Peter Parley Presents the Treacherous 19th Century Cat

Unknown Title by Henriette Ronner-Knip, (1821-1909).
Unknown Title by Henriette Ronner-Knip, (1821-1909).

If we are curious about the origin and characteristics of an animal today, we look it up on the internet.  Decades ago, we would have used an encyclopedia for such research.  In the early 19th century, however, there were handy books like Peter Parley’s Tales of Animals: Comprising Quadrupeds, Birds, Fishes, Reptiles, and Insects (1835).  In this fascinating book, the early 19th century researcher could learn about such animals as the “Ourang-Outang” and become acquainted with what the author declares are “astonishing facts” and “deep and important reflections.”  As can be expected, these reflections were anything but flattering to that most treacherous and conniving of mammals – the domestic cat.

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Napoleon vs. Wellington: The Art of the Passionate Love Letter

Napoleon and Wellington Love LetterRanging from the desperately passionate to the treacly sweet, historical love letters are as informative as they are entertaining.  But who amongst our favorite figures of the 19th century penned the most heart melting missives?  Naturally, one would assume the honors for this would go to Byron, Keats, or Shelley.  Their love letters were sublime, there is no doubt.  However, if you have a yen to read truly smoldering love letters, might I suggest a gentleman who, when not busy conquering the world, expended his time writing scorching hot letters to his wife?[…]Continue Reading

Robert Southey and the Cats of Greta Hall

Greta Hall in Keswick by Johann Jacob Weber, 1843.
Greta Hall in Keswick by Johann Jacob Weber, 1843.

Born of humble origins in 1774, Robert Southey went on to become Poet Laureate of England from 1813 until his death in 1843.  A contemporary of 19th century Romantic poets like William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he was an incredibly prolific writer, both of poetry and of prose.  He was also a great lover of cats, as evidenced in his vast correspondence with friends and family.[…]Continue Reading

Fashionable Caps for 19th Century Matrons both Young and Old

Louise de Guéhéneuc, duchesse de Montebello by Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, early 19th century.
Louise de Guéhéneuc, duchesse de Montebello by Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, early 19th century.

The 19th century cap was a modest necessity.  Worn by spinsters and matrons both young and old, it neatly covered a lady’s hair while she was at home and abroad.  At face value, such a basic article of clothing seems to have changed little throughout the century.  However, a closer look at the fashionable caps of women of the 1800s reveals that styles did in fact subtly evolve.  Through lace, ribbons, and trimmings, ladies of the age continually reinvented the cap, transforming it from what might otherwise have been a merely utilitarian scrap of fabric into a fashionable, feminine confection that said as much about a woman’s personal style as her French bonnets, cashmere shawls, and India muslin gowns.[…]Continue Reading

Shawls and Wraps in 19th Century Art, Literature, and Fashion History

(Portrait of Olimpia Łosiowa, 1818-1820.)
Portrait of Olimpia Losiowa, 1818-1820.

From the Regency era to the end of the 1860s, there was no fashion accessory as versatile and ubiquitous as the shawl.  Available in all weights of fabrics, including silk, lace, muslin, and cashmere wool, and priced for all budgets, shawls graced the shoulders of women in every strata of society.  They were no less well-represented in art and literature of the day.  Shawls were referenced in the novels of such literary luminaries as Elizabeth Gaskell and William Makepeace Thackeray.  They were also featured in countless portrait paintings, draping the figures of fashionable 19th century ladies of every age.[…]Continue Reading

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