Thursday, January 29, 2015

Windsor Castle in 1813

Thursday, January 29, 2015
Windsor Castle 1813
Loretta reports:

Like Princess Charlotte’s Warwick House, a number of royal residences have disappeared over time.  Richmond Palace, Nonsuch Palace, Carlton House, are just a few of these.  Windsor Castle remains, though, as does its allure.

Nowadays we’re unlikely to find vessels like these plying the river or cows placidly looking on from the shore.  Yet it’s likely the Regency-era painter would have romanticized the setting.  Maybe this stretch of river was a bustling place then, too, but bustling in a non-motorized fashion.

In any case, I thought it would be fun to compare and contrast the views—from 200 years ago, a bit less than 100 years ago, and recently (please click here)—from the river.

View of Windsor from Ackermann’s Repository January 1813.

Windsor ca 1890-1900
View of Windsor between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900 courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.

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.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Intrepid Women: Zazel, The World's First Human Cannonball

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Isabella reporting,

Athletic derring-do in the past was usually something done by men, while the ladies watched and swooned. But there were exceptions. I've written about high-wire aerialist Bird Millman, and here's another: a Victorian teenager who, under the stage name of Zazel, became the world's first human cannonball.

English-born Rosa Maria Richter had been raised in an acrobatic family, and by the time she was fourteen she was already a seasoned performer on the high-wire. Zazel was the protégé of Canadian aerialist William Leonard Hunt, known as The Great Farini, and renowned for being the first to cross Niagara Falls on a high-wire. Always striving to create a more exciting act, Farini had created the prototype for launching a human through the air to land (with luck) into a woven safety net.

The newly opened Royal London Aquarium seemed to be the perfect venue for Farini's "cannon" (the satisfying explosion that thrilled audiences had little to do with the cannon's actual propulsion, which relied more on springs and luck.) Farini persuaded sixteen-year-old - some sources say she was only fourteen - Zazel to complete her usual aerial act with a spectacular finale.

The act debuted on April 2, 1877. Waving as she slid into the long metal barrel, Zazel was next seen to be shot seventy feet into the air to land in net. Posters featuring Zazel's act accentuate her slight figure flying over the heads of spectators, but the reality probably had more to do with sheer courage than grace. The danger was undeniable. The cannon's mechanism was unpredictable, and Zazel herself had little control of her flight or where she'd land.

Still, she became an instant celebrity, earning £200 a week to huge crowds in England and America, where she became one of P.T. Barnum's favorite performers. As was inevitable with a young woman in a skimpy (for then) costume, much was made of her physical beauty, with one writer advising that "her most perfect figure warrants repeated viewings." She posed for cartes de visite, right, to be sold as souvenirs. Some photographs featured her lying suggestively on a tiger skin, while others played to her youth and innocence, looking modestly down at a bouquet.

But while the audiences may have clamored for more, Zazel's time in the spotlight was short. A misguided launch sent her far from the safety net and crashing to the ground, where her back was broken by the impact. Fortunately she recovered, but her career was done. She wisely retired, and disappeared into less thrilling but safer obscurity.

The poster, top, makes it clear that Zazel is the star of the show, calling her the "Champion of the World." Not only is she shown flying through the air, but also dancing along the high-wire in various poses. The card, lower left, includes a poem from a love-struck admirer that reads in part:
                  POLICEMEN! I have lost my heart
                    Here in the Westminster Aquarium,
                  Since first I saw her rapid dart
                    Across the disper'd Velarium.
                  A form that Phidias might confess
                    As graceful as a young gazelle,
                  With raven hair, and ruby dress,
                   And winsome eyes, make up ZAZEL!

Top left: Selby, Pullman & Hamilton's 8 Shows: Zazel's Cannon Feat, 1881, lithograph, The Ringling Museum.
Right: Zazel, London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company, late 19th c. Victoria & Albert.
Bottom left: Zazel, Standidge & Co. Lithography, c. 1870s. The Ringling Museum.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What's a traveling chariot?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Loretta reports:

If you’ve read stories set in the early 1800s, you’ve probably encountered traveling chariots.  In Lord of Scoundrels, my hero and heroine travel in such a vehicle from London to Dartmoor. 
Between the town chariot and the travelling chariot, or post chaise, there was no difference in the design of the body. The nature of their use occasioned the alteration of name. The former was fitted with a seat in front, and generally furnished with a hammer-cloth; but this, in the case of plain chariots, was dispensed with. It was in all cases mounted upon a perch carriage, either with straight perch, or curved, with crane neck, and suspended upon whip springs, to be later on succeeded by the C spring. Many of these chariots were very elaborately finished; in some cases the bodies were made with quarter lights, having Venetian blinds, and a feature was made in the decoration of the panels by painting ornamental borders and floral wreaths thereon ...

The travelling chariot, or post chaise, was naturally of a plainer description than the town chariot. As already observed, the body was of the same design, and invariably fitted with a sword case, an excrescence, as it were, on the back, the access to which was gained from the inside of the body, and covered by the back squab. At first, the hind carriage supported a travelling case, which was afterwards displaced for a rumble. There was ample provision for luggage. In addition to a large boot, or box, fixed on the front carriage, there were imperials on the roof, and a bonnet case fixed between the front of body and the splasher. By removing these cases and substituting a driving seat, the travelling chariot was readily converted into a town chariot. The post chaise, it should be observed, was always driven by postilions.

Papers Read Before the Institute of British Carriage Manufacturers, 1883-1901

More images here, here, and here.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dandies on Ice, 1818

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Isabella reporting,

Today the U.S. Figure Skating Association concluded their National Championships for another year, with extremely talented young athletes making all those jumps, spirals, and spins look effortlessly elegant.

That description does not apply to the dandies in this print.

Doubtless with visions of that same effortless elegance, these young fellow have dressed to the nines to venture out on the ice.  In the early 19th c., skating was a wonderful way to put one's self on display to admiring ladies, as well as to one another. But while these gentlemen have taken care that their neckcloths are perfectly pleated and their collars high over their years, they forgot that skating is anything but easy, and the results are not pretty. As one of them cries as he topples to the ice, "Oh Lord! How they are laughing at us!" (As always, click on the image to enlarge it.)

So while the title of this print may be Skaiting-Dandies, Shewing Off, I'm afraid the the only thing they're showing is their perfect dandified silliness.

Loretta and I both have a weakness for dandies. For more of their mishaps, see here, here, and here.

Above: Skaiting-Dandies, Shewing Off, by Charles Williams, 1818. Walpole Library, Yale University.

Shameless Self-Promotion: "Yours Forever" at the Bostonian Society

Isabella reporting,

Booksignings and appearances can be among the highlights of a writer's life, a chance to meet readers and chat with booksellers (and occasionally direct shoppers to the food court.) But this February, I'll be part of a Valentine's Day event on Tuesday, February 10, at 6:00 p.m. that will be something very special.

Hosted by The Bostonian Society, the museum and historical society in the Old State House, Yours Forever will offer a memorable evening for all fellow Nerdy History folks in the Boston area. You'll be able to view artifacts related to love drawn from the Society's collection, and have a chance to meet one of the most famous couples in New England history, John and Dolly Hancock. In addition, I'll share some of my favorite 18th c. love stories - especially the ones that have inspired my books – and sign copies of my most recent novel, A Wicked Pursuit. Hors d'ouerves and dessert will also be served.

There's a limited number of tickets available - the dictates of a landmark building! - and I hope you'll join me. See here for more information and tickets.
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