My last visit to Colonial Williamsburg this spring happened to coincide with the American release of Apple's new iPad, the electronic device that has all of publishing holding their collective breaths. Worry not: a lengthy discussion of how exactly the iPad and other e-readers will ultimately change our concept of books has no place here in our small, historically nerdy-girl world. But as I stood in the printer's shop at CW, my head spun with the enormous difference between Now, and Then.
In the 1770s, the printer owned the actual printing press and the business. The printer oversaw the business, taking orders as well as editing the copy, and often even writing it as well. In the case of newspapers, the printer's duties could also include choosing which articles to "borrow" from other papers (for this is well before copyrighting) and selling and writing advertisements and public notices for lost property.
All printed matter began with movable type, one single cast-lead letter at a time. The best type was Dutch or French, and costly enough that an average printer set each page or signature at time, ran off the number of sheets required, and then broke up the type to reuse it. The compositor arranged the type and each page's layout; this required both skill and literacy as well as an "eye," especially since everything was done entirely in reverse. The pressman was hired more for brawn than brains, working the heavy wooden press and making the impression into the paper. Together the pair created the printed page, but even working as a team, it wasn't a speedy process. Setting type for a single newspaper page could take twenty-five hours or more; for the single page of a book, composition could take six hours.
Six hours! And that didn't preparing the paper, inking the type, making the impression, or drying the sheets, and it certainly didn't include the cutting, trimming, stitching, and binding that were part of the bookbinder's trade. (See here for more step-by-step information about 18th c. printing.) As I watched the demonstration, I thought of this blog, and how quickly I can "publish" my writing for readers by way of Blogger. In less than an hour's time, I can write a blog, choose and size my illustrations, "compose" it, and then with a single ink-free finger, distribute it to all of you around the world. What 18th c. printer could even conceive of such a luxury? Or, in turn, how can I imagine reverting to such a laborious and time-consuming process?
But there was one distinct part of the CW printer's shop that felt exactly the same: the owner of the shop in the 1770s was a woman – the wonderfully named Clementina Rind.
Interested in reading an 18th c. newspaper like the one being printed on the press in Colonial Williamsburg, above? Here are all the issues of The Virginia Gazettefrom 1774, page by page.
It was interesting to find, in the Fashions sections of the 1820 La Belle Assemblée, illustrations and descriptions of Parisian dances. I can only assume that these were the latest fashions in dance. What I can’t quite figure out, is how exactly the dances go. This is not surprising. When visting Colonial Williamsburg, I succumbed (against my better judgment) to the interpreters’ invitation to try 18th century dancing. It was deuced difficult, and I continue amazed that I didn’t fall on my face or cause any injuries among the participants. I decided to stick to writing.
Maybe some of those CW folks will recognize these.
No. 2.—A GROUP OF PARISIAN DANCERS.
The dance here represented, is known by the appellation of De l’Eté. The first couple advance forward, and chassez; then chassez back again across; which figure is repeated twice back again; the gentlemen then each performs the figure of balancez to his partner, whom he turns round, and which finishes the figure.
No. 2.—SECOND GROUP OF PARISIAN DANCERS. FIGURE DANCE TO THE QUADRILLE MUSIC OF L'HORATIA.
The music of this dance, is the favourite Quadrille air of L’Horatia.—The dance commences with the English figure of right and left all round. Each gentleman then performs the balancez to his partner and turns her round with both hands. The ladies take hands all round, then follows the demi promenade à quatre, and the figure finishes with half right and left, after an open chassez by each couple.
Text and illustrations from La Belle Assemblée: or, Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine. Addressed particularly to the ladies. Vol. XXI—New Series. From January 1, to June 20, 1820.
Long before sweats and other modern sartorial developments/abominations, 18th c. gentlemen had their own way to kick back and relax in style. In the privacy of their libraries or bed chambers, they'd trade their tight-fitting waistcoats and jackets for the flowing, easy extravagance of their banyans.
Banyans (also called morning gowns or dressing gowns, or, in France, robes de chambre) are the more elegant ancestors of that 20th c. male favorite, the wrap-and-tie bathrobe. Popular from the late 17th c. into the early 19th c., banyans were worn over shirts and breeches for informal wear. A cap or turban replaced the formal wig and completed the casual ensemble. Popular fabrics continued the period's preference for male peacocks, with banyans cut from rich silks and brocades as well as cooler linens and printed, patterned cottons.
The first banyans were very full and long with open fronts and no tailoring or shaping; later ones became more fitted. Banyans were originally inspired by the loose clothing worn by gentlemen planters in the steamy East Indies, and even the name "banyan" was borrowed from the Hindu word for trader. As the English gentleman became more influenced by the rest of the world, decorating his parlor with Chinoiserie, seasoning his food with Indian spices, and drinking Chinese tea, it seemed perfectly acceptable to dress with a nod to the exotic east –– especially when banyans were so much more comfortable than his regular clothes.
But the similarity between banyans and the traditional academic robes worn by European scholars wasn't missed, either. Wearing a banyan could help a man think Deep Thoughts, and intellectual gentlemen like Sir Isaac Newton were painted wearing one. Noted Dr. Benjamin Rush (1745-1813) with approval:
Loose dresses contribute to the easy and vigorous exercise of the faculties of the mind. This remark is so obvious, and so generally known, that we find studious men are always painted in gowns, when they are seated in their libraries.
Which is, of course, exactly how Dr. Rush had his own portrait painted, belowleft.
Pears, we note, has been around for a long time.
AN INVALUABLE DISCOVERY FOR THE IMPROVEMENT OF THE FEMALE PERSON.
A. PEARS, Perfumer, No.55, Wells-street, Oxford-street, having, after a variety of experiments, brought to perfection his beautiful ALMONA BLOOM or LIQUID VEGETABLE ROUGE, respectfully presents it to universal attention, as an indispensible Companion to the Toilet, and for the introduction of which he has been so happy to meet with the concurrence of every Admirer of the Female Complection.
This Composition is infinitely superior to all other preparations for admitting a free perspiration, by softening the Skin, preventing Eruptions, and firmly adheres without the least tint being removed so as stain a cambric handkerchief. It is of the consistency of Cream and of a most beautiful light red hue ; but to expaciate on the whole of its excellencies in this contracted space is impossible. The Inventor, therefore, contents himself, with observing, that a single experiment is sufficient to establish its superiority.
Pears's White Imperial Powder is an admirable Companion to the above, being the most simple and effective cosmetic in fashionable use. It is produced from Vegetables only, and gives to the Skin a delicacy strictly consonant to true beauty, nor can the most circumspect observer perceive the application of it on the countenance. Price 2sd. 6d. and 5s. per box.—Pears's new Liquid Pink Dye, for colouring Silk Stockings, Gloves ribbons, &c. in a more bright and transparent style than can be given by any other preparation. Price 1s 6d. and 3s per bottle. Pears's Pink Saucers, an entirely new invention.—Sold, wholesale and retail, as above.
FOR CLEANING AND BEAUTIFYING THE TEETH.
PREPARED CHARCOAL and CONCENTRATED SOLUTION.—CHARCOAL, from its antisceptic properties, has long been recommended by the first professional men as the most efficacious Tooth Powder that can be used for cleaning, whitening, and preserving the Teeth, removing the Scurvy from the GUMS, and destroymg the fætor arising from carious Teeth which contaminates the Breath, and is incapable of injuring the enamel.
From the great reputation the genuine Preparation inherited by Edm. Lardner (Chemist to the Duke and Duchess of York), has acquired, many imitations are daily offered for sale; the true only is signed Edm. Lardner on the Label.
It is sold wholesale and retail at No. 56, Piccadilly, corner of Albany, in Boxes and Bottles, 2s. 9d. each; it also sold retail, by Newbery, St. Paul's Church-yard; Rigge, Cheapside; Vade, Cornhill; Davison, Fleet-street; and Clarke, Borough.
~~~~~ Teeth courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Here in the northeast United States, daylilies always seem to be in bloom on the first day of summer. No matter how cold or warm or wet or dry spring has been, the lilies are ready by the twenty-first of June, waving trumpets of bright orange by the side of road. Their genus name is Hemerocallis, or 'beautiful for a day,' both for their loveliness and for the fact that each bloom only lasts from dawn to nightfall.
Although they're considered a wild flower now (and something of a pest if they take over a garden), perennial daylilies are like peonies, long-ago transplants from Asia. Also like peonies, the lilies have been bred into thousands of modern hybrids. The original daylilies were recorded centuries ago in Mongolia, India, Korea, China, and Japan, and growing in locations that ranged from swamps to forests to the tops of mountains. Given their hardiness as well as their beauty, the lilies were brought to Western Europe in the middle ages, and then made the voyage across the Atlantic to North America with early English settlers in the 17th c. By the late 19th c., they had become so ubiquitous that the flowers were also called Tiger Lilies, Railroad Lilies, Roadside Lilies, or even (most humbly!) Outhouse Lilies.
Olivia burst into the bedchamber ten minutes later.
“You,” she began. But even in one of her blind rages, she could hardly miss the bed, and it stopped her dead. “Good grief!” she said. “It’s enormous.”
Lisle casually looked up from his examination of one of the bedposts at the head.
Her bonnet was askew and her hair was coming loose, red curls tumbling against her pearly skin. Her clothes were rumpled from traveling. Anger still sparked in the impossibly blue eyes, though they’d widened at the sight of the famous bed.
“That’s why it’s called the Great Bed of Ware,” he said calmly. “You’ve never seen it before?”
She shook her head, and the curls danced madly.
“Quite old—by English standards, at any rate,” he said. “Shakespeare mentions it.”*
*"…as many lies as will lie in thy sheet of
paper, although the sheet were big enough for the
bed of Ware in England."
SIR TOBY BELCH, Twelfth Night: Act 3, Scene 2
Lord Byron mentions it, too, in Don Juan:
"All (except Mahometans) forbear/ To make the nuptial couch a Bed of Ware."
At the time of my story, the Great Bed of Ware was installed at the Saracen’s Head, Ware, Hertfordshire, twenty-one miles from London. Though approximately 12 feet square, it nonetheless moved numerous times in the course of its history, and gave me a little trouble pinning down its location in 1831. These days you can visit it at the Victoria and Albert Museum. If Kensington isn’t down the street or in your immediate travel plans, you can findphotos at the V&A website, as well as watch a (soundless) video. More photos are here and here.
Like so many other famous destinations, the bed has its otherworldly legends. Charles G. Harper (one of my sources for the great days of coaching) tells one of them in The Cambridge, Ely and King's Lynn road: the great Fenland highway.
While Benjamin Alexander was admonishing his children not to linger overlong in bed in 1659, by the 18th c. a well-appointed bed was a very fine place for lingering indeed. A handsome wooden bedstead with matching curtains and linens was often the single most valuable piece of furniture in the household. The hangings were usually expensive textiles and often lavishly embroidered, making the bed an impressive, showy symbol of status and prosperity.
With the curtains loosed and pulled close, a bed became a small, snug, private room within a room, and much warmer and less drafty than the bedchamber (or, in smaller American houses, the parlor) in which it sat. Once the curtains were drawn and draped into elegant swags, a bedstead could become a stage for a lady of fashion, presenting her as she sat propped against her pillows to take morning tea or chocolate and receive her closest friends. Beds were also the settings for the most important stages of an individual's life: births, marriages, and deaths were all solemnized in beds.
But the question most of us have now regarding these imposing old bedsteads is much less complicated. How comfortable were they? Compared to our modern monumental box springs, an 18th c. bedstead seems flat and unwelcoming. But this cutaway display at Winterthur cleverly shows that sleepers of the past were most likely quite comfortable, thank you. The bedstead - the wooden frame - has a sacking bottom tightly laced across it. Resting on the sacking a straw-stuffed mattress, and on top of that is a feather-stuffed "bed", pillows, and bolsters. Unlike the lightly filled down comforters and feather-beds of today, the 18th c. version is firmly packed; an estimated 90 pounds of feathers could be used to fill a single feather-bed.
While this bedstead was made in colonial America, the style remained fashionable in England for many years. This illustration for a folding camp bed from Thomas Sheraton'sThe Cabinet Dictionary of 1803 shows exactly the same method for lacing the sacking bottom.
One myth about 18th c. beds that needs to be dispelled: the beds were not shorter because the people were shorter. In fact our ancestors (particularly in America) were much the same size as we are today, with some taller and some shorter; both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were over six feet tall. Beds were all made to order, without standardized sizing, and while some are shorter to reflect their owner's stature or the size of his bedchamber, many more are the same length or longer than modern beds. In addition, many people chose to sleep propped up by pillows, which also "shortened" their bed.
Just for nerdy fun: Here's a fascinating article about more historical myths that need debunking. Be honest, now. How many have you heard or believed?
Above: Bedstead, Eastern Massachusetts, possibly Salem; 1765-95. (Bedding modern.) Gift of Henry Francis du Pont, Winterthur.
Below: Camp Bed with Sacking Bottom, Laced; from The Cabinet Directory by Thomas Sheraton, London, 1803
ORIGIN OF THE NAMES OF THE PRINCIPAL BUILDINGS, STREETS, &c. IN LONDON AND WESTMINSTER, FROM STOW, SPEED, MAITLAND, &c.
Clifford's Inn was a house granted by Edward II. to the family of Cliffords, and afterwards leased, and then sold to the students of the law.
Covent (i. e. Convent) Garden, was formerly a Garden belonging to the Abbot and Convent of Westminster. It was granted in 1552 to John, Earl of Bedford.
Cripple-Gate was built before the Conquest, and took its name from the cripples who used to beg there. It was repaired in 1633.
Crutched Friars took its name from a monastery of the Holy Cross, suppressed by Henry VIII.
Fleet Ditch, was formerly called the River, or Fleet; being navigable for merchant ships as far as Holborn-bridge.
Goodman's fields were in Stow's time, the fields and farm of one Goodman.
Gracechurch - street, formerly Grasschurchstreet, was so called from grass or herbs sold there.
Gray's-Inn was a house belonging to the Grays of Wilton, who resided there from 1315, till the reign of Edward III., when they demised it to the students of the law.
Hicks's Hall was erected for a Session House in 1612, by Sir Baptist Hicks, a mercer.
Holborn was formerly a village called Oldbourne, from a stream which broke out near the place where the bars now stand, and ran down the street to Old-bourne-bridge, and so into the river of Fleet, now Fleet-ditch. This was long ago stopped up at the head, and in other places. Holborn was first paved in 1535.
House of Commons was formerly St. Stephen's Chapel, being founded by that King. It was new built and endowed by Edward III., in 1347, and suppressed by Edward VI., since which time it has served as a House of Parliament.
The Spirit of the public journals for the year 1825: being an impartial selection of the most exquisite essays and jeux d'esprits and tales of humour, prose and verse, with explanatory notes, Volume 3. Authors George Cruikshank, Robert Cruikshank. Printed for James Ridgway, 1826.
There's nothing better for summing up a situation than a good maxim, aphorism, or saying.
These were taken from a slender forty-page booklet called The Last Advice of Mr. Ben. Alexander (late Minister of West-Markham, in the County of Nottingham) To His Children. Printed in London 1659, The Last Advice includes not only suggestions regarding religion and prayer, but also "General and Particular Advice", from which these quotes are drawn. Considering that in the following year of 1660, Charles II would be restored to the throne, a father's caution against the "snufle of lust" was probably a wise thing indeed.
ut not your sickle into another man's corn, least you cut your fingers....
• Take heed of wantonnesse, in word or deed, for the snufle of lust goeth out with the stinke of loathing....
• Burthen not yourselfe with uselesse notions, nobody will carry about with him that key, that will unlock no Treasure....
• Write not the faults of Great Persons in a Letter, least it be intercepted, and you sent out of the World before your time....
• Have a care you meddle not with women's quarrells, for women's brawles are men's thralls....
• Ride not hastily through a Town, men do think that either the horse, or your braines, are none of the best....
• Leave your bed, when first sleep hath left you, tis very ill for your eyes to read lying, and worse for the mind, to be a cage of uncleane thoughts....
Initial letter, above, by Wenceslas Hollar, (1607-1677) Thanks to Dainty Ballerina at the blog Fragments for introducing us to Mr. Alexander!
Last year I wrote here about a replica of a c. 1600 women's jacket that had been created by dozens of volunteer embroiderers, lacemakers, and craftspeople under the auspices of Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth, MA. (Here's more about the jacket in the blog that documented its progress to completion.) Once done, the jacket had acquired considerable celebrity in the Boston-area media and among scholars of historic dress, but I'd wondered what had become of it once all the fanfare had passed.
To my surprise and delight, last week I discovered that the jacket had become a neighbor. Not far from my home is Winterthur, the Dupont family's country estate and museum housing their phenomenal collection of American art, decorative art, and antiques. And there, on display, was the Plimoth jacket.
I was able to study it in detail, and take photographs of my own (above.) I hope you'll click on them and enlarge the images to appreciate the phenomenal needlework. For an English lady four hundred years ago, a jacket like this would have been a costly "status" garment, much like a haute couture gown might be today, and when you consider the thousands of stitches covering the surface, the dangling golden sequins and the gold needle-lace edging, it's easy to understand why. This is truly a masterpiece in every sense of the word!
As usual, looking for something else, I happened upon the pages of Advertisements for June in an 1807 La Belle Assemblée. I was particularly charmed by this ad for an exhibition of automata—and thrilled to find a video of one of Maillardet’s works on YouTube.
Again removed to Mr. Wigley's Great Room, Spring-Gardens.
MAILLARDET's WONDERFUL MECHANICAL EXHIBITION, open from Ten o'Clock in the morning till Five in the afternoon, and from Seven till Ten in the evening.
The MUSICAL LADY.* —This wonderful Automatum, whose combination of excellence renders adequate description impossible, is seated at an organized piano forte, and plays, with the most accurate precision, sixteen airs. Every note proceeds from the pressure of the fingers on the keys. The feet assist in playing several notes; while the animated and surprising motion of the eyes, aided by the most elegant gesture produce the actual appearance of respiration.
The Animated Rope-Dancer, whose great agility excites general admiration, by making exertions of Herculean strength.
The Juvenile Artist,** the figure of a boy, who, with every action of real life, will execute, in presence of the company, specimens of writing and drawing superior to the first masters.
The British Fortune-Teller,*** or rather Enchanter; for few of the tales concerning these wonder-working sages in their groves of druidical oak, " where magic spells impend from every bough," could go beyond the astonishing realities of this self-acting Automaton, who resolves questions that are proposed to him with the precision of an oracle.
A Beautiful Bird, which, by mechanical powers, darts from a gold box, and warbles its melodious notes with powerful effect, as perfectly to resemble nature; and when it has finished its concluding air, returns back to its nest.
The Siberian Mouse—The inventor flatters himself, that in ingenuity of mechanism, exactness of resemblance, and pleasing effect, this figure will be deemed, at least, equally interesting with any that have been specified.
The Sphinx Oleandra.—The Domesticated Lizard. An accurate representation of a peculiar species of that beautiful Insect, the Aranea.
The Room will be brilliantly illuminated in the evening—Admittance Two Shillings and Six-pence.
Of the merits of this surprising effect of mechanical power, little need be said, having been honoured by the presence of her Majesty and all the Princesses, and being now under the flattering patronageof their Royal Highnesses the Princess of Wales and the Duchess of York.
Most modern museum-goers who spot these two porcelain vessels in a display case would assume they were serving pieces. They're certainly pretty enough for an elegant 18th c. table, especially the one with the family crest on the side.
But necessity has always been the mother of invention, and often of design that's both handsome and useful, too. Consider the spreading hoops of an 18th c. lady, draped with yards and yards of costly silk petticoats, and then consider maneuvering all that yardage each time nature called.
There was a solution. These are two examples of bourdaloues, chamber pots designed specifically for women. With the assistance of a lady's maid, they could be slipped beneath skirts and petticoats, employed while standing, and then discretely carried away. Other versions were more utilitarian and fashioned of tin or leather, and intended to make long journeys by carriages bearable. Even when skirts shrank in size towards the end of 18th c., the bourdaloue was deemed too practical an item to abandon, and they remained in use throughout the Victorian era.
Where did the name come from? Legend says the name was taken from a celebrated 17th c. French Jesuit priest named Louis Bourdaloue (1632-1704), whose sermons were so infamously long that ladies came to church prepared. Not many historians accept this explanation. Even given that people were more frank about bodily needs in the past than they are now, it's very doubtful a well-bred French lady would relieve herself in her pew. Though no one now seems to know for certain, it's likely to be either something garbled in translation, or one more sly English insult aimed at the French.
Top: Bourdaloue. Made by Andrew Stevenson Factory, Cobridge, Staffordshire, England; 1816-30. Below: Bourdaloue with lid. Made in Jingdezhen, China; 1790-1820. Both from the collections of Winterthur Museum & Country Estate
IT is generally allowed that our Newspapers are " brief abstracts of the times;"—if so, a stranger on first perusing our daily and hebdomadal publications, must suppose that our times are full of absurdity, or else that marriages, which used to be made in heaven, are now made by advertisement. Nothing, indeed, can be more whimsical than those nuptial notices, these puffs for adventurers in the lottery of matrimony. The female candidates, it is true, in many instances aspire to superintend a widower's family, though their advertised endowments aim at a more permanent connection; but in the male advertisements there is something too ludicrous for serious animadversions, yet often too deceitful to be allowed to pass unnoticed. That any man of probity and decent property should be so isolated in society as to be obliged to advertise for a wife, as he would for a road-hack, is a thing in our present state of manners totally impossible. Even the common decencies of refinement will be his passport into respectable female parties in town, and should his fancy prompt him to a wider range, the watering-places will always afford an opportunity of looking round him for families into which he need not fail of an introduction, if his views are honest and rational. He then that can descend to this mode of exposing his wishes, must be either a fool or a knave; the latter alternative is indeed most likely, and therefore deserves a little closer investigation.
It is well known to those dabblers in matrimony, that there are many knots of maiden sisters, the remains of respectable mercantile families, who have retired to the different villages in the outskirts of the metropolis, where they mix but little with society, except their own particular friends, and live comfortably on their little fortunes. These are the game these sportsmen aim at; they hope that the solitary state of maidenhood, and that natural wish which every female breast must feel to confer happiness and to share it, may induce some independent, but unprotected spinster to notice the advertisement of a “young man of respectable connection, genteel appearance, flourishing business, and who only wishes the lady to bring sufficient for her own share of the expences." A bait of this kind may often induce respectable females to notice it so far as just to make inquiry; but there they cannot stop, for no sooner does the hero of the adventure find the inquirer worth his pursuit, and liable to be deceived, than he prepares for a regular system of chicanery and impertinent perseverance, which too often succeed, whilst the unfortunate victim finds too late, that her property is either squandered by a spendthrift, or applied as a temporary prop to a falling credit! That the picture is not too highly coloured will be generally admitted; and it is to be hoped that these slight hints may serve to put on their guard those individuals of the sex who are most liable to be led astray by those absurd and knavish advertisements.
I remain Mr. Editor, Your's,
Yes, Loretta and I are both writers, but we don't like to write about writing. While we're here, we'd rather be Nerdy and Historically Inclined, and besides, the actual act of writing a book is not terribly thrilling for bystanders.
Except, of course, when the book-writing is being done by Jane Austen (1775-1817).
I've already mentioned here (andhere) how more and more rare books and manuscripts are being made available on line. Not only does this wonderful trend free these works from the confines of rare book rooms for a much wider audience, but it also helps safely preserve the originals for posterity.
Certainly this is the case with Jane Austen's Fiction Manuscripts, a three-year funded project of the University of Oxford and King's College London. Here is the formal explanation of the project, in polysyllabic scholar-ese, but the gist is wonderfully simple: to create a digital resource that offers all of Jane's handwritten manuscripts on line, page by page, with transcriptions beside them.
I can't begin to explain how much I love this. As a reader, it's fascinating to see how a familiar story evolves, how sentences and characters were changed by the author. But as a writer, it's empowering as well, this astonishing chance to peek over Jane's own shoulder as she sits at her desk. Consider this page, the beginning of Chapter Ten of Persuasion, my favorite JA book. Cross-outs and insertions, scribbles and abbreviations and over-writing: all proof that those wonderfully perfect words didn't spring fully-formed and complete, but were wrestled with considerable thought and effort into final submission.
And yes, Jane, seeing that effort only makes me admire you more....:)
Many thanks to Michael Robinson for suggesting this link.
Being American, I didn't know about that British comic institution, Horrible Histories, the self-described "savagely successful" CBBC TV show and book series. Also being American, I couldn't imagine our popular comedians using history as their inspiration; jokes about George Washington just don't seem to fly with the stand-up comics in Vegas, nor do you hear any opening monologues about Manifest Destiny on late-night talk shows. But the English are sufficiently comfortable with their history to support humor about it, giving us Blackadder and the Monty Python version of the Spanish Inquisition, and now the Horrible Histories.
But it's only been this month – just in time for his 350th anniversary of the Restoration – that the Horrible Histories crew has taken on Charles II. Amidst all the funny wigs and silliness, it's actually a pretty succinct overview of his reign (and there's even a shout-out for Hortense Mancini). Have fun!
I love these little stories from 19th century periodicals. This comes from the Annual Register for 1827, in the Chronicle for June. The entry appeared between an article about a murder in Manchester and an account of riots at Norwich.
WAR OF BEES.—In the village of Cargo, a hive of bees swarmed on Thursday, and were hived in the regular way. On the Saturday after, a swarm of bees, from some neighbouring hive, appeared to be flying over the garden in which the hive above-mentioned was placed, when they instantly darted down upon the hive of the new settlers, and completely covered it; in a little time they began to enter the hive, and poured into it in such numbers that it soon became completely filled. A loud humming noise was heard, and the work of destruction immediately ensued; the winged combatants sallied forth from the hive, until it became entirely empty ; and a furious battle commenced in "upper air" between the besiegers and the besieged. The battle raged with fury on both sides, and the ground beneath was covered with the wounded and the slain, hundreds of them were lying dead, or crawling about, disabled from re-ascending to the scene of action. To one party, however, the palm of victory was at last awarded, and they settled upon the branch of an adjoining apple-tree, from which they were safely placed in the empty hive, which had been the object of their contention, and where they now continue peacefully and industriously employed in adding to the stores of their commonwealth.—Carlisle Patriot.
Since Hortense Mancini, duchesse Mazarin (1646-1699) was so popular in Tuesday's blog, I've decided to revisit her today. She's such a flamboyantly Intrepid Lady that she deserves a little extra time.
"I know that a woman's glory lies in not giving rise to gossip," Hortense (perhaps disingenuously) wrote in her memoirs, "and those who know me know well enough that I do not care for making a public sensation, but one cannot always choose the kind of life one wishes to lead."
For a lady who didn't desire "public sensation," Hortense sure did know how to put on a show. Once she escaped from her fanatically mad husband in 1668, her journeys took her from Rome to Venice, to France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, and England; an astonishing itinerary in a time when most women never ventured more than a few miles from where they'd been born. But Hortense made an art of surviving on the road in high style, pawning jewels and sponging off relatives and lovers, and often riding only just ahead of the soldiers that her irate husband sent after her.
In addition to servants, her extensive entourage included her menagerie of pet dogs, cats, monkeys, and a talking parrot named Pretty. Perhaps most important was Hortense's African page, Mustapha, who repeatedly rescued Hortense when her impulsive plunges into rivers and oceans exceeded her swimming skills. She became a celebrity for shooting pistols and riding like a man "on horseback, wearing a plumed hat and peruke," and crowds gathered wherever she appeared. Gushed the Comtesse de Grignan with unabashed admiration, Hortense and Marie "were traveling like true heroines of romance, with a great many jewels and no linen."
When Hortense finally appeared in London in 1675, "en habit de cavalier," she did indeed cause a sensation. "It is believed that a lady so extolled cannot fail to be the cause of adventures," wrote the French ambassador. "People talk of her everywhere, the men with admiration, the women with jealousy and uneasiness."
What everyone was soon remarking was how quickly she'd become Charles II's newest mistress. At least for now, the days of pawning jewels were done, and not only were her new quarters in Whitehall Palace being lavishly redecorated, but so were her servants, now dressed in laced livery to the extravagant tune of 2600 gold livres. Charles didn't care: he was as dazzled as the others. She could ride hard and hunt all day with the gentlemen, then afterwards, draped in jewels, she'd give the best suppers as a model hostess, serving the best wines, food, and conversation to be found in London.
"With the appetites which God has given her," wrote the French ambassador, "she would certainly devour double the income that she has...I do not know how she does it, but these extraordinary expenses appear to me a little suspicious."
But to those who REALLY knew Hortense, I'm sure it just seemed like Hortense being Hortense: an extravagant zest for life while letting someone else worry about the expense. Besides, how can you question a lady who'd dare have herself painted like this, aboveright?
Above: Portrait of Hortense Mancini by Jacob Voet Below: Portrait of Hortense Mancini, Duchess of Mazarin, by Benedetto Gennari the Younger
From Boswell’s London Journal 1762-63
FRIDAY 3 JUNE 
…I am always resolving to study propriety of conduct. But I never persist with any steadiness. I hope, however, to attain it. I shall perhaps go abroad a year or two, which may confirm me in proper habits. In the mean time let me strive to do my best.
SATURDAY 4 JUNE 
It was the King’s birthnight, and I resolved to be a blackguard and to see all that was to be seen. I dressed myself in my second-mourning suit, in which I had been powdered many months, dirty buckskin breeches and black stockings, a shirt of Lord Eglinton’s which I had worn two days, and a little round hat with tarnished silver lace belonging to a disbanded officer of the Royal Volunteers. I had in my hand an old oaken stick battered against the pavement. And was I not a complete blackguard? I went to the Park, picked up a low brimstone, called myself a barber and agreed with her for sixpence, went to the bottom of the Park arm in arm and dipped my machine in the Canal and performed most manfully. I then went as far as St. Paul’s Church-yard, roaring along, and then came to Ashley’s Punch-house and drank three threepenny bowls. In the Strand I picked up a little profligate wretch and gave her sixpence. She allowed me entrance. But the miscreant refused me performance. I was much stronger than her, and volens nolens pushed her up against the wall. She however gave a sudden spring from me; and screaming out, a parcel of more whores and soldiers came to her relief. “Brother soldiers,” said I, “should not a half-pay officer r-g-r for sixpence? And here has she used me so and so.” I got them on my side, and I abused her in blackguard style, and then left them. At Whitehall I picked up another girl to whom I called myself a highwayman and told her I had no money and begged she would trust me. But she would not. My vanity was somewhat gratified tonight that, notwithstanding of my dress, I was always taken for a gentleman in disguise. I came home about two o'clock, much fatigued.
Loretta's recent post about dueling ladies of 1811 reminded me of another pair from 1675. In this case, the identities of the two ladies made for just as much gossip as their activity.
Hortense Mancini, duchesse Mazarin (1646-1699) was a high-born adventuress in every sense of the word. The favorite niece of Cardinal Mazarin, Hortense was married off at fifteen in 1661 to the richest gentleman in Europe. Unfortunately, he was one of the most mentally unbalanced as well, and in 1668 Hortense fled the marriage.
Roaming across Europe, she cut a flamboyant figure wherever she went: tall and beautiful in either men's clothing or women's, she rode and drank hard, gambled, shot pistols, swam in rivers, took lovers of both genders, played the guitar and danced like a gypsy. When she finally landed in London in 1675, King Charles II was duly impressed, and soon Hortense was sharing his bed.
But the Roman duchesse also captivated another: Anne Lennard, Countess of Sussex (1661-1721). The fifteen-year-old countess was the first child (of many) of Charles and Barbara Palmer, Duchess of Cleveland. Legitimized and ennobled, the countess had been unhappily married for two years when Hortense arrived, and the pair soon became not only great friends, but almost certainly lovers.
Thus our combatants: one lady who is mistress to the king, but also involved in a lesbian affair with the other lady, half her age, who is a daughter of that same king. As can be imagined, this was scandalous even in Restoration England, and the gossip was fierce. Here is a report in a letter by the clearly titillated Lady Chaworth to her brother Lord Roos in December, 1676:
"Lady Sussex and Madame Mazarin have privately learnt to fence, and went downe into St. James Parke the other day with drawne swords under theire night gownes, which they drew out and made severall fine passes with, to the admiration of severall men that was lookers on in the Parke."
Predictably, Lord Sussex was not amused:
"They say [Lady Sussex's] husband and she will part unless she leave the Court and be content to live to him in the country, he disliking her much converse with Madame Mazarin and the addresses she gets amongst that company."*
Lord Sussex kept his word, and hauled his wife off to the country with him, where it was reported Anne took to her bed and wept bitterly, kissing a miniature portrait of Hortense. Back in London, Hortense merely shrugged, and moved on to her next extracurricular lover (in addition to Charles): Louis I de Grimaldi, Prince de Monaco.
But Anne wasn't done enhancing her notoriety, either. Taken next to a nunnery in Paris in 1678, she soon found ways to slip free, and at seventeen, began a heated affair with the forty-year-old English ambassador, Ralph Montagu (1638-1709) - who had once been one of her mother's lovers as well.
Above: Portrait of Hortense Mancini by Jacob Voet, 1671, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia
I thought to do a little compare and contrast today. These June fashions illustrate how women’s dress changed between 1820 and 1829. By the later date, the waistline’s come down, the skirt is swelling out, and sleeves are starting the steady increase in pouffiness that will reach a truly entertaining phase in the 1830s.
FASHIONS FOR JUNE, 1820.
EXPLANATION OF THE PRINTS OF FASHION.
No 1.—FANCY BALL DRESS. White slip of gros-de-Naples,* under a frock of fine net, richly embroidered with silver, and trimmed in the most splendid manner with geranium colour and roses of real silver lama.** Head-dress a diadem bandeau of diamonds, with a regal coronet and plume of white feathers. White shoes of figured gros-de-Naples, and white kid gloves.
REPOSITORY OF FASHIONS.
No. VI.] JUNE, 1829. [PRICE 2S.
Dress of Aurora colour crêpe aërophane*** over a satin slip of the same colour; the corsage made close to the shape, displaying to advantage the fine formed bust; it is made extremely low on the shoulders, and adorned in the centre and sides with pinnatifid**** columns of satin ; the sleeve short and very full; the skirt is ornamented by tucks half a quarter wide, extending half way up the dress : pinnatifid columns extend perpendicularly, and give a grace and finish to this novel kind of dress.
The head-dress is composed of an Aurora coloured hat, profusely decorated with large plumes d'Autriche and large bows of striped gauze riband ; under the brim of the hat, on the left side, is placed a rosette, composed of blonde***** and riband, like that which decorates the crown. Pearl necklace ; white satin shoes and sandals ; white kid gloves.
Last week I visited an exhibition at the Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC. Eco-Fashion: Going Green presented a number of beautiful clothes, and far more disturbing facts about the clothing industry.
• The US consumes approximately 84 pounds of textiles per person per year.
• The average garment purchased in the US is only worn six times before being discarded: the cycle of "Fast Fashion."
• Over 8,000 different chemicals are currently being used to turn raw materials into textiles. Many are irreversibly damaging to people and the environment. *
Sobering, yes, and sadly nothing new. By the middle of the 19th c., more and more clothing was being mass-produced rather than individually hand-sewn for the wearer, with technological advances such as sewing machines and high-speed textile looms bringing the industrial revolution to fashion. Suddenly style was available to everyone, rather than a privileged few.
Innovation also came in new colors. In 1856, an eighteen-year-old chemistry student named William Henry Perkin (1838-1907) accidentally created the first aniline dye, a vivid purple dubbed mauveine, and from this sprang a whole spectrum of colors. These new dyes were brighter and bolder than any old-fashioned mineral pigments, and soon all fashionable ladies – whether dressed in common calico or imported silk - were wearing the vivid hues like so many gaudy parrots.
There was only one catch: that lovely, brilliant shade of Perkin green (one of the most popular of the new colors) contained arsenic as a by-product of its manufacture. Not only were the dye-workers sickening and eventually dying from the aniline dyes, but those who wore the fabric daily against their skin or breathed the fumes were also at risk. By 1870, the threat was widely known – see this grim Punch cartoon from 1862 of stylish skeletons ready for the "New Dance of Death" - but the arsenic-based dyes remained in use in clothing throughout the 19th c. Their fall from grace wasn't due to public outrage, but to fashion, as newer dyes and colors gradually replaced the old ones.
The fashion plate, above, contains an arsenic double-whammy: not only were the day dresses shown made of fabric treated with aniline dyes, but the printer's ink that was used in the reproduction likely contained the same chemicals. Going green was never so deadly....
* Facts from the exhibition brochure.
Top: Fashion plate from Godey's Lady Book, 1861.
Update: For more about an earlier toxic green used during the Regency era, check out this postover at Jane Austen's World. Clearly those involved in chemical colors didn't learn much from history!
Romance writers are often accused of allowing their heroines to behave in ways "real" women of the time wouldn't have done. The female disguised as a male is one example. Yet we know it happened. Women didn't always get away with it—but they did believe they could. The duel described below speaks, I think, for itself—and don't we all want to know what they were fighting about. The illustrations are not of the time. Alas, I couldn't find any. If you can, please give us a link.
PROVINCIALS—REMARKABLE OCCURRENCES, &c. &c. HAMPSHIRE. SINGULAR CIRCUMSTANCE.—A singular circumstance occurred on board the ship Regalia, in the harbour of Portsmouth, a short time since.— The Captain (Palmer) had two apprentices sent him from London, by the owners, both of whom were regularly bound, and had been on board some time. One of them fell overboard in the harbour, and was with much difficulty got on board the ship; when the supposed lad proved to be a young girl about sixteen years of age! She said she had procured a living near London, by working in the fields; but disliking the employment, and without a character to recommend her to any housekeeper's employment, she was induced to pass herself off as a young lad, wishing to go to sea, when she was regularly bound to serve as an apprentice to the owners of the Regalia. The crew handsomely subscribed to rig her out with female clothing, and she is for the present under the notice of the Hon. Mrs. Grey.
INCIDENTS OCCURRING IN AND NEAR LONDON, INTERESTING MARRIAGES, &c.
FEMALE DUELLING.—The famous duel between two French ladies, occasioned by mutual jealousy of each other, is no longer without a parallel. We must, however, enter our protest against the practice ; for should it become general, the hearts of the rougher sex may be exposed, first to a fatal glance from n love-sick fair, and ultimately to a fatal bullet from an angry one. The following is the story as given in the Newspapers:—"A curious report is in circulation in the fashionable world. Two ladies in high life having had a dispute at the Prince's fete, a challenge actually ensued, and the parties proceeded to Kensington Gardens, with their female seconds, who took with them a brace of pistols each, in their ridicules. The seconds having charged, by mistake put in the balls first. The Amazons afterwards took their ground, but missed fire, when their difference was adjusted by the interference of their mutual friends."
As I've mentioned before, I'm a sucker for a good flea market. Last weekend I was prowling the goodies in Lancaster County, PA, and discovered this antique labor-saving device.
The rocker-like device is called a Geneva Fluter (it proudly says so right there, embossed on the top in raised letters), and many late 19th c. women would probably have recognized it. The fluter is a specialized kind of "sad iron", used to press the fluted ruffles on linen cuffs and collars and other trim. (Here's more about historical
Made from cast iron, the fluter would have been propped before the coals in the hearth to heat. The piece to be ironed would be moistened and laid over the grooved base. Then, with a potholder wrapped around the handle, the heated iron would be rocked over the cloth, and with a hiss of steam, the linen would be perfectly pressed with rows of narrow flutes or pleats.
The weight of the iron and the heat would do most of the work, and compared to pleating and pressing the narrow ruffles individually, this
truly must have been a labor-saving device. Still, there also must have been plenty of room for error and scorching, and the learning curve must have involved considerable trial and error, plus a burn or two.
Made by a foundry in Geneva, IL, that specialized in household goods, the popular hand fluters were manufactured from 1866-1920, and were exported around the world. Once only wealthy ladies with maids and laundresses could have such skillfully ironed linens. Now women of the rising middle class wished to be fashionable, too, and the Geneva fluter took its place in households across America.
My flea-market fluter came with a base that's of a later date (after 1890) that was made in Philadelphia, not Geneva, but the principle's the same. The top plate with the grooves opens, and iron slugs, heated before the hearth like the fluter, would be placed inside to heat the grooves above it. Here's the more elaborate fluter that originally accompanied the base.
Still, mismatched or not, I thought I'd try it out. Not with linen; I'm afraid of that "patina" of old rust and corrosion, nor do I have an open hearth. But I did run a strip of printer paper across the grooves, and viola! Perfectly fluted, ruffled printer paper.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.