Two and a Bit Books about Flatulence

Yes, you read that right. Today we are looking at books about farting. If, unlike C. S. Lewis, you retain the adolescent “fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up” then you may wish to look away here. Go and read Proust or something.

The “bit” is the title essay in the collection Fart Proudly, which is – believe it or not – a collection of the works of Benjamin Franklin. Yes, that Benjamin Franklin.

Writing the Declaration of Independence 1776 cph.3g09904
All right, Franklin! We know it was you!
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William Wilberforce’s Bucket List

The bucket list is a relatively recent concept, being invented by screenwriter Justin Zackham – first with “Justin’s List of Things to Do Before I Kick the Bucket” (1999), and subsequently with the film The Bucket List (2007). But the idea of having goals you want to achieve before you die – well, that has a longer history.

Consider William Wilberforce, for example. In 1787, at the age of about 28, he wrote in his journal that, “God Almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.” (By “manners” he didn’t mean etiquette, but rather the manner of living practiced by society at large – what we might call lifestyle or culture.)

Portrait of William Wilberforce sitting with quill pen in hand at a desk covered in books and papers.

None of this “I want to do a bungee jump, and skydive, and go snorkelling in a tropical resort” stuff for Wilberforce. No, he cut straight to the big stuff: destroy the unethical underpinnings of the global economy, and reform the whole culture he lived in. And having fixed his sights on those goals, he threw everything he had at them.

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Death by Pillow-Fight: Ridiculous French Royal Deaths

When it comes to French royals dying, Marie Antoinette always grabs the headlines. Madame la Guillotine has that effect. But if you look a bit further back in French history, there are royal deaths that make having your head chopped off look positively bourgeois in its uncomplicated straightforwardness.

Take Charles VIII, for example. While in residence at the Chateau of Amboise, he went with his queen to watch some courtiers playing tennis in the moat. (The moat would have been dry at the time, one presumes. Water polo is one thing; water tennis quite another.) They decided to watch from the Hacquelbac Gallery, described by a chronicler of the time, Philippe de Commynes, as “the most unseemly place within the house, since everybody used to piss there”.

medieval woodcut of men playing an early form of tennis without rackets, while others watch
The chaps on the far left are betting on the game. The players are wishing someone would hurry up and invent tennis racquets. The chap in the middle has just realized that everybody does indeed piss in the gallery.

Despite being, according to the same chronicler, “very short”, Charles managed to bang his forehead against the door frame. Then, after watching the game and chatting for some time, he collapsed, and died nine hours later “on a shabby pallet,” still in the aforementioned gallery where everybody used to piss. (One can only hope they found somewhere else for this function in the meantime. Refilling the moat, perhaps.)

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