Category Archives: Victorian

Why Missus Wants an Up-Stairs Girl: 1882

The Maidservant William Arthur Breakspeare 1881

The Maidservant, William Arthur Breakspeare, 1881

The Cook’s Story.

Yes, dear, it was; Eliza Murphy was her name, and she was an upstairs girl, my dear, and came with a good character as ever you read, my dear, though to be sure my missus did say as it was singular it was spelt so poorly by a lady as lived in the Fifth avenue and gone to Europe for her ’elth. But that’s something I don’t know anything about, my love, for even bad spellin’ always did come hard to me owin’ to a dizziness in my ’ed as I’m subject to; but the character was good, I know, and it said as how Eliza was a good worker and handy and obliging, and very pious, and, why, bless your ’art, I happroves of piousness in this wicked world, where’s there’s such need of it—a wicked, wicked world indeed, as you can’t buy a pound of beef in it without being cheated; and measure your calico, after you fetch it home, why, it will turn out ’alf a quarter short; I gives you my word, my dear.

Well, ’owever that may be, it was of a Monday night as Eliza brought her box, and there she sat opposite me, as serious as you please, with a blue worsted stocking to knit, when she had nothing else to do, and her hymn book and Bible on the dresser.

Well, she was neat as a new pin, was Eliza, and we all liked her; and there was her character, as I said, but she ’adn’t been in the ’ouse a week, my love, before things began to go mysterious like, and now it was a napkin and now it was a ’andkerchief, and now it was my hapron or missus’ cuffs; but you couldn’t suspect Eliza. She was halways the first to find out the loss, and it was, “Ho, dear! whatever shall I do? this is gone;” or, “Ho, dear! what will become of me, new to the ’ouse and sich things ’appening!”

And she’d think it might be the soap-fat man was a thief, or may be the ice-man wasn’t honest—and though the things did go we never laid it on Eliza. Missus said such a good, pious person, and so steady, she couldn’t suspect.

So we turned away the man that came to fix the heater, and the woman that did odd scrubbing, but change didn’t ’elp us—-things kept a goin’.

At last, I know it was a Wednesday evening, because that was the evening as Eliza always begged to go to meetin’, when, all of a sudden, things having been going so fast that I was quite upset in my wits, heard Eliza calling out:

“Oh, cook, cook, what have you done with the clock?”

And I, bein’ at the refrigerator at the time, came flyin’ in, and says I:

“With the clock! and whatever should I do with it, Eliza?”

Says she:’ “Say you’ve hid it to frighten me, cook.”

Says I: “Far be it from me to do sich an action; but the clock is not there on the wall, Eliza, and where is it?”

It was a little round clock as you could put any way without stopping it, and it was hanging on the wall at six, for I’d looked at it.

But now it was gone, and the door fastened and all, and it frightened me so that I went off into hysterics, and missus heard them, and down she came, and there she stood in her black silk, Eliza, with a gray merino, and so big a pannier, and her hat and shawl on, all ready for meeting.

“And what ’as ’append?” says missus.

And says I: “Oh, I believe the kitchen is bewitched, mum.”

And says Eliza:

“Saving your presence, mum, I believe Satan is abroad, mum. And however will you believe me honest, comin’ into this house a stranger, when things go like this. The clock is gone, mum?”

Missus looks at the wall and looks at me.

“Them’s the keys of my box, mum,” says I, handing ’em out.

“And there’s mine,” says Eliza. “And if you’ll do me the favor to look in my pocket, mum, I’ll feel obliged, for my conscience is clear, and they’ll speak of me as knows me.”

“Oh, dear,” said missus, “I don’t suspect any one—but who has been here?”

“Not a soul,” says I.

“Not a soul,” says Eliza.

“And I’m so glad,” says Eliza, “it ’appened afore I went out. I might ’ave been suspected. But when a body does right, why I think the angels watches over ’em, mum. And may I go out as usual, mum, for ef I don’t have my evening at meeting, I shan’t be able to control my evil passions as I’d like when cook scolds me?”

“Oh, yes; go, Eliza,” said missus. “I’m glad you are so anxious to improve yourself; but about the clock. Do you think—hark!”

I said “hark!” too; for hall of a sudden we heard a kind of whir~and—-one—struck a clock somewhere.

Eliza turned pale, and sat down on a chair.

“Two,” says the clock—“three—four—five— six.” It was our clock. I knowed its voice—for a clock has a voice of its own, as you may say, like a human being; but where did it come from? “Seven,” says the clock, and all of a sudden I knew where it was. It was under that Eliza’s dress, my dear, tied on to the pannier, and when she stole it, my love, she’d forgot about the striking. I’m a strong woman when I’m aroused, and have a will of my own. Eliza didn’t like my taking off that pannier very much, but I took it all the same, and I sot it before missus, and I says, “Let your own senses convince you, mum, of depravity sich as has no equal,” before I went off again in hysterics.

“And that’s why Eliza is gone, my love, and why missus wants an up-stairs girl again. And it’s upset me so, my dear, that I’m obliged to strengthen myself a little, and that’s why you see me putting a little of the best in my tea. Will you have a cup?”

The Elocutionist’s Journal: A Repository of the Choicest Standard and Current Pieces for Readings and Declamations.  June 1882: p. 14

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  This was an alarmingly common crime. Mrs Daffodil has counted several dozen entries in the newspapers, relating how a clock-thief was betrayed by a chiming clock. Here is a striking example:

STOLEN CLOCK STRUCK FOUR.

Betrays Man on the Street, With Policeman Standing Near.

Pittsburg, Pa., October 21. A policeman in search of a clock which had just been stolen from a North Side jewelry store accosted Frank Roper of Canton, Ohio, on a street nearby.

“Got something you don’t want to have seen?” queried the policeman, as he noted a bulge in Roper’s coat.

“Oh, only a box of candy for my girl,” the man replied.

Just at that moment the “box of candy” loudly struck the hour of four. Roper is in the police station waiting his turn to explain how it happened.

Evening Star [Washington DC] 21 October 1910: p. 1

Still, Mrs Daffodil will not judge Cook for putting a little of the best in her tea. Depravity sich as has no equal always raises a thirst.

 

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.

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A New Use for Cats: 1882

crazy cat

A New Use for Cats.

From the New York Tribune, March 11.

An experiment tried recently by a woman in Hoboken to detect the presence of sewer gas in her rooms was the topic of conversation among the sanitary inspectors at the rooms of the board of health yesterday. The woman had noticed an offensive odor in her parlor, and she went to the agent of the house to request that a plumber be sent to examine the drainage pipes. The agent told her the plumbing in the house was perfect. She went home and called in some neighbors, who thought sewer gas was escaping from the waste pipes. Acting on the suggestion of a friend, she sent out for some oil of peppermint and poured it into a stationary washbasin on the third floor. From the basin the oil poured down a waste pipe through a closet off the parlor. Very soon the odor of the peppermint pervaded the parlor. The woman then went to the agent again and told him she was convinced that there was a break in the waste pipe on the first floor of the house, at the same time telling him of the experiment with oil of peppermint. The agent refused to send a plumber, declaring that the odor of peppermint was so penetrating that it would soon fill a building. After studying over the situation for a time, the woman purchased some oil of valerian and poured it into the wash-basin upstairs. She then borrowed from her neighbors two able-bodied cats and placed them in the parlor. The cats sniffed the air in the room as if it were agreeable to them and they both went toward the door in the closet. When the door was opened for them they went in immediately and sprung upon the shelf, where they remained, purring and manifesting unmistakable delight. The woman then went to the agent’s office and related what she had done. Although incredulous still, the agent sent a plumber with directions to tear away the lath and plaster in the closet at the point where the cats had rested in their hunt for the valerian. The plumber found behind the shelf the waste pipe completely disjointed. The break in the pipe was large enough to allow an unwelcome amount of sewer gas to escape into the house. Some of the sanitary inspectors said yesterday that the experiment was new and decidedly ingenious. They thought that cats might be used in a similar manner in this city to more advantage than in Hoboken. By employing their household pets as pointers, it was said, residents of the city might save themselves from illness from poisonous gases and also save the cost of employing sanitary engineers to examine the drainage in their houses.

St. Louis [MO] Post-Dispatch 18 March 1882: p. 9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil at first feared the inquisitive ladies were going to try to employ the cats to clear blockages in the pipes. House agents are notoriously dilatory in calling plumbers, but using pervasive peppermint as an excuse suggests indifference of an unusually high order. Do house agents not understand that if sewer gas comes, can noxious effluvia be far behind?

The herb in question is the Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis).  Cats go mad for it.

 

 

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 Ghost at Table: 1890s?

bones in landscape 1870

Phantasms in East Africa

[Die Uebersinnliche Welt; Berlin, June, 1905.]

Die Uebersinnliche Welt gives an account, by Colonel Langheld, of his experiences while in charge of a station in the interior of German East Africa. The only non-native civilian there was the son of a large colonial merchant in Hamburg, who was travelling to gain experience and promote the interests of his firm. He was of a strong and earnest nature, and had made a firm friendship with the Colonel, who, on the occasion of the young man’s departure for the Victoria Nyanza [Lake Victoria], felt an uneasy sense of danger, and recommended him to be prudent. His friend replied: “If anything befalls me you shall know of it at once; I will give you a sign, wherever you may be.”

About two months later, the pigeons, in their cote in the middle of the yard, appeared to be disturbed by some animal. Having set a watch, the Colonel was aroused in the night, and saw two round points, more like glowing coals than the eyes of a wild beast, gleaming from the dovecote. He fired, and saw an animal like a chimpanzee, having long reddish-brown hair, fall to the ground and immediately rise and disappear round the comer of the house with lightning rapidity, uttering a terrible shriek. An old Soudanese Sergeant declared that it was a “devil,” and that European weapons were powerless against it. He said that it came as a warning when a European had died an unnatural death, and that this was the third time he had seen it.

A strict search revealed no traces of blood, although the shot had been fired at only four yards’ range, The Colonel’s dog was found to have hidden himself in great terror, and could not be induced to pass the comer of the house where the creature had been last seen.

Later in the same night the Colonel, still awake, heard light footsteps on the verandah, where he was accustomed to take his meals, and soon he heard sounds as though glasses and other articles were being moved on a table. Rising to see who was there, he was surprised to find a man sitting at the table, which was fully set out for a meal. As the stranger raised his head in the full moonlight, he saw that it was his friend, the young Hamburg merchant, but hollow-eyed, with sunken cheeks, and a suffering mien. The Colonel, with a feeling of icy chill, managed to utter a question, when suddenly the apparition vanished, and the table appeared clear of all dishes, etc., as was usually the case after the last meal. On getting a light, nothing was to be seen of the visitor.

Six weeks later, word came to the station that, on the same day on which these remarkable events had happened, or seemed to happen, the young merchant had lost his way during a hunting expedition, and had been partly devoured by wild beasts. His body, when found, was recognised by a portrait which the Colonel had given him.

[Light, June 24th, 1905.]

The Annals of Psychical Science, Vol. 2, No. 2, 1905: pp. 137-8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  What a cracking ghost story—with both a monstrous beast and the gaunt “forerunner” of the young merchant! Psychic researchers of the day would have described the vision as a “crisis apparition,” while they might have characterised the devil at the dove-cote as an “elemental” or malign, earth-bound spirit. Mrs Daffodil would have said it was an “ourang-outan,” but, alas, those long-haired great apes are found only in East Asia. And chimpanzees do not have long coats. So perhaps the Sudanese Sergeant was correct after all. It was a devilish bad end to the young man, in any event, poor fellow.

Apropos of nothing, Mrs Daffodil is reminded of the film The African Queen, set in German East Africa, and its climactic scene on Lake Victoria.

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 Plea for the Corset: 1894

A PLEA FOR THE CORSET.

It is the Root of Morality, Self-Respect and Health.

London Pall Mall Gazette.

A lady possessed of a more than usually trying husband, given to being pompous and overbearing, confessed that when her lord was more than her patience could stand she retired to her room and took off her corsets. It was equivalent to throwing up the sponge; she felt incapable of holding her own any longer, and gave way bodily and mentally to a stayless woe that filled those of her acquaintances to whom she imparted this characteristic habit with silent contempt, tempered with the pity one gives as an alms to all weak things. It is probable that if this poor lady had held on to her corset her pluck would not have deserted her, and the pompous husband would have learned better manners.

The corset (may its shadow never be less) is the root of morality, self-respect and health. It braces up the moral energies as much as it does the physical; and many a slatternly Blowsabella that we see lurching along the pavement in a slum would take an entirely different view of life and Its responsibilities if she were put into a properly built corset. All the diatribes that have been flung at woman’s best friend are each more absurd than the other; and it is pleasant to find that of late doctors are becoming enlightened enough at last to own that civilized woman’s body requires stays just as much as she requires a house to live in and a varied regime that would simply have horrified her primeval ancestors. Of course, if women choose to abuse the benefits of the corset, and, instead of reveling in the support and gentle firmness of outline which prevents petticoat strings, buttons or other details of underclothes from hurting the tender flesh, strive to attain the wasp-like abomination of a sixteen-inch waist, they are to blame, but not the innocent corset.

Abuse of anything, whether it be tea. tobacco or tubbing, beef or bicycling, rest or exercise, is always an inartistic mistake. Like Mr. F.’s aunt, we “hate a fool,” and the woman who squeezes all the lissomness out of her shape and becomes as stiff as a broom handle or a wooden image from the South Sea islands merits no other title. To those who seek to get the best out of every thing–what charms  there are in a well-made corset!  A woman in her corset and petticoat is a subject for a poet, as De Musset knew well when he immortalized “La Marchese l’Amegui.” But much depends on the corset, which may be as beautiful as the calyx of a flower, when it is created by such artists as Festa, of London, or Weiss, of Vienna, but also may be simply a box-shaped receptacle, when fashioned by indifferent hands. The chief matter is to see that the lines are kept as long as possible. The corsets that spread out suddenly above and below the waist convert a woman into something resembling a pilgrim’s gourd, and are of the kind which have given rise to the grewsome tales of livers being cut in two by tight lacing. With the long lines opening out gradually as the shape expands, the pressure is equally distributed, and everything kept in its proper and natural place, while the figure preserves that swaying, flower-like suppleness which is by far its greatest beauty and charm.

Corsets should never be worn of anything but satin or brocade. Of course, we are writing for the artist in such matters, the woman who wisely looks upon the inner mysteries of clothes as being of far more importance than the outer garb, which undergoes contact with the world at large, and, therefore, can, in no way, be considered as a sacred part of her personality. An outcry will, perhaps, be made as regards expense, but there is no need, for it is easy to buy in the bi-annual sales remnants of thick brocade (a yard and a half is sufficient) for a few shillings, and equally easy to get these remnants converted into the loveliest of corsets by a professional corsetiere. Besides, satin and brocade corsets not only last longer and keep their shape far better than the humble and un-ornamental ones in coutil, but the fit of a bodice is entirely different over a silken corset. The silken “friend” is lighter, softer, more pliable and everything slips over it as if over a skin. But let those of our feminine readers who respect their appearance avoid the corset of the middle class French novel; the corset of black satin which helped to cover Bourget with ridicule in the eyes of Parisian mondaines when he described, as part and proof of the riotous luxury of the heroine of “Mensonges,” a corset de satin noir. It is the only ugly corset; ugly in its economic suggestiveness. and uglier in the way it seems to the eye to cut a woman in two.

 

For daily winter wear the rich shades of warm color–orange, mazarine blue, cardinal, myrtle and many other similar ones answer admirably, especially if the silk petticoats are made to match, as they ought to be. Of course, for evening wear, or now that spring is merging into summer, lighter colors appeal irresistibly, and nothing is more lovely for corsets than “shot” brocades of tenderest green and pink, with a design of pink rosebuds in Watteau baskets, of pale blue and white covered with lines like fish scales in silver, of brilliant orchid color overlaid with sprigs of heather. A yard and a half of any of these brocades is not a ruinous expense, nor is the subsequent making, if once the right artist has been found who will cut the material so as to make the design meet and repeat itself with mathematical accuracy, for haphazard arrangement of the design means inartistic cutting.

The Indianapolis [IN] Journal 10 June 1894: p. 14

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is striking that this plea for the corset should be written during the heyday of the aesthetic and dress reform movements. We have read before the testimonials for the corset by luminaries of the stage and the stars of the circus ring.  Although dress reform advocates railed against tight-lacing, many medical authorities felt, that while excess is to be deplored in all things, there was no harm and much good in a properly-fitted corset–not to mention the “charms” of a well-made corset. The author of the piece above was obviously a partisan enthusiast.

The corset de satin noir was a controversial subject. Some felt that it had its place in the widow’s wardrobe; others denounced it as vulgar, even in the context of mourning. Mrs Daffodil will say nothing of its other possible usages, particularly in Vienna. But the author’s idea of purchasing brocade remnants to give to one’s corsetiere is an inspired one and would help to cut costs and encourage bespoke corsetry.

Mrs Daffodil fields many comments on her “Facebook” page about how uncomfortable corsets must be and how difficult it would be to fit into that corset, etc., etc., etc.  What Mrs Daffodil endeavours to convey is that any ill-fitting corset will be uncomfortable. The corset should be made to fit the woman, rather than the other way round. And corsetry is not necessarily about a tiny waist, but about the entire fashionable silhouette and stance. Mrs Daffodil will recommend this instructive video from the Museum of London, which gives some common-sense historical information on the subject.

Morality, self-respect, and health aside, a corset might not only be a morale booster, but a literal life-saver:

HER CORSET

Saved Miss Ellen Stephens from a Violent Death.

St. Joseph, Mo., April. 1 Corset steel and wire in a bustle turned several bullets fired by George Meisner, a Burlington railroad clerk, at Miss Ellen Stephens, his sweetheart, last night at her home. Meisner had been jealous of the girl and shot at her because she permitted a rival to call at her home. Dayton [OH] Daily News 1 April 1901: p. 5

A CORSET STEEL SAVED THIS WOMAN FROM DEATH

Franklin, Pa., Oct. 13. Mrs. Elia Zone of Woodcock owes her life to her corset steel. She was on her way to Meadville and passed a man carrying a rifle. After he had gone some distance the man attempted to load his gun, with the result that a cartridge was accidentally discharged.

The ball struck Mrs. Zone in the side; she gave a scream and the man ran toward her. An examination disclosed the fact that the bullet had been deflected by the steel in her corset. But for that she would undoubtedly have received a fatal wound. Boston [MA] Journal 14 October 1900: p. 2

Now, if only the lady possessed of a more than usually trying husband, mentioned at the beginning, had had the pluck to stay the course(t)….

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 Terror on the Street Car: 1889

Gee whiz don't I wish every day was the fourth

HE WAS A TERROR.

An Unruly Boy Who Run a Whole Car to Suit Himself.

About the middle of the car were a lady and a boy about live years of age, evidently mother and son, says the New York Sun. The train had scarcely moved out of the depot before the boy began to “cut up,” running up and down the aisle and making remarks to passengers. The mother called to him several times and finally said : “James, I certainly shall tell your father.”

“How can you when he’s run away and nobody knows where he is?’ replied the boy.

This settled the mother for a time, but when the boy sought to raise a window she leaned forward and said:

“James, I shall surely punish you.”

“If you do I’ll tell that a policeman arrested grandpa,” he retorted. She let him alone for another interval, but as he began to worry a bird in a cage, which one of the passengers was transporting, she sternly said :

“James, come here.”

“Not now.”

“Right off! You are a bad boy, and I shan’t let you come with me again.”

“Yes, you will.”

“No, I won’t.”

“Then I’ll tell that the reason papa ran away is because Mr. Davis came to our house so much.”

This prostrated the mother, and she began to read, and had nothing further to say, while the boy roamed up and down the car unchecked until he finally fell asleep on a vacant seat. He had one more shot in reserve, however. As he lay down he called out:

“Say, mamma, wake me up when we get to grandma’s. I want to hear her swear and take on because papa turned her out doors last summer!”

The Record-Union [Sacramento CA] 29 December 1889: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  As a well-known American entertainer once remarked, “Kids say the darndest things!”

One would observe with interest the future career of a child with such a capacity for blackmail. He would be spoilt for choice. He might become a master criminal, a ruthless captain of industry, or a politician.

Mrs Daffodil has written about the horrors of spoilt children in Enfants terribles of New York.

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.

Snake Skin Neckties: 1894

snakeskin tie

SNAKE SKINS AS NECKTIES.

The Cuticle of a Thirty-Year-Old Now a Part of Correct Neckwear.

Just several shades removed from the chameleon fad is the idea of wearing snake skins for neckties, but the fashion is growing in Baltimore. It promises to become quite the proper caper to be seen in immaculate morning suit of the latest London cut, with the tanned cuticle of a three-foot reptile neatly tied around the snowy “choker” collar, whatever other style of linen neckwear happens to be the rage. The fad will never become generally violent, says the New York Recorder, for fine snake skins come high, and the crop may thin out so as to let the West Virginians, who make a business of catching the possessors of variegated outer coverings, create a corner in the market and coin a fortune. To be in the swim nowadays, and have the swagger thing in neckties, a Baltimore man must not only wear a snakeskin, but the cuticle of a “rattler” of about thirty years of age. The peculiar color of the rattler, when he has passed in his checks and gone to snake celestial spheres, is what makes the skin more valuable than when his fangs are still doing the poison business at the old stand.

The necktie must be that of a snake of age, standing and family, for a young scion of the house of rattler doesn’t seem to possess all the qualifications as to color and durability of hide the head of the house can lay claim to. Presumably it’s because a snake of three decades or so has been through about all the different kinds of dissipation known to the reptile world, and his physical hide is cognizant of no more compunction than his moral nature. Then an old rattler is generally larger than a young chap, and a tie about a yard in length is bound to bring more in the market than a whipper-snapper snake could show before he reaches his majority. No other kind of a snake indigenous to this section of the country would answer the purpose half as well as a rattler, because but few varieties attain his length and Falstaffian girth, except the copperhead and black snake, and their colors, while brilliant enough during life, are not of the right shade after the tanner has had his innings. A copperhead skin assumes too much of a dull brown to harmonize with odd ideas in neckwear, and the black fellow–well, his hide might answer for a seedy individual’s mourning tie, but nothing else. The rattler’s color, when all the fight has been taken out of him and his remains have been subjected to the process that prepares them for men’s furnishing use, is something on the very dull gold or ecru order. The black rings show distinctly and they lend the odd effects that have so captivated the swells. Then when a back and lining have been put on the skin the tie is ready for use, but they are worth an even three dollars any day, counting two dollars and a half for the skin, which is the average price of a rattler of thirty years’ standing, including all the trouble the catcher and tanner combined have had to take.

The Times and Democrat [Orangeburg SC] 19 September 1894: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  While rattlesnakes were a staple villain of  Western moving pictures and newspaper articles about seething nests of the poisonous creatures, their menace only added a certain cachet for those devil-may-care Swells who ordered up the Crotalinae cravats. There were also well-known urban legends about persons poisoned by a rattlesnake’s fang embedded in a boot.  Mrs Daffodil imagines an underpaid snakeskin tanner leaving a fang or two in the lining…

The fashionable world never seems to tire of finding ways to torment living creatures. The chameleon fad mentioned at the beginning of the article had a brief vogue in the 1890s, and was sister to the fad for wearing live beetles.

The fad of wearing chameleons, which came from Florida, upon collar or scarf, has assumed quite large proportions among the set that is always seeking something new. It is not only confined to the male sex, for many ladies have adopted the fad and several of the fair sex have been seen wearing these little reptiles.

The Jewellers’ Circular and Horological Review, Vol. 27, 1898

The genuine snake-skin necktie seen at the head of this post dates from the 1970s. If one judges by the listings on auction sites, it appears that the fashionable snake-skin cravat is now an Italian silk print.

Mrs Daffodil has previously written about Snake-skins in Fashion and The Lizard: Fashion’s Favorite Pet.

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 Bower-Bird Husband: 1897

artistic parlor 1905.jpg

BOWER-BIRD HUSBANDS

‘Is your husband a bower-bird?’ That was a question addressed to a young wife by a social statist anxious to get his friends well classified under their proper generic appellations. As a matter of fact all husbands, if they only knew it, are either bower-birds or not bower-birds; but we admit that the phrase is at first sight a little startling, and requires elucidation. It will be remembered that the male bower-bird is endowed by nature with the desire to decorate its home with every conceivable form of ornament. It is a natural aesthete, and strives to do for its nest what Messrs. Maple or Shoolbred do for the villa residence in Wimbledon or Hampstead. Nothing comes amiss to it. With a few feathers, a shell or two, and some fragments of broken looking-glass or sparkling mica it will rig up a highly ornate bower for the alleged delight of its mate. It is as if the birds were possessed by the genius of those good women who write in the ladies’ papers under the heading of ‘The Home Beautiful’ or ‘ Fair Settings for Fair Faces,’ and give ‘tips’ to correspondents on the art of turning a seaside lodging into ‘a dream of loveliness’ by the proper disposition of  ‘a dozen Liberty handkerchiefs, some Japanese paper fans, and a few photographs of your lady friends in evening or Court dress; if the gentlemen are in uniform the effect will be very much improved.’

We cannot discuss here why it is that the bowerbird takes so much trouble to produce what at the best is only a sort of arbour in a tea-garden in miniature— the kind of thing which makes one hot with shame and misery, incoherent in language, and sick at heart for the falsehoods which the tongue must utter, when it is exhibited for our admiration by some amiable rural labourer or retired market gardener. The fact remains that he does so, and that a certain number of men—not the majority, but still a respectable minority—take after him, and display a feverish desire to ornament their homes. Such men when at home hardly ever have a hammer out of their hands, and are usually inarticulate because their mouths are filled with the tin-tacks which they are determined to get in somewhere on the drawing-room wall. In the abstract, women like the notion of the bower-bird man, and they may be heard to declare that ‘it is so convenient to have a man in the house who will drive a nail in exactly where and when you want it.’ Alas! this is only another instance of woman’s pathetic habit of concealing her troubles under a brave exterior. She hides the horrors of her home under a smile—nay, is even known to make domestic capital out of her woes, and to turn them so artistically that they can be used to keep her maiden sisters in their proper place. Of course, it would be immensely convenient to have a man always ready to drive in a nail exactly when and where you wanted it. Unfortunately, however, this is precisely what you do not get in the bower-bird man. He does not want to put in nails on such prosaic principles. He is bent, as all true housewives know in their hearts, though wild horses will not drag it from them, upon what can only be described as a crusade of destructive ornamentation.

We know of no more touching scene than that which may be observed almost any summer evening in the house of a human bower-bird. The man has his coat off—it is, of course, not necessary to take off your coat to drive in a tin-tack, but shirt sleeves is a kind of uniform universally adopted by the villa bower-bird — and he has a hammer in his right hand. In his left, pressed between the index finger and thumb, is a small carved bracket. He stands with his weight poised on the left leg, and with the other leg dropping loose. In his mouth is a reserve of nails. His head is a little on one side, and he is looking with a half-anxious, half-determined air at the wall. He is saying, in a voice horribly deliberate in sound, for fear of swallowing the nails, ‘I think, Gladys, there is just room for this bracket between the photo of the Imperial Institute and the lithograph of your uncle as Mayor of Danesbury.’ At his side, but a little behind, stands his wife. Her chin is slightly raised, one hand lightly touches—but here, with apologies to those bold and bad young men, the new English realists, we must drop a style into which we had unintentionally deviated. The bow has got ‘Ulysses and Co.’ marked in clear letters on the stock, and we would not presume to bend it, even if we could. Suffice it to say that the wife is in an agony of indecision. She would cut off her right hand rather than have her nice drawing-room spoilt by that hideous little common bracket for which a more hideous and even more common little vase will have to be found.

And, even if she did not mind the bracket, she would not want it where it is on the point of going. Her husband says there is just room, and so there is just room; but brackets which fit in between pictures like a puzzle, and leave not an eighth of an inch of space on either side, cannot be said to improve the look of the drawing-room wall. Still, what is she to do? If she forbids the tacks her husband is as likely as not to turn nasty, to throw down his hammer, to extract the nails from his mouth as if they were cherry-stones, and, remarking with icy politeness that of course he doesn’t the least want to put the thing up, that he was merely doing it to please her, and that if she prefers a carpenter he will be only too glad to send for one, to go off to his dressing-room, there to fix a solitary bracket over his shaving-stand. The wife of the bower-bird is thus doomed to go through a series of doubts and struggles. Which shall she sacrifice—her walls and her drawing-room paper or her husband’s temper?

Many are the expedients employed by desperate wives to save their walls. One of the best and most successful is to turn the energies of the bower-bird from works of ornament to works of utility—to convert the instinct towards decoration into the instinct of mending. Fortunately, the transition is not difficult, and by a little management the bower-bird husband may be changed into that most destructive of God’s creatures— the amateur carpenter. It is true that the wife who contrives this transformation jumps out of the frying pan into the fire; but what true woman would not readily sacrifice the rest of the house to keep the drawing-room neat and pretty. The best process of conversion is to persuade the bower-bird husband that his real vocation in life is carpentering, and that he is saving pounds and pounds by mending chairs and tables, by rehanging doors, by taking windows out of their frames and by cutting away portions of the fabric of the house so essential that, as the builder subsequently remarks,’ it was fair a miracle that you didn’t have the whole place about your ears with that there stay weakened as it was. Why, it looks as if some wild beast had been a-tearing at it; that it do.’

When once the devil of amateur carpentry has been awakened in a man there is nothing that he will not do in the way of making himself really useful. He ranges through the house with a saw, carried under his arm after the manner in which conscientious Nonconformists are believed to carry their umbrellas, and with a chisel in one hand and a light tool-chest in the other. No place is sacred from his ravages. Even the kitchen gives him prey. As the cook will confess with tears, ‘Master’s been mending the stove again till he’s broke it; and, please, shall we send for Lion and Higgler or Randsome and Pilledge?’ The parlour-maid dreads the question, ‘Is there any little job that I can do for you, Mary?’ If she says ‘No’ there will be trouble later because she had a man in to see to the taps in the pantry. If she says ‘Yes’ the master will spend the half-hour just before dinner, on a night when company is expected, in operations which will flood the basement ankle deep in water and necessitate the stoppage of a purely voluntary leakage caused by the incautious use of a chilled steel centre-bit by means more usually adopted by surgeons than plumbers. But though Mary may know that half a champagne cork, two handkerchiefs, and a strip of an old flannel petticoat are not the orthodox material for stopping the water at the main, they are far better than an inundation.

Happy the woman whose husband tires of plain carpentry, and takes instead to doctoring the clocks. That is a safe employment, or at any rate one in which the liability of misery is limited. It is no doubt a bore to have the dining-room clock dissolved into its elements —to open the door and see the disjecta membra of wheels, levers, balances, screws and springs and rods lying on the floor, in the advertisement sheet of the ‘Times’ —but that is better than having the banisters of the back stairs reduced to what the Americans succinctly describe as ‘kindling wood.’ Amateur clock-mending is a slow process, and the man who tampers with even the comparatively simple grandfather’s clock on the stairs does not arrive at the stage when it is necessary to call in a trained mechanic for three or four days. Your Dent’s best pendulum timepiece will last him a week, and a travelling clock even longer. Take it all round, the clocks are the best things to devote to the energies of the bower-bird. He is safest with them. Unfortunately, however, only a limited number of men with the bower-bird instinct will take to clock-wrecking as an amusement. Those who will not must be staved off, as best may be, on broken chairs and tables. The great thing is to protect the fabric of the house. It were better to break a table on purpose to have it mended than to turn the amateur carpenter loose in the space under the roof.

From Grave to Gay, J. St Loe Strachey, 1897: pp. 308-313

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: We have seen the perils of “the master’s” interference in Mr Greenleaf’s New Cook.  Yet even the officious Mr Greenleaf did not threaten the very fabric of the home. We must be thankful that, at this date, there were no reciprocating saws or pneumatic nail-guns; otherwise the death-toll would have been much higher.

Mrs Daffodil finds it absurd that those hammer-wielding husbands cannot be reasoned with. She would know how to take a firm line or arrange some helpful accident to discourage future household devastation, but it is, of course, different when one is married to the brute.  And it is an ingenious, yet appalling suggestion that a wife should deliberately break furniture solely to contain her husband’s “crusade of destructive ornamentation.”  Still, if one has a husband bent on the ruin of the home, it might be well to lay in a stock of cheap travelling clocks and to partially saw through the frame of his favourite arm-chair, so that it must constantly be under repair.

 

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.