Tuesday, November 21, 2023

The Revels of Christmas -- and the place of Mistletoe in the celebrations

Christmas has always been a time of revelry and merriment. The degree of gaiety and carousing seems to have varied by social class and, of course, economic circumstance.

Entertainments for the upper classes seemed to include grand dinners, great balls, and charitable giving. Little illustration is extant from these activities.

Among the lower classes, uninhibited romps have been illustrated of the activities of servants and retainers, generally around the fireplace, in a comfortable hall or kitchen.

Mistletoe is rarely mentioned in the activities of the upper classes, but it features prominently in the illustrations of lower class gatherings.

from the book "Popular Pastimes" of 1816

 The following item from the Oxford University and City Herald - Saturday 06 December 1817 indicates that mistletoe was typically hung in kitchens.

The above picture, published in 1800, shows yet another kitchen with a mistletoe bough.

There was a fear that there might be a mistletoe shortage in Bath in 1818.

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette - Thursday 24 December 1818

The final statement on mistletoe's place in Christmas celebrations must go to Washington Irving. His "Old Christmas" with its illustrations by Randolph Caldecott is the quintessential commentary on the Regency Christmas, although it was written in about 1875.

 The note to the illustration is particularly telling...

 Real mistletoe is hard to obtain where I live. I have a sad, artificial version which is almost an insult to this fascinating piece of Christmas history!

I wish you all the blessings of the festive season no matter what you celebrate, or how...

'Til next time,


Monday, March 13, 2023

The Rambler’s Magazine—a not-so-polite journal

The Rambler, written largely by Samuel Johnson, a publication of the early 1750’s, is not the subject of this blog.

Neither is the magazine about which I write a journal about walkers.

Rather, The Rambler’s Magazine, was a sometimes rude and occasionally crude, satirical and Rabelaisian magazine for the man about town in the 1780’s. It was published from 1783 to 1791 and apparently very few copies are extant. 

The following sample of article titles were listed in an August 30, 2012 issue of the Non Solus Blog, a publication of The University of Illinois Library, Rare Book & Manuscript Library in article titled The Rambler’s Magazine: A Puzzlingly Popular Periodical..

    “On ogling; or, The language of the eyes” [1783 supplement]

     “Analysis of female attractions” [March 1784]

     “Female boxing match” [August 1784]

     “Kissed to death” [October 1784]

     “The history and adventures of a bedstead” [December 1784]

These articles are among the more 'tame' of the compositions. Even the illustrations are racy:

It appeared that, in 1791, the magazine's day was done. But in 1823-24 a revival was attempted. The bawdy content had been toned down and the title page reflected that:

In a three page ‘Address to the Public’, the proprietor of “The Rambler’s Magazine” argues for the respectability of his revived journal, ending:

In short, by a vigilant observation of character and manners, and a constant introduction of variety, we will try to direct the intellects of our readers to the proper study of mankind, and the zealous endeavour to please in all his eccentric humours will prove to the public that "The Rambler" is their devoted and grateful servant.

The illustrations reflected the somewhat less indelicate approach:

But the article titles still indicated a degree of salaciousness:

On a Bee Stinging the Thigh of an Old-Maid

The Witty Wanton

Comparative Merits of Misses Kimbell and Tunstall

Reasons against Marriage

Conjugal Infelicity

The two title pages and the illustrations, as well as the article titles, are a very good indicator of the changes in society in the forty years between the two publications. By 1823, propriety had become a watch word, and decorum was more and more sought. The years of Georgian license were coming to an end. And The Rambler's Magazine, in its reincarnation, did not last longer than a year. 

'Til next time,



Google Books for pdfs of The Rambler's Magazine

University of Illinois -- https://www.library.illinois.edu/rbx/2012/08/30/the-ramblers-magazine-a-puzzlingly-popular-periodical/

Monday, February 13, 2023

Thinking of spring and gardening!

 As always at this time of year, I am starting to think about gardening. And so, here I am blogging about garden issues, again.

I recently discovered that, as with most other industries and occupations in Regency Britain, friendly societies and mutual aid societies abounded for the horticultural community. I came first upon the Order of Free Gardeners, begun in Scotland in the mid 1700s. It was set up to resemble the guilds which protected urban professions.

The Order relied heavily on the structure and forms of Freemasonry. Their 'arms' above therefore include the usual square and compass but include a pruning knife. Their object was to support, for a subscription fee, their associates in the gardening trade with insurance, charity, training, and community.

The Order was always more active in Scotland and in the northern counties of England.

Tyne Mercury; Northumberland and Durham and Cumberland Gazette - Tuesday 29 August 1815

 Westmorland Gazette - Saturday 28 August 1824

But the London newspapers also considered their activities noteworthy.

Star (London) - Saturday 28 July 1810

More active in England, it appears, and very numerous were Friendly Florist Societies. 'Florist' did not, at that time, mean retailers of flowers, but rather growers of flowers (though they may have sold them as well). 

Durham Chronicle - Saturday 08 May 1824
Tyne Mercury; Northumberland and Durham and Cumberland Gazette - Tuesday 10 May 1808

These friendly societies were prime presenters of flower shows and displays and bestowed prizes which provide us with the names of these early plant varieties.

Nowadays, horticultural societies abound--I belong to one myself. And they still offer community, instruction and competition. The more things change, the more they stay the same...

'Til next time,


N.B. newspaper articles from the British Newspaper Archive

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

The Young Phenomena--Juvenile Actors of the early 1800s

 In 1804, a fad, a trend, or a craze--call it what you will--was noted in British theatre. Children were acting adult parts, on stage with adult actors, in adult plays. It must have made for some awkward performances, and uncomfortable scenes

The most notable, creating a stir wherever he went, was William Henry West Betty, or Master Betty, also known as the young Roscius. The original Roscius (d. 62 AD) was a Roman actor of great fame and actors of excellence were (and still may be?) given this 'title'.

illustration from 
"Shakspere to Sheridan; a book about the theatre of yesterday and to-day (1922)"

Master Betty was thirteen at the height of his fame, and made enough money to live a comfortable life for many years.

There were juvenile stars even younger, however.

illustration from Walker's Hibernian Magazine July 1805

Little Miss Mudie was only seven years old. She performed to great acclaim as the Young Norval in Belfast in May 1805, but was later hissed at on stage in a version of The Country Girl. I have not discovered her ultimate fate.

The Monthly Mirror, a journal focusing on theatre matters, published from 1795 to 1811, contained the following article in its May 1805 issue.

It makes one wonder, knowing the difficulties modern child actors have faced in later life, what happened to these youngsters. Of this list, six seem to have disappeared without a trace. Did they live out their lives on the fringes of the theatre or suffer destitution and life on the streets?
A luckier few continued to be noticed.

Miss (Catherine) Lee Sugg, the infant Billington and Roscius, remained in the theatre world, and was later in life known as Mrs. Halkett.

The Ormskirk Roscius, Frederic Brown, was also known as Roscius the Second, but had neither the talent nor the skills of Master Betty. He seemed, even with equivocal reviews, set to continue in the theatre.

Master (Nicholas) Mori the young Orpheus, a violinist, was the greatest success story of all. He was a prodigy at eight, and continued to grow in skill as he aged. Held in great respect in adulthood, he held the patronage of three royal Dukes. He became a founder-associate of The Philharmonic Society, and performed throughout his life until his death in 1839.

It is sad to consider that most of the 'prodigies' did not find success. The fad for child actors was short-lived.

'Til next time,