Sunday, January 31, 2010

First Person History: On-line Diaries & Letters

Sunday, January 31, 2010
Susan reports:

No historian's description can rival the words of the people who actually lived that history. More and more diaries, journals, and letters from every time period are being put on-line in websites and blogs, and for any history nerd (not just us), they're completely fascinating and absolutely addictive.

Martha Ballard (1735-1812) was a midwife who lived in Hallowell, Maine. Though she did not begin keeping her diary until she was fifty, the book remains one of the very few such journals kept by a colonial woman, and recounts not only her work as a rural midwife (she delivered over 800 babies), but also her trials and joys as a mother and wife in a turbulent time in American history. Her story was made famous by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's A Midwife's Tale. (The photo, top left, is from the PBS adaptation.) You can read Martha's entire diary on line, in either her handwriting, or transcribed.

The letters home of Lt. David Thomas (1922-1945), left middle, an American airman serving in World War II, offer a different kind of experience. Posted on-line by his grand-nephew, Neal Thomas Hurst, in the form of a blog, these very readable letters bring back the day-to-day experiences of a young man during the war. Who can resist a letter that begins "Dear Mother, I didn't die"? Knowing that the lieutenant was later killed in action during a bombing mission over Germany in 1945 makes the letters all the more poignant.



The Life & Loves of a Victorian Clerk is exactly that: the daily journal of Nathaniel Bryceson (1825-1911), a nineteen-year-old wharf clerk in Pimilico. Documenting the year 1846, Nathaniel's journal is being put on-line day by day by the City of Westminster Archives, and includes wonderful 19th c. illustrations (like the one left) from their collections. So far Nathaniel has written of his job, his long walks around London on his days off, his neighbors, his girlfriend Anne Fox, and everything else that entertains a young man in Victorian London, from a public execution to a carriage accident -- and this is only the first month.
My personal favorite is the diary of Samuel Pepys (1633-1703), left. Pepys was a naval administrator and member of Parliament. His daily diary from 1660-1670 chronicles both his personal life (I've already quoted here about his choice of books) and ambitions, and momentous historical events in London like the Plague and the Great Fire. This site posts an entry each day, much like a serial novel, and the comments added by readers greatly enhance the site.

These suggestions are only a beginning. How about the 17th c. extracts of the Royal Society's Journal Books? Or Jane Austen's History of England in her own hand, or William Blake's Notebook, or Lewis Carroll's original manuscript for Alice? They're all here, thanks to the British Library.

Perhaps you have a favorite you've discovered, too. If so, please share the link -- whatever the topic, we're interested!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Miserable females in Bridewell

Saturday, January 30, 2010
Loretta reports:

I forgot to identify the second print in my post about The Working Girls of London, and Susan asked me about it.

This illustration of the Bridewell (one of London’s prisons) Pass-Room comes from Rudolph Ackermann’s The Microcosm of London, which was printed in three volumes from 1808 to 1810.  You can read about this splendid publication at the University of London’s Senate House Library site and at the Eighteenth Century Reading Room.  Wikimedia Commons has all or most of the illustrations posted and the Internet Archive has Volume 1 posted.

Many of you will recognize immediately the work of Thomas Rowlandson.  His collaborator Augustus Pugin drew the building interiors and exteriors and Rowlandson, basically, put the people in them.  I used this print of the Bridewell Pass-Room,* as I so often use Rowlandson and his contemporaries, to create a scene in a book.  In this case, I sent the heroine of The Last Hellion to Bridewell on a rescue mission. 

From the Microcosm:  “The annexed print gives an accurate and interesting view of this abode of wretchedness, the PASS-ROOM.  It was provided by a late act of Parliament, that paupers, claiming settlements in distant parts of the kingdom, should be confined for seven days previous to their being sent of to their respective parishes; and this is the room appointed by the magistracy of the city for one class of miserable females.**  The characters are finely varied, the general effect broad and simple, and the perspective natural and easy.”


From the Introduction to Fiona St. Aubyn’s Ackermann’s Illustrated London (a modern, shorter edition which contains plates and excerpts from the Microcosm): “Ackermann kept a check on Rowlandson’s more outrageous drawings, and made him change an unmistakably pregnant woman in the preliminary drawing of the Bridewell print to a less obvious condition in the final version.”

*See pp 92-97 of the Microcosm online.
**single mothers

Friday, January 29, 2010

"To the Finest Taste": Eye-Popping Wallpaper

Friday, January 29, 2010
Susan reports:

It's a modern notion that the 18th and early 19th c. past was a place of genteel good taste: colors were muted and subdued, and the dusty pastels of a Wedgewood vase set the fashion. A pretty idea, yes, and likely there were plenty of houses "done" in exactly those colors, just as there are today. 

But if you were a Georgian homeowner who wanted to follow the absolute cutting edge of London style, you wanted wallpaper, in bright, bold colors and eye-popping patterns. 

The wealthy Virginians who resided in Colonial Williamsburg loved this bravado look in wallpaper. As gaudy as the effect might seem now, these wallpapers were carefully documented as having been in use in the 1770s, and in some cases were replicated by the same London companies (still in business!) who had printed the originals.  But we NHG have to admit that the scale of the patterns surprised us, dwarfing the rooms (and us) with their boldness. The top three rooms, left, are all in the George Wythe House.

But the room that really takes the prize for dizzying wallpaper is the dining room, bottom left, in the newest building in Colonial Williamsburg, Charlton's Coffee House. This room would have been hired out by wealthy gentlemen for private dinners and parties, and everything in it was chosen in the most elegant taste to appeal to them. 


Still, we couldn't help but imagine a group of colonial Virginians, in town for a meeting of the House of Burgesses, gathering in this room for a late supper.  Fueled by the caffeine of Mr.  
Charlton's potent coffee and chocolate and staring at that dancing patterned wallpaper as the night stretched on, it's really no wonder at all that they plotted the American Revolution.

And for anyone who thinks that this kind of gaudy splendor will soon fade before the more refined tastes of the Regency, we offer only two words: the Royal Pavilion.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Working Girls of London

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Loretta reports:

William Hickey’s adventure with the teenage prostitute led me to look up the statistics for the early 19th century.

From John Wade’s A treatise on the police and crimes of the metropolis (1829)

Dr. Colquhoun * has subjected himself to some ridicule in attempting to estimate the number of female prostitutes in London, which he made amount to 50,000, divided into the following classes:—
Of the class of well-educated women 2000
Of persons above the rank of menial servants 3000
Of persons who have been employed as menial servants, and seduced in early life 20000
Of those in different ranks in society, who live partly by prostitution, including the number of females who cohabit with. labourers without matrimony 25000
                                                                                                            50000**

By including women unmarried, who cohabit with labourers and others, and of which the number is very great in the metropolis, we do not think that Dr. Colquhoun's estimate is greatly beyond the truth. The number of prostitutes in some parishes, especially those in the vicinity of the docks and river, is almost incredible; while, again, some of the out-parishes, as Islington and others, are comparatively exempt, and abound as little in female prostitution as any country parish of equal extent and population.

From a statement laid before a Parliamentary Committee, in 1817, it appears that, in the parishes of St. Botolph-without-Aldgate, St. Leonard, Shoreditch, and St. Paul, Shadwell, containing, together, only 9924 houses, and 59,050 inhabitants, there were 360 brothels, and 2000 common prostitutes.***

It is painful to think of the tender age at which poor creatures are exposed to prostitution in the streets and brothels of London, and to which they are compelled to resort, either by the keepers of infamous houses, or their idle and abandoned parents. Some of these wretched children are under ten years of age, and, consequently, are below that period of life, during which it is a capital crime, under any circumstances, in any, to have carnal intercourse with them.




When the Guardian Society visited the City Bridewell there were 111 wretched women, the ages of whom varied from 14 to 54 ; the largest proportion appeared to be of the ages from 18 to 22. There were—
1 of 14, 1 of 16, 1 of 17, 11 of 18, 12 of 19,  10 of 21, 13 of 22,  6 of 23, 1 of 24, 3 of 25, 10 of 26, 9 of 27, 4 of 28, 6 of 29,  7 of 30,  5 of 32, 2 of 33, 5 of 35, 3 of 36,  1 of 54

Out of these, 85 had been in a state of prostitution from two months to two years; and the largest proportion of these from two to three years. The unfortunate creatures had been repeatedly committed to prison; and instances occurred where they had been committed from eighteen to thirty times.****

*author of A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis.
**Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis, page 340, 7th edition.
***Second Report on the Police of the Metropolis, 1817, page 459.
****Third Report on the Police of the Metropolis, 1818, page 30.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pressing Matters: Yes, Ironing

Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Susan reports:

In our age of t-shirts and jeans and general acceptance of being comfortably rumpled rather than starched and pressed, ironing is fast becoming another lost art on the home-front (though both of us NHG do recall ironing pillow-cases as girls, oh, in the last century.) But two hundred years ago, ironing was considered essential: how else to keep those gentleman's shirts crisp, or the ruffles on a lady's shift or cap charmingly perky instead of limp as old lettuce?

In most genteel households, ironing fell to the laundress. Not only would she be responsible for pressing the family's personal linens, but also tablecloths, napkins, and bed linens, too. Often the mistress's finest linen would be ironed by her lady's maid, or even the housekeeper –
whoever could be most trusted with a hot iron.

Two kinds of irons were in common use in the 18th-19th centuries. Shown at right are flat-irons or sad-irons (the 'sad' part comes not from a weary laundress, but from an archaic word for solid.) These were in fact solid pieces of cast iron that were propped before the hearth to heat. Considerable experience was required to judge the temperature and to keep the face of the iron free of cinders and soot. Two irons at a time were recommended: one to use, and a second to be heating.

Every laundress had her own method for judging an iron's proper temperature, but the most common was spitting on the iron's heated face to see how fast the spit would sizzle away. Accidentally scorching or burning a hole in a costly garment or large linen was grounds enough for dismissal, and most housekeeping books of the time contain all sorts of cautionary suggestions.

Slightly less hazardous were box-irons, like the one being demonstrated above left by the tailor in Colonial Williamsburg. These irons were wedge-shaped boxes with a sliding-door on the back. A fitted iron insert, called a slug, would be heated and slipped inside. The advantages were that the heat would be more evenly distributed, the face of the iron could remain spotlessly clean, and several slugs could be kept heating at once to insure a near-constant source of heat. An average box-iron weighed about four pounds; the weight made ironing easier, and helped press the cloth with less muscle. Larger box-irons could hold live coals inside, and were called charcoal-irons.

In addition, there were specialized irons for certain tasks. Ruffles and pleats required custom-shaped irons with a bewildering array of names – crimping, goffering, fluting, ruching, qulling, and puff irons – that described the shape they were intended to create. Tailors and mantua-makers had their own irons, too. At left are the long, eight-pound tailor's irons, used to press open seams. These were called geese, not only because of their long handles like a goose's neck, but also because of the hissing sound that a hot iron made when pressed onto dampened cloth.

Check out this site for more about crimping and pressing ruffles and pleats. I also reccommend The Housekeeping Book of Susanna Whatman, written by an upper-class 18th c. English lady as a guide for her servants and what she expected of them, day by day. It's one of my favorite sources for domestic history: very informative, but also exhausting.

And one Redouté went to Egypt

Loretta reports:

While Pierre-Joseph Redouté was painting the flowers in Josephine Buonaparte’s garden at Chateau de Malmaison, his artist brother Henri-Joseph was in Egypt enduring plague, pestilence, and famine, literally.

Henri-Joseph Redouté was one of the company of “savants”--astronomers, mathematicians, naturalists, physicists, doctors, chemists, engineers, botanists, artists, a writer and a musicologist—who followed Napoleon to Egypt in 1798.  The median age of this group was 25.  Of the 151 civilians, 31 died in Egypt or shortly thereafter; all the survivors were scarred, physically and/or psychically.  Egypt in those days was not for sissies.

To Europeans, it was only marginally more familiar than the moon.  The knowledge they had as they set out was based on the Greek writer Herodotus and tales told by the few Europeans who’d visited.  Both sources offered an interesting mixture of a little fact & a lot of fiction.

Nina Burleigh’s Mirage:  Napoleon’s Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt, offers a fascinating account, but here are the main icky details:

The savants’ troubles started when the boat containing all their instruments went down in a storm.  Things went downhill from there.

Famine:  Napoleon failed to provide food and water for his soldiers.  Desperate, the men guzzled murky water that turned out to be infested with leeches.  When all they found to eat was watermelon, they overdid it, and developed dysentery.

Pestilence:  Mosquitoes, fleas, tiny gnats, and vicious flies “swarmed into all cavities.”  Nearly every one on the expedition endured a painful eye infection called opthalmia, which left them temporarily blind.

Plague:  “During the French occupation, the bubonic plague epidemic in Egypt was a killer of biblical stature, a germ that caused men to die hideously, rotting from the inside out, sometimes within 48 hours.” 

This was in addition to bronchial infections and bites by snakes, scorpions, and rabid camels.

Meanwhile, on the water, the English Navy was sinking their ships and in the desert, irate Bedouins were shooting at the scientists surveying the ancient monuments.

It’s amazing, yes, that anybody survived.  Even more amazing was that they produced a 23 volume encyclopedia of Egypt, La Description de l’Egypte.  The online source is my favorite for studying the pictures, but there there are smaller (the original was huge) single-book versions, like the little Taschen Description of Egypt and a larger version, The Monuments of Ancient Egypt.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Men Behaving Badly: William Hickey's First Time

Sunday, January 24, 2010
Susan reports:

We've already visited the excellent Georgian memoirs of lawyer and would-be gentleman-rake William Hickey (1749-1830). Since we last left young William mumbling excuses about his grass-stained knees in his mother's drawing room, we decided he deserved a (slightly) more flattering excerpt -- and yes, he's still only thirteen!

Notwithstanding my first connection with the fair sex did not answer my expectation, it in no way discouraged me from making further attempts...Returning [one night]towards my boarding house at Westminster, under the Piazza of Covent Garden, a very pretty little girl, apparently not much older than myself, joined me, took hold of my arm, and, looking earnestly in my face, said: "You are a fine handsome boy, and too young to be walking in such a place as this alone. I'll take your maidenhead."

Pleased with her manner, I accepted her challenge, and accompanied her to a very indifferent-looking apartment up three pairs of stairs in a dark, narrow court out of Drury Lane. There we took off our clothes and got into a dirty, miserable bed. This was my first exhibition under a roof. My Companion gave me great credit for my vigour, saying I was a famous little fellow, and should prove an invaluable acquisition to whatever girl was lucky enough to fix me. In this den of wretchedness, I passed three truly happy hours; and very different indeed were my feelings from what I experienced in the St. James's Park scene.

Upon getting out of bed, however, I was dreadfully alarmed at perceiving the tail of my shirt covered with blood, and screamed out. The poor girl seemed to be in great agitation and distress, which increased my fright; whereupon she eagerly endeavoured to assuage my fears, assuring me no sort of injury would arise, that what I saw proceeded from a natural cause, though she had not been aware of it coming on. She added that to avoid discovery she would wash the linen; and, making me again go into the bed, she pulled off my shirt, which she carried downstairs, and in a little more than half an hour returned with it quite clean and dry.

I then produced my half-guinea, which I offered to her. She enquired whether I had any more, from which question I imagined she did not consider it sufficient. I therefore assured her I had no more, but that I would bring her a further supply on the first opportunity. In supposition, however, I did this generous girl great injustice, and she immediately replied: "If that is all you have, I will not touch it."

In liberal feelings my spirit was equal to her own, and a smart contest ensued between us relative to the said half-guinea, which ended in a compromise, she consenting to retain five shillings...and not a penny more could I prevail on her to take...This kind and generous creature I visited for several years after, and she always addressed me as "her dear little maidenhead"....

Above: After by William Hogarth, 1736

Follow Us, if You Please

Loretta & Susan report:

We've finally achieved the blogging-savvy of the average twelve-year-old, and figured out how to add the Followers option to this blog. Scroll on down this page, and you'll find our Followers to the lower right. Please join us as a Follower for more of our version of history, fashion, gossip, and whatever else amuses us – and no tight lacing!

left: Fashion Before Ease by John Collet, 1770.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Fashions for January 1830 Part Deux

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Loretta reports:

From La Belle Assemblée: or, Court and fashionable magazine; containing interesting and original literature, and records of the beau-monde.  Publisher J. Bell, 1830

CARRIAGE DRESS.
A PELISSE of violet-coloured gros de la Chine, made very plain, and fastening imperceptibly down the front of the skirt, under a simple rouleau. The body made to fit close to the shape, and confined round the waist by a belt fastened in front by a gold buckle. Sleeves, à la Donna Maria, with lace ruffles at the wrists, turned back, and next the hand a bracelet of broad black velvet fastened by a gold buckle. A black velvet pelerine is added to this pelisse, with a double row of rich fringe, and is confined down the front by small gold buttons: the pelerine is finished at the throat by a triple ruff of fine lace. The hat is of figured black satin, lined with pink, and crowned by drooping willow feathers of the same colour. Black velvet ornaments finished by pink feather fringe, adorn the crown of the hat, and the ends fall over the left side of the brim. The half-boots are of black corded silk.

DINNER DRESS.
  A DRESS of figured gros de la Chine of a bright crimson, with a broad hem round the border, headed by a superb fringe: the front of the skirt made en tablier, scalloped at the sides, which are edged round by a narrower fringe than that over the broad hem. The corsage is made low, with lapel-robings, scalloped and edged by fringe. Over sleeves fitting close to the arm, are those of Marino Faliéro, trimmed round the looser part with fringe, and not confined round the wrist at the joint, as is usual in these sleeves; but the fullness is drawn together where the arm bends, to the elbow. This is a great improvement on those large sleeves, and has a graceful resemblance to those à la Mandarin. A dress hat of white satin forms the head dress; it is ornamented under the brim, on the right side, next the hair, by several puffs of white ribbon, delicately striped with shaded crimson. Two birds-of-paradise complete the ornaments, which, placed in front, fall over each side. The ear-pendants are, according to the present mode, large, and of massive gold, in the shape of a heart; and the bracelets very broad, of green and gold enamel.

  PUBLIC PROMENADE DRESS.
  A DRESS of pale pink gros de Naples, with a broad hem at the border, headed by a beautifully light embroidery in outline, of small foliage, of a dark colour. The body is en gerbe, and the sleeves fitting close to the arm, as far as the elbow, whence they widen, but are not very large, even at the shoulders. A cloak of fine European Cachemire, of a drab-colour, is worn over this dress, and is embroidered with floize silk, in a pattern of blue-bells, or single hyacinths, and finished round the edge by a rouleau of satin. A double pelerine-cape falls over the shoulders : the cloak is lined throughout with barbel-blue satin, and a triple ruff of lace is worn round the throat- The hat is of black velvet, ornamented with bows of the same, and three aigrettes; one of which is placed at the extremity of the left side of the brim; the second in the front of the crown, and the third near the edge of the brim on the right side: the aigrettes consist of dark purple crocuses, with their grass-like foliage. The hat is of a very tasteful and novel shape: it is placed rather on one side, and its style is well adapted to the fashionable morning lounge. Strings of crocus-purple or barbel-blue float over the shoulders.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Mantua-Maker's Dolls

Thursday, January 21, 2010



















Susan reports:

Today when we think of a fashion doll, there's only one name that comes to mind – Barbie! – and while we do love Barbie (oh the tiny shoes!!), when we're in our full-blown Nerdy-Girl-dom, "fashion doll" has quite a different meaning. 

Long before personal shoppers, ladies relied on their dressmakers (or mantua-makers, the term in use from the late 17th c. to mid-19th c.) to keep them in fashion. Styles changed rapidly with every season, and even ladies far from London and Paris were eager to know which beribboned cuff was being worn by which duchess, and what kind of lace cap was now utterly hopeless in Bath.  

While ladies' magazines were just becoming popular (as Loretta's beautiful excerpts from La Belle Assemblee attest), many stylish customers relied on fashion dolls or babies.  These dolls were exquisitely dressed in miniature versions of the newest fashions, from tiny wigs and hats to aprons, petticoats, and fans. Sent dressed from London or Paris, the dolls' arrivals would be much anticipated, and their clothes would swiftly be copied and adapted for the mantua-maker's customers. 

In a time when the most costly part of a new gown was the fabric, not the labor, and nearly all gowns are bespoke and made to order, it was also much more cost-effective to demonstrate a new fashion in miniature scale. A doll could be inexpensively dressed from remnants, rather than the eighteen yards of fabric or so that would be required for a full-size sample.

The fashion-babies shown here (with Janea Whitacre, Mantua-maker and Mistress of the Trade) are replicas from the mantua-maker's shop in Colonial Williamsburg, and are used to show visitors the "new" styles much as their predecessors would have 250 years ago. However, during the Christmas season, the dolls also get to run the shop – or at least run a doll-sized version of it. This perfectly scaled version of a well-stocked shop has goods that range from tiny boned stays to a red cardinal cloak, and the customers definitely seem ready for some serious shopping. 

While the CW interpreters admit that historians have yet to discover documentation for a similar 18th c. tableau, no one has proven that they didn't exist, either. We're fine with that, and quite sure that Barbie would approve, too. 

Pierre-Joseph Redouté and his flowers


Loretta reports:

Spring comes late to New England, and after days of snow, I’m ready for flowers.  The ones illustrated here are by Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840).  He was a court painter to Marie Antoinette as well as the Empress Josephine.  After the latter fell out of favor, he got friendly with the Bourbons.  It’s no small feat to survive those sorts of political upheavals.  One must be extremely charming or extremely talented.  It’s clear he was talented, and I’m guessing he was charming, too.  He’s one in a long line of amazing artists from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. 


Jane Austen’s World  offers a wonderful appreciation of Redouté.  If you scroll down the post, you’ll see his family in an entry from the 1889 Dictionary of Painters and Engravers.  At some online sites you’ll find Pierre confused with his brother Henri-Joseph, one of the naturalists on Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt.  The tale of the scientists and artists who created the Description de l’Egypte is a different, far more harrowing story—but with beautiful pictures—which I’ll get to one of these days. 



For now, though, let’s just enjoy the flowers.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Frost Fair of 1683

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Susan reports:

As cold as this January has been for most of North America, it still can't hold a candle (or an icicle) to the Great Frost of 1683-84 in England, the worst on record. Not only was the Thames frozen solid to a depth of nearly two feet, but the seas, too, were frozen, with ice extending several miles into the ocean. Shipping was at a literal stand-still, food and wood were scarce, and the suffering among the poor was unimaginably severe. Wrote the diarist John Evelyn:

"The fowls, fish, and birds, and all our plants and greens universally perishing. Many parks of deer are destroyed, and all sorts of fuel so dear that there were great contributions to keep the poor alive...London, by reason for the excessive coldness of the air hindering the ascent of the smoke, was so filled with the fuliginous steam of sea-coal...that one could hardly breath."

Yet for Londoners, the response was natural: a Frost Fair. The frozen river was turned into a small, frivolous town on the frozen ice. Overnight a makeshift street of shops, taverns, coffee and chocolate sellers, and even a brothel appeared, and every sort of sport and amusement, from puppet shows to carriage races to bear-baiting to a whole roasting ox could be found on the river.

From the week before Christmas until early February, the Frost Fair was THE place to see and be seen. Even King Charles II was a frequent visitor. But while at last a thaw came to put an end to the sport, the memories (and the poetry) have lasted much longer:

BEHOLD the Wonder of this present Age,
A Famous RIVER now becomes a Stage.
Question not what I now declare to you,
The Thames is now both Fair and Market, too.
And many Thousands dayly do resort,
There to behold the Pastime and the Sport
Early and Late, used by young and old,
And valu'd not the fierceness of the Cold....

Click here for the rest of the poem, and more about the Frost Fair of 1683. And look closely at these prints from the time, which have as many weird little details as "Where's Waldo?"

Top: Great Britain's Wonder, print sold by Robert Walton & John Seller, 1684
Center: The Frost Fair of 1683, anonymous engraver
Bottom: Thames Frost Fair, by Thomas Wyke, 1683-84

La Belle Assemblée for the thinking woman

Loretta reports:

La Belle Assemblée wasn’t simply a fashion magazine.  Like its fashion magazine counterparts today, it included celebrity gossip, advice, and book and theater reviews.  Not quite like today’s magazines, it provided lists of marriages, births, and deaths (of those who Mattered, that is).  It also offered its lady readers news from the world of intellectual endeavor.

from the January 1830 issue:
Literary and Scientific Intelligence.

Under the sanction of the Admiralty, Sir Gilbert Blane has founded a prize medal, to be given annually for the best journal kept by a surgeon of the navy.

It is said that Moore is to receive 6,000l. for the Life of Lord Byron, the printing of the second volume of which is now rapidly advanced.

The remains of Canova (self-portrait below right) have been somewhat remarkably distributed : his body rests in the church which the artist built at his own expense at Possagno, his birth-place ; his heart is to be placed under a cenotaph in the church of Dei Frati, at Venice ; and the Academy of Fine Arts, at Venice, have obtained possession of his right hand.



Dr. Sloane, of Cork, has invented a lamp upon an entirely new principle for the consumption of tallow, or any refuse fat. This lamp, suited for all purposes, may be manufactured for the low price of two shillings, or rendered an elegant appendage to the drawing-room. It is portable as a chamber candlestick ; may be trimmed by a child ; and gives a pure light, varying in intensity at pleasure, from the dim flame of the rush-light to the broad glare of the finest gas.

A new steam fire-engine has been invented at Liverpool. On an alarm being given, it will be drawn forth by horses ; and, on a light being first applied to the fuel, which will be always ready in the engine, the wheels as they revolve along will work the bellows and get up the steam, probably before it reaches the place of fire, where it will perform as much work, in forcing water, as could be performed by about 250 men.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Keeping Warm: More about Muffs

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Susan reports:

The most-commented-on part of our recent Keeping Warm post was the lady's muff. I've always liked muffs, too. Most of the heroines in my books appear with a muff on their arm at one time or another. Not only are muffs warm and fashionable, but they can also be full of sexual innuendo, especially the fur ones. 

Maybe Victorians determinedly ignored this particular element of muffs, but earlier ladies (and gentlemen) were well aware of their significance as a hot accessory. Writing in 1575, William Harrison noted that "Women's Buskes, Muffs, Fans, Perewigs, and Bodkins were first devised & used in Italy by Curtezans...the best sort of gallant ornament."

I'm not sure the elegant 18th c. Virginian lady from Colonial Williamsburg, upper left, is thinking of her muff as a courtesan's ornament. For her, it's mainly about keeping her hands warm. These particular muffs were adaptable to different outfits by changing the outer slip-cover, which tied on - you can see the ribbon-drawstring at the opening. But even an elegant muff like this one could hide an ominous secret inside. Check out these muff pistols that were popular with 18th c.  ladies for self-defense, as well as for brandishing in the face of a faithless lover. 

By 1807, upper right, fashionable muffs have grown considerably. From Le Beau Monde, this outsized muff is covered with snow-white swan's down, the perfect counterpart for the spring walking dress.

The 1838 carriage dress, lower left, from The World of Fashion, featured a large sable muff. If this lady was going out riding on a very cold day, she might first tuck one of these earthenware muff warmers inside. A sable muff showed that the wearer not only possessed excellent taste, but also an indulgent gentleman willing to pick up the tab for such an expensive accessory. A sable muff must have been the status handbag of its day.

Bu there have been times when gentlemen favored extravagant muffs as well. The detail, lower right, from a 1689 French engraving (copyright the Trustees of the British Museum) shows the exiled English King James II and his gentlemen at the French court. Many of the men wear fur muffs tied with sashes around their waists (which reminds me of the modern handwarmers worn by NFL quarterbacks. For TNHG, connections are everywhere. *g*) 

Not that everyone approved. Sniffed the Duchess of Newcastle, such a style wasn't "seemly...for how can a man Guide his Horse, or Use his Sword, when his Hands are in a Muff?"

Which is probably the reason why muffs won't make a comeback today. How could a modern lady text, or drive, or juggle her coffee-cup, her keys, and her PDA (let alone use her sword) if she had her hands tucked inside a muff?  

Mrs. Newton's Gown: the Big Picture(s)


Susan reports:

When I posted a series of blogs last fall about the creation of a pink gown by the mantua-makers of Colonial Williamsburg, Loretta and I were completely bewildered by a software quirk that kept the photographs from enlarging when clicked upon. We are Nerdy History Girls, not software engineers, or even Blogger specialists, and therefore easily confused. 

Finally Loretta figured out the problem, and though we can't fix the original posts here at the TNHG, I have re-posted the photos, larger and now click-able, on my own website. Below are the direct links if you wish to see the pictures in detail.  Many thanks for your patience!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

La Belle Assemblée Fashions for January 1830

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Loretta reports:

From La Belle Assemblée
Fashions For January 1830

WALKING DRESS.
A PELISSE of fawn-coloured gros de Naples,* delicately embroidered in black outline down each side of the front where it closes, as far as to a very broad border of black velvet, which surrounds the skirt next the feet, nearly as high as to the knee; at the head of which is a trimming of light sable, or some other valuable light-coloured fur. The sleeves are à la Donna Maria,** and they are trimmed up the outside of the arm, where the sleeve tightens at the cuff, with fur. Round the waist, which is made plain, is a black velvet zone, clasped with a gold brooch. The collar of the pelisse turns back, and is surmounted by a French, double ruff of lace. The bonnet is of black velvet, trimmed with a bow of the same, and three aigrettes of blue corn-flowers and ears of corn; the aigrette in front larger than those on each side. A Chantilly lace veil is worn with this bonnet, which ties under the chin on the right side, with a bow of black satin ribbon. A boa tippet of marten skin is added to this appropriate winter pelisse. The half-boots are of fawn-coloured kid, tipped at the toe with black.

EVENING DRESS.
  A DRESS of pink satin ; the border trimmed en jabots, with the same material, each one bordered by a broad, rich, white blond: these ornaments ascend from the hem next the feet, as high as to the knee. The corsage is made quite plain, with a very broad falling tucker of blond. Over short sleeves of pink satin fall long ones of blond, entirely à L’imbecile, without any confinement. A dress hat of pink satin forms the coiffeure: this is turned up in front, and lightly ornamented with small white ostrich feathers. A superb veil of white blond falls carelessly over each side, and at the back of the hat.
The jewellery ornaments worn with this dress are either pink topazes, or Ceylon rubies, set à l’antique, in fillagree gold. The shoes are pink satin, tied en sandales.

*"a corded Italian silk similar to Irish poplin."
**one of several types of very full sleeves.  In this one "the fullness of the forearm is confined by a loop on the inner side from the bend of the elbow to the wrist."  From English Women's Clothing of the Nineteenth Century, C. Willett Cunnington

Friday, January 15, 2010

Keeping Warm Whilst Walking: Cloak & Hat, Muff & Mitts

Friday, January 15, 2010




















Susan reporting:

We promised we'd show what an 18th c. lady (or at least our favorite mantua-maker's apprentice, Sarah Woodyard, from Colonial Williamsburg) would wear to go walking outside, and here she is. 

Once again, it's all about the layers. She has a kerchief tucked into the neckline of her gown, a shorter wool capelet, and a wool-lined, hooded silk cloak over that. Long mitts cover her forearms, and her hands would be tucked inside a snug little matching muff. The muff is stuffed with wool and lined. Think
 of putting your hands inside a cozy pillow. 

Remember, too, that beneath her gown, she could be wearing a quilted petticoat and one of the quilted waistcoats we showed earlier this week. Colder weather would require a longer, heavier wool cloak, perhaps even lined or trimmed with fur.

If it's a blustery day, she'll put up the hood of her cloak, as in the first picture, above left.  But if she's making a more stylish promenade, she'd add a hat covered in the same silk to match her muff and cloak. The ribbon that holds this in place is tied not beneath her chin (as ladies would do in the 19th c.), but on the back of her head, and over her cap, with an extra hat-pin or two if necessary to keep the hat at the most cunning, over-the-eyes angle. 

A young apprentice or assistant in any of the fashion trades would have served as something of a walking advertisement for her mistress when she was sent out on errands, dressed in clothes from the shop. Of course, she might attract attention that had nothing to do with future customers for her mistress, as this print, right, shows. The sly title – An English Man-of-War, taking a French Privateer - says it all, though the sailor and the milliner's apprentice appear to be much more interested in making love, not war.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The NHG library: Elephant's Breath & London Smoke

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Loretta reports:

From a recent addition to my Nerdy History library--

Mummy, 1835 – Mummy, or Egyptian brown, is also a bituminous substance combined with animal remains, brought from the catacombs of Egypt, where liquid bitumen was employed three thousand years ago in embalming; … Its other properties and uses as a pigment are the same as those of asphaltum, for which it is employed as a valuable substitute, Chromatography, 1835

Mummy, 1849 – It is therefore that we… have never felt the least desire to essay this pigment, seeing nothing to be gained by smearing our canvas with a part perhaps of the wife of Potiphar, … the student can obtain genuine Egyptian mummy at our color shops, Handbook of Young Artists and Amateurs in Oilpainting, 1849

Pick a color, any color.  Elephant’s Breath & London Smoke:  Historic Colour Names, Definitions, and Uses, edited by Deb Salisbury, will tell you all about it. 

The main part of the book is the fascinating dictionary of colors, with entries like those above, from various time periods. 

The last forty pages contain several sections, on the following topics (I've given some samples of the contents):

Period Comments on Colours, e.g., “Ridiculous Colours from 1827”
Historical Colour Notes, e.g., “Benjamin Franklin the Elder on Dyeing: c. 1700”
Colour Symbolism, e.g., “Colour in Heraldry”
Harmony in Colour
, e.g., “Harmony Of Colours, in Lining Carriages, with the Complexion and Dress: 1860”
What Colours to Wear, e.g., “Advice for a Red-Headed Girl: 1888”
Colours by Artificial Light, e.g., “Observations on Candle and Oil Lamp Light: 1807”
Mourning Colours, e.g., “The Mourning Robes of Queen Elizabeth”

And all of this followed, as you’d expect, by an extensive bibliography.

This is the sort of book a NHG reads not only when researching a story, but just for fun.  Delicious.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Getting Warmer: What the Ladies Wore

Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Susan reports:

Last month, we wrote about the quilted waistcoats that 18th & 19th c. gentlemen would have  worn for relaxing at home, or underneath a jacket. It was an easy, informal style, and a warm one, too, a welcome layer in a drafty room heated only by a fireplace. 

But what of the ladies? What were they wearing as they sat at their equally drafty desks, writing and reading those endless letters that seem to have begun most every well-bred lady's day? They wore their own form of quilted waistcoats, often called jumps. Made of wool, or silk, or linen, they were heavily quilted to give them shape, and only lightly boned, if at all. They could take the place of stays (corsets) while at home, or could also be worn over them. Some had separate sleeves that could be tied on at the shoulders for extra warmth. Add a quilted petticoat (we'd call it a skirt) and wool stockings, and a lady would be well-fortified against the cold.

But as we saw with the gentlemen's quilted waistcoats, keeping warm didn't mean being unfashionable. These two reproductions, both stitched by the mantua-makers of Colonial Williamsburg, are not only elegantly quilted (all that diamond-patterned stitching is done by hand), but the example at lower left is also beautifully embroidered.  The flaps on the lower edge are to accommodate the gathered fullness of the petticoats.

Here are two more examples,  a bright yellow one from the Victoria & Albert Museum and another from the CW collections.

Coming on Friday: what the 18th c. lady wears out-of-doors to keep warm! 
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