I mentioned how the Georgians relished their lavatorial humour in At your Convenience. Below is a post about the early eighteenth-century London Farting Club. The risk is entirely yours.
Georgians had numerous clubs. One of the more ridiculous clubs was a club known as the “Farting Club.” One person said of it, “of all the fantastical Clubs that ever took Pains to make themselves stink in the Nostrils of the Public, [there was no other club that]…ever came up to this windy Society.” Perhaps the club started because of Jonathan Swift. Swift was a master of satire and author of Gulliver’s Travel, who in 1722 also published a pamphlet titled “The Benefit of Farting Explain’d.” In the pamphlet Swift said the fart was “a great Promoter of Mirth.” But whatever brought about the Farting Club, it met weekly “to poison the neighbouring Air with their unsavoury Crepitations.”
The Farting Club was established at a Public House in Cripplegate in the 1720s or 30s, where, reputedly, it met in secret for a time. After their meetings became public, the Farting Club began having contests to see who was the most odoriferous and best farter. On the night of these smelly competitions, members made sure that they were as odoriferous as possible. They accomplished this by eating cabbage, onions, and pea porridge so that they might provide “better quality’d” farts. The “Grey-Pea-Woman” who sold the pea porridge was said to double her profits as members would shovel “down whole Handfuls, that…went in like Bullets, [in the hope that they] might come out like Gunpowder.”
Members also drank certain liquors “to tune their Arses.” These liquors consisted of ale and juniper water and were drank until everyone was swollen “like a blown Bag Pipe, and then they began to Thunder out whole Vollies, like a Regiment…in vigorous Attack.” These fetid vollies continued until the odour in the room was said to be ten times stronger than “a Tom-Turd’s Laystall.” (This is a reference to the Tom Turd men who collected gold at weddings and hid it in smelly dunghills, supposedly to prevent the gold’s theft.)
To determine a winner, stewards acted as judges and new stewards were chosen quarterly. The stewards also resolved any disputes that arose “between the Buttocks of the odoriferous Assembly.” Furthermore, to ensure the competitors did not cheat, in a nearby room a bespectacled Alms-woman sat. This elderly woman’s job was to check the underwear of participants: If “any member was suspected of Brewers Miscarriage, he was presently sent in to be examined by the Matron, who after searching his Breeches, and narrowly inspecting the hind Lappet of his Shirt,…made her Report accordingly.”
Although weekly meetings were held, members usually got together every night. At these nightly get-togethers, they drank to the King’s health, and, when they did “there was such Trumping…to signalize their Loyalty, that the Victualler was forced to burn Rosemary in his Kitchen, for fear the Expansion of the nauseous Fumes should poison his other Customers.” However, the smell didn’t bother customers, and, in fact, the Farting Club’s meetings became famous within the local community: “Neighbours and passengers used to stop under the Window, and lend an Ear to their Arses…and…Boys and Girls in Imitation of their Harmony, went trumping with their Mouths along the Streets to School, till their Masters were forced to whip them till they stank, to make them leave off Farting.”
One neighbour, described as an “arch fellow,” became interested in farting. In fact, he was interested enough to devise a way to fart by “clapping his right Hand under his left Arm-pit, where he would gather Wind, and discharge it so surprisingly, that he would give a Lady’s Fart, a Brewer’s Fart, a Bumkin’s Fart, and an old Woman’s Slur, or a Maiden Fizzle, etc.” His artful farting was described as “tunable and natural,” and it had the advantage that he could “entertain the Ears without offending the Nostrils, and provoke Laughter by the sound, without the Punishment of the Stink.”
Although the arch fellow refused to share his secrets as to how he could accomplish such wonderful fart noises, word of his amazing skills soon spread. This resulted in great interest among Farting Club members and some wanted to admit him into the Farting Club. On the day he was presented and made his first appearance, he produced “more Diversity of Sounds in one clean Volley, than their whole Concert of Fundaments [sic] were able to imitate.”
Unaware of how the neighbour was able to accomplish such marvellous farting sounds, members were mightily impressed. They embraced him “as if they took him to be a God of the Winds, and his Arse to be a Miracle, allowing him at once to be an absolute Master of the society of Ventosity.” Eventually, however, members discovered that his “croaking harmony” was achieved not by nature but by art, and they were so upset “the stunk him out of the Society,” although they afterwards readmitted him and allowed him to serve in a servile post.
Another club, the Scatter-Wit Club, consisted of a “Parcel of young Gentlemen,” and they often hammered out “either fashionable Banter, punning Wit, ready Repartee, or dull petition; and now and then,…when their Thoughts were elevated to a poetical Pitch,…[they] call’d in haste to bring Pen, Ink, and paper, that they might unburthen their Brains of some…Ditty.” One these ditties summed up the Farting Club:
Drink my Juniper-Ale, and ’till open the Tail,
Turn a Hypocrites Zeal into Farts;
Make a canting old Cuff, if he drinks but enough,
Out chatter a Master of Arts.
The Farting Club continued for some years and just as it reached it zenith, some club members found themselves more than sick. Apparently, because of eating too much cabbage, several prominent members began to suffer health consequences: colic and diarrhoea. But it got worse because “several of the best Performers went Farting out of the World.” At the time, physicians contributed their deaths to the “windy Diets they had eaten to Excess,” and this diagnosis so worried remaining members they “had the Wit to dissolve their Club, change their Cabbage Diet into substantial Beef, and so tied up their Fundaments by Degrees.”