ca.1840, from the Victoria and Albert Museum.
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In her 1806 book Conversations on Chemistry, the influential science writer Jane Marcet (1769–1858) taught chemistry lessons through fictional conversations between a teacher and her two female students. This popular book went through numerous editions and was published in many different languages.
Marcet was born Jane Haldimand to a wealthy Swiss banking family residing in London. There are no documents from her early life, but education for girls in intellectual families such as hers would have included “natural philosophy” (science) as well as languages and history. In 1799 Jane married Alexander Marcet, another London-based Swiss, who graduated from medical school at the University of Edinburgh in 1797. The couple eventually had three children.
Alexander practiced as a physician in London and became a lecturer on chemistry at Guy’s Hospital in London. The Marcets counted many scientists among their friends, including Mary Somerville, a mathematician and astronomer. Their social circle also included other women writers and scholars. In 1817 Jane’s father died, leaving her a substantial legacy, and her husband gave up medical practice to devote himself full-time to chemistry.
Marcet began writing what became best-selling books on science after attending a course of public lectures given by the chemist Humphry Davy. She enjoyed them, she said, but found them confusing until a kind “friend”—almost certainly her husband—explained the concepts to her in a series of “familiar conversations.” Conversations framed in question-and-answer format were considered to be especially appropriate for teaching science to women. (Men, who learned their science at a university, were taught in lecture form.) That was the inspiration for Marcet’s Conversations on Natural Philosophy, first published in 1805, followed by Conversations on Chemistry in 1806. She went on to write Conversations on Political Economy in 1816 and Conversations on Plant Physiology in 1821. All of the books feature discussions between a teacher, Mrs. B., and her two pupils, Emily and Caroline. Emily, the well-behaved older sister, is about 13 years old and ready, according to her teacher, “to acquire a general knowledge of the laws by which the natural world is governed.” Caroline, a few years younger, is less anxious to please and often asks harder questions. But she is, in her sister’s phrase, “an inquisitive little creature,” and her questions, with Mrs. B’s or Emily’s answers, often have the value of furthering the lesson.
Marcet’s books were very influential. Her most famous reader was the chemist and physicist Michael Faraday, who read the pages of her book while working as a bookbinder’s apprentice. (In those days most books were sold as paperbacks and bindings were added at the purchaser’s discretion). Faraday was inspired by Marcet’s work to go into science instead. But thousands of other people must have read them, too, because her books were best-sellers. Conversations on Chemistry alone went through 16 British editions and at least 16 American ones. It was also translated into French and German. Her works became standard texts at girls’ schools throughout the United States, and individual copies still bear the names of their owners. Marcet’s books express what must have been the philosophy, and the experience, of their author: that girls, like their brothers, should keep pace with up-to-date natural and human sciences.
Image: Plate from Jane Marcet’s Conversations in Chemistry.
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Myra Maybelle Shirley Reed Starr (1848 – 1889), better known as Belle Starr, a notorious American outlaw.
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With John Constable, we often have to be a little wary of the set-piece ventures, those moments when he is evidently painting to impress. Some of his so called “six-footers” of the 1820s are such works. He seems to be measuring out his experiences by the ladleful, balancing this hedge against that gate, this band of soaring sky against that steeple. All feels too exquisitely composed and even controlled.
By contrast, he is often at his best, and most seemingly and passionately committed to the work in hand, when he is doing something almost for its own sake, and the subject itself feels to be scarcely much of a subject at all – that is how we often think about his cloud studies over Hampstead Heath, for example, that they are tiny notations, as much movements towards as finished works. And yet these studies are often so exquisite precisely because they look snatched, impromptu, unpremeditated, uncalculated to please the potential purchaser. The fact is that Constable seems to be forgetting himself even as he is painting them, so thoroughly absorbed is he into the spectacle.
This small, oil-on-paper cloud study of 1821, painted in the same year as The Hay Wain, is such a painting. It has a brilliant, carefully careless zestfulness about it. It is intemperate, almost rushing. It swings and blows and blusters in all directions at once. Constable’s thrilled eye seems to suggest that the world has been reborn in a mood of rapture. The clouds are in state of constant movement, both receding from us and surging forward towards us, ever playfully refashioning themselves as they scud along. If we looked at an image of this painting, we would have no idea of its size. It could be enormous. Its subject matter – the heavens yawning wide – makes it feel enormous. In fact, it is less than one-foot square; its overreaching subject matter is contained, confined, within the narrowest of compasses. The painting is both light and insubstantial with its play of ever fleeting colours, and also robustly present – see how the greys and the yellows and the pinks seem to thicken it out, giving it body and substance, a kind of forcefulness and feistiness. Like a child staring up, we almost will these clouds, these sometimes lumpish and occasionally breathtakingly graceful maelstroms, to become recognisable shapes. There is a being up there somewhere, we idly speculate, among, behind, within all that reeling limitlessness, even if he is a creature of our fancy.
If the clouds are carelessly self-renewing, self-refashioning, this tiny handful of birds ranging around the skyways is quite the opposite. They are painted with a great attention to character and very particular movement. One appears to hang, idling, in the air, wind-buoyed; another makes a sudden diving, turning curve; yet another seems to float, almost effortlessly. The presence of these birds helps to give the painting some sense of a foreground and a background. We seem to be dealing – it is all a pretty illusion, of course – with near calculable depths of space. The narrow strip of landscape at the painting’s foot also roots it in a particular, though fairly indeterminate (not so to Constable himself, of course) location. This is fairly unusual for the cloud studies of these years, which often consist of nothing but wheeling, vertigo-inducing voids of sky that seem to exist everywhere and nowhere all at once.
Constable himself described this painting, on its verso, so humbly, so matter-of-factly: “Sep.r 28. 1821/Noon – looking. North. West./ Windy from the S.W./large bright clouds flying rather fast/very stormy night followed”.
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Richard Doyle’s Frontispiece to Ruskin’s The King of the Golden River (1851).
“The King of the Golden River” is a delightful fairy tale told with all Ruskin’s charm of style, his appreciation of mountain scenery, and with his usual insistence upon drawing a moral. None the less, it is quite unlike his other writings. All his life long his pen was busy interpreting nature and pictures and architecture, or persuading to better views those whom he believed to be in error, or arousing, with the white heat of a prophet’s zeal, those whom he knew to be unawakened. There is indeed a good deal of the prophet about John Ruskin. Though essentially an interpreter with a singularly fine appreciation of beauty, no man of the nineteenth century felt more keenly that he had a mission, and none was more loyal to what he believed that mission to be.
Unlike his other works,The King of the Golden River was written merely to entertain. Scarcely that, since it was not written for publication at all, but to meet a challenge set him by a young girl.
The circumstance is interesting. After taking his degree at Oxford, Ruskin was threatened with consumption and hurried away from the chill and damp of England to the south of Europe. After two years of fruitful travel and study he came back improved in health but not strong, and often depressed in spirit. It was at this time that the Guys, Scotch friends of his father and mother, came for a visit to his home near London, and with them their little daughter Euphemia. The coming of this beautiful, vivacious, light-hearted child opened a new chapter in Ruskin’s life. Though but twelve years old, she sought to enliven the melancholy student, absorbed in art and geology, and bade him leave these and write for her a fairy tale. He accepted, and after but two sittings, presented her with this charming story. The incident proved to have awakened in him a greater interest than at first appeared, for a few years later “Effie” Grey became John Ruskin’s wife. Meantime she had given the manuscript to a friend. Nine years after it was written, this friend, with John Ruskin’s permission, gave the story to the world.
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Vesta Tilley, impersonating a foppish young man. Originally named Matilda Alice Powles (1864 – 1952), she was the most famous and well paid music hall male impersonator of her day. She was a star in both Britain and the United States for over thirty years. Her father was a comedy actor and sometimes theatre manager, and Tilley first appeared on stage at the age of three and a half. At the age of six she did her first role in male clothing under the name Pocket Sims Reeves, a parody of then-famous opera singer Sims Reeves. She would come to prefer doing male roles exclusively, saying that “I felt that I could express myself better if I were dressed as a boy”.
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Self-portrait, by Sir John Tenniel. Pen and ink on cream wove paper, 1889
Sir John Tenniel (1820 – 1914) was a British illustrator, graphic humorist and political cartoonist whose work was prominent during the second half of England’s 19th century. Tenniel is considered important to the study of that period’s social, literary, and art histories. Tenniel is most noted for two major accomplishments: he was the principal political cartoonist for England’s Punch magazine for over 50 years, and he was the artist who illustrated Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland andThrough the Looking-Glass.
The pen and ink drawing was an experiment in technique and in self-portraiture. It was drawn in 1889, and Tenniel wrote to his friend Spielmann, ‘I am glad to tell you – at last ! – that you shall have the portrait in a day or two. It is considered a very good likeness, but too serious. Well, taking one’s own portrait is a serious business, at any rate, I hope you will like it.’ Tenniel’s enduring concern with technique is reflected in a further letter, accompanying the finished drawing:
I am very glad that you like the portrait. The thing [drawing for process] was so new to me, so entirely ‘out of my line’ that I really don’t see how I can make any charge for it; besides, I looked upon it more as an experiment, with a view to ‘process’ – than anything else, & therefore, I can only say that it will give me great pleasure if you will do me the kindness to accept the drawing as a contribution to your little ‘portrait gallery’.… Do you consider the drawing capable of reproduction by ‘process’? I have my doubts!
Tenniel’s tentativeness with a new technique is expressed in the careful stippling and cross-hatching of the drawing.
The drawing is closely related to Tenniel’s self-portrait in oils of 1882 (Aberdeen Art Gallery, 3664). The bushy sidewhiskers characteristic of the earlier images are absent here and from other portraits of Tenniel from about this date.
John Tenniel was blinded in one eye ‘when quite young’ in a fencing accident with his father. According to his brother-in-law Leopold Martin it was the right eye. This did not prevent Tenniel from posing from all angles to photographers, and indeed choosing to display his right side in the two self-portraits (1882, 1889), and in his portrait by Frank Holl, NPG 1596.
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Phineas Gage, the railroad worker who had a metre-long iron rod propelled straight through his head at high speed in an explosion. Gage famously survived this horrific accident, but underwent dramatic personality changes afterwards. Photograph taken in 1848.
Gage is said to have undergone major personality changes following his accident, becoming quick-tempered and foul-mouthed and behaving sexually inappropriately. In a subsequent report, published 20 years after the accident, Harlow described the changes thus:
His contractors, who regarded him as the most efficient and capable foreman in their employ previous to his injury, considered the change in his mind so marked that they could not give him his place again. He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint of advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinent, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operation, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible. In this regard, his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was “no longer Gage”.
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The NLS online digital gallery now includes a collection of 2,300 broadside ballads from the 19th century, one of the Crawford Collections on long-term loan from the Balcarres Heritage Trust.
Ballads have been called the tabloid newspapers of their day: printed on single sheets and sold and sung on street corners, they offered ordinary people news and entertainment. This latest collection to be digitised covers topics from crime and disasters to fashion and sport.
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1897 advertisement for Elliman’s Universal Embrocation. Image taken from here, an interesting post on women and cycling during the Victorian era.
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In the introduction of his seminal 1917 pork products treatise Bacon and Hams, author and smoked swine maven George J. Nicholls included this photo of himself “in fancy dress as a side of bacon.” The costume was so smashing that it won him no less than forty guineas.
In addition to dredging up this incredible portrait, the folks at the French Culinary Institute have created a flash chart of Bacon and Hams‘ many anatomical diagrams and unearthed the book’s purple piggy prose:
All men have an interest in bacon, with the exception, perhaps, of the Jew and the vegetarian; and the man of little imagination, but of sound appetitive instincts, who had bacon and eggs for breakfast one morning, and varied monotony by ordering eggs and bacon the next, was more than justified by the almost unanimous vote of the community –- the pig, with some assistance from the hen, is the true autocrat of the breakfast table!
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Rarely seen documents chronicling the life and reign of Queen Victoria have been made public on a new website marking this year’s Diamond Jubilee.
The Royal Family released its archive of letters, journals, painting and photographs for the launch.
The website has nine sections tracing the life of Victoria as a princess to her own Jubilee celebrations in 1897.
It includes a letter to her uncle, King Leopold I, describing her future husband Albert as “sensible and kind”.
Penned in June 1836 shortly after meeting him, the soon-to-be Queen wrote of her future consort: “He is so sensible, so kind, and so good, and so amiable too.
“He has besides, the most pleasing and delightful exterior and appearance, you can possibly see.”
The site - Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Scrapbook - also gives details of the young Princess Victoria’s studies and timetable of lessons.
Life in mourning
One, dated July 1828 when she was aged nine, reveals she was studying a range of subjects including geography, arithmetic, drawing and natural history.
She was a bright student, whose progress was generally described as “good” or “very good”, although she was considered “indifferent” to her music and spelling lessons.
Britain’s longest reigning monarch had nine children with Prince Albert but never recovered from his death in 1861 from typhoid and wore black in mourning for the rest of her life.
Her withdrawal from public life made her unpopular, but during the late 1870s and 1880s she gradually returned to public view.
The website is divided into nine sections: The Young Princess; Becoming Queen; Love and Marriage; Family life; Home and Empire; Victorian Invention and Improvement; Queen Victoria’s Household; Diamond Jubilee Day, and Jubilee Celebrations.
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‘Chaos’ is the formless state prior to the creation of the ‘universe’ in many beliefs including classical mythology and Judaism. The Roman poet Ovid (1st century BC) described chaos as ‘a rude and undeveloped mass…all discordant elements confused, were there congested in a shapeless heap’. In 1850 Watts planned a series of murals representing ‘the progress of the cosmos’. Here he charts a path of evolution. Primeval confusion is represented by giants struggling to release themselves from fire and vapour. The establishment of measurable time and space is signalled by the chain of female figures to the right.
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Only one photograph is known to exist of Harriet Staunton, nee Richardson: it was taken to mark the occasion of her engagement at the age of 33 to a hard-up auctioneer’s clerk, Louis Staunton, in 1874. At first glance, she looks like any other woman of her class. Her dress is modestly high-necked; her toque, worn stylishly forward, is lavishly trimmed; her hair, drawn back to reveal the ears, ends in a confection of coiled plaits (these would have been made of “false” hair, which remained fashionable until the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine sounded its death knell in 1876). Examine the image more closely, though, and instinct suggests that all is not as it seems. The woman’s eyelids are heavy and drooping; her smile, stretched like soft leather over bony knuckles, is more grimace than grin. The impression is of a woman who, being not entirely sensible of the world, is only playing the part of excited bride-to-be.
The facts back up one’s instincts. Harriet Staunton had what we would call learning difficulties: her ladylike appearance was the result of dogged coaching by her mother, Mrs Butterfield, who had always made sure her daughter was clean and well turned out, with the result that, in time, Harriet grew to be rather particular about her appearance. Happily, both women could afford to be sartorially indulgent. Harriet’s other advantage in life, besides her devoted and forward-thinking parent, was a legacy of £5,000 (about £500,000 today), courtesy of a great aunt. Though prone to rages and queer moods, Harriet was not confined to home. She loved to make shopping trips, on one of which she must have bought her pretty hat. She also made regular visits to relatives, who sometimes received money for taking care of her, giving her mother a little respite – and it was during one of these, in 1873, that she met Louis Staunton. Thomas Hincksman, the son of Harriet’s aunt, Mrs Ellis, had married a widow, and in doing so had gained two stepdaughters: Elizabeth, 23, and Alice, 15. Elizabeth had recently married an artist, Patrick Staunton; his elder brother, to whom Patrick was passionately devoted, was 23-year-old Louis.
Louis was at this point already deeply in love with his brother’s sister-in-law, Alice Rhodes. But he was also a ruthless fortune hunter and, after only the briefest of courtships, he and Harriet were engaged. Naturally, Mrs Butterfield, who had never expected to see her daughter the object of any man’s desire, was suspicious. But her opposition to the match – at one point, she tried to place her daughter under the protection of the court of chancery as a lunatic – did no good. Harriet, enraged, left her mother’s house to live with Mrs Ellis in Walworth, south London, and it was from there that she was married, on 16 June 1875.
Eager not to lose touch with Harriet, Mrs Butterfield, who did not attend the wedding, called at a house the couple had taken in Brixton three weeks later. This meeting was, she reported afterwards, civil. Soon after, however, she received a letter from Harriet in which she wrote that “her husband objected to my calling upon her, and she thought I had better not come, to prevent any disturbance between them”. She also received a note from Louis: he would not have her in the house again. The next time Mrs Butterfield saw her daughter, in April 1877, she was in her coffin. Like the baby to which she had given birth only months before, Harriet had apparently starved to death while her new relatives – having smoothly banked her cash – looked coolly on.
For more, go here.
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There lives no man but he hath seen
The World’s Desire, the fairy queen.
None but hath seen her to his cost,
Not one but loves what he has lost.
None is there but hath heard her sing
Divinely through his wandering;
Not one but he has followed far
The portent of the Bleeding Star;
Not one but he hath chanced to wake,
Dreamed of the Star and found the Snake.
From The World’s Desire (1890), a classic fantasy novel written by H. Rider Haggard and Andrew Lang. It narrates the story of Odysseus’ second voyage, after the death of Penelope.
A heart locked with a key, and a secret message: the colored stones have initial letters that spell ‘REGARD’: ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby and diamond. This arrangement of stones was also popular in ‘regard’ rings. The pendant opens to reveal a panel of woven hair under glass.
ca.1840, from the Victoria and Albert Museum.
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