(Roughly) Daily

“You got to constantly be in character”*…



Printmaker James Caulfield (1764–1826) spent much of his career publishing illustrated books about ‘remarkable persons.’ He began his first series around 1788 and continued it sporadically from 1790 to 1795, with books on a similar theme continuing to appear in the first decades of the nineteenth century. More than forty years after his death, this collection of biographies (produced in collaboration with Henry Wilson (fl. 1820–30)) was republished in 1869. The edition’s introduction explains that the renewed interest in these characters comes from the fact that ‘we have nearly lost all, and are daily losing what little remains of, our individuality.’ The vignettes, accompanied by engravings of each individual, describe a wide-ranging group – from the man who died aged 152 to a ‘remarkable glutton’ to a woman who lived on the smell of flowers – their only common factor being that they were in some way ‘wonderful.’

Page through Caulfield’s catholic collection here; buy a reprint here.

* Tupac Shakur


As we celebrate the variety that is life, we might spare a thought for John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester; he died on this date in 1680.  A poet (Andrew Marvell was a fan) and courtier in King Charles II’s Restoration court, Wilmot was a famous libertine, who might well have qualified for a racier version of Caulfield’s collection.

A central member of a group that Marvell called “The Merry Gang” (a group of licentious nobles and artists that included the playwrights Wycherley and Etherege). Wilmot was reported by Thomas Hearne “sometimes, with others of his companions, to run naked, & particularly they did so once in Woodstocke Park.”  He was in and out of trouble with the King, in one year moving from the Court to the Tower of London and back.  He was a “sponsor” of the famous actresses Ellen Barry and Nell Gwynn (later, the King’s own mistress).  And he was a frequent brawler.  Wilmot died at age 33, of what is generally agreed to have been the complications syphilis, combined with the effects of alcoholism.

Wilmot’s literary work was prized in his time.  Voltaire called him “the man of genius, the great poet”  But by Caulfield’s time, his reputation had taken a dive; he was written off as a wastrel and a rake by the likes of Samuel Johnson and Horace Walpole.   It wasn’t until the 1920s, and Ezra Pound’s enthusiastic reappraisal, that Wilmot began again to capture serious attention.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 26, 2013 at 1:01 am

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