Nicola on the Grand Tour!

Giovanni_Paolo_Panini_-_Interior_of_the_Pantheon _Rome_-_Google_Art_ProjectNicola here. Back in the 18th century it was considered part of a gentleman’s education to take the “Grand Tour,” a trip through Europe with Italy as the main destination. The young, upper-class man of means and rank would set out, accompanied by a long-suffering tutor or family member, on this educational rite of passage and would return home supposedly with a greater understanding of classical culture and often with some works of art tucked under their arm.  The phrase “bear-leader” that you come across in Georgette Heyer originated with the poor tutor/chaperon/guardian who had to try to keep the youth out of trouble and instill some knowledge in him!

With the advent of mass tourism in the nineteenth century, these itineraries were opened up to the rest of us; women, families and those without a title (!) who would take a guide book along rather than a tutor. So, when we (my husband and I, to quote the late Queen) planned a holiday to Italy to see the Roman ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, we decided to take in at least a few other elements of the Grand Tour on our way – a journey through the Alps, some shopping in Milan and a stopover in Paris!

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An English Breakfast (and one that isn’t)

 

Wench eggs

Breakfast … sometimes eggs are all you need

Joanna here.

I’m about to sit down to breakfast at the hotel. Nothing too fancy. Generally speaking it’ll be toast or a bagel, some kind of egg, and some bitty piece of meat which might come in the form of a bacon slice or two. Possibly some sausage. And coffee. Lots of coffee with a healthy leavening of half and half.

 

So I’m asking myself how this would be different for my Regency protagonist — assuming my Regency protagonist was a middling sort of person like a merchant’s daughter or a member of the petty gentry or the offspring of a prosperous yeoman farmer. The Vicar’s daughter. The apothecary’s kid.

 Picture my intrepid heroine sitting there, stoking the fires for a long day of being kidnapped and fighting her way free from some sordid den of thieves with nothing to aid her but a folding penknife and her native sneakiness.

 

 

 

Wench family breakfast 3

Family at breakfast with tea and what looks like scones maybe

My young woman’s probably eating at a table with a half dozen other folks. The solitary breakfast in bed would be less common for my middling sort than for richer, more leisured, aristocratic folks. Jane Austen (and her Elizabeth Bennet) probably ate breakfast in the dinning room with her family instead of sending the poor kitchen maid running about with trays.

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Buy that art!

Wench Peep-at-Christies-GillrayLet's say you're a rich man in 1800. You own a house in town and have an estate in the country. Maybe you own manufacturies or mills. You buy expensive clothes and horses and carriages. You shower jewels upon your womenfolk. But at the end of the day, you still have more money than you know what to do with.

You could gamble, of course. Many men and women managed to subdue a rising fortune by gambling it away.

But let's say you had no taste for throwing money away on the green baize table. Let's say you go … collecting. Collecting art, in particular. Where? How? What? Inquiring minds want to know.

In the mid Eighteenth Century there was the 'Grand Tour' of course. A fashionable quest for sophistication had long sent rich young Englishmen off to the Continent to buy Old Masters and Etruscan pots and a good many well-made fakes. They carted them home to decorate the Old Manse.

 christie

he looks amiable, doesn't he?

The art auction achieved its modern form around this time. Rather than the older practice of offering a collection of artworks for sale, each with its proposed price —. this really sounds like a tag sale, doesn't it? — the collection was open for view, and then on the day of sale the auctioneer offered successive artworks and invited bids. Auction madness was born. Much more satisfying, really.

By the end of the Eighteenth Century London housed some of the major auction houses we know today, like Christie's, Phillips, and Sotheby's, as well as others now vanished like Skinner and Dyke, Langford, (with auction rooms at Covent garden,) and Bryant.

Here, to the right, is a portrait, by Gainsborough, of James Christie in 1788, rich in years and honors after two decades and more in the auction business. Sotheby's Auction House is slightly older, but spent the Regency specializing in "scarce and valuable" books rather than paintings. For instance, the library Napoleon carried with him into exile was sold through Sotheby's after his death. Phillips Auction House is solidly Regency, founded in 1796 by the senior clerk at Christie's. I'm sure there is a story behind that.

By the time the Grand Tour was made inconvenient by those troublesome sans culottes in France, the art valuables of France and later the Continent were making their own way to England, fleeing the French Revolution and the ensuing Napoleonic Wars. Wench catalogue henry phillips

Here's what theWench terburgh the music lesson notice of an impending auction looked like. It's the upcoming sale of drawings belonging to the "Count de Carriere", (count of the stone pit or quarry,) probably the nom d'exile of Etienne Bourgevin Vialart, comte de Saint-Morys.

And here is a typical painting that fled France on the wings of Revolution. Ter Borch's The Music Lesson. It was sold by its French owner through the auction house of Skinner and Dyke in London in 1795. Two centuries later, we find it in California where the weather is better, but it's far, far away from the Netherlands where it was painted.

Our Regency auction would have looked a little like this. The examination of the paintings before the sale is up above. Then the auction itself, below.Click on the picture for a closer look.  Notice how many women there are among the bidders, but the main action next to the picture for sale is men.

Wenches Microcosm_of_London_christies auction

 

The Ritual of Tea …

Mary_Cassatt_-_Afternoon_Tea_Party

Tea and conversation

One of the great ceremonies of Regency life, one that defined gentility, was the taking of tea.

The Regency is sorta midway in the story of tea in England. We’re past the Seventeenth and early Eighteenth Century with its careful, stingy measuring of tea by the mistress of the household, the leaves locked up safe in a decorative caddy. We haven’t reached the Victorian era where tea was the daily drink of every working man and city housewife.

John MacDonald, a footman in the last half of the Eighteenth Century, would negotiate a salary that included an allowance for tea and sugar. But when he writes:

“My master had always plenty of fine tea, of which I drank some in the afternoon, and with which I treated the maid, and the maid also at the next house.”

I’m pretty sure he’s helping himself to the household store. At this time, tea is still a particular treat belowstairs.

When we come to early Victorian times … Henry Mayhew, in London Labour and the London Poor, speaking of the 1840s, describes the street sellers.

Coffee and tea stall

Tea for sale, click for closeup

“There are, moreover, peculiar kinds of stalls — such as the hot eels and hot peas-soup stalls, having tin oval pots, with a small chafing-dish containing a charcoal fire underneath each, to keep the eels or soup hot. The early breakfast stall has two capacious tin cans filled with tea or coffee, kept hot by the means before described.”

In 1840, tea had ceased to be a servants’ perquisite, reluctantly granted by the employer and pilfered by the staff. Now it’s on the street. It’s Everyman’s drink.

But back to the parlor …

The taking of tea in the parlor meant slow, stylized ritual and unnecessary elaboration. It’s the opposite end of the spectrum from the hurried dipping tea out of a capacious tin can.

Consider this spread of tea complication.

Jean liotard still life tea set 1783

A pretty wild tea party, looks like

Going along from the left:

Teapot with its lid. Behind it, the tea caddy where the tea leaves live. In front of the tea pot, a cup, saucer, and silver spoon. The center spot on this tray is a shallow plate with orange slices. It might just as easily hold scones or muffins.

Working our way in from the right:

We have the slops bowl in back. That is a lovely useful thing to have, isn’t it? I kinda wish we had slops bowls for our lives where we could clear all the mess neatly away and go on with the tea party.

What else? There’s the bowl of sugar cubes. These cubes were not neatly square. They were nipped off the two-foot-high cone of sugar kept in the kitchen and came out irregular and all nobbly shaped. Over the sugar bowl are the sugar tongs. And here at the front of the sugar bowl is the milk jug.

Missing from this set is the strainer. About all the paintings I find of folks drinking tea,

Tea strainer 1780s V &A

Tea strainer

the tea strainer is nowhere in evidence. Yet they had them. They’re in museums. One would certainly have strained the tea leaves out of the drink at some point. Maybe they were considered too messy to put in the picture.

Also missing from this array is the kettle of hot water that sat over on the hearth

Tea kettle by the fire

The copper water kettle is by the fire click for closeup

keeping warm. The water would be used to warm up and dilute the tea in the teapot. You couldn’t hoist the teabags out of the water and put an end to the brewing, there not being any teabags yet. However long the tea party lasted, that was how long the tea steeped.

Here we have folks taking tea and the kettle is right there in evidence. One could also have a tea urn or samovar with coals under it, keeping warm, right there on the table.

 

Tea wter kettle on stand 1753

Silver kettle to heat water

This here is a silver tea kettle that would have had pride of place. The comment on this piece at the Victoria and Albert:

“The tea kettle and stand would have been the most expensive part of the tea service. For example, Mrs. Coke paid the goldsmith … £25 13s 1d for her kettle and lamp. Her teapot cost just £10 1s 8d.”

That comparative value is not set in stone. The best porcelain would cost more than uninspired silver,  but all things being equal, a silver tea service was the conspicuous consumption of the time. When the aged retainer staggers in with a tea tray full of silver teapots and silver slop bowls and what have you, it’s not just heavy. It’s (staggeringly) expensive.

But by the Regency, not all tea was drunk in the parlor with such magnificent display.

Monet_tea_set-

Be nice to have somebody bring this to your desk

We also have a cozier, more informal tea taking. One little pot of tea, prepared in the kitchen and brought up with a cup or two at the side. That was the tea laid down at the hero’s elbow while he worked on his accounts or the tea brought to the heroine and her sister as they put their heads together and plotted.

Making tea

Morning tea. Yellow and red tea caddies at the back
Chardin_ladytakingtea

Chardin 1735

This is my tea service there on the left. Rough and ready. But see that tea pot? It is of an ancient design. See it there in the painting by Chardin? And the little tea bowl is handmade by an artist in such things. I’m happy using this set. It makes me feel good, every time.

 

Do you have a tea set or a coffee service that is a joy to hold in your hands? Maybe something you inherited or bought at a special time of your life. Maybe a present.

The Persistence of Fireplace Tools

Wench a_cottage_interior_william_redmore 2

Pensive, with bellows.

I was cleaning ashes out the woodstove today and putting aside some of the fireplace tools to carry out onto the porch to polish and get ready for storage for the summer.

Not all of them. Just the ones I don’t use often. I’m mostly done with the wood heat for the year, but there’ll be one or two more fires to light on cool evenings. From here on out it’s just for enjoyment. Just for the beauty.

Anyhow, I was considering my woodstove which is fairly sophisticated as woodstoves go. It’s covered with pretty tile and has fancy corrugations inside that do something about fire efficiency. There’s flues. There's a trap in the bottom to remove ashes while the stove is in operation. There’s thermal insulating rope around the door that has to be replaced every couple of years which is why I know about it. It has a thermal glass door. Thermal glass!

Space age woodstove.

Wench shovel

Also pensive. Has shovel. See broom to the side.

But my array of fireplace tools would settle comfortably next to my Regency heroine’s bedroom hearth. Or Elizabeth Tudor’s hearth. There is a perfection of form and design that’s brought these humble implements through centuries unchanged.

So. What do I have? Leesee …

A poker. Actually I have two. No idea how I ended up with two but I can’t bring myself to throw out the extra one.

You see, if I were a Regency heroine and were menaced by the villain, I’d bop him over the head with a poker and be perfectly safe.
But what if there were two villains? Huh? What then?

Nobody ever thinks about that.

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