On Licking The Science, 1666 Edition


I got to this part in Jenny Uglow’s A Gambling Man: Charles II’s Restoration Game. The book is about King Charles II and Britain, mostly England, in the 1660s. And this is from right after the Great Fire of London.

It was a scene of horror, but also one of wonder, a natural curiosity drawing the observant men of the Royal Society. In the broken tombs in St Paul’s, they observed the mummified bodies of bishops buried two centuries before, while in the tomb of Dean Colet, a more recent burial, his lead coffin was found to be full of a curious liquor that had conserved the body. “Mr Wyle and Ralph Greatorex tasted it and it was a kind of insipid taste, something of an ironish taste. The body felt, to the probe of a stick which they thrust into a chink, like brawn.”

I grant this sounds daft that someone would go into the still-smoldering ruins of London after the greatest fire it had yet known, locate a corpse that hadn’t been destroyed, see that it was secreting some fluid, and declare, “I gotta lick that!” But that’s just what chemists had to do, back in the days before real professional laboratories with clear analytical protocols and even a concept of analysis existed. Everybody doing chemistry had to rely on touch and scent and taste. It helps us remember why Louis Pasteur was the first chemist to ever live to be 34 years old.

A Brooklyn Mystery


My love got to looking up Welcome Back, Kotter and noticed something odd for a show that, as I remember, made up about two-thirds of all television back in the day. It only ran for four seasons. 95 episodes total. That’s actually shorter than Caroline In The City ran, and do you even remember if that show had a theme song? Or was something that actually existed and wasn’t me making up what sounds like a credible name for a 1990s sitcom? Heck, The King Of Queens went on the air in 1998 and I guess they’re not making it anymore? I don’t think they’re airing it anymore. I hope they stopped making new episodes then.

Anyway. Grant it’s weird for a thing I remember from childhood to not have actually been that much of a thing. Here’s the thing that blows my mind: how is it there was never a Saturday Morning cartoon featuring the Welcome Back, Kotter gang, only they’re, like, all pre-teen kids and maybe superheroes travelling the world and maybe they’re robots? And they have a spunky alien helping them out? And there’s an episode where they travel to London and have to save the Crown Jewels from some crook who’s using a fog-monster cover story? How was this not a thing? Does the lack of this indicate that yes, in fact, reality has been deeply broken since at least 1980? These are all questions I feel I cannot answer.

Robert Benchley: Hedgehogs Wanted


Reading the newspaper has always been a great source of inspiration for humorists. For example, in this piece from My Ten Years In A Quandry And How They Grew Robert Benchley sees brilliance in an ordinary-looking advertisement. It’s a short but perfectly-crafted piece.

Hedgehogs Wanted

An advertisement in a London paper reads: “5,000 Hedgehogs Wanted.” Of course, it’s none of my business, especially as it is an Englishman that wants them, but I trust that I may speculate to myself without giving offense.

One hedgehog I could understand, or possibly two, to keep each other company. There is no accounting for taste in pets, and I suppose you could get as attached to a hedgehog as you could to a dog, if you went about it in the right way. I, personally, would prefer a dog, but then, I’m dog-crazy.

But 5,000 hedgehogs seem to be overdoing it a bit. When you get up into the thousands with hedgehogs you are just being silly, it seems to me. And, aside from the looks of the thing, there is the very practical angle that you might very well find yourself hedgehog-poor.


There must be something that hedgehogs do that I don’t know about that makes them desirable to have around in large numbers. They may keep away flies, or eat moths, or even just spread out in a phalanx and prevent workmen from lying down on the ground, or picnic parties from camping out on private property. Whatever their special function, it must be preventive.

Of course, there may be something in the back of the man’s mind about quills. He may be forming a gigantic toothpick combine or starting a movement back to the old quill pen. In this case, he has his work cut out for him. Shearing, or plucking, or shaving 5,000 hedgehogs is going to be no sinecure. And he is going to run out of swear-words the first day. Just the plain, ordinary “ouch” is going to get him nowhere.

On the whole, my advice would be to give the whole project up, whatever it is. Unless, of course, the advertisement has been answered already and he has his 5,000 hedgehogs on his hands. In that case, I don’t know what to advise.