Friday, November 11, 2005

pigs to poetry

On a list someone asked about hairstyles, which led to pig-tails. Two braids worn by girls, someone said.

Not necessarily, I replied. The original pig tail was a single plait which was quite short and stiff (hence more like a pig's tail) worn in the 18th century when men had shoulder-length hair by simpler folk, especially sailors.

I'm not sure English people use pigtails for plaits, which is what the girls' style would be. Or a plait if it was one down the back.

Since I happened to have my facsimile edition of the 1771 Enc. Britannica right here (truly!) I looked up pig. Nothing about pig tails, but a pig of lead is "the eighth part of a fother amounting to 250 lbs weight."

All right, what's a fother, apart from being 2,000 lbs?

On that hunt I came to this site.
Usages governing the collection of tolls at Torksey in 1228 where we learn that the toll for a fother of lead is 4d. (Four pence. You know that the d comes from the Roman denarii, don't you? It makes sense really.)

What about a frail of woad, a bale of alum, and a pack of mailede?

A frail is apparently a large wicker basket and mailede is uncertain.

Elsewhere, I find that a fother is equal to 30 fotmals, which is defined as 70 "mercantile" pounds in this wonderful dictionary of units of measurement.

Where we also find the fardel meaning a fourth part, used sometimes as a unit of land area equal to 1/4 virgate, 1/2 nook, or about 8-10 acres. (There's also the firkin, the firlot and the fistmele. You can look them up for yourself.)

And fardels, of course, crops up in Shakespeare, in Hamlet's To be or not to be.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life....

Which makes me doubt the definition. Who would 8 acres bear?

Ah well, back to the research.

Jo :)
Out now. The Shattered Rose, with the skull of John the Baptist as a child.
And, the reissue of The Brides of Christmas anthology. "They've stolen the Blessed Virgin Mary!"

Saturday, November 05, 2005

We've all known dancers like this...

On the quadrille in Regency society. "the principal male dancer, Mr. North, reminds one of a gibbeted malefactor, moved to and fro by the winds, but from no personal exertion."

Here's the full entry and the web page. Lots of interesting information there.

"The author of “Memoirs of the Times of George IV.” favours us with the following curious comments on quadrilles, then (1811) newly exhibited in England: --- “We had much waltzing and quadrilling, the last of which is certainly very abominable. I am not prude enough to be offended with waltzing, in which I can see no other harm than that it disorders the stomach, and sometimes makes people look very ridiculous; but after all, moralists, with the Duchess of Gordon at their head, who never had a moral in her life, exclaim dreadfully against it. Nay, I am told that these magical wheelings have already roused poor Lord Dartmouth from his grave to suppress them. Alas! after all, people act about it as gravely as a company of dervishes, and seem to be paying adoration to Pluto rather than Cupid. But the quadrilles I can by no means endure; for till ladies and gentlemen have joints at their ankles, which is impossible, it is worst than impudent to make such exhibitions, more particularly in a place where there are public ballets every Tuesday and Saturday. When people dance to be looked at, they surely should dance to perfection. Even the Duchess of Bedford, who is the Angiolini of the group, who make an indifferent figurante at the opera; and the principal male dancer, Mr. North, reminds one of a gibbeted malefactor, moved to and fro by the winds, but from no personal exertion.” In July, 1821, a splendid ball was given here in honour of the coronation of George IV by the special Ambassador from France, the Duc de Grammont. The King himself was present, attended by some of his royal brothers, the Duke of Wellington, and a numerous circle of courtiers. “Whatever French taste, directed by a Grammont, could do,” writes Mr. Rush in his “Court of London,” “to render the night agreeable, was witnessed. His suite of young gentlemen from Paris stood ready to receive the British fair on their approach to the rooms, and from baskets of flowers presented them with rich bouquets. Each lady thus entered the ball-room with one in her hand; and a thousand posies of sweet flowers displayed their hues, and exhaled their fragrance as the dancing commenced.”

The waltz in this period was not the whirling waltz of later times, though it did involve a bit of a whirl as noted above. It was like a regular line dance of the time but with a section in which the couple turned together, in one another's arms so to speak. It also, as best I can tell, kept the couple together throughout, which was different to the usual country dance in which the dancers moved among others. Far too much intimacy. Bound to lead to ruin!

Even Byron, who could hardly be called stuffy, railed against it.
"Endearing Waltz!—to thy more melting tune
Bow Irish Jig, and ancient Rigadoon.
Scotch reels, avaunt! and Country-dance forego
Your future claims to each fantastic toe!
Waltz—Waltz alone—both legs and arms demands,
Liberal of feet, and lavish of her hands;
Hands which may freely range in public sight
Where ne’er before—but—pray “put out the light.”
Methinks the glare of yonder chandelier
Shines much too far—or I am much too near;
And true, though strange—Waltz whispers this remark,
“My slippery steps are safest in the dark!”
But here the Muse with due decorum halts,
And lends her longest petticoat to “Waltz.”

Later he goes on....
"The Ball begins—the honours of the house
First duly done by daughter or by spouse,
Some Potentate—or royal or serene—
With Kent’s gay grace, or sapient Gloster’s mien,
Leads forth the ready dame, whose rising flush
Might once have been mistaken for a blush.
From where the garb just leaves the bosom free,
That spot where hearts were once supposed to be;
Round all the confines of the yielded waist,
The strangest hand may wander undisplaced:
The lady’s in return may grasp as much
As princely paunches offer to her touch.
Pleased round the chalky floor how well they trip
One hand reposing on the royal hip!
The other to the shoulder no less royal
Ascending with affection truly loyal!
Thus front to front the partners move or stand,
The foot may rest, but none withdraw the hand;*
And all in turn may follow in their rank,
The Earl of—Asterisk—and Lady—Blank;
Sir—Such-a-one—with those of fashion’s host,
For whose blest surnames—vide “Morning Post.”
(Or if for that impartial print too late,
Search Doctors’ Commons six months from my date)
—Thus all and each, in movement swift or slow,
The genial contact gently undergo;
Till some might marvel, with the modest Turk,
If “nothing follows all this palming work?”
True, honest Mirza!—you may trust my rhyme—
Something does follow at a fitter time;
The breast thus publicly resigned to man,
In private may resist him—if it can."

It's amazing what twaddle a great poet can write, isn't it, both in style and content, but clearly he believed that the intimacies of the waltz would ruin women.

*This is interesting because it implies that the couple stayed in waltz position even when standing by as others danced, which isn't how I understand it.