Tag Archives: Victorian entertainments

The Kettle-drum and the Winter Picnic: 1874


Another Fashionable Folly – Winter Picnics.

In this country we have few gentlemen of leisure, and in society, ladies’ clubs to the contrary notwithstanding, you can do little without gentlemen. While these are daily absorbed in some pursuit, ladies have been compelled to abandon themselves to lounging, dressing, calling, lunching, reading novels, and other weak efforts to kill time, cultivating society principally as an evening amusement, which usually resolves into the crush and jam of a party. Now, however, in large eastern cities, ladies are turning young men who have leisure, into account. They are invited to “kettle-drums,” a species of entertainment something like a high tea, where ladies are in the preponderance, where the rigidity of full evening dress is not required, where the proceedings are easy and informal, servants only being admitted with trays of refreshments, and then excluded, the hostess herself pouring tea or chocolate for her guests, and where society plans are discussed, suggestions made, and people decapitated without mercy. The “kettle-drum” has in it the elements of immense success, but it is necessarily confined in its sphere of operations. It was at a party of that character that the notion of a “winter picnic”—another scheme to kill time of those who have nothing to do during the day—was proposed. The modus operandi of the latter is thus described: A lady volunteers the use of her house, which she is expected to decorate with evergreens in profusion—holly, mistletoe, cedar, pine and the like—and also provide tea. The rest of the eatables the gentlemen contribute. One sends a hamper of ready cooked game, another fruit, another cakes and biscuits, another the creams and ices, and so on, until the collation is complete. Wine is not favored; instead, “Russian” tea is the vogue, simply Pekoe, choice Bohea or Mandarin tea, with thin slices of lemon floating in it instead of milk. As much of the house as possible is thrown open, halls are festooned with green, tubs and pots containing plants from the conservatory, or hired from a neighboring greenhouse, are placed here and there, and the table is spread picnic fashion by the company themselves, who also restore the dishes to the baskets and wind up with a dance. We heard it rumored that a lady, prominent in society in this city, is making preparations for a “winter picnic” at an early day.

Morning Republican [Little Rock AR] 13 January 1874: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: To be Relentlessly Informative, the origins of the term “Kettle-drum” are shrouded in the mists of the seventeenth century:

The origin of the Kettle-drum as somewhat obscure, but if history speaks truly, they were very common during the reign of that gay monarch, Charles the Second. The ladies returning from the hunt, gathered together for a tea-drinking and some light refreshment, the entertainment being known as a “drum,” to which the term kettle was later prefixed. The term Kettle-drum can not, therefore, be applied to anything but a tea-drinking; and, strictly speaking, should include only a light refreshment of sandwiches, cake, and biscuits. At no afternoon entertainment, at present, unless a full dress reception, is coffee or wine fashionable, chocolate or bouillon being the substitutes; and these, as well as tea, should be served in small dainty cups, the cream and sugar being handed each guest on a salver. Cook Book of the Northwest 1887: p. 167

Naturally, it was an English importation.

The kettledrum, or five o’clock tea, is really a very admirable institution, and a great relief in the severe formality and heaviness of average English entertainments. The guests drop in a little after four, the ladies retaining their hats and wraps. There are pictures and books to discuss, music at intervals; the rooms and balconies are filled with flowers; there is presently an ethereal little refection of wafer-thin bread and butter, delicate cakes, coffee and tea, served upon exquisite porcelain; and then after a little more talk and music the company melts unceremoniously away, and the little meeting has been simple, inexpensive—not–gay, for that would not be English, but pleasantly content—an excellent thing in the right houses, and in the wrong ones an evil of bearable weight and duration. The Galaxy, Vol. 15, February 1873: p. 260

Mrs Daffodil has long served the leisured class and no fashionable folly such as a “winter picnic” would surprise her. Still, one is rather shocked at the “soft” socialites holding such a soirée indoors. Where is that rugged American spirit? Here is how a proper “winter picnic” might be achieved: 


A winter picnic may be great fun

Ice and snow offer as many inducements for out-of-doors sports as any thing we have in summer. Two things, however, are essential really to enjoy a winter picnic. The first is proper clothing. Sweaters, woolen gloves and arctics are essentials. The second is the lunch. This should be much more substantial than the summer fare. If possible, have a good fire and cook at least one hot dish. In cold weather metal is disagreeable to handle, so use enameled ware cups and plates, which won’t break if dropped by cold fingers. Ham and eggs fried over a camp fire make a hearty lunch, and if an enameled ware frying pan is used it will be found easier to manager than the heavier iron variety. A little ingenuity will suggest many tasty hot dishes and winter picnics once tried will become a favorite pastime.

Trenton [NJ] Evening Times 23 November 1915: p. 11

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.


“Kiss My Wife or Fight Me”: 1862

Kiss My Wife or Fight Me.

There are few married men who are not averse to seeing their wives kissed, but an exchange relates the particulars of a case in which a newly wedded Benedict felt himself insulted because his wife wasn’t kissed. The bridegroom in question was a stalwart young rustic, who was known as a formidable operator in a free fight. His bride was a beautiful and blooming young girl, only sixteen years of age, and the twain were at a party, where a number of young folks were enjoying themselves in the good old fashioned pawn-playing style. Every girl in the room was called out and kissed, except B., the beautiful young bride aforesaid, and although there was not a youngster present who was not dying to taste her lips, they were restrained by the presence of her herculean husband who stood regarding the party with a sullen look of dissatisfaction. They mistook the cause, however, for suddenly he expressed himself.

Rolling up his sleeves he stepped into the middle of the room, and in a tone that secured marked attention, said: “Gentlemen, I have been noticing how things have been working for some time, and I ain’t half satisfied. I don’t want to raise a fuss, but—“

“What’s the matter, John?” inquired half a dozen voices. “What do you mean? Have I done anything to hurt your feelings?”

“Yes, you have; all of you have hurt my feelings, and I’ve just got this to say about it. Here’s every girl in the room has been kissed near a dozen times a piece, and there’s my wife, who I consider as likely as any of ‘em has not had a single one to-night; and I just tell you now, if she don’t get as many kisses the balance of the night as any gal in the room, the man that slights her has got me to fight—that’s all. Now go ahead with your play!”

If Mrs. B. was slighted during the balance of the evening, we did not know it. As for ourselves we know that John had no fault to find with us individually, for any neglect on our part.

Newark [NJ] Daily Advertiser 28 October 1862: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Kissing games, with their delightful transgression of normal social restraint, were, as one might expect, exceedingly popular. In this case, a particularly mirthful frisson was added to the programme:

A new seaside sensation is the “kissing game,” in which a blindfolded gentleman is to be kissed by a lady, whose name he is to guess. The kissing, however, is done by a beardless gentleman, and when various ladies are named by the blinded victim as the authors of his felicity, the merriment naturally grows intense.

Mirror and Farmer [Manchester NH] 3 October 1874: p. 6

Things, of course, might go wrong with such a fraught frolic:  broken marriages, fatal transmission of smallpox and diphtheria, hat-pin stabbings, and clerical fisticuffs when objections were made to a kissing game at a church social: all are found in the historical record.  Mrs Daffodil was also struck by the extraordinary number of deaths associated with the entertainment and it is refreshing to find that Mr B. was not about to add to their number.

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 Lady Washington Tea Party Comes to Grief: 1877

Some Faux-Colonial Costumes, 1911

Some Faux-Colonial Ladies, 1911


They were going to get up a Lady Washington tea party for the benefit of their society. It was to come off on the night of the 22nd, and on an afternoon a few days before, several ladies met at the house of one of their number to perfect the arrangements. It was determined to give a grand affair—something especially designed to transcend the tea party by a rival organisation last year. To this purpose it became necessary to devote the most careful thought to all the details, and this was done. In fact, it would be difficult to find a more conscientious committee in a hamlet the size of Danbury When all the particulars were arranged and the various stands and minor offices assigned to the ordinary members of the society who were not present— the important question as to who should take the leading character was brought up. With a view to do without the delay and feeling of balloting, the President kindly offered to do Lady Washington herself. She said that she felt it was not a favorable selection, but she was willing to take it, so that there need be no discussion or ill-feeling. If she thought she had not placed a sufficiently modest estimation upon her qualification for the post, she was presently set at rest on that head. Her offer was received with silence.

“What do you think?” she asked.

“I’m willing to do it.”

“Lady Washington never weighed two hundred and fifty pounds,” ominously hinted a thin lady with very light eyes.

“She had fat enough on her to grease a griddle, which is more’n some folks can claim,” retorted the President, with anything but a dreamy expression to her face. The tall lady’s eyes grew a shade darker, and her lips shaped themselves as if they were saying “Hussy!” but it is probable they were not.

“As our two friends are so little likely to agree,” observed a lady whose face showed that she was about to metamorphose herself into a barrel of oil, and precipitate herself on to the troubled waters, “I would suggest that I take the character.”

“Humph.” ejaculated the President.

“Is there any objection to my being Lady Washington?” said the new party, facing abruptly the President, and emptying out the oil and filling up the barrel immediately with a superior grade of vinegar.

“I don’t know of any, if some one will demonstrate that Lady Washington had a wart on her nose,” replied the President, with unblemished serenity.

“Am I to be insulted?” hotly demanded the proprietor of the wart.

“The truth ought not to be insulting,” replied the President.

“I s’pose our President thinks she would be a perfect Lady Washington,” ironically suggested a weak-faced woman, who saw her chances for taking the character dejectedly emerge from the small end of the horn.

“I don’t know as I would be perfect in that role,” replied the President, “but as there will be strangers present at the party, I shouldn’t want them to think that the nearest approach Danbury could make to the dignity of ‘76 was a toothless woman down with the jaundice.” And the head officer smiled serenely at the ceiling.

“What do you mean, you insinuating thing?” hoarsely demanded the victim of the jaundice.

“Keep your mouth shut until you are spoken to then,” severely advised the President.

“I’m not to be dictated to by a mountain of tallow,” hissed the chromatic delegate, flouncing out of the room.

“I think we had better get another President before we go any farther,” said a sharp-faced woman very much depressed by the outlook for herself.

“It isn’t hardly time for you yet,” observed the President with a significant look at the sharp-faced woman, “we will have to arrange for Lady Washington and George Washington before we need the hatchet.”

The sharp-faced lady snatched up her muff without the faintest hesitation, and rushed out of doors to get her breath. She was immediately followed by the proprietor of the wart, the thin lady disastrously connected with a griddle, and the toothless case of jaundice. This left but the President and a little woman who had yet said nothing.

“Has it occurred to you that you would like to be Lady Washington?” asked the President, concentrating both of her eyes on a wen just under the small woman’s left ear.

“Oh. no,” gasped the small woman, impulsively covering up the excrescence with her hand.

“Then, I guess we’ll adjourn sine die” said the President, and pulling on her gloves, she composedly took her departure. And the tea party became the fragment of a gloomy memory.

Mr. Miggs of Danbury and his neighbours, J.M. Bailey, The Danbury-News Man, 1877

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is shocked, shocked, at the things these club-women get up to…

A Lady Washington tea was a popular entertainment inspired by the 1876 anniversary of the Colonies’ rebellion against their King. “Colonial” costume was donned, relics of the Revolution were displayed—all the better if they were family heirlooms, and a General Washington and Lady Washington were often selected to preside over the gala affair.

Décor was usually patriotic in theme:

Lady Washington Tea

A menu for this tea would depend largely upon the way in which the tea is to be served, whether the guests are to be seated at tables, or passed the refreshments from one, or two tables, presided over by young matrons. The young women presiding at the tables, the young girls waiting on the table, and the matrons receiving the guests, might be dressed in “Martha Washington” costumes. See prints of Martha Washington. The vestry might be decorated with flags, and the tables with red, white, and blue crepe paper. Or the paper might be omitted, and red, white, and blue china form the decoration, as blue plates, red cups, or cream pitchers and sugars, etc. Or the colors might be carried out in both the decorations and china. Small rosettes of narrow red, white, and blue ribbon, placed on each napkin, if the guests are seated, and pinned to the dress or coat, are appropriate souvenirs of the occasion. The Boston Cooking School Magazine, Vol. 6 1902, p. 336

And menus were of a suitably “historic” nature:

A Colonial Tea

This would be appropriate either for Washington’s Birthday, or Independence Day. If used for the former, it might be called a Lady Washington Tea. The list of refreshments was copied from an old cookery book of the colonial period. Of course the hostess may modify it to suit her own convenience.

“The dishes proper for a handsome tea-table are: Tea and coffee; light biscuit, with honey; cold ham, glazed thickly all over with a mixture of bread-crumbs, cream and yolk of egg; two smoked tongues, one placed in the center of the platter, the other cut into slices and laid around it; hot game pie; chicken or lobster salad; oyster patties, sweetmeats, mixed cakes, blanc-mange and plum cake.” The Party Book, Winnifred Shaw Fales, Mary Harrod Northend, 1912

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.