Amusements Of The Learned


Cardinal Richelieu, about to jump

Frank reveals the exciting pastimes of the good and the great…

We know that, as a child, John Ruskin took great pleasure in digging holes and – a special treat! – jumping off his favourite box to land on the floor.

And we know that James Boswell, immediately on waking, liked to leap out of bed and “cut two or three brisk capers around the room, which he found attended with most agreeable effects. It expelled the phlegm from his heart, gave his blood a free circulation and his spirits a brisk flow, so that he was all at once made happy”.

But what sorts of pastimes and exercises have diverted other literary or historical figures? Isaac Disraeli, in his matchless Curiosities Of Literature, gives an account of some of the Amusements of the Learned.

When Petavius was employed in his Dogma Thealogiea, a work of the most profound and extensive erudition, the great recreation of the learned father was at the end of every second hour, to twirl his chair for five minutes.

Twirling in a seated position wasn’t good enough for Cardinal Richelieu. He preferred “violent exercises; and he was once discovered jumping with his servant, to try who could reach the highest side of a wall.”

Most amusing, perhaps, is the manner in which Baruch Spinoza liked to unwind from his philosophical labours:

After protracted studies Spinoza, would… unbend his mind by setting spiders to fight each other; he observed their combats with so much interest, that he was often seized with immoderate fits of laughter.

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About Author Profile: Frank Key

Frank Key is a London-based writer, blogger and broadcaster best known for his Hooting Yard blog, short-story collections and his long-running radio series Hooting Yard on the Air, which has been broadcast weekly on Resonance FM since April 2004. By Aerostat to Hooting Yard - A Frank Key Reader, an ideal introduction to his fiction, is published for Kindle by Dabbler Editions. Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives was published in October 2015 by Constable and is available to buy online and in all good bookshops.

4 thoughts on “Amusements Of The Learned

    June 14, 2013 at 10:45

    Spinoza’s spider fixation illustrates the dark cruelty that lies deep in the breast of the enlightened rationalist. Traditionalist despots enjoy more innocent pleasures, even if they sacrifice the odd servant to competitive wall-jumping.

    jonathan law
    June 14, 2013 at 11:08

    From Boswell’s “brisk caperings” it is a small step to Dr Johnson’s mysterious colllection of orange peel. Boswell records how he once won a bet from a certain lady:

    by asking him [Johnson] as to one of his peculiarities, which her Ladyship laid I durst not do. It seems he had been frequently observed at the Club to put into his pocket the Seville oranges, after he had squeezed the juice of them into the drink he made for himself. Beauclerk and Garrick talked of it to me, and seemed to think that he had a strange unwillingness to be discovered. We could not divine what he did with them; and this was the bold question to be put.

    I saw on his table the spoils of the preceding night, some fresh peels nicely scraped and cut into pieces. “O, Sir, (said I) I now partly see what you do with the squeezed oranges which you put into your pocket at the Club.” JOHNSON: “I have a great love for them.” BOSWELL: “And pray, Sir, what do you do with them? You scrape them, it seems, very neatly, and what next?” JOHNSON: “I let them dry, Sir.” BOSWELL: “And what next?” JOHNSON: “Nay, Sir, you shall know their fate no further.” BOSWELL: “Then the world must be left in the dark. It must be said (assuming a mock solemnity) he scraped them, and let them dry, but what he did with them next, he never could be prevailed upon to tell.” JOHNSON: “Nay, Sir, you should say it more emphatically: – he could not be prevailed upon, even by his dearest friends, to tell.”

    • Worm
      June 14, 2013 at 13:21

      hahah that is brilliant jonathan! Wonder what dark deeds that orange peel was subjected to?

      June 14, 2013 at 13:35

      Now that is proper Dabblering. Bravo, Jonathan.

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