Oct 302020

It is a strange feeling when you get an invoice through the post – for nil pounds – and realize that the publishers have just posted the author’s complementary copies of  his latest book! It always catches me out, because  there is such a long interval between writing, and seeing the results. Long after the proofing, the discussions about the cover design and so on,  it suddenly emerges as a physical entity, a book which you can hold in your hand and turn the pages!

My latest offering, from Pen & Sword, is entitled Sex and Sexuality in Georgian Britain – it’s part of a series and it apparently ‘hit the streets’ on 29 October. My complementary copies are winging their way to me from Barnsley and I  look forward to seeing what it looks like in a day or two.

The reviews, so far, have been excellent. Here are a few:

This was a well-researched and well-written historical look at sex and sexuality in Georgian Britain. A time where sex and sexuality became part of everyday conversation (or comic illustrations), Rendell uses newspapers, diaries, court records, and more to explore the disparities between how the rich and the poor, men and women, were treated when it came to sex. What could people get away with? What was becoming more common? What was changing? For a good nightmare inducer, be sure to read the section on the medical profession and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases just before going to bed (or eating). It’s shocking to think that the British medical profession really hadn’t developed past the ancient Greeks. “Sex and Sexuality in Georgian Britain” is well organized into interesting chapters and is a must read for anyone interested in the time period.

NetGalley, Anne Morgan

“There was a law for the rich, and there was a law for the poor. There was a law for men, and there was another law for women.”
This book explores Georgian Britain’s attitudes to sex and sexuality, and gives an overview of a wide variety of topics: rape, homosexuality, contraceptives, STDs and prostitution, to name a few.
It is well-researched and structured, and surprisingly accessible. I also appreciated the incorporation of life in Georgian Britain further than sex and sexuality, including politics, medicine and literature. Throughout, there is also commentary on gender and sexism.

NetGalley, Ella Blake

I loved reading this book and I hope to read more books from this author and subjects like this in the future. The author did a good job.

NetGalley, Tina Carter

This was a really entertaining read, I enjoyed learning about a point in history that I didn’t know much about. I look forward to reading more from the author.

NetGalley, Kay McLeer

I found this like the others in this series, interesting, funny, accessible and detailed. The writing was great and i liked how this presented. This is well worth a read.

NetGalley, Bethany Younge

I loved this. It was fascinating and I learned so much. Will definitely be buying the book to keep it in my collection.

NetGalley, Lisa Curtin

It is a shame that in these Covid-times I cannot get out and about and give talks to promote the book. Mind you, things move on and I have already submitted the manuscript for my next book, which Pen & Sword are publishing next year. Not sure of the exact title yet, but it will be looking at 18th Century courtesans as fashion icons – the way that what they wore, how they accessorised, how they styled their hair and so on, influenced fashion. It will be a sort of “who were the influencers  250 years ago, before we invented the Kardashians?”

In the meantime, I have just started work on  another title – it will be my fourteenth – but I will keep that under wraps until it is ready to emerge, chrysalis-like, some time in 2021/2. Meanwhile, for those of you worrying about what to buy your elderly maiden aunt for Christmas, I whole-heartedly recommend Sex and Sexuality in Georgian Britain. In fact, buy two copies and give the second one to your favourite vicar. As one of the reviewers has said: “This may be one of my favorite history books ever!” while another, also un-prompted by any financial inducement from me (!) – writes: “This book is an absolute treasure, full of little known information about the sexual habits of the Georgian period, and the hypocrisy of the time in regard to women. I shall consult it often as a reference book, but I also enjoyed reading it.”

My thanks to the reviewers – now go out and enjoy! Just don’t leave it lying around where it might frighten the horses…

Oct 272020
Having chosen a George Cruikshank  illustration in my last blog, here is another one, dating from 1819 and entitled ‘Landing the Treasures, or Results of the Polar Expedition!!!’ 
The background to it was the fact that in the 19th century the British government, under the guidance of John Barrow, Second Secretary of the Admiralty, renewed its efforts to find the North-West Passage – the seaway through the Arctic, linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In 1818 John Ross was sent to look for this route, which had fascinated explorers ever since Frobisher’s unsuccessful attempt in the 1570’s. Men like Henry Hudson and William Baffin had given their name, and in some cases their lives, to exploring the area.  As for Ross, he headed one of the most controversial journeys of all because, having reached Lancaster Sound he turned round and came home, announcing that the route was blocked by icy mountains. Strangely, no-one else had seen the mountains and his crew gave  evidence suggesting that the captain was either mistaken – or an outright liar.
The etching appears on the Library of Congress site but is also to be found on the British Museum site which gives the following lengthy explanation:
A procession headed by John Ross extends from the coast (right), where Esquimaux dogs swim ashore from a boat, to the gate of the British Museum, part of which is on the extreme left. Sailors, all of whom have lost their noses (replaced by a triangular black patch) carry the scientific objects brought back from the expedition to Baffin’s Bay. Ross, very stout, and wearing a large false nose, goose-steps pompously, ignoring a black fiddler with a wooden leg (Billy Waters) wearing a plumed cocked hat, who leans towards him, saying: “O, Captain he is come to Town, doodle doodle Dandy Ho / How you do Sir: hope see you well Sir?!!” After Ross marches his nephew, a dwarfish boy, in naval uniform, supporting the fore-paws of an enormous (dead) Polar Bear, carried on the shoulders of six sailors, the hind-legs resting on the shoulders of a seventh who says: “’tis a good thing I’ve lost my Nose.” On the bear are stars in the form of the constellation of the Great Bear.
Behind the bear walks a lean military officer, Capt. Sabine, who holds up his musket with a gull spiked on his bayonet labelled: ‘-? Sabini.’ Two soldiers follow carrying a barrel slung from a pole and inscribed Red Snow for B M’. Beside them marches a naval officer holding in gloved hands the staff of a Union flag. The next pair carry between them a tree-stump labelled ‘Esquimaux Wood for B M’. One of them looks round at a black sailor behind him to say: “I say Snowball, mind you don’t tread on my heels [these are missing].” The black sailor walks on stumps and has also lost a hand. He answers: “No! No, Massa Billy! & mind you no tread on my toes!” He wears a smart short jacket and shirt-frill, showing that he is an officer’s servant. He carries on his head a large canister inscribed ‘Worms found in the Intestines of a Seal by a Volunteer—for Brit. Mu.’
The next sailor carries a chest on his head inscribed ‘Moluscæ for the British Museum’ and points a fingerless hand to a large block of stone on the ground labelled ‘Granite for BM’, to which a pole is tied; he asks: “who the hell’s to carry the big stone—?!!” The last sailor of the procession holds the leads of four fat and frightened Esquimaux dogs who have just landed; a small British dog expresses its contempt for them. Just stepping ashore is a grotesque Esquimaux, ‘Jack Frost’, with spiky hair and beard, wearing below the waist a muff-like garment of fur. He resembles a Stone Age man by E. T. Reed. He holds a tall spiralled pole labelled: ‘Lance made of Horn of ye Sea Unicorn, used in common, as a walking stick’. Under his left arm is a portfolio. Three sailors are still in a boat; one leans over to send two dogs ashore; another with a boat-hook asks the third: “If they kill the Dogs & stuff ’em! what will they do with Jack Frost.” The sailor answers: “Cut his throat & stuff him also, I supposes.” In the background is Ross’s ship, the ‘Isabella’, at anchor, with a broom at the masthead to show that she is for sale.

The procession is bordered by a cheering crowd, hats are frantically waved, In the foreground on the extreme left is a stout, disgruntled ‘cit’, who says: “I think as how we have Bears [speculators], Gulls, Savages, Chump wood. Stones & Puppies enough without going to the North Pole for them.” In the background (left) are tiny spectators watching from the high wall of the British Museum: Sir Joseph Banks, grasping the top of a ladder, stands on the wall, waving his hat: “Huzza! they have got Eursa Major as I live! Huzza!!” Leach (1790-1836), the naturalist, leaps high, exclaiming: “I see it! I see it! the North Pole by Jupiter!! I’ll cling to it like a leech Huzza! huzza!! Huzza.” A man standing on the wall shouts: “I see Jack Frost!! Huzza! with the N Pole in his hand!! Huzza.”

Ross had returned on his ship Isabella but when the Admiralty heard evidence from William Edward  Parry, in charge of the smaller vessel the Alexander they decided to send Parry back to have another look. In 1819 he was put in charge of the Hecla, with his second in command Matthew Liddon on the Griper. They were able to prove that Lancaster Sound did indeed form part of the North West Passage. Parry began to map the numerous islands through which the North-West Passage would have to be navigated. In doing so his ships crossed a longitude of 110° W,  reaching Melville Island via the Barrow Strait. This meant that Parry qualified for a prize of £5000 offered by the British Parliament.

The crews of the Hecla and Griper preparing to spend winter ashore, courtesy of the Mariners Museum

However, once he reached Melville Island the sea froze over and Parry was forced to spend the next ten months imprisoned on the ice-bound island. It was here that he showed his great strengths as a commander. The crew were kept busy by putting on plays, at fortnightly intervals. He even started a newspaper, calling it the North Georgia Gazette and Winter Chronicle. It contained humorous anecdotes about life on board, including ones about ‘the non-cookery of our pies in proper time for dinner’ or ‘proposals for the eradication of snoring at night.’  Parry demonstrated that, with enough provisions, a ship and crew could winter successfully above the Arctic Circle.

Melville Island courtesy of Google Maps

When the ice finally broke up, Parry attempted to push further westward towards Banks Island, but progress was incredibly slow and it wasn’t long before he had to make the decision of either spending another winter frozen solid, or of  retreating and coming home to Britain. He chose the latter, which must have been an enormous relief to the crew! His voyage stands out as a monument of human endeavour, especially when contrasted with the humiliating failure of Captain Ross before him. He was to return to the area in 1821 and again in 1824 – each time using  the Hecla as part of his fleet. She was then retired from Arctic duty and was used to survey the West African Coast between 1828 and 1831 after which she was sold off by the Navy. Sadly, she ended her days off Greenland as a whaling ship and was wrecked in 1840.

Portrait of W E Parry by Charles Skottowe

(I am grateful to the Royal Museums Greenwich site for the factual information about the voyages of Ross and Parry).

Oct 222020

Today it rained. And then rained some more. All day. But by happy coincidence I came across  a splendid print by George Cruikshank, dating from 1820, entitled ‘Very Unpleasant Weather – Raining Cats and Dogs and Pitchforks’ and suddenly I feel more cheerful.

I hadn’t heard of raining pitchforks before, but apparently it is one of those idioms which date back centuries. I am told that the French have an equivalent (‘Il pleut des hallebardes’) and the Germans (‘Es regnet Heugabeln’). And of course we also have stair rods which can rain down on us….

The phrase ‘raining cats and dogs’ apparently  referred at one stage to pole-cats. Wikipedia gives us the phrase ‘It shall rain dogs and polecats’ as emanating from the pen of one Richard  Brome, in 1652. A year earlier a poet called Henry Vaughan wrote in his collection of poems ‘Olor Iscanus’ that a roof was secure against “dogs and cats rained in shower.”

One suggestion is that really heavy rain on thatched roofs would wash out the carcasses of old animals which had sneaked into the eaves in search of a quiet place to die. Another suggests a link to a poem entitled ‘A description of a city shower’ written by Jonathan Swift in 1710. Describing the rain flushing out all the detritus from the kennel (in other words, the channel which ran down the centre of the road) the poem ends with these stanzas:

Now from all parts the swelling kennels flow,
And bear their trophies with them as they go:
Filth of all hues and odours seem to tell
What street they sailed from, by their sight and smell.
They, as each torrent drives with rapid force,
From Smithfield or St. Pulchre’s shape their course,
And in huge confluence joined at Snow Hill ridge,
Fall from the conduit prone to Holborn Bridge.
Sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts, and blood,
Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud,
Dead cats, and turnip tops, come tumbling down the flood.
Swift obviously liked the link between heavy rain and dead pets, and used the expression in his 1738 Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation, in which one of his characters fears that it will “rain cats and dogs.”
    A description of the Cruikshank print, which was re-released in 1835, appears on the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College site. It gives us this explanation:
‘A heavy slanting downpour composed of cats, dogs, and pitchforks descends on a road filled with pedestrians. An old apple-woman and a porter with a chest inscribed “Glass – keep this side upward” have been thrown to the ground. Pitchforks transfix a kneeling dustman; another pierces the umbrella of a person on which a dog is also seated. A man is pinned to the ground; his wooden leg impales a cat. A barrow-woman shouting “Cats meat, dogs meat!” is beset by dogs and cats. A coach numbered “2072,” with a burlesque coat of arms (a cat and dog for supporters, a cat for a crest) contains two dandies; the roof is covered with animals and pierced by pitchforks. There is a background of houses and landscape; a placard on which a coach and four is depicted is inscribed “Cheap Safe & Expeditious Travelling – Pig & Whistle to the Cow & Snuffers – Winchester Hants.”
    As for George Cruikshank he was born in 1792 into a family of illustrators and caricaturists. He went on to become known as ‘the modern Hogarth’ and drew the pictures to illustrate Dickens’s ‘Sketches by Boz’ (1836) and ‘Oliver Twist’ (1838). He was in every sense prolific – he not only married twice but had eleven children by his mistress Adelaide Attree, who had at one stage worked in the Cruikshank household as a servant. Presumably that was not known to the proprietors of Punch Magazine, who wrote an obituary for the old dog when he died in 1878: “There never was a purer, simpler, more straightforward or altogether more blameless man. His nature had something childlike in its transparency.”
   Meanwhile, it’s nice to know that here in the UK we have been complaining about the weather (too wet, too cold, too hot, too much of it …. whatever) for hundreds of years. Long may it continue.