Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Arranging a Georgian Match

Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Isabella/Susan reports:

What would you say to a blind date that lasted forever? That was the reality for young Georgian aristocrats, and the inspiration for the match between the Duke of Marchbourne with Lady Charlotte Wylder in When You Wish Upon a Duke, on sale everywhere today. 

While there were definitely marriages made on love-matches, the higher the rank of the bride and groom usually translated into a match carefully balanced and considered by the parents. It wasn't just a case of following the precedent of royalty; a marriage was a union of rank and property as well as of hearts, and while popular ballads and plays might be filled with high-blown sentiment and true love, the reality was much more practical. In an era where even high-born ladies had little independence of their own, becoming the virtual property of their husbands, parents of daughters were especially cautious about settling their daughters into an advantageous marriage. Security trumped the vagaries of love, and marriage would be a life-long arrangement, with virtually no chance of escape. The best that could be hoped for was that love - or at least an agreeable regard - would blossom after the wedding.

Consider the 1774 marriage between Georgiana, the 17-year-old daughter of the Earl of Spencer, and the 26-year-old Duke of Devonshire. On paper, it must have seemed an excellent match: the Duke was astonishingly wealthy and wished a young, malleable wife to provide him with heirs, while the chance for Georgiana to leapfrog up the noble ladder to become a duchess (like the elegant Duchess of Grafton, above, painted in her noble regalia by Sir Joshua Reynolds) must have seemed an irresistable opportunity to her parents to see her settled. The couple met a handful of well-chaperoned times before their wedding, but had no real knowledge of one another's personalities. Georgiana tried to love her unyielding husband, but within a week, he was once again in the arms of his mistress. There marriage became one of the most infamously awful of 18th c. England, riddled with complicated infidelities and financial disasters, and sad proof that Mom and Dad didn't always know best. (For more, see here.)

But another, equally notorious arranged marriage between a duke and a lady had a much happier result. In 1719, the charmingly wastrel Duke of Richmond agreed to a match for his 18-year-old son and heir with the 13-year-old daughter of the Earl of Cadogan as a way of settling the duke's gambling debts, accepting a reduction of £5,000 in the girl's marriage settlement against his losses. The young pair met at their wedding, though because of their youth, they did not live together as man and wife for several years. Yet from this unlikely match, made over the gaming table, began one of the great married loves of the 18th c. The second Duke and Duchess of Richmond were as happy as the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire were not.

But what of my fictional Duke and Duchess of Marchbourne? Matched by their fathers as children, the two find the path of discovering love with a stranger after the wedding to be a considerable challenge. Do they follow the path of the Richmonds, or the Devonshires?  I think you can guess  – but here's the first chapter of When You Wish Upon a Duke to tempt you to the read the rest.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A New Book – plus a Bit of Personal History

Sunday, July 29, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

This week (Tuesday) is the publication day for WHEN YOU WISH UPON A DUKE, my first historical romance written as Isabella Bradford for Ballantine/Random House. For international readers often stymied by Amazon's downloads, the book will also be published as an ebook in the UK by Headline. I'll be sharing more about the Duke of Marchbourne and his arranged bride Lady Charlotte Wylder (and the history that inspired them) all this week.

But first, a bit of personal history. Regular readers will have noticed that Loretta's been doing all the heavy-lifting here for the last ten days or so, and that I've been MIA on Pinterest, FB, and Twitter as well. I wish I could tell you I'd been lolling on some holiday-isle, but alas, that wasn't the case. On Friday, July 20, I was settling down to write. My husband and daughter were off to see Dark Knight, and I was looking forward to a good, quiet, productive afternoon. I was feeling a little 'off', but that was easily blamed on the usual writer combo of too much caffeine and too little sleep. What else is new?

But that off-ness abruptly changed to nausea and vomiting, and when my family returned from the movie, I sent my husband off to the drug store for an OTC remedy. Fifteen minutes later, he found me passed out on the floor, and called 911. I can only remember weird fragments from the rest of the day - the tension in the curt voices around me in the Emergency Room, my daughter crying, the blood-draws and IV's - and how much everything just plain hurt. Turned out I had a double-whammy of acute pancreatitis and cholecystitis, completely out of the blue and with no prior history or warnings.

By all reports, I nearly died.

I spent the next eight days in the hospital, looked after by an amazing team of nurses and doctors. I'm home now, at last, though only long enough to beef myself up to have my gall bladder removed. The surgeon is welcome to it. I've been assured that when all this is done, I'll once again be my usual rude-animal-health-self. The old adage promises that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and I'm looking forward to becoming one awesome, improved model. 

Now, about the Duke of Marchbourne. . . .

Friday, July 27, 2012

Friday Video: Carmen Miranda

Friday, July 27, 2012
Loretta reports:

Before there was Lady Gaga, there was Carmen Miranda.  While this clip has a longer lead-in than another of the same song on YouTube, I think it's worth the wait for the sharper image.  If you love her style, as I've done for ages, there's lots more where this came from.

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, July 26, 2012

Return Engagement: 18th Century Gamesters

Thursday, July 26, 2012
Susan reporting:

There have been gamblers as long as there have been two men with something to wager on and something to wager with. In 18th c. London, however, gaming was a ruinous epidemic. Gentlemen from the highest levels of English society played with a ruinous, reckless fury that shocked foreigners. 

Even Horace Walpole (not exactly a wild rake) knew of young gentlemen who thought nothing of losing fifteen thousand pounds at the tables of private clubs; at Brooks's, he wrote in 1774,"a thousand meadows and cornfields are staked at every throw, and as many villages lost as in the earthquake that overwhelmed Herculaneum and Pompeii." Typical of the excess was young Charles James Fox, grandson of the Duke of Richmond and great-great grandson of Charles II, who had amassed gaming debts of over £140,000 before his twenty-fourth birthday – and this was in a time when an English family of the middling sort could live comfortably on £50 a year!

Here's a droll description of fashionable London gamesters from a 1773 Virginian newspaper, written as an anthropological observation by a "Gentleman who has travelled through different Parts of the Globe":

   "I met with a very strange Set of Men, who often sat round a Table the whole Night, and even till the Morning is well advanced; but there is no Cloth laid for them, nor is there any Thing to gratify the Appetite. The Thunder might rattle over their Heads, two Armies might engage beside them, Heaven itself might threaten an instant Chaos, without making them stir, or in the least disturbing them; for they are deaf and dumb. At Times, indeed, they are heard to utter inarticulate Sounds, which have no Connexion with each other, and very little Meaning; yet will they roll their Eyes at each other in the oddest Manner imaginable. Often have I looked at them with wonder....Sometimes they appear furious, as Bedlamites; sometimes serious and gloomy, as the infernal Judges; and sometimes gasping with all the Anguish of a Criminal, as he is led to the Place of Execution."
   "Heavens (exclaimed the Friends of our Traveller) what can be the Object of these unhappy Wretches? Are they Servants of the Publick?"
   "No," the Traveller said.
   "Then they are in Search of the Philosopher's Stone?"
   "Oh! Now we have it; they are sent thither in Order to repent of, and to atone for, their Crimes."
   "No, you are much deceived, my Friends, as ever."
   "Good God! then they must be Madmen. Deaf, dumb, and insensible! What in the Name of Wonder can employ them?"
   "Why, only one thing," the Traveller said. "It is GAMING."

Above: A Rake's Progress: The Gaming House (detail) by William Hogarth, 1732-35, Sir John Soane's Museum

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Thomas Jefferson's Ice Cream

Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Jefferson's Recipe
Loretta reports:

This week in 1904 saw the invention at the World’s Fair (aka Louisiana Purchase Exhibition)  of the ice cream cone.  Charles E Menches was one of several confectioners credited with creating the cone.  As these color stereoscopic images show, the crowds were large and there was a lot of territory to cover.  Ice cream in an edible, portable container: What a great idea!

Ice cream itself, though, had been around for a long time before this.  Thomas Jefferson brought back this recipe from France.  Yes, that’s his handwriting.  Since it's tricky to decipher, you might want to look at the transcriptions here and here,  and read more about Georgian Ices here at Historic Food.

The Ice Cream Girl c.1913
Both images courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.  Clicking on captions will take you to the LOC page, and additional information.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Return engagement: Jenny Diver, Pickpocket

Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Isabella/Susan reports:

If you're familiar with John Gay's famous 18th c. ballad opera The Beggar's Opera, then you've heard of Jenny Diver. For his character, Gay borrowed the name of one of London's most infamous female pickpockets. Mary Young (1700?-1741) was an Irish seamstress who found thieving in London much more profitable than stitching in Dublin. Known by the name of Jenny Diver in honor of her dexterity at plucking purses, her ingenuity and daring soon made her a legend, and her exploits earned her a place in The Newgate Calendar. Here are two:

Jenny, accompanied by one of her female accomplices, joined the crowd at the entrance of a place of worship...where a popular divine was to preach, and, observing a young gentleman with a diamond ring on his finger, she held out her hand, which he kindly received in order to assist her: at this juncture she contrived to get possession of the ring without the knowledge of the owner; after which she slipped behind her companion....Upon his leaving the meeting [the gentleman] missed his ring, and mentioned his loss to the persons who were near him, adding that he suspected it to be stolen by a woman whom he had endeavoured to assist in the crowd; but, as the thief was unknown, she escaped....

[Soon after] this exploit, Jenny procured a pair of false hands and arms to be made, and concealed her real ones under her clothes; she then, putting something beneath her stays to make herself appear as if in a state of pregnancy, repaired on a Sunday evening to the place of worship above mentioned in a sedan chair, one of the gang going before to procure a seat among the genteeler part of the congregation, and another attending in the character of a footman. Jenny being seated between two elderly ladies, each of whom had a gold watch by her side, she conducted herself with great seeming devotion; but, the service being nearly concluded, she seized the opportunity, when the ladies were standing up, of stealing their watches, which she delivered to an accomplice in an adjoining pew. The devotions being ended, the congregation were preparing to depart, when the ladies discovered their loss, and a violent clamour ensued. One of the injured parties exclaimed "That her watch must have been taken either by the devil or the pregnant woman!" on which the other said, "She could vindicate the pregnant lady, whose hands she was sure had not been removed from her lap during the whole time of her being in the pew."

At last Jenny's luck ran out, and she was captured, tried, and hung at Tyburn in 1741. Yet even at her execution, her notoriety separated her from common thieves: instead of traveling the last journey to the gallows in an open cart, she was granted a lady's farewell, and made the trip in a coach.

Above: Detail from The Rake's Progress: The Rake at the Rose Tavern by William Hogarth, 1732.

Update: I'd intended to include the link to Jenny's complete entry in The Newgate Calendar for those who are interested. My apologies for forgetting - here it is: Jenny Diver.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Court Dress for July 1820

Monday, July 23, 2012
July 1820 Ackermann's Repository
Loretta reports:

A recent Friday video showed English debutantes of 1939.  Among the images were films of the ladies being presented at Court.  You will have noted the plumes, which were required for court presentations.  In the early 19th century, hoops were required as well, long after they'd gone out of fashion.  It wasn't until King George III died and the Prince Regent became King George IV that the ladies were allowed to abandon their hoops.  You can see a fabulous collection of the Regency era court dresses, with hoops, and learn all about them at Candice Hern's website.

This dress, of course, represents the new order.

To enlarge, please click on illustrations.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Breakfast links broken

Sunday, July 22, 2012
Lady Morgan by René Berthon
Loretta & Isabella/Susan report:

Due to unforeseen circumstances, we're unable to bring you breakfast links this week.  We hope to soon return to our normally-scheduled blogging.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Friday Video: Marie-Antoinette's Automaton

Friday, July 20, 2012

Isabella/Susan reporting:

Loretta and I are fascinated by historical automata – those elaborate wonders of clockwork mechanics from the 18th and 19th centuries. (Long-time readers of this blog will recall the Silver Swan, still swimming after more than 200 hundred years, and the twin Golden Elephants with the spinning rubies, as well as this description from La Belle Assemblee.) Automata represented the highest levels of ingenuity, craftsmanship, and imagination, and are as amazing today in the digital age as they must have been to their earlier audiences. They were favorites of royalty, extravagant toys for the king, queen, or emperor who truly did have everything.

This elegant lady – known as La Joueuse de tympanon (The Dulcimer Player) – is a stunningly beautiful example. Made in Germany by clockmaker Peter Kintzing and cabinetmaker David Roentgen, this automaton was presented to Queen Marie-Antoinette in 1785. The queen was enchanted, bought the piece at once, and had it placed in the Academy of Science.

I know the little dulcimer-player is only painted clockwork, but when she turns her head with that little side-long glance, I can't keep from thinking of everything she's seen in her long, long life. . . .

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Foreign Prince Seeks Rich Wife

Thursday, July 19, 2012
Loretta reports:

In 1826, Prince Pückler-Muskau divorced his beloved wife Lucie and set out for England in search of a rich bride.  It was a divorce of convenience.  He’d inherited both his father’s enormous debts and his father’s extravagant tastes, he’d lost his principality and all its revenues to the Kingdom of Prussia, and his father-in-law left his fortune to his mistresses.  In desperate need of money, the prince traveled to England, where heiresses abounded.

Among the many prospective brides was a doctor’s daughter with a dowry of £50,000, a merchant’s daughter with a dowry of £40,000, an “ugly but well bred girl” with £100,000, and a jeweler’s daughter with £200,000.

He wrote frankly about these prospects to his true love, Lucie.  He wrote about a great deal else, too, because Lucie had asked him “for small details of everyday life.”

In the end, he never did find a rich bride.  In 1829 he went home to Muskau, still in dire financial straits.  But Lucie had kept all his letters, and they decided to publish them (after some editing).  In 1830 they appeared anonymously as Briefes Eines Verstorbenen—Letters from a Dead man.  In 1832, Sarah Austin’s English translation, The Tour of a German Prince, was published.

Though some of his remarks about the British ticked them off—they called him “Pickling Mustard”—the books made him rich and famous.  He got the money he needed, and was able to rejoin his one true love.

The prince, whom I encountered some years ago in Puckler’s Progress—an updated, delightful translation—sparked the idea for “Lord Lovedon’s Duel,” my contribution to the Royal Bridesmaids anthology.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Intrepid Women: Mrs. Eleanor Coade, Georgian Entrepreneur

Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

As intrepid women go, Eleanor Coade (1733-1821) left very little  of herself behind for posterity. There are no grand portraits, no insightful journals or letters, no grainy newsreel footage. There is, in fact, almost nothing known of her personal life. But as an entrepreneur and businesswoman, Mrs. Coade left her mark all over Georgian Britain with an exuberant grandeur that remains today.

Born into a merchant family in Lyme, Eleanor Coade moved to London with her family in 1760, soon she was running her first business as a linen draper. She never married; the "Mrs." is an honorific of respect, used for business purposes. In 1769, she brought a failing manufactory of artificial stone in Lambeth. She set to work perfecting her own formula for a ceramic-based artificial stone that had the strength and integrity to outlast real stone, combined with an ability to be molded in endless ways to replicated carved marble. Although she called her creation Lithodipyra (twice-fired stone), it was more commonly known as Coadestone, and every piece was stamped on the base or back with her name. Within two years, she had not only made the manufactory profitable, but had also drawn the attention of every prominent architect working in London at the time.

She hired the best sculptors to make her moulds and kept her standards high. Soon Coadestone sculptures and architectural elements were appearing everywhere from Buckingham Palace to the Brighton Pavilion, and even in Russia. Her work was produced by royal appointment to both George III and the Prince Regent, and was used by renowned architects like Sir John Soane, Robert Adam, and Thomas Nash.

But Mrs. Coade didn't rely entirely on royalty and the aristocracy for her business. A savvy businesswoman, she realized that the increasingly prosperous middle class wished to improve their houses, too.  Soon Coadestone porches, statues, and other elements in the best classically-inspired taste were being added to plain-fronted brick houses all over London. Keystones to place over doors or windows were particularly popular choices from the Coade catalogues. This Smiling Philosopher keystone, lower left, now decorates a house in Manchester Street.

The masculine, muscular term (an architectural support in human form), upper left, is from Schomberg House in Pall Mall, and is part of the porch, right, that was added to a plain-fronted 1690s house. (Click on the images to enlarge for more detail.) The terms must have been among Mrs. Coade's favorites (who can argue?), because they also appeared on the entrance to her own display gallery, opened in 1799.

Mrs. Coade continued to oversee the manufactory until her death in 1821, aged 88. Her success merited an obituary in The Gentleman's Magazine - a rare honor for an 18th c. woman - which praised her as "the sole inventor and proprietor of an art which deserves considerable notice." Family members attempted to keep the business going, but by 1840, it had closed. By the 1950s, the last remnants of the once-thriving site along the Thames were obliterated, and even Mrs. Coade's grave in Bunhill Fields Cemetery was destroyed by the Blitz.

All that remains is Belmont, her house in Lyme Regis. Overlooking the water and splendidly enhanced with examples of her own products, the house later became the much-loved home of 20th c writer John Fowles. It was his wish that Belmont be restored and preserved to inspire future generations. Now owned by The Landmark Turst, the house is in the early stages of renovation; click here for a wonderful video showing the house's history and more examples of Coade stone, plus information about the campaign to preserve Belmont.

Many thanks to Caroline Stanford, who suppled these photographs as well as much of the information for this post.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Royal Bridesmaid of 1835

Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Loretta reports:

As I mentioned last Friday, today* Avon releases another bridal anthology, Royal Bridesmaids, from the same trio that brought you that other bridal anthology last year.  This time, Stephanie Laurens, Gaelen Foley, and I focus on the bride’s attendants. 

My story, "Lord Lovedon’s Duel," is set partly in the fictional Duke of Marchmont’s place in Kensington, a Jacobean pile I based on Holland House.  Last Friday’s video offered some glimpses of the house before it fell victim to the Blitz.

You can see some stereoscopic views by scrolling down here, and if you’re hungry for more, there are several 19th century descriptions online, including the lengthy one I made great use of, Princess Marie Liechtenstein's Holland House.
The illustration at right is one of many in the book.

*The print edition appears 14 August.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Barbara Johnson's Album: One Lady's Style, 1746-1823

Sunday, July 15, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

Thanks to the internet, today's fashion-conscious woman can see the latest styles the very minute they appear on the Paris runways, and keeping track of her own wardrobe purchases is as easy as a smart-phone app. Two hundred years ago, a lady in Staffordshire, England, was doing much the same thing: not with an app, but an album.

In 1746, when she was only eight, Barbara Johnson (1738-1825) began to keep a kind of fashion journal for herself, and she continued to do so for the next seventy years, until 1823, two years before her death. In an over-sized book covered in green parchment, Barbara not only listed all the clothes she had made for her, the yardage, and the cost, but also included swatches of the fabric she chose, bringing home neatly clipped squares from her mantua-maker to pin on the pages beside the description. On the page shown above left, the simple description of "green & white yard wide Stuff"comes to life when the actual fabric - the flowered print in the lower corner of the page -  is there as well. (It's the same kind of visual aha! that happens with a similar kind of 18th c record-book with attachments, the admissions books and tokens of the Foundling Hospital.)

Barbara didn't stop with her own clothes, however. She also included clippings from contemporary fashion plates and magazines of gowns and hats she admired, clippings that perhaps resembled a garment she owned, or wished to have copied. The 18th century marks the first beginnings of the fashion media, with printed fashion plates and lady's magazines bringing the latest London styles to every corner of the English empire. In this era, when nearly all clothes were custom made to suit a specific person's body, taste, and purse, a lady could bring the fashion plates to her own mantua-maker no matter where she lived. She could incorporate as much or as little of the new styles into her own clothes, or have older gowns updated. For Barbara, who lived far from London, the pictures must have brought a glimpse of the high style and glamour of the capitol to her rural home.

The album also shows the dramatic changes that occurred in fashion during Barbara's lifetime, from the full petticoats, stays, and hoops of the mid-18th c to the high-waisted, uncomplicated styles like these, right, from a page in 1803. On the same page, Barbara includes a swatch for a "Sarsnet Pelise", a gift from her brother; although by then she was an aged lady in her sixties, she's still clearly interested in the new fashions.

But Barbara's notes - in that wonderful Georgian penmanship - also show how the clothes fit into her life. The blue-and-white lutestring at the top of the page, above left, was worn to "Brother Johnson's birthday" in 1765. On the same page, below left, with the bright yellow tabby silk and flowered silk brocade is a swatch of plain white lutestring, used for "second Mourning for My Father" in 1755.

Barbara's album is now in the Victoria & Albert Museum. Go here to see more pages, or search the museum's site for "Barbara Johnson's album." In the 1980's, W.W. Norton printed a facsimile of the album as A Lady of Fashion: Barbara Johnson's Album of Styles and Fabrics, edited by Natalie Rothstein of the V&A's textile department. Long out of print, the facsimile is highly prized, and highly priced, too. If you come across a copy in a used book store, buy it - it's a treasure!

Above: Album, compiled by Barbara Johnson, 1746-1823. England, Britain. Victoria & Albert Museum. All images copyright Victoria & Albert Museum.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of July 9, 2012

Saturday, July 14, 2012
Another fresh serving of our favorite links of the week – other blogs, web sites, articles, & pictures - all collected for you from around the Twitterverse.
Elizabeth Armistead, famous 18th c courtesan, later wife of Charles Fox.
• Jacobean court masques: were the ladies really topless?
• Anti-suffrage propaganda: what really goes on in a woman's head.
• People of the past at the typewriter.
• What it cost in 1926 to be a well-dressed flapper
• India-inspired, complete with stone elephants: Sezincote Garden in Gloucestershire in pictures.
• The skinniest store in Manhattan?
• What links Percy Bysshe Shelley, Brian Jones, Robert Maxwell, and Amy Johnson?
• Meet Edith & Fanny, Thomas Jefferson's Enslaved Master Chefs.
• The End of an Era: how government budget cuts in the UK mean the demise of historically famed regiment.
• Mad about plaid: how the 18th c Duchess of Gordon launched a tartan craze.
Wearing wool all summer long: such was the fate of fashionable 19th c ladies.
• Work: Louisa May Alcott writes about bucking the system.
• On anniversary of Burr-Hamilton duel: Definitive duels.
John Singer Sargent & his subjects are seen together in this rare studio photo as he paints a portrait.
• Varieties of Lewdness, 1795.
• Why do we wear pants?
• Ten inventions by Thomas Edison that you've never heard of.
Busby Berkeley's Dancers, 1930s.
• Music Hall artist Sarah Brown, who was jailed for three months for wearing this costume.
• If you were Queen Charlotte, this is what you'd see when you lay on your back in bed.
• In defense of cursive penmanship.
Packing for a trip? What writer John Didion always took with her.
Resurrection of Italy's deconsecrated churched - much better than tearing them down!
Crave more than a once-a-week update? Follow us on Twitter at @2nerdyhistgirls for the freshest tweets every day.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday Video: Debutantes of 1939

Friday, July 13, 2012
Holland House
Loretta reports:

I found this while looking for interviews with the Duchess of Devonshire.  Her memoirs, Wait for Me, which I read not long ago, offered quite a bit of insight into the world of the English upper classes.  The video piece is long—more than 45 minutes—but if you can set aside some time to watch it, I think you'll be as fascinated as I was.  It's a funny, provoking, and poignant glimpse of a world long gone.  As well as some beautiful women, there are some gorgeous men.

The program contains as well, some views of Holland House before its destruction in the Blitz.  My new short story, in the e-anthology Royal Bridesmaids (available 17 July), is partly set in my fictionalized version of this remarkable house.

Illustration:  John Buckler, Holland House, 1812, courtesy Wikipedia.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Women's History in a Strand of Silk

Thursday, July 12, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

Earlier this year, I wrote this post about 19th c schoolgirl needlework that had recently appeared in an exhibition at Winterthur Museum. One of our wise readers (and we do love our wise readers!) wrote to say that while she had enjoyed the post, Winterthur's exhibition wasn't telling the whole story by featuring pieces almost entirely from the northern American states. Where were the samplers and other fancy stitchery done by the girls of the South?

She was right, too. Many histories of 19th c American needlework emphasis the schools and handiwork of girls in the big northern cities of Boston, New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Very few feature the handiwork of southern girls. Some historians go so far as to claim that needlework simply wasn't important to these girls and women, or that the reason for so comparatively few surviving pieces in auctions and museums was because the humid climate destroyed them, or even that they were used for bandages in the Civil War.

None of those "explanations" is true. The reality is much less dramatic: few examples turn up for sale because Southern families tend to hang on to their heirlooms. Great-great-grandmother's prized sampler was simply too cherished to sell or be left behind, and their small size made them easy even for a family displaced by the Civil War to carry with them.

One group is working hard to change these perceptions. The Tennessee Sampler Survey is not only tracking down and documenting samplers and other needlework with Tennessee ties, but also creating an on-line resource exhibition of the pieces. The website is invaluable for collectors and historians, and inspiring to modern needleworkers. More importantly, it also gives names and voices to the hundreds of girls and women who worked these beautiful pieces, and the long-gone schools and academies they attended.

Women's history is seldom written as boldly as that of men. Sometimes it isn't written with ink and paper at all, but with a strand of silk thread on linen.

Above: Sampler worked by Frances (Fanny) Matilda Batey (1842-1926.) Completed 1862, at Franklin College, Nashville, TN. Silk & wool on linen.
Many thanks to Janet Hasson, director & genealogist of the Tennessee Sampler Survey, for her assistance with this post. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Modiste in a Dilemma

Wednesday, July 11, 2012
The New Monthly Belle Assemblée 1836
Loretta reports:

One of the better known and longest-surviving early 19th century ladies magazines was La Belle Assemblée, or, Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine. While over the years the name changed slightly, it remained in print from 1806-1837.  Mrs. Bell’s shop, the Magazin des Modes, changed addresses numerous times in the periods I’ve studied, but the magazine went on steadily.

Along with fashion, political news, reviews and other fact-based writing, La Belle Assemblée published poetry and fiction.

Most of the poetry is excruciating to read, and the fiction, often serialized interminably, would not appeal to modern tastes. I’ve only skimmed some of the serials (not sure I’d live long enough to read one from start to finish), but there seem to be an awful lot of tragic misunderstandings and people dying at the exact moment the lover/estranged parent/estranged child shows up and All Is Explained/Forgiven.

But when looking up dates for use of the term “modiste,” I happened on an interesting little exception.  The Modiste in a Dilemma is short* and sweet—only two full pages altogether) and offers, I think, some insight into the world in which my fictional dressmakers were trying to make a name for themselves. 
The New Monthly Belle Assemblée, Volume 5, 1836

*Short but too long to post here.  Please click on the title to read.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lord Rothschild's Zebras

Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

One of the absolute best things about the internet is all the historical *stuff* that I discover while I'm hunting for something else. Sometimes these discoveries can inspire a scene or a character in a book, or they simply end up as another entry in our weekly Breakfast Links. The ones I HAVE to share at once land here as blog posts. Which is why today we have photographs of the 2nd Baron Rothschild and his zebras.

Lionel Walter Rothschild (1868-1937) is one of the most fascinating gentlemen of the late 19th-early 20th c. As the heir both to a title and to a legendary financial empire, young Rothschild was expected to join his family's business, and for twenty years, he did. But his heart lay far from the world of international finance. From boyhood, he was fascinated by zoology. He was also an almost fanatical collector, building an unrivaled private museum with literally millions of zoological specimens gathered from every part of the world. Unlike many private collectors, he believed in sharing his passion, not only opening his museum to the public, but hiring scholars and experts to help organize and document the collections for publication.

A shy man, he was still willing to create a sensation to demonstrate a point. Victorians regarded zebras as irredeemably wild animals, resistant to being tamed and made useful to man, an unforgivable sin to the Victorian mind. Walter believed otherwise, and to prove it drove his carriage drawn by a team of well-trained zebras, above, to Buckingham Palace. (In this photograph, there's an ordinary horse hiding behind the first zebra; I have no idea whether he was a calming influence, or simply a ringer.) Nor was this a one-trick pony - er, zebra. Lord Rothschild's zebras became a famous sight to Londoners, and visitors to his home were also treated to sight of him driving a single-zebra cart, below.

Lord Rothschild's remarkable collection continues to delight the public today, with the majority of the specimens divided between the American Museum of Natural History and the British Museum. His private zoo became the Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum at Tring. Click here for more about Lord Rothschild, including a wonderful video narrated by Beth Rothschild.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Fashions for July 1835

Monday, July 9, 2012
Loretta reports:

Here's an example of the Parisian styles Maison Noirot's customers might have encountered in Scandal Wears Satin.

Lady's Magazine & Museum Vol VII

This plate & description turned up unexpectedly in the wrong lady's magazine.  Perusing the 1833 Lady's Magazine & Museum, I found, stuck in the back, the July-October 1835 issues.  A very happy accident for me, since 1835  isn't the easiest year to find fashions for.  Click on pictures & text to enlarge.

Note:  Brodequins are half-boots, with leather soles and satin uppers.  In Paris, "Brodequins of satin royal are fashionable; if not the colour of the dress, they should be bronze, dark moss green, or grey."

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of July 1, 2012

Saturday, July 7, 2012
• More wonderful Linley Sambourne photos: travel to the English seaside during the hot summer of 1906.
Knitting in the Royal Navy.
• Jane Austen's "Best Literary Sex Scene."
• 18th c recipe for making "hedgehogs" from almond paste.
• Very funny: long jump for horses & other (wisely) discontinued Olympic sports.
• Stern Notice of Indecent Dress in the Village of Lake George, NY.
Scandal at Court: the Death of Lady Flora Hastings.
• Behold the book-reader of the future, c 1935 - though it might not make it as carry-on.
• Fabulous Renaissance portrait heads by Arcimboldo made of fruit, flora, and fauna.
• What happened to this preservationist's house in NYC will make you sad, and angry, too.
• A 19th c Englishwoman encountering Italy: Countess Evelyn Martinengo Cesaresco.
• Teenaged girls threaten crusade for right to wear curls to school in 1910.
• Old images of Jane Austen's bookshop.
• Bathing with sheeps' heads: nursing the sick child in 17th c England.
• Explore two Gilded Age menus: ten courses that inclue terrapin, chaufroid, ices & wine.
• The mysterious coffins of Arthur's Seat, Scotland.
• Not a good time to be a Loyalist in Philadelphia, 1781: "A mob...broke the shutters & the glass of the windows."
• As complicated then as now (though much more beautifully written): agreement for altering & repairing a house in Hanover Square, 1786.
• Evocative early color photos of Brighton Beach, June, 1906.
• A Regency gentleman's wardrobe: Thomas Coutts, Banker.
Rabies in the 18th c.
• Oil on copper miniature with 27 mica overlays, a 17th c version of the paper dress-up doll.
• Favorite photo of a favorite author: Edith Wharton with her pet dogs.
• The power of the purse: John Hancock's elegant canvas-work billfold.
• Too strange even for PT Barnum's audiences: Astronomer Joseph Faber's Talking Euphonia.
Top history-myths regarding the Fourth of July.
• BBC sadly reports: No evidence of mermaids, says US government.

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Friday Video: Intrepid Woman Amelia Earhart, Ace Flyer

Friday, July 6, 2012

Isabella/Susan reporting:

This week marks the 75th anniversary of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart (1897-1937?), one of the most famous fliers of the twentieth century. Amelia and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were last seen taking off from Papua New Guinea as part of an attempted round-the-world flight. While there are many theories about where and how their flight must have ended, no one knows for certain, and the answer remains one of history's most tantalizing mysteries.

In an era when the skies were still a world to be conquered, Amelia soared, breaking records and setting new ones with a speed that made her a darling of an awe-struck public. But Amelia can't be defined by celebrity alone. In addition to being a pioneer in the air, she wrote bestselling books, mentored other women about careers in flight, served on the faculty of the Purdue University Department of Aviation, and was an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. In other words, an all-around Intrepid Woman.

This short newsreel film from the 1930s features Amelia herself describing her career and experiences. Somehow her modest, matter-of-fact manner makes her achievements all the more extraordinary.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Sheridan-Grant Elopement scandal

Thursday, July 5, 2012
Dagley, Taking Amiss
Loretta reports:

The Sheridan-Grant elopement, which more or less kicks off Scandal Wears Satin, was the talk of London for many weeks in the spring and early summer of 1835.  It's hard to make heads or tails of, going by the entries in the Court Journal, which assume one knows all the principals & can translate the initials & cryptic references. I couldn't sort out who was whom until I read the following summary in a life of King William IV.

You can click on the text here for an enlarged version, or read it online beginning on page 398 in The Sailor King: William the Fourth, His Court and His Subjects, Volume 2.


 Richard Dagley caricature, Taking Amiss, courtesy Ancestry Images.com

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day, 1812

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Isabella/Susan reporting:

Today most Americans are celebrating Independence Day with picnics and barbecues, trips to the beach or the lake, parades, baseball, and fireworks, and just general lazing around. The painting, above, may look more like a genteel Jane Austen-esque gathering than a Fourth of July celebration, but that's exactly what it is: Philadelphians gathering to celebrate the day in July, 1812.

Painted by German-born artist John Lewis Krimmel (1786-1821), the picture - click on the image to enlarge - is actually quite true to the spirit of the holiday. Like many Europeans, Krimmel was impressed by the democratic, orderly feel of the young republic, still less than forty years removed from revolution. Philadelphians from all different social groups have gathered together to observe the day. There's a group of fashion-conscious gentry and a family of Quakers in plain clothes, a few rakish bachelors, country folk gawking at the nude statue, children acting up, and a well-dressed African-American couple near the fence. Everyone appears to be enjoying themselves in a mannerly way. Even the dogs are getting along.

The temple-like building in the background isn't some classical folly, but a testament to civic welfare. In the late 18th c, Philadelphia had suffered from a horrific outbreak of yellow fever that had killed more than a tenth of the city's population. Believing that one of the causes of the outbreak was Philadelphia's notoriously bad drinking water and nonexistent sanitation, the city fathers commissioned architect Benjamin Latrobe to devise the country's first waterworks. Shown here is the central pump-house, built in 1800, which contained a steam-driven pump (the reason for the smoke drifting from the roof) that brought fresh water to houses and businesses throughout the city, and provided sufficient water pressure to wash streets and docks. This was a huge achievement that benefited the entire city, rich and poor alike. Celebrating Independence Day here, before such an obvious example of civic pride and unity, must have made perfect sense.

Another reason why this celebration doesn't seem quite as raucous as later ones would become: the United States had just declared war on Great Britain to begin what would later be called the War of 1812. The war was not popular – the congressional vote was the narrowest of any formal declaration of war in American history – and even the most bellicose of Philadelphians must have been wondering uncertainly what the future would bring.

Of course modern Americans know exactly how the War of 1812 turned out (at least the ones who even know there was such a war, but that's a separate issue altogether), and this year many Independence Day celebrations will be including bicentennial tributes. However you choose to observe the day, we wish you all the best!

Above: Fourth of July in Centre Square, Philadelphia, 1812, by John Lewis Krimmel
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