You are currently browsing the daily archive for December 13, 2009.

Yesterday we saw that Christmas did exist in Jane Austen’s time and that many elements of it are still recognisable in today’s English celebrations.

At the time she was writing Persuasion, she described what for her was an old -fashioned Christmas as enjoyed by the Musgroves at Uppercross:

The Musgroves came back to receive their happy boys and girls from school, bringing with them Mrs. Harville’s little children, to improve the noise of Uppercross, and lessen that of Lyme. Henrietta remained with Louisa, but all the rest of the family were again in their usual quarters…Immediately surrounding Mrs. Musgrove were the little Harvilles, whom she was sedulously guarding from the tyranny of the two children from the Cottage, expressly arrived to amuse them. On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to he heard in spite of all the noise of the others. Charles and Mary also came in, of course, during their visit; and Mr. Musgrove made a point of paying his respects to Lady Russell, and sat down close to her for ten minutes, talking with a very raised voice, but from the clamour of the children on her knees, generally in vain. It was a fine family-piece.

(Persuasion, Chapter 14)

Jane Austen famously and quite deliberately portrayed Mr and Mrs Musgrove as old fashioned- people:

To the Great House accordingly they went, to sit the full half hour in the old-fashioned square parlour, with a small carpet and shining floor, to which the present daughters of the house were gradually giving the proper air of confusion by a grand piano forte and a harp, flower-stands and little tables placed in every direction. Oh! could the originals of the portraits against the wainscot, could the gentlemen in brown velvet and the ladies in blue satin have seen what was going on, have been conscious of such an overthrow of all order and neatness! The portraits themselves seemed to be staring in astonishment.

The Musgroves, like their houses, were in a state of alteration, perhaps of improvement. The father and mother were in the old English style, and the young people in the new. Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove were a very good sort of people; friendly and hospitable, not much educated, and not at all elegant. Their children had more modern minds and manners…

(Persuasion, Chapter 5)

it is no wonder then that they hold open house  at Christmas in quite the old style that  William Wynstanly recommended, complete with groaning tables of food( on which more later in the week)laid out for all to enjoy.

That such  country hospitality was not in fact in danger of declining but was vibrant in the early parts of the 19th century,was a sentiment shared by an American visitor to England in the Regency-the author ,Washington Irving.

He  was a frequent visitor to Birmingham in Warwickshire during the first twenty years of the nineteenth century, living for two years in its vicinity, staying with his sister Sarah and her husband, Henry van Wart,the founder of the Birmingham stock exchange.

He made many visits to Aston Hall, a Jacobean Mansion which at that time was no longer  in the possession of the Holte family who built it but  was then leased to James Watt Junior , son of James Watt one of the prime movers of the Industrial Revolution.

Aston Hall seems to have cast a spell on Irving,as it did on the writer Maria Edgeworth, another of James Watts junior’s guests, who wrote as follows of the old mansion in 1820:

..we were engaged to breakfast at Mr James Watt’s at Aston Hall. You remember the fine old brick palace? Mr Watt has fitted up half of it so as to make it superbly comfortable ; fine  hall, breakfast room,Flemish pictures, Boulton and Watt at either end. After breakfast we went all over the house; the banqueting room, with a most costly frightful ceiling and a chimney piece carved up to the cornice with monsters one with a nose covered with scales one with a human face on a tarantula’s body. Varieties of little staircases and a garret gallery called Dick’s haunted gallery ;a blocked up rooms called the king’s room then a modern dressing room with fine tables of  Bullocks making – one of wood from Brazil-Zebra Wood no more of it to be had for love or money.

But come on to the great gallery, longer than that at Sudbury-about one hundred and thirty six feet long and at the farthest end we come  to a sort of oriel separated from the gallery only by an arch and there the white marble bust of the great Mr Watt struck me almost breathless…as I looked  down the closing lines of this superb gallery…..

I know how they feel as I volunteered there some years ago and cherish the time I spent there.

Irving  was dismayed to think that the  old ways of celebrating Christmas in England that he experienced were  going to disappear( a theme common with most writers on Christmas I find: it’s a festival for looking back ,standing still and not looking forward , it seems to me).He wrote about his  discovery of how an English country Christmas could be celebrated in the early part of the 19th century in six chapters of his book the Sketch Book of Geoffrey Canon Gentleman first published in 1819.

(This is the frontispiece of my copy of the 1906 edition, illustrated by Brock.)

The  Keeping of Christmas at Bracebridge Hall– a place clearly based on Aston Hall, was later published ( in England by John Murray) . From the evidence of this book, the  Christmas season as celebrated in the countryside was a vibrant and living custom and not one that was in decline,and that it had an historical basis. Note that the name of Bracebridge was a name associated with the builders of the hall, the Holte family and that James Watt junior leased the hall from one of them, Adam Bracebridge :

Nothing in England exercises a more delightful spell over my imagination than the lingerings of the holiday customs and rural games of former times. They recall the pictures my fancy used to draw in the May morning of life when as yet I only knew  the world through books and believed it tobe all that poets has painted it: and they bring with them the flavour of those honest days of yore, in which perhaps, with equal fallacy I am apt to think  the world was more homebred.socail, joyous than at present.I regret to say they are daily  growing more and more faint being gradually worm away by time …


The English from the great prevalence of rural habit throughout every class of society, have always been fond of these festivals and  holidays which agreeably interrupt the stillness of country life;and they were in former days  particularly observant of the religious and social  rites of Christmas….Shorn however as it is of its ancient and festive honour,Christmas is still a period of delightful excitement in England.  It is gratifying to see that  home feeling completely aroused which holds so powerful a place in every English bosom.


He went on to describe a Regency country  Christmas full of the elements we discussed yesterday : evergreen decoration, mistletoe, great feasts, dances, blazing fires, merriment, quoting copiously from 17th century writings to illustrate the historical antecedents of the festivities he found.

He also added this interesting footnote, which confirms that  in the countryside-which was where most people gathered to celebrate christmas if they could-Christmas was indeed a vibrant celebration:

At the time of the first publication of this paper the picture of an old-fashioned Christmas in the country was pronounced by some as out of date. The author  had afterwards an opportunituy of witnessing almost all of the customs above described existing in unexpected  vigour in the skirts of Derbyshire and Yorkshire where he passed the Christmas holidays. The reader will  find some notice of them in the author’s account of his sojourn at Newstead Abbey.

He in his turn inspired Charles Dickens,who cheerfully acknowledged his debt to the writings of Washington Irving, and that they inspired his book of A Christmas Carol and the descriptions of  the Christmas Festivities in Dingley Dell, the  haunt of Mr Pickwick as follows:

“I say, gentlemen, I do not go to bed two nights out of seven without taking Washington Irving under my arm upstairs to bed with me”

Dickens recognised that the type of Christmas Irving recorded was in decline  in the industrial towns of mid 19th century England. No one  was allowed to celebrate for 12 days( gatherings were  by the pressure of commercial and industrial life, reduced) and in towns and cities festive food such as poultry  etc was scarce and expensive. Thus it was really the pressure of life  in towns of the mid 19th century, subject to  industrial and commercial concerns, and that industrial urban society such pressures produced which was in danger of losing sight of the old country Christmas customs , not  the country society Jane Austen inhabited.

Tomorrow we shall look at the sort of decorations you might find in a well to of  home of the period-Pemberley House for example. Do join me won’t you…

If you are not a Wordpress member, just add your email here to subscribe to this site.

An Invitation to Visit our Sister Site: A Jane Austen Gazetteer

Visit our sister site: A Jane Austen Gazetteer

Click on the image above to visit our Sister Site: A Jane Austen Gazetteer

An Invitation to Visit our Sister Site: Jane Austen’s Letters

Visit our sister site: Jane Austen's Letters

Click on the image above to visit our Sister Site: Jane Austen's Letters

Join Austen Only on Twitter

Recently Tweeted

Austenonly on Pinterest

Follow Me on Pinterest

Categories

Copyright Notice

Copyright: This site and all images and information complied within are copyright Austenonly.com unless otherwise stated/attributed.No permission is given/implied for any use of this site, the information and images contained therein, for any commercial use whatsoever. No material may be copied in any form without first obtaining written permission of the author, save that extracts of posts may be used on other non-commcerial sites on the internet, provided that full and clear credit is given to Austenonly.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content( that is, a link must be provided to the original post/image with full attribution ). The existence of the RSS or ATOM feeds in no way authorises wholesale or part transmission of posts or parts of posts to another site without prior permission being given and attribution stated. Any sites using RSS or ATOM feeds in this way without obtaining prior written permission of the author of this blog will be subject to legal action.

Currently Reading

Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas by Rebecca Smith

Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmasby Rebecca Smith

Recently Read

James Wyatt, Architect to George III by John Martin Robinson

James Wyatt, Architect to George III by John Martin Robinson

Uvedale Price (1747-1829): Decoding the Picturesque” by Charles Watkins and Ben Cowell

Uvedale Price (1747-1829): Decoding the Picturesque” by Charles Watkins and Ben Cowell

"The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy” by Hannah Glasse, published by Prospect Books.

"The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy” by Hannah Glasse, published by Prospect Books.

The Letters of Mrs Lefroy: Jane Austen’s Beloved Friend, edited by Helen Lefroy and Gavin Turner

The Letters of Mrs Lefroy: Jane Austen’s Beloved Friend, edited by Helen Lefroy and Gavin Turner

Understanding Jane Austen: Key Concepts in the Six Novels

Understanding Jane Austen: Key Concepts in the Six Novels

The London Square by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan

The London Square” by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan

"What Matters in Jane Austen?:Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved" by John Mullan

"What Matters in Jane Austen?:Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved" by John Mullan

May, Lou and Cass: Jane Austen's Nieces in Ireland by Sophia Hillan

May, Lou and Cass: Jane Austen's Nieces in Ireland by Sophia Hillan

An Introduction to the Tokens at the Foundling Museum” by Janette Bright and Gillian Clarke

An Introduction to the Tokens at the Foundling Museum” by Janette Bright and Gillian Clarke

Vauxhall Gardens: A History by David Coke and Alan Borg

Vauxhall Gardens: A History by David Coke and Alan Borg

Facing Beauty: Painted Women and Cosmetic Art by Aileen Ribeiro

Facing Beauty: Painted Women and Cosmetic Art by Aileen Ribeiro

Johan Zoffany by Mary Webster

Johan Zoffany by Mary Webster

Bergere,Poke and Cottage: Understanding Early Nineteenth Century Headwear  by Serena Dyer

Bergere,Poke and Cottage: Understanding Early Nineteenth Century Headwear” by Serena Dyer

The First Actresses: Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons by Gill Perry with Joseph Roach and Shearer West

The First Actresses: Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons by Gill Perry with Joseph Roach and Shearer West

Jane Austen's Letters (4th Edition) edited by Deirdre Le Faye

Jane Austen's Letters (4th Edition) edited by Deirdre Le Faye

Ice Cream by Ivan Day

Ice Cream by Ivan Day

Rooms With a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century by Sabine Rewald

Rooms With a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century by Sabine Rewald

Pastel Portraits of 18th Century Europe by Katharine Baetjer and Marjorie Shelly

Pastel Portraits of 18th Century Europe by Katharine Baetjer and Marjorie Shelly

The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock

The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock

The Eighteenth Century Church in Britain by Terry Friedman

The Eighteenth Century Church in Britain by Terry Friedman

Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion 1795-1815 by Christina Barreto and Martin Lancaster

Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion 1795-1815 by Christina Barreto and Martin Lancaster

Regarding Thomas Rowlandson: His Life, Art and Acquaintance by Matthew and James Payne

Regarding Thomas Rowlandson: His Life, Art and Acquaintance by Matthew and James Payne

The Omnipotent Magician:Lancelot "Capability" Brown by Jane Brown

The Omnipotent Magician:Lancelot "Capability" Brown by Jane Brown

The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, Second Edition.

The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, Second Edition.

Thomas Rowlandson: Pleasures and Pursuits in Georgian England, edited by Patricia Phagan

Thomas Rowlandson: Pleasures and Pursuits in Georgian England, edited by Patricia Phagan

Ralph Allen, Builder of Bath by Diana Winsor

Ralph Allen, Builder of Bath by Diana Winsor

Fashioning Fashion European Dress in Detail 1700-1915

Fashioning Fashion European Dress in Detail 1700-1915

Jellies and their Moulds by Peter Brears

Jellies and their Moulds by Peter Brears

Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance

Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance

Sir Thomas Lawrence by Michael Levey

Sir Thomas Lawrence by Michael Levey

The Georgian Buildings of Bath by Walter Ison

The Georgian Buildings of Bath by Walter Ison

The Catalogue to the Chatsworth Attic Sale

The Catalogue to the Chatsworth Attic Sale

State Beds and Throne Canopies:Care and Conservation by Val Davies

State Beds and Throne Canopies:Care and Conservation by Val Davies

 The English Parsonage in the Early Nineteenth Century by Timothy Brittain-Catlin

The English Parsonage in the Early Nineteenth Century by Timothy Brittain-Catlin

The Secret History of Georgian London: How the Wages of Sin Shaped the Capital by Dan Cruickshank

The Secret History of Georgian London: How the Wages of Sin Shaped the Capital by Dan Cruickshank

London's Country Houses by Caroline Knight

London's Country Houses by Caroline Knight

Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill by Michael Snodin

Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill by Michael Snodin

Quilts 1700-2010: Hidden Histories, Untold Stories by Sue Prichard

Quilts 1700-2010: Hidden Histories, Untold Stories by Sue Prichard

Mrs Delany's Menus, Medicine and Manners by Katherine Cahill

Mrs Delany's Menus, Medicine and Manners by Katherine Cahill

Mrs Delany and her Circle by Mark Laird and Alicia Weisberg-Roberts

Mrs Delany and her Circle by Mark Laird and Alicia Weisberg-Roberts

The Brabourne Edition of Jane Austen's Letters at CUP (Vol 1)

The Brabourne Edition of Jane Austen's Letters at CUP (Vol 1)

The Brabourne Edition of Jane Austen's Letters at CUP (Vol 2)

Birds of Passage: Henrietta Clive's Travels in South India 1798-1801

Birds of Passage: Henrietta Clive's Travels in South India 1798-1801 edited by Nancy K Shields

Enterprising Women and Shipping in the 19th Century by Helen Doe

Enterprising Women and Shipping in the 19th Century by Helen Doe

Over a Red Hot Stove edited by Ivan Day

Over a Red Hot Stove edited by Ivan Day

Coke of Norfolk 1754-1843: A Biography

Coke of Norfolk 1754-1843: A Biography by Susanna Wade Martins

Georgian Jewellery 1714-1830

Georgian Jewellery 1714-1830 by Ginny Redington Dawes and Olivia Collings

Paul Sandby: Picturing Britain

Paul Sandby: Picturing Britain Edited by John Bonehill and Stephen Daniels

Silhouette: The Art of Shadow by Emma Rutherford

Silhouette: The Art of Shadow by Emma Rutherford

The Dress of the People by John Styles

The Dress of the People by John Styles

Behind Closed Doors by Amanda Vickery

Behind Closed Doors by Amanda Vickery

The Compleat Housewife by Eliza Smith, Chawton Edition

The Compleat Housewife by Eliza Smith, Chawton Edition

A New System of Domestic Cookery by Maria Rundell

A New System of Domestic Cookery by Maria Rundell

Austenonly Flickr

December 2009
M T W T F S S
« Nov   Jan »
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  
Protected by Copyscape plagiarism checker - duplicate content and unique article detection software.
Creative Commons License
This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.
UK Blog Directory
wordpress counter
%d bloggers like this: