Sunday, July 16, 2006


English eccentricities are legion and frequently loveable. A man named John Timbs collected many, pubishing in a two-volume work called English Eccentrics and Eccentricities (1866).

Here's an extract. If the behavior seems more charming and unselfconsciously empathetic than eccentric, you have to remember that it relates an incident of the time following the Napoleonic period when distinctions of rank and birth were strictly observed.
Lord Coleraine
J.T.Smith, in his Life of Nollekens (1828), says, "I heard Lord Coleraine as I was passing the wall at the end of the Portland Road, where an old apple-woman with whom his lordship held frequent conversations was packing up her fruit, ask her the following question: 'What are you about, mother?' 'Why, my lord, I am going home to my tea; if your lordship wants any information I shall come again presently.' 'Oh! don't balk trade. Leave our things on the table as they are: I will mind your shop till you come back;' so saying, he seated himself in the old woman's wooden chair, in which he had often sat before whilst chatting with her. Being determined to witness the result, I heard his lordship declare the amount of his receipts by saying: 'Well, mother I have taken threepence-halfpenny for you. Did your daughter Nancy drink tea with you?'" (Vol II, p. 40)
I dug this out after an item on contemporary eccentricities turned up in my weblog aggregator. Merlin Mann on 43Folders calls attention to a thread on the Ask MetaFilter: Suggest Eccentricities. The author wants to adopt them. Many responders warn against. Others happily supply ideas. Some are reminiscent of Lord Cockraine's enviable lack of concern regarding the maintenance of cultural norms. Some:

- Wear one colour only, wear mismatched colours, wear hats.
- Wear a cologne designed for someone of the opposite gender, same with clothing options.
- Learn Shakespeare off by heart to quote at any appropriate moment.
- Skip or dance spontaneously.
- Read classic literature on public transport. Out loud.
- Stand backward in the elevator (okay, not mine).
- Beleg always wears his hat.
- Joey always carries his accordion.
- Make the Dwarves your only MySpace friend.
- Make the Mentors your second MySpace friend.
- Carry a cricket bat with you everywhere.
- If a man: wear skirts in hot weather

One responder's fellow-students:
- girl whose unvaried style consisted of closely shaved head and overalls or baggy jeans, for years
- girl who always wore undergarment type slips as outerwear
- write words on all your clothes guy
- girl who smoked holding cigarettes between pinky and ring finger
- super-hot girl who never spoke to anyone
- Dan the dirty hand man
- guy who always has a harmonica
- I never change my sweater girl

- Become super-polite: "SPM holds open doors for people, engages the wait staff like human beings, writes thank-you notes, smiles and looks people in the eye when shaking hands or saying hello, and always says please and thank you. People really notice this sort of thing, just as much as they do someone wearing an ascot."

- Try to become more yourself: Read Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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