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Video: How children were crippled for the fun of the public
2023 Author: Seth Attwood | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-11-26 22:42
Pity and curiosity are two senses that have been used to pull money out of people for centuries. For many centuries, it was believed that there is no sight more fun than a person with an unusual face or body. And such people were made on purpose - from babies, sometimes very seriously crippling them.
Paid exhibitions of people with special appearance and even health are not a matter of such a distant past. "Human zoos", which not only showed representatives of non-European peoples, but also forced them to deliberately portray savages - growling and eating raw meat - or exposed naked, regardless of their traditions and beliefs, disappeared only after the Second World War.
"Circuses of freaks" - performances of disabled people with a lack of limbs, bearded women who are too tall, short, thin or fat in comparison with the usual norm of people, children - Siamese twins, also existed for a long time.
This custom - to "exchange" the spectacle of a non-standard, and sometimes frankly mutilated body for money - dragged on for centuries. And in the Renaissance, and in the Gallant Age, and between them, it was believed that there is nothing funnier than a falling dwarf or a dancing hunchback.
Peter I forced the Lilliputians to perform erotic shows, and he was not alone in this. Liliputians where on a voluntary basis, where they were compulsorily supplied to every large court - royal or ducal. Those who waddled, due to the peculiarities of anatomy, were forced to perform dances in order to laugh enough.
More proportionally folded, they were shown to the public naked, then they were taught acrobatic tricks. Mental inclination to acrobatics did not matter. If you are a dwarf, if you please work as a dwarf - not a poet, chronicler, lackey, artist, whatever.
The dwarfs made up comic performances, only half of the jokes of which consisted of the plot. All the rest played up the growth of the dwarfs - and this is at best. The disproportionate body and waddling gait were necessarily ridiculed; to enhance the comic effect, the dwarfs were put on special costumes or forced to do movements requiring dexterity of the legs.
If the little person had a tic, trauma on his face, stuttering - all the better! More room for ridicule.
Not only real dwarfs were popular, but also fake ones - children whose body height was limited by various tricks, allowing the legs and head to grow without interference. To do this, they injured their spine - it became zigzag or hunchback in appearance. Naturally, the "corrected" children suffered from pain - and all the more they tumbled, bowed and danced in a more amusing way.
Factory for the production of funny kids
The memory of professional manufacturers of live entertainment was preserved largely thanks to Victor Hugo - he collected all the stories and rumors about the representatives of this dubious craft and, perhaps, was familiar with documents that have not reached our time.
That he was generally inclined to be interested in real history, tells us the scene of the appearance of gypsies in Paris in his most famous novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In the 19th century, no one even remembered that the groups of gypsies who came to Europe from the dying Byzantium were headed by mysterious dukes - and Hugo has this detail.
In The Man Who Laughs, Hugo tells the story of one of the victims who was destined to become live entertainment - a boy who had his lips cut off so that he seemed to be smiling broadly all the time because of his bared teeth.
At the same time, the writer makes an excursion into the "business" of the Comprachikos in general. The word comprachicos itself consists of two Spanish words and means "buy children."In the very professional jargon of the Comprachikos one could find words and constructions from almost every European language.
The Comprachicos traveled a lot, probably did not start families outside of their circle and were constantly concerned about the preservation of professional secrets. They also had a kind of professional pride. Although their craft was considered dirty, and they themselves were despised, they never stooped to steal children - unlike the owners of small circuses, looking out for little disabled people in the villages. The Comprachikos were the ones who bought the children.
The hero of the novel, Hugo, turned out to be a child from a noble family, which opponents thought to destroy. The legends that children from overthrown families, in order to humiliate the defeated clan more or so as not to stain their hands with children's blood, were sold to the comprachicos were very popular and probably had a real basis - although it is unlikely that the comprachicos often got their hands on the little heirs of the counts and dukes.
In any case, the same thing happened to tiny viscounts or baronets as to any other kids: they were deliberately mutilated. It is interesting that, unlike doctors, the Comprachicos used pain relief to the utmost. And it is not surprising - it was important for them that the child in whom the money was invested survived.
But they used rather coarse narcotic tinctures. They were given both during the operation and during the recovery period, and as a result, the child received serious brain damage. One common side effect was complete or partial memory loss with concomitant developmental regression.
So along with the operation, the child received not only a new body, but also a new personality. While the baby was recovering, pictures of his prosperous future were painted in front of him, suggesting that the injury inflicted was his special advantage.
According to legend, the comprachicos could make a child's eyes always look apart, changed the shape of the mouth to make it funnier and so that the child could talk with diction defects, almost performed operations on the larynx for the sake of a funny voice. And, of course, they, with the help of various tricks, deformed the spine or limbs of the child, which took a lot of time.
The goal was not just to injure, but to preserve the ability to move (after all, the Comprachicos sold these children for all sorts of performances) and fully serve themselves. Problem children would be paid less - no one likes fuss.
Children were bought not only by the Comprachicos. Poor circuses hunted for children with ready-made injuries. Sometimes it was enough for them to inspect the roadsides and river banks - the peasants of Europe, in spite of all the church sermons, believed that the elves were substituting their children for their "freaks" and often brought them back to the elves.
That is, they were left at the edge of a forest or near a river pool. There were children with autism, Down syndrome, cleft lip, crooked back, red eyes (that is, albinos), extra fingers or webbing between the fingers. Only a part of them survived - those who became interested in circus performers or especially compassionate passers-by.
But often peasant women themselves offered their "unsuccessful" children either to the masters in the estate, or to circus performers for money. Moreover, individual women themselves became factories for the production of funny children.
Firstly, in many places in Europe, children were bandaged their heads, trying to give it a special, beautiful shape by local standards. Mothers selling babies to booths found their own ways to bandage their heads so that it looked unusual - for example, it became like the head of the Soviet cartoon character Samodelkin, with a flat wide crown.
They could smooth the baby's soft nose several times a day, making it flat, pulling it forward and upward, giving it various bizarre shapes. Others pulled the belly with ropes and planks during pregnancy, when the baby began to move. The rope did not allow the child to move in the womb and grow fully in any one place - as a result, the baby was born with some kind of strangeness.
In Guy de Maupassant's story "The Mother of Freaks", the peasant woman even knew how to control what form the children would take in her womb. He also pointed out that women of fashion in corsets also harmed their children - only, unlike that peasant woman, no one thought to blame them for this.
By the way, in this story there is a sign of the 19th century. The peasant woman no longer sold her children, but gave them to the booth, as if to work and study for some artisan, receiving their salary for herself as a mother.
Army of angels
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Italy was seized by a real epidemic. Peasants, bakers, artists, artisans - fathers from all walks of life voluntarily mutilated their sons in a very specific way. These boys were castrated - by removing the testicles with the same composure with which this procedure was performed for lambs and calves.
Since fashion was fought in every possible way, including by passing laws directly prohibiting mutilation, very often fathers made excuses that their children allegedly accidentally injured their scrotum during an accident.
One was bitten by a snake, and it was necessary to prevent the spread of the poison. Another unsuccessfully fell from his horse. The third one unsuccessfully sat down on a log and cut his delicate organ with a knot. The fourth was crushed and flattened by a stone. All in all, for over a hundred years, Italian boys have been the victims of a variety of accidents as abundantly as never before or later. Some of them did not worry about him: the medicine was not of the highest level, and at home the operation was sometimes performed incorrectly.
And the blame for everything was the fashion for the angelic voices of castrated singers, which came to Europe along with refugees from Byzantium, where the tradition of the castration of a boy (for example, so that he made a spiritual career or could not make a political one) was counted for centuries.
The castrati singers made it possible to improve the repertoire of the choirs and not to lose the male singers when they barely have time to learn something, only because the voice began to break. Castrati singers allowed the clergy to enjoy the female parts of popular operas without leaving the big and hectic world.
Moreover, the combination of a sonorous voice and masculinely large lungs (even more extensive - castrates later stopped growing) made castrates valuable for listeners of a completely non-spiritual occupation. The fashion for castrates and their fabulous fees forced fathers to single their little children. Alas, the absence of testicles in itself did not give the boys a ticket to the world of music - after all, they still needed hearing, talent, and the ability to hold on.
True, even without singing, the castrate could earn good money. Along with the fashion for castrates in art came the fashion for novels with castrates. Moreover, both on the part of men and on the part of women, since a properly emasculated young man, on the whole, retained his sexual function - at the same time he did not reward unwanted children. Men were attracted by the effeminacy of these young men.
So a huge number of young castrates earned money rather in bed than on stage, barely learning how to pluck the strings (due to the lack of singing talent, castrates often played a few fashionable plays somehow, as if they were entertaining the ladies in their chambers).
Even those young men who sang and performed wonderfully in the opera or as soloists did not avoid this earnings. They often attracted the attention of wealthy and powerful people who offered them their patronage. It was an offer that could not be refused - revenge awaited the obstinate, and it was good if it limited itself to closing access to the stage.
It was quite in the mores of the time to hire blockheads who would lie in wait for the singer and disfigure him, or even just beat him to death. Willingly or unwillingly, every castrato singer was forced to give in to the love claims of "patrons" - who soothed their consciences with money and gifts. Less often they were patrons.
Castration made young men more than just the owners of a unique voice. Due to the fact that they stopped growing late, they often looked strange - very tall, with a head that seemed small due to height, with disproportionately long and at the same time weak legs touching at the knees, with a chest that could look like a teenage girl or hanging, not like a man's or a woman's.
Only by the end of the 19th century, the wave of mutilation operations was stopped, the demand for them simply began to fall - thanks to the gradually spreading scientific view of the world, displacing obscurantism, greedy for miracles.
The last castrato singer was Alessandro Moreschi. He did not have the most pleasant timbre, but due to the lack of choice, he performed in front of the Pope himself and aroused the curiosity of all of Europe. He, like his predecessors, all his life entered into a relationship with women and men - and, apparently, also not always voluntarily.
He was the only castrato singer who left audio recordings - albeit rather far from perfect, but giving a general idea of both his capabilities and the timbre of his voice.
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