When did you last see an Acorn Snake? Do you even know what one is or how to make it? I recently realised that very few people seemed to know about this ancient toy, so here it is.
Picture from the Royal Mint
On her first morning at Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland came down to breakfast, Henry Tilney was already there, in order to prevent him teasing her about her fears of the night before she changes the subject by looking at some flowers.
“What beautiful hyacinths! I have just learnt to love a hyacinth.”
“And how might you learn? By accident or argument?”
“Your sister taught me; I cannot tell how. Mrs. Allen used to take pains, year after year, to make me like them; but I never could, till I saw them the other day in Milsom Street; I am naturally indifferent about flowers.”
“But now you love a hyacinth. So much the better. You have gained a new source of enjoyment, and it is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible. Besides, a taste for flowers is always desirable in your sex, as a means of getting you out of doors, and tempting you to more frequent exercise than you would otherwise take. And though the love of a hyacinth may be rather domestic, who can tell, the sentiment once raised, but you may in time come to love a rose?”
Catherine had arrived at Northanger about the middle of March, so the hyacinths were probably not cut flowers, but ones in pots or glasses. Glasses for hyacinths were available at the time, William Cobbett in The English Gardener (1829) advises;
In water-glasses, the hyacinth makes a very agreeable show in the house during the most dismal part of the winter. Get blue glasses, as more congenial to the roots than white ones, fill them with rain water, with a few grains of salt in each, and put in enough water to come up the bulb about the fourth part of an inch. Change the water carefully every week, and place the plants in the lightest and most airy part of the room, or green-house, in which you keep them.
However by March, and particularly in a house like Northanger Abbey which had large and extensive glass houses, the bulbs would probably have been grown in pots, so that they could be changed as soon as the flower began to fade.
Flowers were often grown in pots and, if you had a large collection, could be displayed in a fashion that seems strange to a modern reader, as Louisa Johnson in Every Lady her own Flower Gardener (about 1840) describes;
We recollect once seeing a very interesting collection of more than two hundred species, growing in a high state of perfection, in the house of an amateur living in Brussels. The room containing them was fitted up much in the same way as an ordinary library, with abundance of light shelves round the walls, and a large table in the middle of the room, on which were placed the pots containing the plants. At night, the room was lighted up by an elegant glass lamp, and it was heated by one of those ornamental stoves which are so common on the Continent, Altogether, it had a very handsome appearance.
However, in smaller room she advises to use pot stands rather than stages, (the pretentious term jardinière didn’t come into England from France until the mid-nineteenth century). A Regency, or perhaps a facsimile of a Regency, plant pot stand is to be found in Lytes Cary, a country house in Somerset.
Courtesy National Trust
I didn’t have the material to make a curved front, so settled on an angular form. Painted black with a gold chinoiserie pattern.
Cobbett says that there were over a thousand varieties of Hyacinth available in his day, so I felt justified in using a range of colours, to give an impression of the display admired by young Catherine Morland.
The skull arrived on the wedding day, all through the ceremony he thought about it.
Was it a primitive human? was it an ape? All agreed it was incredibly old and that more of the skeleton had to be found.
In the quarry where it had been discovered, the manager pointed out the blocked cave and the search began. After several weeks fragments of bone were discovered, the palaeontologist was ecstatic.
“What is it?” the manager asked, looking at the tiny scraps of bone.
“The feet, the amazing feet.” He replied in delight, “It walked upright, it was human!”
The Taung child, the skull from the story
And that, oh best beloved was, more or less, how Australopithecus, mankind’s most primitive ancestor, was discovered.
This is in response to Charlie Mills flash fiction challenge, in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about an amazing feat, which I have interpreted phonetically. Hope you enjoy it.
A little while ago, I wrote an imaginary tale based on a possible meeting between two historical characters, some people found it amusing, so here is another one.
“It’s impossible!” Bursts of laughter echoed round one end of the table. At the other end the young poet looked up, curious to know what was happening. Everybody was looking at a middle aged gentleman with a round, tanned face, he looked like a prosperous farmer. But the poet was not so sure, he had seen this ‘farmer’ make a rapid, very rapid, calculation, he was a serious mathematician. Who was this farmer? And what were they laughing about?
“I am perfectly serious, I feel perfectly confident that the art of aerial navigation will soon be brought home to man’s convenience, and that we shall be able to transport ourselves and our families, and our goods and chattels, more securely by air than by water, and with a velocity of from twenty to one hundred miles per hour.”
“But Sir George, you mean flying, and that is impossible.”
“You have seen balloons, I am just saying that other means will be available, as soon as engines of suitable power can be developed.”
The poet listed for some time as Sir George made fantastic suggestions, trade would be carried through the air, that warfare would be fought there, that there would even be harbour masters and controls over ‘aerial navigation’.”
The rest of the diners listened in amusement. One said with a laugh.
“But for all that you need machines that can fly, and that is an impossibility.”
“So you think it is impossible to build a machine that can fly?”
“Of course,” the man looked around in amusement, “I could as just as easily walk on the ceiling like a fly.”
The man hadn’t seen what Sir George was doing with his hands, he had taken something from his pocket and was wrapping a cord around it. He leaned forward, pulled the cord, and the little machine buzzed and soared up into air. It sailed across the table and dropped down in a corner of the room. There was silence, Sir George smiled and pointed at the ceiling.
A reconstruction of Sir George’s glider of 1804 – in flight
That evening the poet sat and thought, aerial navigation, now that was a wonder. He sharpened his pen and began to write;
For I dipt into the future, Far as human eye could see,
Saw the vision of the world, And all the wonder that would be;
Saw the heavens fill with commerce, Argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight, Dropping down with costly bales;
Heard the heavens fill with shouting, And there rain’d a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies Grappling in the central blue;
Far along the world-wide whisper Of the south-wind rushing warm,
With the standards of the peoples Plunging thro’ the thunder storm;
Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, And the battle-flags were furl’d
In Parliament of man, The Federation of the world.
There the common sense of most Shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, Lapt in universal law.
Sir George Cayley(1773 – 1857), the ‘father of aviation’, was an incredible man. A Yorkshire landowner, as a teenager he worked out the physics of heavier that air flight and built and developed the first gliders, models then man carrying aircraft. His notebooks make it clear that, if he had had a powerful enough engine, he would have been able to build a man carrying aeroplane.
He always referred to ‘aerial navigation’ as people laughed when he talked about flying machines, and he carried a model flying machine in his pocket which he would launch at dinner when people talked of the impossibility of flight, Sir George’s words are his own.
Alfred Tennyson lived about a hundred miles south of Sir George Cayley, and wrote Locksley Hall, from which his description of flight comes from, in 1835. I don’t think they ever met, but perhaps?
Charli Mills from the Carrot Ranch prompts us thus this week
August 17, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a fossil or uses the word in its variant forms (fossilize, dino bones, petrification, gastroliths, ichnofossils, etc.). Dig into your imagination and go where the fossil record leads you. So here is another of my historical retellings.
“What have you there, child?” The tall lady smiled at the little girl.
“It’s a curtsy miss.” She replied. It was black and shiny, shaped like a coiled snail.
“She means a curiosity,” said her companion, “They are found in the cliffs, no one knows what they are.”
“What are you going to do with it?” asked Jane.
“Take it to father, he sells them.”
“Will you sell it to me?” The girl nodded, shyly.
“But she is Anning’s daughter, he overcharged us for that cupboard.”
“But she isn’t overcharging me.” The coin changed hands and a legend began.
In 1804 Jane Austen and her family visited Lyme Regis, in a letter to her sister she tells how they had been overcharged by a local carpenter, Robert Anning. As well as woodwork Robert also sold fossils that had been found in the local cliffs. His daughter, Mary Anning, the greatest fossil hunter of the age was his daughter, in 1804 she would have been five. Legend tells how she began her career as a little girl, selling a fossil she had found, to a lady she met on the beach. I have just brought Lyme Regis’s two most famous residents together.
All games must have a beginning, even if it has been lost in the metaphorical mists of time, but for one game there is a wonderful tale of how it was created ……..
The subaltern looked out of the window and swore, it was raining, not just a drizzle but a steady, heavy downpour. As he looked he saw a stable hand run towards the stable block, a sack protecting his head and shoulders, it was certain there would be no riding today.
Ostensibly it was a riding party, a group of people gathered together to enjoy a few days of riding in one of the best parts of the country. The unspoken reason for gathering together several young men and women was to ensure suitable matches were made, and the presence of several friendly, but observant, chaperones was to ensure that nothing unsuitable took place. But now it was ruined, the weather would prevent any riding out together.
They gathered in the great hall, several of the young women were very unhappy, they had ordered new riding habits, which hung unwanted in their rooms. One of them picked up a battledore and shuttlecock which lay on a bench and started to play, bouncing it up and down. One of the young men picked up a second battledore and called.
She lobbed the shuttlecock across to him and they knocked it to and fro, getting higher and higher.
“That’s too easy.” Called one of the men and, running downstairs, came back with a length of rope which he tied across the hall.
Knocking it over the rope made the game more fun and the couple continued to play until the girl knocked it very high, the man ran to hit it and almost stumbled into a cabinet beside the wall.
“Careful,” said one of the chaperones, “I think we should stop now.”
“Oh no!” said one of the girls, “We should just keep away from the wall.” She ran upstairs to the schoolroom and returned with some chalk. She drew a line on the flagged floor following the edge of some of the paving stones. She then paced out lines on the other side of the rope, and along each side. The game resumed.
Over the next two days, as long as the rain continued they kept on playing, developing the rules as they went, playing singles and doubles. The chaperones smiled approvingly as some pairs of players began to show a fondness for playing together.
By the time they left the house, two couples were engaged and the game was forgotten in the preparations for the weddings, the carefully developed rules languished in the pocket books of some of the participants.
Battledore and Shuttlecock – Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema
A year later the subaltern found himself given the job of carrying dispatches to a governor of an Indian province, then staying in Simla, the summer capital of British India, high in the foothills of the Himalayas.
“At least you will be out of this dammed heat,” said one of his fellow officers, “at least for a few weeks. It’s only lucky devils who get a transfer to the hills.”
When he arrived, it was certainly cooler, but it was wet, it was raining incessantly. The governor greeted him cordially and invited him to dinner.
“It will be a couple of weeks before I can reply to these dispatches, I afraid you will have to remain here until then. And at the moment there is nothing much to do.”
“No, no games or parties or anything.” Said the governors eldest daughter, “we should all be playing outside, but there is nothing we can do indoors.”
“Last year,” replied the subaltern, “ I was with a party in a country house, it was weather like this and we made up a game, using battledores and shuttlecocks.”
Fascinated the governor’s wife and daughters listened as he described the game.
“Can we try?” asked the girls, laughing the governor agreed. An old hall was marked out and soon all the younger people of Simla were playing.
A few weeks later, the daughter was writing down the rules of the game to send to a friend of hers, along with the news of her engagement. She looked up at her fiancée and asked.
“What is the game called? we have just been calling it the game, but it must have a name.”
“We never gave it a name.” He replied.
“Then what was the name of the house where you invented it?”
And that, more or less, is the tale as told to me.