Monday, March 18, 2013

Book: "The Man Who Ate Bluebottles: And Other Great British Eccentrics" by Catherine Caufield

It is unreasonable, I know, but I cannot forgive the fact that this book is decorated by a mish-mash of typefaces!

This book is wonderful. It provides colourful profiles of odd British characters through the ages in a celebration of eccentricity. With each biography spanning no more than a few pages, the broad coverage on shows works well to build the reader's sense of wonderment and appreciation for the folks who live their existense outside the norm.

Some wise commentary from the Introduction:

"On ideological grounds alone, eccentricity has had a number of eloquent supporters. John Stuart Mill, in his essay, On Liberty, argued that, for as long as mankind is imperfect, different opinions and varieties of character should be given free scope as experiments in living. Diversity is a pre-condition of evolution. Mill thought eccentricity desirable in an age of confirmity, simply as an example of freedom. "Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded....That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of our time."

...Ordinary people are expected to abide by the rules. Most, indeed, are happy to do so. As Mill says of such people, again in On Liberty, "I do not mean that they choose what is customary in preference to what suits their inclination. It does not occur to them to have an inclination, except what is customary."

Here is my list of favourite eccentrics from the book:

- Bauchamp Bagenal
- Osborne de Vere Beauclerk (12th Duke of St Albans)
- Henry Cope (the Green Man)
- James Curtis
- Daniel Dancer ("Dancer considered washing with soap and towels a waste of money. He would wait for a sunny day, scrub himself with sand at a neaby pond, and lie in the sand to dry.)
- Simeon Ellerton (merrily walked from Durham to London, often found walking carrying stones on his head because it was more comfortable this way)
- Benjamin O'Neil Stratford (6th Earl of Aldborough)
- Sir Tatton Sykes
- Sir Thomas Urquhart
- Herbert Spencer (philosopher)
- Martin Van Butchell
- Orde Wingate
- Alfred Daniel Wintle


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