There is now, I maintain, a fundamental difference between the sexes on the matter of Wind: it has gone beyond a kind of armed truce where, it could once be said, ‘Belch, and the World belches with you; fart, and you fart alone’. I bring this up (as it were), following the lead of another writer here, who gave us a treatise on The Solitary Vice.
An anecdote – after all, I’m in my anecdotage now – might be illustrative: on and off, I’ve been a Schoolmaster, and have taught in a few Girls’ Schools; chucklingly reporting one evening how I had walked into an unmistakeable miasma that afternoon – and that the presumed source of this mephitis had sought to throw the blame on to me, I heard our elder son say, ‘I didn’t know girls did that.’
Yet the most up-to-date American minds can tell us this:
‘The earliest recorded joke is about farts: “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.” ’ [from responses to a lecture delivered in 2011, under the title ‘Great Farts in Literature’]. Those Ancient Sumerians – so witty, so droll! When our elder son said ‘I didn’t know girls did that.’ he was, I think, referring to the act of breaking wind, rather than the attempt to deny being the origin of the stench – indeed, to attempt, as it were, to waft it away. Ann Trewin’s book ‘Schoolhouse in the Wind’, records the Cornish playground maxim, ‘First speaker/Wind-breaker.’ Again, in Cornwall, in my tender years, it was common to hear a bumbling (remember that word), indecisive, ineffectual, person likened to ‘…a fart in a Colander: don’t know which ‘ole to go out of.’
If that ancient Sumerian fart-joke (did the original teller, conclude, ‘It’s the way I tell ‘em!’) is right, women do, and have done, from time immemorial, and, my experience has shown me, they are neither scented sweetly, nor odourless: but, in general, women and girls, deny all responsibility, while men and boys cheerfully admit authorship. Women tend not to find them funny, men do. Would any poetess have constructed an entire poem based on a fart?
But sooth to seyn, he was somdeel squaymous
Of fartyng, and of speche daungerous…
[the Clerk Nicholas]
…This Nicholas anon leet fle a fart
As greet as it had been a thonder-dent,
That with the strook he was almoost yblent;
And he was redy with his iren hoot,
And Nicholas amydde the ers he smoot.
Not all that long after Chaucer (whose genteel audience would have been both Lords and Ladies), but to an all male group, Martin Luther (1483–1546), apparently puzzledly asked of his guests: “Warum furzet und rülpset ihr nicht? Hat es euch nicht geschmecket?” (“Why don’t you fart nor burp? Wasn’t the food to your liking?”. One cannot imagine Elizabeth Barrett Browning asking such a thing of Robert. Yet, a while before Chaucer, we learn that
Roland the Farter (known in contemporary records as Roland le Fartere, Roulandus le Fartere or Roland le Petour) was a medieval flatulist who lived in 12th century England. He held Hemingstone manor in Suffolk and 30 acres (12 hectares) of land in return for his services as a jester for King Henry II. Each year he was obliged to perform “Unum saltum et siffletum et unum bumbulum” (one jump, one whistle, and one fart) for the King’s court at Christmas. [wiki] Hence, I suspect, the ferryman’s charging a prostitute a fare of a ‘bumbulum’ mentioned on this site months ago. Roland’s small-holding was worth a fart – plus a bit. One imagines as each Advent drew to its close, Queen Eleanor asking, ‘My Liege, what entertainements this Christemasse? Not, I begg you, Roland! You know how difficult it is to be amused when one has watched, heard – and, nay, smelt – him for so many yeares. Your court, my Lord, is becoming as repetitious as ye BBC!’’
Aubrey records a mini-disaster that so embarrassed the perpetrator, that he underwent voluntary exile: Edward De Vere ‘louting low before the Queen, he let a fart…’ only to have Queen Elizabeth greeting him (with a masterly apophasis) on his eventual return , ‘My Lord, we have forgot your fart.’ In The Comedy of Errors, Shakespere has his character say, ‘A man may break a word with you, sir; and words are but wind; Ay, and ‘break it in your face, so he break it not behind.’ while In ‘Tom Jones’ Fielding has Squire Western say at one point, ‘…as for thy politics, dear Sister, I care for them as much as I do a f-t.’ Which words he graced with the action most appropriate thereto.’
If only Mr. Edison’s invention had been somewhat earlier, it might have been possible for us actually to hear some of Le Petomane’s performances: he was like those whom St. Augustine mentions: City of God (De Civitate Dei) (14.24) who did have “such command of their bowels, that they can break wind continuously at will, so as to produce the effect of singing.” [wiki], while Leland’s drunkard’s sounds are more robust‘…he bloweth the trumpet at his backbone’s end.’, the poet himself wistfully remarking, “As for me, I can neither drum nor trumpet, nor tell jokes, nor fart amusingly at parties, nor play the harp.” [Wikipedia].
Of course – nay coarse! – this subject has inspired Limericks. Just a trio as salute to this long-lived human accomplishment and embarrassment:
There was a young fellow from Sparta.
A really magnificent farter.
On the strength of one bean
He’d fart “God Save the Queen,”
And Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.
He could vary, with proper persuasion,
His fart to suit any occasion.
He could fart like a flute,
Like a lark, like a lute,
This highly fartistic Caucasian.
And, almost ‘local’ to me:
There was a young man from Pendeen,
Who tried to fart ‘God save the Queen’;
When he got to ‘victorious,
Happy and glorious’,
His pants were not fit to be seen.