Days Like These

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The Independent Culture
13 September 1660

John Evelyn,

diarist, records in his journal:

"I saw in Southwark, at St Margaret's Fair, monkeys and apes dance, and do other feats of activity, on the high rope; they were gallantly clad a la mode, went upright, saluted the company bowing and pulling off their hats, they saluted one another with as good a grace, as if instructed by a dancing-master; they turned heels over head with a basket having eggs in it, without breaking any, also, with lighted candles in their hands, and on their heads, without extinguishing them, and with vessels of water without spilling a drop. Likewise, here was a man who took up a piece of iron cannon of about 400lb weight with the hair of his head only."

15 September 1765

DENIS DIDEROT,

editor of the celebrated `Encyclopedie', to his niece Sophie Volland:

"The baron is back from England. He went off prejudiced in favour of the country. He had a very warm welcome there and enjoyed excellent health.

"Even so, he came home discontented: discontented with the country, which he found to be neither as populous nor as well cultivated as he had been led to expect, discontented with the gardens, where the affected imitation of nature is worse than the monotonous symmetry of art, discontented with the taste of the people who fill their palaces with a jumble of the good, the excellent, the bad and the execrable, discontented with the festivities, which resemble religious ceremonies, discontented with the people, whose faces never show any trust, friendship, gaiety or sociability.

"Discontented with the great, who are proud, disdainful and vain, discontented with the common people, who are brutal, insolent and barbaric, discontented with the dinner parties, where everyone is seated according to rank and where formality and ceremony sit by the side of every guest, discontented with tavern meals, where the service is good and quick, but without any attempt to please. His trip has given him a new taste for living in France."

Ian Irvine

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