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Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Offering of the Magi, Gentleman's Magazine, 1824.
Lady's Monthly Museum, 1798.
A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers! I look forward to sharing more aspects of Jane Austen's world with you next year!
The illustration on the left shows full dress for December 1798 - a lovely gown for a Christmas ball!

Thursday, 10 December 2015

A Regency Kissing Game!

If you attended a private party in Jane Austen's England, the fun was not necessarily confined to dancing, wining and dining. You might take your chances at whist, or enjoy a 'nice comfortable noisy game of lottery tickets' (as at Mrs Philips' home in Pride & Prejudice), or play some parlour games. If you lost when playing a game, you would be asked to pay a forfeit.
A lady might be asked to 'kiss a candlestick' held up high by a gentleman; when she tried to kiss it, the gentleman could steal the kiss for himself. 'Le Baiser a la Capucine' (kiss of the monkey) was more complicated. The gentleman and lady knelt on the floor, back to back, and had to try and kiss each other. Somehow one can't imagine the stately Mr Darcy performing Le Baiser.
If a lady was asked to 'kiss the person you love best without any one else knowing it', she would be kissed by several gentlemen in the room - a real penance if one of them was Mr Collins!

Le Baiser a la Capucine, engraving by Schenker, Le Bon Genre, c.1814. Author's collection.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

'A Tooth Amiss'

Charles Brock illustration for Emma.
A London dentist in the 18th century. 
If you had a ‘tooth amiss’, like Harriet Smith in Emma (published 200 years ago this year), you would consult a dentist (if in staying in town) or a ‘tooth-drawer’. Local barbers would pull out rotting teeth, too. 

But if living in the countryside, you may have had to resort to the local blacksmith to have your teeth extracted.
If you required new teeth, you could buy a set of the new ‘mineral’ (porcelain) teeth from France.

Or your dentist might equip you with ‘Waterloo teeth’ - dentures of human teeth extracted from the soldiers’ bodies strewn across the battlefield. 

Teeth were also harvested from corpses (the fresher the better) supplied by the ‘resurrection men’, as grave-robbers were jocularly known.

‘Resurrection men’ illegally dug up freshly buried corpses from graveyards to supply surgeons with bodies so that they could practise their dissection skills. Their depredations were so notorious that watchmen were employed to guard churchyards overnight. 

Watchtower, Eyemouth, Scotland.
To keep their teeth clean, Regency ladies used tooth-powder made from charcoal or coconut shells.‘Ashes of tobacco’ were said to ‘make the teeth white’, but were deemed ‘too indelicate’ for ladies’ use (Lady’s Magazine, September 1775).  
Toothpicks made from goose quills, or ivory, or precious metals like gold and silver helped to keep teeth clean after meals. In Sense and Sensibility, the Dashwood sisters were detained for some time at Gray’s (the jeweller’s) in Sackville St while gentleman Robert Ferrars hesitated over choosing a toothpick case: ‘At last the affair was decided.  The ivory, the gold, and the pearls, all received their appointment; and the gentleman having named the last day on which his existence could be continued without the possession of the toothpick-case, drew on his gloves with leisurely care and … walked off with a happy air of real conceit and affected indifference’. 

Charles Brock illustration courtesy of Mollands. 'A London Dentist' courtesy Library of Congress.
Photo of Eyemouth watch tower © Sue Wilkes.