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.

 

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WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Rigging

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Rigging

Regency era ladies must have sighed with relief when fashions evolved from the large skirts, thick panniers, and elaborate wigs of the late 18th century to the simpler, empire-waisted, silhouette dresses of the 19th century. Dressing would be so much simpler.

Or would it?

Let’s make a stop in a Regency lady’s dressing room.

Rigging

Clothing. Rum Rigging:  fine clothes.

Underthings

The Shift ~ Also known as a chemise, this thin, white linen or cotton precursor to the modern-day slip was worn right next to the skin, as it was much easier to clean than the next article of clothing, the stays (it was also kinder and more comfortable to the skin). It had a square neckline and could be short-sleeved or sleeveless. The shift was also long, falling to just above the knee or even the ankle.

Chemise/Shift, linen, 1810s. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The Stays ~ Also known as a corset (though not the larger, full torso-covering and whalebone-laden corsets of the Victorian era), stays were worn as a support for the bust and to aid proper posture. They looked much more like a modern brassiere or bustier than the fuller-length Georgian or Victorian corsets. Stays were made of a medium weight, tightly-woven linen or cotton and, depending on the bust size of the lady, might have cording to provide extra support. There were three types of stays: short (covering just the bust), transitional (covering the bust with a bit of material underneath for added support), and full with a busk (the precursor to the full, Victorian corset). Stays were worn over the shift/chemise.

Transitional stays, circa 1800, Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Petticoat ~ This garment was worn just underneath the gown, over the stays and shift. A petticoat could be functional, providing an extra layer of warmth or modesty, or merely decorative. The ornamental petticoats were embellished with lace or embroidery, and were meant to be seen when worn under sheer (even dampened) or robe-style gowns, or peeking under the hems of shorter overdresses. Petticoats could be made of muslin, flannel, silk, or cotton, and only one was worn at a time (unlike the layers of the Georgians or coming Victorians).

Decorative petticoat with shoulder straps, reproduction, Oregon Regency Society.

The Stockings ~ Stockings were made of silk, cotton, or flannel, in descending order of desirability of material. They came in a variety of colors, but during the Regency most were white, ivory, or pale pink. Garters were worn above the knee and held in place by ribbons or garters. Lace and embroidery could be added for extra decoration.

 

Pair of knitted silk stockings, 1800-1829, England, Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Chemisette ~ This was an optional piece that was caught in between underthings and things to be seen. It was a thin half-shirt, similar to the modern-day shrug, for lack of a better descriptor. It covered the neck, decollétage, and shoulders. As Kristen Koster put it, “basically a white lawn dickey with a high collar.”

Chemisette, circa 1840s , British, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Drawers ~ Did they or didn’t they? Princess Charlotte wore an ankle-length pair in 1811, allowing them to peek from under her dress, causing Lady de Clifford to complain and the public in general to think her fast. The consensus seems to fall that drawers were around, but ladies of good breeding did not wear them.

Daywear

The Morning Dress ~ Also known as the Domestic Dress, this informal gown could be worn anytime during the day while at home doing domestic tasks, such as addressing correspondence or visiting the nursery. They were generally high-necked and long-sleeved, and made from sprigged or plain muslin, cotton, or wool. The style was often a “round gown,” meaning the bodice and skirt were made from one piece of material.

Morning or Domestic Dresses from Mirror of the Graces, 1813.

The Walking Dress ~ When a lady left her home during the day, she went about in a Walking Dress. Depending on the season, sleeves could be long or short, but the bodice was generally higher than those worn in the evening. The hem was often higher to aid in cleanliness while out on the streets and pathways. These dresses were often paired with coordinating outerwear (such as spencers or pelisses below).

Walking Dress, Costume Parisien, 1814, Plate no. 149.

The Promenade Dress ~ Not your average Walking Dress, but one meant to be seen in gadding about the Park. The difference between this and a Walking Dress was the richness of the fabric, and the hemlines were lower.

Promenade Dresses from Mirror of the Graces, 1811.

The Riding Habit ~ Meant for riding (go figure!), these garments were constructed of a sturdy fabric like wool, that could take the punishment of mounting, riding, and dismounting horses. They were cut to resemble an overcoat, sometimes with a military flair, with embellishments kept to a minimum. Skirts were long and full, and cut longer on one side to accommodate side saddle riding.

Riding Habit, Lady’s Magazine, June 1817.

The Evening Gown ~ Now we’re getting into the fancy, possibly low-cut, and definitely substantially trimmed dress for activities after dark. Fabrics of choice were muslin, silk, gauze, and crepe…but pretty much anything went for these garments. Sleeves could be long or short, and a few featured merely wide straps that sat on the curve of the shoulder. The feature that I adore – the short train – began to lose its popularity after 1812.

Evening Gown, May 1809, Ackermann’s Repository.

The Ball Gown ~ Exquisitely trimmed frocks with rich fabric and elaborate construction were the quintessential hallmarks of the Ball Gown. These dresses usually consisted of one under layer (of satin, crepe, velvet, or the like) topped by an over-dress (of gauze, sarsnet, or gossamer muslin). Every hem and fastening was decorated with all manner of lace, artificial flowers, feathers, beads, jewels, flounces, scallops, embroidery, and other fine adornments. Many believe unmarried ladies were restricted to white and pastel colors, although no historical proof has surfaced to corroborate this. Popular colors of the time were indeed pastels (rose, lavender, ivory, and primrose yellow), as well as scarlet, slate, apple-hued Pomona green, bright canary yellow, and puce.

Regency Era Ball Gowns from author Sharon Lathan’s image gallery for her novel, In the Arms of Mr. Darcy.

Outerwear

The Pelisse ~ This overcoat was fitted but not tight, and was worn over a lady’s dress. It could be full- or knee-length, with fastenings from neck to ankle in the front. Pelisses were made from heavier fabrics such as wool, velvet, brocade, or kerseymere. They were also ornately trimmed with fur, swansdown, cordings, or other decoration. Similar to a pelisse is the Redingote, an English corruption of the French “riding coat.” These garments were long, fitted coats that belted at the waist but fell open down the legs to reveal the gown underneath.

Pelisse coats, circa 1812, Ackermann’s Repository.

Redingote de Levantine, Costume Parisien, 1811.

The Spencer ~ This garment was similar to a jacket but only covered the bodice and sleeves, accentuating the era’s empire waist gowns. Spencers were made from wool, silk, or satin, and were often quilted. Similar to the pelisse, they were heavily decorated, usually with embroidery, ornate stitching, or cording, and often cut to resemble a gentleman’s riding coat, without the tails.

Pink wool spencer, Costume Parisiene, Plate no. 125, 29 May 1799, Google Arts and Culture.

The Mantle ~ These garments could also be called cloaks or mantlets. They were worn in the evening for formal events, with the attached hood worn over the head or laying about the shoulders. Their length ranged from a cape that fell to the waist, to a billowing, full-length cloak.

Jubilee Cloak, 1809, La Belle Assemblée, Museum of London.

The Shawl ~ This must-have accessory could be made of muslin, gauze, or silk for warmer months, or wool, velvet, or cashmere for cooler times. They ranged in style from plain, solid colors to vibrant, intricate patterns.

Shawls from Costume Parisien, Plate no. 23, 1810.

 

Next week ~ head coverings!

 

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Tea Voider

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Tea Voider

I’m not sure which prospect is less appealing: traveling in the 21st century and chancing a bathroom stop at a gas station, fast food restaurant, or rest area…or traveling in the 19th century and having to transport your (used) potty in your carriage.

When I was still in the schoolroom, my family nicknamed me “Iron Kidney” for my ability to go the bathroom before we left the hotel and skip the roadside privies in favor of waiting until our new hotel room that night. I truly didn’t risk my health by avoiding voiding; I honestly didn’t need to use the facilities, and the fact that they were disappointingly maintained only fortified my magical kidney powers.

But I digress.

For Regency ladies without my urological strength, how did they go when on the go?

Tea Voider

A chamber pot.

For the Regency lady, with all her wardrobe layers and contraptions, travel was already a daunting affair. It’s one thing to glide gracefully around a room, or perch daintily on a settee when swathed in a chemise, stays, petticoat(s), skirt(s), and stockings tied at the knee. It’s quite another to ride on a bench seat down rutted roads in a carriage, well-sprung or no. Eventually, when nature called, the answer was the bourdaloue.

That’s no gravy boat! Bourdaloue by Minton in Staffordshire, ca. 1830.

The bourdaloue was designed specifically for females to allow urination from a standing or squatting position. The unique oblong shape with a lip at one end and handle at the other helped ladies navigate their business while (hopefully) preventing any toilet mishaps. The added benefit was the ability to drop one’s skirts around said business. I can only imagine this was a learning process, mastering the physics of aim, angle, and skirt arrangement. Potty training 2.0.

La Toilette Intime (Une Femme Qui Pisse) by François Boucher, 1760s, location unknown.

It’s likely completely anecdotal, but the name ‘bourdaloue’ supposedly derived from the (in)famous French Catholic priest, Louis Bourdaloue (1632 – 1704), whose sermons lasted so long that aristocratic females had their maids bring pots in discreetly under their dresses so that they could urinate without having to leave. There are other attendant factors involved in urination that make me think this is pure myth, but some sermonizing can be lengthy, so….

I’m looking at you, Mr. Collins.

Of course, ladies could always avail themselves of the necessary at coaching inns, or the woods when stopping at a wide spot in the road for a snack, but the bourdaloue and its singular feminine appointments just seem like the natural choice for travel. And they truly are beautiful works of art.

Bourdaloue at Coughton Court, Warwickshire.

Bourdaloue by Chantilly Porcelain Manufactory, France, 1740, courtesy Getty Museum.

Bourdaloue by Sèvres, 1801-1850, Château Attique de Petit Trianon.

Rare Meissen Bourdaloue with Figures of the Commedia dell’Arte after Lancret, painted by Johann George Heintze, 1741, courtesy 1stdibs Oneline Trade.

Meissen Bourdalous with decorated with Schneeballen, ca. 1740.

Rare Meissen Bourdaloue, ca. 1724, from the Marouf Collection, valued £ 50,000 – 60,000.

Inside bowl shot of Rare Meissen Bourdaloue, ca. 1724, from the Marouf Collection, valued £ 50,000 – 60,000.

If you have an hour to spare, take a trip back in time with historian extraordinaire, Lucy Worsley, as she explores the history of the bathroom. (This is episode two of a four part series)

 

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ April Fool

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ April Fool

Last Friday was April 1st, the date known practically the world over as April Fool’s Day. The one day when pranksters can get away with various and sundry harassments and plagues. A celebration of the worldwide “Kick Me” sign.

APRIL FOOL (noun)

Any one imposed on, or sent on a bootless errand, on the first of April; which day it is the custom among the lower people, children, and servants, by dropping empty papers carefully doubled up, sending persons on absurd messages, and such like contrivances, to impose on every one they can, and then to salute them with the title of April Fool. This is also practised in Scotland under the title of Hunting the Gowke.

James Gillray, "The April Fool Consigned to Infamy and Ridicule," 1801, Victoria and Albert Museum.

James Gillray, “The April Fool Consigned to Infamy and Ridicule,” 1801, Victoria and Albert Museum.

Whether its origins can truly be traced back to the Roman Festival of Hilaria or the Medieval Feast of Fools, the first known documented reference to an April Fool is by Geoffrey Chaucer, in the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” story of his Canterbury Tales in 1392. A wily fox plays on the vanity and conceit of the cock Chauntecleer, and nearly succeeds in having him for dinner.

When that the monthe in which the world bigan
That highte March, whan God first maked man,
Was complet, and passed were also
Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two

Much scholarly debate has centered around whether Chaucer actually meant April 1st or May 3rd; an argument can be made for both interpretations. For the purposes of celebrating all things April Fool, I choose to believe Chaucer went for the historical reference in his tale of torment of the easily gulled.

In 1508, French choirmaster and composter Eloy d’Amerval composed a poem containing a line that roughly translated means “Infamous Mackerel, of many man and many woman, April Fools.” To this day, people shout out “Poisson d’Avril!” Children do so while sticking a picture of a fish on each other’s backs.

maquereau infâme de main d’homme
et de mainte femme,
poisson d’avril.

In 1561, Flemish poet Eduard de Dene penned a poem entitled Refereyn Vp verzendekens dach/Twelck den eersten April te zyne plach. Easy for me to type. The closest meaning translates from late Medieval Dutch means to “Refrain on errand-day/which is the first of April.” In these verses, a nobleman makes his servants run fools’ errands on the first of April. These servants, however, are perhaps less fools and more loyal help: each stanza closes with a servant stating, “I am afraid … that you are trying to make me run a fool’s errand.”

1561dedene

The first British reference to April Fool’s Day appeared in 1686, when John Aubrey in Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme simply wrote of “Fooles Holy Day – We observe it on ye first of April.” My favorite documentation of British observance of April trickery comes in the form of invitations to the Annual Ceremony of the Washing of the Lions at the Tower of London. Never mind the fact that there were no lions kept there any longer. Nor were they ever washed.

The premier April Fool's Event - the annual washing of the Tower lions, 1856.

The premier April Fool’s Event – the annual washing of the Tower lions, 1856.

Want to know more about the history of April Fool’s? Check out these fascinating blog posts, and follow them while you’re there!

Origins of April Fools’ Day or France’s April Fish by Geri Walton
The Origin of April Fool’s Day by Regina Jeffers
All About April – Fools and Showers at Jane Austen’s London

 

Slang definition from 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. All other sources used are clickable links in the above text.