In honor of Halloween, we offer up this dark-humored piece by our favorite folk at the Horrible Histories – and wish you lots of treats without a hint of tricks, let alone any witch-burnings.
As a casual observation: it's interesting how in contemporary American popular culture, witches are still regarded as having supernatural powers. They can be malevolent, like the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz, or cheerfully undercover in TV suburbia, like Samantha in Bewitched or Sabrina, the Teen-Aged Witch, or glamorously over-the-top Hollywood with Jack Nicholson, Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Phieffer in The Witches of Eastwick.
But unless you happen to be a high school student laboring through Arthur Miller's The Crucible in English class, there's very little reference to the historical persecution of witches and witchcraft, or to the misogyny, hysteria, and general intolerance tied to them, either. Even the town of Salem, MA, where the most famous American witch trials took place in the 17th c., tends to play up the witches on broomsticks for the tourist trade. Striped stockings, pointed hats, and stick-on warts are what sells at Halloween Adventure.
In other words, modern American witches in the media are all about the paranormal, and very little about the paranoia. As we noted, we don't have any deep historical explanations to offer for this right now (it's the weekend), but please feel free to Discuss Among Yourselves if you wish.
And save us some Reese's Peanut Butter Cups from your goodie bag, okay?
One of our very first posts here at the TNHG involved Loretta's encounter with a pair of black stockinette breeches. It was also one of our most popular posts – which is why we were particularly pleased to discover this pair of white buckskin breeches, as worn by the Spruce Sportsman, lower right, beautifully replicated by the tailors of Colonial Williamsburgusing traditional 18th c. techniques.
Buckskin breeches are another masculine style that had a long fashion-life (much like cocked beaver hats.) The Spruce Sportsman is shown wearing buckskins in 1777, and yet this singing swain by Gillray, right, is shown wearing virtually the same breeches nearly thirty years later, and they also appear on the heroes of countless Regency romances. Buckskins remained in fashion for good reasons: they were comfortable, durable, and looked quite dashing. Preferred for riding and country wear as a sporting look, they were so popular that they were also often seen about London as well.
Buckskins were in fact cut and stitched from the skins of deer, both bucks and does, with hides imported in great quantities from America to England (though George Washington preferred to have his made from elk skin.) Buckskin breeches were most usually white or pale tan, and not lined. Unlike most modern leather clothing, buckskins were washable to a point, though if they finally became too worn and stained over time and hard wear, they could be dyed a darker color. If this pair is typical, they were also incredibly soft, like the most velvety, comfortable pair of old jeans you've ever worn. We completely understand why gentlemen became so attached to them.
The view, above, shows the self-covered buttons on the leg openings, and the cuff tabs that would have fastened with buckles beneath the knee and over stockings. That white half-wafer lying on the breeches is a buffball (and, alternately, also a breeches ball, yellow ball, and yellow boys), a cake made of compressed ochre and kaolin clay suspended in glue and soap that was used for emergency touch-ups. The buffball didn't remove dirt or soil, but it did effectively cover the spot.
The detail, left, shows not only the decorative stitching and metallic buttons on the fall (the front flap), but also the fob, or watch pocket (wrist watches still being a far-distant invention.) A gentleman would take care to keep his fall buttoned, not only for propriety's sake, but also to protect his valuable pocket-watch from thieves. But if he were not a gentleman, but, say, a jockey or other professionally sporting fellow, he might choose to saunter about with the fall half-open like this with rakish nonchalance. Sporting indeed!
Many thanks to Neal Hurst of the Margaret Hunter Shop, Colonial Williamsburg, for the information in this post.
Top illustration: detail from Harmony Before Matrimony, by James Gillray, 1805. Lower illustration: detail from The Spruce Sportsman, or Beauty the best shot, by Carrington Bowles, 1777.
While ladies' feathered hats and towering calashes (not to mention the big hair) garner the most attention in 18th c. caricatures like The Spruce Sportsman,the hat of that same Sportsman seems almost tame by comparison.
Perhaps that's fitting, considering that the main style in men's hats was virtually unchanged from the late 17th c. until the early 19th c. A moderate crown with a wide, flat brim, made from dark felt was worn by men of every rank. The personal style came from the quality of the felt (gentlemen's hats were made from beaver fur felt, while more inexpensive hats were made from wool), the embellishment (braid, lace, buttons, cockades, plumes, and badges), and how the brim was cocked, or bent upwards. Most men worn their hats cocked on three sides in a triangular shape, a style so popular that it has become the ubiquitous hat of the 18th c. European man. From kings to peddlers, military officers to fops, dukes to footmen – hey, even Captain Jack Sparrow – all wore cocked hats.
(And let us take a moment to put to rest the term "tricorne" or "tricorned hat." Yes, that was what such hats were called in your Bicentennial History Pageant in third grade, but it's not right for the real George Washington. "Tricorned" doesn't come into usage until 1819, and "tricorne" doesn't appear until even later, in 1857.)
Although our Sportsman sits in a lady's parlor, he is dressed for hunting (doubtless for hearts instead of foxes), and his clothes have the stylish military air popular at the time for outdoor activities. The skillful tailors of Colonial Williamsburg have replicated his handsome black beaver hat, above, along with the rest of his clothing. The cocked brim is edged with a metallic gold braid and held in place with loops of more gold braid. Centering the crown is a button wrapped with gold thread, in a pattern known as death-head.
Now we've seen plenty of hats like this in prints and paintings, but we'd never seen the inside of one. Here it is, lined in pale blue silk. Over the forehead is a patch of suede to protect the hat from sweat (shudder), and in the center of the crown is the hatter's paper label, proclaiming the admirable taste of the wearer every time he bows and removes his hat.
But just because our Sportsman's hat is elegant in its restraint, we feel we must offer a balanced view with another 18th c. print, right, to prove that, without a brain beneath it, even a cocked hat could go tragically wrong. (Also see this young macaroni.)
Right: detail of "What, Is This my Son Tom?" published by R. Sayer, London, 1774
Calash (if you're English; in French it's called caleche) bonnets were a popular ladies' fashion from the mid-18th c. well into the 19th c. They were one of the rare 18th c. fashions born of necessity, rather than pure fancy: when hairstyles grew to such towering heights that the hoods on cloaks could no longer accommodate them, calash bonnets were created.
Engineered to rise high and collapse flat much like the top of a covered carriage, the calash was customarily made of black or other dark-colored silk taffeta, whose glossy sheen highlighted all the ruffles and gathers. Narrow strips of flexible cane or whalebone were inserted into stitched channels, and bent to produce the arches that would sit over, rather than on top of, elaborately arranged hair. The calash tied under the chin, making it a kind of hybrid of a bonnet and a hood. While 18th c. models are tall and almost oval in shape, later versions are more round, reflecting the more modest hairstyles of the 19th c. Here's an example from 1820, and another from 1840. In an earlier post, Loretta wrote of one more, made from cotton, on display at Sturbridge Village.
Some fashion legends claim the calash was first worn by the trend-setting Georgianna, Duchess of Devonshire in 1765, while others say the Duchess of Bedford deserves the honor. Either way, the bonnets were swiftly embraced by fashionable ladies, and just as swiftly skewered by caricaturists – which brings us back to our Spruce Sportsman ladies from Colonial Williamsburg. The photo from the video shoot, above left, shows an elegant black calash (worn by Emma, a mantua-maker's assistant from the Margaret Hunter Shop), topping the requisite tall hair of the period, plus a cap and bow as in the original drawing. And yes, that really is Emma's own very long hair, powdered and dressed (right) and not a wig!
Back in the milliner's shop, Sarah offered to give us a closer look at the calash, below left and right. While she doesn't have the extravagant hair to fill the calash the way Emma did, the photo, left, does show the ribs and gathers, and the flirtatious bow centering the back, and guaranteeing a memorable exit. The calash's ruffled collar sat over the cloak, almost like a little capelet. Given all that volume, the calash is surprisingly lightweight, and again I wondered what sort of mishaps might occur if an untoward gust of wind crept up inside it.
In the picture, right, Sarah is demonstrating the long loop of ribbon that was used to pull the calash forward over the face. Fiddling with this ribbon was also apparently a popular affectation of young ladies of the day; contemporary sources refer to them snapping these ribbons to artful (and likely quite annoying) affect. Must have been the 18th c. version of twirling one's hair and cracking one's chewing gum....
As promised yesterday, we'll be showing you some of the pieces inspired by the 1777 print The Spruce Sportsman, and recently reproduced by the tailors and mantuamakers of Colonial Williamsburg. And what better place to begin than with this amazing feathered hat?
Sarah (the mantuamaker's apprentice, and our fav and most obliging model) is wearing the hat here over her dressed hair and a ruffled, beribboned cap – not quite the super-fashionable "big hair" of the 1770s as in the print, but still handsome enough to support the hat.
The hat began its life as a simple circle of flexible woven straw, covered in yellow silk. (Imagine a flat-brimmed straw hat without a crown.) Then, like a pastry chef layering on the whipped cream, the mantuamaker embellished the hat with poufs of blue silk gauze and loops of silver silk satin and black velvet ribbon.
Last, though certainly not least, came the plumes. While 18th c. fashion pages do mention tinted feathers, these were created with another technique. Several ostrich feathers were tied closely together so that their barbs mingled and overlapped to make the colors appear to shade into one another: white, silver grey, pink, and dark crimson.
(N.B.: Something we didn't realize, at least as it pertains to 18th c. millinery: a single feather is always a feather, but bundle two or more together, and they jointly become a plume. And here we'd always believed that it was the fluffiness that differentiated a feather from a plume!)
When the ribbons tie the hat on the head, the brim takes on the distinctive curved shape of the period. And, of course, no trendy 18th c. lady would ever dream of tying those ribbons beneath her chin – they always go to the back, tucked beneath her hair, so the brim tips enchantingly over the eyes. You know, the way the Gainsborough ladies wear them whilst strolling The Mall in St. James's Park.
Even so, maneuvering down The Mall or any other street in a breeze more fierce than light airs could be perilous, and long hair pins, thrust through the brim or crown and hair with the pin-heads buried in the ribbons, may be necessary to keep the whole concoction from taking off.
As anyone who has followed this blog knows, we NHG love satirical prints from the 18th-19th c. – not only for their droll humor, but also for the insight they provide into the details of everyday life in the past. Yet not even we have dared to dream (and we do dare, quite often) that we could actually see such a scene.
But that's exactly what our excellent friends at the Margaret Hunter Shop of Colonial Williamsburg have been working for much of this year: recreating all the clothes and accessories shown in the print, left: The Spruce Sportsman: or Beauty the best shot(also called A Morning Visit, or The Fashionable Dresses for the Year 1777)by Carrington Bowles.
There are several purposes to the project. The first, of course, is to create these clothes much as any accomplished and style-conscious 18th century English tailor and mantua maker would for his or her customers, using period techniques and materials. Everything is cut and stitched by hand.
Second, the pieces will be used as examples in lectures for an upcoming symposium, Costume Accessories: Head to Toe, to be offered at Colonial Williamsburg in March, 2011. (For more information and to download a registration form, click here.)
Third, and most dramatic of all, the clothing and accessories will be featured in a video presentation to accompany an upcoming exhibition called Fashion Accessories from Head to Toe at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum in Colonial Williamsburg. The figures in The Spruce Sportsman will quite literally come to life in the video by way of costumed interpreters. While the video is still in production, here's a sneak peek behind the scenes, right, showing the actors and actresses in place for the shoot before the green screen, and all dressed in their gorgeous finery. Over the next few days, we'll be sharing close-ups of some of these pieces – beginning with that amazing feathered hat.
Above: The Spruce Sportsman, or Beauty the best shot, by Carrington Bowles, 1777. Collection, Colonial Williamsburg. Below: Photograph courtesy of the Margaret Hunter Millinery Shop, Colonial Williamsburg.
Recently we reported on a wonderful exhibition, Threads of Feeling, currently on display at the London Foundling Museum. Since most of us state-side won't be able to travel to London to see the exhibition in person, we're offering this link to the blog Austenonly, whose author has written a splendid review, plus posted numerous photos from the show. Now we really, really wish we could attend!
Above: Textile token, knot of silk ribbons from the Threads of Feeling exhibition, London Foundling Museum
Breast Cancer Awareness Month seems a fine time to bring Fanny Burney to center stage.
Anyone who’s had a mammogram knows it isn’t fun. We women make jokes of it, mainly in the gallows humor vein.
You can read some here. But it’s more fun than a mastectomy, and way more fun than the mastectomies our foremothers underwent.
Fanny Burney had a mastectomy in 1811, without anesthesia or antibiotics, because there weren't any.
Ms. Burney developed a large—about the size of a fist—painful lump in her breast. She was in her fifties and she was in Paris at the time (she'd married a Frenchman). She consulted Napoleon’s celebrated army-surgeon Dominique-Jean Larrey.” Among other things, Ms. Harman tells us, “In the medical culture of the day, exposure of a female patient’s body to examination was not insisted on, and it is highly likely, given Fanny’s temperament and her stated ‘dread & repugnance’ of medical intervention ‘from a thousand reasons besides the pain,’ that Larrey had not actually seen the breast until he was just about to cut it off.” We learn that none of the doctors involved examined the tumor until the day of operation, “and even then, they didn’t touch it.”
Today it’s believed that the tumor was benign. Her chances of survival with a malignant one of that size were about nil. The operation alone killed some women. She not only survived to tell the tale but lived another 29 years.
Perhaps less harrowing (well, except for the illustration of the instruments) and definitely more inspiring is the post at The Duchess of Devonshire blog, Huzzah for Bosoms.
~~~ I know I’ve been heavy on the blood and guts this week, but that’s done…for a while…I promise. Next week we’ve got some more treats in store from Colonial Williamsburg.
Whether it's 1770 or 2010, ladies have always loved their trendy shoes. As we've learned in Colonial Williamsburg, making 18th c. ladies shoes were a specialized trade, and the shoes were often sold in their own shops, separate from men's shoes.
Shoe making was also a trade that welcomed female craftspeople, with women documented as being not only shoemakers, but owners of shoe making shops. It was also a highly skilled trade to learn, with apprenticeships of seven years. An accomplished shoemaker could produce a hand cut and sewn pair of shoes in about eight hours' labor. (Shoe makers in the 18th c. are not to be confused with cobblers. Cobblers only mended shoes, and were regarded as less skilled. By the mid 19th c., when factory-produced shoes were putting the skilled shoemaker out of business, they, too, began to repair shoes, and the trades of cobblers and shoemakers merged into one.)
The majority of 18th c. English women wore plain black shoes (similar to these, right, that are worn by most of the interpreters in CW) on a daily basis. In addition to leather, the uppers of women's shoes were also made of colored wool fabric, or calimanco, a glazed worsted woolen. Stylish ladies craved more decoration. Ladies's magazines of the time offered embroidery designs for DIY embellishment at home, with the finished pieces then brought to the shoemaker to be made up. Other ladies chose patterned silk brocades for shoes to compliment their gowns.
We've posted earlier about the beautiful embroidered flats made by the CW mantuamakers. Here we can see a heeled shoe in progress at the shoe maker's shop. The heels were carved from beech, a wood chosen for being lightweight but hard, and then covered with leather or cloth. The rest of the shoe would be constructed from the heel and sole upwards, fitted and designed for the individual customer's foot and taste. Often the mantuamaker would supply the embellished silk upper, and the silver or brass buckle that closed the lappets over the tongue would be purchased from a jeweler. When done, this particular pair will have yellow leather-covered heels and silk uppers. We can't wait to see them!
But if you're eager for a pair yourself, check out this pair of antique silk brocade originals, left, from the 1720s-40s, spotted by one of our readers (thank you, Chris) on eBay. Be aware, though: looks like you'll have to supply your own buckles.
It's a grey, grey day here in the capital city of Colonial Williamsburg, VA, but that won't stop us from finding the best of the 18th c. to share with you. We promise new pictures and new/old history, with everything from castor in the garden to ground cochineal in the dye-pot.
And, of course, the ritual visit to see what fabulous fashions the mantua-makers, milliners, and tailors have been creating for our swooning delectation, including buttons engraved with hunting dogs, hats with towering ostrich plumes, and a white fox-fur muff that will absolutely – well, you'll have to see for yourself later this week.
Above: Fall foliage and straw hats outside the Mary Dickinson milliner's shop on Duke of Gloucester Street.
Some years ago, in Miss Wonderful, I had a hero suffering from what’s now called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This was a result of my sticking him in the middle of the Battle of Waterloo and subjecting him to something very like the ordeal that Colonel Frederick Cavendish Ponsonby, against all odds, survived.
Since, over the years, Colonel Ponsonby turned up more than once in my reading, I can’t say exactly when or in what book he first caught my attention. In Richard Rush’s A Residence at the Court of London, a gentleman “tall but limping” is identified thusly: "Colonel Ponsonby; he was left for dead at Waterloo; the cavalry it was thought had trampled upon him.” Elizabeth Longford’s Wellington: The Years of the Sword, summed up in a few unforgettable lines what Ponsonby endured: “Frederick Ponsonby, desperately wounded first by French sabres and then by Polish lances, ridden over and tossed by the Prussians, robbed, used as a musket-rest by a tirailleur and as a place to die on by a mortally wounded soldier, but later found alive by a British infantryman who mounted guard over him till morning...”
I added a bit of another officer's experience to my hero’s, and made up my own account of how he survived injuries that should have killed him several times over (no antibiotics!!!—he'd been stabbed all over the place, & the doctors treated him by bleeding him some more!!!)—but the great kernel of truth is there, and the credit belongs to Colonel Ponsonby (later a General and Sir Frederick), one tough gentleman.
Ye of the Nerdy History persuasion can easily imagine how thrilled I was recently to find, not a summary of his experience in a book by or about someone else, but his very own account—all thanks to the magic of Google books— in Ackermann’s Repository of arts, literature, fashions of 1817. You can read the whole story here.
I think the just-the-facts, ma'am approach makes it all the more poignant, and conveys in a powerful way the experience of being in the middle of that battle. What with the rumors flying about who was winning, who was losing, who was dead, who wasn’t, I wondered all the more how anybody knew what the devil was going on anywhere.
Some old things are valued not for their beauty (like an Old Master painting) or their intrinsic value (like a diamond necklace), but for their sheer scarcity. Such is the case with a major sale of rare and antique books scheduled later this month at Sotheby's.
In the early nineteenth century, books were still a luxury item, and a status one at that. Gentlemen prized their libraries. It was customary to purchase a new book in "drab boards" – a nondescript pasteboard cover – from one's favorite bookseller, and then send it off to one's bookbinder to have it handsomely bound in leather and gold embossing, to match the others in one's library. As can be imagined, few of the drab board versions remain in existence today; in most cases, they would have represented the lowly "remainders" to a bookseller, the failed copies that didn't sell, and shuffled off to an ignominious end.
For collectors of rare books, a first edition in drab boards with uncut pages (in other words, a book unsullied by reader's hands) can be the holiest of holy grails, and more holy still if that first edition represents an author whose star of fame had a posthumous rise. This is certainly the case with the Sotheby's sale, which will include this three-volume first edition of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, above. If you're interested in bidding, I hope you've been saving your pennies: Sotheby's is estimating the books will sell for 75,000-100,000 GBP at auction, and very likely more.
I have to admit that I see these plain-clad books not as a collector would, but as a fellow writer. Was this the version that Jane first saw of her new "baby"? When the package arrived from the London printer, did she open it with the same trepidation that modern authors do, worrying that sentences might have been transposed or signatures inadvertently omitted? Did she cradle the fresh new book in its drab cover, and marvel at that personal victory of imagination and hard work now transformed into printed words for all the world to see and, with luck, to buy?
I think the blue satin spencer must have been quite beautiful in person, and I would love to see that embroidered hem up close—but what struck me about this ensemble was the bonnet with its "very large" front. It seemed unusually tall and towering for this era, and reminded me of the extraordinary hat on the cover of Behind Closed Doors, a NHG Library selection I blogged about a while back.
PLATE 22.— PROMENADE DRESS. A high dress of jaconot muslin, richly embroidered round the bottom of the skirt. The body is composed entirely of work. Long sleeve, finished down the arm in front by bouillons of lace. With this dress is worn the Charlotte spencer, composed of cerulean blue satin; it is tight to the shape, the back a moderate breadth, and the waist short. The sleeve is rather wide. The trimming is extremely elegant, and it is disposed in so tasteful a manner, as to give an appearance of perfect novelty to the spencer. We are not allowed to name the materials of which it is composed. The sleeve is ornamented at the wrist, and on the shoulder to correspond. Bonnet, à la Ninon, composed of French willow. The crown is fancifully ornamented with the same material, cut in small squares, edged with white satin, and turned a little over at the ends. The front is very large; it displays the front hair, which is simply braided across the forehead: it is edged with puffed gauze, disposed in points, and confined by a narrow fold of white satin. A sprig of acacia ornaments it on the left side, and it is finished by white satin strings. French ruff and ruffles of rich lace. Blue or white kid shoes and gloves.
One of the most famous shipwrecks in English history was the sinking of the Mary Rose. An important vessel in Henry VIII's navy, the Mary Rosehad a long career spanning three decades of warfare before she finally sank during an attack on French forces on 19 July 1545, near the Isle of Wight.
More than four centuries later, the Mary Rose was raised and recovered in an extraordinary feat of maritime archaeology. Not only was much of the ship itself recovered, but a wealth of Tudor-era artifacts – over 19,000 in all – were salvaged, ranging from weapons and navigational tools to the personal belongings of the lower-deck crewmen.
But perhaps the single most engaging discovery was the skeleton of the ship's dog. Nicknamed Hatch by the archeologists (because the remains were discovered near the hatch door of the ship's carpenter's cabin), the skeleton is believed to have belonged to a young female mongrel terrier. Sixteenth century sailors, a superstitious lot, were convinced that cats brought bad luck to ships at sea. Rat-catching dogs became an important member of the shipboard company, and Hatch was likely not only a working dog, but a favorite with the rest of the crew.
Certainly Hatch is continuing to serve her ship in the twenty-first century. A new museum to house the Mary Rose is being constructed as part of the Historic Dockyard, Portsmouth, UK, and to help raise awareness and funds for the project, Hatch recently made an appearance at the 2010 Crufts dog show in Birmingham as the special guest of the sponsoring Kennel Club. While Hatch might not have claimed a ribbon, she was, in her own way, Best in Show.
Above left: Skeleton of Ship's Dog, The Mary Rose Trust. Above right: The Carrack Mary Rose, illustration by Anthony Roll, c. 1546
I usually shorten the title of one of my favorite early 19th century magazines to Ackermann’s Repository, and present here mainly its fashion entries. The full title, in fact, is (depending on the year) some variation of The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics. And it is truly a repository, a storehouse of all manner of things.
Each month's issue of about sixty pages contained a remarkable range of material. Along with considerably more literature—serial fiction, essays, poetry, etc—than we’re accustomed to seeing in today’s women’s magazines, Ackermann offered his readers glimpses of the hottest new styles in interior design and architecture.
Plate 18.—A GOTHIC COTTAGE
This building is suited to a small family, and would make a very convenient parsonage-house to a living of moderate income: it consists of a parlour, dining-room, and library; a kitchen, scullery, larder, &c. on the ground floor; and of four chambers and a dressing room on the bed-room floor. The design is picturesque in its effect; and if executed with a judicious attention to the forms of the doors, window, ceilings, &c., it would be come a very simple and neat example of domestic Gothic architecture. It is intended that the roof should be covered with tiles, but great care should be taken that they are from some other building, and have lost the offensive glare that red tiles always possess when new, for such a colour would be fatal to the pleasing effect of the building.
Most surviving clothing from the past belonged to upper class women, princesses and peeresses and the daughters of wealthy merchants. But one of the most important collections of 18th c. English textiles came from a far more humble group: the unwanted children given up to London's Foundling Hospital.
Created by Royal Charter in 1739, the Hospital was one of the earliest attempts to combine private philanthropy with organized charity. Led by prosperous shipbuilder Thomas Coram (1668-1741), the organizers of the Hospital had two goals: not only to offer a more humane alternative to parish workhouses (in whose dubious "care" over 75% of abandoned children died), but also to provide a suitable workforce for the growing Empire's industry, agriculture, domestic service, and the military. The project became a fashionable charity among the nobility, and was endorsed by Queen Charlotte herself. The Hospital's handsome new buildings included paintings by William Hogarth and a chapel financed in part by concerts given by George Frederic Handel. During the early years, admitted children were given excellent care by 18th c. standards, including inoculation against smallpox, and were taught marketable skills as well as how to read and write.
In the beginning, the only requirement for admission was that a child be under two years of age and in good health. Children were to be left anonymously and without questions, and at once the new Hospital became the best hope of desperate mothers. Over 4,000 infants were left between 1741-1760, and the billets cataloguing their admission (and often, sadly, their too-early deaths) have been preserved. Pinned to each child's page is an identifying token that had come with the child. In some cases, this is a tiny linen cap, sleeve, or ribbon rosette, but most often the nurses simply cut a swatch from the clothing the child was wearing when admitted. The tokens were kept in case a mother's circumstances improved and she came to reclaim her child. Almost none did.
Today the Foundling Hospital is a museum, and a selection of these admission billet pages is currently on display in an exhibition called Threads of Feeling (the show runs until March 6, 2011); the exhibition also has a Facebook page. Eighteenth century children's clothing was most often cut from adult clothing, and the swatches show a wide range of textiles, from the simplest threadbare linen to costly printed silks. While the billets are of great interest to historians and sociologists, as a novelist (and a mother), those little scraps are heartbreaking. They represent the last contact a mother had with her child, her last chance to make her baby "look pretty" for the strangers who could provide a better future than she could herself.
Above: Yellow Satten Flowered. Silk woven in a flowered pattern. Foundling number 13187. A girl aged about 14 days, admitted 20 June 1759. Died 2 July 1759. Photograph from the Foundling Hospital Museum.
Update: The excellent catalogue for this exhibition is now available for order in America, from our friends at Burnley & Trowbridge (a most tempting website for those who enjoy all things 17th-18th century.)
Yesterday Loretta wrote about the wonderful new annotated edition of Pride and Prejudice. Today we go from the sublime to the...well, not sublime, but funny. Jane Austen and her characters have survived vampire-and-zombie-ization as well as countless spin-offs, both good and atrocious, but we never thought we'd see them in a mash-up with a trailer of the upcoming movie Burlesque. Here we have the voices of Cher, Christina Aguilera, and Stanley Tucci giving a new twist to the classic 1995 Sense and Sensibility.
This clip comes by way of one of our favorite Austen-bloggers, Vic Sanborn at Jane Austen's World. Many thanks to Vic and the mysteriously named Sopmylo of YouTube for bringing this to our guffawing attention.
My interest in English history developed when I discovered the joys of 19th century English novelists like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. One can enjoy the books without understanding every single word or reference, but I guess I was born nerdy, because even in high school, it wasn't enough to read the story. I wanted to know what unfamiliar words meant. In Pride & Prejudice, for instance, when Sir William Lucas asked Mr. Darcy whether he often dances "at St. James's," I wanted to know what and where St. James's was.
Imagine my excitement in discovering annotated editions, which not only defined the puzzling words (I did not have my OED then) but enlightened me about historical context and explained subtleties I would otherwise completely miss.
So, naturally, I did a mental swoon when I spotted, at the recent New England Independent Booksellers Conference, a brand new annotated edition of Pride & Prejudice (edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks) from Harvard University Press. Never mind that I already have three editions of P&P on my shelves. One can never have enough. And this one's a beauty.
One of the tiresome aspects of most editions with notes is having to turn to the back of the book to get the information. This large, hardcover volume easily fits full size text on either side of the spine, with the notes in wide right and left hand columns.
Here's a sampling of what I learned on one page in Vol II, Chapter 5:
When Mr. Collins "punctually repeated all his wife's offers of refreshment," punctually in this case meant "In a manner attentive to details; scrupulously; punctiliously."
But the book offers more than a dictionary of Jane Austen's language (though the importance of language and characters' linguistic choices is beautifully explored). We find as well information about Austen's possible sources and inspirations—e.g., for the style of Darcy's proposal.
Merely skimming led to some eye openers. I knew, for instance, that Miss Darcy's fortune of £30,000 was enormous. But somehow I'd failed to catch on that "An elopement, which would mean marriage without the legal settlements that would protect a woman's money, would give Wickham complete possession of his bride's fortune and leave her penniless and completely dependent on him." There's more in this line, about money and what various possessions and lifestyles tell us about income levels.
There's a great deal more, in fact, than I can possibly convey in a blog. But you'll find a good summary as well as real reviews at the Harvard University Press site.
Since this book is one of the Independent Booksellers Holiday Catalog titles, you'll have no trouble finding it at your local bookseller.
And here, in accord with some FTC rule or other (which probably doesn’t apply to us, since we're not reviewers, but never mind), I need to tell you that, unlike the majority of books referred to in this blog, which Susan and I buy with our own hard-earned cash, this fabulous tome came gratis.
There are certain animosities in history that seem to persist century after century, unshaken through war and peace. The English have never had much use for the French, and the French in turn don't have much regard for the English. One of the most damning ways any 18th-19th c. English caricaturist could ridicule his subject was to "Frenchify" him or her.
But what's sauce for the goose is also sauce for le jars. While English artists like Gillray and Rowlandson were busily creating effete, frog-laden images of the French, the French were sharpening their own drawing-pens as well. While we've seen examples of elegant French people swimming in Le Supreme Bon Ton, the same artists were being, ahh, inspired by English tourists visiting Paris.
The French couple, above, is shown as graceful and elegant (with the lady displaying considerable decolletage), and in the middle of a quintessentially French flirtation. But stolid John Bull is a tedious family man. He clearly over-indulges in heavy English food and wears wrinkled, old-fashioned-country-squire dress, while his ladies are likewise shown in grimly unflattering clothes and exaggerated bonnets (which we last saw in another Bon Toncartoon; now I'm thinking that those couples must have been English, too.) Mrs. Bull is hatchet-faced, and both she and her daughters are obviously corseted and pointedly unalluring, with nary a seductive curve in sight. To call them stodgy would be kind. The oldest Miss Bull turns back to look with longing at the French gentleman, and it's clear that she'd be agreeable to his advances if he'd only deign to notice her – and, of course, if she could be pried free of her family.
A further note on foreign interpretations: We NHGs do have a weakness for beaux and macaronis in all their painted 18th c. glory, but we'd never imagined the latest permutation of macaroni-dom. Apparently MTV will be launching the Jersey Shore on an unsuspecting Japanese public next spring. While their marketing teams found that Japanese viewers are eager for this latest glimpse into the idiocy of Americans (doubtless confirming a great many of their own stereotypes, and, really, who can blame them?), the delicate connotations of the title were lost in translation. Further explanation was needed. Thus when the show makes it debut in Japan, it will have a subtitle: Jersey Shore – the New Jersey Life of Macaroni Rascals.
Not even we could make that up....
Above: La famille Anglaise a Paris, published in Le Supreme Bon Ton No. 11 by Aaron Martinet, Paris, 1800-1805.
Here's a rare look at an ultra-modern kitchen range of the Regency era.
The Annexed Plate is intended to represent a material improvement in the boiler attached to the kitchen range, manufactured by Mr. James Walker, 41, New Bridge-street, Blackfriars; and it explains the various purposes to which it can be applied, without consuming more fuel, or requiring more attention, than a common range. The superiority of this boiler to all others, for tho same purposes, will be made evident by inspecting the plan. It occupies the whole of the left-hand side of the range, and also the back, both forming one entire vessel; so that a quantity of water is always kept boiling when there U a fire in the range, by the superfluous heat that would otherwise be applied only to the back; and also, by this means, a very considerable expense is saved, as the additional consumption of fuel, by flues, is thus rendered unnecessary.
As all others have either a copper or iron plate boiler at the back of the range only, the water cannot be made even warm without a large portion of additional fuel; for, in this case, flues will be necessary, and besides this, the heat is drawn off from the front of the fire, which prevents meat from roasting without a constant supply of fresh coals. On the contrary, with Mr. Walker's boiler, a flue can scarcely ever be wanted, except it be to supply an adjoining bath, or the washing troughs. A large quantity of boiling water, constantly ready for use, is certainly a valuable acquisition to all families for various purposes; it has even been found particularly serviceable in cases of sudden illness, when a bath has been required in the middle of the night, as the boiler retains its heat for at least seven hours after the fire is extinguished. And, as the pipes will convey the steam to any part of the house for heating the sitting-rooms and the bath, or for any other purpose for which steam may be wanted, it is evident that this is the most convenient and economical plan for the application of heat to domestic uses that has yet been invented.
While the 18th c. lady in our recent Horrible Histories video displayed a pretty horrible set of teeth for comic effect, missing teeth were no joke to many Georgian ladies and gentlemen. Primitive dental care and diseases like smallpox, malaria, and syphilis combined with diets heavy on sugar, sugary tea, and alcohol and light on fresh fruits and vegetables made for less than glorious smiles. Poets might sing of teeth like pearls, but the reality was likely much less attractive.
Probably the most famous sufferer of dental woes was first American president George Washington (1732-1799), who began losing his teeth while only twenty-two. Historical legend reports that he compensated by wearing clacking false teeth made of wood. But Washington was an affluent gentleman, and he could afford the best replacements then on the market. A pair of dentures that he ordered in 1798 (shown left) are an intricate construction of gold wire springs and teeth carved of hippopotamus ivory. These were the work of Dr. John Greenwood (1760-1819), a New York-based dentist who earned Washington's custom, and his gratitude, too. Though the dentures look dreadfully uncomfortable to modern eyes, they were apparently a great improvement over what Washington had been wearing.
The letters between the dentist and his presidential patient survive today (here they are on-line), and the advice that Greenwood offers regarding the care of the false teeth sounds surprisingly modern:
"The sett [of false teeth] that you sent me from Philadelphia which when I received was very black, occasioned either by your soaking them in port wine [then considered a common way to disinfect false teeth], or by your drinking it. Port wine being sower [sour], takes off all the polish, and [as an] Acid has a tendency to soften every kind of teeth and bone....Therefore it is very pernicious to the teeth. I advise you to either take them out after dinner and put them in clean water and put in another sett, or clean them with a brush and some chalk scraped fine, it will absorbe the acids which collects from the mouth and preserve them longer."
No word remains as to whether Washington took this advice or not. Still, it does add an interesting layer to the custom of gentlemen retiring from the ladies to drink their port in masculine peace, with the men not only unbuttoning a waistcoat button or two after a large meal, but also removing their teeth.
For more about Dr. Greenwood – a colorful 18th c. American in his own right – check out another of our fav blogs,Boston 1776, andherefor more about his role as Washington's dentist.
As Nerdy History persons who've looked into the 18th century can attest, the recent Silly Historical Video Susan posted was all too horribly true. The only adornment that took us by surprise was the carrots. I'm still trying to figure out where the Horrible Histories people got that one.
"When your eyebrows are straw-colored, cut them now and again, so that they darken in growing back. You run no risk because the absence of this nearly white hair will not be remarked.
"When your eyebrows go only half-way over the eye-socket, rub them with soap moistened with brandy to make the hair grow. If they are too thin, the same practice is necessary..."
A few pages further on we read: "To blacken the Eyelashes and Eyebrows. Rub them often with elder-berries. For the same purpose, some make use of burnt cork, or clove burned at the candle. Others employ black frankincense, resin, and mastic: this black, it is said, will not come off with persperation.
"Wash for blackening the Eyebrows. First wash with a decoction of galls. Then rub them with a brush dipped in a solution of green vitriol, and let them dry.
"Black for the eyebrows. Take an ounce of pitch, a like quantity of resin and frankincense, and half an ounce of mastic. Throw them upon live charcoal, over which lay a plate to receive the smoke. A black soot will adhere to the plate; with this soot rub the eyelashes and eyebrows very delicately. This operation, if now and then repeated, will keep them perfectly black."
I've cited The Lady's Stratagemin an earlier blog. It's chock full of fascinating Nerdy History information.
Over and over we've shown you caricatures (like the lady and her ambitious hairdresser, right) of the outrageous fashions of the late 18th c. – an era that really sets the standard for over-the-top style. This video by our favorite folks at Horrible Histories doesn't really stray too far from what was actually being worn in London around 1770. We do admit, however, to being mystified by the carrot earrings. Has anyone else every come across those in their reading, or are dangling root vegetables just a HH whimsy?
Right: Ridiculous Taste, or, The Ladies' Absurdity, M. Darly, London, 1771
The Hon. George Dalrymple (d. 1745) was the third son of the first Earl of Stair. His older brother John (1673-1747) was much the more famous*, as an army officer, politician, and diplomat. Such is often the way with heirs to peerages; poor George seems to have been so thoroughly in his older brother's shadow that even his birthdate is now forgotten.
But in January, 1715, John journeyed to France as the newly appointed minister-plenipotentiary at Paris (aka the English ambassador), and George accompanied him. While John had a great many official duties to tend to, younger brother George had plenty of time to check out the female sights. Clearly he could have used the advice of a travel guide such as that would be written later in the century by Captain Thicknesse. George seems to have felt the usual English gentleman's disappointment (and the usual xenophobia) for the French ladies, as this excerpt from one of his letters proves:
"I have not been long enough here, to know, whether London or Paris is the most diverting town. The people here are more gay, the ladies less handsome, and much more painted, love gallantry more than pleasure, and coquetry more than solid love. This place is good for all those that have more vanity than real lust....This is the most diverting time to be at Paris because of the Fair Saint Germain. All the ladies go their every night at six o'clock and stay till ten. All that time they stroll about from the fair to the play and rope dancing and the rest of the things to be seen there and I am sure if the people there have a mind to be happy there is no difficulty to lose themselves. It is impossible to take more freedom, than that place allows of, and men and women stroll about without ceremony and everybody are taken up with their own projects so much that they do not mind what other people are doing. I am sure were such opportunities at London there would be many happy lovers. My brother being here makes it easy for me to get into good company though I am not as yet in love with anybody nor are the ladies handsome. I believe I shall only make love as I used to do to some chambermaid. I have already had some adventures of that kind."
Above: La Foire St. Germain, 1764.
* Another side-note about John Dalrymple: researching the background for this blog, I discovered that he was a F.O.M.C. – Friend of My Characters. In the army, he served as an aide-de-camp to John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough (the duke in Duchess), who became Dalrymple's patron and mentor. And when Dalrymple was eventually promoted to general and compelled to give up his regiment, he sold it to another Scotsman, David Colyear, Earl of Portmore, and the husband of Katherine Sedley, the heroine of The Countess and the King. It's a small world there in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography....
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.