“The Book of Curses” is an essay by the English writer H. G. Wells (1866–1946), first published in The Pall Mall GazetteEvening newspaper launched in London in 1865, which introduced investigative journalism into British journalism, along with other innovations. in 1894 under the title of “On Swearing”; it was subsequently reprinted in Certain Personal MattersCollection of 39 mainly humorous essays and articles by H. G. Wells, first published in 1897. (1897). Told as a third-person narrative, it tells of Professor Gargoyle’s regret for the decline in swearing.
Professor Gargoyle’s occupation is the study of swearing. He has a fairly complete collection of European curses, but has struggled with gathering a representative sample of the “tropical luxuriance” of swearing in Eastern countries. He gives as an example a man he employed in Calcutta, who after being refused his wages sat on the verandah of the professor’s home for almost four hours, “cursing in one steady unbroken flow … a perfect anthology of Bengali blasphemy”. Yet it was depressing, as his hand ached from recording the curses from this one man among six hundred million.
The professor points out that to be an effective collector of curses it is necessary to be unpopular, as one has to offend a man to get him to “disgorge his treasure”. He says that cursing has almost disappeared among Englishmen, but takes heart from the fact that women have adopted the use of certain “bad words”; indeed he says “if it were not for women there would be nothing in England that one could speak of as swearing at all”. Gargoyle considers swearing a “thoroughly moral and hygienic practice”, a means of relieving frustrations.
Finally the professor excuses himself, as he is engaged in travelling around London by taxi, only paying the cab drivers their legal due, in an effort to collect more material for the book of curses he is thinking of writing.
H. G. Wells bibliographyList of publications written by H. G. Wells during the more than fifty years of his literary career.
Hammond, J. R. An H. G. Wells Companion. The Macmillan Press, 1979.
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