A Page of Nonsense (Christmas History 15)

London NewsThe Illustrated London News ran a special Christmas issue on 24th December 1864.  It contained mostly short stories, but there was also “A Page of Nonsense for Christmas”, included for children.  The aim was clearly to give the children something to do at Christmas to keep them busy, with suggestions for short plays for them to perform, some shockingly bad riddles (“Why is my aunt in Dorsetshire superior to the person who shaves me? – Because he is only a barber, whilst she is a Barbara.”), chemistry simplified for young beginners (wow, how exciting), and some tricks for them to annoy their families with.  Somehow, I get the impression the following was not meant to be taken entirely seriously.  Let’s hope no children at the time actually attempted any of the ‘tricks’!

In these days of wizards and railways and magic lanterns, nobody’s anything who can’t do tricks.  If you want to be the most wonderful man of your age, all you have got to do is to read carefully.

How to Make a Cake in Grandpapa’s Hat. – Get grandpapa’s hat; kick it rather hard to show there’s no deception.  Take plenty of eggs, a pint of cream, some Harvey sauce, lots of sugar-plums, pepper, and stuff to kill blackbeetles; mix and stir briskly with a tallow candle, holding the hat over the fire till the mixture boils.  Then give grandpapa a large spoonful, and see how he likes it.

How to Tell a Person the Number he has thought of – Ask Uncle George to think of a number.  Tell him to double it, lend you half-a-crown, and divide the remainder by forty-nine.  Then ask him what it was.  If he refuses to tell you, say it was three.  If he says, “No, it was not,” tell him you don’t believe him.

The Spectral Fiddler. – This is a very marvellous illusion.  Keep your company in the dark as long as possible till they become fidgety.  Then get a spectre; send him under the sofa, and tell him to play the fiddle.  Tie yourself in a knot to the armchair, and declare it’s you.  The company will turn very pale, ask for brandy, and say it must have been spirits – which it was.


From 1st to 24th December there will be a “Christmas History” article on Windows into History every day, exploring how people spent Christmas in the past through first-hand accounts in forgotten books.  Please come back tomorrow for the next article!

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