Thursday, May 31, 2012

Conceits, Comfits, & Creams: More on 18th Century Desserts

Thursday, May 31, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

Yesterday Loretta showed us how the 18th c English table of an affluent household would be set for dessert. Here's a selection of dishes that could have been served.

Georgian diners would not have recognized the massive, death-by-chocolate style of desserts so dear to modern tastes. To them, the dishes offered at the end of a meal should be simple and light (at least light in comparison to the multiple meat dishes and puddings that might have come before), and were intended to refresh and cleanse the palate. "Rich cakes" were reserved for grand celebrations like weddings and balls, and even those were more like modern pound cakes, depending more on their use of butter and eggs instead of sugary frosting.

Here are several favorite desserts, prepared from 18th c recipes by the cooks of the Governor's Palace, Colonial Williamsburg. 

In the fluted glasses are chocolate creams, a close cousin to our chocolate puddings. An 1824 recipe for Chocolate Cream from Mary Randolph's Virginia House-Wife is only two sentences long: "Scrape a quarter of a pound of chocolate very fine, put it in a quart of milk, boil it till the chocolate is dissolved, stirring it continually, & thicken with six eggs. A Vanilla bean boiled with the milk, will improve the flavour greatly." Much more challenging than it sounds, as any cook who has struggled with clumping chocolate and curdling eggs can sadly attest.

The pineapple represents fresh fruit, always a popular offering. It would, obviously, not have been presented at the table like this, but would have been cored, trimmed, and cut into more manageable pieces. Pineapples and oranges were imported, exotic, and expensive, a sign that the host spared no expense for his guests (but not as an apocryphal symbol of hospitality.)

Below the pineapple is a dish of chocolate almond conceits. The conceit is that there are no almonds in the recipe, but simply chocolate (and sugar and butter, much like fudge) shaped like almonds, and dusted with sugar.

Next is a small dish of caraway comfits, especially popular with a decanter of port. Caraway seeds are dipped repeatedly in a sugar syrup to build up crisp layers, and then rolled in sugar.

The last of the desserts is a plate of ratafia cakes. Ratafia cakes (or biscuits) took their name from the fruit-flavored brandies with which they were often eaten, though by the early 19th c they're being consumed with coffee and tea by both Jane Austen's friend Martha Lloyd and Captain Jack Aubrey. Ground almonds, egg whites, and sugar are the essential ingredients, similar to macaroons. If you'd like to try them yourself, here's the 1726 recipe used by the Governor's Palace cooks - plus an adaptation for modern cooks and kitchens.

Many thanks to Frank Clark, Rob Brantley, and Susan Holler of Colonial Williamsburg for sharing their kitchen wisdom.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A table setting for dessert, 18th century style

Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Loretta reports:

These photos are from my visit last year to the Victoria & Albert Museum .

According to the note accompanying this display of a fashionable family’s table setting for dessert, “The word ‘dessert’ comes from the French desservir meaning to ‘unserve’ or clear the table, as it was originally served after the main dishes had been removed.  It consisted of fresh fruits or a sumptuous display of ices, whipped creams and sugared fruits.”

Doing a little compare and contrast with table settings & pieces illustrated in Susan Watkins’s Jane Austen’s Town and Country Style, I came upon this interesting note about the knives:

“The knife-blades have broad, rounded ends, so that one could eat directly from the knife as well as from the fork. Fingers were used for eating more than is customary today, making finger bowls essential between courses.”

If you're in New England in the fall, you can sample an 18th C dinner, and receive a lesson in 18th C table manners, at Maxwell House, in Warren Rhode Island.

You'll find more about The School for Manners (one of the titles from which the rules listed on the Maxwell House site & Wikisource are excerpted) in one of my earlier posts.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What the Maidservant Wore, c 1770

Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

We've seen what a stylish British mantua-maker's apprentice might wear in the shop in the 1770s, what a female blacksmith or other laboring woman might wear at her work, and, what, too, a housewife might wear as she went about her day. Now Abby Cox, one of our knowledgable friends from Colonial Williamsburg, shows us what a woman in domestic service might wear. (Her clothes are modern replicas, not 18th c originals, but cut and sewn entirely by hand in true 18th c fashion.)

Uniforms for female servants were a 19th c. innovation. While Georgian-era male servants were often provided with livery, their female counterparts - whether at the top of the servant-ladder as ladies' maids or lowly maids-of-all-work - were expected to provide their own clothing from their meager wages. They were also expected to dress in a manner that was modest, fit for their station, tidy, and clean. Samuel Johnson noted that "women servants. though obliged to be at the expense of the purchasing their own clothes, have much lower wages than men servants, to whom a great proportion of that article is furnished, and when in fact our female house servants work much harder than the male."

Here Abby is wearing an untrimmed English-style gown of a woven striped cotton. The gown has inverted back pleats to shape the waist, and is worn over a plain dark linen petticoat (the under-skirt) and a white linen apron. She has looped her skirts up both to help keep them clean, and to mimic the elaborate skirts of more fashionable gowns - though the effect in the soft cotton fabric lacks the exuberance of poufs of crisp, costly silk.

She also wears white thread stockings, low-heeled buckled shoes, and a linen kerchief tucked around her shoulders. Beneath her gown, her figure is shaped by her stays (corset), which every respectable young woman would wear - see here for more about her stays. Her only indulgence is her cap, ruffled white cotton trimmed with a silk ribbon. While Abby's dress is suitable for a servant, it could be equally worn by a young woman working in a tavern or shop, or simply at home.

Like nearly all 18th c women's clothing, regardless of cost, Abby's gown is pinned closed in front (see detail, left). While men's clothing fastened with buttons and ties, women pinned their clothes together with straight pins; the points of the pins were safely buried in the multiple layers of gown and stays. Pinning was not only a neat finish, but also offered an endless, practical range of adjustments to a woman's changing body.

Photographs by Susan Holloway Scott. Many thanks to Abby Cox for being our maid servant!

Monday, May 28, 2012

A resting place in Italy

Monday, May 28, 2012
Loretta reports:

In observance of Memorial Day, we continue Thursday's photo series on the Florence American Cemetery.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of May 21, 2012

Saturday, May 26, 2012
It may be a holiday weekend, but we're still serving up a fresh serving of our favorite links of the week to other blogs, web sites, photographs, and articles, collected from around the Twitterverse.
• The distinctions of the Regency dandy.
• Hear a 120-year-old voice: Lord Tennyson reads The Charge of the Light Brigade in 1890.
Recovered bracelet is symbol of eternal bond for WWII war widow.
Dior's 'New Look' and the photograph that launched a thousand misconceptions.
• Love this: "There are some Errata's in the Book, but the Writer says he is too lazie to give you a Note of them."
• Portraits of singer Billy Holliday, 1946-48.
Shakespeare's last descendant: his grand-daughter, David Garrick, and a mulberry tree.
• Love the delicious 18th c - it witnessed the birth of the taco!
• Preparing for the Jubilee? Check out this gallery of the best of the Queen's hats.
• Louisa May Alcott imagines the sequel to Little Women.
• The vulva goes on a medieval pilgrimage. Really.
• Mad Urbanism: Heaven and Hell nightclubs of 1890s Paris.
• An old Civil War soldier faces an image from his youth, fifty years later.
• Advice from Ernest Hemingway on how to live comfortably in Paris on $1,000 a year.
• Mark Twain's sarcastic response to his books being removed from children's section of Brooklyn Public Library.
• Charles Dicken's fascination with "fallen women", and the safe home he created for them.
• London crime lord Jonathan Wild, thief-taker and receiver of stolen goods, hung this week in 1725.
• Abigail Adams writes home to America about the fashions in London, 1786.
• Embroidered blue velvet latchet shoes, c1660, reputedly worn by Lady Mary Stanhope to court of Charles II.
• Presented by HM Queen Elizabeth: Queen Victoria's journals and diaries now on-line.
Illuminated manuscript cookies.
• Imagine heading to the beach in this 19th c wool bathing costume.
• Georgian cookery: To make a Cheshire Pork Pie: 18th c recipe, plus 21st c version & video.
• Discovering the plants inside and outside the garden walls of the Unicorn Tapestries.

Want more? Follow us on Twitter at @2nerdyhistgirls.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Video: Bugler's Cry: A History of Taps

Friday, May 25, 2012

After some inexplicable glitch at YouTube last night, we're finally able to post this wonderful Friday Video to continue our observation of Memorial Day. The bugle call known as Taps is 150 years old this year, and from the first notes it's both instantly recognizable and hauntingly evocative – and especially appropriate for this weekend.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

In honor of those who served

Thursday, May 24, 2012
Loretta reports:

Memorial Day will be observed in the U.S. on Monday, and the parties & sales will run through the weekend.  But many of us will take a moment to reflect on what this day means. I had time and reason to reflect a short while ago, during a visit to Tuscany, when I went with my husband & friends to the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial.

The headstones, which are set in curved rows on the hillside, “represent 39 percent of the U.S. Fifth Army burials originally made between Rome and the Alps. Most died in the fighting that occurred after the capture of Rome in June 1944. Included among them are casualties of the heavy fighting in the Apennines Mountains shortly before the war's end. On May 2, 1945 the enemy troops in northern Italy surrendered.” 

You can learn more about this and other American Cemeteries at the American Battle Monuments Commission website.  For more about the cemetery in Florence, click here.

And now I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Bum-Bailiff Outwitted, 1786

Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Susan reports:

Sometimes "reading" an 18th c print is easy, and the humor is obvious. There's not much subtlety to a cartoon of women tripping so their skirts fly up, or twittering dandies, either. But others, like the print left, require a passing knowledge of classical mythology as well as Georgian slang.

At first glace, The Bum-Bailiff outwitted, or the convenience of Fashion, looks like one more caricature of fashionable excess. But it's more complicated than that. According to Francis Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811), a bum bailiff is "a sheriff's officer, who arrests debtors; so called perhaps from following his prey, and being at their bums, or, as the vulgar phrase is, hard at their a-ses."

Then as now, most people took the side of the pretty young lady, not the bill-collector – even if that pretty young lady has likely run up the 18th c equivalent of her MasterCard buying all that stylish finery. But here the frizzed wig, over-sized hat, false rump, and extravagant kerchief that have meant her financial ruin are also providing her escape. As the bailiff seizes her, waving his warrant, she slips free in her shift, and leaves him holding the empty finery instead of the woman. The bailiff's determined posture as he holds onto the false rump - raised up like a mare's tail - is unmistakably sexual, too, a guaranteed laugh for the artist.

The caption describes the lady's escape with classical references:
    Suky like Syrinx changes shape,
    Her vain pursuer to escape:
    Ye Snapps, of Pan's hard fate beware,
    Who thought his arms embraced the fair
    But found an empty Bum-case there.

In ancient mythology, Syrinx was a chaste nymph and follower of the goddess Artemis. Pursued by the overly-ardent (weren't they all?) god Pan, Syrinx begged the river nymphs for help. They obliged by transforming her into the hollow reeds beside the river, frustrating Pan. Eighteenth-century readers knew their mythology. They would have understood the allusion to shape-shifting as a means of escaping a relentless pursuer, just as they would have applauded Suky's resourcefulness.

Above: The Bum-Bailiff outwitted, or, the convenience of Fashion, published May 6, 1786 by S.W.Fores, at the Caracature Warehouse Piccadilly. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Virtues of Coffee

Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Loretta reports:
290. Coffee.
The infusion or decoction of the roasted seeds of the coffee-berry, when not too strong, is a wholesome, exhilarating, and strengthening beverage; and when mixed with a large proportion of milk, is a proper article of diet for literary and sedentary people. It is especially suited to persons advanced in years. People who are bilious and liable to costiveness should abstain from it. When drank very strong, it proves stimulating and heating in a considerable degree, creating thirst and producing watchfulness. By an abusive indulgence in this drink, the organs of digestion are impaired, the appetite is destroyed, nutrition is impeded, and emaciation, general debility, paralytic affections, and nervous fever, are brought on.

291. The Virtues of Coffee.
Coffee accelerates digestion, corrects crudities, removes cholic and flatulencies. It mitigates headaches, cherishes the animal spirits, takes away listlessness and languor, and is serviceable in all obstructions arising from languid circulation. It is a wonderful restorative to emaciated constitutions, and highly refreshing to the studious and sedentary.

The habitual use of coffee would greatly promote sobriety, being in itself a cordial stimulant; it is a most powerful antidote to the temptation of spirituous liquors.

It will be found a welcome beverage to the robust labourer, who would despise a lighter drink.
The New Family Receipt Book, 1815.
For the method of making Turkish coffee (which my hero of Last Night’s Scandal drinks), please continue reading here.

Untitled Mucha illustration courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Vauxhall Gardens on a Punch Bowl, c 1800

Sunday, May 20, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

For nearly 200 years, the pleasure gardens of Vauxhall offered Londoners every kind of entertainment, from sublime orchestral music to the spectacle of a horse and rider lifted into the sky by a hot-air balloon. There was dining, dancing, and strolling beneath lighted trees, fireworks and flirtations and masquerades. The leafy gardens offered a respite from the city's heat as well as scores of shadowy bowers for amorous assignations.

I've always been fascinated by Vauxhall, and I've set scenes in several of my books beneath the famous twinkling lights. When I recently came across this punch bowl (part of the current Uncorked! exhibition at Winthertur Museum), I felt like I'd found an old friend. Painted on one side of the bowl is a view of the gardens, reproducing a c 1751 print by John Bowles after Samuel Wale, right. (Click on the pictures to see the detail.)

But it was an old friend in an exotic costume. Like other porcelain pieces made in China for export to the Western market, the Jingdezhen artists interpreted and adapted the original English artwork to their own artistic sensibilities. The colors are more vibrant, the trees stylized, and the musicians' pavilions have been transformed with the black roofs and red pillars of Chinese architecture. While the English print emphasises the elegance and gentility of Vauxhall, the punch bowl version of the same scene somehow seems to capture more of the Garden's excitement.

I've collected many more images from Vauxhall – including tickets, broadsides, prints, and drawings – on a special board for our Pinterest page. (I did say I was fascinated by the pleasure gardens, didn't I?) And if you're fortunate enough to visit London this summer, be sure to visit this exhibition at the Foundling Museum.

Above: Punch bowl showing Vauxhall Gardens and London Foundling Hospital. Jingdezhen, China, c1800. Porcelain. Winterthur Museum.
Below: Vauxhall Gardens, shewing the Grand Walk, at the entrance of the Gardens and the Orchestra with the Musick Playing. Published by John Bowles after drawings by Samuel Wale, 1751. Museum of London.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of May 14, 2012

Saturday, May 19, 2012
Served up fresh for your weekend delight: our favorite links of the week to other blogs, web sites, photographs, and articles, collected from around the Twitterverse. For even more links (and every day, too), please join us on Twitter: @2nerdyhistgirls.
• An abandoned French mansion slowly deteriorates: Le manoir a la verriere.
• Forget Mad Men! Check out Doris Day's fabulous 
wardrobe in Pillow Talk.
• At last to be seen by the public: charming 1803 portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence of Hon. Emily Mary Lamb.
• Festive, summery 18th c stripes: Exotic Garden Tents.
• The oldest man-made object in New York City: a look at Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park.
• Shot, score! Early 18th-19th c images of ice hockey.
• One Woman's Empire: the Adventures of a Bouillon Cube, c 1750
• Joan Crawford, Costumes, and Publicity in Our Dancing Daughters, 1928.
• Figuring out who's who among 18th c celebrities: a cheat-sheet on a fan for the playhouse.
• Glorious photograph of 1914 Peto Water Garden at Buscot Park in Oxfordshire.
• 'Gentle, Civill, Wilde, and Irish": amazing 17th c maps & costumes of Ireland.
Sex and the Automobile in the Jazz Age.
• How to look after hundreds of leopards at the 500-year-old country house of Knole.
• These early 20th c photos of NYC from the municipal archives are glorious!
Suffragette hunger strikes, 100 years ago.
• What did Thomas Jefferson's World Sound Like? Recreating the soundscape at Monticello.
• Those ultra-high, eyebrow-free Medieval foreheads & how the ladies of the day got them. (ouch!)
• Sneak peek at a film about restoring the Egyptian Hall at Stowe.
• To the Prince Regent's taste: this council chair must have fit right in at Carlton House.
• For sale: the real life House at Pooh Corner.
• Symbolic and controversial Rainbow Tartan represents more than just the colors of the rainbow.
Disappearing shopfronts of small businesses in East End of London.
• For a fast food lunch in 1850, you'd have sheep's trotters, hot eels, sherry, or asses milk.
• The contents of an 18th c lady's pocketbook.
• People of the past jumping.
• Hot Historical Guys, Part I: A Boatload of Knowledge, plus the "most handsome 19th c man."
• Hot Historical Guys, Part II: Cutting a dash: considered men of science as 'historical hotties.'
• Why you shouldn't believe everything you read on the Internet: How Reddit Caught the Professor who Fooled Wikipedia.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mae West: She was no angel

Friday, May 18, 2012
Loretta reports:

Continuing my celebration of early cinema, today's short feature is a trailer for the Mae West film, I'm No Angel

She was one remarkable woman, as this rare BBC Interview makes clear.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see only a rectangle or square where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Another Recycled Gown, from 1770 to 1827

Thursday, May 17, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

As we reported here last week, we Nerdy History Girls are now on Pinterest. I suspected it would be fun, and to my image-magpie-brain, it is. But I've been surprised by how the process of collecting things to pin has led me down all sorts of fresh and fascinating internet rabbit-holes. Among my discoveries has been this dress, left (which is pinned on our Stripes! board).

It's a charming evening gown, made in England c 1827-29. Thanks to Loretta, we've seen this romantic style before, with the balloon-shaped sleeves, sloping shoulders, and raised waistline. But what fascinated me is that it's another example of a "recycled" gown, made over and refashioned from an earlier garment, much like this one here.

The fabric is a striped silk tobine, a kind of taffeta dating from the 1770s. After a long period – nearly forty years, an eternity in fashion! - of soft muslins and pale monochromes, the new styles for the late 1820s had swung back to the light, crisp silks that could hold the shapes of burgeoning sleeves and skirts, and float gracefully away from the body. Old gowns that had been put aside from grandmother's day were retrieved, and carefully picked apart, recut, and sewn into the new styles.

It's impossible now to know exactly what the earlier 18th c gown looked like, though the robes a la Francaise, right, are likely a good guess. Even though the full pleats of the sacque backs would have offered plenty of yardage, the 19th c seamstress had to be inventive to create an entirely different silhouette. She made skillful use of the fabric by cutting the bodice, sleeves, and scalloped trim on the bias (diagonal), neatly matching her stripes into symmetry, and she introduced a solid, darker shade of silk as a dramatic accent, too.

But the placement of that scallop trim strikes me as a bit odd, dividing the skirt awkwardly in two around the knees. Did the seamstress make that choice because it pleased her or her customer, or did she run short of her recycled fabric, with too little remaining yardage to run the scallops more conventionally around the hem of the skirt?

Above left: Evening gown, Britain, 1827-1829 (made), c 1770-1780 (weaving). Woven silk tobine, trimmed with silk satin, lined with cotton. Victoria & Albert Museum.
Below right: Robes a la Francaise, France, c 1750-75, silk. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Update: A Happy Ending for Mavisbank

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Isabella/Susan reporting:

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about Mavisbank, above, a tragically neglected country house in Midlothia, Scotland. Designed in 1772 by Robert Adam, Mavisbank was not only considered one of the most beautiful houses in Scotland, the first to employ Palladian proportions, but also served as a center of culture and learning in the Georgian Age of Enlightenment.

Successive centuries and owners were not kind, however, and the once-grand house deteriorated through use as a hospital and asylum as well as general neglect. A 1974 fire devastated the house further, leaving the remaining structure open to the elements. Though the ravaged shell of the house retained a melancholy beauty, its future seemed sadly doomed.

But this week, Historic Scotland and Midlothian Council signed an agreement to purchase Mavisbank, and a grant of £500,000 from the Scottish Government was also announced. The Mavisbank Trust will oversee additional fundraising, plus plans to restore the exterior of the building and convert the interior to a multi-purpose facility for community use. The surrounding lands will also be transformed into a park, again to benefit those who live in the area. It all seems like the happiest of solutions for the grand old house. See here for more details.

Above: Mavisbank photo (plus many others) via Undiscovered Scotland.

Belzoni & the Pharoah's Colossal Head

Loretta reports:

Giovanni Belzoni was one of the inspirations for the hero of my Egypt-set story, Mr. ImpossibleTransporting the colossal head was only one of Belzoni's many amazing adventures.

The Quarterly Review has afforded us, in several late numbers, a highly interesting and gratifying detail of the operations and discoveries, which have been conducted in Egypt, by several of our spirited and enterprising countrymen. . . Mr Salt* has been indefatigable in his exertions, and he has most fortunately found an assistant of Herculean strength of body, and of proportional energy of mind, in the person of Mr Belzoni. The head called a young Memnon,** now in the British Museum, which weighs eight or ten tons, and which is one of the very finest specimens of Egyptian sculpture now in existence, was a joint present of Mr Salt and Mr Burckhardt; and Mr Belzoni has the merit of having conducted the very difficult operation of bringing it down to the Nile. Mr Hamilton has conjectured that it may have belonged to the statue described by Philostratus as a Memnon of great beauty (Q. R. No. 36); but the remaining fragment of the hieroglyphical inscription agrees better with the name of another sovereign, apparently of the same family, who is represented in several other magnificent monuments at Thebes and elsewhere.
Encyclopaedia Britannica: Or, A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Miscellaneous Literature, Enlarged and Improved, Edition 6, 1824
For more, please see the Quarterly Review’s (Vol. 24)  review of Belzoni’s book, which includes excerpts.  You can read Belzoni's Narrative online here and my post about his wife here.
*British Consul
**Ramses II (scholars had not yet deciphered hieroglyphs)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"The Curious Maids" Play a Classic Prank, 1768

Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Isabella/Susan* reporting:

When I visited Winterthur Museum last week, I not only wandered through the peony gardens, but also saw the museum's newest special exhibition, Uncorked! Wine, Objects, & Tradition. (The exhibition runs until January 6, 2013.) There were a good many fascinating items to inspire a good many blog-posts in the weeks to come, and I'll start with the print, left.

While the three young people are all dressed in formal 18th c finery, most of us will recognize the trick these two girls are playing on the hapless gentleman who's enjoyed his wine a bit too freely. It's a trick that continues to be a riotous favorite at modern slumber parties and sleep-overs, and doubtless every generation is sure they're the inventors of it, too. The victim who has the misfortune to fall asleep first has his (0r her) hand placed in water; the resulting sensation inspires an automatic reaction. Acute shame and hilarity ensue.

The title of this print, The Curious Maids, tries to pretend that the girls are acting from pure intellectual curiosity. Still, from the caption printed below, I think they're pretty certain of what the outcome will be. I also like how the only thing that's been colored is the luridly blue water in the bowl - just so we don't miss the joke.

            The Curious Maids
           (Les Filles Curieuses)
   In prime of Youth what Funny Tricks
   Are often play'd by either Sex!
   The Tales they've heard their Nurses say
   They put in Practice Day by Day.
   Forbear dear Girls! For Pity's sake
   Have Mercy on a Sleeping Rake!
   As in the Bowl his Hand you've got,
   You'll make him soon do –– You know what.

Above: The Curious Maids, by John Greenwood, London, England, probably 1768. Ink on laid paper. Winterthur Museum; promised gift of J.Thomas Savage. 
*Yes, I'm a Gemini, but this is the real reason for the double name.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Gossip in the Court Journal May 1835

Monday, May 14, 2012
Loretta reports:

Then as today, magazines (both men’s & women’s) featured celebrity gossip. Rather than rock and movie stars, the subjects were members of Fashionable Society. Then as now, as well, the celebrities sued.

According to Alexander Andrews’s The History of British Journalism Vol 2 (1859), “on the 17th of March 1840, Lady Bulwer got fifty pounds damages from the Court Journal for an alleged libel."  The Duchess of Richmond sued, too.

Here's a sample from 1835:
From edition of 2 May 1835

The Court Journal: Court Circular & Fashionable Gazette,* Volume 7, 1835

*published 1829 to at least 1915

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Huzzah! We're Now On Pinterest

Sunday, May 13, 2012
As you've probably guessed, we like pictures almost as much as we like words, which made our leap to Pinterest almost inevitable. We've been busily posting images of even more interesting historical goodies over there, plus creating inspiration boards for our new books.

But everything is still very much a work in progress, and we'd appreciate suggestions for what else you'd like to see us add in the future. Please come check us out - you don't have to be a Pinterest member yourself to visit. Here is a direct link to our page, or look for us directly as: TwoNerdyHistoryGirls*** (Yes, those asterisks are part of our account address.)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of May 7, 2012

Saturday, May 12, 2012
Served up fresh for your weekend delight: our favorite links of the week to other blogs, web sites, photographs, and articles, collected from around the Twitterverse.
• Fancy Edwardian folk in fancy dress: photos from the Duchess of Devonshire's 1897 Diamond Jubilee Ball.
Lady Mary Montagu and the Destroying Angel.
• Indecent Lifting & Heaving.
• This is wonderfully charming: Pres Theodore Roosevelt writes a letter with illustrated fable to his 3 yr old son, 1890.
• Bringing on the sauce: 18th c rise of exotic sauces & condiments.
• Ode to kinder, cleaner, less jingly times: Victorian change packets, from shopkeepers with (self-promoting) love.
• Panel embroidered by Mary, Queen of Scots, shows cat & mouse; may be a symbolic allusion to her situation.
• Stolen: Severed, mummified (and of course haunted) hand of 18th c gambler who cheated at whist.
• Faulkner's Street Cries show London working life, 1902.
• How 1920s undergarments aided in the changing silhouette of fashion.
• The grand 1883 Metropolitan Opera House demolished in 1967 despite passionate appeals.
Burnt Custard, 18th c tasty cousin to creme brulee: recipes from Mary Randolph.
Abraham Lincoln's funeral in New York, with amazing photographs.
• Country house amenities: cleaning.
• You've used the word, but bet you've never seen one for real. A Juggernaut, or Hindu Temple Car.
• Find work a pain? Gain some perspective with this look at life in a Victorian women's prison.
• Excellent sleuthing regarding that disputed portrait that may (or may not) be Jane Austen.
• Oh, those leg o' mutton sleeves! Elegant black faille formal dress, c 1895.
• Reconciling harem-pants with the grim reality of the Civil War: Zouaves.
• New interactive map project shows how long it took to travel between ancient Roman cities.
• Exploring the abandoned hospital complex on Ellis Island - and what can be done to save it.
Alice Paul, Champion of Woman Suffrage.
• Beautiful & intricately embroidered late-17th c box, includes special compartment for Boscobel Oak acorn.
• From celebrations for Queen Victoria: Jubilee Cakes and Ale.
• Don't know HOW we missed this earlier! Booty: Bravest of the Brave (warning: Royal Navy nudity *g*.)

Peonies, lilacs, irises

Isabella/Susan reporting:

Just to prove that I do leave the keyboard behind once in a while: an absolutely beautiful morning at Winterthur Museum, Garden, & Library yesterday. Summer can't be far away....

More about peonies & their history here.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Video: 'Morning Mood' on the Metro

Friday, May 11, 2012

Isabella/Susan reporting:

Today's video isn't particularly historical, but it is a delightful way to start the day, and the weekend, too. One morning last month, members of the Copenhagen Philharmonic surprised commuters on the subway with a flash-mob-style interpretation of Edvard Greig's Morning Mood, Peer Gynt Suite, no. 1. Op no. 1. Even if you're not a great fan of classical music, you'll recognize this piece - and enjoy the response of the commuters to this impromptu concert.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Middlesex Hospital ca.1810

Thursday, May 10, 2012
Loretta reports:
MIDDLESEX HOSPITAL, for the reception of the sick and the lame, and for lying-in married women, is situated in Mary-bone-fields, near Oxford-road, now called Charles - street.  . . . Nature and religion teach us to patronize every instance of distress, but most powerfully that deepest of all distresses, sickness in poverty.  . . . how much stronger a sympathy must then arise at the idea of sickness aggravated by poverty; or considered in another view, of poverty disabled by sickness! Most men are inclined, but very few, in comparison, have individually the power, to relieve: public contributions, therefore, seem the most likely to effect what the private bounty of individuals cannot. These considerations gave rise, a few years since, to infirmaries, and in particular to this, which has the merit and the honour of being the first hospital in this kingdom for lying-in women, and of setting an example which has been so happily followed.

 . . . The patients are attended without fee or reward by three eminent physicians, a man-midwife, three surgeons, and a clergyman. The physicians visit the patients every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and on intermediate days when particular cases require it. The surgeons attend every day.

Patients are admitted on a letter of recommendation from a governor or contributor, who may recommend in-patients, and have out-patients on the books... and when in-patients are recommended, and there is not room in the house to receive them, they are put on the list, to be admitted on the first vacancy, and in the mean time prescribed for as out-patients.

No security is required for burials. All accidents are admitted without recommendation. Tuesday being the day appointed for the admission of patients, they are expected to be at the Hospital, with their recommendation, at ten o'clock.

The physicians and surgeons meet every Saturday at twelve o'clock at the Hospital, where they give advice gratis to all such diseased poor who shall come, though unrecommended, and require it.
—Rudolph Ackermann, The Microcosm of London: or, London in Miniature, Volume 2, 1808-1810

Rowlandson & Pugin illustration from the book.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Why Ox-Skulls on an 18th c Doorway?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Isabella/Susan* reporting:

When I see an 18th c doorway in Massachusetts, I expect to see a simple pediment or porch. What I don't expect are the skulls of oxen. Bovine skulls are found in paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe, and that old educational video game, Oregon Trail. They do not belong on colonial buildings.

But that's exactly what I discovered over the doors of Holden Chapel, a small brick building at Harvard University in Cambridge. Called bucrania (the Latin word for skulls of oxen), they're apparently common in the carved decoration in Greek and Roman architecture. The skulls, draped with garlands, refer to ancient oxen who were ornamented with flowers before they were sacrificed – though by the time the design appeared on Holden Chapel, the pagan symbolism of bucrania had faded, and it's more likely the motif was simply borrowed from a book of architectural drawings to represent stylish London classicism. (I know we have some serious architectural historians among our readers, and I welcome - please! - your input on this.)

But the architect of the chapel is now long forgotten, and he left no notes as to his design decisions. Considering the history of the chapel, the sacrificial ox-skulls do seem like a bit of an odd choice for a school founded to educate the most somber of Congregationalist and Unitarian ministers. The initial money for building the chapel came in 1740 as a gift of 400 pounds sterling from Mrs. Samuel Holden, the widow of a former Governor of the Bank of England known for his industry and piety. As is often the case with universities, the gift wasn't quite enough to finish the project, and construction proceeded in fits and starts. Holden Chapel finally opened in March 1745, and was used for the College's devotions for the next twenty years, until it was replaced by a larger chapel in another building.

Holden was then in turn used as a courthouse, a carpenter's workshop, and barracks for Washington's army during the Revolution. In 1783, it became the home of the new Harvard Medical School, and for the next half-century the Chapel was used as an amphitheater for anatomy classes, with the basement below housing laboratories. The old building then suffered the indignity of a Victorian "restoration" in 1850 and other various uses and abuses, including a fire. Even so, in 1934 Holden was chosen by the Historical American Buildings Commission as one of the finest examples of early Colonial architecture in Massachusetts. A more recent, and respectful, refurbishing made the most of the building's acoustics, and transformed it into a rehearsal space for the university's choral groups.

In the course of that renovation, however, workman discovered mutilated human remains in the basement walls, along with traces of arsenic. The student newspaper wrote breathlessly of hauntings and murder, but it was finally determined the bones and arsenic were only leftovers from the Chapel's days as a medical school. Perhaps; but there's still the question of those sacrificial ox-skulls over the door...

Photographs of Holden Chapel, Harvard University, by Susan Holloway Scott.

*Why the twin-name? Here's the reason.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Gondolas then & now

Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Loretta reports:

Didst ever see a Gondola?  For fear
    You should not, I’ll describe it to you exactly:
‘Tis a long cover’d boat that’s common here,
    Carved at the prow, built lightly, but compactly;
Row’d by two rowers, each call’d ‘Gondolier,’
    It glides along the water looking blackly,
Just like a coffin clapt in a canoe,
Where none can make out what you say or do.
  (Lord Byron, Beppo)

Byron’s description of a gondola opens the first chapter of my “Venice book,” Your Scandalous Ways.

The gondolas he knew, though, no longer exist, except in museums—like this one at Venice’s Palazzo Ducale. Yes, it needs some work. But if we look at the modern gondolas, with their shiny black and gold, we can get a sense of what it was like in its heyday.

Unlike today’s gondolas, which leave passengers in public view—and at the mercy of the weather—the gondola of Byron’s time offered privacy and comfort.  The cabin or felze had a door, casement windows, Venetian blinds, and a cushy interior.

Today, a gondola ride is mainly for tourists.  But in the early 1800s, even though Venice had fallen on hard times, these boats were still the city’s taxis and limousines. According to Byron’s friend Hobhouse:

“Our lacquey told us that there are about 2,000 public gondolas and that those houses which used to keep five and six boats now keep one – or none.  We saw some pushed by men in livery.  It is an imagined speed with which they glide along, but great dexterity is shown in cutting round the corners of the lanes or little canals through the lighters and little boats.”—excerpted from the Venice section of Peter Cochran’s fantastic online presentation of John Cam Hobhouse’s) diaries, which I cannot recommend highly enough.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

What Kept the Georgian Cook Happy, c 1750

Sunday, May 6, 2012
Isabella/Susan* reports:

When the Earl of Marlton, later 1st Marquess of Rockingham, expanded his country seat of Wentworth Woodhouse with an eye to entertaining on a grand scale, he invested considerably in the silver that would grace his dining table. But if he wanted to be sure the meals served were worthy of the silver, he also must have taken care to include the most up-to-date equipment in his vast kitchens.

The Georgian version of a top chef was often the most irreplaceable servant in a great house: an accomplished cook, frequently trained abroad, who could create elegant, sophisticated dishes for dinners with dozens of guests, and also manage the numerous support-staff in the kitchen. A cook like that expected the best equipment, and generally had it.

The cast-iron roasting jack, above, was costly, cutting-edge kitchen equipment in the mid-18th c. While this roasting jack has a steam-punk look sitting in a museum display case, the replica in use, below, in the Governor's Palace kitchen, Colonial Williamsburg. demonstrates how ingeniously it was designed.

To quote from the museum's description: "Spit or roasting jacks were among the most complex and demanding objects fashioned [of wrought iron.] These geared mechanisms were mounted above a kitchen fireplace. A loop of rope connected the wooden pulley wheel at the rear of the jack with a similar wheel at the end of a spit on the hearth. An iron weight attached to the rope coiled around the central drum of the jack was cranked to a high position. The descending weight drove the jack's rotation and that of the spit, thus turning the meat in front of the cooking fire. This jack is particularly large and its design and workmanship are exceptionally fine."

A roasting jack ensured that an expensive piece of meat was evenly cooked. Before roasting jacks (and in ordinary households) the spitted meat was turned manually, a job performed by a menial kitchen-servant or young child with often mixed results. The roasting jack never fell asleep or became distracted so that the meat burned, nor did it require a wage. It was instead wonderfully efficient – and an early example of a human being replaced by a machine.

Above: Spit or Roasting Jack, by unidentified maker. Probably England, 1720-1760, wrought iron. Collection, Colonial Williamsburg.

Yes, I'm a Gemini - but what's the real reason for the two names?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of April 30, 2012

Saturday, May 5, 2012
Served up fresh for your weekend delight: our favorite links of the week to other blogs, web sites, photographs, and articles, collected from around the Twitterverse.
Shawl dresses & dresses made from shawls 1800-1815.
• Do Newgate Prison cells survive under a nearby pub? Um...probably not.
• Qualifications to lead Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee procession, 1897: height. The dashing Capt. Oswald Ames: 6'8 3/4".
• Stunningly gorgeous: looking at a sumptuous Regency carriage interior.
• From Susan Sontag to Dorothy Parker: what it cost 8 successful female writers to make it in NYC.
• London's smallest statue.
P.T. Barnum's astounding 19th c museum in NYC was not merely a freak show.
• Lovely embroidered bodice, c 1905.
• Do you doodle during meetings? This doodle from a boring 1850 meeting became the Crystal Palace.
• Fascinating use of technology to highlight collections at Detroit Institute of Art.
• The cast iron Victorian conservatory at the Horniman Museum.
• The criss-cross rewrites are astonishing: a page from Lord Byron's Don Juan manuscript.
• Queen Anne Boleyn was arrested this week, 1536: an account of her fall by Spanish ambassador Eustace Chapuys.
• Photo of handsome young Lionel Logue (remember the speech therapist from The King's Speech?)
Mr. Punch celebrates 350 years of puppet anarchy.
• A traditional Yankee cake: donuts. An 18th c recipe plus modern interpretation from Colonial Williamsburg's cooks.
• Thoughts on early garages & chauffeurs (how very Downton Abbey.)
• Mini-slideshow for a Sunday: Lincoln Cathedral.
• Thoroughly wonderful 18th c trade cards of old London.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Friday Video: Minnie the Moocher

Friday, May 4, 2012
Loretta reports:

Early animated films can be surprisingly trippy.  This one features two of my 20th C favorites: Betty Boop & Cab Calloway.  He’s the man dancing at the beginning. Not Astaire, but brilliant in his own way, and another great talent from that era.

And he’s so fabulous that you should treat yourself and watch him here, performing the song with his band.  For more, check out this biography.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see only a rectangle or square where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Incomparable Red of Cochineal

Thursday, May 3, 2012
Isabella/Susan* reporting:

Lately a valuable historical commodity has been much in the news. It's a commodity discovered in Mexico by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th c, desired by 17th c French kings and Caribbean pirates, worn into 18th c battles at Culloden and Lexington & Concord, and prized by 19th c courtesans. It's not gunpowder, or jewels, or gold or silver, but rather this:

"The coccinella cacti, a native of the warmer parts of America, is the famous cochineal animal, so highly valued in every part of the world for the incomparable beauty of its red colour, which it equally communicates to wool, silk, linen, and cotton."
                        - Encyclopeadia Britannica, 1776

The color red is so prevalent in our modern world that it's hard to realize that it was once a difficult color to duplicate, and a true, lasting red eluded European dyers throughout the middle ages. Spanish explorers discovered a vibrant red color called carmine that was prized by the Aztecs, and Spanish merchants guarded the secret so closely - and so profitably - that it wasn't until the 17th c development of the microscope that the rest of Europe learned the truth. Carmine derived not from a leaf, nut, or bark, but from the dried bodies of the cochineal insect, above, crushed to a powder. (This example comes from our friends at the Margaret Hunter shop in Colonial Williamsburg.) Cochineal-derived red dyes continued to be in demand for over three hundred years, coloring everything from the silk gowns of great ladies to the red uniform coats worn by the British army. The wool used to embroider the petticoat, right, was dyed with cochineal-based red.

Finally the development of synthetic dyes in the end of the 19th c pushed cochineal from the market, and it seemed destined to disappear. But towards the end of the 20th c, the health hazards of many synthetic dyes made cochineal once again commercially popular. As a natural alternative, it was used to color everything from lipstick to Twizzlers – and Starbucks strawberry frappuccinos.

"Bugs in your coffee!" made for great headlines, and apparently to the most rigorous vegans, even that tiny bit of crushed insect is too much for them. Starbucks has agreed to remove the dye from their drinks, bowing to the vegans and the bad publicity regarding bugs. But which, really, is worse: a tried-and-true natural red dye, or one that can cause cancer?

For the fascinating history of cochineal dyes, I heartily recommend A Perfect Red by Amy Butler Greenfield - one of my all-time favorite non-fiction books. 
Update: For even MORE about cochineal, please see this excellent post by our blog-friend Patrick Baty (aka Colourman.)

* Why the double name? Here's the reason.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Fashions for May 1819

Wednesday, May 2, 2012
English Walking Dress
Loretta reports:

In his/her General Observations on Fashion and Dress, the fashion writer of La Belle Assemblée waxes rhapsodic about the month of May.
The fashions of the delightful month of May are generally ushered in by Taste accompanied by the Graces: Flora is seen strewing her treasures in their path; Art and Invention guide the hand of Industry, and preside over the loom, while Fancy lends her unremitting aid to perfect those articles of the toilet devoted to female attire.
MAY, 1819
No. I.—Walking Dress.
Pelisse of light fawn-coloured twilled sarsnet, or satin, elegantly ornament ed with trimming of the same en languettes, each languette beautifully ornamented with a rich yet light trimming of pink and black, with ornamental buttons. Large promenade bonnet of light fawn-colour, trimmed to correspond with the pelisse, and worn over a cornette of fine lace. Fawn-coloured satin sandal boots, and Limerick gloves.
N. B. We are indebted to Mrs. Bell for this chaste and appropriate spring costume; by whose unrivalled taste also we were favoured with the superb Evening Dress, trimmed at the border à-la-Flora, given in our last Number.
No. 2.—Parisian Opera Costume.
Parisian Opera Costume
Round dress of pink gossamer satin, ornamented with white plûche de soie. Dress hat of white satin, with full blown Provence rose on one side, and a superb plume of down feathers. Necklace formed of two rows of large pearls. White satin slippers and white kid gloves. Kaleidoscope fan of carved cedar.
La Belle Assemblée, May 1819
The magazine regularly boasts of the Duchess of Kent’s patronage of Mrs. Bell's establishment, the Marchande—or Magazinde Modes, in St. James’s Street (where my own dressmakers have set up shop). If you click on the LBA link and read further on, you’ll find her name dropped in relation to a wedding bonnet.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Entertaining like an Earl, 1738

Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Isabella/Susan* reporting:

Display was an important part of elegant Georgian dining. Not only did the food have to be properly composed and the conversation scintillating, but every spoon and serving dish was required to show the host's excellent taste. A lavish display of silver and gold plate made a glittering presentation by candlelight, literally reflecting the host's wealth. (Here are some excellent photographs of a splendidly set Regency-era dining table from our friends at Attingham Park.) My favorite fact regarding candlelit dining: a table blazing with candles still only had about as much light as a single 100 watt light bulb. The more gleaming surfaces to reflect that candlelight, the better.

This soup tureen, above, along with other silver, was made c 1737 by London silversmith George Wickes for Thomas Watson-Wentworth (1693-1750), then Earl of Malton, and created 1st Marquess of Rockingham in 1746. A prominent Whig politician, the marquess was enlarging and building his vast Yorkshire country seat, Wentworth Woodhouse, below, and it's likely that this silver was commissioned in anticipation of the level of entertainment planned for the remodeled  house.

It's certainly an impressive piece, and I like imagining all the sumptuous meals this tureen must have served. It's large (my guess is about 20 inches long or so) and must be so heavy that, when filled with soup, it would have required a very strong-armed footman to bear it from the kitchen to the table.

The museum placard describes it well: the tureen's "body has the trappings of this opulent style: cast fruit and floral swags on the cover, banded reeding at the body's neck, and legs with lion mask attachments and ball-and-claw feet, as well as other sculptural elements, which not only proclaim Watson's rank but also lend great visual interest. His arms within the collar of the Order of the Bath are applied to either side. His crest of a griffin passant stands atop the cover and, in variant form, serves as the handles for the body."

I wonder if anyone ever noticed the soup?

Top: Soup Tureen, George Wickes, London, 1737-1738, silver. Collection, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. 
Below: View of Wentworth Woodhouse by Thomas Allen, c 1828-1830, illustration from A Complete History of the County of York by Thomas Allen.

*Why the double name? All is explained here.
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