Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Real Robinson Crusoe...the 18th century castaway who inspired Defoe

Robinson Crusoe illustration by N.C. Wyeth
We are all familiar with the quintessential "stranded on a deserted island" story of 18th century author, Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe. Many other stories and films have used it as a springboard including the 1812 novel, The Swiss Family Robinson, by Johann David Wyss (which was made into a 1960 Disney film followed by a 1970's television series version,) the 1960's science fiction spin with the television series, Lost in Space, as well as Tom Hanks' portrayal of the FedEx man stranded after a plane crash in the 2000 film, Cast Away.There are many more examples of fictional portrayals inspired by Defoe's character but who was his inspiration? I discovered the answer in a marvelous book, I have recently purchased, authored in 2007 by Colin Woodard. Woodard's book, based upon his extensive research of original documents of the early 18th century including letters, journals, court depositions, ships' logs, rosters, etc, bears a title with a sub-title long enough to make any 18th century author proud: The Republic of Pirates-- Being The True And Surprising Story Of the Caribbean Pirates And The Man Who Brought Them Down. 


Woodes Rogers Expedition from Bristol to Juan Fernandez Island from National Archives, U.K.
Now, regarding Defoe's inspiration, there really was a man rescued after having been stranded alone on a deserted island for many years. In early 1709 a two-ship privateering expedition (i.e., lawfully sanctioned piracy by British ships against Spanish and French ships,) led by Woodes Rogers, was attempting a foray around the globe when they were forced to  make an emergency stop at Juan Fernandez Island, some 400 miles off the Pacific coast of Chile. The seamen aboard the Duke and Dutchess were dropping like flies from scurvy due to the depletion of needed fruits and vegetables. Juan Fernandez was an island held by Spain but was so remote, its early colonization attempts failed and was only used sporadically by the Spaniards for their own stopovers for fresh water and produce. On the night of January 31, 1709, the island came into view of the two privateering ships. To the crews' dismay a campfire was seen flickering on the beach so, the next morning, they sailed into the harbor, guns at the ready. 
Juan Fernandez Island


Anchoring a mile offshore, no other ship was in sight and the island appeared deserted after all. As a landing boat rowed ashore, a wild-looking man clothed in goatskin, waving a white flag and yelling in excited English, came running to the shoreline. This solitary man, Alexander Selkirk, had been living alone for the previous four and half years with only the company of wild goats, rats and feral cats, the legacy left by early Spanish colonization attempts. And here was the great irony: the reason Selkirk was there at all, was because of a man sailing aboard one of the British ships at anchor. That man, William Dampier, had led a round-the-world privateering expedition back in 1704, but due to his mishandling of his ships' needs, he faced many lawsuits when he returned to England. His ships and crew were so mismanaged, a group of seamen on one of his consort ships, mutinied and sailed to the island of Juan Fernandez on their own. After they'd landed and helped themselves to the fresh water and naturally available food sources on the island, they discovered their ship's hull was riddled with holes from shipworms. Mate Selkirk, decided to take his chances for rescue and remain alone on the island rather than risk death at sea from a ship likely to sink during its voyage.



Robinson Crusoe illustration by Walter Stanley Paget
Scotsman Alexander Selkirk survived by running down and catching wild goats, eating their meat and stitching their hides for clothing and shelter. In time, he domesticated several to insure a ready supply of their life-saving properties. His enemies were the rats who nibbled at his toes at night but by befriending some of the hundreds of feral cats, he gained a measure of respite from their intrusion. He passed his time with survival activities and in reading a copy of the Bible he'd secured before watching his fellow mutineers sail away. Once, he narrowly escaped the hands of a Spanish landing party by hiding in the top of a tree under which the sailors were urinating. When Rogers first saw him, he described Selkirk as looking wilder than the animals who'd first worn the goatskins themselves and noted in his writings that the man was so unused to speaking, he spoke only in half sentences. After twelve days on the island the crew, refortified with tropical fruit, goat stew and broth and with Selkirk reassured that Dampier was not in charge of the expedition, sailed away for the next leg of their adventure.


Daniel Defoe's, Robinson Crusoe
Once back in England, Woodes Rogers published a book about his adventures at sea, A Cruising Voyage Around the World, including an account of the rescue of Alexander Selkirk. Journalist and author Daniel Defoe read this with great interest and went to Bristol to meet with Selkirk who became the inspiration for Defoe's best known work and spawner of numerous copycats, of which the full, original title including its substantial sub-title was, The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by Pyrates. 

In 1966, the Chilean government renamed Juan Fernandez Island, Robinson Crusoe Island.

As my dear father was fond of saying, "True story!"

And, now you know!

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now! 

Kate

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Power of the Dog...a timely poem by Rudyard Kipling

Betsy
My dear readers, I beg your patience and your indulgence this week as I depart from my usual sharing of 18th century research and take time to mourn the loss of our beloved dog, Betsy, who passed away in my arms April 13, 2014, just a month shy of her twelfth birthday. I am including a poem written by Rudyard Kipling who spoke to our nature of giving dogs our deepest love knowing, full well, their time on earth is far too short. Yes, Betsy's passing has torn my heart in two but for such a loving companion, I gladly give it to her, for it is the least I can do for such a pure soul.  


The Power of the Dog by Rudyard Kipling
There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie --
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet's unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find -- it's your own affair --
But . . . you've given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone -- wherever it goes -- for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We've sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we've kept'em, the more do we grieve;

For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long --
So why in -- Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?
The Author and Betsy
Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...


Kate

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Pirate Paradox...how 18th century bandits became Hollywood darlings

Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean
So, how did the Golden Age of Piracy, most prominent in the early 18th century, sail into history and into the hearts and minds of the public, spawning tales of adventure and romance on the high seas? How is it that a bunch of sea-going bandits has become the stuff of children's stories and blockbuster movies featuring endearing and often comical characters such as Johnny Depp's portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the 2003 Pirates of the Caribbean movie series which was, itself, inspired by a children's ride in Disney World? Sparrow followed in the footsteps of
Movie Poster from Disney's 1950 version of Treasure Island
 Robert Louis Stevenson's Long John Silver of
Treasure Island, 1883, and J. M. Barrie's Captain Hook of Peter Pan, 1904. Both Treasure Island and Peter Pan were made into films by the Walt Disney company during the 1950s and, of course, Walt Disney has always been about entertaining children (as well as young-at-heart adults.) 

My research gives some clues into this phenomenon. It seems that the roots of these pirate tales stem from the lives of men who were, in the beginning of their sea-going careers, often pressed into service by the British Royal Navy and then, once on board, mistreated under a variety of tyrannical captains. The means by which they became His or Her Majesty's seamen was sometimes by a blow to the head, after which they'd awaken aboard a tall ship with no means of escape, legal or otherwise. Agents of the Royal Navy would haunt taverns to scout for likely candidates and follow them out, clubs in hand, as the intended victims wove their inebriated paths toward home. As members of the Royal Navy, these unfortunate men often lived under harsh conditions and were paid little or nothing for their service. The captain's word was law and he could dole out any punishment from flogging to drowning at his order
From "The Last Battle of Blackbeard" by Edward Eggleston, 1895
and whim. That is not to say all captains were oppressive and all seamen were kidnapped, but enough were to build the foundation for the league of pirates, men who once they'd left the Royal Navy by whatever means they could, went into business for themselves. This was especially true for a man such as Edward Teach AKA Edward Thatch AKA Blackbeard who was trained as a "legal" pirate, known as a privateer, expected to capture and rob ships looked upon as enemies of the British realm. It was under Queen Anne that Blackbeard learned his trade and when his services were no longer needed, set out on his own to ply the profitable waters of the Atlantic. He even named his flagship, one he'd confiscated from the French, the Queen Anne's Revenge.


One of the things that set the pirates apart from the legally acceptable tyrants of the Royal Navy, was their relative democracy. Pirate seamen voted for their captains and could vote to depose them if things didn't work out well. They were also paid a great
The Pirate Flag of Blackbeard (designed to intimidate!)
deal more than they were while in the Royal Navy. "Honor among thieves" was a very real part of their world. There were, of course, pirate captains who were just as despicable as the worst of the Navy's and ruled their men with an iron fist gripped tightly around a cat-o-nine-tails, ready to lash out at the slightest hint of insubordination. Although there were atrocities among them, many a pirate leader used image and intimidation rather than cruelty as the means to their end. It is said that Blackbeard was a master at this with his frightening appearance enhanced by his naturally huge stature and his habit of tying slow-burning fuses in his long, black beard giving him the illusion of a creature straight from the gates of Hell. 


I believe the public formed a kind of admiration for these men (and a few pirate women) who, having suffered under the heavy hand of the all-powerful law of the land and sea, went on to form fairly democratic, albeit sometimes brutal, fellowships of their own and lived the life of "sticking it to the Man" that many secretly wished they could as well. This notion has made its way down to our present time, long after the last of such pirates was pardoned by royal decree, retired through self-exile or hanged on the gallows.
The Author striking a piratical pose at the Queen Anne's Revenge exhibit
 in New Berm NC. 2014

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now! (Arrrgh!)

Kate

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

18th Century Selfies...revealing self-portraits

Clearly, this yawning self-portrait of Joseph Ducreux,
1783, shows the artist did not take himself too seriously.
In this age of cell phone selfies popping up all over the Web capturing self-portraits of celebrities, wannabe celebrities, teenagers, adults, toddlers (who've grabbed their parents phones to imitate them with often hilarious parodies of said parents,) and even shamed political figures one would think would know better, I pondered the selfies of former days. Of course, those selfies were created by accomplished artists. What do those self-portraits say about their subjects, the artists themselves? I'm sure many of them were honest portrayals but, even before the days of photo-shopped enhancements, there must have been the temptation to paint one's self in the most flattering light. So, this week I've searched the Internet and harvested a few of those 18th century selfies for your edification and enjoyment:
Judging by these self-portraits of Decreux, this one from 1793, the artist
had quite a sense of humor. But there's something about his expression, here, that
makes me think I wouldn't want to get on his wrong side and become the butt of his jokes.
I can imagine the title for this self-portrait as Gotcha! 
Now, here is an artist who took himself VERY seriously but you
probably would have too if you'd been Jacques-Louis David painting
 this while imprisoned during the French Revolution in 1784.


Blame my art history ignorance but, until I began hunting down 18th century artists for my research, I was unaware of the number of accomplished female artists of the era. Here, in all their finery, are just a couple I ran across:

Yes, female artists of the time were expected to paint dressed up in their
 fashionable ensembles as seen here in Adelaide Labille-Guiard's self-portrait 
with pupils in 1784. 
(I can't even eat a bowl of spaghetti without splattering it all over my clothes!)

This beauty, Marie-Gabrielle Capet, appears to like what she sees 
in her 1783 self-portrait, but who could blame her?


I ran across a number of self-portraits, male and female, featuring artists 
shading their eyes as here with Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1745.

Perhaps those artists plagued with sun in their eyes should have followed 
the example of Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin as seen in his 1775 self-portrait
 wearing a clever visor and, take note ladies, protecting his hair with a turban!

Gotta love a man who puts his dog before him!
 This is the self-portrait of Englishman, William Hogarth with his pug, Trump, in 1745.

The Author's 18th Century Selfie 
(with a little help from Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun)

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now! 

Kate

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lost in Translation...meaning what you say in the 18th century

Doctor Johnson in the Ante-Room of the Lord Chesterfield Waiting for an Audience, 1748
by Edward Matthew Ward, 1845
So, having reached Part II of my work-in-progress, Through the Hourglass, my young heroine time travels back to 1718. As a sixteen-year-old from the year 2014, one of her immediate adjustments is that of language. Even though she is in her hometown of Edenton, North Carolina (known at the time as the Town on Queen Anne's Creek,) and even though the inhabitants are speaking her own native English, she finds the meanings of many words have changed, causing much room for misunderstandings!

In researching the changes in word usage, I came across the dictionary authored by
Samuel Johnson's 1755 Dictionary of the English Language
Samuel Johnson in 1755. (Another 18th century book with a loooong sub-title:)

A DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE: 
IN WHICH The WORDS are deduced from their ORIGINALS, 
AND ILLUSTRATED in their DIFFERENT SIGNIFICATIONS 
BY EXAMPLES from the best WRITERS. 
TO WHICH ARE PREFIXED, A HISTORY of the LANGUAGE, 
AND An ENGLISH GRAMMAR, 
By SAMUEL JOHNSON, A. M. 
In TWO VOLUMES.  

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, you can peruse Mr. Johnson's work at: 
 www.johnsonsdictionaryonline.com 
(You can see photos of the actual original pages by clicking "Page View.")

Here is a list of examples, one for each letter of the alphabet, to give you some idea of the misunderstandings a time traveler might encounter:

AWFUL—Not rotten but awe-inspiring, as in “awful majesty.”
BAGGAGE—An insulting term for a woman, like “hussy.”
CLOWN—A rustic or bumpkin, not a circus performer.
DESERT—Any deserted or uninhabited place—a wilderness, not necessarily a place filled with sand. 18th century author Daniel Defoe placed his Robinson Crusoe on a desert island filled with lush vegetation.
ENTHUSIASM—Fanaticism, especially in religious matters. Not a positive attribute.
FOND—Foolish, naive, innocent.
GENEVA—Gin. The word and its shortened form come not from the Swiss city, but from genever, Dutch for juniper, the plant which provided the flavor for the original Dutch variety.
HOTHOUSE—Brothel.
INTERVIEW—Any sort of meeting. Not just to see about getting hired for a job.
JADE—Could refer to the green stone we think of today but also as an abusive term applied to women; something like slut.
KID—Young goat. To kid meant to bring forth young goats. (Nothing at all to do with teasing!)
LEECH—Johnson’s first meaning is: physician (and not derogatory at all) and second meaning is: the critter that sucks blood. The norm for medical treatment was bleeding the patient.
MAKE LOVE—Johnson lists 59 entries under "to make___" and this is number 39: To court, to woo (with no sexual connotation.)
NICKNAME—A name given in contempt with great derision.
OUCH—An ornament of gold or jewels, unless referring to the ouch of a boar in which it means a blow from a boar’s tusk, (Ouch!)
PECULIAR—Particular (not odd or unusual.)
SNACK—A share of something often by a compact or agreement.
TOILET—A dressing table (no indoor plumbing, remember?)
UPHOLSTERER—One who furnishes houses (not limited to one who makes or repairs upholstered furniture.)
VINE—The plant that bears the grape (apparently all vines were assumed to be those that produced vino.)
WOMANIZE—To make a man more like a woman, effeminate, emasculate (something done TO a man not BY a man.)
X—“No words in English language begin with this letter” according to Samuel Johnson.
YUCK—Itch
ZONE—Girdle (which meant anything that surrounded one’s middle not just the suck-you-in undergarment of your grandmother’s day. )
Sophia Drake, by Ralph Earl, 1784

As you can see, a young time traveler could get herself into a lot of hot water if she misspoke or misunderstood. Let's hope she doesn't go for an interview as a hothouse worker!

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now! 

Kate







Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Luck of the Irish...was NOT with Poor John Lawson

Portrait thought to be of John Lawson, 1700, artist unknown
I write this on the eve of St Patrick's Day to be first read on March 19 while I trust visions of all things green and lucky are still dancing in your head (and perhaps a bit of maniacal step dancing by some leaping leprechauns, as well!) At any rate, for some unknown and mysterious reason, my thoughts have turned to that most unlucky of eighteenth century fellows, John Lawson. Oh, poor John. Truly.
Title Page of John Lawson's Book













Last week's blog post featured John Lawson's glowing account of the qualities of women he discovered on his journey throughout the Carolinas in the first decade of the 1700s, published in 1709 as A New Voyage to Carolina; Containing the Exact Description and Natural History of That Country: Together with the Present State Thereof. And a Journal of a Thousand Miles, Travel'd Thro' Several Nations of Indians. Giving a Particular Account of Their Customs, Manners, &c 
See: https://archive.org/details/newvoyagetocarol00laws to view a copy of his book.

Before delving into the awful manner of Mr. 
Carolina Wildlife from John Lawson's Book
Map of John Lawson's Journey from
Lawson's demise, let me tell you a little of this remarkable man's accomplishments. In addition to exploring, what was then, a land of rough and tumble people, a land filled not only with the natural beauty and grace of its gentler inhabitants, but also with poisonous snakes, savage biting insects, and an air of lawlessness we usually attribute to the Wild West frontier days of America, John Lawson was responsible for the layout and establishment of North Carolina's oldest town, Bath, as well as for that of the town of New Bern, North Carolina. John Lawson traveled on foot and by canoe as he witnessed and recorded the amazing diversity of flora and fauna as well as the people, both native and immigrant. Note--I use the term, "Indian," here as that is how Lawson described them as opposed to today's preferred term, "Native American."--  On December 28, 1700, he, along with a crew of five Englishmen, three Indian men and one Indian woman, set out on a fifty-nine day journey snaking along rivers and trading paths beginning at what is now Charleston, South Carolina, moving in a crescent out to the piedmont region of both South and North Carolina and ending near present day Bath, on the coastal plain. Although probably about five hundred miles as flies the proverbial crow, his trip took such a circuitous route, his claim of a thousand miles is not unwarranted. His descriptions of the many Indian tribes he encountered (often a different one for each river) were, though sometimes colored with his bemusement, most often respectful, sometimes comparing them favorably to his fellow countrymen (and women.) To quote Lawson, with modern spelling:

Amongst (Indian) women, it seems impossible to find a Scold: if they are provoked, or affronted, by their Husbands, or some other, they resent the Indignity offered them in silent tears, or by refusing their Meat. Would some of our European Daughters of Thunder set these Indians for a pattern, there might be more quiet Families found amongst them, occasioned by that unruly Member, the Tongue.

Lawson did not limit his praise to the fairer sex, however, and although he referred to the native people as savages, he often remarked they were less savage in some ways than their Old World counterparts. His praise of the native peoples is all the more ironic in that his death was at the hands of the Tuscarora, whom he acknowledged with sympathy and respect in his book.
Tuscarora Warrior, artist unknown

in 1711, on the verge of war against the colonists, some of the Tuscarora looked upon Lawson as an agent representing people who were the source of terrible injustice and mistreatment of the natives. Not only had Indian lands been confiscated but many Indian women and children had been taken as slaves. Lawson, for all his close interaction with the Indians, appeared unaware of their belief that he was actually working against them. In mid-September, during a time simmering with hostility, John Lawson placed himself in the heart of Indian country as he took an expedition trip along the Neuse River to find a quicker route through North Carolina to the Virginia border. He was captured by Tuscarora warriors and subsequently killed. Baron Christoph Von Graffenried and his slave who accompanied Lawson on that fateful trip were eventually released by their captors and the baron's own illustration of the event is included in today's post. For those with a weak stomach or prone to nightmares, I seriously suggest you stop reading the remainder of this post. I am not being humorous and I certainly want the Reader to understand the grave and graphic nature of the description passed down to us from centuries past. Although it may have been embellished for reasons of propaganda, the methods described match those Lawson, himself, recorded during his time among the Tuscarora. So, here goes:
The Death of John Lawson, 1711, by Baron Christoph Von Graffenried

Splinters made from pitch pine were stuck into Lawson's skin covering his entire body. The horrible pain this caused was then increased a thousand fold when the splinters were set ablaze and the unfortunate man was burned alive. To quote Marjorie Hudson in her article, "Among the Tuscarora: The strange and mysterious death of John Lawson, gentleman, explorer, and writer," reprinted at http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/1645  from its original publication in North Carolina Literary Review, Vol. 1, No. 1, Summer 1992: 

His bleeding skin numbed by pitch pine, he begins to feel the heat on the skin of his legs and feet, the rush upward, the death dance now frenzied in his limbs, the last sight of this world framed in fire, and, finally, the soul escaping into a heavenly place like Eden, like the New World when it was still young, belonging to itself alone, a land that fulfills all expectations of balance, of beauty, of perfect enmity.

This terrible event preceded a war between the Tuscarora and the colonists which after two dreadful years ended with all of that tribe either killed, taken as slaves, or fled northward out of the Carolinas.

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now! (And may we learn from the past.)

Kate


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Brisk Charming Eyes...Carolina Girls of the 18th century

Portrait of an Unknown Lady of South Carolina, 1708-1709, by Henrietta Johnston

In 1709, British Surveyor General John Lawson, wrote an extensive description of the Carolinas which served as an enticement for men of England to brave the seas and help colonize the land. The title for this work certainly boasts one of the longest sub-titles this author has ever seen:

A New Voyage to Carolina; Containing the Exact Description and Natural History of That Country: Together with the Present State Thereof. And a Journal of a Thousand Miles, Travel'd Thro' Several Nations of Indians. Giving a Particular Account of Their Customs, Manners, &c


One of the most entertaining sections of his treatise is his description of the amazing virtues of the region's women. Not only were they "often very fair" and "very fruitful," they were, apparently, not afraid of heavy, outdoor labor and "very handy in Canoes!" Read on to see Lawson's own words regarding these remarkable women: 


"The Women are the most industrious Sex in that Place, and, by their good Houswifry,
A Girl Sewing, 1750, by Philip Mercier 
make a great deal of Cloath of their own Cotton, Wool and Flax; some of them keeping their Families (though large) very decently apparel’d, both with Linnens and Woollens, so that they have no occasion to run into the Merchant's Debt, or lay their Money out on Stores for Cloathing.

As for those Women, that do not expose themselves to the Weather, they are often very fair, and generally as well featurd, as you will see any where, and have very brisk charming Eyes, which sets them off to Advantage. They marry very young; some at Thirteen or Fourteen; and She that stays till Twenty is reckon’d a stale Maid; which is a very indifferent Character in that warm Country.

The Women are very fruitful; most Houses being full of Little Ones. They have very ­­easy Travail in their Child-bearing, in which they are so happy, as seldom to miscarry It has been observ’d that Women long marry’d, and without Children, in other Places, have remov’d to Carolina, and become joyful Mothers.
Louisa Balfour, 1751, by Phillip Mercier


Many of the Women are very handy in Canoes, and will manage them with great Dexterity and Skill, which they become accustomed to in this watry Country. They are ready to help their Husbands in any servile Work, as Planting, when the Season of the Weather requires Expedition; Pride seldom banishing good Houswifry. The Girls are not bred up to the Wheel, and Sewing only; but the Dairy and Affairs of the House they are very well acquainted withal; so that you shall see them, whilst very young, manage their Business with a great deal of Conduct and Alacrity."

Perhaps the Beach Boys should have been singing, "I wish they all could be Carolina girls!"

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

That's Entertainment...18th century American style

    
The movie award season was capped Sunday night by the 86th Annual Academy Awards ceremony and it made me ponder just what our 18th century American ancestors did for entertainment. Well, the answer is quite a lot, actually. For those wishing to sit back and be entertained there was the precursor to film, live theater, and for the more adventurous, there were circuses. Much of 18th century entertainment was, of course, the do-it-yourself variety and included board and card games, sing-alongs, dancing, and books of jokes and instructions in fortune-telling. We'll get to those later but, this week, let's take a look at the spectator-based entertainments, theater and circus. 
The Laughing Audience, mid 1700s, by William Hogarth

Live theater was determined unsuitable for the mores of the American colonies until the mid-1700s. The Library Company of Philadelphia tells us that in the first half of the century, "religious reformers believed that plays encouraged licentiousness, promoted effeminacy and homosexuality among men, encouraged treachery and hypocrisy (as acting was a form of lying), competed with religious worship, and often challenged religious doctrine."  It wasn't until 1752 that theater was considered somewhat respectable, with the first advertised play being a performance of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice by a theater troupe from Great Britain called the American Company. This production was held in that hotbed of questionable morals, Virginia. It wasn't until 1792 when the anti-theater act of 1767 was finally repealed that New Englanders were free to see such spectacle. Even then, religious purists of that region preached the dangers of the theater and prospective drama devotees had to travel to large cities such as New York to get a taste of such entertainments. 
Laurent Franconi, 1800,  by Carle Vernet 

Now, for the circus. As might be expected, some religious leaders of the time were dead set against such exotic entertainment, primarily because it drew together crowds of people of all socio-economic levels, age and gender and heaven knows what that could lead to! It was also considered a dubious distraction from religious duties. Puritanical objections aside, the first circuses were based on feats of equestrian prowess. Riders performed tricks on horseback that were best accomplished and seen when enclosed in a circle. Thus the term circus, as it relates to the modern circus, came into being. By the end of the century, circuses were extremely popular, drawing those crowds of disparate folks together. Over time, the trick-riding acts were interspersed with other entertainers in the way of clowns and acrobats. The first circuses were housed in buildings set aside for the purpose and in 1793 a British equestrian, John Bill Ricketts, opened the first American circus in the city of Philadelphia followed shortly by the circus of another British horseman, Philip Lailson. By then, the ultra-conservative element of the religious faithful were convinced America was surely going to hell in a brightly festooned hand basket.

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!

Thanks to the following for today's resource material:

http://www.librarycompany.org/zinman/entertainment.htm

http://www.circopedia.org/SHORT_HISTORY_OF_THE_CIRCUS





Wednesday, February 26, 2014

18th Century Man, Woman, and Child's Best Friend...going to the dogs

The Children of the Second Duke of Northumberland, 1787, Gilbert Stuart
In 21st century America, our pets are often considered family members, be they dogs, cats, goldfish, ferrets, rabbits, pot-bellied pigs, horses, llamas, hamsters, what have you. Examining portraits from the 18th century, we see this is really nothing new at all. Many portraits included dogs, cats, and birds, as well as more exotic pets and, by virtue of them being painted with their people, we can easily surmise the importance they played in the family structure. Today I would like to salute the 18th century pet dog and show you several paintings that include man's (as in mankind's) best friend. As you can see, dogs were included in paintings depicting all
Louis XIV and His Family, 1710, by Unknown, formerly attributed to Nicolas de Largillierre
socioeconomic strata from the humblest peasant to the highest monarch. My novel-in-progress has a dog as an integral part of the story so I was interested in seeing the kinds of dogs who populate 18th century paintings.
Enjoy!


George Venebles Vernon, 1767, Thomas Gainsborough
Cottage Girl with Dog and Pitcher, 1785, by Thomas Gainsborough


Woodes Rogers and his family, 1729, by William Hogarth
The Children of King Charles I of England, 1637, Anthony van Dyck (17th century but just had to include it!)
Louis Philippe Joseph, Duc d'Orleans and Duc de Chartres
18th century, by Louis Tocque
Elisabeth Isabella Mniszech , 1797, by Marie Élisabeth Louise Vigée
 Interior with a Mother Attending her Children, 1728, by Willem van Mieris


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Portrait of a Lady with a Dog and a Monkey, 1710, by Nicolas de Largillierre
Teresa Vandoni, Italian singer, 1797, Carl Frederick von Breda
Philip of Parma, 1765, by  Laurent Pécheux
I even found our Betsy in the portrait above! 

Kate and Betsy at Yellowstone National Park, 2011, by William F. Ahearn
Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!