Monthly Archives: December 2010

Lord Chesterfield on Political Atmosphere

Dear Lord Chesterfield,

I solemly swear before God and country that all politicians are liars and thieves!  They never accomplish what they vow, and upon my soul, there is a not a noble man among such a house of fools.  I dare say, in the next election I will not suffer to vote.  What say you on this most important matter?  Given the day’s unsavory climate, am I wrong to feel apathetic towards these demmed pimps?

Verily Yours,

Straight Suffering from Lack of Having Sovereigns

joseph, baron ducreux

Dear Straight Suffering, etc., etc.,

Another very just observation of the Cardinal’s [de Retz] is, That the things which happen in our own times, and which we see ourselves, do not surprise us near so much as the things which we read of in times past, though not in the least more extraordinary; and adds, that he is persuaded that when Caligula made his horse a Consul, the people of Rome, at that time, were not greatly surprised at it, having necessarily been in some degree prepared for it, by an insensible gradation of extravagances from the same quarter. This is so true that we read every day, with astonishment, things which we see every day without surprise. We wonder at the intrepidity of a Leonidas, a Codrus, and a Curtius; and are not the least surprised to hear of a sea-captain, who has blown up his ship, his crew, and himself, that they might not fall into the hands of the enemies of his country. I cannot help reading of Porsenna and Regulus, with surprise and reverence, and yet I remember that I saw, without either, the execution of Shepherd,—[James Shepherd, a coach-painter’s apprentice, was executed at Tyburn for high treason, March 17, 1718, in the reign of George I.]—a boy of eighteen years old, who intended to shoot the late king, and who would have been pardoned, if he would have expressed the least sorrow for his intended crime; but, on the contrary, he declared that if he was pardoned he would attempt it again; that he thought it a duty which he owed to his country, and that he died with pleasure for having endeavored to perform it. Reason equals Shepherd to Regulus; but prejudice, and the recency of the fact, make Shepherd a common malefactor and Regulus a hero.

Adieu!

From London, September 13, O.S. 1748

Missed the previous Lord Chesterfield’s posts? See On Friendship and On Giving Compliments and On Domestic Affairs and On Secrets.

Lord Chesterfield on Secrets

Dear Lord Chesterfield,

Recently at a party a most scintillating secret was relayed to me by an acquaintance and I simply cannot bear to keep it to myself!  If I go and whisper this trifle of a tale to say, a few of the fashionable ladies with whom I play the lute , would this be a violent breach of trust?  The secret did, after all, come by way of a rakish acquaintance.

Verily Yours,

The Gossipmongering Gent from Kent

Dear Gossipmongering Gent from Kent,

My word of advice from the Cardinal de Retz is, “That a secret is more easily kept by a good many people, than one commonly imagines.” By this he means a secret of importance, among people interested in the keeping of it. And it is certain that people of business know the importance of secrecy, and will observe it, where they are concerned in the event. To go and tell any friend, wife, or mistress, any secret with which they have nothing to do, is discovering to them such an unretentive weakness, as must convince them that you will tell it to twenty others, and consequently that they may reveal it without the risk of being discovered. But a secret properly communicated only to those who are to be concerned in the thing in question, will probably be kept by them though they should be a good many. Little secrets are commonly told again, but great ones are generally kept.

 Adieu!

From London, September 13, O.S. 1748

Missed the previous Lord Chesterfield’s posts? See On Friendship and On Giving Compliments and On Domestic Affairs.

Lord Chesterfield on Domestic Affairs

Dear Lord Chesterfield,

After fighting with my beau, I decided to confide the subject of our quarrel to several of my closest friends.  Now I’m afraid I have made a mess of the situation, for where my beau and I have promptly forgotten our dispute, my friends, taking my momentary poor constitution to heart, now quite thoroughly detest him!  As the damage is already done (and woefully irreversible in the near future) what advice have you to offer so I do not err further?

A Whimsical Woman

Dear A Whimsical Woman,

Cautiously avoid talking of either your own or other people’s domestic affairs.  Yours are nothing to them, but tedious; theirs are nothing to you.  The subject is a tender one; and it is odds but you touch somebody or other’s sore place; for in this case there is no trusting specious appearances, which may be, and often are, so contrary to the real situations of things between men and their wives, parents and their children, seeming friends, etc., that, withthe best intentions in the world, one often blunders, disagreeably.

From Bath, October 29, O.S. 1748

Come back tomorrow for  Lord Chesterfield on Secrets

Missed the previous Lord Chesterfield’s posts?  See On Friendship and On Giving Compliments.

Lord Chesterfield on Giving Compliments

Dear Lord Chesterfield,

I was recently watching a splendid film called ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (centuries ahead of your time, I’m afraid, old boy) and couldn’t help but cringe upon the following scene involving how to (or how not to) give delicate compliments.

Mr. Collins (the creepy toad): It’s been many years since I had such an exemplary vegetable.

Mr. Bennet: How happy for you, Mr. Collins, to possess a talent for flattering with such . . . delicacy.

Elizabeth Bennet (the serpent-tongued yet lovely chit): Do these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are they the result of previous study?

Mr. Collins: They arise chiefly from what is passing of the time. And though I do sometimes amuse myself with arranging such little elegant compliments, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.

Elizabeth Bennet: Oh, believe me, no one would suspect your manners to be rehearsed.

I trust you can see how I would positively shudder at being considered a Mr. Collins.  Please do advise.

Lost in Austen

Dear Lost in Austen:

You will easily discover every man’s prevailing vanity by observing his favourite topic of conversation; for every man talks most of what he has most a mind to be thought to excel in.  Touch him there, and you touch him to the quick. 

Do not mistake me, and think that I mean to recommend you to abject and criminal flattery: no; flatter nobody’s vices or crimes: on the contrary, abhor and discourage them.  But there is no living in the world without a complaisant indulgence for people’s weaknesses, and innocent, though ridiculous vanities.  If a man has a mind to be thought wiser, and a woman handsomer, than they really are, their error is a comfortable one to themselves, and an innocent one with regard to other people; and I would rather make them my friends by indulging them in it, than my enemies by endeavouring (and that to no purpose) to undeceive them.

There are little attentions, likewise, which are infinitely engaging, and which sensibly affect that degree of pride and self-love, which is inseperable from human nature; as they are unquestionable proofs of the regard and consideration which we have for the persons to whom we pay them.   As for example: to observe the little habits, the likings, the antipathies, and the tastes of those whom we would gain; and then take care to provide them with the one, and to secure them from the other; giving them genteely to understand, that you had ovserved to like such a dish or such a room; for which reason you had prepared it: or, on the contrary having observed they had an aversion to such a dish, dislike to such a person, etc., you had taken care to avoid presenting them.  Such attention to such trifles flatters self-love much more than greater things, as it makes people think themselves almost the only objects of your care and thoughts.

Adieu!

From London, October 16, O.S. 1747

So why did Mr. Collins blunder?  First he asked which cousin to compliment on such a fine meal (An insult.  The Bennet’s were well-off enough to have a cook.  Harrumph!)  Then, he proceeds to compliment them on boiled potatoes, calling such a basic and ordinary food exemplary.  Yikes!  Hopefully none of you endured this sort of exchange over Christmas dinner.

Don’t forget to come back tomorrow for Lord Chesterfield on Domestic Affairs!

Missed the previous day?  Lord Chesterfield on Friendship.

Lord Chesterfield on Friendship

Dear Lord Chesterfield,

I find myself in a common predicament these days. I have an abundance of friends when I have no real need of them and few friends when I do.  What, pray, is the difference between a true friend and friend to pass the time, and why, when in most cases companionship is not wanting, should I care?

Adrift and Addlepated

Dear Adrift and Addlepated,

People of your age have, commonly, an unguarded frankness about them; which makes them the easy prey and bubbles of the artful and the inexperienced: they look upon every knave, or fool, who tells them that he is their friend, to be really so; and pay that profession of simulated friendship, with an indiscreet and unbounded confidence, always to their loss, often to their ruin.  Beware, therefore, now that you are coming into the world, of these proffered friendships.  Receive them with great civility, but with great incredulity too; and pay them with compliments, but not with confidence.  Do not let your vanity, and self-love, make you suppose that people become your friends at first sight, or even upon a short acquaintance.  Real friendship is a slow grower; and never thrives, unless ingrafted upon a stock of known and reciprocal merit.

There is another kind of nominal friendship, among young people, which is warm for a time, but, by good luck, of short duration.  This friendship is hastily produced, by their being accidentally thrown together, and pursuing the same course of riot and debauchery.  A fine friendship, truly! and well cemented by drunkeness and lewdness.  It should rather be called a conspiracy against morals and good manners, and be punished as such by the civil magistrate.  However, they have the impudence, and folly, to call this confederacy a friendship.  They lend one another money, for bad purposes; they engage in quarrels, offensive and defensive, for their accomplices; they tell one another all they know, and often more too; when, of a sudden, some incident disperses them, and they think no more of each other, unless it be to betray and laugh at their imprudent confidence.  Remember to make a great difference between companions and friends, for a very complaisant and agreeable companion may, and often does, prove a very improper and a very dangerous friend.

Adieu!

From London, October 9, O.S. 1747.

Come back tomorrow for Lord Chesterfield on Giving Compliments!

The Sagacious Letters of Lord Chesterfield

 

In the spirit of bettering oneself in the New Year we make resolutions to be fitter, richer, and, if we’re all lucky, kinder. But do we ever resolve to be wiser? Common sense suggests a well-turned out mind is earned through experience over tutelage, but in the case of the 18th century upper classes, les maniéres nobles were gained through rigorous adherence to a social code that demanded one improve upon politesse.  An enviable restraint in animal spirits–virtually extinct today–was what afforded ladies and lords the power to glide through fashionable circles with few incidents to mar their family name.

Given our current fall from social graces, we thankfully possess Lord Chesterfield’s correspondence.  It serves as a guide to what may seem like many a muddled affair of dead persons to the uncritical observer, but I assure you, the advice is pertinent.   For the edification of us all, please allow me to introduce you to our guest, Philip Dormer Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield . . .

Best known for his letters to his namesake son, his preeminent work involves schooling his heir on lessons most of us suffer to learn through painful trial and error.  His excessive sophistication at times seems foolish (“In my mind there is nothing so illiberal, and so ill-bred, as audible laughter. . . I am sure that since I have had the full use of my reason nobody has ever heard me laugh.”) but on the whole, his advice is suprisingly apt.  Think of his letters as an 18th century version of the popular book by Dale Carnegie, How to Make Friends and Influence People.

Tomorrow I will begin the first of a seven day course for those interested in how to improve wanting social graces, 18th century style.  We’ll call it Dear Lord Chesterfield (a refined Dear Abby) but for the moment, I’ll leave you with a few fine words from his lordship on achievement dated October 9, 1746:

“. . . I have discovered [in you] laziness, inattention, and indifference; faults of which are only pardonable in old men, who, in the decline of life, when health and spirits fail, have a kind of claim to that sort of tranquility.  But a young man should be ambitious to shine and excel; alert, active, and indefatigable in the means of doing it . . . Without the desire and the pains necessary to be considerable, depend upon it, you never can be so; as without the desire and attention necessary to please, you can never please.

I am very sure that any man of common understanding may, by proper culture, care, attention, and labour, make himself whatever he pleases, except a good poet.”

Hot Chocolate in the 18th Century

La Famille du duc de Penthièvre en 1768

Around 1657 a Frenchman opened a shop on Gracechurch Street in London where he sold chocolate, exotically advertised “as a West Indian drink [which] cures and preserves the body of many diseases.”   The French, ever more sophisticated than the English, had been drinking chocolate since the early 17th century, touting it as a remedy for many ailments.   Not everyone was a fan, however.  Madame de Sevigne commented on its excessive popularity throughout the court at Versailles in a letter to her pregnant daughter during the year 1671, warning “the Marquise de Coëtlogon drank so much when she was expecting that she gave birth to a little boy, black as the devil, who died.”  Clearly, a woman of sound sense.

Despite such declarations, hot chocolate was an exalted beverage among the upper classes.  It was taken daily by Louis IV during his public morning ablutions and Madame du Barry notably gave the aphrodisiac, mixed with amber, to stimulate her lovers.  Marie Antoinette likewise indulged, arriving on French soil with a personal chocolate maker in tow.  Adhering to a common 18th century recipe circulated among the wealthy, vanilla and sugar were mixed with cocoa paste to create a sweet, drinkable chocolate similar to today’s darkest chocolate, if a little more bitter.  It wasn’t until 1727 that milk was added, creating the creamy confection we know as milk chocolate.

Recipes

Variation in chocolate recipes is almost endless, but many were imbibed for their powers of remedying illness or seducing would-be lovers.  Marie Antoinette created a most noble position at court, Chocolate Maker to the Queen, and as such had quite the arsenal at her disposal.   Her recipes included, “chocolate mixed with orchid bulb for strength, chocolate with orange blossom to calm the nerves, or chocolate with sweet almond milk to aid the digestion.”   “Chocolate a la capucine,” though not credited to Antoinette, would have proved useful to French court ladies, who were beginning to suffer abuse over fattening their bottoms with too much chocolate.   All one needed to become svelte was “4 oz. of chocolate, 6 oz. sugar, eggs beaten well and a good half-litre of Madeira!”   Consume at breakfast and don’t eat until dinner. . . because you have probably passed out. (The Temptation of Chocolate).

Among the weirdest recipes recorded: the Marquis de Sade’s “chocolate cantharnidine”, a toxic, aphrodisiacal blend derived from beetles mixed with cacao.  Needless to say, formal complaints soon followed at court and the debauched Sade received a royal scolding.

Chocolate Houses

Back in England, coffee houses were rivaled only by chocolate houses, tea having yet to fully hit the scene.  One of the most famous establishments was Cocoa Tree, a gentleman’s club at 64 James’s Street.  Of note, the 19th century poet Lord Byron was a distinguished member, as well as a number of prominent Whigs in the earlier part of the 18th century.  White’s Chocolate House, as seen below, was also fashionable among the younger set.

Consumption of chocolate, along with every other luxury enjoyed by the rich, dwindled in France during the French Revolution.  Still, during the royal family’s Flight to Varennes in 1791, Marie Antoinette refused to part with her silver chocolatière.  The original service contained “one hundred items made of silver, crystal, porcelain, ivory, ebony and steel.” Spectacularly useful after the loss of one’s head, I’m told.

For more, make sure to check out:

Chocolate at Versailles

Hot Chocolate, 18th to 19th Century Style

Chocolatier to the Kings of France, particularly Pistoles of Marie Antoinette

Rèunion des Musees Nationaux, Chocolate Related Museum Pieces

A creative exercise that tackles clutter

I’m one of those people who keeps magazines eons after I’ve read them.  Without any attention to clutter, I stack them on shelves, throw them in bins, and look forward to flipping through pages sometime in the nascent distance, rediscovering a piece of advice or poignant article I loved and promptly forgot about.  It’s kind of senseless as the world is churning out new and worthy tidbits by the second, but when it comes to the written word, I’m a hoarder.

In the spirit of efficiency I’ve let most of my subscriptions run out (with the exception of The Sun and Writer’s Digest – invaluable).  I’ve stacked the ancient magazines in a tower, scissors at the ready, and as such, gird myself onward. Reader, I invite you to join me.

The How-To

Step 1(the only step!):  Tear out every picture that appeals.  The June 2010 issue of O magazine  had a wonderful  article by Martha Beck about vision boards, essentially assembling a random collage and seeing what the pictures yield.  Have cottage dreams?  A desire to make more money?  A yen for exotic travel?  Well, according to the magic of said boards, accomplishing one’s goals might be as easy as gathering pictures to assemble, view, and forget.  I could throw out words like subconscious and the attraction principle, but I think you get the gist.  I’ll let you know how mine pans out, but in the meantime let’s dive into the best part: examining!

Pseudo Psychoanalysis says:
Hidden Vision 1:  3 hats with hidden faces.   Hmm . . . Add to that 2 pairs of eyes, one vampy lady in a cape, and boy, oh, boy, we have a secret.  I might actually think this if I weren’t me, but the truth of the matter is, I like playing detective.  The heart within the heart is what I’m after, psyche sleuthing being one of the few things I get super excited about.  It is, after all, the number one reason why I write.

Hidden Vision 2:  Ruffled flowers, garden labyrinths, and winding trails in a forest.  Yes, I’ve either read one too many Austen novels or I dream of owning a rambling English estate, probably both.  Either way, I’m a romantic through and through and envision my future filled with such diversions.

Hidden Vision 3:  Little Marie Antoinette, rippling silk gown, purple edibles, and a painted elephant hand signify a sense of opulence.  I’m going to translate this as an innate sensuousness that I strive to maintain in daily life.  I shudder to think myself materialistic, but I will own to liking pretty things.  As my husband can be found quoting me on when asked about my opinion of Indian luxury hotels, “What’s wrong with plush?”

Hidden Vision 4:  Notice Jane Goodall and the chimp (near lady vamp, upper left)?  I wanted to be a primatologist when I was little.  On more than one play date, I imagined trekking through the jungle to make camp and befriend those with the envied skill of swinging from trees.  Still do, actually.  That dream suspended for the next life,  however, I suppose I still have a passion for animal conservation yet to coalesce.  Which reminds me: read Sara Gruen’s Ape House, donate to Ape Trust.  Me, not you.  Unless you really, really want to!

So what do you think?  Is one’s future fill-in-the-blank going to manifest itself merely by once upon a December pinning images onto a vision board?  Why the hell not, right?  If you decide to make one and are willing to share, let me know how it goes!  I might even throw in a free session of Freudian analysis as a grand thank you for reading my blog (note to self: a most undesirable gift, if there ever was one. Renege.)

FYI:  If you’re short on magazine or clipping patience, Oprah has a dream board that can be created online, but you gotta sign up so there is a downside.  Anyways, enjoy!

The Dashing David Lyon

Sir Thomas Lawrence’s portrait of David Lyon, 1825

I couldn’t help but pause upon seeing this picture of the dashing David Lyon and thinking there was a bit of Mr. Darcy in him.  He has the refined air, the pride instilled down to his slender musculature and elegant, chiseled face.  His richly nuanced clothes, from the fur lining his coat to the ever so slight cane and dandyish hankerchief, speak of high position and wealth in society.  And yet, David Lyon is no peer.  He is part of the landed gentry.

Hailing from Goring Hall, Sussex and Balintore Castle in Forfarshire, Scotland, David Lyon’s family descends from one of the sons of Patrick Lyon, 1st Lord Glamis, a Scottish nobleman whose origins date back to the mid-fifteenth century.  The last of the Goring branch of Lyons died in 1934.  David’s father, Lyon senior, was reportedly worth around £600,000 at the time of his death.  Although a second son, upon his elder brother’s demise, he inherited a family fortune rich in Jamaican sugar plantations, including exports of  rum, and business investments closer to home.  David Lyon junior (our portrait sitter and a third son) possessed business savvy of his own accord, however, amassing a fortune as a merchant in the Antilles.

A considerable marriage prize, if I may be at the liberty to call him so, Lyon remained a bachelor well into middle age.  Before his marriage, he was an MP of Beeralston from 1831-2.  Afterwards, in 1851, he was High Sheriff of Sussex.  At around age 55 in 1848, he married the 29 year old Blanche Augusta Bury (b. 1819), daughter of Rev. Edward and the well-known novelist Lady Charlotte Bury.  Lady Bury had numerous daughters from two marriages, all of them considered talented and beautiful, Blanche being “not less handsome than the daughters of her first marriage.”1  From Mrs. Grant Laggan’s Memoirs and Correspondence, Mrs. Laggan recalls of the young Blanche:

As niece to the Duke of Argyle on her mother’s side, her dowry likely substantial given her father’s “very superior endowments and worth,”2 it seems Blanche was no Elizabeth Bennett.  But Pride and Prejudice be damned; you still want hear the story, right?

The couple made their home at Lyon’s 600 acre estate Goring Hall in Sussex.  Rebuilt on the grounds of a tear down, the new Goring Hall (below) was completed in 1840, eight years prior to the wedding.  Lyon also kept a townhouse in London at 31 South Street, Grosvenor Square, a prestigious area of London near Hyde Park.

Wrought-iron gates stood at the eastern and western entries to the Goring property until 1940 when they were removed during the war.  The mediterranean holm oaks that still line the drive and road, known as Ilex Way or Avenue of Holm Oaks, were planted by David Lyon.

At the time of his death on April 8, 1872 at the age of 78, the Lyons had no children.  The estate passed to  David’s brother, William Lyon, and remained in the family until 1934.  David Lyon’s portrait now resides at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza  in Madrid Spain.

Sources:

1 New Monthly Magazine, Volume 11

2 Memoirs and Correspondence of Mrs. Grant Laggan, Volume 3

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid Spain

Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry…, Sir Bernard Burke

The Harrow School Register, 1801-1900, First Edition, 1894