Fumigating miasmas and burning love letters

While researching illustrations for 𝘍𝘪𝘳𝘦 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 Imagination, I came across striking images that don’t suit the book but deserve attention somewhere. I’ll post some of them here.

Solomon Eagle, or Eccles, was a composer of note until he became a Quaker, decided church music was sinful, and burned all his compositions. Mentioned in Daniel Defoe’s 𝘑𝘰𝘶𝘳𝘯𝘢𝘭 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘗𝘭𝘢𝘨𝘶𝘦 𝘠𝘦𝘢𝘳, he also appears in the 29 July 1667 entry in Samuel Pepys’ diary: “…a man, a Quaker, came naked through the [Westminster] Hall, only very civilly tied about the privates to avoid scandal, and with a chafing-dish of fire and brimstone burning upon his head… crying, “Repent! repent!”

A common belief at the time held that diseases such as plague were caused by miasmas (from the Greek for “to pollute”), poisonous vapors containing particles of decomposing matter. Fire featured in many schemes to evade noxious miasmas. A note in the source calls the device on his head a “burnace,” but I have not been able to find other references to this term.



Solomon Eagle striding through plague-ridden London with burning coals on his head, trying to fumigate the air. Chalk drawing by E.M. Ward, 1848 (Wellcome Collection)

An advertisement from the 50s by Al Moore could perhaps illustrate a chapter in Fire in the Imagination about the persistence of fire rituals, but would take too long to explain.

It seems that this woman, her era’s epitome of beautiful upper-class babe, is unaware of a fatal flaw. The man of her dreams, after writing beautiful letters from Rio full of plans and hopes for their future, stepped off the plane full of ardor. But soon he seemed to change. His ardor became indifference, his tenderness “merely formal courtesy.” Now she has come back from his wedding to another woman, dressed to the nines. Before burning his letters, she reads them, searching for an answer. What had happened to change his feeling for her? “She would never know…”

But we know. “A case of halitosis (bad breath) can cause a rift in a promising romance.” Don’t let this happen to you!

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