Fogwives

There are great unwritten works we mourn, books their authors planned but never penned. Ruskin’s survey of Swiss towns and villages is one, Dobson’s series of pamphlets provisionally entitled Sundry Imperilments Of The Mists And The Marshes is another. We know from his scribblings that the out of print pamphleteer intended to write no fewer than sixteen essays, each devoted to a particular menace of mist and marsh, yet he never completed a single one, nor even began any of them, possibly due to sheer unalloyed ignorance. So when we want to familiarise ourselves with so important a topic, we must turn to Daniel Defoe:

“I have one remark more, before I leave this damp part of the world, and which I cannot omit on the womens account; namely, that I took notice of a strange decay of the sex here; insomuch, that all along this county it was very frequent to meet with men that had had from five or six, to fourteen or fifteen wives; nay, and some more; and I was inform’d that in the marshes on the other side the river over-against Candy Island, there was a farmer, who was then living with the five and twentieth wife, and that his son who was but about 35 years old, had already had about fourteen; indeed this part of the story, I only had by report, tho’ from good hands too; but the other is well known, and easie to be inquired in to, about Fobbing, Curringham, Thundersly, Benfleet, Prittlewell, Wakering, Great Stambridge, Cricksea, Burnham, Dengy, and other towns of the like situation: The reason, as a merry fellow told me, who said he had had about a dozen and half of wives, (tho’ I found afterwards he fibb’d a little) was this; That they being bred in the marshes themselves, and season’d to the place, did pretty well with it; but that they always went up into the hilly country, or to speak their own language into the uplands for a wife: That when they took the young lasses out of the wholesome and fresh air, they were healthy, fresh and clear, and well; but when they came out of their native air into the marshes among the fogs and damps, there they presently chang’d their complexion, got an ague or two, and seldom held it above half a year, or a year at most; and then, said he, we go to the uplands again, and fetch another.”

From A tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724-26)

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