Thursday, June 20, 2013
Thursday, June 20, 2013
On 20 June 1837, Princess Alexandrina Victoria became Queen, and promptly dropped the “Alexandrina”—neither the first nor the last example of her independent spirit. She had a mind of her own, and nobody, even Prince Albert, succeeded completely in crushing that powerful sense of self.
I had always felt sorry that she hadn’t a longer time to enjoy her independence before marrying Prince Albert, who was actually the “Victorian” in the sense we understand Victorian morality. In spite of a childhood that reads like a Gothic novel or a Victorian melodrama, in spite of being ruled and jealously guarded by bullies, she had promised to be a possibly saner version of her pleasure-loving uncles (although her fashion tone-deafness would have horrified King George IV). She was smart, well-educated, fun-loving, spirited, open-minded, and frank.
We've all heard that Prince Albert turned her into a prude. But that isn’t the whole story.
He never completely crushed the spirited girl, and he didn’t get his way in everything, as Gillian Gill points out in her brilliant biography, We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals. It deals with their marriage, yes. But it also provides one of the most moving and insightful accounts I’ve ever read of the events preceding her birth, most notably the life and death of Princess Charlotte, King George IV’s only legitimate child.
I’ve read lots of biographies, and they’re not always scintillating. And frankly, I had given up reading about her because, well, it's too depressing. But this book reads like a novel. I bought it some years ago, and find myself returning to it again and again.
For one thing, it gave me the impetus to celebrate today the bright beginning of her story as monarch. On 20 June 1837, Albert was still in the future, and she was a survivor, enjoying a hard-won triumph over her ghastly childhood. She was experiencing the first precious moments of freedom, and embarking on the role for which she’d been preparing for eighteen years.
We Two is a 2NHG Library recommendation. No disclaimer is required because I bought it with my very own money.
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Disgruntled modern readers have many avenues to vent their frustration with books they feel fall short: Goodreads, customer reviews on Amazon and other sites, and countless book blogs. But just because 18th c. readers didn't have the internet doesn't mean they didn't make their displeasure known.
This is the title page, left, of a rare novel, printed in Dublin in 1787. It's so rare, in fact, that only a single lone copy is known to exist in a catalogued library, qualifying as a one-of-a-kind unique holding in the University of Pennsylvania library's research collection. Rarity, however, does not necessarily mean a good book, and it's possible that this one is in short supply for a reason.
At least that's the judgement of an early owner. If you look closely at the title page (click on the image to enlarge), that long-ago reader made his or her reaction to this novel abundantly clear with a handwritten annotation. In case you're rusty reading 18th c. penmanship, I've transcribed it below in brackets.
OR, THE [greatest nonsense I ever met under so modest a title]
BY A YOUNG LADY. [who I hope will never write again]
Oof! Land of the One-Star Wallbangers! Still, as a fellow writer, I hope the anonymous Young Lady never saw this "review," and continued to write as long as she desired. Who knows what she might have gone on to publish under her own name?
Many thanks to Mitch Fraas, Bollinger Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries for bringing this title page to our attention. He blogs at Mapping Books, and you can follow him on twitter @MitchFraas.
Above: Title page of Caroline, by a Young Lady, printed in Dublin, 1787. Collection of the University of Pennsylvania Library.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
|The King Mimics Kemble|
We tend to be a little more familiar with the Prince Regent/King George IV’s many character flaws than any of his positive qualities. When he was in a good mood, he could be gracious, charming, and entertaining. Among other talents he had one I’ve always envied: He was a good mimic. Reading this bit from The English Spy, 1825, made me wish I could get my WABAC machine working.
~~~Previous to Mathews leaving this country for America, he exhibited a selection from his popular entertainments, by command of his Majesty, at Carlton Palace.—A party of not more than six or eight persons were present, including the Princess Augusta and the Marchioness of Conyngham. During the entertainment (with which the King appeared much delighted), Mathews introduced his imitations of various performers on the British stage, and was proceeding with John Kemble in the Stranger, when he was interrupted by the King, who, in the most affable manner, observed that his general imitations were excellent, and such as no one who had ever seen the characters could fail to recognise; but he thought the comedian's portrait of John Kemble somewhat too boisterous.—"He is an old friend, and I might add, tutor of mine," observed his Majesty: "when I was Prince of Wales he often favoured me with his company. I will give you an imitation of John Kemble," said the good-humoured monarch. Mathews was electrified. The lords of the bed-chamber eyed each other with surprise. The King rose and prefaced his imitations by observing, "I once requested John Kemble to take a pinch of snuff with me, and for this purpose placed my box on the table before him, saying 'Kemble, oblige (obleege) me by taking a pinch of snuff' He took a pinch, and then addressed me thus:—(Here his Majesty assumed the peculiar carriage of Mr. Kemble.) 'I thank your Royal Highness for your snuff, but, in future, do extend your royal jaws a little wider, and say Oblige.'" The anecdote was given with the most powerful similitude to the actor's voice and manners, and had an astonishing effect on the party present.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
Sunday, June 16, 2013
It's not only clothing that goes out of style. Illnesses can fade from fashion, too, as medical science progresses and old terms become obsolete. The vapours is one of these. A familiar ailment to 18th & 19th c. physicians, the vapours seems to us now to be something of a catch-all term with numerous symptoms - depression, nervousness, hysteria, lethargy, and indigestion, among them – depending on which medical book of the past is consulted.
But wherever there were symptoms, there was sure to be cures, of varying efficacy and foolishness. Gender politics often complicated these remedies, for the sufferers were nearly always female, while those prescribing were largely male. Certainly the (male) author of the following piece is laying down the law to his (female) patients - especially in regard to those infamous "Pretty Fellows."
"There's no Disease puzzled Physicians more than the Vapours, and Hysterick Fits. These complaints are produced by so many Causes, and appear in so many various Shares, that 'tis no easy Matter to describe them. However, some of the Symptoms are, a Thumping at the Heart, a Croaking of the Guts, and a Fulness of the Stomach...[The sufferer] has moreover, a great Heaviness, and Dejection of Spirit, and a Cloud seems to hang upon al her Senses. In one Word, she has no Relish for any thing, but is continually out of Humour, she knows not why, and out of Order, she know not where....
"Because the Stomach is suspected to be much in Fault, I would have That cleans'd in the first Place, with a Vomit of Indian Physick; the next Day, purify the Bowels, but a Purge of the same; which must be repeated 2 Days after. The rest of the Cure must be perform'd by the exact Observation of the following Rules. Endeavour to preserve a cheerful Spirit, putting the best Construction upon every Body's Words and Behaviour: Plunge, 3 Mornings every Week, into cold Water, over Head and Ears; which will brace the Nerves, and rouze the sluggish Spirits surprisingly. Observed a strict Regularity and Temperance in your Diet; and ride every fair Day, small Journeys on Horseback. Stir nimbly about your Affairs, quick Motion being as necessary for Health of Body, as for Dispatch of Business....nor do I allow her one Pinch of Snuff, nor one Drop of Bohea-Tea, which makes People very lumpish and miserable.
"To escape this Disorder, she must suffer none of the idle Disturbances, or Disappointments of an empty World, to prey upon her Mind, or ruffle her sweet Temper. Let her use just Exercise enough to give a gentle Spring to her Spirits, without wasting them; and let her be always cheerful, in Spite of a churlish Husband, or cloudy Weather....
"To prevent this Complaint, young Women must shake off Sloth, and make Use of their Legs, as well as their Hands. They should be cautious of taking Opiates too often, or Jesuits-Bark, except in cases of great Necessity; nor must they long for Pretty Fellows, or any other Trash, whatsoever."
– from Every Man his own Doctor: or, The Poor Planter's Physician, by Anonymous [John Tennet], printed in Williamsburg, VA, 1736.
Above: Young Girl Writing a Love Letter, by Pietro Antonio Rotari, c. 1755. Norton Simon Museum.
Saturday, June 15, 2013
Saturday, June 15, 2013
• Ripe with early 19th c. warnings: The Stranger's Guide; or, the London Sharper Detected: being a Complete Exposure of all the Frauds of London.
• Sham Paris, built during World War One to confuse the German aerial attacks.
• Why ladies fancy a man with mustachios, 1707.
• "Mummy's a Suffragette": contested womanhood.
• The desperate 19th c. would-be housewife of New York.
• How to pick a soldier for the Continental Army (no short guys need apply.)
• For Flag Day, explore the original Star-Spangled Banner in all its glory.
• An 18th c. natural trumpet, a thing of beauty wonderfully crafted.
• The 16th c. accountant who documented his wardrobe and created the first book of fashion.
• For all fans of Blackadder (including us!): how accurately did the show reflect history?
• Cheerful birthday postcards of the early 20th c.
• The curious case of a huge 16th c. castle that was lost, and then found again in Dublin 35 years ago.
• In 1961, Harvard told married women that they probably shouldn't bother studying urban planning.
• "Merculialia are worrisome": dangerous recipes.
• Prostitution in and around 18th c. London's public pleasure gardens.
• A sign of the times: Astor House, NYC's finest 19th c. hotel, torn down a century ago this month as nearby St. Paul's weeps.
• Cataloging the royal taste: zoom in on the cellar book of Charles II, 1660.
• Christmas crackers and women's suffrage, 1913.
• Slide-show of glorious photos of Canterbury Cathedral.
• French-watching in 1853: feeding time at a popular restaurant.
• An 18th c. favorite: syllabubs, three ways, in 1753 recipe and modern version.
• Charming illustrated envelopes produced by wife sending letters to her husband serving in WWII.
• Sometimes what's old really is better: ancient roman concrete is about to revolutionize modern architecture.
• From a medieval manuscript: hey diddle diddle, the cat and a fiddle....
• The oldest working theatre in Britain, gorgeously restored: the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond, Yorkshire.
• My father's train ride: when educating a deaf five-year-old meant sending him 868 miles from home.
• Homework time: fragment of 14-year-old Abraham Lincoln's exercise book, 1825.
• "To dress duck with juice of oranges": 1827 recipe, plus modern version.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for daily updates!