Sometime, journalists and writers come up with great ideas that will delight their readers. Case in point, Alessandro Arseni whose “All Stunned, bar the dead man” has half of Europe reading the book from cover to cover in no time. During a lifetime of professional research on a variety of sources, including newspapers and gazettes, Arseni’s eyes often fell on unusual news reports. They caught his attention and he decided to cull them as he came across such extraordinary stories. After browsing through some 300,000 pages of Italian newspapers dating from 1820 to 1880, he has now published this amazing anthology.
One short news items published in 1826, tells the tragic story of a Genoese child “all alone” at home, being devoured by a pig, while the parents were at the church. On a more mellow tone, in March 1858, in Milan, a beef that was being slaughtered at the abattoir managed to run away after the first blow. The bleeding animal ran through the streets causing havoc until – in reaching a courtyard – the infuriated beef climbed the stairs and went to the third floor and entered a well-known whore-house where the unfortunate animal was eventually gunned down. Needless to say the whole town indulged in saucy gossip about the apartment the crazy beef decided to visit.
More intriguing is an 1869 news report from Nashville, where a pharmacist discovered a rather ingenious remedy to get rid of rats. He had blended a dye with phosphorus and used it to brush a mouse that he had captured in his home. The unwelcome rodent was set free and when it returned to the dark nest, the other rats saw a ball of fire and ran in all directions. However, the “innocent” rat not knowing that he was the cause of the panic, ran with the fugitives which made them run even faster. The end result was a rat-free home: perfect remedy! What about a betrayal drama? Paris 1825: Mr. D., 25 years old and married, sends love letters to the wife of Mr. B. The latter becomes suspicious and simulates to embark on a trip to a far away town for business. In the course of the night he unexpectedly returns home where he duly finds Mr. D. in bed with his wife. B. pulls out two pistols and intimates to D. to jump from the window. With little choice left, D. jumps and injures himself in a most horrendous manner. The news item ends stating that the seducer “is in hospital but not yet out of his predicaments”. In 1833, a Sardinian newspaper reported that at the Bordeaux Court many deaf-mute individuals were on trial for having stolen, among other things, 7,000 francs from a deaf-mute person; the news report stated that the witnesses were deaf-mute too.
We would like to share more stories from this delightful 238-page book, but we leave it to the readers to secure a copy of the first edition. It is in Italian, and it would be nice if it is translated into English as it will give access to a wider audience.
Arseni’s book opens a big window on the news-media and news reporting of the 1800s. In the days before the electronic media news reporting was less concise but more personable and user friendly; it was not Associated Press lingo and that, in a way, makes it look a bit naive to our eyes. Yet, there was some penchant for sensationalism, more information and more detail and the story was a story and not a pre-structured report. Heavily monitored and sometime censored, and in competitive gear, Italian newspapers of the 1800s were attracted to tidbits of drama, esoterica, and unusual news. This and other aspects that the reader will discover make this book particularly interesting and endearing. This book is available at http://www.vaccari.it/
Guest editorial by Giorgio Migliavacca