Christmas Cards and the Loss of Christmas

Christmas Cards: The First Commercially Produced Christmas Card, Designed by John Callcott Horsley for Henry Cole
The First Commercially Produced Christmas Card, Designed by John Callcott Horsley for Henry Cole

Christmas cards first appeared in 1843 when a civil servant named Sir Henry Cole decided he was too busy to send individual greetings to his business colleagues, family, and friends. Instead he decided to seek out his friend, a painter named John Callcott Horsley. Cole asked Horsley to create him a card with a brief greeting that he could mail to colleagues, family, and friends.

The result was the world’s first commercially produced Christmas card. It was a triptych, with the two side panels. The center panel depicted three generations of family gathered for Christmas dinner, and both side panels showed charitable scenes.

Nearly forty years later in 1882, some people claimed Christmas cards no longer represented Christmas of long ago and that Victorian cards celebrating the holiday had lost Christmas’s original meaning. To demonstrate this, one Victorian newspaper wrote an article about the Christmas card industry. Here is their view verbatim: Continue reading

Christmas Game Snap-Dragon From the 18th and 19th Century

Fanciful Image of a Dragon Playing the Christmas Game Snap-dragon From 1879
Fanciful Image of a Dragon Playing Snap-dragon From 1879, Author’s Collection

When eighteenth and nineteenth century families came together on Christmas Eve, there were several activities that people enjoyed indoors. Besides dancing, cards, or dice, there were sometimes parlor games. One favorite parlor game played in England was called “Snap-dragon” but also known as “Snapdragon,” “Flap-dragon,” or “flapdragon.” It was a popular game from the sixteenth century and described in the following way:

A quantity of raisins are deposited in a large dish or bowl (the broader and shallower this is, the better), and brandy or some other spirit is poured over the fruit and ignited. The bystanders now endeavour, by turns, to grasp a raisin, by plunging their hands through the flames; and as this is somewhat of an arduous feat, requiring both courage and rapidity of action, a considerable amount of laughter and merriment is evoked at the expense of the unsuccessful competitors.

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Madame de Genlis and Jane Austen

Madame de Genlis
Miniature of Madame de Genlis by Pierre Noël Violet, Courtesy of Christie’s

Stéphanie Félicité du Crest de Saint-Aubin better known as Madame de Genlis was born on 25 January 1746. She was french writer and educator appointed to oversee the education of the children of Louis Philippe II, Duke of Chartres (later Duke of Orléans) and his wife Louise Marie Adélaïde de Bourbon. The Duke appointed her gouverneur (not governess) of his sons in 1781. The position of gouverneur at the time was something given only to men, so the appointment caused a stir.

As gouverneur, Madame de Genlis was zealous to the point of being overbearing. Part of the problem was her educational techniques were uncommon. Moreover, all the other tutors quit because Madame de Genlis would not share her power and zealously implemented her ideas. (To learn more about her educational ideas and techniques, you can read my guest post at Naomi Clifford’s blog. It is titled Madame Genlis: A Most Unusual Educator). In addition, in order to popularize her educational ideas, Madame de Genlis included them in many of her novels, which amounted to over eighty. Continue reading

The Man Who Made Potatoes Popular in France in the 1700s: Antoine-Augustin Parmentier

Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was the man who made potatoes popular in France in the 1700s. His interest in potatoes began after he was captured during the Seven Years’ War and found himself imprisoned in Russia eating mounds of potatoes. Unlike Russians who were willing to eat potatoes, Frenchmen considered them hog feed, and, in fact, in 1748, the French Parlement forbade people from cultivating them because they thought potatoes caused leprosy.

When Parmentier returned to France in 1763, he began to use his degree as a pharmacist to conduct pioneering studies in nutritional chemistry. Remembering his imprisonment, he decided the potato had great nutritional value, as much as wheat. In fact, he considered the potato so valuable and nutritious, he began to consider how he might overcome the prejudices of the French public against the humble potato. Exactly how this came to pass, involves several stories. Continue reading

Regency Poisons

regency poisonsPoisons were an important topic in the 1900s. Because of the interest in poisons a lengthy article was published in 1828 that provide all sorts of information about Regency poisons, including class III poisons designated as “Sedative, or Narcotic Poisons.” All of these poisons could be ingested or applied to the body and were reported to cause “drowsiness, stupor, paralysis or apoplexy, convulsions, and death when the dose [was] sufficiently large.”

Among this list of Regency poisons designated as “Sedative, or Narcotic Poisons” were nine items from the vegetable kingdom — camphor, hemlock, henbane, laurel water, opium, prussic acid, stramonium, strong scented lettuce, and tobacco — and one mineral sedative and narcotic poison known as carbonic acid gas. To understand these poisons and counter their deadly consequences, a list was provided. Here it is almost verbatim: Continue reading

18th Century French Salad-maker: Marquis of Albignac

Arms of the d'Albignac Family, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Coat of Arms of the d’Albignac Family, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Among the émigrés scattered all over Europe during the Reign of Terror was a man by the name of Marquis of Albignac. The Marquis had lost everything, both fortune and family. He survived living “in London on a trifling pension allowed him by the English government.” However, the Marquis possessed one thing, determination. He wanted to be more than a fashionable beggar surviving in England.

One night as the Marquis of Albignac sat dining on his scanty daily meal, he noticed a nearby table occupied by five or six young English gentlemen. They noticed him too. At length one of the young men addressed the Marquis impertinently: Continue reading

Places Mentioned in “Marie Antoinette’s Confidante” (Part 2)

Sights in Paris: Sites I Visited in Paris
Sites I Visited in Paris, Author’s Collection

As mentioned in my previous post, the relationship between Marie Antoinette and the Princesse de Lamballe was a fascinating one. To understand the environment that these women lived in I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the places that were an important part of their lives and places that I talked about in “Marie Antoinette’s Confidante.” Part two looks at places within Paris and includes the Palace of Tuileries, the Duke of Orléans’s Palais-Royal, the Hôtel de Toulouse, and the remnants of the infamous Bastille and La Force prison.

To give you an idea of how close these sites are to one another, I have included a map. Please note that the Palace of Tuileries is about 2.3 kilometers or 1.5 miles from the Bastille. Continue reading

Juliette Récamier: French Salon Hostess

French salon hostess: Juliette Récamier
Juliette Récamier, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Juliette Récamier was born Jeanne-Françoise Julie Adélaïde Bernard in Lyon on 4 December 1777. She was the only child of Jean Bernard, the King’s counselor and a notary, and his wife, the former Marie Julie Matton. Juliette, as she was called, was described in personality and character as “tender-hearted, affectionate, charitable and kind, beloved in her home-circle and by all who know her.”

At the age of fifteen, Juliette married a French banker nearly thirty years her senior. His name was Jacques-Rose Récamier. However, Juliette’s marriage to the handsome Récamier was in name only because they never consummated their marriage, and she remained a virgin until at least age forty. One reason for the lack of consummation may be explained by what Récamier wrote when thinking about his impending marriage to Juliette: Continue reading