Tag: Literature

Tommie, the Beloved Scotch Terrier of 19th Century Author Wilkie Collins

“…there are periods in a man’s life when he finds the society that walks on four feet a welcome relief from the society that walks on two.” The Fallen Leaves, 1879.

Vixen, a Thoroughbred Scotch Terrier, by Edwin Landseer, engraved by Thomas Landseer, 1853.
Vixen, a Thoroughbred Scotch Terrier, by Edwin Henry Landseer, 1853.

Victorian author Wilkie Collins is often referred to as the father of the detective story.  His novels, such as The Woman in White and The Moonstone, are counted among the first mystery novels ever written and are still some of the finest examples of mystery fiction you can read today.  In addition to being a fantastically talented writer, Collins was also a great lover of animals.  His favorite pet was his dog, a Scotch terrier named Tommie.  Tommie featured prominently in many letters that Collins wrote to his friends.  He was also depicted in Collins’ 1879 book, My Lady’s Money, wherein one character explains the unique spelling of the little dog’s name:

“His name is Tommie.  We are obliged to call him by it, because he won’t answer to any other than the name he had when my Lady bought him.  But we spell it with an i e at the end, which makes it less vulgar than Tommy with a y.”  

[…]Continue Reading

The Origins of the Unicorn

The Maiden and the Unicorn by Domenichino, 1602.
The Maiden and the Unicorn by Domenichino, 1602.

According to historians, the legend of the unicorn first emerged in 398 BC courtesy of the Greek physician Ctesias.  Ctesias wrote an account of India, titled Indica.  In it, he attests that all recorded within his account are things that he has witnessed himself or that he has had related to him by credible witnesses.  This account of India, though largely lost, has been preserved in a fragmentary abstract made in the 9th century by Photios I of Constantinople.  In the twenty-fifth fragment, Ctesias writes of the unicorn, stating:[…]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

The Pet Parrot: As Depicted in 18th and 19th Century Art, Literature, & History

Woman at the Piano with Cockatoo by Gustave Léonard de Jonghe, (1870).
Woman at the Piano with Cockatoo by Gustave Léonard de Jonghe, (1870).

When thinking of 18th and 19th century pets, we inevitably imagine dogs or cats or small, caged canaries.  Large and colorful exotic birds are not generally the type of animal we envision inhabiting the pages of a Georgian or Regency novel, much less an actual Georgian or Regency home.  It may surprise you to learn that parrots were, in fact, quite popular as pets during the 18th and 19th centuries.[…]Continue Reading

Keats, Endymion, and Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine

Portrait of John Keats by William Hilton, 1822..
Portrait of John Keats
by William Hilton, 1822..

Nearly 195 years after John Keats’ death, even the most non-poetic amongst us can still quote the first line of Endymion: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever…”  Yet, upon its release in 1818, Endymion was so harshly reviewed by Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine that Lord Byron was prompted to write that the sensitive Keats had been “snuffed out by an article.”

And what an article!  Between referencing the “imperturbable driveling idiocy of Endymion” and snidely referring to Keats as “Johnny” and “Mr. John,” John Gibson Lockhart (writing for Blackwood’s) took jabs at Keats’ education, his middle-class upbringing, and even his former career as a licensed apothecary.  […]Continue Reading

This website uses cookies for a better browsing experience and to analyze site traffic to improve site performance. Find out more about how cookies are used on this site and how you can manage cookies in your browser by reading the Cookie Policy