Monday, August 24, 2009

Abraham-men

Wikipedia is full of such ridiculously interesting tidbits. For example, did you know that in pre-Victorian England, there was a class of beggars called "Abraham-men" who went around pretending to be escapees from the insane asylum at Bedlam? They got their name from the ward they pretended to have escaped from, the Abraham ward:
The author of O Per Se O (1612) reported that Abram-men made marks on their arms with 'burnt paper, piss and gunpowder' to show they had been in Bedlam Hospital: "some dance, but keep no measure; others leap up and down". The phrase Abraham-men also appears as a disguise for Edgar in King Lear (1604-05) and John Fletcher's Beggar's Bush. They were called anticks or God's minstrels, and later Poor Toms, from the popular song "Tom of Bedlam". John Aubrey the antiquary said they were common before the English Civil War, and wore a badge of tin on their left arms, an ox horn around their necks, a long staff and fantastical clothing.
It's not just that every detail of these guys (and I assume they were all men) is beyond hilarious (they wore urine, gunpowder, burnt paper and, apocryphally, a tin badge, an ox horn and "fantastical clothing" and carried long staffs: isn't that kind of overdoing it?). But what an obscure fucking subject, and Wikipedia not only has a wealth of information on it, including a link to an outside source, but it's 100% free! And it costs Wikipedia next to nothing to generate and host all this information, so there's practically speaking no limit on the amount of information it can have on just this one type of pre-Victorian crazy person.

It's truly a wondrous age in which we live.