Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Romantic jewelry

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Loretta reports:

The recent engagement of Prince William & Kate Middleton brings up the always fascinating subject of jewelry, a subject dear to the Nerdy History Girl's heart.  Whenever one of my heroines becomes engaged, I pore through my jewelry books, looking for inspiration. Sometimes I'll give her a colored stone with diamonds, like Kate's.  Other times I'll look for the biggest, gaudiest diamond ring I can find.  But other kinds of jewelry were exchanged as love tokens.  One of my favorites, because it's multicolored, is jewelry used to convey a message.

One way to do this was to use the first letter of each stone to spell out a word.

D iamond
E merald
A methyst
R uby
E merald
S apphire
T opaz

According to Jewellery The International Era 1789-1910, Vol I 1789-1861 by Shirley Bury,   "The language of stones...was reported 'in high favour' by the Belle assemblée in 1817 (alas, that edition is not on Google Books yet), which explained only that the initials of the stones 'form devices or sentimental words.'"

Below right is a scan from the Bury book.  See if you can  read the message on these pendants from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Sometimes the jewelery spelled the beloved's name.  This, as you could imagine, could present tricky problems for the jeweler, depending on the name.

For a visual feast of beautiful Georgian Jewelry, I suggest Ginny Redington's Georgian Jewellery 1714-1830.  It's not very nerdy, being a bit thin in the scholarship department, but it makes up for this with gorgeous color photographs—and a less breathtaking price than the out-of-print Bury tome.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Christmas at Winterthur

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Susan reporting:

Winthertur Museum near Wilmington, DE, is famous both for its unrivaled collection of American decorative art and the surrounding gardens of the former country estate of the duPont family. During the holidays, the collection is beautifully decorated for Yuletide with trees, flowers, and greenery drawn from the grounds and greenhouses. The table is set, and the punch-bowl is filled. What better way to get into the spirit of the season?

Look here for more information about visiting Winterthur.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ben Franklin explains Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 25, 2010
Loretta reports:


THERE is a tradition, that, in the planting of New-England, the first settlers met with many difficulties and hardships ; as is generally the case when a civilized people attempt establishing themselves in a wilderness country. Being piously disposed, they sought relief from Heaven, by laying their wants and distresses before the Lord, in frequent set days of fasting and prayer. Constant meditation and discourse on these subjects kept their minds gloomy and discontented; and, like the children of Israel, there were many disposed to return to that Egypt which persecution had induced them to abandon. At length, when it was proposed in the assembly to proclaim another fast, a farmer of plain sense rose, and remarked, that the inconveniencies they suffered, and concerning which they had so often wearied Heaven with their complaints, were not so great as they might have expected, and were diminishing every day as the colony strengthened ; that the earth began to reward their labour, and to furnish liberally for their subsistence; that the seas and rivers were found full of fish, the air sweet, the climate healthy; and, above all, that they were there in the full enjoyment of liberty, civil and religious: he therefore thought, that reflecting and conversing on these subjects would be more comfortable, as tending more to make them contented with their situation; and that it would be more becoming the gratitude they owed to the Divine Being, if, instead of a fast, they should proclaim a thanksgiving. His advice was taken; and from that day to this they have, in every year, observed circumstances of public felicity sufficient to furnish employment for a thanksgiving day ; which is therefore constantly ordered and religiously observed.
Works of the late Doctor Benjamin Franklin: consisting of his life, written by himself : together with essays, humorous, moral & literary, chiefly in the manner of the Spectator, 1793.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving break

Monday, November 22, 2010
Susan & Loretta report:

On Thursday November 25th, the U.S. celebrates Thanksgiving.  The Two Nerdy History Girls are thankful for, among a great many other things, our readers.  Some might say you really shouldn't encourage us, but you do, and we're grateful.  Your participation has made history even more interesting and fun for us than it was.

For the next few days, though, we ask you to make your own historical fun, while we take a break for the holiday.  We’ll be back next week with more nerdiness.

Harper's Bazaar—Thanksgiving 1894, by Louis J. Rhead, courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Saturday, November 20, 2010

How British Was Queen Victoria? (Silly historical video time again)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Another delightfully silly video from our favorite Horrible Histories, with their usual little edge to the humor. The point of this video – that often the things considered most thoroughly British were in fact imported from somewhere else – is one more commonly made against us Americans.

In our enthusiasm to display our Yankee-Doodle-Dandy patriotic fervor, we (particularly politicians) too often slap the "All American" tag on things that really aren't. Denim jeans are one of the examples that comes immediately to mind. We've all heard the tale of how, in 1853, enterprising Levi Strauss created sturdy work pants for the miners of the California Gold Rush, and an entire denim world was born. What could be more thoroughly American than jeans?  (Of course this glosses over the fact that Strauss was a German immigrant, and that his fabric of choice was serge de Nimes, a heavy twill imported from France.)

Now a recently rediscovered series of 17th century paintings by a forgotten Italian artist have tossed that assumption out the window. Based on the evidence of these pictures by the newly-dubbed "Master of the Blue Jeans", it seems that denim clothing has been around for a lot longer than the United States.

Queen Victoria would understand.

Hope you enjoy!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Praising Ale with John Taylor the Water-Poet, 1637

Friday, November 19, 2010
Susan reporting:

With the weekend before us, we thought we'd start Happy Hour a bit early with English poet John Taylor (1578-1653), shown glowering, left, in a contemporary engraving.

Odds are that unless you were an English Lit major, you've never heard of Taylor – or, as he called himself, John Taylor the Water-Poet. Taylor wasn't some sighing, sonnet-penning courtier, but a member of the boatmen's guild, a rough-hewn, working waterman on the Thames who ferried passengers along the river for much of his adult life. (Think of a modern cab-driver writing poetry.) More than 150 publications are credited to Taylor, ranging from poems to singular travelogues to satirical, opinionated brochures. He's also the author of one of the earliest English palindromes: "Lewd did I live, & evil I did dwel."

This excerpt is from his Historie of the most part of drinks, in use now in the kingdomes of Great Brittaine and Ireland, which Taylor published in 1637. It was a subject dear to the waterman, and his Historie is clearly based on much personal, ah, research. While some of these drinks are long forgotten (a glass of pomperkin, anyone?), Taylor favored ale, and when he lists all its admirable qualities, who can blame him?

"First then, ALE is a singular remedy against all melancholick diseases, Tremor cordis, and Malacies of the spleene. It is purgative and of great operation against all gripings of the small guts. It cures the stone in the Bladder or Kidneys, and provokes Urine wonderfully. It mollifies Tumors and swellings in the body, and is very predominant in opening the obstructions of the Liver. It is the most effectuall for clearing of the sight, being applied outwardly. It asswageth the unsufferable paine of the Gowt. Ale was famous...from the highest and Noblest Palace to the poorest or meanest Colltage. Ale is universall, and for Vertue it stands allowable with the best receipts of the most Antientest Physitians. Ale is rightly called Nappy, for it will set a nap upon a man's thred-bare eyes when he is sleepy. It is called Merry-goe-downe, for it slides down merrily. It is such a nourisher of Mankinde, that if my mouth were as bigge as Bishopsgate, my Pen as long as a Maypole, and my Inke a flowing spring, or a standing fishpond, yet I could not with Mouth, Pen, or Inke, speak or write the true worth and worthiness of Ale."

Read here for more about John Taylor, or here to sample more of his work.

Above: Detail of Portrait of John Taylor the Water-Poet by Thomas Cockson, 1630

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dressing for Autumn 1816

Thursday, November 18, 2010
Loretta reports:

London & Paris can be cool to cold in the fall & spring.  So what about those ladies in their muslin dresses?  Did they go for heavier fabrics?  Layers?  Here’s what the November 1816 Ackermann’s Repository has to say.

A lilac and white striped gauze dress over a white satin slip; the bottom of the skirt is ornamented with five rows of white silk trimming, of a very light and elegant description : it has just been introduced, and the pattern has more novelty than any thing we have seen for some time: a single flounce of deep blond lace completes the trimming. The body is also very novel; the upper part is formed of lace, and the lower of gauze, to correspond with the dress: the latter is quite tight to the shape, but the former has an easy fulness, which forms the shape in a manner extremely advantageous, to the figure. The sleeve is short and very full; it is composed of lace, looped high, and finished by a trimming to correspond with that on the skirt. The hair is full dressed, without any ornament. Necklace, cross, armlets, and bracelets of rubies. White satin slippers, and white kid gloves.

The month of November ought, if we were guided by the seasons, to enable us to present our fair readers with a splendid display of winter costume, but every body knows that the winter of Fashion does not commence till January.

PARIS, October 17...LATE as it is in the season, our promenade dresses are invariably composed of white: perkale is in high estimation, as are also plain and sprigged India muslins...Our promenade costume has at present an uniformity which fatigues the eye, not on account of white dresses only, but because belles of all ages now appear in square shawls...the transparent silk shawls, some of which are ornamented with borders of natural flowers in superb embroidery…are really beautiful, but certainly not calculated for the time of year; however, the season is the last thing a Frenchwoman considers.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Beautiful (and Potent!) Castor Beans

Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Susan reporting:

When we first came across these tall (over six feet), gaudy plants with their fantastic pods in one of the gardens in Colonial Williamsburg, we'd no idea what they were – though they did remind us of something contrived by Dr. Seuss. If we'd been an 18th c. housewife, however, we would have recognized them as once, and would likely have had one growing somewhere in our kitchen garden – much to the distress and dread of our children.

This is a castor bean plant, and the seeds that grow within the prickly pink capsules are the source of castor oil. While castor oil has a long history – ancient Egyptians burned it in their lamps – now the oil is primarily used as a lubricant and in hydraulic fluids, as well as in pharmaceutical applications and in manufactured goods ranging from soap to dyes.

The castor bean can be a dangerous plant as well. The seeds, stems, and leaves contain high levels of rincin, which is poisonous to humans and animals. In the strange way of nature, the oil derived from pressing the hulled seeds is not toxic, but considerable care must be taken while harvesting.

In the historical past that prized a good purge, castor oil was known for its ability to produce a swift result that one source describes as "exceptionally violent diarrhea." We agree that that sounds pretty hideous, but we suppose it was the historical version of a "cleanse" today.

We think we'd rather admire it from afar...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cholera's first visit to Paris, 1832

Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Loretta reports:

Setting books in the 1830s has made me acutely conscious of the shadow cholera—currently raging through Haiti—cast across Europe in the 19th century. 

It first reached Paris in the spring of 1832.  The following numbers are the city's daily death toll for April. 

Apr 1—79, 2—168, 3—212, 4—342, 5—351, 6—416, 7—582, 8—769, 9—861, 10—848, 11—769, 12—768, 13—816, 14—692, 15—567, 16—512

“Up to the last of these dates, there had died in Paris alone, upwards of 8,700 persons ; and before the end of the month the number was nearly doubled….

“In Paris, as in Hungary, the populace took up the idea that the disease was indicted on them by their water and wine being poisoned. Under this impression they perpetrated the most atrocious murders ; it required but the finger of any miscreant to point out an obnoxious individual. An old Jew, who carried a bottle of camphor as a preservative, was called a poisoner, while passing through the market place of the Innocents. The market-women and poissardes attacked him, and he fell dead beneath repeated stabs. At Vaugirard, a village close by Paris, two young men, being attacked by the mob on the same pretext, sought refuge in the house of the magistrate. They were forced out, and murdered in the street. At Paris, however, less than any where else, did the cholera maintain its character of choosing its victims among the squalid, the needy, and the dissolute. The panic, that reigned throughout the capital, was enormously increased by the number of persons, in the higher ranks, on whom the malady laid hold. Peers of France, members of the Chamber of Deputies, of the courts of justice, and of the diplomatic body, swelled the triumph of the pestilence. On the 6th of April, it struck down the prime-minister himself; and although he recovered from the first shock, the hand of death had been laid upon him too heavily to be removed.”
—Excerpt from The Annual Register of 1832.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Keeping Warm in an 18th c. Gentleman's Great Coat

Sunday, November 14, 2010
Susan reporting:

With winter on the way, a gentleman of the past would want to make sure he had a stout great coat to defy the elements. Great coats were considered an investment, a practical necessity rather than a fashion statement, and few remain in museum collections simply because they were worn until they wore out. Much like banyans, great coats were garments that men liked wearing. Numerous 18th c. Englishmen had their portraits painted in their great coats, such as shipbuilder and philanthropist Thomas Coram, left (last seen on this blog as the driving force behind the creation of the London Foundling Hospital.)

While great coats often turn up in fiction - especially on adventurous gentlemen who go striding off into the mist and across the moor – but we'll admit we were a little hazy about the finer details of what made a great coat, well, so great.

Fortunately, Tailor Mark Hutter of Colonial Williamsburg obliged us by showing us his handsome great coat, typical of styles from 1740-1770. Working from extant 18th c. examples as well as portraits, Mark made this double-breasted coat, right, from grey wool beaver cloth, a dense, fulled (think felted) fabric that is napped and pressed to resemble beaver fur. The cloth was thick to be wind-proof, and rain and snow would find it a challenge as well. Because this is an overcoat, the body is unlined. The buttons are covered with the same cloth, and the buttonholes are welted.

The wide collar is lined with velvet in a contrasting velvet, both for style and purpose. In the back view, left, Mark has buttoned the collar up high in front to protect his face. That wide collar, pointed in the back, is designed to tuck up beneath a gentleman's hat - quite an efficient way of keeping out the the wind around his ears, much like a modern parka's hood. Because this is such a loose-fitting garment, the pleats at the back of the neck are a stylish, functional way of absorbing all the necessary yardage.

The last photo, right, shows one of the more interesting (at least to us!) features of the coat. Those deep, buttoned cuffs aren't entirely for decoration. On a very cold night, they could be folded down over the hands for extra protection. Gentlemen riding in an unheated carriage could request their servants to go one step further, and button one cuff securely over the other, as Mark demonstrates here. The effect would be the same as an 18th c. lady's muff, and probably just as warm, too.

Many thanks to Mark Hutter, for his expertise and suggestions!

Top: detail of Captain Thomas Coram by William Hogarth, 1740, London Foundling Museum.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Answers to the trick questions

Saturday, November 13, 2010
(Questions appeared last week in Amusements from a Ladies' Magazine.)
1.   They both furnish you with Dates.
2.   They both form our habits.
3.   His foot.
4.   Shrove Tuesday. Pancake-day.
5.   Because he has a title.
6.   Because it is always forgetting.
7.   Lie still.
8.   They are both Invisible.
9.   Hose Hannah to the highest—Hosannah to the Highest.
10.  A wedding ring.
11.  It is a Noose-paper.
12.  Because he stands in-kneed.
13.  It is hardly done.
14.  Because he is a male-content.
15.  He animates dead subjects.
16.  February.
17.  It is governed by a Minister.
18.  He claims the unredeemed.
19.  The vowel I.
20.  Because she is notable.
21.  Because it is a-version.
22.  It is the way to Turnham Green
23.  It keeps off the sparks.
24.  Because the first apple damned the first pear—pair.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Miseries of Human Life in the Country

Friday, November 12, 2010
Loretta reports:

Here’s a bit more from James Bereford’s The Miseries of Human Life.  Originally published in 1806, it contains, along with deeply obscure puns & other bafflements for the 21st century reader, miseries not unfamiliar to us.

2. (T.)
After having assembled a dinner-party on Michaelmas-day,—finding that the fox has taken upon him to execute the orders you had given with regard to the goose.
6. (S.)
Residing at a country-town…—next door to a quiet neighbour, whose dwelling is suddenly converted into an ale-house of the most cheerful description.
15. (T.)
To be repeatedly called away from your knife and fork by the arrival of different persons (who will not wait) on petty business, which they always contrive should exactly tally with your meals, and which you cannot postpone without even more inconvenience to yourself than the loss of half your dinner.
17. (T.)
On an August evening—windows open, and candles lighted—the incessant visits of gnats, moths, earwigs, &c. &c. without invitation; so that one half of your time passes in killing some of your guests, and the other in helping the rest to kill themselves.
 22. (T.)
Just in that period of your walk when you are overtaken by a torrent of rain, and secretly applauding your own caution, in having provided yourself with an umbrella—said umbrella suddenly and furiously reversed by a puff of wind, and shred to ribbands in an instant.
23.  During the fall of the leaf—the vegetable litter which incessantly deforms your gardens, lawns, and walks, much faster than it can be removed by the broom—and which obliges you to look for all your comfort to the approaching nakedness of winter.
25. (T.)
Passing unawares through a paddock inhabited by an old Bull, by no means celebrated for urbanity to strangers.
27- (T.)
With the heel of one muddy shoe, treading the loosened string out of the other.

Above left, Dr. Syntax Pursued by a Bull, by Thomas Rowlandson, courtesy Ancestry Images.com.

Below right illustration is from Beresford's book.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Shoe-History Repeats Itself: Venetian Courtesans, Lady Gaga, & the High Price of Walking (Very) Tall

Thursday, November 11, 2010
Susan reporting:

Yes, we know the old adage about nothing new under sun.  Even in the wonderfully transitory world of fashion, where the definition of "new" changes by the moment, there have to be some do-overs.

Which brings us back in time to the Italian Renaissance, and to the famous courtesans of Venice. In the 16th c., they epitomized hotness for the rest of Europe. They had their own special style, too, including the most outrageous platform shoes imaginable, some rising as high as twenty inches. (The most fashionable Venetian ladies wore these shoes as well, as did Spanish ladies, but it's the courtesans who wore the most extreme versions, and who were satirized the most.)

These tall shoes were called chopines, and like all trendy shoes, they were as much about their exclusive expense as they were about style; only the wealthiest women, whether of good reputation or not, could afford chopines. (We've written more about them here before, and with more pictures.) The 16th.c. artist of the illustration, left, has thoughtfully done a cutaway view of this courtesan's skirt, so we can see her sauntering seductively on her chopines. The reality, below right, was probably much less jaunty, let alone graceful. Part of the allure of such high shoes came from being able to afford the necessary servants who walked on either side to make sure their mistress didn't fall.

Which brings us forward in time to the present, and to singer, artist, and fashion-setter Lady Gaga. Among her many talents, Gaga has demonstrated a rare gift for walking and even dancing in extremely tall shoes. While there have been some well-documented tumbles (oh, lucky 16th c. courtesans, not having to deal with paparazzi!), on the whole she's been remarkably well-balanced – even if she, too, often has attendants/body guards/spotters on either side to help stave off disaster.

Lady G. could also relate to the handmade chopines that flaunted the Venetian sumptuary laws: her favorite pair by designer Noritaka Tatehana have a price tag of $6500. Here's an entertaining link that shows Gaga and her towering footwear, as well as a video of more mortal women attempting to walk, literally, in her shoes.

We have to think those Renaissance courtesans would have been green with shoe-envy....

Interested in learning more about chopines, as well as zoccoli and pantoufles? Thanks to the glory of Google, we found this amazing site by Francis Classe, a gentleman who has clearly made Renaissance footwear his vocation. Great photos, and there are even directions for whipping up a pair of chopines for yourself. Check it out!

Above left: Venetian Courtesan by Pietro Bertelli, 1589
Above right: Venetian chopines, unknown maker, 16th c., Museo Correr di Veneziani 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

19th C spammers & scammers

Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Loretta reports:

Spam, apparently, is nothing new.  In 1839, in Every day life in London, James Grant tries to track down the number of Begging Imposters:  people who make their living by writing fake letters of distress.  It was a high-volume trade and, as is the case with our spammers, they were hard to catch.  The majority, he notes, write exclusively to the upper classes, because (1) aristocrats have too much else to do to bother with ferreting out and prosecuting imposters and (2) they give more money per letter than the middle classes. 

“… I saw a letter from a nobleman of a very humane and benevolent disposition, in which it was stated that, in the course of the year, he had received nearly three hundred and fifty begging letters, all of which were dated from London, and detailed trumped-up cases of the deepest distress.”  This nobleman did investigate:  49 out of 50 letters were fakes.

Grant estimated that about 250 people in London lived on these fake begging letters, that the highest income from the business was £1000 per annum, the lowest £100, averaging out, over the 250 scammers to £200 pa.  “This, then, would give no less than 50,000l. out of which the benevolent public of London, chiefly the nobility, are annually swindled by the begging-letter imposters.”

There were also imposters who wrote mainly to the clergy and other known benevolent sorts of the middle ranks.  Grant knew one who wrote at least 20 such letters a day. 

“Not long since, sixteen letters of this description, all sealed and ready for delivery, were found in a basket at the house of one of these persons, in Blackfriars Road ;and it was ascertained that all the sixteen had been intended to be forwarded to their respective destinations within a few hours after the discovery.  If then some of these rogues are so indefatigable in their epistolary attempts on the pockets of the charitable and humane, as to pen twenty letters in one day, surely, considering their number, and after making every allowance for the comparatively contracted labors of the least industrious portion of the swindling community, there is nothing extravagant in the supposition that 1000 such letters are daily indited and forwarded to their several destinations in London."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Guy Fawkes Crosses the Atlantic & Becomes Transformed into Pope Night, 1745

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Susan reporting:

As we discussed last week (and we thank our many readers for so many excellent comments), Guy Fawkes Day is a holiday that may have a dark past, but is certainly alive and well and full of bonfires and fireworks in 2010. Yet while it may seem a quintessentially British holiday, there's also a strong history of the celebration in New England as well as Old.

The Massachusetts colony was largely settled in the early 17th c. by English Puritans, and those conservative Protestant values continued to rule the colony. The bonfires and effigy-burning of the Fifth of November was one of the transplanted traditions that prospered, but by the middle of the 18th c., it had developed a few distinctly Yankee quirks. Several colonial wars against the French served to increase distrust and fear of Catholics. While the memory of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot weren't forgotten (the "Remember, Remember" song was duly sung), in all the northern colonies the celebration was now called Pope Night, and a rowdy time it was.

In Boston, crowds of  young men, sailors, and apprentices thronged the streets, dividing into two rival gangs, while costumed boys thumped on doors and begged money for drink. Each gang had their own procession and effigies of the Pope, friars, priests, and devils, and after a fierce brawl between the two gangs (ah, American contests of sports supremacy!), the winners captured the losers' effigies, and everything was finally burned in a satisfying bonfire. Special noisemakers, fashioned from conch shells and called "Pope's horns", added to the din, like 18th c. vuvuzelas.

As political tensions in Boston increased with England in the years before the Revolution, other effigies of unpopular public figures found their way into the procession, including the Catholic Stuart PretenderLord North, and Lord Bute. Later infamous traitor Bendict Arnold earned his place in the flames, too. A 1745 newspaper described the scene:

Tuesday last being the Anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, two Popes were made and carried thro' the Streets in the evening...attended by a vast number...armed with clubs, staves, and cutlashes, who were very abusive to the Inhabitants, insulting the Persons and breaking the windows, &c., of such as did not give them money to their satisfaction...the two Popes meeting in Cornhill, their followers were so infatuated as to fall upon each other with the utmost Rage and Fury. Several were sorely wounded and bruised, some left for dead, and rendered incapable of any business for a long time to the great Loss and Damage of their respective Masters.

For more about Pope Night in the American colonies, check out this excellent site commissioned by The Bostonian Society. Also see one of our favorite history blogs, Boston 1775, which has numerous posts on the subject.

Above: Detail from Extraordinary verses on Pope-night, or, A commemoration of the Fifth of November, giving a history of the attempt, made by the papishes, to blow up king and Parliament, printed in Boston, 1768. Collection, Library of Congress

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Amusements from a ladies' magazine

Sunday, November 7, 2010
Loretta reports:

As we've shown, the ladies' magazines of the early 19th century contained a variety of material:  fiction, poetry, and politics as well as fashion, beauty advice, and helpful household hints.  Some offered their readers little puzzlers every month, with the answers provided in the following month's issue.  Here's a selection for you to play with this week.  Answers—and the source—will appear next weekend.   (Hint:  Most though not all will test your punning skills.)

1.   Why is a chronologist like a palm tree ?
2.   Why is education like a tailor?
3.   What was the first thing Adam set in his garden!
4.   Which is the greatest Friday in the year ?
5.   Why is a nobleman like a book ?
6.   Why is avarice like a bad memory ?
7.   What is the only thing a liar may be said to do after he is dead?
8.   Why is an inn in sight like an inn out of sight ?
9.   If I want my daughter Nancy to carry a pair of stockings to the tallest person in company, how would I address her in the most religious manner ?
10.  What is that which binds people together, and touches only one ?
11.  Why is the paper from which the banns of marriage are published like a daily journal ?
12.  Why is a knock-kneed person like a poor man soliciting alms ?
13.  Why is an egg overdone like an egg underdone ?
14.  Why is a contented man like a rebel ?
15.  Why is Sir Walter Scott like galvanism ?
16.  In what month do ladies talk the least ?
17.  Why is a parson's horse like the king?
18.  Why is a pawnbroker like the devil ?
19.  What is that which is always invisible, yet never out of sight ?
20.  Why is a good housewife like a powerless man ?
21. Why is Virgil, translated, like hatred ?
22.  Why should peas of a bad color be sent to Knightsbridge ?
23.  Why is a blacksmith's apron like the gates of a convent?
24.  Why may fruit be said to be the origin of swearing ?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Guy Fawkes Night, 1678: Bonfires, Fear, & Intolerance

Friday, November 5, 2010
Susan reports:

In Britain today, the Fifth of November – or Guy Fawkes Day, or Bonfire Night – is marked with fireworks, bonfires, and hot roasted potatoes, a fun frolic under the autumn night sky.

The origins of the holiday as an official "Day of Thanksgiving" is lost on most modern revelers. In 1605, a small band of English Catholics conspired to assassinate the Protestant King James I by blowing up him and the House of Lords with a sizable store of gunpowder, and setting a Catholic ruler on the English throne. The plot was discovered, and Guy Fawkes and his supporters were arrested, tortured, and executed. Soon after, the Thanksgiving Act was passed, with the day to be set aside for reflection and rejoicing at the king's deliverance.

But in the politically charged climate of 17th century England, thanksgiving quickly acquired uglier overtones, and the holiday became noted for anti-Catholic demonstrations. By 1678, fear of Catholics had reached a feverish pitch. Catholics were blamed for starting the Great Fire that had burned a large part of London in 1666, for planning to murder King Charles II, and for plotting a French invasion that would result in forced conversions of all English Protestants, and massacres of those who resisted. It didn't help that Charles's brother and heir, James, had converted to Catholicism, and was set to marry an Italian Catholic princess. Nervous Londoners saw menacing Papists and Jesuits lurking behind every corner. Protestant pulpits thundered warning sermons, and innocent foreigners were accused of being Catholic and beaten by mobs in the streets.

As a result, the London celebration of the Fifth of November in 1678 was a lavish affair, attended by huge crowds. A long parade, above, of participants mockingly dressed as Catholic priests and cardinals with a smattering of devils, threaded through the streets, with the loudest jeers reserved for the effigies of the Pope. Here is an excerpt from a tract* describing the event:

"On this present Fifth Day of November, they caused several of the said Effigies, or Resemblances of the Pope, to be made; some of them displaying him in one posture, and some in another; but all of them were followed with loud and numerous acclamations to their several places of Execution.

"He of them who might best pretend to the priority in point of Workmanship and Invention, was raised on a small Pavilion, born like Pageants on Men's Backs, with a large Cross filled with Lamps, which in much majesty stalks before him, whilst the Effigies, curiously adorned with his Triple Crown, Necklace of Beads, and all his other superstitious Accouterments, came very sumptuously behind, in procession from  the Royal-Exchange to Temple-Bar....

"So frollick was [the effigy], that he danced before the Flames, and when he came near the place of Execution, cut a Caper into a great Bonfire, provided on purpose to entertain him, whose abominable civilities had been so great, as heretofore to provide such large ones for others. In time after this feigned Pope had been sufficiently exposed to the Vulgar Reflections, he was hurl'd, Canopy, Triple Crown, Beads, Crucifix and all into the Bonfire...where a world of People celebrated his fall with a general cry, that all his Majesties Enemies, or the perverters of the Protestant Religion, or English Government, may ere long be reduced to some such Fate."

Guy Fawkes Day ceased to be an official holiday in Britain in 1859, and while there will still be bonfires, no religious effigies will be consigned to the flames – not that we modern folk are entirely past burning symbols of the faiths of others.

Above: Detail of The Solemn Mock Procession of the Pope, Cardinalls, Jesuits, Fryers &c., through the City of London. Published by Samuel Lee, London, 1680.

* "The Manner of the burning of the pope effigies in London on the 5th of November, 1678, with the manner of carrying him through several streets in progression to Temple-Bar, where at length he was decently burned: also a particular of several bloody massacres done by the papists upon the bodies of English, Irish and French Protestants" by Anonymous: London, 1678

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Fashions for November 1832—for evening

Thursday, November 4, 2010
Loretta reports:

Yesterday, we looked at some 1832 daytime wear.  Today, for your viewing pleasure, I present two evening dresses. 

No. 3.
Ball dress of white mousseline de soie over satin, the corsage is cut low, plain, and square, and is completely covered by the pélerine, which is of pink satin edged with blonde. The front and back pieces are separate, and shaped en fichu, the short point reaching even below the band, while the other ends, which are much longer, cross over the sleeve, and are fastened to the strap which confines it round the arm; this pélerine is without opening behind, and is fastened on each shoulder by a nœud of six coques of ribbon ; the band round the waist is of satin like the pélerine, and finishes behind with a nœud like those on the shoulders. The skirt is trimmed with large slanting scallops, formed by three rouleaux; to each of the points, placed uppermost, is fastened a sprig of pink reine marguerite with foliage, issuing from a leaf of satin edged with blonde. The hair is dressed in Grecian plaits, with a marguerite on each side, and one rising from behind the comb; the jewellery should be gold or pink topaz. White satin gloves and shoes.

No. 4.
A dress of oiseau de paradis satin, the corsage is drapé across the bust, with a stomacher in front, edged with narrow blonde delicately quilled; the sleeves are short, and fall in very full bouffants over a double ruche of quilling which confines it to the arm; just above it. in the middle, is placed a bow of satin ribbon, with long ends. A blonde chemisette shades the bust.

The skirt set on in deep double plaits, en colonnes, and is finished by a superb flounce of blonde, headed by a row of triangular fan-like ornaments, edged with quilling.

The hair is dressed plain in front, with a full spreading coque on the crown of the head, behind which is placed a plume of white feathers; one, the longest, is brought more in front, so as to fall over the right temple. Necklace, sévigné, and aigrette of pearls and emeralds. Shoes and gloves of white satin.
From The Royal lady's magazine, and archives of the court of St. James's, 1832.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Fashions for November 1832—for Day

Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Loretta reports:

Most of the historical fashion I post here comes from Ackermann’s Repository or La Belle Assemblée.  These are from The Royal Lady’s Magazine,  which contains some fine fashion prints for the 1830s.  Since they showed four dresses for November, I’m posting two today (day dress) and two tomorrow (evening dress). 

Today I’ve included their note regarding the illustrations, which I found extremely intriguing.  Have any of you ever seen any of these paper models?

FOR 1832.—No. XI.

Our Fashionable Readers should know, that the drawings of the fashions are made from beautifully-formed paper models, which may be seen and purchased—as, for the purposes of the Magazine, they are useless after the copies are published.

This portion of the Magazine being completely detached, and paged for binding, alone, may be had separately, at One Shilling per number, generally with three or five figures or dresses, entirely new and English inventions.


No. l.
Pelisse of arbre de Judée, gros des Indes; the corsage is made high, plain, and covered by a double cape, broad on the shoulders, each cape is edged with a band of satin, of the same colour as the dress; plaited or crimped into minute folds, and edged with cording. Another and similar band heads the hem of the skirt, which is fastened down in front, by bows of satin ribbon; hat of green velours épingle, trimmed with satin ribbons, and a plume of elegant white feathers; bottines of kid.

No. 2.
A dress of bleu Adélaide merino, trimmed with rouleaux, high corsage, and plain, full Amadis sleeve, collar of beautifully embroidered net or muslin ; amber-coloured Cachemire shawl, with a rich double border, of a delicate pattern on a white ground. Hat of white moiré, ornamented with a bunch of laburnum, and tied with white figured ribbon; a deep blonde curtain surrounds the brim, which is also trimmed inside with a blonde ruche.
From The Royal lady's magazine and archives of the court of St. James's, 1832.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Random Pictures: An 18th c. Autumn Day in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010

More Jane Austen: The Price of Drab Boards, Wedgewood, & Posthumous Fame

Monday, November 1, 2010
"A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of."
        – Mansfield Park
          Jane Austen, 1814

Recently we posted about an important auction of first editions by Jane Austen, all the more remarkable (and apparently collectible) for being still fresh from the bookseller, with pages uncut and in drab boards. That sale took place at Sotheby's last Friday, and thanks to reader Michael Robinson, we can now report that the three humble volumes sold for 139,250 GBP (that's $221,380): surely an excellent "recipe for happiness" for the seller.

If you were so unfortunate as to have missed this auction, take heart: there's another coming up, again at Sotheby's, and on the anniversary of Jane Austen's birth (16 December). Included in the sale will be not only a copy of Emma that was originally presented to Maria Edgeworth, but also the set of Wedgewood china, right, purchased by Jane's brother Edward Knight and his daughter Fanny.

Jane herself was along for this shopping junket, and described the new china in a letter to Cassandra Austen, dated 16 September 1813: "We then went to Wedgewoods where my brother and Fanny chose a Dinner Set; I believe the pattern is a small Lozenge in purple, between Lines of narrow Gold; - and it is to have the Crest." (For more about Jane and Wedgewood, see this excellent post by Julie Wakefield on one of our favorite Jane Austen blogs, austenonly.) Perhaps Santa might bid for you?

Of course as grand as such sales may be, they pale in comparison to all the movies, spin-off books, action figures, and who-knows-what-else that has helped make Jane Austen into one of the biggest marketing "brands" in the world today, generating millions of dollars in income for lots of people who are not named Austen. To the country spinster whose entire writing income during her short life is generally estimated to have been around £700, this would likely have been incomprehensible – and more than a little unfair.

But a recent book does quite a good job in explaining the phenomenon. Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World by Claire Harman is a fascinating and readable exploration of Jane-mania, in all its curious
manifestations, and a study of why her books continue to hold such favor with readers. But Ms. Harman also examines the "dark side" of such fame: how Austen's name now bears "such a weight of signification as to mean almost nothing at all....To many people, Pride and Prejudice, and even 'Jane Austen', simply evoke the actor Colin Firth in a wet shirt."

Well, not to us, and probably not to you reading this blog, either. But Jane's Fame is well worth a glance or two, if only to make you think again about why you love the originals.

(I obtained and read this book the old-fashioned way - from a bookstore - so no disclaimers are necessary.)
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