French Visitors Attend An Aristocratic English Dinner

Attending an aristocratic English dinner during the Georgian era wasn't all fun and games, especially if you were French. They would complain about the use of forks and the huge number of toasts. And I can't say I blame about the latter!
When French visitors attended aristocratic dinners they had difficulty with the table forks, and the English predilection for toasts bored them witless. Regarding the former, the usual complaint, as expressed by Faujas de Saint-Fond, was that they "prick my mouth or my tongue with their little sharp steel tridents". Regarding the latter, it was their inordinate number. The practice of proposing and replying continued throughout the dinner and with even more vigour after the women had left. Toasting the ladies, the food, each other and whatever else came to mind went on for so long there were chamber pots in each corner, and "the person who has occasion to use it does not even interrupt his talk during the operation". André Parreaux, Daily Life, p.36.

Further reading:
The Duchess by Amanda Foreman

Young Claretta Petacci Writes To Mussolini

Mussolini started corresponding (and nothing else!) with his lover Claretta Petacci when she was only 14 years old. The young Clara had sent the Dux a letter to let him know how happy she was that he had survived an attempt on his life and how outrageous she considered the incident. Mussolini was impressed by the letter, asked who the girl was, and ordered his secretary to reply to her, thanking her for the feelings expressed in it. Thus would start a relationship that would last for many years and would lead Claretta to her death, at the side of the man she so deeply loved.

Here's the letter. The English translation is mine:

Duce. Per la seconda volta hanno attentato vigliaccamente alla Tua persona. Una donna! Quale ignominia, quale viltà, quale obbrobrio! Ma è una straniera e tanto basta! Duce amato, perché hanno tentato un'altra volta di toglierti al nostro forte e sicuro amore? Duce, mio grandissimo Duce, nostra vita, nostra speranza, nostra gloria, come vi può essere un'anima così empia che attenti ai fulgidi destini della nostra bella Italia? O, Duce, perché non vi ero!

Perché non ho potuto strangolare quella donna assassina che ha ferito Te, divino essere? Perché non ho potuto toglierla per sempre dalla terra Italiana, che è stata macchiata dal Tuo puro sangue, dal tuo grande, buono, sincero sangue Romagnolo! Duce, io voglio ripeterti come l'altra tristissima volta, che ardentemente desidererei di posare la testa sul Tuo petto per potere udire ancora vivi i palpiti del Tuo cuore grande. Queste dolorose e memorabili date rimarranno impresse nel mio cuore: 4 novembre 1925, 7 aprile 1926. O, Duce, Tu che sei l'uomo del nostro avvenire, che sei l'uomo amato sempre con crescente fervore e passione dal popolo Italiano e da chi non desidera la sua decadenza, non devi mancarci mai.

Quando ho appreso la triste notizia, ho creduto di morire perché Ti amo profondamente come una piccola Fascista della prima ora. Duce, quanto avrà sofferto il Tuo cuore buono e sensibile nell'accorgersi che una mano straniera ha tentato spezzare la Tua Santa opera rigeneratrice e potente. Amatissimo Duce, fedeltà immortale Ti hanno giurato di nuovo tutte le Tue Camicie Nere, ed io piccola, ma ardita Fascista, con il mio motto preferito comprendo tutto l'amore che il mio cuore giovanile sente per Te: Duce, la mia vita è per Te! Il Duce è salvo! W il Duce!

Clara Petacci (anni 14), Lungo Tevere Cenci N. 10

Dux. For the second time they have cowardly made an attempt on Your person. A woman! What infamy, what cowardice, what disgrace! But she's a foreigner and that's enough! Beloved Dux, why have they made another attempt* to take you away from our strong and safe love? Dux, my very great Dux, our life, our hope, our glory, how can there be a soul so wicked to attempt to the bright destiny of our beautiful Italy? O, Dux, why wasn't I there!

Why couldn't I strangle that woman assassin who has wounded You, divine being? Why couldn't I remove her forever from our Italian soil, that has been stained with Your pure blood, with your great, good, sincere Romagnolo blood! Dux, I want to repeat to you like I did the other very sad time, that I ardently wish to lay my head on Your chest to be able to hear still alive the beats of Your big heart. These painful and memorable dates will remain forever stamped on my heart: 4 November 1925, 7 April 1926. O, Dux, You who are the man of our future, who are the man loved always with growing fervour and passion by the Italian people and by those who don't desire your decline, you never have to leave us.

When I learned the sad news, I believed I would die because I deeply love You like a little fascist of the first hour. Dux, how much Your good and sensible heart will have suffered at noticing that a foreign hand tried to break Your Saintly regenerating and powerful work. Very beloved Dux, immortal loyalty all Your Blackshirts have again sworn to you, and I little, ma courageous Fascist, with my favourite motto contain all the love my youthful heart feels for you: Dux, my life is for You! The Dux is safe! Viva the Dux!

Clara Petacci (14 years old), Lungo Tevere Cenci N. 10

*A few months before, on 4th November 1925, Tito Zaniboni had tried to kill Mussolini as well.

I was quite speechless the first time I read this letter. I find it quite shocking, especially considering it was written by such a young girl, don't you?

Further reading:
Riservato Per Il Duce by Arrigo Petacco

Book Review: The Lady Elizabeth By Alison Weir

Even at age two, Elizabeth is keenly aware that people in the court of her father, King Henry VIII, have stopped referring to her as “Lady Princess” and now call her “the Lady Elizabeth.” Before she is three, she learns of the tragic fate that has befallen her mother, the enigmatic and seductive Anne Boleyn, and that she herself has been declared illegitimate, an injustice that will haunt her.
What comes next is a succession of stepmothers, bringing with them glimpses of love, fleeting security, tempestuous conflict, and tragedy. The death of her father puts the teenage Elizabeth in greater peril, leaving her at the mercy of ambitious and unscrupulous men. Like her mother two decades earlier she is imprisoned in the Tower of London–and fears she will also meet her mother’s grisly end. Power-driven politics, private scandal and public gossip, a disputed succession, and the grievous example of her sister, “Bloody” Queen Mary, all cement Elizabeth’s resolve in matters of statecraft and love, and set the stage for her transformation into the iconic Virgin Queen.
Alison Weir uses her deft talents as historian and novelist to exquisitely and suspensefully play out the conflicts between family, politics, religion, and conscience that came to define an age. Sweeping in scope, The Lady Elizabeth is a fascinating portrayal of a woman far ahead of her time–an orphaned girl haunted by the shadow of the axe, an independent spirit who must use her cunning and wits for her very survival, and a future queen whose dangerous and dramatic path to the throne shapes her future greatness.

Alison Weir is one of my favourite historians. Her non-fiction works are not only well researched, but they also read like novels, making the readers feel like they were there, centuries in the past, watching while history unfolded under their own eyes. And yet, her novels really bore me. The Lady Elizabeth, which tells the story of the Virgin Queen before she came to the throne, is a much better effort than The Captive Queen, a story of Eleanor of Aquitaine, but it is still very slow and dull.

The novel starts just after Anne Boleyn's execution, with Elizabeth, then just a little toddler, wondering why people have stopped calling her Princess. Her half-sister Mary will have the painful task of revealing her mother's tragic fate to her. After that, Elizabeth's life became very uncertain. She saw stepmothers come and go, became infatuated with Thomas Seymour, and in the reign of her sister Mary, had to fight to keep her head on her shoulders (literally) as her supporters came up with plots to put her on the throne. She even endured imprisonment in the Tower, believing she wouldn't get out of it alive.

I think Weir does a wonderful job at portraying how the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth developed and changed throughout the years. At the beginning, Mary genuinely loved Elizabeth and felt sorry for this little girl who had so brutally lost her mother, but as they got older, Mary became more and more suspicious and jealous of her step-sister, seeing her as a clever, malicious and lying young woman who couldn't wait to get her hands on her throne.

Weir also tries to get into Elizabeth's head and heart and imagine how she must have felt when her mother died, when she heard her stepmother Catherine Howard had been executed, why she didn't want to get married, what feelings she had for Thomas Seymour, what she went through when in the Tower, knowing that even if she would survive, she would always be in danger as long as people kept plotting in her name. I find that, very often, Weir's suppositions were realistic and believable. She made Elizabeth come to life, and I really enjoyed that.

Although she mostly remained faithful to the historical record, like any novelists, Weir took some liberties. For instance, in the book Elizabeth has a brief affair with the admiral and becomes pregnant with his child. She then has a miscarriage and the baby is thrown into the fire to destroy the evidence of her fall. Things like these really annoy me because they perpetuate myths that historians have already debunked so many times before. Yet, a lot of people read them in novels and, especially when these are written by historians, assume they are true.

I almost gave up the book at this point, but then I decided to persevere and, once at the end, I found an appendix when the author explains why she decided to include this myth even though she doesn't believe in it, obviously. This made me feel a bit better as the reader does get the real, accurate story in the end, which is something that doesn't happen with most novels (and editors are more often to blame for that than authors).

Yet, I found the book really slow at the beginning. It does get better once Mary gets to the throne as that's when the most dangerous phase of Elizabeth's life (as far as it is covered in this novel) starts. But the writing style remains bland and, at times, even cheesy. It just isn't as incisive as the story demands and, because of it, it doesn't allow the reader to connect with the characters. I just didn't care that much about them, which is unusual for me, as I love the Tudor era. Overall, despite its shortcomings, I would still recommend this book to Tudor fans. It's a fairly accurate portrayal of Elizabeth and everything she had to go through before becoming Queen.

The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir tells the story of Elizabeth I before she become Queen. Although the book is fairly accurate, the author takes a few liberties, especially when focusing on her relationship with Thomas Seymour, which not everyone may enjoy. And while Weir tries to imagine what Elizabeth's thoughts and feelings were during the first uncertain and sometimes dangerous years of her life, she does so in a dull and bland tone that doesn't make you relate to the characters.

Available at: Amazon UK, Amazon US and Barnes & Noble

Rating: 3.5/5

Progress Of The Toilet

In 1810, British caricaturist James Gillray created a series of engravings titled Progress Of The Toilette, showing how a Regency lady would get dressed for the different engagements she had to attend throughout the day. There are so many details in these pictures, giving us an accurate insight about the time a lady spent at her toilet, how she prettified herself and what fashions were popular at the time. Let's take a closer look at them, shall we?


A young lady has just started her toilet with the help of her maid. She's still in her underwear, and has her stockings on. On her head, she wears a cap, while on her feet a simple pair of slippers. While the maid is tightening her stays, the girl is placing a busk (a piece of wood that was inserted down the front of the stays to ensure good posture), between her breasts. The busk seems a little instrument of torture, but if you managed to tighten the stays enough to make it stay put, it was quite comfortable. On her dressing table, we can see her jewelery, pins and all the different concoctions used by Regency women to beautify themselves, while on the floor there are a bowl and a pitcher with water, which were used for morning ablutions. Usually, people back then would wash only their hands and their faces.


It's now time for the young lady to put on her hair. While she's sitting in front of a mirror reading a book, her maid prepares to place a short, curly wig on her head. Wigs at this time were quite simple, often short, and very different from the powdered and elaborate styles that was popular in the previous century. The lady is wearing a simple white muslin gown, which was a very popular daytime during the Regency.


It's now evening and the lady is about to go out. She's wearing a sleeveless white dress embroidered with gold and is putting on her gold evening gloves. Her maid stands aside, ready to hand over to her mistress her shawl and fan. She may keep the latter, until she arrives to her destination where she'll use it to cool herself down and flirt, in her reticule (a small bag with a drawstring) that's now hanging on a hook on the wall. For her outfit, she has probably drawn inspiration from the fashion magazine now discarded on the floor.

What do you think of these engravings? And do you like Regency fashions?

Foods For The Sick

When I was little, whenever I was sick, my mum would give me chicken soup, buttered rice, and slices of banana. Even today, I rememeber these dishes fondly, and, the rare times I'm ill, I still crave them. They instantly lift my mood as I reminisce about when being ill meant staying home from school watching cartoons on TV or reading a story book. But, as a history nerd, they also got me wondering, what were sick people given to eat in the nineteenth century? What diet were they recommended to follow? The Young Lady's Friend shares a few examples:


First in importance comes water gruel, which a writer on health calls "the king of spoon-meats" and the " the queen of soups," saying, "it gratifies nature beyond all others." Dr. Franklin's favourite breakfast was a bowl of warm gruel, in which there was a small piece of butter, and some toasted bread and nutmeg. This, though the simplest of all preparations, is often ill made, and therefore I recommend every woman to make a point of learning to do it in the best manner. To make good gruel, the oatmeal must be well sifted; it must be well mixed, so as to be free from lumps, and then it must be well boiled. Oatmeal or grits may be used in making gruel; the latter are generally preferred; but in this, as well as whether it should be thick or thin, and whether sweetened or otherwise flavoured, the patient himself may generally be consulted. Care, however, must, of course, at all times be taken, never to indulge the patient by introducing into his gruel, or other food or refreshment, anything which the doctor has prohibited in another form. In old times, no one ever thought of making gruel, without seasoning it with wine, and sugar, and nutmeg; but now that such condiments are prohibited, it is more than ever important to know how to prepare plain watergruel in the best way. Where milk is not forbidden, a small tea-cupful added to a pint of gruel, after it is made, and boiled up once in it, is a great improvement. Some invalids are better pleased with gruel served up in a tumbler, set on a small plate, with a tea-spoon beside it, than when presented in a bowl with a large spoon. But this is a matter of fancy.


This is made nearly in the same way as gruel, only using flour instead of meal, and half milk instead of water. The whole cooking of the flour should be done with water, and the milk added afterwards and boiled up once.


Take a piece of lean but juicy beef, wash it nicely, and cut it up into pieces about an inch square; put these into a wide-mouthed bottle, and cork it up closely; then set the bottle into a pan of water, and boil it for an hour, or more if you have time. In this way you will get a pure juice of the meat, undiluted with any water, and a small quantity will answer the purpose of nourishment.


When a sick person is tired of slops, pearl sago, boiled in water till it cools to a jelly, may be used. It may be eaten with powdered loaf-sugar and a little cream.


A tumbler-full of this may be made in two minutes, if you have boiling water at hand. Take a small basin, and put in it a tea-spoonful of the powdered arrowroot, moisten it with a table-spoonful of cold water, rub it smooth, add another of warm water, and stir it till it is perfectly free from grains ; then pour on boiling water, stirring it all the time, till it changes from a thick to a transparent substance; a little lemon-juice and sugar make this a delicious draught of thickened lemonade. When prepared in the basin, pour it into a tumbler, without spilling a drop on the outside, and put it on a little plate and serve it. Arrowroot prepared with milk instead of water is more substantial food, and must be seasoned with salt. It may be made as thick as blanc-mange, and eaten cold with cream and sugar.


Put a set of calves' feet, nicely cleaned and washed, into four quarts of water, and reduce it by boiling to one quart; strain it, and set it by to cool. When cold, scrape off all the fat, cut it out of the bowl, avoiding the settlings at the bottom, and put to it a quart of new milk, with sugar to taste, and boil it a few minutes. If you wish to flavour it with cinnamon or lemon-peel, do it before boiling ; if with rose-water, or peach-water, do it after. When boiled ten minutes, strain it through a fine sieve into a pitcher, and stir it till it cools. When only blood-warm, put it into moulds that have just been wetted in cold water, and let it harden. This is a good dish for the sick or healthy.

What foods do you crave when you're ill?

Further reading:
The Young Lady's Friend

Historical Reads: Vivid Magenta And An Attack Of Mauve Measles

Over at her blog, Madame Guillotine, author Melanie Clegg has started a new series about historical dresses. In the first installment, she talks about mauve gowns and explains how this bright colour was created. To quote:

This gown was made in around 1870 by Madame Vignon, one of the most fashionable couturiers in Paris, who was a great favourite of the ultra stylish Empress Eugénie. The vivid hue is the result of the amazing new synthetic aniline dyes that came into use in the late 1850s thanks to the experimentation of Sir William Henry Perkin who accidentally discovered the first synthetic dye in 1856 while an eighteen year old Chemistry student in London. He was actually trying to develop a synthetic alternative to the anti malaria drug quinine but swiftly ditched this when he realised that his experiment had produced a vivid purple shade.

The first dye, as discovered by Perkin was a particularly lurid hue of violet, which he immediately and with enormous foresight for a science geek sort, patented as ‘aniline purple’ although it would become better known as ‘mauveine’ or simply ‘mauve’. He also set up a dye works in London to produce huge quantities of his amazing mauve dye. It must have seemed completely mad to him that he had managed to invent a whole new colour while trying (and failing!) to create a medical treatment. Isn’t science ace?

To read the entire article, click here.

Susan Herbert's Historical Cats

If you're a cat lady with a penchant for art and history, chances are you have already heard of Susan Herbert. I've only discovered her works recently and I've fallen in love with them. Susan Herbert is a "cat artist". She paints cats, but not real cats chasing mice, lying in front of the fire or doing other cats' things. No, she depicts cats as persons and some of her most famous works are her renditions of artistic masterpieces where cats take the place of humans. How many can you recognize?

Some people find her works creepy, but I think they are original and fascinating. And you?

Lisbon Earthquake And Tsunami Of 1755

In his biography of the unfortunate Queen of France, historian Hilarie Belloc describes the earthquake and tsunami that hit Lisbon the day Marie Antoinette was born:

The town of Lisbon had risen, in the first colonial efforts of Portugal, to a vast importance. True, the Portuguese did not, as others have done, attach their whole policy to possessions over-sea, nor rely for existence upon the supremacy of their fleet, but the evils necessarily attendant upon a scattered commercial empire decayed their military power and therefore at last their commerce itself. The capital was no longer, in the Arab phrase, "the city of the Christian''; it was long fallen from its place as the chief port of the Atlantic when, in these last days of October, 1755, the messengers of the Empress entered it and were received; but it was still great, overlooking the superb anchorage which brought it into being, and presenting to the traveller perhaps half the population which it had boasted in the height of its prosperity. It was a site famous for shocks of earthquake, which (by a coincidence) had visited it since decline of its ancient power; but of these no more affair had been made than is common with natural adventures. Its narrow streets and splendid, if not majestic, churches still stood uninjured.

The valley upon which stood the commercial centre of Lisbon is formed of loose clay; the citadel and the portion which to this day recalls the older city, of limestone; and the line which limits the two systems is a sharp one. But though the diversity of such a soil lent to these tremors an added danger, they had passed without serious attention for three or four generations; they had not affected the architecture of the city nor marred its history. In this year, 1755, they had already been repeated, but in so mild a fashion that no heed was taken of them.

By All-Hallowe'en the heralds had accomplished their mission, the Court had retired to the palace of Belem, which overlooks the harbour, and the suburbs built high beyond that Roman bridge which has bequeathed to its valley the Moorish name of Alcantara. The city, as the ambassadors of Maria Theresa and the heralds of her daughter's birth were leaving it, was awaiting under the warm and easy sun of autumn the feast of the morrow.

In the morning of that All Saints, a little after eight, the altars stood prepared, the populace had thronged into the churches; the streets also were already noisy with the opening of a holiday; the ships' crews were ashore; only the quays were deserted. Everywhere High Mass had begun. But just at nine — at the hour when the pressure of the crowds, both within the open doors of the churches and without them was at its fullest — the earth shook. The awful business lasted perhaps ten seconds. When its crash was over an immense multitude of the populace and a third of the material city had perished.

The great mass of the survivors ran to the deserted quays, where an open sky and broad spaces seemed to afford safety from the fall of walls. They saw the sea withdrawn from the shore of the wide harbour; they saw next a wave form and rise far out in the landlocked gulf, and immediately it returned in an advancing heap of water straight and high — as high and as straight as the houses of the sea front. It moved with the pace of a gust or of a beam of light toward the shore. The thousands crammed upon the quays had barely begun their confused rush for the heights when this thing was upon them; it swirled into the narrow streets, tearing down the shaken walls and utterly sweeping out the maimed, the dying and the dead whom the earthquake had left in the city.

Then, when it had surged up and broken against the higher land, it dragged back again into the bay, carrying with it the wreck of the town and leaving strewn on the mud of its retirement small marbles, carven wood, stuffs, fuel, provisions, and everywhere the drowned corpses of animals and of men. During these moments perhaps twenty, perhaps thirty thousand were destroyed. Two hours passed. They were occupied in part by pillage, in part by stupefaction, to some extent by repression and organization. But before noon the accompaniment of such disasters appeared. Fire was discovered first in one quarter of the city, then in another, till the whole threatened to be consumed.

The disorder increased. Pombal, an atheist of rapid and decided thought, dominated the chaos and controlled it. He held the hesitating court to the ruins of the city; he organized a police; as the early evening fell over the rising conflagration he had gibbets raised at one point after another, and hung upon them scores of those who had begun to loot the ruins and the dead.

The night was filled with the light and the roar of the flames, until, at the approach of morning, when the fires had partly spent themselves and the cracked and charred walls yet standing could be seen more clearly in the dawn, some in that exhausted crowd remembered that it was the Day of the Dead, and how throughout Catholic Europe the requiems would be singing and the populace of all the cities but this would be crowding to the graves of those whom they remembered.

That same day, which in Lisbon overlooked the cloud of smoke still pouring from broken shells of houses, saw in Vienna, as the black processions returned from their cemeteries, the birth of the child.

Further reading:
Marie Antoinette by Hilaire Belloc

Book Review: Marie Antoinette by Hilaire Belloc

Marie Antoinette by Hilaire Belloc is not your usual biography. The author isn't interested in sharing anecdotes and discussing the daily life of this unfortunate queen, nor does he tries to understand her personality. Instead, this is a study of the world in which Marie Antoinette lived and the circumstances that connived to bring her to her tragic fate. Marie Antoinette was a good and generous woman, but not a remarkable one. What's remarkable is the harrowing way in which she suffered during the French Revolution. Belloc believes that it was unavoidable.

In this book, he shows how all the obstacles that stood in the way of the young archduchess marrying the dauphin of France fell down one after another, as if they were pushed down by a higher hand, and how all the different events and circumstances of her life in France drew her a step closer to the scaffold. Belloc believes that, because Marie Antoinette didn't understand the French (not to mention the poor education she had received), she had no choice but to act the way she did, and that led her to her fall. There was just no other destiny for her. I'm not sure I believe Marie Antoinette couldn't choose to act in any other way, but I do agree that in order for her to do that, she needed to understand her people, which was very difficult to do for her, secluded as she was in the Palace of Versailles and the other royal residencies.

But Belloc doesn't try to justify Marie Antoinette's behaviour, nor does he accuse her. Simply, he uses historical evidence to set the record straight about the lies and myths that surround the French Queen and point out the truth. He's not blind to Marie Antoinette's faults but he doesn't exaggerate them either. However, this focus on political and social events rather than on Marie Antoinette as a woman, makes the book dense and, at times, hard-to-follow for modern readers. It doesn't help that Belloc often doesn't go into details, but simply mentions events and names, giving for granted the reader knows what he's talking about. This may have been true in 1909, when he wrote the book and the French Revolution was still a very popular subject, but it isn't today.

If you're not familiar with this time period (and the one in which the author lived as he sometimes mentions more recent events too), you may find the book quite confusing. If that's the case, you may want to read other books about the subject (Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser would be a better starting point for anyone interested in the life of the French Queen) and then get back to this one. Then, despite the archaic and convoluted writing style, you'll find it an engrossing read.

Marie Antoinette by Hilaire Belloc is an informative, unbiased and objective work on Marie Antoinette. But rather than focusing on her private life or her personality, the author explains the world in which Marie Antoinette was born in and why she acted the way she did, which lead her to her inevitable fall. Marie Antoinette wasn't a remarkable woman. The revolution made her remarkable. This book will give you a better understanding of how that happened. However, it is written in an archaic style and the author often cities facts that may not be known to those who aren't familiar with this time period.

Available at:

Rating: 4/5

The World's First Sex Therapist

Dr James Graham was a pioneer in sex therapy, a medical entrepreneur, a quack and a brilliant showman. He was also very popular, and the rich and famous of his time flocked to his practice.

Graham, the son of a saddler, was born in Edinburgh in 1746. There, he went to medical school, but quit before graduating. Of course, that didn't stop him from calling himself a doctor. He set up as an apothecary in Doncaster, Yorkshire, and in 1764 he married Mary Pickering. In 1770, he moved to the America colonies, where he learned about Benjamin Franklin's electrical experiments, becoming convinced that electricity was the cure for every illness. He also opened, after travelling thorough the country as an oculist, a practice in Philadelphia.

In 1775, Graham went back to London, where he started a medical practice, employing the use of electricity for his cures. Soon, he began to attract a rich clientèle (he treated Horace Walpole for gout) and, in 1780, he was able to open his opulent and infamous Temple Of Health. The place was magnificent: the rooms were elaborately furnished, and the air filled with music and perfume. The "Goddesses of Health", Graham's beautiful and young assistants draped in skimpy classical outfits, would pose among the statues. It is rumoured that Emma Hamilton worked there, but some of her biographers refute the claim as a myth.

Entrance cost a crown and some ladies, in particular those who went to see the doctor for infertility problems, were given a mask so that their identity would remain secret. Once inside, the guests would listen to the doctor's lectures, buy medicine or inspect the "medico-electrical apparatus" Graham used on his patients. His treatment usually consisted of delivering sharp electric jolts through severals thrones, seats and crowns. Among his patients were Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, her mother, Lady Spencer (who seems to have lost confidence in the doctor pretty quickly), Charles James Fox, the Duke of Richmond, but also courtesans such as Mary Robinson ("Perdita") and Elizabeth Armistead.

The Celestial Bed, and the Goddess of Health

In 1781, Dr Graham opened the Temple Of Hymen in Pall Mall. Its "highlight" was the Celestial Bed, which Graham had begun to devise while in America. It was an electro-magnetic bed, adorned with gilded dragons and had a mirror on its canopy. The mattress, was filled with hair from the horses of English stallions, as well as "sweet new wheat or oat straw, mingled with balm, rose leaves, and lavender flowers". The bed was also inscribed with the words (in Latin) "Be fruitful, multiply and replenish the earth!" and featured a tilting inner-frame that allowed it to lay at various angles so that lovers could more easily put themselves in the best positions for conceiving.

Wealthy and aristocratic couples striving to conceive, such as the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire (but to no avail in their case), would pay £50 (about £3000 in today's money!) to make love in this bed, while electricity was pumped across the headboard of the bed, filling the air with a "magnetic fluid" that was supposed to "give the necessary degree of strength and exertion to the nerves". In the meantime, music, stemming from the organ pipes set off by the couple's movements, played in the background. All of this was supposed to increase the lovers' ardor. And, of course, they were also encouraged to buy Graham's patented elixir, which cost one guinea a bottle, to raise their chances of getting pregnant. This temple too attracted celebrities, including those who had no infertility problems, such as George, The Prince of Wales. They simply went because it was fashionable to do so.

Graham gave various lectures on sex, seeing it as a patriotic act, and procreation, which he regarded as a national duty. He recommended washing the genital organs with cold water in order to enjoy good sexual health, while he advised against masturbation. He also castigated prostitution. Not everyone was a fan of Graham, though. Caricaturist James Gillray and papers like The Morning Herald launched campaigns denouncing him as a quack. This, together with his extravagant spending, bankrupted him. He was forced to vacate the Temple of Health, and sell his possessions and move to Edinburgh. Here, he gave up electricity and started promoting earth-bathing. He claimed that by bathing in mud the body could absorb all the nutrients necessary to life, and thus, live forever! It seems the doctor himself had lived for two weeks in a mud bath, drinking only a few drops of water. Or so he said anyway.

Graham was seized by religious fervor and founded the New Jerusalem Church in Lochend’s Close in Edinburgh's Old Town. He signed letters "Servant of the Lord, O.W.L." (which stood for Oh, Wonderful Love), and, while walking down the street, he would take off his clothes to give them to the poor. It may have been a noble intent, but was one that got him arrested too. It was probably because of this bizarre behaviour that Graham remained the only member of his new church. He still continued with his medical experiments too, and towards the end of his life, he would try prolonged fasting as a way to live longer. Dr James Graham died suddenly at his home in Edinburgh on 24 December 1794.

Further reading:
Doctor of Love: Dr James Graham and His Celestial Bed, by Lydia Syson

Fashions For 1807

I only have a couple of fashion plates for you today, but I think they are very interesting. The first depicts a riding dress, while the second, which is unfortunately in black and white, is a representation of a sumptuous, but probably very uncomfortable, court dress worn by the Princess Of Wales:


Represents a Parisian lady, mounted in the most fashionable style, for the Long Champs and Elytra, at Paris. An equestrian habit of fine soal-wool cloth, with elastic strap; the colour blue (but olive, or puce, are equally esteemed), with convex buttons of dead gold. The habit to sit high in the neck behind, lapelied in front, and buttoned twice at the small of the waist; a high plaited frill of cambric, uniting at bosom where the habit closes. A jockey bonnet of the same materials as composes the habit, finished with a band and tuft in front. Hair in dishevelled crop. York tan gloves; and demi-boots of purple kid, laced with jonquille chord.


This dress, for taste and magnificence, stood unrivalled amidst the splendour and elegance displayed on the Birth-Day of our justly revered Sovereign. The body and ground of the drapery was formed of a rich silver and lilac tissue; with a most superb border, composed of emeralds, topazes, and amethyst, to represent the vine-leaf and grapes. The train and petticoat of silver tissue; bordered all round like the drapery; and each terminated with a most brilliant silver fringe of a strikingly novel formation. Rich silver laurel and arrow on the left side, to loop up the train. Head-dress of diamonds and amethysts, tastefully disposed; with high plume of ostrich feathers. Neck-dress, the winged ruff, a La Mary Queen of Scots; sleeve ornaments to correspond. Amethyst necklace and earrings with Maltese cross; diamond armlets and bracelets. White satin shoes, with rich silver rosettes. French kid gloves, above the elbow. Fan of Imperial crape, studded with amethysts and topazes.

Do you like these dresses?

Further reading:
La Belle Assemble, Vol.2

Historical Reads: The Symbolism Of Gloves In The 17th Century

Over at Hoydens & Firebrands, author Deborah Swift discusses the symbolism of gloves in the 17th century. To quote:

Judges often used to wear gloves as a symbol that their hands were unsullied by the criminals they had jurisdiction over. Gloves "lined" with money were famous as formal bribes and judges and other high up members of society often received far too many pairs of gloves to use them all; for this reason, many fine specimens survive. These are often highly decorative, with gold braid, embroidery and sumptuous beading, as in this example. The poorer gloves, such as the ones Ella is given, that would be worn for warmth, rarely survive.

In the 16th and 17th centuries so much etiquette developed around them that men’s gloves in particular grew wider and more decorative as they were so often carried rather than worn. It was taboo to offer to shake a hand wearing gloves, or to accept a gift in a glove. Nor was it acceptable to remove them with the teeth. Approaching an altar in Church, men had to remove their gloves, and the right glove had to be removed when coming into the presence of a social superior as a mark of respect. The keeping on of your gloves indicated that you retained power by declining physical contact, whereas the removal meant you deferred to a higher position. Gloves were also to be put off when playing cards (to deter cheating, I suppose) or when eating.

To read the entire article, click here.

Button Hooks

The Victorians certainly loved buttons. They'd use them everywhere. On their boots, on their gloves, on their corsets, on their jackets... It would take a woman hours to hook them all on her own. The solution? Button hooks. They came in all shapes and sizes. Some were as long as a foot to prevent the wearer from bending down when fastening buttons, while others were as small as a finger and could easily be carried around in a purse and used whenever it was necessary.

Button hooks could be elaborate, made of gold or silver and decorated with jewels, or simple and plain. But they all worked the same. Button hooks have a "hook" (obviously!) made from a loop of wire. The wearer would thread this hook through the button hole and grab the button with it. Then, she'd pull the button hook, with the button safely secured, through the hole, pull the hook free and start the whole process again with the next button. These hooks made dressing easier and faster for decades, before they started to go out of use after World War I. Nowadays they are found mostly in antique shops.

Have you ever seen, or used, a button hook?

Bed-Rooms, Beds, And Bedding

How many of you hate making your bed? It takes only a couple of minutes, but it feels like such a chore, doesn't it? Yet, we're very lucky. In the past, making the bed was a long and arduous process, which often required the help of an extra set of hands, like this extract from the Household Work or The Duties Of Female Servants, a manual about housework written for domestics in the form of an interview, explains:

Q. After you have had your breakfast, and whilst the family is finishing theirs, what do you do?
A. I take a large can of boiling-hot water up-stairs, into the bed-rooms, and also a slop-pail. I go through all the rooms, open the windows, unless the weather be bad, empty the slops, scald the different vessels, and wipe them dry with cloths I keep for the purpose.

Q. What next?
A. I put on a largo, clean, bed-making apron, which goes all round me, and so prevents my gown from soiling the bed-clothes or furniture.

Q. What do you do then?
A. I dust two of the chairs, and place them at the foot of the bed. Then I draw back the curtains, and remove the counterpane, blankets, and sheets, one by one, turning them over upon the chairs, and taking care not to let them drag upon the floor. In taking off the sheets, I give each of them a shaking, to cool them by letting the fresh air pass through and over them. I also shake the pillows and bolster, and lay them aside. Next I shake the bed, and leave it to air.

Q. Of course, in removing the clothes, you take care to keep them in right order, so that when you come to make the bed, they will fall into their proper places, as they were before; and that the seams of the sheets will not be inside?
A. Yes, ma'am.

Q. Well, as you will probably soon be wanted to remove the breakfast things, how do you proceed?
A. I must leave my apron up-stairs, to put on again when I make the beds. I take the slop-pail down, empty it, rinse it well, and place it to drain.

Q. What next?
A. I carry up a tray to the parlour, on which to remove the breakfast things; and if there are any crumbs on the floor, I bring a dust-shovel and hand-brush to sweep them up. Next, I wash the breakfast things, and the glasses that were used last night.

Q. And then?
A. Then, if you please, I will receive instructions for dinner, make the necessary preparations, and afterwards return to finish the beds and bed-rooms.

[Where there is a second servant—a cook, for instance— it is part of her duty to assist in making the beds; but where there is only one, it will be not only a great relief to her, but will much expedite the business of the day, and cause the beds to be better made than they can be by a single pair of hands, or without the allowance of additional time—and consequently conduce to the general comfort of the family—if the mistress, or one of the grown-up young ladies, will assist. However, in either case, the maid-of-all-work must exert herself in the performance of her duty.]

Q. Well, having completed your arrangements preparatory to cooking the dinner, how do you proceed with your bed-making?
A. Having washed my hands, I again put on my large apron. Then I shake the bed well, in all directions, turn it over, and take care that the feathers do not get into lumps.

Q. But the mattresses—you know there are generally two or three of them; the lowest, which is stuffed with straw, and called a paillasse; and the others filled with horse-hair, wool, or flock—how do you manage them?
A. The paillasse does not require to be turned more than once or twice a week; but the mattress, or mattresses, as well as the bed, must be shaken and turned over every day.

Q. What is the object of this shaking and turning?
A. To give them the advantage of fresh air, and thus keep the bedding cool, and sweet, and wholesome.

Q. Well?
A. After I have thoroughly shaken and turned the mattress, I replace the bed, laying it square with the bedstead, smooth and even, but not flattened; then put on the under blanket, and over that the under sheet, straight and smooth; tucking the sheet well under the bed on the upper mattress.

Q. What next?
A. Then I shake up the bolster and pillows, and lay them straight in their places at the head of the bed; after which I put on the upper sheet, with the wrong side uppermost, leaving enough at the feet to tuck in firmly, and sufficient at the head to turn down. Next, I place the blankets—one, two, or more, according to the time of the year, or the wish of the occupant of the bed—and when I have put the last blanket on, I tuck in the whole together, firmly, with the upper sheet, and, according to their length, fold them over in one or more folds.

Q. What more have you to do?
A. I next put on the counterpane or quilt. I do not tuck that in, but leave it to hang equally low at each side, and at the foot of the bed.

Q. What is your rule for placing the counterpane properly?
A. There is generally a flower, or some other conspicuous figure, in the centre of the counterpane; and when I have got that at an equal distance, on the top of the bed, from the head, foot, and sides, I know that it will fall and hang properly.

Q. Well?
A. Then I draw my hand across the counterpane, along the lower edge of the pillows, so that their form may be seen beneath.

Q. What is your rule for laying the sheets properly, so that you may not turn them head to feet, or the inside outwards?
A. When I put on clean sheets, I always put the mark of the under sheet at the right-hand corner, at the foot of the bed; and the mark of the upper sheet, also at the foot of the bed, but at the left-hand corner; by which means the sheets are always kept in their proper places.

Q. Well, after you have arranged the counterpane in the way you said, what else have you to do?

A. If the bedstead be a four-post one, I draw the lower curtains towards the feet of the bed; then I fold them in and out, in folds about half-a-yard wide, and turn them on the bed, from the post towards the middle. Next, I fold the head curtains in the same manner, and place them in a straight line upon the pillows. Some ladies prefer having all the curtains drawn to the head of the bed, placing the lower curtains thus upon the pillows, and allowing the head curtains to hang down.

Q. If the bedstead be one of the French sort, or a tent, how do you dispose of the curtains?
A. Then, ma'am, I have only to loop them up.

Q. Have you anything else to do in the bed-rooms?
A. I have now only to draw the flue gently from under the bedstead with a long hair-broom, or with a clean, damp, but not wet, flannel; to dust the furniture; to fill the jugs with soft water, and the bottles with spring water; and to see that everything is in its place.

Q. What have you to do in the bed-rooms in the evening or at night?
A. To prepare the bed by turning down the counterpane, blankets, and upper sheet, one over the other, so that the edge of the fold may reach nearly as high as the middle of the pillows; to draw the bed-curtains; carefully to close the windows and pull down the blinds; to remove the dirty water from the wash-hand basins; and to replenish the jugs and water-bottle.

Further reading:
Household Work or The Duties Of Female Servants by J.Masters

Short Book Reviews: Leap Of Faith, Vanished & His Bright Star

I collected quite a lot of Danielle Steel's books when I was in high school. Her works may not be masterpieces, but they are a light read that's ideal for travelling or when you just want to relax with a book that won't make you think much. So, here are three reviews of her works, enjoy!

Leap Of Faith by Danielle Steel
Marie-Ange Hawkins's carefree childhood comes to an abrupt end when her family is killed in a car crush. She's sent to live with her strict and stingy aunt on the other side of the ocean, where she'll lead a poor existence. One that's miles aways (and not just geographically) from the rich and happy one she had known until then. Her only consolation is the friendship of a boy named Billy. When she's 21, she finally receives her inheritance, and decides to go back to France and visit her old house. Now, Comte Bernard de Beauchamp, a dashing and charming man, lives there. They fall in love, marry, have children... Marie-Angie seems finally to lead a perfect life, until a woman from Bernand's past reveals to her some nasty things about him. Could it be true? Could her Prince Charming really be a monster? The plot sounds very interesting, doesn't it? There's romance, secrets, deception, crime... but sadly, as it often happens in Steel's books, the author never explores these themes in-depth. The book is really short and can easily be read in an afternoon, but it really lacks some content. In addition, it is predictable and repetitive. And that's a shame, cos the story has a lot of potential. *sighs*
Available at:
Rating: 3/5

Vanished by Danielle Steel
This is one of Steel's best works. If you plan to read something from this author for the first time, make it this one. It is set in America in the 1930s, just after the Lindbergh kidnapping. Marielle is married to Malcom, a highly respected man admired by everyone. They have a son Teddy. One day, Teddy is kidnapped. The suspicions fall on Marielle's first husband, Charles. He had threatened Marielle, angry at seeing her life so perfect after the tragic way in which their marriage ended. But would he really go as far as to kidnap her son? As the investigations proceed, everyone becomes a suspect. This is a tale of guilt, passion, desire, pain, love, romance and with a clever twist at the end. It's more of a mystery than a romance novel, which may disappoint Steel's fans, but I enjoyed it a lot more than her usual books. I just wish it wasn't so slow-paced.
Available at:
Rating: 4/5

His Bright Star by Danielle Steel
His Bright Star tells the true story of Steel's son, Nick Traina, who was affected with bipolar disorder. Although the book has the same flaws of Steel's other works, ie it's slow and repetitive, it is nevertheless an emotional, touching and powerful story. In the book, Steel candidly explains what a roller-coaster Nick's life was, how his behaviour affected not just himself but also the rest of his family and of everyone who knew and loved him, how late his disorder was diagnosed, all the different treatments they tried to help him and, finally, his suicide. Danielle Steel may not be the best of writers, but she is an amazing and strong mother who never gave up on her child, and fought hard to save him. Although Nick's story ends tragically, hopefully this book will help other people who are affected by the same disorder. But even if you don't know anyone with mental illness, give this a book a read too. It will give you a better understand of what mental illness is.
Available at:
Rating: 4/5

Are you a fan of Danielle Steel? Have you read these books?

The Birth Of Mary I

On 18 February 1516 , at 4:00 am, at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, Queen Catherine, holding in her hands the belt of Saint Catherine to ease the pain of a long labour and pray for a safe delivery, finally gave birth to a bouncing and healthy baby. This was the Queen's sixth pregnancy and she must have been relieved that the baby was fine. But this relief was mixed with bitter disappointment for the sex of the baby: it was "just" a girl.

Still, it meant that Catherine and her husband, Henry VIII, were capable of conceiving a healthy baby and the couple hoped they would soon be blessed with sons. "Sons will come," Henry said to the Venetian ambassador Giustinian, who had delayed to offer his congratulations because the baby was "only" a girl, "the queen and I are still young". The baby, who "already showed signs that she had inherited the red-gold hair of both her parents and the clear Tudor complexion"*, was named Mary, after her father's sister Mary Tudor.

Three days after her birth, Mary was baptized in the Church of the Observant Friars. Among her godparents were Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, her great-aunt the Countess of Devon, and the Duchess of Norfolk. Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salinsbury, stood sponsor at the baby's confirmation, which took place just after the baptism. Margaret would be appointed Mary's governess the following year. At the end of the ceremony, the heralds proclaimed: "God send and give long life unto the right high, right noble and excellent Princess Mary, Princess of England and daughter of our most dread sovereign lord the King’s Highness."

*Linda Porter

Further reading:
The wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser

Strange French Fashions

French fashions during and after the Terror were the subjects of many satires in England, as Graham Everitt discusses in his book, English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century:

Subjects for the pencil of a clever graphic satirist were not wanting sixty years ago. France in those days set the fashion both in male and female attire, and the strangest eccentricities had marked the emancipation of that country from the thraldom of the Terror. There were the incroyables, a set of young dandies who affected royalist sympathies, and paraded the streets of Paris when young Napoleon was yet a general in the service of the Directory. They wore short-waisted coats with tails of preposterous length, cocked hats of ponderous dimensions, green cravats, powdered hair plaited and turned up with a comb, while on each side of the face hung down two long curls called dogs’ ears (oreilles de chien). These charming fellows carried twisted sticks of enormous size, as weapons of offence and defence, and spoke in a peculiarly affected manner.

Some fourteen or fifteen years later on, when we had driven Joseph Bonaparte and his brother’s legions out of Spain, the fashions had not improved. The biographer of Victor Hugo gives us the picture of one Gilé, a Parisian dandy of that period, whose coat of olive brown was cut in the shape of a fish’s tail, and dotted all over with metal buttons even to the shoulders. Young men who went to moderate lengths in fashion were content to wear the waists of their coats in the middle of their backs, but the waist of this Gilé intruded on the nape of his neck. His hat was stuck on the right side of his head, bringing into prominent notice on the left a thick tuft of hair frizzed out with curling irons. His trousers were ornamented with stripes which looked like bars of gold lace; they were pinched in at the knees and wide at the bottom, giving his feet the appearance of elephant’s hoofs.

Further reading:
English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century by Graham Everitt

Historical Reads: Everything You Know About Corsets Is False

Collectors Weekly debunks some myths about corsets. To quote:

2. Corsets did not create misshapen livers or life-threatening diseases.

Over the years, corsets have been credited with causing a whole litany of health problems. It’s been said that they misshape internal organs and cause cancer. Other illnesses attributed to corsets were fake, sexist conditions, like “hysteria.” There’s also no record of a woman having a rib surgically removed so she could better fit into a corset, which is a particularly absurd myth, given how deadly surgery was in the 1800s.

Of course, they weren’t exactly the healthiest things to wear every day, either. They did force organs to shift around, cause indigestion and constipation, and eventually weakened back muscles. And they didn’t leave a lot room for pregnant women’s fetus-incubating bellies. But deadly they were not. They also didn’t prevent women from doing their work—any more than, say, stiletto heels do.

“Most people today think corsets were extremely dangerous and caused all kinds of health problems, from cancer to scoliosis,” Steele says. “And that’s quite inaccurate. Most of the diseases that have been credited to corsets, in fact, had other causes. Corsets did not cause scoliosis, the crushing of the liver, cancer, or tuberculosis. It doesn’t mean that corsets were without any health problems, but it does mean that most modern people are wildly naive in believing the most absurd antiquated medical accusations about corsetry.

“For example, the idea of the misshapen liver seems to be a mistake based on the fact that there is a lot of variation in the shape of livers. When doctors did autopsies, they would see these weird-looking livers and they’d go, ‘That was caused by the corset.’”

To read the entire post, click here.

A Royal Austen Fan

Princess Charlotte of Wales was a fan of Jane Austen, and didn't even know it. When her uncle, the Duke Of York, lent her a copy of Sense and Sensibility, written by an anonymous lady, he believed, and so did Charlotte, that it was written by a certain Lady Anne Paget. Charlotte loved the book and related to its heroine Marianne:

"'Sence and Sencibility' I have just finished reading; it certainly is interesting, & you feel quite one of the company. I think Maryanne & and me are very like in disposition, that certainly I am not so good, the same imprudence, &c, however remain very like."

Further reading:
Charlotte & Leopold by James Chambers

Politeness, Etiquette And Good Breeding

In his manual of etiquette, Our Deportment, John H. Young quotes some French and English writers to explain what politeness, etiquette and good breading are and why they are important:

To go through this life with good manners possessed,
Is to be kind unto all, rich, poor and oppressed,
For kindness and mercy are balms that will heal
The sorrows, the pains, and the woes that we feel.

A French writer has said: "To be truly polite, it is necessary to be, at the same time, good, just, and generous. True politeness is the outward visible sign of those inward spiritual graces called modesty, unselfishness and generosity. The manners of a gentleman are the index of his soul. His speech is innocent, because his life is pure; his thoughts are right, because his actions are upright; his bearing is gentle, because his feelings, his impulses, and his training are gentle also. A gentleman is entirely free from every kind of pretence. He avoids homage, instead of exacting it. Mere ceremonies have no attraction for him. He seeks not to say any civil things, but to do them. His hospitality, though hearty and sincere, will be strictly regulated by his means. His friends will be chosen for their good qualities and good manners; his servants for their truthfulness and honesty; his occupations for their usefulness, their gracefulness or their elevating tendencies, whether moral, mental or political."

A recent English writer says: "Etiquette may be defined as the minor morality of life. No observances, however minute, that tend to spare the feelings of others, can be classed under the head of trivialities; and politeness, which is but another name for general amiability, will oil the creaking wheels of life more effectually than any of those unguents supplied by mere wealth and station." While the social observances, customs and rules which have grown up are numerous, and some perhaps considered trivial, they are all grounded upon principles of kindness to one another, and spring from the impulses of a good heart and from friendly feelings. The truly polite man acts from the highest and noblest ideas of what is right.

Lord Chesterfield declared good breeding to be "the result of much good sense, some good nature and a little self-denial for the sake of others, and with a view to obtain the same indulgence from them." Again he says: "Good sense and good nature suggest civility in general, but in good breeding there are a thousand little delicacies which are established only by custom."

Further reading:
Our Deportment by John H. Young