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Dinners: Wilkes

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59453.  Mon Mar 13, 2006 8:01 am Reply with quote

Q: How many courses should you expect at a Wilkites dinner?

A: Loosen your belt a notch: the answer is 45.

John Wilkes (1727-1797) is one of the most famous ugly people in history: he had a “sloping forehead, hanging jaw, bad teeth, bad breath” and a “severe squint.” He was advised never to risk showing his face to a pregnant woman. Despite this, he was a famously successful libertine, who reckoned it took him but twenty minutes of conversation with a woman to “talk away” his face - despite his extreme lisp - and talk her into bed. He was an enthusiastic participant in the orgies of Sir Francis Dashwood’s Hellfire Club. When once offered a pinch of snuff, he is supposed to have declined, remarking that “I never deal in little vices.”

As an MP, he became one of the greatest champions of democracy and liberty in British history. His weekly paper, the North Briton, was a radical rallying-point. Issue number 45 was especially popular, as he used it to argue for fundamental democratic reforms of parliament.

The number 45 became world famous, as a symbol of radical reform. The slogan “Wilkes and liberty and Number 45!” struck terror into the ruling classes everywhere. Wilkites would “meet in groups of 45 and eat that number of dishes, dance that number of dances, and kiss each other that number of times.”

The government was unable to prove his authorship of issue 45, so instead prosecuted him for his erotic poem ‘Essay on woman,’ which was illustrated with an erect penis next to a 10-inch ruler. I love this:

“When Lord Sandwich read part of it aloud to the House [...] there was pandemonium; the bishops sat stony-faced, one feeble member fainted from shock, but many cried out ‘Go on!’.”

When he was released from prison, claiming exemption as an MP, the Club 45 in Charleston drank 45 toasts to him between 7.45pm and 12.45am. The people of Virginia and Maryland sent him 45 hogsheads of tobacco.

Meanwhile, In Newcastle, at a 45 dinner, 45 sat down at 1.45 precisely, to enjoy forty-five gills of wine and forty-five new-laid eggs [not each. I suppose]. At 2.45 they began the dinner proper: five courses, each of which had nine dishes. These included a 45lb sirloin of beef.

Buttons, buckles, brooches, snuff-boxes and mugs emblazoned with the number 45 were on sale throughout Britain. Small busts of the ugly hero sat upon every fashionable and radical mantelpiece.

Radical parsons sermonised on verse 45 of Psalm 119: "I will walk in Liberty, for I keep thy precepts." A pamphlet - ‘Britannia's Intercession for the Deliverance of John Wilkes, Esq., from Persecution and Banishment’ - included an imitation of the Apostle's Creed:

“I believe in Wilkes, the firm patriot, maker of number 45. Who was born for our good. Suffered under arbitrary power. Was banished and imprisoned. He descended into purgatory, and returned some time after. He ascended here with honour and sitteth amidst the great assembly of the people, where he shall judge both the favourite and his creatures. I believe in the spirit of his abilities, that they will prove to the good of our country. In the resurrection of liberty, and the life of universal freedom forever. Amen.”

Wilkes was a far-seeing reformer: he introduced the first ever Bill proposing universal male suffrage, more than a century before that became law, and campaigned for toleration of Muslims, Jews and Catholics. He had a great influence on the American revolutionaries.

Sources: Review in Sunday Telegraph, 12 March 2006, of ‘John Wilkes, The Scandalous Father of Civil Liberty’ by Arthur H. Cash (Yale, 2006).

Links: Dancing, Dishes, Dissent

See also:
post 18209

59870.  Tue Mar 14, 2006 4:01 pm Reply with quote

That's a cracking anecdote. My only concern is that it would be quite difficult to tell in 45 seconds. Worth a try, though.

Frederick The Monk
59967.  Wed Mar 15, 2006 7:44 am Reply with quote

Wilkes only heped tow rite the Essay on Woman (a parody of Pope's Essay on Man. It was actually written by Thomas Potter, a compulsive womaniser andd drunk and.......son of the former Archbishop of Canterbury. He was egged on by Wilkes.

An example perhaps. Pope wrote:

O blindness to the future! kindly given,
That each may fill the circle marked by Heaven:
Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,
A hero perish, or a sparrow fall,
Atoms or systems into ruin hurled,
And now a bubble burst, and now a world

Which Potter parodies as:

O blindness to the future! kindly given,
That each may enjoy what fucks are marked in Heaven:
Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,
The man just mounting, and the virgin's fall,
Pricks, cunt, and ballocks in convulsions hurled,
And now a hymen burst, and now a world.

I say!


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