“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Tuesday, June 10, 2003


Casualty counts: "At least 3,240 civilians died across Iraq during a month of war, including 1,896 in Baghdad, according to a five-week Associated Press investigation.The count is still fragmentary, and the complete toll if it is ever tallied is sure to be significantly higher."


The extraordinary things you can find on the Internet. John Cam Hobhouse is a name that will be familiar to any Byron devotee. He was the occassion for some of Byron's best, because most spiteful and most explicit, letters. Well, there is a site that is putting up his diary. A rum thing, as Hobhouse himself might have said. Mr. Roast Beef in Venice is pretty funny. The first entries, which describe a circumcision with all the fuss of a man who is both a prude and bears a strong prejudice against Jews -- Hobhouse's snooty anti-semitism is of a very English kind - is a complete hoot. We recommend it. Here are a couple of grafs from it:

I went to the circumcision room � the rabbins were not to be known by their dress, nor did I make out that any ceremony had commenced, when two men in plain clothes sat down next to each other and sung recitative out of two little books, talking to each other and the company at intervals. Presently two enormously stout fellows threw strips of silk over their shoulders, and one, sitting down in a chair, put three or four pillows on his knees. The instruments were in a dish prepared � a sort of thin prong to hold the prepuce over the glass and prevent the latter from being cut, a sharp thin knife, a pair of scissors and a lancet, together with some balsam and a rag. The poor little red child, only eight days old, was brought in � the singing continued between the two who now stood up and approached the man with the pillows � the infant being stripped below was then laid on the pillows � the rabbins stood by and sung � the operator in half minute threw the prepuce, a considerable piece of flesh, in the plate, and I saw the infant covered with the blood. He screamed violently � the operator then ran his thumbnail violently round between the teguments of the [ ]ended rim of the flesh and sucked the parts. Owing to some mistake, the wine with which he was to wash his mouth was not ready, and was at last given to him in some confusion by the rabbins, who still continued their mummery and recitative, the child screaming and the father crying in the corner.

A Jew told Lewis [ Monk Lewis, staying with Byron at that moment] that the fault of the family was troppo di sensibilit�15 � the operator then powdered the wounded part and then covered it with a balsamed rag and powdered it again � then bandaged it up raw and bloody and delivered the child to a nurse. The singing ceased, and the men pulled off their silk and the ceremony was declared over.

The foreskin was carefully preserved in a bottle, and became the trophy of the operator who I understood had 800 such, and would bury them with him. Lewis, however, supposed that the prepuce is buried with its original owner. We made enquiries, and found that any man may operate who has served an apprenticeship and has suffered his thumbnail to grow to a proper length. I was shown a thumbnail then in a state of pupillage for the purpose: long, dirty.

This is a brutal ceremony � lasts longer than I thought and is more bloody � and I should think, painful. It is the height of indecency to ask women to assist at it. My young ladies, the doctor�s daughters, told me that the moment the child was taken out of the room � on a signal given, all the women cried, or seemed to cry, and continued until the young Jew was brought back. The name is given on this occasion. The conversazione lasted for some time � afterwards cakes and chocolate and water dashed with aniseed were handed round and the ladies and gentlemen began again to mix and to make merry upon the morning�s exploit. I came home and read a little, dined, walked out by myself in the evening � supped at Byron�s � read Tales of my Landlord at night."

Hobhouse has always been simply a name to me. The site is devoted to Hobby-O. As is evident from the diary, although prudish, Hobhouse was not a man to blanche at a description. He wanted Byron's memoirs published -- but of course they were burnt by the odious Thomas Moore, sentimental fig eater that he was. LI, in this age in which the forces of progress have once again joined up with the forces of puritanism to try to ban everything that can be construed as unhealthy (such as smoking in bars -- a ban which we trust, here in Austin, is on its way to being overturned, thanks to the defeat of Margot Clarke for City Council), while of course hypocritically ignoring what is really unhealthy - namely, the conditions in which our meat is slaughtered, or our petrochemicals are woven into useable molecular patterns down there in Cancer Gulch in Louisiana, or the way in which each American citizen drains as much energy from Gaia in a year as a sperm whale -- anyway, LI has a lively sympathy for figures who live in ages of transition between a dominant proper appreciation of the body's appetites and a dominant abhorrence of same, finds Hobhouse an interesting figure. The diary entries on the web were supposedly repressed when his diary came to be published:

"John Cam Hobhouse�s diary is one of the two major texts written about Byron by his contemporaries which has (July 2002) still to see the full light of day � though it is about much more than Byron, for Hobhouse became, as he cast off his Byronic shackles, a significant political figure in his own right. The sections on his two Napoleonic French excursions � on both of which he went without Byron � are worth books in themselves. His weeks in Newgate, just before he was elected MP for Westminster, will be included. However, the extent to which he played Sancho to Byron�s Quixote - Pylades to Byron�s Orestes - Hal to Byron�s Falstaff - Horatio to Byron�s Hamlet - Celia to Byron�s Rosalind � cannot be exaggerated, and will have justice done to it."

Go to it, reader. Download. Enjoy.

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