“Can there be any greater depravity?” WH Rugbinder
Many remember Victorian writer Wilberforce Horacio Rugbinder for his classic text on contemporary mores, The Multitudinous Vile Sins of the Working Class That Will Cause Them to Burn In Hell. At the time it was considered a well-meaning and insightful account of the slum life in Victorian London, although by modern readers it is regarded as a little prudish and judgemental. In particular, the forthright and voluminous chapters condemning the practice of having a day off from work are seen as contrary to modern thinking. However, few people know that WH Rugbinder published other works on moral topics too. This little article hopes to correct that situation.
WH Rugbinder was born to a middle-class family in the borough of Ealing. After an unremarkable schooling where he made few friends, he entered a seminary in the hope of becoming a priest. Unfortunately, this was not to be as Rugbinder clashed with his teachers on a number of theological points. In particular, they objected to his assertion that not just the priesthood but the laity, should be celibate. Leaving the church unfulfilled, he spent time in London to understand first hand the problems caused by sinning. His first attempt at a book, Diary of a Tea Fiend, relates in a semi-fictious way the descent into debauched existence that befalls a young fellow who becomes obsessed with tea drinking. After losing, in short succession, his wife, his livelihood, and the good opinion of his family, he ends up drowning in a bath filled with Oolong. This remarkable book was self published at no small cost and sold almost ten copies.
Rugbinder then went on to confront another beverage related evil in the form of coffee. This time he took a wider view and interviewed a multitude of “coffee pot heads” as he called them. His analysis and conclusions were again self published in a luxurious leather-bound book with gold leafed lettering on the cover. Unfortunately, this was to be a terrible error as the cost of each copy of The Tyrannical Evil of the Foul Plant Known as Coffee, its Effects on Diverse Patrons of Coffee Shops in London, and the Inevitable Decline of Morality that Accompanies Drinking It was to far outweigh the cover price and so nearly bankrupted Rugbinder.
It was this experience of extreme poverty that was to force Rugbinder to live in the poorest parts of London and to lead to his final tome, which was his most popular in terms of sales. Unfortunately word of the contents reached his neighbours and Rugbinder was forced to flee London. His final attempt at a book, The Comfort of Solitude was uncompleted. He left behind no family, children, or indeed, friends.
With thanks to Breaking the Glass Slipper for inspirational twitter chat…
And to Angela McFall for the lovely tea service