1666: Snow-packed codpiece saves post boy’s life


Philip Skippon (1641-91) was an English naturalist, traveller and parliamentarian. Skippon was born in Norfolk, the son of a respected Cromwellian general who had retained his position during the Interregnum. Skippon the Younger studied botany at Cambridge and, after graduation, became a member of the Royal Society. In 1663 Skippon embarked on a three year tour of the continent, accompanied by a group of fellow naturalists including John Ray, Martin Lister and Nathaniel Bacon (later the leader of Bacon’s Rebellion in colonial Virginia). Skippon kept a journal of their travels, which took in the Low Countries, Malta, the Mediterranean coast, Italy, Switzerland, France and the German states. This journal was eventually published by London printer John Churchill in 1732, four decades after Skippon’s death.

Much of Skippon’s journal is taken up with observations about the natural environment, agriculture, human industry and activity. But there are also frequent anecdotes and the occasional xenophobic judgement. Skippon wrote that the average Frenchman is fond of “shirking”, “stingy with his purse” and “strangely impatient at all games, especially at cards, which transports those that lose into a rage”. French women are “generally bad housewives”, prone to loose morals and “spotting and painting their faces”. One unusual anecdote recalls the exploits of a Dr Moulins, a Scottish physician resident in Nimes. At a time of considerable political and religious tension in France, Moulins volunteered to travel to London as an envoy. On the way he struck foul weather – and utilised his medical ‘skills’ on a travelling companion:

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An early modern codpiece (insert snow here and rub till virile)

 
“Dr Moulins immediately and privately rode away for Lyons in bitter snowy weather, and in eight days arrived in England… On this journey Dr Moulins rode post with a Frenchman. Seeing the boy fall down dead with the extremity of cold, [Moulins] opened his codpiece and rubbed his member virile with snow, till he recovered, which he did in a little time, and the boy was able again to ride post.”
 

Skippon left Paris in 1666 and continued his travels on the British isles. In 1679 he entered parliament, representing the Suffolk constituency of Dunwich. Skippon was later knighted by James I. He died of fever in Hackney.


Source: Philip Skippon Esq., “An Account of a Journey made thro part of the Low Countries, Germany, Italy and France” in John Churchill (ed.), Collection of Voyages and Travels, 1732.

1895: Voting turns women into barbarians, says Dr Weir


James Weir Jr. (1856-1906) was an American physician, naturalist and author. Born into a prominent Kentucky family, Weir obtained a medical degree before setting up a practice in his native Owensboro. The wider medical community came to know Weir through his prolific writings. A student of Charles Darwin, Dr Weir wrote extensively about the distinctions between human beings and animals. He was particularly fascinated by regressive and animalistic behaviours in humans. Among the works published by Weir were Pygmies in the United States, Religion and Lust and Dawn of Reason, or Mental Traits in the Lower Animals. In an essay called “A Little Excursion into Savagery”, Weir confesses to taking a week off every June so he can romp around the Kentucky forest “living like a savage”, dwelling in a cave and eating roasted squirrel. Weir was also willing to use his pseudo-scientific theories as a political device. In 1894 he penned an essay asserting that striking and rioting workers were “evidence of [evolutionary] degeneration”. The following year Weir went even further, claiming that female suffrage would create to generations of degenerate women with unhealthy masculine features. He cited historical examples of oversexed and overly masculine female leaders, including Messalina, Joan of Arc, Elizabeth I (“she was more man than woman”) and Catherine the Great (“a dipsomaniac and a creature of unbounded and inordinate sensuality”). If women were given the vote and access to political power, Weir claimed, over time they become “viragints”:

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Female suffrage campaigner Susan B. Anthony, one of Dr Weir’s alleged ‘viragints’

 
“Viraginity has many phases… The tom boy who abandons her dolls and female companions for the marbles and masculine sports of her boy acquaintances… The loud talking, long stepping, slang using young woman… The square shouldered, stolid, cold, unemotional, unfeminine android…”
 

According to Weir, those who promote female suffrage and equal rights – suffragettes and campaigners like Susan B. Anthony – are already viragints, “individuals who plainly show that they are physically abnormal”. Extending suffrage to women would cause a slow but inevitable and widespread shift toward viraginity:

 
“The simple right to vote carries with it no immediate danger. The danger comes afterward, probably many years after the establishment of female suffrage, when woman, owing to her atavistic tendencies, hurries ever backward toward the state of her barbarian ancestors. I see in the establishment of equal rights, the first step toward that abyss of immoral horrors…”
 

Weir died in agony of ‘abdominal dropsy’ while holidaying in Virginia Beach. He was 50 years old. Fourteen years after his death, an amendment to the United States Constitution gave American women full suffrage.


Source: James Weir Jr. MD, “The Effect of Female Suffrage on Posterity” in The American Naturalist, vol.29, September 1895.