Ben Miller

Archive for the ‘Everyday Life’ 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.

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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

Top Must-Read Autobiographies

In Bizarre and Unusual, Everyday Life, Middle Ages, Military, Renaissance on February 23, 2010 at 4:15 pm

I’ve always preferred reading history by those who lived it rather than studying modern historians’ narratives or academic treatises on the subject. Reading first person accounts and memoirs is a wonderful way to see history through the eyes of those who were actually there, and get a sense of how it might have felt to live in those times. The authors of such first person accounts can more or less be divided into the following categories:

1. Those who were great writers, but were not extraordinary people
2. Those who were extraordinary people, but were not great writers
3. Those who were both extraordinary people and great writers

Of the first two categories, an almost limitless number of accounts exist. Of the third and last category, very few. Keep in mind that by “great writers” I am not necessarily referring to individuals who were highly literate or had an impeccable command of language, but rather, those who had a unique and interesting outlook on the events of their time, who were able to report it in a vivid and interesting manner with an outsider’s view of detail (i.e., storytelling ability), and who were also able to step outside themselves and view their own experiences with a certain honesty, detachment and perspective.

The following first person accounts, autobiographies and memoirs are of this last caliber, and are the best I have come across so far:

• The Voyages and Travels of Sir John Mandeville, Knight (1357)
• The Journey of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca (1542)
• Expert Sword-man’s Companion by Donald McBane (1728)
• Captain Lightfoot: The Last of the New England Highwaymen (1822)
• Black Elk Speaks by Hehaka Sapa “Black Elk” (1932)
• Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence (1935)

The Voyages and Travels of Sir John Mandeville, Knight (1357)

This first entry is somewhat of a wild card, since it is uncertain whether or not Sir John Mandeville was an actual person. There is no historical verification that such a person existed, and some scholars have theorized that his book is a compilation of material written by a Lombard friar named Odorico (who died 1331). If Mandeville’s own account is to be believed, he was born at St. Albans, and set sail from England on September 29, 1322, travelling through Asia Minor, Armenia, Tartary, Persia, Syria, Arabia, Upper and Lower Egypt, Libya, Chaldea, Ethiopia, Amazonia, and India. He claimed to be on friendly terms with the rulers of Egypt and China, aiding them in their various wars. Mandeville supposedly returned to England after thirty-four years, but not before stopping to get the Pope’s imprimatur to his book.

Mandeville

Above: Portrait of Sir John Mandeville, created in 1459

Two things are certain about Mandeville’s marvelous book: some of it must be true, and some of it could not possibly be true. That is, however, part of the tome’s charm. For instance, his description of crocodiles and giraffes rings true:

In this land & many other places of Inde, are many cocodrilles, that is a maner of a long serpent, and on nights they dwell on water, and on dayes they dwell on land and rocks, and they eat not in winter. These serpents sley men and eate them weping, and they haue no tongue. In this countrey and many other, men caste sede of cotton, and sow it eche yeare and it groweth as it were small trees, and they bere cotton. In Araby is a kynde of beast that some men call Garsantes, that is a fayre beast & he is hyer than a great courser or a stead but his neck is nere xx cubytes long, and his crop and his taile lyke a hart and he may loke ouer a high house

Giraffe

Whereas his account of the fantastic creatures inhabiting the “wildernesse wherein groweth the trees of the sonne & the Moone” (take note of his reference to “Oliphantes”) is most certainly false:

Beyond that river is a great wildernesse as men that haue ben there say. In this Wildernesse as men saye are the trees of the Sonne and of the Mone that spake to Kyng Alexander and tolde him of his death, and men saye that folke that kepe these trees & eate of the fruits of them, they live foure or five hundred yeare through vertue of the fruite, and we woulde gladly haue gone thyther, but I beleve that an hundred thousand men of armes shold not passe that wildernesse for great plenty of wilde beastes, as dragons and serpents that sley men when they pass that way. In this lande are many Oliphantes all white and blew without number, and unicornes & lyons of many maners.

Whether or not there is any truth in Mandeville’s account, it is a fun read which vividly recalls the wonder, fantasy and superstition prevalent during the Middle Ages.

The Journey of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca (1542)

DeVaca

De Vaca was a Spanish nobleman and explorer who took part in the ill-fated New World expedition led by conquistador Panfilo de Narvaez. When, in 1527, their seaborne expedition (comprised of more than 600 men) was hit by a hurricane, their battered ships landed near Tampa Bay, where they endured attacks by American Indians, and were subject to an onslaught of diseases, and eventual starvation. The remaining men were then enslaved by a tribe of Indians. De Vaca writes

I had to remain with those same Indians of the island for more than one year, and as they made me work so much and treated me so badly I determined to flee and go to those who live in the woods on the mainland, and who are called those from (of) Charruco. I could no longer stand the life I was compelled to lead. Among many other troubles I had to pull the eatable roots out of the water and from among the canes where they were buried in the ground, and from this my fingers had become so tender that the mere touch of a straw caused them to bleed. The reeds would cut me in many places, because many were broken and I had to go in among them with the clothing I had on, of which I have told. This is why I went to work and joined the other Indians. Among these I improved my condition a little by becoming a trader, doing the best in it I could, and they gave me food and treated me well.

During this time Cabeza De Vaca tried and failed to escape three times, and endured hardships that would have destroyed most men. He also saw flora and fauna that few Europeans had likely ever seen, such as buffalo. After escaping his captors, De Vaca, along with a few survivors, proceeded to journey across the entire country of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. During this time, according to DeVaca’s own account, the unthinkable happened—somehow the men managed to cure various natives (attributed by DeVaca to mystical God-like powers), which caused them to attain a sort of mythical, legendary stature among the natives of the new world:

Nothing was talked about in this whole country but of the wonderful cures which God, Our Lord, performed through us, and so they came from many places to be cured and after having been with us two days some Indians of the Susolas begged Castillo to go and attend to a man who had been wounded, as well as to others that were sick and among whom, they said, was one on the point of death. Castillo was very timid, especially in difficult and dangerous cases, and always afraid that his sins might interfere and prevent the cures from being effective. Therefore the Indians told me to go and perform the cure. They liked me, remembering that I had relieved them while they were out gathering nuts, for which they had given us nuts and hides. This had happened at the time I was coming to join the Christians. So I had to go, and Dorantes and Estevanico went with me.

Next De Vaca describes how he apparently helped resurrect a dead man:

When I came close to their ranches I saw that the dying man we had been called to cure was dead, for there were many people around him weeping and his lodge was torn down, which is a sign that the owner has died. I found the Indian with eyes upturned, without pulse and with all the marks of lifelessness. At least so it seemed to me, and Dorantes said the same. I removed a mat with which he was covered, and as best I could prayed to Our Lord to restore his health, as well as that of all the others who might be in need of it, and after having made the sign of the cross and breathed on him many times they brought his bow and presented it to me, and a basket of ground tunas, and took me to many others who were suffering from vertigo. They gave me two more baskets of tunas, which I left to the Indians that had come with us. Then we returned to our quarters.

Our Indians to whom I had given the tunas remained there, and at night returned telling, that the dead man whom I attended to in their presence had resuscitated, rising from his bed, had walked about, eaten and talked to them, and that all those treated by me were well and in very good spirits. This caused great surprise and awe, and all over the land nothing else was spoken of. All who heard it came to us that we might cure them and bless their children…

We remained with the Avavares Indians for eight months, according to our reckoning of the moons. During that time they came for us from many places and said that verily we were children of the sun. Until then Dorantes and the negro had not made any cures, but we found ourselves so pressed by the Indians coming from all sides, that all of us had to become medicine men. I was the most daring and reckless of all in undertaking cures. We never treated anyone that did not afterwards say he was well, and they had such confidence in our skill as to believe that none of them would die as long as we were among them.

Cabeza and his men were able to use this mystique and notoriety as a way to survive among the various Indians they encountered:

While travelling with these we used to go the whole day without food, until night, and then we would eat so little that the Indians were amazed. They never saw us tired, because we were, in reality, so inured to hardships as not to feel them any more. We exercised great authority over them, and carried ourselves with much gravity, and, in order to maintain it, spoke very little to them.

By the time De Vaca and the few other survivors (including a black ex-slave) encountered Spaniards once again, the men had a different perspective on life and humanity. As they approached the Gulf of Mexico, the men were horrified to observe what the Spanish Conquistadors had done to the land:

We travelled over a great part of the country, and found it all deserted, as the people had fled to the mountains, leaving houses and fields out of fear of the Christians. This filled our hearts with sorrow, seeing the land so fertile and beautiful, so full of water and streams, but abandoned and the places burned down, and the people, so thin and wan, fleeing and hiding; and as they did not raise any crops their destitution had become so great that they ate tree-bark and roots. Of this distress we had our share all the way along, because, they could provide little for us in their indigence, and it looked as if they were going to die. They brought us blankets, which they had been concealing from the Christians, and gave them to us, and told us how the Christians had penetrated into the country before, and had destroyed and burnt the villages, taking with them half of the men and all the women and children, and how those who could escaped by flight…

At noon we met our messengers, who told us they had not found anybody, because all were hidden in the woods, lest the Christians might kill or enslave them; also that, on the night before, they had seen the Christians and watched their movements, under cover of some trees, behind which they concealed themselves, and saw the Christians take many Indians along in chains.

After traveling many miles, the men finally encountered four Spanish soldiers on horseback, “who, seeing me in such a strange attire, and in company with Indians, were greatly startled. They stared at me for quite awhile, speechless; so great was their surprise that they could not find words to ask me anything.”

The men were led to their commander, Diego de Alcaraz, and felt the joy of being back in Christian hands. By now, however, De Vaca’s allegiance was compromised by his own conscience. He was a different man, changed by his incredible time among the various peoples of the New World. He reports that “we had many and bitter quarrels with the Christians, for they wanted to make slaves of our Indians…” When the Spanish tried to enslave the local Indians through trickery, De Vaca exposed their treachery and warned the Indians not to listen. He records the Spaniards’ response as follows:

At all this the Christians were greatly vexed, and told their own interpreter to say to the Indians how we were of their own race, but had gone astray for a long while, and were people of no luck and little heart, whereas they were the lords of the land, whom they should obey and serve. The Indians gave all that talk of theirs little attention. They parleyed among themselves, saying that the Christians lied, for we had come from sunrise, while the others came from where the sun sets; that we cured the sick, while the others killed those who were healthy; that we went naked and shoeless, whereas the others wore clothes and went on horseback and with lances. Also, that we asked for nothing, but gave away all we were presented with, mean while the others seemed to have no other aim than to steal what they could, and never gave anything to anybody. In short, they recalled all our deeds, and praised them highly, contrasting them with the conduct of the others.

De Vaca was not able to stop the widespread oppression of the indigenous peoples of New Spain. However, when he finally returned home to Spain in 1537, he began penning an account of his experiences in a report for King Carlos I. It was published in 1542, and ends with a plea to the king that the natives be well-treated, and Christianized instead of enslaved:

May God in His infinite mercy grant that in the days of Your Majesty and under your power and sway, these people become willingly and sincerely subjects of the true Lord Who created and redeemed them. We believe they will be, and that Your Majesty is destined to bring it about, as it will not be at all difficult.

END OF PART I. Stay tuned for Part II, when we continue to cover more books on the list.

A Former Cure for the Hiccups—Narcotics!

In Colonial (American) Period, Everyday Life, Georgian Era on February 18, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Laudanum

The following is from The London Practice of Physic, published in 1779:

Of the HICCUP.

The hiccup is a convulsive spasm of the œsophagus, the muscles serving for deglutition, and the stomach; the diaphragm was by some thought to be in fault, but without any foundation.

Hippocrates observes, that it may proceed either from too much emptiness or fullness, particularly of the brain; sometimes it is local in the stomach. Much depends on its being a symptomatic or a primary disease.

The musk julep has proves serviceable in this disorder, when symptomatic, and attended with flatus; also the following;

R Spirit. volat. fœtid.
Tinctur, succini, aa 3ij. furnat gutt. L. fabine e cochl. ij. julep. e Moscho

Add some drops of laudanum, as you think proper, to the medicines above.
Sternutatories frequently give relief; and emetics, when it arises from the stomach.

Laudanum was a potent narcotic—a tincture composed of opium and morphine. It was an ancient remedy, in existence since Roman times, and during the eighteenth century it was used to treat a variety of maladies and wounds. When Alexander Hamilton was shot in his duel with Aaron Burr, he was quickly administered laudanum. The substance is still used today (albeit in a more regulated form) to treat diarrhea and in easing withdrawal symptoms in addicts.

The 1811 edition of The London Practice of Physic smartly added the following:

Retaining the breath for a considerable time; any sudden surprise or fright; swallowing water, or what is preferable, a tea-spoonful of vinegar very slowly, holding the breath at the same time as long as possible, often puts a stop to it, when it arises from an accidental cause.

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.

Early 20th century books on “Manly Sports”–become an “expert” for only 10 cents!

In Everyday Life, Gender Roles, Martial Arts on February 10, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Clubs cover

I have in front of me a modern (2005) facsimile edition of Indian Clubs and Dumb Bells, by J.H. Dougherty, which was originally published in 1911, by Spalding’s Athletic Library. In the front of the book is Spalding’s list of available books at that time–their entire Athletic Library, in fact–and the section on “Manly Sports” is especially interesting:

 No. 140–Wrestling.   Catch-as-catch-can style. Seventy illustrations of the different holds, photographed especially and so described that anybody can with little effort learn every one. Price 10 cents.

No. 18–Fencing.   By Dr. Edward Breck, of Boston, editor of The Swordsman, a prominent amateur fencer. A book that has stood the test of time, and is universally acknowledged to be a standard work. Illustrated. Price 10 cents.

 No. 162–Boxing Guide.   Contains over 70 pages of illustrations showing all the latest blows, posed especially for this book under the supervision of a well-known instructor of boxing, who makes a specialty of teaching and knows how to impart his knowledge. Price 10 cents.

 No. 165–The Art of Fencing.   By Regis and Louis Senac, of New York, famous instructors and leading authorities on the subject. Gives in detail how every move should be made. Price 10 cents.

No. 236–How to Wrestle.   The most complete and up-to-date book on wrestling ever published. Edited by F.R. Toombs, and devoted principally to special poses and illustrations by George Hackenschmidt, the “Russian Lion”. Price 10 cents.

No. 102–Ground Tumbling.   Any boy, by reading this book and following the instructions, can become proficient. Price 10 cents.

No. 289–Tumbling for Amateurs.   Specially compiled for amateurs by Dr. James. T. Gwathmey. Every variety of the pastime explained in text and pictures, over 100 different positions being shown. Price 10 cents.

 No. 191–How to Punch the Bag.   The best treatise on bag punching that has ever been printed. Every variety of blow used in training is shown and explained, with a chapter on fancy bag punching by a well-known theatrical bag puncher. Price 10 cents.

No. 200–Dumb-Bells.   The best work on dumb-bells that has ever been offered. By Prof. G. Bojus, of New York. Contains 200 photographs. Should be in the hands of every teacher and pupil of physical culture, and is invaluable for home exercise. Price 10 cents.

No. 143–Indian Clubs and Dumb-Bells.   By America’s amateur champion club swinger, J.H. Dougherty. It is clearly illustrated, by which any novice can become an expert. Price 10 cents.

No. 262–Medicine Ball Exercises.   A series of plain and practical exercises with the medicine ball, suitable for boys and girls, business and professional men, in and out of gymnasium. Price 10 cents.

No. 29–Pulley Weight Exercises.   By Dr. Henry S. Anderson, instructor in heavy gymnastics Yale gymnasium. In conjunction with a chest machine anyone with this book can become perfectly developed. Price 10 cents.

No. 233–Jiu Jitsu.   Each move thoroughly explained and illustrated with numerous full-page pictures of Messrs. A. Minami and K. Koyama, two of the most famous exponents of the art of Jiu Jitsu, who posed especially for this book. Price 10 cents.

No. 166–How to Swing Indian Clubs.   By Prof. E.B. Warman. By following the directions carefully anyone can become an expert. Price 10 cents.

No. 326–Professional Wrestling.   A book devoted to the catch-as-catch-can style; illustrated with half-tone pictures showing the different holds used by Frank Gotch, champion catch-as-catch-can wrestler of the world. Posed by Dr. Roller and Charles Postl. By Ed. W. Smith, Sporting Editor of the Chicago American. Price 10 cents.

“Wild” Colonial American Pets

In Colonial (American) Period, Customs and Traditions, Everyday Life on February 3, 2010 at 2:28 am

Daniel Crommelin Verplanck with his pet squirrel, 1771

By Ben Miller

When Europeans first began settling North America, they brought with them dogs, cats, and other standard domestic farm animals that were a necessary part of eking out an existence in the wilderness of the New World. Such animals typically served dual roles as both workers and pets—or “favorites,” according to the vernacular of the period. Yet by the early 1700s, colonists, not content with these traditional pets, began to develop a widespread fondness for adopting and taming wild animals. During this period, European visitors were stunned to observe deer, clad in gold collars and colored neck-kerchiefs, peacefully roaming village streets and wandering through houses. Squirrels, led by leashes of gold chain, were seen dutifully following their adolescent owners from place to place, and perching affectionately on their shoulders. Members of the gentile class played flutes and organs before caged, wild birds in an attempt to teach them to sing classical music. That the colonists hunted these same species in the wild should come as no surprise; Americans had long evinced a fondness for the very things they came into conflict with—for instance, adopting the arts, games, styles and methods of the Native Americans, while battling them incessantly.

Two Boston Girls With Squirrel, 1760

According to numerous sources, squirrels were among the most desirable and entertaining pets, and, if caught young enough, easy to tame. People frequently raided squirrel nests for their young, and the babies were sold in the city markets. Their popularity is attested to by numerous period paintings which show leashed, collared squirrels perched near (or sometimes on) their young owners. As one visitor remarked in 1748, “The gray and flying squirrels are so tamed by the boys that they sit on their shoulders and follow them everywhere.” Another writer, Edward Topsell, described squirrels as “sweet sportful beasts and…very pleasant playfellows in a house,” despite their predilection for chewing up their owner’s woolen garments. Since they could easily chew their way through wood, special tin cages were developed, possessing metal bars sturdy enough to house them. When someone discovered that squirrels would run on an exercise wheel, colonial tinsmiths began making amusing cages in the forms of mills with waterwheels.

Henry Pelhem with flying squirrel, 1765Detail - Pelhem, 1765

Flying squirrels were also popular with children. In 1766 the famous American painter John Singleton Copley painted a portrait of his half brother, Henry, playing with his pet flying squirrel (see above picture and detail). On Dec. 31, 1798, Philadelphia resident Elizabeth Drinker noted in her diary that her son William had “bought a flying squirrel in market, brought it home to please the children,” and added ruefully, “I should have been better pleased had it remained in the woods.” Later, in 1799, Drinker noted in another entry that

“An account in one of the late papers of a natural curiosity, I think ’tis called, to be seen in Walnut Street; a fine little bird, a beautiful flying squirrel, a rattlesnake, and other animals, are living in the most amicable terms in a neat, strong box or cage. William went yesterday to see them; the bird was hopping about, ye squirrel laying asleep in a corner; 2 or 3 frogs in the box; the snake appeared torpid, but would stir when disturbed by a stick. The torpid situation of ye snake accounts to me for their friendly living together.”

Wild songbirds such as cardinals and mockingbirds were extremely common pets, and could frequently be seen around the various city markets. Many people believed that these birds could be taught to sing a man-made tune, and some like Lord Dunmore had a small organ, called a serinette, for this purpose. Others used small flutes called flageolettes. The notion was to play a song repeatedly, and, sooner or later, the bird would imitate the music. Just how successful these experiments were is unclear. A mockingbird, at least, seems capable of repeating back a few bars; as to whether or not any birds were able to mimic entire pieces of classical music is anyone’s guess.

Unidentified child with bird, ca 1770-75Cephas Thompson with dove, 1805

Some of what we know about colonial pets comes from Peter Kalm, a Swedish-Finnish explorer and naturalist who traveled through North America from 1748 thru 1751. Kalm published an account of his travels in a journal entitled En Resa til Norra America, which was translated into German, Dutch, French, and English. Kalm noted that turkeys, wild geese, pigeons and partridges were often tamed to the extent that “when they were let out in the morning they returned in the evening.” He went on to note various mammals that were tamed, and the respective quirks and problems associated with keeping them:

“Beavers have been tamed to such an extent that they have brought home what they caught by fishing to their masters. This is often the case with otters, of which I have seen some that were as tame as dogs, and followed their master wherever he went; if he went out in a boat the otter went with him, jumped into the water and after a while came up with a fish.

“The raccoon can in time be made so tame as to run about the streets like a domestic animal; but it is impossible to make it leave off its habit of stealing. In the dark it creeps to the poultry, and kills a whole flock in one night. Sugar and other sweet things must be carefully hidden; for if the chests and boxes are not always locked, it gets into them and eats the sugar with its paw. The ladies, therefore, have some complaint against it every day.

“The American deer can likewise be tamed. A farmer in New Jersey had one in his possession, which he caught when it was very young; at present, it is so tame that in the daytime it runs into the woods for its food, and towards night returns home, frequently bringing a wild deer out of the woods, giving its master an opportunity to hunt at his very door.”

DePeyster Boy With Deer, 1730
The deer was an especially popular pet during the early to mid eighteenth century. A painting from 1730 in the collection of the New York Historical Society, entitled DePeyster Boy With Deer, depicts a young Manhattan boy with his collared pet deer (see above picture). A glance thru a cursory survey of newspaper advertisements from Charleston, South Carolina, illustrates the prevalence of deer-keeping during the era:

(1732) “Stray’d out of Mr. Saxby’s Pasture up the Path, two tame Deer about a Year old.

(1751) “Wanted, some Doe Fawns, or young Does, for breeders.”

(1760) “Jumped over from on board the Samuel & Robert, a young deer, with a piece of red cloth round his neck…three pounds reward.”

(1761) “The Owner of a strayed Deer may hear where there is one, applying to the Printer hereof, and paying for this Advertisement.”

(1767) “Two tame Deer, a Buck and a Doe, to be sold by Francis Nicholson, in King-street.”

(1768) “Josiah Smith, junior…is in immediate want of …a couple of Tame Deer.”

(1770) “Stolen or Strayed out of my Yard this Morning, a Young Deer, his Horns just coming out, and is stiff in his hind legs, by being crampt in the Waggen which brought him to Town…Charles Crouch.”

(1772) “Wanted to Purchase. Four Deer, each about Three Years old.”

(1772) “Wanted immediately…Two Tame Deer.”

(1781) “A Tame Deer, Came to my garden about twelve days ago. The owner, on proving his property, and paying charges, shall have it again, by applying to Elizabeth Lamb, Near the Saluting Battery.”

One noted deer owner of the period was Revolutionary War veteran Dr. Benjamin Jones. Born in Virginia in 1752, Jones eventually purchased a large tract of land in Henry County, where he built a park and “kept over a hundred deer to amuse his children and grandchildren. A little bell he used on a pet deer is owned by one of his descendants.”

By the late eighteenth century, it seems that deer-keeping was in decline in Charleston. A visitor remarked in 1782 that “the deer formerly ran about the streets, with collars round their necks, like dogs, but at this latter visit, I do not remember to have seen one.”

During the nineteenth century, Americans continued to keep deer as pets, although to a much lesser degree. Around the turn of the twentieth century, Charles Drury noted

“They [deer] are difficult to tame unless taken very young. They can then be tamed completely, and while young make amiable and interesting pets, but as they get older they become a nuisance in various ways.

“A neighbor, near my home, had one for a pet, and its favorite amusement was to sneak into the house whenever a door was left open. When an attempt was made to drive the intruder out, it had a habit of jumping through a window without the formality of a sash being raised. But this habit proved its destruction at last, as a sharp piece of broken glass penetrated its lung, causing its death.”

Certainly increased traffic and the invention of the automobile made it impractical to keep deer as village pets; nevertheless, the phenomenon still occurred in the country, and was eventually immortalized in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s classic The Yearling.

To conclude, it should be noted that despite their fondness for wild pets, the colonists were still quite attached to their (very much domesticated) dogs and cats, as evinced by a myriad of formal period portraits depicting adult owners with their pets.

George Booth with dogMartha Payne with cat, ca. 1789-91

Sources:

Hart, Albert Bushnell. Colonial Children, New York: The MacMillan Company, 1905.

John P. Hunter, David M. Doody. Link to the Past, Bridge to the Future: Colonial Williamsburg’s Animals. Williamsburg: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2005.

Grier, Katherine C., Pets in America: A History. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

Drinker, Elizabeth Sandwith. Extracts from the journal of Elizabeth Drinker, from 1759 to 1807, A. D. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company,1889.

Pedigo, Virginia G., History of Patrick and Henry Counties, Virginia. Roanoke: Clearfield, 1933.

Journal of the Cincinnati Society of Natural History. Vol. XXI. No. 1. Sept. 1909.

Dunbar, Gary S.. “Deer-Keeping in Early South Carolina,” Agricultural History, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Apr., 1962), pp. 108-109

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