Silhouettes and Étienne de Silhouette

Example of a Silhouette. Public Domain.

Silhouettes acquired their name from a French minister of finance under Louis XV named Étienne de Silhouette. De Silhouette had studied finance and economics and had spent a year in London learning about the British economy. According to one nineteenth century reporter, de Silhouette “introduced several parsimonious fashions during his administration a la Silhouette,”[1] and among these parsimonious fashions was severe taxes.

It began in 1760 when de Silhouette forecast a bleak budget and attempted to restore the finances of the kingdom using the English method of taxing the rich and privileged. He devised what was called “general subvention,” or in other words, any signs of external wealth (luxury goods, servants, etc.) were taxed. He went further when he became melting down gold and silver and criticized the nobility (including Voltaire) who objected to his extreme taxation measures. Continue reading

Madame Tussaud’s Napoleon Relics

Napoleon Bonaparte. Author’s Collection.

Madame Tussaud’s Napoleon relics were displayed in her exhibition hall in one of two rooms that first opened in 1843. The rooms were dedicated to the Emperor and those associated with him. They contained all sorts of interesting items, and, according to Madame Tussaud, the rooms were “fitted up exactly in the style of the period, with splendid ceilings, and picture-frames made expressly to show the peculiar fashion of Napoleon’s time, without regard to expense.”[1] Visitors to these rooms paid an extra 6d. and were also allowed admittance into the Chamber of Horrors.

Among the many relics perhaps the most popular was Napoleon’s military carriage that he had used on many of his military campaigns and while he was exiled on Elba. It ended up in England, after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. A Major von Keller confiscated it as “his own booty,” and the carriage was either bought by the British government or given to the Prince Regent. A William Bullock then purchased it from the Prince Regent. He displayed the carriage at the London Museum and took it on tour throughout England, Ireland, and Scotland. It was then sold at an auction to a gentleman who planned to tour with it in America, but when that fell through, the carriage was used to satisfy a debt and became the property of a coach maker, who in turn sold it in 1842 to Madame Tussaud. Continue reading

Saturday Night in London in 1824

Engraving of a watch house being tipped over with a night watchman in it. “Tom Getting the Best of a Charley.” Courtesy of the Museum of London.

For most of the people of London, Saturday nights meant the work week was behind them. Saturday night was an evening where Londoners could relax, carouse, or enjoy themselves by visiting the market, the theatre, or their local ale house. Moreover, on Saturday nights, London was filled with all sorts of interesting people. Because Saturday nights were so popular, night watchmen sometimes stood in circular timber or stone structures (called watch houses) to observe the local happenings, or they patrolled the streets between 9 or 10 pm until sunrise. During that time, the night watchman called out the hour, kept a lookout for fires or crime, and ensured the safety of pedestrians, vagrants, and drunks. (The night watchmen would not be replaced by officers known affectionately as “bobbies” until a few years later in 1829.) With London alive and thriving on a Saturday night, one person wrote a description of what it was like to be there, and his description is provided below almost verbatim: Continue reading

Menu for George IV’s Coronation Dinner on 19 July 1821

Coronation Crown of George IV. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

George IV became King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of Hanover following the death of his father, George III, on 29 January 1820. George IV’s coronation occurred about a year and half later on 19 July 1821. It was a grand costly affair, estimated to have been about £243,000 (approximately £19,970,000 in 2017). One great expense was the innovative gold and silver frame crown that had been specifically created for the King by Philip Liebart of Rundell, Bridge, and Rundell. It was a tall crown with a dark blue cap and encrusted with 12,314 diamonds that were said to make the King appear to be a “gorgeous bird of the east.” Yet, the crown was not the only costly thing George IV wore: Continue reading

Mineral Springs and Watering-Places of Georgian Times

Mineral Springs and Watering-Places of Georgian Times
Unidentified Mineral Springs from the 1600s. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

From early times, mineral waters were used to remove or alleviate disease. Waters at watering-places were often ascribed to the occult and sometimes said to be miraculous in their abilities to cure disease, both chronic and acute. Some people had such belief in the mysterious agency of mineral waters they entertained exaggerated notions of their capabilities and power and used mineral waters whenever they were ill. However, other patients found that mineral waters did not alter or alleviate their sufferings, and these people tended to claim that such waters cured people because of a “mere change of air, scene, and mode of life.” Continue reading

Nine Singing Rules for 18th Century Singers

The Note A or La, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Singing was a popular activity in the 1700s. One writer noted that when there was a large group of singers, the worst singer was often the person who got the greatest pleasure from the activity. To ensure people got the most pleasure out of singing, numerous song books were published. Among them was one that maintained when a person was in society, it was the person’s duty to be “conformable and good-humoured.” To accomplish that, there were nine singing rules for 18th century singers. Continue reading

Fortune-Telling with Moles in the Georgian Era

fortune-telling
“The Fortune Teller” in the Nineteenth Century by John Opie, (c) University of Greenwich; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

One person wrote, “Ever since the world began, a laudable curiosity has excited all ranks of people in all countries, to know the events, vicissitudes, the turns of good or bad fortune.” Among those intrigued by the turns of good or bad fortunes were people living in the eighteenth century. Their fortunes were told to them by fortune tellers who used astronomy, physiognomy, palmistry, card tossing, or the reading of coffee dregs. However, one of the most unusual and interesting ways of fortune-telling was the examination of a person’s moles.

Georgian fortune tellers read moles because as one eighteenth-century writer put it, “[moles] bear a strong analogy to the events that are to happen to a person in the future.” When examining moles, fortune tellers looked at a variety of things. For instance, a mole with a few long hairs denoted the person’s undertakings would be prosperous but if the mole was hairy, misfortune was expected. Continue reading

Mr. Broughton’s Seven Boxing Rules of 1743

John "Jack" Broughton, Courtesy of Wikipedia
John “Jack” Broughton, Courtesy of Wikipedia

When boxing was in its infancy boxing rules were loosely defined and varied from fight to fight. The winner was usually determined to be either the boxer who hit the hardest or submitted to the greatest punishment. On 16 August 1743, a boxer by the name of John (Jack) Broughton formulated and printed seven rules that he framed at his amphitheatre. These seven rules became known as “Mr. Broughton’s Rules” and are provided below:

  1. That a square of a yard be chalked in the middle of the stage; and every fresh set-to after a fall, or being parted from the rails, each second is to bring his man to the square and place him opposite to the other; and till they are fairly set-to at the lines, it shall not be lawful for one to strike the other. Continue reading

Glossary of French Terms Used in the Quadrille

Quadrille Dancers, Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France
Quadrille Dancers, Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France

The Quadrille was a popular square dance that became fashionable in the late 18th century. It was first introduced at Louis XV’s court sometime around 1760 and was first performed with two couples facing each other.

In 1816, the Quadrille reached England through Sarah Sophia Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey. The Countess was an aristocrat and well-known patroness of Almack’s, and, because of her, the Quadrille became ultra-fashionable with the upper crust.

Elements of the Quadrille changed over time, and it evolved into the waltz. Additionally, other couples were added to the dance so that the Quadrille included eight persons thereby forming a square and allowing couples to take turns resting and dancing.

Because of its French origins, the terms used for the Quadrille were French, and, over time, some of the terms were done away with or changed. The following list provides the most frequent French terms used for the Quadrille by the mid 1800s, and it includes their English counterparts: Continue reading

Bluestockings and Benjamin Stillingfleet

Rowlandson's Caricature of the Bluestocking Club, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Rowlandson’s Caricature of the Bluestocking Club, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Although one of the first references to bluestockings appeared in 1638, the term bluestocking did not became common until the 1700s. The term was applied to literary ladies and conferred on a society of literary persons of both sexes. Literary societies in England had been influenced by French salons, where conversation was famous. Moreover, these societies were equivalent to the Frenchbas bleu from the 1500s that applied to French literary women.

One of the most active promoters of England’s bluestocking society was Benjamin Stillingfleet. He was a distinguished botanist, translator, and writer. He was also a tutor, and he and William Windham — Stillingfleet’s relative and pupil — set off on the Grand Tour in 1737. In 1740, while they were in Geneva, they formed a community said to be “dedicated to the pursuit of literary discussion and play-reading.” This was partly why some people have claimed that Stillingfleet was the first bluestocking. Continue reading