circumambulator of the globe

John “Walking” Stewart (1747 – 1822) was an English traveller and philosopher.

image found here

He’d shipped out to Madras as a young clerk for the East India Company in 1763, only to decide that – as he announced brusquely in a resignation letter – “he was born for nobler pursuits than to be a copier of invoices to a company of grocers, haberdashers and cheese mongers“. 

image found here

And he was right: joining an Indian prince as a secretary, he rose through the ranks to become an army general and a chief minister for the Nabob of Arcot – before  throwing it all over to walk alone across Persia, Abyssinia, Arabia and Africa before wandering into every European country as far east as Russia.

Nabob of Arcot found here

When he reached London he was dubbed by the incredulous press “Walking Stewart”. Never was there a more apt name; for he later hiked through Lapland and down into central Asia, and after sailing to New York walked all the way down to Paraguay. 

Paraguayan pineapple found here

He wouldn’t talk of his fabulous travels; instead he was always distributing bizarre pamphlets he’d privately printed, bearing titles like “The Roll of a Tennis Ball Through the Moral World“. Stewart’s works exhibit a naive arrogance, frequently asserting that their author is the “only child of nature” to have ever lived.

Vintage Child of Nature found here

The few who could read past their strange diction and publication date – for Stewart had invented his own calendar – found all sorts of curious ideas inside. He saw nothing wrong with prostitution, and considered it a typical city business like lamp lighting or driving a taxi, indeed, he saw little wrong with sex, and believed that there should be promiscuous intercourse so that the population might not become redundant.

unusual calendars found here

Stewart had a notion of preserving his pamphlets for posterity. He asked that his readers, when done reading him, bury his books in their gardens at a depth of seven or eight feet. They were to tell no one else of the location; but on their deathbeds they were to breathe the secret to a trusted few. These fellows would keep the burial place secret until their own deathbeds years later, and would communicate it again – down through the centuries, a secret society of philosophers passing down the sacred memory of the location of Stewart’s writings. 

buried books found here

But it occurred to him that his works might eventually prove unreadable because the English language might one day molder away. Thereupon he decided that first his readers should translate the works into Latin and then bury them. 

After retiring from travelling, Stewart eventually settled in London where he held philosophical soirées and earned a reputation as one of the city’s celebrated eccentrics. He was often seen in public wearing a threadbare Armenian military uniform—a souvenir, one assumes, from his many adventures.

Armenian children in army uniforms found here

Published in: on January 22, 2012 at 7:58 am  Comments (48)  
Tags: , , , , ,

the evils of pedestrianism*

Professional walking events were hugely popular in the 1870s.

1870s Yale rugby team found here

Typical of many pedestrians, Exilda La Chapelle was a young immigrant. According to her accounts, she was born in 1859 in Marseilles, France. By the age of thirteen Exilda was walking for a living. As a “pedestrienne,” she probably walked several hours a night, in taverns and small theaters throughout Canada and the Northern United States. Pedestrian performances were considered exciting entertainment, especially when spectators wagered on the contests. Large numbers of people came to see the girl walk. Yet many spectators and other citizens considered pedestriennes to be “fallen women.”

1870s French doll found here

An English woman in Brooklyn, Ada Anderson, attempted a seemingly impossible task, to walk 2700 quarter-miles in 2700 consecutive quarter-hours. Towards the end of her month-long endeavor, thousands of people, including well-heeled gentlemen and society belles paid up to $1 apiece to see the walk. Madame Anderson’s successful finish was reported as front page news throughout America. In New York, Boston, and Washington, women feverishly walked the sawdust rings.

Man heels found here

In Chicago, Madame La Chapelle resumed her walking efforts. Despite the fact that she looked like a young girl, Chicago newspapers called her “one of the greatest female pedestrians.” During Exilda’s month-long walk at the Folly Theatre, the newspapers reported extensively on her weight (which began at about 100 pounds and ended at 92 pounds), physical appearance (an assortment of tasteful dresses and leggings), mental disposition (ranging from happy to discouraged), and diet (raw oysters, eggs, beef tea, sherry).

not this kind of Sherry

From January 25 to February 22, 1879, Exilda walked a quarter mile every fifteen minutes. Despite the obvious pain of sore feet and lack of sleep, she never publicly complained. And somehow she gained a second wind. Women patrons presented her with expensive jewelry, and less affluent admirers presented her with bouquets and applause. At the finish, La Chappelle not only broke the previous record, but shattered it, making 3,000 quarter miles.

jewelry infused water bottles found here

Not everyone was pleased with Exilda’s performance, or similar feats. In New York, the Women’s Christian Temperence Union decried the evil of pedestrianism. The Washington Post, while favorably covering local pedestrienne contests, compared watching La Chapelle’s walk to viewing the Spanish Inquisition.

*From an article by Dahn Shaulis found here

Published in: on January 11, 2011 at 9:05 am  Comments (32)  
Tags: ,