Take Two Pigeons and Call Me in the Morning

Inaccurate—and sometimes preposterous—news stories have been circulating since mankind first began stringing words together in a sentence. History shows that even reputable publications sometimes pick up questionable stories and run with them.

To illustrate the point, here’s a news item I found in a 1798 issue of Sporting Magazine about a revolutionary medical treatment:

We inserted in a former Number, an article respecting a child being recovered from convulsion fits, by applying the naked breast of a live pigeon to its stomach: the same experiment has been lately made on the child of a poor person at Clipstone, Northamptonshire, and with equal success. The infant had had several violent fits, and its life was despaired of. In one of these the breast of a pigeon was applied to the pit of the stomach, and in a few minutes the child revived. The same experiment was made several times, and with the same effect: the pigeon, however, did not appear to be convulsed, nor to have sustained any injury, and notwithstanding the loss of feathers, it is still alive, and pecks as well as usual.

This may read like nothing more than a bit of Regency-era quackery, but at least the story had a happy ending: both patient and pigeon survived.

The pigeon was not so lucky in the following account of a similar encounter, which I found in The Monthly Gazette of Health, Vol. IV for the Year 1819 by Richard Reece, M.D. of London:

Epilepsy.—An intelligent gentleman of Gloucester, informs us, that the parents of a young man residing at Fairford, who had been for four or five years subject to epileptic fits, applied (by the advice of a friend) a live pigeon to the pit of his stomach during an attack of the paroxysm. The fit terminated much sooner than usual, and the pigeon on being removed was observed to be stupid. On a return of the fit the same pigeon was re-applied to the pit of the stomach, and soon afterwards the patient recovered, and the pigeon exhibited some symptoms of being convulsed.

These two stories aren’t necessarily representative of the state of early nineteenth century medicine, but they do make an important point: In Regency-era England, physician-prescribed medical treatments (like blood-letting, laxative-induced purging, and applying leeches) often did more harm than good. It was natural, then, for people to search for alternatives, like folk remedies, to cure what ailed them.

After all, pigeons were plentiful; and with stories like these fueling people’s imaginations, desperate families (and a few untrained members in the medical profession) had nothing to lose by turning to pigeons to ease the symptoms of a loved one’s illness.

Medical anthropologist and author Kyra Kramer recently did a guest post about Regency medicine on Maria Grace’s blog, Random Bits of Fascination. It’s an interesting read with nary a mention of pigeons. I hope you check it out.

 

My Garage Sale Find

It’s true what they say about one man’s trash.

I should know. I’ve found a few treasures of my own while browsing through jumbles of used items other people have for sale. I never know what I’m going to find in a booth at my local swap meet or on a table of items at a neighborhood garage sale.

box-pimpernel-place-mats

Just last week I found a set of Pimpernel British Heritage place mats at a garage sale. Each cork-backed mat in the set of six measures about 8″ x 8-1/2″ in size; and though the original box is a little beat up, the place mats themselves are in great condition.

westminster-abbey

But I didn’t spend $2 of my hard-earned money to take them home and put hot plates on them; I bought them solely because of the images they depict of old London landmarks. And when I scanned each image and cropped off the red and gold borders on my digital copies, they were nice images, indeed.

westminster-abbey-cropped

Unfortunately, there’s nothing on the box to indicate where the original images came from.

st-pauls-cropped

Nor do they name an artist (although the box did assure me these mats would add “interest and elegance” to my table).

st-james-palace-cropped

So I turned to Google Image Search and found a couple of matches, but I couldn’t be certain how reliable the background info was that I found.

ludgate-hill-cropped

The above image of Ludgate Hill viewed from Fleet Street returned several matches, one of which indicated the original was by Jones & Co. from 1830.

Detail of the Ludgate Hill mat

Detail of the Ludgate Hill mat

Based on the style of dress of the people depicted in each scene, I’d agree the setting for each image is about 1830.

The other nice thing about these illustrations is the amount of detail they contain. Take the Ludgate Hill image, for instance. In the shadowed corner of the building on the far right of the illustration you can see the marker for Fleet Street.

And on the face of the four-story white building you can just make out the name “Albion Fire and Life,” an insurance company founded in 1805.

piccadilly-cropped

The illustration of the intersection of Piccadilly and Coventry has similar details, from the business names on the buildings to the style of coach and dress at the time:

piccadilly-detail

The other thing I like is the scale each image provides, showing the monumental size of the buildings and landmarks.

horse-guards-cropped

So these place mats, once planned for a purely utilitarian purpose, will now be added to my collection of items related to the Regency era.  The next time I’m writing about the era and find myself stumped describing a London landmark, I’ll have these images to refer to. All in all, I think this set is one of my better $2 investments.

 

 

Hold on to Your Hats! It’s a Helter Skelter

I love to ride roller coasters. The hair-raising speed, the sudden drops you feel in the pit of your stomach, the hair-pin turns—they all combine to make for one thrilling ride.

If roller coasters are a little too intense for your taste, you might want to give a Helter Skelter a try.

The Helter Skelter at Coney Island, New York in 1905

The Helter Skelter at Coney Island, New York in 1905

Helter Skelters are slides built around a central structure. Instead of modern mechanical gears and pulley systems, they rely on gravity to give riders a smooth, twisting-turning trip to the ground. Inside their central structure is a staircase; riders climb the stairs to their highest point where they emerge from the structure at the top of the slide; then they sit down on a mat, or take a seat on a sled, and ride the slide to the ground.

Helter Skelters aren’t exclusive to America. The photograph below, found at I Love the British Royals, shows the future King George VI riding a Helter Skelter at Wembley Exhibition in London, 1925.

The future King George VI on a Helter Skelter at Wembley Exhibition, London, 1925.

The future King George VI on a Helter Skelter at Wembley Exhibition, London, 1925.

Nor are Helter Skelters a 20th century invention. In fact, there are records of Helter Skelters as far back as the Regency era.

The image below from 1817 shows a man with two masked revelers at the base of a Helter Skelter slide, with twin tower structures in the background.

A gentleman and two masked revelers at a Helter Skelter slide; 1817.

A gentleman and two masked revelers at a Helter Skelter slide; 1817.

And the following 1816 image depicts two ladies and a gentleman watching riders descend a Helter Skelter.

A Helter Skelter slide; 1816.

A Helter Skelter slide; 1816.

In this undated image, one man collects his wife and daughter as a second man collects his wife after they’ve gone down a Helter Skelter:

Riders completing a turn on a Helter Skelter slide. The riders used wheeled chairs to descend the slide.

Riders completing a turn on a Helter Skelter slide.

Some Helter Skelters were rather elaborate. The 1816 image below shows a Helter Skelter with dual slides that take deep turns—certain to thrill the era’s most adventurous riders. And with a starting point four stories high, riders probably reached some impressive speeds on their way down.

An elaborate Helter Skelter, four stories high; 1816.

An elaborate Helter Skelter, four stories high; 1816. The image shows riders descending on wheeled sleds that follow a track.

Given my love for roller coasters named Goliath and Intimidator, I feel a special kinship with the Regency era ladies and gentlemen who dared to take a turn on a Helter Skelter. It looks like the kind of fun I like!

And the Chutzpah Award Goes to …

In my collection of old books and documents I have several copies of The Sporting Magazine from the years 1797 and 1798. The Sporting Magazine was a monthly publication for gentlemen. Most of the articles chronicled racing events and reports on stag and fox hunting; but they also contain some excellent feature articles, too.

The features cover diverse topics. I’ve read articles on the history of boxing, the proper equipment for anglers, some poetry, and even reviews of new plays being performed at London theaters at the time.

But my favorite elements of the magazine are the little news items that the editors fit in between the larger articles. Here’s a sample:

From the January 1798 edition of The Sporting Magazine

From the January 1798 edition of The Sporting Magazine

The motto “Honi foit qui mal y pense” is the motto of the Most Noble Order of the Garter and translates as “Shame on him who thinks evil of it.”

Princess Elizabeth (center) with her sisters Princess Augusta Sophia (left) and Charlotte Augusta Matilda, Princess Royal (seated). by Arthur N. Sanders, published by Henry Graves, after Thomas Gainsborough (1784) NPG D15000 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Princess Elizabeth (center) with her sisters Princess Augusta Sophia (left) and Charlotte Augusta Matilda, Princess Royal (seated); by Arthur N. Sanders, published by Henry Graves, after Thomas Gainsborough (1784)
NPG D15000
© National Portrait Gallery, London

This story really tickled me—first because it’s just plain funny; and, second, in an era of strict etiquette and court manners, Princess Elizabeth sounds like she would have been a very interesting young woman to know.

A Visit from Book Santa

I woke up on Christmas morning to find that Book Santa had visited my house!

Book Santa's Offering

I’ve had visits from Book Santa in the past, so I knew to expect two things:

  1. His reading tastes are varied; he enjoys giving fiction titles just as much as non-fiction titles
  2. His reading tastes are a lot like my own (a happy co-ink-ee-dink, right?)

So you can imagine how excited I was to unwrap these titles on Christmas morning:

Jane Austen's WorthingJane Austen’s Worthing by Antony Edmonds.

I thought I owned just about every Jane Austen-related book there was until Book Santa dropped this one under my Christmas tree. It’s an account of the seaside resort town that inspired Austen’s Sanditon, one of my favorite (if unfinished) Austen novels.

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King John by Marc MorrisKing John: Treachery and Tyranny in Medieval England by Marc Morris

I have a very personal interest in learning all I can about King John of England; through my Cornell ancestors I’m a direct descendant of that notorious king who was ultimately forced to sign the Magna Carta. Every time I open the pages of a new book about King John, I hope to read about some redeeming quality in the man (he is family, after all). Could this be the book that finally shows King John to have some humanity? Here’s hoping …

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Organize Your GenealogyOrganize Your Genealogy by Drew Smith

After years of gathering family histories, photographs, and documents, I have paper coming out of my ears. Book Santa must have known I needed a book like this to help me safely and sensibly share and store each precious item I’ve collected. Check in with me in a couple of months to see if I’ve put this book’s suggestions to good use.

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Calico Spy by Margaret BrownelyCalico Spy by Margaret Brownley

Everybody knows Book Santa has a great sense of humor, which is why he knew I’d enjoy Calico Spy. It’s book three in Ms. Brownley’s Undercover Ladies series of old west mysteries featuring female detectives. Ever have a hankerin’ for a good laugh, memorable characters, and an intriguing who-done-it mystery? Yup, me, too. I think I just talked myself into making this the first of my new books to read.

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The Successful Author MindsetThe Successful Author Mindset by Joanna Penn

I’ve been a Joanna Penn fan for years. I read her fiction, follow her blog, listen to her podcasts, and look to her for inspiration when I need an indie-author-pick-me-up. She never fails to deliver.  I rather suspect Book Santa gave me this Joanna Penn offering because he knows I could do a better job of managing my writing career (and he’d be right!). But, God bless him, Book Santa never judges; he just gives the right book at the right time to give us all the kick in the pants we need.  And speaking of time, I’m currently in the process of setting my writing goals for 2017; and I suspect The Successful Author Mindset will be a big help in the process.

So there you have it … Book Santa’s Christmas delivery to my house was generous and well-planned, and his selections showed his usual flair for variety.

I hope Book Santa visited your house, too. What did he bring you?

The Sad Tale of Lydia Bennet and Other Women Like Her

Lydia Bennet was fifteen years old when she fell under the spell of George Wickham in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Willful and foolish, she eloped with Wickham less than a year after making his acquaintance, leaving her family stunned by the news and tainted (in Society’s eyes) by her actions.

Why Did He Do It?

One question Lydia’s father and sister Elizabeth pondered was, why would Wickham run off with Lydia? She had no money, no dowry, and no connections. Had he some hidden motive in singling Lydia Bennet out as the object of his villainy?

Lydia Bennet and George Wickham as portrayed in the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.

Lydia Bennet and George Wickham as portrayed in the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.

Jane Austen never revealed Wickham’s true motive in the story, but it could very well be that George Wickham was just plain caddish when it came to his dealings with women. The Bennet family was right to worry that Lydia’s actions would have a long-term effect on the family’s reputation. Society did not deal kindly with anyone whose name was attached to scandal.

Lydia Bennet entered into her scandalous union with Wickham with her eyes wide open; but there are records of similarly situated young women who were innocent victims of such men.

The Teacher and the Student

The Newgate Calendar (a chronicle of the scoundrels who were confined within the walls of London’s Newgate Prison) recounts the trial of Henry Morris, whose story has parallels to Wickham’s.

Morris was a teacher by profession, and one of his students was fifteen-year-old Mary Anne Murphy. Morris was smitten with Mary Anne; he approached her father in 1812, declared his undying love and asked the father’s permission to marry her.

Mr. Murphy gave Morris his consent to marry his daughter once she attained the age of sixteen some six months hence; in the meantime, he required that Morris court his daughter only under his supervision.

Morris agreed, but quickly went back on his word, meeting Mary Anne in secret. Morris began missing his teaching responsibilities at the same time Mary Anne began missing class; soon Morris abandoned teaching his classes altogether, and Mary Anne went truant. Within months of promising to wait until his beloved was of age, Henry Morris eloped with Mary Anne Murphy to Scotland.

Once husband and wife, they returned to Mary Anne’s father to make amends; but Mr. Murphy had been looking into Henry Morris’s background, and discovered his new son-in-law was even worse than he imagined.

The Case against Him

Henry Murphy, it was discovered, was not a teacher at all. He had no qualifications and had forged his credentials to secure his position.

Second, Morris had a history of wooing and abandoning young girls; Mr. Murphy discovered four such girls and suspected there were more.

Third—and worst of all—Henry Morris was not only a bounder, but a bigamist. At the time he ran off to Scotland with Mary Ann Murphy, he was already married to a woman named Maria Fontaine.

The main door of Newgate Prison.

The main door of Newgate Prison.

Mr. Murphy had Henry Morris arrested on the charge of bigamy; he was imprisoned at Newgate until his trial. Young Mary Anne—in typical Lydia Bennet style—refused to see her husband’s infamy. She stood by him, took home-cooked meals to his cell, held his hand in court, and begged her father over and over to drop the charges against her husband. He refused.

Henry Morris was convicted of bigamy and he was deported to serve seven years of hard labor at a penal colony in Australia. Mary Anne’s response:

When the verdict was pronounced, she burst into the most outrageous expressions of grief; cried out most violently to save him; tore her hair, and clung around his neck, declaring that she would not be separated from him. The judges, however, ordered her to be removed, but directed that it should be done as gently as possible; and she was accordingly carried out of court in a state of utter distraction.

The reaction of one of Morris's wives upon hearing his sentence. From The Newgate Calendar.

The reaction of one of Morris’s wives (presumably Mary Anne) upon hearing his sentence. From The Newgate Calendar.

Some reports allege that Mary Anne followed Morris to Australia, waited patiently for his release from prison, and lived with him again as man and wife.

As sad as Mary Anne Murphy’s story was, there was an even more famous case of bigamy that shocked England in the early 1800s.

The Bigamous Rake

In 1802 Mary Robinson was quietly living her life in the Lake District. A shepherdess and the daughter of the proprietor of The Fish Inn in the village of Buttermere, Mary was an acknowledged beauty in the county. She was also quite an innocent and was, therefore, unprepared when a handsome gentleman with “blue eyes and a fair complexion” drove into Buttermere.

Mary Robinson, the Maid of Buttermere.

Mary Robinson, the Maid of Buttermere.

He introduced himself as Colonel Alexander Augustus Hope, a wealthy retired officer and younger brother to the Earl of Hopetoun. He was so taken with Mary’s beauty, he immediately set out to woo her; within three months of their meeting she agreed to elope with him to Scotland.

John Hatfield.

John Hatfield.

It wasn’t until her husband abandoned her within months of their marriage that Mary discovered several hard truths:

  1. Her husband’s name wasn’t Alexander Hope and he was not related to Lord Hopetoun. His real name was John Hatfield, and he was the son of poor parents in Cheshire.
  2. John Hatfield had a long history of romancing women possessed of dowries or fortunes large and small, marrying them, and abandoning them. He was a bigamist, several times over.
  3. Hatfield left a trail of forged checks and unpaid bills across England, thanks to his smooth talking ability to swindle tradesmen, hoteliers, and acquaintances. (Sounds a lot like Wickham, doesn’t it?)

After he deserted Mary Robinson, Hatfield married at least two more women. He finally met his match when one of the women he wronged turned him in to authorities. He was convicted of several counts of forgery and bigamy; and because the court heard sufficient testimony to deem him an habitual criminal, John Hatfield was condemned to death. He was hanged in 1803.

Is it possible these famous cases (and others like them) were in the back of Jane Austen’s mind as she wrote her story about Lydia and Wickham? Perhaps, but the last chapter of Pride and Prejudice hints that while their love didn’t last forever, Lydia and Wickham at least stayed together, and Lydia “retained all the claims to reputation which her marriage had given her.”

You can read more about the bigamous John Hatfield and the Maid of Buttermere by clicking on any of the following links:

The English Lakes: A History by Ian Thompson

Website of Pascal Bonenfant

I learned a new Regency word last week …

… and that word is girandole.

A girandole is a type of wall sconce for use with candles. Typically, girandoles had a backing made of mirrors or tin or some other reflective material that would increase the candles’ light. They were commonly used in public rooms of a house, such as dining-rooms and ball-rooms.

An English Regency mirrored girandole with convex bull's-eye mirror.

An English Regency mirrored girandole with convex bull’s-eye mirror.

Want to see more examples of Regency and Georgian girandoles? Click here to visit 1stDibs.com, where they have a wide variety of girandoles on display.

Let’s Take a Trip, Regency-style

When I first began reading Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances, I was intrigued by the world she created. Prior to reading her novels I never gave a thought to how people really lived in the early 1800s, even though I’ve always loved history, and studied English history, in particular.

The cover of my well-worn copy of Frederica

The cover of my well-worn copy of Frederica

There was something about her novels, though, that brought that world to life for me. One part of her Regency world that intrigued was the idea of travel. Reading Heyer’s novels, like Arabella, Regency Buck, and Sylvester, made me curious about how people traveled long distances, or even from one neighboring town to another. Heyer had a way of making travel sound both tedious and romantic. Her words painted a picture of just how boring and exciting, dangerous and uncomfortable it could be to ride in a cramped coach for hours with people you don’t know.

Illustration from The Country Gentleman magazine; April 1932 edition

Illustration from The Country Gentleman magazine; April 1932 edition

Over the years I’ve collected quite a few images of Regency-era coaching scenes. They help me visualize Heyer’s stories as I read them, and help me better describe coaching life as I write my own novels.

A 1908 postcard titled, Taking Up Passengers.

A 1908 postcard titled, Taking Up Passengers.

Below are some of my favorites images: they’re a series of coaching illustrations by artist Gilbert Wright that he produced between 1907 and 1911. I like them because of the little details Wright included in his paintings, like those boots in the first painting, titled Getting Ready.

And in the painting titled The Top of the Hill, he showed the passengers of the stage coach walking up the final approach to the hilltop; whether they did so to lighten the load or simply to get some exercise on a pleasant day, is a question left to our imaginations.

I’m happy to share my favorite images with you so that you, too, can “get a visual” of what it was like to travel in Regency England. I hope you enjoy them!

Getting Ready, by Gilbert Wright, 1911.

Getting Ready, by Gilbert Wright, 1911.

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Waiting for the Coach, by Gilbert Wright (1908)

Waiting for the Coach, by Gilbert Wright (1908)

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Two Gallants, by Gilbert Wright (1911)

Two Gallants, by Gilbert Wright (1911)

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The Start, by Gilbert Wright (1911)

The Start, by Gilbert Wright (1911)

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Detail of The Start showing a female passenger climbing up on the box, by Gilbert Wright

Detail of The Start showing a female passenger climbing up on the box, by Gilbert Wright

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A Heavy Storm, by Gilbert Wright, 1907

A Heavy Storm, by Gilbert Wright, 1907

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A Fresh Relay, by Gilbert Wright, 1911

A Fresh Relay, by Gilbert Wright, 1911

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The Top of the Hill, by Gilbert Wright (1907)

The Top of the Hill, by Gilbert Wright (1907)

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The Return to the Stables, by Gilbert Wright (1911)

The Return to the Stables, by Gilbert Wright (1911)

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