[ Issue 7 ]

Where Three Ways Meet is one of Emily Bronto's favourite Bikwil features

Bikwil has a thing about Trivia

Where Three Ways Meet

In Issue 7 we continue with our series of trivia, Where Three Ways Meet.  There is a unmistakeable feeling of Victoriana about the page.

Please refer to our Series Catalogue for an indication as to which Bikwil issues a given contributor's pieces of trivia have appeared in.

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Where Three Ways Meet

(In 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.

It 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 Vic.)

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.

So what sensational exploit can a feller pull off in 1889 to persuade them to reconsider? Shoot a few tigers? Shoot a few rapids?

Grogan's solution 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 Cairo.

You'll be 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:

We 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 letter achieved.

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:

Is 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.

Victorian England is also remembered — with bemused fondness — for its many dispensers of advice for housewives. Mrs Beeton you’ll 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 (1889)?

Her husband, 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:

Just as Latin grammar strengthens a boy's memory, so the piano makes a girl sit upright and pay attention to details.

A good play on the piano has not infrequently taken the place of a good cry upstairs.

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