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Sheer Delight…

Recently, I read a blog post about a book titled, Mrs Hurst Dancing & Other Scenes from Regency Life 1812-1823. I had never heard of this book, so I ordered it. I am so glad I did!

My copy of Mrs Hurst Dancing & Other Scenes from Regency Life 1812-1823

My copy of Mrs Hurst Dancing & Other Scenes from Regency Life 1812-1823

This is a collection of watercolor paintings by a young woman named Diana Sperling, with text by Gordon Mingay and a foreward by Elizabeth Longford. Diana was clearly one of those accomplished young ladies one reads about in Jane Austen, and Regency novels in general. (It’s important to note that the Mrs. Hurst of the title is a real Mrs. Hurst, not Caroline Bingley’s sister in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice!)

These paintings have so much humor and life. It has given me an entirely new perspective on this facet of young women’s education. Somehow, I never thought of the use of drawing and painting pictures as a way to record family life. Diana’s pictures include captions (most by her), and give a wonderful view of her life in a country home. In a way, sitting down with this book is not unlike sitting down with a friend’s scrapbook or photo album today. So often, my view of the late Georgian/Regency period is shaped by portraits of the rich and famous (or infamous!), or prints lampooning those same people. This is a lovely, human look at the life of a real family in a comfortable country home. The text is most enjoyable, filling in the details so we know who is portrayed and what’s going on.

It turns out that there have been a number of blog posts about this book in the last few years. (How did I miss them??) I can’t remember whose blog I read that steered me to this book, but I wish I could thank that author. This is not only a delightful, entertaining read, but an excellent reference as well. I highly recommend this book!

Details: ISBN 0575030356 London: Victory Gollancz Ltd., 1981. I found it on Amazon.com.

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Filed under Entertainment, History, Home entertainment, Regency society

The Hum of Summer

Moth by Eleazar Albin 1720

It’s summertime, and the air is full of buzzing and humming (not to mention whining and slapping noises!). I have purple porterweed blooming by my door. One early morning, I was absolutely entranced by the cloud of white butterflies that flitted from bloom to bloom. It was amazing and exquisite to watch. The same bush attracts honey bees; not so exquisite (and sometimes a little scary when they buzz up to me when I go out), but the hum of bees as they busy themselves in the flowers is still an important element of summer. I do like honey so I give the bees plenty of room.

Then, there are those other summer visitors: flies, mosquitoes, fleas, and more. Not to mention that ancient scourge, bed bugs! How to eliminate pests without affecting the pleasant and beneficial insects, or ourselves, has been a concern down through time. While some of the earlier remedies are rather off-putting, others are pleasant as well as effective.

An infallible Receipt to destroy Bugs in Eliza Smith’s THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE is a concoction of egg whites and quicksilver (mercury) at the rate of 1 ounce of quicksilver for every five or six eggs. These ingredients are mixed well, and beat together in a wooden dish with a brush until the quicksilver is barely visible. This is applied to the cleaned and disassembled bedstead (brushed clean, not washed). The mixture must be rubbed into all cracks and joints and allowed to dry. You cannot wash the bedstead afterwards. According to the recipe, the first application will destroy the bugs; if not, a second application will finish the job. This is clearly a remedy for the loathsome bedbug. However, we now know that mercury is highly toxic. The idea of leaving an emulsion of egg white and mercury on a bed is almost as distasteful at the bug itself; I was also not attracted by the idea of not washing the bedstead before or after the application. (The old fashioned remedy of burning the bed suddenly seems more reasonable!) Don’t try this at home…

It’s so much pleasanter to think of lavender and its many uses. It is a wonderful insect repellent. I had excellent results using it to deter silverfish and other fabric-loving bugs that loved to lurk in my laundry room in a previous residence. No matter how I cleaned or what I used, the little wretches would reappear, until I made lots of little lavender bags and tucked them into the backs of shelves, in corners and so forth. They never came back. Dried lavender, alone or mixed with other herbs such as rosemary, not only gives clothes or linens stored in closets, chests of drawers or other storage containers a wonderful smell; it discourages moths as well. So much more pleasant than moth balls, and not poisonous!

A few drops of lavender oil or essence in water makes a very soothing solution; it can soothe a slight burn and helps relieve an itch. A Jane Austen Household Book with Martha Lloyd’s Receipes contains a recipe for Lavender Water, and instructions “To Make A Sweet Pot” which seems to be a potpourri which contains violets, roses, thyme, lavender and other flowers and herbs. A health food store I frequent carries a wonderful lavender witch hazel solution. Culpeper’s COMPLETE HERBAL & English Physician credits lavender with numerous healing virtues. If nothing else, a spray of lavender water on a pillow creates a lovely and soothing atmosphere for a good night’s sleep. You won’t even notice all that humming!

Take a look at:
Hickman, Peggy. A JANE AUSTEN HOUSEHOLD BOOK with Martha Lloyd’s recipes. 1977: David & Charles Inc. North Pomfreet, NY.

Culpeper, Nicholas. Culpeper’s COMPLETE HEREBAL and English Physician. 1981: Harvey Sales-reproduces from edition published in 1826.

Smith, Eliza. The Compleat HOUSEWIFE. 1994: Studio Editions Ltd., London, England. First published in 1758.

Image: Wikipedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9e/Albin_Eleazar_Moth_1720.png

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Filed under bugs, Culpeper's Herbal, Eliza Smith, herbal, History, Jane Austen, lavender, recipes, summer, THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE, thoughts

Home Entertainment

Today, when we think of home entertainment, we usually watch something on television, maybe pop in a DVD or listen to music. Some people play video games; others may still do the old-fashioned thing and play games-board games, cards, etc. Today I received in the mail a reminder of an earlier way to have fun: home theatricals.

The Winning Widow-A Parlor Comedy 1916

The Winning Widow-A Parlor Comedy 1916

This is my grandmother’s copy of a 2-act play, designed for home performance. Published by T. S. Denison & Company of Chicago, the fly leaf contained a partial list of available plays (a large catalogue was available for free). Ranging from two to four acts, the list includes the number of male and female parts, and an approximate length. The Winning Widow was expected to take about two hours to perform. The booklet includes the story of the play, a synopsis for one’s program, costume information, and a list of props-the costumes and props were things likely to be found at home. There is even a scene plot for the stage.

Home theatrics have a long history. Jane Austen wrote and performed in plays at home with her family. An important element to the plot of MANSFIELD PARK is the activity surrounding an intended performance of Lovers’ Vows proposed by Tom Bertram. It’s very interesting to see a connection to that tradition in my own family!

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Merry Christmas!

Bramantino, The Adoration of the Shepherds, 1500-1535

Bramantino, The Adoration of the Shepherds, 1500-1535

            It is Christmas Eve.  All the decorating is done, presents wrapped and shipped.  Now it is time to  let the holiday soak into us.  Time to look around and enjoy our family and friends, to enjoy traditions we cherish and maybe to start new traditions, too.  Special food and drink to enjoy-so many of us have those secret recipes we only serve for the most special occasions, like Christmas.  The matter of faith.  There is something special and magical about this time of year.  Even when there is stress or strain, there is still a glow.  The ideals of peace on earth and goodwill to men resonate now as much as ever.   At Christmas, all good things seem possible.

           I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas!  Thank you for reading-I appreciate it so very much.  I hope this is a warm and wonderful holiday for you all. 

Image: Wikimedia Commons:http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/15/Bramantino_-_De_aanbidding_der_herders.jpg/403px-Bramantino_-_De_aanbidding_der_herders.jpg

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Getting Ready for Christmas…Again

       Well, here we are, exactly two weeks before Christmas.  It seems like I just undecorated and put everything a couple of months ago.  Time passes way too fast…but enough about that.  This time of year is a beautiful time, full of major celebrations, of which Christmas and Hanukkah are only two.  My particular celebration is Christmas, but those of you who don’t celebrate Christmas may have a similar situation involving other holiday traditions.  Everyone is very busy decorating, shopping for gifts, sending cards or letters, cooking and baking, and otherwise preparing for their own special traditions and celebrations.    All of these activities are going on at the same time we continue to live our regular routine, work, writing, researching, family, and so forth.  We try so hard to make it all perfect…  Which leads us directly to the all-to-common Christmas meltdown.  This year, I am determined NOT to experience one.

Christmas Tree 2011

        I have put up my tree and some decorations.  Being a woman of a certain age (don’t you love that phrase?),  I have lots of decorations that have been accumulated over years and years.  Many memories are involved.  Have I dragged them all out and made careful choices?  No, I have not.  I have put up what came to hand first, and stopped when I felt that it was time.  The tree is in the library corner, just like it was last year, and looks very similar.  (The picture shown  is last year’s tree.  I haven’t gotten around to taking pictures yet.) 

        Our Christmas card list and cards are waiting on the dining room table.  We will get them out.   My husband and I have already received a number of lovely cards, and a few newsletters, and we are so glad to hear from dear ones at this time of year.  I have at least sent the e-cards to friends and family on-line.  Gifts?  Some shopping is done, some still in process.  I’ve even had a couple sent.   Giving back to my community is also on the agenda.  A new feeling this year-I don’t feel guilty for not having my mailings done at the time I had so hopefully planned.

        This year, I am going to take full advantage of the 12 days of Christmas.  (Not that this is new…  My nearest and dearest usually get cards and packages on a flexible calendar.)  The difference this year is that I refuse to get stressed and upset about it.  It is more important to relax, enjoy the season and the opportunity to share with our loved ones and others.  Getting upset about things only ruins the time you have, it doesn’t make anything happen differently or go more smoothly.   Surely it’s more important to be able to enjoy the time you have with the people you love than it is to have ticked every item off your list on schedule even if it burnt you to the socket.  We are too hard on ourselves.  It’s time to put the focus where it belongs: the meaning of the holiday we celebrate, and the joy of being with those we love.

Merry Christmas!

 

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Home to Thanksgiving-Currier & Ives

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s hard to believe that it’s just a few days until Thanksgiving!  Some of us are getting reading to make the trek to be with family; others are getting ready to celebrate at home with family and friends.  The illustration above makes me think of a childhood song, “Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go….”  Whether travelling or staying, spending the day with family and friends (or a family of friends!) is a beautiful thing.  It shouldn’t take a special day to count one’s blessings.  On the other hand, it’s nice to have a special day dedicated to appreciating just how blessed one is, and be grateful.  

Thanksgiving Greetings 1900-Football and Turkey

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, a big turkey dinner, hours of football are all time-honored traditions in the American Thanksgiving.  However one celebrates, the important thing is to recognize the good things in one’s life and appreciate them when there is an opportunity.  I hope your Thanksgiving is beautiful.  Thank you for reading my blog! 

 

 

(Images from Wikimedia Commons.)

 

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Creating an atmosphere…

       As the festive season approaches, I am seeing more and more advertisements for scents for the home.  Pine, bayberry, the warm scents of cinnamon and vanilla…  The all important creation of the holiday atmosphere.  The sense of smell is so important-a quick sniff of a particular odor can bring a place to mind; a waft of a special perfume, a face immediately appears.  Scent has been an  important issue down through time.  My old cookbooks render numerous recipes for a variety of scented products for the home.   Roses were an extremely popular scent.

‘Julia Gathering Roses’ by Daniel Ridgeway

     THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE by Eliza Smith contains a recipe “To make the burning Perfume”, which appears to be a form of incense.  The ingredients include damask rose leaves (petals), musk, civet and sugar in rosewater, formed into little cakes and dried in the sun.  I have seen biblical references to “burning perfume in vessels” and imagine Eliza’s recipe smoldering in a saucer, or possibly even tossed on a fire, as we toss pine cones or other scented material.  The same volume also includes instructions “To make a sweet Bag for Linen”-dried citrus peel, dried roses, coriender, nutmeg and cloves, as well as other herbs are combined, to be put into silk bags to put with linens or possibly garments.

     The Jane Austen’s House Museum blog recently gave Martha Lloyd’s recipe for pot-pourri, which combined roses with lavender, cloves, cinnamon and other ingredients.  This is designed to be kept in open vessels in a room, or in bags to place in linens or clothing.   In earlier times, when rushes were strewn on the floor, sweet-smelling herbs, including lavender and rosemary were included to make the atmosphere more pleasant.  

      In our modern time, with our plug-in air fresheners, commercially scented candles, and other devices to sweeten the air, it is easy to consider this a modern concern.  I enjoy thinking of the history behind them, the purely human desire to make one’s atmosphere as pleasant as possible.

 

Sources:

Smith, Eliza.  THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE.  The Sixteenth Edition, with Additions. Reprint published 1994: Studio Editions Ltd., London, England.

The Jane Austen’s House Museum Blog.  “At Home with the Austens: Receipts for ‘Milk of Roses’ and ‘Pot-pourri’ from Martha Lloyd’s Household Book” posted 11/1/2012.  http://janeaustenshousemuseumblog.com/2012/11/01/at-home-with-the-austens-receipts-for-milk-of-roses-and-pot-pourri-from-martha-lloyds-household-book/

 

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