James Beresford amused himself by keeping a diary of vexations—annoying aspects of everyday life—and expressions of frustration from classical texts, such as “Hei mihi” (Ah me!) from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. He turned these into twelve humorous dialogues and convinced a London publisher to release the thin volume as The Miseries of Human Life. The first edition included a frontispiece by William Pyne featuring four disenchanted characters, one commenting: “Crambe recocta molestior” ([Life] is more tiresome than leftover cabbage).
Miseries mania swept London, and by the end of the next year more than a dozen editions were published in Great Britain, Germany, France, and the United States. A fifty-pound investment netted more than five thousand pounds. In the rarely seen second edition, Beresford tried replacing Pyne’s etching with a drawing of his own, but the wretchedness of the figure so overshadowed the humorous charm of the book that it was never used again.
L.2017.14.1 Frontispiece to The Miseries of Human Life, or, The Groans of Samuel Sensitive and Timothy Testy, London : Printed for W. Miller, 1806
L.2017.14.2 Frontispiece to The Miseries of Human Life, or, The Groans of Samuel Sensitive and Timothy Testy, 2nd edition. London: Printed for W. Miller, 1806
L.2017.14.3 Title page to Miseries of Human Life. Fifty etchings after James Beresford’s book of the same title, London: R. Ackermann, 1808.