Sunday, December 10, 2006


With permission, I should like to share with you a few cyanide-scented sentiments and arsenic-flavoured accolades from another of my loo-side treasuries - The Little Book of Venom: A Collection of Historical Insults compiled by Jennifer Heggie

A quite excellent nosegay of nastiness, this innocent-looking little collection is one in which musicians are murdered...

Bernard Levin on the music of Frederick Delius: "The musical equivalent of blancmange"

Oscar Wilde on Richard Wagner: "I like Wagner's music better than any other music. It is so loud that one can talk the whole time without people hearing what one says. That is a great advantage."

...politicians are pulverised...

Benjamin Disraeli on Robert Peel: "His smile is like the silver fittings on a coffin."

Aneurin Bevan on Clement Atlee: "He brings to the fierce struggle of politics the tepid enthusiasm of a lazy summer afternoon at a cricket match."

...historical figures are hammered...

Charles Dickens on Henry VIII: "The plain truth is that he was the most intolerable ruffian, a disgrace to human nature, and a blot of blood and grease upon the history of England."

George Bernard Shaw on Queen Victoria: "Nowadays, a parlour maid as ignorant as Queen Victoria was when she came to the throne would be classed as mentally defective."

...playwrights are poleaxed...

H G Wells on George Bernard Shaw: "An idiot child screaming in a hospital."

Queen Victoria on William Shakespeare's King Lear: "A strange, horrible business, but I suppose good enough for Shakespeare's day."

...divas are destroyed...

W B Yeats on Mrs Patrick Campbell: "An ego like a raging tooth."

George Bernard Shaw (again) on Isadora Duncan: "A woman whose face looked as if it had been made of sugar and someone had licked it."

...and authors are assassinated...

Lord Byron on John Keats: "A tadpole of the lakes."

Dame Edith Sitwell on Virginia Woolf: "Virginia Wolf's writings is no more than glamorous knitting. I believe she must have a pattern somewhere."

Finally, here's an all-purpose Arab curse that is seriously worth committing to memory for daily use in any stressful situation: "May your left ear wither and fall into your right pocket."

The Little Book of Venom: A Collection of Historical Insults, compiled by Jennifer Heggie in 1999, is published by Michael O'Mara Books Ltd.

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