Category Archives: Professions

A Wardrobe Peculiarly Suited to the Bereaved One’s Conditions: 1905

Casting Off the Widow’s Weeds, Henry James Richter, 1823 http://www.wikigallery.org/wiki/painting_231401/Henry-James-Richter/page-1

Mourning Gowns That Harmonize with the Bereaved One’s Complexion and Spirits

The genius of a Washington dressmaker has conceived the idea of specializing for the bereaved. “Widows’ outfits” are the objects of her particular attention, and upon them are brought to bear all her creative power.

“Widows’ outfits” does not appear upon her sign, which is merely a very high sounding name on a small and thoroughly correct name plate that has adorned her front door for a generation past. It is only to the initiated of a very select clientele that she has imparted the information that wardrobe peculiarly suited to the bereaved conditions may be obtained from madam for a consideration.

According to her theory, not only must a widow’s weeds be an expression of her grief, but they must convey in them the depth of it as well as the previous state of happiness or the reverse. For elderly widows who have jogged happily through forty or fifty years of conjugal congeniality she advises lightweight drap d’ ete with heavy crape bands and folds, lightening into black crepe de Chine as time goes by.

In the case of a young woman sincerely mourning a much loved husband, one to whom she was wedded in every sense of the word, there is the “creped becomingness” of the softer fabrics such as chiffon cloth, &c., and her costume generally looks as if she had been dipped to her ears in the blackest ink obtainable. For grief that is genuine and inconsolable madam advises only the softest, sheerest fabrics, as customers are apt to be unmindful of their appearance, and careless of their attire, and the softer the material the better it will stand hard usage. For mourning meant to be worn all day without change for the evening, the clinging stuffs make the best gowns.

In all cases madam thinks it is impossible to have the collar too high, and sometimes, if madam sees fit and they are becoming, two little points, to go up under the ears, are added to the already chokingly high neckband. These are most frequently an adjunct to the collar when there is a tendency toward extreme thinness, as it not only hides the lines in the neck, but adds a something to the face that heightens the woefulness of the moral atmosphere.

For a young and beautiful widow of an old man, “well, youth is youth, and black is a trying thing at best—trying alike to complexion and spirits, and it would be far better if madam’s customer would leave the matter to her judgment, for you know madam has been long in the business, and well, you know white crepe is just as much mourning as the most unrelieved black, when it comes to that, and besides, the French always give a suggestion of it to their deepest mourning.”

For this gown madam makes a tentative suggestion as to the advisability of a lightening effect produced by a tiny vest of white crape, “which will relieve the severity of the dead black, which is apt to make even the fairest look a wee bit sallow.”

As soon as the bereaved one begins to make a more active interest in her fellow man and commences to realize that “grief is a selfish thing, and that every one owes it to society to take up one’s duties in it again,” madam sets her uncommon wits to work and provides her with gowns that, as an indication of her mental state, are quite as adequate as a sworn statement.

There are street clothes that express to a thought the degree of mourning, walking gowns of varying depths of woe, afternoon toilets of chiffon cloth, crepe de chine, and dull taffetas, each displaying in its cut and trimming a pleasing melancholy, while into matinees is allowed to creep a suspicion, and that the barest, of frivolity, in the shape of ruffles of mousseline plisse.

A dinner gown is, of course, included among these. It is but slightly décolleté, just sufficiently so to give the necessary air of smartness to the gown to make it suitable for the occasion, and “prevent one from being so gloomy looking as to affect the enjoyment of the assemblage.”

“The sleeves? Well that is entirely a question of—are madam’s arms plump? No? Then perhaps it would be better that the sleeves be to the elbow that is always—Oh, madam’s wrists are large? Well, as madam was saying short sleeves are a little uncomfortable at a dinner, and elbow sleeves are sometimes trying even to the prettiest arms, so possibly it would be wisest to make one of those half-concealing, half-revealing sleeves that madam thought so charming on that gown she saw yesterday.”

“Then the skirt! Could anything be straighter than its lines? Not unless carved from ebony, and then only in reality, not in effect. Severe simplicity in its most exaggerated form is the keynote of this frock that breaks the ice after the period of seclusion from the world and its frivolities, and then comes the next step in what madam considers the right direction. This is signaled by a gown all white, like a debutante’s, but what a difference! This gown is equally suitable for dinner or dance.

Does madam trim black gowns with violet, and violet gowns with black? Does she make a dark gray silk for church and a light gray for parties? Heaven forbid! Madam is an artiste. The second mourning of her clients is composed of dark violet, untrimmed; light violet, also untrimmed; soft grays without a touch of either black or white, and creamy white gowns galore. With each gown for the street madam insists that a hat of exactly the same color be worn, with absolutely no hint of contrast. When the time comes for the final doffing of all that pertains to woe in the shape of clothes, madam strongly advises that one take the plunge boldly and at once, making the change as decided as is possible.

The Washington [DC] Post 29 October 1905: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is somewhat appalled at the suggestion that a widow coming out of mourning is like a “debutante.” Still, there are reports of ladies who took the piquant idea to heart.  Here is an excerpt from The Victorian Book of the Dead to illustrate the concept:

Some widows made their coming out of mourning tantamount to a debut, complete with a new wardrobe.

AN AMERICAN’S FAD

A Fanciful Widow Who Celebrated Her Abandonment of Mourning

English newspapers and magazine paragraphers who delight to select and repeat for their innocent auditors all the curious fads and caprices of fashionable American women will doubtless remark with grave wonder on one of the last and most absurd arrangements in dinners lately given by a New York woman who is a lover of harmonies. Two years ago she suffered the loss of her husband.

After many months of travel abroad she returned home this autumn with boxes of exquisite creations of silver grays, violet, lavender and heliotrope, fresh from the hands of French modistes. After receiving many attentions from home friends, she decided to give what she chose to call “a going out of mourning dinner.” Her idea was carried out to the last detail, and the whole filled her guests with amusement and surprise. Her gown was a superb combination of silk, velvet and chiffon, running through every tint of violet, lavender and heliotrope, and lavishly ornamented with jet and black lace. Her ornaments were black pearls and enamelled violets.

The dining table was laid with a white cloth overspread with a scarf and central square of white silk, and lines embroidered heavily in the delicate gray stems and lavender flowers of wisteria. Violets, heliotrope, and lilies-of-the-valley were the flowers used in decorating the table and for the men’s boutonnieres. The candles, in silver candelabra, were of violet-tinted wax, with violet silk shades. The opalescent glass glowed with tints of violet and lavender, sugared violets were the only bonbons on the table, and great bunches of violets tied with violet satin streamers were attached to the right-hand side of the back of every woman’s chair.

Wheeling [WV] Register 25 December 1891: p. 4

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 Ladies’ University (As it Should Be): 1875

THE LADIES’ UNIVERSITY.

(AS IT SHOULD BE.)

SceneThe Examination Room of the University.

Professor Punch seated at table, writing. Enter Candidate for Matriculation.

Professor. My dear young Lady, pray take a chair. First let me saу that I am glad to see you have adopted a very proper costume in which to present yourself before the Authorities. A plain stuff gown, a neat cap, and a brown Holland apron. Nothing could be better.

Candidate (seating herself). I am delighted to have gained your approbation, Professor. My choice was regulated by the reflection that I intend to work and not to play.

Professor. Well said! And now, are you desirous of becoming a Member of this University?

Candidate. I am. I covet the honour.

Professor. It is necessary to ask you a few questions. What do you consider to be the “Rights of Woman”?

Candidate. She has but one right, which involves many duties— the right to be the Sweetness and Light, the Grace and Queen of home.

Professor. Very good. You would not wish to sit in Parliament?

Candidate. When my household duties were over, I should not object to an occasional seat in the Ladies’ Gallery—that is, supposing my husband were a Member of the House fond of addressing the Speaker.

Professor. A very proper reply. You do not wish to be a doctor or a lawyer?

Candidate (laughing). Certainly not. My ambition would be quite satisfied were I a good nurse and an efficient accountant.

Professor. An efficient accountant?

Candidate. Yes—that I might be able to check the butcher’s book.

Professor. Very good, indeed! Now do you know the chief object of this University?

Candidate. I believe so. It is to elevate the art of Cooking into a Christian duty. As Mr. Buckmaster said the other day at York,

“Our health, morality, social life, and powers of endurance depend very much on our food, and if it be a Christian duty to cultivate the earth, and make it bring forth food both for man and beast, it is equally a Christian duty to make that food enjoyable and wholesome by good cooking.”

Professor. You are quite right. I too will quote from Mr. Buckmaster’s very excellent speech. He said—

“So long as people prefer dirt to cleanliness and drink to food, and who know nothing, and don’t care to know anything, of those processes and conditions or laws which God has ordered as the condition of health, and without health there can be no happiness, so long as this ignorance and the prejudices which flow from it exist, all efforts except teaching will be comparatively useless. No law can prevent people from eating improper and unwholesome food, or accumulating heaps of filth in the dark corners of rooms, or compel them to open their windows or wash their bodies. Nothing but knowledge or a better education in common things will ever bring about these desirable results. It is for these and many other reasons that I am most anxious about the education of girls. The future of this country depends on their education. Every girls’ school should have a kitchen, with such appliances as they would be likely to have in their own homes, and every young lady should bе able to prepare, from first to last, a nice little dinner.”

Do you agree with Mr. Buckmaster?

Candidate. Most cordially. I think Mr. Buckmaster deserves the thanks of every man, woman, and child in the United Kingdom.

Professor. And so do I. What classes do you wish to join?

Candidate. The Cooking Class, the Dress and Bonnet Class, the Furniture-Judging Class, and the Domestic Economy Class. After I have passed through these, I should very much like to finish my University career by undergoing a final course of Music, Painting, and Modern Languages.

Professor (signing certificate). I have much pleasure in informing you that you are now a Member of the Ladies’ University. You have passed your preliminary examination most creditably.

Candidate. A thousand thanks, Professor.

[Rises, curtsies, and exit to join the Cookery Class.]

Professor. A sensible girl that!

[As the Scene closes in, Professor Punch smilingly returns to his work.]

Punch 20 March 1875: p. 123

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  As Mrs Daffodil’s readers will ascertain from the citation, this is cutting satire for 1875, when university education for women had scarcely begun to be bruited in public discussion and when Mr Patmore’s poem, “The Angel in the House,” was the pattern for feminine behavior. To be Relentlessly Informative, Mr J.C. Buckmaster, a chemist and  associate of a number of scientific societies and the Royal Polytechnic Institute, was the author of Buckmaster’s Cookery, Buckmaster’s Domestic Economy and Cooking. He lectured on cookery at the Great Exhibition.

Punch seemed fond of using culinary references in their barbs directed at women’s education. In 1894, under the heading “The Girton Girl, B.A.” it was announced that a female student at Girton, Miss E.H. Cooke, was on the list of Wranglers for Cambridge University. (This means that she placed in the first class in the very difficult Mathematics Tripos, even though, at this time, women were still not yet allowed to officially take the Tripos.) Punch commented:

Bravissima Miss E.H. Cooke. No difficulty in securing a first rate-place for so excellent a chef. Of course, so admirable a Cooke will at once receive the cordon bleu!

Punch 23 June 1894: p. 297

Really, it is enough to make one slip a little undetectable poison into that “nice little dinner.”

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.

 

Women in 1900: A letter from the future: 1853

The New Woman

Letter Written in 1900.

Mr. Editor: How the following letter came into my possession, I leave you and your readers to conjecture. It may have come through a “medium” from the Spirit of Prophecy, but this I only throw out as a suggestion. Meanwhile, rest assured, Mr. Editor, that should I be favored with any more communications from the same source, they shall be transmitted to you without fail.

Your friend and correspondent,

Annie Elton.

Washington City, Jan. 1, 1900.

My Dear Friend: Writing to you, as I now do at the commencement of the twentieth century I am naturally led to speak of the wonderful changes which have taken place within the last half of the century just past. I remember very well when men were considered the lords of creation, when all the offices of honor and profit were in their hands. Women were at that time held in subjection by their haughty oppressors, and women’s rights were almost unknown. Now, thank Heaven! All this is reversed. Instead of lords we have ladies of creation.

Our navies do not now consist of men of war—they are all women of war. Now, happily, a woman occupies our presidential chair, while our halls of Congress are filled with a body of intelligent females, from all parts of the country. Formerly we had professional men—now we have professional women.

But, without further preface, let me give you a little sketch of Washington, which I am at present visiting. Everybody is praising the administration of Hon. Mrs. Betsey Jones, who has just assumed the reins of government. She has filled her Cabinet with some of the most distinguished stateswomen in the country. Where, for instance, could she have found a better Secretary of War than Gen. Abigail Chase, of Massachusetts, who covered herself with glory in our late war with the Sandwich Islands?

I went to the President’s levee, a few evenings since. Among the crowd who were present, I noticed Hon. Mrs. Jenkins, the distinguished Senator from the new State of Patagonia. The Russian Minister, Mrs. Orloff, had on a splendid fur cape, which attracted the attention of all the ladies present. I was sorry not to have seen the Secretary of State—but she sent word that her baby was sick, and she couldn’t come.

I called to see the Attorney General the other day, and found her husband setting the table for tea, and taking care of the children. He said his wife was so much occupied with the cares of office, that she had but little leisure for her family.

This morning arrived the steamer America, Capt. Betty Martin, commander—bringing the latest news from Europe. It seems that the Queen of Austria has just issued a womandate, ordering all the men in her dominions to have off their whiskers. In consequence of this very reasonable edict, an insurrection took place among the men, which, however, was soon quelled by the efforts of Gen. Polly Kosciusko.

I heard last Sunday an eloquent sermon, from the Rev. Sally Sprague, minister of the first Church in this city. I understand that it is to be published.

I see by the papers, that a man out west attempted to lecture on men’s rights recently, in which he foolishly insisted that men had a right to vote. I was glad to hear that he was pelted from the stage by a volley of stones from the females (dear creatures) whose rights he had assailed. Poor man! He quite forgot that, in the words of the poetess—

“Times aint now as they used to was been,

Things aint now as they used to was then.

Paulina Pry.

The Fremont [OH] Weekly Journal 5 February 1853: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is, Mrs Daffodil is given to understand, International Women’s Day. The article above is what passed for wit about women’s rights in the newspapers of 1853. It took 67 years after this article for women to receive the right to vote in the United States. In Switzerland, it took until 1971. There was one ingenious critic who said that the right to vote was unnecessary; that women around the world already wielded unlimited political power and that American women ought to seize that power:

Much as we may admire the conservatism that governs, or that should govern, the influence of women in the White House, we may wonder if the higher politics of America, what may be called the diplomatic politics, is not neglecting a potent weapon. It is not a little strange that women should be least powerful in republics and democracies and most powerful in monarchies. When one of the great Indian princesses was recently in America some of our prominent society women sought to interest her in the feminist movement and to stimulate the ambition of Indian women to a share in the government of the Indian provinces. The Maharanee was much amused. She said that the women of India might live in seclusion, but it was actually they who governed the country. Their husbands sat upon the thrones and filled the offices, but only to carry out the advice that came from behind the purdah curtains. The women of India, said the princess, were much more influential in politics than their sisters in America, no matter how many votes they might have.

Much the same is true in England, where women have no votes, but where they have a political power that our women have hardly dreamed of. It does not matter very much who is the wife of an American President or cabinet officer, provided always that she is a lady and is willing to be inconspicuous. But the English statesman is well-nigh a lost soul without his wife. She is expected to be minutely familiar with domestic, imperial, and international politics and to take a practical view of advancing the various causes with which her husband is identified. A ball by the wife of the prime minister may easily have wider reaching results than a meeting of the cabinet. Here it is that the most delicate webs of diplomacy are spun, and spun very largely by women, who have unsurpassed opportunities for exercising the clairvoyance of their sex. Some of the most remarkable political revelations that have ever been made are to be found in the published diaries of women….

The fault, if fault there be. is not with the American government, but with the American woman. If the American woman were capable of exercising a political influence she would exercise it. and nothing could prevent her.

Vanity Fair 1 July 1916

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.

 

Secrets of the Theatrical Costumer: 1903

Costume for The Sleeping Princess, Leon Bakst, 1921 http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/online/object/86840.html

Costume for The Sleeping Princess, Leon Bakst, 1921 http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/online/object/86840.html

Where the Gorgeous Costumes of the Stage Are Made and Rented.

There are lots of people who can manage to push their way behind the scenes at a play, but there are very few who ever get as far behind the scenes as the shop of the theatrical costumer. In these days of elaborate staging, when the frocks make the actress, the costumer is the heart and soul, the alpha and omega of the play. Without him the prima donna and the problem actress alike would be birds of very shabby feathers, while the show girls would not attract a dozen patrons of the bald-headed row.

He is a mysterious person, whom nobody ever sees. Beyond his name, which is sometimes printed on the program, he is less known than the boy who gives out programs or the ticket taker at the gate. Yet, in his way, e is an artist who deserves to rank beside the manager and the playwright. If, at the last moment he should fail to be on hand with his production, the show could not go on; for the leading lady could not play Juliet in a sailor hat and the leading man could not do Romeo in a white flannel shirt.

The shop of the theatrical costumer is a fascinating place, smelling of moth balls and lavender, glittering with spangles and satins, jewels and tin armor, piled high with boxes and shelves, cluttered with costumes, thrown here and there, picture hats, kimonos, slippers, boots and frock coats lying around in what appears to be the wildest confusion, but what is in reality the most perfect order—so perfect in fact that any employe in the shop can lay his finger on any garment or part of a garment at a moment’s notice. Entering the place is like passing into a sort of fairy land where every character out of every play you have ever seen is dressed and ready to greet you. In a corner the short skirts, flowered petticoats, and shepherdess hat of Perdita lie disconsolate, her little slippers peeping from beneath them. Yonder you might almost fancy that Miss Marlowe had just stepped out and left her Beatrice frocks behind her. Over there is a suit of doublet and hose flung aside by some amateur Cyrano de Bergerac; and a ross the way madam Butterfly might just have taken wings, dropping her fluttering kimono as she went.

But all of the paraphernalia is only the theatrical costumer’s “junk,” hired for the most to amateurs for fancy balls. It is the odds and ends leftover from his big orders for regular customers, the driftwood from the great productions which he has staged. He could not make a living out of such stuff.

His real business is filling big orders of the large and elaborate productions which are put on every autumn. Summer is his great season. In the spring he takes his orders and employs his staff of hands and all through the hot days his shop is the busiest one in town. The machines are buzzing in his work rooms, leading ladies pass one another in disdain upon his stair; chorus girls flit in and out for fittings; managers wait upon him in his office. The president of the Untied States is no more important and no more sought after than is he. Sometimes the theatrical costumer is a designer, an artist of no little merit. He knows history from the flood down and can take his pencil and sketch you a picture of Noah correct to the very curl of his hair. But more often he employs his staff of designers as he employs his cutters, fitters, stitchers, basters and pressers. Every workman in his shop is a specialist, even down to the girls how sew on spangles and mend laces.

A Side Line on the Business.

There is a side line to the costumer’s business which is almost as remunerative as his regular business. It is the making of evening dresses for society women who hire them for a ball or for a season, paying an enormous rental, but not half so much as the frock would have cost them if they had had it made outright.

“You might not fancy,” remarked Carl Wustl, one of New York’s leading costumers, “that there would be a great deal of money in hiring gowns to society women, but there is. Even though the frocks we make cost a small fortune apiece and are designed by French artists and lined throughout with the most costly silk and chiffon, the profits are something extraordinary.

“Your society woman is after all very frugal and once a costumer gets a reputation among the upper ten he will supply half the elaborate costumes for great occasion> You see a society woman does not care to wear a dress more than once or twice, yet she wants the most expensive sort of gowns with the finest workmanship upon them. To hire a French designer and makers such as a costumer must have at his command would make each of her gowns cost a small fortune. Now she can come to us, order any sort of gown she wants, pay about one-third of its value and wear it as often as she would wear it were it her own.

“Here, for instance, is a gown with a remarkable history,” continued the costumer, taking down a gorgeous creation in white satin, tulle, and spangles, which looked as though it had been through an army campaign, so frayed were its ruffles and so tarnished its spangles.

“This gown cost $1,000. There are just 75,000 spangles on it and every one was applied by hand. It was designed and made for one of our best patrons. She is a society woman who is famous for her gowns and is known never to wear a frock on more than one occasion. Her husband is wealthy, but her lavishness in dress astounds even her intimate. This frock she wrote to the famous Bradley-Martin ball. With it she wore hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry. And what do you think the gown cost her? Just $300 for the night. In the morning papers her costume was described in elaborate detail.

Of course a responsible costumer would never by any chance rent a gown to two women in the same set or even in the same class of society. After the Bradley-Martin ball that dress saw no more of the four hundred. It was then let for the season to a certain smart looking woman in quite a different set, who wore it on five occasions only, but paid $500 for having it reserved for her exclusive use for three months. The next season a stock company star saw it. It was renovated and remodeled to her taste and she hired it off and on by the week during the season, paying $50 a week for the use of it. By that time it had pretty well paid for itself. But it was so substantial that it bore renovating once more. A little Jewish bride, who wanted to make a stunning effect and could afford only $10 for her wedding dress, saw it and hired it. After that I seemed that every Jewish bride on the East Side knew of it and it did service at ten or twelve weddings during the winter. With such hard service it got pretty soiled and shabby and I was going to hang it up as a souvenir, when a little Irish girl came in to hire a dress for a fireman’s ball. She saw the $1,000 frock, got stuck on it and it saw one more night of service. Now I am going to keep it as a relic and for good luck. It shan’t go out again,” and the costumer lovingly tucked the soiled satin folds once more into the box.

Sometimes a set of costumes made for a production will have almost as varied a history as the society woman’s frock. Their first appearance in all their pristine freshness is of course in the big metropolitan production for which they are designed. If the play is a success, they are worn by the company or an entire season and carried all over the country. In the spring, when the play closes, they are brought back by the management and bought in once more by the costumer, who gets them for a song. They are then renovated and kept for local stock companies, wo hire them again and again as long as they are presentable. After that they do service in amateur productions and for fancy dress balls.

“The making of theatrical costumes,” said a famous costumer, “is more of a fine art than ever before. The costumes are much more expensive than they used to be in days gone by when the leading lady wore white muslin or black poplin and the kings wore cotton-backed ermine. Costumes now have to be the real thing, inside and out. The satins must be silk backed and heavy enough to stand alone, the laces must be fie and delicate, even the roses on the hats must be silk or velvet, and the gowns must fit without a winkle and be as artistic in cut as the frocks of the wealthiest society women. Managers are as particular as old women and electric lights show up every detail, even to a spangle. The costumer who deals in cheap stuffs and cheap labor will soon lose his custom.”

theatrical-chorus-girls-with-parasols

“Yes, odd things do happen sometimes,” went on the maker of theatrical togs, meditatively smoking his cigar. “Our costumes have some remarkable experiences, and if they could talk might tell some funny stories. I remember once that I was called into court on a curious mission. It was to vie evidence against a chorus girl. I had just the week before made up and sent out a full set of costumes for a comic opera. Six of the costumes were conventional evening frocks of a very elaborate order. They were very expensive and the show girls wore them for only a few moments during the play. After that they were carefully put away in cotton-lined boxes by the maid. With them were large picture hats, silk stockings, gloves and satin slippers.

Her Costume Familiar.

“The first week of the production I dined one night at an up-town restaurant. I had just finished my coffee and was lighting my cigar, when a beautiful young woman entered, followed by a gilded Johnny in full dress. Something about the woman struck me as very familiar, but I could not place her among my acquaintances. As she took her seat she lifted her skirts and, as I caught a glimpse of her satin slipper, it flashed upon me where I had seen it before. She was wearing one of the six costumes I had made for the comic opera production. She was without exception the most stunning woman in the room, and the way she kept the other people turning their necks and trying to guess what famous member of the four hundred she might be would have made any chorus girl want to borrow the company’s costumes for a night.

“But it seems that her glory was only for a night. Somebody must have peached; for next day I was called into court to identify the costume, and a more irate stage manager or a more humiliated chorus girl, I never saw. She confessed, of course, that she had bribed the maid and borrowed the gown for the evening, and protested with many tears that she had not hurt the gown a bit. But she was fined just the same. It was only one of the sad little scenes that pass with the rest of the tragedies and comedies under the nose of the theatrical costumer.”

Denver [CO] Post 25 October 1903: p. 36

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has previously reported on moving-picture actresses who are martyrs to their public’s demand for the latest in fashionable frocks.  This peep at the behind-the-scenes workings of the theatrical costumer sheds a fascinating light on where the “Four Hundred” get their gowns.

Mrs Daffodil once knew of a lady whose beauty and title could not obscure her lack of breeding. She had contracted with a costumer (as did the lady of the one-thousand-dollar dress above) for a unique and exquisite ball gown in which she hoped to burst upon Society as the wife of an elderly Duke. (They had been hastily married abroad and His Grace wished to show off his new acquisition to his friends and disapproving children of his first marriage.) For a young person who had just risen from a theatrical background (second chorus, mind…) she had been most exacting and disagreeable with the costumer and particularly with those ladies who were in charge of sewing on the spangles. The costumer, who knew a parvenu (and a potential annulment) when he saw one, supplied his spanglers and dressmakers with some aged thread which he had been meaning to discard.

Her Grace was the cynosure of all eyes in the breathtaking gown, particularly when she began to shed her spangles. A little drift of the glittering objects swirled about her hem in the receiving line and several guests were seen discreetly removing sequins from their soup at dinner. His Grace got several spangles down his throat during the first waltz with his new bride and had to be assisted back to his quarters, red-faced and choking. Her Grace had no shortage of partners, and so carried on, until, about the third Waltz-Gallop, the well-fitted seams of her gown began to show the strain. First she shed a sleeve, then the bodice fastening parted, and when her train gave way abruptly, Her Grace found herself in the embarrassing position of a Nymph Surprised While Bathing, with rather more Valenciennes insertion.  The Duke’s children instituted legal proceedings for a swift annulment; and, although she received ample heart-balm through the courts, the young person is now back in the chorus.

Surely a lesson for us all to be kind to those who have been placed in humbler circumstances than ourselves.

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 Astor Library Ghost: 1860

ghost-book-popups

A Haunted Library.

The New York Post gives the story of an apparition as seen in the Astor Library, by the Librarian, Dr. Cogswell, and as related and believed by the Doctor. The Post says:

To understand the circumstances of this remarkable apparition the more fully, the reader should remember that Dr. Cogswell, the efficient librarian, has been for some time engaged in the compilation of a complete catalogue of the library. Dr. Cogswell is an unmarried man, and occupies a sleeping apartment in the upper part of the library, the janitor residing in the basement. It is the rule of the library to dismiss visitors at sunset, and during the evening and night no individual besides Dr. Cogswell and the janitor and his family remain in the building. Dr. Cogswell devotes hour of night that should be given to repose, to the pursuance of his work on the catalogue.

Some two weeks ago Doctor Cogswell was at work as usual on the catalogue. It was about eleven o’clock at night, and having occasion to refer to some books in a distant part of the library, he left his desk, took his candle, and, as he had often done before, pursued his course among the winding passages towards the desired spot–But before reaching it, while in an alcove in the southwest part of the older portion of the building, he was startled by seeing a man, respectably dressed in citizen’s clothes, surveying a shelf of books. doctor supposed it to be a robber who had secreted himself for the purpose of abstracting some of the valuable works in the library; after stepping back behind a partition for a moment, he again moved cautiously forward, to catch a glimpse of the individual’s face, when to his surprise he recognised in the supposed robber the features of a physician (whose name we forbear giving) who had lived in the immediate vicinity of the library, and who had died some six weeks ago! It should be borne in mind that this deceased person was a mere casual acquaintance of Dr Cogswell, not an intimate friend, and since his death .Dr. Cogswell had not thought of him.

But the apparition was in the presence of a man not easily scared. The librarian, so far from fainting or shrieking, as might reasonably be expected, calmly addressed the ghost:

“Dr. __,” said he “you seldom, if ever, visited this Library while living. Why do you trouble us now when dead?”

Perhaps the ghost did not like the sound of the human voice; any way, it gave no answer, but disappeared.

The next day Mr. Cogswell thought over the matter, attributed it to some optical delusion, and in the evening proceeded with his work as usual. Again he wished to refer to some books, and again visited the southwestern alcove. There again as large as life, was the ghost, very calmly and placidly surveying the shelves, Mr. Cogswell again spoke to it:

“Dr. __, said he, “again I ask you why you who never visited the Library while living, trouble it when dead?”

Again the ghost vanished: and the undaunted librarian pursued his task without interruption. The next day he examined the shelves before which the apparition had been standing, and by a singular coincidence found that they were filled with books devoted to demonology, witchcraft, magic, spiritualism, &c. Some of these books are rare tomes, several centuries old, written in Latin, illustrated with quaint diagrams, and redolent of misticism; while the next shelves are their younger brethren, the neat spruce works of modern spiritualists, of Brittan, Davis, Edmonds and others. The very titles on these books are suggestive. These are the Prophecies or Prognostications of Michael Nostradamus, a folio published in London in 1672; de Conjectionibus; Kerner’s Majikon; Godwin’s Lives of the Necromancers; Glanvil on Witches and Apparitions; Cornelius Agrippa; Bodin’s Demonomania; Lilly’s Astrology and others, a perusal of any which would effectually murder the sleep of a person of ordinary nerve for at least half a dozen nights. It was these volumes that appeared to attract the apparition.

The third night Mr. Cogswell, still determined that the shade, spirit delusion or effect of indigestion–whatever it might be–should not interfere with his duties, again visited the various books to which he wished to refer to, and when occasion demanded, did not fail to approach the mystic alcove. There again was the apparition, dressed precisely as before, in a gentleman’s usual costume, as natural as life, and with a hand raised, as if about to take down a book. Mr. Cogswell again spoke–“Dr. __.,” he said boldly. “This is the third time I have met you. Tell me if any of this class of books now disturb you? If they do I will have them removed.”

But the ungrateful ghost, without acknowledging this accommodating spirit on the part of its interrogator, disappeared. Nor was it seen since, and the librarian has continued his nightly researches since without interruption.

A few days ago, at a dinner party at the house of a well-known wealthy gentleman, Mr. Cogswell related the circumstances as above recorded, as nearly as we can learn. As above eighteen or twenty persons were present, the remarkable story of course soon spread about. A number of literary men, including an eminent historian and others, heard the recital, and though they attributed Mr. Cogswell’s ghost-seeing to strain and tension of his nerves during the too protracted labors at the catalogue, they yet confess that the story has its remarkable phases. Both Mr. Cogswell and the deceased physician were persons of a practical turn of mind, and always treated the marvelous ghost stories sometimes set afloat with deserved contempt. And, as they were not at all intimate, it will be at least a curious question for the psychologist to determine, why the idea of this deceased gentleman should come to Mr. Cogswell’s brain and resolved itself into an apparition, when engaged in dry, statistical labors, which should effectually banish all thoughts of the marvelous.

Acting on the advice of several friends, Mr. Cogswell is now absent on a short trip to Charleston, to recuperate his energies.

Holmes County Republican 12 April 1860: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The Astor Library ghost caused quite the stir: sensation-seekers flocked to the library to see, if not the ghost, the place where it had appeared, and Dr Cogswell.

Burleigh, the New York correspondent of the Boston Journal, in his last letter to that paper, writes:

Dr. Johnson said: “Say that a house in London has the plague, and all London will go and see it.” I have spent a few days at the Astor Library. It is quite amusing o see the crowds drift in to see the place where Dr. Cogswell saw the ghost of Dr. Post. Ladies, especially, come in in couples, in fours, alone and with male attendants; with a soft tread and an awe in their looks, with a trembling voice, they step from alcove to alcove, as if they thought the form of the spirit would start out and greet them. And when the Doctor is seen behind the counter (for he has come back,) the small talk runs—“There, that is he,” “There he is” –showing how deeply the public mind is interested in the story of the haunted library, and proving that, after all that has been said and written on the matter, men as readily believe in the existence of ghosts today as they did eighteen hundred years ago, when the disciples thought their Lord was “only a spirit.” Weekly Advocate [Baton Rouge LA] 22 April 1860

During his tenure as the Astor Library librarian, Dr Cogswell collected and arranged nearly a hundred thousand books.  He also began to prepare a catalogue. He had hoped to create indices of authors, titles, and subjects, estimating that it would run to eight volumes. The first part was completed and published in four volumes, 1857-61; and then Dr. Cogswell resigned the office of superintendent. If he had kept the same long hours of toil during his entire term of employment, one can imagine that it was time for a rest.

As for the ghost, Mrs Daffodil wonders if the spirit was seeking in those books of magic, a mystic reanimation formula whereby it might be able to return to earth? Perhaps, like Dr Benjamin Franklin he hoped that

the work shall not be lost, for it will (as he believed) appear once more in a new and more elegant edition, revised and corrected by the author. Epitaph on Himself, Benjamin Franklin. Written in 1728.

World Book Day was celebrated this week, hence the posts on library ghosts and bookcases.That macabre book person over at Haunted Ohio wrote about a ghastly spectre that also appearing to a librarian in A Haunted Library in Leeds, and a possible link with an M.R. James ghost story.

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.

Interior of the Astor Library

Interior of the Astor Library

Bad Taste in Funeral Flowers: 1895-1914

1906 Floral Tribute for a member of the Elks.

1906 Floral Tribute for a member of the Elks.

To-day, Mrs Daffodil (since she cannot exactly say that she is “pleased to welcome”) once again yields the floor to that funereal person over at Haunted Ohio, Chris Woodyard.  One supposes it is useless to suggest a change of climate, subject, or temperament to a writer so entrenched in the subfusc world of Victorian mourning, but Mrs Daffodil will gently note that a holiday in some sunny Mediterranean country might be cheering.  Mrs Woodyard will address the history of grave concerns over grotesqueries in funeral flowers.

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Flowers are an appropriate symbol for the excesses of the Victorian funeral. Newspapers documenting large funerals would note the details of these sometimes bizarre floral arrangements and their donors as if keeping score and setting a societal standard for the next bereaved family. The florists claimed that floral excess was a result of customer demand; the public, in turn, said that the pressure arose from over-zealous florists. There were also dark whispers about innocent flowers being tortured into strange and unnatural shapes.

Some trade journals made an effort to stem the tide of truly hideous design by publishing the damning details of floral tributes that they felt were beyond the pale. A Chicago correspondent to The Garden minced no words about current trends:

Floral Gargoyles.

 Here, in America, is the home of the grotesque as well as of the picturesque. Aristocracy and democracy jostle each other, and aristocracy gets the worst of it. We had a bad boiler explosion here lately, and among the emblems sent to a victim’s funeral was a floral clock set for the hour of the explosion! A theatrical treasurers’club sent a floral pass, ‘Admit one.’ Let us hope it was recognised. Gates ajar, open windows with plaster doves thereon, and tawdry wire frames showing through pillows of red and yellow flowers, all tend to vulgarise funerals, and to inspire the words ‘no flowers.’ When the city council is inaugurated, then are the florists busy. Gigantic keys, Indian clubs, desks, chairs, all are on hand, all of natural flowers distorted to suit perverted tastes. We need a renaissance in art to strike the florists here, and strike them hard. The Garden 1 June 1901: p. 385

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Funeral “set pieces” generally fell into several categories: wreaths, pillows, and sprays—and, said the critics, monstrosities. Some of the latter had evocative titles and florist supply catalogues carried wire frames to create the more elaborate arrangements such as “Faith, Hope, and Charity,” (an anchor, cross, and heart) “The Sad Hour” (a floral clock); “The Broken Wheel,” “The Harp,” (or lyre) and “Gates Ajar,” an exceptionally popular design. Stuffed doves, often used to accessorize the “Gates Ajar” arrangements, could be purchased or leased.

"Gates Ajar" arrangement topped with a star.

“Gates Ajar” arrangement topped with a star.

For this next story of a client who desired a floral horse’s head with real glass eyes, I’m afraid I do not have an illustration. Perhaps these rather ghastly arrangements for deceased members of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks will give an idea of what the ultimate effect might have been.

A floral arrangement given by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks for a deceased member. 1906

A floral arrangement given by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks for a deceased member. 1914

elks-head-funeral-flowers

1906 Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks floral tribute.

 

A short time ago a certain prominent and popular business man of Cleveland died after a short illness. A day or two prior to his demise one of his business associates went into a florist’s establishment and made some inquiries concerning funeral flowers, and finally placed an order that to his mind embodied all the desirable attributes of such a piece of work. It was to be emblematic of the business in which the deceased had been engaged, and it had occurred to the would-be purchaser that nothing could better represent that idea, than a floral horse’s head! But being a far-seeing business man, accustomed to keeping his eagle eye on the dim and uncertain future, and knowing that such a novel and original design might present some difficulties to a florist when it came to working out the idea, he had thought it best to take time by the forelock and get things moving in good season! The unhappy florist dodged the issue as long as possible by suggesting that the man might get well, but without success. The businessman knew what he wanted and pretty nearly when he wanted it and so the florist had to go ahead with the monstrosity. It seems to me that for downright grim, ghastly, provident, cold-blooded unsentimentality this party is entitled to the pie foundry. But about the time that a sufficient quantity of black cloth had been laid in, and whilst the florist was racking his brain to obtain a life-like wire frame and fiery and spirited glass eyes to go with the same, the order was changed for something not quite so startling. Possibly the man of unique ideas was sat upon by his colleagues. The American Florist 8 June 1895: p. 1148

The employees of the Postum Cereal Company did not have far to look to find inspiration for a floral tribute for the company founder:

Floral tribute for Charles W. Post, founder of the Postum Cereal Company.

Floral tribute for Charles W. Post, founder of the Postum Cereal Company.

Among the set pieces [at the funeral of Charles W. Post] none attracted more attention or expressed more sincere love than the floral piece given by the employes of the Postum Cereal Company. This is the piece we mentioned first, and which is shown here. The design was made to represent the little barn in which he first began making his food products in 1895. This little white building was carefully cherished by its late owner, and still stands in the beautiful grounds surrounding the Postum Cereal Company’s administration building and general offices at Battle Creek, and is always pointed out to visitors as the place where the business began. Doubtless many of our readers have visited the Postum plant and have seen this little building. The floral design was an especially difficult one to bring out because of the demands of perspective. The piece was made by S.W. Coggan, florist, Battle Creek. It measured 6x5x2 feet, and in its construction 2,285 flowers were used. The background was dark pink carnations; the barn proper white carnations. The outlines and roof were of forget-me-nots; the frame effect of American Beauties, adiantum and asparagus green. Corners of frame over roof, Easter lilies, lilies of the valley and pink Killarney roses. The piece bore the inscription, “From his Employes”

The American Florist, Vol. 42 23 May 1914: p. 936

This “bag-man’s” traveling valise was railed against in 1903, yet was still being included in the pages of funeral flower albums in 1914.

freak-traveling-bag-funeral-flowers

Freak Floral Designs

As an example of how not to do it, the accompanying illustration of a floral traveling bag may be worth a place. The design from which the photograph was taken was made by the Iowa Floral Co., Des Moines, for some local traveling men and gave great satisfaction. The body was of Enchantress carnations, the ribs on top and ends of Lawson, while the handle was of violets.

When an order of this kind comes along it has to be filled, but such freak things are in every way to be deprecated. They are a good deal of trouble to make and use a lot of stock lessening the retailers’ profit unless a very big price is paid. But as to anything pretty or artistic there is absolutely nothing in them. It is not even possible to see a good flower in the whole thing for the carnations are cut short and stemmed and packed just as thickly as possible together. It is devoid of all beauty and no retailers with a sense of the artistic or the uplifting of the trade at heart will encourage the making of such flat, ugly and unprofitable things. As hinted above retailers have not always the last word on such points but the making of this class of goods should be discouraged as far as possible. How much more satisfactory in every way would a pretty wreath or other design be than this, supposing the same amount of money was spent. This kind of “art” is best left to the candy makers and confectioners. It is unworthy the attention of florists.

The American Florist: A weekly journal for the trade, 23 January 1909: p. 1290

The demand for special funeral emblems applicable to the vocation of the deceased oftimes taxes the inventive genius of the florist, and some of the pieces suggested by the surviving friends frequently seem very ridiculous. A butcher in our vicinity, being in condition for a funeral, one of his intimate friends came to order a floral offering and insisted on its being in the form of a cleaver. It occurred to me that such an implement was hardly the proper thing. But no one could tell the road he went or the conditions he would encounter at the end of his route. Perhaps it was the very thing he would need.

A commercial traveler having been assigned a new territory, in the unknown world, I was asked to make a floral grip for his funeral ornamentation, by some of his friends. Did he die of the grip, I asked. Oh, no! but as his satchel was his constant companion, one said, we thought it would be a very appropriate emblem for this sad occasion. Alright, I replied, it shall be made, but will I fill it with light underwear, or do you think something heavier would be needed? Not knowing his destination, they failed to advise, so as a precaution, the man being an acquaintance of mine, I filled the grip with wet moss, which you know has a very cooling effect.

American Florist, Volume 21 1903

And how I wish I had a photograph of this postmaster’s novel floral tribute. Truly something for the dead-letter office!

A Novel Floral Design.

P.R. Quinlan & Co., Syracuse, N.Y., made a novel floral piece, the gift of the employes of the Syracuse post office in memory of Edwin H. Maynard, assistant postmaster. It was a 4-foot panel 24×42 inches containing a canceled envelope. The stamp was in pale colored Lawsons and the cancellation which bore the date of his death was in small blue chenille lettering. Upon the floral letter where the address is usually placed was the inscription, “To our beloved assistant postmaster.” The outline of the envelope was maroon carnations representing the envelope in mourning. The groundwork of the panel was Enchantress carnations trimmed with roses, lilies and swainsona. A.J.B.

The American Florist 30 June 1905: p. 1044

1914 seems to have been a particularly fertile year for bad taste in funeral flowers. Here are a few unusually elaborate specimens:

sad-hours-clock-and-doves-funeral-flowers

This “Sad Hours” arrangement is fully seven feet high.

immense-lyre-funeral-flowersa

To judge by the cupboards on the right, this lyre arrangement is at least five feet high.

Fraternal orders, trade unions, and vocational groups often clubbed together to provide floral tributes with the appropriate theme.

his-last-alarm-fireman-funeral-flowersa design-for-master-house-painters-funeral-flowersa 174a-floral-chair-funeral-flowersa

I cannot read the lettering on the floral chair above–it looks as though someone draped foliage and moss over an actual swiveling office chair and wired on a stuffed dove. Possibly the writing says “Our Mayor?” or “Our Mary?”  Another in the “floral chair” genre was labeled “The Vacant Seat.”

Garish as these arrangements are, they pale by comparison with this last example, a floral tribute to a man whose life was cut short in a terrible accident.

Derrick funeral flowers.

Derrick funeral flowers.

THE PENULTIMATE DESIGN.

In the collection of unique designs, the one shown in the illustration on page 11 is entitled to a place at the front. It represents a derrick in flowers made by Lester F. Benson, an Indianapolis florist, on the order of a committee representing the Structural Iron Workers of America, for one of their members who was killed as a result of his gauntlet catching on the hook as the engine started. The man was lifted thirty feet from the ground before his cry, “Slack down,” was heard, and before the order could be obeyed the glove slipped from his hand, resulting in a fall which broke his neck. The design was made sectionally, to work the same as a real derrick, and the committee insisted on the florist placing a glove on the hook!

Of course no florist maintains that such a design is in anything but the most execrable taste; such gruesomeness is an utter perversion of the idea which prompts the sending of flowers to a funeral. The flowers should carry a message of sympathy, and by their purity and beauty should speak of the life beyond, should contain no suggestion of mundane things, least of all a reference to the route of departure of “the late lamented.” The derrick design appears to be just one step removed from the limit. The man who wishes to accomplish the ultimate no doubt will make for a murder victim some such design as the following: Take two clothing-store wire dummies; fit them out with suits of flowers, instead of cloth; raise the arms of each, one figure leaning forward in the act of firing a flower pistol; bring the left hand of the other toward where a man’s heart is supposed to be, and the right hand to his uplifted head; lean this figure backward. Mount the two figures, in the relationship that will suggest itself, on a base of boxwood or galax and there will be nothing further that can be demanded of the florist, unless with such a design the widow fails to survive the shock.

For the florist who makes monstrosities in flowers it is to be said: Hardly any florist has so poor a conception of the uses of flowers that he suggests any such designs; the florist nearly always simply is carrying out the instructions he receives from his customers, and must either do this or see an order involving a goodly sum go to a competitor. Florists are like others—they are likely to do that which they are best paid for doing, but it is in line for every florist to do something toward turning customers to better things in flowers.

The Weekly Florists’ Review 20 April 1911: p. 10

So much for the customer always being right…

Still, one suspects that, despite the florists’ repeated and bitter condemnation of bad taste, there was money to be made by catering to the vulgar whims of the customer.

These set-piece shaped floral arrangements began falling out of favor around the time of the First World War when Victorian mourning conventions were thought to be less relevant in the face of so many deaths. Immense and garish floral tributes still had their place—at the funerals of gangsters and film stars, but by the mid-1920s they were considered thoroughly old-fashioned.  The only pieces I’ve seen recently which seem to carry on the tradition of shaped floral tributes are U.S. flag panels and floral rosaries designed to hang inside the casket lid.  I have not had the opportunity to ask any modern florists if they ever get requests for flower lyres or for  “Gates Ajar,” but in this Age of Individualism, I suspect that there are still orders for the unorthodox and highly personalized funeral arrangement, sans the stuffed doves.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is sure that we are all very grateful to Mrs Woodyard for revealing these examples of vulgarity in funeral flowers, thus enabling us to avoid embarrassing faux pas at our own obsequies.

For more on funeral flowers, see these posts: “No Flowers” and Corsets and Beer Wagons: Floral Vulgarities, which also appear in The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

 

The Dances of the Day: A Chat with a Royal Dancing Teacher: 1893

THE DANCES OF THE DAY

A CHAT WITH THE LADY WHO TEACHES THE PRINCESS BEATRICE’S CHILDREN

The two eldest children of Princess Beatrice have reached the age when the discipline of the nursery is gradually exchanged for that of the school room. One of the newly imposed duties of the Royal babies at Windsor Castle consists of a weekly dancing lesson. The lady who has been asked to undertake the task of teaching “their paces” to the Queen’s small grandchildren is Mrs. Wordsworth, whose name as an authority on, and a first-rate teacher of, dancing, is well known in London and elsewhere. Once a week Mrs. Wordsworth escapes from her never-ending engagements to go to Windsor, where Her Majesty honours all the dancing lessons to her grandchildren with her presence. This is not surprising, for it would be hard to find a more charming and amusing sight than a class of juvenile dancers whom Mrs. Wordsworth teaches. For this lady does not teach like other teachers; the principles on which she bases her instruction are strictly scientific, a fact which, we hasten to add, makes her classes not less but much more interesting and entertaining than is generally the case. A representative whose attention had been drawn to some of the dancing classes at Queensberry Hall, Harrington-road, gives the following account of a visit to that ideal ballroom:

It is absolutely no use trying to get more than a moment’s attention from Mrs. Wordsworth while her lesson is proceeding. She has eight assistants dispersed among the sixty or seventy pupils forming one of the juvenile classes, but for all that it is Mrs. Wordsworth herself on whom falls all the real work. It is not with her voice and with her movements only that she teaches, but she throws into it her whole soul and spirit, and such teaching is infectious. The pupils cannot be dull or indifferent; they are awakened, quickened, drawn away (in some cases, it is easy to see, in spite of themselves), till even the most awkward lassie and the most clumsy lad shake off their gaucherie and join the fun in utter self-forgetfulness.

To watch a class of Mrs. Wordsworth’s pupils, be they small beginners or graceful maidens practising society skirt-dance, is an artistic treat. Imagine an immense hall, well aired, lighted from the top, and with a faultlessly smooth floor. In one corner a piano, along the walls, on either side, the delighted kith and kin of the dancers, and the whole hall filled with children, mostly girls, from the toddling infant of four or five, whose kittenish capers are in themselves as good as the proverbial play, to the graceful young beauty standing on the brink where “maidenhood and childhood meet.” All the girls dressed in dainty loose gowns of soft stuffs and pretty tints. There are also a few boys, but boys at dancing lessons are not things of beauty, and they keep, wisely and well, in the background.

cretan-garland-dance-lighter

At one moment the whole class is engaged in playing ball, in the manner of Greek maidens; next they dance with skipping-ropes, toy with fans, accompany their Spanish dances by the musical click of castanettes, or show that even clumsy-looking clubs can be gracefully handled. And among them, eager, anxious, delighted, or momentarily chiding, moves the teacher, forgetful of everything except that these children must learn to dance and to move gracefully about. After two hours of incessant strain, Mrs. Wordsworth retired for a few moments into her tiny private room, and there, fanning her hot face, she expressed her views of the dancing of the day as follows:

“How are new dances made, Mrs. Wordsworth, or are there no new dances?” “Yes, there are new dances every season. As far as I am concerned, I invent my own dances as I go along. Perhaps a new tune is in vogue. If it lends itself at all to dancing, I listen to it, and while doing so determine in my own mind what steps would suit it best. After much experience this becomes quite easy to me now.”

“I believe it was you, Mrs. Wordsworth, as it not, to whom is due the revival of taste for step-dancing?” “Yes, I was the first to teach it in England; but what began with a few dances created by Taglioni has now grown to an infinite variety of pretty arrangements. I often get an idea for a new dance form the picture. For instance, Sir Frederick Leighton’s painting of the Greek maidens playing at ball suggested the idea of the exercise with balls which you have been watching. I study the picture very carefully, till I know exactly what muscles come into play if the position on the picture is assumed. Then, since I want all the muscles to be exercised, I add other steps and poses till I have what I want. Mr. Alma-Tadema’s pictures also furnish me with many suggestions.”

“Then, is your idea of what a dance should be based upon the idea of the Greeks, whom you seem to take as your models?”

“It is. But though dancing is recreation, it should never be bodily recreation only. I want my pupils not to follow blindly and unthinkingly my teaching as to steps and poses. No one will ever dance or move gracefully who goes to a dancing-class in that spirit. I want the movements of the body to be prompted by the brain; I want my pupils to think. Thus they do not all move and dance in exactly the same way, but each puts something of her own individuality into the dance. I do not want to mould them all in the same form; they must remain individuals.”

The Westminster Budget [London, England] 26 May 1893: p. 18

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Daughter of a Brighton dancing master, Mrs Wordsworth was one of the most famous society dance teachers in England. She held strong views about the practical value of dance as exercise, discipline and promoter of moral fibre:

A moral gain is also attainable for many by this study. Experienced teachers have seen instances of improvement effected in nerve and temper, undiscoverable until the stern discipline of the dancing lesson came to the rescue, working subtly in the guise of play—for one must remember that vigorous movement is natural to the young. The disobedient become accustomed to obey; the sulky perforce throw off their habitual mood; ill-temper is forgotten. Thus the physical benefit of the exercise is supplemented by other elevating influences. 1895

The use of the word “stern” is no accident. Despite those gowns “of soft stuffs and pretty tints,” Mrs Wordsworth felt that the terpsichorean arts were best inculcated by an almost military discipline. This was not entirely to Queen Victoria’s taste:

The queen, hearing of Mrs. Wordsworth’s fame as an instructor of stiff ankles, sent for this energetic little lady, who was introduced to teach the children of Princess Beatrice. Possessing a stentorian voice and extreme vigor in her manner of imparting, Mrs. Wordsworth treated her little items of royalty to the same shouts and signals which she finds so effective with her great army of pupils, the queen being present and much interested in the lesson. Next time this celebrated dancing mistress visited Windsor, however, it was politely intimated through a lady in waiting that her majesty’s nerves had been a little tried by the “forcible” method of her excellent instruction, so the royal Battenberg babies had perforce a much easier half hour. Hamilton [OH] Evening Journal 10 February 1894: p. 8

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.