Ben Miller

Archive for the ‘Victorian Era’ Category

The Survival of Archaic English in the American Dialect

In Colonial (American) Period, Customs and Traditions, Everyday Life, Federalist Period, Georgian Era, Renaissance, Victorian Era on March 31, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Many people hold the common belief that modern English, as it is spoken today by the English themselves, is the “purest,” most uncorrupted form of the language. In other words, if one were to get in a time machine and travel back to 16th or 17th century England, the language one would hear would most closely resemble modern British English, as opposed to say, American English.

This is not, however, strictly true. For instance, when an American uses the slang term “bub” (a word long extinct in England), he or she is actually using a term that has its roots in Renaissance England. Numerous “archaic” words and phrases harking back several centuries survived in American English, only to become extinct in the British Isles. One reason for this is that American culture was mostly forged in the initial wave of immigrants that came between 1620 and 1640. H.L. Mencken explains:

Most of the colonists who lived along the American seaboard in 1750 were the descendants of immigrants who had come in fully a century before; after the first settlements there had been much less fresh immigration than many latter-day writers have assumed. According to Prescott F. Hall, “the population of New England … at the date of the Revolutionary War … was produced out of an immigration of about 20,000 persons who arrived before 1640,” and we have Franklin’s authority for the statement that the total population of the colonies in 1751, then about 1,000,000, had been produced from an original immigration of less than 80,000. Even at that early day, indeed, the colonists had begun to feel that they were distinctly separated, in culture and customs, from the mother-country…The result of this isolation, on the one hand, was that proliferation of the colonial speech which I have briefly reviewed, and on the other hand, the preservation of many words and phrases that gradually became obsolete in England.

Just what phrases survived in America, only to die out in England? Mencken provides a list:

A very large number of words and phrases, many of them now exclusively American, are similar survivals from the English of the seventeenth century, long since obsolete or merely provincial in England. Among nouns Thornton notes fox-fire, flap-jack, jeans, molasses, beef (to designate the live animal), chinch, cordwood, home-spun, ice-cream, julep and swingle-tree; Halliwell adds andiron, bay-window, cesspool, clodhopper, cross-purposes, greenhorn, loop-hole, ragamuffin and trash; and other authorities cite stock (for cattle), fall (for autumn), offal, din, underpinning and adze. Bub, used in addressing a boy, is very old English, but survives only in American. Flapjack goes back to Piers Plowman, but has been obsolete in England for two centuries. Muss, in the sense of a row, is also obsolete over there, but it is to be found in “Anthony and Cleopatra.” Char, as a noun, disappeared from English a long time ago, save in the compound, charwoman, but it survives in America as chore. Among the verbs similarly preserved are to whittle, to wilt and to approbate. To guess, in the American sense of to suppose, is to be found in “Henry VI”:

Not all together; better far, I guess,
That we do make our entrance several ways.

In “Measure for Measure” Escalus says “I guess not” to Angelo. The New English Dictionary offers examples much older—from Chaucer, Wycliffe and Gower. To interview is in Dekker. To loan, in the American sense of to lend, is in and Henry VIII, but it dropped out of use in England early in the eighteenth century, and all the leading dictionaries, both in English and American, now call it an Americanism. To fellowship, once in good American use but now reduced to a provincialism, is in Chaucer. Even to hustle, it appears, is ancient. Among adjectives, homely, which means only homelike or unadorned in England, was used in its American sense of plain-featured by both Shakespeare and Milton. Other such survivors are burly, catty-cornered, likely, deft, copious, scant and ornate. Perhaps clever also belongs to this category, that is, in the American sense of amiable.

Mencken concludes:

“Our ancestors,” said James Russell Lowell, “unhappily could bring over no English better than Shakespeare’s.” Shakespeare died in 1616; the Pilgrims landed four years later; Jamestown was founded in 1607. As we have seen, the colonists, saving a few superior leaders, were men of small sensitiveness to the refinements of life and speech: soldiers of fortune, amateur theologians, younger sons, neighbouhood “advanced thinkers,” bankrupts, jobless workmen, decayed gentry, and other such fugitives from culture…There were no grammarians in that day; there were no purists that anyone listened to; it was a case of saying your say in the easiest and most satisfying way. In remote parts of the United States there are still direct and almost pure-blooded descendants of those seventeenth century colonists. Go among them, and you will hear more words from the Shakespearean vocabulary, still alive and in common service, than anywhere else in the world, and more of the loose and brilliant syntax of that time, and more of its gipsy phrases.

Source:

Mencken, H.L. (Henry Louis), 1880–1956. The American language: An inquiry into the development of English in the United States, by H.L. Mencken. 2nd ed., rev. and enl. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1921.

Forgotten Female Accessories

In Dress and Fashion, Edwardian Era, Everyday Life, Gender Roles, Victorian Era on March 10, 2010 at 3:03 pm

During the 1870s to 1890s, there were gadgets called skirt lifters also known as dress holders.  These devices were hooked onto the skirt waistband or chatelaine (a belt hook from which dangled by chains many useful items such as scissors or thimbles).  The end of the chain had a tong like device used to grip the bottom edge of the skirt.  I’ve read conflicting accounts as to whether it was used in the front to lift the skirt out of the way when climbing stairs or mounting a wheel or horse, or if it was used towards the back of the skirt for picking up the long fashionable trains, thus keeping them dirt free on outdoor walks.

Dress Holder

Victorian Era Skirt Lifter

The larger loops on the chain of the skirt lifter were hooked onto the metal loop on the waistband clip.  This would give the wearer a choice as to how much lift was needed.

Skirt Lifter in Use

Skirt Lifter Height Adjustments

Also from this time period up to perhaps the early 1900s there were clever little pieces of jewelry called hankie holders.  Most of them consisted of a gold ring sized to fit the pinkie, a 2.4 inch chain and a small gold pair of tongs (more often than not found in a seashell or fan shape).

Hankie Holder

Mid-Victorian Hankie Holder

I’ve read stories on the internet that they were used as a means to flirt with Victorian gentleman.  Letting the hankie fall to the ground and him being obliged to pick it up.
I’ve also read, which I believe to be far more likely, that they were used in the ballroom, adding an extra flourish to a couples dance.

Hankie holder in action
Finally in use during the 1930-1950s were glove holders.  I’ve seen confused people on Ebay selling these as skirt lifters, which they most certainly were not.  Ladies would hook the chain around their purse handles or through a button hole and keep their gloves safe while dining.

Ladies Glove Holder

Old Valentine’s Day Customs and Lost Romantic Rituals

In Customs and Traditions, Everyday Life, Georgian Era, Love and Courtship, Victorian Era on February 16, 2010 at 2:23 am

Valentines- Punch

Although the roots of Valentine’s Day stretch back to A.D 496 (when it was established by Pope Gelasius I to commemorate the life of a Christian martyr), most scholars agree that the holiday did not become associated with any romantic notions until the late middle ages. By the early 18th century the custom of “drawing names” had become popular, as noted by Bourne, in his Antiquitates Vulgares (1725):

It is a ceremony, never omitted among the Vulgar, to draw Lots which they Term Valentines, on the Eve before Valentine-day. The names of a select number of one sex, are by an equal number of the other put into some vessel; and after that, every one draws a name, which…is called their Valentine, and is also looked upon as a good omen of their being man and wife afterwards.

These name-drawing rituals could become quite elaborate, to the point of resembling European folk-magic. Consider the following example, described in a 1755 letter by an anonymous girl dubbed “Arabella Whimsey”:

Last Friday, Mr. Town, was Valentine’s Day, and I’ll tell you what I did the night before. I got five bay-leaves and pinned them to the four corners of my pillow, and the fifth one to the middle; and then if I dreamt of my sweetheart, Betty said we should be married before the year was out. But to make it more sure, I boiled an egg hard, and took out the yolk, and filled it up with salt: and when I went to bed, eat it shell and all, without speaking or drinking after it, and this was to have the same effect with the bay-leaves. We also wrote our lovers names upon bits of paper; and rolled them up in clay, and put them into water; and the first that rose up, was to be our Valentine. Would you think it? Mr. Blossom was my man: and I lay a-bed and shut my eyes all the morning, till he came to our house; for I would not have seen another man before him for all the world.

During the eighteenth century, if a man was particularly smitten with a woman, he might declare it to the world by pinning to his sleeve a heart-shaped piece of paper with the name of his beloved written on it. It was this custom which led to the expression “wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve.” A woman might achieve the same goal with respect to the man she admired by wearing a charm called a love-bagge near her heart, as recorded in Pepys’s diary entry of March 3, 1662:

And here Mrs. T. shewed me my name upon her breast as her valentine, which will cost me twenty shillings.

During the Victorian era, sending Valentine cards became popular in England, and, in 1847, a Massachusetts woman named Esther Howland capitalized on the tradition by developing a successful business producing hand-made Valentine cards. Thus began the practice in America. In 1872, Punch Magazine offered an update of the tradition:

The belief is universal…that if you are single, the first unmarried person you meet outside the house on St. Valentine’s Day will exercise an important influence over your future destiny. Fortunately there is a simple way of evading the hand of Fate, open to those who desire a greater freedom in their choice of a partner in wedlock – at least, if they are willing to remain indoors till the expiration of the spell at twelve p.m. It is amazing how much faith they put into this sort of thing.

This same superstition was mentioned in Ms. Whimsey’s 1755 letter, when she stated that she would lay in bed all morning with her eyes shut, until Mr. Blossom “came to our house; for I would not have seen another man before him for all the world.”

HEAVING

Another interesting ancient tradition not connected to Valentine’s Day (but romantic nonetheless, and thus deserving of mention) was that of heaving, practiced in England and Wales since time immemorial. On the day after “Old Eastertide,” groups of men were allowed to physically lift women off the ground in a chair specially adorned with ribbons and flowers for that purpose.

Heaving

Sometimes a kiss was required as a condition of release; or rather, a kiss (or money) was bestowed as a “reward” upon the heaving party. In some places, the mothers of the girls gave presents of food or milk, so as to bribe the boys to go away quietly. The next day the women would exact their revenge by performing the same ritual on the men. The following extract is from the Public Advertiser for Friday, April 13th, 1787:

Old as the custom has been, the counties of Shropshire, Cheshire, and Lancashire boast one of equal antiquity, which they call Heaving, and perform with the following ceremonies, on the Monday and Tuesday in the Easter week. On the first day, a party of men go with a chair into every house to which they get admission, force every female to be seated in their vehicle, and lift them up three times, with loud huzzas. For this they claim the reward of a chaste salute, which those who are too coy to submit to may get exempted from by a fine of one shilling, and receive a written testimony, which secures them from a repetition of the ceremony for that day. On the Tuesday the women claim the same privilege, and pursue their business in the same manner, with this addition–that they guard every avenue to the town, and stop every passenger, pedestrian, equestrian or vehicular.

In a letter dated May 7, 1799, one Englishman described the startling experience of being forced to submit to the custom by several aggressive females :

I was sitting alone last Easter Tuesday at breakfast at the Talbot in Shrewsbury, when I was surprised by the entrance of all the female servants of the house handing in an arm chair, lined with white, and decorated with ribbons and favours of different colours. I asked them what they wanted? Their answer was, they came to heave me. It was the custom of the place on that morning; and they hoped I would take a seat in their chair. It was impossible not to comply with a request very modestly made, and to a set of nymphs in their best apparel, and several of them under twenty. I wished to see all the ceremony, and seated myself accordingly. The group then lifted me from the ground, turned the chair about, and I had the felicity of a salute from each. I told them I supposed there was a fee due upon the occasion, and was answered in the affirmative; and, having satisfied the damsels in this respect, they withdrew to heave others.

According to a 1902 British folklore journal, heaving was was originally meant “to represent the Crucifixion of Our Saviour—the dressing (in gay ribbons) being intended to set forth the clothing of our Lord with the purple robe; the lifting, the nailing on the Cross; the kiss, the betrayal; the reward, the thirty pieces of silver.” Although the roots of the custom are obscure, it appears to date back to at least the rule of Edward I “Longshanks,” when it was recorded that:

Seven of Queen Eleanora’s (of Castile) ladies, on the Easter Monday of 1290, unceremoniously invaded the chamber of King Edward (the First), and seizing their majestic master, proceeded to ‘ heave him’ in his chair till he was glad to pay a fine of fourteen pounds to enjoy ‘ his own peace,’ and be set at liberty.

Heaving appears to have eventually fallen out of favor at some point during the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. It seems to have been looked upon with disapproval by members of respectable society, judging by the stern observation of a gentleman from Manchester writing in 1784:

It is a rude, indecent, and dangerous diversion, practised chiefly by the lower class of people. Our magistrates constantly prohibit it by the bellman, but it subsists at the end of the town; and the women have of late years converted it into a money job.

Bourne, Henry. Antiquitates Vulgares, pub. 1725.

Bye-gones, relating to Wales and the Border Counties. Volume III, New Series. Printed at the Caxton workd., 1894

A Quarterly Review, or, Myth, Tradition, Institution, & Custom, being the Transactions of the Folk-lore Society, and incorporating The Archaeological Review and The Folk-lore Journal, Vol. XIII. London: David Nutt, 1902.

Opie, Iona and Moira Tatem, A Dictionary of Superstitions, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Kacirk, Jeffrey. Forgotten English, New York: William Morrow, 1997.

Nineteenth Century Courtship Advice

In Behavior and Etiquette, Edwardian Era, Gender Roles, Love and Courtship, Victorian Era on February 13, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Spread

With one day to go until Valentine’s, we thought it prudent to post some courtship advice from the Victorian and Edwardian eras. It holds just as true today as it did back then:

In public a gentleman should show constant attention to his intended, and neither in company nor elsewhere should he flirt with any other lady. On the other hand, he should avoid, even to his bride-elect, those marked attentions and endearments that would excite in strangers a smile of ridicule.

- Cassell’s Handbook of Etiquette, 1860

You should be ready to act the knight, if a lady in your company is attacked. If she give offence, and that without reason, your office is that of a mediator. You should even ask pardon for your companion. A bully would act otherwise; but it is absurd to get into a quarrel for the sake of maintaining that a person who is insolent has a right to be so, and that because she is of your company. You will show yourself, in acting thus, as ill-bred as she.

- Beadle’s Dime Book of Etiquette, 1861

When traveling with a lady, always carry her bag and assist her in and out of the trains. Your behavior is on its mettle under these circumstances, and traveling is very apt to be like a mustard plaster, bringing out both the good and evil attributes of a man.

- The Complete Bachelor: Manners for Men, 1896

OD2

If the honor of a woman be attacked, you should always defend it. It is not allowable for any one to assail the reputation of a lady, even if she be open to censure.

- Beadle’s Dime Book of Etiquette, 1861

In walking with a lady in the street, leave her the inner side of the pavement.

- Beadle’s Dime Book of Etiquette, 1861

When a man is led to spend more money than he can afford in entertaining a girl it is a bad preparation for matrimony. Courtship is a time when a man desires to bring gifts, and it is quite right and fitting that he should do so within reasonable limits. A girl of refined feelings does not like to accept valuable presents from a man at this period of their acquaintance. Flowers, books, music, if the girl plays or sings, and boxes of candy are always permissible offerings which neither engage the man who offers them nor the girl who receives them. This is the time when a man invites a girl to the theater, to concerts and lectures, and may offer to escort her to church. The pleasure of her society is supposed to be a full return for the trouble and expense incurred in showing these small attentions.

- The Handy Cyclopedia Of Things Worth Knowing, 1911

Courtship

No gentleman should permit a lady, whom he likes, but does not love, to mistake for one hour the nature and object of his intentions. Women may have some excuse for coquetry; but a man has none. When flirtation is a game that two can play at, equally adepts, it is one thing; but to allow an innocent girl to deceive herself, or, as is more commonly the case, to be deceived by the badinage of her companions, into the idea that you are her lover, and intend to propose marriage, is ungentlemanly. You may be innocent — you may not suspect the existence of such an idea — but few will give you credit for your verdancy, and we warn you against making such blunders, which may lead to one of two results. Either, having engaged the affections, and excited the hopes of the lady, you will feel compelled to marry her, or you will be disgraced, possibly cowhided, or shot.

- The Illustrated Manners Book, 1855

If the gentleman be a person of good breeding and right feeling, he will need no caution from us to remember that, when he is admitted into the heart of a family as the suitor of a daughter, he is receiving one of the greatest possible favors that can be conferred on him, whatever may be his own superiority of social rank or worldly circumstances; and that, therefore, his conduct should be marked by a delicate respect towards the parents of his lady-love. By this means he will propitiate them in his favor, and induce them to regard him as worthy of the trust they have placed in him.

- Routledge’s Manual of Etiquette, 1875

At this period it is a wise man who makes a friend of a girl’s mother, and if he does this he will generally be repaid in a twofold manner. No matter how willful a girl may be, her mother’s opinion of her friends always has weight with her. Moreover, what the mother is the girl will in all probability become, and a man has no better opportunity of learning a girl’s mental and moral qualities than by knowing the woman who bore and reared her.

- The Handy Cyclopedia Of Things Worth Knowing, 1911

A man should never make a declaration [of love] in a jesting manner. It is most unfair to a lady. He has no right to trifle with her feelings for mere sport, nor has he a right to hide his own meaning under the guise of a jest.

- Our Deportment, 1881

Neither party should try to make the other jealous for the purpose of testing his or her affection. Such a course is contemptible; and if the affections of the other are permanently lost by it, the offending party is only gaining his or her just deserts. Neither should there be provocation to little quarrels for the foolish delight of reconciliation. No lover will assume a domineering attitude over his future wife. If he does so, she will do well to escape from his thrall before she becomes his wife in reality. A domineering lover will be certain to be more domineering as a husband.

- Our Deportment, 1881

As to temper or disposition, the man or woman can easily gain some insight into the respective peculiarities of another’s temperament by a little quiet observation. If the gentleman be courteous and careful in his attentions to his mother and sisters, and behave with ease and consideration toward all women, irrespective of age, rank, or present condition, she may feel that her first estimate was a correct one. On the other hand, should he show disrespect toward women as a class, sneer at sacred things, evince an inclination for expensive pleasures in advance of his means, or for low amusements or companionship; be cruel to the horse he drives, or display an absence of all energy in his business pursuits, then is it time to gently, but firmly, repel all nearer advances on his part.

As to the gentleman, it will be well for him also to watch carefully as to the disposition of the lady and her conduct in her own family. If she be attentive and respectful to her parents, kind and affectionate toward her brothers and sisters, not easily ruffled in temper and with inclination to enjoy the pleasures of home; cheerful, hopeful and charitable in disposition, then may he feel, indeed, that he has a prize before him well worth the winning.

If, however, she should display a strong inclination towards affectation and flirtation; be extremely showy or else careless in her attire, frivolous in her tastes and eager for admiration, he may rightly conclude that very little home happiness is to be expected from her companionship.

- Social Etiquette: or, Manners and Customs of Polite Society, 1896

Cultivate and manifest whatever qualities you would awaken. You inspire in the one you court the precise feeling and traits you yourself experience. This law effects this result. Every faculty in either awakens itself in the other. This is just as sure as gravity itself. Hence your success must come from within, depends upon yourself, not the one courted.

- Social Etiquette: or, Manners and Customs of Polite Society, 1896

OD1

The Victorian Gentleman’s Self-Defense Toolkit

In Behavior and Etiquette, Dueling, Gender Roles, Martial Arts, Victorian Era on February 12, 2010 at 2:24 am

Pierre Vigny

For many today, the term “gentleman” is apt to conjure up the ridiculous image of an affected, overdressed fop, complete with a monocle, struggling to secure a place in high society. Yet, throughout past centuries, the character of the gentleman was regarded as synonymous with that of the true ideal man, embodying “heroic bodily strength and mental firmness” and including “whatever was valuable in the cavalier and the earlier knight,”—simply put, a man with the strength of manhood.

With that in mind, it is not surprising that numerous treatises on gentlemanly conduct published in the 19th century emphasized the importance of physical fitness and self-defense training. For instance, Our Deportment (1879) states that

“Physical education is indispensable to every well-bred man and woman. A gentleman should not only know how to fence, to box, to ride, to shoot and to swim, but he should also know how to carry himself gracefully, and how to dance, if he would enjoy life to the uttermost. A graceful carriage can best be attained by the aid of a drilling master, as dancing and boxing are taught. A man should be able to defend himself from ruffians, if attacked, and also to defend women from their insults.”

Likewise, Dunbar’s Complete Handbook of Etiquette (1884) declares that

“It is a matter of the first importance to the young aspirant that he attend to the training and deportment of his body, as well as that of his mind. Besides, his physical bearing has much to do with that command of address, which is so noted a characteristic of the thoroughbred gentleman. The body should be properly “set” by gymnastics, fencing, dancing, drill, or other physical exercises…”

Many Victorian males (and some females) made good on this by cross-training in various martial arts including boxing, wrestling, fencing, French savate (kick-boxing), and Japanese jiu-jitsu. Some also went further by adopting the habit of carrying special, concealed weapons which ladies and gentlemen could display without attracting attention. The author Rowland George Allanson-Winn, 5th Baron of Headley, describes these weapons in detail in his martial arts treatise, Broadsword and Singlestick. While his book mostly treats of fencing with the broadsword, singlestick, bayonet and quarterstaff, Allanson-Winn includes a special section in the back of the book covering Victorian “street weapons,” including the cudgel, shillelagh, walking stick, umbrella, sword-cane, umbrella-dagger, and others.

THE CUDGEL.

Allanson-Winn describes the cudgel as follows:

“Any thick stick under two feet long, such as a watchman’s staff or a policeman’s truncheon, may be fairly called a cudgel, and it is not so long ago that cudgel-play formed one of the chief attractions at country fairs in many parts of England… Considering the cudgel as a modern weapon, I am inclined to advocate its use for prodding an enemy in the pit of the stomach, for, with the extra eighteen inches or so of reach which your cudgel gives you, it is likely that you may get your thrust well home, at any rate before the opponent can hit you with his fist. Many of us know what a blow on the “mark” with the naked fist will do. Well, the area of the knuckles is very much greater than the area of the end of even a very stout stick, so that, if you can put anything like the same force into the thrust that you can into the blow, you will bring a smaller area to bear on a vital point, and consequently work on that point with greater effect.”

He proceeds to advocate a deadlier, modified version of the cudgel, for those nightmare-scenarios when a ruffian might steal into one’s house in the dead of night:

“A grievous crab-tree (or blackthorn) cudgel, with two or three ounces of lead let into one end, is a good thing to have under your pillow at night. Armed with this instrument, you can steal up behind your burglar whilst he is opening your wife’s jewel case or bagging your favourite gold snuff-box; but don’t get excited about it, and remember to hit his head rather on the sides than on the back or front.”

Very similar to this leaded cudgel is the so-called “life preserver”:

THE LIFE PRESERVER.

“The “life-preserver” consists of a stout piece of cane about a foot long, with a ball of five or six ounces of lead attached firmly to one end by catgut netting, whilst the other end is furnished with a strong leather or catgut loop to go round the wrist and prevent the weapon flying from or being snatched from the hand.

Of course this instrument may be very effective, very deadly, but what you have to consider is this: the serviceable portion is so small–no bigger than a hen’s egg–that unless you are almost an expert, or circumstances greatly favour you, there is more than a chance of altogether missing your mark. With the life-preserver you have, say, at most a couple of inches only of effective weapon to rely on, whereas with the cudgel at least a foot of hard and heavy wood may be depended upon for bowling over the adversary.”

Pierre Vigny

Professor Pierre Vigny (above) recommended a similar weapon in 1903, which he described as, “a silver-mounted Malacca cane,” noting that “everyone uses one…Everyone knows that in choosing a Malacca, it will not only serve the purpose of something to carry in one’s hand, but that this beautiful cane, the most up-to-date of all sticks, can render great service as a means of self-defence, for it can become a formidable weapon in the hands of those who have learnt how to use it. “

Allanson-Winn elucidates:

“A leaded rattan cane is a dangerous instrument in expert hands, but my objections to it are very similar to those advanced with regard to the shorter weapon. Leaded walking-sticks are not “handy,” for the presence of so much weight in the hitting portion makes them extremely bad for quick returns, recovery, and for guarding purposes.

To my mind the leaded rattan is to the well-chosen blackthorn what the life-preserver is to the cudgel–an inferior weapon.

One does not want to kill but to disable, even those who have taken the mean advantage of trying to catch one unprepared in the highways and byways. To take an ordinary common-sense view of the matter: it is surely better far to have a three to one chance in favour of disabling than an even chance of killing a fellow-creature? The disablement is all you want, and, having secured that, the best thing is to get out of the way as soon as possible, so as to avoid further complications.”

THE SHILLALAH [Shillelagh].

Shillelaghs

“The shillalah proper is about four feet long and is usually made of blackthorn, oak, ash, or hazel; and it is a great point to get it uniform in thickness and in weight throughout its entire length. It is held somewhere about eight inches or so from the centre, and my countrymen, who are always pretty active on their pins when fighting, use their left forearms to protect the left side of their heads.

The length of the shillalah gives it a great advantage over a shorter stick, for, when held about a third of its length from the end, the shorter portion serves to guard the right side of the head and the right forearm. Indeed, the definition of the quarter-staff, given at the commencement of Chapter II., seems to me to apply far better to the shillalah, which may in a sense be regarded as the link between the ordinary walking-stick and the mighty weapon which Robin Hood wielded so deftly in his combat with Little John.”

THE UMBRELLA.

Umbrella

“As a weapon of modern warfare this implement has not been given a fair place. It has, indeed, too often been spoken of with contempt and disdain, but there is no doubt that, even in the hands of a strong and angry old woman, a gamp of solid proportions may be the cause of much damage to an adversary…”

Here, the author offers a vivid anecdote which attests to the surprising deadly potential of the umbrella:

“It is, of course, an extremely risky operation prodding a fellow-creature in the eye with the point of an umbrella; and I once knew a man who, being attacked by many roughs, and in danger of losing his life through their brutality, in a despairing effort made a desperate thrust at the face of one of his assailants. The point entered the eye and the brain, and the man fell stone dead at his feet. I would therefore only advocate the thrusting when extreme danger threatens–as a dernier resort, in fact, and when it is a case of who shall be killed, you or your assailant.”

Allanson-Winn now proceeds to technique:

“There are two methods of using the umbrella, viz. holding it like a fencing foil–and for this reason umbrellas should always be chosen with strong straight handles–for long thrusts when at a distance, or grasping it firmly with both hands, as one grasps the military rifle when at bayonet-exercise. In the latter case one has a splendid weapon for use against several assailants at close quarters. Both the arms should be bent and held close to the body, which should be made to work freely from the hips, so as to put plenty of weight into the short sharp prods with which you can alternately visit your opponents’ faces and ribs. If you have the handle in your right hand, and the left hand grasps the silk (or alpaca), not more than a foot from the point, it will be found most effective to use the forward and upward strokes with the point for the faces, and the back-thrusts with the handle for the bodies. Whatever you do, let your strokes be made very quickly and forcibly, for when it comes to such close work as this your danger lies in being altogether overpowered, thrown down, and possibly kicked to death; and, as I have before hinted, when there is a choice of evils, choose the lesser, and don’t be the least squeamish about hurting those who will not hesitate to make a football of your devoted head should it unfortunately be laid low.

The author goes on to mention the following modified version, containing a concealed dagger:

“Sometimes umbrellas have been made even more effective weapons by what is called a spring dagger, which consists of a short, strong knife or dirk let into the handle, and is readily brought into play by a sudden jerk, or by touching a spring. This may be all very well for travellers in the out-of-the-way regions of Spain, Sicily, or Italy, but I don’t like these dangerous accessories for English use, as they may be unfortunately liable to abuse by excitable persons.”

I actually saw one of these up for auction on e-bay several years ago; alas, it sold for $110 dollars (out of my price range), and I haven’t seen one since.

THE SWORD CANE.

Sword canes

“The sword-stick is an instrument I thoroughly detest and abominate, and could not possibly advocate the use of in any circumstances whatever.

These wretched apologies for swords are to outward appearance ordinary straight canes–usually of Malacca cane. On pulling the handle of one of these weapons, however, a nasty piece of steel is revealed, and then you draw forth a blade something between a fencing-foil and a skewer.

They are poor things as regards length and strength, and “not in it” with a good solid stick. In the hands of a hasty, hot-tempered individual they may lead to the shedding of blood over some trivial, senseless squabble. The hollowing out of the cane, to make the scabbard, renders them almost useless for hitting purposes.

In the environs of our big cities there is always a chance of attack by some fellow who asks the time, wants a match to light his cigar, or asks the way to some place. When accosted never stop, never draw out watch or box of lights, and never know the way anywhere. Always make a good guess at the time, and swear you have no matches about you. It is wonderful to notice kind-hearted ladies stopping to give to stalwart beggars who are only waiting for an opportunity to snatch purses, and it would be interesting to know how many annually lose their purses and watches through this mistaken method of distributing largess.”

SwordCanesDuel

Several bloody affrays with sword-canes were fought in the late 1800s in both Europe and America. Typically these were not incidents wherein gentlemen defended themselves against ruffians, but rather, hot-headed brawls–perhaps attesting to Allanson-Winn’s reasons for loathing the weapon.

THE WALKING-STICK.

Walking Stick
Above: Image of E. W. Barton-Wright’s self-defense with the walking stick

This is the weapon which Allanson-Winn most heartily recommends for everyday self-defense purposes:

“The choice of this useful adjunct is by no means as easy as many people suppose, for it involves not only a knowledge of the prerequisities–in the matter of various kinds of woods, etc.–but also an acquaintance with the situations a man may find himself in, and the uses to which he may have to put his walking-stick.”

Here, Allanson-Winn goes on to discuss several types of inferior wood often used for walking sticks–oak (too stiff and apt to snap) hazel (too light), ash (too pliant), and rattan (too much bend to thrust with). He thus concludes:

“Where, then, shall we look for a stick which combines all the good qualities and is free from the drawbacks just enumerated? Without the slightest hesitation I refer you to the Irish blackthorn, which can be chosen of such convenient size and weight as not to be cumbersome, and which, if carefully selected, possesses all the strength of the oak, plus enormous toughness, and a pliability which makes it a truly charming weapon to work with.

It is a matter of some difficulty to obtain a real blackthorn in London or any big town. You go into a shop, and they show you a smart-looking stick which has been peeled and deprived of most of its knobs, dyed black, and varnished. That is not the genuine article, and, if you buy it, you will become the possessor of a stick as inferior to a blackthorn as a pewter skewer is inferior to a Damascus blade.

The best way is to send over to Kerry, Cork, or some other county in the Emerald Isle, and ask a friend to secure the proper thing as prepared by the inhabitants.

The sticks are cut out of the hedges at that time of year when the sap is not rising; they are then carefully prepared and dried in the peat smoke for some considerable time, the bark of course being left on and the knobs not cut off too close; and, when ready, they are hard, tough, and thoroughly reliable weapons.”

Here, it may be of interest to the modern enthusiast that the problem of obtaining true, reliably treated blackthorn is just as much a problem today as it was in the Victorian era (if not more so). Liam O Caidhla, one of the last traditional blackthorn stick-makers in Ireland, notes in the Sunday Mirror that “there are very few people making the authentic shillelagh these days – probably less than 30 people. Most of the shillelaghs sold in souvenir shops are made from hawthorn wood – not the traditional blackthorn wood. They are just made from roughly cut hawthorn and painted black.” Liam’s authentic blackthorns are available online here: http://misticshillelagh.tripod.com/id10.html

“The length of the blackthorn depends on the length of the man for whom it is intended, but always go in for a good long stick. Useful lengths range between 2 ft. 10 in. and 3 ft., and even 3 ft. 6 in. for a very tall man.

The blackthorn, being stiff and covered with sharp knots, is a first-rate weapon for defence at very close quarters. When, therefore, your efforts at distance-work have failed, and you begin to be “hemmed in,” seize the stick very firmly with both hands, and dash the point and hilt alternately into the faces and sides of your opponents.

Always have a good ferrule at the end of your stick. An inch and a half from an old gun barrel is the best; and do not fix it on by means of a rivet running through the stick. Let it be fixed in its place either by a deep dent in the side, or by cutting out two little notches and pressing the saw-like tooth into the wood. It is also a good plan to carry these saw-like teeth all round the ferrule and then press the points well into the wood; there is then no chance of the fastening-on causing a split or crack in the wood.”

Here Allanson-Winn recommends training in fencing as the best preparation for an armed encounter with the stick:

“I would always say, commence with the foils and work hard, under some good master, for a year or so without touching any other branch. Then go on to broad-sword, and keep to alternate days with foils. Later on take up the single-stick, and then go on to bayonet-exercise, quarter-staff, and anything else you please.

This extended range of work will give you a wonderful general capability for adapting yourself at a moment’s notice to any weapon chance may place in your hands: the leg of an old chair, the joint of a fishing rod, or the common or garden spade; any of these may be used with great effect by an accomplished all-round swordsman.”

Allanson-Winn now offers an anecdote which attests to the extreme effectiveness of the walking stick:

“It once fell to my lot to be set upon by a couple of very disagreeable roughs in Dublin, one of whom did manage to get the first blow, but it was “all round” and did not do much harm. Before he could deliver a second hit I managed to lay him out with a very severe cut from my blackthorn, which came in contact with his head just between the rim of his hat and the collar of his coat. Now, had my knowledge of stick-play been insufficient to enable me to accurately direct this cut (cut 5) to its destination, I might not now be scribbling these pages. As it turned out, this poor injured rough was placed hors de combat, and was afterwards conveyed to the hospital, and I only had to tackle his friend, a stubborn varlet, who, after knocking me about a good deal and also receiving some rough treatment at my hands, ran away. He was “wanted” by the police for some time, but was never caught.

This little episode is only given to show that the proper delivery of one blow or hit is often enough to turn the tables, and how advisable it is to practise often, so as to keep the eye and hand both steady and quick.”

WHY A MAN’S GOTTA DO WHAT A MAN’S GOTTA DO

In conclusion, Allanson-Winn offers one of the most thoughtful and profound statements on the importance of martial training ever set down in print:

“I can almost hear people say, ‘Oh, this is all rubbish; I’m not going to be attacked; life would not be worth living if one had to be always ‘on guard’ in this way.’ Well, considering that this world, from the time we are born to the time we die, is made up of uncertainties, and that we are never really secure from attack at any moment of our lives, it does seem worth while to devote a little attention to the pursuit of a science, which is not only healthful and most fascinating, but which may, in a second of time, enable you to turn a defeat into a victory, and save yourself from being mauled and possibly killed in a fight which was none of your own making. Added to all this, science gives a consciousness of power and ability to assist the weak and defenceless, which ought to be most welcome to the mind of any man. Though always anxious to avoid anything like ‘a row,’ there are times when it may be necessary to interfere for the sake of humanity, and how much more easy is it to make that interference dignified and effective if you take your stand with a certainty that you can, if pushed to extreme measures, make matters very warm indeed for the aggressor? The consciousness of power gives you your real authority, and with it you are far more likely to be calm and to gain your point than you would be without the knowledge. Backed up by science, you can both talk and act in a way which is likely to lead to a peaceful solution of a difficulty, whereas, if the science is absent, you dare not, from very uncertainty, use those very words which you know ought to be used on the occasion.”

WHERE TO LEARN TODAY?

While fencing schools of the Victorian era commonly offered instruction in weapons such as rapier, broadsword, dagger, cudgel, walking stick, cane, and staff, it is now extremely difficult to find masters authentically teaching these martial arts.

Maestro Ramon Martinez

Currently the best source for instruction is Maestro Ramón Martínez, who runs a traditional Academy of Arms in New York City. Unlike most modern instructors of historical fencing, who reconstruct their techniques from books, Maestro Martinez is the inheritor of a living tradition which can be traced back directly to the nineteenth century. He was trained and certified as a master by Frederick Rohdes, a German fencing master born in Western Prussia in 1897. Rohdes, who taught fencing in New York until his death in 1984, learned a variety of historical fencing systems from his own master, Marcel Cabijos. A Frenchman born in 1893, Cabijos attained great renown in his day by defeating the saber and épée champion of the United States (Leo Nunes) with only a twelve-inch dagger, in a well-publicized contest held in New York City in 1926.

Marcel Cabijos
Maître d’Armes Marcel Cabijos (1893-1964)

Thankfully, these techniques were passed down intact from master to student, and are still taught today at the Martinez Academy of Arms. Instruction is available in rapier, military saber, dueling sword, sword & dagger, single dagger, cane, staff, bayonet, and numerous other styles. Maestro Jeannette Acosta-Martinez (Ramon Martinez’s wife, and a fencing master as well) also teaches her own style of stick fighting, based on French fencing theory. It is in this salle d’armes, one of the last places of its kind in the world, where through martial, physical and mental discipline, one can attain the noted characteristics of the thoroughbred gentleman or gentlewoman.

For those not living in New York City, there are three other schools in the United States which are run by instructors trained by the Martinezes: Salle de St. George, Palm Beach Classical Fencing, and the Destreza Pacifica School of Arms.

Rapier & Dagger fencing
Illustration of fencers with rapier, cloak and daggers. New York, 1891.

Sources and further reading:

Broad-Sword and Single-Stick With Chapters on Quarter-Staff, Bayonet, Cudgel, Shillalah, Walking-Stick, Umbrella and Other Weapons of Self-Defence, by R. G. Allanson-Winn C. and Phillipps-Wolley. Pub. 1890.

All-round Fighting in Edwardian London: Pierre Vigny

La canne vigny: The Walking Stick Method of Self Defence Home Page

Self-defence with a Walking-stick: The Different Methods of Defending Oneself with a Walking-Stick or Umbrella when Attacked under Unequal Conditions (PartI)

Frequently Asked Questions: Classical Fencing and Historical Swordsmanship

Early American Accents

In Colonial (American) Period, Edwardian Era, Everyday Life, Victorian Era on January 21, 2010 at 6:12 am

By Ben Miller

I’ve always wondered if, grammar and vocabulary aside, Americans spoke much differently in centuries past than they do today; in short, if the American accent has evolved significantly.

Recently, I decided to find out.

The answer is a resounding “yes.”

I started by looking for the earliest sound recordings (from the 1880s and 1890s) of some of the older living Americans of the period.

A good example is President William Howard Taft. Early recordings of Taft’s voice evince a distinct Irish-Scottish lilt…he sounded to me about like what I imagine a person from Belfast would sound like after moving to the U.S. as a teenager and spending a few decades here. But if you look at Taft’s biography, you’ll notice he was born in Ohio, in 1857, to American parents who had roots stretching back to colonial Massachusetts. So it’s a native American accent. Go ahead and listen:

http://www.historicalvoices.org/earliest_voices/taft_s1.html

Thomas Edison, also born in Ohio in 1847, exhibits a similar lilt. He also pronounces the word “measure” like “may-sure” and the word “again” like “a-gayne.” This same pronunciation was evinced by FDR in the recording of his famous Pearl Harbor speech, when he said that “this form of treachery shall never a-gayne endanger us.” This seems to be a common pronunciation of the period; American poems from the 1700s and 1800s often rhyme the word “again” with words such as “main.” For instance, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882) wrote:

“Quick! for I see his face again
Glaring in at the window-pane”

and

“And when I ask, with throbs of pain,
‘Ah! when shall they all meet again?'”

Now listen to Edison’s speech about the knowledge of electricity here:

http://www.historicalvoices.org/earliest_voices/edison_s2.html

President William McKinley was also born in Ohio, but even earlier, in the 1840s. He sounds slightly British, and notably trills his R’s, so that “America” becomes “Amedica,” also, “prosperity” becomes “prospedi-tay”:

http://www.historicalvoices.org/earliest_voices/mckinley_s1.html

http://vvl.lib.msu.edu/showfindingaid.cfm?findaidid=McKinleyW

Teddy Roosevelt was born in New York City in 1858…his voice was not at all what I was expecting. I had thought that he might sound something like Daniel Day Lewis from “Gangs of New York.” But his voice doesn’t sound anything like a modern New York accent…not a trace. Perhaps it is an extinct upper class New York accent. Notice how he drops his Rs when they come at the end of a word; thus, “farm” becomes “fomm,” and “severe” becomes “seveeah”:

http://archive.lib.msu.edu/VVL/dbnumbers/DB514.mp3

http://archive.lib.msu.edu/VVL/dbnumbers/DB512.mp3

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/troosevelt_film/trfsnd.html

The excellent book Presidential Voices by Allan Metcalf has this to say about Roosevelt’s accent:

“Born and raised in a then-fashionable part of Lower Manhattan, and educated at Harvard, Roosevelt had the cultivated New Yorker’s r-less accent: ouah for our, pahties for parties, quatah for quarter, and watah for water, for example. As he reached the climax of his speeches, he rolled the r a little: sneering indifference, never ending. His speech also betrays traces of what we nowadays would call Brooklynese: foist for first, woid for word, woith for worth, toin for turn, soivice for service, consoins for concerns–at least some of the time. And he pronounced government in two syllables: govment.”

Samuel Gompers has a very similar accent to Roosevelt’s. Gompers was born in London in 1850 but moved to Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1863, and remained there throughout much of his adult life. He trills his Rs, and his vowels sound quite similar to Roosevelt’s; the word “substitute” becomes “sob-stitute”:

http://www.historicalvoices.org/earliest_voices/gompers_s1.html

The socialist Eugene Debs was born in 1855 in Indiana. He also trills his Rs and sometimes sounds like a Dubliner; “satisfied” almost becomes “satis-foyed,” “poverty” becomes “pah-var-ty,” and “society” becomes “socie-tay”:

http://www.historicalvoices.org/earliest_voices/debs_s1.html

Interestingly, Abraham Lincoln was to known to have spoken with a highly rustic accent, as described by those who knew him. A reporter from the New York Tribune who witnessed his Cooper Union address remarked:

“He began in a low tone of voice—-as if he were used to speaking out-doors, and was afraid of speaking too loud. He said, ‘Mr. Cheerman,’ instead of ‘Mr. Chairman,’ and employed many other words with an old-fashioned pronunciation. I said to myself: ‘Old fellow, you won’t do; it ‘s all very well for the wild West, but this will never go down in New York.’”

(This quote from Noah Brooks’ famous Lincoln book)

Another source notes that Lincoln said “kin” for “can,” “sot” for “sat,” “airth” for “earth,” “heered” for “heard,” etc.. (see April 1865: The Month That Saved America by Jay Winik) Many of Lincoln’s pronunciations echo the aforementioned American “brogue,” and the use of “sot” for “sat” indicates a derivation from the British. And yet Lincoln is clearly noted as speaking with a rustic (midwestern) American accent.

Now let’s take a step back one more century. Although we obviously don’t have recordings of people from the 1700s, the following certificate, written by half-literate men from Dutchess County, New York, in June of 1785, gives us an idea. Notice the phonetic spelling of “certain” and “certificate,” and how it jibes with the previous 19th century recordings:

“We the subscribers officers and solgers what marched with me Joseph Dykman to Westpoynt in June the 26 day 1780 on a sartane towr of duty Do acknolledge that we have received our full pay for said tower of duty by Joseph Dyckman our captain by a sartificat we Say Received in full as witness our hands.”

Given at how much American speech patterns and pronunciations have changed since the mid-1800s, it seems reasonable to assume that, were it possible to hear recordings of Americans from the 1600s and 1700s, we would find their accents even more changed and removed from our own.

Many more links to various recordings can be found here:

http://uptownsavannah.tripod.com/american.html

UPDATE 4/11/2011:

Over the last two years I have been spending a lot of time in rural Northeast Pennsylvania–specifically, in Wyoming and Luzerne counties. There I have noticed that the elderly residents of the country speak with a trace of the old American “brogue.” For instance, they say “farm” instead of “form,” “toyme” instead of “time”–much as Eugene Debs evinces in his recording. Perhaps I shall post a recording of this accent in the future. In the meantime, if you would like to visit the area and hear such accents, contact me at benmillerny [{at symbol}] aol [{dot}] com

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