A Proposed 18th Century Tax Bill Targets 27-Year-Old Spinsters…And Their Cats!

‘As the supply alluded to is to be levied upon all old maids, beyond a certain age, and intitled to certain yearly or other income; I make no doubt but both Houses of Parliament will speedily manifest their hearty concurrence thereto.’
The London Magazine, 1777.

A Visit to Grandmother by John Raphael Smith after Thomas James Northcote, 1785.(Five Colleges and Historic Deerfield Museum Consortium)

A Visit to Grandmother by John Raphael Smith after Thomas James Northcote, 1785.
(Five Colleges and Historic Deerfield Museum Consortium)

The 1777 edition of the London Magazine includes an interesting letter to the editor in which a gentleman—who signs himself as ‘A Friend to the Community’—has appended a proposed bill to levy a tax of ‘6d. in the pound’ on old maids. He claims that this tax will generate revenues of nearly £300,000 per annum, a sum which could then be used to help fund the British war against the American colonies. The proposed bill begins by stating: Continue reading

Never Bring a Dog into a Drawing Room: The Etiquette of Paying Calls with Pets

“Favorite dogs are never welcome visitors in a drawing-room.”
Martine’s Hand-Book of Etiquette, 1866.

Lady and a Greyhound by Václav Brožík, 1896-97.(National Gallery, Prague Castle)

Lady and a Greyhound by Václav Brožík, 1896-97.
(National Gallery, Prague Castle)

In the Victorian era, etiquette books offered very specific advice on how to conduct oneself when paying a social call. In some cases, this advice differed from book to book and decade to decade, but in one respect all the etiquette manuals throughout the Victorian era seem to agree. When paying a call on a friend or acquaintance, one should never bring along one’s dog. As the 1840 book Etiquette for Ladies states: Continue reading

Victorian Advice for a Dry January: Alcohol Fasts v. Drinking in Moderation

“What have I done? Given my word not to touch any stimulants for a whole month. By Jove! what a long month it will seem.”
Bound by Fetters; or The Evils of Drink, 1887.

The Drinkers by Jean Béraud, 1908.

The Drinkers by Jean Béraud, 1908.

Though the Victorians may not have been familiar with the term “Dry January,” the custom of abstaining from alcohol for a short time each year was nothing particularly new. Medical books and journals of the day often recommended the practice to cleanse the body and clear the mind. For example, in his 1864 Manual of Diet and Regimen for Physician and Patient, Dr. Horace Dobell advises that: Continue reading

A Victorian Lady’s Christmas Gift Guide

“A merry Christmas, with Love’s gifts for the young, Home’s comforts for the old, and Heaven’s bright hopes for all, is our fervent aspiration.”
Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1854.

An elegantly dressed couple walk arm in arm under an umbrella, 1905.(Wellcome Images CC BY 4.0)

An elegantly dressed couple walk arm in arm under an umbrella, 1905.
(Wellcome Images CC BY 4.0)

Shopping for Christmas presents in the Victorian era could be quite tricky, especially if one was a lady choosing a gift for a gentleman. Luckily, newspapers, magazines, and etiquette books of the day were only too happy to offer advice on appropriate gifts for all the men, women, and children in one’s life. They also offered advice on such thorny issues as re-gifting gifts and keeping to a Christmas budget. In today’s article we look at a few of these recommended Christmas gifts for ladies and gentlemen, as well as at Victorian advice on re-gifting and living within one’s means during the holidays. Continue reading

When Jealousy is Not a Curse – My Georgette Heyer Addiction: Guest Post by Avril Tremayne

Today, I am very pleased to welcome author and fellow #DashItAll Avril Tremayne with a guest post on Georgette Heyer!

Composing a Letter by Vittorio Reggianini, (1858–1938).

Composing a Letter by Vittorio Reggianini, (1858–1938).

I’m admitting upfront to a case of author envy when it comes to Georgette Heyer – even though I write super sexy, ultra-contemporary romances that are a world away from Heyer’s bygone eras full of heroes and heroines who fall in love before they even kiss. Continue reading

Charles Dickens and Timber Doodle, the Flea-Ridden Dog

Dog of the Havana Breed by Jean Jacques Bachelier, (1724–1806).(Bowes Museum)

Dog of the Havana Breed by Jean Jacques Bachelier, (1724–1806).
(Bowes Museum)

In the mid-nineteenth century, Charles Dickens had a small, shaggy Havana spaniel named Timber Doodle. Dickens had acquired Timber during a visit to America and the little dog soon became his constant companion, even accompanying him on his travels. It was during one of these foreign excursions that Timber suffered from a very severe infestation of fleas. The solution was extreme. As Dickens relates in an 1844 letter: Continue reading

Shades of Victorian Fashion: Butter, Lemon, Gold, and Yellow

Individual Images via Philadelphia Museum of Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, and Met Museum.

During the Victorian era, yellow was believed to be the color most similar to light. With shades ranging from the palest butter to the liveliest lemon, it was suitable for morning dresses, day dresses, evening gowns, and seaside wear. Fashion magazines and color experts of the day recommended restricting clear, bright yellows to spring and summer. However, shades of yellow could be seen in fashionable dress throughout the year, often in the form of gloves, a decorative fan, a frilly parasol, or a stylish hat. In today’s article, we look at some of the loveliest examples of the color yellow in Victorian fashion. Continue reading

A Fashionable Coiffure: Rolls, Plaits, and other Popular Hairstyles of 1863

“The MANNER of DRESSING the HAIR calls for much attention at the present day, and many are the inquiries addressed to us on this important subject.”
Peterson’s Magazine, 1863.

The Reluctant Bride by Auguste Toulmouche 1865.

The Reluctant Bride by Auguste Toulmouche 1865.

Hairstyles of the 1860s are, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful of the nineteenth century.  Hair was arranged in enormous rolls or plaited into intricately woven patterns.  Women donned crowns of flowers or bound their hair up into silken nets or velvet hoods.  These were soft, feminine styles, lacking the Gothic severity of the 1830s and 1840s while, at the same time, still far more conservative than the long, draped curls that would come into fashion in the 1870s and 1880s.  These were also the hairstyles that most of us recognize from the American Civil War era (1861-1865).  Popular coiffures changed from year to year, and often from month to month.  Today, we look at a few of the most fashionable styles of 1863. Continue reading

Queen Victoria’s First Visit to the London Theatres as Monarch: Guest Post by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden

Today, I am very pleased to welcome historians Joanne Major and Sarah Murden with a wonderful guest post on Queen Victoria’s first visits to the London theatres upon her ascension to the throne in 1837!

Queen Victoria ascended the throne in June 1837 upon the death of her uncle, William IV. She was just eighteen years of age and her youth symbolised a new beginning. We wanted to share the details of the first visit to the two main London theatres by the young queen as a reigning monarch, not least because there are some wonderful images of Victoria on those two evenings.

Queen Victoria at Drury Lane Theatre, 15 November 1837 by Edmund Thomas Parris (1793-1873), drawn 1837. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

Queen Victoria at Drury Lane Theatre, 15 November 1837 by Edmund Thomas Parris (1793-1873), drawn 1837.
Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

Continue reading

A Scientific Justification for Spinsters: Old Maids and Cats in the Victorian Era

‘Old maids and cats have long been proverbially associated together, and rightly or wrongly these creatures have been looked upon with a certain degree of suspicion and aversion by a large proportion of the human race.’
Dundee Courier, 5 October 1880.

Portrait of a Lady with a White Cat by Anonymous Artist, 19th Century.

Portrait of a Lady with a White Cat by Anonymous Artist, 19th Century.

Spinsters have long been associated with cats.  This was especially true in the Victorian era when the stereotype of the old maid and her feline dependents was so pervasive that an 1880 edition of the Dundee Courier not only declared that “the old maid would not be typical of her class without the cat,” but that “one cannot exist without the other.”  Like cats (who were generally viewed as being sly and self-serving), old maids faced their fair share of societal persecution.  Doomed to live in a state of “single blessedness,” they were often seen as being eccentric or as having been soured by their “blighted hopes.”  Continue reading