More Regency Refreshments

Over the weekend, a friend asked for my handout from the Regency Refreshments workshop I did a few years ago. After digging it out for her, I thought I’d share something for Thanksgiving.

When I had the idea to give a Regency Refreshments Workshop, I thought it might be wise to begin experimenting with recipes early. My experience with making food for re-enactments has taught me that it often takes several attempts before something satisfactory is achieved, mostly because period recipes are so vague (few precise measurements combined with instructions like “bake in a slack oven” means that it’s easy to get it wrong).

I started looking through period cookery books, and found that quite a few of the recipes were familiar: Gingerbread, Puffs (meringues), Pound Cake, Macaroons. Others were familiar only because of trips to England or from books: Sally Lunn Buns, Bath Cakes, Blanc’mange. Some had seemingly familiar names, but upon closer inspection bore little resemblance to the modern dish bearing the same name:  Cheesecakes, for example. Georgian “cheesecakes” (sometimes called Maids of Honour) are baked inside a puff pastry shell, rather like a modern Danish. And some have a colloquial English-ism to them that might elude a modern American reader, such as Plum Cake. “Plum” means “currants” or “raisins”, not plums or prunes as one might assume. I had certainly always pictured a sticky, sweet cake, not a dry little cake filled with currants.

And then there’s the fact that my goal here is slightly different than the one I usually have when cooking for a re-enactment. Normally, I’m attempting to make something period that appeals to a modern palate. Here, I’m trying to recreate the period flavors as accurately as possible. A new and challenging twist, sometimes requiring a bit of real hunting when it comes to ingredients . . .

The first thing I did was gather numerous extant period cookbooks. This was easy thanks to Google Books. With a plethora of options, I quickly found I had to limit myself. So I randomly chose three books to concentrate on, making forays into other sources only when my main selections failed to deliver at least two recipes for the dish being studied.

The first is The English Art of Cookery, according to the Present Practice; being a Complete Guide to all Housekeepers, on a Plan Entirely New (1788) by Richard Briggs, “many years cook at The Globe Tavern, Fleet-Street, The While Hart Tavern, Holborn, and Now at The Temple Coffee-House.”

The second is The Universal Cook; And City and Country Housekeeper (1806) by Francis Collinwood and John Wooliams, “principal cooks at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand—late from the London Tavern.”

The third is A Complete System of Cookery, On A Plan Entirely New; Consisting of an Extensive and Original Collection of Receipts, in Cookery, Confectionary, etc. (1816) by John Simpson, “cook to the late and present Marquis of Buckingham.”

I also consulted Mrs. Beeton’s Dictionary of Every-Day Cookery (1864 edition), Lobscouse & Spotted Dog: Which It’s a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels by Anne Chotzinoff Grossman and Lisa Grossman Thomas (ISBN: 0393320944) and Tea With Jane Austen by Kim Wilson (ISBN: 097212179X). I figured if they’d already done the legwork, why do it all over again?

One thing which I think you’ll notice right away is the enormous amount of time most of these recipes would have taken to prepare under period circumstances (i.e. no electric mixer and no gourmet grocery in which to procured the basics). Many of the cakes take several hours just to beat the batter. And quite a few recipes require you make a basic ingredient first, be it gelatin or boiled down citrus fruit or blanched almonds. And then you still have to grate and shift the sugar (which comes in solid cones). Odds are your heroine is not undertaking to make her sweetie a cake while they’re stranded alone in a hunting box (unless it’s a ruse to avoid him!).

Seed Cake

Seed cake seemed just different enough from pound cake that it was worth making on its own. The variations are also quite different from one another. The 1788 one calls for yeast and allspice, while the 1806 one is leavened only with eggs and has spices similar to those in the pound cake recipes. The 1816 book has no recipe for “seed cake”, but it does have one for “savory cake” which is very similar in its general make up, except that it does not call for any spices or seeds

The Universal Cook (1806):

Since I have a modern kitchen with a Kitchen-Aid Mixer®, I chose to make the “rich” version. It also seemed to me that this version would be the most dissimilar to the pound cake in texture. I made this cake up following the directions from 1806 to beat the egg whites and egg yolks separately. It appeared that all this beating in of air would add loft to the cake (as with a sponge cake). What I missed in my initial reading was the fact that after you’ve gone to all the trouble of beating in air, you beat the batter some more when you combine the eggs with the butter and sugar, and then some more when you add the flour. All that beating knocks the air right out of the egg whites.

Just for comparison’s sake, I made up a second batch which I mixed in a more “pound cake-like” manner (cream butter and sugar, beat in eggs one at a time, add everything else and call it a day). It came out exactly the same as the one I took all the trouble to do in stages. So the recipe I’ll share with you is the easy version:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

3 cups flour (not self-rising)

2 cups sugar

5 large eggs

1 TBL allspice

1 oz caraway seeds

Preheat oven to 350° F.  Coat your pan (almost any kind of baking dish from a bunt to a spring mold will work) with a LOT of Baker’s Pam® or similar product.

Beat together butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce speed to low and add half of flour. Add the allspice and caraway seeds. Then add all of the remaining flour. Beat for 3-5 minutes, until well combined and satiny. Pour batter into pan and rap pan against work surface once or twice to eliminate air bubbles.

Bake until golden and a wooden pick or skewer inserted in middle of cake comes out with a few crumbs adhering (about 1 hour). Remove from oven and invert onto the rack to cool.

Serve with a period sauce (wine sauce is great with it) or with something like Devon triple cream. It needs something to give it a little moisture. It goes great with an digestif wine like sherry, port, or Madeira.

My friends’ reactions really ran the gamut: some loved it, some thought it would have been better with poppy seeds or cardamom* (and I agree, those flavors would have suited a modern palate much better than the caraway seeds), some hated the anise flavor, I thought it had a slightly medicinal flavor, but wasn’t unpleasant, especially with a glass of sherry. And it tastes even better the next morning and goes great with a cup of tea.

The bottom line is that it turned out to be a slightly dry, very dense, not too sweet, caraway-flavored, cake.

*I do find cardamom used in period recipes, but never in cakes. It always seems to be in cordials and the like for the sick room. Same with poppy seeds.

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London’s East India Museum

When I wrote The Magnificent Marquess back in my Signet Regencies days, I did a lot of research not only about India during the Regency period and the British people who went there, but especially about people’s attitudes towards India back in England, since that is the setting for the story. Not surprisingly, considering human nature, those attitudes ranged all over the place, and I tried to reflect that in the book. The East India Museum was established in London in the headquarters of the East India Company on Leadenhall Street between 1801-04, although in its early days it was known as the “Oriental Repository”, a much more apt name, as you will see if you read on. While it gets a passing mention in TMM, I did a deep dive into its history last spring as one part of my contributions to the Beau Monde’s month-long class, “A Tour of Regency London.” I thought you might enjoy this somewhat shortened version.

The East India Company fronted on Leadenhall Street in London starting early in its long history. Founded in 1600, the company sought a dedicated building of its own by 1648, leasing an Elizabethan mansion known as Craven House. That building was eventually purchased and continued to serve (along with the surrounding area) through several expansions and reincarnations. It was completely rebuilt between 1726-1729. By the 1790’s, however, even that version was no longer sufficient for the huge entity that was the East India Company. The grandest structure of all was created between 1796-1800. The buildings on either side were purchased and torn down to allow side expansions, and a new front elevation designed by the architect Henry Holland. This was the massive edifice that Regency tourists flocked to see, and which eventually housed (as an adjunct to its library) the collections of the “repository,” or museum. 

East India House, by Thomas Malton the Younger (d. 1804)

A period guidebook, The Picture of London (for 1802), tells us: “It has been enlarged and adorned with an entire new front of stone, of great extent and much beauty, having a general air of simplicity and grandeur.” It notes that the interior is also “well worth visiting” and compares the domed sales room to the rotunda of the Bank of England.

Plans for the new expansion of the building included the creation of a library, reading rooms, and a museum, “to house the natural history specimens, books, samples of manufactures, manuscripts and other miscellaneous items collected by the Company and its officers in India.” [Desmond, Ray. The India Museum, 1801-1879. London: H.M.S.O., 1982].

The phrase “miscellaneous items” gives an apt idea of the company’s attitude towards the artifacts that were ultimately collected in the “repository.” Most of the populace still knew surprisingly little about the history and culture of the subcontinent, considering how deeply connected they (or at least those wealthy enough) were, through the imported products they used every day, the events in the news and the sheer numbers of British people who had been making careers there, either military or commerce-related, for over two centuries. The museum would offer glimpses to any who were interested enough to look.

No mention is made of the library or museum in the early guidebooks. Most sources agree that they did not open until 1801 (one says 1804). Charles Wilkins (knighted in 1833), who had spent 16 years in India, was appointed as the first director of the library, and as such was also the de facto first curator of the museum, although it was not a separate entity at that time. Wilkins’s great interest was in languages. He mastered both Bengali and Persian, and designed typefaces to enable the print publication of books in both languages. He also studied Sanskrit and translated and published many great works of Indian literature.

Given his scholarly interests and activity, it may not be surprising that Wilkins was chosen to direct the new Oriental Repository at India House, or that the printer and translator was not well-suited for a librarian’s job. No doubt the company’s extremely casual attitude toward the collections also did not encourage Wilkins (or those who followed after him) to make the library’s maintenance or organization a priority among his other projects. It was, indeed, merely a “repository.”

Sadly, records and inventory for the Regency years of the library and museum do not exist. No catalogue of holdings was maintained. Records of the pieces that ended up at the Victoria and Albert Museum only go back to 1843. So we don’t know what the Regency visitor who gained access was able to see. Or even how easy or hard that access was. Or even exactly where it was. Wikipedia says that when the new expanded building was completed, “The Company’s museum was housed in one extension, the library in the other.” No source is given, but certainly the museum had very little in it to start, and at later dates it, or parts of it, were definitely housed in the library’s reading room. The Picture of London from 1822 may not be the first reference but it is the first I found that included the East India Museum in its list of exhibitions along with a description. It says:

This may be the best inventory of these treasures on record, despite errors such as identifying Tipu’s symbolic tiger as a lion. Clearly at the time, the public was invited to visit on scheduled days. At other times, an application had to be submitted and approved. It is interesting to note that no mention is made of the museum’s most famous artifact, the automaton/musical instrument of Tipu Sultan’s Tiger, which after several years in storage made its public debut at East India House in July of 1808. “Tippoo’s Tiger” is a nearly life-sized wooden sculpture of a royal tiger (Tipu’s personal emblem) attacking a European. It is an automaton, a playable miniature organ, and not least, a political statement by an Indian ruler whose hatred for the British is very clear. (I have talked about this automaton in previous posts, first here .)

The brutal storming of Tipu’s fortress at Seringapatam (Srirangapatna) in 1799 captured the imagination and curiosity of the British public for many years after the event. A panorama depicting it in 1800 was a great success. The tiger automaton first appeared in England as the frontispiece for the book A Review of the Origin, Progress and Result, of the Late Decisive War in Mysore with Notes by James Salmond, published in London in 1800, before the tiger had even arrived. The battle was featured as a vast spectacular at Astley’s Amphitheatre, and cut down to size for a juvenile drama. As late as 1868 it set the scene for Wilkie Collins’s novel The Moonstone. G. A. Henty wrote a fictional account, The Tiger of Mysore, and then there’s Bernard Cornwell’s offering in the Sharpe series, Sharpe’s Tiger.

The problem with artifacts from the fortress of Tipu Sultan (aka Tippoo Saib, Tippoo Sultan, and King of Mysore) was that British soldiers had gone on a frenzy of looting once their victory was secure, one that Wellington finally managed to stop, but not before a great number of valuable items were seized by individuals. Many of these eventually made their way to the museum, but only decades later. They were not on display in the museum’s early years. It is supposed that what saved the tiger automaton was that he was made of wood, and therefore had no intrinsic value to the looting soldiers.

Both visual and written documentation prove that Tipu’s Tiger resided in the library reading room at East India House, where poet John Keats saw it in 1819, and the French poet Auguste Barbier saw it in 1837. Both commemorated it in their poetical works. We also have a view of the reading room in 1841 clearly labeled as “the museum” and it shows a number of display cases besides the notable presence of the tiger (at far left).

That display location continued in the following decades, too, for the complaints of those trying to use the reading room while visitors cranked the tiger into motion are also documented. The musical and noise-making aspects of Tippoo’s Tiger suffered over the years from public exposure and use, and gradually fell into disrepair. Eventually the crankhandle that powered the sound effects of the tiger disappeared. The Athenaeum magazine reported in 1869:

 “These shrieks and growls were the constant plague of the student busy at work in the Library of the old India House, when the Leadenhall Street public, unremittingly, it appears, were bent on keeping up the performances of this barbarous machine. Luckily, a kind fate has deprived him of his handle, and stopped up, we are happy to think, some of his internal organs… and we do sincerely hope he will remain so, to be seen and admired, if necessary, but to be heard no more”.

I found one item definitely documented as a Regency era donation (based on the donor’s date of death) among the Victoria & Albert Museum’s collection. It is a “small standing figure” of Vishnu, “given to the India Museum, London, by Colonel Colin Mackenzie (1754- 1821), who may have acquired it some time around 1800-10.” (shown at left, courtesy V&A Museum, 2017KA5265)

Another famous item that was definitely on display in our period (donation date uncertain) was the Nebuchadnezzar II Stone Inscription Tablet unearthed before 1803 in the ruins of Babylon by Sir Harford Jones Brydges, then British Resident in Baghdad. Later, Brydges presented it to the museum of East India House. It has since been known as the East India House Inscription. (Probably originally buried in the foundations of one of King Nebuchadnezzar’s numerous constructions in Babylon between 604 and 562 BC.)

Beyond these two items, we can only guess at what else was displayed. But I found several items from Seringapatam that might have been typical, via a fascinating website on the history of textiles offered by the Textile Research Center. TRC is a charitable educational foundation based in the Netherlands.

Some are examples from a 2015 auction by Bonhams in London, which sold off a collection of armoury “taken from the fortress of Seringapatam (Srirangapatna), the last refuge of Tipu Sultan of Mysore…in 1799 A.D.” These items may well have remained in a private collection for the entire 216 years prior to that year. I have no idea who purchased them or where they have gone since, but similar items may have been in the India House Museum during the Regency. The site description says: “Apart from a quiver, armguards and a belt, the collection included sabres, gem-set trophy swords, exquisite quilted helmets, blunderbusses, fowling pieces, sporting guns, pistols, and a three-pounder bronze cannon.”

The quiver, armguards and belt are decorated with gold thread embroidery and spangles, on a red ground.

Other pieces shown on their site include a “Saddle cloth of crimson Genoa velvet thickly embroidered with gold thread in conventional foliage pattern, &c. (Indian, formerly the property of Tippoo Sahib)”:

a Beetlewing embroidery example that “used to be part of the collection of the India Museum and was transferred to the holdings of the South Kensington Museum in 1879/1880”

and an example of the “exquisite quilted helmets” mentioned in the auction along with a detailed description: “The quilted helmet is provided with a gold kaftgari (a form of Damascene work), steel nasal bar, inscribed with the names of Allah, Mohammed, Fatima, Ali, Hassan and Husain (clearly a reference to a Shi’ite origin). The decoration of the helmet includes gold thread embroidery on a red ground. There is also an interlocking shell design worked in metal thread on a blue ground. In the centre of each shell there is a single spangle.”

(If links do not work, please try copying and pasting?)

The attitude of the company towards these kinds of artifacts was a huge part of the problem. To them, and to most of the public, the items did not represent the rich history, culture, artistry and craftsmanship that we see in them today. They were “curiosities”— interesting, to be sure, but not considered important.

In the 1830’s, the museum came under public attack for its negligence in managing the library (and museum) collections. Apparently, as far as I have pieced together, a scholar named Peter Gordon took it upon himself to begin to asses the collections in the library. Unfortunately for us, he was mainly concerned with the manuscripts, books and records. The only specific museum artifacts I found mentioned were coins, medals, 35 “Hindu idols” sent in 1822, and a “gold salver.” But Gordon was aware of the great collections that had been bequeathed or forwarded to the museum, and listed many. He found many, many discrepancies, missing volumes in sets and missing material that had supposedly been sent years earlier.

When he communicated these faults to the Company Directors, they, rather than showing concern about the problems, took issue with what he was doing, and banned him from the library. Incensed, Gordon published his findings along with the letter dismissing him. I found these referenced as a book, The Oriental Repository at the India House (London 1835). The book is rare, but I discovered it is apparently a bound version of a scathing article Gordon initially published in Alexander’s East India and Colonial Magazine the same year. The deficiencies he outlines, in between cataloguing as much as he could, more than explain why it is so difficult to know what the museum contained.

At the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, three organizations were competing to collect these types of items: the London Missionary Society (LMS), the Oriental Repository in East India House, London, and The Indian Museum, Calcutta. The apparent carelessness of the East India Company directors towards the holdings of their library and museum, once in their possession, portrays the problem of setting a commercial enterprise as a guardian over distinctly non-commercial assets.

Despite this, the collection continued to grow, along with the public’s interest in India. This reached a peak in 1851 with the Great Exposition in the Crystal Palace, where a vast amount of Indian goods were shown and then given to the museum. It became Britain’s largest collection of Indian objects. At least the new artifacts were covered by the 1400-page exposition catalogue, which included a 130-page overview of the displays in the Crystal Palace’s Indian Courts. But then, the Great Rebellion of 1857 happened, and everything changed. The East India Company was disbanded in 1858 and its function taken over by the British government. The India Office was established, and the museum collection was moved to Fife House in Whitehall in 1861.

The New India Museum, Whitehall-Yard. Illustrated London News, 1861 (14799675223)

The huge East India House on Leadenhall Street was demolished in 1863 along with everything it represented, just 63 years after its massive remodeling. Later the holdings were put in storage, and in 1875 they were moved temporarily to the South Kensington Museum. In 1879 the museum collection was formally dissolved. Some of the items went to the British Museum, some to Kew Gardens (according to Wikipedia) and what remained in the South Kensington Museum (later named the Victoria and Albert Museum) reopened in 1880 and was known as the India Museum until 1945.

I found this a sad but also fascinating tale. Did you? Have you read any Regencies where the characters visited the Oriental Repository or East India Museum? Would you have liked to visit it?

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Lord Grantwell’s Christmas Wish

I have a new book out!

Lord Grantwell’s Christmas Wish is available at online bookstores now!

I had a lot of fun writing this one, especially in adding Yorkshire Christmas traditions and researching toys of the time period.

See my Pinterest Board for some of what I came up with.

Here’s the back cover blurb:

He wished to never see her again

Now he wishes she’ll stay…

Lord Grantwell hasn’t seen Lillian Pearson since she betrayed him years ago. So when she arrives on his doorstep looking for sanctuary, he’s not inclined to offer it! But when the two orphaned children in his care ask if she can stay for Christmas, how can he refuse? Grant and Lillian discover an intense attraction still simmers between them, and Grant starts to wonder if he has done her a grave injustice…

Here’s what the reviewers had to say:

Gaston fills the second sterling addition to her Captains of Waterloo series with holiday warmth and cheer before wrapping it up with her usual insightful characterization, empathetic storytelling, and perfect period details. John Charles, Booklist

Five Stars! Diane Gaston has creatively intertwined this time in history with joyful holiday festivities, and the resulting storyline is constantly filled with anticipation for one event while being guarded because of uncertainty about other circumstances….A number of enchantingly delightful Christmas traditions of the Regency era are scattered throughout the story….This couple come across as very believable, as reactions are sincere while their inner feelings are so heartfelt, thus causing me to truly like them and hope they would finally have a sense of belonging. The second book in the Captains of Waterloo series is engaging at all times. Amelia,

In her Regency romance featuring two estranged lovers, Gaston adds a dash of Christmas spice to a heartwarming story about the meaning of home and family…. Readers get to experience the joy of Regency-era Christmas traditions and children’s pastimes as Lillian and Grant try to give William and Anna a happy holiday, falling in love in the process. Sarah Johnson, Historical Novel Society

You can order Lord Grantwell’s Christmas Wish from Amazon or your favorite online bookstore.

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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…

Posted in History, Isobel Carr, Regency, Research, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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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