Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Prowling London at Midnight

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Loretta reports:

“Of all the bucks in this buckish age,” The English Spy declares, “your London buck is the only true fellow of spirit; with him life never begins too early, or finishes too late.”

This is a very short excerpt from four London gentlemen’s nightlong journey.  After hanging out with the racing fraternity, they’re working their way down to ever sleazier establishments.  The authorities busted the last one, and our boys had a narrow escape.  Nothing daunted, they continue their lark.
Illustration by Robert Cruikshank
There is something very romantic in prowling the streets of the metropolis at midnight, in quest of adventure; at least, so my companions insisted, and I had embarked too deeply in the night's debauch to moralize upon its consequences. . .

"There is yet, however, one more place worthy of notice," said Crony; "not for any amusement we shall derive from its frequenters, but, simply, that it is the most notorious place in London." Thither it was agreed we should adjourn; for Crony's description  . . . was quite sufficient to produce excitement in the young and ardent minds by which he was then surrounded. I shall not pollute this work by a repetition of the circumstances connected with this place, as detailed by old Crony, lest humanity should start back with horror and disgust at the bare mention, and charity endeavour to throw discredit on the true, but black recital. The specious pretence of selling shell-fish and oysters is a mere trap for the inexperienced, as every description of expensive wines, liqueurs, coffee, and costly suppers are in more general request, and the wanton extravagance exhibited within its vortex is enough to strike the uninitiated and the moralist with the most appalling sentiments of horror and dismay. Yet within this saloon (see plate) did we enter, at four o'clock in the morning, to view the depravity of human nature, and watch the operation of licentiousness upon the young and thoughtless.

A Newgate turnkey would, no doubt, recognize many old acquaintances; in the special hope of which, Bob Transit has faithfully delineated some of the most conspicuous characters, as they appeared on that occasion, lending their hearty assistance in the general scene of maddening uproar. It was past five o'clock in the morning ere we quitted this den of dreadful depravity, heartily tired out by the night's adventures, yet solacing ourselves with the reflection that we had seen much and suffered little either in respect to our purses or our persons.
The English Spy, Part 2, 1825

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Strong nerves, strong legs, strong language": Women on Bicycles, 1890

Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Susan reporting:

In the 1890s, more and more women began to ride bicycles, both for exercise, convenience, and independence. As can be imagined, this horrified a good many people, who saw women on wheels as a dangerous threat to families, morals, health, and, of course, the fair, delicate flower of womanhood.

We expect to see women cyclists defended by Susan B. Anthony (who famously wrote that bicycling "has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.") But the English novelist John Galsworthy (1867-1933)? The Nobel Prize-winning author of The Forsyte Saga evidently had his own strong feelings about women on bicycles – at least if we are to believe this passage from his novel, On Forsyte 'Change, taking place in 1890:

"Such historians as record the tides of social manners and morals, have neglected the bicycle. Yet would it be difficult to deny that this 'invention of the devil'...has been responsible for more movement in manners and morals than anything since Charles the Second. At its bone-shaking inception innocent, because...[it was] only dangerous to the lives and limbs of the male sex, it began to be a dissolvent of the most powerful type when accessible to the fair in its present form. Under its influence, wholly or in part, have wilted chaperons, long and narrow skirts, tight corsets, hair that would come down, black stockings, thick ankles, large hats, prudery and fear of the dark; under its influence, wholly or in part, have bloomed week-ends, strong nerves, strong legs, strong language, knickers, knowledge of make and shape, knowledge of woods and pastures, equality of sex, good digestion and professional occupation – in four words, the emancipation of woman."

Of course, this passage exists to fly in the florid face of Swithin 'Four-in-hand' Forsyte, an aged bachelor who promptly writes his very modern niece out of his will after he sees her astride a bicycle. While young Euphemia may have looked as entirely proper as the young lady, above, it's more likely the scandalized Swithin saw her more like the contemporary out-of-control women (with monocles!) in the satirical cartoon, right.

Above: Julia Blaess Klager, Michigan Bicyclist (detail), 1890s, photograph from Studio of Susan T. Cook, Ann Arbor, MI. See here for more information.
Below: Velocipeding, drawing from the cover of The Ferret, A Weekly Literary, Satirical, & Theatrical Journal of the Age, March 1870, London.

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Sunday in Hyde Park in 1823

Monday, February 27, 2012
Loretta reports:

The Countess of Blessington describes Hyde Park on a Sunday in the early 1820s. While the entire piece is well worth reading, I excerpted these bits mainly because of the mention of dressmakers (the heroines of my current series).
Having devoted so much of my attention to the Drive and equestrians, I now turned some portion of it to the pedestrians, and here I was no less amused. Amidst the crowd, I distinguished some of the legislators of our land lounging along, carelessly nodding to each other, and casting enquiring glances at every youthful female face, and every well turned ankle.

 . . .Milliners, dress-makers, and their pretty piquante looking apprentices, the two former in the newest and most expensive fashion, and the latter in an economical but fanciful abridgment of it, are here enjoying their day of rest, by promenading up and down this crowded walk from three till half-past six, displaying their pretty faces and smart dresses, to the envy of their rival female friends, and to the admiration of men of fashion, and ogling Dandies of every class.

A few women of fashion may be occasionally seen in this walk; but, as if ashamed of its vulgarity, they generally adopt the incognito of a large bonnet and veil, and carefully avoid recognizing their male acquaintance, who are too often seen escorting ladies whose reputations are not so fair as their faces sometimes are, and who walk the streets on week days, and the Park on Sundays. . .

Disgusted with this melange, and wishing to enjoy a little quiet and fresh air, I crossed the Park, and walked along the retired part, known by the appellation of the Lovers' Walk. Here, thought I, I am at last escaped from that motley crowd; once more I breathe a pure atmosphere, untainted by the breath of vanity and folly, and free from the overpowering mingled gales of Otto of Rose, Odour of Jessamine, Eau de Portugal, and Huile Antique.
— Marguerite, Countess of Blessington, The Magic Lantern; or, Sketches of Scenes in the Metropolis, 1823

Illustrations: Thomas Lawrence, Portrait of the Countess of Blessington, from Wikipedia (original in the Wallace Collection).
Sunday in Hyde Park, from Old and New London, 1880

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of February 20, 2012

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Served up fresh: our weekly offering of Breakfast Links! Our favorite links to other blogs, web sites, pictures, and articles, collected for you from around the Twitterverse:
• To catch a thief – self-help against highwaymen:
F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1923 earnings. His advance for The Great Gatsby is at the bottom:
• Laura Bassi, 18th c woman who succeeded in a man's world: physics.
• Which meal of Marie Antoinette's would you be willing to eat?
• Mermaid furniture: Social associations of the different styles used in the interiors at Kedleston Hall:
• Poets & Pugilists: Byron & his fellow Romantics' love affair with bare-knuckle boxing
• “When the Pancake Bell rings, we are free” – Elizabethan snippets on Pancake Day. Recipes included!
• Metropolitan Museum of Art opened to the public for the first time 140 years ago this week. Learn more:
• In honor of Presidents' Day: The Tale of the Wandering Washington
• What were a young French woman's options "Without a Dowry" in Paris, 1883?:
• Wonderful postcard/photo archive: Miss Ripley's WW1 nurse album (a bit of written history)
• Menu of final lunch on Titanic to sell for £100,000 at auction
• Hilarious, esp if true: The 'Cork Rump' as life preserver, 1770:
• Washington Pie, thrifty dessert of left-overs, served in 19th c Wash DC bakeshops & boarding houses:
• Peek-a-book painting of 16th c Venetians canoodling in a gondola:
• So many are so young! Sleeping soldiers from WWI-Vietnam:
Average writer day: (at least according to John Galsworthy) "Trying not to fall asleep in chairs.....1/2 hour"
• William Craig Marshall's Itinerant Traders 1804:
• The Potocki palaces, magnificent homes to Polish nobility:
• A 12th c church in Elkstone, Gloucestershire with its own pigeon loft in the tower:
• The food-myth of George I as the "Pudding King":
• Love the recreation of candlelit dining at Attington Park: Regency Banqueting Splendour:

Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday Video: Edwardian Fundraising Takes to the Streets, 1912

Friday, February 24, 2012

Susan reporting:

This brief silent film will be a special treat to all of you who've recently "discovered" the Edwardian era through Downton Abbey. Alexandra Rose Day was created in 1912 to mark the 50th anniversary of the arrival to England of Princess Alexandra of Denmark to marry the future King Edward VII. Much like last year's royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, this 1863 wedding was a national celebration that helped make Alexandra into a much-admired figure. Fifty years later, as a widow and dowager queen, she chose to commemorate the anniversary not with a grand, costly procession, but with a fundraising drive to benefit the poor and needy. Artificial roses, made by the disabled, were offered and sold by women volunteers in the London streets. The event was an enormous success, raising the modern equivalent of £2 million for the city's hospitals. The event continues today; click here for more information.

This film clip follows a group of those first volunteers into the streets of the Peckham district of London in 1912, and it's clear that the public is enchanted by these mostly-young ladies dressed in white with their baskets of roses. The quality of the clip is amazingly good, offering a glimpse not only of Edwardian dress (oh, those hats!), but also transportation, shops, and street-life. I was also struck by how good-natured everyone seems to be on this day, smiling and laughing at the camera and with the volunteers. Watching this, it's hard to believe that the devastating nightmare of the First World War is only two years away.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fashions for February 1828

Thursday, February 23, 2012
Loretta reports:

You might want to take another look at the fashions I showed earlier in the month to compare & contrast.  Thirteen years later, we might as well be on a different planet.  And, of course, there’s the hair . . .


A Dress of pink satin, trimmed with a broad puckering of tulle, or gauze, round the border of the skirt; on which are laid pink satin leaves, edged round with a narrow black rouleau. Body made plain, and low; round the tucker part of the dress is a row of Spanish points, edged with a quilling of white blond, or tulle. Head-dress formed of long puffs of gauze of saffron-colour, and white gossamer aigrettes. Ear-rings and necklace of pearls, the latter elegantly set in delicate festoons; and in front of the hair is a superb jewellery ornament, in the diadem style, consisting of large pearls, surrounded by filagree, and finely-wrought gold.

A Dress of painted Indian taffety, with a full broad fluting of white tulle at the border, crossed over in treillage work, by rouleaux of white satin, edged on one side with blue and yellow satin, narrower rouleaux; one, very broad, and wadded, conceals the hem next the shoe. The body is à la Circassienne; and where the drapery across the bust is partially left open, before it wraps over, is a chemisette tucker of Japanese gauze, edged with narrow blond. The sleeves are short, and very full; rather confined in the middle by a row of diamonds, the same as those formed by the treillage work on the fluted border. The hair is arranged in full curls on each side the face, with a bow on the summit formed of three puffs of hair, which are very highly elevated. At the base of this bow, is a coronet ornament of white and gold enamel. The ear-pendants are à I'antique, en girandoles; and are composed of three drops in rubies: the necklace is formed of three rows of pearls and rubies intermingled, with three valuable drop-rubies in the centre. Bracelets of dark hair, and cameos, worn over the gloves.
La Belle Assemblée, 1828

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Hat for Keeping Out the Sun, c. 1780

Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Susan reporting:

English ladies in the second half of the 18th c. loved their extravagant hats, especially when combined with extravagant hair (such as Daughter Ann wore in these prints here and here.) By 1780, the most fashionable hats had such low crowns as to have been little more than large brims – all the better to pile on the ribbons and plumes. As impractical as these hats may seem to us, they could act as a kind of sun-visor.

Here Amber Mendenhall, left, an intern in the Margaret Hunter shop in Colonial Williamsburg, wears one such fashionable hat. The hat is woven straw, covered with pleated white silk gauze and green striped silk ribbons. Worn low over the face, the wide brim would shade the face, and offer a certain amount of protection from the sun.
But this hat offers double protection: the underside of the brim is lined in black silk. (The photograph, right, shows the hat in progress, with the black lining pinned in place.) The black silk would have absorbed reflected sunlight, further protecting a lady's delicate complexion. While this might not have been much of an issue in England, the transplanted ladies living in the southern American colonies or on a Caribbean island would have definitely appreciated this added feature, and 18th c. advertisements show that such hats were in fact sold and worn in Jamaica.

Of course, every fashion could go to extremes – at least the way the 18th caricaturists show it. This lady, left, out for a stroll in Bath with her tiny dog under one arm and a book in her hand, seems ready to protect herself from the sun with a hat as large as a modern beach-umbrella. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

Lower left: A lodging house lady of Bath (detail), published by MDarly, London, 1777. Copyright Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
Photographs copyright Susan Holloway Scott

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Sufferings of Mary Rowlandson's Narrative

Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Title page from University of Pennsylvania Library
Loretta reports:

Growing up in Massachusetts, I heard at an early age stories of Mary Rowlandson and others captured by “the Indians.”  We lived quite close to a stone tower commemorating the capture & escape—thanks to a woman—of a young boy.

Google Books offers several editions of Mary Rowlandson’s Narrative. Here's a little background, from the 1828 edition:   “‘In 1643,’ . . . Sholan, an Indian of mild and pacific character, was sachem of the Nashaway tribe, who lived chiefly in what are now the towns of Lancaster and Sterling. Sholan . . . recommended this valley to Thomas King as a favourable spot for a plantation. The same year King united with John Prescott, Harmon Garrett, Thomas Skidmore, Stephen Day, (the father of American typography) Mr. Symonds, and others, and purchased a tract of land ten miles in length and eight in breadth; covenanting not to molest the Indians in their hunting, fishing, or planting places.”

Relations continued peaceable for many years.  Then”Shoshanim became chief sachem of the tribe . . . For some cause he felt hostile to the English,” and in 1676,* his tribe attacked & destroyed the town, and made off with Mrs. Rowlandson.

The news today was that a New England historian, Mr. Warren Rasmussen, has produced an updated, corrected edition of the narrative.  That was interesting—but not as much as what he revealed about the conditions under which the original book was printed.

“The book was printed at the Cambridge Press, the only press in the United States at the time, he said, meaning it had a limited amount of type, which quickly got depleted.

“‘First, they ran out of periods, so they substituted them with colons. Then they ran out of those and they used semicolons. They also ran out of capital I’s so they used lower case ‘i’ and when they ran out of that, they used lower case ‘j.’”

Who knew?  Not I, certainly.  It sounds like something from a Monty Python skit.

You can read the full news article here.

*new (Georgian)calendar

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Flying Footman, "all air like a Mercury," c 1770

Sunday, February 19, 2012
Susan reporting:

The local high school's spring sports teams must have begun training, because straggling packs of teenagers are to be seen each afternoon running along the sides of the roads. All of which reminds me of a specialized kind of footman that was once considered indispensable: the running footman.

Chosen for their endurance as well as their speed, running footmen served several purposes. On journeys, the running footman ran ahead of his master's coach to announce his arrival at inns or other houses. In a time when bad roads were a part of all travel, he could run forward and return with reports on conditions ahead. He could be sent to carry important messages or packages, or to summon a physician in an emergency. For some masters, the running footman was also considered a status-symbol for sport, and like a prized thoroughbred horse or dog, and raced against other footmen with hefty wagers on the outcome.

As a combination long-distance runner and bike-messenger, running footmen could be fast indeed, with the best ones recorded as covering seven miles in an hour, and capable of running sixty miles in a day – although, like horses, no one expected them to do this day after day. Costume and livery varied, but a long staff in the hand was a constant, used as a symbolic mark of the position, as a pole to help leap over brooks, and as a weapon to fend off dogs. It also could carry refreshment. The decorative, silver-headed top of the staff often had a small compartment for wine, or, in some cases, to carry a hard-boiled egg.

As roads improved in the 19th c., running footmen gradually disappeared – though they do live on in the names of several famous English pubs and taverns. (The illustration, above, comes from a pub sign, which explains why the footman appears to be running through a vineyard!) The following comes from the Recollections of Irish actor and dramatist John O'Keeffe (1747-1833), published in 1826:

[My Lord's running footman] I have often seen skimming or flying across the road; one of them I particularly remember; his dress, a white jacket, blue silk sash round his waist, light black-velvet cap, with a silver tassel on the crown, round his neck a frill with a ribbon, and in his hand a staff about seven feet high with a silver top. He looked so agile, and seemed all air like a Mercury: he never minded the roads, but took the shortest cut, and by the help of his pole absolutely seemed to fly over hedge, ditch and small river. His use was to carry a letter, message, or despatch; or, on a journey, to run before and prepare the inn, or baiting-place, for his family or master, who came the regular road in coach and two, or coach and four, or coach and six: his qualifications were fidelity, strength, and agility.

For more about running footmen, see one of our favorite on-line resources, Chambers' Book of Days.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of February 13, 2012

Saturday, February 18, 2012
Served up fresh: our weekly offering of Breakfast Links! Our favorite links to other blogs, web sites, pictures, and articles, collected for you from around the Twitterverse.
A Day in the Life of a Wartime Housewife, 1941:
• Is this really a long-forgotten photograph of the Bronte sisters?
• A slice of the world's grandest hotel in 1853 survives on Broadway.
• George Washington, international example of cocky, callow youth, and how he grew up:
• Imagine making a dramatic entrance wearing this 1927 coat from the House of Lanvin:; Now imagine revealing this stunning ca. 1924 Lanvin dress:
• Hand-Written Love Letters from Famous People: Henry VIII To Michael Jordan
• 18th c bad girl & actress Mrs Wilson (c1752-1787)
• Wonderful story of Emma Riley Macon, teenager caught in middle of American Civil War:
• Obsolete endearments for old-fashioned romantics, from ‘pigsney’ to ‘flitter-mouse’.
• Trayne Roste - Making a 15th c English Spit Cake over an open fire (with video) :
• Kingston Lacy, the beautiful, poignant house created by William Bankes:
• Death at Carlton House: The Sorry Tale of a Footman's Suicide
• Romantic ideals and sexual desire in the Middle Ages:
• "A private society that publicized the secrecy of their activities" aka the infamous 18th c Hellfire Club:
• England's lost Downtons: How endless homes have ended up as bypasses, office blocks & golf courses
• Esther Howland (1828–1904) first to publish & sell Valentine cards in the US
• Historical wedding shoes – slide-show from the Bata Shoe Museum:
• Diamond flaming hearts sparkle in the Manchester Tiara, made by Cartier in 1903
• General Grant in Love and War
• A list of things to be cut from movies in 1927, pre-MPAA (e.g. the word "Gawd")
• Do not yawn or gnaw at anything! Museum etiquette from Catherine the Great:
• Cats' meat & green hastens: William Marshall Craig’s Itinerant Traders, 1805:
• Charming 17th c Swarkestone Pavilion, restored:; before restoration, used as a backdrop for Rolling Stones album cover:; finally, recreated (sort of) in Las Vegas:

Friday, February 17, 2012

Beau Brummell in motion

Friday, February 17, 2012
Loretta reports:

Since it's so much harder to find fashion plates for early 19th century men’s clothing than for women’s, we tend to rely more upon painted portraits.

But these have limitations, some artists being less interested in fashion detail than in, oh, art.

But the best way, I believe, to understand the sexy elegance of the era is to see real clothes on real men.

Of course, we all know that Brummell was the leader, rather than a follower.  Still, the Kinks' song works.  The clips are from the movie Beau Brummell: This Charming Man, very loosely based on Ian Kelly’s wonderful biography, Beau Brummell:  The Ultimate Man of Style.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see only a black rectangle or empty square where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on this link to the  Two Nerdy History Girls blog.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Lady and Her Favorite, ahem, Footman, 1778

Thursday, February 16, 2012
Susan reporting:

Since I'm currently working on a new series of novels set in England the 1760s (more about those soon, I promise), I've been looking at many of the wonderful prints of the Georgian era for inspiration. Prints were popular in 18th c England, a relatively inexpensive piece of art that could be pious, political, patriotic, educational, amusing, or outrageously bawdy.

Last month I shared the "My Daughter Ann" and "My Son Tom" prints, and the print, left, is another I especially enjoy. The Favourite Footman, or Miss well Mounted is based on a painting by John Collet (1725-1780), an artist known for his genre low-life subjects. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Collet's works are often filled with amorous ladies and gentlemen, sly servants, and double-entendres galore. The Favourite Footman is no exception. The title sets the scene: an expensively dressed young lady is out riding with her footman as an escort. Footmen were often chosen for their height and handsome faces, and having good-looking footmen in well-fitting livery was as important as having a matched team of spirited horses to draw one's carriage. This footman in his spurs is clearly a "Favourite," since he's been given the honor of helping the lady onto her horse, with the dog there to represent his loyalty.

But exactly how many other favors has the lady granted? She's certainly giving him an extensive view of her leg (remember, 18th c. women's clothing usually did not include under-drawers), and their pose and expressions imply intimacy.Their horses echo their interest, too, with her mare's tail suggestively raised for his stallion. And if anyone seeing the print missed all these broad hints about what  was going on, the second half of the title – Miss well Mounted – doesn't leave much doubt.

There's an extra level of subversive amusement in the print that 18th c viewers would have understood. The woman is in charge because of her wealth and social status, while he, as her servant, must obey her orders – a topsy-turvy arrangement that would have been seen in the 18th c as going against the "natural" order of males in control. But equally unnatural would be the notion of an upper-class woman, proud of her station, debasing herself with a servant of a much lower social class – even if, like this lady, she's ready to guide him with her tasseled whip.

Of course, there's always the possibility that the "miss" is the mistress of a wealthy man – which means she's giving away to her footman what her protector is paying for. Take note, Fanny Hill.

One more note about this print: Collet was an excellent chronicler of clothes. You might have recognized the lady's riding habit, recently recreated here, by Colonial Williamsburg tailor Mark Hutter.

Above: The Favourite Footman, or Miss well Mounted, after John Collet, 1778, published by Sayer & Bennett, London. The British Museum; © Trustees of the British Museum.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How to subscribe to the Minerva Library in 1807

Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Loretta reports:

Nerdy History people can learn a lot from the advertisements in early 19th century women's magazines.  Unfortunately, while the magazines are easy enough to find online, only a few contain the advertising pages.

This one came from one of those rare copies, the 1807 La Belle Assemblée.

Was this expensive?  For some, prohibitively so.  To give an idea of the subscription costs:

First, a little background.
Before decimalization—
£1 = 20 shillings
1 guinea = 21 shillings

 Using one system of valuation, £1 comes to about £70 in today's money  (or about $110).

Looking at value in terms of wages:  The highest paid servant in a household, according to The Complete Servant, was "A French Man-Cook." For this position, the authors recommend a salary of 80 guineas (£84) a year.  At the other end of the scale, one of the lowest paid in the household, a nursery maid, got 7 guineas/year.  And this was in 1825, when wages had risen quite a bit.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Father Warns Against the "Depravity" of Valentines, 1805

Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Susan reporting:

Like a modern father ever-vigilant against the wrong sort of texting, this early 19th c gentleman takes matters – literally – into his hands regarding Valentines sent to his daughter and her friend. Since I doubt teenaged daughters or their admirers have changed that much in 250 years, I can easily imagine the howls of outrage that followed his actions, too. And don't you wish you knew exactly what "depravity" these Valentines contained? Depravity being highly objective, they might have simply been like the ones mentioned yesterday by Loretta, or they could have been...well, use your imagination! This letter of cautionary advice was written by W. Chamberlaine, and appeared in The Gentleman's Magazine, London, 1805.

   "As the 14th of [this] month is a day anxiously looked for by the youth of both sexes, in the expectation of exercising their ingenuity in forming those amorous billets denominated "valentines," I beg leave, through the channel of your Magazine, to offer a few suggestions to parents and guardians on the subject of these productions.
   "As my family were sitting at breakfast, the two-penny-post-man brought in five letters. Three of these were directed to the young ladies; the other two were on business, to myself. My eldest daughter who never receives any letter which she would wish to conceal from her parents, finding that her billet contained what appeared to be Poetry, began to read it to us; but she fortunately had not gone beyond the second line, when I recollected (from having heard of them in my boyish days) what the sequel was; and, snatching, as quick as lightning, the abominable Valentine from her hands before she could possibly arrive at the meaning, threw it upon the fire, congratulating my daughter on having escaped reading the most horrid obscenity that depravity could invent.
   "A young lady, an inmate in my house, over whom I had not the same authority as over my own daughter, had by this time opened her packet of painted trumpery; and began to read the verses aloud. No sooner heard I the first line than I knew it to contain ribaldry more shockingly indecent, if possible than the former; I therefore made free to snatch that one also out of the reader's hand, assuring my young friend that, if she had gone to the end of it, she never could again have looked at me, or either of the young gentlemen who were then sitting at the table with us, in the face.
   "The third was then handed to me by my youngest daughter unopened. This was also a Valentine, but contained only a few innocent lines...."

Above: [The reader tickled by Cupid], London? c. 1800?, copyright Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's Day in the early 19th century

Monday, February 13, 2012
From Cupid's Annual Charter
Loretta reports:

Mid February has been associated with some sort of mating ritual, going back, apparently, to ancient times.  By the early 19th century, Valentine’s Day was well established as a day for romance or at least romantic hopes.

According to Hone’s Every-day Book, (1826), “Two hundred thousand letters beyond the usual daily average, annually pass through the twopenny post-office in London on St. Valentine's Day.”

The February 14 entry continues, quoting Charles Lamb:   " In other words, this is the day on which those charming little missives, ycleped Valentines, cross and intercross each other at every street and turning. The weary and all for-spent twopenny postman sinks beneath a load of delicate embarrassments, not his own. It is scarcely credible to what an extent this ephemeral courtship is carried on in this loving town, to the great detriment of knockers and bell-wires.”

You'll find a good deal more about Valentine's Day in Hone, including a large dose of poetry.

Cupid's Annual Charter; or, St. Valentine's Festival (1815), contains poetry for every possible state of mind and recipient, including valentines to misers and prudes.

Here’s a sample from its many offerings:
You are not handsome it is true,
From The Sentiment of Flowers
Yet you’ve many charms for me,
Believe me that my vows to you,
Is from deceitful falsehood free.
Tis not the feature of a face
I seek for in my future wife
Ah no! for other charms I seek
To sweeten my domestic life.
Say then my fair will you be mine,
And wed your faithful Valentine.

Other charms I have 'tis plain,
You are a fortune hunting swain;
And for better, and for worse,
You'd have me for to hold my purse;
But this fine scheme it will not take,
You shall not cause my heart to ache;
My person's plain full well I know,
But you'd no need to tell me so;
So my ill manner'd Valentine.
Your sordid offer I decline.

The poetry might inspire you to create your own card.

The less verbal might decide to say it with flowers.  In that case, I recommend you first consult The Sentiment of Flowers: or, Language of Flora, (1840).  Clematis or madder, for instance, would not be the best choices.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of February 6, 2012

Saturday, February 11, 2012
Served up fresh: our weekly offering of Breakfast Links! Our favorite links to other blogs, web sites, pictures, and articles, collected for your from around the Twitterverse.
"How to Look Amorously" print of 1790. All men should adopt this attitude on Valentine's Day.
Leap Year's Most Eligible Batchlors, 1888: &
Very cool feature on the National Galleries of Scotland site: Tour Scotland with our cross the country feature:
• Story of Revolutionary War redcoat and the wife he left behind:
• George IV's Coronation Gown
• Scourers, the 18th c dry cleaners for woolen wear:
• The Sad Story of Two Grisettes in Paris, 1854:
• Vinegar Valentines: for the one you love to hate?
• Sayyida al Hurra, Islamic pirate queen:
• Unknown No Longer: A Database of Virginia Slave Names:
• Not for the shy society lady: 1887 Evening Ensemble by Charles Frederick Worth:
• First page of Dickens' Great Expectations. Heartening number of cross-outs:
• Highclere Castle aka Downton Abbey - including rare early 1860s photo
Delman satin and rhinestone evening shoes made especially for Marlene Dietrich.
• Reward of $1000 for lost pudding decree:
• Oops. Viking axe turns out to be 18th c. woodworking tool:
• The actress behind the Rolls-Royce 'Spirit of Ecstasy' & other women who inspired famous emblems:
• Lecturer uncovers previously unknown documents with inside story of Henry VIII’s first divorce
• Did you know that ticker tape was invented in 1867? History of NYC ticker tape parades!
• Mary, Queen of Scots was beheaded this week in 1587. Just hours before, she wrote this letter:
• "Coffee Tale" about love between a Japanese Mandarin & her courtesan -
• Is it possible to shake both JQ Adams and JFK's hands in one lifetime?
• The Etiquette of Bowing
• "I shall always be near you." A beautiful, heartbreaking letter from a Civil War soldier to his wife in 1861:

Friday, February 10, 2012

Valentine Video: The Addams Family Dances

Friday, February 10, 2012
Loretta reports:

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I present one of my favorite romantic couples.  It would have been great if the holiday fell on Video Friday instead of inconveniently next Tuesday.  But then you have an excuse to watch it again.


Readers who receive our blog via email might see only a black rectangle where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on this link to the  Two Nerdy History Girls blog.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Footman

Thursday, February 9, 2012
Loretta reports:

I suspect the reality of the footman’s life lies somewhere between this satirical and rather cruel portrait and the job description in The Complete Servant—with the latter approaching nearer the truth.
... notwithstanding the stately gait with which he moves—staff in hand after his lady— notwithstanding his gold laced hat his gold or silver epaulets, his plush inexpressibles, his silk stockings, and well polished shoes . . . the cruel world regards him . . . with risible contempt . . .

 My lord duke of “below stairs” seems to be aware of this . . . When behind the coach, he rolls from side to side with consequential dignity, and keeps dancing upon his toes, to shew, as it were, the elasticity of his muscles.  In pedestrian attendance upon those whose bread he eats, he throws back his body even something beyond the perpendicular, and measures his steps with exactness and deliberation.  Every muscle of his face is composed, his eye never wanders, until his lady enters the confectioner's and haberdasher's shops; then “John” relaxes the rigidity of his attitude, leans forward upon his staff of office, and if happy enough to encounter his shadow in fine clothes, luxuriates with mincing accents, in anecdotes of the kitchen.  Perhaps some public house door stands invitingly open; if so he looks cautiously about him, and seeing the lady busy cheapening shawls, slips in for a moment, and returns with a complexion improved by the internal application of “blue ruin.”  The footman, however, is a person of some consequence; he does the honours of the hall, converses with noblemen, drinks with stable-keepers and dog-fanciers, and, if Swift was not much astray, prevents the physical decay of noble families.  There is always a smile upon his lip when in the presence of his superiors; and never refuses the doing of a kindness—when paid for it.

This, however, is only the description of the class; there are many individual exceptions; and there are few families who cannot boast of faithful servants.  In general, however, they furnish nothing but food for the writers of comedy, and subjects for the painter; Mr George Cruiksbank has left the lovers of pictoral accuracy nothing more to desire in this respect.
—George & Robert Cruikshank, The Gentleman's Pocket Magazine, 1827
More on footmen here & here.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Porcelain Cat with an Unexpected Purpose, c 1830-50

Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Susan reporting:

When it comes to utilitarian items for hygiene, "form follows function" is the dictate for modern designers, with sleek, unadorned (and often sterile) results.

But it hasn't always been that way. In the past, washbowls, chamberpots, and bourdeloues were often highly decorative pieces of porcelain and earthenware. (Occasionally they're highly amusing, too, such as this infamous chamberpot c 1805 with Napoleon in the bottom, from the Royal Pavilion & Museum, Brighton.)

The attractiveness of these pieces can obscure their original use to modern eyes. When this blog post first appeared, featuring a pair of elegant bourdeloues – one is even decorated with a Lieutenant's gilded coat of arms – many readers admitted that they'd thought they were serving pieces for some genteel dining table, instead of meant for a more private purpose.

This wild-eyed porcelain cat, above, is another example. Made in Jingdezhen, China, in 1830-50 for the Western export trade, the cat's fiercely amusing expression must have made it a favorite household piece, regardless of its use. And what was that? With the head removed and the tail serving as a handle, the cat becomes a urinal.

Above: Urinal in the figure of a cat, maker unknown, Jingdezhen, China, 1830-50, Hard-paste porcelain, Gift of Miss Gertrude Brinckle & Miss Gertrude Rodney, Winterthur Museum

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fashions for February 1815

Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Loretta reports:

This online copy of Ackermann’s Repository for 1815 provided one black & white and one color plate of the fashions for the month.  This is your opportunity to color your own fashion plate.

A Round robe of fine Cambric jaconot muslin, fastened down the front with cotton ball tassels; a flounce of lace or needle-work at the feet, appliqued with a narrow border of embroidery; long full sleeve, confined at the hand with needle-work or French embroidery; a falling collar and cape, trimmed with blond lace; full back, drawn to the shape. A French mob cap, composed of white satin and blond lace, tied under the chin with celestial blue satin ribband, and ornamented with a wreath of flowers. Necklace and cross of satin bead or pearl. Slippers of blue kid. Gloves of Limerick or York tan.

Pale pink or primrose-coloured crape petticoat over white satin, ornamented at the feet with a deep border of tull, trimmed with blond lace and pink, or primrose-coloured ribband, festooned and decorated with roses; short full sleeve, composed of tull and crape, with a border of French embroidery; the back drawn nearly to a point, corresponding to the cape front of the dress, and trimmed round with blond lace; the waist very short, and an easy fulness in the petticoat, carried entirelv round. Necklace and drop of pearl; ear-drops and bracelets to correspond. Hair in irregular curls, confined in the Eastern style, and blended with flowers. French scarf, fancifully disposed on the figure. Slippers of pink or primrose-coloured kid; gloves to correspond.

 For the fashions for this month we are indebted to the tasteful and elegant designs of Mrs. Bean, of Albemarle-street.
—Rudolph Ackermann, The Repository of arts, literature, commerce, manufactures, fashions and politics, 1815

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Tom Fool Fashion, c 1829

Sunday, February 5, 2012
Susan reporting:

There's an interesting discussion among people who study and preserve clothing from the past: should it be called "costume"? Costume has a certain masquerade feel to it, and to modern American ears, an "early 19th c sailor's costume" is always going to sound more like something from Halloween Adventure than Nelson's navy. On the other hand, who's going to argue with the Metropolitan Museum of Art's esteemed Costume Institute?

But there's absolutely no question that the clothing, left, is A Costume. (Click on the image to enlarge it for details.) The accompanying caption explains its purpose:

"In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, British mummers dressed in fantastic modes to perform plays and dances at annual festivals, especially around Christmas. The antic revelry and gentle mischief-making of the clowns, or Toms, encouraged donations from amused spectators and gave working-class men the chance to act out. This mummer's costume is covered with playful appliques including devils carrying pitchforks and, on the back of the hat, the date and initials TF – probably signifying Tom Fool."

This costume takes minimally tailored clothing and embellishes it into something special.  I love the graphic impact of the colors and the detailed appliques (representing skillful hand stitching) as well as the seaming details and fringes.  For a garment that's meant to be humorous with a touch of menace, it's really quite stylish.

Above: Mummers Costume, 1829. Natural linen plain weave with appliques in fulled wool plain weave; wool fringe, cotton fringe, metallic lace, wool braid and tassel. Possibly made in Yorkshire, England. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA.

Thank You, Readers!

Loretta & Susan reporting:

We can't believe that this has happened – but today the Nerdy History Girls passed the 500,000 mark for page-views!  Now that number may not make Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga blink, but we're absolutely amazed by it, and most grateful to you for stopping by this blog a half a million times to see what historical amusement we had to share.

So to all our readers from around the world, new and old, loyal followers or just-passing-by: THANK YOU for your support, and here's to the next half-a-million!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of January 28, 2012

Saturday, February 4, 2012
Served up fresh: our weekly offering of Breakfast Links! Our favorite links to other blogs, web sites, pictures, and articles, collected for you from around the Twitterverse.
• A tradition we should bring back: A gift basket from the groom with sparklies & dresses & things!
• Can chinoiserie be masculine?
• ‘Gangs of NY’: Leaders of the street gang "The Daybreak Boys" were hanged 28 Jan 1853
• This week, 1547, death of Henry VIII: Succession Problem: Syphilis or Bad Luck?
• "To make an Onion Soup": 18th c English version inc egg yolk, vinegar - recipe & video:
• Ancient Ceremony of the Constable's Dues at the Tower: HMS Liverpool delivers a barrel of wine
• Teenage boys of the 1940s:
• Explorers raise hope of Nelson 'treasure trove' on Victorian shipwreck -
• Fifteen Incredible Libraries Around the World:
• Elizabeth I and the Three Goddesses, by Hans Eworth, 1569, portrays a symbolically superior queen
• A stunning 1807 Georgian chapel in NYC lost forever.
• 'I'll tear your henge out' - said steel knuckled Helen Holman of Totnes. A Victorian feud from 1860 -
• What's salty, sour and 4,000 years old? The pickle of course!
• Carmen Amaya, queen of the gypsies:
• Historic Dress of the Day: Tea Gown, 1875-80, via The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
• The adventures of Oliver Cromwell's head, posthumously cut off this week in 1661:
• Christian Barnes of Marlboro, MA, complains about mob attacks on her Loyalist husband's property:
• Super article on the rules of etiquette in the 1860's - there are some belter's here:
• From the Medieval Bestiary: the panther, a multicoloured beast w/sweet breath that symbolises Christ:
• The sexually explicit jigs of the Elizabethan stage
• Fashion according to seasonal prints: Winter, 1760s style:
• A 1601 manuscript from the calligrapher & royal nurse Esther Inglis, with verses & illustrations:
• "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" was nearly cut from Gone With the Wind by censors.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Girls who wear glasses

Friday, February 3, 2012
Loretta reports:

"Men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses."  Marilyn Monroe pointed this out in How to Marry a Millionaire, while contriving to look as sexy and glamorous as ever in her spectacles.

Here's advice on choosing the right eyeglasses in the 1950s.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see only a black rectangle where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on this link to the  Two Nerdy History Girls blog.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Courtier's Muff = Quarterback's Handwarmer?

Thursday, February 2, 2012
Susan reporting:

If the American media is to be believed, just about every television in the country will be tuned to a certain football (football-football, not soccer) championship game on Sunday night. Yet even amidst all the hoopla, we keep our NHG antennae tuned for nifty historical facts to share.

Take this example, drawn from the seventeenth century. Europe in the 1600s was exceptionally cold, a time when the Thames often froze over so completely that month-long Frost Fairs could be held on its surface. Even kings and noblemen shivered in their vast but drafty palaces.

Fashion answered with the gentleman's muff, slug low over the hips with the same debonair nonchalance as a sword. When made from costly imported furs like beaver or sable, a gentleman's muff was also one more showy example of conspicuous consumption in an era that loved display. For this group of late 17th c. courtiers, above left, their muffs are rivaled only by their wigs.

While muffs for men fell from style (though not for ladies: see here and here), they seem to have come back in a big way on the modern football field. It doesn't matter whether a guy is making a statement in the corridors of Whitehall or Versailles, or on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field: he still has to keep his hands warm for peak performance.

As the weather has grown colder, both of this Sunday's star quarterbacks – Tom Brady of the Boston Patriots, right, and Eli Manning of the New York Giants, left – have been wearing certain open-ended, insulated accessories tied around their hips. True, today they're made from high-tech thermal sports fabrics, not fur, and they're self-consciously called hand-warmers – but don't you agree that they sure look like muffs?
Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket