Monday, December 18, 2017

Dickens and the Cratchit Family's Christmas Pudding

Monday, December 18, 2017
Mrs. Cratchit by Arthur Rackham
Loretta reports:

I haven’t yet seen the movie The Man Who Invented Christmas, but no one needs another movie to associate Charles Dickens with the holiday, thanks to his story, A Christmas Carol.

This past summer, while in London, I spent a few hours touring the Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street. Among many items claiming my attention was the kitchen, because we Nerdy History Girls are always curious about everyday life. This house, which reflects the author’s lifestyle when he was just beginning to be famous, is very much a middle-class household, considerably upscale from that of Mr. Scrooge’s clerk, Bob Cratchit.

I offer some images from the kitchen, and leave you to imagine the process of making a Christmas pudding, even in this comfortable household. Then, please imagine what it might have been like for Mrs. Cratchit in her humbler abode. As a museum sign pointed out, “The Cratchit family had only one small pudding, but in a household such as 48 Doughty Street, there were often many spare puddings, cooked and stored for use at other celebrations throughout the year. Filled with spirits, old ale and spices, the puddings were well preserved on larder shelves and were even believed to improve in taste as they aged.”

Yes, that's the kitchen sink
But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone—too nervous to bear witnesses— to take the pudding up and bring it in.

Suppose it should not be done enough 1 Suppose it should break in turning out ! Suppose somebody should have got over the wall of the back-yard, and stolen it, while they were merry with the goose—a supposition at which the two young Cratchits became livid All sorts of horrors were supposed.

Hallo! A great deal of steam. The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook's next door to each other, with a laundress's next door to that! That was the pudding ! In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered—flushed, but smiling proudly —with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.

Oh, a wonderful pudding ! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage. Mrs. Cratchit said that now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had had her doubts about the quantity of flour. Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have been flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit would have blushed to hint at such a thing. At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up.
“A Christmas Carol,” from The Works of Charles Dickens, Volume 13
Hedgehogs used for insect control
Photos of Charles Dickens Museum copyright © Loretta Chekani 2017
Illustration of Mrs. Cratchit carrying in the pudding by Arthur Rackham for 1915 edition.
Please click on images to enlarge.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Friday Video: A Victorian Christmas & Victorian Dolls

Friday, December 15, 2017
Loretta reports:

Looking for some holiday-type historical footage for the Friday video, I came upon these stereoscopic images of staged, late-Victorian Christmas celebrations. Many of the images seem a little eerie to me. But then, Victorian images often are. In this case, too, the strange “animation,” combined with the stereoscopic effect, heightens the sensation.

But I was struck by the little girls cradling their dolls, an image that remains familiar and sweet.

Then I remembered the photos of Victorian toys—mainly dolls and doll furniture—I took in September at the Provincetown Museum, which is part of the Pilgrim Monument.* I could picture little girls on Christmas morning, lovingly holding these dolls when they were new.

*No, I didn’t climb to the top of the monument. There’s quite a lovely panoramic view on the website.

Video: 3D Stereoscopic Photographs of Christmas in the Victorian Era (1889-1902)

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post. Please click on images to enlarge.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

From the Archives: Mistletoe Madness, 1796

Thursday, December 14, 2017
Susan reporting:

In modern holiday celebrations, mistletoe has become something of a kitsch-y joke, the inevitable prop for I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus humor.

But in the 1790s, when the print, left, was published, mistletoe still had an aura of wickedness, even danger. The ancient Druidic traditions linking mistletoe and fertility had not been forgotten, and kissing beneath the mistletoe was thought to lead to promiscuity, or even - shudder! - marriage.

Certainly the four merry young  couples in this print appear to be enjoying themselves. Some scholarly descriptions refer to this as a dance scene, and perhaps it does show nothing more than a particularly rollicking country dance.

Still, I can't help but think that at any moment some stern-faced, indignant elder is going to appear in the doorway and demand to know what exactly is going on down here. I'm guessing the artist thought that, too, from the caption he added to the bottom: "Whilst Romp loving Miss is haul'd about/With gallantry robust." (The attribution to Milton is incorrect; the line is from a poem by the 18th c. Scottish poet James Thomson.) In any event, there's no doubt that these are romp-loving misses being haul'd about by their robust gallants. No wonder Christmas mistletoe was so popular!

Above: The mistletoe, or, Christmas gambols, by Edward Penny, 1796, London. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The White Lion Inn, Putney

Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Loretta reports:

Most of the locations in A Duke in Shining Armor are real—or as real as I can make them. Some once existed but no longer do, some have changed beyond recognition, and some are there, looking more or less the same. None are quite the same, of course. For one thing, the extant buildings have indoor plumbing. And electricity.

The White Lion Inn, where several important early scenes occur, did and does exist, although my characters wouldn’t recognize it today, and may not have even known it by that name.

What I saw, when studying my copy of the Panorama of the Thames, was the Putney Hotel, which a note in the text referred to as the Red Lion Inn. But it seems to be the same building Ralph Rylance refers to in his 1815 guidebook, The Epicure’s Almanack, as the White Lion. (More about the book here, here, and here.)
White Lion.
“Continuing on your way to town you come to the village of Putney, at the bottom of which, close to the Fulham Bridge, is the White Lion.[2] You may have a good dinner drest here to order, in which order you ought not to forget to include stewed eels, or fried flounders. The people here have a live stock of them in the wells of the peter-boats moored off the village.”
The footnote explains further:

[2] “The White Lion near Fulham Bridge (now Putney Bridge) dated from the early C17 and was rebuilt in 1887; it is still operating, as the ‘Australian Walkabout Inn,’ at nos. 14-16 Putney High Street.” (p. 203)
View of Putney in 1829

On my investigative tour of Putney, last summer, we came upon what seemed to be the right building.  At the time, though, I wasn’t sure this was the place, because it looked like a late Victorian era structure, and closer inspection confirmed an 1880s date. Still, the big lion on top was a clue, and I asked Walter to take some photos. Once home, with various books at hand, I felt more certain of its identity. This did seem to be the White Lion, extensively renovated and decorated or maybe entirely rebuilt.  I can also confirm that it (1) is no longer the Australian Walkabout Inn, (2) was closed, and (3) had been closed for some time. But everything about its location did fit my mental images for the story. Obviously, for the interior and stable yard scenes, I had to use a combination of imagination and research into 18th and 19th century coaching inns.

Photograph at top by Walter M. Henritze, III. The image of 1829 Putney is a screen shot from the fabulous website connected with the Panorama of the Thames, a gorgeous book. I strongly recommend your visiting the website, for larger images, and tons of information. You can scroll along for the river view or search by specific locations.

More images of the White Lion here at the Victorian Web and here at Wikimedia Commons.

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

Sunday, December 10, 2017

George Washington's Diamond Eagle, 1784

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Susan reporting,

George Washington - commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution and the first President of the United States - was the most painted American of the 18thc. In all those many portraits, he is shown either in his general's uniform of buff and blue, or in civilian clothes, often a black suit. Compared to his counterparts in Europe, his dress is sober, even severe, as was fitting for a near-legendary citizen-soldier, the leader of a new republic.

However, in the case of this remarkable jewel-encrusted medal - which doesn't appear in any of those portraits of Washington - the general made an exception.

After the end of the war, officers of the Continental Army and their French counterparts who had served together formed the Society of Cincinnati. The mission of the Society was to preserve the memory of the war for future generations, and to maintain an appreciation for the achievement of American independence.

The golden eagle that became the Society's insignia was designed by Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the French-born military engineer who served in the Revolution and, in time, became the master planner of Washington, DC. When L'Enfant returned to France to have the Eagle made by the Parisian goldsmiths, officers of the French Navy commissioned a more impressive, jeweled version as a surprise for Washington - the Diamond Eagle shown here. L'Enfant carried the medal back to America with him in 1784, and presented it to Washington on behalf of the French officers at the first general meeting of the Society of Cincinnati in Philadelphia in May, 1784.

Washington seemed to have reserved the Diamond Eagle for the most formal occasions. As President General of the Society of Cincinnati, he likely wore it for the Society's special events, and also for his own annual birthday ball. Featuring emeralds, rubies, and 160 diamonds from India and Brazil and a total diamond weight of 9 cts., the medal also includes scenes and mottoes related to the life of Cincinnatus, the self-sacrificing Roman statesman to whom Washington was often compared. The medal was unique in 18thc America, and was a stunning tribute to the man who wore it.

After Washington's death, his widow Martha Washington sent the Diamond Eagle to Alexander Hamilton, the newly-elected President General of the Society. Following Hamilton's death in 1804, his widow Elizabeth Hamilton (yes, the heroine of my historical novel I, ELIZA HAMILTON) sent the medal to the third President General, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. Pinckney in turn donated the Diamond Eagle to the Society in 1811, and it became the badge of office of the president general of the Society. The Society continues today as the oldest patriotic organization in America, and remains devoted to the principles and ideals of its founders.

Rarely exhibited publicly, the Diamond Eagle is currently on loan to the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia until March 3, 2018. It's especially fitting that the medal is displayed in the museum adjacent to Washington's War Tent, another powerful symbol of Washington's dedication to his troops and the Revolution.

See here for more information about viewing the Diamond Eagle at the MoAR.

Above: The Diamond Eagle, front and back, with its original leather case. The blue and white ribbon, symbolizing the continuing friendship between France and the United States, is a modern replacement. All photographs courtesy of the Society of Cincinnati.
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