WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Balum Rancum

This week’s word deals with dancing prostitutes, so as you can imagine, period illustrations were a bit hard to find. Thank goodness the upper classes had no compunction about acting a bit shamefully on occasion. Or at least enough to satirize.

Exhibition Stare Case, print made by Thomas Rowlandson, 1811 (?), British Museum. Visitors to the Royal Academy struggle up and down the steeply curving staircase of Somerset House. The wild display of bare legs brings delight to the spectators.

Blaum Rancum

A hop or dance, where the women are all prostitutes. N. B. The company dance in their birthday suits.

Waltzing! or a peep into the Royal Brothel Spring Gardens dedicated with propriety to the Lord Chamberlain, 1816, British Museum.

Far from an illustration of prostitutes, but based on the description of the engraving, there is a definite spirit of balum rancum afoot.

Three couples dance immodestly in a space bordered by a red rope behind which are many spectators. The breasts and shoulders, and sometimes the arms, of the women are bare, their skirts short and edged with transparent lace. A fourth couple stand arm-in-arm on the extreme right, inspecting a lady seated on a bench. A corner of the musicians’ gallery is on the left. The men’s costume also is caricatured. All wear tail-coats and high collars; one wears very tight and short pantaloons, another loose baggy trousers resembling plus-fours (cf. No. 12825). There is a carpet with a large lyre for centre-piece (or perhaps this represents the designs then chalked on ball-room floors). Above is a gas-chandelier with many jets. On the wall are three pictures. (1) ‘Naked, but not ashamed’: three women with bare breasts and short petticoats, two wearing hats, and two having a grotesque stoop (cf. No. 12840). (2) Two men raising their hats; one wears short loose trousers, the other tight breeches with top-boots. (3) ‘Tobacco Pipe imitations of Female Dress—or Smoking the Fashions of 1816.’

The Royal Joke, -or- Black Jacks Delight by James Gillray, published by Samuel William Fores 25 April 1788, National Portrait Gallery.

Fiddling, dancing, royalty, gawkers, and a whip – who needs prostitutes?! And while the colorized etching is held at the National Portrait Gallery, the description is pure British Museum:

A scene in Carlton House. The Prince of Wales, seated in a chair, holds a stout, good-looking lady (Mrs. Sawbridge) across his knees and chastises her with upraised hand; she holds out her arms imploringly. Alderman Sawbridge (right) faces her in profile to the left, playing a fiddle and dancing; from his pocket hangs a piece of music inscribed ‘The Reform’, a new Motion. On the extreme left Lady Archer stands in profile to the right, holding a driving-whip, and pointing angrily at the injured lady. A little girl (Sawbridge) stands full-face, clasping her hands in horror at the treatment of her mother. Behind are a number of onlookers: a very fat lady in profile to the left is Miss Vanneck; Mrs. Fitzherbert watches, not displeased; Fox, his arm round her shoulder, gazes amorously at her…

 

Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

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