Philobiblon: August 2004

Monday, August 30, 2004

Patronage, Collecting and Court Taste

... is the title of the exhibition on George III and Queen Charlotte at the Queen's Gallery in Buckingham Palace.

I visited this afternoon, as promised earlier, but was serious disappointed. There is nothing on George's interest in scientific instruments, beyond clocks and barometers, and only one small case on the Queen's patronage of botany and "women's" crafts. There is an awful lot of ordinary to bad royal portraiture and really ugly silver and china, however.

And the £7.50 entry charge is seriously expensive for what only amounts to three rooms, even if there is Molton Brown handwash in the loos. I'm not surprised that the staff often outnumber the visitors. (It must be losing a mint!)

But there were a couple of highlights:

* an astronomical clock of 1765 that was in the octagon library (which from a print looked very like a miniature round reading room) that also told the time at 30 places around the world (although displayed so you couldn't see all four sides!)

*a nice portrait of Mary Granville, Mrs Delany, (of which there was unfortunately not a postcard) to go with the collection of papercut cut-outs, a couple done by her, others by Princess Elizabeth and the sewing kit the Queen gave her.

Overall it seems Queen Charlotte was a promoter of botany, particularly for women (nothing wrong with that), needlework and obscure crafts such as the paper cutting. e.g. some really hideous gilded chairs were upholstered with embroidery by "the pupils of Mrs Phoebe Wright's school". The value that was placed on these was shown by the fact that the collection of Mrs Delany's papercuts was dispersed (read thrown out) after the Queen's death.

Well I suppose I'm allowed ...

... to plug my story in today's Independent about the forthcoming Sudan exhibition at the British Museum ... and it is going to be well worth visiting. I'd never thought of Sudan as a crossroads before, but it was where Africa and the culture of the Med met and mixed.
(The story will only be free to view for about a week: sorry.)

The King's Library (A defence of George III)

As I say when working in the British Museum Englightenment Gallery, King George III of England is most famous for going mad and "losing America", but he did have his positive side.

He was a keen scholar and the British Library has an enormous amount to thank him for. The King's library "really began" with the purchase of 30,000 items from the collection of George Thomason (which will be familiar to anyone who has used the rare books room in the British Library.)

The next major addition was the library of Joseph Smith, the British Consul in Venice. "It was asserted in Venetian saloni that it was in order to get his hands upon the Consul's collection that John Murray, the unscrupulous English Resident of Venice, induced his sister to marry Smith when that by then 'curious old man' was over eighty."

The books were housed in four separate libraries in Buckingham House (then better known as the Queen's House), all of which could be entered only through the king's bedchamber: curious, when you think that he always regarded it as a national resource and scholars, even those of whom he disapproved, were welcome to use it.

King George allowed £1,500 a year to add to his collection, although purchases frequently went over budget, even though he directed that his agents never bid against "a scholar, a professor, or any person of moderate means who desired a particular book for his own use". The library eventually totalled more than 65,000 books and 450 manuscripts.

The king was particularly well read in history, being apparently keen on Gibbon, David Hume and Bishop Burnet.

There's now an exhibition about this at Buckingham Palace, in fact writing this has just reminded me that I meant to go to so it, and there's no time like the present .... expect a report later.

This account based mostly on George II: A Personal History, C. Hibbert, Penguin, 1998, pp. 58-62.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Terms of abuse

Odd, isn't it, how the abuse, by contemporaries and historians, of prominent women always seems to follow certain paths. Queens are, when they come from lesser backgrounds always originally prostitutes (or the worst sort, of course) e.g. Justinian's empress Theodora, and when in power are said to follow all sorts of deviant sexual practices, e.g. Catherine the Great, to be mad for luxury (Cleopatra and the asses' milk) and be utterly tyrannical (pretty well all of them).

Scholarly women are by contrast dismissed as slightly, or more than slightly, mad, masculine or plain ugly in their appearance, and hopelessly overarching in their intellectual ambitions.

I first heard of Egalantine Lady Wallace, the sister of the duchess of Gordon, from a rather fun piece of popular history The London Monster: A Sanguinary Tale, J. Bondeson, Da Capo Press, Cambridge, 2001.

She was presented, as usual, as "an eccentric playwright and poetess", "a boisterous hoyden in her youth, and a woman of violent temper in her maturer years".
Lady Wallace wrote a play, The Ton, that caused a riot in the theatre when staged in 1790.

This is usually dismissed as a result of its poor quality, but the story seems to have been more complicated, as this website explains.

The picture presented is strikingly like that applied to Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Maupassant - a nice man (not)

Warning - not a post for the squeamish ...

Maupassant: "one day he had painted a false chancre on his penis and paraded thus in front of his mistress, whom he then raped to make her think that he had given her a dose of the pox."

Of course he did really have syphilis, although he didn't realise it, until March 1877, when he wrote to a friend, Robert Pinochon: "

For five weeks I have been taking four centigrammes of mercury and 35 centigrammes of potassium iodide a day, and I feel very well on it. Soon mercury will be my staple diet. My hair is beginning to grow again ... the hair on my arse is sprouting ... I've got the pox! at last! the real thing! not the contemplible clap, no the ecclesiastical crystalline, not the bourgeois coxcombs or the leguminous cauliflowers - no - no, the great pox, the one which Francis I died of. ... I don't have to worry about catching it any more, and I screw the street whores and trollops, and afterwards I say to them 'I've got the pox'. They are afraid and I just laugh."

It's a reminder of the hatred many men through the ages have felt for women. (Sorry to be depressing; got a cold and feeling rather miserable!)

From C. Quetel (Trans. J. Braddock and B. Pike) History of Syphilis, The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1990, p. 129-30.)

You might think it is odd reading material (academic remainders again), but although my Camden Historical Society book on Leather Lane (on which I live - London EC1) manages not to mention it, the lane was best known from the 17th to the 19th century for its mercury baths, run, at the time the infamous John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester, was treated there, by one Madam Fourcard. (That's from C. Goldsworthy, The Satyr, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2001, p. 129 - a not very good biography.)

Check your forehead

From the only edition of the Lady's Journal (October 1693):

"Women may apply themselves to the Liberal Arts and Sciences. ... Their Forehead is generally high, rais'd and broad, which is the usual token of an ingenious and inventive person."
Time to look in the mirror ....

from, R. Iliffe and F. Wilmouth, "Astronomy and the domestic sphere: Margaret Flamsteed and Caroline Herschel as Assistant-Astronomers,' in Women, Science and Medicine 1500-1700: Mothers and Sisters of the Royal Society (L. and S. Hutton ed), Sutton, 1997, p. 242.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Just what you want in the post

In 1730, at the age of 78, the novelist, poet, Catholic and gout-plaster inventor Jane Barker sent a prioress in Bruge a tumour that had been expelled many years earlier from her breast. She wrote: "I begg pardon for this liberty I take in making yr La[dyship] so od a present." (So she wasn't mad.)

It had, she said, been expelled as the result of the intercession of "our holy King" (James II), through the medium of his blood soaked in "a little rag". Now all is clear: about 1730 a big new push to have James canonised had begun.

Despite this tale rather than because of it, I've added to my (very long) "to read" list Barker's A Patchwork Screen for Ladies, described as: a patching together of inherited forms so as to accommodate within the confines of a single-female-centred narrative kinds of experiences traditionally excluded from popular fiction".

This description from Jane Barker, Exile: A Literary Career 1675-1725, Kathryn R. King, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2000. It was one of my better Waterstone's academic remainders purchases - £50!! down to £7. The tumour story is p. 104-6, Patchwork p. 194

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Ballard and Elstob

Back to the historical world, which at least has the virtue of the pain, frustration and anger being muted by time ...

Elizabeth Elstob, the great Saxon scholar, was unable to win permission for her friend, George Ballard, to dedicate his Memoirs of Several Ladies (1752) to her employer, the Duchess of Portland. (She had been reduced to being a governess.)

She wrote:

"I am sorry to tell you the choice you have made for the Honour of the Females was the wrong'st subject you could pitch upon. For you can come into no company of Ladies or Gentlemen, where you shall not hear an open and Vehement exclamation against Learned Women, and by those women that read much themselves, to what purpose they know best ... The prospect I have of the next age is a melancholy one to me who wish Learning might flourish to the end of the world, both in men and women, but I shall not live to see it."

(from a rather quaint volume: A Galaxy of Governesses, Bea Howe, Derek Verscoyle, 1954, p. 51)

Today is out the first report of Shere Hite's new book, about how women put down other women: the more things change ...

On a more cheerful note, while I'd love to buy a copy of Ballard I haven't found an excuse for the expenditure, but his biography of Anne Killigrew, poet and artist, is on the Net.

Keeping Bush

An interesting piece on Baudrillard and the "spinning" of George Bush. (It reminds me of the media treatment of Joh Bjelke-Petersen, an Australian provincial politician who, it was subsequently recognised, was greatly boosted by the media, which cleaned up his quotes and edited his interview to make him look a great deal more coherent than he was. And it was either too cowardly or too involved to expose the corruption of his government.)
He was in many respects a precusor to Pauline Hanson. Interesting that we tend to think of populists as being charismatic performers, from the Greek demagogues onwards, yet something about the modern world (the modern media?) seems to be removing even this requirement.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

A nation of doglovers

Last night I was reading London Gazettes of the 1670s during a quiet patch at work, when I came across this:

"Lost on Saturday last, in New Kings-Street near St. James's, a little black Spaniel, rough hair, white neck. Whoever shall bring the said Dog, or give notice where he is to be found, to the Angel in the same street, shall have 20 s. reward."
(From No 1040, Nov 8, 1675)

As is still the case with many modern local papers, the classifieds make the most interesting reading; it's a salutory lesson for journalists to realise they are why many readers buy newspapers.

This was brought home to me in Australia many years ago when I kept getting complaints about how terrible the spelling in my paper was. I couldn't work this out, since although we had the odd howler, they were pretty rare. Then I looked at the classifieds, and all of the "quite" ponies. I never did manage to get them to get it right

Friday, August 20, 2004

The women were in the alehouses too...

... and there is nothing new about complaints about a "drinking culture".
This from The English Alehouse: A Social History 1200-1830, P. Clark, Longman, London, 1983:

By the 1630s there was estimated to be one alehouse for every 89-104 inhabitants in England (and that doesn't count taverns and inns!) By the 1690s the figure was about 1 to 87. (p. 44)

In London: "In 1618 the city fathers complained that the multitude of alehouses and victualing houses within this city increasing daily are grown so dangerous and enormous as it is high time to suppress the number of them". (p.49)

Within the city proper 924 alehouses were licenced in 1657, 1 for every 16 houses, with a higher density in the poorer wards such as Farringdon without (where it was 1 in 6), but illicit premises were particularly numerous in the city.
Dekker remarked in 1638 that in some streets there was "not a shop to be seen between a red lattice", this pattern, painted on the wall, (or a chequerboard), was used by smaller premises that had not hanging sign of their own).(p. 68)

Female visits were possible within the limits social convention. Thus women might go with their husbands, particularly when they were on a journey or there was a family or neighbourhood celebration. A group of married women might go together after a christening or a churching. "An unattached woman who went to alehouses on her own was usually regarded as promiscuous and might well be accosted or assaulted." (p. 131)

Thursday, August 19, 2004

A retort to Habermas ...

... to whom I never did really take.

It seems that all those men sitting around in coffee and chocolate shops in the 17th century were more often joined by women than he acknowledged.

An excellent article in the journal The Seventeenth Century suggests that working-class women, at least, often went into coffee shops, while middle-class women might well have done this, in addition to using them to transact business just as the men did.

The more "genteel" chocolate houses were where higher class women were more likely to be found, although the line was a thin one: the article notes that Mary Somerset, Duchess of Beaufort, went to the Temple Coffee House for a botanical club meeting(p.261).

Of course women could be there for other reasons: "There being scarce a Coffee-House but affords a Tawdry Woman, a wanton Daughter, or a Buzome Maide, to accommodate Customers ..." (quoted from 'Well-willer' The Men's Answer to the Women's Petition Against Coffee, 1674, p. 2.)

(H. Berry, "'Nice and Curious Questions': Coffee Houses and the Representation of women in John Dunton's Athenian Mercury", Vol XII, No 2, Autumn 1997, pp. 257-276.)

Virago: a word that should be reclaimed

Various minority communitites have reclaimed pejorative words about themselves and chosen to use them with pride; I think women should do the same with "virago".

The OED gives two definitions

2. a. A man-like, vigorous, and heroic woman; a female warrior; an amazon. Now rare.

Citing the example:
1885 19th Cent. May 472 She [Vittoria Colonna] was a virago, a name which, however misapprehended now, bore a different and worthy signification in her day.

or the far more common use:
3. A bold, impudent (or [obsolete sense] wicked) woman; a termagant, a scold.
c1386 Chaucer Man of Law's T. 359 O Sowdanesse, roote of Iniquitee, Virago,
thou Semyrame the secounde [etc.].
1680 C. Nesse Ch. Hist. 178 God sets this black brand upon this virago Jezabel.
1865 Trollope Belton Est. xxvii. 329, I believe Lady Aylmer to be an
overbearing virago, whom it is good to put down.

I came to this from a curious but interesting piece of semi-feminist history writing, Uncrowned Queens: Women Who Influenced Manners and Moulded the Society They Lived In, by Amy Latour, first published in English in 1970 (in French in 1967). Its main characters include Isabella D'Este (who she calls in flattering terms a virago), Madame de Rambouillet and Madame de Scudery; Madame Geoffrin and Madame du Deffand; "Mrs Montagu and the Blue Stockings"; Rahel Varnhagen, Princess Cristina di Belgiojocso; Juliette Adam ; and Gertrude Stein.

I'm ashamed to confess that there was several in that list previously unknown to me; a reminder about how limited the Anglo-Saxon academic approach can be.

(Thanks to Simon from copyediting-L for the OED info). It is, by the way, a great community if you are interested in words.

P.S. It has just been pointed out to me (thanks Hal from CEL-ery) that there is already Virago Press, so the campaign has been started already: we just need to carry it forward.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

When trial by ordeal worked ...

"Among the earliest duels upon record" was in AD878. Ingelerius, count of Gastinois, was found dead one morning by his countess in bed. Gontran, his relative, accused her of murdering him, having been unfaithful, and challenged her to produce a champion to prove his innocence.

Unfortunately for the countess, however, Gontran was a renown warrior, so no one dared to come to her aid, until her godson, Ingelgerius, count of Anjoy, who was only 16, stepped forward.

Everyone thought he had no hope, including the king, who sought to dissuade him from the enterprise, but he persisted in his resolution "to the great sorrow of all the court, who said it was a cruel thing to permit so brave and beautiful a child to rush to such butchery and death," however ...

"Gontran rode so fiercely at his antagonist, and hit him on the shield with such impetuosity, that he lost his own balance and rolled to the ground. The young count, as Gontran fell, passed his lance through his body, and then dismounting, cut off his head, which, Brantome says, 'he presented to the king, who received it most graciously, and was very joyful'."

I haven't checked it out, but a great story, and a reminder of the mentality of the age.

from Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, C. Mackay, Wordsworth Reference 1995, (first published 1852) p. 656.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Ok, it's Sunday night ...

... time to take the Inferno test ...

And then I'm going away to finally started Dorothy L. Sayer's translation of the real thing, which has been on my "to-read" pile for a very long time.

The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Sixth Level of Hell - The City of Dis!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very Low
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)High
Level 2 (Lustful)High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Very Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Low
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Very High
Level 7 (Violent)Moderate
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)High
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Moderate

Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test

Saturday, August 14, 2004

The inventor of the handkerchief ...

... was Richard II, or so it would seem.

Some time between 1384 and 1386 a clerk in the Great Wardrobe recorded, (in Latin) the presence of "small pieces of linen made to be given to the Lord King for blowing and covering his nose". Such a careful record certainly suggests an innovation.

By 1395-8 this was old hat: the clerk just recorded the acquisition of "11 portions of linen cloth from Rheims , for clearing the nose of the king".

This suggests either a severe case of catarrh or, more plausibly, that the king was distributing these to courtiers, which well might have made the court a more pleasant place. It was also "consistent with what we know of his earlier distribution of the badges of the white hart".

From G.B. Stow, "Richard II and the invention of the pocket handkerchief," Albion, Vol 27, No 2, 1995. (And no, not what I was supposed to be researching, although I did make a couple of nice small discoveries in that area also.)

Thursday, August 12, 2004

The danger, or use, of words

From Thomas Sprat's History of the Royal Society (1667): Language is a ...

"weapon ... as easily procur'd by bad men as good ...
Eloquence ought to be banish'd out of civil societies
as a thing fatal to Peace and good Manners"
(p.111, St Louis, 1958)

And then for the frivolous bit, going back a couple of centuries, I did the medieval "humour" test online (and suffered only a momentary shiver of temporal dissonance) to find how I might have been classified. The answer was:

You are Phlegmatic. You have a peace-loving
nature, and make a good listener and a faithful
friend. You do have a tendency to be selfish
and stubborn in your worst moments, and your
worrying can lean towards paranoia. Phlegmatics
should consider careers as accountants,
diplomats, engineers, and administrators. You
are a somewhat reluctant leader, but your
practicality and steady nerve under pressure
makes you a natural choice for leadership

Well, not so far off, although I can't see myself as an engineer,
and the one time I got to play diplomat was not a great success.

Which of the Humours are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

A universal pain ....

Rachel Speght, writing in 1621 about her mother's death:

"...A sodeine sorrow pierceth to the quicke,
Speedie encounters fortitude doth try;
Unarmed men receive the deepest wound,
Expected perils time doth lenifie;
Her sodeine losse hath cut my feeble heart,
So deepe, that daily I indure the smart.

The roote is kil'd, how can the bough but fade?
But sith that Death this cruel deed hath done,
I'le blaze the nature of this mortall foe,
And shew how it to tyranize begun.
The sequell then with judgement view aright,
The profit my and will the paines requite."
(From Mortalities Memorandum, with a Dream Prefixed, Jacob Bloom, London.)
It is not known when Rachel's mother died; she was 19 when she wrote this.

A post for my Mum, Joy Louise Bennett (White)
09/08/46- 25/4/89
and my grandmother, Bertha Bennett (Broughton)

Go women!

"The only formal contact Sorosis [a women's literary club in New York] had with men concerned the New York Press Club's apology over the Dickens affair. On 13 June 1868 the men invited Sorosis's members to a breakfast. Although they meant well, the men never let their guests utter a word during all the speeches and toasts. The women responded in kind at a tea for the men on 17 April 1869. Sorosis members took over the proceedings and allowed the men no participation in the occasion. Finally, a dinner was held by the two groups. Croly boasted that it was the first great public dinner at which women ever sat down on equal terms with men, paying their own way and sharing the honors and services. One newspaper remarked, with surprise, that 'the fair speakers were not a bit embarrassed'."

From The Clubwoman as Feminist: True Womanhood Redefined, 1868-1914, K.J. Blair, Holmes & Meier, New York, 1980.
This is the product of a "misspent" (well my wallet thought so) weekend in the London second-hand bookshops. (This was only £3; how could I resist?)

Friday, August 06, 2004

This site's patron 'saint'

To prove there is nothing really new about blogging, I quote a passage about the woman who I feel I must adopt as the patron of this blog, Anne Clifford, a formidable Jacobean who outlived two husbands and ruled an aristocratic estate on her own for more than 30 years. It is reported that:

She would frequently bring out of the rich Store-house of her Memory, things old and new. Sentences, or Sayings of remark, which she had read or learned out of Authors and with these her Walls, her Bed, her Hangings and Furniture must be adorned; causing her Servants to write them in Papers, and her Maids to pin them up, that she, or they, in the time of their dressing, or as occasion served, might remember, and make their discants on them. So that, though she had not many Books in her Chamber, yet it was dressed up with the flowers of a Library.

She also commissioned a wonderful family portrait, now in the Tate Britain.

Quote from B. Kiefer Lewalski, Writing Women in Jacobean England, Hardvard Uni Press, Cambridge, Mass. 1993, p. 139.

Not always an ass ....

the law, or at least the use of its principles, can be useful to women.

I enjoyed the tale from the Times Literary Supplement of July 30, page 11, in a book review of The English and the Normans, by H.M. Thomas:

When Ranulf Flambard, Bishop of Durham, attempted to ravish Christina of Markyate, the niece of his former English mistress Alveva, she escaped by swearing she was only getting out of bed to lock the chamber door, but omitting to specify that she would lock it from the outside. The legal scrupulosity with which the Normans pursued wickedness could be turned against them.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Before the British Museum

... there were private collections.

From John Evelyn's diary, December 16, 1686.

"I carried the Countesse of Sunderland to see the rarities of one Mr Charleton in the Middle Temple, who shew'd us such a collection as I had never seene in all my travels abroad, either of private gentlemen or princes. It consisted of miniatures, drawings, shells, insects, medailes, natural things, animals (of which divers, I think 100, were kept in glasses of spirits of wine), minerals, precious stones, vessells, curiosities in amber, christal, achat, &c; all being very perfect and rare in their kind, especially his bookes of birds, fish, flowers and shells, drawn and miniatur'd to the life. ... This gentleman's whole collection, gather'd by himselfe travelling over most parts of Europe, is estimated at £8000."

A note in my edition says this collection was purchased by Sir Hans Sloane and hence became part of the foundation collection of the British Museum.

I was particularly taken by this since I work (voluntarily) every fortnight in the BM's new Enlightenment Gallery, which recalls this early comprehensive approach to collecting. The juxtaposition of times, cultures and modes of thought that it creates can indeed be enlightening.

I do handling, which means having ancient objects that visitors can hold -- our oldest human-made one is a 350,000-year-old handaxe. Holding it really does make history come alive.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Aesop, but not as you remember him

The Victorian children's versions - which we are still reading - bear only the scantest similarity to the originals, I've discovered, since picking up Aesop: The Complete Fables, O. and R. Temple (trans), Penguin, 1998, in the British Museum bookshop. Anyone who writes lots of essays would find it a great resource for colourful introductions: every human quandary is covered, and every emotion.
It can be bleak, e.g.

The Dogs Reconciled with the Wolves
"The wolves said to the dogs: 'Why, when you are so like us in all respects, don't we come to some brotherly understanding? For there is no difference between us in some of our ways of thinking. We live in freedom; you submit and are enslaved by man and endure his blows. You wear collars and watch over their flocks, and when your masters eat, all they throw to you are some bones. But take our words for it, if you hand over the flocks to us we can all club together and gorge our appetites jointly.'
The dogs were sympathetic to this proposal, so the wolves, making their way inside the sheepfold, tore the dogs to pieces.
(Such is the reward that traitors who betray their fatherland deserve.) No 216, p. 163.

But I think my favourite is The Middle-aged Man and His Mistresses
"A middle-aged man who was going grey had two mistresses, one young and the other old. Now she who was advanced in years had a sense of shame at having sexual intercourse with a lover younger than herself. And so she did not fail, each time that he came to her house, to pull out all of his black hairs.
The young mistress, on her part, recoiled from the idea of having an old lover, and so she pulled out his white hairs.
Thus it happened that, plucked in turn by the one and then the old, he became bald.
(That which is ill-matched always gets into difficulties.)" No. 52 (p.42)

I did say they weren't child's play!