The introduction of Ben Jonson into the party was wholly appropriate, if one may call to witness some of Jonson’s writings. The subject under discussion was one that Jonson was acquainted with, in The Alchemist:
Act. I, Scene I,
Face: Believe’t I will.
Subtle: Thy worst. I fart at thee.
Dol common: Have you your wits? Why, gentlemen, for love——
Act. 2, Scene I,
Sir epicure mammon: ....and then my poets, the same that writ so subtly of the fart, whom I shall entertain still for that subject and again in Bartholomew Fair
Nightengale: (sings a ballad)
Hear for your love, and buy for your money.
A delicate ballad o’ the ferret and the coney.
A preservative again’ the punk’s evil.
Another goose-green starch, and the devil.
A dozen of divine points, and the godly garter
The fairing of good counsel, of an ell and three-quarters.
What is’t you buy?
The windmill blown down by the witche’s fart,
Or Saint George, that, O! did break the dragon’s heart.
That certain types of English society have not changed materially in their freedom toward breaking wind in public can be noticed in some comparatively recent literature. Frank Harris in My Life, Vol. 2, Ch. XIII, tells of Lady Marriott, wife of a judge Advocate General, being compelled to leave her own table, at which she was entertaining Sir Robert Fowler, then the Lord Mayor of London, because of the suffocating and nauseating odors there. He also tells of an instance in parliament, and of a rather brilliant bon mot spoken upon that occasion.
“While Fowler was speaking Finch-Hatton had shewn signs of restlessness; towards the end of the speech he had moved some three yards away from the Baronet. As soon as Fowler sat down Finch-Hatton sprang up holding his handkerchief to his nose:
“‘Mr. Speaker,’ he began, and was at once acknowledged by the Speaker, for it was a maiden speech, and as such was entitled to precedence by the courteous custom of the House, ’I know why the Right Honourable Member from the City did not conclude his speech with a proposal. The only way to conclude such a speech appropriately would be with a motion!’”
But society had apparently degenerated sadly in modern times, and even in the era of Elizabeth, for at an earlier date it was a serious—nay, capital—offense to break wind in the presence of majesty. The Emperor Claudius, hearing that one who had suppressed the urge while paying him court had suffered greatly thereby, “intended to issue an edict, allowing to all people the liberty of giving vent at table to any distension occasioned by flatulence:”