Sunday, March 28, 2010


Chess for the Insane

What got me started this week on my whole Victorian board game kick -- or, I should say, my latest one -- was a passing mention in this ad of Hexagonia, put out by Jaques & Son of London:

(Jaques is still very much around, by the way.)

Hexagonia was, apparently, the first commercially manufactured hexagonal chess game. (At left is a modern hex set from

I haven't been able to find a picture of one of these Hexagonia sets yet, but there's an intriguing description of the game from Routledge's Every Boy's Annual for 1866:

And, of course, if you really want all-out polygonic war, there's always... three-player chess.


Saturday, March 27, 2010


War Without Tears

From Peter Parley's Annual for 1865: "peaceful combat, without the horrors of actual warfare." It's...

Also: Carpet Croquet!

(From the Boston Almanac for the Year 1871)

Sunday, March 21, 2010


The Return of Dr. Viper and Reverend Bruiser

Robert Darnton has a great post over at NYRB on precursors to blogging:

Blog-like messaging can be found in many times and places long before the Internet. Here, for example, is a recent post on The Superficial:

RadarOnline reports “traditional marriage” crusader and former Miss California Carrie Prejean is living in sin with her fiancé Kyle Boller of the St. Louis Rams where they’re no doubt eating shellfish. BURN THEM!

And here is a typical entry from Le Gazetier cuirassé ou anecdotes scandaleuses de la cour de France (1771):

Mlle. Romans is soon to marry M. de Croismare, Governor of the Ecole Militaire, who will use six aides de camp to take his place in performing the conjugal service.

...To appreciate the importance of a pre-modern blog, consult a database such as Eighteenth Century Collections Online and download a newspaper from eighteenth-century London. It will have no headlines, no bylines, no clear distinction between news and ads, and no spatial articulation in the dense columns of type, aside from one crucial ingredient: the paragraph. Paragraphs were self-sufficient units of news. They had no connection with one another, because writers and readers had no concept of a news “story” as a narrative that would run for more than a few dozen words. News came in bite-sized bits, often “advices” of a sober nature—the arrival of a ship, the birth of an heir to a noble title—until the 1770s, when they became juicy. Pre-modern scandal sheets appeared, exploiting the recent discovery about the magnetic pull of news toward names. As editors of the Morning Postand the Morning Herald, two men of the cloth, the Reverend Henry Bate (known as “the Reverend Bruiser”) and the Reverend William Jackson (known as “Dr. Viper”) packed their paragraphs with gossip about the great, and this new kind of news sold like hotcakes. Much of it came from a bountiful source: the coffee house.

Without some good eye-straining time at a monitor or a microform reader, it's hard to appreciate just how different newspapers once were. Even for many years after Viper and Bruiser, front pages remained a wilderness of indistinguishable shipping news, assorted and sundry royal doings, notices that fine bolts of linen were to be had at so-and-so's shop, and the occasional really excellent carriage wreck. Feature writing and star reporters had their rise with the New York Sun and the Herald, while the look of modern papers came from Pulitzer's New York World: illustrations, human interest, compelling stories with big heds on page 1. And tabloids and Fox-mongering more or less evolved -- or devolved, I guess -- from Hearst's Journal and the National Police Gazette.

So maybe the comparison is not entirely a fanciful one:

(Via Gawker)

Sunday, March 14, 2010


The Underground Scene

(Thames Tunnel as it appeared on Friday, via Flickr.)

Oh, how I wish I was in London this weekend...

From the Times Archive Blog:

I've been fantastically lucky today to be able to go on a walk through the Brunels' tunnel under the Thames, from Rotherhithe to Wapping and back, under the expert guidance of Robert Hulse, director of the Brunel Museum. The tunnel has been carrying trains under the Thames since 1869, but was closed three years ago during extension work on the East London line. This weekend they've taken a break to allow the public in as pedestrians for the first time in 145 years.... This Times report from just after it opened records the first sub-terranean, or sub-Thamesian mugging, and finishes, charmingly, with the news that

We are given to understand, that after a certain hour of the night the tunnel is infested with loose women.

From their blog, here's how a "grand fancy fair" there was announced on March 27, 1850:

Presumably this weekend's event was rather heavier on the anorak and lighter on the crinoline, but no less amazing. Here are the first pedestrians entering the Thames Tunnel in 145 years:

(via Londonist)

Sunday, March 07, 2010


Lip Oulipo

For those who haven't checked out BBC Radio 4, here's a particularly peculiar pleasure: Just a Minute, which is constrained writing brought to life. Contestants are given a subject which they must discuss for a full minute without repeating a single word that has been previously used. Some of the segments have been turned into film shorts, including the one above...

Saturday, March 06, 2010


Victorian Photoshop

Check out the slideshow of Victorian photo-collage over at Slate....

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