The Miseries of Human Life
The Miseries of Human Life is a book written by James Beresford (1764–1840) and published in 1806, first as a single volume and then as an expanded two-volume edition later that year. Illustrated by George Cruikshank, it catalogued “in excruciating detail” the “petty outrages, minor humiliations, and tiny discomforts that make up everyday human existence.” Sounds like a riot, doesn’t it? LOL!
The Miseries were written as a satirical series of twelve dialogues between two old curmudgeons, Mr Samuel Sensitive and Mr Timothy Testy, in which they catalogue the daily “injuries, insults, disappointments and treacheries” of everyday life. Mrs Testy makes occasional appearances to offer “Supplementary Sighs” from a feminine perspective.
The Gentleman’s Magazine of May 1841 described The Miseries of Human Life as “an extraordinary success” and English poet Richard Henry Horne noted that the book sold “like wildfire.” It become a minor classic in the satirical literature of the day, so much so that dozens of editions were published and printmakers rushed to illustrate their own versions of life’s miseries. Thomas Rowlandson began drawing scenes based on Beresford’s book as soon as it was published, and after two years the luxury print dealer Rudolph Ackermann selected fifty of his hand-colored etchings for a new edition of The Miseries.
The original book can be read online at Google Books but here are a few samplings of the “miseries” lamented by Beresford’s characters.
MISERIES OF THE COUNTRY
(Mr Sensitive) Walking all day, in very hot weather, in a pair of shoes far too tight both in length and breadth —corns on every toe.
(Mr Testy) On paying a visit to your garden in the morning, for the purpose of regaling your eye and nose with the choice ripe fruit which which it had abounded the day before, finding that the whole produce of every tree and bush has been carefully gathered – in the night!
MISERIES OF GAMES, SPORTS, &c.
(Mr Sensitive) Being accompanied by a player or singer, who is always at least a bar behind, or before you.
(Mr Testy) Exhausting your faculties, for a whole evening together, in vain endeavours to guess at a riddle, conundrum, etc. though you are assured, all the time, that it is as easy as the a, b, c.
MISERIES OF LONDON
(Mr Testy) While you are peaceably reading your paper at a coffee-house—two friends, perfect strangers to you, squatting themselves down at your right and left hand, and talking across you, for an hour, over their private concerns.
(Mr Sensitive) During the endless time that you are kept waiting at a door in a carriage, while the ladies are shopping, having you impatience soothed by the setting of a saw, close at your ear.
MISERIES PERSONAL, OR OF THE BODY
(Mr Testy) Having this kind of tooth drawn by installments. See here! —I have treasured all the fragments, along with these pretty pieces of wreck from the jaw, which bore them company—that they might serve as mementos, in case I should ever find myself in the humour of parting with any more of my head!
(Mr Sensitive) Bending back the finger-nail—or even thinking of it.
MISERIES OF TRAVELLING
(Mr Sensitive) Starting for a long ride, on a dinner engagement, without a great coat, in a mist, which successively becomes a mizzle, a drizzle, a shower, a rain, a torrent: on arriving at the house, at last, completely drenched, you have to beg the favour of making yourself look like a full or an empty sack, by wearing your host’s intractable clothes.
(Mr Testy) A very high, hard-trotting horse, who sets off before you have discovered that the stirrups are too long to assist you in humouring his jolt; —then, trying in vain to stop him.
MISERIES OF SOCIAL LIFE
(Mr Sensitive) Paying a long visit at the retired house of a well meaning Soul, whose only idea of entertaining you is that of never leaving you a moment by yourself.
(Mr Testy) Being compelled by a deaf person, in a large and silent company, to repeat some very washy remark three or four times over, at the highest pitch of your voice.
(Mr Sensitive) Elbowing both your candles off the table, and then setting them up in this state:
(Mr Testy) Vainly hunting, a thousand times over, in every corner, crook, and cranny of the house, for something you have lost; —till, at some future period, when you have long abandoned the pursuit, the truant article appears of its own accord.”
MISERIES OF THE TABLE
(Mr Sensitive) Sitting down, with a keen appetite, to a beef-steak (and nothing else), which proves to be completely charked by over-dressing.
(Mr Testy) The moment in which you discover that you have taken in a mouthful of fat, by mistake for a turnip.
(Mr Testy) Buying a pocket-handkerchief on an emergency so pressing, that you have no time to get it hemmed; so that, before the day is half over, it is all in strings.
(Mr Sensitive) Sitting in a chair on which you do not discover that honey has been liberally spilt, till, on rising to make your bow, you carry away the cushion.
The Miseries of Human Life can be purchased in various formats on Amazon. Click image link to the left.
The book can also be read online at Google Books, the 1826 version digitalized in full.
To see a collection of the Thomas Rowlandson illustrations from the Ackermann 1808 publication at David Brass Rare Books, and if you have a spare $6500 laying around, you can buy it!
I think I’ll pass on this one thank you! I’m not sure I could cope with so much misery by choice.
I do totally sympathise with the person searching the whole house for a misplaced item only for it to turn up when no longer needed (and usually where you thought it was and the first place you looked!)
So true! Although it is funny to me how many of the declared “miseries” from so long ago are applicable today. All in all a humorous look at life.