WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Grunter

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Grunter

One of my favorite phrases is ‘dab hand,’ and to quote Manuel from Fawlty Towers: “I learned it from a book.” Which also happens to be one of the funniest twelve episodes of television, ever.

But I digress.

I often make one of the characters in my novels a ‘dab hand’ at home medicine. This could be anything from herbal concoctions to poultices and plasters. This is historically accurate: at least one female in a Regency household would have known how to confer simple remedies in a pinch, until a doctor could be fetched or patient transported for care, if on the road.

Grunter

Complain of sickness.

George III Mahogany Medicine Chest, late 18th century, with label printed Ireland & Hollier Apothecaries & Chemists, No. 22 Pall Mall, Family Medicine Chests compleat [sic] and Genuine Patent Medicines &c, sold at Sotheby’s in 2017.

So what would those with a dab hand dispense? After heading to their still room, where all their ingredients would be stored, they’d brew, grind, or compound some easy to swallow (elderberry syrup), and some not-so-easy-to-swallow creations:

Take pearls, crab’s-eyes, red coral, white amber, burnt hartshorn, and oriental bezoar, of each half an ounce; the black tips of crabs-claws three ounces; make all into a paste, with a jelly of vipers, and roll it into little balls, which dry and keep for use.
(from The Compleat Housewife or, Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion, 15th edition, 1753, compiled by Eliza Smith, as reported at Jane Austen’s World)

19th Century Traveling Apothecary Medicine Chest, containing 10 glass bottles and original scales, sold at Auctions at Showplace in 2017.

Also according to Jane Austen’s World – from The Claude Moore Colonial Farm at Turkey Run – here are the myriad ways an herbal remedy may be prepared:

Infusion: A liquid made by soaking an herb – usually its dried leaves or flowers – in liquid. An herbal tea is really an infusion.
Decoction: A liquid made by boiling an herb.
Poultice: A soft, moist mass of bread, meal, herbs, etc. applied to the body.
Plaister: A solid or semi solid remedy, spread on cloth or leather and applied to the body.
Electuary: Powder dried herb and mix with three times as much honey.
Oil: Fresh or dried herb is soaked in oil to extract the essences of the herb. Usually applied externally.
Ointment: Fresh or dried herb is soaked in lard to extract the essences of the herb, then mixed with beeswax and turpentine. Applied externally.

Mahogany Regency Medicine Cabinet with 23 medicine bottles, circa 1820, from Richard Gardner Antiques.

The handy housewife, well-trained housekeeper, or bluestocking daughter (otherwise known as a spinster-in-the-making) could make things such as “bottles of saline draughts, barley-water, lemonade, jars of calves’ foot or pork jelly, as well as blisters and plasters,” according to Nancy Mayer, Regency Researcher. Surely being fed calves’ foot jelly was the source of the idiom the cure is worse than the disease.

To procure the more potent medicines, you’d need to consult an apothecary or doctor, although potent didn’t necessarily mean safer (think mercury and opium).

We’ll visit them next week.

Until then, please consider heading over to Regina Jeffer’s delightful home on the internet and reading her exhaustive Herbal Medicine Used in Regency Period. There was no need for me to re-hash what had already been done thoroughly and well (Bonus: she shows how she incorporated her research into a novel!). Pin it, bookmark it, and put a shortcut to it on your desktop while you’re there.

 

Advertisements
WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Curtain Lecture

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Curtain Lecture

My apologies for the lack of a post last week. Evidently I angered the gods because my laptop died, our internet service was down, and I couldn’t get the hamsters to run fast enough to power the antique desktop computer for backup. I tried using my phone, but it just laughed at me.

So you’ve married but everything has turned out chalk and cheese rather than peas in a pod. What’s a Regency era couple to do?

Keep on keeping on.
Suffer in silence.
Stay the course.

In other words, you’ve made your bed.

The Devil to Pay; _The Wife Metamorphos’d, or Neptune resposing after Fording the Jordan by James Gillray, published 24 October 1791 by Hannah Humphrey, National Portrait Gallery.

Curtain Lecture

A woman who scolds her husband when in bed, is said to read him a curtain lecture.

There were three ways to get out of marriage: annulment, divorce, and death. The last is self-explanatory, so I’ll only address the first two.

Annulment

The prolific and popular Regency novel trope – that of marrying for one year for -insert reason here- and then dissolving the marriage amicably as if it had never occurred…it’s also the biggest Regency novel anachronism. Unlike today, where marrying and annuling are as easy as filling out a form and paying a $25 fee to your local county clerk, annuling a marriage during the Regency came with specific prerequisite boxes to tick. Minors could not marry if they were too young (no younger than age seven, if you please) or without permission of their guardian if they were not yet one and twenty. No one could marry under a false name, or if one party was already married. These conditions constituted the annulable actions of fraud. Also, a marriage was voidable if one party was not compos mentis, meaning in control of their faculties. Lastly, a marriage was dissolvable if one party – namely the male – was incapable of performing the marriage act, i.e. impotent. The marriage did not have to be consummated to be valid, but the ability to consummate had to be present.

So, gentle reader, to annul a marriage in Regency England, there had to be fraud, incompetance, or impotence. You had to be too young, too headstrong to get your guardian’s permission, too daft, or too flaccid.

Divorce

Divorce was as rare as annulments since the qualifications were just as injurious to the reputations of both spouses. Kristen Koster reports 276 divorces occurred between 1765 and 1857; after the passage of the first British divorce bill in 1697 and up through the year 1857, only four divorces were granted to women (and that not until 1801). I shudder to think how many divorces occurred last week, let alone last year, in our modern and enlightened times.

A Regency divorce was expensive, drawn-out, highly publicized, and excruciating for both parties. Divorce first had to be pursued in court as a legal separation on grounds of adultery. Next, the husband had to sue his wife’s lover for criminal conversation – often abbreviated crim. con. – which means exactly what it sounds like: another man had a criminal (he was not her husband) conversation (of the lewdest kind between unmarried people) with someone else’s wife. Today we would more politely call this ‘alienation of affection.’ If the husband proved his case, he would be awarded damanges for the illegal intercourse between his wife and her lover…but he still wasn’t divorced. No, the next step was petitioning Parliament to end the marriage, with witnesses and testimony, full of all manner of lurid and demeaning moments. Parliament would then decide a ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ for a bill of divorcement. Both sides bore the brunt of society’s snub: while the man would always fare better, he was still a social outcast and no longer considered marriable. The wife, as the adultress, was completely cast from ‘good society’ and usually retreated to the anonymity of the country or, if her family allowed, her parents’ home.

The feuding couple could simply stop at the first step, that of the legal separation, but it came with its own baggage, although mostly for the wife. Don’t forget, a man could simply leave his wife anytime he chose, but she could not do the same. He could summon the law to have her fetched and returned, no questions asked. If the wife truly desired to live apart from her husband, a legal separation was her only recourse. It required the husband to pay for his wife’s financial support while removing her requirements to keep his house and occupy his bed. The price here was social ostracization for the wife, and she could never remarry should she find a more suitable mate. Any future children would be illegitimate and neither her husband nor her lover would be required to offer financial support.

Annulment and divorce were far from easy, quick, cheap, or quiet.

It was a good idea to make sure you were ready for – and even resigned to – all aspects of the marriage bed.

Fashionable Contrasts; _or_ The Duchess’s little Shoe yielding to the Magnitude of the Duke’s Foot by James Gillray, published 24 January 1792 by Hannah Humphrey, National Portrait Gallery.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save