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Archive for the ‘Regency’ Category

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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    Lady Caroline Lamb

    Caroline Ponsonby married William Lamb in 1805 with the expectation of inheriting wealth and riches, but her father-in-law was still living at the time of her death in 1828.

    A woman of independent character who rarely conformed to society’s expectations, “Caro” still provokes strong reactions to her life and work, and affair with Lord Byron in 1812.

    “As a child she was a tomboy – and a spirit of recklessness and disdain for convention never left her. She had no formal education and was unable to read until late adolescence. But she was intelligent and witty; as an adult, she wrote poetry and prose and drew portraits. She was the first woman of Byron’s class to captivate the poet completely. He treated Caroline badly after the grand infatuation faded. But while it lasted, he was demanding and possessive, goading her to admit she loved him more than her husband. He pursued her with abandon, once planning to flee England with her. Caroline’s reaction to the break-up is understandable; Byron led her to believe he loved her. It was her sad fate to discover Byron’s interpretation of love – a mad, passionate obsession which is abandoned as soon as curiosity and desire are sated.” From English History net.

    Byron described Caroline as “the cleverest most agreeable, absurd, amiable, perplexing, dangerous fascinating little being that lives now or ought to have lived 2000 years ago.” Their brief but intense affair lasted only from March until August 1812, but it was to have longer lasting consequences for both of them.

     

     

    Melbourne Hall, Home of Lady Caroline Lamb

    Lady Caro’s body of literary work has not fared well with critics over the ages. Of Glenarvon, her first novel in 1816, she wondered why “everybody wishes to run down and suppress the vital spark of genius I have, and in truth, it is but small (about what one sees a maid gets by excessive beating on a tinder-box). I am not vain, believe me, nor selfish, nor in love with my authorship; but I am independent, as far as a mite and bit of dust can be.” Those who have judged her novels and poetry have treated them as an extension of her personality: at best the production of a neurotic mind, and at worst a devious attempt to hurt Byron.

     

     

    Lady Caroline Ponsonby Lamb)(dghtr of Henrietta Spencer and Frederic Ponsonby, erd Earl of Bessborough, spouse of William Lamb, 2nd Visc. Melbourne)-painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence

    Lady Caroline certainly suffered when Byron ended their affair. She was threatened with a straitjacket several times subsequently. After Byron left England, however, her life did not devolve into complete histrionics. She published three novels, two accomplished parodies of Byron’s poetry, several poems in literary journals, and a number of songs — besides having worked up three other novel projects and a “pocket-diary” called Penruddock that she printed in England and sought to publish in Ireland. ”

    According to Wikipedia, “In 1824, she accidentally came across Byron’s funeral cortège on its way to his burial place, and this incident drove her to a nervous breakdown, and rumoured insanity. She lived her last years in seclusion at Brocket Hall.”

    Learn more about Lady Caroline here.

    Caro: The Lady Caroline Lamb Website

    Lady Caroline Lamb

    Byron

    The Literacy Encyclopedia

    Lord Byron: Letter to Lady Caroline Lamb


    Lady Caro’s letter to Lord Byron

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    Jane Austen’s characters attended assemblies, routs, and parties so often that one is left to wonder: Did these people never stay home?

    When the social whirl was in full swing during the London social season, a well-connected, rich, well-born, or idle person could attend several gatherings in one night. Here is a first-hand description of an assembly by Louis Simond, a transplanted Frenchman in America, inveterate traveler, and author of An American in Regency England (p. 31):

    “Great assemblies are called routs or parties; but the people who give them, in their invitations only say, that they will be at home such a day, and this some weeks beforehand. The house in which this takes place is frequently stripped from top to bottom: beds, drawers, and all but ornamental furniture is carried out of sight, to make room for a crowd of well-dressed people, received at the door of the principal apartment by the mistress of the house standing, who smiles at every new comer with a look of acquaintance. Nobody sits; there is no conversation, cards, no music; only elbowing, turning, and winding from room to room; then, at the end of a quarter of an hour, escapting to the hall door to wait for the carriage, spending more time upon the threshold among footmen than you had done above stairs with their masters. From this rout you drive to another, where, after waiting your turn to arrive at the door, perhaps, half an hour, the street being full of carriages before the house–then every curtain, and every shutter of every window wide open, shewing apartments all in a blaze of light, with heads innumerable, black and white (powdered or not), in continual motion. This custom is so general, that having, a few days agao, five or six persons in the evening with us, we observed our servants had left the windows thus exposed, thinking, no doubt, that this was a rout after our fashion.”

    Indeed, with such a throng of people inside an enclosed space and candles blazing on hot spring and summer nights, the rooms would have been stifling. Had the windows and doors not been kept open, the heat and lack of fresh air would have been insufferable. People often needed to step outside to the terrace or gardens to gain some relief from candle smoke, body odor, and fetid air.

    As you can see from this illustration of the Assembly Room in Bath by Thomas Rowlandson, the public assemblies also provided opportunities for dancing. One must surmise that private and public assemblies differed in character. The size of a hostess’s house and her budget must also have dictated whether she could also provide music and dancing at her gathering.

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    A penny isn’t what it used to be, as you’ll discover on the following sites. For fuller explanations on the relative value of incomes and the cost of goods during the regency, read my other posts on the topic: Pride and Prejudice Economics and In Jane Austen’s Own Words: Economic Sense and Sensibility.

    For more links on costs during this period, click on the following:

    Update:

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    Austen Blog

    Austen Blog seems to be mostly about movies and books about Jane, but the site is worth a visit.

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    Welcome to the Regency Era

    Ah, the Regency Era! We Janeites on the James are enthralled with it. Through the eyes of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer we have become intimately acquainted with this short period in English history. We admire the outrageous behavior and sparkling wit of their characters, as well as the era’s clothes, furniture, and architecture.

    Unsated, we reread the same few novels over and over, hoping to turn up additional nuggets of information from Jane’s and Georgette’s keen insights. Thank God for the Internet, which puts us within an ames-ace of all things Regency.

    The delicate drawings and crystal clear paintings of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres embody the refined sensibilities of the era. As we examine them, we are reminded that the English of the period revered all things French, despite Bonie’s tiresome habit of killing British soldiers on the Continent.

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