Tag Archives: Antiquarian

Epigram on Captain Francis Grose, The Celebrated Antiquary

Actually By Robbie Burns

Curator’s Comment: Originally we thought that the anniversary of Grose’s death, which the present post celebrates, was this Friday, June 12th. Wikipedia says so.[1] However, both The Scots Magazine (V. 53) and The Gentleman’s Magazine (V. 69) [2] published an obituary for Grose in 1791 which state his actual death date was May 12th. So it seems based on these primary sources we’re a month late in celebrating our hero. Nevertheless…

As we’ve mentioned oft times a’fore, Francis Grose, antiquarian, humorist, and butterball, is our hero. It is with that in mind that we thought to honor the anniversary of his death this year with a little something. It was recently the 224th anniversary of the Captain’s death. Grose’s dedication to research was such that he was in Ireland on an antiquing trip when he died.

This poem, written before his death but published afterwards in the June 1791 Scots Magazine, was written by Grose’s friend, occasional dinner companion, and well-known Scotsman, Robbie Burns.

The Devil got notice that Grose was a-dying,
So whip! at the summons, old Satan came flying;
But when he approach’d where poor Francis lay moaning,
And saw each bed-post with its burthen a-groaning,
Astonish’d, confounded, cries Satan, by God,
I’d want him, ere take such a damnable load.

Seems only fair that someone poke a little fun at Grose, as he did it to his fellow antiquarians.



1. The “Death” section seems to have the correct burial date

2. A third source, Dodsley’s Annual Register, includes the virtually the same text as the Gentleman’s Magazine because plagiarism was OK back then


On Language & the Historian

Actually By Jonathan Swift

The following extract includes Swift’s thoughts on the vagaries of language, history, and historical interest from A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue (1712):

In case you haven't heard of him, Jonathan Swift is the Stephen Colbert of the eighteenth century.

In case you haven’t heard of him, Jonathan Swift is the Stephen Colbert of the eighteenth century. Wikipedia.

As barbarous and ignorant as we were in former Centuries, there was more effectual Care taken by our Ancestors, to preserve the Memory of Times and Persons, than we find in this Age of Learning and Politeness, as we are please to call it. The rude Latin of the Monks is still very intelligible; whereas, had their Records been delivered down only in the vulgar Tongue, so barren and so barbarous, so subject to continual succeeding Changes, they could not now be understood, unless by Antiquaries who made it their Study to expound them. And we must at this Day have been content with such poor Abstracts of our English Story, as laborious Men of low Genius would think fit to give us; And even these in the next Age would be likewise swallowed up in succeeding Collections. If Things go on at this rate, all I can promise Your Lordship is, that about two hundred Years hence, some painful Compiler, who will be at the Trouble of studying Old Language, may inform the World, that in the Reign of QUEEN ANNE, Robert Earl of Oxford, a very wise and excellent Man, was made High Treasurer, and saved his Country, which in those Days was almost ruined by a Foreign War, and a Domestick Faction. Thus much he may be able to pick out, and willingly transfer into his new History, but the rest of Your Character, which I or any other Writer may now value our selves by drawing, and the particular Account of the great Things done under Your Ministry, for which You are already so celebrated in most Parts of Europe, will probably be dropt, on account of the antiquated Style and Manner they are delivered in.

How then shall any Man who hath a Genius for History, equal to the best of the Antients, be able to undertake such a Work with Spirit and Chearfulness, when he considers, that he will be read with Pleasure but a very few Years, and in an Age or two shall hardly be understood without an Interpreter? This is like employing an excellent Statuary to work upon mouldring Stone. Those who apply their Studies to preserve the Memory of others, will always have some Concern for their own. And I believe it is for this Reason, that so few Writers among us, of any Distinction, have turned their Thoughts to such a discouraging Employment: For the best English Historian must lie under this Mortification, that when his style grows antiquated, he will only be considered as a tedious Relator of Facts; and perhaps consulted in his turn, among other neglected Authors, to furnish Materials for some future Collector.

Curator’s Comment: Do you think the above piece proves  his point?

They’ll Collect Anything, or Owning Bits Is Better Than Nothing

A centuries-old tradition.


Perfect For Your Office or Cubicle Wall

From Sense and Satire: Based Upon Nineteenth Century Philosophy By William LaMartine Breyfogle, 1899.





Another 1812 Scourging Of The Antiquarian Society

Actually From The Scourge; or, Monthly Expositor of Imposture and Folly. March 1, 1812.

Compare this piece with another on the Society from the June 1812 edition of The Scourge, as well as with other satires upon antiquarians in the Hysterical Society’s collection.








A History of Tobacco

Since the Christmas season is the season of indulgence, we thought we’d share this brief history of tobacco from Smoking and Smokers: An Antiquarian, Historical, Comical, Veritable, and Narcotical Disquisition (1845).

Click image to read

Click image to read.

A Temple To Morpheus: The British Antiquarian Society in 1812

One of the stated goals of the American Hysterical Society is to demonstrate that poking fun at the history and museum professions is an old and easy amusement.  Our research has indicated three reasons for this. First, the moment one becomes interested in the past they become different than everyone else, and different usually translates as odd. Secondly, throughout history (and continuing to today) anyone who has read a couple of old books or collects antiques can call themselves a scholar of the past. Third, and lastly, that much of the research done by historians and antiquarians has always seemed to non-history people to be so esoteric as to be incomprehensible, useless, or boring.

‘Twas ever thus, as our newest collections piece demonstrates. Here, from the June 1st, 1812 edition of The Scourge: Or, Monthly Expositor of Imposture and Folly, is a look at Britain’s Antiquarian Society. Apart from the flowery language and some unfamiliar proper nouns, we think this piece will feel very familiar to modern history and museum professionals.

The Antiquarian Society, by George Cruikshank. Frontispiece for this issue of The Scourge. © Trustees of the British Museum

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