Londoners in the year 1760 did not find life boring. The big news came toward the end of that year, as George II died at Kensington Palace on October 25th after a 33-year reign. The following day his grandson George William Frederick was crowned at Westminster, taking the title George III. Life went on for most of the kingdom.
The capital provided diversions enough. Laurence Sterne's novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy began publication. Samuel Johnson's Idler papers, ceased publication. The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew were opened to the public. All rather genteel and sedate diversions.
For more robust pleasure, you couldn't beat a good hanging. And there were several notable examples this year. Members of the nobility had often encountered the executioner, but usually for crimes such as high treason or heresy. Earl Ferrers faced the gallows for a much more mundane crime - that of murder. Undertaking his own defense before the House of Lords (a peer's peers), he offered to (quote) help the court better understand mental illness (end of quote). Entering history's first insanity defense, he argued that the crime came under the heading of "Irresistible Impulse" rather than that of premeditated murder. 117 Lords were extremely impressed with his novel defense. Unluckily for Ferrers, they were most impressed by the lucidity of his reasoning. "Nothing wrong with that man's mind," they thought. The convicted Earl had never heard of Catch-22, but it got him anyway. At least he had the honor of being the last peer of the realm to be executed.
Commoners, of course, were not exempt. Landlady Sarah Metyard and her daughter had done away with at least one boarder. They may have intended to do the same with another lodger, a tea dealer named Rooker, especially after he moved out and took the daughter along as a servant. It was his good luck to overhear the two women arguing over their crimes one day. He reported the conversation to Bow Street magistrate John Fielding, blind brother of novelist Joseph Fielding, and the to women were arrested. They also provided livelihood for the hangman and entertainment for the non fastidious.
But there was lighter fare, also. On April 9th, instrument maker Joseph Merlin got tired of waiting for someone to invent the lampshade. He wasn't about to invent it either, but he did head off for a masquerade at Carlisle House, wearing a pair of shoes with metal wheels attached. He made a grand entrance, wheeling into the ballroom, playing a violin. He should have practiced. His skating, that is. Unable to steer, he proceeded to crash into a large wall mirror, valued at over 500 pounds sterling. The mirror shattered. Likewise his social reputation.
For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor.
© 1997 David Minor /Eagles Byte