Curing Hiccups with Small Fires

A Delightful Miscellany of Great British Eccentrics

Karl Shaw
Curing Hiccups

The English aristocrat John ‘Mad Jack’ Mytton died a bloated, paralysed and penniless debtor in prison. His premature demise was partly due to injuries sustained while setting fire to his own night-shirt to try to cure hiccups. Just before the horribly burned Mytton slumped into unconsciousness he said, “Well, the hiccups is gone, by God.”

An 18th century French scholar once attributed the British talent for eccentricity to ‘a mixture of fogs, beef and beer … aggravated by the tedium of the English Sunday’. Curing Hiccups with Small Fires is a fast, funny celebration of British otherness – a vast collection of anecdotes and profiles of more than 250 Great British aristocrats, inventors, artists and the just plain weird.

• Dr Samuel Johnson once shaved off all of his bodily hair just to see how long it would take to grow back.

• In order to demonstrate the ‘cultural inferiority of the United States’, Pogues lead singer Shane MacGowan once ate a Beach Boys album.

• Percy Bysshe Shelley once tied a cat to a kite in a thunder storm to see if it would be electrocuted.

‘An entertaining collection of remarkable specimens’ Daily Mail

‘There is not a dull page here.’ Bookbag

‘If history had a sense of humour, “Mad” Jack Mytton would live somewhere like Titty Ho. He is one of the English eccentrics featured in Curing Hiccups with Small Fires, a quick and easy read by Karl Shaw; in fact, he gets the title role. A 19th-century Shropshire squire, Mad Jack agreed to attend Oxford ­University on the understanding that he would study only The Racing Calendar and The Stud Book. He was a keen sportsman who went duck shooting in winter in his nightshirt. On wet days, he knocked at cottage doors to ask if his one-eyed horse might dry off by the fire. If the cottagers were lucky, it wasn’t one of the days when he was hunting naked. He died at 38 after setting his nightshirt on fire to cure hiccups. Badly burnt, he just had time before losing consciousness to remark: “Well, the hiccups is gone, by God.” Magnificent, just like the book.’ Sunday Times


  • Boxtree/Macmillan UK and USA

Material: finished copies (298pp)