French Diligence and Its Drivers

French diligence and its drivers
Thomas Rowlandson’s The Paris Diligence, Courtesy of Wikipedia

In the early 1800s, one gentleman decided to travel to France “to gratify the wish of [his] Father, who was desirous to know the real state of the people of France, and especially of the farmers and labourers.” French coaches and coachmen were different in several ways from English coaches and coachmen, and during his visit, the gentleman came upon a diligence (a form of public conveyance equivalent to the English stage coach). He described the French diligence and its drivers, as well as two outriders (escorts). His remarks follow: Continue reading

Snuff and Snuff-Boxes

Man Taking Snuff in the 1800s, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Man Taking Snuff in the 1800s, Courtesy of Wikipedia

From the mid 1600s to the mid 1800s, snuff was enjoyed by all classes and was much more popular than smoking. It was particularly popular throughout the 1700s and all the rage among the elite, although it also had its critics. Among the critics were Louis XIV, who had a personal distaste for snuff and resulted in his personal physician, Monsieur Fagon, spewing “a violent oration, against the pernicious effects of the newly introduced and abominable custom.” Louis XV of France also disliked snuff and banned its use at court during his reign.

The Grand Duke of Moscow was much more severe when it came to snuff. He disliked it so much he instituted punishments for anyone bringing tobacco into his dominion with the first offense being personal chastisement and the second offense death. Additionally, when the Grand Duke discovered a Muscovite snuffing, he had his nostrils halved.

Despite critics and punishments, people continued to use snuff. In fact, its use increased so rapidly that by the time of George II, the types of snuff were infinite, and, according to one source, “new ones are daily invented so that it would be difficult, not to say impossible, to give a detail of them.” To store all the infinite varieties of snuff, the snuff-box was invented. And if there were infinite varieties of snuff, there were even more varieties of snuff-boxes. Continue reading

Popular Millinery and Millinery Ornament Terms for the 1890s

Alpine Hat from December 1896, Author's Collection
Alpine Hat from December 1896, Author’s Collection

aigrette—a French word used to denote the plume or feathery tuft on top of a bird’s head. “Hence the term came to…designate the long, delicate…feathers which being stuck upright in a lady’s headdress…[gave] a majestic appearance to the person.” The word also came to be associated with jeweled ornaments shaped as feathers and worn on a woman’s head during the eighteenth century, but, by the nineteenth century, almost any plume, even if flowers, were noted to be an aigrette. Additionally, during the nineteenth century, an aigrette was attached to a woman’s hat during the day and worn alone as a headdress at night. Continue reading

Dangers of the Georgian Era

George III in 1762, Danger of the Georgian Era
George III in 1762, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Georgian Era takes it name from the four Hanoverian kings named George that reigned from 1714 to 1830. The Georgian Era was portrayed by writers such as Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, and Henry Fielding, and by the vivid poetry of William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. It was a time of immense social change in Britain and a time of extremes with the haves (who enjoyed overwhelming luxury) and the have-nots (who suffered immense poverty). It was also the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and millions of people left the farm for the city.

Changes surrounding population also occurred when millions emigrated to other countries and when Britain’s population nearly doubled, increasing from five million in 1700 to nine million by 1801. But population wasn’t the only major change.There were numerous wars: Seven Years’ War, American Revolutionary War, French Revolutionary Wars, Irish Rebellion of 1798, and the Napoleonic Wars.

Amidst all the upheaval, people still had to navigate safely through the daily dangers of the Georgian Era. Many of these dangers did not appear dangerous at all, but among them were London Bridge, sedan chairs, cosmetics,  laudanum, and small pox. Continue reading

Greenwich Hoax and a Love Gone Wrong

love gone wrong
Greater London, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Joseph Thornton, son of a respectable tradesman, was charged with fraud all because of a hoax and a love gone wrong. The story begins with another young man named Joseph Dale. He received an anonymous but elegantly written letter in a female hand signed with the initials E.B. Dale mentioned the letter to Thornton because they were friends and remarked that E.B. had confessed her ardent attachment towards him. She had also asked him to reply. As chance would have it, Thornton told Dale that he knew E.B. stating:

“I know the family well; I am going to tea with them; I’ll manage it, my boy.” Continue reading

Parasol Fashions in the 19th Century

Parasol Fashions: A Variety of Parasols, Author's Collection
A Variety of Parasols, Author’s Collection

Parasols are different from umbrellas in that umbrellas protect a person from the rain and parasols shade a person from the sun. Before sunscreen was invented, the parasol was the primary way a woman maintained her creamy, spot-free complexion. Parasols were used everywhere and at all times: Women carried them when riding in an open carriage, walking down a city street, admiring a garden, enjoying the seashore, or visiting country relatives.

Parasols also came in all shapes and sizes and could be found in a rainbow of colors. Just like dress fashions, parasol fashions suffered the same whims of popularity. For instance, in the mid 1800s, an eccentric, square-shaped parasol of two colors was presented to the public. It was so unique and remarkable every woman wanted one, and they were soon seen everywhere. But the square, two-colored sun protectors proved impractical and were highly ineffective in shading a woman’s face from the sun. Moreover, one critic described them as “stiff and ugly.” The following season they were out of fashion, and tradesmen who invested heavily in them found they had to almost give them away. Continue reading

The Mermaid of 1822

Mermaid, Courtesy of British Museum
The Mermaid, Courtesy of British Museum

“I have to-day seen a Mermaid, now exhibiting in this town. I have always treated the existence of this creature as fabulous, but my scepticism [sic] is now removed.” Those were the words written by a Reverend Philip, a representative of the London Mission Society, in April 1822. The mermaid Philip referred to was found after a storm by a fisherman or fishermen who was sold it to a Bostonian sea captain. The captain, named Samuel Barret Eades, was transporting the mermaid to England for exhibition when his ship stopped for a fortnight at Cape Town, and it was there that Philip saw the mermaid for the first time.

Philip described the strange creature, stating:

“The head is almost the size of … a baboon. It is thickly covered with black hair, hanging down, and not inclined to frizzle. On the upper lip and on the chin there are a few fine hairs, resembling those upon the head. The … cheek bones are prominent. The forehead is low, but except in this particular the features are much better proportioned and bear a more decided resemblance to the human countenance than those of any of the baboon tribes.” 

Continue reading

Mourning in the Georgian Era

Princess Amelia Sophia in 1738 and mourning in the Georgia Era
Princess Amelia Sophia in 1738, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Everyone is usually familiar with Victorian mourning and its strict etiquette and rules. Mourning in the Georgian Era also had rules associated with it and those rules varied. For instance, in 1782 there was no general mourning when Prince Alfred died as etiquette established “never to go into mourning for any of the blood-royal of England under 14 years of age, unless [they were] … the heir-apparent.” When the Princess Dowager died, mourning lasted six months and theatres were closed for three weeks, whereas when Princess Amelia of Great Britain died in 1786 the mourning period lasted six weeks and theatres were closed for a mere ten days. Continue reading