Hints for Carrying an Umbrella to Mitigate Its Lethal Potentialities: 1824

Since to-day we enter into the time of “April showers,” it seemed appropriate to share the author’s useful hints. Or—one cannot be certain—perhaps it is all just an April Fool’s Day jape.


“On the art of carrying an umbrella,—humph!” perhaps some one may say, what nonsense to fill up the pages of the Literary Magnet with a discourse on such a foolish subject: now, let me say, it is no such thing; every person finds in this our “cloudy clime,” the great importance of this article; and therefore what is in so general request deserves a consideration equal to its universality. 1 must own that for some time I was fearful of giving my lucubrations on the subject to the public, for fear of being written down alongside with Dogberry, an ass; but the many accidents that have befell me in the course of my walks through this crowded city, and the disagreeable consequences thereof, have induced me at length, for the benefit of all those who would profit by my instructions, to stem the “world’s dread laugh,” and give the rules that I have drawn up to the public.

But in the first place, I think it will not be amiss to give an account of the pains and penalties I suffered, ere I reduced the use of an umbrella to an art; and the disaster that first befell me was this,—walking along with my umbrella tucked under my arm, and the hooked handle turned outwards, it had the misfortune to catch hold of a lady’s silk dress, and made as “envious a rent” in it as Casca’s dagger did in Caesar’s mantle. No words can portray my confusion, for to heighten my pain, it was in one of the most frequented streets of the town. The lady held her skirt, and looked as much as to say, “See what an ugly rent is here!” This expression, viz. of the lady’s eyes, filled some round with indignation big against poor I. In vain did I apologize, and utter “beg your pardons” fast as hail; I was not able to satisfy the lady’s ire, so, burning with blushes, I retired chap-fallen like a cock from a defeat.

In the next place, I was boldly marching forwards, holding my umbrella in the middle, when a man coming briskly on, and I not being able to recover arms in time, gave him, to use Mrs. Quickly’s phrase, “a shrewd thrust in the groin.” The man, “unable to conceal his pain,” writhed and groaned, writhed and groaned, writhed and groaned, and groaned again, until he had drawn a pretty goodly crowd around himself and me. And there was I, wedged in for about an hour, unable to stir, with about a hundred tongues expostulating with me, the man, and one another; some advised liim to take the law against me, ay! marry did they; others said, ’twas only an accident; the man said, ’twas a bad speck; and an old apple-woman, from a stall adjacent, piped out, “arn’t you ashamed of yourself—arn’t you ashamed of yourself?” about fifty times. Having at length succeeded in getting disentangled from the mob, I shot off as quick as possible from the scene of my valour, and on clearing the corner of the street, a loud, ” Arn’t you ashamed of yourself, you sneaking son,” &c. from my old friend the apple-woman, faintly died away upon my ear.

Another time, walking at a brisk rate, having my umbrella under my arm, its point backwards, and inclining some few degrees upwards: my eye having caught a caricature in a window representing a storm of “cats, dogs, and pitchforks,” I suddenly stopped, jabbed the ferule of my weapon into the mouth of a person behind, and sent him backwards on the pavement with a vengeance. If the blow had met his teeth, it would certainly have punched two or three of them clean out, and fearing this was e’en the case, I put the question; upon which he began to curse me up hill and down dale, swore he shouldn’t have cared if I had sent one or two of them flying, for he’d one or two that ached badly, but vowed that I had punched a hole through his throat. Upon his getting up he seemed inclined to show fight, but I, not being in a pugilistic mood, very readily gave him an half-crown, to wash the wound with gin and bitters down.

Another disaster that befell me, was the lugging nearly off, and very much disarranging an old lady’s bonnet, and this was almost the worst misfortune I met with; for she harangued away on my conduct from Cateaton street all the way down Lothbury. Persons might learn to walk, she thought, without driving over folks, but she supposed the pavement was made for me alone—no doubt I was some crow out of a gutter, a dressed up spark without a farthing, &c. Forsooth she’d got more than appeared on her outside; she’d no doubt she could buy twenty such, out and out; but she didn’t like her bonnet spoilt any the more for that, &c. Poor old lady, I never shall forget your “peck o’troubles” as long as I live; as for me, I dived down Copthall-court, as soon as I could, leaving her to her further reflections.

In the last adventure I shall mention, my rain-protector came in contact with a gemman’s “new glossy beaver,” and whirled it off into the mud; for which, as soon as he had picked it up, he whirled its dirty load in my face, discoloured my shirt, my clean cravat, and completely pieballed my white waistcoat. These are some few of the disasters out of my chapter of accidents, but they are not all; many other scrapes did 1 get into, for some of which I was obliged to compound, and in other cases, the sufferers being peaceable creatures, in reply to my expressions of sorrow, only replied, “No matter, sir, no matter,” though very frequently these same had suffered by my awkwardness more than many of those who made the greatest coil and stir.”

And now, having performed the first part of my promise, I shall proceed to lay down some very useful rules, for the guidance of all those who would wish to handle their umbrella with the same ease and skill as the veteran does his firelock. Firstly, then, never let the hook of the handle project outwards, (this was the cause of my first misfortune) but keep the same turned always towards yourself. Secondly, If you carry your umbrella by holding it in the centre, take care the ferule is pointed downwards—look at my second disaster, and be wise by another’s experience. Thirdly, Should you carry it on the shoulder like a musket, do not wave it fore and aft, for else you will, as I did in the days of inexperience, knock off hats innumerable. Fourthly, When your umbrella is open, keep your little finger at the bottom of the stick, while your thumb and other fingers hold it; it will thus revolve as it were upon a pivot, and you will carry it with an elegance astonishing. When meeting with a person who keeps his umbrella tightly clenched, slant your canopy under his, you will thus prevent the wet border of his umbrella coming in contact with your cheek, and pouring its deluging contents within your neckcloth—no pleasant thing. Next, if going through an alley, and before you there should chance be an old lady hobbling in pattens, with an umbrella so held that you vainly attempt to get before, depress your umbrella against her’s, and gently bearing forwards you will improve your pace wonderfully.  I have sent an old woman repeatedly through a narrow passage full trot, and left her at the end, breathless with the augmented speed in which I made her foot it. I also adopt this method (providing it then rains) when walking a narrow pavement behind a person who pertinaciously keeps the centre of the way, and seems determined, if you will get before him, you shall dirt your shoes in the muddy road first. I shall just mention another rule which particularly claims the notice of the gay blood, it is this— when meeting with another umbrella, which, as well as your own, is unfurled, particularly if the bearer is a lady, depress your’s downwards, and with a circular motion of the wrist bring it over your head again; this movement has great beauty, it is the third or fourth cut of the broad sword exercise, according as you make it from right or left. You will thus get noticed, so enviable a thing to the beau.

I could give many other rules, but the above are the principal, a due regard to which cannot fail to make a person thoroughly able to carry an umbrella with ease and elegance.

Since writing the above, I have thought, whether it might not be of advantage to both the public and myself, to open an academy for the teaching this novel, but truly useful, and decidedly necessary art. If upon further consideration I should decide upon so doing, I shall lay my plan before the world, and have no doubt but I should, in a very short time, be as much sought after as the Mounseers who teach grown gentlemen to dance; at any rate, I can calculate upon having the attendance of all the Tom-fools—I mean Toms and Jerrys—in the kingdom; particularly when I acquaint them, that from my mastership over the subject I shall be able to teach the whole art in six lessons only.

L.W. Wy

The Literary Magnet of the belles lettres, science, and the fine arts, edited by Tobias Merton (pseud) 1824

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is not fond of the Kaiser nor his cadre of scar-faced, corseted officers. However, as this squib demonstrates, German discipline obviates much social unpleasantness regarding lethal umbrellas.

The citizens of Berlin have a summary method of stopping the dangerous practice of carrying sticks and umbrellas horizontally. As soon as a man tucks his umbrella under his arm, he will promptly feel a quick blow on it from behind. There is no use in his getting angry with the person who strikes the blow, because public opinion sanctions his conduct. The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 2 May 1898

That same German discipline enjoins a soldier from carrying an open umbrella, unless he is accompanied by a civilian or a lady. This ingenious corporal, in the same spirit that Germany later avoided the Maginot Line, found a way around the regulations.

A worthy corporal, on one occasion, was sent to fetch an Umbrella his Major’s lady had left at a friend’s house, and at the same time took her lap-dog for an airing. On the road home a violent shower came on, and, to avoid committing a breach of the regulations, the Dutchman tucked the dog, as the lady’s representative, under his arm, put up the Umbrella, and marched comfortably to barracks. Umbrellas and Their History, Clyde and Black, 1864

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


The Shoe in the Safe-deposit Box: 1904

Stephen Millbank’s last morning was exactly what every other week-day morning had been for the twenty-five years of his married life, except for half-a-dozen brief business absences. The excellent breakfast was put on the table at eight o’clock by the exemplary maid-servant, just as Mr. Millbank came down the wide front stairs—a handsome but not ostentatious flight—suggesting dignified and self-respecting prosperity. Mrs. Millbank complete in costume and composed in countenance, was already in the breakfast-room, a careful eye on the details. Not a tremor of premonition came to either of them, nor to the maid-servant waiting respectfully by the sideboard, as he blessed the food provided for their use and shook out his napkin. They talked cheerfully during the meal—both considering cheerful talk valuable to the digestion—of business matters and charitable projects, and decided what he should give toward the new church—a decision she afterward faithfully fulfilled. Then they took their places at the library desk to go over the household accounts of the day before. This was perhaps the most intimate and companionable moment of their daily life together—certainly the most keenly interesting. The expenses were within their margin, as usual, the balance unimpeachable. Mr. Millbank patted his wife’s hand with an approving smile.

“My dear, you are a perfect helpmate,” he said. He kissed her cheek, and as nine was striking he closed his generous front door behind him for the last time. Dignified, commanding, carrying the stoutness of prosperity but not the fat of self-indulgence, he turned toward the bank which thirty-five years before had admitted him as a serious and hardworking clerk and now opened respectfully to him as president. He had been a conscientious little boy, a model student, a vigorous worker, and then, when he had-turned his unremitting wisdom to the choice of a wife, an irreproachable husband. The city was proud of him and his flawless career, and the lapses of weaker brothers were seldom discussed in his presence. A man of his unswerving rectitude, could not be expected to make allowances. He was admittedly the leading citizen.

An hour later half the city knew that its leading citizen had been struck and instantly killed by an electric car. That the accident was entirely the motorman’s fault was little good to Stephen Millbank now; but it brought a certain dim comfort to his widow, as maintaining to the end the fact that never could a foolish or ill-considered act be laid to his account. Unexpected as his death had been, Mr. Millbank’s affairs were in perfect order, and the two executors had fulfilled their tasks within a very few weeks. It was a surprise to them, therefore, six months later, to receive a notice from a safe deposit company stating that the rent on a box held by Mr. Millbank was now due. Among all his neatly catalogued papers there had been no record of any such box. Moreover there had been plenty of boxes at his disposal in the safe deposit of his own bank, so why should Mr. Millbank maintain one elsewhere? He was not a man to pay out $22 a year for no reason.

They took Mr. Millbank’s keys merely as a formality, and made their way downtown, two keen, sober, grizzled men, not so far above the world’s weaknesses as Mr. Millbank had been, yet excellent citizens. The manager of the safe deposit met them with conviction, and showed them the entry made fifteen years before, when Stephen Millbank had rented the box. He himself had gone down to the vaults with Mr. Millbank on that occasion and, after opening the box, had turned away while something was put in. Mr. Millbank had never returned, but his check had come with perfect regularity ever since. A key was identified as that belonging to the box.

“Strange that there should have been no memorandum, with Mr. Millbank’s habits,” said Mr. Jerome, as they followed the manager to the vaults.

“And $22 a year—very extraordinary, very,” nodded Mr. Thompson.

The box was opened and the manager discreetly turned his back while Mr. Thompson took out a package clumsily wrapped in white tissue. As the shape made itself felt through the wrapping, he turned a little pale and drew nearer to Mr. Jerome, with a glance toward the waiting manager. They took off the papers in silence, then stood staring in helpless, dismayed wonder. On Mr. Thompson’s unsteady hand was poised a white satin slipper.

It was soiled and frayed with use as well as yellow with time, but it was slim and delicately shaped, curving up from a tiny, pointed toe, to an extravagantly high heel. A little ghost of a past perfume seemed to rise with the unfolding of the paper, and to hover between the two grizzled, speechless men. Suddenly Mr. Thompson, with a deep breath, gave a warning nod toward the manager’s back and thrust the slipper into his pocket.

“Doubtless nothing of importance, nothing at all,” he said. “Nevertheless, we will take them home and examine them.”

“Yes, certainly,” stammered Mr. Jerome.

Five minutes later they were seated side by side in an uptown car in profound silence. Not till they were half-way home did Mr. Thompson speak, and then his head was turned away from his companion.

“If I recollect correctly,” he said slowly, “ah—Mrs. Millbank has not a small foot.”

“Yes—that is my impression,” murmured Mr. Jerome, his eyes looking vacantly in the opposite direction.

Current Opinion, Volume 34, 1904

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is not surprised that the two gentlemen leapt instantly to a sordid (and completely unwarranted) conclusion at the contents of the safe-deposit box. To Mrs Daffodil’s mind, the slipper suggests renunciation. After all, if one were pining for a lost love, or had a fancy for ladies’ footwear, the late Mr Millbank would have visited the vault at some time during that fifteen years to reminisce or caress the adored object.  And if the affaire were ongoing, what need for a satin memento?

Mrs Daffodil, in a flight of fancy, sketches an alternate scenario: Mr Millbank, seeking to capture his lost youth after a sensible ten years of marriage, meets a young person on one of his business trips. One thing leads to another until an impending blessed event drives the frantic young person to make demands. The sensible Mr Millbank is appalled.  He thinks deeply, then he invites the young person to go for a walk in the park by the river. On the bridge, acrimonious words are hurled as it begins to rain. There is a struggle, an impulsive motion of revulsion or perhaps a despairing leap. He makes a futile grab. A splash, a white face, and a bubbling cry….

Mr Millbank is left standing alone in the rain with a single satin slipper in his hand. Mechanically he puts it into his pocket and walks back to his hotel. He is snug at home when the body is discovered. The newspapers cluck briefly over the sad, old story. The shoe is placed in the safe-deposit box. Mr Millbank does not forget.

Or, in yet another plausible scenario, if chemists examined the shoe, they would find traces of champagne from a single midnight supper decades ago. Mr Millbank, perhaps awakened to the imprudence of keeping the shoe in his home or office by an associate’s domestic embarrassment, tucked it away in the safe-deposit box. No one would have been more surprised than the lady herself, now a buxom matron living respectably in Cleveland, Ohio, to find that a long-forgotten gentleman had kept a souvenir of a memorable evening.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


A Cobweb Party: 1892

From American Spiders and their Spinningwork, 1889.

From American Spiders and their Spinningwork, 1889.

Of all the pleasing and novel entertainments, nothing affords more genuine enjoyment than a cobweb party. It is truly a curious sight to watch a merry party flitting here and there, in this room and that, untying knots, crossing and uncrossing ribbons which have been interlaced and intertwined until it seems that there is no end to any of them.

A cobweb party affords a pleasant and amusing entertainment for those who do not play cards or other games, and is very simple to arrange, as well as inexpensive. Of course, like many other festive occasions, the hostess, if she so desires, can make it as elaborate as she sees fit, and spend any amount of money, but there is no need of it.

If the company is small, double parlors are sufficiently large for the occasion. A network of gay ribbons, yards and yards in length, woven and interwoven, with one end within reach, makes the large rooms resemble an immense rainbow. At the other end are fastened prizes, which are hidden in all sorts of odd nooks, behind pictures, under chairs, on mantels, up-stairs or down stairs.

The number of ribbons is governed by the number of guests invited.

Sometimes the prizes are exquisite little souvenirs in jewelry, silver, books and pictures. Just now, when the latest fad is spoons, it is a pretty idea to have half a dozen or so of these useful and acceptable articles among the prizes, if expense is no object with the hostess.

Scarf-pins, rings, bracelets, etc., heart-shaped, are all pretty novelties for prizes.

Where economy must be practiced, all manner of dainty things can be made at home, which will be fully as acceptable as those which are purchased.

Sachets of all styles and designs, sofa pillows, doileys and tray cloths of fine linen, handsomely embroidered scarfs, of bolting cloth or white silk, embroidered or painted; bureau pads, glove, handkerchief and jewelry boxes and book-covers are among the many attractive and useful pieces of fancy work suitable for prizes. Very frequently amusing and ridiculous prizes are given, to which are attached an original poem or an apt quotation.

Sometimes it requires hours to find the coveted prize; then, again, a few moments will bring the article to view. Some few, who lack perseverance and persistence, never get to the end of their string.

One writer says: “Cobweb parties are not intended for the entertainment of philosophers, but to while away an evening in a novel and pleasant way; and they do.”

Refreshments are by no means one of the least important features of a cobweb party. Oftentimes the company are invited to a six o’clock tea, which they fully enjoy before going to the parlors in search of prizes. At a novel and festive party the guests were given envelopes, containing blank cards, with a bow or, rosette of ribbon attached. The gentlemen were sent in search of their partners, who had duplicate cards and ribbons. Inasmuch as no two ladies or gentlemen had the same color and number, it was not difficult to find their partner.

Each table had a distinct color in decorations, and would accommodate two couple, so the cards were numbered “yellow, number one,” and “yellow, number two,” for the two couple who were to sit at the yellow table. The colors used for the tables were pink, blue, yellow, red, white, green, buff, orange, purple and lavender.

The flowers, candelabra, and souvenir cards all corresponded in color, and the lunch cloths used were fine and sheer, and laid over a solid color that showed through faintly, The souvenir cards used were simple ones, of heavy, cream-tinted cardboard, with a dainty spray of flowers painted on them, and containing several appropriate quotations, with the name of the hostess and date of party. Ribbons to match the table were used to tie them with.

Simple refreshments can be used where it is an evening party, which consist of sandwiches and coffee or chocolate, and ice-cream and cake. Sometimes fruit is used instead of anything else. Below is given a menu suitable for the six o’clock tea:

Fried Chicken, Creamed Potatoes,

Pineapple Ice, Macaroons

It lies with the hostess to make such a party pleasant and successful. It is especially suitable for a merry crowd of young people.

A young girl of seventeen celebrated her seventeenth birthday recently by giving a cobweb party, which was a delightful affair.

Godey’s Lady’s Book [Philadelphia, PA] July, 1892

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: As for the cobweb party not being “the entertainment of philosophers,” Mrs Daffodil can readily conceive that such a hurly-burly,  whether pineapple ices were served or not, would quite possibly have lacked essential appeal for Schopenhauer, the angst-ridden Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche (unless his Dionysian side attended). No matter. They were not invited.

Mrs Daffodil notes that the cobweb party has been recently revived as a wholesome family entertainment instead of a method for merry young couples to delay getting to the end of their strings.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


Mr Justice Powell Meets a Ghost: c. 1710

Some Ghosts and Spectres owe their Existence to a timorous or distempered Imagination, in the Midst of a dark and gloomy Interval; others take their Rise from the reciprocal Pleasure of deluding, and of being deluded: And for the rest, we must impute them to the early Errors of Infancy, and a motley Mixture of the low and vulgar Education Mothers and Grandmothers, Aunts and Nurses, begin the Cheat, and from little Horrors and hideous Stories of Bugbears, Mormoes [bogey-men] and Fairies, Raw-head and Bloody Bones, Walking Lights, Will-a Whisps and Hobgoblins, they train us up by Degrees to the Belief of a more substantial Ghost, and Apparition. Thus instructed, or thus imposed upon we begin to listen to the old legendary and traditional Accounts of local Ghosts, which, like the Genii of the Ancients, have been reported, Time immemorial, to haunt certain particular Family-Seats, and Cities, famous for their Antiquity and Decays. Of this Sort are the Apparitions that are Natives and Denizons of Verulam, Silchester, Reculver, and Rochester; the Daemon of Tedworth [also known as the Phantom Drummer], the Black Dog of Winchester, and the Barr Guest [Black Dog entity] of York. From hence we proceed to many other Extravagancies of the same Kind, and give some Share of Credit to the out-lying Night-Walkers and suburbian Ghosts, rais’d by petty Printers, and Half-Penny Pamphleteers.

The Apparition of Madam Veal, [controversially said to be by Daniel Defoe] because it recommends the Original Author, Mons. Drelincourt, and his elaborate Discourse upon Death, to all Readers, must therefore be of singular Use to the Translator as well as the Editor: And there are many others, of which no Account can be given but from Trick and Design, to promote some Temporal Interest; as, to bring a hard-mouth’d Malefactor to Confession; to oblige an unrelenting Parent to be reconcil’d to a Son or Daughter; or to sink the Rents of a House: And some Houses are said to be haunted just as some old Women are said to be Witches, only because they are squallid and uncouth, dilapidated and out of Repair.

But when he come to read of the Ghost of Sir George Villers, of the Piper of Hammell, the Daemon of Moscow, or of the famous German Colonel, mention’d by the Sieur Ponti, and see the great Names of Clarendon, Boyle, &c. affixed to these Accounts, we begin to find Reasons for our Credulity, ’til at last we are convinc’d by a whole Conclave of Ghosts, met together in the Works of a [Joseph] Glanvill [author of Saducismus Triumphatus] or a Moreton [another of Defoe’s pen names.]

Various Methods are proposed by the Learned for the Laying of Ghosts. Artificial ones are easily quieted, if we only take them for real and substantial Beings, and proceed accordingly. Thus, when a Fryar, personating an Apparition , haunted the Apartment of the late Emperor Joseph; the present King Augustus, then at the Imperial Court, slung him out of the window, and laid him upon the Pavement so effectually, that he never rose or appear’d again.

I shall conclude with a memorable Conference between the late Dr. Fowler, Bishop of Gloucester, and the late Mr. Justice Powell; the former a zealous Defender of Ghosts, and the latter somewhat sceptical about them. They had had several Altercations upon the Subject; and once when the Bishop made a Visit to the Justice, the latter contracting the Muscles of his Face into an Air of more then usual Severity, assur’d the Bishop that since their last Disputation, besides his Lordship’s strong Reasons, he had met with no less Proof than ocular Demonstration to convince him of the real Existence of Ghosts. How ! (says the Bishop) ocular Demonstration? Well! I have preach’d, I have printed upon the Subject; but nothing will convince you Scepticks but ocular Demonstration. I am glad, Mr. Justice, you are become a Convert: But pray, Sir, How went this Affair? I beseech you, let me know the whole Story. My Lord , (answers the Justice) as I lay one Night in my Bed, and had gone thro’ the better Half of my first Sleep, it being about Twelve, on a sudden I was wak’d by a very strange and uncommon Noise, and beard something coming up Stairs, and stalking directly towards my Room. I had the Courage to rouze myself upon my Pillow, and to draw the Curtain just as I heard my Chamber Door Open, and saw a faint glimmering Light enter my Chamber. Of a blue Colour, no doubt , (says the Bishop). Of a pale Blue (answers the Justice). But give me your Favour, my good Lord! the Light was followed by a tall, meagre, and stern Personage, who seem’d to be of the Age of seventy, in a long dangling Rug Gown, bound round his Loins with a broad Leathern Girdle: His Beard was thick and grizly; he had a large Fur Cap on his Head, and a long Staff in his Hand; his Face was full of Wrinkles, and seem’d to be of a dark and sable Hue. I was struck with the Appearance of so surprising a Figure, and felt some Shocks which I had never before been acquainted with. Soon after the Spectre had entered my Room, with a hasty, but somewhat a stately Pace, it drew near my Bed, and star’d me full in the Face. And did you not speak to it? (interrupted the Bishop, with a good deal of Emotion). With Submission, my Lord (says the Justice) and please to indulge me only in a few Words more. But Mr. Justice! Mr. Justice! (replies the Bishop still more hastily) you should have spoken to it: There was Money bid, or Murder committed; and give me Leave to observe, that Murder is a Matter cognizable by Law, and this came regularly into Judgment before you. Well, my Lord, you will have your Way; but in short I did speak to it. And what answer, Mr. Justice, I pray you, What Answer did it make you? My Lord, the Answer was, not without a Thump with the Staff, and a Shake of the Lanthorn, That he was a Watchman of the Night, and came to give me Notice, that he had found the Street Door open; and that unless I rose and shut it, I might chance to be robb’d before Break of Day .

The Moment these Words were out of the good Judge’s Mouth, the Bishop vanish’d with much more Haste than did the suppos’d Ghost, and in as great a Surprize at the Justice’s Scepticism, at the Justice was in at the Bishop’s Credulity.

The Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg, VA] 21 March 1751

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Let Mrs Daffodil don, not the black cap, but her Relentlessly Informative hat to mention that the two characters mentioned above are Dr Edward Fowler, Bishop of Gloucester and Mr Justice John Powell, also of Gloucester. As one of his biographers says, “His judicial character, both for learning and fairness, stood high. He was humane, as is shown by his remark on a charge of witchcraft in the case of Jane Wenham, who was alleged to be able to fly: ‘There is no law against flying;’”  He obtained a royal pardon for the convicted “witch” and made sure that she was safely relocated. “Swift, who met him at Lord Oxford’s, writes of him to Stella, 5 July 1711, as ‘an old fellow with grey hairs, who was the merriest old gentleman I ever saw, spoke pleasing things, and chuckled till he cried again.’” His joke at the expense of the credulous Bishop was entirely in character.

“A Rolling Mill for Ladies” Beauty Through Suffering: 1905, 1915


vintage exercise machine2


You must suffer to be beautiful, according to a French saying. There seems to be some truth in the statement, if a lady’s maid in Paris is to be believed. She has revealed the secrets of her mistress’ boudoir, or, rather, torture chamber. The lady herself is now beautiful, but one wonders that she is alive. For months she lay flat on her back on the floor, motionless, with her arms close to her side, during several hours every day. This was, it appears, to improve her figure. During the rest of the day, for the same period of time, she sat on a high stool rocking the upper part of her body backward and forward and from side to side unceasingly. By this process she is said to have acquired a statuesque throat and a sylph’s waist. The lady’s nose, having a soaring nature, was corrected and made Grecian by the constant application, day and night for months of a spring bandage. One nostril was originally larger than the other, so she wore a small sponge in it for a year. Her cheeks have been filled out and rounded by injections of paraffin. Her ears for months were compressed against the sides of her head by springs, while heavy weights were attached to the lobes to produce the required elongated shape, which has been successfully achieved. Having suffered this complicated martyrdom for a year, the lady, as already stated, is now beautiful.

Savannah [GA] Tribune 30 September 1905: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil will confess that, in her many forays as a lady’s maid, she never deliberately tortured her mistresses in the name of beauty—only in the interests of justice—and, to use the American vernacular, “they never knew what hit them.” Mrs Daffodil does not believe in causing unnecessary suffering.

While a stately, swan-like, and full-prowed appearance was the approved figure at the turn of the century, by the time of the Great War, matters had altered. The figure of the period was a lithe and slender one, culminating in the garçon silhouette of the 1920s and the sleekly girdled look of the 1930s. As such, the ladies of the 1910s were deeply concerned with reducing their avoirdupois to the fashionable tolerances. Technology was summoned to their aid, as we see in this article from 1915.

When Mark Twain took his first Turkish bath he decided that the efforts of the masseur were painfully slow and inadequate. He said it would take hours to reduce him to the desired size. Would he not go and borrow a jackplane?  

Now for a long time we have watched with sympathy and concern the efforts of women to adjust the waist line to the demands of fashion. The ancient methods seemed so pitifully slow. No sooner had a woman succeeded in shifting her equator the requisite six inches to the north or the south than she received imperative orders to shift it back again. And when the new arrangement had been accomplished it was quite on the cards that a wireless from Sayville would demand that the waist be abolished altogether. And there you are. There was a lack of reasonableness and of consideration. One would think that the waist line was detachable, that it could be raised or lowered with a derrick, that it could be taken off at night and put on again in the morning in a new place. Of course every married man knows that this is not so, and that a woman can not change her equator without prayer and fasting, and particularly fasting.  

But now science and invention have come to the relief of the much-suffering sex. A man out in Kansas City has devised what he calls a “‘rolling mill” for ladies whose waists have been obliterated. When he speaks directly to his clients he calls his invention a “scientific system of weight reduction”‘ and he is said to be doing a roaring business. His machine consists of a polished wooden roller shaped like a U and it revolves by machinery. The lady who has mislaid her equator and who cannot tell precisely where her southern hemisphere ends and her northern hemisphere begins places herself inside the U, which is then clamped closely around her and the rollers are set in motion. After a time the pressure of the rollers is observed to slacken, which means that the fill-in is being slowly dispersed north and south, although where it actually goes heaven only knows. Then the rollers are tightened up again until the excavation is of the necessary depth.

If there should be any subsequent slides like there are in the Gatun Dam the operation can be repeated until the natural subsidences have been overcome. 

The inventor, with a modesty inseparable from true greatness, says that his machine is intended for those who wish to avoid the equivalent exercise. For example, there are ladies who have derived much benefit from rolling on the floor, but then one must roll such a long way to get the requisite benefit, and rolling on the floor is quite exhausting.

Other ladies were in favor of chasing an orange around the room with the finger tips and without bending the knees, but this also is too slow when you have every reason to fear that the waist fashion may change again tomorrow afternoon at 4:27, like a train. But the new machine is quick, dependable, and it is guaranteed not to exhaust. In half an hour it will do as much as 5,000 rolls on the floor. Just think of that. And you can even read a fashion book, or a suffrage manifesto, or an uplift magazine, or a sex hygiene book, while the good work is going on, and thus kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 24 July 1915

To be Relentless Informative: Sayville is a village on Long Island. In 1912 a German wireless transmitter was built there to send broadcasts to Germany. In 1915 the station allegedly sent messages from the German embassy regarding the proposed sinking of the RMS Lusitania. The transmitter was seized in 1917 by order of President Wilson.

The Gatun Dam was a large earthen dam across the Chagres River in Panama, which is part of the water-regulation system for the Panama Canal. There was doubt whether the ground was stable enough for the immense project and the newspapers reported repeated landslides.

See this article for more historic ways in which ladies have suffered for beauty.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



The Diamond Buckles: 1790s


George III shoe buckles in gold, paste, and enamel, c. 1780-5 http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/20796/lot/67/

George III shoe buckles in gold, paste, and enamel, c. 1780-5 http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/20796/lot/67/

The Diamond Buckles

There is a set of avaricious people who are easily duped : the allurements of gain blind them and lull their suspicions. M. Pasquier related the two following anecdotes:—the one occurred previously to our political troubles, the other more recently. [The second will appear in a subsequent post.]

“A rich but niggardly old banker had a pair of shoe-buckles worth a thousand louis. He frequently paid an economical visit to the pit of the opera, and, having selected a snug corner, he would seat himself with his back against the wall, to enjoy the master pieces of Gluck and Sacchini. One evening, during the performance of Œdipe à Colone , an elegantly dressed young man seated himself next to the banker, and entered into conversation with him. He suddenly stooped down, rested his foot on the seat before him, took the gold buckles from his shoes, and, having rolled them in a piece of paper, put them into his pocket. Observing that these movements excited some manifestation of surprise on the part of his neighbour, he said:

“‘You are no doubt astonished to see me take out my buckles, Sir, but you would do the same if you were forced to wear gold ones, in consequence of having been robbed as I have, of a pair of diamond buckles, worth six thousand livres.’

“‘How Sir! robbed do you say, of a pair of diamond buckles. Where?’

“‘Here, Sir, at the opera. Whilst all my senses were entranced by the strains of Gluck’s celestial music, some theives came and seated themselves near me for the purpose of concealing one of their companions, who stooped down and putting his hand under the seat, dexterously unfastened my buckles. Did you ever hear of such an artfully contrived theft?’

“‘Bless me, Sir, you alarm me, your buckles were worth six thousand livres. I would not give this pair, which I am wearing, for twenty-four thousand livres. You may therefore easily imagine that I should be very sorry to lose them. I had better take your precaution, and then I shall feel easy. “The worthy banker removed his splendid buckles from their place of safety, wrapped them in his handkerchief, and deposited them in his pocket. In ten minutes after, they again shifted their places, and the banker’s new acquaintance, whose companions were in possession of the booty, politely wished him a good evening. The rage and mortification of the unfortunate dupe may be easily conceived. He never again set eyes on his diamond buckles; and his only compensation, for the loss of them, was a dearly bought lesson of experience.”

Napoleon Memoirs, Étienne Léon Baron de Lamothe-Langon,  1837

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Shoe buckles, which held together the two closure flaps of an 18th century shoe, could be made in iron or steel, or in hallmarked silver or gold. They might be engraved, or cut in fancy designs, or set with jewels or paste. Paste was, of course, the more sensible option because shoe buckles often worked their way loose and were lost. Buckles set with real gemstones were the mark of parvenues and royalty. The imposture suggests the well-known pick-pockets’ stratagem of calling to a crowd, “Watch out for pick-pockets!” Each gentleman claps his hand over his wallet, thus alerting the thief as to its location.

The author of this item seems to have had a penchant for imposture. That historic person over at Haunted Ohio wrote a post on the “prophetic ghost” of the late King Louis XVI, which came from the pen of Étienne Léon Baron de Lamothe-Langon. One can do no better than quote her assessment of M. le Baron.

“I had better confess frankly that the problem with this story is that M. le Baron was, not to put too fine a point on it, a liar and forger of historic documents. His History of the Inquisition in France was written using (he said) previously untapped ecclesiastical archives at Toulouse–archives, which, as was discovered in the 20th century, never existed. He also created seemingly authentic books such as the memoirs of the Countess du Barry.”

Still, as the ingenious gentleman, who obviously knew a dupe when he saw one, has not asked us for any money “up front,” as the Americans say, one may still enjoy the anecdote and profit from its salutary lessons.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


A Plucky Little Widow: 1884

widow in long veil


A span of ponies attached to an emigrant wagon, containing a woman and three children and various household goods, halted on Grand River avenue yesterday to have a blacksmith set a shoe for one of the horses. As the woman seemed to be alone, or at least had no man in sight, the smith asked:

“Old man sick?”

“No, sir; I buried him up the country a year ago.”

“Then you are a widow?”

“I reckon I am, and my name is Briggs.”

“Which way are you jogging?”

“Going southwest—may be into Indiana.”

“Got sick of Michigan?” continued the smith as he pared away at the hoof.

“Well, the State is good enough,” she slowly answered. “Some mighty fine land, good schools and tolerable weather, but I had to get out of where I was. I lost a pound a week right along for the last three weeks.”


“Humph! I’d like to see the ague upset us! No, sir! My husband wasn’t cold before I had an offer of marriage! It wasn’t a month before I had three of ‘em. Why, it wasn’t six months before their tracks were as thick around my house as cat trails on the snow!”

“Had your pick, eh?”

“Pick! I could have married anybody from my hired man up to a chap who owned a section of land and four saw-mills. They came singly and in droves. They came by day and by night.”

“And you—you—?”

“Say, you!” she exclaimed as she drew herself up, “do I look like an idiot?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Well, when I fling my three children at the head of a second husband and give up the $800 in cash in my pocket you can call me an idiot. No, sir! I repelled ‘em.”

“And they got?”

“They had to. Susan, hand me that second husband repeller. It’s in the back end of the wagon.”

The girl hunted around and fished up a hickory club four feet long, and the woman held it out for inspection and said:

“There’s hairs of six different colors sticking in the splinters, and these blood-stains are the pure quill. You can judge whether they sat there and made love, or tore down the front fence in their hurry to reach the woods.”

”By George!” whispered the smith after a long inspection. “Well, I guess you don’t want to marry.”

“K’rect, sir. If you have any old widowers in this town, or if you know any one between here and Indiana who wants a headache that will last all winter without any letting up, just put ‘em up to begin to ask me if my heart don’t yearn for love and my soul rattle around for some one to call me darling!”

Sawed-off Sketches: Humorous and Pathetic. Comprising Army Stories, Camp Incidents, Domestic Sketches, American Fables, New Arithmetic, Etc., Etc., Etc. C.B. Lewis (“M. Quad”) 1884

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  We have met the humourist “M. Quad” before, in an amusing discussion of “fiends for a funeral.”  A Haunted Ohio blog story on a phantom attacker gives a decent biography and sketch of his character.

In the literature of the period, so rife with “Merry Widows” in indecent haste to remarry, Mrs Briggs is a startling exception. A 1904 joke voices a common sentiment: “It’s a poor variety of widow’s weeds that won’t bear orange blossoms.”

While married women’s property acts were in place in many parts of the United States, in practice it was all too easy for a husband to appropriate his wife’s assets. Mrs Daffodil has been told of an American Civil War widow who expressed her reasons for not considering remarriage thusly: “I won’t give up my pension. Not for any man.” Mrs Daffodil applauds the plucky little widow Briggs’s sentiments—she was a merry widow in a very different sense—and that lady’s practical method for literally beating suitors off with a stick.