Monday, July 16, 2018

Baron de Berenger—Horse Whisperer?

Monday, July 16, 2018

Thomas Alken, A Gentleman Riding With a Groom, and Coversing
Loretta report:

Last year, during my visit to the Kensington Central Library, Dave Walker introduced me to the Baron de Berenger’s gun. Thanks to Dave's introducing me to this colorful character, I’ve spent some time with de Berenger’s Helps and Hints: How to Protect Life and Property. It surprised me in a number of ways.

At the time of my stories, animals tended to be treated brutally. I won’t go into the ugly details, but, generally speaking (of course there were many exceptions) if human life was cheap, non-human life was close to worthless, the RSPCA notwithstanding. And while life was kinder to humans of the privileged classes, they were not necessarily kinder to their animals, especially their horses. And so I was struck with de Berenger’s views on the subject:
“[A] rider should, to appearance at least, be a part of his horse; in the efforts of both these component parts there should seem as if there was but one and the same impulse,— a generous and reciprocal attention to please,—to serve, and to spare; and when that is accomplished, most horses will display as much delight in being rode, as the rider will be delighted in riding such a horse; but to accomplish this to perfection, an intimacy, nay, an affection, must be established between yourself and the generous animal; but which ... cannot be attained by the intercourse which, by far too generally, prevails between fashionable characters and their horses; these poor, willing, and faithful animals, rarely experiencing any other notice, save that of being urged on by whip and spur, to exertions but too frequently woefully distressing to a willing frame ... What has secured to the dog the reputation of being more affectionate, more intelligent, and more faithful, than the horse? Because, even the exquisite will deign to hold a familiar and encouraging intercourse, nay, conversation, with him: not so with the poor horse; except when being cleaned or fed, it stands unnoticed for many hours in dull solitude, at least as far as man is concerned. With him the cheering influence and the enjoyments of the sun are embittered by a portion of severe, because generally inconsiderate, labour; even then, and although enduring willingly, hardly ever to experience the pattings of a condescending hand as a cheap encouragement!  ... nevertheless, and aware as the horse must be that it is led forth to endure straining labour, we see him cheerfully leave the stable, ever as willing slavishly to serve his master, as to please him, in any way, which he is taught to know as agreeable to him. Only familiarize with and pet him, as much as you do the dog, and his best endeavours at least to rival canine affection, intelligence, and fidelity, will soon be placed beyond all doubt.
The entire entry, from which I’ve also included a clipping (at right), is well worth reading. I’d be especially interested in the reactions of our horse-loving/riding/driving Nerdy History persons.

Image: Henry Thomas Alken, A Gentleman Riding With a Groom, and Conversing (undated), courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of July 9, 2018

Saturday, July 14, 2018
Breakfast Links are served! Our weekly round-up of favorite links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• The 1802 Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy faced unexpected competition from the wax figures of Marie Tussaud.
• Gin shops in the Regency: the "blue ruin" before hipsters discovered it.
• When reading inspired women to change history.
• How 18th-19thc literary women like Mary Robinson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning embraced opiates.
• The accidental Pied Piper of cats in 1909 New York.
Video: Rotating jeweled flowers on this 18thc clock (sound up!)
• The 1866 wedding fashions in the painting The Hesitant Fiancee by Auguste Toulmouche.
• The link between women, witchcraft, and stirring.
• Pearls for the bride: a magnificent 1830s pearl parure.
• Cimitero delle Fontanelle and the Neapolitan cult of the dead.
Image: "Touch watch" owned by author Helen Keller.
• Napoleon's pleasure-loving sister Pauline Bonaparte.
• A short history of tennis fashions.
• When butter was a food group: food and freedom in World War Two.
• The eagle as the ideal ruler, from ancient times to the Founding Fathers.
Image: An aerial view of Hyde Park Fair on the day of Queen Victoria's coronation, June 28, 1838.
• A recipe for an unusual - and very potent - 18thc cocktail: King Calli's Spruce Beer.
• A brief history of the American Pledge of Allegiance.
• Ruth Wakefield is the name and the place behind legendary chocolate chip Toll House Cookies.
• How to live like an 11thc prince.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Friday Video: 18th Century Dining

Friday, July 13, 2018
Loretta reports:

As I’ve pointed out in a previous blog post, the dinner table of the late 1700s and early 1800s looked very different from our own, with a large number of dishes, both sweet and savory, presented at the same time.

This video gives a nice, three-dimensional view of what was on the table, as well as short explanations of the dishes. Also, I think you'll enjoy curator Ivan Day’s dry wit.

If the macaroni and cheese surprises you (as it did some commenters), you might want to check out Susan’s blog post on the subject.  Also, as she explains in this blog post, the governor of Virginia would have been eating in the same fashion as his aristocratic counterparts in London.

YouTube Video: English Taste: The Art of Dining in 18th Century England with curator Ivan Day
Image is a still from the video.
Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be. To watch the video, please click on the title to this post (which will take you to our blog) or the video title (which will take you to YouTube).

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A Letter from Angelica Schuyler Church on the Morning of the Hamilton-Burr Duel, July 11, 1804

Wednesday, July 11, 2018
Susan reporting,

You didn't really think I'd let the 214th anniversary of the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr pass unnoticed, did you? Especially since July 11, 2018 also falls on a Wednesday, just as it did in 1804. I've already written a post here about the duel itself. This one is about how, within hours of the duel, the first ripples of shock and grief are already beginning to spread through a close-knit family that would never again be the same.

There's nothing quite like an original letter from the past. The majority of surviving letters related to Alexander Hamilton, his wife Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, and her family have been transcribed and are available online on various sites. There's no doubt that this is convenient. It's much easier to read a modern transcription than to decipher the often-faded handwriting of long ago, with its dips and swirls and often-idiosyncratic spelling and punctuation. It also helps protect the originals from the wear and tear of being removed from preservation storage for repeated study.


There's so much more to be learned from a handwritten letter than the words alone. Handwriting can reveal the writer's emotions, fears, and wishes, the urgency with which she or he wrote, or the care they took in choosing just the right word or phrase. I can't think of a better example than the letter above. (Please click to enlarge, and my apologies for the unavoidable reflections.)

The author of this letter was Angelica Schuyler Church, the eldest sister of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, the wife of John Barker Church, and the sister-in-law to Alexander Hamilton. Angelica was a well-read, well-traveled, and well-educated 18thc woman, and many of her surviving letters are filled with ideas and thoughts, descriptions of where she has visited and whom she has met, and, depending on her correspondent, often a dollop of flirtation as well. But not here.

Angelica wrote this letter on the morning of July 11, 1804, shortly after Alexander had been rowed back across the Hudson River from New Jersey, where the duel had taken place, to New York City. The duel with Aaron Burr had gone disastrously wrong, and had left Alexander gravely injured. But when Angelica wrote this letter to her younger brother Philip Schuyler in Albany, she had clearly just arrived at the house of Alexander's friend William Bayard, where the injured Alexander had been brought. Given the severity of his wound and the amount of blood he'd already lost, it's hard to understand her optimism for his recovery, but perhaps the attending physician was putting the best face on the situation for Angelica and her sister Eliza, who is also already at her dying husband's bedside.

Or perhaps Angelica did know. The letter was clearly written in haste and anxiety, the words dashed across the page. The two passages that she underlined - wretch Burr and expression of grief - are probably the most revealing ones in the entire letter. And because we know what happened after the letter was written, they're also among the saddest.

Here's a transcription:

                                          at Mr. Bayards Greenwich
                                          Wednesday Morn July 11, 1804

     My dear Brother, I have the painful task to inform you that General Hamilton was this morning wounded by that wretch Burr, And we have every reason to hope that he will recover. May I advise that you repair immediately to my father as perhaps he may wish to come down. My dear sister bears with saintlike fortitude this affliction. The Town is in consternation, and there exists only the expression of Grief & Indignation. Adieu my dear Brother. Remember me to Sally. Ever Yours,
                                               A. Church

This letter belongs to The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and is currently on loan and on display in the exhibition Hamilton: The Constitutional Clashes That Shaped a Nation at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, PA. The exhibition runs until December 31, 2018; see here for more information. Many thanks to Jessie Serfilippi of the Schuyler Mansion for her assistance with this post.

Read more about Eliza Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton in my latest historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, now available everywhere.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Fashions for July 1875

Tuesday, July 10, 2018
Travel & Promenade Dress July 1875
Loretta reports:

For a perspective on this month’s fashion plate, I offer a quote from Jane Ashelford’s The Art of Dress.

“A narrower silhouette appeared in 1874, introducing a sheath-like bodice which fitted over the waist and hips, thus necessitating a new style of corset. The flat effect down the front of the skirt was further enhanced by tapes inside the skirt which pulled it closer to the body. In conjunction with this tightening of the silhouette, the bustle grew smaller and was positioned lower down, where the fullness of the skirt extended into a long train.”

Travel & Promenade Dress Description

Description cont'd
Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket