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Archive for April, 2007

Illustration from the Jane Austen Society of Australia Website

(Post Updated: May, 2008): Until the last two centuries, adequate interior lighting was difficult to achieve. Oil lamps, around since ancient times, were smelly, and fish oil had an especially unpleasant odor. Rushlights dipped in tallow were commonly used, since candles were prohibitively expensive. It was the custom for families to sit near the fireplace at night as a group, reading, doing needlework, or telling stories, but generally people rose with the light and went to bed shortly after sunset. Only the more affluent members of society could afford to burn a large number of candles at a time, and their homes were characterized by spacious windows and well placed reflectors and mirrors.

“Traditionally in England, candles were used in great halls, monasteries and churches of medieval times. In addition, candles were used to light cottages and shops. King Alfred of England stuck torches in walls to supply lighting. The simplest (and smelliest) candles known as rush light were made by dipping rushes in leftover kitchen fat. For many centuries, candles were considered expensive items in Europe. Town-made candles from the wax-chandler were available for those who could afford them. These candles were made of wax or animal fat and were placed in silver, wooden or pewter candlesticks.”


Until the 19th century tallow candles and rushlights were the principal form of light for the poor. The slaughter of one bullock provided enough tallow for three years’ worth of candles and a well organised household could produce 300 or so at a candle making session. The Newsfinder Website: A Short History of Candles discusses how lighting remained essentially unchanged for hundreds of years until the early 19th century. Then, “the growth of the whaling industry in the late 18th century brought the first major change in candlemaking since the Middle Ages, when spermaceti – a wax obtained by crystallizing sperm whale oil – became available in quantity. Like beeswax, the spermaceti wax did not elicit a repugnant odor when burned, and produced a significantly brighter light. It also was harder than either tallow or beeswax, so it wouldn’t soften or bend in the summer heat. Historians note that the first “standard candles” were made from spermaceti wax.” From Cierra Candles

In Light Fittings in Georgian and Early Victorian Interiors, Jonathan Taylor writes,

“Candles were used sparingly. Even in the homes of the wealthy, when the family was not entertaining guest, only the minimum number of candles were used in a room at any one time, and these were positioned close to where the light was most needed. A single candle was carried to light the way from one room to another. Everyday lighting was therefore moveable, and not part of the architectural design of the interior.”

George III Regency Mirror, circa 1810, with Two pairs of ormolu candle arms

In The Transformation of Lanhydrock House, Cornwall, 1758–1829: a paper presented to the CHN Conference 2002: The Country House, the authors describe the architectural parts of a house’s lighting:

“The main lighting in the eighteenth century house was by ‘2 glass lanterns’ one in the Prayer Room Passage and the other on the Staircase. The Dining Room was well illuminated by a ‘pier glass with chandelier’, ‘2 girandola in white carved frames’ and candle branches over the chimney. By c.1829 Wedgwood candlesticks and glass candelabra were replacing the more traditional candle branches and Corinthian pillared candlesticks. The emphasis towards quality lighting was displayed through the use of Spermaceti candles that were running low in stock by 1802. 26 There was no evidence by 1829 of oil lighting in the house. This reflects the often slow adherence to some aspects of contemporary technology.”

After the turn of the century, there was an explosion in candlemaking technology, as the Newsfinder website describes.

In 1709 in Britain, candles were taxed and people forbidden from making their own. This punitive tax was eventually repealled in 1831, resulting in a renaissance of decorative candles. It was not until new alternatives were looming when frenchman M. Chevereul purified tallow by treating it with alkali & sulphuric acid thus creating a clean-burning stearin candle which was long-lasting.

M. Cambaceres another Frenchman devised the plaited wick in 1825. This he steeped in mineral salts to make it curve on burning, thereby obviating the need to trim wicks.

In 1834 Joseph Morgan created a candle making machine which could produce up to 1500 candles an hour. In 1850, parrafin wax appeared, shortly followed in 1857 with the combination of stearin & the plaited wick resulting in a bright affordable candle.

The nineteenth century brought the development of patented candlemaking machines, making candles available for the poorest homes. In an attempt to protect the industry, England passed a law forbidding the making of candles at home without purchase of a special licence. At this time, a chemist named Michel Eugene Chevreul made an important discovery. He realized that tallow was not one substance but a composition of two fatty acids, stearic acid and oleic acid, combined with glycerine to form a neutral non-flammable material.”

By removing the glycerine from the tallow mixture, Chevreul invented a new substance called “stearine.” Stearine was harder than tallow and burned brighter and longer. It is this substance known today as stearin or stearic acid that led to the improvement of candle quality. Stearin also made improvements in the manufacture of wicks possible. It put an end to the constant round of snuffing and trimming wicks once they were lit. Instead of being made of simply twisted strands of cotton, wicks were now plaited tightly; the burned portion curled over and was completely consumed, rather than falling messily into the melting wax.

More improvements such as the addition of lime, palmatine, and paraffin developed in commercial candle manufacture. Paraffin wax was extracted from crude oil . It equalled beeswax and spermaceti candles for brightness and hardness and were cheaper. Paraffin wax is still widely used today in commercial candlemaking.”

Rushlight Stand


For more resources on lighting, see

  • For a more detailed history of historical lighting, click on Early Lighting, a fabulous site filled with photos, illustrations, and definitions.

  • Candlelight reflectors
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    In honor of the 200 year anniversary of William Wordsworth’s poem, “Daffodils,” the Cumbria Tourism board in the Lake District of England created a rap video by the squirrel M.C. Nuts to attract younger tourists.

    My, how times have changed since Jane’s time! For comparison, here’s the original poem:

     

    “Daffodils” (1804)

    I WANDER’D lonely as a cloud

    That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

    When all at once I saw a crowd,

    A host, of golden daffodils;

    Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

    Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

    Continuous as the stars that shine

    And twinkle on the Milky Way,

    They stretch’d in never-ending line

    Along the margin of a bay:

    Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

    Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

    The waves beside them danced; but they

    Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

    A poet could not but be gay,

    In such a jocund company:

    I gazed — and gazed — but little thought

    What wealth the show to me had brought:

    For oft, when on my couch I lie

    In vacant or in pensive mood,

    They flash upon that inward eye

    Which is the bliss of solitude;

    And then my heart with pleasure fills,

    And dances with the daffodils.

    By William Wordsworth (1770-1850).

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    Progress of the Toilet, a series of engravings created in 1810 by James Gillray, a renowned and prolific British caricaturist, show three illustrations that depict a young lady being dressed by her maid. The details in these prints from an extensive print collection at the Yale University Library are striking and informative.

    In the first plate, The Stays, Gillray depicts a young lady in her undergarments and wearing a cap, stockings, and slippers. On the floor sit a bowl and pitcher with water. Toiletries, pins, and jewelry are scattered on top of her dressing table. She inserts a busk between her breasts as her maid tightens her stays. Find a more detailed explanation about regency undergarments and regency fashions by clicking on the bolded words.


    Elaborate powdered wigs of the previous century gave way to simpler hair styles, some cut quite short. In the illustration entitled The Wig, the maid prepares to place a short curly wig on her mistress’ head. Note that the mirror is now full length and that the side table looks different. Our young lady sits in a simple muslin day gown, with neck and arms covered, reading a book as her maid prepares her. A bonnet and an open robe or pelise (on chair) will complete her toilette. Find more regency hairstyles on this site.

    In the third engraving, Dress Completed, we observe our young lady dressed for the evening and putting on evening gloves, which, typical of the day, are loose at the top. Her maid holds a shawl and fan, and her reticule hangs on a hook on the wall. The side table is no longer visible; her fashion plate book/magazine lies discarded on the floor. Our young lady’s slippers probably looked like this pair below. For a comprehensive view of footwear during this era, click here.

    In The Mirror of Graces, 1811, a Lady of Distinction write, “Perhaps it is necessary to remind my readers that custom regulates the veiling or unveling the figure, according to different periods in the day. In the morning the arms and bosom must be completely covered to the throat and wrists. From the dinner-hour to the termination of the day, the arms, to a graceful height above the elbow, may be bare; and the neck and shoulders unveiled as far as delicacy will allow.”

    Find regency clothing for sale on this site and a regency timeline in fashion here.

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    On July 6, 1810, Louis Simond wrote in An American in Regency England:

    Salisbury is a little old city, very ugly, and of which there is nothing to say, except that the steeple of its cathedral, which is immensely high, and built of stone to its very summit, is twenty inches out of the perpendicular, which is really enough to take off the attention of the most devout congregation. We went to the morning service, and did not find a single person in the church except those officiating. It is not the the first time we have observed this desertion of the metropolitan churches–even where the steeples were quite perpendicular.


    Well, I disagree with Louis Simond. We spent a pleasurable afternoon in Salisbury, gazing at the cathedral and visiting the town and found them charming. People are too picky at times: I enjoyed visiting an empty church. This allowed me to study its treasures up close and at leisure!

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    The “Rice Portrait” of a supposedly young Jane Austen failed to sell at auction at Christie’s on April 19th. For details, read The Globe article here or the Austen.blog’s extensive post about the failed sale.

    To read the online NBC article, Confessions of an Austen-ite by Lisa Daniels, click here. And for a 3 minute video about the Rice Portrait, click here. (Wait for the commercial to end.)

    For my assessment of the Rice Portrait, click here.

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    The Dandy’s Perambulations

    The Dandy’s Perambulations, printed and sold in 1819 by John Marchall in Fleet Street, is posted in full by www.dandyism.net. Below are a few lines from the pamphlet:

    [They] ran along together straight,
    Until they reached the turnpike gate,
    Where a coach had made a stop;
    So they both got upon the top,
    And after their disastrous falls,
    At length in safety reached St. Paul’s.

    Find a fairly cynical definition of a dandy on this Cambridge University Press site.

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    Mr. Darcy & Pride and Prejudice

    Seriously Smiling is a fan listing wholly devoted to Fitzwilliam Darcy. You can choose which “skin” you prefer: Matthew McFadyen or Colin Firth. Other links on this site include “The Man,” “Goodies,” “Fan Listing,” and more.

    If you want to learn more about the 2005 script of Pride & Prejudice: A masterclass with Deborah Moggach & Joe Wright , click on What We Do.

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