Friday, October 30, 2009

Coming Attractions

Friday, October 30, 2009

Susan & Loretta report together:

It's true: we had such an excellent time in Colonial Williamsburg this spring that we HAD to return.  We've been here this week gathering every manner of nifty Nerdy Girl facts for you, plus taking lots of pix, all of which we intend to share with you in the coming weeks. 

If you think this sounds like great and arduous work, just take a look at this picture of Loretta as she learns more about 18th c. coaches.  She is riding in the Earl of Dunmore's carriage.  She has an 18th c. gentleman (actor/interpreter Mark Schneider) riding along side her.  She is listening avidly as he tells her everything she needs to know, and more.  

Dear Readers, can you now understand the lengths to which we go for you? 

Stay tuned....

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Nearby History

Thursday, October 29, 2009
Susan reports:

Looking over our posts, it's safe to say that so far the TNHG have been pretty Eurocentric in our history, even Anglocentric.  Which is not to say that we're not interested in the history of our own country, because we ARE.  

Among our readers are the librarians of the Archives Research Center of the Sandusky Library in Sandusky, OH. Their blog, Sandusky History, is proof that you don't have to go to London for history; there's fascinating stuff right around the corner.  On their current page, you'll find information about the cholera epidemic in Ohio in 1849; Margaret Bloodgood Peeke, a 19th c. Congregationalist minister's wife who, after raising six children, became a Martinist (a mystical form of Christianity) and the author of Zenia, the Vestal, described as "a story of great value to all who are interested in the Soul's development according to the laws of vibration"; and more of these very cool vintage Halloween postcards from their collection. 

I could happily get lost on this site for hours....

Postcard by Raphael Tuck and Sons. Donated by Mary Elizabeth Opie to the Follet House Museum, Sandusky, OH

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Department of Silly History: King Charles I

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Loretta reports:

Being a comically-bent writer, I adore silly history. One of my favorite comic history discoveries happened in England, when a guide or waiter or somebody told me about 1066 and All That, by W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman. Here's their take on CHARLES I AND THE CIVIL WAR:

“With the ascension of Charles I to the throne we come at last to the Central Period of English History (not to be confused with the Middle Ages, of course), consisting in the utterly memorable Struggle between the Cavaliers (Wrong but Wromantic) and the Roundheads (Right but Repulsive).

"Charles I was a Cavalier King and therefore had a small pointed beard, long flowing curls, a large, flat, flowing hat and gay attire. The Roundheads on the other hand were clean-shaven and wore tall, conical hats, white ties and sombre garments. Under these circumstances a Civil War was inevitable."

It goes on, delightfully.

You can listen to Monty Python's distinctive musical version of the story. And--in case your ears aren't tuned to British English--these are the lyrics.

The thing is, it's funny, yet there are sharp, shining bits of truth amid the comedy, some of which is black, indeed. But then, there's a lot of straight history, I think, that is black comedy or can become so with only the slightest tweaking. You can expect more examples in blogs to come.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Department of Quotation: The Talking Starling

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Susan reports:

Modern world leaders worry endlessly about their public image. Not so 17th c. English King Charles II (1630-1685), who was about as carefree and casual among his subjects as any king in history.

Here's a short example, widely circulated (and widely enjoyed) in the 1670s. Imagine the kind of outraged indignation a 21st c. cable news station would get from a king who:

1) is on most familiar terms with an actress/party girl/orange wench named Betty Mackerell;
2) accepts from her a pet bird who talks dirty;
3) receives the leader of the national church in his bed room, with predictable results;
4) laughs heartily at said bird's dirty-talking;
5) then tells everyone at court about it himself.

"Bett Mackarell ye orange wench taught a starling to speak baudy & gave ye bird to ye King. One day ye Bishop of Canterbury came into ye bed chamber & ye bird hop on his shoulder & sade 'Wilt thou have a whore, thou lecherous dog?'"

from Sir Francis Fane, c. 1675 (MS Commonplace Book)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Department of Quotation: The Worsley Scandal

Friday, October 23, 2009

Loretta reports:

“The court heard that while [Sir Richard] Worsley was quartered in the military camp at Cox’s Heath, Lady Worsley had often used the nearby bathhouse at Maidstone. On one occasion her husband had tapped on the bathhouse door, saying ‘[Captain] Bissett is going to get up to look at you.’ Hoist Bissett up to the window Worsley duly did, for him to gaze on her nakedness.”

Vic Gatrell, City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London.

You can read the court proceedings here.

And more about Lady Worsley here.

Here’s one of the satirical prints.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cary Grant

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Susan reports:

As Loretta has reported earlier this week, we've been in the deadline-doldrums.  Yet whilst toiling hard on our manuscripts, there's no real reason why we can't take tiny breaks to wander around the internet (which is how we discovered Loubie-Barbie.)

One of our fav sites to look at -- quite literally, because there's not a whole lot of text -- is The Sartorialist, a visual "diary" of street-style around the world by renowned fashion photographer Scott Schuman.  Sometimes when mired in a thousand words, one gorgeous picture is all it takes to shake the muse lose.  The Sartorialist is also the title of Schuman's own first book, a delight for anyone who enjoys fashion, individuality, people-watching, and photography, as the TNHGs most definitely do.

Recently The Sartorialist raved about a new book of photographs of actor Cary Grant.  Apparently it takes the French to produce the best illustrated book about an English actor who made his fortune in America...but that's a blog for another day.  What struck us was the cover of this book, reminding us of the astonishing male beauty and style of Cary Grant.  Since Cary was born in 1904, we think we can include him here.  

Besides, we're quite certain that had Archibald Alexander Leach been born in 1604, or 1704, 0r 1804, he still would have epitomized a certain kind of manly perfection. Sigh.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Flats were sexy once

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Loretta reports:

Susan will be back in a moment. In the meantime, after meditating at length on Louboutin shoes, I’ve been trying to remember if there was any time in my whole life when high heels weren’t cool and sexy. Don’t think so.

It’s interesting that during the late 18th and early 19th century, flat shoes became high fashion. The ballet dancer look was hot.

High or flat, though, milady's shoes did not come in right or left. One assumes this means the shoes can’t be comfortable. Not so. The Colonial Williamsburg shoemaker pointed out that good quality leather, being very soft and supple, shapes to one’s foot in a matter of hours. The leather here is much softer than it looks--like butter, yes. Too, labor being cheap once upon a time, my aristocratic hero or heroine would have had his or her shoes made, exquisitely, to order. Scroll down here for a couple of early 19th C shoe shop interiors. Nordstrom’s it’s not.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Barbie á la Louboutin

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Loretta reports:

This is my Deadline Barbie. She quite accurately captures my state during the last stages of a book. As many know, I am a Barbie devotee. My favorite ones are the early ones, like this one, when she still retained evidence of her European origins . . . based on a German cartoon prostitute.

As part of our ongoing diligent research into shoes, alert Nerdy History Girl Susan sent me the latest news from France about Barbie. She’s had a makeover courtesy Christian Louboutin.

One of the many things we love about Louboutin is of course the red soles, which remind us of the hot red heels of the 17th century, like the ones King Louis XIV is wearing.

But we were fascinated by the transformation Louboutin wrought. He’s made Barbie French! Ooh la la!

Monday, October 12, 2009

The end better be near

Monday, October 12, 2009

Loretta reports:

Though Susan and I don’t live in the same dormitory or even the same state, we both get our deadlines at the same time. That would be now. Call us crazy but we thought it might be a good idea to devote the next few days to finishing our books.

This means we don’t expect to be posting this week. It might happen but don’t count on it. We might put up some amusing pictures, if we can see straight.

Otherwise, just imagine us up all night in front of our computers, fighting with the writing gods and hoping our editors don’t yell at us too much.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Annals of Bathing 6: The Last Word (For Now)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Susan reports:

From the Diary of Samuel Pepys, written between 1660-1669:

"My wife being busy in going with her woman to a hot-house to bathe herself, after her long being within doors in the dirt, so that she now pretends to a resolution of being hereafter very clean. How long it will hold I can guess. . . .

"At night late home, and to clean myself with warm water; [now] my wife will have me, because she doth [wash] herself, and so to bed."

Above: The King's Bath and the Queen's Bath at Bath 1675, by Thomas Johnson (1634-1676 fl.) from the collection of the British Museum; copyright The Trustees of the British Museum.  The King's Bath is the oldest of the baths, dating from at least the 13th c.  This drawing from the 17th c. shows a lively scene worthy of a modern swimming pool, with bathers of all ages (and of all dress and undress) and both genders, plus many spectators gathered along the rails and watching from the windows of surrounding houses.  To learn more, click on the title of the print.  

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Annals of Bathing 5: Tepid bath

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Loretta reports:

From The New Female Instructor or Young Woman’s Guide to Domestic Happiness (first published in the 1830s):

"Hence tepid* baths are of eminent service where the body has been overheated, from whatever cause, whether after fatigue from travelling, or severe bodily exercise, or after violent exertion and perturbation of mind; as they allay the tempestuous and irregular movements of the body, and frequently, in the strictest sense, invigorate the system. By their softening, moistening, and tumefying power, they greatly contribute to the formation and growth of the bodies of young persons; and are of a singular benefit to those in whom we perceive a tendency to arrive too early at the consistence of a settled age; so that the warm bath is particularly adapted to prolong the state of youth, and retard for some time the approach of full manhood. This effect the tepid baths produce in a manner exactly alike, in the coldest as well as in the hottest climates."

* “about the temperature of the blood, between 96 and 98° of Fahrenheit”

This book review Susan found offers a nice summary of the complex subject we've tackled this week.

Above is a detail fromThomas Eakins's The Swimming Hole.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Annals of Bathing: Episode 4

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Susan reports:

No matter whether an English gentleman or lady believed in full into-the-tub bathing, or more cautiously followed popular medical advice and washed rather than bathed, there was one area in which both sides were in complete agreement: what they wore next to their skin was impeccably clean.

For gentlemen, a linen shirt was an all-purpose garment well into the 19th century. Whether fine Holland linen or coarse homespun, the shirt was always voluminously cut and always white.  It slipped over the head and hung nearly to the knees, with buttons at the throat and the cuffs.  (It's only romance cover artists who make a historical hero wear a silk tux shirt open to the waist.) 

A shirt served as underwear as well as a nightshirt, and was the one "layer" that lay directly on the skin, absorbing sweat and preserving coats and waistcoats. A clean shirt was a point of pride for men of every rank. Even laboring men tried to have at least two, one to wear and one being washed.  Fine gentlemen might change their shirts several times a day; some might own as many as fifty. But as long as a gentleman's shirt was clean, then he was considered clean as well.  

It probably worked pretty well, too.  Linen is a soft, absorbent fabric, and by the time a laundress had washed and rinsed it repeatedly with strong soap, dried it by the sun, and pressed it with steaming-hot irons, a linen shirt would have been clean and fresh-smelling enough to please even a fastidious 21st c. nose.  Wealthy Londoners sent their linen to the country to be washed, in cleaner water far from the sooty air of the city.

The same thing applied to a lady's smock, shirt, or chemise; the name changes over the centuries, but the billowing square shape doesn't. It, too, was invariably white linen, though it could be trimmed with lace or discreet embroidered initials.  The smock went beneath petticoats, stays or corsets, and gowns, and protected those costly pieces from sweat and dirt.  (Again it's only on book covers or in Madonna videos that corsets are worn next to the skin.) Shifts were changed at least daily, and as with a man's shirt, a clean shift meant a clean lady.  

Above left: Woman Doing Laundry, by Henry Robert Morland  (1716-1797)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Annals of Bathing 3: George & Caroline

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Loretta reports:

Anybody wondering whether people were concerned with cleanliness before Beau Brummell’s reign might want to consider the Prince of Wales and his bride, Caroline of Brunswick.

The Earl of Malmesbury, charged with bringing Caroline to England, had grave misgivings about the pair’s compatibility. In his diary he wrote, of his attempts to encourage her to bathe: “‘I endeavoured, as far as was possible for a man, to inculcate the necessity of great and nice attention to every part of dress, as well as to what was hid, as to what was seen.’”

“‘I knew she wore coarse petticoats, coarse shifts, and thread stockings, which were never well washed or changed often enough,’” and he asked her dresser to explain to her “‘that the Prince was extremely fastidious and would expect from his wife a long and very careful toilette, which at present she neglected sadly--‘and is offensive from this neglect.’” (From Caroline: A Biography of Caroline of Brunswick by Thea Holme).

Since Malmesbury made these observations before Brummell’s influence was being felt in London, it’s clear that cleanliness was in fashion at least in some circles by the late 1700s.

The era is deeply misogynistic, and I’ve learned to view the caricatures and negative characterizations of women with a jaundiced eye. Still, it seems pretty clear that Caroline fell well below court standards of personal hygiene.

“In fact she frequently stank,” writes Kenneth Baker in George IV: A Life in Caricature. “She seldom washed her hair or feet.” This was a marriage made in hell, obviously: “George was fastidious in his clothes, his manners and his life. He did not want a wife who smelt.”

The Baker book contains a marvelous collection of caricatures. One, by Isaac Cruikshank, shows the Prince standing in his nightshirt next to the bridal bed, holding his mouth and looking as though he’s gagging. The caption is “Oh! Che Boccone! (Oh, what a mouthful!)

Oddly enough, this caricature of her with her lover Bartolomeo Pergami, shows her bathing.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Annals of Bathing: Episode 2

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Susan reports:

I think Loretta pretty well established yesterday that historical cleanliness was often more a matter of class, convenience, and personal preference than any wide-spread cultural mandate. 

While very few people had the fantastical luxury of this 18th c. French lady, left, with her large tub and half-dozen attendants, most people of every rank made some effort to wash at least their hands and face on a regular basis. By 1790, theologian John Wesley (1703-1791) was sternly preaching that "Slovenliness is no part of religion. Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness", and most Englishmen would have agreed.

It's the total-immersion part of bathing that wasn't universal. Even among the wealthy who could afford to have servants heat and carry water to fill a tub,  it was often considered a suspect practice, even unhealthy. Early science maintained that the pores "opened" when the body was relaxed (such as when lolling in a warm tub), admitting all kinds of dangerous poisons. Far safer to wash piecemeal with a damp cloth.  And despite all those recipes for lovely scented soaps, it seems that soap, being made from lye and animal fat, often irritated the skin more than it helped clean it, and most people went for water alone. (This from one of the NHG's absolute fav books, Emily Cockayne's Hubbub: Filth, Noise, & Stench in England.)

There was another dreaded danger, too, as described by diarist James Boswell (1740-1795) in 1763: "A warm bath is, I confess, a most agreeable kind of luxury, but luxury is very dangerous....Above all things a young man should guard against [its] effeminacy. I would advise him to avoid warm baths and accustom himself rather to the cold bath, which will give him vigour and liveliness." Cautiously Boswell restricted his own warm-water bathing to his feet, which he admitted gave him "a kind of tranquility."

But there was no doubt that outward cleanliness was perceived as a sign of gentility. In his oft-quote letters to his son, Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1773) stressed the importance of clean hands for gentlemen, for "nothing looks more ordinary, vulgar, and illiberal than dirty hands, and ugly, uneven, and ragged nails."  Or, as one popular proverb went: "Wash your hands often, your feet seldom, and your head never."

More to come. . . .

Above left: The Bath, by Jean-Baptiste Pater, 1730

Monday, October 5, 2009

Annals of Bathing: Episode 1

Monday, October 5, 2009

Loretta reports:

Liz said,
“I have read in books by other authors that no gentlemen took baths before Beau Brummell made it fashionable. I would be interested to know from you ladies if this is true."

In a word, no. While bathing, at the time, usually meant sea bathing--which King George III is doing in the picture above--that wasn't the only kind.

A wonderful book by Mark Girouard, Life in the English Country House, shows photos of bath houses and plunge baths dating to the 18th century. Many country houses before Brummell's time had them, although Christina Hardyment’s Behind the Scenes reminds us that these “should be regarded as roughly the equivalent of the modern domestic swimming-pool--having a bathhouse in the grounds did not preclude having a plumbed in bath in the house itself. Fixed baths, equipped with hot and cold water, were installed in the Palace of Whitehall in the 1670s and at Chatsworth in the 1690s.”

Not all houses had them, inside or out. Just because one had a bath, didn't mean one took a bath.

Ian Kelly’s Beau Brummell tells us “Brummell bathed in hot water, and this was considered remarkable. Almost as remarkable as the fact that he bathed every day 'and every part of his body.'”

This would have been remarkable only a generation or two ago in the U.S. Let’s remember that Brummell may have made it fashionable in his time but that doesn’t mean no one did it before he did or that everyone afterward--even every one of his devotees--bathed as religiously as he did. He attracted attention because he was a celebrity.

Many people, including doctors, well into the 19th century, regarded bathing in hot water as unhealthy. In most cases, it was simply impractical. Brummell’s house had, Kelly informs us, "an unusually large coal cellar"--which simplified heating all the gallons of water required daily.

Look for more about bathing this week from both NHGs. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with this food for thought: “A survey in the 1950s showed that one Londoner in five never took a bath . . . . in 1958, over the whole United Kingdom, ‘about one third of the old dwellings’ were bathless.”
--Lawrence Wright, Clean and Decent

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Receipts for Beauty: To Make Sweete Water

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Susan reports:

Take halfe a bushell of damask roses & put them in an earthen pot which will hold 3 gallons of water, & fill it almoste full,  & put into it 2 handfulls of lavender knops and set it in ye sun for a fortnight all ye day. Put in Allsoe a good handfull of sweet margerm & a good handfull of bayse, & when it hath stood ye fore mentioned time in ye sun, put in 2 ounces of cloves bruised, and soe still it, hanging in a little bagg wherein there is 2 gryns of muske. If you would perfume a roome with this water, you must heat a fire shovele red hot & poure some of it into it.

From "A Booke of Sweetemeats", c. late 17th century; included in Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery, transcribed by Karen Hess

Above: Portrait of a Young Woman, Francois Boucher (1703-1770)

Receipts for Beauty: Pearl Water


Loretta reports:

Pearl Water, for the face Put half a pound of best Spanish oil soap*, scraped very fine, into a gallon of boiling water. Stir it well for some time, and let it stand till cold. Add a quart of rectified spirit of wine, and half an ounce of oil of rosemary; stir them again. This compound liquid, when put up in proper phials, in Italy, is called tincture of pearls. It is an excellent cosmetic for removing freckles from the face, and for improving the complexion.

1825
Samuel Adams & Sarah Adams, THE COMPLETE SERVANT

*Castile soap

(The illustration is of much later date, but the "pearliest" one I could find.)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Royal Governor's Bagnio

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Susan reports:

It's awfully easy to generalize with history.  We read of how, before indoor plumbing, people found bathing such a difficult and complicated process that only the wealthy attempted it.  We hear of wooden tubs lined with sheets against splinters (ow!) and laboriously filled with buckets of heated water lugged upstairs by servants.  We assume that, with so much work to wash one's self, that it wasn't done very often.  

Then we NHG stumble across something that tosses all those assumptions right out the window where they belong.

This little brick building next to the Governor's Palace in Colonial Williamsburg isn't a privy, or a guard-house, or a garden folly.  It's the governor's outdoor bath house: his bagnio.  After a hard day governing the royal colony of Virginia, he'd shut himself inside and strip naked. Then he'd sit on the convenient wooden bench and have
buckets of cold water poured over him. Considering that the bath house was installed by the last royal governor, John Murray, Earl of Dunmore (1732-1809), a transplanted Scotsman, this ritual was probably the only way he survived the notoriously steamy Tidewater summers.  

Being intrepid NHG, we naturally looked inside.  (That's an interior picture to the right.)  We can also report that we found no naked governors on the bench, but then, it was only April.
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