Thursday, March 17, 2016

Snuff and Nonsense: Tobacco in the 1890s

Jack.  Well, yes, I must admit I smoke.
Lady Bracknell.  I am glad to hear it.  A man should always have an occupation of some kind.  There are far too many idle men in London as it is.

This blog debuted with a post about cigarettes. Cigarettes themselves were an invention of the nineteenth century. Though the Mayans were using tobacco in the ninth century, tobacco wasn't rolled in fine paper until it went to Spain in the seventeenth century. The Spanish called this a 'papelate.' A papelate went to France in 1830, where they called it a cigarette. French people and cigarettes were two of Oscar Wilde's favourite things. In a letter to his brother, he once said: "Charming people should smoke gold-tipped cigarettes or die."

Gold-tipped cigarettes (circa 1890)
While Oscar's father may have enjoyed the ocassional cigarette, he probably preferred snuff. Long before Oscar Wilde and the cigarette, the ritualistic habits of tobacco users appealed to Europeans all over the world.
Snuff's associations with fashion made it irresistible to British society, whose fondness for rules and tendency to develop tobacco rituals led them to develop a complex etiquette for snuffing, against which they could measure the relative social rank, or intellectual potential, of a stranger. An example is provided by that venerable chronicle of idiocy, the Tatler: 'I cannot see either his person or his habit in his letter, but I shall call at Charles [Charles Lillie, a French perfumer and snuff seller] and know the shape of his snuff box, by which I can settle his character.' -- Iain Gately, "Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization" (2001).
Smoking cigarettes, gold-tipped or otherwise, didn't really catch on until the 1880s, after an American made pre-rolled cigarettes cheaper. James Bonsack lived in Virginia, where his father operated a woolen mill. By tinkering with one of the carding machines from his father's factory, Bonsack created a cigarette rolling machine, capable of producing ten thousand cigarettes per hour.  To put that number in perspective, in an 1897 cigarette rolling contest, the "Queen of the hand-rollers," Lily Lavender rolled 162 cigarettes in thirty minutes. All cigarettes were rolled by hand, until Bonsack got the patent on his machine in 1881.

Diagram from James Albert Bonsack's patent application
(U.S. patent 238,640, granted March 8, 1881). 
"Duke of Durham"
(circa 1890s).
James Duke of W. Duke Sons and Company in Durham had 125 hand rollers producing 250,000 cigarettes a day, when his company tried the Bonsack cigarette machine in 1883. One machine could do the work of 48 people, but other companies were reluctant to try it because they thought people preferred hand-rolled cigarettes; this allowed Duke's company a chance to be the first. By 1888, Duke replaced all of his company's hand-rollers with machines.

By the 1890s, French and British cigarette companies were using various types of cigarette rolling machines, which lowered the cost of cigarettes everywhere. Their popularity increased at this new lower price, so that in the 1890s younger men smoked, whereas older men might have still been attached to the habit of snuff.

Many women, especially feminists who were fighting against social convention, smoked. Though it was typically frowned upon for them to do so in public, its reported that many celebrity women were smoking at the opening of the Dorothy Restaurant on Oxford Street in June 1889.

In Robert Proctor's "Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition" (2011), Bosnack's smoking machine is partially responsible for setting off the smoking epidemic. Perhaps, as Lady Bracknell says in "The Importance of Being Ernest" (1895) there were far too many idle people in London; idle hands are, as they say, the devil's workshop.

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Monday, March 7, 2016

For Rich or Poor: Creepy Victorian Food

Man people still didn't have a kitchen at home in the 1890s. In tenement houses, whole families lived in a single room , which might be shared with as many as six other whole families. Eating out, consequently, was something many people did, though not in the nicest restaurants and maybe not the most appealing dishes.

This blog brings us ten weird Victorian street food, including: sheep’s trotters (those are the feet), hot eels, saloop, plum duff (basically Christmas cake), pickled whelks, donkey or ass’s milk, bloaters, ginger beer, rice milk, and blood.

Saloop was originally a kind of milky tea that dated back to the seventeenth century and was made from ground orchid roots. The stuff you would buy on the streets of 1890s London was made from sassafras bark and sweetened with sugar. I want to try some because “sassafras” and “saloop” are both words that are fun to say. Sassafras bark thickened the drink and worked as a stimulant in place of coffee. Saloop’s popularity declined when people started thinking of it as a remedy for venereal disease, making public consumption of the beverage a little awkward.

Pickled oysters, whelks, and periwinkles were cheaper because the pickling process preserved them, obviously! There’s an old British insult that you “couldn’t run a whelk stall,” and that refers to these enterprises, which were regarded as very simple to run.

Donkey or ass’s milk was more readily available in winter and popular with the ladies, who thought consuming dairy made them appear more youthful. I think that Victorian rice milk must have been interchangeable along with the popular curds and whey and also popular with the ladies. Lady street vendors were usually the one’s selling rice milk, which was more like rice pudding and, like all of these street foods, consumed on the street.

The author of the blog that listed all the foods above admits that blood was more of a barn food than a street food and that it was used to treat consumption. People, often ladies, with consumption would drink it by the glass, hot and fresh from the animal.

It is so easy to read a list like that and think that poor Victorian Londoners in the 1890s ate a load of disgusting food, but then we find this recipe for brain balls, which were used as a garnish for turtle soup. This would be prepared for someone, who had a kitchen, and they probably paid someone to make it! Just reading a recipe that uses actual animal brains is creepy!
1. To Cook Brain: Combine all ingredients for in medium saucepan, except for brain; simmer 30 minutes. Add brain, simmer gently 10 to 15 minutes until soft but firm (about 180 degrees on an instant read thermometer). Transfer to plate, covering with damp towel. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until cold. Chop fine; reserve.
2. To Make Brain Balls: Combine all ingredients, except brain, until mixture is smooth. Add chopped brain and mix until combined. Scoop out 1 teaspoon portions and drop in dried fresh breadcrumbs. Heat oil in 10-inch skillet over medium heat until oil reaches 375 degrees; cook balls, until golden and crisp all around, about 2 to 4 minutes; transfer to paper-towel lined plate and season with salt.
Did I mention that was a garnish for turtle soup? Mock turtle soup, as in Alice in Wonderland, was pretty common, but there was an actual restaurant in London that kept aquariums full of turtles to assure patrons that they were getting authentic turtle soup.

I’d still rather eat a bowl of turtle soup garnished with brain balls than eat a ladies’ complexion wafer, which was laced with arsenic. “Doctors” promoted arsenic to help ladies achieve the pale look that was so fashionable at the time. The arsenic helped in this process by killing your red blood cells. The Ultimate History Project has a lot more information on the arsenic eaters here, if you are interested.

The question "would you like some ass milk with your brain balls and turtle soup?" makes it easier to understand the popularity of fasting girls.

Fasting girls were women, who promoted the idea that women didn’t need to eat to live. Of course, they had people sneaking them food, but these women would go extended periods of time not eating, eating very little, or pretending not to eat. Some became famous for it, some died tragically in their attempt.

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Margaret McMillan, Lady Meux's Paid Companion

"Men come here, distinguished men, but not their women. I am outside ... It is only right to tell you, that it isn't a good thing for you to come here. You might not get another post." Source.
According to Devon Cox, these were the words of the socialite, Lady Meux, to the Christian Socialist, Margaret McMillan. In the end, it was Meux who lost her taste for McMillan.

A member of the Fabian Society, McMillan did volunteer work in the poorer neighbourhoods of London. We remember her for the work she did to improve the lives of children to which end she wrote books on early childhood education and pioneered the play-centred approach that we use to teach our children today.

When she went to Meux that day, McMillan was looking for a job; Meux needed to hire a companion. A well-born, or well-raised, woman in England during the 18th to the mid-20th century could find work as a governess or a lady's companion -- literally a companion to a woman who had more money. This position evolved from the position of a lady-in-waiting, which were traditionally high-born women, who took the position for status of associating with higher born women thereby improving their marriage prospects. In the 1890s, women, like McMillan, applied for the job because they needed the money.

As I've mentioned before, Meux came from humble origins, but she married well, even though her in-laws couldn't stand her. Rosaleen Joyce calls Meux "a rags-to-riches barmaid." Many people disliked Meux and spread rumours that she once worked as a prostitute. During McMillan's interview, Meux told her that she was "a woman not received," by which she meant that Society women shunned her. Working for Meux, McMillan's reputation would be tainted by Meux's -- at least that was the warning.

McMillan took the job and lasted three years.
McMillan became her companion. Lady Meux saw in her the potential to become a great actress and paid for her training. She was most displeased, however, at McMillan's public display of socialist views. McMillan stood up for her principles and left Lady Meux's employment, despite her lack of financial means.
Both women went on to live amazing lives, which just goes to show that one thing not working out doesn't mean all things won't work out, even if everything turns out differently than you thought it would.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Greenaway Vogue

Kate Greenaway was the author and artist of Victorian childhood by the 1890s. She drew the idyllic images of Victorian children that we think of today and she drew many of the images children were looking at. Biographers compare her work and her life to that of Beatrix Potter. During the 1890s, the aesthetic she created was called Greenaway vogue.

Born in 1846, London has since absorbed Hoxton, the romantic community Greenaway grew up in. Her father was a draughtsman and an engraver and her mother ran a dress shop.
"I had such a very happy time when I was a child, " Greenaway is reported as saying in M. H. Spielmann and G. S. Lanyard's 1905 biography Kate Greenaway, "and, curiously, was so very much happier then than my brother and sister, with exactly the same surroundings. I suppose my imaginary life made me one long continuous joy-filled everything with a strange wonder and beauty. Living in that childish wonder is a most beautiful feeling-I can so well remember it. There was always something more-behind and beyond everything-to me. The golden spectacles were very very big." Source.
Greenaway's parents both encouraged her to draw. As a child, her drawings were often inspired by current events, like the Great Indian War of 1857, which affected her imagination deeply and haunted her dreams. Only eleven years old, her drawings from this time depict women and children fleeing. By age seventeen, she worked skillfully with watercolours and ink, and had won many awards for her artwork.

Greenaway attended the Royal Academy of Art in 1858 and continued to establish herself as an artist, inspired by the Pre-Raphelite Brotherhood. She sold her art on greeting cards and was commissioned by numerous publications continuously, especially to illustrate children's books. Fashion and art circles began recognizing her name and she developed a life-long friendship with John Ruskin, but her big break came when she published her own book.

From Under the Window (1879).
Greenaway's first book, Under the Window: Pictures & Rhymes for Children (1879) was her first in the sense that she both wrote and illustrated it. Selling over 100,000 copies, Under the Window was a big success (sold more than 100,000 copies) and gave Greenaway's the break she had been waiting for as a children's book illustrator and author. Under the Window so popular that the term "Greenaway vogue" was coined in its aftermath.

Greenaway paid careful attention to the clothes that children wore in her books. The fashions harkened back to earlier days, before Industrialization in the 1830s. To get the right looks for the children's clothes, Greenaway designed the dresses herself and used dolls, or had children model them for her drawings. Rather than seeing the styles at old fashioned, Greenaway's readers and their parents idealized them, treasuring their simple innocence. This view was reflected in the fashion industry; Liberties of London developed a clothing line directly inspired by Greenaway's art. Clothing and shoe manufacturers approached Greenaway seeking permission to put her name on their products.

Marigold Garden (1885)
During her career, Greenaway illustrated more than 150 books, but Under the Window and Marigold Garden (1885) are the only two for which she provided both the pictures and the text. Under the Window was groundbreaking as one of the earliest designer picture books, and its popularity caused it to be imitated. Other publishers began copying its style within weeks of its release.

Afternoon Tea (1880), by one of
Greenaway's imitators.
From my own childhood, I remember Kate Greenaway's Doll Book (1987). The book provides tips and patterns for making doll clothes inspired by Greenaway's books. I had little sisters and wanted to make clothes for their dolls, even though I was outgrowing dolls by that time. They say that she was one of the three most popular creators of children's books in the late nineteenth century, but I think she was the most influential of her day.

A copy of the book I had as a child.
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