Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Cursed Silk Shoes of an Unhappy Ghost, c. 1715

Tuesday, July 31, 2018
Susan reporting:

While examples of 18th c. ladies' silk shoes like the pair, left, aren't rare (like thesethese, and these), shoes with a lurid ghost story attached certainly are. Know as the Papillon Shoes, this pair has a fascinating provenance that's more ghost story and legend than historical fact.

David Papillon (1681-1762) was a wealthy courtier and the master of Papillon Hall, Leicestershire, lower right. "Old Pamp"'s reputation for drunken debauchery was enhanced with whispers that he was friends with the Devil, and that he possessed demonic powers sufficient to paralyze his enemies with a single glance. Other rumors claimed he kept a beautiful Spanish mistress at the Hall. There she was a virtual prisoner, locked away in the attic, and only permitted to walk along the roof for exercise. She disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1717; one story had her die in the attic, cursing the house and promising death and disaster to any owner who dared remove the shoes in which she'd walked the lonely roof.

Soon afterwards, Papillon left the Hall permanently to marry and live with his new wife in Kent. Some judged his haste suspicious, especially considering that he left strict instructions that certain items should never be taken from Papillon Hall. Among them were these shoes.

Over the years, the Hall changed hands many times. In the mid-19th c., however, the contents (including the shoes) were left to the old owner's daughter, and removed from the house. The new owners were at once plagued with unexplained loud thumps, crashes, and voices coming from the attic rooms, violent enough to terrify the family and servants. A local clergyman recalled Old Pamp's stipulation. The shoes were found and restored to the house, and peace restored with them. On several other occasions in the next century the shoes were removed from the house. Each time poltergeist activity began and continued until the shoes were returned.

The Hall was renovated in 1903, and a long-dead body was found hidden in the walls near the attic.  While there was no way to know for sure if this was Old Pamp's mistress, the discovery fueled the legend, and more reports of paranormal activity with it. Even after the Hall fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1950, the mistress's curse seemed to shift to the remaining outbuildings, terrifying their inhabitants. The site was studied by paranormal investigators, who definitely came to believe in the curse.

After the Hall was knocked down, the shoes were left first to a Papillon descendant, and then to the local museum. Yet even that mundane transfer had its mysteries. The driver of the truck carrying the shoes became inexplicably lost. The short trip took him hours instead of minutes to complete, and when he finally did arrive, he was confused and disoriented, without any knowledge of where he'd been or what had happened. Ahh, the power of the shoes....

Above: Papillon Shoes (with single patten), silk with red leather heels, c. 1715-30. Collections Resources Centre, Heritage Services, Glenfield, Leicestershire
Below: View of Papillon Hall, built c. 1622, now demolished. Photograph courtesy of Lost Heritage.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Happy 155th Birthday, Henry Ford

Monday, July 30, 2018

Loretta reports:

Today, 30 July, is automaker Henry Ford’s birthday. I’ve shown you some parts of the Fort Myers, Florida estate he shared with inventor Thomas Edison, here, here, and here.

I’ve also pointed out the way that the motorcar was quickly adopted for long-distance travel, even though the cars broke down frequently, roads could be little more than wagon tracks, and gas stations and auto mechanics were unheard of. But none of these obstacles stopped Americans from getting on the road and going—either on cross-country races or south, for warmer weather. With the advent of affordable autos came the Snowbirds—the Tin Can Tourists I posted about here and here.

All the same, I didn’t really know much about Ford beyond what little we learned (and mostly forgot) in school, back in the last century, about U.S inventors and innovators.

But I happened on this feature (please scroll down to the second article) at the Library of Congress site, which puts Ford and his world into perspective. Along with songs and recollections, it also provides an early film of an automobile parade—which was probably not the horse’s favorite experience that day.
First & ten millionth Ford 1924

Sharp-eyed readers will note the “Ford Song” by one “A. Flivver, composer.” Flivver is early 20th century slang for an automobile.

Images: Photo above left 1919 Model T at Edison-Ford estate, Photo copyright © 2018 Walter M. Henritze III.  At right,  First and ten millionth Ford (1924), courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. 
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, July 28, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of July 23, 2018

Saturday, July 28, 2018
Breakfast Links are served! Our weekly round-up of favorite links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• "I am half agony, half hope": Did you know that Jane Austen considered a different ending for Persuasion?
Singerie: 18thc art depicting monkeys "aping" human behavior.
Elizabeth Gould, 19thc natural history artist who traveled to Australia to execute thousands of exquisite paintings of Australian birds for her husband's publication.
• The history of that striped Breton knit shirt you've been wearing all summer.
Faustina, Marquesa de Amboage: the ideal woman of 1899.
• Before the bookmobile: when librarians rode on horseback to deliver books to rural Americans during the Great Depression.
Mother Goose as a Suffragette: a 1912 book of suffragette poems, digitized to read online.
• "Talking corpses": even in death, women's testimony was considered less creditable than men's.
• Puritan history-myths from the 17thc: did Oliver Cromwell ban mince pies?
Image: Lovely Winterhalter painting of the linked hands of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
• The mysterious death of Captain Archibald Anderson.
• The colorful, historical vocabulary of beer.
• These are the world's oldest known surviving pants, dating from the thirteenth to eleventh century BC.
• It was a dark and stormy night: the strange story of "Shelley's Ghost."
• Make your own cockatrice - a terrifying animal hybrid!
• The radioactive wardrobe of Marie Curie.
• A 19thc children's picture book - in a can.
• The roots of the Hawaiian aloha shirt.
• Just for fun: Charlotte Brontë goes to yoga.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Friday Video: The Odyssey by Thug Notes

Friday, July 27, 2018
Loretta reports:

Back in January, I alerted you to Emily Wilson's new translation of Homer's Odyssey, the first in English by a woman. Since then I’ve been reading it in installments, puzzling over the hero especially, and what drives him, as well as the culture in which the story lives.

This video offers some interesting insights as well as laughs. However, since it’s part of the Thug Notes series, be warned that the language is not delicate.

Video:  Homer's Odyssey - Thug Notes Summary and Analysis

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 (which will take you to our blog) or the video title (which will take you to YouTube).
Image at top left is a still from the video.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Long-Lost Slippers of Pauline Bonaparte Borghese, Princess of Sulmona, 1820

Wednesday, July 25, 2018
Susan reports,

It's a known fact that Loretta and I have a Thing for shoes (it says so right up there, under the blog's title.) When we come across shoes that also have a history - like these or these - we're in heaven. And when there may be a mysterious romance tossed in with the history – well, we can't ask for more, can we?

Dating from the 1820s, the leather slippers, trimmed with now-faded silk, left, were recently "rediscovered" in the King's Museum, University of Aberdeen. As occasionally happens in even the best of collections, these shoes had been long ago tucked away and forgotten, until an enterprising curatorial assistant, Louise Wilkie, came across them, and researched their background to be able to identify them as they prize they are.

The slippers have been identified as having belonged to Pauline Bonaparte Borghese (1780-1825), below right, Princess of Sulmona and sister of Napoleon Bonaparte. One clue was an old engraving on the shoes' soles: "Pauline, Rome Jan 20 1824." Another was the diminutive size of the shoes themselves, equivalent to a UK child's size 2; Pauline was famously known to have very small feet.

But Ms. Wilkie discovered a much stronger connection. The shoes were included in a collection of belongings of Robert Wilson (1787-1871.) Born in Banffshire, Scotland, Wilson served for several years as a ship's surgeon with the Honorable East India Company. The experience quelled his interest in medicine, but made him into an intrepid traveller. His journeys took him throughout Europe as well as to Egypt, Syria, Arabia, and India - all the more extraordinary given the unsettled times in which he was travelled.

While visiting Italy in 1820, he met and formed a close friendship with Pauline. Exactly how close they became remains a tantalizing mystery, even given Pauline's reputation for sexual adventures with many lovers. Still, entries like this one in Wilson's diary hint at their intimacy: "I passed a fortnight in the vicinity of Pisa with the Princess Borghese in a state of almost perfect seclusion, and afterwards accompanied her to the Baths of Lucca."

Perhaps the Princess found the straight-forward Scotsman a refreshing change from her more exotic lovers. Perhaps they simply were friends, and no more. But she did give him many gifts, including these slippers, as mementos – mementos that he carefully packed away and saved for the remainder of his long life, and bequeathed with his papers to the university at his death.

Above left: Slippers belonging to Pauline Borghese, King's Museum, University of Aberdeen.
Bottom right: Princess Pauline Borghese, by Robert Lefevre, c. 1808. Palace of Versailles.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A Wife Mourned

Tuesday, July 24, 2018
Loretta reports:

During last summer’s trip to London, we visited many of the sites used or intended to be used in my new Difficult Dukes series. On one amazing day, which began at Wimbledon, we explored the environs of Putney Bridge aka Fulham Bridge, whose predecessor is a sort of secondary character in this series.  It's believed to be the only bridge in England with a church at each end. We visited both. All Saints Church in Fulham is where we landed towards the end of the day.
“Putney Bridge cost upwards of £23,000; it is not only a disgrace to the neighbourhood, considered as an object of use and necessity, but is most dangerous to boats upon the river: the Ferry (which is still used) is mentioned in Doomsday-Book, as yielding an annual toll of 20s.—in 1729 its produce was four-hundred pounds. Immediately opposite to Putney stands Fulham, a mean town, noticeable only from its possessing a Palace of the Bishops of London, and a Church, in which are some monuments of eminent men.”
—Arthur Freeling, Picturesque Excursions; containing views at and near places of popular resort; with descriptions of each locality, 1842 (black & white image is from this book)

The church, which receives only this passing reference—after the slap at the town—is quite lovely, inside and out, and as the day was fading, we had the special treat of hearing choir practice.

There were, as there always are, poignant messages on the stones of the churchyard. But this one struck us as both touching and  ... odd.

Depending on your screen, you might find it a little hard to read. Transcription below:
“Sacred to the Memory of ISABELLA MURR
of this Parish
who departed this Lifethe 29th of November 1829
in the 52nd Year of her Age.

Ye who possess the highest charms of life:
A tender friend - a kind indulgent wife:
Oh, learn their worth! In her beneath this stone
These pleasing attributes together shone.
Was not true happiness with them combin’d?
Ask the spoil’d being she has left behind.                                               
                                    HE’S GONE TOO.
You can learn more about the bridge and see a number of images at the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham Library Service’s blog here and here.

Photographs copyright © 2018 Walter M. Henritze III
Please click on images to enlarge.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

From the Archives: What Every Woman Should Know About Wearing Hoop Skirts - in 1938

Sunday, July 22, 2018
Susan reporting,

Fashion repeats itself, and supporting skirts from beneath - whether by a farthingale, hoops, or a crinoline, depending on the century - is a style that keeps coming back. We've featured it here on the blog many times, including here and here.

But until I came across this feature from a 1938 Fall Fashion issue of Life Magazine, I'd no idea that hoops had also had a brief resurgence for evening wear in the late 1930s, an era that I'd always thought was defined by slinky, body-conscious bias-cut gowns.

The editorial copy in Life describing this "new" fashion in dance frocks, above left, is amazingly snarky, even for fashion reporting, including this gem: "American women, notoriously hippy, are expected to pounce upon the bell-shaped silhouette. The nipped-in waist, the wide-spreading skirt, are perfect camouflage for excess pounds below the waist...." And this was from a mainstream American magazine!

I also loved how these small, sarcastic cartoons that illustrate the perils of wearing a hoopskirt in the 1930s were so similar to the challenges facing the Victorian ladies in their crinolines, as well as this poor 18th c. lady betrayed by her hoops. It made me think of what a 2018 fashionista would face if the cycle of fashion brings back hoops again: imagine wrestling the things through a modern airport security check, or onto a stool at Starbucks. But you never know....

Click here to read the entire feature on Fall Fashion, available online courtesy of GoogleBooks - including what must have been a pretty racy photoshoot of a model in a revealing black hoop petticoat and corset.
Top: "A hoop hangs under this black taffeta dress with blue ruchings", photo from Life Magazine, Sept. 5, 1938.
Below: "What Every Girl Should Know About Wearing Hoopskirts", illustrations from Life Magazine, Sept. 5, 1938.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of July 16, 2018

Saturday, July 21, 2018
Breakfast Links are served! Our weekly round-up of favorite links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Literary dreams: the 1903 Carnegie Library in Elwood, IN is for sale.
• An account of Peggy Jones, a Regency-era London mud-lark.
• In search of abandoned African-American cemeteries and the stories behind them.
• How two hundred stitches in time saved the lining of an 18thc banyan.
• The last summer of White Court, President Calvin Coolidge's summer White House.
Video: Cozy accommodations for the most miniature of miniature books in the Newberry Library.
• Has supper always meant dinner?
• Beautiful sky blue 1870s silk faille dress, made in Paris.
• How Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson became friends - and what finally destroyed the friendship.
• The funeral of Elizabeth Valois, Queen of Spain, 1568.
• Dangerous beauty: new exhibition looks at Medusa in Classical Art.
• The heatwave of 1808.
• The changing place-names of Washington, DC.
Earl Grey tea: a splendid cup of tea with a tasty tale of creation.
• Why NYC needs a tribute to Nellie Bly, 19thc travel writer and journalist, and the original "fearless girl."
• What beds were like in 1776.
• Who will save this old 1840s stone schoolhouse, originally built and given for the education of the children in Hackney?
• Favorite story-tweet of the week features a 95-year-old former firefighter.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Friday Video: 18thC Working Women in Summer

Friday, July 20, 2018

Susan reporting,

Here's another short video from our friends at Crow's Eye Productions, featuring two young rural women from 18thc Britain and how they dress for their day as harvest workers. I have to admit that they don't seem to be working particularly hard, but then they'll be working from dawn to dusk, so maybe they're pacing themselves.

Thanks to producer/costume designer Pauline Loven for sharing with us!

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

Thursday, July 19, 2018

From the Archives: Dining in July 1815

Thursday, July 19, 2018
Loretta reports:

Since we had a short video about 18th and early 19th C dining last week, now seemed like  good time to bring back this post on what foods were available in July during the Regency era.
The Greengrocer

From The Epicure’s Almanack July Alimentary Calendar:
The heats of the season now impose the necessity of occasionally substituting a light vegetable diet for the more solid gratification of animal food ... Cauliflowers, artichokes, green-peas, French-beans, Windsor* and other garden beans, frequently form a conspicuous part of the family dinner, to which butcher’s meat, in moderate quantities, may be said to serve merely as an auxiliary stimulant. Ham, bacon, and tongues, as well as ducks and geese, are the most seasonable viands for this purpose ... On festive occasions venison and turtle retain their pre-eminent station at the tables of the opulent, where also the fawn ... forms an elegant dish, when roasted whole and served up with rich gravy. Veal, having now been fed on milk, in its richest state, is peculiarly fine and well flavoured; but care should be taken that it be delivered fresh to the cook, as it is more liable to suffer from the heat of the weather and from flies than any other kind of meat. Ragouts of sweetbreads, oxpalates, lambs’ bits, fat livers, and cocks’-combs, are among the light dishes introduced at superior tables; where also various preparations of curry afford a delectable repast to those who have acquired a taste for this Indian diet.
 ... a plenteous and varied dessert presents itself at this season; consisting of pines, melons, peaches, cherries, grapes, currants, gooseberries and raspberries, as well as early apples and pears. Fruit is certainly most salubrious in hot weather; but, if the opinion be well founded that it does most good when taken before dinner, the dessert ought to take place of that spurious meal called lunch, which, being usually made of animal food, too often banishes the appetite irrecoverably for the day.

*broad beans

Excerpted from The Epicure's Almanack: Eating and Drinking in Regency London (The Original 1815 Guidebook).

Image: James Pollard, The Greengrocer (ca 1819) courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

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

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

From the Archives: A Pretty, Witty Pineapple Reticule, c1800

Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Susan reporting:

This past weekend, Jane Austen fans from around the country (and a few from overseas as well) gathered in Louisville, KY for the Jane Austen Society of North America's annual Jane Austen Festival. Nearly all of the participants dress in splendid replicas of the era that they've created themselves, and from the images all over the internet, it's quite a Regency-era fashion show. (On Instagram, the hashtag #janeaustenfestival will lead you down a wonderful rabbit-hole.) 

In the spirit of all those beautifully clad ladies - and maybe a hussy or two - I'm sharing this post again featuring the perfect accessory - including a link to directions for knitting one yourself.

As we've noted here before, the dramatic change in women's fashion in the late 18th and early 19th c not only meant the temporary end of wide skirts with hoops, but also the invention of a necessary new accessory: the purse. Gone were the days when a woman could tuck all her little necessities in an over sized pocket that tied around her waist and was hidden beneath voluminous petticoats. Much as purses are today, the new bags were often as stylish as they were utilitarian, and added a touch of bright color and whimsy to the ubiquitous white muslin gowns.

Many of you mavens of historic dress will recognize the picture of the gown, left. It has appeared in several of the excellent fashion books featuring the holdings of the Kyoto Costume Institute, and is all over fashion history blogs and pages on Pinterest.

The gown is French, c 1800, of silk taffeta with a drawstring waist. The shawl is silk net with an embroidered floral motif and silk fringe, and the hat is also silk net and pongee with a tassel.

But it's the pineapple dangling from the lady's wrist that has always intrigued me. Little bags like this were called reticules, from the French and earlier Latin for a small net or mesh bag. (There's another charming, if unsubstantiated, explanation that the word is a mocking derivative from ridicule, the French word for ridiculous.) Pineapples and other exotic fruit had become a fashion-forward motif thanks to the trendsetting Josephine de Beauharnais Bonaparte, born on the Caribbean island of Martinique. This pineapple-shaped reticule was knitted in yellow and green silk with silver beads for accents, and the top with the leaves pulls open with the tasseled drawstrings. It's a wonderful, witty example of three-dimensional knitting, whether the skilled workmanship of a professional knitter or a dedicated lady.

For a zoomable view of the bag on the Kyoto web site, click here.

The fashion for knitted and crocheted pineapples outlived Napoleon, with directions or "recipes" for them appearing in lady's magazines well into the mid-19th century. One version of the "Pine Apple Bag" appeared in The Lady's Assistant, for executing useful and fancy designs in knitting, netting, and crochetwork, published by Mrs. Jane Gaugain in 1840. Contemporary needleworker/blogger Isabel Gancedo has adapted this pattern for modern knitters, and posted both her version and Mrs. Gaugain's on her website here. Be forewarned: this is a challenging pattern for experienced knitters – but if you're game, the results are delightful!

Above: Photo from Revolution in Fashion 1715-1815, copyright 1990 The Kyoto Costume Institute
Many thanks to Janea Whitacre for pointing me towards Ms. Gancedo's on-line instructions.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Baron de Berenger—Horse Whisperer?

Monday, July 16, 2018

Thomas Alken, A Gentleman Riding With a Groom, and Coversing
Loretta report:

Last year, during my visit to the Kensington Central Library, Dave Walker introduced me to the Baron de Berenger’s gun. Thanks to Dave's introducing me to this colorful character, I’ve spent some time with de Berenger’s Helps and Hints: How to Protect Life and Property. It surprised me in a number of ways.

At the time of my stories, animals tended to be treated brutally. I won’t go into the ugly details, but, generally speaking (of course there were many exceptions) if human life was cheap, non-human life was close to worthless, the RSPCA notwithstanding. And while life was kinder to humans of the privileged classes, they were not necessarily kinder to their animals, especially their horses. And so I was struck with de Berenger’s views on the subject:
“[A] rider should, to appearance at least, be a part of his horse; in the efforts of both these component parts there should seem as if there was but one and the same impulse,— a generous and reciprocal attention to please,—to serve, and to spare; and when that is accomplished, most horses will display as much delight in being rode, as the rider will be delighted in riding such a horse; but to accomplish this to perfection, an intimacy, nay, an affection, must be established between yourself and the generous animal; but which ... cannot be attained by the intercourse which, by far too generally, prevails between fashionable characters and their horses; these poor, willing, and faithful animals, rarely experiencing any other notice, save that of being urged on by whip and spur, to exertions but too frequently woefully distressing to a willing frame ... What has secured to the dog the reputation of being more affectionate, more intelligent, and more faithful, than the horse? Because, even the exquisite will deign to hold a familiar and encouraging intercourse, nay, conversation, with him: not so with the poor horse; except when being cleaned or fed, it stands unnoticed for many hours in dull solitude, at least as far as man is concerned. With him the cheering influence and the enjoyments of the sun are embittered by a portion of severe, because generally inconsiderate, labour; even then, and although enduring willingly, hardly ever to experience the pattings of a condescending hand as a cheap encouragement!  ... nevertheless, and aware as the horse must be that it is led forth to endure straining labour, we see him cheerfully leave the stable, ever as willing slavishly to serve his master, as to please him, in any way, which he is taught to know as agreeable to him. Only familiarize with and pet him, as much as you do the dog, and his best endeavours at least to rival canine affection, intelligence, and fidelity, will soon be placed beyond all doubt.
The entire entry, from which I’ve also included a clipping (at right), is well worth reading. I’d be especially interested in the reactions of our horse-loving/riding/driving Nerdy History persons.

Image: Henry Thomas Alken, A Gentleman Riding With a Groom, and Conversing (undated), courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of July 9, 2018

Saturday, July 14, 2018
Breakfast Links are served! Our weekly round-up of favorite links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• The 1802 Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy faced unexpected competition from the wax figures of Marie Tussaud.
• Gin shops in the Regency: the "blue ruin" before hipsters discovered it.
• When reading inspired women to change history.
• How 18th-19thc literary women like Mary Robinson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning embraced opiates.
• The accidental Pied Piper of cats in 1909 New York.
Video: Rotating jeweled flowers on this 18thc clock (sound up!)
• The 1866 wedding fashions in the painting The Hesitant Fiancee by Auguste Toulmouche.
• The link between women, witchcraft, and stirring.
• Pearls for the bride: a magnificent 1830s pearl parure.
• Cimitero delle Fontanelle and the Neapolitan cult of the dead.
Image: "Touch watch" owned by author Helen Keller.
• Napoleon's pleasure-loving sister Pauline Bonaparte.
• A short history of tennis fashions.
• When butter was a food group: food and freedom in World War Two.
• The eagle as the ideal ruler, from ancient times to the Founding Fathers.
Image: An aerial view of Hyde Park Fair on the day of Queen Victoria's coronation, June 28, 1838.
• A recipe for an unusual - and very potent - 18thc cocktail: King Calli's Spruce Beer.
• A brief history of the American Pledge of Allegiance.
• Ruth Wakefield is the name and the place behind legendary chocolate chip Toll House Cookies.
• How to live like an 11thc prince.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Friday Video: 18th Century Dining

Friday, July 13, 2018
Loretta reports:

As I’ve pointed out in a previous blog post, the dinner table of the late 1700s and early 1800s looked very different from our own, with a large number of dishes, both sweet and savory, presented at the same time.

This video gives a nice, three-dimensional view of what was on the table, as well as short explanations of the dishes. Also, I think you'll enjoy curator Ivan Day’s dry wit.

If the macaroni and cheese surprises you (as it did some commenters), you might want to check out Susan’s blog post on the subject.  Also, as she explains in this blog post, the governor of Virginia would have been eating in the same fashion as his aristocratic counterparts in London.

YouTube Video: English Taste: The Art of Dining in 18th Century England with curator Ivan Day
Image is a still from the video.
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 (which will take you to our blog) or the video title (which will take you to YouTube).

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A Letter from Angelica Schuyler Church on the Morning of the Hamilton-Burr Duel, July 11, 1804

Wednesday, July 11, 2018
Susan reporting,

You didn't really think I'd let the 214th anniversary of the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr pass unnoticed, did you? Especially since July 11, 2018 also falls on a Wednesday, just as it did in 1804. I've already written a post here about the duel itself. This one is about how, within hours of the duel, the first ripples of shock and grief are already beginning to spread through a close-knit family that would never again be the same.

There's nothing quite like an original letter from the past. The majority of surviving letters related to Alexander Hamilton, his wife Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, and her family have been transcribed and are available online on various sites. There's no doubt that this is convenient. It's much easier to read a modern transcription than to decipher the often-faded handwriting of long ago, with its dips and swirls and often-idiosyncratic spelling and punctuation. It also helps protect the originals from the wear and tear of being removed from preservation storage for repeated study.


There's so much more to be learned from a handwritten letter than the words alone. Handwriting can reveal the writer's emotions, fears, and wishes, the urgency with which she or he wrote, or the care they took in choosing just the right word or phrase. I can't think of a better example than the letter above. (Please click to enlarge, and my apologies for the unavoidable reflections.)

The author of this letter was Angelica Schuyler Church, the eldest sister of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, the wife of John Barker Church, and the sister-in-law to Alexander Hamilton. Angelica was a well-read, well-traveled, and well-educated 18thc woman, and many of her surviving letters are filled with ideas and thoughts, descriptions of where she has visited and whom she has met, and, depending on her correspondent, often a dollop of flirtation as well. But not here.

Angelica wrote this letter on the morning of July 11, 1804, shortly after Alexander had been rowed back across the Hudson River from New Jersey, where the duel had taken place, to New York City. The duel with Aaron Burr had gone disastrously wrong, and had left Alexander gravely injured. But when Angelica wrote this letter to her younger brother Philip Schuyler in Albany, she had clearly just arrived at the house of Alexander's friend William Bayard, where the injured Alexander had been brought. Given the severity of his wound and the amount of blood he'd already lost, it's hard to understand her optimism for his recovery, but perhaps the attending physician was putting the best face on the situation for Angelica and her sister Eliza, who is also already at her dying husband's bedside.

Or perhaps Angelica did know. The letter was clearly written in haste and anxiety, the words dashed across the page. The two passages that she underlined - wretch Burr and expression of grief - are probably the most revealing ones in the entire letter. And because we know what happened after the letter was written, they're also among the saddest.

Here's a transcription:

                                          at Mr. Bayards Greenwich
                                          Wednesday Morn July 11, 1804

     My dear Brother, I have the painful task to inform you that General Hamilton was this morning wounded by that wretch Burr, And we have every reason to hope that he will recover. May I advise that you repair immediately to my father as perhaps he may wish to come down. My dear sister bears with saintlike fortitude this affliction. The Town is in consternation, and there exists only the expression of Grief & Indignation. Adieu my dear Brother. Remember me to Sally. Ever Yours,
                                               A. Church

This letter belongs to The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and is currently on loan and on display in the exhibition Hamilton: The Constitutional Clashes That Shaped a Nation at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, PA. The exhibition runs until December 31, 2018; see here for more information. Many thanks to Jessie Serfilippi of the Schuyler Mansion for her assistance with this post.

Read more about Eliza Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton in my latest historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, now available everywhere.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Fashions for July 1875

Tuesday, July 10, 2018
Travel & Promenade Dress July 1875
Loretta reports:

For a perspective on this month’s fashion plate, I offer a quote from Jane Ashelford’s The Art of Dress.

“A narrower silhouette appeared in 1874, introducing a sheath-like bodice which fitted over the waist and hips, thus necessitating a new style of corset. The flat effect down the front of the skirt was further enhanced by tapes inside the skirt which pulled it closer to the body. In conjunction with this tightening of the silhouette, the bustle grew smaller and was positioned lower down, where the fullness of the skirt extended into a long train.”

Travel & Promenade Dress Description

Description cont'd

Sunday, July 8, 2018

A Bold & Forthright Kiss, c1780

Sunday, July 8, 2018
Susan reporting,

Last week, I shared this unusually intimate 18thc painting on my Instagram and Facebook pages in honor of the hashtag #InternationalKissingDay. The painting has long been one of my favorites, and I've been thinking of all the other things I'd wished to say about it that didn't fit in a short caption. So here are those thoughts, along with the painting itself for those of you who didn't see it last week.

The majority of kisses in 18thc Western art of the "stolen kiss" variety (like this.) In the past, the women in stolen kiss themes were considered coy, or making la feinte resistance (a false resistance), or in mid-20thc parlance, just "playing hard to get." Today it's difficult to look at pictures like that and not think about the Me Too movement, and how often the man is shown aggressively forcing himself on a woman who'd much rather be saying no, but can't.

The artist of this watercolor is Nicolas Lavreince - also Lawreince and Lavrince - (1737-1807), a Swedish painter whose work was heavily influenced by the French rococo style of Nicolas Pater and Jean-Honore Fragonard. Most of his paintings are cheerfully gallant scenes of boudoirs and bedrooms showing pretty young women with their lovers, though he had his sleazy, queasy side, too (like this.)

All of which makes this painting the more unusual.  Here, the woman is clearly the one in control. She appears to have interrupted the gentleman at his breakfast. He's wearing an open banyan or robe de chambre over his shirt and breeches with mules on his feet - the 18thc equivalent of a robe and slippers - to show he's likely just risen from his bed. The table is set for him alone, with only one plate and cup.

The lady, however, is fully dressed for day, in a stylish gown, kerchief, cap, and stays. She appears to have just arrived, since her dark cloak is tossed over the back of the chair. She's clutching a small nosegay of flowers; has she brought that to him? There's clearly a sense of surprise, as if she's the one who's caught him in his male version of a boudoir. Here he was, quietly eating his solitary breakfast, when all of a sudden this young woman is HERE, sitting on his knee and shoving open his shirt and banyan and kissing him. It's quite the ambush - not that he objects. His hand curled around her hip to hold her steady on his thigh proves that. And if there's any doubt that this is intended to be a reversal of more customary scenes, the sketchy oval painting on the wall shows a traditional couple with the man reaching from behind the woman to kiss her and cradle her breasts.

Some art historians believe that this shows an encounter between a gentleman and a prostitute, arguing that the only possible explanation for the woman being so forthright in her desire is that she's being paid to do so. I'd rather think that, in this case, turnabout was fair play.

Le déjeuner en tête à tête by Nicolas Lawreince le Jeune, c1780, Musee Louvre.
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