The Peacock in Myth, Legend, and 19th Century History

Peacock and Peacock Butterfly by Archibald Thorburn, 1917.
Peacock and Peacock Butterfly by Archibald Thorburn, 1917.

In his 1836 book On the Mental Illumination and Moral Improvement of Mankind, Reverend Thomas Dick calls the peacock “the most beautiful bird in the world.”  There are few that would dispute this description; however, throughout history, there has always been more to the peacock than its dazzling plumage.  At various times and in various cultures, it has served as a symbol of good and evil, death and resurrection, and of sinful pride and overweening vanity.  And much like its avian brethren, the crow and the raven, the peacock has figured heavily in folktales and fables, as well as in countless superstitions that still exist today.[…]Continue Reading

The Victorian Baby: 19th Century Advice on Motherhood and Maternity

First Born by Gustave Leonard de Jonghe
First Born by Gustave Leonard de Jonghe, 1863.

During the 19th century, there were many sources of information on motherhood and maternity.  Some new mothers relied on the instructions of their nurse, midwife, or physician.  While others used the example set by their own mother as a guide for their conduct.  For all the questions remaining, there were motherhood and maternity manuals produced by hospitals, religious organizations, and advice experts.  These guides advised on everything from conception and pregnancy to nursery decoration, childrearing, and teenage rebellion.  […]Continue Reading

Seaside Fashions of the 19th Century

“The close of the London and Parisian Season has now arrived, and the Fashionable World has sought the invigorating breezes of the Seaside…”
The Ladies’ Monthly Magazine, 1869.

On the Shores of Bognor Regis by A. M. Rossi, 1887.
On the Shores of Bognor Regis by A. M. Rossi, 1887.

During the 19th century, there was no such thing as a holiday from fashion.  Seaside resorts in England—whether in Brighton, Bournemouth, or Burnham-on-Sea—were as much a place to flaunt one’s style as London itself during the season.  An 1869 issue of the Ladies’ Monthly Magazine even goes so far as to declare:

“…splendid as they have been in the season just ended, dresses to be worn at the Seaside, and at the mansions of our Aristocracy, often surpass those that have been worn in London or Paris, during the height of the Season.”

[…]Continue Reading

The Dogs of Alexandra of Denmark: A Tour of the Kennels at Sandringham

Portrait of Queen Alexandra, when Princess of Wales, with Facey by Luke Fildes, 1893.
Portrait of Queen Alexandra, when Princess of Wales, with Facey by Luke Fildes, 1893.

Alexandra of Denmark married Queen Victoria’s son and heir, Albert Edward, on March 10, 1863.  She was a noted dog lover marrying into a family of noted dog lovers.  The resulting menagerie of canines which she accumulated as Princess of Wales was a diverse collection which rivalled even that of her royal mother-in-law.  There were Basset Hounds, Wolfhounds, Dachshunds, Collies, Samoyeds, Fox Terriers, Pugs, Pekingese, and Japanese Spaniels – to name just a few.  They were housed in luxurious kennels at Sandringham House, the Prince and Princess’s home in Norfolk.[…]Continue Reading

Victorian Fat Shaming: Harsh Words on Weight from the 19th Century

“All defects are in the nature of ugliness, but certain ones are more degrading than others; and of these obesity, which is a deformity, is signally ignoble.”
The Woman Beautiful, 1899.

Unknown Painting by Ivan Makarov, 1870.
Unknown Painting by Ivan Makarov, 1870.

During the early and mid-Victorian era, a great many health and beauty books echoed the popular 19th century sentiment that plumpness equaled good health.  It was leanness, not heaviness, to which beauty experts directed the majority of their criticism.  For example, in his 1870 book Personal Beauty: How to Cultivate and Preserve it in Accordance with the Laws of Health, author Daniel Brinton states that a “scrawny bony figure” is “intolerable to gods and men.”  According to Brinton, the only occasion on which excessive leanness had ever been beneficial to a lady was in an encounter with a cannibal.  As he explains:

“The only lady who we ever heard derived advantage from such an appearance was Madame Ida Pfeiffer.  She relates that somewhere in her African travels the natives had a mind to kill and eat her, but she looked so unpalatably lean and tough that the temptation was not strong enough, and thus her life was saved.”

[…]Continue Reading

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