized society found hard to endure. At the same time, slaughterhouses held great fascination. Visitors flocked to slaughterhouses in order to quench their thirst for thrills derived from horror. When the World Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago in 1893, more visitors went to the stockyards than to any of the Exposition’s own attractions. In turn-of-the-century Berlin a call at the slaughterhouse was on the tourist trail. German Expressionists had introduced the abattoir into art. In 1892, Lovis Corinth painted a series of slaughterhouse scenes with provocative depictions of men labouring amongst flesh, blood, and animal suffering. With brushwork of lush smears and thick glops of paint blood and guts seem to drip from the painting onto the floor. The brutalizing effect of the slaughter of animals had struck Thomas More. It is unlikely that he was a vegetarian, but the author of Utopia expressed aversion from the coarseness and cruelty of the shambles. The Utopians, he wrote, ‘feel that slaughtering our fellow creatures gradually destroys the sense of compassion, which is the finest sentiment of which our human nature is capable’. The barbaric history of the first half of the twentieh century has proved him right. Unfortunately, Thomas More did not banish burchering from his ideal commonwealth, but devolved it upon a pariah class of slaves and criminals. That, one could argue, is exactly what the Nazis did.

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