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A wonder in Kent
Pepys, i, 72, B.L., two woodcuts, four columns.
This jocular ballad celebrates the "stomach's exploits" of Nicholas Wood, of Kent. It was suggested by and closely paraphrases (cf. the last stanza) a twenty-page pamphlet written by John Taylor, the Water Poet, and published by Henry Gosson in 1630 under the title of The Great Eater, Of Kent, Or Part Of The Admi-rable Teeth And Stomacks Exploits of Nicholas Wood, of Harrisom in the County of Kent. His Excessive Manner Of Eating Withovt manners, in strange and true manner described (British Museum, C. 31. c. 9; reprinted in Charles Hindley's Old Book Collector's Miscellany, vol. m). The pamphlet begins with an address by Taylor "To The Most Famous, Infamous, High and Mighty Feeder, Nicholas Wood," who is described on page 18 as follows:
he is swarty, blackish haire, Hawk-nosed (like a Parrot, or a Roman) hee is wattle-Iawde, and his eyes are sunke inward, as if hee looked into the inside of his intrayles, to note what custom'd or vncustom'd goods he tooke in, whilst his belly (like a Maine-sayle in a calme) hangs ruffled and wrinkled (in folds and wreathes) flat to the mast of his empty carkasse, till the storme of aboundance fills it, and violently driues it into the full sea of satisfaction.
A person of similar achievements, J. Marriot, of Gray's Inn, was written up in numerous tracts and ballads in 1652 (see Thomason Tracts, E. 667(8), E. 668(20)). Both men are referred to in The Loves of Hero and Leander, 1653, p. 51:
Their teeth so sharp, their stomacks keen That Marriots you would them ween, Or Wood or Kents own Bastards.
Professor Kittredge suggests that Woolner of Windsor, the famous eater, be mentioned, and states that references to him are made in Arber's English Garner, 1897, vi, 276; Gabriel Harvey's Works, ed. A. B. Grosart, 11, 231; Nugae Antiquae, ed. Park, 11, 96; Archie Armstrong's Jests, ed. 1889, p. 112; and Poor Robin's Almanac, 169J, under "August." Perhaps the person who nowadays comes nearest to Wood's record is "America's tallest immigrant" "who is twenty-four years old, stands eight feet six inches and is said to eat twenty-four eggs for breakfast" (New York Times, September 26, 1920). The greatest possible contrast to Wood is the remarkable Miss Eve Fliegen, who lived for sixteen years on the smell of a rose: see the ballad on her in the Shir burn Ballads, p. 55, and cf. my notes in the Journal of American Folk-Lore, xxx (1917), 372.