Thursday, December 17, 2015

Mother mother I feel sick, send for the doctor, quick quick quick

Tarrare (c. 1772 – 1798), sometimes spelled Tarare, was a French showman and soldier, noted for his unusual eating habits. Able to eat vast amounts of meat, he was constantly hungry; his parents could not provide for him, and he was turned out of the family home as a teenager. He travelled France in the company of a band of thieves and prostitutes, before becoming the warm-up act to a travelling charlatan; he would swallow corks, stones, live animals and a whole basketful of apples. He then took this act to Paris where he worked as a street performer.

At the start of the War of the First Coalition Tarrare joined the French Revolutionary Army. With military rations unable to satisfy his large appetite, he would eat any available food from gutters and refuse heaps but his condition still deteriorated through hunger. Suffering from exhaustion, he was hospitalised and became the subject of a series of medical experiments to test his eating capacity, in which, among other things, he ate a meal intended for 15 people in a single sitting, ate live cats, snakes, lizards and puppies, and swallowed an eel whole without chewing. Despite his unusual diet, he was of normal size and appearance, and showed no signs of mental illness other than what was described as an apathetic temperament...

Chastened by this experience, he agreed to submit to any procedure that would cure his appetite, and was treated with laudanum, tobacco pills, wine vinegar and soft-boiled eggs. The procedures failed, and doctors could not keep him on a controlled diet; he would sneak out of the hospital to scavenge for offal in gutters, rubbish heaps and outside butchers' shops, and attempted to drink the blood of other patients in the hospital and to eat the corpses in the hospital morgue. After falling under suspicion of eating a toddler he was ejected from the hospital. He reappeared four years later in Versailles suffering from severe tuberculosis, and died shortly afterwards, following a lengthy bout of exudative diarrhoea....

As a child, Tarrare had a huge appetite and by his teens could eat a quarter of a bullock, weighing as much as Tarrare himself, in a single day. By this time, his parents could not provide for him and had forced him to leave home. For some years after this, he toured the country with a roaming band of thieves and prostitutes, begging and stealing for food, before gaining employment as a warm-up act to a travelling charlatan. Tarrare would draw a crowd by eating corks, stones and live animals, and by swallowing an entire basketful of apples one after the other. He would eat ravenously and was particularly fond of snake meat.

In 1788, Tarrare moved to Paris to work as a street performer. He appears to have been successful in general, but on one occasion the act went wrong and he suffered severe intestinal obstruction. Members of the crowd carried him to the Hôtel-Dieu hospital, where he was treated with powerful laxatives He made a full recovery and offered to demonstrate his act by eating his surgeon's watch and chain; M. Giraud, the surgeon, was unimpressed by the offer and warned him that if he did so, he would cut Tarrare open to recover the items.

Despite his unusual diet, Tarrare was slim and of average height. At the age of 17, he weighed only 100 pounds (45 kg; 7 st 2 lb). He was described as having unusually soft fair hair and an abnormally wide mouth, in which his teeth were heavily stained and on which the lips were almost invisible. When he had not eaten, his skin would hang so loosely that he could wrap the fold of skin from his abdomen around his waist. When full, his abdomen would distend "like a huge balloon". The skin of his cheeks was wrinkled and hung loosely, and when stretched out, he could hold twelve eggs or apples in his mouth. His body was hot to the touch and he sweated heavily, constantly suffering from foul body odour; he was described as stinking "to such a degree that he could not be endured within the distance of twenty paces". This smell would get noticeably worse after he had eaten, his eyes and cheeks would become bloodshot, a visible vapour would rise from his body and he would become lethargic, during which time he would belch noisily and his jaws would make swallowing motions. He suffered from chronic diarrhoea, which was said to be "fetid beyond all conception". Despite his large intake of food, he did not appear either to vomit excessively or to gain weight. Aside from his eating habits, his contemporaries saw no apparent signs of mental illness or unusual behaviour in him, other than an apparently apathetic temperament with "a complete lack of force and ideas"...                                ..

Courville and Percy decided to test Tarrare's capacity for food. A meal had been prepared for 15 labourers near the hospital gates; although generally hospital staff restrained Tarrare in the presence of food, on this occasion Courville allowed him to reach the table undisturbed. Tarrare ate the entire meal of two large meat pies, plates of grease and salt and four gallons of milk, and then immediately fell asleep; Courville noted that Tarrare's belly became taut and inflated like a large balloon. On another occasion Tarrare was presented with a live cat. He tore the cat's abdomen open with his teeth and drank its blood, and proceeded to eat the entire cat aside from its bones, before vomiting up its fur and skin. Following this, hospital staff offered Tarrare a variety of other animals including snakes, lizards and puppies, all of which were eaten; he also swallowed an entire eel without chewing, having first crushed its head with his teeth...

After several months he spent as an experimental case, military authorities began to press for Tarrare to be returned to active duty. Dr. Courville was keen to continue his investigations into Tarrare's eating habits and digestive system, and approached General Alexandre de Beauharnais with a suggestion that Tarrare's unusual abilities and behaviour could be put to military use. A document was placed inside a wooden box which was in turn fed to Tarrare. Two days later, the box was retrieved from his excrement, with the document still in legible condition. Courville proposed to de Beauharnais that Tarrare could thus serve as a military courier, carrying documents securely through enemy territory with no risk of their being found if he were searched.

Tarrare was called on by Beauharnais to demonstrate his abilities before a gathering of the commanders of the Army of the Rhine. Having swallowed the box successfully, Tarrare was given a wheelbarrow filled with 30 pounds (14 kg) of raw bull's lungs and liver as a reward, which he immediately ate in front of the assembled generals...

After 24 hours of captivity, Tarrare relented and explained the scheme to his captors. He was chained to a latrine, and eventually, 30 hours after being swallowed, the wooden box emerged. Zoegli was furious when the documents, which Tarrare had said contained vital intelligence, transpired only to be de Beauharnais's dummy message, and Tarrare was taken to a gallows and the noose placed around his neck. (Some sources state that Zoegli never retrieved the box, as Tarrare had the presence of mind to recover and eat the stool containing it before it could be seized by the Prussians.) At the last minute, Zoegli relented, and Tarrare was taken down from the scaffold, given a severe beating, and released near the French lines.

Following this incident, Tarrare was desperate to avoid further military service, and returned to the hospital, telling Percy that he would attempt any possible cure for his appetite. Percy treated him with laudanum without success; further treatments with wine vinegar and tobacco pills were likewise unsuccessful. Following these failures, Percy fed Tarrare large quantities of soft-boiled eggs, but this also failed to suppress his appetite. Efforts to keep him on any kind of controlled diet failed; he would sneak out of the hospital to scavenge for offal outside butchers' shops and to fight stray dogs for carrion in gutters, alleys and rubbish heaps. He was also caught several times within the hospital drinking from patients undergoing bloodletting, and attempting to eat the bodies in the hospital mortuary. Other doctors believed that Tarrare was mentally ill and pressed for him to be transferred to a lunatic asylum, but Percy was keen to continue his experiments and Tarrare remained in the military hospital.

After some time, a 14-month-old child disappeared from the hospital, and Tarrare was immediately suspected. Percy was unable or unwilling to defend him, and the hospital staff chased Tarrare from the hospital, to which he never returned...

Tarrare told Percy that he had swallowed a golden fork two years earlier, which he believed was lodged inside him and causing his current weakness. He hoped that Percy could find some way to remove it. Percy, however, recognised him as suffering from advanced tuberculosis. A month later, Tarrare began to suffer from continuous exudative diarrhoea, dying shortly afterwards.

The corpse rotted quickly; the surgeons of the hospital refused to dissect it. Tessier, however, wanted to find out how Tarrare differed from the norm internally, and was also curious as to whether the gold fork was actually lodged inside him. At the autopsy, Tarrare's gullet was found to be abnormally wide and when his jaws were opened, surgeons could see down a broad canal into the stomach. His body was found to be filled with pus, his liver and gallbladder were abnormally large, and his stomach was enormous, covered in ulcers and filling most of his abdominal cavity.

The fork was never found.

1 comment:

  1. Alternative performance dates for The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak

    Nov 3: 7pm

    “The history of this monster is as curious as his habits disgusting…”

    A monstrous chamber opera for puppets based on the true story of Tarrare the Freak, an 18th century French revolutionary spy with an insatiable appetite for live cats, amputated limbs and the occasional toddler. Tarrare’s grizzly story ends on the autopsy table – a defining moment in medical history.

    Featuring over twenty puppets and a thrilling original score by internationally renowned pianist Tom Poster, The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak tells the extraordinary true story of one man’s quest to be human in a world that sees him as a monster. Tarrare was a diagnosed polyphagist (someone with an excessive desire to eat) and from his beginnings as a sideshow freak in 18th century Paris to his service as a spy during the French Revolution, he lived a life that is as compelling as it is unbelievable. Wattle & Daub Figure Theatre combines highly skilled direct-manipulation puppetry with soaring, lyrical music performed live by a bass-baritone/falsetto, male soprano, a pianist and a violinist to tell Tarrare’s haunting story.

    Macabre, witty and oddly beautiful, with a score whose influences include Sondheim, Britten and Bernstein, The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak is a unique and affecting show from one of the country’s most distinctive and talented young puppetry companies.

    “Richly layered… [Wattle & Daub Figure Theatre] have created magic through the careful concoction of puppetry and opera.”
    Geraldine Harris, Exeunt Magazine