March we began our Where Three Ways Meet column. In the same
issue Fizzgig introduced us to a engaging bit of Victorian history about
Frances "Daisy" Brooke that came as a bit of a surprise to
some readers albeit a pleasurable one.
has whetted your appetite for more, we reckon, so this time WTWM
has a high Victorian quality. Not necessarily of the prurient kind, mind
you, or even in every case originating in England just a few things
from that period of offbeat interest. A fascinating era, the 19th
century, one which is now almost as well documented down its narrow back
streets as along its broad thoroughfares. Hope the following
idiosyncratic items appeal to you; they certainly piqued our interest
here. All were contributed by a reader who insists on being known as Old
First, meet young
Captain Ewart Grogan. He loves a girl, you see, but her family regards
him as a hopeless cove who will never amount to anything. Least of all
to a suitable husband for their daughter who can keep her in the manner
they deem her to deserve.
sensational exploit can a feller pull off in 1889 to persuade them to
reconsider? Shoot a few tigers? Shoot a few rapids?
is neither of the above, but just as dramatic. He travels down to the
Cape of Good Hope and proceeds northwards on foot, his destination
relieved to learn that his 4,500-mile walk across Africa did duly
impress his girls' parents. For not only did he win fame and fortune
from the publicity associated with his astonishing stunt more
importantly, he won the girl.
Next, let's turn
our attention to Tiny", daughter of Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff,
Governor of Madras. Rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty in the
1880s might have had its advantages, but there were drawbacks, too.
Listen while she tells the lengths to which she and her friends had to
go during long boring dinners:
invented a great many dodges for making dull people talk. I am supposed
to have coined the immortal question, "Do you like string?"
And I think it was I who invented the alphabet game, in which one began,
say, "Do you like apples?" and had to get the conversation to
badminton or the Balearic Isles without being observed.
Apparently in the
last game they indicated their progress to each other across the table
by collecting in front of them a discreet pellet of bread for each
Now let's look in
at the 1889 Paris Exposition. At the time, cities all over England, not
to mention Europe and America, vied with each other to put on the most
spectacular showings of the products of human enterprise. Regarded as
beginning with the Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851 ("The Great
Exhibition") though in all strictness, it wasn't exactly the
first big public show these displays were not without their critics,
William Morris, to name but one.
Paris in 1889, of
course, could boast something really special the Eiffel Tower, and
who would want to denounce that splendid edifice? Guess who? A group of
concerned French artists and writers, who counted prominently in their
number Guy de Maupassant and Alexandre Dumas. They expressed their sentiments
to the Minister of Commerce as follows:
this the horror that the French have created in order to impress us with
their vaunted taste? . . . We loathe the prospect of a dizzily
ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black factory chimney.
Next we head for
the playhouse. When you went to the London theatre in those days, you
went to the Lyceum to see Henry Irving (1838-1905). The dominant English
actor of his time, Irving was renowned for his Shakespearean roles
(Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Shylock) as well as Mephistopheles in
Goethe's Faust. From 1872 till 1902 he starred with the equally
famous Ellen Terry (1848-1928), and in 1895 he became the first actor
ever to be knighted.
All well and
good, but what's of intriguing note in our present context is that his
long-time manager and partner in running the Lyceum Theatre was a
certain Abraham Stoker (1847-1912). The feller who wrote Dracula.
is also remembered with bemused fondness for its many dispensers
of advice for housewives. Mrs Beeton youll know. The name Alexis
Soyer will also be familiar, if only through TV's Pie in the Sky.
What about taste-maker Mrs Haweis, prolific on all manner of things,
like her Art of Beauty (1880) and Art of Housekeeping
Reverend J.R. Haweis, wrote a lot too. He is best known for
unforgettable remarks like these gems of advice for parents of
daughters, on the usefulness of that increasingly common Victorian
household object, the piano:
as Latin grammar strengthens a boy's memory, so the piano makes a girl
sit upright and pay attention to details.
good play on the piano has not infrequently taken the place of a good