Friday, 20 February 2009

Word of the Week: Aqua Mirabilis

The wonderful water is prepared of cloves, galangals, cubebs, mace, cardomums, nutmegs, ginger, and spirit of wine, digested twenty four hours, then distilled. It is a good and agreeable cordial.

From: Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language: An Anthology

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Thursday, 19 February 2009

Louisa Comes Home

I've been totally spoilt this Valentine's with a remarkable gift - what's thought to be a first edition of Anna Seward's sentimental verse novel, Louisa, published in Lichfield in 1784.

Before I tell you the story of the book, allow me to do a quick recap. You'll remember that I wrote about Seward (above), who was a poet of some renown by the 1780s (dubbed The Swan of Lichfield, and credited by Erasmus Darwin as the inventor of a poetic form, the epic elegy). She lived almost her entire life in the cathedral city and knew many of the major artistic and scientific figures of her day, including Samuel Johnson (whom she thought 'an overrated ranter') and James Boswell ('nought but a Scottish coxcomb'). In fact, Boswell rather fancied her; she rebuffed his attentions twice but did give him a lock of hair tied with pink ribbon, which was found in his papers after his death.

We still have Seward to thank for preserving aspects of Lichfield which survive to this day: in 1773, she approached the town clerk with an idea to stop Minster Pool from silting up (she proposed it should be 'serpentined' by digging out certain areas), and she decried attempts by the church authorities to remove every other lime tree from The Dean's Walk, comparing it to 'removing every other tooth from a mouth'. The monument to her in Lichfield Cathedral (below) carries an epitaph by Walter Scott.

Anyway, my partner, knowing my interest in Seward, tracked down Louisa from a bookseller in Delanson, New York, who then shipped it back home to the place it was published over 200 years ago. When it arrived in Lichfield, he was surprised to find just a bundle of pages, so he contacted a bookbinder called Henry Mills, a family business since 1855, based in Aston, near Birmingham, and got it bound, complete with the beautiful marbled end papers (below). You can see that the pages are brown with age; I can't begin to describe the excitement of handling them.

But the biggest thrill was on the back page (see bottom picture), which Seward appears to have signed. Could this have been one of her own copies, kept in her house, The Bishop's Palace, just a stone's throw from where we live? I'd like to think so!

Photographs © Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs Woffington.

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Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Pride and Predator

As if it isn't exciting enough awaiting the release of the Jane Austen/Seth Grahame-Smith mash-up, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,now Elton John wants in on the Regency/horror action. His film company Rocket Pictures is supposedly due to start work on Pride and Predator, in which (says Grahame-Smith) ‘an alien crash lands in the middle of Meryton and begins knocking off the leads’. Like I said here, the bonnet genre is definitely dead and buried! More on the seven-foot extraterrestrial in The Guardian.

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Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Back Soon

Just wanted to let you know that I haven’t forgotten you all; on the contrary, I’m just itching to post up some pictures of an exciting Georgian book I received for Valentine’s Day, but I’ve been dealing with problems with the heating system at home, requiring tedious complaint letters to be written and temporary heaters to be set up. I’ll be back shortly with some edifying 18th-century material (as soon as I’ve found some fingerless gloves!) but in the meantime, a reminder of the Georgian Lolcats phenomenon...

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Monday, 16 February 2009

The Excessively Diverting Blog Award

I was thrilled this weekend to learn that Vic, who runs Regency blog Jane Austen's World as well as co-authoring (with Laurel Ann) Jane Austen Today had nominated me for The Excessively Diverting Blog Award. I'm sure my reputation for accomplishment is higher than it deserves, but I'm pleased and honoured to display the rather splendid-looking award in my sidebar.

My next mission is to nominate seven more blogs which fit the critera, namely: 'to acknowledge writing excellence in the spirit of Jane Austen’s genius in amusing and delighting readers with her irony, humor, wit, and talent for keen observation. Recipients will uphold the highest standards in the art of the sparkling banter, witty repartee, and gentle reprove'.

Recipients, please claim your award by copying the HTML code of the Excessively Diverting Blog Award badge, posting it on your blog, listing the name of the person who nominated you, and linking to their blog. Then nominate seven other blogs that you feel meet or exceed the standards set forth. Nominees may place the Excessively Diverting badge in their side bar and enjoy the appreciation of their fellow blogger for recognition of their talent.

1) Music for a while shall all your cares beguile
Tutta Rolf lives in Stockholm and writes about his love of all things 18th century. Beautiful artwork and tales of his trips to Drottningholm.

2) Sotto Voce
Sassy observations and wonderful pictures form this London-based journal blogger.

3) History Undressed
A sumptuous feast of a blog from Eliza Knight, focusing on fashion through the ages.

4) Regency Reader
A rigorous eye for historical detail from author Anne Glover, who also picks the best of the historical romances.

5) Lady Georgianna
Two seriously talented performers, Allegra Froud and Signora Storace, update us on their lives as '18th-century party people'.

6) Slightly Obsessed
Beautiful photographs and insights into historical sewing techniques from 18th-century reenactor, Chole.

7) 18th Century Blog
Swedish blog replete with gorgeous artworks and 18th-century fashions.

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