James Caulfield (1764-1826) was a printmaker noted for his illustrated books on bizarre and unusual characters in English society. He began publishing his prints around 1788, routinely reprinting them until his death in 1826. His work was picked up after his death by Henry Wilson, who republished the stories and prints for contemporary audiences. In this edition from 1869, Wilson theorizes that our persistent interest in these wonderful curiosities is a reaction to the eroding individuality caused by modern civilization. With conformity comes a yearning for idiosyncrasy. Today, Ricky Jay, magician, actor, writer, and collector has taken the baton from Henry Wilson, publishing examples of the wonderfully strange and peculiar from his own print archives in such books as Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women, Extraordinary Exhibitions, and Celebrations of Curious Character.
In Wilson’s introduction to The Book of Wonderful Characters he elaborates:
“…men who have essentially differed from the rest of the human race, either
by their having been born with some peculiar congenital defect, or
possessing an eccentricity of character, which inevitably impels them to
overleap and trespass from the boundaries of the beaten highway of
conventional life, have been in all times eagerly sought after by the curious
inquirer into human nature…We have nearly lost all, and are daily losing
what little remains of, our individuality ; all people and all places seem now
to be alike ; and the railways are, no doubt, the principal cause of this change.
Indeed,the tendency of the present day, in England, is directly opposed to
the spirit of individual exclusiveness which, as the great encourager of eccentricity of character, once prevailed over all the country.
Illustrated with sixty-one full page engravings. You may find yourself bemused, disturbed, or both.
He was blessed with such a plenitude of nose and chin,
and so tenderly endearing were they, that they used
to embrace each other ; and by habit, he could hold
a piece of money between them.
THE ASTONISHING PEDESTRIAN
Foster Powell undertook, in the year 1764, not for any wager,
to walk fifty miles on the Bath road in seven hours,
which he accomplished in the time, having gone the
first ten miles in one hour, although encumbered with
a great coat and leather breeches.
THE WATER SPOUTER
Floram Marchand was brought over from Tours to London,
who professed to be able to ” turn water into wine, and at
his vomitrender not only the tincture, but the strength and
smell of several wines, and several waters.”
THE POSTURE MASTER
He dislocated the vertebra of his back,
and other parts of the body, such a manner
that Molins, the famous surgeon, before
whom he appeared as a patient, was shocked
at the sight, and would not even attempt his cure.
She was a native of the Duchy of Cleve,
in Germany. She is said to have lived long upon
no other nourishment than the smell of flowers.
- Wilson, Henry. The book of wonderful characters :memoirs and anecdotes of remarkable and eccentric persons in all ages and countries. London : J.C. Hotten, .
- Persistent Link:
- Widener Library
- Harvard University