Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A 19thc Maternity Robe & Corset On Display at the Museum at FIT

Tuesday, January 30, 2018
Susan reporting,

As I've written here before, one of my favorite small museums in NYC is the Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology). Their fashion exhibitions are drawn from their own extensive collection, and always offer a thoughtful take on the history - past and present - of clothing.

Their current exhibition is The Body: Fashion and Physique, and once again the curators challenge visitors to consider conventions and assumptions related to fashion. This time, it's how fashion distorts, contains, or reveals the human body. Examples include the exaggerated silhouette of an 1880s bustle, the balloon-shaped sleeves and full skirts to make the waist smaller by comparison in an 1830s dress, the sculptural 1950s ballgowns of Charles James, the babydoll shifts worn by a waifish Twiggy in the 1960s, or the enormous shoulder pads of the 1980s that mimicked the ideal gym-body of the time (and yes, a recording of a perky Olivia Newton commanded us to "get physical...physical!" in that gallery.) In many cases, the garment was shown side by side with the undergarments - whether stays, corsets, or girdles - required to achieve the "proper" shape.

Some of the more interesting garments addressed adjusting fashion to conform to the wearer's bodies rather than the other way around. For women in wheelchairs, designers are creating clothes that are tailored to a sitting figure, as well as shirts and jackets with special Velcro closures along the seams to make dressing easier.

But most striking to me were these two garments, above, both 19th century maternity wear. The brightly colored robe on the left, c1860, is loose-fitting, cheerful, and comfortable, and there are plenty of modern mothers-to-be who'd wear this now. Yet as the placard noted, the robe was for a 19thc woman's "confinement": "Aptly named, confinement was a 19th-century custom dictating that expectant mothers should remain inside their homes when they could no longer conceal their pregnant bellies, which were inappropriate for public display."

There's nothing cheerful about the second garment, which is almost a visual representation of "confinement." It's a maternity corset, c1900. From the placard: "Rather than having one line of lacing up the back, [this corset] has five lines, making it adjustable at the sides. Maternity corsets were intended to help women camouflage their changing bodies, but they were also considered necessary to give support to the wearer's back and belly."

Such corsets were targeted by 19thc dress reformers, who accused the undergarments of causing miscarriages as well as undersized and deformed babies. But as fashion historian Valerie Steele (who is also the director and chief curator of the Museum at FIT) points out in her book The Corset: A Cultural History (Yale University Press, 2001), it's often difficult to separate attacks on corsets from attacks on the mother who wore them. Any imperfect child was the fault of the mother. If she'd worn a corset while pregnant, she was faulted for her vanity and selfishness, and her unwomanly lack of maternal concern - charges that were especially potent in the era of the Suffragists.

"Attacks on the corset were often linked to ideological campaigns in favor of motherhood, reflecting fears that if women broke away from their domestic sphere, the entire social order would be threatened. The German literature on dress reform is especially notable for its antifeminist bias....In France, an extremely low birthrate led to widespread fears about depopulation, but motherhood was also extolled in Britain and America."

Yet as the museum's placard noted, there were also benefits to such corsets. For 19thc women who had endured closely-spaced, multiple pregnancies and suffered from complications like a prolapsed uterus, adjustable maternity corsets like this one could actually have done more good than harm, offering support for both the abdomen and the back. Nor have maternity corsets vanished in the 21st century, either: while boning and lacing have been replaced by Spandex, modern maternity shapewear offers many of the same advantages as the old-fashioned corsets - and receives many of the same criticisms, too. Never easy answers where fashion is concerned....

The Body: Fashion and Physique continues at the Museum at FIT through May 5, 2018.

Maternity robe, 1860s, printed wool, USA.
Maternity corset, Ferris Bros., c1900, USA.
Both collection of the Museum at FIT. Photograph ©2018 Susan Holloway Scott.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Green Man Inn, Putney Heath

Monday, January 29, 2018

Loretta reports,

The Green Man Inn at the northern end of Putney Heath features in a crucial scene of A Duke in Shining Armor. Like many of the places I use in my books, it did exist. Like not quite so many, it still exists, and so of course I was thrilled to actually pay a visit there during my stay in London last summer.

Many of the old travel books online emphasize the inn’s importance as a resort of highwaymen. However, I’ve focused on its use as a place for bolstering one’s courage before a duel and—for the survivors, a place to calm the nerves with a brandy and soda (as is recommended by my favorite book on dueling, The Art of Dueling).

Duels took place nearby in Putney Heath at dawn or (less usually) dusk. Duelists chose out-of-the way places, like Putney Heath or Battersea Fields because they were reasonably close to London, yet far enough away to reduce chances of the authorities blundering in and spoiling the fun of men trying to kill each other. Duels, though they remained a popular way for gentlemen to settle disputes, were against the law.

Doubtless the landscape has changed over the last century and a half—fewer trees then, for instance, in many places than there are today. Still, given the heath’s reputation as a favorite spot for highwaymen, I suspected it was as easy to find a suitable place, not far from the road yet not visible from it, as it was during our visit. A short walk took us to what looked like an ideal spot: A good sized clearing where the ground was level, offering both combatants a clear sight. Yet the road wasn’t far away, and it was easy to imagine the carriages standing by, ready to take the duelists, alive, wounded, or dead, away.

The Green Man photograph © 2018 Walter M. Henritze
Green Man, Putney from Charles G. Harper's The Old Inns of Old England : a picturesque account of the ancient and storied hostelries of our own country 1906
Cruikshank, The Point of Honor decided, or the Leaden argument of a Love affaire, from The English Spy, 1825

Please click on images to enlarge.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of January 22, 2018

Saturday, January 27, 2018
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Seldom recorded by name, but definitely on board: women in the Georgian-Victorian Royal Navy.
• The intricate art of using human hair for art, jewelry, and decoration.
• Royalty, espionage, erotica: secrets of the world's tiniest photographs.
Women had few powers in Ancient Greece - except in death.
• How did history lose Thomas Jefferson's daughter?
Image: Original list with alternative titles for Lord of the Flies.
• The noble art of "milling" - which to a Regency man meant a bare-knuckles fight.
• How a library handles a rare and deadly book of arsenic-laden wallpaper samples.
• "Hell's Half Acre," the old red-light district of Los Angeles, and the nightmare of sex workers.
• The jewelry in the paintings of Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rosetti.
• The cost of comfort: the 1761 expenses of wealthy New Yorker Philip Schuyler.
• "The Royal Women of Amarna" explores images of beauty in Ancient Egypt; download to read for free.
Image: A patriotic (though aristocratic) 17thc wine cooler.
• How beautiful is this patent drawing for a bendy straw?
• Dispelling Tudor myths: Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury.
• A 350-year-old recipe for "pumion" pie.
Runaway spouses: naming and shaming.
Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book, c1744, earliest surviving collection of nursery rhymes, includes a song about a bedwetter called "Piss a Bed."
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, January 26, 2018

Friday Video: Automaton Dulcimer Player

Friday, January 26, 2018
Loretta reports:

Susan and I have shown you quite a few automatons and clockwork devices over the years. This one came to my attention via a newspaper advertisement by fabulous antique emporium M.S. Rau Antiques. If I ever get to New Orleans, that will be one of my first stops.

This dulcimer player may have inspired the more famous one belonging to Marie Antoinette, which Susan reported on a while back.

Video: Rare Automaton Dulcimer Player from M.S. Rau Antiques

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

More Military Camp Followers, Young & Old, 1782

Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Susan reporting,

Last year I wrote a post about 18thc artifacts and paintings that showed how the children of soldiers followed their parents to war. Here's another example showing both women and girls as part of a Revolutionary War encampment.

The exhibition Among His Troops - currently at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia through March 4, 2018 - is primarily focused on the Museum's new acquisition, a watercolor panorama by the French engineer Pierre L'Enfant  of the Continental Army's encampment at Verplanck's Point in 1782. (More about this painting in my blog post here.) But also included in the exhibition is another, similar watercolor by L'Enfant showing the army's encampment that same year at West Point.

Owned by the Library of Congress, this watercolor, shown in its entirety below, has seldom been exhibited; for those of you unable to travel to Philadelphia, it's available to view on the LoC site here. For most of the war, West Point had served as the strategic and administrative headquarters for the Continental Army. This watercolor depicts not only the 18thc landscape of the Hudson River and the surrounding regions, but also the rows upon rows of soldiers' tents in the distance as well as West Point's buildings, fortifications, and encampment. As the exhibition's placards note, today's cadets at the United States Military Academy continue to march and train on the exact same ground the Continental soldiers were using in 1782 - and in this painting.

Details, right and lower left, in the foreground show more of everyday life in the encampment. Soldiers gather to talk and rest, muskets are neatly stacked at the ready, officers are shown on horseback, and wagons and ships on the river bring supplies and news.

But there's one small group in the foreground, upper left, of special interest. A woman is shown holding a tin kettle for three soldiers to eat directly from it, while an interested (and likely hungry!) dog waits nearby. To their left are two girls climbing up the hillside. Again according to the exhibition's notes, documents from 1782 list 150 women and children at West Point in addition to about 3,600 soldiers. Wives, daughters, and sweethearts, these women sewed, washed laundry, and supplied food for the men -  important if often overlooked contributions to the military effort.

Many thanks to Phil Mead and Scott Stephenson for the early tour of the exhibition, and to Alex McKechnie for her assistance.

Panoramic View of West Point by Pierre Charles L'Enfant, watercolor, August 1782, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Odyssey in the 21st Century

Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Loretta reports:

Well into the 19th century (and later, in many places), a gentleman’s education—to the extent he had one—consisted mainly of studying Greek and Latin.* This is why, when we read 18th and 19th C books written by men, we come upon untranslated chunks of Greek and Latin. An educated gentleman, it was assumed, would easily understand material he’d learned by rote in school. In a number of my books, I mention this emphasis on Latin and Greek.

All the same, very few people, even in the 19th century, read Homer’s Odyssey in the original Greek. For centuries, scholars and poets have tackled the work, making that tricky ancient Greek accessible, not only to those without a classical education, but also educated persons who found Homer very hard going.

My epigraph for the Prologue of Dukes Prefer Blondes is the beginning of The Odyssey as translated by William Cowper in 1791:

Muse, make the man thy theme, for shrewdness famed
And genius versatile

These are the first lines of the Invocation of the Muse, which we later learn the hero is trying to construe from the Greek. As young Oliver Radford realizes, there’s more than one way to read the poem. Here’s how T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) began:

Odysseus and the Sirens 1829
Goddess-Daughter of Zeus
              Sustain for Me

This Song of the Various-Minded Man…

Wikipedia offers a very long list of English translations, beginning with  George Chapman’s of 1615:

The man, O Muse, inform, that many a way
Wound with his wisdom to his wished stay;

We go on to find Odysseus described as “that prudent Hero,” “The man for wisdom’s various arts renown’d,”  “the crafty man,” “the man full of resources,” and on and on. If you want a sense of how not easy it is to translate Homer’s epic, please do scroll down the Wikipedia page to the section on The Odyssey.

A short time ago, Susan sent me the opening of a a new translation of The Odyssey, by Emily Wilson, the first English translation by a woman.

Robbing the cattle of Helios
Tell me about a complicated man.
Muse, tell me how he wandered and was lost
when he had wrecked the holy town of Troy;
and where he went, and who he met, the pain
he suffered in the storms at sea, and how
he worked to save his life and bring his men
back home. He failed to keep them safe; poor fools,
they ate the Sun God’s cattle, and the god
kept them from home.  Now goddess, child of Zeus,
tell the old story for our modern times.
Find the beginning.

After reading these lines, I ordered the book. Though I’m saving a full read for my late winter sojourn in the South, it’s been hard for this Nerdy History Girl to resist dipping into it. The introduction is an eye-opener, the perfect prelude to the new translation, which IMO is a knockout. As to the story itself, as translation after translation demonstrates, it never gets old.
Waterhouse, Circe Invidiosa 1892

*This isn’t to say that boys and men learnt nothing else. Indeed, a gentleman, not having a job to go to every day to support his family, had the leisure to investigate a wide variety of subjects. Many gentlemen were true polymaths. They were adept in multiple languages, performed agricultural and scientific experiments, attempted to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs, developed early forms of photography, and so on.

Images: Book cover for The Odyssey by Emily Wilson; Pellegrino Tebaldi, The companions of Odysseus rob the cattle of Helios 1554-1556; Bruckmann, Alexander, Odysseus and the Sirens 1829;
J.M. Waterhouse, Circe Invidiosa 1892 from the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia (this image via Wikimedia Commons).

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Backward Letter from Jane Austen, 1817

Sunday, January 21, 2018
Susan reporting,

Whenever I'm in New York, I always try to stop by The Morgan Library to see what treasures from their extraordinary collection have been rotated onto display. As usual, I wasn't disappointed. Among the current exhibits are a score by Mozart, a Gutenberg Bible, a proclamation from George Washington, letters from Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton (!!!), and this wonderful short letter from Jane Austen. These items and others are part of the current Treasures from the Vault exhibition, on display through March 11, 2018.

At first glance, the words appear to be beautifully written gibberish. But there's a trick to reading it: each word is spelled backward. According to the Library's placard, the letter was written by Austen to her eight-year-old niece Cassandra Esten Austen, the daughter of her brother Charles. The code is a bit challenging, but not so difficult that a clever eight-year-old (and being Jane Austen's niece, Cassandra must have been clever) couldn't decipher it. I also imagine Cassandra treasured it, too; her aunt died only six months later, leaving her final novel, Sanditon, unfinished.

I'm not providing a translation (the Library didn't either), so you can try to figure it out for yourselves. It begins "My dear Cassy I wish you a happy new year" and is signed "Your affectionate aunt Jane Austen." What lies between is up to you. Please click on the image to enlarge.

Above: Jane Austen (1775-1817) Autograph letter, written backward, to her niece Cassandra Austen, signed and dated Notwahc [Chawton], 8 January 1817, The Morgan Library. 
Below: Mr. Morgan's Library, The Morgan Library
Photos ©2018 Susan Holloway Scott

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of January 14, 2018

Saturday, January 20, 2018
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Bullet-stopping Bibles.
• How an earthenware jug can be a radical object.
• Why did Charles Dickens have a personal postbox?
• A seldom-seen part of New York City: the vanishing towns along Hook Creek.
• An overlooked benefactress: new research discoveries about who paid for Alexander Hamilton's education.
• Image: Cross-section of a Regency-era townhouse in Brunswick Square.
Katherine of Aragon's prayer book.
• How the newly rediscovered kitchen at Monticello fits into the history of upper-class dining in the west.
• Empress Josephine and the creation of Malmaison.
• Two suns? No, it's a supernova drawn in Kashmir over 6,000 years ago.
• A graveyard of ghost ships near Coney Island.
• The tattooist of Auschwitz - and his secret love.
Image: This is the world's oldest known woven garment, dating from 3482-3103 BC.
• The countess, the gout, and the spider.
• Then and now: fifteen historic New York scenes.
Unicorns in an 18thc Persian medical manual.
• Image: Cutaway reconstruction of late 12thc polygonal keep at Conisbrough Castle, South Yorkshire.
• Distilling the essence of Heaven: how alcohol could defeat the Antichrist (at least in the 16thc.)
• A rare cast & chased gold medal of Queen Elizabeth I that was likely a gift from the queen to a favored courtier or ally.
• Unbelievable images from Weird (er, World) War Two.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, January 19, 2018

Friday Video: The Wedding of Princess Elizabeth & Philip Mountbatten, 1947

Friday, January 19, 2018

Susan reporting,

This is for all of you out there who are engrossed in The Crown on Netflix. Here's a short newsreel segment with the highlights of the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten on November 20, 1947. As grainy as this black & white footage is today, how exciting it must have been to people in the cinema in those pre-television days - and how very different from the second-by-second broadcast of the last royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Newly Discovered Painting of Gen. George Washington's Headquarters Tent, 1782

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Susan reporting,

"National treasure" is a heady designation, but I can't think of any artifact that deserves it more than George Washington's headquarters tent, middle left, now the star of the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, PA. The old tent's once-stout canvas is worn so thin that it now requires an elaborate internal substructure to support it, and so fragile that it can only be shown to visitors a limited number of minutes a day. Yet there are few objects that are both so weighted with history and so emotionally evocative of a long-gone time and spirit.

I've written before in detail about the tent's history here, and about the hand-sewn replica of it (the "stunt double" used in the museum's film) made by the tailors of Colonial Williamsburg here. For visitors to the Philadelphia area, the tent has become a must-see - though I should warn you that everyone I've taken to see it has been overwhelmed to the point of patriotic teariness.

While the actual tent still exists, as well as numerous descriptions of it dating from the Revolution, there wasn't an 18thc image that showed it in use in the field. However, in one of those fortuitous discoveries that make history so special (and delights viewers of Antiques Road Show), an 18thc watercolor showing the tent suddenly appeared at auction last spring, only weeks after the MoAR had opened. While the auction house had labeled it as simply a "Revolutionary War Camp Scene," to Dr. Philip Mead, Chief Historian and Director of Curatorial Affairs for the Museum, recognized the tent  as once. Fortunately, no other potential buyers did as well, and the Museum was able to acquire the drawing for its permanent collection.

The watercolor is long and narrow - about 12" high and seven feet in length, and far too long to capture in its entirety here - consisting of multiple sheets joined together to create a panorama of the Continental Army's 1782 encampment at Verplanck's Point in New York's Hudson Valley. (The single sheet, below, shows the visible joinings between pages.) Rows and rows of the soldiers' small, peeked tents are depicted in precise detail, right, as are the more elaborate tents of the officers. Set apart from the others and on a small hill in a position both commanding and unmistakable, is Washington's field tent, complete with its decorative entryway, above left.

"We have no photographs of this army, and suddenly here is the equivalent of Google Street View," said Dr. Mead. "Looking at it, you feel like you are walking right into the past."

But the tent and the military landscape surrounding it are only part of the watercolor's story. Additional study, analysis, and preservation confirmed that the scene was painted by Pierre L'Enfant, the French-born military engineer who traveled with the Continental Army during the war. L'Enfant was a man of many talents; he also designed the plan for Washington, DC, and the Diamond Eagle of the Society of Cincinnati (featured in my blog here.) A skilled artist, L'Enfant's eye for detail and accuracy was remarkable. Although this same landscape along the Hudson River today includes a few modern buildings, it's surprisingly recognizable from L'Enfant's painting, over 235 years later.

The watercolor is currently on display through February 19 in the exhibition "Among His Troops" at the Museum of the American Revolution. In addition to other artifacts used at the 1782 encampment, the exhibition includes the only other known L'Enfant panorama, a view of West Point, also painted in 1782. I'll be writing more about this second painting later this week.

Click here for more information about the exhibition.

Many thanks to Phil Mead and Scott Stephenson for the early tour of the exhibition, and to Alex McKechnie for her assistance.

Photographs courtesy of the Museum of the American Revolution.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Blonde Lace on the 19th Century Red Carpet

Monday, January 15, 2018

1833 Bridal Ensemble

Loretta reports:

Some of my readers have asked about blonde lace.

Certain of the ladies’ magazines listed who wore what at court events. If you type “blonde” into the search box for this 1831 Royal Lady’s Magazine, you will notice that nearly every single lady wore blonde or blonde lace to the Queen’s Drawing Rooms.

Naturally, then, blonde features in my heroines’ clothing. And quite naturally also, readers have asked about it, some puzzled especially by the notion of “black blonde.”

Blonde lace is a silk bobbin lace. A search on YouTube will show it being made, and give you an idea why the handmade version was so very expensive and highly prized. The “blonde” part refers to the silk’s natural color. Once a way was found to make the silk stronger, it could be lightened, for a white blonde, and dyed for black blonde.
1833 Carriage Dress

Sleuthing online, one ends in a confused state. “Next to Chantilly the blondes are the most important among the silk laces.” Elsewhere, we’re told that Chantilly is a blonde lace. My impression is, the blonde made in Chantilly was considered superior. I await elucidation by textile experts.

For the purposes of my books, this isn’t crucial, any more than it was crucial for the magazines to distinguish. For the purposes of A Duke in Shining Armor in particular, what you’d probably rather see are examples.
Beechey, Queen Adelaide

The bridal ensemble (at top) I gave my heroine Olympia includes “a pelerine of blond extending over the sleeves” and “a deep veil of blond surmounting the coiffure, and descending below the waist.”
The “French” dress she donned at the inn was based on several images, but this pink carriage dress from the Magazine of the Beau Monde, though listed for August 1833 (my story is set in June of that year), about covers what I had in mind. She wears “a black blond pelerine with square falling collar, the points descending low down the skirt and fastened in front with light green ribbon noeuds.”

However, portraits capture the look of the lace much better than the stiff, stylized fashion prints. Queen Adelaide (consort of King William IV, monarch at the time of my story) is wearing blonde lace in this image from about 1831.
Giovanina Pacini

Giovanina Pacini, the eldest daughter of the Italian composer Giovanni Pacini wears what I'm pretty sure is black blonde in this 1831 image.

You can see a sample of Belgian Bobbin Lace in this lappet.
And here is a sample of French Pillow-made Silk Blonde.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of January 7, 2018

Saturday, January 13, 2018
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Finding Mary Wordsworth's voice.
• From Boudicca to the Amazons: warrior women.
• What finally drove Ulysses Grant to write his memoirs, and what Mark Twain had to do with it.
• Nineteenth century umbrella etiquette.
• Conservation and detective work: tiny scraps of paper found on Blackbeard's ship lead to ID of book on board.
Image: Rare hand-knitted Tudor child's mitten.
• A human heart buried separately in a lead box in medieval Ireland.
• Why did this prosperous 18thc butcher own 20 pairs of sheets, 10 pillowcases, and 36 napkins and towels?
• The toy theatre publishers of Old Street, London.

• Spurious quotations attributed to George Washington.
• Christmas and Twelfth Night gifts for the British royal children in 1750.
Image: A baker's loaf from Pompeii, carbonized in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD.
Louisa May Alcott and her brief, harrowing career as a Civil War nurse.
Distaff Lane: How a London street has changed over the centuries.
• The secrets of Victorian memorial hairwork.
Image: The sewing bird, an 1850s invention designed to ease the task of hand-sewing.
• The Guild for Women Binders, a collective of female artisans who created gorgeous, hand-crafted book bindings, 1898-1904.
• Mealtimes in the Regency era.
• How to sail a big ship like the USS Constitution.
• King Chloroform and Queen Gangrene: critical care during the American Civil War.
• The story behind the most famous "morning after" scene in art history.
Image: Napoleon's toothbrush with a silvergilt handle, 1790.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, January 12, 2018

Friday Video: Romance at the Strand

Friday, January 12, 2018
Loretta reports:

No, I don’t mean the Strand in London, though that would be nice, too.

The post title refers to the Strand Bookstore in New York, where, as part of my book tour for A Duke in Shining Armor, I participated in a panel dealing with the romance genre and the respect it does and doesn’t get. A column in the Washington Post in August inspired the panel.

Some of you, e.g., Twitter followers and subscribers to my website blog, may have already seen the video. Some of you will look at the run time and say, “Yikes! An hour?” But as you see in the image, there is laughter, and that’s not the only time. So, if you'd like to hear a group of writers talk and crack jokes about the worlds they and their characters inhabit, both imaginary and actual, you might want to pour a glass of your favorite beverage or dish out some ice cream or pour your favorite flavor enhancer on a bowl of popcorn—or all of these and others in a random order or even simultaneously—and spend some time with us.

Video: Romance and Respect, Strand Bookstore

Image: Still from the Strand video. L-R: Denny S. Bryce (moderator), Tessa Bailey, Loretta Chase, Tracey Livesay, Megan Frampton, Joanna Shupe

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be. To watch the video, please click on the title to this post. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Keeping Warm in the 18thc: Buzaglo Stoves, Revisted

Thursday, January 11, 2018
Susan reporting:

After my recent post about coping with a cold winter in 18thc America, I decided to revisit and update this post from several years ago, featuring the very latest in Georgian heating. 

Perhaps the most prominent building in Colonial Williamsburg is the reconstructed Governor's Palace. The palace was the official residence of Virginia's royal governors, and also served to bring royal grandeur to the colony. The governors reflected the king's majesty through rich furnishings, an imposing display of weapons in the front hall and staircase, lavish entertaining, and the latest in technological home improvements. For Norborne Berkeley, 4th Baron Botetourt, and royal governor of Virginia from 1768-1770, this included the towering (it's over seven feet in height) cast-iron stove, left, ordered from London in 1770.

Also called "warming machines," coal-burning cast iron stoves like this were popular in elite homes in London, where they were prized for being effective, fashionable, and exclusive because of their cost. The stoves were the work of a famous inventor of the time named Abraham Buzaglo (1716-1788.) A Moroccan who immigrated to England in 1760, Mr. Buzaglo immediately amazed Londoners with his cast iron warming machines, which he patented in 1765. 

Mr. Buzaglo's trade card modestly promised that his stoves "surpass in Utility, Beauty & Goodness any thing hitherto Invented in all Europe". They "cast an equal & agreeable Heat to any Part of the Room, and are not attended by any Stench," with "a bright Fire to be seen at Pleasure." More importantly, the stoves"preserve the Ladies Complexions and Eye Sight" and "warm equally the whole Body, without scorching the Face or Legs," plus "other Advantages too tedious to insert."* The stoves were also considered decorative, covered with lively rococo and classical motifs, and featuring urn-like finials topped with flames.

The warming machines were so popular that they became known by the inventor's name (though incorrectly, if inevitably, pronounced by the English as "Buzz-aglow" rather than "Bu-ZAH-glo".) Buzaglos warmed drafty gracious homes as well as university libraries and the shops of tailors and weavers.

The original stove helped heat the Palace, and was so successful that Lord Botetourt ordered an additional one for the House of Burgesses. When Richmond became the seat of the new commonwealth's government in 1780, the stove was taken across the state to help warm the Richmond Capitol well into the 19thc. In 1933, it was returned to Colonial Williamsburg on a long-term loan, and now can be found on display in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. Two modern reproduction stoves - one is shown right - stand in the ballroom of the Governor's Palace.

So do Buzaglo stoves work? Modern-day fire and pollution regulations frown on combining coal-burning stoves with crowds of tourists. But to a lady shivering in a silk gown two hundred years ago, I'm sure they were a very welcome upgrade from the sparks, soot, and limited warmth of an open hearth.

And, of course, there must have been all those "other Advantages too tedious to insert."

Above: Buzaglo Warming Machine, c1770, Colonial Williamsburg. Image via Colonial Wiliamsburg Foundation.
Below: Reproduction Buzaglo stove, Colonial Williamsburg, photo ©2010 Susan Holloway Scott
"Hot Air from Cambridge", an article by J.C.T. Oates appearing in The Library

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Bad Poets Society: William Topaz McGonagall

Tuesday, January 9, 2018
William McGonagall
Loretta reports:

A subplot in my third Dressmakers book, Vixen in Velvet, features a rather bad poet, who is the 1830s equivalent of a rock star, much as Byron was the 1810s version. But my fictional Lord Swanton was no Byron. I chose some typical, but what many of us would deem horrendous, poetry of 1835 to give readers a sense of what the young ladies were swooning over and why the gentlemen were scratching their heads.

Imagine my delight when I came upon William Topaz McGonagall, “widely hailed as the writer of the worst poetry in the English language,” according to the website McGonagall Online, which goes on to tell us,
“His audiences threw rotten fish at him, the authorities banned his performances, and he died a pauper over a century ago. But his books remain in print to this day, and he’s remembered and quoted long after more talented contemporaries have been forgotten.”
He started out as a handloom weaver and, before the poetry bug bit him, he was keen to be an actor. When he wanted to perform the title role of Macbeth, he apparently had to pay the theater to let him do it. Friends and colleagues turned up, expecting a laugh fest, which they got: Among other things, [spoiler alert] he refused to die at the end of the play.

His autobiography is a delight.
“I remember how I felt when I received the spirit of poetry. It was in the year of 1877 … all of a sudden my body got inflamed, and instantly I was seized with a strong desire to write poetry, so strong, in fact, that in imagination I thought I heard a voice crying in my ears- ‘Write! Write’”
And so he did. Oblivious to critics, laughter, and rotten food missiles, he wrote poems by the cartload. I offer a sample, but I think you have to read his work in quantity to get the full joy of it.
The Moon

Beautiful Moon, with thy silvery light,
Thou seemest most charming to my sight;
As I gaze upon thee in the sky so high,
A tear of joy does moisten mine eye.

Beautiful Moon, with thy silvery light,
Thou cheerest the Esquimau in the night;
For thou lettest him see to harpoon the fish,
And with them he makes a dainty dish.
Turner, Fishermen at Sea 1796

Likewise, I think it’s well worth reading both the various offerings on the McGonagall site (don't miss the court case) and the Wikipedia entry for a sense of the man. The wonderful thing, I think, is that he continues to delight us. He didn’t make the literary contribution he intended, perhaps, but he certainly made one!

I am indebted for the bulk of this post, to the truly excellent website, McGonagall Online.

Images: William McGonagall, courtesy Wikipedia. J.M.W.Turner, Fishermen at Sea, 1796, collection of Tate Britain, via Wikipedia Google Art Project. 

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

January in the 18th Century, and the Ink is Frozen

Sunday, January 7, 2018
Susan reporting,

The eastern coast of the United States is currently suffering through a record-breaking cold-spell, with temperatures below zero and piles of snow as the literal icing on the cake. Everywhere you go, the cold is an unending source of conversation and complaint.

It's weeks like this that I consider one of the inevitable questions by readers regarding my books: "You make the 18th century seem so real. Don't you wish you lived then?"

Well, no, and especially not in an 18thc January, which was probably even colder than this 21stc version. Aside from all the obvious modern amenities (I'm sure without antibiotics, I'd probably already be dead), winter weather would have brought its own special awfulness.

Most houses depended on fireplaces for heating, and with no insulation in the walls or storm windows doubling up the panes, that heat didn't linger long in a room. Anyone who's stood in an old house heated exclusively by a fireplace knows that the circle of warmth from a hearth was small indeed. Sitting, working, or sleeping more than about six feet away from the fireplace meant you were...unfortunate.

Anyone trying to write would have had special challenges. Fingerless mitts or old gloves with the fingers cut away would have been necessary to keep hands sufficiently warm to hold onto a quill pen. A portable desk (see my blog post about the one that belonged to Alexander Hamilton here) could have been moved closer to the fire, or even taken into bed along with an extra layer of coverlets over the knees.

But then there was the freezing ink. If the water in the pitcher on the corner washstand in your bedchamber was frozen, then the ink in the inkwell would be, too. I thought of this yesterday when I saw a video posted on Instagram by Jenny Lynn, an apprentice tinsmith in the Historic Trades program at Colonial Williamsburg. The tinsmith's shop is historically accurate to records of 1775, meaning that it's heated exclusively by the fireplace at one end of the single room. Clearly "heated" is a subjective term, because that inkwell in the video contained a solid chunk of frozen ink: an ink-cube.

First Lady Abigail Adams could share that pain. In a letter to her husband John (then president, and unhappily apart from her in the capital city of Philadelphia), written on January 6, 1799, she described the weather in Massachusetts:

"Ever since thursday [stet] the weather has been most severely cold, so as to freeze my ink in my warm Room; it has been as cold ever since Jan'ry came in, as it was intensely Hot last July, The Snow is very deep, and [...] is now adding to the quantity; tho whilst it is so cold there cannot be much"

(Thanks to the Adams Family Papers electronic archive at the Massachusetts Historical Society, you can read the entire letter here, both as a scan of the original, and as a transcription.)

One of my Facebook followers, Karen Harris, suggested this solution to freezing ink from The Instructor, Or Young Man's Best Companion (Twenty-sixth Edition), by George Fisher, printed in London in 1786.

"To Keep Ink from freezing.... In hard frosty weather Ink will be apt to freeze; which if once it doth, it will be good for nothing, for it takes away all its blackness and beauty. To prevent which (if you have not the conveniency of keeping it warm, or from the cold,) put a few drops of brandy or other spirits into it, and it will not freeze."

The Instructor is also available to read for free online here. Thank you, Karen - and may all of you keep sufficiently warm that your ink (or your smartphone) doesn't freeze.

Above: January, published by Carrington Bowles, 1767, British Museum.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of January 1, 2018

Saturday, January 6, 2018
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Trade cards of old London.
• "I will never be vaccinated again": a teenaged diarist discusses the pain of her inoculation, 1901.
• Abigail Adams persisted: a letter from the then-First Lady defending a black servant from prejudice.
• Obelisks on the move: the manpower and engineering needed to move obelisks in ancient Egypt, Rome, and today.
• How competitive walking captivated Georgian Britain.
• Sewing shrouds: 19thc burial clothes.
 Image: Needlework sampler made English novelist and poet Charlotte Bronte.
• Harnessing the power of baubles and bling.
• "Patriotick Ladies, of Edenton in North Carolina" 1774.
• When the master danced with his cook: a country house Christmas in Dorset.
• The tragedy of prostitution in the Old West.
• Water to drink in the 1690s: fit only for invalids and chickens?
• Account of a very remarkable young musician in 1769 - who happens to be Mozart.
• Image: Women attaching the fabric to the wings of World War One biplanes, 1918.
• The African princess (and Queen Victoria's goddaughter) Sarah Forbes Bonetta.
• Fascinating blog to explore: commentary and transcribed daily diary of a Huguenot girl living in England, 1776.
• How Icelandic readers revel in the post-Christmas flood of gift books.
• Image: Poignant Christmas card from the 38th Welsh Division showing a soldier dreaming of home, 1917.
• A brief history of the clothing and fabric trade in London, 1780-1914.
• Elizabeth Woodville, Queen of England.
• Map & rare book detective work: why experts now don't believe this is one of the first maps of America.
• The key to the Bastille has a place of honor...at George Washington's Mount Vernon.
• Just for fun: GIF: This knight at a Ren Faire took his responsibility to defend people from evil drones very seriously.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, January 5, 2018

From the Archives: Snowball Fight, 1896

Friday, January 5, 2018

Susan reporting,

With much of the American east coast suffering from snow, high winds, and plunging temperatures, it seems only appropriate to pull this video from the deep-freeze (oof!) of our archives to share again.

This very short – under a minute – silent black-and-white film was shot in 1896. Directed and produced by pioneer French filmmaker Louis Lumière, the film is called Bataille de boules de neige, or Snowball Fight. This snowball battle (with an unfortunate cyclist in the middle) was filmed on a street in Lyon, France. I love how the combatants are both men and women, and despite their huge leg-o-mutton sleeves, these ladies can pitch a mean snowball.

If you're received this video via email, you may be seeing an empty space or black box where the video should be. Go here to view the video.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Fashions for January 1806

Thursday, January 4, 2018
January 1806 Full & Walking Dress
Loretta reports:

It’s a New Year, in which I’ll offer a new cycle of monthly fashion prints, starting with the first decade of the 1800s.

This one is from the Lady’s Monthly Museum, one of several popular ladies’ magazines of the 19th century. Many of these included, along with fiction, poetry, and non-fiction of various kinds, illustrations and descriptions of the hot new fashion of the month.

When it comes to the earlier decades of the 1800s, I like to do readers a favor and send them to Candice Hern’s website.

There you will find definitions, often with illustrations, of the various fashion terms, as well discover what "full dress" means. Her article about "half dress" may help explain why the print calls the dress on the right a Morning Dress, while the description calls it a Walking Dress.

While you’re at the site, you might want to peruse her collection of Regency artifacts.
Walking Dress.
A Green Velvet Hat, turned up in Front, and edged with White Swandown, ornamented with a Green Velvet Flower. A Pelisse of Green Velvet, with Bishop’s Sleeves, trimmed with Black Lace. Habit Shirt of clear Muslin; Swandown Tippet. Buff Boots.

Full Dress.
Head fashionably dressed, ornamented with a Silver Wreath, and Heron’s Feathers. Walking Dress of clear Muslin; a deep Lace let in round the Bottom. A Robe of Crimson Satin, edged round with White Swandown, full Sleeves, looped up with a Diamond Button. White Muff, Gloves, and Shoes.
Images (edited by me) are courtesy Hathi Trust. Dress description here. Fashion print here.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.
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