French Diligence and Its Drivers

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. To demonstrate the popularity of parasols Punch wrote an article in 1850 complaining about them being ubiquitous and stating:

“I have noticed that every lady who enters an omnibus is sure to bring in a parasol with her. She may not carry a bundle, either dead or alive, in the shape of a baby, … she may, by some curious chance, be free from everything in the shape of luggage … [only having] a small reticule no bigger than a gentleman’s carpetbag, — but I have never yet seen the phenomenon of a lady invading an omnibus without her being duly armed with a parasol!

Now the parasol, Sir, is the most formidable weapon of defence (and offence too) …Why the nuisance obtrudes itself every where; you cannot sit down, but a lady is sure to exclaim, ‘Oh! Please, Sir, take care of my parasol!’ You cannot arrange your legs … without an overgrown umbrella … finding itself between them; and … you cannot turn to the right or to the left, but there is certain to be at either turn the point of a parasol ready to dot your eye. If you are sitting at the end of the seat it is fifty times worse. You are then sitting in a prickly bush of parasols; or, to come nearer the mark, your head seems to be revolving inside a large wheel, of which the ladies’ parasols are the spokes, and your nose the axle.”[1]

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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.” 

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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