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

Our Hero Cut Up or This Is So Grose

As we have mentioned many times before, Francis Grose, the soldier and antiquarian, (not to be confused with Francis Grose, the soldier and lieutenant governor) is our hero. Between his antiquarian studies and his satires, we think he would have been fun in both the archives and the tavern. Just look at how jolly he was:

What a piece of work is this man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! Source.

And by jolly, we mean obese. A condition undoubtedly caused by his dedication to research.

Maybe he should have spent more time in the field. Copyright Trustees of the British Museum.

One of the reasons we love Capt. Grose is that he had a healthy sense of humor about antiquarian research. Of course, picking on others invites others to pick on you, which a few satirical print makers did. Below is our small collection of Grose satires.

A Connoisseur Admiring a Night Peice. Attrib. Matthew Darly, 1771. Copyright Trustees of the British Museum.


Portrait of Francis Grose. Attrib. James Douglas, 1783-89. Copyright Trustees of the British Museum.

‘Now [Grose], like bright Phoebus is sunk into rest, / Society droops for the loss of his jest, / Antiquarian debates, unseason’d with mirth, / To genius and learning will never give birth: / Then wake brother member our friend from his sleep, / Lest Apollo should frown and Bacchus should weep. / This plate is cordially inscribed to those members of the Antiquarian Society, who adjourn to the Somerset, by one of their devoted bretheren.’


Captain Grose’s visiting card with his stick Cuddy. Francis Grose, c. 1788. Copyright Trustees of the British Museum.


The British Antiquarian. Attrib. John Kay, 1789. Copyright Trustees of the British Museum.

It was recently pointed out that no eighteenth-century antiquarian exploration was complete without a walking stick (as we saw above, Grose even named his Cuddy). Judging by the images above, it seems the eighteenth-century antiquarian’s field kit also required a quizzing glass for closer looks.

Historical Research Can Kill


We usually think studying history is harmless, but, as this essay on Antiquarians shows, too much historical research can be deadly.

From Death’s Doings, Second Edition (Boston, 1828)

Antiquarians in 1628

John Earle’s description of an antiquarian (called an antiquary) from his 1628 Microcosmographie: or, A piece of the world discovered in essays & characters.

An antiquary

He is a man strangely thrifty of time past, and an enemy indeed to his maw, whence he fetches out many things when they are now all rotten and stinking. He is one that hath that unnatural disease to be enamoured of old age and wrinkles, and loves all things (as Dutchmen do cheese) the better for being mouldy and worm eaten. He is of our religion, because we say it is most ancient; and yet a broken statue would almost make him an idolater. A great admirer he is of the rust of old monuments, and reads only those characters, where time hath eaten out the letters. He will go you forty miles to see a saint’s well or a ruined abbey; and there be but a cross or stone foot stool in the way, he’ll be considering it so long, till he forget his journey. His estate consists much in shekels, and Roman coins; and he hath more pictures of Czsar than James or Elizabeth. Beggars cozen him with musty things which they have raked from dunghills, and he preserves their rags for precious relics. He loves no library, but where there are more spiders volumes than authors’, and looks with great admiration on the antique work of cobwebs. Printed books he contemns, as a novelty of this latter age, but a manuscript he pores on everlastingly, especially if the cover be all moth eaten, and the dust make a parenthesis between every syllable. He would give all the books in his study (which are rarities all) for one of the old Roman binding, or six lines of Tully in his own hand. His chamber is hung commonly with strange beasts skins, and is a kind of charnel-house of bones extraordinary; and his discourse upon them, if you will hear him, shall last longer. His very attire is that which is the eldest out of fashion [and you may pick a criticism out of his breeches]. He never looks upon himself till he is grey-haired, and then he is pleased with his own antiquity. His grave does not fright him, for he has been used to sepulchres, and he likes death the better, because it gathers him to his fathers.

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