Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Regency Dinner Parties and Etiquette

Dinner during the Regency was quite an affair encompassing several courses with a multitude of dishes at each. Guests who sat down to eat were faced with soup, meat, game, pickles, jellies, vegetables, custards, puddings- anywhere from five to twenty five dishes depending on the grandeur of the occasion.

The first course would have been soup, which the host would supervise the serving of. When that was finished and cleared away, he would carve the larger joints of meat (mutton, beef, etc.). The Gentlemen of the party would serve themselves from the dishes in front of them, and offer them to their neighbors. If a dish was required from another part of the table, a manservant would be sent to fetch it. Fortunately guests were not expected to try every dish on the table!

When the main course was cleared a small dessert of salad and cheese was put in its place until that was cleared in favor of the second course, which was a variety much like the first including many dishes savoury and sweet. This, in turn, was cleared, the cloth taken away and Dessert was served- usually nuts, fruits, sweetmeats and perhaps ice cream.

At last the ladies would retire to the drawing room to gossip and embroider and chat for about an hour while the gentlemen enjoyed their Port in the dining room. They would then gather for tea and conversation- sometimes cards, and tea again- until the party broke up, quite late in the evening.

A period volume, True Politeness: A Handbook of Ettiquette for Ladies offers the following suggestions:

•The hostess takes the head of the table; the seat of honor for a gentleman is at her right hand; for a lady, it is to the right of the host.

•It is usual to commence with soup, which never refuse; if you do not eat is, you can toy with it until it is followed by fish...soup must be eaten from the side, not the point of the spoon; and in eating it, be careful not to make a noise, by strongly inhaling the breath: this habit is excessively vulgar; you cannot eat too quietly.

•Always feed yourself with the fork, a knife is only used as a divider. Use a dessert spoon in eating tarts, puddings, curres, &c., &c.

•If what you are eating before dessert has any liquid, sop the break and then raise it to the mouth.

•The mistress of the household should never appear to pride herself reagarding what is on her table...; it is much better for her to observe silence in this respect, and leave it to her guests to pronounce eulogiums on the dinner.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Ballroom

A Dance Card

“To commence with one of these minor expenses, but an all-important one in its way, the floor of a ball-room. The drawing-rooms or drawing-room of a house is, in town, the room usually converted into a ball-room, save in those stately mansions which boast of an especial ball-room or picture-gallery of noble proportions, wherein these festive entertainments are held; in these handsome apartments the flooring is kept in a highly-polished condition, and only requires a little extra polishing on the occasion of a ball being given. The flooring of many a London drawingroom now also presents a polished surface, parquet flooring being so much in vogue; but an ordinary flooring, even in those houses that are of recent build requires to be thoroughly put in order by the aid of a carpenter, all the unevennesses of the surface to be planed, and the boards prepared for polishing. The cost of this is simply the workman’s time, which may be either three days or three hours according to the size of the rooms and the condition of the boards.

…With regard to the number of seats placed in a ball-room, if the room is a very spacious one, it is usual to place settees or rout-seats around the walls and in the recesses of the windows and in other available spots.
When the accommodation of a house admits of it it is usual to fit up one smaller room as a drawingroom; but when dancing takes place in both drawing-rooms, and there is no third room at command, then an extra number of rout-seats are provided in the ball-room, on the landings, and in the tea-room.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Victorian seaside

The lords and ladies liked the beach too!

Most of our current perceptions of the British, and especially the English and Welsh, seaside are all the stronger for having Victorian roots. Indeed, the survival of English Professor John Walton, in the face of changing tastes and intensifying competition at home and abroad, owes much to positive associations of the 'traditional' summer holiday. Childish innocence (buckets, spades and sandcastles), nature (starfish, rock-pools and gulls as well as the power and tranquillity of the sea itself), simple 'old-fashioned' fun (donkeys, roundabouts, Punch and Judy, boat trips, beach entertainers), and tasty, informal seaside food: fattening, glutinous and eaten out of the bag while on the move, in defiance of conventional table manners (fish and chips, ice cream, candy-floss, cockles and whelks).

Most of these attributes, or their identification with enjoyment, are invented Victorian traditions. They are only part of the panorama of Victorian seaside attractions, which also embraced the fashionable promenade, military and German 'oompah' bands, a spectrum of seaside entertainment's from minstrels and pierrots to music-hall and variety which now survive only as self-conscious 'heritage' revivals. The piers on which many of these activities took place, where they survive, may now be drawn into the cloud of affectionate nostalgia through which the idealised seaside of the past is viewed and, where possible, reproduced.

The sheer variety of resort environments, which itself contributed to the ubiquitous popularity of the seaside by offering all things to all people, was also clearly understood by the humorists. They depicted Brighton as a carnival of strange juxtapositions between fashionable high society and its imitators and an exotic medley of Cockney trippers and vulgar, assertive stallholders and alfresco entertainers.

The mainstream family resorts with their importunate minstrels and sly fishermen offered gentle comedies combining displacement, routine, discomfort and boredom, while the little fishing villages that catered for the alternative fashion for the picturesque, untidy and informal were theatres of misunderstanding between the patronising and the patronised, with the latter usually having fun at the expense of the former. Spice was added by the visitors' painful awareness that nothing was as innocent as it might seem, as landladies and boatmen strove to extract the last penny from their summer bonanza by bending and stretching their rules of engagement.

All these perceptions reflected the 'liminal' nature of the seaside as gateway between land and sea, culture and nature, civilised constraint and liberated hedonism. The spirit of carnival bubbled close to the surface, threatening and promising to turn the world 'upside down' as the holiday atmosphere stimulated the latent fun, laughter and suspension of inhibitions that Dickens (for example) celebrated in his readers.

These influences fought against the internal drives towards staid respectability, and fear of embarrassment, that were also so strong in Victorian culture, especially among the Pooterish lower middle classes (and the Grossmiths' understanding of this helps to make The Diary of a Nobody a genuine classic). Local authorities, drawing the line in different places according to their perceptions of their markets, had to pay heed to drives for the control and suppression of levity that tended to carry greater political clout. Respectability was as contentious a fault-line as class in the conflicts that cut across the enjoyment and tranquillity of the Victorian seaside. It was all the more sharply contested because its definitions were uncertain at the core as well as the edges. Alongside bathing regulation, Sunday observance was a particular touchstone. In these respects as in many others, escape to the seaside brought with it the conflicts and uneasiness about morality and identity which were so pervasive in Victorian life for the rest of the year.

Code Duello: The Rules of Dueling

The Code Duello, covering the practice of dueling and points of honor, was drawn up and settled at Clonmel Summer Assizes, 1777, by gentlemen-delegates of Tipperary, Galway, Sligo, Mayo and Roscommon, and prescribed for general adoption throughout Ireland. The Code was generally also followed in England and on the Continent with some slight variations. In America, the principal rules were followed, although occasionally there were some glaring deviations.

Rule 1. The first offense requires the first apology, though the retort may have been more offensive than the insult. Example: A tells B he is impertinent, etc. B retorts that he lies; yet A must make the first apology because he gave the first offense, and then (after one fire) B may explain away the retort by a subsequent apology.

Rule 2. But if the parties would rather fight on, then after two shots each (but in no case before), B may explain first, and A apologize afterward.

N.B. The above rules apply to all cases of offenses in retort not of stronger class than the example.

Rule 3. If a doubt exist who gave the first offense, the decision rests with the seconds; if they won't decide, or can't agree, the matter must proceed to two shots, or to a hit, if the challenger require it.

Rule 4. When the lie direct is the first offense, the aggressor must either beg pardon in express terms; exchange two shots previous to apology; or three shots followed up by explanation; or fire on till a severe hit be received by one party or the other.

Rule 5. As a blow is strictly prohibited under any circumstances among gentlemen, no verbal apology can be received for such an insult. The alternatives, therefore -- the offender handing a cane to the injured party, to be used on his own back, at the same time begging pardon; firing on until one or both are disabled; or exchanging three shots, and then asking pardon without proffer of the cane.

If swords are used, the parties engage until one is well blooded, disabled, or disarmed; or until, after receiving a wound, and blood being drawn, the aggressor begs pardon.

N.B. A disarm is considered the same as a disable. The disarmer may (strictly) break his adversary's sword; but if it be the challenger who is disarmed, it is considered as ungenerous to do so.

In the case the challenged be disarmed and refuses to ask pardon or atone, he must not be killed, as formerly; but the challenger may lay his own sword on the aggressor's shoulder, then break the aggressor's sword and say, "I spare your life!" The challenged can never revive the quarrel -- the challenger may.

Rule 6. If A gives B the lie, and B retorts by a blow (being the two greatest offenses), no reconciliation can take place till after two discharges each, or a severe hit; after which B may beg A's pardon humbly for the blow and then A may explain simply for the lie; because a blow is never allowable, and the offense of the lie, therefore, merges in it. (See preceding rules.)

N.B. Challenges for undivulged causes may be reconciled on the ground, after one shot. An explanation or the slightest hit should be sufficient in such cases, because no personal offense transpired.

Rule 7. But no apology can be received, in any case, after the parties have actually taken ground, without exchange of fires.

Rule 8. In the above case, no challenger is obliged to divulge his cause of challenge (if private) unless required by the challenged so to do before their meeting.

Rule 9. All imputations of cheating at play, races, etc., to be considered equivalent to a blow; but may be reconciled after one shot, on admitting their falsehood and begging pardon publicly.

Rule 10. Any insult to a lady under a gentleman's care or protection to be considered as, by one degree, a greater offense than if given to the gentleman personally, and to be regulated accordingly.

Rule 11. Offenses originating or accruing from the support of ladies' reputations, to be considered as less unjustifiable than any others of the same class, and as admitting of slighter apologies by the aggressor: this to be determined by the circumstances of the case, but always favorable to the lady.

Rule 12. In simple, unpremeditated recontres with the smallsword, or couteau de chasse, the rule is -- first draw, first sheath, unless blood is drawn; then both sheath, and proceed to investigation.

Rule 13. No dumb shooting or firing in the air is admissible in any case. The challenger ought not to have challenged without receiving offense; and the challenged ought, if he gave offense, to have made an apology before he came on the ground; therefore, children's play must be dishonorable on one side or the other, and is accordingly prohibited.

Rule 14. Seconds to be of equal rank in society with the principals they attend, inasmuch as a second may either choose or chance to become a principal, and equality is indispensible.

Rule 15. Challenges are never to be delivered at night, unless the party to be challenged intend leaving the place of offense before morning; for it is desirable to avoid all hot-headed proceedings.

Rule 16. The challenged has the right to choose his own weapon, unless the challenger gives his honor he is no swordsman; after which, however, he can decline any second species of weapon proposed by the challenged.

Rule 17. The challenged chooses his ground; the challenger chooses his distance; the seconds fix the time and terms of firing.

Rule 18. The seconds load in presence of each other, unless they give their mutual honors they have charged smooth and single, which should be held sufficient.

Rule 19. Firing may be regulated -- first by signal; secondly, by word of command; or thirdly, at pleasure -- as may be agreeable to the parties. In the latter case, the parties may fire at their reasonable leisure, but second presents and rests are strictly prohibited.

Rule 20. In all cases a miss-fire is equivalent to a shot, and a snap or non-cock is to be considered as a miss-fire.

Rule 21. Seconds are bound to attempt a reconciliation before the meeting takes place, or after sufficient firing or hits, as specified.

Rule 22. Any wound sufficient to agitate the nerves and necessarily make the hand shake, must end the business for that day.

Rule 23. If the cause of the meeting be of such a nature that no apology or explanation can or will be received, the challenged takes his ground, and calls on the challenger to proceed as he chooses; in such cases, firing at pleasure is the usual practice, but may be varied by agreement.

Rule 24. In slight cases, the second hands his principal but one pistol; but in gross cases, two, holding another case ready charged in reserve.

Rule 25. Where seconds disagree, and resolve to exchange shots themselves, it must be at the same time and at right angles with their principals, thus:

If with swords, side by side, with five paces interval.

N.B. All matters and doubts not herein mentioned will be explained and cleared up by application to the committee, who meet alternately at Clonmel and Galway, at the quarter sessions, for that purpose.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Love and Courtship in the days of Jane Austen

The intertwined subjects of love, courtship and marriage are the impetus of all of Jane Austen’s novels. The couples in the books are making their own love matches; coming together based on attractiveness, compatibility, and intimacy rather than being subjected to the arranged marriages of previous centuries for wealth, status and family advancement.

A woman of the Georgian and Regency period had no other occupation than to find a husband and of course, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

To this end, couples had to navigate through an established and inflexible etiquette developed over time to protect the woman's character and good name thus ensuring her viability on the marriage market but needless to say made courtship very difficult . To modern readers of the novels, the prohibitions put upon unmarried males and females of private conversation, correspondence, and even touching are seemingly too numerous to overcome in the pursuit of love.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Fashionable Hour in Hyde Park

The fashionable hour was really three hours from half past four to seven thirty though there aren't many ladies in evidence until about half past five. By seven thirty it was time to return to one's townhouse or lodgings and change into evening dress for dinner. The Ton, members of the 2,000 aristocratic families at the pinnacle of English society, promenaded up and down with all the same fervor of any modern teenager on what so ever street it is the thing to ride up and down peacocking and flirting with the others drawn to the place to take part in the social rituals.

A brick wall was built to enclose Hyde Park in 1660 at the order of James Hamilton the Keeper of the Park under Charles II. The avenue fashionable for disporting oneself in Georgian Times was Rotten Row, a corruption of La Route du Roi. William III had the road improved and made wide enough to easily drive three carriages abreast in 1690. The road was well sanded with coarse Thames sand. Hyde Park was purely the venue of the wealthy, no hack being allowed into the Park since 1695. The old wall was replaced with a new railing as part of the Coronation festivities of George IV.

On Rotten Row one could be seen, flirt, greet friends, and make others pea green with envy for your beautiful driving clothes and equipage or mount. There you might see that aging playboy the Duke of Queensbury ogling women from his carriage with his bold letter 'Q' decorating his carriage door, rather than a crest. Viscount Petersham can be seen driving his famous chocolate colored coach pulled by brown horses. Mr. Annesley might drive by with his roan horses standing out among all the bays and black horses. Sir Henry Peyton can be seen driving his famous Greys with their manes and tails flying like clouds in the wind. Gentlemen wearing the ankle length drab coat and yellow striped blue waistcoat of the Four-in-Hand club are sprinkled in the passing cavalcade. The Hon. Frederick Gerald Byng glides by with his carefully clipped poodle on the seat beside him. Beau Brummell, always ready with a quip, notes the hair curling round Byng's forehead and pauses to speak in passing. Uttering his sobriquet with the assurance that it will be the on-dit of the day. "Ah, Byng, how do you do? A family vehicle, I see." It's "Poodle" Byng from now on. The Prince of Wales is surely out in the equipage he proudly commissioned Stubbs to paint. Gaze upon Georgiana the Duchess of Devonshire and the other great beauties of the day taking their airing. Is it just a fancy or do the Prince's eyes follow Georgiana wistfully as they pass one another? Watch the looks of awe and snubs as the notorious Letty Lade drives by in her high-perch phaeton. Carriages bearing the painted and gilded family crests of the Ton and the living ornament of a dalmatian coach dog and liveried servants glide by in spotless splendor. The pair of footmen riding at the back of the coaches are as well matched as the teams of horses in their coloring and six-foot or better height. Among the carriages are those bearing faux crests meant to remind one of the crests of titled lovers whose Lady these courtesans will never be.

C. J. Apperley writes of the fashionable hour in Hyde Park, "on any fine afternoon in the height of the London season…he will see a thousand well appointed equipages pass before him…Everything he sees is peculiar, the silent roll and easy motion of the London-built carriage, the style of the coachmen - it is hard to determine which shine brightest, the lace on their clothes, their own round faces, or flaxen wigs - the pipe-clayed reins - pipe-clayed lest they should spoil the clean white gloves…not forgetting the "spotted coach-dog, which has been washed for the occasion…such a blaze of splendor…is now to be seen nowhere but in London."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

High tea in the Victorian days

A young married woman, wishing to entertain some of her husband's friends in a way that would be neither difficult nor expensive, hit upon the happy idea of a high tea."

She had never heard of a high tea "for gentlemen only," but why should she not have one? Her home was small, and she must make her own refreshments, and have them so simple as to allow her to spend her evening in the parlor. She asked two pretty girls to help her, and between them they had a tea that was the delight of the fortunate men who were present.

At ten o'clock the guests were summoned to the dining room, where was the table daintily set with places for fifteen--twelve men and three women. The hostess presided over a silver chafing-dish at the head of the board, a pretty girl over another at the foot, while half-way down the table another girl was seated in front of the silver urn and coffee-cups.

Lobster à la Newburg was made in one silver chafing-dish, and oyster à la poulette in the other silver dish. With these were passed piles of delicious walnut-mayonnaise sandwiches. This course over, two white capped and aproned maids removed the dishes, and brought in their place two loaves of smoking Boston brown-bread and a huge earthen jar of baked beans. The appearance of these was received with a round of applause. Following was a course of chicken salad, deviled crackers, cream-cheese, and olives.

The dessert was ice-cold coffee jelly (so tender as to melt in the mouth) smothered in whipped cream. Delicious home-made fancy cakes accompanied this. After the dishes were cleared away cigars were produced by the husband of the hostess, and soon the fragrant weed had the usual effect of drawing forth excellent stories and clever conversation.

It was one o'clock when the party broke up, the men all declaring that a high tea for gentlemen only was a most decided success especially when there were present three charming women as entertainers.