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

The Victorian Baby: 19th Century Advice on Motherhood and Maternity

First Born by Gustave Leonard de Jonghe

First Born by Gustave Leonard de Jonghe, 1863.

During the 19th century, there were many sources of information on motherhood and maternity.  Some new mothers relied on the instructions of their nurse, midwife, or physician.  While others used the example set by their own mother as a guide for their conduct.  For all the questions remaining, there were motherhood and maternity manuals produced by hospitals, religious organizations, and advice experts.  These guides advised on everything from conception and pregnancy to nursery decoration, childrearing, and teenage rebellion.   Continue reading

The Perils of May-December Marriages in the Nineteenth Century

The Arranged Marriage by Vasili Pukirev, 1861.

The Arranged Marriage by Vasili Pukirev, 1861.

While researching for another article, I happened upon an 1840s book which espouses harsh—and quite unintentionally hilarious—views on age disparities in marriage.  This book, titled The Midwife’s Guide, is actually a Victorian edition of the 17th century sex and midwifery manual known as Aristotle’s Masterpiece.  Written by an unknown author purporting to be Aristotle, it was the most widely read sex manual in 19th century England.  Only a fraction of the text is devoted to May-December marriages, but those brief pages leave one in no doubt of how the author feels about matches of unequal years.  He begins by writing:

“When greedy parents, for the sake of riches, will match a daughter that is scarcely seventeen, to an old miser that is above threescore; can anyone imagine that such a conjunction can ever yield satisfaction, where the inclinations are as opposite as the months of June and January.”

Continue reading

Alternative Courtship: Matrimonial Advertisements in the 19th Century

The Lovers by William Powell Frith, 1855.

For many single ladies and gentlemen of the 19th century, placing a matrimonial advertisement in a local newspaper was considered a viable alternative to traditional courtship.  It was especially popular with those who were new to an area or those who had no family or social groups through which they might otherwise obtain an introduction to a suitable partner.  Naturally, there were those traditionalists who frowned upon this method of acquiring a spouse.  It was viewed as undignified, indelicate, and dangerous.  Even so, matrimonial advertisements were utilized by men and women of every age and every class throughout the Regency and Victorian eras.  Continue reading

19th Century Marriage Manuals: Advice for Young Wives

The Bride Adorned by Her Friend by Henrik Olrik, 1850.

The Bride Adorned by Her Friend by Henrik Olrik, 1850.

Covering a range of topics, including domestic economy, conjugal duties, and submission to one’s husband, the bulk of 19th century marriage manuals were directed at young wives occupying the middle and upper classes.  These manuals were written by both men and women and were so numerous during the Regency and Victorian eras that some of the books contain notices wherein the author preemptively defends himself against future allegations of plagiarism.  In author William Andrus Alcott’s 1837 book The Young Wife, or Duties of Woman in the Marriage Relation, Alcott begins by assuring his readers that: Continue reading

19th Century Marriage Manuals: Advice for Young Husbands

The Waning Honeymoon by George Henry Boughton, 1878.

The Waning Honeymoon by George Henry Boughton, 1878.

Published in 1837, The Young Husband’s Book is described as a “manual of domestic duties.”  Written by “a mentor” it contains within its pages advice on everything from choosing a wife to dealing with pesky in-laws.  Some of the information is merely common sense, the sort of generic advice newlyweds might hear from well-meaning relatives today.  The remainder is very pointedly early 19th century – written by someone who was clearly drawing on their own marital experiences gained during the Regency era and applying them to young couples in what was then the new Victorian age. Continue reading