Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Prinny's Scottish Obsession

In 1822, shortly after he became king, George IV made an important trip to Scotland, in order to gain support from that part of the kingdom and quell radical opposition. No British monarch had visited Scotland since 1650, and this event proved to be a great success. The famous Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott, took the opportunity to orchestrate the reception of the king, with the main motive of reviving ancient Scottish identity. The elaborate pagentry included the use of clan tartans and the wearing of the kilt, which had gradually disappeared over the years. Since that time, kilt-wearing has become a fixed feature in Scottish culture. George appeared in Scottish garb and the press reported that the king was "a portly handsome man looking and moving every inch a King". The caricature artists depicted him as less than regal. When some complained that George wore his kilts too short, Lady Hamilton-Dalrymple wittily responded "Since he is to be among us for so short a time, the more we see of him the better." In case anyone is wondering what George wore under his kilt, it was a pair of flesh-colored tight pantaloons.

The Scottish visit was a smashing success, mainly on the part of Scotland, which received a much needed boost in national pride. The Act of Union in 1707, in which the United Kingdom appropriated a bankrupted Scotland in exchange for paying its debts, had left many Scots bitter. The wearing of clan tartans and Scottish regalia had been banned from 1746-1782, because it signified Jacobite support. Robert Burns' 1791 poem Such A Parcel Of Rogues In A Nation, exemplified the general feeling still burning in the Scottish heart. It's one of my favorites set to music by my beloved Steeleye Span.

It reflects the times that an Ackermann fashion print of the time includes a little boy sporting the same costume worn by the king.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Prince's Ball at Brighton

What Regency blog is complete without the Prince Regent? Poor George, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and little else to recommend him. His father, George III, seemed to put a damper on all his prospects. First off, III lived to the ripe old age of 82, meaning that the Prince of Wales would not become king until he was 58. That's a long time to wait around until he was to take the position he was born to. His unfortunate father was afflicted with a terrible disease, assumed today to be acute porphyria. One symptom was recurring bouts of insanity, making it impossible for him to act in his ruling capacity. As a result, his son was appointed Prince Regent, ruling in his father's stead, though not with any actual power. 

George III, for all the negative opinion voiced by American colonists, was quite a nice man. He was a sober and clean-living young man, rejecting any opportunities to be a wild wastrel in his spare time. He agreed to an arranged marriage with Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, whom he met on their wedding day. Fortunately, they hit it off from the start and had a very happy marriage and 15 children. George III was devoted to his family and never took a mistress.

Young George did not take after his father in that respect, but dove into high-living at an early age. Despite his parents' tight control over the purse strings, Prince George plowed his way through society, racking up huge debts which he believed would be taken care of once he became king. Parliament holds the purse, dear boy.  One of George's greatest extravagances was the building of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton. A huge pleasure palace of fantastic oriental design, it was the party headquarters in the foremost seaside resort of the Georgian era, and a never-ending source of inspiration for the caricature artists of the times. Here's a great one of George and a mistress enjoying their new giraffe.

Dolly and Minerva have managed to be invited to a ball at the Royal Pavilion. Nice escorts, girls!



Saturday, December 28, 2013

JADG - Womanly Skills

It's the last category for the Jane Austen Drinking Game - Womanly Skills! As I have covered those topics before, I will offer up Minerva and Dolly's passion for geography.

When I was in 5th grade, about 10 years old, my social studies teacher had us draw freehand maps, which I loved doing. With all the lines of latitude and longitude in place, I would draw in the boundaries, and then with colored pencils, fill in all the rivers, mountains, and other landmarks, cities and roads, and then make a beautiful legend and compass rose. I wish I had kept my map of New England. It was the best in the class.

Much more recently, I found that this exercise was the foundation for geography education in the 19th century. It utilized art and penmanship skills while the student learned geography. I am amazed that these are usually in bound school notebooks, meaning the student did not make mistakes and have to tear out any page. There is a wonderful assortment of what are referred to as "schoolgirl maps", the surviving work of students from the early 1800s. Boys did this exercise as well, but as is common, the females tended to keep their school notebooks tucked away in a trunk or attic, and pass them on to descendants. Frances Henshaw's notebook is especially beautiful. I took a copy of her map of Vermont and pasted it in the inside of a student desk I refinished a few years ago.



Here, Dolly and Minerva are updating their maps, due to recent explorations of the American west by Lewis and Clark.


Friday, December 27, 2013

JADG - Gout and Decrepitude

The caricature prints of the Regency Era really make a feast of the infirmities of the older generation, particularly if they are rich. Thomas Rowlandson's prints, The Comforts of Bath are full of fat, gouty men being hauled to the Pump Room in sedan chairs or handcarts to take advantage of the supposed health-giving quality of the mineral springs. And then stuff their faces with the rich food and wine that made them fatter and goutier. My dad has had periodic bouts of gout, and it sounds like a very painful condition. I showed him this print, and he said it was pretty spot on. Fortunately,we have medication today that deals with the cause.

Those people who managed to live to a ripe old age, were often much less than "ripe". It was a rare individual who was not plagued by all sorts of infirmities and no medical help available. One's prime was over very quickly in those days. Young women in search of a good husband lived in fear of some aged wreck taking a shine to them. Among the nobility or those who aspired to raise their standing, a proposal from a wealthy and titled old man was a prospect too good to pass up when they had a marriageable daughter.

Poor Evelina is being pursued by the obnoxious Dr. Syntax, a man who is impervious to hints or even blatant refusals. Dr. Syntax was a character created by the artist Thomas Rowlandson and the poet William Combe, a ridiculous elderly curate who set off on his horse to tour the countryside, falling into one absurd situation after another. The poems and prints were shown to Rudolph Ackermann, who was quite enthused and, after removing a few of the more racy pictures, agreed to print them. The Three Tours of Dr. Syntax was extremely popular in the early 1800s.




Thursday, December 26, 2013

JADG - Failure to Preserve Distinction of Rank

The day after Christmas: the perfect time to gather in front of the TV and watch some Jane Austen movies, and of course, play the Jane Austen Drinking Game. We're up to Failure to Preserve Distinction of Rank, and when that happens, it could mean the End of the British Empire As We Know It. Well, look what's happened to that in the last 100 years.

In spite of; indeed, because of the trend in the 1800s of just anyone being able to become very wealthy and/or educated, those who inherited their importance by way of feudal lands and titles had to work extra hard to keep everyone reminded of the fact they they were The Upper Class and The Nobility. A dirt-poor person with a title was a gentleman, while someone who had made millions through industry was an upstart. Failure to give that gentleman his due was a huge social blunder.

Dolly and Minerva are visiting the palatial home of Lady Wrattle, and Minerva, just as I would do, has brought along a book, in case things get dull.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Happy Christmas to All!

Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, is credited with popularizing the Christmas tree as the main decoration of the home, but it was introduced much earlier by the Kings George of Hanover. The traditional fir tree decorated with lighted candles was seen in Regency times, though not so universally as in the late 19th century. The ancient custom of "decking the halls with bows of holly" provided the main decoration for most people. When I was a child here in Vermont, we had some really old-timey neighbors who would observe the holiday by tying balsam boughs to the posts of the front porch. Nothing inside, even if they could fit anything into the jam-packed rooms of their farmhouse.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

JADG - News of Bodice-Heaving Import

In every Jane Austen movie, some news arrives which causes great consternation or jubilation among the ladies. Between all the excitement and the tightness of some corsetry, bosoms heave, which results in women fanning themselves rapidly and sinking into chairs. In the Jane Austen Drinking Game, the arrival of such news, the heaving of bodices, and the use of the word "import", all deserve a drink.

One of the things I love about Regency era clothing is the more sensible undergarments. Women did wear corsets, but only to achieve a smooth appearance. Without a defined waistline in clothing (another plus for me), there was no need to squeeze the body into an unnatural shape. From around 1800 to 1830, undergarments kept the bust in place (up!) and everything else under control. I enjoy watching the newer Austen movies and observing the costuming. Particularly during dancing scenes, when the body is in motion, one can see the outline of the corset under the gown. This is a very unstructured corset from about 1810, suitable for a slimmish figure. One of the favorites for modern Regency costumers to make is this bra-style garment. It's all that's needed for slim young women. If a bit more control is needed, there's this model, still quite comfortable.

By 1830, all naturalness was gone: suddenly, wide shoulders, a tiny waist, and wide skirts were the rage, and women laced up to pull in the midsection. It was an awful trend that continued into the next century. That's when women carried smelling salts in pockets and purses, and divans and recamiers were called "fainting couches". Smelling salts were aromatic substances mixed with ammonia salts, put in small bottles, and waved under the nose of a fainting person. A good whiff of ammonia will perk you up right away!

It looks like a three-drink day for the Ackermann girls!




JADG - Gallant Men

Gone are the days of curtseys and bows. The only time I've done a curtsey or received a bow is in square dancing or contra dancing. My parents were first generation Americans, their parents having immigrated to the US during the big influx through Ellis Island, so many people of my grandparents' generation were Europeans with formal manners. "Gentlemen of the old school" was the saying, before some rap artists ganked the term, and applied it haphazardly. Mom spoke of elderly men who would stand up and bow when she came into the room, and a few who would actually kiss her hand, much to her embarrassment. I still think poorly of men who do not remove their hats indoors, although I don't expect them to tip their hats outdoors. Courteous manners bowl me over. It's one thing I noticed when living in the South, that men still had a touch more of the traditional manners, and treated women with more (sad to say) old-fashioned courtesy than in the North. Having lived through those decades where women got all up in men's faces about opening doors and such, I feel sorry for women who don't appreciate what we used to call "common courtesy".


Monday, December 23, 2013

JADG - Flowering Into Womanhood

Flowering into womanhood sounds so lovely, but as women know, it's not all that wonderful. First of all, there's that monthly thing, which is so looked forward to. Pretty soon that thrill wears off, and the next 40+ years seems like extreme overkill in the name of fertility. All cultures have their ritual observances of this event in a girl's life, usually emphasizing the idea that she is now looking forward to using all that fertility.

Coming out in society meant that a young lady was available to meet eligible men and hopefully marry one of them.  Usually, girls were at least 16. In Pride and Prejudice, the erratic Mrs. Bennett ignored that aspect, and considered all her girls introduced into society, mainly because she couldn't see leaving the younger girls at home while the older ones went to dances and parties. Of course, everyone thought she was completely irrational, and they were right.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

JADG - Realization of True Love

Chug Time on the Jane Austen Drinking Game! Ah, the realization of true love! All the heart palpitation, sweaty palms, churning stomach, absent-mindedness, or whatever reaction humans are prone to when they fall in love. When two people actually fall in love with each other at the same time, what a physiological and psychological assault it is.

Cousin Geneviève has been in the company of Louis for some time now. Remember the handsome son of the friends of Sir Percy Blakeney? He fell for her like a load of bricks and quickly set about to winning her heart.  It looks like he's succeeded.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

JADG - Retention of Countenance

It may be two drinks for loss of countenance, but keeping one's cool in the face of horrible events, slanderous attacks, or devastating news is a three-drink category in the Jane Austen Drinking Game. Retention of countenance is almost always a challenge directed at women, while men could vent their emotions much more freely, and appear more manly for it. 

The late18th century poet Mary Robinson lamented that women were so repressed in the expression of their emotions. "The heart must love," she wrote in her Memoirs, "or it will be dead to every noble, every sublime propensity." But in order to survive in the world arranged by men, she continued, a woman must learn to  be "a calmly thinking being, who can weigh the affections of the heart against the proprieties of Reason." Robinson herself fought a hopeless battle against her public reputation, as a former actress and one-time mistress of the young Prince George. A stunning beauty, she also had a brilliant mind, gaining the admiration and sincere friendship of some of the great thinkers of the day. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a close friend, called her "a woman of undoubted genius". She wrote plays and novels (not very good ones), but became most well-known for her fine poetry. Her writing became the outlet for her ideas and her deep feelings, and through them she hoped to "remake" herself, as is the modern trend, and literally overwrite (double pun there) her former reputation. Unfortunately, for the next 150 years, that reputation overshadowed all her work, and it was not until the latter half of the 20th century that Mary Robinson, poet, was valued without mention of "Perdita", the role in which the Prince of Wales became besotted with her.

There's something about Mother Ackermann's past that makes her an enigmatic figure. Always calm and wise, she occasionally pops out with a comment that makes one wonder what's going on in her mind. The portraits of the Ackermanns in their youth are actually Lord Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Earl Granville, and Princess Augusta Sophia Hanover, daughter of George III. They had nothing to do with each other in real life.



Thursday, December 19, 2013

JADG - Loss of Countenance

We're up to the "two drinks" level on the Jane Austen Drinking Game! Loss of countenance was a big no-no in Austen's world. Keeping a straight face and one's emotions under control was a major sign of good manners, as is evident in just the title of Sense and Sensibility. I'm sure that most people today would not be able to explain the significance of those words in the context of the times. Sensibility was a full expression of what was received by one's senses. Marianne wore her heart on her sleeve and let her feelings rule over good sense, often to her detriment. In Pride and Prejudice, Mrs Bennett's "poor nerves" made life very wearing for everyone around her, even leading to Mr Darcy's opinion that the whole family were a bunch of kooks. Outbursts of anger, spontaneous professions of affection, or bursting into tears were a sign of an inability to rule over one's emotions and keep reason in charge.

One of my absolute favorite voices from the past is the British politician Edmund Burke (history nerd that I am). His speeches left his audiences with their jaws on the floor and his political essays cut right to the heart of contemporary issues in terms that knew no boundaries of time. He recognized full well the effects of the Enlightenment worship of Reason and the unchecked human emotion that had destroyed the philosophical foundations of the French Revolution. His book, Reflections On The Revolution In France, focused the blame on the "sensibility" of Rousseau, as opposed to the "natural feelings" of mankind, based on sound moral principles. A good free Googlebook, if you are so disposed, is Peter Stanlis' Edmund Burke: The Enlightenment and Revolution

An acquaintance of Mother Ackermann is well-known for her wild outbursts.



Wednesday, December 18, 2013

JADG - Small Dogs

We love our dogs, and those little, tiny, miniature, teacup, lap dogs are soooo cute! Small dogs are really quite ideal. They take up such little space, don't eat much, can be carried easily, and won't crush you when jumping up. That's why you rarely see those dogs at the animal shelter. Everyone gives away the darling puppy that grew into a wolfhound, unless the dog is so weird they can't get attached to it. My sister got a Chihuahua/Raccoon/Hyena mix dog at the shelter and he is the love of her life.

As long as painters have been painting women, they have been painting small dogs with them. Many Ackermann fashion plates have included those little pets, who are obviously well-loved. One drink per dog!


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

JADG - Spontaneous Equestrianism

In the "one drink" category of the Jane Austen Drinking Game we have men leaping on to or off of horses to relay news of great import. With a clattering of hooves, scattering of gravel, and whinnying of a protesting steed, some impetuous male would be off to deal with some important business, usually in London.

I recently heard on the radio a sad anecdote from the early 1800s. Samuel Morse, a famed painter, was commissioned to paint the portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette, who was visiting in Washington, D.C. Morse traveled from his home in New Haven, Connecticut, over 300 miles, leaving behind his wife who was soon expecting a child. While working on the portrait, a rider arrived with a letter informing him that his wife was "convalescent". He prepared to leave, but not before another letter reported his wife's unexpected death. He rode hard, day and night, but did not arrive home until after her burial. It was then that Morse began to focus on a way that messages could be transmitted more quickly, sparing others such heartbreak. Over the next 20 years, he worked on a method of transferring electromagnetic signals through wires - the telegraph - using an alphabetic system of clicks - the Morse Code. Of course, receiving telegrams has become a symbol of heartbreaking news.




Monday, December 16, 2013

JADG - Conceited Independence

On with the Drinking Game!  No Jane Austen novel is complete without the young woman who just goes off and does something rash, usually ending up with mud-splattered stockings, ruined shoes, or a serious chill that develops into pneumonia. What were you thinking, foolish girl?

An interesting series of Ackermann prints are the Poetical Sketches of Scarborough, etched by the well-known artist Thomas Rowlandson. Scarborough was one of the many popular seaside resorts of the late 18th-early 19th centuries, but Rowlandson's pictures show a place I would avoid completely. If  it's not dumping buckets of rain and blowing up a storm, the sky is gray and heavily overcast. Visitors arrive in the rain, struggle up the beach through strong headwinds, and line up in the drizzle to see tourist attractions. Some misguided girls plan a picnic on a wind-battered beach, only to find themselves caught in a furious thunderstorm. If that wasn't bad enough, Cousin Delphine, always the independent spirit, decides to take off in search of assistance. What good can come of that, Delphine?


Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Jane Austen Drinking Game -- Dowries


After seeing this skit a few years ago, we Austen fans in the family could never see one of her movies without continually calling out categories and raising imaginary glasses to our lips. Ah, the themes of Austen's world come up again and again, instructing us how important and ubiquitous they were in her times, and how much society has changed since then. So let us, and Dolly and Minerva, go through them, shall we?

The whole concept of dowry and bridewealth seems, at very least, degrading to the modern mind, although it continues to be practiced in many cultures around the world. It's interesting to see which cultures have adopted the dowry system (in which the woman brings goods to the man or his family) or the bridewealth system (in which the man brings goods to the woman and her family). It's also horrifying to see how dowries have become the root of terrible violence and abuse of brides, particularly in present-day South Asia. If we can abandon the modern mindset that the woman is being bartered in some fashion, they each have their merits.

In bridewealth cultures, the man must offer the woman's family a substantial amount of property in order to marry her, the rationale behind this being that the family is losing a valuable contributing member. This was common among North American native nations, as was reported by white "mountain men" who took native wives, and were required to come up with hefty gifts of horses, blankets, and such items. It is still common in many parts of Africa, where men must purchase cattle to offer to the woman's father.

The original purpose of a dowry was for her family to give her something to bring into her marriage in order to set up a home and have something to fall back on in case the marriage did not work out. It was also her inheritance, given to her as she left her family, rather than at the death of a parent. In Islam, a woman brings property into the union, but in case of divorce, she is entitled to take it with her. However, as laws or custom concerning women's property throughout the years have not been favorable to women, dowries became the property of the husband to do with whatever he wished. The higher up in society one went, in Regency times as an example, the more mercenary this trade became. The Prince Regent's marriage to Princess Caroline of Brunswick was nothing more than a way to pay off his looming debts with her dowry. In Jane Austen's social class, an inadequate dowry could seriously hamper a girl's prospects of landing a man of an equal or better standing.


The September 1813 issue of Ackermann's Repository has an interesting article on the question of dowries among the wealthy class. The author is definitely against the custom, but his solution (to forbid them altogether) ignores the most obvious remedy, to legislate equitable inheritance and ownership laws.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Ackermann Pets

I've noticed that some of Ackermann's fashion plates show women carrying parrots or small birds, so it must have been a popular thing to own birds. Raising pigeons and doves for food has been a common pastime since who knows when. Early farm management books always include a section on the building and operation of dovecotes. The Repository has pictures of elegant aviaries for the wealthy to build on their estates.




Later pictures of home interiors often include caged birds, probably canaries. I came upon a genealogy website forum where a woman had discovered an ancestor's birth certificate from 1846 which listed the father's occupation as "bird fancier". Since all the men in the family were carpenters, it seemed unlikely that this man was an upper-class person whose main occupation was raising and studying birds. Most likely, he specialized within carpentry in the making of pigeon cages.


Many years ago, I read of a collection of photos of American prairie settlers posing for family photographs in front of their dwellings. Most of the houses were extremely primitive, often sod houses built by first generation pioneers.  In each photo, there was a bird cage. It's fascinating to imagine this family making the very difficult journey westward with this caged bird, but it must have been an important part of "home" to have the chirping and singing of this little bird with them. Interesting that they brought the cage outdoors with them for the photograph, including little Birdie in the family portrait.


Thomas Jefferson in his study, 1803

Here's an interesting painting of Thomas Jefferson in his study at the White House in 1803. Click the link for an interactive study of the photograph, pointing out parts of the room and its decor, telling much about this fascinating man. Notice the stuffed owls on the bookcase.

Dolly and Minerva invite all their bird-loving friends to a bird fanciers' party, with awful results. Having a bird feeder myself, it's obvious that different breeds of birds are not friendly toward each other. Some birds kill and eat others, as people involved in hawking and falconry know.



Friday, December 6, 2013

The Problem With Prints

I spend too much time on the web, browsing for old prints and trying to clean them up digitally. Old paper, even the much superior paper of yesteryear, decays and discolors, and the inks run. I've tried to fix up several lovely old pictures that are marred by the printing from the back of the page, and it's pretty hopeless. Poor Dolly has the same problem with one of her new dresses. I hope she got it on a clearance sale!



Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ackermann's Obsession

Rudolph Ackermann was an interesting man with a mechanical mind. Born in Germany in 1764, he hoped to go to university, but was prevented from doing so by lack of money. Instead, he followed his father's trade as a saddle-maker, and eventually set up his own saddle-making and coach-building business. Moving to London in 1795, he began a printing business and art instruction school. Setting up a lithographic press, he sold popular prints, selling artists' materials on the side. He was always tweaking his machines and materials, which resulted in the most lovely prints of his time. You can compare his products with other fashion prints of the day, and Ackermann wins every time. 

Ackermann was fascinated with the latest developments in carriage-building and included the newest vehicles in the Repository, complete with diagrams of the mechanical aspects. He patented a new mechanism for front wheels, the Ackermann Steering Geometry. A look through his furniture selection reveals his interest in mechanical and multi-functional pieces. Desks or dressing tables folded out, revealing all sorts of spaces for filing and storage. Chairs reclined, folded up, rolled on wheels, or included writing surfaces. All that was missing was a cup holder! I can imagine him living today, producing fabulous computer work centers and amazing storage systems. 
1824 dressing table
Dolly and Minerva have bought a new combination lounge chair and writing desk for Father's birthday. I think he could also use it for house calls from the dentist, chiropractor, or massage therapist! Little Horatio has his own use for it.



Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Regency Furniture

The ugliest piano ever.
A look through Ackermann's furniture prints reveals a style no one has endeavored to keep alive. When we think of 19th century furniture, almost everyone thinks of high Victorian style: a room jam-packed with curvy, velvet-upholstered seating, flowery carpets, four kinds of wallpaper, massive drapery on windows, doors, and mantelpieces, tables, bookcases, and whatnots laden with innumerable bric-a-brac, huge framed pictures hanging from the ceiling rail, and a potted palm desperately reaching for the little sunlight that is allowed into the room.

During Regency times, we have a whole different set of influences. Neoclassical, or French Empire style drew from the model of classical civilizations. Architect Robert Adam went gung-ho for classical in the last quarter of the 18th century, which is why most of American public buildings look like they should be in ancient Rome. Napoleon appropriated the look (along with much of Europe), which developed into what was called French Empire. Light colors were preferred for walls and drapery. Gone was the dark wood of Georgian furniture, and replaced with light-colored woods or painted finishes.Although chairs were often light-weight, in the klismos style, most furniture was heavy and monumental. Stationary pieces were often ornamented with pillar-like legs or carved human or mythical figures. Some of the curves of Rococo style remained, especially in the daybed, still called a recamier, after the painting of Mme. Recamier reclining on one. Mme. Recamier reclined a lot. But all in all, big and straight was the look of the day.
Another hideous piano.

Bottom line -- I can't see anyone going out to buy Ackermann's furniture, even on a big clearance sale. I wonder where it all went.  Years ago, I, with no shame, retrieved a huge chair from neighborhood trash day. It was in awful shape, with rotted upholstery fabric. I tore it all off and found it was stuffed with bags and bags of chaff and many rusted springs. I showed it to an upholsterer who told me to hang on to it, as it was a German chair from the mid-1800s. I've still got it up in the barn, waiting for lots of work. It's just massive. There are lots of similar chairs out there, although I haven't found one quite like it.

Don't you wish everyone had saved these sofas (said no one ever)? Look what some Russians bought! And Hortense de Beauharnais (Empress Josephine's daughter)!


Thanks to 1stdibs for wonderful antique furniture pics!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Where the boys are

The girls accompany Father to a meeting of the Antiquarians, hoping it will be a way to meet gentlemen of education and refinement, and possibly, have some fun.  They are sporting jaunty caps which must have been a well-accepted style, as Dolly's was featured in Ackermann's Repository in 1809, while Minerva's was in an 1816 issue. I think they are quite cute, and would enjoy wearing the dresses as well.

The Antiquarians meeting reminds me of the old World War II song where the young woman complains about the available men, "They're either too young or too old, they're either too gray or too grassy green". Or really boring. (Says the woman who makes digital pictures out of 200 year old magazines.)


Living in the Repository

Dolly and Minerva are pretty well bound up within the confines of Ackermann's Repository. It's not so bad, since there is such a wide variety of information to be found in each month's issue. Just cast an eye at this table of contents for the January 1812 issue. Something for everyone!



However, Mother has had other influences, having married into a branch of the Ackermann family from some as-yet unknown publication. Her knowledge is sometimes a bit unsettling for the girls.



Monday, December 2, 2013

The Man Cave

Father is a scholar and loves nothing better (except Mother, of course) than being surrounded by all his books and researchy stuff. Mother nags him hints constantly about the chaos and general dilapidation of his study, but he turns a deaf ear. Today he is entertaining a guest, Mr. Frederic Schoberl, the editor of Ackermann's Repository. Mr. Schoberl made the magazine a compendium of all sorts of information. Although it is known primarily for its fashion prints today, it was officially Ackermann's  Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions, and Politics, and every issue was jam-packed with all of the above and more, all guided by good taste and extreme discretion. No gossip or scandal in this magazine! 



Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Language of Fans

Fans were an indispensable article of dress from the 18th century onward. Not only did they cool the wearer, who was burdened by heavy garments after a heated dance, but they became the means of transmitting clandestine messages. It would be too bold to actually walk up to someone of the opposite sex and say very personal things, but a flick of the fan would do the job. Since it was common for gentlemen to carry hand fans as well, quite a conversation, flirtation, or argument could be carried on across a crowded room. Using a wide variety of movements, the fan transmitted symbolic language, and even an alphabetic code. Of course, all these coded messages were about male/female relationships, but really, don't you want some secret signs to say things you'd never say out loud? I knew a couple who had a few personal gestures they'd use; for instance, at a dull gathering, tugging on the right earlobe meant "Let's leave". Our family has a hand sign for "Who cares?", which is apparently a variation of the West Side Crips gang sign, but since we do it palm forward and it predates the gang sign, we think of them as sissy posers.

Poor Dolly and Minerva are beginning to despair about their social connections. Father hosts a tea for some Fellows of the Antiquarian Society of London, where he is a major force in their publication Vetusta Monumenta. While Father spouts forth on the quality of engravings, Minerva and Dolly are driven to express their boredom through fan signs of their own devising.


I was so happy to find this lovely Tea Table from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, on The Old Design Shop blog. The pictures there are sooo nice and beautifully scanned, so why not visit?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Keeping Up With New Dances

The first decades of the 1800s saw increasing departure from the formal dance routines of the earlier century and the introduction of livelier and more intricate routines. Many manuals were published to educate dancers in new and old steps. Thomas Wilson, who wrote several dancing manuals, created an overwhelming diagram of possible Quadrille formations, to illustrate one of his books. This link will take you to several interesting original manuals.

One of the concerns with dancing was that a lady should not dance with anyone before a proper introduction. This did not mean, "Hi, I'm Josh. Wanna dance?". A mutual acquaintance must formally introduce a lady to the gentleman. This posed a problem during country dances and quadrilles, as an introduced couple would be continually changing partners during the course of the dance, and therefore, dancing with who knows who. Or whom.

The waltz was introduced in England during Regency times, much to the confusion and dismay of some. While other dances had exuberant moves and physical contact between the sexes, the waltz outdid them all. One couple danced exclusively with each other, with both arms in contact for a whole dance set --imagine the possible outcomes! Despite the naysayers, the waltz was very popular and three-quarter time ruled for the rest of the century. Other lively couple dances were the mazurka, which was usually danced by couples in quadrille formation, the galop, and the polka. (I do hope you watched that last link!) All of these were descended from European folk dances.

Especially toward the mid-1800s, etiquette and decorum at dances was taken very seriously. To avoid awkward scenes, men who wished to dance with a certain lady requested a dance later in the evening. She would then write his name on her dance card, which was usually marked with a list of the type of dance music that would be played. Often the gentleman would request her honor of dancing a waltz, or whatever dance he preferred. When that set approached, he would then approach the lady.

I'm finding it difficult to locate decent pictures of men's fashion from Regency era publications. If the clothing is fine, the faces are usually just awful. Ackermann's women are so lovely, I can't bear to pair them with poorly-drawn men! What I've done with some is to take the bodies and give them new heads, usually from my file of handsome men in daguerreotypes. Those of you who visit My Daguerreotype Boyfriend know that good-looking men weren't invented yesterday. Well, Minerva meets a handsome stranger who is living just a bit in the future. Who is he? Hint: He's got a famous dad and looks absolutely nothing like him.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Womanly Skills: Dancing

What woman doesn't love to dance? Even in my own distant youth, it was considered important to know how to do the basic ballroom dances, so at 13, I was signed up by my mother to take dancing lessons. It was tons of fun learning the steps to the waltz, polka, foxtrot, two step, and other standbys, including some courtly and folk dances. Just for the fun of it, I, being one of the tallest in the class, would deliberately pair up with a male friend who was a "little person". I remember the teacher calling for everyone to choose a partner, adding, "Billy and Carol may NOT dance together!". What larks!

In Regency times, dances were the major opportunity to meet people, especially people of the opposite sex, and have one's moves be observed. I've observed a lot of moves in Austen movies and various YouTube videos, and really wonder if everyone danced in such a listless and mechanical fashion. I live in New England, where contra dancing is very popular. Contra dances, or country dances, are performed in long lines, usually involving a group of two neighboring couples who interact and then gradually work up the line, so the "bottom" couple ends up at the top of the line, having danced with everyone else in the line. A band plays and a caller announces each movement. Often, before officially dancing, the caller guides the dancers through a practice session, so the actual dance goes smoothly. Contra dances are lively, fast, and noisy, and lots of fun. However, if you exchange "fiddlers" for "violinists" and slow the whole thing down to an almost sleep-walking speed, you have Regency dancing like this.  ((Yawn...)) I suspect people actually danced like this. Certainly, this was a gathering of country folk, but I can't imagine the ton enjoying the zombie dances. Contemporary pictures show women kicking up their heels and men wiping sweat from their brows.

Almack's Assembly Rooms was an social club in London, operating from 1765 to 1871. While most social events were held in private homes, Almack's gave people of the upper crust an opportunity to mingle without special invitations. Of course, one had to be approved by the committee, which was made up of extremely influential Lady Patronesses. Those who were approved were awarded vouchers for the season, and more importantly, the acceptance of the social set; those who were not, were excluded. More devastating was the revocation of one's voucher, the news of which would bar one from Society in general. Fortunately, for Dolly and Minerva, they have a voucher and are looking forward to making advantageous connections.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Womanly Skills: Needlework

Well, what's a woman to do with all those spare hours, but feather her nest and trim her bonnets? Look at those Jane Austen movies where a visitor arrives unexpectedly and the ladies of the house quickly smooth themselves down and snatch up some embroidery so it looks as if they'd just been caught during a quiet moment perched on the divan. It just wouldn't do to have people see you working. Handwork shows that a woman has time, patience, and a desire to make the world a more beautiful place. Besides, women are better at 'fiddly work', as Princess Diana once said to women factory workers.

A cousin once complimented an outfit I was wearing, and I told her that I had made it myself. "Wow! You're really good at sewing," she replied. "I'm really good at buying nice clothes". That's how Dolly and Minerva see it. Women in those days had their clothing made by seamstresses, as ready-to-wear was not available. Gowns were often embroidered with whitework or broderie anglaise, what we would recognize on eyelet trimming today, but most often the fabric would be purchased from women who did that sort of work as a living. Dolly and Minerva could go to Mr. Ackermann's shop, or one he recommends, buy all the lovely fabrics and trims they needed, and then visit the dressmaker, armed with one of Mr. Ackermann's fashion plates. As the simplicity of the first decade of the 19th century gave way to more and more ornamentation, women had to focus on trims and appliqué, often moving them from one garment to another.



A wonderful movie is The Heiress, starring Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift, based on Henry James' novel Washington Square. Catherine Sloper, a plain, shy, and awkward heiress meets a handsome man who, inexplicably to her, showers her with attention. Her unfeeling father believes the young man is only after her money, but she is convinced that he truly loves her. Her father decides to leave her penniless if she marries this opportunist, which makes no difference to her. Will it make a difference to Morris? There is an awful scene when Catherine tries of convince her father that Morris loves her for herself. The father retorts with insults about her qualities, adding, "I've known you all your life and I have never known you to learn anything. With one exception, my dear, you embroider neatly."



Friday, November 15, 2013

The Classical Past and Present

The years around 1800 were times of avid interest in the classical cultures of ancient Rome, Greece, and Egypt. Archaeological discoveries had made people aware of the richness of these civilizations, and fortunately, inspired them to preserve and protect these finds. The former Roman Empire was still littered with the ruins of ancient structures, so it was no surprise to anyone that farmers or ditch diggers would unearth even more buildings or artifacts. In the late 18th century, a concerted effort was made to excavate the former Roman resort city of Pompeii, and there was great excitement over the remains of probably the best-preserved Roman settlement in existence. As excavation continues there, and in the neighboring town of Herculaneum, to this day, we are given a somewhat unnerving time-capsule of life in the first-century Roman Empire and of the tragedy that struck Pompeii's residents. In 1799, a soldier in Napoleon's army in Egypt uncovered a large, flat stone, or stele, covered with inscriptions. Dubbed the Rosetta Stone, it was discovered to have the same inscription repeated in three languages: Egyptian hieroglyphic, Egyptian demotic text, and ancient Greek. Its value was immediately recognized and scholars set to work decoding the symbols, starting from what they knew. The result was the first decoding of the hieroglyphic symbols by Jean-François Champollion in 1822. Archaelogy Fever gripped the western world, leading to discoveries that would change the way Europeans thought about life in ancient times. It also led to many serious confrontations between governments which clashed over possession of important artifacts.

Dolly and Minerva attend a lecture on the recent discovery of the Venus de Milo in 1820. There has been much made of the Greek recognition of certain ratios equaling visual perfection, and although armless Aphrodite might seem a bit solid, she is, indeed, perfect.


I've dubbed the older man 'Linear B. Chadwick', after John Chadwick, who, along with Michael 
Ventris, decoded the 'Linear B' script, the oldest known form of ancient Greek.



Thursday, November 14, 2013

Womanly Skills: A Foreign Language

Just as American school system promotes the idea that having a smattering of a foreign language is a necessity for every citizen, so were well-off women in the 18th and 19th centuries expected to be able to read, write, and converse in another tongue. It allowed them to read foreign literature and converse with visitors from abroad. Most women studied French, as I did, because it was the language of the arts. Despite years in the classroom, my French is pretty miserable, due to lack of actual real-life exposure.  It has stood me in good stead in stock-piling a large mental list of Latin root words, reading street signs in Quebec and much of Canada, and a fun session assisting Khmer carpenters work up a supply list for a new pavilion they were constructing at my old school in Cambodia.

Dolly and Minerva's cousin Geneviève learned French and see how it opened doors for her! Who wouldn't want to hob-nob with Sir Percy Blakeney, the famed Scarlet Pimpernel, and listen first-hand to his thrilling tales of how heSir Andrew Ffoulkes, and the other members of The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, rescued innocent victims of the French Revolution. Give Sir Percy a few glasses of wine and he'll likely have his guests rolling on the floor laughing with his famous "They Seek Him Here" ditty. Geneviève gets to meet all sorts of interesting people with impeccable manners and a most fastidious sense of fashion. What's more, many of them have handsome sons.




On the other hand, Dolly and Minerva have been subjected to a rigorous study of Latin and Greek, due to the interests of Father, an enthusiastic member of the Society of Antiquaries of London. It has become increasingly apparent to the girls that anyone likely to converse with them in those languages has been dead for centuries, if not millennia. 


Translation: Father: Honey, I'm home!
                     Mother: Hello, James. What's new?
                     Dolly: Whatever is said in Latin sounds more profound.
                     Minerva: As if!
                     Dolly: Everyone's doing it!
                     Minerva: Get a life!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Dolly & Minerva Show Off

No vaguely historical ramblings today. Dolly and Minerva get together with their cousins to show off their musical skills.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Womanly skills: Music

My mother believed that every child should have two years of music lessons, no matter how tone-deaf, arythmical, or fumble-fingered they were. If such was found to be the case, at least the child would be able to read music and be able to recognize popular tunes of the great masters. Of course, my mother was trained in opera-singing at Juilliard School of Music, so she never once thought her own children would be among that group. None of us inherited her depth of giftedness, but the four of us are all musical in our own ways. How many children were woken up in the morning to "The sun is a-shining to welcome the day: Heigh-ho! Come to the fair"? One song I taught my children when they were little tots was Purcell's "Nymphs and Shepherds", a great hit of the year 1692. My youngest, Laura, was convinced that "Flora's holiday" was actually "Laura's holiday" and would call out, "Let's sing my holiday!". 

It was so fun when the two girls began singing lessons in school, using the old standby, Schirmer's Twenty-Four Italian Songs and Arias of the 17th and 18th Centuries. What beautiful songs! My first recital song was 'Già il sole dal Gange' by Scarlatti, a common early singing-lesson number. I combed YouTube for a performance that actually sounded like me. Although the sound is poor on my link, this one was a good match. 


There's not a generation of young people who haven't heard their parents complain about "modern music" and reminisce fondly of the music of their day, which their own parents complained about. My grandmother was said to shake her head over my uncle who was a jazz musician in the bebop style. But then, she'd laugh about her father griping, "What's all this "everybody's doin' it, doin' the Turkey Trot"? It was the big hit of 1912!

Being able to play an instrument or sing was far more important in the past than it is today, as there were no mechanical entertainment devices. Evenings were far more pleasant with a musical instrument in the home, and every party depended on a group of musicians to provide dance tunes. In the 1800's "parlour music" was a popular trend. It was music for light entertainment in intimate gatherings, as the name implies, often wistful romantic songs, or jolly, humorous numbers. Thomas Moore, an Irish poet,songwriter, and author, had a great following and is today considered to Ireland what Robert Burns is to Scotland. His songs The Minstrel Boy, The Last Rose of Summer, Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms, and Oft In the Stilly Night, are still well-known. 

I have to add Robert Burns' words to the lovely song My Luve's Like A Red, Red Rose, here sung by Kenneth McKellar. I remember my mother listening to this on the radio, with tears flowing down her cheeks, saying, 'Oh, it's a wonderful thing to be Scottish!'.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Gothic Romance and Unlikely Endings

Charlotte Brontë, having been a mousy little governess for many years, knew well the limitations of women in her situation. Each passing year, and her social isolation, lowered her chances of meeting a marriage partner. With more than a rudimentary education, a vocation that encouraged the attainment of knowledge and critical thinking, and the psychological ability to live independently, she was not likely to find someone who would appreciate her inner self enough to dismiss all her social shortcomings. But in her imagination, anything was possible. Just think of all the books that have been written since Jane Eyre, in which an ordinary girl like you or me finds herself at an impressively dark and brooding castle or manor house, presided over by an equally dark and brooding (and invariably attractive) man, and, after a series of nerve-wracking adventures, finds that this man wants only her. His distant, moody arrogance masked a lonely heart in which only she had found a way to set up home. (Sigh!) As a teenager, my favorite author of that genre was Victoria Holt, which was one of the many pen names of Eleanor Hibbert. She was also Jean Plaidy and Philippa Carr, writing historical fiction.

Here we have Dolly and Minerva attending a party at Thornfield, Mr. Rochester's home. Edward and Jane are married, much to the chagrin of Blanche Ingram. Of course, Thornfield, at that point was burned and abandoned, and Edward was blind and blighted by scandal. Jane could have only made a life with him in that state; never as mistress of Thornfield.

Here's a factoid: Did you know that Charlotte Brontë was about 4'9" or 4'10" in height? Even in those days, she was considered exceptionally small. Her sister Emily was about 5'6".

Sources: room (Cooper-Hewitt Collection), ladies, Mr. Rochester, naughty couple, man in blue, man in black.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

What Every Woman Ought To Know

Back in 6th Grade (way back), our teacher was talking about life for girls in colonial America. Girls were encouraged to learn the"Three R's", Reading, Writing, and 'Rithmatic, and the rest was at-home training for their future lives as homemakers and wives of farmers, laborers, or artisans. If a family was well-off, a girl might have a tutor or governess at home and continue on at a school for young ladies. There, she would study literature, geography, and history. She would learn to speak French reasonably well, to play an instrument or sing, embroider, paint pictures, and dance. Most importantly, she would learn deportment: how a lady should behave. As my teacher was telling us this, my mind wandered (as it usually did), putting myself into that situation. What bliss! What fulfillment! Imagine, eleven-year-old Me, spending all your days doing exactly what you love doing! 

Then (crash back to earth), I realized that she was describing how limited and unfair life was to females of those times. Today, we have choices and opportunities! Alright, I am happy for girls who want to be doctors, lawyers, scientists, and heads of state. But does that mean I can't go to Miss Standstraight's School for Young Ladies and not be considered a sad commentary on the the quality of education for females of today? It was 1963, and the times, they were a-changin'. One thing hasn't changed. If your earning capacity is based on the above skills, you are going to need a tall, dark, second income, as a single friend of mine once commented.

Here we begin the education of Dolly and Minerva. A governess was employed to live in their home and instruct the girls. Being a governess was one of the few respectable opportunities for a woman of good background who found herself with some education and no husband. It was often a lonely life, as she was ranked below the family she worked for, but above the servants, and, therefore, unable to socialize with either group. I'm sure you recognize Jane Eyre. I was in 8th Grade when I read (ate up) this book. It was the 1943 edition with the illustrations by Fritz Eichenberg that captured perfectly the dark agony of the story. Do you remember little Adèle, Jane's pupil? Jane spoke of her so dismissively, as a little "poppet", as the child's mother had taught her to be silly and vain, only thinking of gifts and new dresses. Poor Adèle! I think she turned out alright.



Sunday, November 3, 2013

Acceptable Sports For Females #5: Walking

Who doesn't enjoy a good brisk walk or a leisurely stroll through an interesting landscape? Many of Ackermann's fashion illustrations were of "walking" or "promenade" dresses. Women needed comfortable outfits, suited to the season, in which they could explore some slightly rugged terrain or simply amble through a park, chatting with friends they met along the way or bringing the children out for a bit of fresh air.  Walks along the beach were especially popular, as the more privileged set took holidays at seaside resorts, where the salt air was reputed to strengthen one against the constant threat of lung ailments. Jane Austen thoroughly enjoyed her visits to the sea and incorporated her enthusiasm into her novels.
        
        "Nobody could catch cold by the sea; nobody wanted appetite by the sea; nobody wanted 
        spirits; nobody wanted strength. Sea air was healing, softening, relaxing — fortifying and 
         bracing — seemingly just as was wanted — sometimes one, sometimes the other. If the 
         sea breeze failed, the seabath was the certain corrective; and where bathing disagreed, 
         the sea air alone was evidently designed by nature for the cure.” 
                                                                                       ― Jane Austen, Sanditon

As Britain is an island nation, every scenic cove was transformed into some level of tourist get-away, from the opulence of Brighton with its Royal Pavilion to quaint villages on the coasts of Cornwall, where pirates and smugglers had so recently hidden their illegal cargoes. When I think of women walking along the seashores, my mind always goes to Gilbert and Sullivan's hilarious operetta, The Pirates of Penzance, in which the eight daughters of the Major-General romp over the rocky cliffs and encounter the most absurd pirates ever to terrorize the English coast. The 1983 movie, with Kevin Kline playing the best Pirate King ever, is one of my favorite films, and I am glad to see that it is now out on DVD. Linda Ronstadt's lovely voice won over the purists, Rex Smith is an admirable Frederick, and Angela Lansbury holds her own as the aged Ruth. The "Climbing Over Rocky Mountains" scene is delightful, with its comic posing.



Sources: Some old postcard of Cornwall; girls, Ackermann's Repository.