Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Cool Customer

It's been shockingly hot in my neck of the woods the last few days, so I thought a cool blast from the past might be in order. This post first ran on April 15, 2008; do you have any recipes for frozen treats that you'd like to share, historical or otherwise?


Regina’s discussion of weather prediction got me thinking about spring in New England, the place about which Mark Twain said, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” One of the surest signs of spring here is the sudden disappearance of popsicles and ice cream sandwiches from local grocery stores’ freezers on the first really warm day of the season. Ice cream is extremely popular in New England—I remember reading somewhere that more ice cream is consumed here than any other region of the US.

Old England had its share of ice cream lovers too, as you can see from this 1824 Ackermann print of a ball dress at right. What flavor does it look like she’s eating…black raspberry, perhaps? France too…this scene from a Le Bon Genre print at left entitled “La Belle Limonadiere” shows a young lady consuming what looks like a tiny egg-cup of lemon sorbet while admiring her waiter’s fine figure. And an ad from around 1840 (I wish it had included a picture) describes the virtues of “FULLER’S FREEZING MACHINE, by which four ICES can be made at one time, and repeated as often as required. The freezing apparatus, by which a Cream or Water Ice can be made by artificial process...” Ices and ice cream were a popular refreshment at balls and parties, both because they were something of a delicacy and because it was nice to slurp down something cold after dancing all evening.

We aren’t talking Ben & Jerry’s, however. I found a handful of ice cream (or iced pudding, as they were called) recipes in the 1846 cookbook The Modern Cook, written by Queen Victoria’s chef, Charles Francatelli. Flavorings included pureed pineapple, ground almonds, ground hazelnuts and cherry puree, and, believe it or not, rice. From the amounts of sugar in some of these, ice cream was preferred tooth-achingly sweet. Here’s a recipe:


Grate one pound of pineapple into a basin, add this to eight yolks of eggs, one pint and a half of boiled cream, one pound of sugar, and a very little salt; stir the whole together in a stewpan over a stove-fire until the custard begins to thicken; then pass it through a tammy
[a kind of cone-shaped filtering device—modern cooks know it as a tamis], by rubbing with two spoons, in the same manner as for a puree, in order to force the pineapple through the tammy. This custard must now be iced in the usual manner, and put into a mold of the shape represented in the annexed wood-cut; and in the center of the iced cream, some Macedoine ice of red fruits, consisting of cherries, currants, strawberries, and raspberries in a cherry-water-ice, must be introduced; cover the whole in with the lid, then immerse the pudding in rough ice in the usual way, and keep it in a cool place until wanted.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Dueling Dukes and Other Eligibles

You see them in movies; you read about them in books: the hero and generally the villain square off in a duel with swords or pistols. We’ve talked about how many young men were taught early to shoot and to fence. They were also cautioned against hot-headed displays. But dueling was viewed as an honorable alternative to settling a dispute. Even though it was frowned upon by the magistrates, even the most senior and respected of peers sometimes demanded satisfaction on the field of honor!

Some duels were over gambling debts. In September 1810 in Surrey, Captain Hants was mortally wounded when he met a Mr. Coleshall at Monsley Hurst over a “trivial bet at Egham races.” This after Mr. Coleshall’s brother tattled on them the previous week when they were trying to set up to duel in Middlesex. So strong was the feeling about dueling, however, that when the Coroner’s Inquest was called, no witness mentioned Mr. Coleshall’s involvement. (So even the gossip columnist who reported about the event knew who had shot the gallant captain, but no one was willing to tell the jury the information.) The jury returned a verdict of “Willful Murder by person or persons unknown.” Hmm.

Sometimes duels were fought over a lady’s honor. A wealthy married gentleman by the name of Payne made advances toward a Miss Clark, who was a friend of his wife. Even his own brother tried to talk him out of it, but he refused to stop his attentions. Miss Clark must have poured her concerns out to her brother, who was a captain in the army, because he took umbrage and met Payne on Wimbledon Common (yes, that Wimbledon). Mr. Payne must have been feeling some remorse, for he told a friend that he would not return fire. The captain’s first shot killed him, leaving his widow to raise their four children. Once again, the jury returned a verdict of “Willful Murder by some person or persons unknown.”

Sometimes, however, duels were fought for political reasons. In 1798, the Prime Minister of England, William Pitt, accused George Tierney, an opposition politician, of desiring to obstruct the defense of England. Tierney demanded that Pitt withdraw the accusation; Pitt refused. Tierney challenged him to a duel, and the two met near London. The first set of shots went wild, and Pitt fired his second shot into the air, thereby vindicating honor. Even the Duke of Wellington, that victor of Waterloo, fought a duel when he was Prime Minister. He was accused of attempting to introduce “Popery” into British government by favoring laws giving Catholics more freedom in England. Wellington missed, and his opponent, the Earl of Winchilsea, fired into the air.

By the way, you may see the word delope or delopement used to describe the business of firing into the air. Georgette Heyer used the word in one of her books. So far, the term hasn’t been located in any document from the nineteenth century, to my knowledge.

So does that mean the pen really is mightier than the sword?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"The Nearest Run Thing You Ever Saw in Your Life"

Last Friday marked the 195th anniversary of an event that was...well, not to sound too dramatic, but an event that marked the beginning of modern Europe. I'm talking about the Battle of Waterloo.

It was June 1815. Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French, had been defeated in 1814 after running roughshod over most of Europe and sent into exile on the island of Elba...and had come back eight months later, determined to return to his former position. Everyone who was anyone in Europe was at the Congress of Vienna, where they were busy carving up the former French empire into bits based on who owed whom favors when Napoleon sailed from Elba on February 26 and landed in the south of France. By March 20 he was back in Paris, having retaken the country without firing a single shot. King Louis XVIII (brother of Louis XVI who had been guillotined in the Revolution) who had been restored to the throne after Napoleon's ouster, fled to Belgium (at this time still part of the Netherlands).

However, the crowned heads of Europe were not about to let Napoleon stay where he was and risk his reconquering Europe once again. The man who'd been most responsible for Napoleon's recent downfall, Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, left Vienna, where he'd been head of the English delegation, and headed to Brussels, Belgium. It had been decided that the armies of Europe would hastily re-gather themselves and march on France on three fronts; English and Dutch and Prussian troops would take the northeast frontier in Belgium. It was thought that Napoleon might begin his defense of France there, and the guess proved correct: on June 15, while at a ball in Brussels given by the English Duchess of Richmond, the Duke of Wellington received word that Napoleon had crossed the border with his army and was marching toward the city.

The indecisive Battle of Quatre Bras, fought on June 16, ended in more or less a draw, and ensured that further battle would follow...which it did, two days later, near the small village of Waterloo south of Brussels. Noteworthy for readers of Nineteenteen is the age of many of the soldiers who fought in this battle: there wasn't time to gather the seasoned troops who'd fought with Wellington in Spain and Portugal (many of them had been deployed to fight in America in what we know as the War of 1812) and so thousands of youths enlisted to fill the void. Though legally 18 was the enlisting age, enlistees as young as fifteen were permitted, with a nod and a wink, to join up. Many of them never returned home; of the Allied (Dutch/Belgian, German, and British) troops, 23,000 of them British, one in four did not survive.

The battle itself was hell. It had poured the previous night and everyone was wet and miserable; indeed, Napoleon did not attack until nearly noon, waiting for the ground to dry so that his artillery pieces could be better manoeuvered. This delay favored the Allies; they were awaiting the arrival of reinforcements in the form of the Prussian army under General Blucher. Wellington's strategy was to simply stand in the way and not let Napoleon progress along the road to Brussels. This he did; General Blucher's arrival with the mass of his army early that evening enabled the combined Allied/Prussian army to go on the offensive, and by half-past eight, the French began to flee. Napoleon abdicated a second time on June 24, and the years of war were finally over.

This is, of course, the briefest outline of the Battle and the circumstances around it. If you're interested in getting deeper into it, I recommend two books: the first is An Infamous Army by (yes, really) Georgette Heyer. Don't laugh; it was used as a text at Sandhurst (Britain's West Point) to teach about the battle, so well-regarded was her account. The second is Dancing into Battle: A Social History of the Battle of Waterloo by Nick Foulkes--non-fiction, but as readable and lively as fiction.

Oh, and today's title? It's a quote from the Duke himself, who is supposed to have said it to describe the day's events.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Nineteenth Century Rejection Letters Or How to Be Humiliated in Print

I’m sure it will not shock you to learn that I was doing research, again, and I came across something that surprised me. So, of course, I had to share it with you!

I was perusing an online copy of the Literary Gazette from 1827. The Gazette was the premier British literary journal for much of the nineteenth century. The sixteen-page weekly featured book reviews, opinion pieces, a social column, original poems, and information on theatrical productions. When there was room, the magazine also covered the latest discoveries in archaeology, architecture, and science. Upwards of four thousand copies were sold of each issue.

If your book was reviewed favorably in the Gazette, you could count on it becoming a bestseller. On the other hand, if the review was less than favorable, you might as well burn your quill, inhale the vapors, and give it up!

What really surprised me about the Gazette, however, was that it published a column of rejection letters each month. That’s right—if you were brave enough to submit an original poem for publication, the editor of the Gazette might respond to you in print, where all four thousand plus readers would know your fate!

Some of the responses were fairly polite or kind:

  • “We are sorry not to find room for Marianne.”

  • Lines to a Goldfish in a Cage are referred to the original.”

Others provided a bit of a critique:

  • “S.Y. is not polished enough.”

  • Chevalier Brun is not so striking as to induce a preference for what we have in store.”

Still others were more pointed: “To H.A.: depends on circumstances. Not very likely at present.”

And some were downright rude: “Gommazeta’s Epithets must remain among the dead.” Ouch!

Of course, most of those four thousand people wouldn’t necessarily know the title of your poem or your initials, but the London literary society was small enough that some could guess and spread the tale. You could be assured of a red face the next time you dared poke it out into the literary world.

I never thought I’d say this, but I much prefer today’s rejection letters, which come almost anonymously to your home and allow you to weep in peace! So, would you dare brave the literary world if you knew you were going to be rejected in public?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Upcoming for Summer

Sometimes even history geeks have to take a bit of a vacation.

Nineteenteen will be operating under a slightly reduced schedule over the summer months: though Regina and I plan what we hope will be a lively Young Bluestockings meeting in mid-July (more on that below) and are looking forward to our annual get-together and live blogging from the Romance Writers of America National Conference at the end of July, we’re also planning on taking a bit of a breather from new posts on occasion and will be re-posting some of our favorite entries from past years (yes, years—we’ve been at this for nearly three now!) We’ll still be around to answer comments, but we both have books to write and could just use a little extra time to write them in July and August.

Now, about that lively Young Bluestockings meeting I mentioned above…please update your Netflix queue and get ready to watch and comment on July 19 when we’ll be discussing the 2009 film Bright Star, written and directed by Jane Campion and starring Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw.

Bright Star is the story of the love affair between poet John Keats and literally the girl next door, Fanny Brawne, which ended with his death from tuberculosis in 1821. It's a visually gorgeous film, winning acclaim in particular for its costuming (appropriately enough as Fanny had a keen eye for fashion). It's lush and beautiful and romantic--not that I'm opinionated or anything--and we thought it would be fun to discuss.

So mark your calendars...and enjoy the summer!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Where the Boys Are: At Their Tailors!

Thanks to everyone who’s commented so far on Cotillion by Georgette Heyer! I understand we should expect a few more comments over the weekend—bring them on! The more the merrier!

One of the things that struck me about our hero Freddy Standen is his exquisite taste in clothes. He wasn’t the only young man to pick lint off his lapel or gasp at a wrinkled cravat. Many men spent long hours at their tailors then longer hours with their valets getting dressed and undressed and redressed. Prince George was even rumored to have gone to the home of fashion leader Beau Brummel just to watch how he picked his clothes for the day!

Freddy mentions two of the premier tailors of the day: Weston and Stulz. Between the two, they likely dressed most of the nineteenth century gentlemen with any pretense to fashion. Not much is known about Weston, but Stulz was a German tailor who grew to some fame in his native Karlsruhe (which happens to be the hometown of my husband’s family) before moving to London. He amassed a fortune and gave it away to charities. When he retired in 1820, he was granted a German barony and died Baron Stulz.

One of the items Heyer mentions for her gentlemen are many-caped greatcoats. These were outerwear that went over your usual coat when you were going to be out in the elements. They mimicked the coats worn by the mail coach drivers, who had achieved something like celebrity status in the nineteenth century. The picture here shows one with two capes. Heyer mentions Jack wearing one with sixteen capes. I’m guessing that was a calculated exaggeration, because I can’t see how you could possibly fit sixteen layers on this thing and not look like a grizzly bear!

One of the reasons Kitty is counted a credit to Freddy’s family is that she listens to him in matters of fashion. Could you love a man who was more interested in the latest styles than you were?

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Young Bluestockings discuss Cotillion by Georgette Heyer

Well, how did you like it?

I thought this book would be perfect for discussion on Nineteenteen for a couple of reasons.

  • The heroine, Kitty Charing, is one of Heyer’s ingenue heroines, very young but certainly not lacking in spunk. She’s never been to London, so we get to view the city and the Season through her eyes. We get a mini-course on the amusements of fashionable London—Almack’s, the Egyptian Hall in Bullock’s Museum, the Elgin Marbles (didn’t you love the bit in Chapter 11 where Freddy complains about them to his father?)—and not-so-fashionable London—shopping at Grafton House and public masquerade balls at the Opera House and Pantheon.

  • We get a look at the manners and etiquette around courtship and marriage of the time (a word of warning here—though Heyer frequently uses the device, engagement announcements were NOT published in the newspapers—only marriages were.)

  • We get bad boys of a couple of different stripes in Jack and Camille, and of course the difference between true gentlemen and not-so-true ones in Jack and Freddy.
Ah, Freddy. Some Heyer aficionados have speculated that Heyer was poking fun at herself and her previous books by having the unpromising Freddy as her romantic lead in this book…but I'm not so sure. To me Freddy is a representation of how love can transform a person: he goes from being rather foolish and dim-witted, if gentlemanly, at the beginning, and ends up being the one to solve, gently and with a minimum of fuss, all the tangles Kitty has wrought upon her friends’ (and her own) affairs. Freddy’s father Lord Legerwood is a fascinated witness to the changes Freddy goes through, saying to Kitty, “I like Freddy’s engagement very well, you know. It has done him a great deal of good.” When Freddy tells Kitty at the end of the book, “…Thought you was in love with him [Jack]. Don’t mind telling you it was as much as I could do to keep a still tongue in my head when he asked you to marry him. What I mean is, like you to have everything you want. Wished it was me, and not Jack, that’s all,” it’s terribly romantic, despite Freddy’s characteristically telegraph-like delivery. After Freddy’s not very prepossessing first appearance in Chapter 3, Heyer begins almost immediately after his and Kitty’s engagement to drop clues that he may be hero material after all: first we see even his self-important cousin Lord Biddenden follows his lead in fashion...then we see his kind heart as he cleverly figures out how to bankroll Kitty’s wardrobe without embarrassing her…then we see how well-liked he is in society because of his perfect manners and deportment…and onward through the book until, at the end, he truly is a hero. I think he’s probably one of Heyer’s best-drawn romantic leads.

And what wonderful characters—clueless Meg and her terrible color sense (oh, the lilac gown!), the ravishing but equally clueless Olivia and her awful mother, the sardonic but kindly Lord Legerwood. I especially enjoyed the few scenes between Lord Legerwood and Freddy, showing Lord L.’s growing respect for his firstborn.

The book does have flaws. Poor Dolph got a little monotonous, though of course that was the point…I think it might have been nice to somehow show how living quietly in the country with his horses made him much better able to function coherently, to contrast with his confusion in town. And not to cross too far into applying today’s sensibilities to the past, but at times I couldn’t help squirming a little at how a character with intellectual challenges was depicted…except that the fact he could live a happy, productive life in the right atmosphere was an important plot point. The pacing was a little slow at first—the beginning chapters set at Arnside House rather dragged, I thought, though Mr. Penicuik and Miss Fishguard were both delightfully awful in their own ways. But the action picked up once it moved to London, and simmered pretty nicely after that.

On the whole, Cotillion is one of my top five Heyers, along with The Grand Sophy, Frederica, The Unknown Ajax, and Arabella. How about you? Did you find any of the Regency references or vocabulary confusing, or was it on the whole pretty readable? If this was your first Heyer, do you think you'll read more?

Discussion is now open!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Happy Graduation, Blue Coats and All!

This time of year marks graduation for many—from high school, from trade school, from college or graduate school. Some will wear gowns in their school colors; others will wear somber black. In the nineteenth century, students attending school at Christ’s Hospital wore blue.

The Bluecoat School, as it was called, opened for both boys and girls in 1552. It was designed to educate and house London’s poor children, but students came from all England and Wales, and a few came from Ireland and Scotland. An average of 1,500 students were enrolled each year. It must have been a frugal operation: in 1815, it cost about 22 pounds per year per child to house, feed, clothe, and educate the students.

So let’s say you’re a child of a poor family, and your mother would like to see you have a chance to do something better in life by attending the Bluecoat School. First, she had to petition a member of the board of governors (who were generally officials with the City of London) or some wealthy person with influence at the school (a benefactor) for help. She had to gather birth and baptismal records, a sworn statement from your parish minister, and statements from witnesses that proved you were the right age and in a “destitute condition.” The board member or benefactor brought the proof to the board, who reviewed and approved these presentation papers, at which point your family was notified.

On a set day, Mother brought you down to the school and turned you over to the registrar. I imagine there must have been some teary-eyed farewells at that point. Much as if you were entering prison, the registrar recorded your name in a book and gave you a new set of clothes that consisted of a long blue coat close to the body, a yellow underskirt, yellow stockings, and a flat, round worsted cap. That’s what you wore the remainder of your time in the school, up to age sixteen.

At first, boys and girls were educated in the same school, but just before the beginning of the nineteenth century, the girls were moved out of London to Hertfordshire, and some of the youngest boys (under age 10) joined them shortly afterward. It appears the girls were taught to go into service or trade, but the boys in London were educated in the classics, including learning Latin. The school also housed the Royal Mathematical School to train mathematicians and teach naval officers navigation. Sir Isaac Newton, John Flamsteed the first Astronomer Royal, and Edmund Halley (who first computed the orbit of Halley’s comet) helped build the study materials.

The Bluecoat School was much patronized by the aristocracy and nobility. It operated under Royal Charter, and noted architects Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor (I so want to steal his name for a hero!), designed the buildings after many of the originals were destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The wealthy even left money to the school in their wills. Famous students include critic and writer James Leigh Hunt, essayist Charles Lamb, and the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

So, if you are graduating or have graduated, congratulations! Aren’t you glad you didn’t have to do it in a blue coat and yellow stockings?

P.S. Can't wait to discuss Cotillion next week!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Maid for You

Ah, having a lady's maid. Sounds lovely, doesn't it? Someone to pamper you and pick up your discarded silk shawls and rub your temples with lavender water when you have a headache...what's not to love?

Ahem. I have to admit that the thought of having a lady's maid (also called an abigail after a character in a 17th century play, though that term died out not long into the 19th century) rather spooks me. I'm a neat person by nature and don't need anyone tidying up after me...but then again, I also don't wear a corset or hoops and don't have to change my clothes five times a day (yes, five...we'll get to that shortly). If you were a young (or even not so young) lady in fashionable society, having a maid was a necessity, not a luxury.

So what did ladies' maids do for their employers?

According to The Complete Servant, written in 1825 by Samuel and Sarah Adams (who had come up the servant ranks from the lowest to end their careers as butler and housekeeper, respectively), "the business of the lady's-maid is extremely simple, and but little varied...her education should be superior to that of the ordinary class of females....she should be cheerful and submissive...her character should be remarkable for industry and moderation,--her manners and deportment, for modesty and humility--and her dress, for neatness, simplicity, and frugality."

A lady's maid first duty revolved around getting her mistress dressed, re-dressed, and undressed each day. This was no small task; think about the multiple layers of clothing women wore throughout the century, and think about how many changes were required each day--a morning gown or walking dress for mornings at home or errand running, perhaps changing to a carriage dress or visiting dress for afternoon calls, followed perhaps by a change to a riding habit if one planned on a jaunt to Rotten Row, followed by a dinner dress, opera dress, or ball gown depending on one's evening plans...none of which had zippers or elastic or anything else that makes changes clothes a much simpler prospect today. Once her mistress was dressed, the maid would check the clothes she'd changed out of to see if cleaning or repairs were required, then would put them away (and, um...no dress-hangers till late in the century, so dresses had to be carefully folded).

In the morning a lady's maid woke her mistress, brought her hot water for washing, slipped away for breakfast while her mistress perhaps lingered over a cup of tea in bed, then returned to get her dressed and ready for the morning's activities (clothes and hair--a good lady's maid was not only handy with her needle, but had to be au courant with the latest hairstyles and know what would look good on her lady). She would tidy her mistress's belongings, clean her brushes and organize her dressing table and put away her nightclothes, then occupy herself with mending or dressmaking between being called to help with other changes through the day, which included staying up as late as necessary to put her mistress to be after balls or parties. She also supervised the housemaids' cleaning of her mistress's room, packed her trunks when she traveled, cleaned and kept safe her jewelry, washed her fine linen and lace, and served as nurse when she was ill. And if her mistress had pets, guess who got to walk, feed, and bathe them?

What did ladies' maids earn? The Smiths in 1825 state that 18 to 25 guineas per year was a standard salary; by 1895, according to The Duties of Servants, she might earn 20-35 pounds per annum (not all that different!) Of course she received room and board and possibly a dress allowance; traditionally, a lady's maid might also expect to receive at least some of her employer's cast-off clothing (except, perhaps, for the especially expensive dresses). These might be worn, dispatched off to family members for remaking, or sold to second hand clothing shops for a tidy profit to salt away for old age. The nice thing about being employed as a lady's maid was the potential job security; if a maid and her employer got along well, she could expect to be employed for life and probably receive a handsome retirement gift or bequest in her mistress's will. But I can also see that an unpleasant employer could have been quite a nightmare...

What do you think? Do you wish you had a lady's maid?

Note: Don't forget that next Tuesday the Young Bluestockings will be discussing Georgette Heyer's Cotillion. Looking forward to hearing what you thought of it!!