Real Regency Heroes: Augustin Fresnel

If you follow this blog, you know I occasionally delve into the lives of lesser known individuals who made great contributions during our favorite time period. Since British and French scientists corresponded and compared notes despite the war which dominated the period, today we’re veering away from the UK to introduce you to a Frenchman who impacted every nation that had sea commerce in the early 19th century and hugely changed our knowledge about optical science. (Also I’m taking you to visit a tiny museum in the U.S.!!) What do lighthouses and the Regency period have in common?? Read on…

I happened across this “real Regency hero” back in August when fellow Risky sister Elena Greene and her two daughters stopped in for a quick visit with me. I live in “the ocean state” where we are, naturally, blessed with lots of shoreline and also lots of lighthouses.

Elena and daughter Gaile at Beavertail Point in Rhode Island

The Beavertail Light on the island of Jamestown in Rhode Island was one of the earliest established in the American colonies. The original lighthouse, built in 1749, was only the third such structure in the country. The lighthouse standing there now is the third at that location (built in 1856) and also includes a small museum.

Always alert to a man in a cravat, on a wall there I encountered Monsieur Fresnel, a Regency era engineer and physicist who made great strides in the science of optics and in doing so, also invented the Fresnel lens. I wanted to know more!

Augustin-Jean Fresnel (1788-1827) was the second of four boys born to a French architect and his wife in the Normandy area of France. He was a sickly child (he suffered from tuberculosis) and did not show great promise in his early years when he was schooled (primarily in religion) at home. But in 1801 at age 13 he was sent with his elder brother Louis to the École Centrale at Caen. Fresnel’s aptitude for his studies improved there, and after three years he was accepted into the École Polytechnique, a prestigious school of higher learning south of Paris.

An uncle who was a prominent artist and professor at the school (Léonor Mérimée) took interest in Fresnel, who showed talent in drawing and geometry, winning a prize in geometry in his first year there. After he graduated in 1806, he went on to study engineering at the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées (National School of Bridges and Roads). He graduated in 1809, the same year his brother Louis, who had become a lieutenant in the French artillery, was killed in action in Spain.

Fresnel’s training led directly to employment as an engineer with the national Corps des Ponts et Chaussées, for whom he worked (with numerous approved leaves of absence) the rest of his life. A skilled and valued engineer, Fresnel also became a physicist due to an intellectual curiosity and natural ability for scientific inquiry that compelled him to continually question and test aspects of the world around him. His interest in optical science is what led to his greatest contributions to both scientific theory and practical applications that changed the world.

In the Beavertail Light Museum, Fresnel’s significance was reduced to a single, although important, card:

That really doesn’t tell us the story. He did so much more than this! How did he come to make this important invention, or develop the important theories about optics that changed so much science? As so often happens, a confluence of circumstances and timing helped out.

In 1814 after seeing a notice about work by French physicist Jean-Baptiste Biot (1774–1862), Fresnel’s curiosity about the nature of light and the science of optics was piqued and he began to study it and perform experiments on his own. A suspension from work (after he offered his services to the royalist cause during Bonaparte’s “100 Days”) ultimately gave him time off to further his studies.

There were two conflicting theories leading the optics field at this time. One was the “corpuscular theory” based on Descartes (1637) and favored by Isaac Newton, attributing a particle nature to light, and the other was the “wave theory” developed by Christiaan Huygens (1690). Neither theory could explain some of light’s observable phenomena—diffraction, for example, or polarization. No modifications in these 17th century theories had been proposed until the British polymath Thomas Young (1773–1829) published new work in 1801.

Lacking exposure to Young’s work, Fresnel duplicated much of that in his early experimentations. However, thanks to contacts through his uncle, Fresnel eventually met François Arago (1786–1853), one of several French physicists working in optic science at that time. While unimpressed with Fresnel’s first efforts, Arago did suggest readings and put him on a path to study Young’s work as well as other physicists developing optic theories, including Biot, André-Marie Ampère (1775–1836) and Étienne-Louis Malus (1775–1812).

Of these great minds, only Young favored Huygens’s wave theory, but Fresnel found much to like there. As he continued his explorations, he submitted papers to the Institute Polytechnique that were evaluated by Arago, who came to recognize that Fresnel was contributing new and important information to the field. Once Bonaparte was finally defeated in 1815, Fresnel was reinstated with the engineering corps, but his influence as a supporter of the winning side allowed him to obtain a leave of absence to continue his scientific work. When that expired, Arago intervened through his contacts to get Fresnel yet another leave, allowing him to come to Paris.

During this time Fresnel invented his famous double mirror lens as part of his experiments on diffraction. Between working and leaves of absence, Fresnel continued to work on his diffraction and other optic research and ultimately in 1819 won the prestigious Grand Prize awarded by the French Academy of Sciences.

His work on lighthouse lenses also benefited from circumstances and François Arago. In June, 1819, Fresnel was named to the Commission on Lighthouses, a body formed by Napoleon and administered by the Corps des Ponts, Fresnel’s employer. Arago, a member, recommended him. Fresnel had been working on a type of “stepped lens”, unaware that his work paralleled that being pursued by the British scientist David Brewster. When he made his first presentation on it to the commission in August, the similarities were pointed out, but Fresnel was still given a budget of 500 francs to have a prototype made, and when it was publicly demonstrated in 1820, it surpassed all other known lenses.

The Cordouan Lighthouse today

Fresnel went on to create both rotating and fixed lenses that surpassed his first design, while continuing to pursue the other optic theories he was developing. The rotating lens was tested publicly from atop the unfinished Arc de Triomphe in April 1822, witnessed by not only the commission members but also the king, at a distance of 32km. In 1823, the lens was installed in France’s oldest lighthouse, the Cordouan Light. Built in 1611, it still stands today, and with the extensions added in 1790, is the tenth tallest such lighthouse in the world as well as the last inhabited lighthouse left in France, although Fresnel’s lens was replaced in 1854.

Height added to Cordouan in 1790

Fresnel’s fixed lens was installed in the lighthouse at Dunkirk in 1825. Fresnel continued to improve on the design of his lighthouse lenses, offering several versions in different sizes; he also produced a mapped plan for equipping France with a system of 51 lighthouses where each would have a unique light pattern due to variations in the lens designs and sizes so that mariners could distinguish between them.

Fresnel Lens at Beavertail Lighthouse Museum

His health was deteriorating badly by this time, which only spurred him to work harder, pushed to complete his work before death should take him.

Fresnel contributed significantly to the science of optics and his development of the “transverse-wave theory” was credited by some as being as important to science as Newton’s gravitational theory. In 1825 he was elected to the Royal Society of London, and in 1827, he was awarded their prestigious Rumford Medal on the recommendation of John Herschel, with whom he had corresponded to answer questions about wave theory.

But Fresnel was dying from tuberculosis. Arago arrived to deliver the Rumford Medal to him just eight days before he died. But his legacy in marine safety was unmistakable: Wikipedia notes “Within a century of Fresnel’s initial stepped-lens proposal, more than 10,000 lights with Fresnel lenses were protecting lives and property around the world.(ref. Levitt, 2013) And further, “Fresnel managed to construct the world’s first coherent theory of light, showing in retrospect that his methods are applicable to multiple types of waves.” Until the next advance in optic science (electromagnetism) was made by James Maxwell in 1865 and overshadowed Fresnel’s work, Fresnel’s discoveries were considered on a par with those of Isaac Newton in significance.

Did you know?

If you want more details (and can make sense of a lot of science), Wikipedia’s long biographical article offers a lot more information. And if you are curious about Fresnel’s lens, here is a close-up of the information at the Beavertail Light’s museum:

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Release a Duology?

I got the rights back to my “RIPE” series and my wonderful cover artist (and real life BFF) is currently working on new covers for them. I can’t wait to show you what she comes up with!!! One of the opportunities this opens up for me is to release a mirror version of RIPE FOR SEDUCTION with more of Phillip and Margo. One thing I’m definitely going to do is add their reunion scene back into the book.

When I started RIPE FOR SEDUCTION, I wasn’t aware that the Devere siblings were going to be of the “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” variety, but oh, what fun they were to write once I figured it out! Roland Devere, our hero, is a joker who never takes anything too seriously. He’s the embodiment of the English gentleman’s credo “never turn down a bet.” And I had just the bet for him. One based on a real offer made by an eighteenth century rake to a furious widow who quite neatly turned the tables on him. It’s a story I’ve been wanting to write for years. And it made me think of the wonderful ROUND IRELAND WITH A FRIDGE (by Tony Hawk, not the skateboarder). If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend tracking down a copy.

As I began writing the story of Roland and Lady Olivia Carlow (the victim of a bigamous marriage in RIPE FOR SCANDAL), there was undeniable chemistry between Olivia’s father Philip (a sunny man of intellect) and Roland’s very (very!) naughty widowed sister Margo. Margo was an utter surprise to me. She took one look at Philip and decided, “That. Yes, I’ll have that.” And so she did.

Here’s the scene I was forced to trim. I’m really looking forward to restoring it to its proper place in the book. What do you think? Should I release a duology with more from Margo and Phillip? Let me know in the comments.

Philip & Margo’s Reconciliation

Philip found the door Devere had directed him to easily enough. With every step he was half afraid one of her servants would appear to say the comtesse had commanded them to send him away.
He pushed the door open. Margo lay in her bath. The long tub was draped in linen to protect her from splinters, but she wasn’t wearing a bathing shift as a Frenchwoman would have done.
She opened her eyes at the sound of his boots on the floor. Philip shut the door behind him and stood waiting to see what would happen. From across the room he heard the thump of Maldon’s tail and then the hound’s low-pitched whine of greeting.
“It seems a long way to come for an ancient, one-eyed dog,” Margo said.
Philip nodded as he tossed his hat aside and shrugged off his surtout. He draped the loose overcoat over the back of the chair that he dragged to the side of the tub. He dangled his fingers in the water. “It’s a very special dog, though.”
Margo made no attempt to cover herself. She put out one hand, water spiraling down her arm and over her breast.
“Hand me the sponge.”
Philip did as he was bid, then watched with great appreciation as she wet the large sponge and sluiced it over her limbs. One dark curl slipped from the wrap that held her hair up. It spread itself over her breast, the tip curling around her nipple, like the hair of an undine.
“Apparently Paxton will not be returning with the promised towels. Could you bring me my dressing gown? I hate a tepid bath.”
Philip crossed the room to fetch the dressing gown that was spread across the foot of the bed. Maldon padded over demanding to be greeted, and Philip gave the hound a scratch.
Margo stood up as he approached with her dressing gown and his jaw dropped. He’d never really seen her naked. Not like this. Just furtively in dark rooms as they tumbled into beds, and even it wasn’t like this. She looked like the statue of Venus he’d seen in Florence as a boy making the grand tour: rounded perfection, with long legs and two dimples where her hips met her back.

The earl helped her out of the tub and held the robe while Margo slipped her arms into it. In truth, her bath wasn’t yet cold, but she couldn’t stand to have the conversation she feared they were about to have naked. She wanted enough on to be able to storm out if the situation called for it.
Arlington looked as though he’d swallowed his tongue. Good. Margo tugged the small linen towel from her head and let her hair fall. She used it to dry her face and hands.
The earl simply stood and watched. She didn’t want to talk, or explain. She wanted to drag him to the bed. What would he do if she tried? Margo tossed the towel aside, stepped into the earl so they were chest to chest, and kissed him.
His hand knotted in her robe, pinning her to him. Margo felt a surge of wickedness lick though her. He kissed her roughly, hungrily, but when she attempted to steer him toward the bed, he stiffened and stopped her.
“Stop trying to distract me,” he said.
Margo draped her arms about his neck and leaned back just enough to see his face. His mouth was serious, but his eyes were smiling. “As you wish, my lord.”
Her dressing gown hung open. He twitched it shut. “I didn’t come all the way to Paris to bed you.”
Margo wrinkled her nose at him. His cock was hard against her belly. Whatever his intention, bedding her was most certainly on his mind.
“Or not just to bed you,” he added. His hands slid around her waist, fingers fluttering over her hips.
“No,” Margo said, “You also came for your dog.”
“Damn the dog.”
She raised one brow. “I wasn’t going to give him back anyway.”
“Consider him a wedding present,” the earl said.
Margo shook her head. “Think of the scandal.”
“Which you’ll love.” He cupped her cheek with one hand, his thumb sliding over her lips.
“And your daughter?”
“Who do you think sent me?” he said before kissing her.

Posted in Isobel Carr, Plot bunnies, Writing | 1 Comment

Regency Widows

I can recall reading somewhere (a long time ago) that, sociologically, the happiest population group are widows. The logic of this argument was that a widow had experienced a happy married life, possibly with children and now grandchildren, and with widowhood was now able to live a life of independence in decisions about spending, where to live, activities, friends. I presume the statistics assume the widow has an adequate income for her needs because poverty certainly spoils everything.

I’m not certain how true this conclusion is in today’s world, but I can say that widowhood in the Regency had its advantages, especially for those Regency ladies who entered into loveless marriages of convenience or for status and wealth.

When a Regency lady married, she, in effect, became the property of her husband. She lost all identity as a person; she was not considered separate from her husband. He existed legally; she did not. Of course, that meant that she could rack up debts, like the exorbitant gambling debts incurred by the Duchess of Devonshire, and her husband must pay them. He might even be held responsible for any illegal acts she engaged in. On the other hand, marriage meant all the wife’s property became her husband’s.

Her only protection was her dower rights, that is, the rights to one third the income of her deceased husband’s estates, which could be a lot or very little, depending. Most aristocratic wives had marriage settlements negotiated by their fathers or guardians before marriage which would stipulate how much she would get if her husband died. This settlement would include the dowry she brought into the marriage. Her husband’s will could also bequeath her money and property. In Sense and Sensibility, Mr. Dashwood did not provide a will to protect his wife and daughters. Thus the income Mrs. Dashwood had to live of was the income from her dowry.

A widow could also inherit her personal belongings-her clothing, jewelry, personal furniture, and other personal adornments. So it benefited a wife to encourage her husband to buy her jewels. She even retained her husband’s status, keeping her title, albeit with Dowager placed before it.

So an aristocratic widow who had a generous marriage settlement, a large dowry, and lots of expensive personal belongings could live a very comfortable life.

Even more, though, she could live a comfortable life of vastly increased independence. She could spend her money as she chose. She could pursue whatever interested her. She could run a business, if she liked. And, unlike the unmarried, closely chaperoned ingenue she once was, she could love whomever she liked. Regency widows were permitted their love affairs without scandal as long as they were discreet.

If the widow remarried, she’d lose all those advantages.

But in our books, we want our widow heroines to remarry, don’t we? We want them to find true love and a happily ever after.

Do you like widow heroines in your Regencies? What are the advantages to the author in using them?

Posted in Regency, Research, Uncategorized, Weddings | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

“Faux Regency” –Genre Art of the later 19th century

One stumbles across them frequently when hunting for research pictures showing daily life in the Regency –those highly romanticized, sometimes charming and sometimes comical depictions of “Regency life” by later artists looking back with nostalgia and perhaps an eye to commercial success.

“Interesting Strangers” by Edmund Blair Leighton

When I have used any as Facebook covers they always stir interest. Love them? Hate them? Inspired by them? Opinions vary, and of course, also may depend on the skill of the artist who painted the pictures. Some were made with great care for authentic details and some were not. “Genre painting” features small moments of domestic life, often the rustic life of country people. “Historic genre painting” adds the element of looking back in time. The elegance of the extended Regency era seemed to appeal quite a few of the artists working in the late 19th century when genre painting was at its peak of popularity.

Why did genre paintings, especially “historic genre paintings” gain such popularity in the middle and late 19th century? Sources seem to agree that the key was the growing art market among the middle classes that mushroomed during the century due to the industrial revolution, which affected every aspect of life. Artists painted what they knew would sell, and romanticized, sentimental glimpses of intimate daily life from a time period (and often, social class) not familiar to the clients were what was in demand. Later, nostalgia for what had once been familiar also drove part of the market, hence the popularity of paintings that captured vanishing idyllic pastoral scenes. Who were these genre scene artists? How long did this art trend last?

A Rogues Gallery of Genre Artists

1) Edmund Blair Leighton (1852 –1922)

The premiere and most prolific artist of Regency genre scenes, Leighton’s paintings, glimpses of stories captured in a moment, are still popular and many of his Regency and medieval scenes will be recognized as familiar. He was the son of an artist, Charles Leighton, but was only two when his father died. His family knew how difficult it could be to earn a living as an artist and apprenticed him to a tea merchant firm, but he practiced drawing at night and took classes. When he came of age his family agreed that his passion for art was undeniable and no longer stood in his way. Eventually he was able to take classes at the Royal Academy. His work became popular and received critical acclaim, but the Royal Academy never made him a member or gave him any recognition. He was a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. He was most active between 1877-1914. A partial gallery of his work can be found at and more can be found easily by plugging his name into Pinterest or simply Googling him.

“Waiting for the Coach” by E. Blair Leighton

2) Vittorio Reggianini (1858 – 1938)

An Italian version of Edmund Leighton, Reggianini was part of a group of artists called the “Costume Painters,” whose attention to the details and textures of the costumes on their models was paramount. Reggianini painted an idealized version of upper class European life in the early 19th century, like Leighton, capturing tantalizing moments in time, often humorous, that suggest stories untold. His invariably satin-clad ladies and especially his satin-suited gentlemen are very recognizable if not exactly authentic. The label “salon painting” has also been applied to his work for the elegant settings in which he placed his scenes. Born in Moderna, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts there and later, after removing to Florence to pursue his art for some time, he returned to become a professor at the school. For samples of his work view:

Salon Scene by Vittorio Reggianini

Other genre artists who worked in Florence then and did similar work under similar inspiration were Federico Andreotti, Francesco Vinea and Joseph Frederic Soulacroix. The group sometimes even shared the same models and used the same props, although many focused more on the 18th century. Other “costume painters” grouped with them include Tito Conti and Edoardo Gelli.

I am always amused by the hairstyles on their models, for they always seem to reflect the “turn-of-the-century” fashions more than the historical time period of the painted scenes –like putting a Gibson Girl up-do on a Regency heroine, kind of the same way Hollywood’s hairdressers historically made movie actresses in historical roles still somehow reflect the current modes in hair. 

The Letter by Vittorio Reggianini

3) George Goodwin Kilburne (1839–1924)

As prolific as Leighton and at least as popular, Kilburne had a head start by being born more than a decade earlier. Born in Norfolk and educated in Kent, at age 15 he was apprenticed as a wood engraver to the Dalziel Brothers in London. Here he honed his talent for fine detail that became a hallmark of his later paintings. In 1860 he set out to become a professionally recognized painter of oils and watercolors. Like Leighton, he tended to portray the elegant upper classes and feature beautiful young women in his genre works, which soon brought him success. He exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1863 and 1918 and also at a great many other of the recognized art societies and in galleries all around the UK. He was made a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters in 1883. A large selection of his work can be seen at:

“The Music Room” by George Goodwin Kilburne

4) Heywood Hardy (1843-1933)

Hardy, who specialized in landscapes and animals, became best known for his many paintings of both historical and late Victorian contemporary hunting and riding scenes. He was the youngest of ten siblings, three of whom also became genre artists, along with two of his cousins (see below). At age 17 Heywood set out on his own after a fight with his father, James Hardy Sr., also an artist, and within five years had two landscapes accepted for exhibit at the Royal Academy. He left England that same year to study in Paris and only returned five years later. During the 1870’s he continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy and studied animals and animal anatomy to increase the realism of his artwork. He worked with Professor Alfred Henry Garrod, Head of the Scientific Department at the London Zoo, and was in much demand for making paintings of famous hunt groups and sporting events. He was a member and/or founder of four Royal art societies, but like Leighton did not receive recognition from the Royal Academy despite exhibiting there to acclaim many times. For a mini-gallery of some of his work go here:

I currently have this picture of his on my FB cover: it’s called “Hounds First, Gentlemen”. It’s not that I like the idea of fox hunting, it’s my admiration for this artist, not just for his prolific output or his talent at depicting horses and other animals, but for his compositional skill and his imagination in choosing moments in time to capture. 

“Hounds First” by Heywood Hardy

5) More Hardys:

 James Hardy Jr (1832-1889) the eldest of James Hardy’s ten offspring, was never as successful as Heywood, starting out in Bath where he had a studio on the first floor of the Hardy family house at 30 Henrietta Street, but removing to Bristol in 1859 after almost landing in debtor’s gaol. Where Heywood’s specialty was horses, James’s was dogs. His career improved when he began to paint hunting scenes set in Scotland, but he also painted genre cottage scenes depicting country life. David Hardy and a sister, Ada Hardy, were the other siblings of Heywood Hardy who became genre artists. Their cousins formed the Cranbrook Colony (see next).

6) The Cranbrook Colony

Frederick Daniel Hardy (1827-1911). The third of the eight children fathered by George Hardy (Sr.), cousin to the other Hardy artists, began his career studying music, but soon switched to art, following in his older brother George’s footsteps. In rapid succession Frederick Hardy had his first pictures accepted for exhibit at the Royal Academy (1851), married (1852), and the same year that his first son was born (1853) relocated to a house in Cranbrook in Kent. Within a few years he was joined by his fellow artist, mentor and close friend Thomas Webster. They took an old house in the High Street and set up studios there.

More friends, including John Callcott Horsley, and George Bernard O’Neill, plus Frederick’s eldest brother George Hardy (1822-1909) also came. As a group the “Cranbrook Colony” became known for painting “old master-ish” scenes of domestic life; cooking and washing, children playing and other depictions of rural Kent. But let us note, country life, even 30 years after the Regency, was only beginning to change. The cottage scenes may feature figures clothed in Victorian clothing but otherwise they are not very different from earlier times. Nostalgia definitely infused these works, which were very popular with the rising middle classes. Partial gallery:

7) Augustus Edwin Mulready (1844–1904)

The son and grandson of well-known artists, Mulready struggled to be recognized beyond their shadow. His mother and uncle were artists, too. He was younger than most of the Cranbrook Colony so only operated on their fringe as a visitor rather than a resident. Besides, like Dickens he was interested in social issues, and his genre paintings tend to depict not rural idylls but harder realities from the streets of Victorian London –poor flower sellers and street urchins, for instance. But may be of interest to those writing Victorian settings.

8) Thomas Webster (1800-1886)

Webster’s best known works depict genre scenes from just after the Regency, in the early Victorian period, like the other Cranbrook Colony artists, although he was older than the other members in that group. He began his career in music, as a chorister first in Windsor and then at the St. James Palace chapel, through his family’s royal connections. But by age 21 he had given up music in favor of art, studying at the Royal Academy. He exhibited frequently there and at the British Institute from 1824-1878. He was elected as an associate of the RA in 1840, and made a full RA member in 1846. Many of his pictures, depicting school or village scenes, were made into popular prints. His last picture was exhibited in 1879. Wikimedia has a good collection of his work:

“In Sickness and Health” by Thomas Webster

9) William Collins (1788-1847) was another genre and landscape artist, notably the father of author Wilkie Collins (originator of English detective fiction). Collins is included here for, although his genre pictures were not “historical” since he lived during the extended Regency period, he often sentimentally portrayed children and the rural poor enjoying nature, and while he was successful and popular during his lifetime, his greatest popularity came after his death in mid-century when the surge of interest in these types of pictures swelled. He studied at the Royal Academy and advanced rapidly, exhibiting his first picture in 1807, his first year there. He was made an associate of the RA in 1814 after several major sales of his works, and became a full member in 1820. He traveled to Italy, Germany and Scotland. He exhibited a total of 124 paintings at the Royal Academy between 1807-1846, and 45 pictures at the British Institute. Some of his pictures were immortalized in very popular prints.

“Children Playing with Puppies” by William Collins

10) Wilhelm Menzler Casel (1846-1926)

Menzler was a German artist who enjoyed painting highly romanticized and nostalgic scenes of beautiful young women in gardens and flowers that harkened back to earlier times, some vaguely “Regency” in style. Born in Kassel, Northern Germany, he was active in Munich where he studied with van Lerins. (I have not been able to find anything about van Lerins despite several other artists who also supposedly studied under this artist. Nor have I learned why some references include Casel as part of Menzler’s name and some don’t.) Menzler went on to exhibit in Vienna from 1891.

“In the Garden” by Wilhelm Menzler

11) Henri Guillaume Schlesinger (1814-93)

Born in Frankfurt, he studied art at the academy in Vienna, and continued his studies in Paris. From 1840 to 1889 he exhibited at the Paris Salon, and then at the Salon des Artistes Français, of which he was a member. While not so readily identified as a genre painter, his subjects do tend to be domestic scenes but often set in foreign locales. Many of his works feature beautiful and exotically-garbed women. I didn’t find much about him, but have included him for this intriguing and very Regency-era wedding picture: 

12) James Shaw Crompton (1853–1916) Although there are a number of Regency-set pictures created by him, I’ve found nothing about him beyond his dates. Many of his “historic genre” paintings are watercolors, and he apparently traveled to the middle east as he has several works with Egyptian and Arabian settings. His genre pictures vary from those with a large number of figures, such as “None but the Brave Deserve the Fair” (wedding picture), “Welcome Home” (war veteran returning to celebration), but others are deceptively simple, featuring only a central figure or two such as “Lady Indesposed [sic],” “The Bookshop” and “A Gentleman at Breakfast.”

“Welcome Home” by James Shaw Crompton

A clue about one painting leads me to believe some of his pictures were published as prints in the Pears Annual, a magazine printed by the Pears Soap Company that was intended to compete with the London Illustrated News. It may be that less is known about him if he was simply considered a “commercial” artist and did not exhibit his works at the various institutes or the Royal Society of Artists, for instance. Is he a victim of “art snobbery”?? One place to view some of his work is here:

13) Frederick Morgan (1847–1927) was an English painter of portraits, animals, domestic and country scenes. He became known especially for his idyllic genre scenes of childhood. He was a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, and many of his paintings also became popular prints through the Pears Annuals. Two very romantic Regency-set pictures by him are “The Coming Nelson” (1901) and “Off to the Honeymoon.”

“Off to the Honeymoon” by Frederick Morgan

14) Frank Moss Bennett (1874 -1952)

Bennett came into the genre art craze very late compared to most of the artists I’ve covered here. But partly due to this, his art may have been the most reproduced, appearing as popular prints as well as on calendars, cigarette cards, advertising, greeting cards and even magazine covers up until the time of his death. His historic genre paintings covered the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries right up into the start of the Regency era. He tended toward hunting and tavern scenes, but moments of pure domestic simplicity like that below, “The Morning Paper” (painted in 1915) are also typical of his work.

“The Morning Paper” by Frank Moss Bennett

15) John Sanderson Wells (1872–1955) was a British painter best known for his naturalistic depictions of equestrian scenes, portraits, and 18th-century genre scenes. Born in London, he grew up in Bradbury and attended the Slade School of Art in London. He followed this with more art study at the Academie Julian in Paris. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1895 and was elected a member of the Royal Institute in 1905. A prolific painter in both watercolor and oils, he exhibited 138 paintings at the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolors and 14 paintings at the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. 41 paintings are recorded at the Royal Society of British Artists and 38 were exhibited at the Royal Academy. His work was part of the painting event in the art competition at the 1948 Summer Olympics. See some samples here:

“The Refreshment” by John Sanderson Wells

16) Edgar Bundy (1862-1922)

Born in Brighton, Bundy had no formal training in art, according to Wikipedia, but studied under Alfred Stevens, the sculptor, although we don’t know how this came to pass, or when it happened. (Stevens died in 1875 when Bundy would have been 13 years old.) Wikipedia also says “Bundy specialized in historical genre paintings in oil and watercolour, usually in a very detailed and narrative style, a genre which was very popular in the Edwardian time Bundy lived in. He exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1915 and at the Paris Salon in 1907.” While the bulk of his genre paintings feature 17th century settings, he has a number of Regency-set ones including a series of scenes inside inns showing moments of interaction between mud-stained huntsmen and flirty serving girls.

“Scene within an Inn” by Edgar Bundy

17) Henry Gillard Glindoni (1850-1913)

This artist, born in London, learned his art from his grandfather, a theatrical scene painter. He followed that path until urged to study art by his theater friends. A specialist in landscapes and historical genre pictures (many of them “Regency”), he exhibited frequently from 1872-1904, at the Royal Academy, Royal Institute and many of the different art societies. A few may be seen here: and a few can also be seen here: This one below may be familiar, but he often is not credited as the painter:

“The Lesson” by Henry Gillard Glindoni

The list of artists above is by no means complete, but I have tried to include those who seem to have been the most prolific. I’d love to hear in the comments about any others you have come across or who are your favorites!

The Decline of the Trend

Frank Moss Bennett died in 1952 and John Sanderson Wells died in 1955. They seem to have been the last of their breed. You may note that most of the more prolific genre painters who included Regency among their chosen settings died earlier in the century, at least by the 1930’s if not by the turn of the century. I find it interesting that Wells’s work was exhibited as part of the 1948 Olympics art competition, for it seems to me by then the trend was already fading if not over.

The Pears Soap Annuals were published between 1891 and 1925. The Pears Soap story is an interesting sidebar connected to genre art –the soap was developed in the Regency and first began to be sold in 1807. Many of the company’s innovative marketing approaches later in the century were the first of their kind and introduced concepts still used in marketing today. The soap is still being sold today as well, although now it is made in India rather than England. (Read more at: )

A few sources if you are interested in learning more about genre painters or some of the particular artists I have mentioned here:

Philip Hook and Mark Pottimore, Popular 19th Century Painting: A Dictionary of European Genre Painters, Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors’ Club, 1986

Maureen Elizabeth Son, Frank Moss Bennett, 1874-1952 (The Forgotten Artist)

Hardy, Kimber G., The Hardy Family of Artists: Frederick Daniel, George, Heywood, James and their descendants. Woodbridge, Suffolk UK: ACC Art Books, 2016

Please do let me know if you have favorite Regency genre artists you think I should have included in this overview!

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Mastiffs in Georgian England

It’s Mycroft’s “gotcha” month, and in honor of my current beast, I thought I’d talk about Mastiffs during the Georgian era. I grew up with Newfoundlands, Great Danes (aka Boar Hounds) and Irish Wolfhounds (all period breeds for my Georgian characters, though Wolfhounds and their cousins the Scottish Deerhounds were exceedingly rare during this period). I absolutely adore big dogs, the bigger the better.

Beowulf’s The Game’s Afoot “Mycroft”

I lucked into a copy of The Complete Dog-Fancier’s Companion; describing the Nature, Habits, Properties &c. of Sporting, Fancy, and other Dogs from 1819 a few years ago. It talks about various breeds, instructions for rearing, training, and basic care (the veterinary advice is quite frightening), and has an amazing rant about the evils of blood sports that ends with: For the sake of humanity, it is to be hoped, that the cruelty exercised on the animal, had- been repented of by his master, the greater brute of the two [emphasis in original], and that there are none at present who could be guilty of a similar outrage.

One of the breeds featured is the Mastiff. Now, you know I’m prejudiced, as I own one, but they truly are magnificent dogs. My first book, Lord Sin/Sin Incarnate, featured an Italian mastiff (a Neapolitan in modern terms) named Caesar. Ripe for Pleasure (which I just got the rights back to, and will be re-releasing with a new cover!), features a mongrel mastiff or butcher’s dog (basically a Bullmastiff) that was inspired by my sister’s dog, Slag and my best friend’s dog, Talullah (both littermates of my first Mastiff, Clancy).

Here is what the magazine has to say about Mastiffs:

The mastiff is much larger than the bull-dog, and every way formed for the important trust of guarding and securing the valuable property committed to his care. Houses, gardens, yards &c. are safe from depredations whilst in his keeping. Contained during the day, as soon as the gates are locked, he is left to range at full liberty: he then goes round the premises, examines every part of the them, and by loud barkings, gives notice that he is ready to defend his charge.

Well, my boy sleeps all night (ok, he sleeps most of the day too, LOL), but he does snap-to at the slightest hint of intrusion or danger and I’ve no doubt that he’d defend me and his “turf” if there was ever a need to do so (and let me tell you, the UPS man and the occasional religious evangelists are in no doubt of this either; though now that Jorge the UPS man has been introduced he no longer gets anything more than a tail-wagging hello through the window).

Much of what the author of my little magazine says elsewhere is surprising either for its prescience or its enduing common sense. At one point he notes that people commonly suppose dogs to be the civilized descendants of wolves! Remember this is 1819, before Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Under the training section the author advises: When you correct him to keep him in awe, do it rather with words than blows . . . When he hath done any thing to your mind and pleasure, you must reward him with a piece of bread. Sounds just like puppy training class to me, LOL!

Another book published in 1800, the Cynographia Britannica, said about the breed:

What the Lion is to the Cat the Mastiff is to the Dog, the noblest of the family; he stands alone, and all others sink before him. His courage does not exceed his temper and generosity, and in attachment he equals the kindest of his race.
I’m simply drawn to these giant dogs like no other I’ve ever encountered, and after owning one of my own, I can’t imagine ever owning anything else (ok, I can imagine owning most giant breeds, but they’re basically a type of mastiff or a mastiff spin off).

I certainly find my love for them popping up in my books. I need to branch out and give the people in my next book something else . . . I can see some kind of coach dog for them maybe (aka a Dalmation).  And someday, I’ll write someone a cat…

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Those Daring Regency Men (and Women!) in Their Flying Balloons

Photo by Elina Sazonova from Pexels

Did you ever want to go up in a hot air balloon? Have you ever done so? I always wanted to. In Rhode Island where I live, July used to always bring with it the annual “balloon festival,” held in the fields on the campus of the University of RI. On a hot sticky day we would always go to admire the fabulously bright and beautiful inflated balloons tethered to the ground until good flying conditions came around at the end of the day, usually around 6pm when the air would go still for an hour or two.

Photo by Kevin Bidwell from Pexels

During the day, people would pay to go up a short way in the tethered balloons, but oh, those 6pm flights! The balloon crews, and sometimes a paying guest or two, would be set free to go up, up and off into the distance, with their “chaser” vehicles in hot pursuit to find them when they landed.

I imagine the festival atmosphere with all the vendor booths surrounding the area where the balloons were on display and the crowds of admiring, curious people was not too different from the way things were back in the late 18th century and Regency years when balloon events were extremely popular attractions, often attracting very large crowds.

First Balloon Flight in Britain– Msr Lunardi’s in 1784

We’ve touched on this topic briefly before now. Two years ago when we were celebrating amazing Regency women during Women’s History Month that March, we included Sophie Blanchard in our list, with the following very short bio:

Sophie Blanchard (1778-1819)- Napoleon’s official balloonist and aerial advisor, she was the first woman to pilot her own balloon and the first to make ballooning her career. She began as the wife of Jean-Pierre Blanchard, the world’s first professional balloonist, and continued after he died (in a balloon accident) just five years after she started. She became extremely famous throughout Europe and often performed in Italy. She performed 67 balloon ascents before she was killed in a balloon accident at the age of 41.

Also, Risky sister Elena Greene’s book, Fly with a Rogue (published in 2013) has a balloonist hero. It’s a great story –not your run-of-the-mill Regency. (If it were, it wouldn’t be “risky,” now, would it?) And just BTW, the ebook version is 99 cents right now, as are all of her ebooks, I think!

But I wanted to come back to Sophie, and actually some other balloonists who competed with her, including other women, for they are a fascinating bunch!

Ballooning with human occupants first began in France in 1783. Jean-Pierre Blanchard made his first ascent months later in March of 1784. Later that year he moved to England, where he made several flights in London, and in 1785 he became the first to fly across the English Channel to France. He then began a tour of Europe.

Sophie married Jean-Pierre Blanchard sometime between 1794 and 1804. By the time of their marriage her husband, more than twenty years older than she was, had already abandoned his original family and become internationally famous, having demonstrated ballooning even America. Just four years later, he had a heart attack while ballooning, fell from his balloon, and ultimately died in 1809. Sophie, an international celebrity herself, continued her ballooning career for 10 more years until her own tragic, accidental death.

But in 1804, Napoleon had named her to replace André-Jacques Garnerin, who had been his official “aéronaute” and minister of ballooning. It was through Garnerin that I learned about the other women aeronauts who competed with Sophie, for they were members of his family. I can’t resist rabbit holes, and when I first saw this print, I had to learn who this balloonist was! This was not the Blanchards, so who was the woman?

Seconde ascension du Physicien Garnerin avec la Cne Henri au Parc de Mousseaux, le 5 Thermidor An 6 (1798)

It turns out that the “Physicien Garnerin” labeled in the print was actually the physician’s brother, Andres-Jacques Garnerin, who had gained fame not only as a balloonist but for creating the frameless parachute and using them in his balloon performances. There was also a third, older brother, Jean-Baptiste-Olivier Garnerin, involved in ballooning. A family affair!

In short order, Andres-Jacques married his female ballooning student, Jeanne Geneviève Labrosse (1775–1847). Under his tutelage she had already been one of the earliest women to fly in a balloon (10 November 1798) and the first woman to parachute (12 October 1799).

Monsieur and Madame Garnerin

While Andres-Jacques still had Napoleon’s favor and was the official “aeronaut” for France, he and Jeanne toured in England during the Peace of Amiens (1802-03), hurriedly returning to France when the war resumed.

1802 Ascension by Madame Garnerin (pub.dom., courtesy of Library of Congress)

Their niece Elisa Garnerin, the physician brother’s daughter, learned to fly balloons at age 15 and also mastered the parachute jumps for which the Garnerins had become so known. She was the second woman in history to make a parachute jump. Elisa was ambitious, sometimes a bit unethical, and often ran afoul of the police, who didn’t like her to begin with because of the great, unruly crowds she attracted. But she made 39 professional parachute descents from balloons between 1815 to 1836, competing directly with Sophie Blanchard during the early years of her career, and she lived to the age of 62.

But wait! Neither of these Garnerin women are the young woman in the print above. That young woman, known only as Citroyen Henri, had her fifteen minutes of fame (well, a few days, at least) in 1798, when she was chosen to be the first female passenger in a controversial balloon ascension Garnerin planned to hold in the Parc Monceau in Paris that July. While the public generally favored the project, the police and government officials didn’t believe the woman knew what she had agreed to, feared what physical effects the heights might have upon her, and also claimed moral implications for the close enclosed proximity in the balloon’s basket. Eventually they agreed however.

Wikipedia says, “By all accounts Citoyenne Henri was young and beautiful.” On July 8 Garnerin, not one to miss a chance for showmanship, took “several turns around the park” with her to the applause of the crowd before they climbed into the basket of the balloon. When the ascension finally took place, they rose high into the air and covered a distance of nearly 20 miles to the north of Paris. Citoyenne Henri was famous for a short while after this feat, but is not known to have ever repeated it. She fell back into obscurity except for her connection with this historic moment in time.

Would you have wanted to be chosen to try something so new, adventurous and possibly dangerous? I have to believe that all of the “aeronauts” who flew in balloons and made descents using parachutes loved some aspect of what they did, besides the fame and money they earned. Among those who did it, the percentage of those who died in ballooning accidents is high, including both of the Blanchards.

There’s a woman who is making a full-length independent documentary about Sophie Blanchard. It’s all animated, even though it includes interviews with historians, etc. I’m fascinated now and want to see it! She’s raising funds for the finishing production costs. I wish I was rich –I’d totally help her out! 🙂 Here’s the website link if anyone’s interested:

There is also a movie, “The Aeronauts” based on true events from 1862 –a Victorian era scientific balloon flight in which meteorologist James Glaisher and professional aeronaut Henry Coxwell almost died after reaching more than 30,000 feet. Of course, for the fictionalized movie, they replaced Coxwell’s character with a woman. The leads are played by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, and you can watch it on Youtube:

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Independence? What were they thinking?


Today we in the USA we have a holiday to celebrate July 4, Independence Day, the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the American colonies’ declaring themselves independent sovereign states separate from Great Britain.

What were they thinking?

The members of the Continental Congress who signed the Declaration were fed up with being taxed by Great Britain without having any representation in Parliament. The colonies had their own legislatures; they didn’t need Parliament.

Ordinary citizens of the colonies were not so sure of this independence idea. They were used to British rule and did not know what life would be like if they weren’t subjects of the British crown. Upper classes feared they might lose their status in an independent America and no one knew if common citizens were capable of governing themselves.


In Great Britain the aristocracy called the American’s misguided in their desire to break from the Crown. The signers were threatened with imprisonment, seizure of property and death. A pamphlet of the times also noted that although the Americans declared their belief that “all men are created equal,” they weren’t freeing their slaves. They had a good point there.

King George III declared the colonies to be in a state of rebellion and he sent in the British Army to set them straight.

British merchants, on the other hand, urged the government to make some kind of peace with the Americans. They did not want the lucrative trade with America to be interrupted.

Other British citizens, though, did not support the Americans. If the Americans could not be made to pay taxes, then the Brits’ taxes would go up, which they did. This was the advent of all sorts of “nuisance taxes” on such things as ink, paper, stamps, newspapers, and even the rabbit fur used to make ladies’ hats.


The Declaration of Independence captured the interest of French revolutionaries, who used it when drafting their own Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. The document influenced the development of freedom and democracy in Europe and other parts of the world.

So as we celebrate with our hot dogs, parades, and fireworks (in ways we couldn’t do last year because of COVID), let’s remember the courage it took to leap into the unknown and start a new country founded on new ideals.

I hope your July 4th was a happy one!!

(an earlier version of this blog was posted on July 4, 2016)

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Smelling Sweet in the Regency: Part 5 (How to Bottle the Scent of Success)

We’ve already covered so much in the first four parts of this series since April (see links below), but there’s one more aspect of this topic I just can’t leave out: how to store the scents that were either purchased or home-made. The fabulous perfume containers used by Regency people who could afford them are works of art in themselves, but they also served an important purpose. After all the trouble and expense of creating a wonderful perfume, what good was it if you couldn’t keep it long enough to enjoy using it?

Labradorite, gold, & cameo decorated 18th c bottles

As we saw in Part 1 about Floris (the famous 18th century London perfumery that is still in business), records show that their wealthy clients often brought in their own containers to be refilled on the premises with their custom-blended signature scent. Preserving the quality of those scents was paramount. Let’s see what some of those containers might have looked like! But let’s also consider the practicalities of the storage problem and take a quick glimpse of how past ages met the problem, too.

Scent essential oils need to be protected from four things: air, light, heat, and contamination from other scents. Perfumes combine any number of these oils, but the combined scent achieved must still be protected. A wide variety of materials and sealant techniques have been used since the earliest times to accomplish these aims.

Despite Shakespeare’s eloquence, glass was not always the most ideal choice, especially once distilling in alcohol or using a vinegar base for certain perfumes was introduced, as those substances could etch or erode the glass. Still, glass remained one of the popular choices along with types of stone (alabaster, agate, rock crystal, travertine marble, laboradite), ceramics (faience, terra-cotta, porcelain), metals (silver, gold, even copper in very early periods, and later enameled metal). Historically, scent containers have often been as much—or more–of a luxury item than the perfumes to put in them!

The Egyptians learned glass-making from Mesopotamia, and used both core-formed glass, stone and ceramics for their perfume containers. The lids or stoppers are less well-documented; they may have used wood, leather, straw or clay that did not survive the ages. The Greeks were fond of ceramic containers in shapes from nature, but also used core-formed glass. It was the Romans who invented the technique of blown-glass, and the path to modern glassware opened.

6th century Greek perfume containers
Roman blown glass perfume bottles

By the 16th and 17th centuries, the growing popularity of liquid perfumes meant scent bottles became more elaborate…. And by the 18th century the trends in perfume containers followed the prevailing trends in art. This means a wide variety including enamels and porcelain, but also gold and any combination of fine materials including gemstones and pearls…

1) A small scent bottle meant to be worn as a pendant, of agate, gold, and gemstones (rubies). This 17th-century bottle was added to in later years. (Photos: © The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)  

2) Two distinctly different styles of 18th century French ceramic perfume bottles

German and English porcelain in shapes were popular, and many bottles came with their own case, which protected from breakage but also helped protect clear glass bottles from light. This “figurine” style bottle from the mid-18th century (below), is something a Regency miss might have been given by her grandmother!  The auction description notes: “2¾in (7cm) long Derby porcelain perfume bottle and stopper, decorated with a striped cat pursuing two turtle doves up a tree, the base with a seal of a prancing horse and angel. In a shaped leather case”

Elsewhere I found mention that “[perfume bottles] began to be produced in cut glass patterns in the Georgian period, whereupon they were sold in fitted plush-lined cases…. Typically, scent bottles in the 19th century were crafted out of cut glass and then topped off with silver lids. These early glass examples were often made in a flask-shape, and featured a fine chain for suspending them on a chatelaine.”

The pair below have gold tops, which probably cover a smaller glass stopper inside with a ground glass shank to make it as air-tight as possible. (Cork was never used, because it has an odor of its own that could corrupt or contaminate the original perfume in the bottle.)

Ground glass stoppers seem to have been in use from quite early –that’s a side rabbit hole I did not successfully navigate! But at times both the stoppers and the bottle necks might have been covered with animal membrane or vegetable parchment to improve the tight fit, and an outer cap of white glove leather could have been added, as protection from evaporation.

Pendant-style mini-perfume bottles that could be worn (or carried in one’s reticule) continued to be popular throughout the 19th century.

A few more examples of Regency-era bottles that reflect the changing taste of the times:

Regency era perfume bottles (1,2,3, below)

1) an “Empire” brass and crystal perfume bottle. The French particularly favored crystal and cut glass.

2) an oval Louis XVI perfume bottle in gold and enamel decorated in a similar style as pocket watches and snuff boxes of the period often were, “the blue ground inset with a grisaille portrait, and classical figure on the reverse” with jewels (real or paste) decorating the stopper and borders.” (auction description) Note: the gold metal top is probably not the “stopper” but a removable lid/cover that protects and helps to hold the stopper in place. It is probably glass. Such lids often had a chain to keep it attached to the bottle.

3) this one is made of rock crystal with elaborate gold casing.

 Two examples of enamel work: (left) an “18th century Bilston (South Staffordshire) pear-shaped enamel perfume bottle, with topper and chain” and (right) German, also 18th century and formed like an actual pear.

As the 19th century progressed, perfume bottles became another medium for designer artwork and styles became identified with particular perfume brands. But the market also opened up for less expensive perfumes and customers with far more modest incomes, so perfume containers had to be created that would still be attractive and perform the necessary protection while costing less. Today’s perfumes are far less volatile because of the synthetics used in them, but they are still subject to evaporation due to the alcohol content. Wouldn’t you love to have perfume in a fabulous container like some of these beautiful old classics?

In this series I have introduced you to the fascinating world of Regency perfumery, but by necessity I have left a great deal unexplored. Vinaigrettes, for instance. Scented vinegars (aka “toilette vinegars”) were made by combining scent essences with white wine vinegar—rose, for example, or essence of orange-flowers. Smelling salts were developed with the discovery that ammonia crystals, mixed with certain compatible scents, lasted much longer than the liquid variety of smelling bottle or vinaigrette with a soaked sponge. Scents related to rose, nutmeg and cinnamon were recommended. One recipe I saw also used bergamot, lavender, and clove in addition.

I also didn’t talk about all the various kinds of products that were scented in the 18th and 19th centuries. All kinds of toiletry items, of course, including “Venetian chalk” (face powder) and freckle lotions, but my favorites are the items like scented writing desks, sewing baskets, and various boxes for storing other items. How did they make the scent last? These items had no space to accommodate the actual source of the scent.

They did it ingeniously: a piece of very thin leather, such as chamois, or heavy blotting paper was soaked in the desired perfume and then additionally treated with the scent, allowed to dry, and then was encased in a very thin  silk cover, creating a sort of “perfume skin.” This could then be inserted into a desk pad or incorporated into the cover of a sewing basket, stationary or handkerchief box lid, or placed amidst sheets of stationary. They also used perfumed pastes to rub scent into leather goods like belts or other items.

To read more:

Candice Hern’s website has four separate articles worth reading, and she includes good bibliographies:

Other articles online (there are many more):


Edmund Launert, Scent and Scent Bottles, Barrie & Jenkins, 1974.

Heiner Meininghaus and Christa Habrich, Five Centuries of Scent and Elegant Flacons, Arnoldsche Art Publishers, 1998.

I highly recommend the following, both of which are available from Googlebooks:

Eugene Rimmel, The Book of Perfumes, London: Chapman & Hall, 1867

The Toilette of Flora, London: J. Murray and W. Nicoll, 1784

I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this series! A deep dive down a rabbit hole, but the exploration has been fun. Here are the links to the other four articles in the “Smelling Sweet in the Regency” series and the dates they appeared here at the Risky Regencies blog:

Part 1: Beyond Floris April 12, 2021

Part 2: Beyond Floris part 2 (Stillroom Magic) April 26, 2021

Part 3: Making Sense of Making Scents May 10, 2021

Part 4: The Art of Mixing Scents, Scents for the Sexes, and the Truth about Bay Rum May 24, 2021

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Vauxhall Gardens

I first wrote a version of this blog in 2011 when I’d just purchased a new research book, Vauxhall Gardens: A History by David Coke and Alan Borg, a coffee-table sized volume brimming with everything you’d want to know about these historical pleasure gardens. It was worth every penny I spend on it and I spent a lot of pennies!

During this pandemic year, though, I came across a lecture on Vauxhall that gave some new information. More on that later.

I think of Vauxhall Gardens as the Disneyland of its time, a place people of all walks of life and social classes flocked to for recreation, to see wonders that thrill, amaze, or simply entertain them. Things like fireworks and tightrope walkers, musical performances, frescos made so real you felt transported to a different land, spooky dark walks featuring a hermit at the end. There was food special to the place, just like the special foods we find at amusement parks or State Fairs. Paper-thin slices of ham, tiny whole chickens, orgeat (the soft drink of the day), poor quality wines, cider and ale.

Jonathan Tyers opened Vauxhall Gardens in 1729 and from the first made no distinctions between the classes. Everyone paid the same price of admission, so from the first, the classes mixed in the various entertainments like a Venetian Carnival. Throughout the years Vauxhall Gardens entertained visitors with music, a mix of performances from serious styles of music to light-hearted popular tunes of the day. A grand organ was included. Popular vocalists appeared. Handel was featured. In fact–new information–Handel’s Fire Music was first played at Vauxhall. Music was often advertised as coming first to Vauxhall, a way to increase attendance.

Artwork was always a part of the gardens, including paintings by Hogarth and sculpture. A statue of Handel came to personify Vauxhall and remained in the gardens most of its almost 200 years.

Other entertainments appeared, some from the beginning and some as years went on. Fireworks. Fountains. Lamps which were lit all at once. A rope dancer named Madame Saqui. I once mentioned Madame Saqui in one of my books and received a letter from a reader in the UK whose last name was Saqui. She’d not known of this possible ancestor until reading of her in my book.

Some more new information from the lecture–the servants Tyers hired to serve the food were highly trained to be as unobtrusive as possible. Like Disneyland employees? Also unobtrusive (and new information to me) were guards who patrolled the Dark Walk and also snatched up drunk young men and put them in a cage to sober up. Wouldn’t one of these guards be a good character for one of our Regency books?

Speaking of possible Regency characters, the lecture also revealed that the casual pick-ups at Vauxhall were not typically the prostitutes, but other young women looking for that sort of good time. The nearby inns and taverns provided the rooms for such goings on.

Although entry cost a shilling, policing legitimate attendees was a challenge. Some gained entry through counterfeit tokens; others by climbing in from the riverbank. Tyers built a haha as a barrier, but this did not stop the most intrepid trespassers.

I’ve loved using Vauxhall Gardens as a setting in my books. Flynn, my hero in Innocence and Impropriety became smitten with Rose as she sang at Vauxhall Gardens. In A Reputable Rake, Morgana brought her courtesan students to Vauxhall Gardens to practice their lessons. A masked Graham Veall chose Vauxhall Gardens as a place to meet Margaret and hire her as a temporary mistress in my homage to Phantom of the Opera, The Unlacing of Miss Leigh.

I also used Vauxhall Gardens for A Not So Respectable Gentleman?, the last of the Welbourne Manor books. That book was set in 1828 and my wonderful research book told of several new events at Vauxhall that year.

New was the Grand Hydropyric Exhibition, consisting of cascades of colored fire and water. A new vaudeville called The Statue Lover was introduced, as well as a short comic ballet called The Carnival of Venice. Even though there had been complaints of excessive noise the previous year, a reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo took place on the battle’s anniversary. They also introduced a lottery with dozens of different prizes.

Are you planning any summer outings? It may take us all a while to feel comfortable in the sort of crowded summer settings like Vauxhall, I think. No matter what, this summer is bound to offer more entertainments than last summer!

Let’s look forward to it!

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Smelling Sweet in the Regency: Part 4 (The Art of Mixing, Scents for the Sexes and the Truth about Bay Rum!)

We’re at Part 4 in this series –thanks for still reading!! I’m squeezing three different bits of this topic into today’s post. Each one could be a post and covered in so much more detail, but they sort of go together. Bear with me?


The best perfumes are achieved by combining scents. But how do you know which goes well with which? This is where real artistry, a sensitive nose, and the value of treasured recipes come into the process. Part of the challenge of mixing scents is the very subjective nature of how different people perceive them and the difficulty in categorizing them, something still being studied.

Michael Edwards’s fragrance wheel from 1983 (public domain:

The “fragrance wheel” (aka aroma, perfume or smell wheel or fragrance circle) was invented by an Austrian perfumer and published in 1949 to show the families of smells and their relationship to each other. The concept has undergone multiple revisions since then as science and perfumers have added to our knowledge. But combinations of scents must account not only for the blend of odors, but also how and when the scents in the mix reveal themselves.

Among the many terms in perfumery are the concepts of “top/head”, “middle/heart” and “bottom/base” notes, which refer to the differences. Top notes are lighter and usually are the first impression, which may evaporate in as little as 15 minutes. Middle notes can take some time to develop, but then usually last for a while, giving the perfume its primary identification. Base notes are the longest lasting, often acting as a fixative to prolong the overall effect of the other scents.

See source

The “fragrance pyramid” tries to capture these qualities. Some fragrance wheels try to incorporate these characteristics along with the descriptive categories and can become very complex. You can find many different ones online. I particularly like the one here. But these are modern measures. In the Regency, making perfumes was still more art than science.

Keeping track of combinations that worked well was important. Perfumery as an art goes back at least 5,000 years to the ancient Egyptians, but the first-known written record dates to 1200 BCE in Mesopotamia. Indians, Persians, Arabs and Romans all left written records about making perfumes. The first “modern” perfume, meaning essential oils dissolved in alcohol, was developed in 1370 for the Queen of Hungary. So-called Hungary Water became known across Europe but supposedly the recipe was lost (although the 1784 Toilet of Flora mentions it as a remedy to both cleanse and strengthen the body, made from rosemary, pennyroyal and marjoram flowers mixed with conic brandy.

Remember Floris, where this series began? Nearly three centuries of custom-blended formulas are recorded in ledgers stored carefully and still kept strictly secret. Our heroine’s family recipe for the scent she is making in her stillroom (be it personal perfume, smelling salts, or scent for soap) might have been handed down through many generations and could be a family secret. I mentioned Princess Esterhazy’s perfume in Part 3, after discovering this entry in E. Rimmel’s 1867 book on perfumery which calls “Bouquet d’Esterhazy” “an old renowned perfume, a rival of Cologne water; the name derived from a noble Hungarian family.” Two quite different formulas, one French and one German, are given for it.

Household recipe books in the Regency might include perfumes as medicinal remedies, beauty aids or grooming products. Despite the Toilet of Flora’s claim to be “for the ladies”, the separation of particular perfumes into distinct categories as well as the idea of identifying them as male or female was only just beginning in the first quarter of the 19th century.

(applying hair powder –illust from E. Rimmel’s book)


In Part 3 I mentioned Napoleon’s bathing in Eau de Cologne by the gallon. (Apparently he also drank it.) Wikipedia says that he used “Two quarts of violet cologne…each week, and…sixty bottles of double extract of jasmine every month.” You might think that his use of what some consider “feminine” fragrances was eccentric (or simply French), but you would be wrong. During the Regency, barbers might just as easily have used a rose pomade on a man’s hair or a jasmine scented shaving lotion as one with a more “masculine” woody or spice scent.

Interestingly, Napoleon’s wife Josephine was said to have favored musk, a very strong scent, one used often as a base note and fixative in modern men’s scents. The same Wikipedia article says “she used so much that sixty years after her death the scent still lingered in her boudoir.” Other sources say she also liked to use vanilla, woody scents, and imported patchouli and tonka bean (fragrances not now considered as feminine as floral scents would be.) Patchouli (a woody herb in the mint family that smells “musky-sweet”) was also used by the Indian exporters of fine cashmere shawls to scent their products. I read an account of a French maker of imitation shawls who went to great lengths to obtain the scent to make his shawls seem more authentic. (Muslins, too, were scented with a special characteristic sachet powders).

Commemorative medal of Empress Josephine

As with so many other things in the transitional 19th century, assigning gender identity to different scents really sharpened when the large scale commercial production of perfumes and the discovery of synthetics increased the availability of perfumes and inspired marketers to promote the concept. It’s “modern” and also mostly just in Western culture. The fact that our Regency characters could wear any scent they liked free of gender associations presents one of those conundrums we writers run into from time to time—the conflict between what is accurate to the period and what is acceptable to our readers.

If we present our manly romance hero smelling like jasmine or violets, what does that do to his masculine image for the uninitiated reader? Certainly we can solve it by swathing him in the scents of cedar wood and cloves on the basis of his personal preference, but I do wonder if the lack of any specifically “men’s” scents in the Regency period might have led to the controversial use of Bay Rum by heroes in some of our books?

I have a theory, and won’t mind at all if I am proven wrong, but I just wonder if the idea of Bay Rum for Regency heroes might have started with Georgette Heyer. Does anyone know? I think I used it in one of my early books, and know I’ve read it in others. It sounds rather manly, doesn’t it? It did become popular in the 19th century and was still very popular for men when GH was writing, so the theory doesn’t seem crazy.

bay tree oil and leaves


The truth about Bay Rum is more complicated than you might think. The reason is simple: bay tree (aka bay berry tree) leaves were used for a variety of purposes for centuries by native West Indies people without any particular written record. (note this is not the same leaf or plant as the bay leaves used in European cooking). Islanders used the leaves as an aromatic, fumigant, and insect repellent, hanging branches in their homes or burning the leaves to drive away mosquitoes. They used it as an emollient sponged on the skin to fight fevers or pain, but also to heal cuts or bruises, as the oil has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties besides being soothing and refreshing. They believed it could stimulate hair growth and fight dandruff. Slaves and pirates rubbed the leaves on their skin to heal sunburn and in close living quarters to fight body odors from long hours of hard work under a hot sun.

Bay rum smells so good it has been touted as an anti-depressant, creating a sense of well-being and confidence. Scents commonly identified with it include cinnamon, clove, allspice, oak, sweet vanilla, eucalyptus, musk, and other spices.

No one knows for certain when or by whom the leaves were first soaked in rum to extract and liquefy the oils and prolong the scent, but production of “Rumbullion, alias Kill-Divil” in the West Indies dates to the early 17th century. Was it rum-swilling pirates as some theorize? Native islanders? Or slaves whose labor produced the rum? At any rate, it seems likely that a basic form of bay rum was known and in use in the islands soon after. No one knows when other ingredients such as lime or spices were first added, either. Certainly, the British were intimately involved with slavery and trade in the West Indies, so the local cure-all must have been known to them.

antique print -St John (public domain)

Does this mean your Regency hero can wear Bay Rum? Probably not (unless he’s a pirate, or…). Given the mindset of most 19th century British men, the fact that the local people or the slaves used it might automatically taint it as unfit/unfashionable for their own use. I suspect supply was also an issue, as it was most likely only produced within households for the locals’ own use. It was not available commercially.

That only changed sometime after 1838, when a Danish chemist (Albert Heinrich Riise) in the islands began exploring the distillation process and refined the technique and recipe for producing bay rum as a standardized, diluted commercial product. (On this basis some sources claim he “invented” it.) He started selling it under the name A.H. Riise Apothecary, primarily as a cologne/after-shave and manufactured in large quantities. How long this took is not clear, but by 1861 bay rum was well-known in the U.S. but still little-known in Europe, according to an article about it in the American Journal of Pharmacy. That Riise won awards for it (the Centennial Medal in 1876, plus awards in New Orleans and Chicago) can’t be disputed. Nor can the fact that it gained a foothold in Britain at about that time, and became a standard offered in barbershops in the late Victorian era and into the early 20th century. As mentioned, very popular at the time Georgette Heyer was writing. It is still sold today by quite a few companies.

We’ve one more important aspect about this topic I didn’t want to skip—the amazing bottles used to hold and store the perfumes. I’ll be posting about that in Part 5 on June 14. I’ll include a list of more sources, too, but here are a few I recommend:

An excellent and comprehensive source for more information about scent and perfumes is:

For more about essential oils and aromatherapy (also a great fragrance wheel), try:

For more about the classification of different scents and their qualities, try:

Or this site, which has posts about individual scent ingredients as well as interesting history notes by each century.

Note: all images without attribution in this post are sourced from public domain through Wikimedia Commons.

Did you learn something you didn’t already know in today’s post? Have any answers to my questions? I invite you to leave a comment! Thanks for reading!

Posted in Daily Life, Gail Eastwood, History, Regency, Research, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Smelling Sweet in the Regency: Part 4 (The Art of Mixing, Scents for the Sexes and the Truth about Bay Rum!)