garden ornament

In 19th century England there arose an unusual and short-lived fad for having an ornamental hermit in one’s garden. Edith Sitwell wrote about them in her book English Eccentrics and Eccentricities.

Edith Sitwell found here

One lived in the village of Newton Burgsland, near Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire, in the 1850s and early 1860s.

He was his own master, and lived comfortably, enjoyed a good dinner, a glass of beer, and a pipe; yet, in spite of these blots on his character as a hermit, he claimed that he was still entitled to the name, and it must be said that he conformed to the hermit ideal in sporting a venerable appearance, and a long white beard.

image found here (click to enlarge)

The unnamed hermit’s chief eccentricity was to own twenty hats and twelve suits to which he assigned emblems, sayings, and mottoes, so that wearing them about the village he would display statements such as “Without money, without friends, without credit” or “Blow the flames of freedom with God’s word of truth.” These he combined with even pithier sayings on colored ribbons, such as “Good allowance,” and “Well clothed.” The man’s garden was likewise a maze of extensive signage.

image found here (click to enlarge)

The passage leading into the garden was “The Three Seats of Self-Inquiry”, each inscribed with one of these questions: “Am I Vile?” “Am I a Hypocrite?” “Am I a Christian?”

“The Kitchen Walk” contained representation of culinary utensils with mottoes such as “Venison Pasty” and “Round of Beef”; whilst “The Odd Fellows Square” sported “The Henpecked Husband put on Water Gruel

Amiable and charitable, there was but one person whom he disliked. In the centre of his garden there was an odd desk which served as a pulpit from which the hermit addressed his listeners on such subjects as the Pope whom he considered to be the Antichrist. He went as far as to erect a mock gallows adorned by an image of the Pope, dressed in queer garb and dangling amongst books advocating Popery. 

image from Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist found here

Another eccentric Sitwell described was Matthew Robinson (1712-1800), who became Lord Rokeby. His particular eccentricity was to be submerged in a bath or spa as many hours as possible, even when receiving guests. Lord Rokeby shared with ornamental hermits of convention a long beard and long hair but these were not the only parts of his nature that ran wild. He was often seen leaping through pastures in pursuit of some fleeting female form. In his youth, he was a great admirer of the fair sex and even in old age, was still attracted to female beauty. 

image found somewhere on this site

Published in: on August 5, 2011 at 8:09 am  Comments (37)  
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jesus wants me for a sunbeam

Earlier this month I read John Julius Norwich’s history of The Popes. It’s rather dry but this passage about two cardinals battling it out for the papal tiara made me laugh.

papal tiara found here

“Cardinal Roland Bandinelli was elected by a large majority. He made the usual display of reluctance then bent to receive the mantle. Cardinal Octavian dived forward, snatched the mantle and tried to don it himself. A scuffle followed, the mantle was lost and the chaplain produced another (presumably for just such an eventuality), which Octavian managed to put on back to front before anyone could stop him.

There followed a scene of scarcely believable confusion. Wrenching himself free from furious supporters of Roland who were trying to tear the mantle forcibly from his back, Octavian – whose frantic efforts to turn it the right way round had only resulted in getting the fringes tangled round his neck – made a dash for the papal throne, sat on it, and proclaimed himself Pope Victor IV.

papal throne found here

That was in 1159. Several pages later I read that in 1292 when Pope Nicholas died, it took 27 months to elect his successor.

Pietro del Morrone was an 85 year old hermit whose only qualification was that once, appearing briefly at the court of Gregory X, he had hung up his outer cloak on a sunbeam. He lasted as Pope Celestine V for five months, then wisely announced his abdication, the only one in papal history to do so. 

adopt a hermit from here

The architect of this abdication was Benedetto Gaetani who is said to have introduced a secret speaking tube into Celestine’s cell through which, in the small hours of the night, he would simulate the voice of God, warning him of the flames of hell if he were to continue in office.

(click to enlarge) lifted from