Friday, February 25, 2011

Time's Telescope

Sounds sufficiently poetic, doesn’t it? The term is actually the common title for an annual publication in London during the nineteenth century, and a volume that was consulted by many households. Time’s Telescope or a Complete Guide to the Almanack provided information on annual events, holidays, lifecycles of flora and fauna, weather, and astronomy. In fact, the full title of the 1826 edition reads: “Time’s Telescope or a Complete Guide to the Almanack: Containing an Explanation of Saints’ Days and Holidays; With Illustrations of British History and Antiquities, Notices of Obsolete Rites and Customs, Sketches of Comparative Chronology, and Contemporary Biography; Astronomical Occurrences in Every Month Comprising Remarks on the Phenomena of the Celestial Bodies: and the Naturalist’s Diary; Explaining the Various Appearances in the Animal and Vegetable Kingdoms.” And some people think The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation is a long title!

Time’s Telescope was one of several almanacs available in the nineteenth century, but it tended to focus more on the scientific than the amusing. While other almanacs included household hints, puzzles, games, and riddles, Time’s Telescope tended to discuss observations of nature, whether physical nature in the outdoors or human nature. Unlike some scientific literature, however, it wasn’t dry. In fact, the writers even waxed poetic from time to time. Take the opening of the “Naturalist’s Diary” for February of 1817:

“The green moss shines with icy glare;
The long grass bends its spear-like form,
And lovely is the silvery scene
When faint the sunbeams smile.

Reflection too may love the hour,
When Nature, hid in Winter’s grave,
No more expands the bursting bud,
Or bids the flowret bloom.

For Nature soon in Spring’s best charms
Shall rise revised from Winter’s grave,
Again expand the bursting bud,
And bid the flowret bloom.—Southey.”

But you opened Time’s Telescope for more than poetry. Children opened it to learn about cultural oddities; teens opened it to learn about the important figures of their day; parents opened it to remind themselves what to expect from weather and when to think about planting and hunting. Again from the “Naturalist’s Diary”:

“In February, the weather in England is usually variable, but most inclined to frost and snow. The thermometer is often down below the freezing point, but is generally found at noon between 36 degrees and 46 degrees; towards the end of the month it sometimes rises to 50 degrees, or even 52 degrees or 54 degrees. The severe weather generally breaks up with a sudden thaw, accompanied by wind and rain; torrents of water pour from the hills, and the snow is completely dissolved. Rivers swell and inundate the surrounding country, often carrying away bridges, cattle, mills, gates, &c., and causing great injury to the farmer. But so variable is the weather in this month, that frequently ‘frost again usurps the year.’

In the course of this month all nature begins, as it were, to prepare for its revivification. God, as the Psalmist expresses it, ‘renews the face of the earth;’ and animate and inanimate nature seem to vie with each other in opening the way to spring. About the 4th or 5th, the woodlark, one of our earliest and sweetest songsters, renews his note; a week after, rooks begin to pair, and geese to lay; the thrush sings; the yellow-hammer is also heard. The chaffinch sings; the green woodpecker makes a loud noise; and the redbreast continues to warble.

Turkey-cocks strut and gobble. Partridges begin to pair; the house pigeon has young; field crickets open their holes; missel thrushes couple; and wood owls hoot; gnats play about, and insects swarm under sunny hedges; frogs croak, and the stone curlew clamours. By the latter end of this month, the raven has generally laid its eggs, and begun to sit. Moles commence their subterraneous operations.”

In case you were more interested in the domestic side of nature: “The husbandman is now eager to commence the work of ploughing, which business is finished in this month, if the weather permit. In this month, early potatoes are set, hedges repaired, trees lopped, and wet lands drained. Poplars, willows, osiers, and other aquatics are planted.”

And if you favored the sporting variety: “Pheasant-shooting usually terminates about the 1st, and partridge-shooting about the 15th of this month.”

Nice to have a book tell you exactly what you should be doing and observing, eh?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Prince Regent, Part 4: The Most Accomplished Blackguard?

When we last left our Prinny, he was happily settled with Mrs. Fitzherbert…but as I hinted, this happy state of affairs did not last long. George’s eye was, alas, prone to wandering, and his attention was at best erratic. While Mrs. Fitzherbert was always gracious, amiable, and discreet, even she couldn’t help being upset when George publicly denied their marriage to Parliament in 1787, and their relationship suffered. George eventually resumed his partying ways much to her disapproval, having a short dalliance with an actress named Mrs. Crouch in 1788. 1788 was a difficult year in other ways; late that year saw King George III’s first period of incapacity. Prinny agitated hard for a Regency—perhaps a little too hard, as many felt his behavior unfilial. The problem was solved when in 1789 the King regained his faculties, but it cast a shadow on Prinny’s relationship with his father.

Life trickled along; while most of England watched the Revolution across the Channel in France with growing horror, George continued in his path of being a patron of the arts and the nation’s “First Consumer”, racking up further outrageous debt. Then in 1794 a more serious breach occurred between him and Mrs. Fitzherbert, thanks to a 41-year-old grandmother.

Lady Frances Jersey set out very deliberately to ensnare the Prince, and succeeded. She played on his feelings of impatience and resentment at the quiet life Mrs. Fitzherbert preferred to lead, and seems to have been one of the leading proponents of the idea that the Prince should marry.

Yes, marry. Remember that according to English law, George was still a single man. Lady Jersey suggested that he find a compliant German princess to marry in order to guarantee the succession…doing so would mean that Parliament would probably vote him sufficient funds to pay off his debts and raise his annual allowance. She even had a suggestion in mind: George’s cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, eldest daughter of the King’s sister and her husband, the Duke of Brunswick. Lady Jersey did not plan to step aside after the marriage, however; instead, she got herself appointed the new Princess’s chief lady-in-waiting.

Caroline of Brunswick probably couldn’t have been a worse choice for George. Gauche and uneducated and boisterous, she was also reportedly not fond of bathing and already had a less-than-spotless reputation when it came to modesty. On their meeting George is reported to have demanded a stiff drink, and spent his wedding day (and night) extremely inebriated. Caroline herself was not terribly impressed by him either—his chubbiness and drunkenness were probably just as off-putting. The marriage seemed—and was—doomed from the start, just as Lady Jersey had foreseen. And to top it off, George did not get all the money he’d expected from Parliament.

However, he managed to maintain sufficiently cordial relations with his new wife that they produced an heir—or heiress—to the throne exactly nine months after their wedding (see my posts on Princess Charlotte). After this, things between them broke down irretrievably, and Lady Jersey remained in power…sort of. By 1796 George was writing desperate letters to Mrs. Fitzherbert asking her to forgive him and take him back. Maria had been appalled at his treatment of Caroline, and held him off…but again, persistence paid off. Once again George threatened that he would die unless his Maria came back to him, and by 1800 they were once again together.

Maria called the next eleven years the happiest of their lives: George was happy, and even the King and Queen began to regard her with approbation because of the good effect she had on George. But (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?) these happy years would not last.

Friday, February 18, 2011

You Rang?

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that the wealthier young ladies and lads of the nineteenth century had servants for a variety of purposes, from scullery maids in the kitchen to butlers and housekeepers. There’s even a position called spider-brusher to the Master! Marissa and I hope to do a series of posts on servants this year. But no matter if you were the lowliest of the low among the serving class or at the tippy top of the servant hierarchy, you had one thing in common. At some point, someone was going to have need of your services. How did they go about notifying you?

As you can imagine, simply shouting “Hey, you! A little help here!” was far too vulgar and generally unnecessary. A personal ladies’ maid would attend her mistress if there was company and at other times of the day if needed. A valet might be on hand to tend to his master. At other times, her ladyship or his lordship might ring a hand bell to summon assistance. These could be simple brass bells or more fancifully designed like little windmills or gracious ladies.

In many of the more formal great houses, footmen were stationed at strategic points throughout the house. If you needed the fire refreshed, perhaps a cup of tea, or even to take dear little poochy for a necessary walk, you might wander to the door of the room you were in or even clear your throat and a footman would stride to your rescue. The footman might do the task himself, or, if it were of a more personal nature, locate your body servant (ladies’ maid or valet) to come assist you.

As the century wore on, it become more common to use a bell pull to summon the servants, and it was accounted chivalrous to be the one to ring for a lady who required assistance. Generally you would tug on a cord on the wall, which was connected via a wire that ran through the house to the servants’ hall where it rang a bell. Although bells were usually mounted to the wall with notes underneath to indicate which room they represented, some servants were so attuned they could tell which room just by the sound of the bell. Later in the century, bell pulls were replaced by bell buttons: ceramic or metal circular knobs set on the wall that might be pushed to call for a servant.

Now, there’s a thought: pull a cord and have bell ring for each of my sons, our dog, and maybe my husband. Think anyone would answer?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Who Were the Luddites?

A couple of months ago in a fashion forecast I mentioned the last Luddite uprising, and decided that a little back-tracking to discuss this important moment in industrial history might be useful.

So…who were the Luddites?

The Industrial Revolution of the later 18th and early 19th centuries ushered in numerous changes in how goods were manufactured, the rise of the factory, and the whole concept of mass production. Textile production of course was one of the industries especially affected by these changes. The old home-based skilled hand-loom weavers were being replaced by factories of wider, power-driven looms that could be operated by relatively unskilled laborers and produced much more fabric, though of a lower quality.

Needless to say, the weavers were not happy about seeing their whole way of life made obsolete. Their skills were no longer valued, because just about anyone could run the new machines…and where before they had been their own bosses, now they were employees, at the whim of factory overseers and owners. Add to it the difficult economical times during the years of war with Napoleon, and something had to happen.

What happened involved hammers and a lot of angry men. Because the Combination Act of 1799 prohibited workers from gathering together to negotiate with employers, they had little way to discuss their concerns with factory owners. Violence first broke out in Nottingham in November 1811, where a factory was broken into and the power-looms smashed. Perhaps it was the old Robin Hood associations in that area that led to the creation of a outlaw-type figurehead for the angry workmen known as King (or General, or Captain) Ludd, in whose name they would meet in secret. The name is possibly thought to have been borrowed from an earlier loom smasher named Ned Ludd.

Luddite violence quickly spread over the course of the next months, moving to the western part of Yorkshire and to Lancashire. Shortly, though, the Luddite movement became about more than just the grievances of weavers; people who wanted to see a republican revolution in England along the lines of France’s soon joined in, hoping to destabilize the government. The Army was called in, and pitched battles took place in Lancashire.

In 1813, Parliament passed legislation making machine-breaking a capital offence. Though dozens were executed and many more transported to Australia, the violence continued until well into 1813, when a factory owner was shot by three Luddites in Yorkshire. After their execution, the movement seemed to lose some steam and began to wane…though it didn’t die out entirely until a few years later, in 1817. And though the Combination Act was repealed in 1824, a new one was passed in 1825 that wasn't much better. The moment for organized labor had not yet arrived.

Friday, February 11, 2011

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

We are nearing the time of year when hearts start fluttering: Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. As we’ve discussed, celebrating that day was highly popular in the nineteenth century, with plenty of cards and letters exchanged. But almost as popular was trying to determine who exactly your “true love” might be. After all, if you had a number of beaux flocking to your door, how were you to know which one to encourage?

Nineteenth century young ladies devised any number of schemes that were sure to tell them what they needed to know. Now, don’t try any of these at home. With the exception of the first, I highly doubt any of these will do more than keep you up at night!

  • Saying a prayer before going to sleep. The first man you saw the next morning was your true love. Note that anyone who lived in your house was exempt, which is a good thing or we would likely have had far too many cases of young ladies eloping with the footman!

  • Pinning bay leaves to your pillow. You pinned one leaf to each corner of your pillow and one in the center, and, when you slept, you would dream about your true love. Another version of this tradition has it that if you had a true love already and you dreamed of him, you were sure to marry him before the year was out. I don’t know about you, but laying my head on a pillow that smelled a bit like spaghetti sauce would probably have set me dreaming of Italian food rather than my one true love (although for some those might be the same thing!).

  • Eating a rather nauseating egg. You hard-boiled an egg, broke it in half with the shell in place, removed the yolk, and filled the space with salt. Then you ate the egg, shell and all, and refrained from speaking afterward before you fell asleep. You would then dream of your true love. Or perhaps a nice cup of chamomile tea.

  • Consulting floating paper. You took tiny scraps of paper and wrote the names of the gentlemen with whom you were acquainted. You then wrapped each piece of paper individually in clay and dropped them in water. Whichever one floated to the top first was the name of your true love. Another variation required the young lady to simply drop the paper pieces into the water and read the one that turned upward first. This variation sounds a little havey cavey to me: wouldn’t the ink just bleed once the paper hit the water?

Me? I think I’d have to rely on prayer and the whispers of my heart. Gosh, I guess that’s why I married my husband! That and the fact that he listens, he encourages, and he stands up for me. And he’s cute too (but don’t tell him I said that—he hates being called cute!).

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Prince Regent, Part 3: Mrs. Fitzherbert

Now in his early 20s, George was ripe for…for something. He’d tried partying, drag-racing…er, phaeton-racing, partying, womanizing, partying, amateur theatricals, partying, clothes shopping, partying, house decoration, and partying. King George refused to give him any role in government to start preparing for his inevitable future as king. Like any energetic, intelligent person, he needed something to do, something to look forward to besides the inevitable partying. However, like any romantic, impulsive person, he had a tendency to fall rapidly in love—remember Perdita Robinson, whom he adored after seeing her on the stage?

After the Perdita affair, George launched on a series of love affairs, some more serious (at least in consequences) than others. He developed a fondness for older women, and his name was linked with several: Lady Melbourne (mother of Queen Victoria’s first prime minister), the Duchess of Devonshire, the wife of a Hanoverian diplomat.

Then in 1783, he fell in love—really in love, it seems—with a lady named Maria Fitzherbert.

Mrs. Fitzherbert was six years older than the 21-year-old George, and had already been twice widowed. She was not a ravishing beauty but had a beautiful complexion, a fine figure, and an expression of extraordinary sweetness that reflected her inner nature. And while she was tremendously flattered and seems to have been genuinely fond of him, she was no stage actress of easy virtue: gently, regretfully, she held the smitten young man at arms’ length for many months.

She might as well have tried dousing a lamp with kerosene; George only became more determined in his pursuit. In July 1784 his determination culminated in an extraordinary scene: Mrs. Fitzherbert was shocked when the distraught royal surgeon appeared on her doorstep, begging her to come with him. It seemed that in his extremity of passion for her, George had stabbed himself and swore he would die unless she came to see him. After an initial refusal, she consented to see him if the Duchess of Devonshire went with her.

It’s thought that the scene was probably staged, but George was a convincing actor…and the result was that he made the distraught Maria promise to marry him. However, the following morning, she fled the country to evade him.

Why? Two reasons; first, Mrs. Fitzherbert was a devout Roman Catholic, and by English law the heir to the throne was barred from marrying a Catholic. Second, George’s father had passed the Royal Marriages Act after dealing with his brothers’ marital vagaries; it stated that no member of the royal family could marry without the king’s consent, unless he waited until the age of 25 and gave the Privy Council a year’s notice (unless Parliament in the meanwhile forbade the marriage.) It also made it a crime for anyone to aid a member of the family in making an illegal marriage. In short, there were a lot of obstacles in the way of a marriage between Maria and George, no matter what their feelings were for each other.

But George would not be deterred. He tried to follow Maria to the continent, but was forbidden by his father to leave the country, so he had to be satisfied with a series of passionate letters sent to her over the next year. Evidently his steadfastness and eloquence over such a long time had their effect, for in the fall of 1785, Maria at last consented to come home and marry him in secret. They were married at her London house by an Anglican priest George bailed out of Fleet Street Prison, with only Maria’s brother and one other man as witnesses.

In the eyes of both the Catholic and Anglican churches, the marriage was valid; by English law, it wasn’t. The couple could not live openly together, but spent as much time as possible together, and for a few years, George was a changed man. But their idyll—and George’s improved behavior—did not last long.

Stay tuned for the next installment: The Prince Regent, Part 4: The Most Accomplished Blackguard?

Friday, February 4, 2011

In Good Societies

We’ve talked a good bit about the importance placed on being part of good Society in the nineteenth century. Your family, your friends, and the company you mixed with all combined with your personal attributes (beauty, wit, presence) to make you popular or not so popular. But as the nineteenth century progressed, another type of society proved popular: the society of a cause.

The Protestant churches urged members to do more than simply learn about their Creator. Christians were to show their devotion through good deeds. Urged on by the likes of evangelical writer Hannah More and encouraged by the successes of people like William Wilberforce (who helped abolish the slave trade in England), the middle and upper classes of all ages sallied forth to help the less fortunate.

Generally, someone with a passion for a subject would start a society and enlist like-minded souls to join up. They’d meet monthly or more often, decide their actions, solicit donations, and try to make a difference. Sometimes these societies accomplished great good. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Climbing Boys, for example, helped eliminate the practice of forcing small children to climb up into chimneys to clean them. Until that time, these children regularly suffered from burns, falls, and smoke inhalation, and many died.

The Society for the Relief and Discharge of Persons Confined for Small Debts sought out people in Debtor’s Prison and worked to either pay their fines or get those fines eliminated so the prisoners could be freed. Through donations of money as well as provisions, they were able to get released about 800 prisoners a year.

Then there were the various societies that worked to make sure certain types of stories and songs were preserved in book form. For example, the Percy Society strove to publish books of rare poems and songs, using manuscripts in the British Museum and their own collections as sources. They strove to recreate the text exactly as they found it, although they tended to censure out what they considered as obscene terms or lyrics. They took the name of their society from Thomas Percy, who had previously published similar works, although he liked to add lines or combine versions to suit himself. Some of their work is now being made available online, such as this one about the legend of Reynard the Fox.

So what society would you start if you could?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

No Slang Like Old Slang, Part 3

Have you had fun with our past vocabulary quizzes…or at least half as much fun as I had putting them together? I certainly hope so…because here’s another!

Again, the rules are simple: figure out which words or phrases were used in the 19th century (or before), and which are of more modern origin. You may be surprised to discover which are which! Answers are in the comments section…let us know how you do!!

1. Flim-flam: Nonsense and idle stories; deception; to attempt to cheat by deception. (“Georgiana told her mother some flim-flam about needing to run out to Hatchard’s to buy a new copy of Fordyce’s Sermons, but I know it was to meet that rather dashing but penniless Mr. Smythe.”)

2. In a tizzy: To be in a state of agitation or nervous excitement. (“Aunt Agatha was in a tizzy when the Duke of Ingot called…and even more so when she found out that he had only stopped by to return the garters Sally inexplicably lost at the garden party at Ingot House last week.”)

3. No-go: An impasse; a situation that has been decided to the negative. (“Alice was very cross when the picnic at Primrose Park was a no-go due to the unexpected rainstorm this morning, not to mention the earthquake and Napoleon's landing at Dover.”)

4. Cup of tea: A personal preference. (“My brother Harry seems quite fond of his new coat, but I must admit that lavender velvet with yellow satin facings isn’t precisely my cup of tea.”)

5. Jinx: Bad luck. (“Dear Annabelle broke her mirror while getting ready for the Duchess of Overbite’s ball, so she’s carrying her good luck teapot with her to avert the jinx.”)

6. Swanky: Fancy, in a luxurious way; fashionable. (“The Duchess of Overbite’s ball was so swanky that even the lobster in the salad was pedigreed.”)

7. Put out a feeler: To make inquiries before broaching a topic or task, in order to get a sense of response. (“Mama put out a feeler to her friends as to whether they thought a whist party in a mail coach driving round Hyde Park would be a good idea.”)

How did you do?

Next week we’ll go back to our series on the life of the Prince Regent