Friday, April 27, 2012

Things You Don't Expect to See in Hyde Park

After penning more than 20 books set in early nineteenth century England, I can safely say that I’ve written about Hyde Park more than the average person. I’ve described riding scenes, walking scenes, and scenes in carriages. I’ve covered shivering in February and fluttering of fans in June. I’ve spun the tale of that favored time, two to five in the afternoon, when pedestrians, equipages, and riders thronged the park. And for this blog, we’ve shared military spectacles and mentioned balloon ascensions. So recently, when faced with writing another scene in Hyde Park, I wanted to do something different. Naturally, I decided to do some research. (Oh, lovely, lovely research!) That research confirmed the favored time (particularly on Sunday, apparently) and the various paths I’ve written about so many times: the sandy riding track that was Rotten Row, the pebbled paths around the glittering waters of the Serpentine, the longer amble across the lawns toward Kensington Palace. However, I discovered a few things I didn’t expect to find in Hyde Park.
  • Cheesecake: Apparently eating cheesecake in Hyde Park has been a treat since the time of Elizabeth I. The main location to purchase it was a little house near the Serpentine. You’d buy a bit for you and your sweetie and either sit and munch while watching the crowds stroll by or take it with you on your own stroll or drive.
  • Ancient glory, gone to seed: In the 1600s and 1700s, the aristocracy still thronged Hyde Park, but their favorite location was “The Ring,” a circle of track surrounded by tall elm trees. Compared with the stretches of ground used in the 1800s, the place was tiny. Not surprisingly, one of the ladies who frequented it called it a “dry, dusty horse circle.” Picture those horsey rides at state fairs, where the ponies plod in circles, and you won’t be far off, except the vehicles carrying the riders would have been far more gilded. Early mornings, the Ring was also the favored place for duels. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the stately elms, some as old as 300 years, had mostly been cut down and burned, the track grassed over. But as late as 1837 people still pointed it out as they drove through the park.
  • Reservoir: Near Park Lane, the Chelsea Water Works erected a stone basin with a diameter for 200 feet. The water, pumped from the Thames, helped supply Kensington Palace. The reservoir must have presented a lovely site, situated in the center of a grand Walnut-Walk, now also gone. However, it was capped with Portland stone to prevent suicides. Ug!
  • Powder magazine: This surprised me the most. During the Napoleonic Wars, the Army actually mixed and stored gunpowder in Hyde Park. According to one source, the powder magazine stored more than one million balls and blank ammunition, ready for use at a moment’s notice. I suppose having such a store close at hand was a comfort to those who feared Napoleon would come storming across the Channel, and it was also probably handy for all those military reviews in the park. Then too, I would think the danger of accidental explosions was less among the green lawns and towering trees than in crowded stone buildings of the metropolis. But given the unstable nature of the powder back then, I still shudder.
I think I’ll head back for more cheesecake.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sir Saffron Goes A-wooing: Happy at Last

When we left our handsome friend Sir Saffron back in March, he was hoping to find a new companion to lighten his existence (insofar as a spoiled rotten bunny’s existence needs lightening!) He met with some very handsome young ladies, as we saw in part one; though each of them was charming, none was quite right. It was time to go forth and meet some more damsels.

So Sir Saffron decided to hold an afternoon reception and invite all the fairest young bunny maidens to attend…well, really, foster bunny mom Terry from the House Rabbit Network actually brought three young ladies to meet Saffron at our house. With two of them, it was clear that a relationship would not work. But with the third…

Well, it was quite a different story. Sir Saffron and Miss Beans were clearly interested from the start. Picture Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle eyeing each other across the Meryton Assembly Rooms in Pride and Prejudice and you’ll get the idea. There was a great deal of sniffing and a lot of Saffron following the lovely girl bunny with amazing ears (she can let them flop down, or hold them almost upright) around the room as she explored…and then it started: the binkying. For those of you who do not speak Rabbit, I’ll explain: when a rabbit is very happy, it dances, leaps vertically up and does mid-air twists, shakes its head, and otherwise gambols about. This is called binkying…and when both Saffron and Beans started doing little jet├ęs as they lolloped about the room, we knew this was it.

Miss Beans, who now goes by the name Beatrice (though we can’t help sometimes calling her the Beanie Baby!) moved in a few days later. According to her foster mom she was very, very grumpy during the interval, and Saffron himself seemed a little off. When we brought her in and set her in the temporary pen in the living room that she would stay in till she got used to the house (and until we were sure she and Saffron would be friends), she sniffed about nervously at first…until Saffron came into the room. For the next hour and a half he ran in circles around her pen, binkying…and when we let her out to interact with him, this happened: That's Beatrice presenting to Saffron...basically saying, "Take me, I'm yours!" And that's Saffron grooming the top of her head, basically saying, "Oh! Okay."

In a couple of days, we had this: So I think it's safe to say that for this little story, there is a very definite ending: and they lived happily (and hoppily) ever after.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Grand Tour, Part 6: Climbing Over Mountains

We are having a few challenges on our Grand Tour, I fear. Several of us were highly tempted to remain in Paris but were finally persuaded to join us aboard our hired Voiturin as we set off across France for Italy. These hired carriages can hold four to six passengers and luggage, but the drivers appear to be rather new, and we’ve had a few near misses with other carriages, horses, and a rather fierce-looking bull. We’ve also had a few disagreements on which pass to take, finally settling on one of the more popular ones over Mont-Cenis and down into Turin. Unfortunately, that means we won’t be able to stop at Leukenbad as QNPoohBear had hoped, but she’s been a good sport about it.

And no wonder! The views out the carriage window are nothing short of amazing. We cross the high bridge over the River Orge and then a while later descend into the Forest of Fontainebleau, which our guide Mrs. Starke calls “gloomily magnificent” with its tree-shrouded rocky hills. One of our members is so entranced with geology that she insists we stop at the Grottoes of Arcy, where we climb through caves, torches held high, to view the stalactites and strange paintings made on the walls by ancient peoples.

After a night at the Hotel du Parc in Dijon, we continue on a road that is growing more difficult. Steep precipices fall into fertile river valleys; crusty crags grasp at the sky. In places, our drivers insist that we disembark and walk to save the horses, but who can resist gulping in great lungfuls of crisp, cool air. Marveling, we pick up handfuls of snow along the roadside even though it has long since melted away back home.

And we are not alone among the heights. Shepherds guide herds of cattle through the alpine pastures, playing on pipes that seem older than the hills. Other travelers pass on mules and horseback. Gentlemen try their luck in mountain streams, hoping to catch their dinner.

And there as we pass into Gex is Lake Geneva below us, a glittering jewel surrounded by glaciers! We crowd the windows of the Voiturin, setting our conveyance to shaking and one of us, ahem, to shrieking. Good thing we are descending into the valley, finally crossing a double set of bridges, their arches reflected in the lake. At the Gate we are required to surrender our passports (retrieving them again at the Bureau des Passeports), and then we are taken to the finest hotel in the city, Les Balances, for a fine dinner and a good night’s sleep.

I promise to sit in the middle of the Voiturin on our next leg of the journey, and I shall be happy to spend the evening mending your sleeve where I clung a bit too tightly on that last hill. Next, on to Turin!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Beauty, 19th Century Style, Part 2: Skin Care Recipes, or Everything I Need to be Beautiful can be Found at the Supermarket

Our 19th century girls couldn’t run down to the mall to pick up the latest beauty products…instead, they went down to the larder and out to the garden when they wanted something to remove freckles, or fade the tan they accidentally got at that picnic on Monday, or soothe chapped lips. Here are a few recipes for beauty products I found in The Lady’s Stratagem, compiled by Frances Grimble from a variety of early 19th century sources, as well as from The Mirror of Graces, anonymously published in 1811 by a Lady of Distinction.

Do any of them actually work to remove freckles or tan or pimples? I have no idea; some of the receipts call for unpleasant ingredients (a face wash of poultry blood to remove tan, for example!), and others call for ingredients no longer generally available, like spermaceti (a whale product) and musk. On the other hand, sweet almond oil and cucumber are used today in skin and body products…so who knows? Happy reading!

Cucumber Pomatum
This pomatum, which I have so often recommended for all faults in the skin, is prepared thus: take a quantity of fine olive-oil proportionable to how much pomatum you want. Grate white cucumbers in a quantity equal to the oil. Put the whole in a dish or a silver tumbler and place this vessel in a water-bath [like a double boiler]. Stir its contents continually with a silver soup-spoon, which replaces the pharmacist’s spatula. Continue to stir the mixture for some time, but do not let it boil; then strain it through a cheese cloth. Repeat the process with the same oil up to six times, always keeping the heat of the water-bath below the boiling point. This fine pomatum, white as snow, should be covered and used at once, because it turns rancid with time.

Lip Salve
A quarter of a pound of hard marrow, from the marrow-bone. Melt it over a slow fire, as it dissolves gradually, pour the liquid marrow into an earthen pipkin [that's one, at left], then add to it an ounce of spermaceti, twenty raisins of the sun, stoned [seeds removed], and a small portion of alcanna root, sufficient to color it a bright vermilion. Simmer these ingredients over a slow fire, then strain the whole through muslin; and while hot, stir into it one tea-spoonful of the balsam of Peru. Pour it into the boxes in which it is to remain; it will there stiffen, and become fit for use.

Pomade de Seville
(This simple application is much in request with the Spanish ladies, for taking off the effects of the sun, and to render the complexion brilliant.)
Take equal parts of lemon juice and white of eggs. Beat the whole together in a varnished earthen pipkin, and set on a slow fire. Stir the fluid with a wooden spoon till it has acquired the consistence of soft pomatum. Perfume it with some sweet essence, and, before you apply it, carefully wash the face with rice water.

Oil of Bitter Almonds, to cure Sun-burn and Freckles
Remove the yellow skins from some bitter almonds. Crush the almonds well, and press out the oil. Only a small amount should be prepared at a time, because it evaporates and easily turns rancid.

Preparation of Dr. Withering, to dispel Eruptions of the Skin
Squeeze out the juice of a leek, mix it with an equal quantity of sweet milk or cream, and use it to wash the pimples, which will dry up and promptly go down without leaving spots.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Queen Victoria and Her Pets, Part 2

Judith Laik is here again to finish off her series on Dogs in the 19th century with a look at the dogs of that most iconic of 19th century figures, Queen Victoria.

The Queen's husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, was also a dog lover, and they were to have many pets about them in their years together. Albert's Dash was a greyhound named Eos, which he brought with him from Germany when he and Victoria married, and who figures in many pictures. That's him at right with Prince Albert and young Vicky, the Princess Royal.

There is a charming painting of their domestic life, showing dogs and baby Princess Victoria, their first child, clustered around the royal couple, and one showing Victoria in her cradle guarded over by a little terrier. I imagine the cozy familial picture continued in their lives as the other children appeared.

Among the breeds Victoria owned were Greyhounds; at least one Scottish Deerhound; a number of Skye Terriers and other terrier breeds, included Jack Russells and Fox Terriers; Pomeranians; and Dachshunds. I didn’t see any indication she owned another King Charles Spaniel after Dash died in 1840.

She owned a number of Collies, and a succession of them (Sharp, Noble, and Roy--that's Sharp at left) became her close companions after her beloved Prince Albert died. However, these were not the Collies one usually sees today. They were the earlier, farm-type dog. Some of the sources describe them as Border Collies, but even today’s Border Collies are more refined looking than Victoria’s pets.

Some of the sources I researched noted that Victoria and Albert had large kennels, and that many of the dogs they kept were shown at early dog shows. Likely most of these dogs did not get a chance to partake in the companionship of the queen and her family, but were wholly cared for by kennel staff.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Queen Victoria and Her Pets, Part 1

This week, we're delighted to welcome Regency author and dog expert Judith Laik back to Nineteenteen to finish up her series on Dogs of the Nineteenth Century.

I mentioned back at the beginning of my series for Nineteenteen that dogs have provided companionship to people in all strata of society, and from ancient times. Dogs have been equally beloved by royals as well as by ordinary folk.

Queen Victoria was the ultimate royal animal lover. She had many pets from an early age and throughout her life. As a young girl, her life was strictly regimented, with lessons, simple food, and ample fresh air and exercise. Her mother, the Duchess of Kent, did not like to allow her to play with children who weren't royal, so dolls and animals became her companions.

Victoria had the company of her half-sister Feodora, from her mother’s first marriage, for the first nine years of her life, until Feodora’s marriage to Prince Ernest of Hohenlohe-Langenburg in 1828. After this event, her governess, Louise Lehzen, was her closest companion. It’s understandable how important her pets became to the lonely princess.

One of her early favorites was Dash, a black and white King Charles Spaniel. (That's him above, with Victoria, and at left, sitting on the to him is Victoria's mother's parrot!) He had originally been a gift in from Sir John Conroy, her mother’s comptroller, to the Duchess, but in not too long he'd become Victoria's beloved pet. Dash was her constant companion in her teen years and through the beginning of her reign. In fact, the first thing Victoria did on arriving back at Buckingham Palace after her Coronation was to hurry up to her apartment to give Dash a bath! Her mother had a painting of Dash commissioned by Edwin Landseer for her 17th birthday, which began a long association with him. He went on to paint many of Victoria’s pets.

Dash also helped set the seal on Victoria’s approval of Prince Albert as her consort. When they first met, Albert’s attentions to Dash earned him high marks.

On Friday Judith will tell you about more of the Queen's beloved dogs.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Public Spectacles, Amusements, and Objects Deserving Notice, April

April, spring, and Easter all combined to make this month particularly enjoyable for young lads and lasses in nineteenth century London. After all, Easter marked the traditional start of the Season, when anyone who was anyone came to London to take part in Society and its rituals. But it wasn’t just the wealthy that celebrated this time of year. If you were one of the poorer people, for example, you might find it necessary to hang out at Whitehall Chapel on Maunday Thursday, the day before Good Friday. That’s the day His Majesty’s almoner distributes gifts to the poor.

(Now there’s an interesting profession: the Royal Almoner. Appointed by the monarch, the position comes with the title of Lord High Almoner, letters patent, a tidy salary, and the ability to appoint a sub-almoner to help out. He conducted one lecture a year on Maunday Thursday when he made the major distribution of gifts to the poor. But he also distributed gifts to pay for funerals, to compensate for crimes, and to simply hand out kindness from His or Her Majesty.)

The days after Easter are similarly festive. Easter Monday, Sadler’s Wells, Astley’s Ampitheatre, and the Royal Circus open. That same day, the Lord Mayor and Aldermen go in state to Christ-Church, attend service, and then go to feast at the Mansion House. Be sure to attend the ball that evening; tickets are to be had from the Lord Mayor or the sheriffs.

Ah, but if you really wanted a spectacle, Easter Monday and Tuesday you would head out to Greenwich for the Fair. Charles Dickens commented fondly on the practice in his Sketches by Boz, calling Greenwich Easter Fair a "spring rash" and a "three days’ fever." Carriages, wagons, and omnibuses carried merry Londoners out to the event. Stalls of vendors selling things like sweet meats, gingerbread, and toys filled the streets, and there were wild animal shows and theatricals.

Even more boisterous events brought throngs to the park. There were games for the children and young at heart. Retired Naval men set up telescopes and charged a penny for the privilege of explaining what you saw through them. Gypsy fortune tellers worked the crowds. Some adults were content to stroll about and watch the revelry. Others danced and drank and flirted. And some tumbled.

Tumbling seems to have been both a shocking and much beloved event. The idea was to take your sweetie by the hand and climb to the top of Observatory Hill. There you’d link arms with a dozen or more men and women and dash down the slope together. Only some kept their footing. Others fell or rolled to the bottom. Bonnets were squashed; curls were disarrayed; and I imagine more than one gentleman caught a glimpse of shapely ankles and other portions of a lady’s anatomy.

The public frolic and revelry was so great that in 1857 the fair was outlawed as dangerous to order and public morals. And here I thought all those chocolate bunnies were the most dangerous thing about the Easter season!

(Greenwich Fair image from the Bolles Collection at the Digital Collections and Archives, Tufts University)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Beauty, 19th Century Style, Part 1: Detestable Compositions

Today it’s no big deal for young women to use lipstick, eye pencils, and any other number of cosmetics to improve on nature or conceal temporary blemishes. In the early 19th century, however, it was rather a different story. For one thing, in those days, make-up could kill—literally!

Up until the 20th century, the ideal of feminine beauty was a white skin tone, untouched by the sun. For those not naturally gifted with a pale, clear complexion, there was always “paint”, the “detestable compositions” of today’s title—compounds usually containing heavy metals like lead and antimony which might give one the desired, smooth, white skin, but were also highly neurotoxic (and, in the end, actually corrosive to the skin). Furthermore, there was an association of make-up with the stage and actresses, who were thought to be of uniformly light virtue. So is it any wonder that the use of anything to alter the appearance of one’s skin was regarded by most with at least deep suspicion?

But even the most curmudgeonly of 19th century texts agree that sometimes, Mother Nature needs a little help. All agree good general health and cleanliness to be the best promoter of a clear, handsome complexion, though they don’t always agree on just how to achieve them (is cold air a bane or boost?) But when Mother Nature doesn’t come through, a little rouge to the cheeks—the extract of safflowers or red sandalwood or cochineal (made from the crushed bodies of an insect native to Mexico and South America) is permissible…and that’s about all. Don’t even think about lipstick or eye make-up:

The article of rouge, on the grounds I have mentioned, is the only species of positive art a woman of integrity or of delicacy can permit herself to use with her face….nothing but selfish vanity, and falsehood of mind, could prevail upon a woman…to lacquer her lips with vermilion….Penciling eyebrows, staining them, &c. are too clumsy tricks of attempted deception…. (from The Mirror of Graces, 1811).

Of course, if a young lady wished to impress a young man with rosy lips to match her complexion, there was always the old trick of raising one's fan before one's mouth and biting the lips into pink plumpness...

Our next installment on 19th Century beauty will be Skin Care Recipes, or Everything I Need to be Beautiful can be Found at the Supermarket…but first, we’ll be welcoming Regency author and dog expert Judith Laik back to Nineteenteen next week with a look at the one of the century’s most enthusiastic dog fanciers.