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.

WEARING YOUR HEART ON YOUR SLEEVE

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.

VALENTINE CARDS

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.

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.

Heaving, or Lifting, from an old drawing.

Heaving, or Lifting, from an old drawing.

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.

SOURCES AND FURTHER READING:

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

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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

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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
LeMoine_Savate_big

Above: Practitioners of French Savate, 1857.

For many today, the term “gentleman” is apt to conjure up the ridiculous image of an affected, overdressed fop 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 nineteenth-century males (and some females) made good on this by cross-training in various martial arts including boxing, fencing, wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu, French savate (kick-boxing), cane defense, parasol defense, and more. And, with good reason. Thugs and “ruffians” were a regular part of life during the Victorian era—or the Gilded Age, as it was known in America—in both the urban metropolis and the Wild West. Such “rowdies,” as they were often referred to, could be experienced in a wide variety of fighting styles, such as British “purring” (shin-kicking), Welsh jump-kicking, French kickboxing, American rough-and-tumble fighting, Spanish and Italian knife-fighting, and African-American head butting.

Above: Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery.

Above: Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery.

The noted fencing master and pugilist, Col. Thomas H. Monstery, himself a participant in more than fifty duels and countless street fights, describes many of these modes of fighting in his martial arts treatise, Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies. According to Monstery:

“Every gentleman should be able to protect himself from insult and violence, with or without weapons.”  (Chapter 2)

Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies is Monstery’s magnum opus, and a great source for Victorian-era combative techniques—a highly detailed dissertation on the art and science of defense. Filled with profound insight as well as practical advice based upon personal combative experience, it includes both unarmed and armed methods for use against a wide variety of fighting styles and weapons.

 

BOXING – THE BARE-KNUCKLE METHOD

The first half of Monstery’s work treats of methods of unarmed self-defense:

“This I repeat for all gentlemen. Boxing is the first necessity for a gentleman, unless he wishes to be imposed upon whenever he comes into the company of rough men, stronger than himself. It is necessary, if he wishes to be able to protect a lady from insult, a position in which a man often finds himself.” (Chapter 1)

Above: Image from Colonel Monstery's treatise on bare-knuckle boxing, Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies.

Above: Image from Colonel Monstery’s section on bare-knuckle boxing, reprinted in Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies. (Photo of original in author’s collection)

Although Monstery refers to his system of unarmed self-defense as “boxing” or “sparring,” in his treatise he presents something far more comprehensive. In addition to striking with the fist (which method he partly bases on fencing theory), Monstery’s system involves kicking, grappling, defenses against head-butting, and a wide variety of other fighting styles. Also, Monstery’s system is notably intended for use without gloves. Although boxing had, in past centuries, originally developed as a bare-knuckle martial art, by the late nineteenth century, its focus and objective had largely shifted to winning at gloved competition—even though its techniques were still often taught under the pretext of “self-defense.” As one author of the period stated, modern boxing had become “the mere shadow and semblance of what it was formerly.” Or, as another boxing veteran of the period, William Madden, explained in 1893:

“You cannot compare the fighter of the past with those of today…Today glove-fighting is like sandbagging. You hit a man in the right place and he drops dizzy and unconscious…[in the past] it was the artist in those days that gave the straight punches, and it was the artist that won the fight.”

Monstery, however, clearly states in his treatise,

“I am not writing for or teaching prize-fighters. I am teaching gentlemen how to defend themselves if assaulted by ruffians…”

He also includes sections on grappling, trips, back-falls, headlocks, and unconventional techniques for use in “street encounters,” with the proviso:

“I teach the following tricks, not with any idea that they are to be used in friendly encounters with the gloves, but solely for the protection of gentlemen who may, at any time, against their will, be forced into an encounter with a street ruffian.” (Chapter 9)

 

KICKING AND HEAD-BUTTING

Perhaps the most startling section of Monstery’s treatise is his chapter on “Natural Weapons,” which includes the use of the foot and head. Monstery shows how to defend oneself against the kicks of French savateurs, practitioners of British “purring” (shin-kicking), Welsh jump-kickers, and American rough-and-tumble fighters (who also practiced techniques of biting, scratching, hair-pulling, and eye-gouging). Monstery also discusses how to defend against the head-butting techniques of Danes, Norwegians, and African Americans, who were proficient in the use of the skull as a weapon.

“The rowdy is a mere wild beast that has strength and practice in natural rough-and-tumble fights, and yet a gentleman, if he knows the way, has the advantage over such a ruffian. I say to all gentlemen that your advantages are three over the ruffian: First, you have a flexible body, not stiffened by labor, but capable of being trained to anything; second, you have an intellect that will make you the superior in a contest that requires subtlety; third, you have means to pay for the best teachers, while the rowdy must teach himself, and nature does not teach how to strike a straight blow. Many gentlemen have said to me that they are not strong enough to give them any chance in such a fight. I have told them that it is not a matter of strength, but address, and especially of knowing how to strike a blow. A rowdy may be able to strike you ten times in a fight, and yet not hurt you severely, if you know how to parry and dodge, while, if you can get in a single blow, you may be able to take all the fight out of him at once.” (Chapter 2)

Sometimes, however, Monstery acknowledges that such “natural weapons” were not enough. Thus, in the second half of this treatise, Monstery proceeds to instruct the reader in methods of armed combat.

 

WEAPONS: THE CANE AND STAFF

Monstery begins the armed section of his treatise with the cane, or hickory walking-stick, which he describes as “the proper companion of every gentleman”—good against knives, sword-canes, and even guns:

“Boxing will get a gentleman out of a great many scrapes into which he may fall, but in some parts of the Union he will come across men who habitually carry knives or pistols and in such a case a stout walking-stick, if he knows how to use it, may save his own life, and—what I consider more important—prevent the necessity of his taking the life of another. It may seem strange to some that I, who have passed my time in the profession of arms, and have lived so much in Spanish-America, where the use of weapons is universal and duels of everyday occurrence, should have a horror of taking life; and yet I can honestly say that I have always avoided it, except where there was an absolute certainty that the question lay between my own life and that of another who sought to kill me. For this reason I have always avoided the use of the pistol, except in battle. You cannot spare a man’s life with the pistol, and no generosity can be shown therewith. You must kill him or he kills you. With the cane it is different. Many are the pistols and knives that I have struck from the hands of men by a smart blow on the wrist with a cane, and many are the murderous brawls I have prevented in this way. As a queller of disturbances, I know of nothing better than a hickory or ash stick.” (Chapter 12)

Section...

Above: Image from Colonel Monstery’s section on self-defense with the cane, reprinted in Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies. (Photo of original in author’s collection)

Monstery describes his cane system as being based on the same fencing principles as the saber or broadsword, but with some important modifications to account for the lack of a guard to protect the hand. The parts of the body that he targets are also different than those targeted with the sword, due to the concussive (rather than cutting) nature of the cane. Monstery also notes:

“The hook is an important part of the cane. It doubles its usefulness, serves as a handle to rest on when it is used as a staff, prevents its slipping out of the hand when it is used as a weapon, and serves as a sling when you do not wish to handle the cane. With a hook to his cane, no man need ever abandon it, for he can always hang it over his left arm when not in use, so as to be ready to catch it instantly with the right.” (Chapter 12)

Monstery concludes his treatise with two chapters on the two-handed quarterstaff, which (according to Monstery) was still practiced during the nineteenth century as a living tradition in certain areas of Europe, and which he extols as a useful mode of defense when traveling in the country or mountains.

Monstery’s book remains an indispensable resource for the practitioner and enthusiast of nineteenth century self-defense techniques. We can do no better than to conclude with one of his maxims:

“Never consider yourself unarmed even if confronted by an armed man, for almost anything can be made into a weapon if properly used.” (Chapter 11)

 

FURTHER READING:9781583948682

Colonel Thomas H. Monstery‘s martial wisdom survives in his treatise on Boxing, Kicking, Grappling, and Fencing with the Cane and Quarterstaff, which was recently published by North Atlantic Books in book form for the first time. This volume contains a new, detailed biography of Monstery, and includes additional writings by the Colonel.

 

 

Additional articles about Colonel Thomas H. Monstery:

A Grand Assault-of-Arms in Old New York, directed by Col. Thomas Monstery

Colonel Thomas H. Monstery and the Use of the Quarterstaff

Colonel Thomas Monstery, and the Training of Jaguarina, America’s Champion Swordswoman

A Bare-Knuckle Fight at Colonel Monstery’s

 

Continue on to PART II of The Victorian Gentleman’s Self-Defense Toolkit, in which we discuss the use of Victorian-era street weapons

 

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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