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

A Century of Sartorial Style: A Visual Guide to 19th Century Menswear

Individual Collage Images Courtesy of LACMA, Met Museum, and the Kyoto Costume Institute.

Individual Collage Images Courtesy of LACMA, Met Museum, and the Kyoto Costume Institute.

Men’s fashion changed very little during the nineteenth century, especially when compared to women’s fashion of the same period. For this reason, I thought it better to provide a general overview of the century, looking at changes decade-by-decade as opposed to year-by-year. In this manner, you can see the slow evolution of nineteenth century menswear, from the Regency dandyism of Beau Brummell to the matched three-piece suits of the late Victorian era. Changes were subtle, but significant, each of them moving men’s fashion one step closer to the elegant silhouettes still evidenced in fashionable menswear of today. Continue reading

This is Death: A Guest Post on George IV by Catherine Curzon

Today, I am very pleased to welcome royal historian and author Catherine Curzon with a fascinating guest post on the death of King George IV!

George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1814.

George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1814.

“It has pleased Almighty God to take from this world the King’s Most Excellent Majesty.  His Majesty expired at a quarter past three o’clock this morning, without pain.”[1]

Before I even put pen to paper to write Life in the Georgian Court, I had a soft spot for all things George IV.  I’m fairly uncommon in this, as George is a far from popular fellow thanks to his love of spending, excess and treating the world as though it was his and his alone. 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

The 1830s in Fashionable Gowns: A Visual Guide to the Decade

Individual Images of Gowns via Met Museum and V&A Museum.

Individual Images of Gowns via Met Museum and V&A Museum.

The 1830s was another transformative decade in 19th century fashion.  Like the 1820s, it was a span of years which stood between the Regency era (1811-1820) and the Victorian era (1837-1901), providing a bridge from the often extreme, gigot-sleeved confections of the 1820s to the tight-sleeved, form-fitting bodices of the 1840s.  The 1830s was also the decade in which the pendulum of fashion swung from large, ornate sleeves to large skirts embellished with various pleats and trimmings.  Or, as fashion historian C. Willett Cunnington describes it, the decade in which women’s gowns moved from the “exuberantly romantic” to the “droopingly sentimental.” Continue reading

Jane Eyre and the Legendary Gytrash

Snarling dog from Darwin's Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, 1872.(Image Courtesy of The Wellcome Library, CC BY 4.0.)

Snarling dog from Darwin’s Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, 1872.
(Image Courtesy of The Wellcome Library, CC BY 4.0.)

According to Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, Jane Eyre, a Gytrash is a goblin or spirit which takes the form of a horse, mule, or large dog.  Typically found in the North of England, the Gytrash “haunted solitary ways” and often surprised unwary travelers as they journeyed alone in the dusk.  Jane Eyre herself encounters what she believes to be a Gytrash one bleak, January evening as she is walking from Thornfield Hall to post a letter in the nearby village of Hay.  Alerted to its arrival by a loud, clattering noise, Jane observes: 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