Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Treasures from the Past

Used bookstores. Is there anything better than an afternoon spent hunting through the shelves and stacks in one? As delightful as a new bookstore is, visiting a used bookstore is a trip into unknown, mysterious waters: who knows what treasures might be found on the shelves?

One treasure I found in a used bookstore (and I can’t even remember which one, now) several years ago is Maud, edited by Richard Lee Strout and published in 1938. It’s the diary of a Miss Isabella Maud Rittenhouse (who generally used her middle name), a comfortably middle-class young lady from Cairo, Illinois, down at the very bottom of the state where the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers meet (which made for a very watery city—it did, and still does, flood regularly.) She kept it between 1881, when she was sixteen and a junior in high school, to just before her marriage in 1895 at age thirty. And oh, what a diary!

Maud paints herself as small and ugly, but she was evidently extraordinarily charming, based on the number of friends and admirers she had. She was also quite energetic, and not only went to art school in St. Louis, but also maintained an art studio, acted and sang in local amateur theater, and became a frequent contributor of stories and articles to national magazines.

Her writing talent is clear in her amazing diary. Some entries run thousands of words long and describe outings to New Orleans and the Chicago Worlds’ Fair, or boating on the spring floods, or the dresses she makes and the china she paints, or the people who come to life from her pen. The prose has a remarkably fresh, modern, alive feel to it, even as the people and events it describes are very 19th century. What's most remarkable, though, is that the story of her younger years actually has a plot: she has many beaus and suitors and falls in love several times, but keeps coming back to one young man to whom she doesn't feel much connection but respects enormously for his integrity and honesty...until mere weeks before their wedding, it's revealed that he has embezzled thousands of dollars from his former employer. Poor Maud is devastated but meets a new sweetheart and becomes engaged...until her new fiancé breaks the engagement. Five year later, he proposes again...and this time Maud and her handsome doctor get to live happily ever after.

I see that used copies are available online (check Abebooks, for one, and eBay.) If you should ever run across a copy at your favorite used bookstore, I highly recommend it!

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

What a Circus!

Many Regency romances, my own included, mention Astley’s Amphitheatre as a place where equestrian feats could be enjoyed. But there was another theatre that rivaled it for a time, a theatre that could not quite make up its mind what it wanted to be.

South of London's Blackfriar’s Bridge, on Great Surry Street stood the Royal Circus and Equestrian Philharmonic Academy. Opened in 1782, burned down in 1806 and rebuilt, the Royal Circus was initially a collaboration between Charles Didbin, who wrote plays, songs, and pantomimes, and Charles Hughes, a trick rider who had trained under Philip Astley and became his chief rival. Besides a variety of animal acts, they hired children to perform in various plays and musical numbers Didbin created. Didbin dreamed of the place being a training ground for young actors.

Unfortunately, the theatre didn’t do as well as he’d hoped. In 1809, new management converted it to a theatre proper, the Surrey Theatre. In the picture you can see that the arena for the horses has been opened to a form of standing pit for patrons, though the ground still appears to be dirt to me. Good thing, too, for  another change in management saw the theatre converted back to a circus in 1814, a format it kept until 1827.

But just south of the Royal Circus on Great Surry Street was another. St. George’s Circus was one of London’s first traffic circles or roundabouts as they call them in my neck of the woods. Built in 1771, the center featured an obelisk with four oil lamps. It was inscribed to King George and marked the distances to key landmarks such as Palace Yard, London Bridge, and Fleet Street. Though it was removed at one point late in the 19th century, it has now been returned (without its lamps).

So, you can still go to the circus south of Blackfriar's Bride, if you like.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Such Language, Part 29

Our next installment of 19th century slanguage from that veritable bible of colorful cant, the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. Have fun!

Gallows bird: A thief, or pickpocket; also one that associates with them. My brother’s new friends that he met at the prize-fight last week are quite the collection of gallows-birds.

Ralph Spooner: A fool. Papa told him not to be such a Ralph Spooner and stop going about with them, but when has my brother ever listened?

Dished up: To be totally ruined. I fear that if he persists in seeking their company, he’ll be dished up in no time.

All the kick: in fashion. Apricot-colored neck ruffs may be all the kick right now, but they make me look alarmingly liverish.

Cannister: The head.  I haven’t the faintest idea how Lord Creepey got it into his cannister that I’ll dance with him at Almack’s tonight.

Sherry off: to run away. In fact, I’ll cheerfully sherry off first.

Thornback: An old maid. Indeed, I’d much prefer to be a thornback to encouraging his suit.


Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Celebrating The Governess’s Earl and Timeless Love Giveaway

A new book is always reason to celebrate at my house, and particularly because The Governess’s Earl, the fourth book in my Grace-by-the-Sea series, was nominated for a Swoony Award on Goodreads within days of release. The Swoonies are a Reader’s Choice Award recognizing excellence in sweet, secular romance. I may swoon!

Rejected by the man she loved, quick-witted bluestocking Rosemary Denby is determined to win the position of governess to the temperamental Lady Miranda, daughter of the Earl of Howland. Surely helping another young lady find the joy in learning is just what she needs to regain her confidence.

Drake, Earl of Howland, is struggling to find his footing as a widowed father, new earl, and suddenly penniless owner of the castle near the cozy spa village of Grace-by-the-Sea. But the new governess has him even more off balance. He loved once and saw his wife die in childbirth. The more he learns about Rosemary, the more he begins to wonder whether he can open his heart again. As danger once more draws closer to the castle on the headland, he and Rosemary must work together to keep the village and his daughter safe. Could his bluestocking governess be the one to teach him a lesson, in love?

You can find the book in print and e-book at fine online retailers like



Barnes and Noble 

Apple Books 


Another reason to celebrate is a giveaway taking place between February 1 and 15—multiple winners will win a print copy of 18 romance novels crossing the ages, including The Governess’s Earl, and books by Karen Witemeyer, Laura Franz, Rachel Fordham, and Jen Turano. Enter here and join the celebration.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Regency Fabrics, Part 31

Here’s another post in our ongoing series on Regency fabrics.

As I have in previous posts, I’ll be examining actual fabric samples glued into several earlier editions of Ackermann’s Repository, samples supplied by the manufacturers and published by Ackermann in order to boost the British cloth-making industry at a time when exporting British goods to Europe was almost impossible because of the Napoleonic war. I'll give you a close-up scan of each sample, the published description if available, and my own observations of the color, weight, condition, and similarity to present-day materials, to give you as close a picture as possible of what these fabrics are like.

Today’s three samples are from the June 1813 issue of Ackermann’s Repository. The overall condition of my copy is excellent; the page itself is free of foxing and is only slightly toned. The samples have not fared quite as well: the chintz seems to have suffered some toning (I think), and the patterned one has frayed.

No. 1 and 2. A neat and useful article, from Allen’s celebrated furniture warehouse, Pall-Mall, where may be seen the most extensive and elegant assortment of chintz, and other articles of furniture in this line. Mr. Allen has recently built and opened a most spacious and elegant saloon, where, by a very ingenious invention, the printed and cotton furniture is displayed at one view, to the greatest advantage, and so as to afford an easy decision as to effect. The present specimen, though very neat, is by no means on a par with those displayed at this celebrated warehouse. Light blue, bright yellow, and full pink, or rose-colour, with corresponding fringes, are the linings best calculated to exhibit this print to advantage.

My comments: This is a very heavily glazed chintz, to the point that it feels almost like vinyl shelf paper. I’m not quite able to decide whether the somewhat mottled background behind the printed designs is intentional or not: all the other versions I’ve seen of this page are similar, so it is either intentional or they all have faded or toned in the same fashion. The fabric itself is finely and tightly woven, with evenly spun threads. And I would like to know exactly what the “ingenious invention” was for the display of their fabrics!

No. 3 A specimen of British King Cobb; a new article with which we have been favoured by Mr. Milland, of the East India warehouse, Cheapside. It is an exact imitation of that splendid article worn by the Great Mogul. It is calculated for evening robes, producing a most pleasing effect by candle-light. Pelisses, à la Persian, lined with sarsnet, of a tastefully contrasted shade, and ornamented with feather-trimming, and worn with Asiatic turbans of the same, produce a very unique and becoming effect.

My comments:  I’ve not been able to discover what “King Cobb” is, but this is a lovely piece of fabric—a very handsome twill woven silk with a raised diagonal stripe, printed with a floral pattern (unfortunately, the stripes arent showing up well in this scan.) It is light in weight but reasonably opaque due to the fine, tight weave.

No. 4 is a sample of the new Imperial cotton twine shirting. Many of our readers having wished to obtain specimens, together with the price of this very useful article, we have procured one from the proprietor, just as it comes from the bleach-field. It is sold, stamped, at Millard’s East India warehouse, Cheapside, and at no other house. The present quality is 2s. 6d. per yard; and, in due proportion, at 3s. 6d., 3s.,2s., and 1s. 6d., being not more than half the price of Irish linens, &c. and of equal fineness of texture. It is wove in 7-8th widths for ladies, and 4-4ths for gentlemen’s wear, and is particularly well adapted for slips.—At this warehouse may also be purchased, muslins of the lowest value, for draperies only, up to the Indian shawl of 100 guineas. The most curious Indian muslins, up to the exquisitely fine Saccarallie, are regularly selling at this extensive establishment, where the ingenious manufactures of Valenciennes, Brussels, Germany, Russia, China, the Indies, and the sister kingdoms (both for use and ornament), are to be met with.

My comments: This is, to me, the most interesting of the fabric samples this month, just because it was used for such basic garments as men’s shirts and ladies’ slips and underdresses. In close-up it greatly resembles linen as the threads are just slightly unevenly spun, giving it more of a texture. It feels quite sturdy, which only makes sense considering its use.

What do you think of this month’s fabrics?

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Catching Living Manners, and a Free Book

As I was researching last week (lovely, lovely research), I happened upon the following caricature by James Gillray, who loved poking fun at everyone and anyone in the late 18th century and early nineteenth century. I simply had to share it with you. The title is “And catch the living Manners as they rise” (a quote from a poem by Alexander Pope).

Several things intrigued me about this. Various museums and art sellers have copies of this print, but whoever hand-tinted the colors had a jolly time of it. I always thought tinters were advised to stick with a specific color scheme for all prints, but not this one. Depending on the print, those massive ostrich plumes might be magenta, emerald, buttercup, or turquoise, and some had tips of either gray or slate blue. Likewise, her turban and the ribbon under her breast ranged from cream to rose. One of the prints had the bodice of her dress a peachy color, causing the owner to claim she was nude from the waist up!

Another interesting thing about this print was the names of those who created it and sold it. While it is widely credited to Gillray, at least one of the prints mentioned that it was from a design by “Miss Aynscombe.” This was likely Charlotte Aynscombe, a talented artist in her own right. The piece was sold by Hannah Humphrey, a publisher and printseller, from her establishment at No. 18 Old Bond Street. I can imagine the fine ladies and gentlemen strolling that shopping mecca and stopping to stare at the print in the window. More than one lady likely refrained from touching the ostrich plumes in her cap.

Finally, I’m intrigued the gentleman’s outfit. I have not seen styles showing a gentleman whose waistcoat is so long that it actually connects with his pantaloons, but we can certainly recognize the style of a far-too-wide cravat and the rosettes on both his pantaloons and his shoes. Interesting to read the item described in his hand as a “bludgeon.” Hitting people over the head with his fashion style, perhaps?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this picture.

In the meantime, if you haven’t read the Spy Matchmaker series or know a friend who might enjoy it, you should know that the first book in the series, The Husband Mission, is free through January 27, 2021.

Katherine Collins is on a mission. The spirited spinster is financially beholden to her stepsister, who will inherit a fortune--if she marries in the next six weeks. Katherine even mounted an espionage campaign to locate the perfect husband, Alexander Wescott, Viscount Borin. Alex cannot understand why he’s under surveillance, but it seems to have something to do with the intriguing Katherine. Rejected for service by England’s spymaster, he ought to be searching for a wife. But what wife can compare to the excitement of international espionage? Unless, of course, she’s up for a little espionage herself.

Barnes and Noble

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Green Sleeves


…and green bodice, and green skirt… 😉

I love this Evening Dress from the April 1809 edition of La Belle Assemblée (which, curiously, is puffing a dress from the previous month rather than a future one—a mistake?) It’s so easy to assume that formal dresses in this era were all in white or pastels...and maybe they were, for young debutantes in their first or second season. But here is glorious, vibrant proof that they weren’t all so insipid.

The original description reads:

No. 2.—EVENING DRESS.  A round robe of green velvet, with antique boddice, and stomacher of blended gold and velvet. Short full sleeve, ornamented à-la-Spanish, to correspond. A plain gold lace placed round the bottom just above the hem, and also round the waist. A shade of Paris net across the back, edged with gold, and fastened on the shoulders with a gold or emerald brooch. A deep antique lace laid flat round the bosom and back, with a drawn tucker above. Hair confined in a gold caul behind and in full curls in front, with the Cleopatra diadem of emeralds and gold. Earrings, necklace, bracelets, and armlets to correspond. Shoes, amber or white satin. Fan of carved ivory. An occasional scarf, or shawl, of cream-coloured or white French silk, with gold or coloured embroidered body.

So…green velvet! Yum! Double yum on the elegant restraint in the trim, as well. I definitely see what is meant by an “antique boddice”—the bodice on this dress is reminiscent of an early 17th century dress, with van dyke lace pointy stomacher and all. The diadem and the “hair confined in a gold caul” also reminds me of the ancient Mediterranean style known as a Phrygian cap. And while it’s not easy to see in the print, I’m tickled by the “shade of Paris net” fastened on the shoulders—rather like a superhero cape!

And one more note: do you know what the item at the left of the image is? I’ll give you a bit of a hint: we talked about them some time ago, right here on NineteenTeen (though this is certainly a fancier version of one than I’ve seen before.)

What do you think of this dress? I know I’m in love with it.