Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Lord Rivers Drowns in the Serpentine—Was It an Accident?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Lord Rivers as a boy
Loretta reports:

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, was addicted to gambling. The first Lord Holland’s sons ran up enormous gambling debts. Beau Brummell fled England to escape his. A lot of that going around.

The third Baron Rivers is another example I happened on. The trail started with the following in La Belle Assemblée for March 1831:
“The first act of the Duke of Sussex, on being appointed to the Rangership of Hyde-park, has been to give directions for the placing an adequate protection against the spot where the late Lord Rivers lost his life."
This was intriguing. Who was Lord Rivers and how did he die?

Wikipedia’s short entry only tantalized, sending me to the 1 April 1831 Gentleman’s Magazine obituary.
Jan. 23 Drowned in the Serpentine river, aged 53, the Right Hon. Horace William Pitt, third Baron Rivers, of Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire (1802).
 ... As Mr. Horace Beckford he was for many years a distinguished member of the haut ton; and it was only after his succeeding to the title on the death of his maternal uncle, July 20, 1828, that he took the name of Pitt ... .
“Lord Rivers was first missed on the evening of Sunday Jan. 23 ... On Tuesday the Serpentine river was dragged, and in the afternoon his Lordship's body was found at the east end, near the waterfall.”
At the inquest, his steward and a footman insisted he’d been in good spirits: He was nearsighted and must have fallen into the river by accident. The superintendent of the Humane Society's Receiving House said the footpath there was so dangerous that ten people fell into the river on a recent foggy night.
“The Jury returned this verdict: ‘Found drowned near the public path at the head of the Serpentine River, considered very dangerous for want of a rail or fence, where many persons have lately fallen in.’—The rail has been since erected by direction of the Duke of Sussex, the new Ranger of Hyde Park.

Subsequently to the inquest ..., there has been considerable discussion in the newspapers regarding the cause of the occurrence; and it has been stated, with what truth we cannot say, that when the body was taken out of the water, his Lordship's hat was secured with a handkerchief under his chin, and that his umbrella was found on the bank, both which circumstances are considered indicative that his immersion was intentional; and it is added that on the Saturday night he had lost considerable sums at a gaming-house; and that this passion for play had for some years so far possessed him, that his uncle bequeathed to him only 4000l. a year, leaving the bulk of his property, amounting to 40,000l a year, to trustees for the benefit of his son, the present Peer.”
Nigel Cox, Serpentine Waterfall
It’s important to remember that suicide, being self-murder, was a capital offense. One could be tried and hanged for the attempt, and a suicide’s property was forfeit to the Crown. Up to a certain point in the early 19th C, those who’d committed suicide were buried at midnight at a crossroads without the offices of clergy. This is why coroner’s juries tended to find the deaths accidental or, when this was impossible, the victim of unsound mind.

Image: A print of the “youthful portrait of Mr. Horace Beckford, at full length in a Vandyke costume, painted by R. Cosway, R.A. and engraved in stipple by John Conde, 1792", courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Photo of Serpentine Waterfall by Nigel Cox. Another image here.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

An Unfinished Gown with Secrets to Share, c1785

Sunday, March 18, 2018
Susan reporting,

Historical clothing is collected, preserved, and valued for many reasons. A garment can be considered significant because it belonged to a famous person, or because it belonged to a person whom history has forgotten entirely. Another item could be treasured for the family story behind it, or could have been worn to a significant historical event. A garment can be treasured because it represents the highest level of craftsmanship and skill, or because was fashioned from rare and costly textiles.

And then there is this dress in the collection of Colonial Williamsburg. (Those of you who attended the Costume Society of America 2018 Symposium in CW last week will recognize it from the keynote discussion.) Made in America of printed cotton around 1785-1795 and purchased by CW in 2004, the dress is a popular style of the time known as a common gown. The open-front dress would have been worn over a petticoat (skirt), stays, and a false rump, and would also have had 3/4- or wrist-length sleeves. Depending on the light, the ground-color of the printed cotton appears either dark purple or brown, though chemical analysis has shown it was originally a shade with deep red overtones from a cochineal-based dye.

The reason this gown holds a special place in the CW collection, however, is not what it is, but what it isn't: it was never finished. While sufficiently assembled for fitting, the gown still has extra-wide seams allowances that would eventually be trimmed away and basting threads to hold the pleats in place and to indicate where trim would be added. Most notably, stitching holes indicate that sleeves (now lost) had once been stitched in place, and were then removed. The armholes are quite high, and it's possible that they didn't fit the intended wearer. 

Still, no one now knows why the dress was abandoned so close to completion. Yet in this state, the dress reveals a rare glimpse at the mantua-maker's working and construction methods; it's frozen in time, there at the final fitting. In addition, the unworn dress presents a glazed, printed cotton in a pristine condition. For the sake of preserving this glazed finish, it's unlikely that the dress will ever go on public display and risk light-damage to the delicate surface. See more images of the original dress plus descriptions of how the fabric was produced here on the CW e-museum website.

The dress is also unusual for another reason. Most surviving 18thc dresses tend to be small - not because all 18thc women were petite, but because in an era when remodeling and recutting clothing was common, the smaller gowns didn't offer enough fabric to make recycling feasible. This gown was intended for a tall woman - 5'10" or even taller - with a 46" bust and a 42" waist.

While the original gown is primarily a study garment in the collection, it has already inspired several copies. First, the printed cotton fabric has been commercially reproduced for sale (it can be ordered by the yard here.) An exact one-to-one copy of the dress to be used for study was created by CW's Costume Design Center, who also made another copy to be worn as a costume in the historic area.

Finally (at least for now) the mantua-makers of the Margaret Hunter shop in CW's historic trades program made a technological reproduction, recreating the dress using 18thc hand-sewing and other period-correct techniques. This version was completed based on other similar dresses from the period, and is shown right worn by Janea Whitacre, mistress of the mantua-making trade. It's stunning in person - which makes you wonder all over again why the original was never finished.

Left: Gown, maker unknown, 1785-1795, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Photograph courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg.
Right: Technological reproduction gown, made the Margaret Hunter shop, Colonial Williamsburg, 2018. Photograph ©2018 Susan Holloway Scott.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of March 12, 2018.

Saturday, March 17, 2018
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Read the comic history of England - handwritten and illustrated - that Jane Austen wrote when she was only sixteen.
• Consumptive chic: how tuberculosis symptoms became ideals of beauty in the 19thc.
• A recipe that's perfect for an 18thc spring dinner: pistachio creams.
James Allen, a Regency-era female husband.
Image: A canine rail cart trip in Alaska, 1912.
Pineapples in 18thc America.
• Nineteenth century Quaker Rebecca Lukens, America's first female CEO of an industrial company.
• A caracal for King George II.
• A thaw in the streets of London, 1865.
Image: An elegant c1775 combined music stand and writing table with Severes porcelain plaque.
• The many residents of this elegant 1872 New York rowhouse included the tragic American-born Princess Rospigliosi.
• The woman with the violin: the trailblazzing Ginger Smock and the 1940s-1950s Los Angeles jazz scene.
• The Victorian ostrich feather trade: boom and bust.
Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman doctor in America; where she lived and worked in Greenwich Village, NY.
• The importance of coffee, tea, and chocolate in early America.
Image: First World War police whistle associated with the service of Miss D.A. Lovell in the
• Of sealing wax and Emperor Francis I of Austria.
Italian (sort of) restaurants in New York City in 1916.
• Dreams of the Forbidden City: when Chinatown nightclubs beckoned Hollywood.
Crispus Attucks: American Revolutionary hero?
• Image: Helluva good icicle at 15thc Rosslyn Chapel, Midlothian, Scotland.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday Video: Dressing an 18thc Gentleman for "Reigning Men" at LACMA

Friday, March 16, 2018

Susan reporting,

This week I've been attending the Costume Society of America's annual symposium in Colonial Williamsburg. One of the more fascinating presentations was given by Senior Curator Sharon Takeda and Assistant Curator Clarissa M. Esguerra from the Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), who described the process of creating the 2016 major exhibition Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear 1715-2015. Featuring pieces drawn largely from the museum's own collections, the exhibition challenged the assumption that fashion is only for women, and instead - as the program described it - "celebrated the rich history of restraint and resplendence in menswear, traced cultural influences over the centuries, and illuminated connections between history and high fashion." (The exhibition also received CSA's Richard Martin Exhibition Award.)

This short video offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the show's preparation. Dressing and moving mannequins in rare and delicate 200-year-old clothing is clearly not an easy task - but the beauty and craftsmanship of the menswear glimpsed here makes the video well worth watching. For more information and other images, see the LACMA blog dedicated to the exhibition.

Attention to our lucky readers in Australia: the Reigning Men exhibition has traveled from Los Angeles to Saint Louis in 2017, and will soon complete be on display at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney from May 2-October 14, 2018.

If you received this post via email, you may be seeing a black box or empty space where the video should be. Please click here to watch the video.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Regency Satire: The Triumph of the Whale

Thursday, March 15, 2018
Cruikshank, The Prince of Whales 1812
Loretta reports:

On this date in 1812 the Examiner published Charles Lamb’s poem “The Triumph of the Whale,” which inspired this George Cruikshank satirical print of 1 May 1812. The image appeared in Cruikshank's satirical magazine, The Scourge.
The caricature and poem about the then Prince Regent (later King George IV) remind us all that mocking the great and powerful, in picture and print (and these days, in internet memes), is nothing new. Given the libel and sedition laws of the time, it’s amazing what Regency satirists got away with. And let’s not forget one of the Privileges of Peers I reported on a while back:
“3. To secure the honour of, and prevent the spreading of any scandal upon peers, or any great officer of the realm, by reports, there is an express law, called scandalum magnatum, by which any man convicted of making a scandalous report against a peer of the realm (though true) is condemned to an arbitrary fine, and to remain in custody till the same be paid.”

Scandalum magnatum notwithstanding, the faces in this caricature would have been familiar to the audience of the time, and everybody would understand the political implications. We, however, need a translation, which the Brighton Museums website provides succinctly:

“Portrayed as a whale in a ‘Sea of Politics’ George spouts the ‘Liquor of Oblivion’ on playwright and Whig supporter Richard Sheridan, and blows the ‘Dew of favour’ on Spencer Perceval the Tory Prime Minister. The prince ignores his former lover, Mrs Fitzherbert, and looks lovingly at his mistress Lady Hertford, who is shown next to her cuckold husband.”
The figures on the right—the Tories—viewed as the fat cats of the time, expect to profit further by the Regent’s decision to shun his Whig associates. The Marquess of Hertford is wearing cuckold horns. You can read a much more detailed description at the British Museum website (please click on "More" for the full description and check out the curator's comments as well). Clearly, this is pretty strong stuff, though not as strong, I think, as Lamb’s poem.

The 1812 blog offers a concise summary of Charles Lamb’s life and the poem. Most of the references are clear enough, although I haven't yet figured out why the muse Lamb summons is Io, one of Zeus’s many loves, who was transformed into a white heifer.

Update: As I hoped, a reader provided the following clarification—
"It's a song. 'Io' is an exclamation you find in Latin songs, and probably in Roman life as well, but spoken words don't survive. It means something like 'Hurray' or even 'Yay'.
In my country a Latin student song still survives. Its first line is 'Io vivat' which translates to 'Hurray, long live'. It dates to the days when all subjects at the universities were taught in Latin."

These pages are from The Poetical Works of Bowles, Lamb, and Hartley Coleridge Selected 1887

Image: George Cruikshank, The Prince of Whales, from the Scourge of 1 May 1812.
Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.
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