Wednesday 30 September 2015

Sweating with the Mohocks

To celebrate the release of Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors, Volume 2, it is my pleasure to look at a most unusual custom which seems to have come and gone with very little fanfare at all.

My colonial gentleman believes himself to a be a most talented purveyor of pranks, usually at my expense, so today I must keep my wits about me! Whilst leafing through the must-read Grose's Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue I came across mention of a custom that my gent doesn't practice or at least, I hope not, or we shall have the watch to our door!

The passage that caught my eye went as follows:

Sweating:  [...] a diversion practised by the bloods of the last century, who styled themselves Mohocks: these gentlemen lay in wait to surprise some person late in the night, when surrounding him, they with their swords pricked him in the posteriors, which obliged him to be constantly turning round; this they continued till they thought him sufficiently sweated.
The rich young men who practised the pastime would in Edinburgh even formed the Sweating Club, its members great fans of this cruel pastime.  Upon seeing a lone pedestrian who looked a likely victim they would give a cry of "a sweat!" and, with the unfortunate innocent surrounded, pricked at his bottom with their swords until they were sufficiently entertained. On occasion the sweating was part of a wider ceremony involving members of the club and it even made it into print in 1712, with Jack Lightfoot, a correspondent to The Spectator, reporting a friend's run in with sweaters in London's Fleet Street.

Well aware of what their cry of, "a sweat!" meant, Lightfoot's friend stood his ground in a corner, refusing to be intimidated by the gang that pursued him. For half an hour he defended his honour until the gang lost interest and he was able to escape, losing only some luggage and a single shoe heel in the process.

I shall let Mr Lightfoot tell the tale himself:

"[...] a couple of fellows advanced towards us, drew their swords and cried out to each other - "A sweat! A sweat!" Whereupon suspecting they were some of the ringleaders of the bagnio, I also drew my sword, and demanded a parley; but finding none would be granted me, and perceiving others behind them filing off with great diligence to take me in flank, I began to sweat for fear of being forced to it, but very luckily betaking myself to a pair of heels, which I had reason to believe would do me justice, I instantly got possession of a very snug corner in a neighbouring alley that lay in my rear; which post I maintained for above half an hour with great firmness and resolution, though not letting this success so far overcome me, as to make me unmindful of the circumspection that was necessary to be observed upon my advancing again towards the street; by which prudence and good management I mad a handsome and orderly retreat, having suffered no other damage in this action than the loss of my baggage, and the dislocation of one of my shoe-heels which last I am just now informed is in a fair way of recovery. These sweaters, by what I can learn from my friend, and by as near a view as I was able to take of them myself, seem to me to have at present but a rude kind of discipline amongst them. It is probable, if you would take a little pains with them, they might be brought into better order."
It is a rare account (albeit second hand) of what has often been dismissed as an early urban myth. Certainly the Mohocks enjoyed a fearsome reputation for violence, sweating, and rolling women downhill wedged into barrels, but how much of this is true we can never really know. 

So next time you are out and about keep an eye open for these cheeky young sorts and their loose-sheathed swords, lest you find yourself the butt of their humour!


New Release!

Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors, Volume 2 
Edited by Debra Brown and Sue Millard

An anthology of essays from the second year of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, this book transports the reader across the centuries from prehistoric to twentieth century Britain. Nearly fifty different authors share the stories, incidents, and insights discovered while doing research for their own historical novels.

From medieval law and literature to Tudor queens and courtiers, from Stuart royals and rebels to Regency soldiers and social calls, experience the panorama of Britain’s yesteryear. Explore the history behind the fiction, and discover the true tales surrounding Britain’s castles, customs, and kings.

Purchase links:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Tuesday 29 September 2015

The Adventures of Baron Anson

A couple of years ago, not long after I had opened the salon doors, I was lucky enough to stray across the wonderful Wunderkammer of Dirk Puehl, a man whose infectious passion for history knows no bounds. Dirk has championed and encouraged me in my endeavours since those early days and I am privileged to welcome him today with the story of George Anson, naval hero.


6 June 1762, circumnavigator, naval hero and reformer of naval affairs George Anson, 1st Baron Anson, died aged 65 at Moor Park in Hertfordshire 

“Thus was this expedition finished, when it had lasted three years and nine months, after having, by its event, strongly evinced this important truth: That though prudence, intrepidity, and perseverance united are not exempted from the blows of adverse fortune, yet in a long series of transactions they usually rise superior to its power, and in the end rarely fail of proving successful.“ (Anson's Voyage Round the World by Richard Walter)

A caricature of 1738 showing British tars in a Spanish jail in the West Indies, praying for rescue by the navy and conjuring the spirits of Cavendish, Raleigh and Drake
A caricature of 1738 showing British tars in a Spanish jail in the West Indies, praying for rescue by the navy and conjuring the spirits of Cavendish, Raleigh and Drake

The “War of Jenkins’ Ear” was certainly one of the most peculiarly named conflicts in history. Actually, Thomas Carlyle came up with the odd denomination a hundred years after the war had finally ended in 1748, based on the incident that became the alleged casus belli. Back in 1731, the commander of a Spanish patrol boat had boarded the English merchantman “Rebecca” to search her for contraband violating the conditions of the Asiento, the monopoly of selling slaves to Spanish America, granted to Britain after the Peace of Utrecht in 1713 and passed on to the South Sea Company. British merchants, especially those in the West Indies, applied an excessively wide interpretation of the treaty and shipped trade goods of all kinds to the Main. With the firm Spanish trade rules still in place, the colonial masters of the New World viewed this flow of goods as smuggling like they did back in Drake’s day and were, according to contemporary international law, in the right. Robert Jenkins, the master of the “Rebecca”, protested and tried to stop the guarda costa of Spanish Florida from searching his ship. The Spanish commander promptly drew his sword and cut off Jenkins’ ear, after he had conveniently bound him to the mast to hold still, and uttered the famous words:  "Go, and tell your King that I will do the same, if he dares to do the same." Whether “smuggling” was meant by the Spanish capitán with “the same” or “talking back to a Spanish officer” or “sailing off Florida” or all three together is lost in history along with the fact if Jenkins really was shipping contraband or not over the Spaniard’s bravado and acting like the villain from an early Hollywood pirate movie. However, Jenkins and the “Rebecca” made it back home to England along with the cut-off ear, pickled in alcohol. The corpus delicti was presented to the House of Commons and, after a bit of diplomatic and internal toing and froing, war was declared on Spain in 1739 over the insult to the honour of the nation. Political pressure of the West Indies merchants to stop the Spanish from revoking the monopoly of the Asiento and maybe even to force open the ports on the Main at gunpoint has certainly played a role in the decision.      

George Anson's capture of a Manila galleon.  Samuel Scott (before 1772)
George Anson's capture of a Manila galleon.
Samuel Scott (before 1772)
The war did not exactly go well for both sides, in the West Indies and on the Main. Tropical diseases were the worst enemy, especially of the British Infantry regiments, weakened as they were from the miserable conditions of their transatlantic passage. A new strategic objective was needed and somebody came up with the Spanish possessions in the Pacific. A quite reasonable idea, since the west coast of South America and the Philippines were far less defended than the East of the Main, Florida and the Caribbean and even though the exploits of the silver mines in Potosí, present-day Bolivia, were still largely carried overland to Panama, parts of it made up the treasures carried by the annual Manila galleon along with the riches of Spanish East India. There was a reason, however, why the defences out there were negligible. The last serious raid into the Pacific was carried out by Drake himself, nearly 200 years before. With two ships and a couple of dozen crew. Now, in 1740, Admiral George Anson was tasked with taking a squadron there, composed of three 4th rate ships-of-the-line, two frigates, a sloop and two transports, crewed by 1,800 men and bolstered with 500 infantry and additional marines. A logistic nightmare, even by todays’ standards and even more so in the first half of the 18th century, with still inadequate navigational instruments, chiefly the lack of a reliable marine chronometer, sea charts that dated back, more often than not, to the days of Good Queen Bess and an almost complete ignorance of the reasons for lethal deficiency symptoms, first and foremost scurvy, as well as the tropical diseases that already had cost the comrades of Anson’s jolly tars so dearly in the West Indies. And to top it all, even though Anson’s squadron reached Cape Horn in December during the austral summer, certainly the best time to round the Horn, they were harassed by one storm after the other. When Anson reached his third rendezvous point at Robinson’s island of Juan Fernandez in April 1741, he had proven that he was an excellent sailor and navigator, but was down to two 4th rates, “Centurion” and “Gloucester” and the sloop “Tryal”, the rest was lost and his crews were in a dismal shape with scurvy, typhus and dysentery, with 300 men barely alive, just a third of the 1,000 that had crewed the three ships when they left Spithead the year before. Nevertheless, Anson started to harass South America, disrupted Spanish trade between Manila and Chinese Macao, along with John Company’s mercantile operations in the region and finally managed to capture the fabled Manila Galleon and her cargo of 1,313,843 pieces of eight and 35,682 ounces of silver on 20 June 1743. When Anson and his last ship, the “Centurion” arrived back home in Spithead, a year later to a day, he had circumnavigated the world, became an immediate celebrity and a very rich man and had lost 90% of his original crew, most of them to disease. 

Lord Anson's victory off Cape Finisterre, 2 May 1747
Lord Anson's victory off Cape Finisterre, 2 May 1747

George Anson, 1st Baron Anson, portrait by an unknown contemporary artist
George Anson, 1st Baron Anson. Anonymous.
In March 1742, the British expeditionary force in the West Indies was down to 1,500 men and the pursuit of hostilities in the region was out of the question, even though the war dragged on and was finally merged with the War of the Austrian Succession on the continent, the next of the 18th century’s cabinet wars that broke out in 1740. In due course, France allied with Spain and Anson won his most unblemished naval victory at the First Battle of Cape Finisterre in 1747 with the capture of a French convoy headed for North America and the destruction of its escort of four ships-of-the-line, along with a peerage and loads of prize money that made him even richer. But it was the capture of the Manila Galleon that gave him the somewhat chequered reputation of being the last pirate employed by the British Crown, referring to Drake who, likewise, circumnavigated the world and captured a predecessor of the Manila Galleon, even though Drake was a privateer and not even actively employed by the crown on his raid into the Pacific in 1577 while Anson was a naval officer acting on official orders. He ended his life as Admiral of the Fleet during the next cabinet war, the Seven Years’ War, and issued some important reforms, tightening discipline aboard His Majesty’s ships, improving medical care to its admittedly still lamentable 18th century standards, transferred the marines as consistent units from Army to Navy command and ordered naval officers to wear uniforms while fighting the same unpromising fight against corruption like many of his more serious successors in the role did well into the 19th century. However, his reforms took effect almost immediately, bringing the navy into the shape that enabled Boscawen and Hawke to win their decisive victories at Lagos and Quiberon Bay during the annus mirabilis of 1759 when victory became a tradition of the Royal Navy for the next 150 years.

And more about Admiral Anson on:,_1st_Baron_Anson

and his circumnavigation on:

About the Author

Blood and thunder, artsy things, curiosities and lots of ships, everything featured in my little #onthisday-series. I post a daily feature about something that happened “on this day”, weather permitting.

Usually, the posts turn on Literature with a heavy focus on the 19th and early 20th century and silver screen adaptions. The dark and macabre, vampires, ghosts and ghoulies, the plain fantastic, the Byronic tradition in Europe, dandyism as well as Thomas Mann, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche. History, often military history, from antiquity to the dawn of the 20th century and everything an armchair sailor can come up with. Fine arts with pretty much the same foci during the said period as well as Mythology.

And besides that I currently collect curiosities online, often with a touch of #steampunk and exhibit them in my virtual #wunderkammer, an online cabinet of curiosities.

Written content of this post copyright © Dirk Puehl, 2015.

Monday 28 September 2015

The Strasburgh Exorcism Hoax...

Today we journey to Strasburgh for a tale of devilish skullduggery that I dug up in the archives. On 11th November 1807, The Morning Chronicle told of a rather naughty group of cons conjuring up all manner of devils to relieve the citizens of Strasburgh of their money.

The Prince of Darkness: Dagol, 1775
The Prince of Darkness: Dagol, 1775
The clipping is below and here, in full, I present to you the sorry tale!

The Tribunal of Correctional Police at Strasburgh has lately had its attention engaged by a curious process.  
A number of thieves, about the commencement of last year, formed a plan to plunder the public by means of exorcisms, magic, incantations, &c. The country in the neighbourhood of Strasburgh was chosen as the theatre of their operations. One of them performed the part of the Exorcist, another the Devil, an every one of the gang appeared in some character suited to his talents. The man who performed the part of the Devil was covered with phosphorus, which blazed with greater brightness in proportion to the wealth which was promised to their deluded victim. The means pointed out for obtaining the promised wealth were generally exorcisms, which they said were contained in a book that formerly belonged to a Priest of Strasburgh, which only could be performed by a woman on the name of Marianne, who was to be found sometimes at the Cathedral, and sometimes at the Church of St. John. The dupes went immediately in search of this prophetess (who, it is hardly necessary to say, was one of the gang). She took care to make them believe that she was inspired, and told them the purpose for which they came to her. She promised to give them the book for seventy, thirty, and sometimes forty Louis d'ors, according to the wealth of the person applying. The rogues always contrived to escape before their dupes discovered the trick.

Whether the gang were ever apprehended was never reported, but their audacious scheme remains memorialised forever, thanks to the intrepid reporters of the Chronicle!


Friday 25 September 2015

The Salon Digest

As I gad south for the weekend, do enjoy the posts of the week just passed!

A Headless Spectre Robs a Rectory!
A tale of Georgian terror...

Marie Sallé in London 
Corrina Connor takes a turn on the ballet stage... 

Handel and the English
Sheena Vernon delves into the composer's run-in with the tabloids and his regal friends!

Folklore Thursday
News of a little folkloric something!

Thursday 24 September 2015

Introducing Folklore Thursday!

It's my pleasure to share news of a Twitter hashtag that contains a wealth of wonderful folktales from history... The tales won't appear here on the blog though, so gad across to Twitter and join the fun!
#FolkloreThursday Twitter hashtag
#FolkloreThursday Twitter hashtag
#FolkloreThursday is a hashtag where you can post all your folklore related blog posts, quotes and other oddments. If you would like to join in the guidelines for what to post, how and when are below. Enjoy!
Whether you’re fanatical about folklore or a fan of fairy tales, #FolkloreThursday is the place for you. There are hundreds of great folklore related tweets posted every day, but with the speed of Twitter and the busy pace of life, it’s all too easy to miss out on some of the fascinating tweets that come through.
With that in mind, we decided to set up #FolkloreThursday as a place for people to share all their folklore related tweets. It’s simple – all throughout Thursday, post your folklore related content with the FolkloreThursday hashtag, and your tweets will be retweeted through the @FolkloreThurs account. And don’t forget to follow us at @FolkloreThurs!
Unsure what to post? “Folklore” is defined as:
“The traditions, beliefs, customs and stories of a community, passed through the generations by word of mouth.”
That gives plenty of scope, so tweet your blog posts, quotes, artwork and images that cover the following:
  • Folklore
  • Legends
  • Fairy tales
  • Customs
  • Heritage
  • Traditions
and anything else that falls under the above definition – including music and dance.
Whilst folklore gives plenty of scope, there are a few restrictions. Please refrain from tweeting:
  • Anything containing offensive language
  • Pornography or nudity
  • Any of the ‘isms’: racism, sexism, etc.
  • Anything unrelated to folklore!
  • The hashtag is not for personal publicity, so we kindly ask that people stick to sharing informative blog posts, quotes and images rather than their own book links, products, or promoting their own events.
So that’s all there is to it! Tweet your own posts, and don’t forget to retweet others throughout the day to help spread the best folklore content the web has to offer.
FolkloreThursday is maintained by @WillowCWinsham@Seline62442458@DeeDeeChainey#FolkloreThursday will endeavour to retweet as much as possible throughout the day, but reserves the right to not retweet material at their discretion.
The official Twubs page for the hashtag can be found here.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Handel and the English

Today I am wildly excited to welcome Sheena Vernon to the salon. Sheena is the author of the wonderful book, Messiah. Love, music and malice at a time of Handel, and is joining us to discuss the composer's life and work in England!


Handel and the English

Handel was a Saxon yet his home for forty five years (1714-59) was London. He invented a new genre of music, the English dramatic oratorio, yet he came to fame as the composer of Italian opera. He made London the musical capital of Europe with musicians and singers that were almost exclusively foreign. And to complete the conundrum, he created a brand, headed by monarchs who originated from Hanover, that became the epitome of Britishness.

Yes, George Frideric was a mass of wonderful contradictions. Which is possibly why he and the British public had their ups and downs. In fact his ups and downs with pretty much everybody who was anybody were legendary; he was, after all, a ‘creative’ and therefore difficult at times to work with. His Italian singers found him an insufferable dictator. Which is why, in 1733, most of them walked out on him and joined a rival opera company. English composers like Thomas Arne resented the long shadow he cast, getting every commission for public occasions like royal marriages, deaths and coronations. The news sheets liked to deride the Italian Opera for promoting effeminacy and popery and aimed their most excoriating prose at its director, Handel, for encouraging Jonny Eunuch to caper round the stage shrieking in a language that no-one understood. The other accusation was that he was typically German, telling the English what their taste in music should be.

At one stage Handel left London, unable to take the barracking of the tabloids, the tantrums of his singers, and the hissing and growling of London’s beau monde who had divided into factions when the new opera company was set up as a rival to his. In the winter of 1741 he stomped off to Dublin for ten months and it was there that he premiered his greatest oratorio, The Messiah. During the years leading up to this rupture Handel not only endured the media brickbats, factionalism and peer group resentment just mentioned but had come close to bankruptcy, due to audiences being split across two opera companies.

George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner, 1726-28
George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner, 1726-28 

So why, you might be asking, did Handel make London his home and in 1727 become a naturalised citizen? Why didn’t he move to another Protestant court, in the Netherlands, maybe or Austria, Prussia, and even Hanover where he had once worked? The answer lies with what London had to offer musicians at the time. I think that the close group of sponsors who became his friends also played a part as well as the patronage of the royal family. Finally, Handel eventually hit on a formula which the public loved: he started to compose works in English and to rely on English singers. By the time of his death his airs were being played on every parade ground, in the pleasure gardens of Vauxhall, in the concert halls of provincial cities, and at the ceremonies that trumpeted British triumphs - the Treaty of Utrecht, the Treaty of Aix la Chapelle, the victory at Culloden.

The first half of the eighteenth century saw London became capitalistic, colonial and cosmopolitan (though none of those words existed). The fact that George 1st couldn’t speak English was, for English parliamentarians of the time, part of his charm; they wanted a figurehead who brought stability, they didn’t want a Stuart who believed he had divine rights or who would meddle in running the country. Nowhere else in Europe was there the same libertarian approach to governance that allowed new wealth to be created from trade and finance. For twenty five years Britain made money rather than war. When this period of peace ended in 1739 it was in order to fight the Spanish for trade dominance in the West Indies. 

Handel, being a businessman and entrepreneur, thrived in this ruthless, often brutal and always robust environment even though he was bruised at times. Unlike Mozart, when he died in 1759 he was well-off because there were opportunities to make money as a musician in London which did not exist elsewhere (this was the principal reason why London attracted so many foreign musicians); there were also new audiences from among the mercantile classes and this broke the grip of aristocratic patronage on the arts. 

An additional advantage for Handel was his relationship with the House of Hanover. King George ll was in all senses a philistine, but his father genuinely loved Italian opera and George ll’s spouse, Caroline, and her two eldest daughters - all three of the same Lutheran stock as the composer - were his friends. Handel’s friendship circles were small and tight but very loyal; his right hand man was a fellow Saxon, Johann Christophe Schmidt, but he also moved in several English circles, notably those round Lord Shrewsbury and his near neighbour Mrs Delaney, née Pendarves. When I read about his relations with the British musical and church establishment, I wonder sometimes if Handel wasn’t borderline Aspergers. But the existence of close friends suggests someone capable of considerable, albeit a crusty, charm, and his ongoing popularity with royalty, despite the fact that so many of them loathed each other, is testimony to his diplomatic skills. 

Finally, Handel and the British grew to love one another. After 1741 Handel composed no more Italian operas, focusing instead on English oratorios. Some say this was merely because the opera was just too uneconomic, but maybe Handel himself saw the need to evolve as a musician. Above all of this, he became an institution; the Hallelujah chorus, Zadock the Priest, the water music and the fireworks music are only the tip of a huge Handelian iceberg that defined public life, that made him, truly, one of us.

Messiah book cover

Sheena Vernon is author of the novel ‘Messiah. Love, music and malice at a time of Handel,’ which is available in paperback, as an ebook or in audio.

Written content of this post copyright © Sheena Vernon, 2015.

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Marie Sallé in London

It is an absolute pleasure to welcome Corrina Connor to the salon again; following her look at les caractères de la dans, she shares the tale of famed ballet dancer, Marie Sallé!


‘To grace learned works and crown them with glory’
 Marie Sallé in London

The French ballet dancer, Marie Sallé (1707-1756), was still a child when she made her first appearance on stage in London during the 1716-1717 season at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields theatre. Subsequently, she returned to Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1725-27, and 1730-31.  Sallé managed to combine these guest appearances in London with her career at the Paris Opéra, where she joined the ballet troupe in 1727, with more visits London for performances during the 1730-31 season at Lincoln’s Inn and 1734-35 season at the Covent Garden Theatre when she danced in several productions of Handel’s operas. These early examples of what would now be called ‘artistic residencies’ are just one example of what continues to make the beautiful and enigmatic Sallé remarkable as a dancer and as a woman. It was not unusual for female performers, particularly opera singers who could obviously sing in Italian opera anywhere where it was performed – London, Venice, or in the court theatres of German principalities – to have international careers, but it was unusual for a female ballet dancer to work in the same way.  

Marie Sallé
Marie Sallé
In November 1734 Sallé appeared in the dance sequences that Handel composed for her and a small company of dancers in his ‘Scottish’ opera, Ariodante. This was the first new work he wrote for his inaugural season at the Covent Garden Theatre, and the cast of Ariodante formed an exciting international group: the castrato Giovani Carestini sang the role of Ariodante (‘a vassal prince’), whilst Maria Strada del Pó took the role of Ginevra (daughter of the King of Scotland).  A few months later, in April 1735, the same two singers appeared in another of Handel’s new operas, Alcina, with Maria Strada as the malign yet tragic sorceress Alcina, and Carestini as her beloved Ruggerio. Again, Sallé led the dancers music in Handel composed especially for them (or ‘recycled’ from Ariodante);  all the dance music is and vital, a synthesis of French grace and Italian zest, and the sequences in Act II which include the ‘Entrée des songes agréables’ and ‘Entrée des songes funestes are particularly beautiful. Here Handel’s music is especially exquisite and dramatic by turns, demonstrating his capacity for creating wordless eloquence.

Maria Strada
Maria Strada
The inclusion of special dance music in Ariodante and Alcina was not only an aesthetic delight for the audience, but also a rather cynical move for Handel.  His opera company, based at Covent Garden, was in direct competition with the rival ‘Opera of the Nobility’ which Frederick, Prince Wales, and a coterie of other nobles established and funded. In the end, both companies were unsustainable, but in his 1734-35 season, Handel was determined to be a success, and he needed every possible novelty (outstanding singers, extravagant staging, and French dancers) to attract audiences. The Opera of the Nobility’s greatest draw card was the castrato Farinelli, whose renown eclipsed that of Senesino (Francesco Bernardi from Sienna, who had formerly worked for Handel, but then defected to the Opera of the Nobility), and Carestini. 

For the opening of the 1734-35 season, Handel also revived his 1712 pastoral opera Il pastor fido, having written an allegorical prologue Terpsichore for it. This was partly a nod towards the French practice of prefacing their tragédies lyrique with prologues or divertissements, and Handel’s Terpsichore provides a beautiful and eloquent introduction to Il pastor fido. In Terpsichore Maria Strada del Pó as Erato, the muse of song and poetry, calls upon Apollo (Carestini) – the god of poetry, music, truth, and light – to descend from the heavens and bestow his benevolence (and that of the other deities and muses) upon Il pastor fido.  Sallé’s role in this prologue was central. Once Apollo arrives, and all have praised the union of words and music, he enquires ‘Mà, Terpsicore snella dov’è? perchè non vien a misurar co’ passi suoi loquaci le tue note vivaci?’ (‘But, graceful Terpsichore, where is she? Why does she not come to match, with her eloquent steps, your lively notes?’)  From the point at which Sallé appears, the rest of the text is one of praise for the eloquence of dance and Apollo and Erato sing of how it is dance which can best express the joy and pain of love:
Pingi i trasporti d'un amator,
che si promette l’amato ben.
Depict the rapture of a lover,
when the beloved loves in return.
La speme e cura d’un fido amor,
che la ferita prova nel sen.
The hopes and fears of a faithful lover,
as their wounds he feels in the heart.
Apollo & Erato
Tuoi passi son dardi,
col mezzo de’ sguardi
discendono al seno,
e piagano il cor.
Ma prova diletto
ferito anche il petto,
perchè sente appieno
i vezzi d’amor.
Apollo & Erato
Your steps are darts,
which, by means of the eyes,
descend to the breast
and wound the heart.
But the heart finds 
the wound pleasing,
for through it, it feels fully
the sweetness of love.
Despite Sallé’s expertise in depicting the delights and sorrows of love through dance, her own life off-stage remains mysterious. The reputation of women who ‘exposed’ themselves to the public gaze on stage was of course questionable, as it was a contravention of the modesty, discretion, and chastity which were the ideals of decorous eighteenth-century womanhood. Furthermore, Sallé appeared on stage in daring costumes, and disdained the masks with which female dancers had formerly carried and worn. In London in 1734 Sallé danced the role of Galatea in the ballet-pantomime Pigmalion wearing a costume of alarming naturalism: she appeared on stage ‘without a pannier, without a skirt, with her hair all dishevelled, and no ornament on her head; dressed neither in a corset nor a petticoat, but in a simple muslin robe, arranged as a close fitting drapery, in the manner of a Greek statue.’ In Handel’s Alcina the following year, Sallé appeared as Cupid, and chose – authentically enough – to dance in ‘male attire’, which apparently ‘suited her very ill and was … the cause of her disgrace.’ There was, in reality, no disgrace, as Sallé, who began her professional life when she was still a child, must have been acutely aware of the association between professional dancers and prostitution and thus she endeavoured to develop a public persona that was beyond reproach. As a dancer she specialised in performing as an allegorical representation of Virtue, and Nicholas Lancret painted her in 1732 in the role of chaste Diana. In 1730, the French writer Louis de Boissy (1694-1758) immortalised Sallé in verses which emphasise her moral character:

‘For a decent and noble air,
A light and elegant dance style,
For a decent and noble air,
[Salle] is a charming example.
A prodigy of our age,
She is both witty and sage:
Applaud her well!
Virtue, herself,
Dances at the Opéra.’

However, Sallé’s efforts to counter the reputation of female dancers for lasciviousness, and her resistance to male attention, made her the subject of other rumours. In January 1737, London’s Universal Spectator and Weekly Journal published a story claiming that a young British nobleman (possibly Lord Cadogan) had succeeded in seducing Marie Sallé. Knowing her fabled ‘uncommon Coldness and Indifference to the Male Sex’, the young man dressed as a woman, paid her court and was “permitted to take Part of her Bed.’ The article went on to say that the dancer was “perfectly well reconciled to the Cheat”, and that this encounter with British aristocratic masculinity, would alter her rumoured preference for women. Gossip that Sallé had a female lover, a dancer called Manon Grognet, had circulated since 1735, but there was no material proof, and Sallé herself remained aloof from these stories.  Instead, she continued to devote herself to her art, earning the nickname ‘La Vestale’ in a reference to the inviolable and independent Vestal Virgins of Ancient Rome. 

Now, all that remains of the ‘tender, voluptuous, but always modest’ Sallé are a few paintings and engravings, the verses of Voltaire, de Boissy and other admirers, and the recollections of witnesses who may or may not be reliable. Before the age of photography and film, the artistry of the dancer was entirely ephemeral: even though we know the dances she performed, and may even have records of their choreography, the actual physical presence and unique style of Marie Sallé and her colleagues are lost forever. Thanks to the efforts of scholars, we now know more about Sallé’s career and achievements as a performer, choreographer, dance reformer, and teacher. However, the most tangible ‘living’ record of Sallé’s artistry exists in the music written for her to dance, and she can still live through the mesmerizing Chaconne of Rameau’s Dardanus, or in the Sarabande and Gigue of Handel’s Terpsichore
1 Quotation from Vol. 4 of Noverre’s Oeuvres, Letter 14, p. 77, reproduced in Sarah McCleave’s ‘Marie Sallé, a Wise Professional Woman of Influence’, Women’s Work: Making Dance in Europe before 1800, ed. L. Matluck Brookes, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2007),  p. 166

2 Quotation from Mecure de France, April 1734, reproduced in McCleave (2007), p. 166

3 Quotation reproduced in McCleave (2007), p. 162

4  McCleave (2007), p. 165

 McCleave (2007), p. 163

About the Author 
Corrina is currently a PhD student at Oxford Brookes University, where she is researching the ways in which Johann Strauss's operetta Die Fledermaus articulates aspects of masculinity. She writes programme notes for a number of music venues, including the Spitalfields Festival and she has contributed programme notes on a range of eighteenth-century repertoire to the London Handel Festival since 2011. As a musician, Corrina regularly plays the music that Handel wrote in London, and she has presented research papers at the Music in Eighteenth-Century Britain Conference and the annual British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Conference.

Written content of this post copyright © Corrina Connor, 2015.

Monday 21 September 2015

A Headless Spectre Robs a Rectory!

I do love a good ghost story and even better, one with an unexpected twist in the tale. On Saturday 12th March 1791, The Star published a not-so terrifying tale of a headless spectre terrorising an innocent rector!

Read on for the chilling truth...



The temporary residence of the Rector of Frodensham in Suffolk, being lately robbed by some person who got in during the night, a farmer who has the care of it, employed two stout men to sit up the night after with blunderbusses. It seems that not finding the business they expected, brought on a conversation about Witches and Ghosts, which was so heightened by the credulity of the relaters, that the thief, then concealed in a press just behind them, had the address to avail himself of their panic! accordingly throwing open the doors, and making at the same time the most uncommon noise he was capable of, with correspondent gestures &c. it had such an effect upon the heroes, that falling directly upon the floor, the supposed spectre got clear off by the way in entered; notwithstanding that they still persist in affirming that it had no head and was otherwise mortally frightful.

Gillray's Gown Metamorphose'd into a Ghost, 1797
Gillray's Gown Metamorphose'd into a Ghost, 1797

Friday 18 September 2015

The Salon Digest

The nights are drawing in so settle with a cup of something warm and enjoy the salon digest!

Les Caractères de la Danse
Corrina Connor is your host in part one of a two part series looking at the world of dance.

The Princess and the (Nearly) Naked Life Guards
An outraged letter to the editor in 1808 tells of some naked chaps running amok in Hyde Park!

The Making of How to Skin a Lion
Claire Cock-Starkey lifts the lid on researching and writing for the British Library!

Thursday 17 September 2015

The Making of How to Skin a Lion

Following my glowing review of How to Skin a Lion by Claire Cock-Starkey, Claire visited the salon to chat about the research and writing of this wonderful book. Even better, over the coming weeks she will share some of the deleted scenes items from the book, so you can add to your knowledge of all things unusual!



After months of research and numerous library trips I finally had enough content to begin to fashion my extracts into a book. Each ‘how to’ needed a short introduction and then the extract needed to be trimmed and sectioned up with extra explanations inserted to make the text flow. Sometimes a funny introduction or interjection naturally popped into my head but other times I would agonise over how to frame the extract to its best advantage.
To make the book easy for the reader to follow and understand I also tried my best to footnote or explain in brackets any strange terms or unknown ingredients, of which there are many.
Once I was happy with the introductions I spent a long time juggling the entries around. I decided early on that I wanted the book to be fairly random in order as I imagined a reader would dip in and out rather than reading it from start to finish. This meant I needed to make sure no two entries from the same book or on similar subject areas were too close to each other. This was harder than it seems and I changed the order many times before I finally felt like I had it right.
I then spent a long time reading, tweaking and polishing the book onscreen. Once I was happy with it I then printed out three copies – one for me, one for my husband and one for my mum. We then all read through the book highlighting errors, inconsistencies and passages that needed clarifying or rejigging.
I find it really helps to look at my work on paper as errors you can miss onscreen are often clearer on paper. It was also really good to get feedback from two people whose opinion I really valued and between us all we found quite a few typos and it really helped me to tighten the writing up.


Once I was happy with the final text it was time to send it back to the British Library for my editor Rob to have a read through and for it then to be sent on to a copy-editor. Once the copy-editor had been through the text it was sent back to me with a few queries for me to resolve.
As a copy-editor myself I know how the process works and am always nervous to send an author their copy-edited manuscript in case they take issue with all my changes and disagree with my author queries. Fortunately the copy-editor had done a great job and the queries were all very sensible and easily resolved.
The copy-edited and approved document then went back to the British Library team who sent it on to a proof reader and a typesetter. It is at this point that the wonderful pictures (which had been sourced from the British Library collection by their fabulous picture researcher) were inserted.


At this point Rob and I agreed that we would like to include as many pictures as possible as it brings the text alive. However I had strayed somewhat over the word count (why say something with one adjective, when you can use five fabulous adjectives?) and to fit in as many pictures as we needed I was going to have to cut some content.
I read back through the book and somewhat reluctantly highlighted sections which could be cut, it was hard to choose but I did feel like the book would ultimately be better for having more pictures.
Once these cuts had been made the final pictures could be inserted and the typesetting fixed. It was then just a case of waiting for the books to be printed and my advance copies to arrive.

THE FINAL BOOKHow to Skin a Lion

The cover had been designed quite early on in the process so I already knew what it was going to look like, but it really was such a thrill a few months later for a parcel to arrive and to hold the finished book in my hands.
It was a long journey to create this book but so fun. I am really proud of the finished product and I really hope that people will enjoy reading How to Skin a Lion as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Meet Claire online at

Wednesday 16 September 2015

The Princess and the (Nearly) Naked Life Guards

Whilst researching for my forthcoming book, Life in the Georgian Court, the newspaper archives of the long 18th century have thrown up some wonderful surprises. One of my favourite is this outraged letter from the mysterious GB, printed in The Morning Post on 28th March 1808. Its tale of a princess almost embarrassed by naked soldiers is a wonderful glimpse into the ribald world of the Georgians but I shall refrain from any jokes about a general and his privates.

The clipping is below, and a full transcription follows...


Sir, - In passing yesterday (Friday) through the Ride in Hyde Park, I was much surprised at meeting two men, nearly stark naked, running an arc on the foot promenade; they were attended by a great crowd, chiefly Life Guards Men. This indecent transaction was at a time when the Park was full of people, Ladies and others, and a few minutes before the Princess of Wales passed in her coach. The two racers, I learned, were privates in the Life Guards. I mention this transaction with a view that their Commanding Officers may prevent such indecorous scenes for the future, which are liable to occur in the presence of all the Ladies of the Royal Family, and every female whom pleasure or business my induce to ride or walk through Hyde Park.
I am, Sir, your obedient Servant,
Caroline of Brunswick by James Lonsdale, 1820
Caroline of Brunswick by James Lonsdale, 1820
Caroline, Princess of Wales was thankfully spared the sight of the Life Guards in their unmentionables but as GB sagely notes, she is not the only lady who might want to pass through Hyde Park without encountering near-naked soldiers.

Of course, she might not have minded in the slightest...

An Officer of the Life Guards by George Jones (1815)
An Officer of the Life Guards by George Jones (1815)
Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

Pen and Sword
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)