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

Circassian Bloom: Cheek Rouge for 18th and 19th Century Ladies

Self-Portrait by Marie-Gabrielle Capet, 1783.
(National Museum of Western Art)

Circassian Bloom—also marketed as “Bloom of Circassia”—is perhaps the most well-known brand of cheek rouge from the 18th and 19th centuries.  Along with such luxurious sounding beauty products as Peach Blossom Cream and Alabaster Liquid, it was featured regularly in Victorian era newspaper advertisements.  It was also frequently mentioned in 18th and 19th century fiction, including short stories in magazines and popular comic verses.  Perhaps the most quoted of these verses is by the English poet George Crabbe who mentions Circassian Bloom in his 1785 poem, The Newspaper.  It reads in part: Continue reading

Aphrodisiacs, Elixirs, and Dr. Brodum’s Restorative Nervous Cordial

Quack Doctor Open for Business by G.M. Woodward, 1802.(Image courtesy of Wellcome Trust)

Quack Doctor Open for Business by G.M. Woodward, 1802.
(Image Courtesy of The Wellcome Library, CC BY 4.0.)

During the 18th and 19th century, patent medicines were everywhere.  These various powders, potions, elixirs, and cordials were primarily peddled by quacks, some of whom purported to be doctors from respected universities like St. Andrews in Scotland.  The claims they made on behalf of their products were extraordinary.  According to advertisements of the era, a restorative cordial or tonic could do practically anything, from curing dropsy in children to curing impotence in men and hysteria in women.  Some even proclaimed that they could cure a fellow of the desire to engage in that “solitary, melancholy practice” so common to the male sex (i.e. Masturbation). Continue reading

The Care and Kenneling of 19th Century Foxhounds and Sporting Dogs

“If the stable and stable management are important considerations to the turf man, the kennel and the general treatment of dogs must be equally so to the field man.”
(An Encyclopedia of Rural Sports, 1870.)

Foxhunting: Encouraging Hounds by John Frederick Herring, 1839.

Foxhunting: Encouraging Hounds by John Frederick Herring, 1839.

Outdoor sports like foxhunting, coursing, and shooting were popular pastimes of the 19th century country gentleman.  As such, the care and maintenance of one’s hunting dogs was always a subject ripe for debate and discussion.  What was the best feed to give a foxhound?  How did one treat an outbreak of worms?  And, most importantly, what was the ideal design and construction of a kennel?  Sporting books and articles of the era give varying answers to these questions.  Some of them fall in line with our knowledge of dogs today.  Some of them are outright medieval.  Either way, a bit of research reveals that, though his quarters may at times have been magnificent, the 19th century sporting dog was no pampered pet. Continue reading

The Scottie’s Petticoat and Other 19th Century Dog Tales

Come Over Here! by Lilian Cheviot, 1915.

Come Over Here! by Lilian Cheviot, 1915.

On this week’s edition of Animals in Literature and History, I bring you three separate, but equally intriguing, dog anecdotes from the 19th century.  The first involves a Scottish Terrier and a lady’s white petticoat.  The second involves a Bulldog and a surgeon.  And the third and final tale gives us a little insight into the professional and working class souls of 19th century canines. Continue reading

The Origins of the Unicorn

The Maiden and the Unicorn by Domenichino, 1602.

The Maiden and the Unicorn by Domenichino, 1602.

According to historians, the legend of the unicorn first emerged in 398 BC courtesy of the Greek physician Ctesias.  Ctesias wrote an account of India, titled Indica.  He attests that all recorded within his account are things that he has witnessed himself or that he has had related to him by credible witnesses.  This account of India, though largely lost, has been preserved in a fragmentary abstract made in the 9th century by Photios I of Constantinople.  In the twenty-fifth fragment, Ctesias writes of the unicorn, stating: Continue reading

The History of the Lorgnette

Lady with Lorgnette by Unknown Artist, 1830s.

Lady with Lorgnette by Unknown Artist, 1830s.

A lorgnette is, quite simply, a pair of spectacles mounted on a handle.  The precursor to modern opera glasses, lorgnettes were a common sight during the 19th century at the theater as well as the opera.  And since the name lorgnette derives from the French word lorgner – meaning “to ogle” or “to eye furtively” – one can only imagine the many uses to which a curious socialite in the balcony might have put them.  Whether employed to sneakily spy on a rival across the way, stealthily investigate a young gentleman down in the pit, or to merely watch the action on the stage, a lorgnette was an indispensable accessory for the 19th century lady about town. Continue reading

Napoleon vs. Wellington: The Art of the Passionate Love Letter

Napoleon and Wellington Love LetterRanging from the desperately passionate to the treacly sweet, historical love letters are as informative as they are entertaining.  But who amongst our favorite figures of the 19th century penned the most heart melting missives?  Naturally, one would assume the honors for this would go to Byron, Keats, or Shelley.  Their love letters were sublime, there is no doubt.  However, if you have a yen to read truly smoldering love letters, might I suggest a gentleman who, when not busy conquering the world, expended his time writing scorching hot letters to his wife? Continue reading

Georgette Heyer’s Most Beloved Novel

The Thick of the Plot by George Goodwin Kilburne, 1924.

The Thick of the Plot by George Goodwin Kilburne, 1924.

Filled with sparkling wit, frothy romance, and impeccable period details, every single one of Georgette Heyer’s Georgian and Regency novels has something to recommend it.  There are runaway balloons, devoted rescue dogs, kidnappings, duels, brooding Yorkshire heroes, and “that Greek fellow.”  How can a Heyer fan choose only one favorite?  It would be unfair of anyone to ask us to do so.  Nevertheless, it seems only fitting that for the final Georgette Heyer poll we address ourselves to the difficult task. Continue reading

The Pet Parrot: As Depicted in 18th and 19th Century Art, Literature, & History

Woman at the Piano with Cockatoo by Gustave Léonard de Jonghe, (1870).

Woman at the Piano with Cockatoo by Gustave Léonard de Jonghe, (1870).

When thinking of 18th and 19th century pets, we inevitably imagine dogs or cats or small, caged canaries.  Large and colorful exotic birds are not generally the type of animal we envision inhabiting the pages of a Georgian or Regency novel, much less an actual Georgian or Regency home.  It may surprise you to learn that parrots were, in fact, quite popular as pets during the 18th and 19th centuries. Continue reading