A priest’s hilarious diary reveals how rowdy London’s theatres were in the 1700s

Karl Philipp Moritz
A portrait of Karl Philipp Moritz

In the late 1700s, a young German priest and self-confessed Anglophile called Karl Philipp Moritz (1756-1793) fulfilled an ambition to go travelling around England. The product of that trip is an incredible diary Journeys of a German in England in 1782, though the translated edition in English is called, somewhat less pithily, Travels, chiefly on Foot, through several parts of England in 1782, described in Letters to a Friend.

Moritz offers an incredible window into English social history, detailing his encounters will people from both low and high society, in all sorts of scenarios, from cooking toast over the fire in a tavern to being shown around the university buildings in Oxford. He encounters a lot of friendliness, particularly in London, but as he travels out to the country, he experiences a lot of anti-German xenophobia, which taints his love for England.

One of the most memorable passages in the diary – and there are many – is his description of how rowdy London’s theatres were in their Georgian heyday. So here it is below. (If you want to read Moritz’s diary, Project Gutenberg turned it into an ebook and there’s even a free version for the Kindle.)

The Theatre in the Haymarket.

Last week I went twice to an English play-house…For a seat in the boxes you pay five shillings, in the pit three, in the first gallery two, and in the second or upper gallery, one shilling. And it is the tenants in this upper gallery who, for their shilling, make all that noise and uproar for which the English play-houses are so famous. I was in the pit, which gradually rises, amphitheatre-wise, from the orchestra, and is furnished with benches, one above another, from the top to the bottom.

Often and often, whilst I sat there, did a rotten orange, or pieces of the peel of an orange, fly past me, or past some of my neighbours, and once one of them actually hit my hat, without my daring to look round, for fear another might then hit me on my face.

All over London as one walks, one everywhere, in the season, sees oranges to sell; and they are in general sold tolerably cheap, one and even sometimes two for a halfpenny; or, in our money, threepence. At the play-house, however, they charged me sixpence for one orange, and that noways remarkably good.

Besides this perpetual pelting from the gallery, which renders an English play-house so uncomfortable, there is no end to their calling out and knocking with their sticks till the curtain is drawn up. I saw a miller’s, or a baker’s boy, thus, like a huge booby, leaning over the rails and knocking again and again on the outside,
with all his might, so that he was seen by everybody, without being in the least ashamed or abashed. I sometimes heard, too, the people in the lower or middle gallery quarrelling with those of the upper one.

Behind me, in the pit, sat a young fop, who, in order to display his costly stone buckles with the utmost brilliancy, continually put his foot on my bench, and even sometimes upon my coat, which I could avoid only by sparing him as much space from my portion of the seat as would make him a footstool. In the boxes, quite in a corner, sat several servants, who were said to be placed there to keep the seats for the families they served till they should arrive; they seemed to sit remarkably close and still, the reason of which, I was told, was their apprehension of being pelted; for if one of them dares but to look out of the box, he is immediately saluted with a shower of orange peel from the gallery.

Everyone should read Stephen King’s essay on guns in America – especially Donald Trump

Stephen King
The novelist Stephen King (YouTube/The Late Show)

Once again, America is in the throes of a furious debate about its relationship with guns. Yet another deadly school shooting – this time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where an ex-student murdered 17 people – has left a lot of Americans again asking, almost rhetorically: how many more times will this happen before the country gets tough on guns?

As the surviving high schoolers of the latest massacre do the rounds in the media, arguing for politicians to stop taking the gun lobby’s cash and get tougher on weapons so children can be safe in their own classrooms, President Donald Trump is repeating the National Rifle Association’s absurd go-to solution for school shootings: arm teachers.

But one of the best contributions to the gun debate in America, perhaps fittingly, came from a horror writer.

The novelist Stephen King wrote an essay called Guns back in 2013 after the Sandy Hook school shooting, in which 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people, most of them children under the age of eight. He donates profits from its sale to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

In his thoughtful essay, King reflects on one of his own books about a school shooting called Rage, the main character in which – a mentally disturbed teenager – shoots and kills a teacher. When a student in the real world quoted from the book as he killed his teacher, and following a number of other school shootings where connections to Rage were made, King pulled it from the shelves.

King also grapples with the who, why and how of mass shootings. But it’s his conclusions on what to do about the gun issue in America that are most striking.

In the section titled, tellingly, “No Solutions, Reasonable Measures”, King argues for what amount to a range of pragmatic damage-limitation policies short of an outright ban on guns, such as restricting how much ammunition people can buy, and banning assault rifles – because who really needs an assault rifle unless you’re military or police?

“I read a jaw-dropping online defence of these weapons from a California woman recently,” King writes. “Guns, she said, are just tools. Like spoons, she said. Would you outlaw spoons simply because some people use them to eat too much? Lady, let’s see you try to kill twenty schoolkids with a fucking spoon.”

If you feel passionate about the gun debate, or are simply interested in it, you can find Guns by Stephen King on Amazon. It’s well worth your time.

 

This is the oldest love poem in the world and it’s kind of beautiful

A cuneiform tablet from the ancient Middle East. (BabelStone/Wikimedia Commons)

Around four millennia ago, one of our lovestruck ancestors in the heat of the Mesopotamian desert grabbed their stylus and a clay tablet and got etching what would become the oldest known love poem in the world.

The ancient tablet was only discovered at the end of the 19th century by archaeologists digging in Nippur, southern Iraq – formerly Sumer in southern Mesopotamia – an area rich with history. And they did what archaeologists often do with the treasures of antiquity – slapped a reference number on it and stuck it in a museum drawer.

That reference number became the beautiful poem’s unseemly adopted name: “Istanbul #2461”. Its full title is actually The Love Song for Shu-Sin. But this was undiscovered for over seventy years because it was just sitting in storage. Nobody had got around to decoding its text.

According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, the archaeologists who found the tablet took it to the Istanbul Museum in Turkey and locked away for decades until it was dug out again in 1951 by the famous Sumerologist Samuel Noah Kramer.

Kramer finally translated the mysterious cuneiform tablet to reveal the stunning truth about its origins and what it says.

The locals, Ancient Sumerians, were the first people to use a written language. They developed a system where symbols represented spoken sounds. These symbols were written into wet clay tablets using a stylus and the system is called cuneiform.

Nobody knows who wrote the poem. There are no other records of it, and no signature at the bottom to say who the poet was. But the Sumerian King Shu-Sin ruled around four thousand years ago.

Shu-Sin was king of Sumer and Akkad. He reigned under the Ur III dynasty and is known for building a large fortified wall between two rivers – the Euphrates and the Tigris – to stop violent nomadic groups attacking the cities under his control.

In his 1956 book History Begins at Sumer, Kramer recounts his discovery of the tablet.

While working in the Istanbul Museum of the Ancient Orient as Fulbright Research Professor—it was toward the end of 1951—I came upon a little tablet with the museum number 2461. For weeks I had been studying, more or less cursorily, drawerful after drawerful of still uncopied and unpublished Sumerian literary tablets, in order to identify each piece and, if possible, assign it to the composition to which it belonged. All this was spadework preparatory to the selection, for copying, of those pieces which were most significant—since it was clear that there would be no time that year to copy all of them.

The little tablet numbered 2461 was lying in one of the drawers, surrounded by a number of other pieces. When I first laid eyes on it, its most attractive feature was its state of preservation. I soon realized that I was reading a poem, divided into a number of stanzas, which celebrated beauty and love, a joyous bride and a king named Shu­-Sin (who ruled over the land of Sumer close to four thousand years ago).

As I read it again and yet again, there was no mistaking its content. What I held in my hand was one of the oldest love songs written down by the hand of man.

It soon became clear that this was not a secular poem, not a song of love between just “a man and a maid.” It involved a king and his selected bride, and was no doubt intended to be recited in the course of the most hallowed of ancient rites, the rite of the “sacred marriage.”

Once a year, according to Sumerian belief, it was the sacred duty of the ruler to marry a priestess and votary of Inanna, the goddess of love and procreation, in order to ensure fertility to the soil and fecundity to the womb. The time­honored ceremony was celebrated on New Year’s day and was preceded by feasts and banquets accompanied by music, song, and dance. The poem inscribed on the little Istanbul clay tablet was in all probability recited by the chosen bride of King Shu­-Sin in the course of one of these New Year celebrations.

 

Here’s Samuel Noah Kramer‘s “tentative translation”, as he described it, of the world’s oldest known love poem.

The Love Song for Shu-Sin

Bridegroom, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet,
Lion, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet.

You have captivated me, let me stand tremblingly before you,
Bridegroom, I would be taken by you to the bedchamber,
You have captivated me, let me stand tremblingly before you,
Lion, I would be taken by you to the bedchamber.

Bridegroom, let me caress you,
My precious caress is more savory than honey,
In the bedchamber, honey filled,
Let us enjoy your goodly beauty,
Lion, let me caress you,
My precious caress is more savory than honey.

Bridegroom, you have taken your pleasure of me,
Tell my mother, she will give you delicacies,
My father, he will give you gifts.

Your spirit, I know where to cheer your spirit,
Bridegroom, sleep in our house until dawn,
Your heart, I know where to gladden your heart,
Lion, sleep in our house until dawn.

You, because you love me,
Give me pray of your caresses,
My lord god, my lord protector,
My Shu­-Sin who gladdens Enlil’s heart,
Give me pray of your caresses.

Your place goodly as honey, pray lay (your) hand on it,
Bring (your) hand over it like a gishban-­garment,
Cup (your) hand over it like a gishban­-sikin­-garment,

It is a balbale­song of Inanna.

This tragic film about a dog called Oden will make you cry your eyes out

 

Last Minutes with Oden
Oden, from Last Minutes with Oden, shortly before he receives his lethal injection.

Almost a decade ago, filmmaker Eliot Rausch captured the final moments of a sick dog called Oden after his owner, Jason Wood, made the heartbreaking decision to have him euthanised. The result was a stunning documentary called Last Minutes with Oden.

Rausch’s beautiful short film is incredibly emotional and an intimate portrait of the intense relationships that exist between people and their pets, especially dogs.

The award-winning documentary is only six minutes long, but that does not limit the power of its punch, and it will leave you a crying wreck.

Once you’ve finished watching the film – which, at the time of writing, has been viewed 3.3 million times on Vimeo since it was first published back in 2009 – you can also watch Eliot talking about it in his interview with Carson Daly.

Last Minutes with Oden won the award for Best Video at the first Vimeo Festival + Awards back in 2009. Rausch scooped a $25,000 filmmaking grant as his prize.

Wood, the subject of Rausch’s film, had severe ADHD as a child, for which he was heavily medicated, leading to drug problems in later life – though he eventually got clean. Wood had spent a decade behind bars but now focuses on helping others in difficulty.

He is “a radical, Mother Teresa-type-person,” Rausch told NPR in 2010. “They call him the Mayor of Long Beach … His life is dedicated to loving on the forgotten people.”