All posts by simoneruthauthor

Arrivederci, Roma

Lovely readers,

If you follow my blog regularly you may have noticed I have been MIA for while now. I meant to put up a post announcing a temporary break from posting but I’ve had a whirlwind spring and summer. Baby Peach is to blame:

Baby P

At my first prenatal appointment my OB doc couldn’t find a heartbeat on the Doppler Fetal Monitor because Baby P thrashed around so much the heartbeat was muffled by static. From then on I referred to her as ninja baby. So freaking cute. It was the highlight of every prenatal appointment, hearing her as if through a far-away radio station, barely in tune.

But what’s cute in utero is challenging when gravity takes hold. Ninja babies, as I have rudely discovered, break every rule in the baby books. Why?

Ninjas have ninja focus. Ninjas don’t need normal human sleep. And ninjas can kick butt like nobody’s business. Peach is the adorable baby equivalent. She’s classic high needs and if life has gifted you with one of these bright, spirited children, you know precisely what I’m talking about. Six months into this thing called motherhood, I wouldn’t have Baby Peach any other way. But being an accidental mother sensei, using 99.9% of my time and energy to train a ninja? Wow, mamas (and papas), it’s tougher than it looks!

I adore sharing tart and titillating stories with you guys, but for the sake of sanity and sleep, I’m taking an official break from writing and social media. Blogging is a luxury and it’s been an absolute pleasure to interact with all of you. I hope I’ll be able to return to posting sooner than later and that you guys will stay with me. Until then, I wish you all a bit of the joy I’m experiencing.

The London Mermaid, 1822

This must be the ugliest mermaid I have ever seen.

The London Mermaid, 1822

 It debuted in London as a “very dry and mummy like [creature], enclosed in a glass case.”  The man responsible for the hoax?  The Bostonian sea captain Samuel Barret Eades.  Eades had purchased his mermaid from a Dutch fisherman by way of North China.  The price?  5000 Spanish dollars, a value of about 1000l. 1

The enterprising Eades acquired the funds by selling his and his partners share in the ship the Pickering–without informing the co-owner, of course.  He then conspired to fool his neighbors across the pond and make some serious bank.* When the fish with simian parts first appeared at Turf Coffeehouse in St. James’ Street in 1822, 300 to 400 persons visited daily at the price of one shilling per entry. 1  It was an immediate London sensation.  The papers of the time, including the Gentleman’s Magazine, are filled with proofs of the mermaid’s veracity.  A thorough examination was done Reverend Dr. Philip in April, 1822 and published in The London Medical and Physical Journal.  I have pulled out a few highlights for your enjoyment:

“The head is almost the size of that of a baboon.   It is thinly covered with black hair, handing down, and not inclined to frizzle…The countenance has an expression of terror which gives it an appearance of a caricature of a human face; but I am disposed to think that both these circumstances are accidental, and have arisen from the manner in which the creature met its death.  It bears the appearance of having died in agony.

“The length of the animal is three feet; but, not having been well preserved, it has shrunk considerably, and must have been both longer and thicker when alive than it is now…The canine teeth resemble those of a full grown dog; all the others resemble those of a human subject.”

Fiji Mermaid, 1822

Attribution: Fiji Mermaid by George Cruikshank [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Despite the mermaid’s success, Eades would eventually run into a road block: the furious co-owner of the Pickering, Mr. Ellery.  When Mr. Ellery demanded repayment of his portion, Eades threatened to flee with his mermaid.  What followed was an amusing account described in The Feejee Mermaid and Other Essays in Natural and Unnatural History by Jan Bondeson:

“In the early 1800s, it was of frequent occurrent that adventurers abducted wealthy heiresses, whom they had previously seduced, to marry without the consent of their parents.  To stop these immoral practices, the parents could appeal to the lord chancellor’s court, since the lord chancellor had the authority to make an eloped young lady his ward (a ward in Chancery); she was then not allowed to marry without his permission.  On November 20, 1822, Mr. Ellery appeared before the court of Chancery to restrain Captain Eades from moving or selling the mermaid…It is recorded that Lord Eldon, the lord chancellor, listened to his harangues with some mirth.”

In the end, the mermaid was seized by customs officials and determined a fake by anatomist and zoologist William Clift.  He deduced that the mermaid was part orangutan/baboon/fish (possibly salmon).  Eventually it was decided to be of Japanese origin.  Eades vehemently fought the decision by hiring naturalists who declared it a newly discovered species. Debates ensued, but by January of 1823 the exhibition was taken down and London was officially over Eades’s mashup creature.  This, however, was not the end of the hoax mermaid’s travels.  You can read all about it in Bordenson’s book, including where the mermaid is today and where it journeyed after Eades’s death.

*Some accounts say Eades believed the mermaid was real.  The mermaid was credited as authentic for a time, but really?  Who believes in scary ugly mermaids?

Bengal Tiger Eats Westerner, 1792

Man’s fascination with the gruesome is often rooted in power—who has it, who doesn’t. In the case of Tipu’s Tiger, the 18th century Indian automaton that terrified and thrilled Europeans after the defeat of Tipu Sultan, the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore, it was an emblem of domination. Much like Louis XIV and his golden sun, Tipu Sultan cultivated an affinity to the almighty tiger, stitching its image on his standard, running its stripes along his soldiers’ uniforms, and placing its head on the hilt of his favorite saber. Even his gold and jewel ornamented throne bore the tiger’s shape.

Unlike his father Sultan Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan understood the importance of a fearsome image. His nickname, the Tiger of Mysore, was reinforced in his palace and beyond, but the depth of his representations weren’t understood by the west until the sack of Seringapatam in 1799 when many of his treasures were seized by the British.  Enter the object of Tipu’s amusement.


Tipu's Tiger, Victoria and Albert Museum

Attribution: Victoria and Albert Museum

Like any good Indian Sultan, Tipu grew up hating the British East India Company.  Their expansion across his father’s kingdom was an affront that resulted in four Anglo-Mysore wars, the first two bannered by Hyder Ali, the third and fourth by Tipu Sultan.  It was during the Second-Anglo Mysore War in 1781, when his father suffered a loss of 10,000 men to the British General Sir Hector Munro, though, that a cruel fate was sown.  Eleven years after Indian blood had been shed, a hunt for deer commenced on Saugur Island.   Bengal tigers had a reputation among westerners for being vicious predators, but they were unpredictable, sometimes attacking, other times retreating.  Sir Hector Munro’s only son, Hugh Munro, was not lucky enough to come upon a retiring tiger.  He stumbled upon a beast to make Tipu Sultan proud and died from the mauling within twenty-four hours.

Many think the automaton Tipu’s Tiger specifically commemorated the event.  One of the charms of his automaton–if it may be called that–is that when you turn a crank, the tiger emits a bellow while the man cries in agony.  You can see Tipu’s Tiger played in the video below, though from what I can tell we’re hearing the organ play a tune rather than the wretched sounds of Hugh Munro’s earthly departure.

If you’re interested in the Mysore/British conflict, Youtube also has a few educational videos on Tipu Sultan and his infamous tigers. You can also see why Tipu was trending in January 2014.

Napoleon, Otherwise Known as Puss in Boots

Believe it or not Puss in Boots, or General Junot Taken by Surprise is part of Thomas Rowlandson’s collections of satirical prints about Napoleon.  Confusing, I agree, as Napoleon is found nowhere in the print.  Instead we see a young girl marching around in boots with a sword and a shocked General Junot, who has been stirred upright from bed, trousers in hand.

Puss in Boots, or General Junot Taken by Surprise by Thomas Rowlandson (1811)

The story connecting Rowlandson’s print to the Emperor appears in the future Madame Junot’s memoirs, but occurred when she was just a girl and still called Martin de Permond.  Back then the Bonapartes were close friends of the de Permonds, and when Napoleon visited one day, he took the occasion to put on his uniform for the first time.  What resulted was a bit of girlhood fun and long-lasting grudge:

“I well recollect that on the day when he first put on his uniform, he was as vain as young men usually are on such an occasion.  There was one part of his dress which had a very droll appearance–that was his boots.   They were so high and wide that his little thin legs seemed buried in their amplitude.

“Young people are always ready to observe any thing ridiculous; and as soon as my sister and I saw Napoleon enter the drawing-room we burst into a loud fit of laughter.  At that early age, as well as in after life, Bonaparte could not relish a joke; and when he found himself the object of merriment he grew angry.  My sister, who was some years older than I, told him that since he wore a sword he ought to be gallant to ladies, and, instead of being angry, should be happy that they joked with him.

“‘You are nothing but a child–a little pensionnaire’, said Napoleon, in a tone of contempt. Cecile, who was twelve or thirteen years of age, was highly indignant at being called a child; and she hastily resented the affront by replying to Bonaparte:

‘And you are nothing but a puss in boots.’  This excited a general laugh among all present except Napoleon whose rage I will not attempt to describe.  Though not much accustomed to society, he had too much tact not to perceive that he ought to be silent when personalities were introduced and his adversary was a woman.  Though deeply mortified at the unfortunate nickname which my sister had given him, yet he affected to forget it; and to prove that he cherished no malice on the subject, he got a little toy made and gave it as a present to me.  This toy consisted of a cat in boots, in the character of a footman running before the carriage of the Marquis de Carabas.  It was very well made and must have been rather expensive to him considering his straitened finances.  He brought along with it a pretty little edition of the popular tale of Puss in Boots which he presented to my sister, begging her to keep it as a token of his remembrance.”

Fast forward years later when Napoleon is married to Josephine [she is forty], and General Junot and his sixteen year old wife Madame Junot are dining with the couple at Malmaison.  Old Nap has not forgotten the Puss in Boots slight of many years past, and had since developed what many thought of as a smarting wit:

Napoleon as First Consul by Jean-Antoine Gros (1802)

Napoleon as First Consul by Jean-Antoine Gros (1802)

“Madame Bonaparte that day wore powder for the first time.  It became her very well but the first consul [Bonaparte] did nothing but laugh at her, and said she would do admirably to act the Countess d’Escarbagnas [a diva countess in Moliere’s play who was subjected to provincial suitors, none worthy of her).  Josephine was evidently displeased at this and Bonaparte added, ‘What, are you afraid you will not have a cavalier?  There is the Marquis de Carabas[fictional nobleman/master of Puss in Boots],’ pointing to Junot.  “He will offer you his arm I am sure.”

The first consul had often before this called both Junot and Marmont the Marquis de Carabas, but it was always in perfect good humor.  It was, he said, on account of their taste for dramatic representation.  They, of course, merely laughed at the joke.  Madame Bonaparte, however, took it more seriously and betrayed symptoms of vexation.  This was not the way to please Bonaparte.  He took his glass in his hand and, looking towards his wife he bowed his head ,and said, ‘To the health of Madame la Comtesse d Escarbagnas.’

Empress Josephine by Andrea Appiani (1808)

Empress Josephine by Andrea Appiani (1808)

The continuance of this pleasantry brought tears into Madame Bonaparte’s eyes. Napoleon observed this and he was, I believe, sorry for what he had said.  To make amends, he again took up his glass and winking at me, he said:  ‘To the health of Madame la Marquise de Carabas.’  We all burst into a fit of laughter in which Madame Bonaparte joined but her heart was nevertheless full.”

Which brings us full circle to why Rowlandon’s Puss in Boots print is part of his Napoleon collection.  Mystery solved for today!   If any of you come across a Rowlandson print that wants explanation and doesn’t appear readily available, send it my way.  I might just be inclined to spent an afternoon looking it up.

Upstairs, Downstairs: Golddiggers Are All the Same

The difference between a classy lady and a hussy?

First and Second Floor by Thomas Rowlandson (1791)

According to Thomas Rowlandson, the first or second floor.

Reading Coffee Grounds: A Lady’s Hobby

Divination by coffee grounds was an art practiced by ladies and ridiculed by men.


An edition of the Plain Dealer from 1724 claims that tasseography was one of “a thousand shining proofs of the capacity of woman’s wit.”  The writer even went so far as to exhort gentlemen to beware the danger: “Our women are become a nation of sages!  And men must be shortly dependent on them, not for DELIGHT only, but for INSTRUCTION.”

In keeping with the theme of the print shown above, the Gentleman’s Magazine relates a story of a gentleman coming upon two ladies having their fortunes read in coffee grounds:

“He surprised her and her company in close cabal over their coffee; the rest very intent upon one; who by her dress and intelligence he guess’d was a tire woman [ladies’ maid]; to which she added the secret of divining by coffee grounds… On one hand sat a widow, on the other a maiden lady, both attentive to the predictions to be given of their future fate… They assured him that every cast of the cup is a picture of all one’s life to come, and every transaction and circumstance is delineated with the exactest certainty.  If this be so, reply’d he, such an Art would be of service to a statesman, for instead of going to council he need only examine the coffee grounds and all the affairs of the whole nation would appear before him at once and he would know all the plots cabals and intrigues of his adversaries… In case he should see mischief and misfortune coming upon him, [he asked] whether it would be in his power to prevent ’em, they reply’d no.  From which he takes occasion to dissuade them from such unwarrantable inquiries to be content with what they enjoy and be prepared to endure evil when it comes and to depend on providence for the rest .”

ProfessorTrelawneyDivinationEven 21st century wizards think divination is worthless.

Ladies didn’t much care for this no-nonsense approach to fate.  Instead, they consumed books like Every Lady’s Own Fortune-Tellerwhich I’m delighted to say tells us how to read our very own coffee grounds.

The 18th century method says to use the last coffee pour before you reach the dregs.   Pour it into your cup, let settle, and drink everything but the dregs.  Then turn the cup around, making sure the dregs stick to the sides.  Next, lay your cup upside down and let the moisture drain out.  Pick up your cup and start reading counterclockwise to your thumb placement on the cup until you complete the circle back to your thumb (Hmm, does it matter if you’re using a dish of tea or a teacup with handles?  One would think this omitted detail is important.)

Your Divination Results

A Visit From Your Beloved or a Journey: “If you see a clear narrow part between two lines, it signifies a public road.  Observe the little atoms in this passage, and their distance from your thumb, as also their direction, whether to the thick part of them are inclined towards you, or from you.  If the former, your best beloved is coming to see you.  If the latter, he is going away from you;  the farther this road is from your thumb, the greater distance he is from you.

If it is mostly on the left side, he is only leaving the place he was to come.  If mostly on the right side, he is on his arrival.  If this clear or white part is long and broad, he is coming by sea.  If you see the resemblance of several houses, on or near a road of white space, it signifies a great city or seaport.  If there is no large atom in the road or space, you will yourself soon perform a journey or voyage.

Marriage, Death, and Popularity:  If you see the likeness [of houses], but of one large house with few people or atoms about it, you will be married a short time, that being the emblem of a church.  If there is a great crowd, you will attend the funeral of some dear friend.

If you perceive the semblance of a coach, which is easily distinguished, you will be speedily raised to honour and dignity.   If the likeness should be a horse, you will be married to a person much above your own condition.  If you observe the similitude of a gallows, which may happen, we recommend to you to mend your own morals, or caution any of your acquaintance, whom you know to be vicious, of the threatened danger.

Wealth:  If there appears a great many round small white spots on any part of the cup, it denotes that you will shortly receive a large sum of money.  The nearer to your thumb on the right hand side, the sooner you will get it.

Birth Order Theory & The Georgian Family Portrait

I haven’t posted many Georgian family portraits, mostly because they tend to show domestic affairs in a retiring light, but I do enjoy John Lee and His Family by John Russell. Unlike many portraits of listless heads, John Lee’s Family appears bursting with personality.  This is despite the fact that a) the children are dressed in today’s equivalent of white t-shirts in group photos, and b) they share outgrown bowl style haircuts.  Kinda cute, actually.

Although there aren’t any definite indicators of sex like we would use today, I’m inclined to say the three central children are male while the remaining three are female.  The two golden haired children around the mother also look like twins, but again, reckless speculation.  You, readers, will simply have to give me your take as I have thrown research out the window and had my fun labeling the children with their respective (and imaginary roles).

John Lee and His Family by John Russell (1809)

click to enlarge

What do you think?  Have I got it all wrong and maligned the children?  Is birth order theory a sham?  And what about Dad?  Do you have a read on him or another interpretation of the family?  Leave me your comments. I’d love to hear them!

The Human Butterflies

Anthropomorphic monkeys ran rabid through interior designs during the early to mid 18th century, and Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin put his spin on the trend by creating his human butterflies.  If you’re not familiar with Saint-Aubin, he had two claims to fame beyond his body of work.

1.  He came from a large French family of creatives, with six of the seven children finding work as draughtsman, etchers, and designers.  His younger brother Gabriel-Jacques is noteworthy for having studied with Francois Boucher and chronicling daily Parisian life, but unfortunately died penniless and largely unknown.

2.  He occupied the official position of Designer of Embroidery and Lace to the King’s Wardrobe for King Louis XV.  Fun day job, right?  His parents were embroiderers, and though he followed in their footsteps, spiffing up the king wasn’t his only pursuit.  In addition to authoring a scandalous book that required his anonymity, he etched what remains his most popular series: Essay de Papillonneries Humaines (1756).

So, you ask, what occurs in a butterfly’s life?  Unsurprisingly, butterflies, unlike their lowly caterpillar counterparts, live like aristocrats.   First there are the daily rituals such as the bath and toilette…

Le Bain by Charles Germain de Saint-Aubin

La Toilette by Charles Germain de Saint-Aubin

Then the energetic pursuits of the acrobat and the duel….

Le Bateleur by Charles Germain de Saint-Aubin

Le Duel by Charles Germain de Saint-Aubin

Which naturally leads to the injured person…

Le Blesse by Charles Germain de Saint-Aubin

And what is an injured person to do but play checkers and get carted around in a litter?

Le Damier by Charles Germain de Saint-Aubin

La Brouette by Charles Germain de Saint-Aubin

Evening arrives and a butterfly has no choice.  He must go to the country ballet or the French theatre…

Ballet Champêtre by Charles Germain de Saint-Aubin

Théâtre Français by Charles Germain de Saint-Aubin

And when that gets dull?  Well, one can always ride around on a turtle.

Le Papillon et la Tortue by Charles Germain de Saint-Aubin

Ah, it’s hard being a butterfly.

P.S.  As an aside, if you’re the type who must know what would have gotten Saint-Aubin in big trouble if he fessed up to authoring the work, the answer is his Book of Caricatures, Good and Bad. Waddesdon Manor has the 400 page volume in a digital catalogue and contains some subversive images that are good for a laugh, including a nun watering a man’s sprouting bottom.  (Who knew that would happen?  Nuns are so clever.)

The Duke Buys a Wife

Once upon a time in December 1744…


Selling a Wife by Thomas Rowlandson (1812-14)

An ostler named Jefferyes decides to rid himself of his wife. He ties a halter around her neck and hauls her, like he would any poor beast, to an inn in Newbury called The Pelican.  Inside, the second Duke of Chandos and his companion are dining and notice a commotion taking place in the yard outside.

“Wife for sale” somebody shouts. “He’s leading her around by a halter,” shouts another. “Whoopie,” shouts a third.

“What can this be?” thinks the duke. It’s not everyday he gets to witness the sale and purchase of a female, though wife selling is not an uncommon occurrence. In the days pre-dating divorce, how else is a fellow to ameliorate his unsatisfying experiences at home?  He cannot kill her, or at least he ought not.  No, auctioning her to the highest bidder is the right of the common man, and the duke decides he may as well see what’s being offered before he repairs to London.

Together with his companion, he ventures into the yard only to be struck by Cupid’s arrow.  “Damnation,” thinks the duke.  His father died this past August and because of the South Sea Bubble, the duke is left with a miserly inheritance.  He cannot afford a blinding attraction to an ostler’s wife, but it’s not like he’s going to marry her.  Even so… The beautiful creature before him has been humbled.  She is not prideful but submits to her husband’s indictments, peeping not a word.  Some who witness the scene later imagine the ostler has beaten her, and the duke swoops in as her noble rescuer. Others say the duke is so sympathetic to her plight that he believes it better to be sold by a villain than to bed down with one. Either way, he’s so overwhelmed by her charms he cannot help himself.  

He buys her.

Still from The Slipper and the Rose (cinderella story)

And so Ann Jeffreyes, chambermaid, is at one moment the unwanted wife of an ostler and the next the property of a duke. “How unbelievable,” she must think to herself. “How terrifying and exciting.”  And then, “Yes, I’ll marry you!”

It’s true. Henry Brydges, the widower Duke of Chandos, makes his pretty purchase a duchess and a Cinderella story is born.  He and Ann give life to every servant girl’s dream: one doesn’t have to be born a lady to become one.  One only needs to be sold and purchased.  Preferably with a duke attending her auction, but there’s always earls and viscounts to be had…

Dripping in Gold

Ever heard the tune ‘Crave You’ by Flight Facilities?

“I walked into the room dripping in gold
Yeah dripping in gold
I walked into the room dripping in gold
Dripping in gold
A wave of heads did turn, or so I’ve been told
Or so I’ve been told…”

I present the 18th century version in Lady Cunliffe, who may actually have been dripping in gold.


By John Hoppner (1781/82)

When Lady Cunliffe (nee Harriet Kinloch) married Sir Foster Cunliffe, 3rd Baronet, in 1781, the Cunliffe family was a generation away from two words that wrinkled society noses: merchant and slavery.  Hoppner’s portrait was completed right before or right after they wed, and may have alluded to the less than respectable Cunliffe family riches that were accumulated mid-century.

The first Foster Cunliffe–Sir Foster Cunliffe’s grandfather–was born in 1685 and made his wealth as a Liverpool merchant.  The Virginian tobacco trade was just emerging in his hometown in the early 1700s, and he made a great deal of money on Oronoco weed (originally cultivated by John Rolfe, Pocahontas’ husband), which he sold to the French.  What filled his coffers the most, though, was the Atlantic slave trade.

To get an idea of what occurred during Cunliffe’s lifetime, the first half of the 18th century saw an expansion of some 5,000 ships from the beginning of the century to a whopping 45,000 before 1750.  Cunliffe, as one of a hundred slave traders in Liverpool, owned 26. Those ships transported West Africans to the sugar islands, but they also carried German Palantines (sold as indentured servants) as well as convicts to the Americas.

Exporting commodities from the sugar islands provided a supplemental income, but the trade that brought the family into affluence was falling out of favor by the time Lady Cunliffe entered the picture.  By 1758, upon Foster Cunliffe’s death, Cunliffe’s sons followed in their father’s mayoral footsteps and took political offices.  The company went defunct in 1759 and the family began distancing itself from its role in slavery.  Thanks to their investments, the following generations joined the landed gentry and used their fortune to buy the hallmarks of social ascent, including the dripping in gold Hoppner portrait above.