Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Crockford's Club in St. James's Street

Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Hazard Room at Crockford's
Loretta reports:

Crockford’s Club, No. 50 St. James’s Street, was a famous gaming house.* It’s played a role in my Dressmakers series—being practically next door to the fictional shop—as well as others of my books. It appears in many accounts of gaming and 19th century London history.  You can read a history of Crockford and the club here, and an architectural account here. The following explains its popularity.
There is one thing, and one only, to be said in favour of Mr. Crockford's enterprise, which is, that this establishment did away with the practice of gentlemen playing against each other for large sums. At Crockford's the game was one of Gentlemen versus Players, the players being always Mr. Crockford's officials at the French hazard table, and the sole object of his business was to win the money of his patrons. He had no other sources of profit; his establishment was an exclusive club with a very low subscription, and was open to such gentlemen only as could convince the committee of their eligibility. For their subscription, which was so small that members who did not gamble were accustomed to make a sort of offering of conscience money, by flinging a ten pound note on the play table at the end of the season, the best cookery and the finest wines in London were supplied to them gratis, and they had the companionship of the most fashionable male society of the day. Crockford was wise enough to leave all the social arrangements to a committee of gentlemen who conducted the ballots, elected and rejected whom they chose, and made entry to Crockford's as difficult as to White's or
Crockford's Club
Brooks's. The new club, in fact, at once took a tone similar to that of those aristocratic bodies, whose members were made eligible for election to Crockford's by one of its first rules. In exchange for the princely accommodation of his house, and such fare as was unobtainable at any other club in London for love or money, Crockford asked for nothing in return but that gentlemen should condescend to take a cast at his table at French hazard.
—William Biggs Boulton, The Amusements of Old London (1901)

*The building still stands.

Images: T. J. Rawlins, The Hazard Room at Crockford's, 1837, courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. T. H. Shepherd, Crockford’s Club, Metropolitan Improvements; or London in the 19th Century 1827, via Internet Archive.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

For Memorial Day: A Powerful Painting by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1789

Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Isabella reporting,

The last Monday in May is America's Memorial Day, a day set aside to honor the men and women who have given their lives for their country. It's also a day whose meaning too often is lost in the flurry of department store sales, parties, and the first long weekend of the summer.

This painting might be somber reminder of the day's true purpose. Painted by Joseph Wright of Derby around 1789, The Dead Soldier is a strong political statement about the real cost of war, no matter the century or the combatants.

A new widow buries her face with grief as she holds her dead husband's hand, bringing his fingers to touch those of his now-fatherless child. In the distance, the battle still continues, but the real drama is between these three, and it's heartbreaking. Most military paintings focus on the glory of generals and great victories, and are intended to stir patriotic feelings. This one instead shows the bleak aftermath of war for a common soldier, and the fact that the faces of both the woman and the man are hidden makes them stand in for all the now-forgotten soldiers and widows who suffered a similar fate. Only the baby turns towards the viewer. The woman's ruffled white cap, cast on the ground in despair, is an especially poignant note: a small, beribboned symbol of the girl her husband had loved, and of the life that was now over for them both.

At the time that Wright painted this, England had recently concluded an unpopular and costly civil war with the American colonies. There were few government provisions made for returning soldiers crippled by the war, or for soldier's widows and children. Many sank into deep poverty, falling into begging, prostitution, and crime to survive.

Clearly Wright had these issues in mind. He was inspired by a passage in the 1777 poem "The Country Justice" by John Langhorne, which asks for mercy and understanding for those driven to crime by poverty and indigence. While this is an unusually political painting for him (he's more often remembered for fashionable portraits, scientific scenes, and dramatically lit landscapes), it became his most popular work with the public from the time it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in London. There are multiple versions of the painting, and engravings of it were widely available in Britain and Europe well into the 19thc. Significantly it remained popular throughout the era of the Napoleonic Wars.

There are multiple modern interpretations of the painting. One scholar points to the classical inspiration of the figures, and another says it actually represents the moment that the wife at home receives word of the soldier's death. Others find it cloying and calculated, or concentrate on its unavoidable anti-war message.

But for me (and for many people in the 18thc. who responded so strongly to it), this powerful painting is about love, loss, and sacrifice: all things to consider and remember on Memorial Day.

Above: The Dead Soldier, by Joseph Wright of Derby, c. 1789. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day Peace Day

Monday, May 25, 2015
The Colors
Loretta reports:

From The Stars and Stripes, a Memorial Day poem* inspired by Siegfried Sassoon’s “Together.”
Friday, May 30, 1919
Memorial Day

“I shall forget him in the morning light;
And while we gallop on he will not speak;
But at the stable door he’ll say good-night.”
—Siegfried Sassoon, Counter-attack: And Other Poems

It isn’t quite the same as it used to be; the dark stallions, the pale faces, the black pomp of despair of civilian days. There’s a new feeling toward death, a better understanding. It is not longer strange and mysterious; it has moved among us; it has struck suddenly, mercifully, often.

We left him perhaps without a handshake when he piled into a camion and rolled away, or when we crawled out of the fox-hole he was just gone; or maybe we didn’t hear about it at all until long afterward because, Armywise, he had been transferred and we hadn’t.

And while we didn’t think about it then—things were happening mercifully fast and furious and we couldn’t think at all—now we have assembled our thoughts and decided what we were really fighting for, and so it all seems a part of the plan, loss as well as victory, death as sure as discharge.

So he will be with us, not in the busy rush of the life we’ll take up again, but quietly at the day’s end—living and real; for his going from us was unmarred by the harsh convention of civilian death, and quite cheerily, across the golden shadows, we’ll answer his good-night.

The Stars and Stripes, Friday, May 30, 1919

*Author unknown—unless you have some info on this.

Image: The Colors, from Memorial Day Peace Day Circular (Illinois. Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction), Department of Public Instruction, 1920

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Breakfast Links: Week of May 18, 2015

Saturday, May 23, 2015
Ready for your weekend reading enjoyment - our weekly round-up of fav links to other blogs, web sites, articles, and images, collected for you via Twitter.
• "All the nice girls love a sailor": the enduring and complicated lure of Jack Tar.
• A very special pair of c1760s London shoes, worn by Eliza Lucas Pinckney of South Carolina.
• Not your average vacation: 1950s atomic bomb explosion tourism.
Image: Cradle commissioned by Queen Victoria for Princess Louise, 1850.
• In literature and song: the legacy of the Napoleonic Wars.
• For lovers of patterns, counted cross stitch, needlepoint, and intarsia knitting: a beautiful book of Mordvin stitch patterns.
• The bride wore...nothing: naked and smock weddings in early New England.
Image: This week in 1774, the first public advertisement for ice cream appeared in the New York Gazette.
Box it, bag it, wrap it: medieval books on the go.
Wig-making illustrated, via Diderot's great French 18thc. Encyclopedie.
A sunny 1950s hat for summer made from a very unusual natural fiber.
• WebMD of the 18thc.: more than 5,000 digitized medical consultation letters.
Image: Fantastic aerial shot of Blenheim Palace.
• How to grow a beard in the style of an ancient Roman emperor.
• In 1596, two Scottish witches were charged for the cost of the fuel that burned them.
• The erotic secrets of Lord Byron's tomb.
• What's the younger generation coming to? In the 1960s, it was the Youth Quake!
• How a freed slave fought for her kidnapped children.
Image: Magnificent 18thc. portrait of Xaing Fei, the Fragrant Concubine.
• Something you never expected: 60s Woodstock rocker Country Joe McDonald donates his collection of Florence Nightingale memorabilia.
• Strawberry delight: Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill begins to emerge from restoration with stunning results.
• Two strong Jacobite women who fought for the cause in '45.
Chemistry sets, past and present.
• Irish pickpocket George Barrington, the "genteelist thief ever remembered."
• Archbishop Hatto, allegedly killed in the 10thc. by a mischief of mice.
Image: Two army sergeants enjoy a drink in the Crimea, 1855. Photo by Roger Fenton.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, May 22, 2015

More 18th c. Hats from Colonial Williamsburg

Friday, May 22, 2015
Isabella reporting,

Since everyone enjoyed the white silk hat that milliner's apprentice Abby Cox was wearing in my last post, I'm sharing three more hats inspired by 18th c. portraits and fashion plates and recreated by the Margaret Hunter Millinery Shop in Colonial Williamsburg.

The white hat, above left, features a silk-covered straw brim trimmed with silk flowers, gathered gauze, a coyly trailing silk ornament, and red silk ribbon to tie it all up. You can see the inspiration for this hat in the 1776 print A Bagnigge Wells scene, or, No resisting temptation here.

The extravagantly striped silk hat, right, with a tall crown is similar to hats found in French fashion plates of around 1787. Built on a frame of wire and buckram, it's trimmed with white cock's feathers, but also popular were hats that featured similar plumes made from more exotic (and now considered endangered) vulture  feathers. This hat was recently worn with the appropriately full hairstyle of the era by Nicole Rudolph, who also works in the shop - see her here on the shop's Facebook page. No one said "wow" in the 18thc., but that IS the proper response.

Abby models a hat of black silk taffeta and gauze of around 1781, lower left, that's a close cousin to the white hat she was wearing in my post earlier this week. Black silk seems to have been much more popular for this style of hat than the white, perhaps because it was easier to keep fresh, or simply because it seemed more elegant. (I know it's much harder to photograph, which is why there's a second picture of it, bottom left.) As Nicole Rudolph said, the black silk hat is the Little Black Dress of late 18th c. Britain.

If you were a Georgian lady visiting the shop, which would you choose? I warn you: Abby can be very persuasive behind the counter. You might end up with all three....

Many thanks to Abby Cox!

All photographs copyright 2015 Susan Holloway Scott.
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