1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dwarf
DWARF (A.S. dweorg, D. dwerg, Icel. dvergr), the term generally used to describe an extraordinarily under-sized individual of a race of normal stature (for dwarf-races see Pygmy.) In Scandinavian mythology the word connoted smallness and deformity, and was used of the elfins and goblins who were supposed to live on the mountains or in the bowels of the earth, and to be kings of metals and mines. The later use of the word certainly does not imply deformity, for many of the dwarfs of history have been singularly graceful and well formed. Dwarfishness is, however, often accompanied by disproportion of the limbs.
From the earliest historic times dwarfs attracted attention, and there was much competition on the part of kings and the wealthy to obtain the little folk as attendants. It is certain that members of the tiny Akka race of Equatorial Africa figured at the courts of the Pharaohs of the early dynasties and were much valued. Philetas of Cos, poet and grammarian (circa 330 B.C.), tutor of Ptolemy Philadelphus, was alleged to be so tiny that he had to wear leaden shoes lest he should be blown away. The Romans practised artificial dwarfing, and the Latin nanus or pumilo were terms alternatively used to describe the natural and unnatural dwarf. Julia, the niece of Augustus, had a dwarf named Coropas 2 ft. 4 in. high, and a freed-maid Andromeda who measured the same.
Various recipes for dwarfing children have been from time to time in vogue. The most effective, according to report, was to anoint the backbone with the grease of moles, bats and dormice. The stunting of the growth of stable-boys who aspire to jockey’s honours is in no sense true dwarfing.
In later days there have been many dwarf-favourites at European courts. British tradition has its earliest dwarf mentioned in the old ballad which begins “In Arthur’s court Tom Thumb did live”; and on this evidence the prototype of the modern Tom Thumb is alleged to have lived at the court of King Edgar. Of authentic English dwarfs the first appears to be John Jarvis (2 ft. high), who was page to Queen Mary I. Her brother Edward VI. had his dwarf Xit. But the first English dwarf of whom there is anything like an authentic history is Jeffery Hudson (1619-1682). He was the son of a butcher at Oakham, Rutlandshire, who kept and baited bulls for George Villiers, first duke of Buckingham. Neither of Jeffery’s parents was under-sized, yet at nine years he measured scarcely 18 in., though he was gracefully proportioned. At a dinner given by the duke to Charles I. and his queen he was brought in to table in a pie out of which he stepped, and was at once adopted by Henrietta Maria. The little fellow followed the fortunes of the court in the Civil War, and is said to have been a captain of horse, earning the nickname of “strenuous Jeffery” for his activity. He fought two duels—one with a turkey-cock, a battle recorded by Davenant, and a second with Mr Crofts, who came to the meeting with a squirt, but who in the more serious encounter which ensued was shot dead by little Hudson, who fired from horseback, the saddle putting him on a level with his antagonist. Twice was Jeffery made prisoner—once by the Dunkirkers as he was returning from France, whither he had been on homely business for the queen; the second time was when he fell into the hands of Turkish pirates. His sufferings during this latter captivity made him, he declared, grow, and in his thirtieth year, having been of the same height since he was nine, he steadily increased until he was 3 ft. 9 in. At the Restoration he returned to England, where he lived on a pension granted him by the duke of Buckingham. He was later accused of participation in the “Popish Plot,” and was imprisoned in the Gate House. He was released and shortly after died in the sixty-third year of his age.
Contemporary with Hudson were the two other dwarfs of Henrietta Maria, Richard Gibson and his wife Anne. They were married by the queen’s wish; and the two together measured only 2 in. over 7 ft. They had nine children, five of whom, who lived, were of ordinary stature. Edmund Waller celebrated the nuptials, Evelyn designated the husband as the “compendium of a man,” and Lely painted them hand in hand. Gibson was miniature painter to Charles I., and drawing-master to the daughters of James II., Queens Mary and Anne, when they were children. This Cumberland pygmy, who began his career as a page, first in a “gentle,” next in the royal family, died in 1690, in his seventy-fifth year, and is buried in St Paul’s, Covent Garden. The last court dwarf in England was Coppernin, a lively little imp in the service of the princess (Augusta) of Wales, the mother of George III. The last dwarf retainer in a gentleman’s family was the one kept by Mr Beckford, the author of Vathek and builder of Fonthill. He was rather too big to be flung from one guest to another, as used to be the custom at dinners in earlier days when a dwarf was a “necessity” for every noble family.
Of European court dwarfs the most famous were those of Philip IV. of Spain, the hunchbacks whose features have been immortalized by Velazquez. Stanislas, king of Poland, owned Nicholas Ferry (Bébé), who measured 2 ft. 9 in. He was one of three dwarf children of peasant parents in the Vosges. He died in his 23rd year (1764). But Bébé was not so remarkable as Richebourg, who died in Paris in 1858, at the age of 90. He was only 23 in. high. He began life as a servant in the Orleans family. In later years he was their pensioner. He is said to have been put to strange use in the Revolution—passing in and out of Paris as an infant in a nurse’s arms, but with despatches, dangerous to carry, in the little man’s baby-wrappings!
Of dwarfs exhibited in England, the most celebrated was the Pole, Borulwaski (1739-1837). At six he measured 17 in., and he finally in his thirtieth year reached 39 in. He had a sister shorter than himself by the head and shoulders. Borulwaski was a handsome man, a wit, and something of a scholar. He travelled over all Europe; and he—born in the reign of George II.—died in his well-earned retirement near Durham, in the reign of Victoria. Borulwaski lies buried at Durham by the side of the Falstaffian Stephen Kemble. The companionship reminds one of that of the dwarf skeleton of Jonathan Wild by the side of that of the Irish Giant, at the Royal College of Surgeons, London.
In the year in which Borulwaski died, Charles Stratton, better known as “General Tom Thumb,” was born. When twenty-five he was 31 in. high. In 1844 he appeared in England, where he had an extraordinary success. One result of his season at the Egyptian Hall, London, was to kill Haydon the painter. The latter presented his great work “The Banishment of Aristides” for exhibition in the same building. The public rushed to see the dwarf. He took £600 the first week, while Haydon’s masterpiece drew but £7, 13s. The result was that the artist committed suicide in despair. After extensive travel in both hemispheres, Stratton again visited England in 1857, but the dwarf man, despite many personal and intellectual qualities, was less attractive than the dwarf boy. In the year 1863 the “General” married the very minute American lady, Lavinia Warren (born in 1842). He died on the 15th of July 1883.
Other modern dwarfs include Signor Hervio Nano, who played at the Olympic Theatre, London, in 1843; three Highlanders named MacKinlay, children of a Scots shepherd, the shortest of whom was 45 in.; a Spaniard, Don Francisco Hidalgo (29 in.); a Dutchman, Jan Hannema (28 in.); and Mary Jane Youngman (Australia), who at fifteen was 35 in. high. She was called the “dwarf-giantess” because she was 3 ft. 6 in. round the shoulders, 4 ft. 3 in. round the waist, and 2 ft. round the leg. Much interest was aroused by the so-called Aztec dwarfs who were exhibited in London in 1853. In 1867 the pair were married, the ceremony being publicly performed, and the bride’s robes are said to have cost no less than £2000. The wedding-breakfast was held at Willis’s Rooms. From time to time other dwarfs have been exhibited, among whom the most remarkable has been Che-mah, a Chinese, 42 years old and 25 in. high, who appeared in London in 1880. George Prout (1774-1851), who was less than 3 ft. high, was a well-known character in London in the early Victorian period, as a messenger at the Houses of Parliament.
See E. J. Wood, Giants and Dwarfs (1860).