Bon Appetit

Tags: Miserable careers of eccentric characters (present company excluded), Regency-era overuse of exclamation marks, kittens, kugel, French cuisine.

All we want to do is eat your brains
We’re not unreasonable
I mean, no one’s gonna eat your eyes

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers and friends. I’d meant to post this morbid little slice of historical polyphagy on Halloween, but it seems no less appropriate to serve it up now with your Yanksgiving yams and kugels. I quote the following verbatim from an essential little book entitled Biographical Sketches of Eccentric Characters, published in 1832. Harvard’s Widener Library has not one but two copies of this handy volume, on the stacks in open circulation–there’s a lot to love about Widener–which I used to peruse occasionally when procrastinating there. And now Google Book Search has the whole thing online, in a slightly unwieldy format–there’s a lot to love about Google, too. I’ll probably dip into the sketches again next time I’m feeling a little Kirchnerian. For now, I give you: The Miserable Career of Tarrare!

This man’s voracity would stagger all belief, were not the truth of the circumstances guarantied by the most unquestionable testimonies, among which it is only necessary to mention professor Baron Percy. At 17 years of age, Tarrare weighed only one hundred pounds, and yet he could devour, in the space of twenty-four hours, a quarter of beef as heavy as his body!

At the commencement of the revolutionary war, he entered the [French] army; but here he was so scantily supplied with food, that he soon fell ill, and was conducted to the military hospital at Soultz. On the day of his entrance, he got four rations, which, only serving to whet his appetite, he devoured every kind of refuse victuals in the ward, then searched the kitchen, dispensary, &c., devouring everything, even the poultices, that came in his way! In the presence of the chief physician of the army, Doctor Lorence, he ate a live cat in a few seconds, leaving nothing but the larger bones! In a few minutes, he devoured a dinner prepared for fifteen German laborers, and composed of various substantial dishes. After this tiffin, his belly appeared like a small balloon!

As the French in those days turned every thing to account, the commander-in-chief had him brought before him, and, after treating him with thirty pounds of liver and lights he caused him to swallow a small wooden case, in which was enclosed a letter to a French officer, then in the hands of the enemy. Tarrare set off, was taken prisoner, beaten and confined. He passed by stool the case with the letter, before he could see the officer, but immediately swallowed it again [Eds: Eeew.], to prevent its falling into the hands of the enemy. In another hospital where he was confined, the nurses frequently detected him drinking the blood which had been drawn from the sick; and when all other sources failed, he repaired to the dead-house, and satisfied his frightful appetite on human flesh!

At length, a child of fourteen months old disappeared all at once, and suspicions falling on Tarrare, he also disappeared for four years, when he was recognized again in the civil hospital of Paris, where he ended his miserable career.

For more on Tarrare from an unimpeachable source, see this Fortean Times article on eighteenth-century cat eaters.