The Mad Hatter



Sober as a judge, drunk as a lord, black as a sweep: all these proverbial expressions are self-explanatory, since they describe a condition which is naturally incident to the occupation in question. But why mad as a hatter? No obvious reason suggests itself why this trade should render men especially liable to insanity. The answer appears to be that the proverbial madness of hatters derives from one particularly notorious example, Roger Crab, hatter at Chesham in the mid-seventeenth century. Crab studied his New Testament carefully, and came across the words ‘If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor’. Crab was not a rich young man, but he wanted to be perfect. So he sold all he had, and gave it to the poor. Naturally all good Christians thought him mad. If the text extended to us, Crab pictured the rich saying, ‘we should make the Poor richer than ourselves’. They would rather deny Scripture than part from their riches.1


Kind Nature Curious Transition Universal Love Selfish Desire True Happiness 
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  1. 1.
    R. Crab, The English Hennit, or Wonder of this Age, in Harleian Miscellany (1745), IV, p. 461. All quotations are from this source unless otherwise indicated. I have taken some biographical details from D.N.B. and from F. Roberts, ‘One of Cromwell’s Soldiers’, The Treasury, I (1903).Google Scholar

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© Christopher Hill 1997

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