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Archive for March, 2012

Can you imagine Jane Austen at her spinning wheel? We will soon have the possibility of seeing the Austen family’s spinning wheel at Chawton Cottage after its restoration. My sense is that it was highly unlikely that Jane Austen herself spent much time using it for spinning.

A lady spinning at her wheel, after Wm Bunbury, 1781. Image @Grosvenor Prints*

She wrote in a letter from Chawton dated Friday, May 31, 1811 to Cassandra, who was staying at Godmersham Park:

I have taken your hint, slight as it was, and have written to Mrs. Knight, and most sincerely do I hope it will not be in vain. I cannot endure the idea of her giving away her own wheel, and have told her no more than the truth, in saying that I could never use it with comfort. I had a great mind to add that, if she persisted in giving it, I would spin nothing with it but a rope to hang myself, but I was afraid of making it appear a less serious matter of feeling that it really is.

Jane’s wit and humor came to the fore, and she used it to good effect to show how little such a gift would mean to her. Mrs. Knight eventually died and biographer, David Nokes, writes:

There came news from Kent of the sad death of Mrs. Knight. The old lady left a donation of £20 to be distributed among the poor of Chawton parish, but Jane was relieved to find there was no mention of the spinning-wheel.  – David Nokes, Jane Austen: A Life, p. 392

Cottage woman at work on her spinning wheel. Burnett

And so Jane was saved from the burden of spinning. Many of  her female friends and relations enjoyed the pasttime. Her nephew, Edward Austen-Leigh, wrote in his memoir:

With regard to the mistresses, it is, I believe, generally understood, that at the time to which I refer, a hundred years ago, they took a personal part in the higher branches of cookery, as well as in the concoction of home-made wines, and distilling of herbs for domestic medicines, which are nearly allied to the same art. Ladies did not disdain to spin the thread of which the household linen was woven. Some ladies liked to wash with their own hands their choice china after breakfast or tea. In one of my earliest child’s books, a little girl, the daughter of a gentleman, is taught by her mother to make her own bed before leaving her chamber. It was not so much that they had not servants to do all these things for them, as that they took an interest in such occupations. – Edward Austen Leigh, A Memoir of Jane Austen, p 37

Spinning was popular with ladies all over Europe. Late 19th c. painting by German artist Mihaly Munkacsy

It is quite likely that the thread used for the lace on Mrs. Hurst’s gown in Pride and Prejudice (over which Mrs. Bennet exclaims) was spun by the lady who made it. In those days, ladies of the highest order spun yarn used for embroidery or lace making. They gathered in small groups to spin wool and wile away the time as they gossiped or engaged in pleasant conversation. Jane Austen notes on January 14, 1796 that “Anna is now here; she came up in her chaise to spend the day with her young cousins, but she does not much take to them or to anything about them, except Caroline’s spinning-wheel.”

The unlikely accomplishment of spinning had been a social skill practiced at the highest levels of society, probably because the parlor spinning wheels which the socially prominent operated were beautifully wrought and highly decorative. (In Jane Austen’s letters, we find Austen commenting to her sister regarding a proposed gift of a spinning-wheel, which she refuses because of the sense of identification of the fine tools of women’s work with their owners [Selwyn 68].)  Further, a woman’s ability to create a smooth sewing thread was considered a remarkable accomplishment; – Susan E. Jones, Thread-cases, Pin-cushions, and Card-racks: Women’s Work in the City in Jane Austen’s Persuasion

Fashionable ladies most likely did not bother to do the hard work of cleaning, sorting, dyeing, carding, and greasing yarn in preparing the wool for the spinning wheel. Instead, they performed the lighter tasks of spinning the wool yarn into a finer thread.

In a recent BBC Radio 4 interview, Val and David Bryant discussed the very special “Planta” wheel owned by the Austen family. Val is an expert on the history of spinning wheels and her husband is a spinning wheel restorer. The couple spoke about their remarkable acquisition, which is being restored in Chesire.

Austen family "Planta" spinning wheel in the shape of a table, with Sheraton style legs and a drawer. Image @BBC Radio 4

The spinning wheel once owned by the Austens is a beautiful and rare specimen made like a piece of furniture. It looks like a little table with Sheraton-style legs and had a little drawer. Its maker, John Planta (c. 1798-1824), was a craftsman from Fulneck, Yorkshire near Leeds. His specialty was to produce high quality spinning wheels in a unique Sheraton style.

This spinning wheel resembles the fine drawing room models that were designed for ladies who spun for pleasure: It is a world away from ordinary spinning wheels destined for the cottage industry.  The Bryants speculated that this elegant spinning wheel was a “must-have” gadget for its day. They were becoming so fashionable and desirable, that some were embellished with inlays and finials. The Austen’s spinning wheel is remarkable in that it still has the original instructions on how to use it.

Victorian photograph of a cottage woman at her spinning wheel, 1850. Image @Daily Mail

The Austen family spinning-wheel is currently missing a treadle and footman that drives the crank, and it needs a new pulley. It also squeaks. Once it is restored, it will go on display in Chawton Cottage for all the visitors to see! I’ll keep you posted.

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From the first page, William Holland had me hooked with his diary. His daily notations are not erudite. He does not wax eloquently about politics, philosophy, religion, or science, but with observations like these, who cares? Our parson has a way of planting us right in the middle of his little village:

Friday November 1 [1799]  The Clerk in the yard wheeling dung and Robert [Holland's servant] looking about him and moving like  a snail. The Clerk cleared the liney and fetched three bushells more of pease for the sow. One of the Miss Chesters died yesterday, quite young, not ill above ten days. Poor girl her state of probation was soon over.

Then there are these short gems:

Wednesday November 6   Little Lewis the Apothecary came to me, rubbing his hands and moving his retreating chin in and out of his stock — attentive bur rather avaricious, mean and trifling.”

“Saturday November 9  Mr Robert has been wearing my spurs — now I have found out the method to get his horse on. Tis a difficult thing to get a servant worth anything. His slowness and laziness and want of method puts me out of patience. When the year is out he must go.”

Our country parson isn’t loquacious. Anita N writes about him on an online forum: “Apparently not the most charming man–but honest in his political and social views, and detailed about his daily life. That’s what I want to read: life sketches, muck, vitriol and common views of the time.”

Our parson lived in Over Stowey in  Somerset. Even today the village is described as having “no commercial centre because there is virtually no commerce – not a pub, post office or shop” – only farms lying in the outer districts of the village. There are few area descriptions in Holland’s observations, since his purpose is to focus on the people he encounters each day. From what I have read so far, his diaries simply record the mundane events in his life. He is not a particularly good writer, and his usage of punctuation is minimal at best.

View of Over Stowey. Image @The Quantock Online Community

Holland held the opinions of an old-fashioned High Church Tory. The following definition serves well enough for readers who do not much about Tories:

Tories conceive of sovereignty as residing in rulers and view “the people” as subjects whose duty is to obey. Tories are thus identified with a system of hereditary power–exercised especially by monarchs and the established Church. - Historical Outline of Restoration and 18th Century British Literature

James Woodforde, 1740-1803, an amiable country clergyman, also wrote a diary. His is the image of a typical country parson of his day. Image @History Today.

Our country parson despised Democrats and took many swipes at them. One imagines that he must have shuddered at the very thought of Thomas Paine, the epitome of a Democrat and a radical, if ever there was one. Paine was against:

kingcraft, lordcraft and priestcraft. An original thinker far ahead of his time, he sought to redress poverty (seemingly endemic in advanced European societies) through an interventionist programme of welfare redistribution, including old-age pensions, marriage allowances and maternity benefits. – Thomas Paine, Citizen of the World, BBC History

In the Diaries’ opening observation on Wednesday October 23, 1799, our parson writes:

Saw that Democratic hoyden Mrs Coleridge who looked so like a friskey girl or something worse that I was not surprised that a Democratic Libertine should choose her for a wife. The husband gone to London suddenly, no one here can tell why. Met the patron of democrats, Mr Thos Poole who smiled and chatted a little. He was on his gray mare, Satan himself cannot be more false and hypocritical. “

Yet Holland was a compassionate man. He is constantly worried about the poor.

Thursday November 7   Still more rain, where will it end? The Poor, the Poor, how are they to live this winter? we must do all we can to assist and Providence will do the rest.

This series of observations about a mad man gives one a good sense of how a village takes care of its own:

Thursday December 5   The madman in the Poorhouse outrageous. Farmer Morle’s behaviour is absolutely scandalous but I’ll make him know his duty e’er long. The man is chained and lies on straw, shocking situation. Alas poor human nature how many afflictions art thou liable to.

Saturday December 7  Went to the Messrs Riches this evening about the man in the Workhouse, both determined to join in sending him to the Mad House in Bristol be the expence what it will. Says Master James ‘Mr Holland I reckon it be a bad business, he is a very bad fellow, there is something more in it than madness.’ Mr James thinks, in my opinion, that he is possessed by the Devil or bewitched.”

The parson then thinks about calling on the Vestry about the madman, but puts this off.

Monday December 9 Were alarmed with an account of the madman in the Workhouse having got loose and threatening everyone around with destruction. We procured two men to sit up with him and secure him from doing mischief till morning.

Holland writes that the madmen is quiet for two days, then he raves again. It seems that he uses the terms Poorhouse and Workhouse interchangeably. Finally, the men in the village decide what to do with the mad man:

Monday December 16 Went to Mr Ruscomb Poole at Marsh Mill to consult about the pauper in the Workhouse. Farmer Morle and Mr Lewis came in the evening and we went to the Poorhouse, examined the man, he had a fit at the time. We do not think him properly insane to be an object for a Madhouse. We shall try some other Methods.

Rev. Holland describes the days leading up to Christmas, including a little impromptu dance party that his daughter holds for her friends. There are 18 more years to read. Although this is not a review of the book, per se, I highly recommend it. I found my copy in a second-hand shop on Amazon. All I can say is that our Somerset Parson makes the early 19th century come alive from a male perspective. Between the diary of William Holland and Jane Austen’s letters, one gains a good sense of how different the life of a country woman is from that of a country parson. Next on my book wish list: The Diary of James Woodforde. I understand that this man loved his food.

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Inquiring readers, I had read about the closeness of rural areas near London during Jane Austen’s day. This image of Tottenham Court Road from the 1812 edition of Ackermann’s Repository shows the countryside beyond the toll gate. One imagines that Jane Austen was accustomed to such vistas when she visited her brother Henry in London. One moment she would be traveling through the countryside, the next moment she would be entering a teeming metropolis (Click here to see map):

In the first years of the eighteenth century, pastures and open meadows began by Bloomsbury Square and Queens Square; the buildings of Lincoln’s Inn, Leicester Square and Covent Garden were surrounded by fields, while acres of pasture and meadow still survived in the northern and eastern suburbs outside the walls. Wigmore Row and Henrietta Street led directly into fields, while Brick Lane stopped abruptly in meadows.“World’s End” beside Stepney Green was a thoroughly rural spot, while Hyde Park was essentially part of the open countryside pressing upon the western areas of the city. Camden Town was well-known for its “rural lanes, hedgeside roads and lovely fields”where Londoners sought “quietude and fresh air.” – Extract from “LONDON The Biography”, by Peter Ackroyd. Published by Vintage, 2001


The contemporary description of this view of St.James Chapel is telling:

The edifice selected for the subject of our view in the metropolis, for the present number, is the chapel of ease, situated near the turnpike in Tottenham-court-road, belonging to the church of St. James, Piccadilly. It was erected after a design of the celebrated architect, Mr. James Wyatt.

The contiguous parsonage-house on one side, and a school on the other, together with the plantations in the area between the front railing and the buildings, give great additional consequence to the appearance of the whole…

The vicinity of this chapel has recently witnessed one of those transformations of fields into houses, produced in every direction around the metropolis as if by the effect of enchantment. A prodigious street has just sprung up on the left-hand side, in continuation of Tottenham-court-road; and thus London has proceeded another good stage in its progress to Kentish Town. – St. James Chapel, Tottenham Court Road, 1812, Ackermann’s Repository

Detail of the turnpike. The toll keeper is collecting money from a man on horseback. Notice the small toll house, and the rural scene beyond.

The great age of toll gates and turnpikes was the 18th Century. In the latter part of the previous century, turnpikes were established and run by trusts. They could only be set up through Acts of Parliament, the first of which was passed in 1663. The idea was that the trusts would take over responsibility from parishes to maintain major trunk roads. They would collect the tolls, manage the finances and fulfil their obligation to use those funds to maintain the roads – Toll gates and turnpikes, London Historian’s Blog

Entrance, Tottenham Court turnpike by Rowlandson. Image @ Europeana

Rowlandson’s image shows another view of the turnpike. Pedestrians continued without hindrance via the side openings (except for the obese man, who seems to be stuck), but people on horseback and vehicles slowed to pay a toll in the gated center. Note Rowlandson’s detail of an old lecherous man ogling the two milk maids.

One milkmaid recorded her daily route and the results are astonishing: 19 miles.  Milkmaids are famous for their pretty skin, and this was largely because many of them had acquired immunity to smallpox through milking duties.  As milk delivery was a daily occurrence, many milkmaids ran slates for their customers, proving they were to some extent both literate and numerate, and also hard enough to call in a debt. – The Cries of Georgian London

Milk maids provided fresh drinks to customers. This one has just passed through the toll gate and has a long day's walk and work ahead of her.

“The cry of ‘Milk’ or the rattle of the milk-pail, will never cease to be heard in our streets. There can be no reservoirs of milk, no pipes through which it flows into the houses. The more extensive the great capital becomes, the more active must be the individual exertion to carry about this article of food. The old cry was ‘Any milk here !’ and it was sometimes mingled with the sound of ‘Fresh cheese and cream;’ and it then passed into ‘Milk, maids below;’ and it was then shortened into ‘Milk below;’ and was finally corrupted into ‘Mio’ which some wag interpreted into mieau—demi-eau—half water.”  – Buying Bread and Milk in 18th and 19th Century London, Susannah Ives

Detail of cattle being driven to market. One imagine that the streets were filled with dung and the smells of the animals, most of whom must have been frightened of the big city's sights and sounds.

This detail of sheep and an oxen being driven through the streets to market was a common sight. The people in this great metropolis had to be fed. In just a few hours these hapless animals will find themselves in the noisy, tumultuous, and bewildering environment of Smithfield Market, for instance. Without refrigeration, their meat would be sold, consumed or prepared within hours of their slaughter.

Cattle were driven through the streets until the mid 19th century. In an article for Household Words in March 1851 Dickens, with characteristic sarcasm, describes the environmental impact of having live cattle markets and slaughterhouses in the city:

“In half a quarter of a mile`s length of Whitechapel, at one time, there shall be six hundred newly slaughtered oxen hanging up, and seven hundred sheep but, the more the merrier proof of prosperity. Hard by Snow Hill and Warwick Lane, you shall see the little children, inured to sights of brutality from their birth, trotting along the alleys, mingled with troops of horribly busy pigs, up to their ankles in blood but it makes the young rascals hardy.” – Dickens’ London

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Image recently added to @Wikimedia Commons

Prostitutes were regarded with mixed feelings in the 18th century. An awareness of the vulnerability of women who had few economic options for making their way in the world owed much to the sentimental view taken of prostitutes. Ladies of pleasure were generally born into poverty and had little education or work skills. The sentimental prostitute narrative, which was common at the time, rarely condemned these women. These narratives, whether in print or on canvas, tell the story of a prostitute’s career and sexual fall, and generally end their tales in two ways: happily, through her marriage or finding acceptable employment, or tragically with her death.

The Progress of a Woman of Pleasure was drawn by Richard Newton, a young artist who died at 21 in 1798, two years after making this illustration. The “Progress” formula, which Newton used for a variety of prints, is a familiar one to those who have viewed William Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress, Marriage a la Mode, Industry and Idleness and A Harlot’s Progress. Progress series demonstrate in a progression of satirical paintings and prints how lives were transformed by temptation, bad luck and poor choices.

A closer look at Progress of a Woman of Pleasure reveals Newton’s sentimental take of the prostitute theme, as well as details about the life of an 18th Century lady of  ill repute. For many 18th century prostitutes, their occupation was transitional, meant to economically tide them over a particularly bad hump in their lives. Many eventually married or found another occupation.

Your first step for preferment will be to a great lady in King's Place.

“A great lady in King’s Place” refers to Charlotte Hayes, who ran a high-class brothel in King’s-Place off Pall Mall. Gentlemen of the upper classes frequented this brothel located in london’s tony west end. With the use of the term ‘preferment’,  Newton makes it obvious that this woman has set her sights high. Her clothes are rather simple and plain as compared to the second scene below.

We see you now waiting in full dress for an introduction to a fine gentleman with a world of money!

London was a notorious hot bed for prostitutes. Fully one in five women in London (50,000) worked as ladies of the night. Many of them worked alone, plying their trade on the streets, in their own rooms, or in brothels. One foreign traveler was amazed at the variety of ways a man could have a woman:

…dressed, bound up, hitched up, tight-laced, loose, painted, done up or raw, scented, in silk or wool, with or without sugar. – Daily Life in 18th Century England, Kirsten Olsen, p. 49

You are now in high keeping and you accompany your Adonis to the Masquerade in the character of a Bacchante.

Masquerades were wildly popular in 18th century London. Hidden behind masks and disguised in costumes, people from varying social classes freely intermingled at these events, where licentious behavior was common. Prostitutes attended these events in order to attract customers, or, as in this instance, were brought there by their benefactors.

Not being used to champagne and not possessing the sweetest temper in the world in liquor, you give your keeper a sample of it by flinging a glass of wine to his face.

As this courtesan finds out the hard way, she is with her companion for only as long as she is useful to him. In this instance, her outrageous behavior causes him to cast her off.  The aim of the successful prostitute/mistress/courtesan was to find a benefactor from the highest echelons of society and to make a long-lasting arrangement that created a financially fruitful association for her. For the number of women who rose in the ranks of serving as mistress to important men, there was an equal number that had no place to go but down. The idea was to extend your association for as long as possible and retire in comfort.

You are now turned off and your only consolation is that your hair dresser promised to marry you.

Newton’s prostitute must have been a pretty woman indeed if the hair dresser was willing to marry her. The attitude towards prostitutes in the 18th century was more forgiving that it would be in the 19th century, and a former courtesan could still attain a certain level of social acceptance. At this stage, Newton could have ended his sentimental “Progress” with a happy ending and shown our heroine as being reformed and leading a happy life. Note how simple and plain her dress is compared to the previous three drawings.

He loves you to distraction but he thought you'd have an annuity of 200 a year! I hear you roar out -- "You dirty rascal! I could get the smartest linen draper's man in London with that money."

Newton’s prostitute was not only a bit dim, but her huge ego stood in the way of her success. Two hundred a year was a huge sum of money for that day and age. A single gentleman in London could live very comfortably on that sum, although it would not allow him to keep a horse in Town. Nevertheless, such an amount would have been considered staggering for a prostitute and her working class husband. Newton’s contemporary audience would have understood this. Note how much more social caché a draper’s man had over a mere hair dresser! (Well, at least for a woman of her station. A lady wouldn’t have bothered to tell the difference, I’m sure.)

Our prostitute’s  pride ruins any chance of happiness she might have found as a respectable married woman. This up and down course of events is not unusual. Many prostitutes in their (generally) short careers went from rags to riches and back to rags and riches again. The cycle, in Newton’s instance, is ever downward.

You move to Marybone and exhibit yourself in the Promenade in Oxford Street.

Marylebone was once a Georgian estate in London that was developed into housing tracts. By 1792-99, Richard Horwood’s map showed that the area from Oxford Street to the Marylebone Road was covered with houses. (The Heart of Marylebone.) Prostitutes were scattered throughout London, including the “Marybone” area (as many as 30,000 in Marylebone alone by one count):

They tended to gather in areas with looser police control; when the police became stricter in the City of London in the eighteenth century, the prostitutes gravitated toward the west and east ends of the city; when police control loosened in the early nineteenth century, they returned to the City. Prostitutes also tended to congregate in areas with cheap lodging houses and lots of men. St. Giles and St. James, home to many cheap boardinghouses, were popular with prostitutes in Westminster; the Docks, where many sailors disembarked, was popular on the east side of the city. – Prostitutes in 18th-Century London

It is interesting to note that William Holland, the artist’s publisher, had his shop on 50 Oxford Street.

Having met with a Crown Customer, you tell him to go treat his Wife and Brats at Bagnigge Wells, you expected Five Guineas at least from him.

Bagnigge Wells no longer exists. It was a spa for the “middling sort”, located on the River Fleet near St. Pancras. The River Fleet is now one of London’s underground rivers. The guinea’s value was more than a pound. The coin itself was valuable, for it was made of gold and the value of a 5 guinea piece fluctuated during the 18th century. A crown was a silver coin worth five shillings, considerably less than a five guinea piece.

You take a bumper of Brandy to comfort you after the disappointment and you drink bad luck to all scaly fellows.

We already know that our prostitute does not take to drink well. She now turns to brandy. A bumper of brandy is no small amount, as you can see from the bottle in her hand. The Book of Scottish Anecdotes contains this little tale:

While Burns was at Moffat once with Clark the composer, the poet called for a bumper of brandy. “Oh, not a bumper,” said the musician. “I prefer two small glasses.”

“Two glasses?” cried Burns; “Why, you are like the lass in Kyle, who said she would rather be kissed twice bare-headed than once with her bonnet on.” – p81.

Scaly fellows were the lowest of the low. Also note the clocks (embroidery) on the prostitute’s stockings, which were quite fashionable in her day.

Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies contained a description of Miss Devonshire on Queen Anne Street. At this point, our lady of pleasure has gravitated towards a tavern on a street near Marlebone .

You wind up the evening with a boxing match and a Warrant and two Black Eyes salute you in the Morning.

Due to her inability to hold her temper, our lady’s downhill slide is guaranteed. Richard Newton was known for his drawings of bare-breasted ladies. It could not have been hard to tug a woman’s chemise down over her bosom in those days.

You are now over head and ears in debt in Marybone Parish and I see you shifting and removing your little wardrobe to Covent Garden.

Our lady of pleasure has moved from the West End to Covent Garden.

By the middle of the 18th century Covent Garden was full of seedy lodging houses and an astonishing number of Turkish baths, many of which were brothels.

Sir John Fielding, the magistrate, called Covent Garden ‘the great square of Venus’. He said, ‘One would imagine that all the prostitutes in the kingdom had picked upon the rendezvous’. – Prostitution in Maritime London

You are glad of a half-crown customer now, in a Prentice Boy who has just robbed his master's till.

And so our prostitute has fallen further. She is attracting customers of a lower sort, such as an apprentice who has taken to thievery to afford her wares. It is obvious that she no longer holds herself out for the highest bidder.

You are now the mistress of a Player, who principally lives by Gambling; you ride out with him, cut a dash, and run him in debt; and to give him a sample of your spirit before you part you exercise a Horsewhip on his shoulders.

Our lady of pleasure is on a slight uptick again, having become the mistress to a gambler. Riding outfits, made by tailors, were quite expensive. To cut a dash was to make a fine figure and to look quite smart. One assumes that the gambler took his mistress horse back riding in London’s Hyde Park, which meant that he kept her in fancy digs until his luck ran out. Once again, our lady of the night shows poor judgment and gives him a physical memory of her temper, flogging him with her riding whip.

You are now in a Sponging House, heart sick at disappointment from all your Friends, and you stupefy yourself with Gin.

One can only imagine that this prostitute is reaping what she sowed, and that she made quite a few enemies when her luck ran high. Now that she is in debt herself, she has no one to turn to.

The normal process was for the debtor to be arrested by a bailiff or sheriff’s officer, and then taken to what was called a sponging-house, usually the officer’s own house. There, the debtor would be persuaded that they should pay their debts, otherwise, they faced a court appearance, and a debtors’ prison. – The Real Little Dorrit

Gin was also known as blue ruin. Before 1734 it was the drink of choice for poor people.

Along with promiscuous and adulterous behavior, gin became associated with prostitution, an issue that ranked high on the agenda of moral reformers. The association between gin and prostitution came about because gin-shops were public places that brought prostitute and customer together. It is important to note however that gin-shops were simply places where ordinary people gathered in a city where there were few other social spaces. As such, gin-shops were perhaps unfairly associated with prostitution in the sense that prostitution occurs where people happen to frequently gather. – The Gin Craze

Having in two years been the mistress of a Two Highwaymen, a Qui Tam Attorney, Two Shopmen who were Transported, I now see you at your last shift, pawning your silver thimble for a groat to purchase your breakfast.

Our whore is so down on her luck, she’ll take any man as a customer, even criminals. Her two shopmen have been transported, to Australia no doubt.  She’s most likely working in back alleys and near the ports of London. Her jewelry is gone and her clothes are old-fashioned rags. Selling her thimble, an important item for sewing, for food means that she has no resources left.  I know little about ‘qui tam’ attorneys except to say that their practice had fallen into disrepute in England by the 19th century.

A groat was worth only four pence in the 1700s.

Your sun is now setting very fast, and I see you the servant of a woman who was formerly your Servant, you live on Board Wages, which seldom affords you more than a Bunch of Radishes and a Pint of Porter for your dinner.

Board wages mean that our prostitute worked very hard to earn enough money for her room, but had barely enough left over for food. Porter during this time was a strong dark beer. It was a good thing that she could afford alcohol, for I imagine that the wells in her neighborhood were contaminated with fecal matter. Water was a dangerous substance in the poorer sections of London. This prostitute’s narrative provides a cautionary tale for viewers. Her actions caused her downfall; her inability to hold her temper or her drink led to her ruin.

Our “heroine” falls sick and dies outdoors, to be buried in a potter’s field. Nothing could have been said more clearly about this unfortunate woman’s social worthlessness than her degrading end: No one, not even her former servant, now mistress, is willing to put up a single pence for her funeral.

You take sick in the service of this female monster and she turns you out of doors fearing your Funeral expenses should fall upon her.

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Inquiring readers:  Once again, Tony Grant, who lives in London, has written his unique insights about historical events in that great city. This week he concentrates on John Murray, the publisher of four of Jane Austen’s six completed novels. Tony’s contributions to this blog are unique in that he includes his photographs of modern London and mingles them with more traditional illustrations. Read Tony’s blog, London Calling, at this link.

Image @Wikimedia Commons

John Murray
Bookseller and Publisher
Born 1st January 1737
Died 6th November 1793
Lived and conducted business here.
1768 – 1793

On Tuesday 13th March, my son Sam and I had a day out in central London. My brother Michael, who lives in Grenaa on Jutland, is over here with thirty students. Michael teaches mathematics in a further education college in Grenaa. He has lived in Denmark for over thirty years. A couple of weeks ago he phoned me and asked if I could do a Dickens tour of London for his students. On Tuesday Sam and I walked the route I will take Michael’s students. A Dickens walk is difficult. There are so many places in London that have strong links with Dickens.

Image @Wiki Spaces. Click on site.

It is more about what to leave out than what to include. Connecting them all in a walk that will take just over an hour would be impossible. I looked carefully at a map of London to see what places could be linked most appropriately. I think I have chosen a rout that includes many of the main sites connected with Dickens working life in London. I have decided to begin at Hungerford Bridge the site of Hungerford Steps and Warren’s Blacking Factory where Charles Dickens worked as a young child sticking labels on bottles of black polish.

The Blacking Factory where Dickens worked. Image @The Mirror. Click here to see more.

The walk will be along The Strand, past The Adelphi Theatre, to Wellington Street, the Lyric Theatre and then on to Covent Garden before walking on to The Old Curiosity Shop, Lincolns Inn , Chancery Lane, Holborn High Street, past Grays Inn and finally ending at 48 Doughty Street, one of the houses Dicken’s lived in and now The Dickens Museum. Sam and I felt very pleased with ourselves. The walk flowed nicely, punctuated with plenty of Dicken’s sites and the timing was about right. We retraced ours steps, this time continuing down Chancery Lane to the Strand and turning left until we got to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, in Fleet Street.

Fleet Street and The Royal Courts of Justice. Image @Tony Grant

Dickens, some of his characters and many other writers and famous people have graced these premises. After a pub lunch in the cellared depths of this ancient establishment we tracked back along Fleet Street towards The Royal Courts of Justice. I just happened to glimpse a small plaque attached to a pillar to one side of a narrow alleyway leading to a small courtyard behind. It read:

Image @Tony Grant

I stopped in my tracks. I thought this must be Jane Austen’s publisher. However the dates did not tally. Jane’s first novel, published by John Murray, was Emma in 1815, long after the final date of death on the plaque. I took photographs of the plaque and courtyard at the end of the alleyway and pictures of Fleet Street, running along outside. When I got home I researched John Murray and found the John Murray publishing firm website.

THIS IS A SHORT HISTORY OF THE PUBLISHING FIRM OF JOHN MURRAY.

The first John Murray, who lived from 1737 to 1793, started his working life as a Lieutenant in the Marines. Life as a marine officer in the 18th century was spent on board naval men of war and consisted of travelling the world to defend the British Empire. It wasn’t a particularly well paid or thought of profession. In Mansfield Park , Fanny’s mother, Frances , the younger Ward sister,

British marine, 1775. Image @Mock Attack

…….married, in the common phrase, to disoblige her family, and by fixing on a Lieutenant of Marines, without education, fortune, or connections, did it very thoroughly.”

John Murray must have had a natural inclination towards business and when he acquired a publishing and bookselling business in Fleet Street in 1768 he made it into a successful business now passed down through the generations. The fact that he acquired a publishing business must mean that it was left to him, perhaps in a will. As a lieutenant of marines it is doubtful he would have had the finances to buy it and it seems a strange choice of business for somebody with his background. He must have acquired it through inheritance and an accident of fate.

The John Murray office was in Falcon Court. Image @Tony Grant

As an indication of his business acumen he was one of the first publishers to actually consider the quality of the writing he published. He also used his many contacts to help sell large quantities of his books. He was a canny businessman though and hedged his bets by also selling game, which would have included deer, pheasants and rabbits; the produce of country sports. He had a go at selling paste jewels and lottery tickets too.

John Murray (or MacMurray, as the name was originally spelt), having bought the stock and goodwill of William Sandley, who had turned banker, began at the ‘Falcon,’ otherwise No. 32 Fleet Street, that remarkable and prosperous career which has culminated in the great publishing house of Murray. In Smiles’ book on the Murrays will be found an exhaustive account of the inception, by Lieutenant MacMurray, of this great firm. - Fleet Street and the Press

Image @Tony Grant

He was astute enough to go with what was most profitable. Books worked for him though. I suppose if the selling of game, he was virtually a butcher as well as a bookseller, paste jewellery or the selling of lottery tickets had provided more income for him the publishing side may well have not contiued and Jane would not have had her publisher in the next John Murray but may well have been buying venison from him instead.

Image @Tony Grant

John Murray II. Image @Austenonly. (Published with permission from Julie Wakefield.)

John Murray’s son John Murray II began to develop the business. He was successful at signing Walter Scott who helped him, among others, such as the secretaries of the admiralty, John Wilson Croker and Sir John Barrow and writers such as Robert Southey and Charles Lamb to publish The Quarterly Review. This journal continued until 1967. In 2007 it was revived. The concept behind it is

to draw upon a wide range of opinions to provide counter-intuitive writing for people who like to think, and to enhance literary, philosophical and political debate.”

50 Albemarle Street. Image @Tony Grant

In it’s early years it tried to counter social reforms. It was rather conservative in it’s views but it did back the abolition of slavery although advocating a slow approach to the process.

50 Albemarle Street. Image @Tony Grant

In 1812, John Murray II published Childe Harold by Byron and it was a great success. This gave Murray the confidence to mortgage some of his copyrights and purchase 50 Albemarle Street, which has remained the home of the publishing firm for the last two hundred years.

Albemarle Street. Image @Tony Grant

John Murray drawing room. Image @Playwright in the cages

The drawing room in Albemarle Street has been the meeting place for some of the most famous writers in English history. By 1815, and after the Battle of Waterloo, everybody wanted to be published by John Murray. It seems therefore that Henry Austen, Jane’s banker brother, must have had no little influence in obtaining Murray as his sister’s publisher. She was an unknown country girl. Why should he take her on? On the other hand he might have had great literary sense and was in the habit of reading unsolicited scripts.

Jane Austen's brother, Henry.

Jane herself was very business like with John Murray. She wrote to him on Monday 11th December 1815 from Hans Place, Henry’s house in London:

Dear Sir,

As I find that Emma is advertised for publication as early as Saturday next, I think it best to lose no time in settling all that remains to be settled on the subject, & adopt this method of doing so, as involving the smallest tax on your time.

In the first place, I beg you to understand that I leave the terms on which the Trade should be supplied with the work, entirely to your judgement entreating you to be guided in every such arrangement by your own experience of what is most likely to clear off the Edition rapidly, I shall be satisfied with whatever you feel to be the best.-“

She appears to be quite the pragmatist. It is significant to note that Murray would publish four of her six completed novels: Emma and Mansfield Park while she was alive, and Persuasion and Northanger Abbey after her death.

Image @Austenprose. Click on link to read post.

In the nineteenth century, the John Murray firm began publishing a series of travel books called the Murray Handbooks, which were authored by many of the great explorers of the time. The men included Sir John Franklin, who, in 1847, died exploring the North West Passage. He had also spent many years mapping the coast line of Canada. Murray also published David Livingstone, the explorer of the heart of Africa; Sir John Barrow, who wrote about South Africa; Heinrich Schlieman, the excavator and discoverer of Troy; and Isabella Bird, who visited north America and the pacific Islands. Her trips were financed by her father to help her counteract depression and backache. Both symptoms were cured in her travels: John Murray published “The Englishwoman in America,” and “Six Months in The Sandwich Islands,” both written by her about her travels.

Scientists and inventors chose to be published through John Murray. They included Charles Babbage, Malthus and Lyell who wrote in 1830 “Principles of Geology,” which later inspired Charles Darwin. In 1859, the firm published Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, and Samuel Smiles’ Self Help.

John Murray III was one of the official publishers of the Great Exhibition held in Hyde park in 1851. This exhibition promoted the industrial, economic, and military might of the Empire, although all nations were invited to contribute exhibits.

Great Exhibition

The proceeds form the exhibition were later used to create, The Albert Hall, The Science Museum, The Natural History Museum, and The Victoria and Albert museum. This area of London today is still called “Albertropolis,” because Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, sponsored The Great Exhibition and the forming of the Kensington Museums. John Murray faced some opposition from some quarters when he published Queen Victoria’s letters after she died.

Prince Albert and Queen Victoria announce the opening of the Great Exhibition. Image @Getty Images.

In 1917 John Murray bought the rival publisher Smith Elder, and so added Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to their list.

John Murray, IV. Image @John Murray Archive

In the 1930’s John Murray IV entered the firm and built up an impressive list of twentieth century writers including John Betjamin, Osbert Lancaster and Freya Stark amongst others.

In 2002 John Murray was sold to Hodder Headline, which in turn became part of Hachette UK. The company continues to publish and prosper continuing with new ideas and new authors in all fields.

As a footnote, if there is anybody reading this thinking that they would like to be published by John Murray they have a note on their website:

Submissions

Owing to the amount of time devoted to assessing solicited or commissioned work John Murray is no longer able to accept any unsolicited manuscripts or synopses, or to enter into any correspondence about them. The best way to go about getting published is to find a literary agent, who can give you advice about your work and who will know the best publishers for the kind of book you are writing.

You can find a list of literary agents in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, published by A&C Black, or in The Writer’s Handbook or From Pitch to Publication by Carole Blake, both published by Pan.

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Note: The dress on the cover of this book is made with the machine-made net overlay that I described in an earlier post on this blog. Click here to read it.

Emma, Jane Austen’s longest novel, is the only one of her books named after her heroine. Yet, as Jane Austen herself put it, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” I rather agree with Miss Austen’s assessment of her own creation, for I have never quite liked the novel because of the main character. The Annotated Emma by Jane Austen, edited and annotated by David M. Shapard might well change my mind about this privileged young woman.

In the preface to The Annotated Emma, David M. Shapard addresses Emma’s unique place in the pantheon of Austen heroines – she’s independent, in charge of her household, and flawed. It is her bossy and ultimately clueless nature that drives the plot, which has very little action to speak of. The first half of the book is influenced by Emma’s behavior and choices as she moves towards growth and self-awareness, but the second half of the plot is taken over by secondary characters and a mystery.

There are no true villains in this rather gentle, bucolic tale. While Frank Churchill is unscrupulous, he is not vile, and Mrs. Elton merely represents an irritating exaggeration (and vulgar mirror) of Emma’s worst traits. Life in Highbury is placid. It revolves around its characters, and Jane Austen is at her comic best introducing their follies with humor. The book, with its inevitable happy ending, is not sappy, for it leaves the reader with the sense that Emma will never quite become as perfect on the inside as she is on the outside, and that her snobby ways remain intact. Sadly, with her marriage to Mr. Martin, Harriet Smith has removed herself from Emma’s social sphere, which was quite understood by both women and the men they married. One also gets the sense that, as her husband, Mr. Knightley will swiftly act as a brake on Emma’s machinations as the “grande dame” of the neighborhood should any of her impulses lead the object of her interest astray.

Dr. Shaphard’s annotated edition explains almost every detail and minutia in Emma that one can think of. Filled with black and white images (as a visual person, I loved these!), notations, citations, definitions, and explanations, this book is a must-have for Jane Austen fans. Readers who have never quite warmed up to Emma will rediscover her and all the denizens of Highbury in its pages. For example, as much as I like to look up information about the Regency era, I missed Mr. Woodhouse’s reference to the South End, which he regards an unhealthy place. In David Shaphard’s annotation the South End, now called the Southend-on-Sea, developed as a seaside resort in the 1790’s. Spurred by its proximity to London,  it never rivaled the leading resorts: “One reason was the mud found on its shore at low tides; which may have inspired the opinion of Mr. Woodhouse.”

Mrs. Elton is not only a comical foil, but she represents something more:

The figure of Mrs. Elton also corresponds to one seen frequently in the literature of the time, that of the vulgar parvenu. Many writers offered satirical depictions of newly rich merchants and their families, who aspired to rise into genteel society and to emulate the manners and ways of those above them. But, while full of self-assurance and a belief that they knew what was correct and fashionable, their manners, speech, and behavior continually betrayed their true ignorance.”

A black and white illustration of this painting @The Victoria and Albert Museum is included in this edition. Miss Mary Linwood holds a painting in her left hand and needlework wool in her lap. Both are symbols of a refined young lady's talents. Mary mastered the craft of needlework paintings and is known for her intricate and detailed works. Click here to read my post about her.

On first reading Emma, new readers are unaware that the book also offers a subplot in the form of a mystery. Upon close scrutiny a second time, these clues start to emerge, giving the reader an “Ah Ha! I should have seen that” moment. Throughout this edition, Dr. Shaphard offers his observations of these clues, preceding them with an unmistakable warning, {CAUTION: PLOT SPOILER} to ward off the newbie reader.

This new addition to the Jane Austen collection of annotated works is quite thick and filled with useful, well-researched information. Random House’s website describes its contents:

  • Explanations of historical context
  • Citations from Austen’s life, letters, and other writings
  • Definitions and clarifications
  • Literary comments and analysis
  • Maps of places in the novel
  • An introduction, bibliography, and detailed chronology of events
  • Nearly 200 informative illustrations

My rating: 5 out of 5 Regency teacups

The maps are quite as informative as the clarifications and illustrations. I recommend this annotated edition to anyone who loves Jane Austen. I even recommend it to the student who publicly announced on Amazon that she “went into a coma” because she found Emma so BORING. My rating for The Annotated Emma by Jane Austen, Edited and Annoted by David M. Shapard is 5 out of 5 Regency tea cups. This book will definitely be a great edition on my shelves, along with Mr. Shapard’s other annotated editions of Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility.

On Sale: March 20, 2012
Pages: 928 | ISBN: 978-0-307-39077-6

Published by: Anchor

Please note that the ad placed at the bottom of this post is a WordPress feature.

My blog has no commercial purpose and I do not make money from it.

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It is hard to imagine what entertainment was like in the days before the 21st century, yet people have always devised ways to spend their leisure time in pleasant company doing amusing things. In the evening, Jane Austen and her family spent many hours entertaining each other. One popular form of entertainment that the older Austen siblings would have known about was the Toy Theatre, or a juvenile form of miniature theater.

Toy Theatre. Image @Tea at Triannon

This entertainment appeared in the early 1800s, and coincided with the popularity of theater and the rise of the print trade. One can imagine that Aunt Jane was well aware of toy theatres when she spent time with her nephews, for this new toy largely attracted boys.

By 1811 William West of London was printing sheets of stage characters for purchasers to colour, paste on cardboard and cut out, though others treasured them as individual portraits. Single prints in black ink on white paper were called “penny plains” while those with color added by the seller were the “twopence coloured.” West’s first subject was Joseph Grimaldi in “Mother Goose,” a role that brought him fame and lifelong success on the stage. – NYPL Digital Gallery

Miniature theaters became fashionable all over Europe, and their tiny elaborate sets mimicked the grand theaters of London, Paris and other world stages. The sets remained popular throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century, offering children an opportunity to exercise their imaginations and their acting chops. Some children, I imagine, concentrated on honing their acting skills, while others probably enjoyed their roles as directors or scene designers more. New plays were published in the first half of the 19th century.

After the 1860’s no new plays were published but much of the old repertoire was kept in print by a dwindling number of theatrical print publishers and the tradition continued unbroken until 1944 when Miss Louisa Pollock,shut up her father’s famous shop in Hoxton for ever and sold the contents as a going concern. – Toy Theatre Gallery: History

From Mansfield Park the reader gains a sense of how seriously family theatricals were regarded. In the novel, the men were definitely in control of the enterprise, with the women acquiescing to their direction (the only exception being Fanny). While Jane Austen described a real play, Lover’s Vows, with large, almost life-like sets in Sir Thomas Bertram’s study, wood toy theatres that sat on a tabletop would be taken equally seriously. The children must have spent hours preparing for a performance, arranging sets, learning lines, and dressing and moving their characters before they felt comfortable opening a new play in front of an indulgent and forgiving family.

English Toy Theatre, 1850. Pollock's Museum. Image @Brittanica

Created from printed paper glued to cardboard and then mounted on wooden frames, these theaters could be quite intricate in design. They offered a proscenium, scenery, cut-out characters with codified attitudes and gestures, and a booklet that contained stage and scene directions and dialogue for the actors. Almost all of them depict an orchestra: The clothes worn by the musicians give a good indication of when the theatre was designed.

Early toy theatre prints were made from engraved copper plates, the engravings often from sketches made at the theatre on the night. Sets, costumes, and even the actors’ likenesses were copied, and could often be recognised. – Miniature Theatre: Curator’s Choice

Image @Victoriana

The plays were not necessarily derived from children’s stories: They were adapted from operas, melodramas, history, novels, and pantomimes. Works from Shakespeare, Cervantes, Mozart, and Beethoven were included. Hans Christian Anderson was also an inspiration.

Children could choose “Three-Fingered Jack, the Terror of Jamaica” or “Hamlet” or another of the nearly 300 “juvenile dramas” printed in England between 1811 and 1860. – Dramas to Cut, Color, and Produce

The involvement of publishers was enormous, but Pollock’s toy theatres were probably the most famous in Great Britain.

England had over 50 publishers, Germany 54, Spain 14, France 13, Denmark 10, Austria 9, and the United States 5. All of these versions to some degree were derived from the ability to mass produce the printed image, initially from engraved copper plates, followed by color lithography in the mid-19th century. – A Child’s View: 19th Century Paper Theaters

Many printed sheets of cut- out characters survive to this day, both colored and in black and white.

In 1811 William West produces a sheet of the principal characters from the first production on the London stage of ‘Mother Goose’, with Joseph Grimaldi in one of his most celebrated roles of Clown. The popularity of this role led to the publication of sets of sheets of characters, scenery and props, also elaborate prosceniums, the designs based on those of popular London theatres. Books of words, abridged versions of the most popular melodramas and pantomimes to be seen on the London stage.

From this time the popularity of the toy theatre, also known as the ‘Juvenile Drama’, saw the rapid growth in the number of publishers producing versions of plays, with the drawings for the engravings made by such leading artists as Georg e Cruickshank and William Blake. The legacy of the 19th century toy theatre is that of the most complete documentation of the costumes, scenery, and the performance style of the actors of the London Theatres of the period. – The World Through Wooden Eyes: A Penny Plain and Two Pence Coloured

Paper backdrops image @Birds of Ohio

These backdrops for miniature theaters on Birds of Ohio show how much detail the sets provided.

Below is a very rare example from the V&A shows a souvenir from a play  first performed at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden  in 1800 called Harlequin’s Tour or the Dominion of  Fancy. While the souvenir survives, the dialogue for the play does not.

Souvenir, 1800. Image @Victoria & Albert Museum

In a June 2011 The Telegraph article, Sir Roy Strong, former director of the V&A museum and National Portrait Gallery, recalls his toy theatre with great affection:

Image @The Telegraph

This toy theatre … reminds me of one enormously happy period of my childhood. It was given to me after the war and purchased at Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop, originally in the East End of London [now in Covent Garden]. I played with all the cut–out cardboard figures and scenery, and still have all my toy theatre plays, which are 19th–century dramas, romances and pantomimes. The theatre sits in the archive room and I love it. It’s been with me everywhere.

More on the topic:

Modern characters for The Waterman.

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Jane Austen fans are familiar with the high-waisted muslin dresses popular during her adulthood. How many are aware that machine-made net or gauze became a “hot” item from 1810 and on?

Evening dress with gauze overlay

“Net dresses were very fashionable and their popularity was spurred by new inventions. The development of machine-made net in the late 18th and early 19th centuries meant that gauzy lace effects were increasingly affordable either as trimmings or garments. The bobbin-net machine was patented by the Englishman John Heathcoat in 1808 and produced a superior net identical to the twist-net grounds of hand-made bobbin lace. It was so successful that women in the highest ranks of society, including the Emperor Napoleon’s first wife, Josephine, wore machine-net dresses. Initially, however, all machine nets were plain and had to be embroidered by hand.” – Victoria and Albert

Detail of an evening dress with net lace. Image @Victoria & Albert Collection

Machine-made bobbin net was first made in France in 1818. Until this date, lace as it was made was known as old lace. After that date, lace is categorized as being modern.

Silver embroidery on net on Empress Josephine's court gown. Image @Madame Guillotine

Machine made lace made an appearance around 1760. The nets and tulles became immediately popular. Their arrival spurred the production of other silk lace cloths, which led to a general rise in popularity of the silk lace trade – until a machine was invented that could produce silk net lace as well.

Evening dress with net overlay, 1817-1818, V&A Museum

In the 18th century the hand-made net was very expensive and was made of the finest thread from Antwerp: in 1790 this cost £70 per pound, sometimes more. At that time the mode of payment was decidedly primitive: the lace ground was spread out on the counter and the cottage worker covered it with shillings from the till of the shopman. As many coins as she could place on her work she took away with her as wages for her labour. It is no wonder that a Honiton lace veil before the invention of machine-made net often cost a hundred guineas. Heathcoat’s invention of a machine for making net dealt a crushing blow to the pillow-made net workers. The result is easily guessed. After suffering great depression for twenty years the art of hand-made net became nearly extinct, and when an order for a marriage veil of hand-made net was given, it was with the greatest difficulty that workers could be found to make it. The net alone for such a veil would cost £30. – A history of hand-made lace: Dealing with the origin of lace, the growth of the great lace centres, the mode of manufactures, the methods of distinguishing and the care of various kinds of lace, Emily Jackson, p. 170

Hem of 1817_1818 Evening Dress with net overlay, V&A Museum

The most popular European centers for lace making were located in France, the region known as Belgium today, Ireland, England,and Italy.

During the French Revolution the French textile industry had suffered and unlike in England, use of textile machinery had been non-existent.  Emperor Napoleon stopped the import of English textiles and he revived the Valenciennes lace industry so that fine fabrics like tulle and batiste could be made there. – Regency Fashion History

Black net over gold gown, 1818. Image @Defunct Fashion

Between 1806-1810, net gowns embroidered with chenille embroidery became popular. Profits rose for the manufacturers as the price for the cloth plummeted.

In 1809 Heathcoat took a patent for his bobbin net machine. But the profits realised by the manufacturers of lace were very great, and the use of the machines rapidly extended; while the price of the article was reduced from five pounds the square yard to about five pence in the course of twenty-five years. - John Heathcoat and the Bobbin Net Machine, Samuel Smiles (1859)

By 1813, the bobbinet machine had been perfected. After 1815, gauze was used over satin evening dresses, with the fabric gathered at the back. By 1816, crepe, net and tulle were worn over evening wear made of satin, silks, velvets, kerseymere, satin, lame, and both plain and shot sarcenet.

La Belle Assemblee Court and Fashionable Magazine contains this description of a lady’s dress in Her Majesty’s Drawing Room in January 1818:

Hon. Lady Codrington.—Net draperies, magnificently embroidered in gold  lama, in bouquets and sprigs, over a petticoat of white satin, with blond lace at the bottom, headed with a rouleau of gold lama; train of crimson velvet, trimmed with gold lama and blond lace. Head-dress gold lama toque, with ostrich plume, and diamonds.

1818 Evening Dress, June. La Belle Assemblée. ENGLISH. No. 1.—Evening Dress. Round dress of embossed gauze over white satin, with coriage of peach-coloured satin, elegantly ornamented with rouleau medallions and palm leaves of white satin. Mary Queen of Scots hat, ornamented with pearls, and surmounted by a full plume of white feathers. Negligé necklace of fine pearls, and gold chain beneath, with an eyeglass suspended. White satin shoes, aud white kid gloves.

Not every lady of that era was obsessed over bobbin net lace or tulle. Many began to publicly and proudly favor the old hand made lace.

…both in England and on the Continent and at Almack’s, the Assembly Rooms at Bath and Tunbridge Well, the chaperons would gossip of their lappets of Alencon or Brussels. Numerous were the anecdotes as to how this treasure or that had turned up having escaped the doom the rag-bag, which alas! was the fate of so much old lace during the muslin and net period. – Emily Jackson, A History of Hand-made Lace, 1900, p 48.

Machine made lace dealt a great blow to the industry of hand-made fabrics. In Tiverton in 1822, where once 2,400 lace makers worked, only 300 lace makers were still employed.

Evening dress with net overlay, 1818. Image @Old Rags

The Duchess of Gloucester was one of the few whose affections never swerved from her love of the old rich points towards blondes and muslins, and her collection was one of the finest in Europe. Lady Blessington, too, loved costly lace, and, at her death, left several huge chests full of it. Gradually lace began to be worn again, but it was as it were ignorantly put on, worn simply because it was again the fashion to wear lace, and lace must therefore be worn; the knowledge of its history, worth, and beauty was lacking…  – Emily Jackson, A History of Hand-made Lace, 1900, p 48.

Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester (Daughter of King George III) Image @Justin F. Skrebowski

Sprigs beautified the machine-made net. It is said that Queen Charlotte introduced applique on net to support the machine net industry. Honiton appliques consisted of white linen thread sprigs mounted on the net, but black  silk sprigs were applied as well. The black silk cost twice as much as the linen threads and soon went out of fashion.

The trade of lace making remained for several generations in some families, thus in 1871 an old lace maker was discovered at Honiton, whose turn or wheel for winding cotton had the date 1678 rudely carved on its foot -Old lace, a handbook for collectors: an account of the difference styles of lace, their history, characteristics & manufacture, Margaret Jourdain, 1908, p94-95

Detail of early 19th c. tamboured net shawl. Image @Vintage Textiles

Sources:

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The Bodleian Library in Oxford recently exhibited a sampler (along with other items) for one day to celebrate World Book Day on March 1. This linen cross stitch sampler, purportedly made by a 12-year-old Jane Austen in 1787, was displayed for the very first time. The stitching has become frayed and undone, so that the sampler appears to have been made in 1797. A stylized border with flowering trees surround the words to the psalm, “Praise the Lord O my soul.”

The sampler was purchased in 1996 for over £2000. According to the sale catalogue, the “present owner, who lives in Gloucestershire, received the sampler as a present, folded inside a tobacco tin.” A note on the back of the frame states that an early owner was “related to Jane Austen the novelist” and that she had “received it as a memento” of Austen’s life. (Such a practice was very common after a person died. Letters and personal items were given to close friends and family members as a remembrance.)

I must add that this sampler’s provenance is doubtful. The provenance cannot be directly traced to Jane Austen, and “an early owner related to Jane Austen” simply does not provide enough reliable information.

Sampler detail. Image @Jane Austen Centre Gift Shop*

Jane Austen prided herself on her precise sewing skills. This sampler shows a more inexperienced hand than a seamstress in her later years. (I must add that a sampler I made at a similar age does not look nearly half as good.)

Jane mentions a young needlewoman in Northanger Abbey. Henry Tilney remarks upon the age difference between Catherine Morland and himself:

“I had entered on my studies at Oxford, while you were a good little girl working your sampler at home!”

To which she responds:  “Not very good I am afraid.”

More on the topic

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Oak cask for making vinegar. Image @Taste of Croatia

Vinegar has had a long and noble history of uses for mankind. Since ancient times it has been used as a preservative. Delicate fruits and berries were ripe for such a short season that vinegar, with its acetic acid content, was used to to preserve them. (Blackberry vinegar recipe)

Add sugar and water, to the mixture and one had created a tart and pleasing beverage. Mix it with alcohol, and this sweet concoction became a tasty mixer! Vinegar Cocktails Are Making the Rounds 

As vinegar is so necessary an article in a family, and one on which so great a profit is made, a barrel or two might always be kept preparing, according to what suited.” – A new system of domestic cookery: formed upon principles of economy, and adapted to the use of private families (Google eBook), Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell, Printed by Norris & Sawyer, 1808.

18th century French faience oil and vinegar set

Vinegar is made from many sources: grapes, apples, sugar cane, or malted barley or oats.

In foods it is used for its antibacterial properties, as an acidity stabiliser, diluting colourings, as a flavouring agent and for inhibiting mould growth in bread. In brewing it is used to reduce excess losses of carbohydrate from the germinated barley and to compensate for production variations, so producing a consistent quality beer.

It can be found in beer, bread, cheese, chutney, horseradish cream, pickles, salad cream, brown sauce, fruit sauce, mint sauce and jelly and tinned baby food, sardines and tomatoes.” - La Leva di Archimede

George III condiment set, silver 1782 Sheffield

Herbs, fruits and spices have long been added to vinegar for flavor, and recipes for infused vinegars were handed down for generations. ‘Sugars of lead,’ a sweet tasting substance, was made by pouring vinegar over lead. This liquid would be used to sweeten harsh cider, but as every self-respecting 21st century reader knows, this substance was quite poisonous. One can only conclude that sugars of lead must have been quite deadly to Europeans addicted to drinking cider. – Enzyme facts, vinegar history 

Recipes for vinegar are found as early as the 17th century. In the Delightes for Ladies (1602), Sir Hugh Plats offers this recipe for distilling and purifying vinegar. Notice his caution of the use of lead.

How to distill wine vinegar or good Aligar that it may be both cleare and sharpe

I Know it is an usuall manner among the Novices of our time to put a quart or two of good vinegar into an ordinay leaden stil, and so to distill it as they doe all other waters. But this way I do utterly dislike, both for that heere is no separation made at all, and also because I feare that the Vinegar doth carry an ill touch with it, either fro the leaden botto or the pewter head or both. And therefore I could wish rather that the same were distilledin a large bodie of glasse with a head or receiver, the same beeing placed in sand or ashes. Note that the best part of the vinegar is the middle part that ariseth, for the first is fainte and phlegmatick, and the last will taste of adustion, because it groweth heavie toward the latter end, and must be urged up with a great fire, and therefore you must now and then taste of that which commeth both in the beginning & towardes the latter end, that you may receive the best by it selfe.

18th C. French vinaigrette bottle

Aromatic vinegar in the minds of 17th-19th century users had many medicinal purposes for preventing infections and megrims (headaches), reviving a fainting person, and covering bad odors. It was used to treat dropsy, croup, stomach aches, as well as sore throats. Vinegar teas were consumed by diabetics, and the liquid was used to heal wounds and fight infections. (Bragg, Health Information.) Vinegar was also a well-known cleaning agent and furniture polish, although it was not recommended for polishing marble, since the acid would eat into the smooth surface, leaving it pockmarked over time.

Vinegar was considered an indispensable item in the 18th century for arousing a fainting person or masking foul odors. When the sponge was soaked only in vinegar, its original use, it could help prevent the wearer from fainting. A person stepping outside a crowded London street might carry aromatic soaked sponges to hold close to the nose to mask the odor of raw sewage and rotting garbage.

19th c. Victorian silver vinaigrette

In the early 19th century, there wasn’t garbage men that carted away the trash. People threw the stuff out the window. Slop pails went out the window in the 18th century. And when you left your house, you would encounter odors that made you just choke. So they invented a device called the vinaigrette. And it was a box or a little trinket carried to revive oneself if one felt faint.

So now they can’t breathe, they go outside, they smell the rotten garbage and the sewage, and they think they’re going to faint. They opened up their vinaigrette, which they held in their hand, and inside is a gold-pierced grill with beautiful decoration. But underneath the grill is a sponge. They would soak that sponge in an aromatic solution, sort of a mixture of perfume and ammonia, like smelling salts.” - Barry Weber, Antiques Road Show 

Vinaigrette and train holder. Image @Antiques Road Show

That was the concept of the vinaigrette. But the other end of this, you seldom see these all together. This is called a train holder. And this is shaped like a shell. When you squeeze it, it opens. The train was the long part of the ball gown. And they didn’t want it to drag in the dirt and be soiled. So they would hook the train holder onto the edge of the train, and then they would hold the vinaigrette in their hand, and this kept the train from dragging behind them.” Barry Weber, Antiques Road Show 

Vinaigrettes were small decorative containers that held the vinegar-soaked sponges. The inside of the vinaigrette would be gilded to protect the silver from staining.

Used by both men and women, vinaigrettes were suspended from chatelaines, placed in pockets, hung from long chains, bracelets or finger rings. Often designed in the shape of a rectangular box, the more spectacular vinaigrettes took on the look of a vase of flowers, a purse, an urn, almost any contemporary theme. Made from multicolored gold or silver and sometimes silver-gilt, many were decorated with Italian mosaics, mother-of-pearl or other gem materials. – Antique Jewelry University

18th century French ladies carrying canes

The soaked sponges were also carried in a compartment in the head of walking canes.

…many ladies of the 18th and 19th centuries carried a “vinaigrette” cane to protect them from a variety of ailments. Throughout history, vinegar has been heralded for its medicinal qualities. A sponge soaked in the healing liquid was placed in a small container with holes in it on the handle of the cane. Should a lady’s tight corset cause her to faint or should she encounter someone with a dreaded illness, her vinaigrette tucked into her cane was close at hand to protect her.” – Collecting Antique Walking Sticks or Canes 

Vinaigrette, Nathaniel Mills. Image @Leopard Antiques

Often spices such as cinnamon, lavender, roses, or orange were added to sweeten the smell.

The vinaigrette was a most necessary adjunct to the toilette in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when it was considered the correct thing for a lady to show symptoms of fainting on occasion. The little boxes with a grating inside—through which the essence contained in a saturated sponge could be inhaled— are of all sorts and conditions. Some are quite plain, others have delicately chased or monogrammed tops, or views engraved on the lids; others, again, are of fantastic shapes. The vinaigrette was the descendant of the old pomander, and the forerunner of the midVictorian smelling bottle; but whereas the vinaigrette is accessible to the most modest purse for a very small sum, the real old genuine pomander is very scarce indeed, and it means a lot of money to come by one at all. The pomander was round, and often of china, and contained a wonderfully strong-smelling ball, compounded of spices and pungent scents which could hardly fail to bring round the most upset of ladies. – Byways of Collecting, 1908, Ethel Deane, Pp 170-172.

The small containers known as vinaigrettes were actually an English invention. The French called them “boite de perfum”. They came in many shapes and sizes, and eventually became decorative items that lovers exchanged as tokens of affection. (Limoges Boxes: A Complete Guide)

The vapours from a vinaigrette caused the person to inhale sharply and then breathe more rapidly. Restoratives carried different names and were made from various recipes, not just with vinegar: In addition to vinaigrettes, there are smelling-salts, hartshorn, and Hungary water or lavender water. Ladies prone to fainting would also keep a bottle of laudanum nearby. Laudanum, a painkiller, was an alcoholic herbal preparation that containing approximately 10% powdered opium. Smelling-salts were an infusion made with ammonium carbonate and alcohol and scented with lemon or lavender oil. Hartshorn (aqueous ammonia)was made from carbonate of ammonia distilled from the shaved or powdered horns of a male deer. Hartshorn and smelling salts or sal volatile could be mixed with water and drunk as a restorative. Hungary water was a perfumed restorative made with distilled water and sweet-smelling herbs and flowers. This was dabbed on the skin of a person suffering from “nerves.”- Jennifer Kloester, Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, 157-58

Pauline Bonaparte transformed into a goddes of antiquity on her day couch. Neoclassical statue by Canova, 1805-1808, @ Borghese Gallery

And so we finally come to the fainting couch or a chaise longue, or a reclining chair with a long seat that supported the legs of the fainting person. These couches were placed in drawing rooms and dressing rooms, and were used for relaxation as well.

Early 19th century Recamier day bed. Image @Victoria & Albert Museum

This post will not go into the myriad reasons why women of this era fainted with such regularity. Tightly laced corsets certainly had something to do with the condition, but with so few rights and options open to them in their life’s choices, one cannot blame women of that time for reacting to the child-like treatment their husbands and fathers accorded them with fits, vapours, nerves, and fainting spells.

The Bennet family is well acquainted with Mrs. Bennet's nerves. Pride and Prejudice 1995

A character like Mrs. Bennet, who had her origins in Jane Austen’s real life observations, did not have many opportunities for maturing or turning into a well-educated and sensible woman. Mr. Bennet had given up on her and her childish behavior was enabled by her caring daughters and siblings.

Scene from 1995 Pride and Prejudice. Mrs. Bennet is overcome from the thought of Lydia's elopement. Note that she is not using the day bed but has a chair propped under her feet.

Vinegar had many other uses:

A recipe for black dye

Let one pound of chopped logwood remain all night in one gallon of vinegar. Then boil them, and put in a piece of copperas, as large as a hen’s egg. Wet the articles in warm water, and put them in the dye, boiling and stirring them for fifteen minutes. Dry them, then wet them in warm water, and dip them again. Repeat the process, till the articles are black enough. Wash them in suds, and rinse them till the water comes off clear. Iron nails, boiled in vinegar, make a black dye, which is good for restoring rusty black silks. – A Treatise on domestic economy for the use of young ladies at home and at school, by Catharine Esther Beecher, 1849, p. 299-303

For whitening scorched articles of  clothing

Scorched articles can often be whitened again by laying them in the sun wet with suds. Where this does not answer, put a pound of white soap in a gallon of milk and boil the article in it. Another method is to chop and extract the juice from two onions and boil this with half a pint of vinegar, an ounce of white soap, and two ounces of fuller’s earth. Spread this when cool on the scorched part, and when dry, wash it off in fair water. Mildew may be removed by dipping the article in sour buttermilk, laying it in the sun, and after it is white, rinsing it in fair water. Soap and chalk are also good, also soap and starch, adding half as much salt as there is starch, together with the juice of a lemon. Stains in linen can often be removed by rubbing on soft soap, then putting on a starch paste, and drying in the sun, renewing it several times. Wash off all the soap and starch in cold fair water. – A Treatise on domestic economy for the use of young ladies at home and at school, by Catharine Esther Beecher, 1849  p 296.

Reviving a person overcome with fumes:

In case of stupefaction from the fumes of charcoal or from entering a well, limekiln, or coal mine, expose the person to cold air; lying on his back, dash cold water on the head and breast, and rub the body with spirits of camphor vinegar or Cologne water. Apply mustard paste to the pit of the stomach, and use friction on the hands feet and whole length of the back bone. Give some acid drink, and when the person revives, place him in a warm bed in fresh air. Be prompt and persevering. – A Treatise on domestic economy for the use of young ladies at home and at school, by Catharine Esther Beecher, 1849 p. 243.

This late 19th century poem by Edith Willis Linn talks nostalgically about vinaigrettes as a thing of the past. At this time, lovers gave each other these small decorative items as tokens of affection:

AN OLD VINAIGRETTE – Poem by  Edith Willis Linn, C. W. Moulton, 1892.

LITTLE gleaming box of silver

Wrought in flowery design;

Drifted down the silent ages

To this humble hand of mine;

From the days of kingly France,

From the days of minuet dance,

From the days of stately graces,

Powdered hair and painted faces;

Bring a shining thread of story

To this all-prosaic hour;

From those castles proud and olden,

Those salons of wit and power.

You have known the love and woe

Of fair dames of long ago;

Round you like a love-tale wreathing

Is the perfume of their breathing.

Silent! Not a word to give me!

See, I raise your flowery lid;

Whisper in your heart my secret

Knowing you will keep it hid.

An Old Vinaigrette.

One more life now leaves its trace;

One more love has lent its grace;

Keep it sacred down the ages

On your shining silver pages.

Now my imprint I have given

Though you never bear my name:

Graven with your silver roses

Are all lives of praise or blame.

All things that we touch or wear

Must the spirit’s impress bear.

Every hand that ever won you

Left a fadeless mark upon you.

Love and hate and jealous passion,—

All I feel have been your own;

Shall my life not breathe about you

Purer love than you have known?

Nobler grows this life with years,

Grander grow earth’s hopes and fears;

May the traces of my living

Make this heirloom worthier giving.

Whence and Whither.

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An immensely thick volume lay on my doorstep at the start of winter: Deirdre Le Faye’s 4th edition of Jane Austen’s Letterhad arrived from Oxford University Press. It has taken me this long to peruse its 688 remarkable pages and savor them. According to the publicity materials, the reason Le Faye put out a 4th edition (the third edition came out in 1997) was in order to:

incorporate the findings of recent scholarship to further enrich our understanding of Austen and give us the fullest and most revealing view yet of her life and family. In addition, Le Faye has written a new preface, has amended and updated the biographical and topographical indexes, has introduced a new subject index, and had added the contents of the notes to the general index.

As in the third edition, Jane Austen’s letters are placed in the correct chronological sequence, with notations made about missing letters. Usually these missing letters were referred to in Jane’s correspondence.

Portion of letter #2. Note the information about the missing letter. Image @Jane Austen's Letters

What sets Le Faye’s edition of Jane Austen’s letters apart from the other books I have on the topic is her meticulous information about the letters. Each come with its provenance and mention of the physical details, such as markings, watermarks, and postmarks. Each letter is also annotated. I recommend that the reader use two bookmarks, one for the letter and one for the annotation. Reading this book is quite a physical exercise, for it is heavy (over 2 lbs.) and thick, and one is forever flipping back and forth between the letters and their annotations. For example, Letter #2 sits on page 5, while its annotation can be found on page 369.

Letter from the Morgan Library exhibit. Note the portion that was cut out.

Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th Edition, is a must have for every serious Jane Austen fan and scholar. Through her letters, we learn so much about Jane, her relationships, and the world she lived in. Jane reserves her most informal, intimate voice for members of her family. In these letters she has no need to remain reserved. She lets her hair down, as it were, and provides us a glimpse of the routines she followed, the people she met, and her likes and dislikes without the filter that she would have reserved for strangers or in business situations. (Unfortunately, Cassandra acted like her filter, cutting out words, phrases and entire portions of Jane’s letters, and, worse, burning thousands of them.) One thing that is missing in this comprehensive book are the images of the letters themselves. I was lucky to view a number of them at the Morgan Library exhibit a few years back. Seeing the actual letters (as opposed to reading about their markings) would add enormously to our knowledge about Jane Austen as a letter writer.

Jane draws a sample of the lace she's describing. Image from a letter at the Morgan Library Exhibit, 2009-10.

As I read Austen’s letters, I was struck by the mundane events she was recounting. These letters are really the 21st century equivalents of emails, phone calls, and text messages, designed to keep family members and friends apprised about events in one’s life. There are flashes of humor and wit, and many references to customs and events that are not generally known today. Jane writes casually about Caroline’s spinning wheel, which ladies in her day still used for spinning their own wool. Jane was proud of her sewing skills, and writes in September, 1796: “We are very busy making Edward’s shirts, and I am proud to say that I am the neatest worker of the party.” This single sentence is fraught with meaning. Ladies were always keeping their hands busy, and sewing made up a great part of their day. If they weren’t embroidering, they were mending. If they weren’t making something for themselves, they were working on the poor basket. And then there’s this little tidbit: Tailors made up men’s clothes, but it was the women in their families who made their shirts. Jane and Cassandra must have been always busy making shirts for their many brothers, especially after they were widowed. I am speaking of only two letters: there are over 160 more.

Deirdre Le Faye

Of all the books that have been sent to me for review, I must admit to having a particular liking for this one. It is as if Jane Austen is speaking directly to me. Deirdre Le Faye, with her vast scholarly knowledge on the topic, provides me with more than  enough information to understand their background.

I give this important book 4 1/2 Regency tea cups (out of 5) I wanted to give it 5 tea cups, but the format of the book is a bit unwieldy. For the 5th edition, perhaps the publishers will consider placing the annotation of the letter in a margin next to the text of the letter itself, along with an image of the letter, if such an image is important to our understanding of the letter (as the one above).

Product Details

Hardcover: 688 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; 4 edition (December 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0199576076
ISBN-13: 978-0199576074
Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 2.4 inches
Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)

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Imagine a bicycle with no brakes and no pedals and you have an idea of what it was like to ride a velocipede, or the dandy horse, in the early 19th century.

“The dandy-horse was a two-wheeled vehicle, with both wheels in-line, propelled by the rider pushing along the ground with the feet as in regular walking or running. The front wheel and handlebar assembly was pivoted to allow steering.” (Wikipedia)

This meant that the man riding this contraption not only looked ungainly while riding it, but had very little control over what he was doing and where he was going, especially on uneven and hilly ground.

The earliest usable and much copied velocipede was created by the German Karl Drais and called a Laufmaschine (German for “running machine”), which he first rode on June 12, 1817. He obtained a patent in January 1818. This was the world’s first balance bicycle and quickly became popular in both the United Kingdom and France, where it was sometimes called a draisine (German and English), draisienne (French), a vélocipède (French), a swiftwalker, a dandy horse (as it was very popular among dandies) or a Hobby horse. It was made entirely of wood and had no practical use except on a well-maintained pathway in a park or garden. – Wikipedia

Learning how to ride one of these vehicles wasn’t easy. As seen in the image above, a man would propel himself with his legs and brake with them. The image below is from the archives of Westminster City Council, and is of a postcard of Dennis Johnson’s (c.1760-1833) velocipede school. The school was founded in 1818 by Johnson,  the coachmaker, who had made some improvements on Drais’ machine. He managed to make around 320 of his pedestrian curricles, as he called his patented machines. Then in 1819 the craze for velocipedes went out of fashion: Mr. Johnson returned to making carriages. (Velocipedes.) It wasn’t until towards the end of the 19th century that the velocipede began to be perfected and started to resemble the bicycle we know today.

Several years back I featured a remarkable publication on Dandyism.net called The Dandy’s Perambulations. The pamphlet was printed and sold in 1819 by John Marshall in Fleet Street.

Image @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.

Image @Dandyism.net

The print below shows a dandy “forced off his hobby-horse and subjected to brutal punishment by the two professions most threatened by the new technology: a blacksmith and a vet.” (Wellcome Library)

Image @Wellcome Library

It is sad to think that Jane Austen, who died in 1817, never had the chance to observe a gentleman riding a velocipede. With her wit and keen sense of observation, what would she have made of the sight?

More on the topic:

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