Category Archives: Victorian

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.

 

All About Lorgnettes: 1886-7, 1923

Guilloche enamel and diamond lorgnette c. 1910 http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/22468/lot/64/

ALL ABOUT LORGNETTES

Their use Enables a Lady to Display Her Bracelets and Shapely Arm.

Merely a Graceful Affectation Quite as Often Intended for Ornament as Use.

Opera Glasses in Rich and Beautiful Designs

Celebrated Makers and Their Productions.

TWO LOVELY BLACK EYES

An opera without a pair of glasses is like pudding without sauce, salad without dressing, or a marriage without a wedding. Even the baldies in the first three rows enjoy the ballet and premiers better when fortified with a Lemaire or Verdi, and the lovers of music get double pleasure running over the audience between the acts with a seventeen line lens. A society woman would no more think of attending a play or opera without a pair of glasses than of dispensing with her fan or gloves. She may not use it much, but must have it to toy with if nothing more, for it helps her to display her suede and bracelets and is a decided aid to grace, as the bouquet may be wet enough to soil the gloves and the fan too frail for convenience. Let her forget the pretty pearl bound pebbles, and she would call the gentleman in her party “monster!” and cut him dead the next day if he neglected to hire a pair from the opera-glass boy.

There is nothing newer than the lorgnette which has been the rage among fashionable ladies for a couple of years. As the cut shows, the lorgnette is nothing more than a pair of spectacles attached to a handsomely carved stick. It is a mistaken idea to think that the lorgnette is intended as a n opera-glass, properly focused and polished for long distances. It is merely a graceful affectation, quite as often intended for ornament as use. Ladies like them because they are a pretty and pleasing oddity, designed to exhibit a beautiful hand, a well-turned wrist, or nicely-modeled arm. Ladies who have old or weak eyes often select the lorgnette as a dress-spectacle, suspending them from a chatelaine and using them at church, over hymnal or litany, while calling, shopping, or promenading, to read the casual card, sign or address, and to make change with, in which case the glass is fitted to the eye by an oculist and framed in shell or metal by the jeweler.

Among the fashionables the fad is simply a foil to the eye-glass solitaire, and considered very English, don’t you know? For this stylish use the holes are set with clear white glass that has no more magnifying influence than a window-pane. These harmless pebbles are found in all styles of sticks. Tortoise is the most popular and varies in price from $12 to $20, according to the amount of work on the shell; gold-mounted lorgnettes in the Roman metal range from $40 to $60, and the silver sticks, in repousse, are worth $60, while double that figure is charged for enamelling. There is no mistake about it, these lorgnettes are “sweet things.” Put in the hand of a pretty woman at an opera or an art gallery the looker on is lost in admiration, and sees nothing but the artful creature—her dainty arms, upturned eyes, graceful throat, and charmingly posed head. One look from these long-handled glasses will wither a saucy clerk, a presumptuous dude, or an insolent servant. You can argue with them; flirt, play, read or paint with them; laugh or sing with them,, and be doubly gracious, charming, and effective.

There are widows and belles in society who wear the lorgnette without any glasses, and succeed in doing double the mischief they could otherwise accomplish. It may interest some of the sleepy dames on the West Side and up along the Evanston shore to know that the lorgnette is as common as the vinaigrette in the East. At Tuxedo the men have eye glasses, and the ladies stare back at them through silver and shell lorgnettes. A few Newport belles wear an eye glass even to the dance, but the majority affect the carved stick. In season the fat dowagers and the slim spinsters with quince-color complexions never dream of taking the red rock or vichy waters of Saratoga without putting up their glasses.

 

In opera glasses there are styles by the dozen from which to select. Pearl mountings are passé. The smoked pearl which has enjoyed such splendid popularity is less stylish than the pure white mother of pearl, mounted throughout—casing, slide, bridge and rim; and neither is comparable to the silver bound glass, the Prince of Wales’ choice. The design shown above represents one of the finest Bordou pebbles mounted in sterling silver, exquisitely carved from an Alhambra frieze. The glass is worth $62, but there are cheaper goods that will give just as good satisfaction. After the silver comes the brass glass, treated with black lacquer and bound in seal leather, which may be had as low as $4. There is a Bosch glass for that price, which an emperor might rejoice to own. Aluminium glasses, mounted in alligator or snake skin, sell at $25 and are just the thing for gentlemen, and very popular with the Eastern fellows. The charm of these leather and aluminium glasses is their extreme lightness. Actually you can float a pair in fresh water.

French enamel opera glasses c. 1900 http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/20172/lot/92/

The most artistic glasses are mounted in porcelain and gold, and delicately enameled to represent a sylvan or ball-room scene. A glass of this kind may be bought for $22, because there is little call for the style just now.

Pocket glasses in black leather are worth $18, and those in mother of pearl sell for $15. They are distinctly a club man’s luxury, to be carried in the vest pocket to look at pretty women in the surf, across the street, at the piano, or gliding round the rink.

Miniature Bardou telescope, Second quarter of the 19th century. http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/21932/lot/152/

And now a word about the different brands. The Bardou & Sons is the best glass ever put upon the market, and the very one that buyers are most likely to know nothing about, for the reason that the bulk of the trade is controlled by Berlin and Vienna dealers, only a few lenses getting into American markets. The glasses are very powerful, being so carefully centered and highly polished as to strain the eyes after a brief usage. In their construction the manufacturers designed them for quick, short sights, and made no provision for those curious theater-goers who surfeit the eye, and exhaust the subject by a continuous focus. They are the highest-priced glasses in trade, but a poor one is never permitted to leave the factory.

The next best, but the most popular glass, is the Lemaire, of Paris. There are two qualities, and the buyer needs to have his wits about him unless he is amiable enough to take what is offered, pay his money, and smile away.

It is a waste of money to buy a glass of less than thirteen lines, as the field is too small. For that reason vest-pocket styles are rarely satisfactory, because it is impossible to get the proper power in so small a glass. Trying to cover a stage or beach with a lens having the surface of a silver dime is as difficult as viewing a multitude through a key-hole.

The great objection to the aluminium is its yielding quality, the slightest bend or twist being sufficient to double or blur the vision. This defect may be produced by sitting on the glass or by a slight blow, and only an oculist will be able to reset or rebend the frame. With the brass mounting accidents of this sort never occur.

Daily Inter Ocean [Chicago IL] 20 November 1887: p. 21

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil previously reported on spirit-filled opera glasses, carried by persons of irregular habits who should have been refused admission at the door.

Lorgnettes were seen as an affectation when they first became popular.

A FASHIONABLE FOLLY.

Long-Handled Eye Glasses and the Dudines Who Buy and Use Them.

“Will you kindly let me see some of your tortoise shell lorgnettes?” languidly inquired a fashionably dressed young lady the other day as she stood before the counter in a leading optician’s store on Chestnut street and looked the clerk steadily in the eye.

“Beg pardon, do you mean opera glasses or eye glasses?” asked the clerk.

“Eye glasses.”

Thereupon the clerk produced a large box in which was an assortment of the most absurd specimens of the opticians handiwork ever sold for failing eyesight. They were lorgnette eye-glasses, so-called because like the ordinary opera or field glasses, they have to be continually held to the eyes while in use. The eyeglass part is shaped like a pair of spectacles except that instead of two bows to go back over the ears there is a long handle to be held in the hand. Ultra-fashionable people have decided that these are the proper things and in consequence spectacles double eye glasses and even the single eye-glass or “quiz” have been relegated to the use of the vulgar herd. The young lady mentioned bought one of the “lorgnettes,” and went out of the store after paying a ten dollar bill for her purchase.

“Do you sell many of those things?” was asked of the optician.

“Quantities,” he answered, “and the sale of them is constantly increasing. The ‘lorgnettes were introduced from England about two years ago, but it is only lately that there has been anything of a fashionable craze for them. They are the most ridiculous thing in the way of eye-glasses I ever saw. They are clumsy, and one has to hold them up to the eyes whenever they are used, which becomes quite tiresome in time. I sell them to young ladies mostly although their mothers buy them too. They hold them to their eyes with a Lady Clara Vere de Vere air and try to look haughty and well-bred. My observation is that only women with very shallow brain pans use lorgnettes. Many order plain glasses in them and extra-long handles. The longer the handle the more stunning the effect and the shallower the brain…At home the lorgnette users are glad enough to wear spectacles or eye glasses which further goes to prove that the newfangled arrangement is only another of Dame Fashion’s freaks.” Cincinnati [OH] Commercial Tribune 10 November 1886: p. 6

The lorgnette fad returned, along with a renewed enthusiasm for fans, in the 1920s.

OLD FASHION LORGNETTE NEW CRAZE IN LONDON

London, July 28. There seems to be craze for the old-fashioned lorgnette among young women in London at present. It has, in the last few weeks, becoming increasingly rare for a girl to wear spectacles, even of horn, in the ball-room. The modern short-sighted beauty prefers the lorgnette of her grandmother, which she can fold and put away in her vanity bag or hang fanwise over the arm of her partner while she is dancing.

Dancing in the ballroom of the Savoy Hotel last night were several American women how had adopted the lorgnette, among them Miss Mabel Forve of Los Angeles, using one which had square eye pieces and a microscopic handle, one inch in length. Mrs. James Louis of Brooklyn used a lorgnette which had a handle no less than two feet in length; the eye pieces were oblong. Mrs. M.A. Monohan of Chicago had a pair which were heavily encrusted with precious stones and must have been worth a small fortune. Dallas [TX] Morning News 29 July 1923: p. 4

One would think that a handle two feet in length was a reflection of its user’s eccentricity, but perhaps the lady, like so many persons in middle age, needed to hold her lenses at some distance from the object of inspection.

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.

 

The New York Girl and the Dog-Catchers: 1890

(c) Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

A New York Girl’s Nerve

From the New York Sun.

A black French poodle was trotting down Fifth avenue on a breezy, bright afternoon with a fine, straight young woman. The dog seemed proud of his mistress and the girl was proud of her dog. While all was peaceful and danger seemed nowhere nigh, a rickety and creaky covered wagon, drawn by a pitiable wreck of a horse, and having on its seat two repulsive young men, came around a corner. One of the young toughs leaped to the ground and made a quick plunge for the dog, catching it by the hind leg and whirling it above his head in a circle, running as he did so toward the rear of his wagon. Quicker than it takes to say so the young woman was in front of the young tough, with one hand clutching his coat collar and the other holding the muzzle of a silver-mounted smelling bottle to his face.

“You drop my dog or I’ll shoot you,” said the girl.

The young fellow peered out of his small eyes into the determined face before him, and as he attempted to shake the girl’s hand from his collar, said: “Aw, wot yer given me, any way? Don’t yer see we’re der dog catchers, an’ you ain’t got no right ter have yer purp out without a muzzle? Der dog goes along wid us, see?”

The girl’s face took on a fiercer and still more ominous look. The dog, still in the grasp of the man, was twisting to get away and yelping with pain.

“If you do not drop my dog this instant,” said the girl, “I will fire. Do you hear me?”

The catcher dropped the dog. By this time people were coming up to see the disturbance. The young woman put the bogus weapon into the small chatelaine bag that she wore, blew a small silver whistle, and, accompanied by her joyous dog, pursued her morning walk serenely and with stately grace.

The Anaconda Standard 29 October 1890: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Just as Boston girls were labeled intellectuals and Philadelphia girls had a reputation as the souls of propriety, New York girls were said to be able to take care of themselves. Given the “mean streets,” they might walk—dodging scores of mashers, cads, and cat-callers—this was obviously a necessity. Hat-pins and stout parasols could be deployed in an emergency. This young lady showed a particularly inventive flair in using her smelling-salts bottle as a weapon. One of the Hall footmen, who is fond of thrillers at the cinema, reports that he has seen a lip-stick case used in an identical manner in a spy picture. Without the poodle, of course.

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 Touching Tribute to a Wife: 1872

A Touching Obituary

A disconsolate husband [who also happens to be the editor of a local newspaper] thus bewails the loss of his wife, and apostrophizes her memory:

Thus my wife died. No more will those loving hands pull of my boots and part my back hair, as only a true wife can. No more will those willing feet replenish the coal hod and water pail. No more will she arise amidst the tempestuous storms of winter, and gladly hie herself away to build the fire without disturbing the slumbers of the man who doted on her so artlessly. Her memory is embalmed in my heart of hearts. I wanted to embalm her body, but I found I could embalm her memory much cheaper.

I procured of Eli Mudget, a neighbor of mine, a very pretty gravestone. His wife was consumptive, and he had kept it on hand several years, in anticipation of her death. But she rallied that Spring and his hopes were blasted. Never shall I forget the poor man’s grief when I asked him to part with it. “Take it, Skinner,” said he, “and may you never know what it is to have your soul racked with disappointment, as mine has been!” and he burst into a flood of tears. His spirit was indeed utterly broken.

I had the following epistle engraved upon her gravestone: “To the memory of Tabitha, wife of Moses Skinner, Esq. gentlemanly editor of the Trombone. Terms three dollars a year invariably in advance. A kind mother and exemplary wife. Office over Coleman’s grocery, up two flights of stairs. Knock hard. ‘We shall miss thee, mother, we shall miss thee.’ Job printing solicited.”

Thus did my lacerated spirit cry out in agony, even as Rachel weeping for her children. But one ray of light penetrated the despair of my soul. The undertaker took his pay in job printing, and the sexton owed me a little account I should not have gotten any other way. Why should we pine at the mysterious ways of Providence and vicinity? (Not a conundrum.) I here pause to drop a silent tear to the memory of Tabitha Ripley, that was. She was an eminently pious woman, and could fry the best piece of tripe I ever flung under my vest. Her pick-up dinners were a perfect success, and she always doted on foreign missions.

Camden [NJ] Democrat 27 April 1872: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A touching tribute, indeed. It is not just any woman who can fry tripe to perfection, although Mr Skinner is ambiguous about whether the tripe was within his person or tucked under the vest until he could feed it to the dog.

Widowers were a pathetic lot. Sometimes they would go to any length to procure a monument for their lost loved one.

A Sorrowing Widower

A fellow living on the Indiana shore of the Ohio river, near Vevay, Indiana, having recently lost his wife, crossed in a boat to the Kentucky side, visited a grave yard there and stole a tombstone, which he placed over the remains of his lamented better half. Public Ledger [Philadelphia, PA] 19 June 1860: p. 1

This widower was late to the party, but better late than never…

THE TOMBSTONE

Meant a Good Deal and He Wanted It Right Away.

[New York Journal]

A countryman entered the office of a dealer in monuments.

“I want a stone to put at the grave of my wife,” he said.

“About what size and price?”

“I don’t know. Susan was a good woman. A trifle sharp, mebbe, at times, but she was a good woman and never got tired of working. Just seemed to sort of faded away. She brought me a tidy sum when I married her, and now I want to put up a stone that her children and me kin be proud of.”

“Did she die recently?” asked the dealer, sympathetically.

“Not so very. It will be five years next month. I thought to put up a stone sooner, but I’ve been too busy. Now I’ve got around to it, and want one right away.”

“Well, here’s a book of designs. Select what you think will suit you.”

“I don’t know much about such things, and you are in the business. I’d rather you would take $50 and do the best you can. I want sumthin’ showy. I’ll tell you how it is, and then you’ll know the kind. I want to marry the Widder Scroggs, and I heerd she said that I was too mean to even put a stone at the grave of my first wife, when she brought me all of my property. Put a stone that will catch the eye of a wider and write a nice verse on it. If $50 ain’t enough and you are sure a little more will help me with the wider put it on, and I’ll make it right soon as I marry her. She’s got a heap of property, and while it seems a lot of money to put in a stone, I reckon the chances are with it.” And the sorrow-stricken widower paid $50 and inquired where he could get a present cheap that would suit a widow. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 21 November, 1896: p. 12

Such little attentions to a late wife’s grave did not go unnoticed:

A Kansas woman fell in love and married a widower for no other reason, so she said, than that he took such excellent care of his first wife’s grave. Kansas City [MO] Star 2 April 1924: p. 26

One might do worse than to use a widower’s care-taking qualities as a benchmark when choosing a mate, although bedding plants and granite or slate slabs require a good less attention than a wife.

You may read more about widowers, tombstones, and mourning 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.

 

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.

 

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