My niece very kindly gave me an electronic wish list of what she wants for Christmas, complete with pictures and places to buy online. She has excellent taste, and I don’t say that just because some of it involved steampunk clothing, and steampunk is my most recent love. (Nineteenth century aesthetics meets modern thoughts on science fiction, with a dash of piracy—what’s not to love?!) But it got me thinking: what would a nineteenth century teen put on her, or his, Christmas wish list?
Of course, many families didn’t give gifts in the first decade or two of the century. Giving gifts was a German tradition, so families with connections to the House of Hanover and other German dynasties were more likely to have Christmas trees and presents, at least at first. But Christmas grew in popularity as the century went on in England, particularly after the publication of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in 1843.
So, let’s say it’s around 1850, and you’re the daughter of a fairly well-to-do family. What would you hint to Mama and Papa to purchase for you for Christmas?
--The compiled version of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, which just finished its serialization in November. The hardback edition would be so very nice, as your serials are starting to wear from rereading.
--New sheet music. Nothing better to perk up the dreary winter months!
--Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Everyone is quoting them. Why, a young man even recently read you No. 43: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Sigh.
--A sewing box. It truly is tiresome to go after Mother’s box every time you want to embroider a slipcover or stitch up a ruff to go with that new gown. And Father would be pleased you asked for something so industrious. Of course, he might balk at this lovely version.
--A pince-nez. Your eyes are fine, but everyone’s wearing these dainty little glasses. They’re quite the fashion statement.
What about you? What would you have put on your list?