Sunday, February 07, 2010


Mr. Fondledust and the Curious Petrifaction

Excerpts from Christopher Smart, "A Letter from Mrs. Mary Midnight, to the Society of Antiquarians, giving them an Account of a very curious Petrifaction found near Penzance, in the County of Cornwall," The Midwife 1 (1751) 151-154, quoted by Min Wild, Christopher Smart and Satire: 'Mary Midnight' and the Midwife (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2008), p. 56.

Mr. Powallis, discoverer of the curious petrifaction,
carried it Home to his Lady, who at first sight cried out, my Dear, you have brought Home a ----, mentioning a Word, which I am sorry shou'd ever drop from a Woman of her decency and Discretion. However, upon handling it she was pacify'd, and she diverted herself by now and then depositing it in the Parlour, to the confusion of the House-Maid, and sometimes dropping it in Company, for the Entertainment and Astonishment of her Friends.
The antiquarian Mr. Fondledust
declar'd with Transport, that it was the greatest Curiosity in Europe. "This (says he) is really and bona fide, a petrified Excrement, and as it was found in the Fields, is a valuable Monument of ancient Simplicity, when our Fathers (how unlike the Effeminacy of our Moderns) used to do their Business in the most pastoral and unaffected Manner, and (as the Divine Milton sings)

Every Shepherd Laid his Tail
Under the Hawthorn in the Vale."
More summary and quotation by Min Wild:
Mr. Fondledust purchased the object for a hefty £50, and Mrs. M. proceeds to describe it to the learned gentlemen: 'This Rarity then, which you may either call an Artificial piece of Nature or a natural Piece of Art, is about seven Inches long, and about three and a half Diameter; (I mean in the Centre) for, towards the End, it's taper'. It is uniform in colour 'to a surprizing Exactness, which Dr. Bolus assures us is a strong Proof that the Ancients lived upon a Milk and Vegetable Diet, and were free from those luxurious Compositions that discolour the Excrements of this degenerate Age.' Mr. Fondledust says that 'after a few years Study he could find out the Age, Condition, Sex, Situation, Country and Constitution' of 'this remarkable Relict to Posterity', and even determine if it was a 'Jewish, Pagan or Mahometan Business' (1:152).
Unfortunately I can't find the original Letter in its entirety on the World Wide Web.

Related post: As Valuable As the Crown Jewels.


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