Ex-Classics Web Site
- The Battle of the Frogs and Mice.
The Batrachomyomachia or The Battle of the Frogs and Mice is an ancient Greek parody of the Homeric epics. The
armies of the frogs and mice go to war over a misunderstanding, mighty
deeds are performed by warriors on both sides, the gods become involved
and great slaugher ensues before the resolution. There have been
several translations from Chapman onwards; our version is in Draytonian
stanzas by Jane Barlow in 1894, with splendid decorations by Francis D.
Added 30th July 2022
- The Courtier's Library, by John Donne
Around 1610, Donne
wrote this little squib in Latin. It starts with an introduction
explaining how a courtier may pass as learned and cultured without
going to the bother of acquiring any learning or culture. The secret,
he says, is to have read books no-one else has; he then gives
a list of imaginary books whose titles, authors and subjects are a
satirical comment on various people and schools of thought then
fashionable. It circulated in handwritten copies and gave great
entertainment to his friends and acquaintances, but was not printed
until 1650, twenty years after his death. Our edition is a translation
by E.M. Simpson with detailed notes explaining the jokes and
Added 30th July 2022
- Memoirs of Psalmanazar.
a man appeared in England calling himself George Psalmanazar and
claiming to be a native of Formosa (nowadays called Taiwan). He
sustained this pretence by publishing a book, An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa, an Island subject to the Emperor of Japan,
which purported to be a detailed description of Formosan customs,
geography and political economy, but which was in fact a complete
As time went on, he was less and less believed, and had to make an
honest living. Towards the end of his long life he wrote this memoir
for publication after his death, describing his adventures and
confessing his impostures. Two things he kept secret to the grave,
however: his real name and his country and place of origin.
Added 2nd June 2022.
- The Harlot's Progress
William Hogarth's series of
six engravings, depicting the seduction, brief success, downfall and
death of an innocent country lass seduced into prostitution, is well
known. Less well known is the sequence of poems by Joseph Gay which was
written to accompany them. We have managed, with difficulty, to obtain a
copy, and have added them to our anthology of 18th Century prostitution, The Covent Garden Calendar.
Added 31st March 2022.
- Camden's Britannia
published in Latin in 1586, this immense tome was the
first guidebook and gazeteer of Britain, or "chorography" in the
language of the time. In his own words "I have attained to some skill of the most ancient British and
Anglo-Saxon tongues; I have travelled over all England for the most
part, I have conferred with most skilful observers in each county…. I
have been diligent in the records of this realm. I have looked into most
libraries, registers and memorials of churches, cities and
corporations, I have pored upon many an old roll and evidence".
The book was soon translated into English, and was immensely popular
in many subsequent translations and expanded editions. Part of our
Gossip in a Library project -- see here for Gosse's article.
Because of its size, it will be published in seven parts.
Part 1. Introduction and History of Britain -- Added 31st March 2022.
- The Pilgrims of Avignon
In 1789, two seekers after religious truth, John Wright, carpenter, and William Bryan, engraver, were
instructed by the spirit to go to Avignon in France and there meet a
group of disciples of the mystic Emanuel Swedenborg. Despite
having no money and no word of French, they set out and after various
adventures reached their destination. They stayed there for several
months. On their return, both Wright and Bryan published accounts of their journey
and what they had learned there.
Added 1st February 2022.
- The Colleen Bawn
murder of Ellen Hanly was one of the most sensational
and widely publicised crimes. of 19th Century Ireland. The
case was the basis for Gerald Griffin's novel The
Boucicault's play The Colleen Bawn, and Julius Benedict's opera The Lily of Killarney.
This account by the local clergyman, who had met her and attended her
inquest, is the true version of these fictionalised accounts.
Added 30th November 2021.
- The Memoirs of a Famous Highwayman
Freney was a robber who plagued the counties of Kilkenny and Waterford
in the 1740s. He wrote this detailed account of his life and crimes to
make some money after giving up his profession.
Added 30th November 2021.
- A Cromwellian Cookbook
In 1665, a curious book called The Court and Kitchen of Elizabeth,
Commonly Called Joan Cromwell, the Wife of the Late Usurper was published
in London, a few years after the death of Oliver Cromwell. The author is
unknown, but was certainly not Mrs. Elizabeth Cromwell. It is a genuine cookery
book but in addition there is a great deal of anti-Cromwellian abuse along with
the recipes. The recipes themselves are not the expensive and elaborate dishes
which might be expected to grace the table of a head of state, but plain solid
cooking, such as would be served in the household of a prosperous farmer or
merchant. The implication of this, of course, is that the Cromwells
did not keep the state appropriate to their position; various anecdotes
emphasise her penny-pinching attitude.
Added 26th September 2021.
- Captain Cuellar's Escape
1588, the Spanish Armada of 130 ships set sail from Lisbon, its mission
to transport a Spanish army from the Low Countries to invade England.
As every schoolboy knows, they were defeated by the English defenders,
and forced to sail north around Scotland and
west of Ireland on their way home. More than 20 ships were wrecked off
the Irish coast; those of their crews who managed to struggle ashore
were mostly butchered by the English or their Irish allies. A few
managed to take refuge in those parts of Ireland still holding out
against the English conquerors; one of these was Captain Cuellar.
His journey home included a spell as apprentice to a blacksmith and
enduring a siege in a castle which had been abandoned by its Irish
occupants, before he managed to get to Scotland and finally to the
Spanish Netherlands. On his arrival there, he wrote an account which was discovered and translated 300 years later.
Added 1st August 2021.
- A Tour in Lapland, by Carl Linnaeus
Linnaeus embarked on a journey to the far north of Sweden, an area
considered as remote as Borneo by the sophisticates of Stockholm.
The major product of this expedition was Flora Lapponica, a
detailed account of the plants of the region, in which he first made
extensive use of his binominal system of plant nomenclature, which is
now universal. He also kept a journal in which he included his
observations on the land, the people and their customs. Translated into
English, it was published in 1808 under the title Lachesis Lapponica.
Added 6th June 2021.
- The Merrythought, or Bog-House and Glass-Window Miscellany, by "Hurlothrumbo"
This remarkable collection of graffiti poems from toilet walls was first published in 1730 and offers
a unique and fascinating window into Georgian life. The poems are
variously misogynistic, erotic, scatological, sentimental and
insulting, but they all show a level of literary talent far above their
Added 11th April 2021.
- The Necromancer, by "Lorenz Flammenberg" (Karl Friedrich Kahlert)
Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey the
central character, Catherine Morland, has read too
many Gothic novels, and under their influence imagines the abbey to conceal
lurid secrets. One of these whose identity has been speculated, has now been identified as Der Geisterbanner: Eine Wundergeschichte, written in German by Kahlert under the pseudonym "Lorenz Flammenberg". Our friend Nina Zumel
has tracked down the original English version, translated by T.
Dutton, and we are glad to be able to present it.
Added 4th March, 2021.
- Nugae Antiquae, by John Harington.
John Harington, godson and courtier to Queen Elizabeth I, is best known for The Metamorphosis of Ajax, a description of his invention, the flush toilet, with many learned references from Biblical and classical sources.
Nugae Antiquae ("Ancient Trifles") is a collection of
material published many years after his death, and describes the intrigues and roistering of the court of Elizabeth and her successor James I
& VI, Essex's expedition to Ireland in 1599, scandalous anecdotes of England's bishops, and much else besides.
Added 22 January, 2021.
Master Humphrey and Mr. Pickwick, by Charles Dickens
Pickwick Papers is one of Dickens' most popular novels, but even many
Dickens fans do not know that it does not include everything that he wrote
about Mr. Pickwick. In 1840 he started a magazine called Master Humphrey's Clock. It included a number of stories about Mr. Pickwick, which are not included
in the standard sets of Dickens' work, and indeed have very rarely been
republished. They are presented here with the original illustrations.
Added 14th November, 2020.
- Gerard's Herbal.
This vast and exhaustive work of early modern botany, illustrated with
over two thousand woodcuts, had its final edition in 1633. Almost
every plant known to European herbalists at the time is included,
with a picture, description, uses, and anecdotes of the
plant, its discoverers and much more. Part of our Gossip in a Library project -- see here for Gosse's article.
Volume 1 added 21st August 2018.
Volume 2 added 3rd March 2019.
Volume 3 added 15th July 2019.
Volume 4 added 24th April 2020.
Volume 5 added 18th October 2020.
- A Tour in Ireland in 1775, by Richard Twiss
Twiss published his account of a few months spent in Ireland in 1775. It
was very disparaging and sarcastic and was not well received by the
Irish; in fact, a chamberpot was sold with a picture of him on the
inside with the words "Let everyone piss/On lying Dick Twiss."
Added 9th October 2020.
- Two Blasts.
Two early modern pamphlets most of us have heard of, but few have read, are John Knox's A First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, and King James VI & I's A Counterblast to Tobacco.The
first was published in 1558 as a response to the persecution of
Protestants by Mary I in England and Mary Queen of Scots in Scotland.
Knox goes far beyond condemning the persecution, however. He declares
that it is a blasphemous flouting of God's will to allow women any
authority whatever; which they are in any case wholly incompetent to
King James condems tobacco from several different angles, culminating in a rousing peroration describing tobacco as "A
custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain,
dangerous to the lungs, and in the black stinking fume thereof, nearest
resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless."
Knox's opinions have not worn well, but King James's, after many
yearsof being called silly and puritanical, are now widely
Added 18th September 2020.
- Love and Madness, a Story too True, by Herbert Croft
In 1775, Mr James Hackman, an army officer who later
became a clergyman, met and fell in love with Martha Ray (or Reay),
a singer and for many years the mistress of the Earl of Sandwich, First
Lord of the Admiralty (and inventor of the eponymous snack)
who treated her generously and had given her several children. After
(perhaps) some initial encouragement she rejected Hackman, no doubt
thinking that mistress of a nobleman was a better condition than wife
of an impoverished rural parson. Hackman, in a frenzy of jealousy and
frustration, shot her and then himself in front of the Covent Garden
Opera House on 7th April 1779. She was killed outright, but he survived
to be hanged. This book purports to be a collection of their
correspondence, showing the progress of the affair to its tragic end.
However, it is actually a work of fiction published the following year.
It includes a long account of Thomas Chatterton, whose Rowley Poems are also on this site.
Added 28th June 2020
- Cats by Francois-Augustin Paradis de Moncrif
This charming book of anecdotes and poetry about cats was published in
1728. Moncrif, a member of the French Academy, is largely
forgotten except as its author. Nowadays such a work would be
quite ordinary, but it was the first ever of this kind. In that
Augustan age, writing on such a subject was considered a trivial
waste of time for an author with any pretensions to gentility; Moncrif
was subjected to so much mockery that he withdrew the book from
circulation. Nonetheless, we can enjoy it as it was intended; even
cat-haters might find entertainment here. Our version has both an
English translation and the original French.
Part of our Gossip in a Library project -- see here for Gosse's article.
Added 13 April 2020
- The Quakers' Spiritual Court Proclaimed by Nathaniel Smith
We first came across this little curiosity in a note to Hudibras by Samuel Butler. It
is a short pamphlet published in 1669 by a disillusioned ex-Quaker, and
consists largely of abuse, both theological and personal, of that sect.
Smith was involved in a dispute with a fellow-Quaker, and expelled
after what he regarded as a grossly unfair trial, conducted by George
Added 28th February 2020.
- The Covent Garden Calendar
As a kind of companion piece to The Newgate Calendar, we have prepared an anthology of accounts of prostitutes, courtesans and mercenary spouses in 18th Century Britain. It is in three parts: Book 1: The Night-time Scene has a number of essays describing of the milieu; Book 2: Individual Courtesans gives the lives of eight ladies of the Ton, and finally Book 3: Fiction has four short novels about prostitutes. The pieces
chosen are almost all contemporary, ranging from 1696 to 1803, and in
attitude run the gamut from picaresque approval to moral condemnation
to compassion for the suffering of the women forced into prostitution.
Added 13th January 2020.
- The Silver Fox, by Somerville and Ross
Edith OEnoe Somerville and "Martin Ross" (Violet Martin) are best known for their humourous Irish R.M. stories; their novels The Real Charlotte and The Big House at Inver are also still deservedly popular. The Silver Fox, a
short novel, was first published in 1898 and reprinted several times in
the next ten years. It seems to have then fallen into complete
obscurity and has not been republished since. This is a pity, for it is
a miniature masterpiece. It has been included here at the request of
Professor Declan Kiberd of University College, Dublin. Prof. Kiberd
devotes an entire chapter of his definitive Irish Classics (Granta Books, 2000) to The Silver Fox, describing it as "a novella of true genius". We agree.
Added 2nd January 2020
"No odder book than John Buncle was published in England throughout the long life of Amory. Romances there were, like Gulliver's Travels and Peter Wilkins,in
which the incidents were much more incredible, but there was no
supposition that these would be treated as real history. The curious
feature of John Buncle is that the story is told with the
strictest attention to realism and detail, and yet is embroidered all
over with the impossible. There can be no doubt that Amory, who
belonged to an older school, was affected by the form of the new novels
which were the fashion in 1756. He wished to be as particular as
Mr.Richardson, as manly as Captain Fielding, as breezy and vigorous as
Dr. Smollett, the three new writers who were all the talk of the
town. . . . . . . To lovers of odd books, John Buncle will
always have a genuine attraction. Its learning would have dazzled Dr.
Primrose, and is put on in glittering spars and shells, like the
ornaments of the many grottoes that it describes. It is diversified by
descriptions of natural scenery, which are often exceedingly felicitous
and original, and it is quickened by the human warmth and flush of the
love passages, which, with all their quaintness, are extremely human"
Added 27th October 2019
- The Black Book by Thomas Middleton
Robert Greene, auhor of The Complete Cony-Catcher and A Groatsworth of Wit, promised a work called The Black Book (in his "Black Book's Messenger"), intended to be a fuller account of Elizabethan low life and low-lifes, but did not live to write it. Middleton is best known as a dramatist, but could turn his pen to anything that would bring in some money. Middleton cashed in on Greene's popularity by appropriating his title for this pamphlet.
In it, the Devil makes a tour of his minions in London, visiting
brothel-keepers, swindlers, gamblers, corrupt officials and others of
Added 9th September 2019
- More Crimes from the Newgate Calendar
Another batch of 18th Century pirates and highwaymem to add to our existing collection from the ex-classic compendium of crime. These are all taken from Johnson's History of Pirates and Highwayman etc.
Added 15th Feb. 2019.
- The History of the Human Heart.
The History of the Human Heart, or The Adventures of a Young Gentleman was published anonymously in 1759, the same year as John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (Fanny Hill), and is another high point in 18th Century erotica. It is set in the same milieu of seduction and brothels, however it is written
from a male point of view. The protagonist Camillo, like many young
men, is led by his penis, and being from a wealthy family, has the
means to go where it leads him. He is not a wicked person, but he is
headstrong, impulsive and thoughtless, and he undergoes sexual
adventures and misadventures which are variously hilarious and
Added 6th November 2018.
- The Diary of a Lover of Literature by Thomas Green
Green was a bibliophile who flourished at the end
of the 18th and start of the 19th Century. This is his diary of
his everyday doings, and of the books he read, with his comments on
them. A great insight into the mind of a pre-romantic self-taugh
tintellectual. Part of our Gossip in a Library project -- see here for Gosse's article.
Added 13th February 2018.
- Gossip in A Library, by Edmund Gosse
The noted bibliophile's reviews of some of his favourite books. Many
are ex-classics, and some are already on our site. We plan to publish
all of them we can find.
Added 11th November 2017.
- The Memoirs of Colonel Monro
Originally entitled Monro his expedition with the Worthy Scots Regiment called Mac-Keys Regiment. It
describes his seven years' service as a mercenary in the Thirty Years'
War from 1626 to 1634, where he served under Gustavus Adolphus, King of
Sweden, and took part in many battles. Colonel Monro himself is not wholly unknown to those who have read A Legend of Montrose by
Walter Scott; for it was he who provided a good deal of the material
for the character of Dugald Dalgetty, the valorous soldierof
fortune and military theorist, who returned to Scotland just in time to
take part in Montrose's campaigns, and to edify his brothers-in-arms
with endless reminiscences of the time when he followed "the invincible
Gustavus Adolphus, the Lion of the North, and the Bulwark of the
Added 30th October 2017.
- TheHistory of Pompey the Little by Francis Coventry
Added 20th July 2017
Pompey the Little was an Italian lapdog. At an early age he was carried
away from the boudoir of his Italian mistress by Hillario, an English
gentleman illustrious for his gallantries, who brought him to
London. The rest of the history is really a chain of social
episodes,each closed by the incident that Pompey becomes the property
of some fresh person. In this way we find ourselves in a dozen
successive scenes, each strongly contrasted with the others. It is the
art of the author that he knows exactly how much to tell us without
wearying our attention, and is able to make the transition to the next
scene a plausible one. Part of our Gossip in a Library project -- see here for Gosse's article
- The Complete Cony-catcher by Robert Greene
The cozeners of Elizabethan England, and their artful ways of robbing and swindling. By the author of A Groat's-worth of Wit.
Added 14th May 2017.
- Studies in the Art of Rat-Catching, by H. C. Barkley
The classical education provided by English schools in the 19th century
was hated by the pupils and did nothing to qualify them to make a
living. Barkley proposes to solve both these problems by teaching them
rat-catching, which boys love and which is an honourable and useful
profession. This is the definitive text-book of the art.
Added 26th January 2017.
- The True Story of John Carteret Pilkington
The early adventures and misfortunes of the youngest son and amanuensis of Laetitia Pilkington, whose Memoirs are
also on this site. Also contains the correspondence of Laetitia
Pilkington and Lord Kingsborough, and some poems and a play scene by
Added 11th January 2017.
- The Memoirs of Mrs.Margaret Leeson
The leading courtesan and madam of late 18th Century Dublin, she
published these memoirs in old age. Funny and frankly written, they
show a wide panorama of life from debtors' prison to the Ascendancy at
the height of their power and irresponsibility.
Added 8th October 2016.
- More Crimes from the Newgate Calendar
Another batch of 172 18th Century pirates, highwayman, forgers and
sundry malefactors to add to our existing collection from the ex-classic compendium of crime
Added 26th July 2016.
- Radical Pamphlets from the English Civil War
During the English Civil War and in the republic which followed, a wide
range of radical ideas and movements flourished. There were Seekers and
Ranters, Diggers and Levellers, Quakers, Fifth Monarchists and
Muggletonians; and a flood of remarkable pamphlets promoting their
ideas poured from the printing presses. Our selection includes
such classics as A Fiery Flying Roll, The Lamb's Officer is Gone Forth with the Lamb's Message, and the wonderfully-titled Tyranipocrit Discovered.
Added 14th February 2016.
- The Emperor's New Clothes -- Original Version
Hans Christian Anderson rewrote this mediaeval Spanish tale for the
more fastidious audiences of the 19th Century. The original is
well worth reading.
Added 3rd February 2016.
- Lives and Anecdotes of Misers, by F. Somner Merryweather
As read by Silas Wegg to Mr. Boffin in Dickens' Our Mutual Friend.
Added 18th January 2016.
- The Metamorphosis of Ajax by Sir John Harington
The first flush toilet, described together with a wealth of cloacal
learning and philosophy by Queen Elizabeth I's scapegrace godson.
Added 4th September 2015.
- The Poems of John Skelton
John Skelton (1460?-1529) is a
poet whose works have hovered on the edge of the canon, never being
forgotten or lacking advocates, but never making it into the schools.
Robert Graves thought him better than Milton. Howard Fish, now the
Grand Old Man of American Literary Criticism (and proud to be the model
for David Lodge's Morris Zapp) published a book-length study of Skelton
in 1965, and more recently, Helen Cooper, Professor of English at
Cambridge, called him "one of the great figuresof English poetry."
Added 13th July 2015.
Ex-classics at Other Web Sites