In November 1891 William Flower, a Swansea picture framer, appeared before a local magistrate charged with:
“…wilfully exposing in his window, or other part of his shop, certain obscene pictures… suggestive of love-making on the part of the Roman Catholic priesthood”.
Flowers pleaded not guilty but was convicted and fined 40 shillings plus costs. A press report of the case described the drawings or cartoons displayed in Flower’s shop and later deemed obscene by the court:
“One represents a priest ear-holding a man, who has pushed aside a curtain and is rapturously gazing at a buxom servant tying her garter. In the companion picture… the same healthy-looking priest has his arm around the generous waist of the maid… All the figures are decently dressed and neither can anything be found of a suggestive character.”
Further investigations by the press revealed that a Catholic clergyman, Canon Richards, had noticed the cartoons on his daily walk. He immediately reported them to the police and pushed for charges to be laid. Flower said he intended to appeal the conviction and had received donations from locals to help meet his costs.
From New Year’s Eve 1510, the city of Brussels was frozen by more than six weeks of sub-zero temperatures and constant snow. In a city with high levels of poverty, this prolonged cold snap caused considerable human suffering, leading some to dub it the ‘Winter of Death’. But those able to stay warm made the most of things by engaging in a spontaneous snowman competition. All across Brussels, life-sized snowmen began to appear in parks, on street corners and outside private homes. One contemporary report suggests at least 50 clusters of snow figures could be observed in various places around the city. By all accounts, most of these snowmen were cleverly sculpted and quite realistic; some may even have been created by prominent artists. Among the figures represented in snow were Jesus Christ, Adam and Eve and other Biblical figures, Roman deities, Saint George and the dragon, unicorns and several signs of the Zodiac.
In the city’s working-class areas, however, the majority of the snow figures were pornographic or scatological. Near the city fountain, a snow couple fornicated while another snow figure watched with a visible erection. A number of snow women, ranging from nuns to prostitutes, appeared in various states of undress. Near the city market, a snow boy urinated into the mouth of another; a snow cow could be seen, halfway through defecation; while a snow drunk lay amongst his own snowy excrement. The poet Jan Smeken, who penned the best-known account of the Belgian snow figures, described one scene of implied bestiality:
“In the Rosendal, a wonder was to be seen: a huge plump woman, completely naked, her buttocks like a barrel and her breasts finely formed. A dog was ensconced between her legs, her pudenda covered by a rose…”
The snowmen of Brussels lasted for about six weeks, until the return of warmer weather in mid-February.
In 1879 Charles L. Dodgson was better known to the world as Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published 14 years earlier. Carroll was also an avid photographer, at a time when amateur photography was both difficult and very expensive. The majority of Carroll’s surviving photographs feature young girls. In May 1879 he wrote to Mr and Mrs Mayhew, asking permission to photograph their daughters Ruth (aged 13) Ethel (aged 11) and Janet (aged six). These extracts reveal Carroll’s persistent coaxing, as he seeks Mayhew’s permission to photograph the girls in various states of undress:
“Now your Ethel is beautiful, both in face and form; and is also a perfectly simple-minded child of Nature… So my humble petition is, that you will bring the three girls, and that you will allow me to try some groupings of Ethel and Janet (I fear there is no use naming Ruth as well, at her age, though I should have no objection!) without any drapery or suggestion of it.
If I did not believe I could take such pictures without any lower motive than a pure love of art, I would not ask of it…”
Mrs Mayhew responded to Dodgson’s letter, agreeing to some of his requests – however her reply has not survived. However a follow-up letter, written by Dodgson to Mr Mayhew, is extant:
“I am heartily obliged to Mrs Mayhew for her kind note. It gives more than I had ventured to hope for, and does not extinguish the hope that I may yet get ALL I asked…
The permission to go as far as bathing drawers is very charming… I can make some charming groups of Ethel and Janet in bathing drawers, though I cannot exaggerate how much better they would look without.”