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From A Gallery or Eccentrics, by Morris Bishop, New York: Minton, Balch & Company, 1928; pp. 71-82.


Morris Bishop



MANY a great spirit has found lodgment in but a tiny tenement of clay. How said Plato — man has three souls: the spirit, or the nous, resides in the head, the thymos, emotion, dwells in the bosom; and in the trunk lives that base soul, the epithymetikon, which tends his grimy engine. And this epithymetikon, the only soul of most men, is a savage beast which must be fed so that the mortal race may persist.

How happy then are they of little bodies, in whom the epithymetikon with its gross machine requires a minimum of cubic displacement! Who would not resemble Philetas of Cos, grammarian, critic, and poet, and tutor of Ptolemy Philadelphus! If we are to believe Athenaeus,1 he was obliged to attach balls of lead to his feet to keep the winds from blowing him away. Aelian2 records that he is said to have worn soles of lead. Aelian — and we may applaud his critical acumen — doubts the report, advancing, that one who could not withstand the wind could not have lifted the leaden-soled boots. This Philetas in his amorous verse sang of the cruelties of his Battis, whose gusts of caprice blew him more fiercely than any wind. One is reminded of the learned and accomplished Count Boruwlaski, who pretended to the favors of a French actress, the toast of Warsaw, and was by her humiliated, only because 72 she misprized his thirty-five inches of stature. The Count was later more fortunate in love; but when he married, at the age of forty, he had attained the respectable height of thirty-nine inches. He lived to the age of ninety-eight, and dying in 1837, was buried in Durham Cathedral.

Nature in her playful moods has always created dwarfs, midgets, and pigmies, to harass her giants and to inspire gratitude for her mercies in men of common stature. Let the medical faculties prate as they will of obstructions to the hormones in the endocrine glands; our business is wonder, not the reducing of wonder. Homer knew more truth than any journal of biological investigation, and Homer tells us of the pigmies who lived in houses built of egg-shells, and who sustained an annual battle with the cranes on the banks of the Ocean-sea. Hercules brought home to Erystheus a great quantity of pigmies in his Nemean lion’s skin. They were so small that, in order to drink, they were forced to climb with ladders to the rim of Hercules’ goblet. The Egyptians had a dwarf deity, Pthah-Sokari-Osiris. The Romans were fond of pigmies; they were under foot in many of the great houses of the later Empire. They commonly went naked, although bejeweled. According to Suetonius, the Emperor Augustus forgot his melancholy in playing with his human pets for nuts. These facts are copied out of that valuable contribution to homunculology, E. J. Wood’s “Giants and Dwarfs” (London, 1868).

However, mere insignificance of stature constitutes no credit upon fame. Many a dwarf is but a lymphatic lackwit, or but an impertinent dandiprat. Only those should be memorable whose souls outroar their frame, 73 mens magna in corpore minimo. Such was that Mr. Ramus of whom Evelyn speaks in his Numismata, who accompanied the English ambassador to Vienna, and who “made a speech in Latin before his imperial majesty, with such a grace, and so much eloquence, as merited a golden chain and medal of the emperor.” Alypius of Alexandria, logician and philosopher, whose eloquence drew away auditors from Iamblichus, was but one foot five and a half inches in height. Croesus, the wise king of Lydia, wrote of himself that Nature had made him deformed, crook-backed, one-eyes, lame of leg, and a dwarf. Ladislas Cubitalis, the pigmy king of Poland, outdid all his predecessors in glorious victories won. Richard Gibson, court dwarf to Charles the First of England, was an accomplished painter, and was drawing-master to the Princesses Mary and Anne, both destined to be queens of England. He married Anne Shepherd; the couple was rarely matched, each being three feet ten inches tall. Edmund Waller, court poet, wrote for them an epithalamium of a suitable daintiness:

Design, or chance, make others wive;

But Nature did this match contrive:

Eve might as well have Adam fled

As she deny’d her little bed

To him, for whom Heav’n seem’d to frame

And measure out this only dame.

To him the fairest nymphs do show

Like moving mountain topp’d with snow;

And every man a Polypheme

Does to his Galatea seem:

None may presume her faith to prove;

He proffers death that proffers love.


In the same court of Charles the Martyr dwelt that most glorious of little men, Sir Jeffery Hudson. Though his stature was but eighteen inches, there was in him nothing of what we are agreed to call smallness, meanness, pettiness, qualities which distinguished even such mountainous men as Goliath and Polyphemus. He who did missions of trust for his Queen, who valiantly fought the Barbary pirates, who killed his man in the duel, defied the slighting intent of Nature and proved himself every inch (of his eighteen) a Man.

He was born in 1619 at Oakham, in Rutlandshire “the least man in England’s least county.” His father was keeper of the baiting-bulls of George, Duke of Buckingham, “a place you will say requiring a robustious body to manage it,” says Fuller in his Worthies of England. His mother likewise was a strapping creature, and his brothers and sisters grew to normal stature. Only little Jeffery remained an elfin boy, to the admiration of the countryside. An old issue of the Gentleman’s Magazine3 preserves the record of a frolic in which he was employed.

“An old Gossip having invited some Tattle-Baskets to a Junketting Bout, some arch Wags stole her Cat Rutterkin, flead him, dress’d Jeffrey in his Skin, and convey’d him into the Room. When the Feast was over, and Cheese set upon the Table, one of the females offer’d Rutterkin a Bit. — Rutterkin can help himself when he is hungry, said Jeffrey, and so nimbly made down stairs. The Women all started up in the greatest Confusion and Clamour imaginable, crying out, A Witch, a Witch, with her talking Cat! But the Joke was soon after found out, otherwise the poor Woman 75 might have suffer’d for it, as two others in that County did, who were hang’d pursuant to the Sentence of those wise Judges Hobart and Bromley, on Account of another Rutterkin charged with the Murder of the E. of Rutland’s Children.”

His father, a grateful servant of Buckingham, presented his remarkable son, when about eight years of age, to the Duchess, and she received him with honor, dressing him in satin and setting two tall men to wait upon him. Shortly thereafter His Majesty and Queen Henrietta Maria came to Burghley on the Hill to pay a visit to the royal favorite. At dinner a cold baked pie was set before the Queen; the crust was cut, and little Jeffery stepped forth. The Duchess then offered him as a present to the Queen. Her Majesty, delighted with this elegant conceit, received him into her service, and there he remained until a certain dark day during her exile in France.

Those who hold to a belief in the importance of parallels, analogies, and influence, may find the origin of the Duchess of Buckingham’s human pie in the medieval custom of serving armed men in a great pasty. The whimsy of thus surprising guests by the spectacle of life in death would occur to any impresario of novelties. I have told how the Romans served yellow pigs in the Troan fashion; when carved, hot sausages tumbled out and thrushes flew away singing. Another Roman served on a great fish-platter a dancing-girl garnished with lemons and sauces. I cannot remember his name. The Count Oginski about 1760 dished the dwarf Count Boruwlaski from a soup-tureen.

Young Jeffery received much cherishing at court, 76 more, indeed, than was for his good. “He lived in great plenty,” says Fuller, “wanting nothing but humility (high mind in a low body), which made him that he did not know himself, and would not know his father; and which by the King’s command caused justly his sound correction.” Many a prank of Jeffery’s cheered that unhappy court. He scarped acquaintance with Pug, Her Majesty’s monkey; the two became great friends. To the contrary, his testy temper found cause for jealousy of William Evans, the court Giant, seven and a half feet tall. Yet the two figured together in an antimask; the giant, after some lumbering dancing-steps, drew little Jeffery from one pocket and a loaf of bread from the other; he then made the pretense of eating the homunculus as a piece of cheese to his bread.

Those who remember Gulliver will picture the perils that beset a knee-high being in a world proportioned for vasty men. Once he was well-nigh drowned in a basin as he was washing his face and hands. Again, he had been blown into the Thames had he not clung to a handy shrub. His life contained, however, its compensations. “The Ladies were very fond of him,” says the Gentleman’s Magazine. “He could make married Men Cuckolds without making them jealous, and Mothers of the Maids, without letting the World know they had any Gallants.”

His intelligence must have come early to maturity. In 1630 he was sent by the Queen to France to bring back to her a skilled French midwife. He fulfilled his task with uncommon perspicacity for a dwarf of eleven years; the Court of France, delighted with England’s ambassador, showered upon him presents to the value of 2500 pounds, and the French queen, Marie de Médicis, 77 entrusted him with rich presents for her royal daughter.

He was less successful in his mission than was that other diplomatic midget, Richebourg, who died in 1858 at the age of 90 and at the height of 23½ inches. When young he had been in the service of the Duchesses d’Orléans, mother of Louis Philippe. After the first revolution broke out he was employed to carry despatches abroad, by a sufficiently ingenious method. The despatches were concealed in his cap, and a nurse dandled him all the way to the foreign capital.

On Jeffery’s return to England in charge of the midwife and of his Queen’s dancing-master, his vessel was boarded by Dutch privateers, and valiant Jeffery taken prisoner, despite his struggle against overwhelming odds. A libelous poem of Sir William Davenant’s, Jeffereidos, on the Captivity of Jeffery, would have it that our hero, loth to be abused

Resolv’d to hide him, where they sooner might

Discover him, with smelling than with sight,

to wit, beneath a pewter candlestick. Such craven-heartedness accords ill with all we know of Jeffery. The trait, with the other manifest exaggerations of the poem, may be ascribed to some carking jealousy of the noble author. He would have us believe, further, that Don Diego, the captain of the privateer, suspected our little man of espionage.

This that appears to you a walking Thumbe

May prove the gen’ral Spie of Christendome.

Sir William does at least the justice to figure Jeffery as answering his captor with honorable stoutness:


One faine would know’s descent: Thou Pirat-Dogge

(The wrathful Captive then reply’d) not Ogge

(The Bashan King) was my Progenitor;

Nor did I strive to fetch my Ancestor

From Aneck’s Sonnes, nor from the Genitals

O wrastling-Cacus, who gave many falls.

The poet, yielding to the temptations of burlesque, then describes a comical-heroical battle with a turkey-cock, from whose talons Jeffery was happily delivered by the French midwife. The ode does not lack poetical beauties, nor elegance in the turning of such lines as these:

Strike up the wrathful Tabor! and the Githern;

The loud Jew’s trump! and Spirit-stirring-Cittherne!

Having escaped by the agency of the governor of Calais, Sesquipedal Jeffery returned crestfallen to his mistress. His sage-femme arrived too late to preside at the birth of Charles the Second, who was thus perforce ushered into the world by an English midwife. None the less, Jeffery was restored to favor. His portrait was twice painted by van Dyke, as in attendance upon the Queen. He was commonly dubbed Sir Jeffery, but, as our researches fail to reveal a record of his knighting, we may conjecture that his title was but one of courtesy.

During these troubled years he was never seduced by Roundhead reasonings. He was by his Queen’s side when, in 1643, she made her glorious landing at Burlington Quay, under the guns of the Parliament ships, and led her force of loyalists to Oxford. He was with her still in the evil days of ’44, when she fled to France and cast herself on the mercy of her kingly cousin. It 79 was during her progress from the baths of Bourbon to Paris that the disaster of his life fell upon him, when he was undone by valor.

The Queen was lodged in the palace of the Dukes of Nevers, now the Hôtel de Ville of that city. Young Mr. Crofts, brother of that Lord Crofts who was captain of the Queen’s life-guard and master of her horse, teased little Jeffery with a heaviness ill consonant with the subject of his jest. Jeffery responded to the slur in the only manner suitable to a captain and a man of honor; he challenged his molester to a duel. Young Crofts, evidently a malapert as well as a bully, answered the cartel by appearing at the rendezvous armed only with a squirt-gun. One may well picture the rage that shook the small body of Jeffery. He demanded the fullest satisfaction for the affront; a duello with pistols from horseback.

Swaggering Crofts accepted; horses were brought to the shady park that still lies below the ducal palace, and there Jeffery furioso, drawcansir Jeffery, shot his antagonist dead.4

The matter caused no small pother; duels to the death were sternly frowned upon in France. Jeffery was cast into prison, and was only released on the intercession of Henrietta Maria herself. Her cajoling letter to Mazarin, still preserved in the French archives, is thus conceived:


I wrote to the queen, my sister, about a misfortune which has happened to my house, of Geoffrey, who has 80 killed Croft’s brother. I have written the whole affair to the commander, in order that you may hear of it. What I wish is, that as they are both English, and my servants, the queen my sister will give me authority to dispose of them as I please, in dispensing either justice or favor, which I was unwilling to do, without writing to you, and asking you to assist me therein, as I shall always do in all which concerns me, since I profess to be, as I am, cousin,

Your very affectionate cousin,


Nevers, October 20th, 1644.

From this time on we have but little exact information of our hero’s career. He was evidently imprisoned for a time, and released probably in accession to his Queen’s supplications. He served gallantly in the Civil Wars, with the commission of captain in the King’s Cavalry. One would wish to have more information about his horse. He was twice taken prisoner by Barbary pirates, was sold as a slave among those pagans, and suffered much indignity of body and spirit. He himself states that at the age of thirty, when held in slavery, his stature suddenly rose from eighteen inches to three feet nine, as a result of the hardships he experienced. At this unsatisfactory height, neither man nor midget, he persisted until his death. Being ransomed, he returned to England, and lived quietly in the country, on the bounty of the Duke of Buckingham and other persons of quality. We find indeed records of allowances from His Majesty himself. We can imagine him telling many a high tale to the gaping peasants 81 of court gallantries, in the days were the corsairs’ cruelty had robbed him of his title to esteem.

His end was not to be untroubled. In 1679, when the Popish Plot set England by the ears, he was arrested, for it was well known that he professed the errors of the Bishop of Rome. He was confined in the Gate House at Westminster for well-nigh three years. Sir Walter Scott, in a spirited chapter, describes his meeting there with Julian Peveril. He was at length released, and died in 1682 in the sixty-third year of his age. In the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford are still preserved his waistcoat of blue satin, slashed and ornamented with pinked white silk, and his breeches and stockings in one piece of blue satin.

By his example may we all learn to affront ill fortune. Which of us has not his defect, his stunting of this sort or that, his physical or moral wen? Jeffery, a changeling child of the world, was not dismayed nor shamefaced nor embittered by his inferiority to mankind. He made no attempt to conceal his deformity, as the world chose to judge it. On the contrary, he made an extremely good living out of it.



 1  III, cap. 13.

 2  Var. Hist. IX, cap. 14, also X, cap. 6.

 3  Gent. Mag. (1732), p. 1120.

 4  This affair took place in 1644; the Dictionary of National Biography errs in setting it in 1649.





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