Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg: Day IV

Wednesday, December 30, 2009




More holiday decorations from Colonial Williamsburg, ranging from the humble (apples, seed pods, and clam shells) to the grand (the royal lion and unicorn standing guard outside the gate to the Governor's Palace.)  Many of the interpreters also look mighty festive; while no one is wearing plush Santa hats, there certainly are more scarlet waistcoats, breeches, and gowns than usual on Duke of Gloucester Street.  I believe the gentleman on horseback, above, is Thomas Jefferson.

Even Mrs. Peyton Randolph (one of the most important ladies in 18th c. Williamsburg) was elegantly dressed in red for a Christmas Eve entertainment that she and her husband hosted in the Capitol.  But we were so intent on taking her picture, left, as she bid farewell to her guests that we've no idea who the mysterious gentleman in the fur coat (the ghost of Edward Gorey?) might be.  As Theo noted earlier this week, odd things happen in photographs shot at night!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg: Day III

Monday, December 28, 2009




































As lovely as Colonial Williamsburg is to the  eye, it's also pleasing to the other senses, too.  We can't give you a taste of 18th c. style hot chocolate via the blog (though we wish we could!) or make the scent of an open fire come wafting through your computer screen.  We can, however, share the stirring sounds of the fife and drum corps as they march down Duke of Gloucester Street –– here's the link to a number of their performances in videos, slide-shows, and audio clips.  The corps consists of school-aged boys and girls (and yes, we realize it's not entirely accurate to include girls, even girls dressed as boys, but as Nerdy History GIRLS we can't help but applaud the equal opportunity) from the town of Williamsburg; competition for the corps is fierce, as is the rigorous training and practice, but the resulting performances help bring Colonial Williamsburg to stirring life, whatever the season.  It's impossible to hear them without falling into step, and as they march through the town they always draw a huge crowd following after them in an impromptu parade.  A very cool experience!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg: Day II

Saturday, December 26, 2009
































All the houses and shops of Colonial Williamsburg are dressed for the season. While the decorations aren't entirely traditional, they are inspired by 18th c. tastes. Many of the decorations reflect the shop's trade or the interests of the house's owner, with scrolled sheet music, milliner's hats, imported porcelain tea-dishes, or even a horse collar and stirrups incorporated into the greenery. Everything used has to have been available in colonial Virginia; no plastic snowmen, polyester ribbons, or LED Santa-heads allowed! For more about the decorations, see this article on the Colonial Williamsburg web site. 

Happy Holidays from the Two Nerdy History Girls!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg: Day I

Friday, December 25, 2009


















No snow to speak of in Colonial Williamsburg this year, but the temperature is still cold enough for everyone to bundle up, whether coachmen, musicians, or sheep.  

Happy Holidays from the
Two Nerdy History Girls

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Coming Attractions & Good Wishes, Too

Wednesday, December 23, 2009
For the rest of the holiday season, we'll be posting more of our photographs from Colonial Williamsburg featuring the traditional nature-inspired decorations for Christmas. Please stop by whenever you have a chance and enjoy the sights, and we'll return to our usual TNHG blogging in the New Year.

When we launched this blog several months ago, we hoped we'd find one or two readers who'd enjoy our version of history as much as we do ourselves. (We say so, too, right over there in the side-bar.) We're both surprised and grateful that there are so many more of you out there.  THANK YOU!  

Best wishes to you all,
Loretta & Susan


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More from "Old Christmas": The Officer & the Young Lady

Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Susan reporting:

We're returning to the Christmas dance at Bracebridge Hall c. 1820 as described by Washington Irving in "Old Christmas" (from The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.) Irving might have been an American observer, but this almost sounds like the beginning to a Jane Austen story....

"The most interesting couple in the dance was a young officer and a ward of the Squire's, a beautiful blushing girl of seventeen. From several shy glances which I had noticed in the course of the evening, I suspected there was a little kindness growing up between them; and, indeed, the young soldier was just the hero to captivate a romantic girl. He was tall, slender, and handsome, and like most young British officers of late years, had picked up various small accomplishments on the Continent –– he could talk French and Italian –– draw landscapes, sing very tolerably –– dance divinely; but, above all, he had been wounded at Waterloo: –– what girl of seventeen, well read in poetry and romance, could resist such a mirror of chivalry and perfection!

"The moment the dance was over, he caught up a guitar, and lolling against the old marble fireplace, in an attitude which I am half inclined to suspect was studied, began the little French air of The Troubadour. The Squire, however, exclaimed against having anything on Christmas Eve but good old English; upon which the young minstrel, casting up
his eye for a moment as if in an effort of memory, struck into another strain, and, with a charming air of gallantry, gave Herrick's Night-Piece to Julia...

"The song might have been intended to compliment the fair Julia, for so I found his partner was called, or it might not; she, however, was certainly unconscious of any such application, for she never looked at the singer, but kept her eyes cast upon the floor. Her face was suffused, it is true, with a beautiful blush, and there was a gentle heaving of the bosom, but all that was doubtless caused by the exercise of the dance; indeed, so great was her indifference that she was amusing herself with plucking to pieces a choice bouquet of hothouse
flowers, and by the time the song was concluded, the nosegay lay in ruins on the floor...."

Illustrations from "Old Christmas" by Randolph Caldecott, 1875.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Revisiting "Old Christmas"

Monday, December 21, 2009
Susan reporting:

Some of the most charming recollections of Christmas past were written by the American author Washington Irving (1783-1859) for The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. , first published in seven parts in 1819-1820.  The section that is now called "Old Christmas" was based on notes Irving made while visiting England from 1805-1815 (think of it as an American's view of Regency England.) He was particularly intrigued by the old traditions and celebrations of a large country house called Bracebridge Hall, traditions which even in the early 19th c. were being regarded as part of a fading past.  Irving's descriptions influenced Charles Dickens, who, a generation later, wrote his own version of Christmas past in A Christmas Carol.

It seems in the spirit of both the season and the Two Nerdy History Girls to feature a few selections from "Old Christmas" this week.  The happiest holidays to you all!

"The [Christmas Eve] dance, like most dances after supper, was a merry one; some of the older folks joined in it, and the Squire himself figured down several couples with a partner with whom he affirmed he had danced at every Christmas for nearly half-a-century. Master Simon, who seemed to be a kind of connecting link between the old times and the new, and to be withal a little antiquated in the taste of his accomplishments, evidently piqued himself on his

dancing, and was endeavouring to gain credit by the heel and toe, rigadoon, and other graces of the ancient school; but he had unluckily assorted himself with a little romping girl from boarding-school, who, by her wild vivacity, kept him continually on the stretch, and defeated all his sober attempts at elegance; such are the ill-assorted matches to which antique gentleman are unfortunately prone!"

Illustrations for "Old Christmas" by Randolph Caldecott, 1875.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Men Behaving Badly (Christmas Edition): William Hickey

Saturday, December 19, 2009
Susan reporting:

William Hickey (1749-1830) was a successful English-Irish lawyer who would be virtually unknown today except that he wrote one of the most entertaining and readable Memoirs of the 19th c. The memoirs begin when Hickey is an affluent and rascally young gentleman in London, a constant source of despair to his parents, and continue through his experiences in India. As male memoirs go, they're particularly unusual because Hickey never spares himself in the telling. He doesn't try to "improve" the past, or make himself out to be a great man in any way, but remains as cheerfully honest about is failings and misadventures as he is about his successes. This passage takes place when he was only 13, and home from school for the Christmas holidays.

My first venereal attempt was made on a dark night in St. James's Park, upon the grass, about Christmas of the year 1762... and grievously disappointed I was. I cannot describe my feelings upon the occasion; but undoubtedly they were not altogether pleasant. The same evening that this happened, I was to go home and sleep there, my mother having some friends to sup with her, one of whom was desirous of seeing me. From the park therefore I went to [our house in] St. Albans Street, where in the drawing-room several ladies were assembled, amongst them Mrs. Cholmondeley, wife of the Honourable & Reverend Mr. Cholmondeley, son of Lord Malpas, and grandson of Lord Cholmondeley.
Upon my entering the apartment, Mrs. Cholmondeley immediately laid hold of my arm and, drawing me towards her, began questioning me about [my schooling at] Westminster and what books I was reading; after which, with peculiar archness in her manner, she asked,
"And what is the school paved with, stones or brick?"
To which I replied: "Neither, Madam, it has a boarded floor."
"Aye, indeed (rejoined she) I should have thought from your knees, it was of grass."
This naturally attracted my eyes to the knees of my breeches, which unfortunately were of leather and new, and to my confusion, I saw them both strongly marked with green.
I knew not what to say, but most cordially wished my interrogator at the Devil. After some very lame attempts to account for the appearance of my breeches, I made a precipitate retreat for the kitchen, to...a manservant...who was my confidant...[and] I related what had just passed in the drawing-room. He was surprised by my unusual dullness, and asked me why I had not instantly said that, in my haste and eagerness to get home, running through the park I had fallen down and stained my knees. I wondered at my own stupidity....

Above: Portrait of William Hickey by Thomas Hickey, National Gallery of Ireland

Friday, December 18, 2009

January 1815 Fashions for ladies

Friday, December 18, 2009

Loretta reports:


From The "Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics, commonly known as Ackermann's Repository, after Rudolph Ackermann.

Plate 3.--Full Dress
A celestial blue crape frock, over a white satin slip, ornamented round the bottom with a deep border of tull or net lace, embroidered with shaded blue silks and chenille; short full sleeve, trimmed with tull or net lace; the dress trimmed entirely round the top, to correspond.  Hair parted in the center of the forehead, confined in the Grecian style, and blended with flowers.  Necklace of pearl; ear-drops and bracelets to correspond.  Slippers of blue satin or kid.  White gloves of French kid.


Plate 4.--Evening Dress
Light pink satin gown, trimmed round the bottom with a lace flounce, laid on richly, worked and headed with tufts of the same; short full sleeve, trimmed with lace.  A shell lace tippet.  White kid gloves, drawn over the elbow.  An India fan of carved ivory.  Slippers of white kid.  Full crop head-dress, ornamented with flowers.


I presume they wore fur wraps when they went out...but aren't these descriptions delicious?  Every word a morsel for the historical fashionista.  "An India fan of carved ivory."  Yes, get me one, please.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

All That Glitters: Two Extraordinary Embroidered Jackets

Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Susan reports:

It's easy to look at the phenomenal craftsmanship of the past and proclaim that it could never be replicated today, as if the skill, training, imagination, talent, and (perhaps most importantly) the patience that created the original item have somehow been bred out of humans.

The embroidered jacket to the left is an excellent example. The pale pink silk taffeta is covered with finely wrought embroidery in thread of silk, gold, and silver, with gold lace to trim the edges and cuffs. While jackets like this one were popular day-wear for affluent, upper-class ladies in late 16th-early 17th c. England, it's almost impossible for us in this era of instant-gratification to imagine the time and effort that went into creating such a garment.

Almost, but not quite.

Under the auspices of Plimoth Plantation, over two hundred skilled needleworkers recently joined together to reproduce a similar jacket. Even with so many able needles, the project took three years to complete, and included not only countless exquisite stitches, but also the recreation of 17th c. style metallic threads and sequins. The result is breathtaking; check out the blog, The Embroiderer's Story, that followed the jacket's progress for photographs of its creation, as well as its debut last week.

Three cheers (and congratulations) for all who were part of this amazing collaboration, and three cheers, too, for bringing history so stunningly to life.

And many thanks to the anonymous reader of this blog who send us the story about the jacket in the Boston Globe.

Above: Portrait of Margaret Laton (1590-1641), c. 1600, Victoria and Albert Museum. The jacket to the left, also in the collection, is the same one worn in the portrait.

A Tour of Strawberry Hill





Loretta reports:


A number of items in the Strawberry Hill exhibition at the Yale Center for British Art come from Yale’s collection at the Lewis Walpole Library.  As chock full of fabulous things as as the exhibit is (and I get dizzy trying to remember what all I saw), it doesn’t include every item from Walpole Library's collection.  They very graciously allowed the V&A and Bath Museum and others to participate.  Today I discovered that they also offer an online tour of Strawberry Hill.

Further exploration of the site yields a number of images of items in the collection.

Lady Diana Beauclerk’s cabinet
.
Some Rowlandson prints.
An assortment of works by Unknown.
The pair of Sevres vases I lusted for.
Check out the Grinling Gibbons frame on this Portrait of Sir Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, and Catherine Shorter, Lady Walpole.


Though they don’t have every image online, there’s quite a bit to see here, so I’ll leave the rest of the browsing to you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Men Behaving Well: Horace Walpole & Women Artists

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Loretta reports:

One of the things I like about Horace Walpole, (1717 1797), 4th Earl of Orford, was his friendships with and support of women artists.

Thanks to the Strawberry Hill exhibition, I discovered the sculptor Anne Seymour Damer (and was able to place in context a caricature I’d stumbled on (above left--I’ve filed it under Misogyny, 18th C).  Modern online biographical material is skimpy, but here's an early 20th C bio. The Anthony & Cleopatra scene at right is by Damer--who might not have embarked on an artistic career at all if Walpole hadn't so extravagantly praised her early efforts.  He saw something no one else did.

Another discovery was Lady Diana Beauclerk.  (After her divorce from Lord Bolingbroke, she married a great-grandson of King Charles II.)  She created the beautiful inlaid drawings on a magnificent ebony cabinet I swooned over.  Here’s the bodkin case that was in the show.

Among the items sold at the 1842 auction of Strawberry Hill were the following:

  A series of seven drawings, by Lady Diana Beauclerk, scenes illustrating the Mysterious Mother, in black and gilt frames. 17th Day, Lot 32. 131. 13*. Col. the Hon. D. Darner, M.P. —Horace Walpole's Tragedy of "The Mysterious Mother," was printed at Strawberry Hill, in 1768. In his Description of the house he mentions that the hexagon tower, built in 1770, and named the Beauclerk Closet, " was built purposely for the reception of seven incomparable drawings, by Lady Diana Beauclerk, for scenes in the Mysterious Mother:—these sublime drawings, the first she ever attempted, were all conceived and executed in a fortnight." Lady Diana afterwards furnished the designs for her nephew, Mr. W. R. Spencer's translation of Burger's German poem of Leonora, published in fol. 1796; and for a splendid edition of Dryden's Fables, in fol. 1797. Mr. Dallaway remarks, " these will confirm Mr. W's. partiality, by proofs of an elegant and fertile imagination." (Pref. to Anecd. of Painting, 1827, p. xviii.)


From Lady Diana Beauclerk's Closet were also sold—A copy of The Mysterious Mother, with manuscript notes by the Author. 4l. 10s.; and a Portrait of Lady Diana Beauclerk, by Powell. 81. ISs. 6d.—Both bought by the same party.

Gipsies telling a country girl her fortune, a drawing by Lady Diana Beauclerk, and considered her chef d'oeuvre. 22d Day, Lot 101. 6J. 10». Gage.

A Masquerade Scene, by Lady Diana Beauclerk, and a Landscape by the Rev. Mr. Gilpin, 1782. 17th Day, Lot 35. 31. 15». Cain, for Col. the Hon. Dawson Darner, M.P.

In other words, women artists' work was prominently on display at Strawberry Hill.  In a historical world I often find infuriatingly misogynistic, it was a joy to find Horace Walpole. 

Monday, December 14, 2009

Horace Walpole's Cabinet of Curiosities

Monday, December 14, 2009

Loretta reports:

Since Horace Walpole, (1717-1797), 4th Earl of Orford, was of the 18th C, and my stories are not, I never took much notice of him.  He wrote what’s generally considered the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, which I read in college.  I knew he lived in the Gothic house called Strawberry Hill, and I’d recognize pictures of it, but that’s all I knew.  Now, though, I know a little more.  I’m back from a trip to the Yale Center for British Art, where they’re showing a collection of about 300 out of the umpty bazillion objects he collected in his lifetime.  In his day, you could see them at Strawberry Hill.  You wrote to him for a ticket and you had to follow his Rules, which struck me as reasonable and generous. 

At Yale, you don’t need a ticket.  Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill--running through 3 January 2010--is free.  If you go on 17 or 20 December, you can get a docent-led tour.

The trouble with shows like this is, (a) one may not take photos and (b) one can’t take notes on everything.  I preferred to gawk at all the great stuff.  Yet even without intensive notes, I’ve got far too much to say than will fit in a digestible post.  This time around I’ll mention only a couple of the many fascinating items.


One was the meticulous catalog of the house contents, which his clerk kept.  Among the books listed in the collection was Dutch Method of Extinguishing Accidental Fires.  Don’t know why that one struck me but it did.

Among the many, many beautiful objects was this cabinet.

Here’s a closeup.  And some information.

The illustration at right is of the room it was in, called the “Tribune.”  For beautiful colored photos and illustrations of the rooms, spend a little time at the Friends of Strawberry Hill site.

I’ll say more about Horace Walpole and his house in the next few days.  Meanwhile, if you’re intrigued, but don’t expect to be near New Haven CT before January, you might want to look at Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cleaning Up with Fuller's Earth

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"But Money, Wife, is the true Fuller's Earth for Reputations; there is not a Spot or a Stain but what it can take out. A rich Rogue now-a-days is fit Company for any Gentleman; and the World, my Dear, hath not such a Contempt for Roguery as you imagine."
from The Beggar's Opera 
      by John Gay, 1728

Susan reports:

I'd heard that line from the famous 18th c. ballad opera many times (yes, in true, shameless, NHG fashion, I like The Beggar's Opera the way my daughter likes High School Musical), but I hadn't really given much thought to what exactly fuller's earth might be.  

Once again, the ladies in the milliner's shop of Colonial Williamsburg came to my enlightening rescue.  That grey-green powder is fuller's earth, and a marvelous substance it is, too.  It's a clay-like substance mined from the earth (you don't make it; you dig it), and in the past it was much used as an all-purpose dry-cleaning agent.  It can lift out that greasy gravy spot on your lovely new waistcoat, and it can remove the mustiness from your woolen cloak after a summer in a wardrobe – which is why it was found in the shop of a mantua-maker or tailor.

It's called fuller's earth after fulling, an 18th c. trade that's mostly forgotten today.  Fulling was one of the final steps in processing woolen cloth.  A fuller rubbed a mixture of fuller's earth and water into the cloth to remove excess lanolin and other sheepish impurities that might remain, as well as fluffing and brushing the fabric's surface to finish it.  

But I also learned that fuller's earth is still very much in use today.  In demand as a "green" cleaning substance, it's also used by the military to help decontaminate uniforms affected in chemical warfare.  It's an ingredient with many applications, from medicine and engineering to movie special effects. More humbly, it's used in kitty litter and dry shampoo.

And once again, what's old is new....

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rowlandson: I see London I see France

Thursday, December 10, 2009
Loretta reports:

Way back when I was writing my first Regencies, there was no Internet, and I didn’t know much beyond Jane Austen and Byron (I hadn’t even read Georgette Heyer yet).  I heard debates among Regency authors about whether ladies did or didn’t wear drawers/knickers/panties.  In the course of a video project (I was writing scripts in those days, along with having a day job), a historian at either Old Sturbridge Village or Plimoth Plantation
showed me some Rowlandson prints, and suggested I hunt for The Tour of Dr. Syntax.  I never managed to get a copy of Dr. Syntax, but I have, over the years, collected books of Regency-era prints.   Rowlandson is about my favorite pictorial resource.  Take a look at Exhibition Stare Case.
 
Clearly, the ladies aren’t wearing drawers.  But also notice how far up their stockings go.  And how crowded the staircase was.  And what this part of the interior of Somerset House looked like.  Absolutely worth a thousand words.  There’s more about the print here.

Fire at the Inn, which was one of his illustrations for Smollet’s
The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, is a terrific source of information.  I’ve referred to it often when writing inn scenes.  It gives me a sense of the layout of a coaching in--the galleries overlooking the courtyard were a common feature--and what people wore to bed, and what some of the room furnishings looked like.  It was from a gallery like this that Jessica watched Dain fight Ainswood in Lord of Scoundrels.

In other words, Rowlandson isn’t just naughty fun--though that would certainly be sufficient--but he opens a window on his time for us.

Cheerful Naughtiness


Loretta reports:

Several people sent me links to Alan Elsner’s Huffington Post trashing romance novels (Oh, gee, that’s a novel take on the subject). In addition to the numerous comments from romance readers, Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches wrote a response.

The Romance = Trash or Romance = Porn equation is nothing new, but these posts and Susan’s Pepys excerpts and my post about Boswell’s sexual adventures got me thinking about “dirty” books and pictures.

The Victorians made sex amazingly dirty. Their predecessors were much more matter- of-fact about it (there were exceptions, yes; there always are). For me Thomas Rowlandson captures the spirit of the late 18th and 19th centuries, before people got all sick and twisted about sex. (I am not sure we’ve got over that yet.)

Susan and I have often remarked on how cheerful the people are in Rowlandson’s naughty pictures. Take a look. Oh, go on. Force yourself. Even the dirty old men, while ugly, aren’t creepy. Some of them are kind of sweet.

And some of them, with or without dirty old men, are kind of romantic, don't you think?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Who Needs Heels to be Stylish?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Susan reports:

I'm stepping in here (literally) for Loretta, who is working through the night on revisions.

When I think of fashionable 18th c. shoes, I've always imagined the ones that look worthy of Cinderella or at least Marie Antoinette, pointed-toe slippers elegantly perched on high, curving heels. Here are three examples, courtesy of the V&A: in bright yellow, floral silk brocade, and blue silk satin.

But I learned from the mantua-makers of Colonial Williamsburg that not every 18th c. lady wore high heels. Flats were perfectly acceptable, and just as elegant. Here are two pairs made in the Margaret Hunter milliners shop to match gowns.

The pink pair, above, are quilted silk in a diamond pattern, with matching flat leather soles. The white pair, left, (they, too, would be fastened with metal buckles, removed here) are heavily embroidered with a flowers, designed to peek beguilingly from beneath a skirt. A lady might do the embroidery herself on a flat piece of cloth, and then take the finished handwork to her mantua-maker to make up into finished shoes.

Now that we NHG seen these flat shoes, it's easy to understand how 18th c. shoes evolve into the little flat slippers so beloved by Regency ladies in the early 19th century. Remembering, too, those narrow folding steps that we saw on 18th c. carriages, these flat shoes seem not only stylish, but quite practical as well.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Men Behaving Badly: Samuel Pepys & the Dirty Book

Monday, December 7, 2009

Susan reports:

Though it's hard to imagine in the internet age, dirty books are a relatively new invention. In the 1660s London of diarist/government administrator Samuel Pepys, (that's Samuel to the left, painted by John Hayls in 1666), they're still very much a novelty. The one he finds by accident in his local bookseller is in French. L'escholle des Filles ("The School for Young Women") is written in what becomes a classic dirty-book format: an older, experienced woman explains Life, Love, & Men to a young newbie, and does it in explicit, titillating language. You know, Playboy Advisor.

When Samuel first comes across the book, he thinks from the title that it might be an edifying read for his French-speaking wife. A glance through the pages, however, quickly changes his mind. But let's have Samuel explain, in three excerpt from his famous Diary:

January 13, 1668: "....stopped at Martin's my bookseller, where I saw the French book which I did think to have had for my wife to translate, called L'escholle des Filles, but when I came to look into it, it is the most bawdy, lewd book that ever I saw, rather worse than Puttana Errante [an infamous 16th. c. Italian erotic book] - so that I was ashamed of reading in it."

February 8, 1668: Thence away to the Strand to my bookseller's, and there stayed an hour and bought that idle, roguish book, L'escholle des Filles, which I have bought in plain binding (avoiding the buying of it better bound) because I resolve, as soon as I have read it, to burn it, that it may not stand in the list of my books, nor among them, to disgrace them if it should be found.

February 9, 1668: Lord's Day. Up, and at my chamber all the morning and in the office, doing business and also reading a little of L'escholle des Filles, which is a mighty lewd book, but yet not amiss for a sober man once to read over to inform himself in the villainy of the world....[later that afternoon] I to my chamber, where I did read through L'escholle de Filles a lewd book, but what doth me no wrong to read for information sake [this next is Sam's own shorthand, but you can figure out his meaning without too much difficulty] but it did hazer my prick para stand all the while, and una vez to decharge; and after I had done [the book], I burned it, that it might not be among my books to my shame; and so at night to supper and then to bed.

Modern historians say that this is the earliest reference to an erotic book in the English language. Oh, Samuel. . . .

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Men Behaving Badly: Boswell gets the clap

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Loretta reports:

Despite my ruthless cutting, this is still longer than my usual post. But it’s hard to get the full picture otherwise. For the complete version, go here and scroll down.

Tuesday 18 January 1763
I this day began to feel an unaccountable alarm of unexpected evil: a little heat in the members of my body sacred to Cupid, very like a symptom of that distemper with which Venus, when cross, takes it into her head to plague her votaries. But then I had run no risks. I had been with no woman but Louisa, and sure she could not have such a thing . . .

Thursday 20 January
I opened my sad case to Douglas, who upon examining the parts, declared I had got an evident infection and that the woman who gave it me could not but know of it . . . .

I then went to Louisa. With excellent address did I carry on this interview, as the following scene, I trust, will make appear. . . . .

BOSWELL. Madam, I have had no connection with any woman but you these two months. I was with my surgeon this morning, who declared I had got a strong infection, and that she from whom I had it could not be ignorant of it. Madam, such a thing in this case is worse than from a woman of the town, as from her you may expect it. You have used me very ill . . . .

LOUISA. Sir, I will confess to you that about three years ago I was very bad. But for these fifteen months I have been quite well. I appeal to GOD Almighty that I am speaking true; and for these six months I have had to do with no man but yourself.

BOSWELL. But by G-D, Madam, I have been with none but you, and here am I very bad.

LOUISA. Well, Sir, by the same solemn oath I protest that I was ignorant of it.


BOSWELL. Madam, I wish much to believe you. But I own I cannot upon this occasion believe a miracle.


LOUISA. Sir, I cannot say more to you. But you will leave me in the greatest misery. I shall lose your esteem. I shall be hurt in the opinion of everybody, and in my circumstances.

BOSWELL (to himself). What the devil does the confounded jilt mean by being hurt in her circumstances? This is the grossest cunning. B
ut I won't take notice of that at all. — Madam, as to the opinion of everybody, you need not be afraid. I was going to joke and say that I never boast of a lady's favours. But I give you my word of honour that you shall not be discovered.

LOUISA. Sir, this is being more generous than I could expect.


During all this conversation I really behaved with a manly composure and polite dignity that could not fail to inspire an awe, and she was pale as ashes and trembled and faltered . . . . I was really confounded at her behaviour. There is scarcely a possibility that she could be innocent of the crime of horrid imposition. And yet her positive asseverations really stunned me. She is in all probability a most consummate dissembling whore.

From Boswell's London Journal, 1762-1763
By James Boswell

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wrapped in Luxury: Cashmere Shawls

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Susan reports:

Imagining early 19th c. ladies in their thin, unstructured gowns of muslin and silk during the winter makes us shiver in sympathy with them – especially imagining those gowns in a drafty drawing room before central heating.  But fear not: in the late 18th c., the British East India Company had nobly come to aid of shivering ladies.

The first shawls were imported in the late 18th c. from Kashmir, where they were worn primarily by men, but  English and French ladies were quick to adopt them.  Long, rectangular stoles handwoven of impossibly soft and warm cashmere, the shawls featured deep borders with  boteh (pine cones) or paisley motifs on each end.  The shawls had everything a lady of fashion could desire: they looked gorgeous over the plain gowns, they were as graceful and flirtatious as a fan, they were warm, and they were really, really expensive.  

Madame Riviere, above, painted by John-Auguste-Dominique Ingres in 1806, demonstrates exactly why the shawls were such a flattering style.  She was famous for her shawls; one theory suggests that they were costly gifts from a guilty husband who bought them for her to make up for his numerous infidelities.  

Soon a cashmere shawl from India became the status wrap, much like mink stoles were in the 1950s, and any 19th c. fashionista worth her style-salt could spot a fake one of ordinary English or Scottish wool at twenty paces. The Napoleonic Wars that made shipping perilous only drove the prices higher and made the shawls even more desirable, and the English blockades forced French ladies (or rather, their husbands and lovers) to pay exorbitantly for smuggled shawls.  

"The elegance of a woman can be equated with the quality of her shawl, or rather, of its price" declared the Journal de Paris in 1805, and who are we to argue?  The drawing above dates from the 1880s, long after the style was current, but it still shows the wide variety of ways in which the shawls were worn. 

We NHG think that as historical fashion goes, these cashmere shawls were pretty cool (or rather, pretty warm) and we're sure we'd write MUCH better books if we had one of these wrapped around our shoulders.  

For more about early 19th c. cashmere shawls, check out one of our absolutely favorite costume/art history books, Ingres in Fashion by Eileen Ribeiro.

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