Thursday 31 July 2014

HAVE NEW DRESS AND BIG HAT. The Life of Victorian Actress Nancy Price.

Another guest post from Alice Violett, who studies the experiences of only children.

Nancy Price (1880-1970) – real first name Lillian – was born and brought up on an estate in rural Staffordshire by a beloved mother and more distant father. Her sister, May, died at the age of five, when Nancy was not yet one. In the absence of siblings, Nancy’s main companions were pets and dolls, but never animal toys, because:

Human companionship I knew little about, save for my father and mother, therefore dolls served their turn, but animals never.

Extracts from her diary, printed verbatim in her autobiography, sometimes make it difficult to determine at first sight whether she is talking about dolls, pets, or other children:
February 15 [1887].  Tommy very gay to-day – ran away.  Spot norty – I lost him. (I later worked out that Tommy was a horse and Spot was a dog)

June 1 [1887].  Have new dress and big hat.  Liked it at first, but Clara larfed at it.  Feel orful now – hope I don’t have to wear it again Sunday.  I don’t know wether I like Clara very much, anyway, not as much as Spot.  She is rather silly. (p. 14 – Clara turned out to be the gardener’s daughter and one of Nancy’s first friends)

April 20 [1888].  Had party with my dolls.  Spot bit Susan and all the sawdust came out.

She was allowed considerable freedom by her parents:
As a child, I was always walking or riding, and never hindered or stopped in either of these pleasures, although I believe it was thought extraordinary by many that so young a child should have been allowed this liberty.

She was able to recall several adult friends, including the local parson. Once she had placed a jujube in the collection plate instead of a coin.
After the first Sunday upon which my righteous decision had been made with its attendant sacrifice, I met my friend and he said: “I missed your sweet in the collection plate this Sunday, and I always look forward to that in the vestry after the service.”
In future my precious coin and the sweet were laid in the plate, in order to satisfy both my conscience and my friend.

Despite her father’s disapproval of the stage, Nancy achieved her ambition to become an actress – again possibly demonstrating the independence and possibilities open to only children in possession of strong minds and lofty ambitions.
(Source: Nancy Price, Into An Hour-Glass, London, 1953)


Sunday 27 July 2014

FIGHT YOUR OWN WAY: The life of Victorian actress Julia Neilson.
Guest post from Alice Violett:
As part of my research into public perceptions and personal experiences of only children born between c. 1850 and 1950, I have been reading many autobiographies, including those of actresses Julia Neilson (1868-1957) and Nancy Price (1880-1970).
Julia Neilson was born in London. When she was a young child, her parents separated.  Brought up by her mother in straitened circumstances, her upbringing was characterised by both caution and strength:

“You must fight your own way in the world, Julia,” was a remark frequently made to me by my mother when I was still but a little girl.
There was no talk of the theatre in those days.  It was cautiously decided that I should become a governess – mother’s courage on her own account evidently falling short when it came to the disposal of a daughter’s future.

Julia did not think being an only child had affected her too unduly: Lacking brothers and sisters, I suppose my childhood’s days must have been lonely ones; but solitude does  not seem to have afflicted me with a shortage of spirits, since one of my earliest recollections is of receiving a sound smacking across my grandmother’s knee, for staying out late to play in the gardens of Torrington Square.
She was also in frequent trouble for chronic untidiness of the pockets.

Despite her mother’s caution, Julia was allowed to make decisions for herself.  At boarding-school in Germany (by this time her mother had more money, and wished to tame her wild daughter a little), she struck up a friendship with two Russian girls. They told me of the beauties of the Greek Catholic Church, which, of course, was then the national religion of Russia.  So I wrote to my mother telling her that I had been converted, and wished to join the Greek Catholic Church.  My mother at once replied, saying that it was a serious step to take, but that if I had really made up my mind, I was quite at liberty to become a Greek Catholic.  How wise of her.  There being no opposition of any kind, the charm of the idea faded away, and I came to the conclusion that I would remain a member of my own church.
She was also allowed to join a profession previously untested by any other member of her family. I was to head a kind of mild family stampede towards the theatre ...  We were to become a ‘theatrical family’ – which I am sure would very much have astonished handsome Great-Grandmother Davis, if she had lived to hear about it.  I can just remember Great-Grandmother Davis: a stately old lady with lace lappets descending on her bosom.  I used to be taken to see her and my two cousins, who played the piano so beautifully that out of mortification and envy I retired to sit under the table.

For more quotes from Julia Neilson’s autobiography see Alice Violett’s blog at

Thursday 24 July 2014


More from Pierre Biard’s Relations of New France, 1616.
  • In Europe fathers supply dowries when their daughters marry. Here the suitor brings fine presents to the father…dogs, beavers, cooking vessels, axes, etc., depending on the status of the father and the beauty of his daughter.
  • The father then meets with his relatives to discuss the qualities of the suitor: Is he of a desirable age? Is he a good and active hunter? What about his race, standing, and valour?
  • If the suitor is accepted, they set the date of the wedding which is celebrated with a solemn tobacco ceremony and a banquet with speeches, dances, and songs.
Women do all the work, as their people have no other servants, slaves, or artisans.
  • They build huts and furnish them, look after the fire, collect wood and water, prepare and smoke the meat to preserve it… sew together the canoes and waterproof them, tan the hides, …make clothes and shoes for the whole family, go fishing and pull valiantly at the oars.
The natives accuse the French of poisoning them, but the principal reason for their illnesses and deaths is this:
  • When our ships arrive in the summer, they greedily devour an enormous amount of unfamiliar food over several weeks. They get drunk on wine or brandy, so that it is not surprising if they have very sore stomachs come fall. But this nation, like all the other American tribes, does not worry at all about the future. They enjoy the present and work only when absolutely necessary.

Saturday 19 July 2014


When the Jesuit Pierre Biard visited what is now New Brunswick and Maine in 1616, he had this to say about the inhabitants:
  • The savages are by nature rather liberal and in no way malicious. They are intelligent, at least when assessing and evaluating things that can commonly be perceived. They are able to reason, make apt comparisons, and draw valid inferences.
  • They also have an excellent memory of concrete things. For example, they remember what they have seen, the characteristics of places they visited, the events they witnessed over the last twenty or thirty years.
  • But it is very diffiult for them to learn anything by heart. It is impossible to teach them a long monologue.
  • Neither men nor women have any facial hair.
  • At first they thought our hair, especially hair around the mouth, extremely ugly, but eventually they got used to it and no longer considered us terribly marred.
  • None of them has a fat belly, or a hunchback, or is crippled in any way. They have never heard of leprosy, gout, kidney stones, or madness. They notice and greatly mock anyone among us who has a physical defect, who is one-eyed or cross-eyed, or has a flat nose.
  • Although they live a wretched life and have no polity, no power, no literature, art or wealth, they are quite self-satisfied.
(Source: Pierre Biard, Relation de Nouvelle France, 1616. Image:


Thursday 17 July 2014


Some years ago I was given a Mormon Bible, but it’s only now that I realize its relevance to my secular life. Let me quote you a few bits.

This one, I think, is about politicians:
And thus they were supported in their laziness…by the taxes put upon the people. Thus did the people labor exceedingly to support iniquity (Mosiah 11:6).

This may be about the Middle East and peace being short-lived under the best of circumstances:
They were favored by the Lord, and thus they were free from wars and contentions among themselves, yea, even for the space of four years (Alma 28:20).

I’m pretty sure this one is about self-publishing.
Thou shalt not covet thine own property, but impart it freely to the printing of the book.
Pay the debt you have contracted with the printer and release thyself from bondage (Doctrine and Covenants 19:26, 35).

This may help Al-Anon:
He built wine-presses and made wine in abundance. And therefore he became a wine-bibber.

(And, no, I didn’t make up the quotes)



Sunday 13 July 2014


Never had a person more craftily concealed his ambition than Cardinal Montalto (later Sixtus V). He combined a proud mind with profound dissimulation. At the conclave he smothered his vivacity of spirit and became an example of dull and blockish stupidity. He counterfeited so many diseases and infirmities of old age that it seemed he was stooping into his grave.

The other cardinals thought they had found the ideal candidate, a pope after their own heart, whom they could easily control. They began to reckon amongst themselves the great advantages they should make of a silly old coxcomb.

A vote was held, and as soon as Montalto saw that he had the needed majority, he leaped out of his seat, threw away his staff that had hitherto supported him instead of a crutch and began to stretch so that he appeared half as big again as he was before.

At the mass celebrating his elevation to the papacy, he roared out the Te Deum with a thundering voice. When Farnese heard him, he said: I perceive we have gotten a Pope who will make fools and asses of us.

The next day Montalto, now Sixtus V, gave a splendid banquet. Seeing the pope stir about busily, one of the cardinals commented: Your Holiness did not seem to have so much strength yesterday. The Pope smartly took him up and said: Yesterday I was not pope, today I am.

(Source: Anonymous pamphlet entitled The Intrigues of the Conclave at the Choosing of
 a Pope)

Thursday 10 July 2014


The Cardinals entered the conclave. Small apartments, or cells, had been erected in the long Gallery and hung with Purple Cloth.

The conclavists are generally the craftiest fellows that can be met with. To avoid any undue influence, even the dishes served are searched, lest there should be any letters concealed in them.

To become pope, a candidate must receive two-thirds of the vote, which is rarely the case.

An alternative way to elect a pope is “by access”. Each cardinal rising from his seat goes and makes a profound reverence to him whom he would have elected.

The method which makes the greatest noise and bustle is the way of Adoration, which is seldom put in practice but when some young and hot headed Cardinals resolve to become masters of the election. They plot among themselves, agree on one man, and fall down before him on their knees.

Others follow suit, unwilling to stand out and incur the displeasure of him who may be elected without them.

The pope so chosen is led to the Sacristy, where he is clothed in pontifical robes and seated at the altar. The cardinals approach in order to kiss his feet, hands, and mouth. This done, the doors of the conclave are opened, and the pope shows himself to the people and blesses them.

That is the prescribed method, but he that desires a true specimen of all the little arts and tricks whereby the candidates procure votes, should read the following account…[TO BE CONTINUED IN MY NEXT BLOG POST].

(Source: Anonymous pamphlet entitled The Intrigues of the Conclave at the Choosing of a Pope)

Sunday 6 July 2014


Here are a few sample passages:
  • In 1919 Emil Enns married. He could not take over his parents’ farm because two of his sisters, Liesbeth and Wanda, had not yet been taken care of. He therefore moved into a small property across from the mill and built bee houses, keeping 80 hives. He also planted a mulberry hedge and tried his luck with silk worms.  In addition, he raised chicken. He bought three apparatuses for breeding, heated with petroleum. If requested, he sterilized cocks.
  • Homemade butter and eggs were sold on the market. To cool the supply of butter in the summer, they used blocks of ice cut in the winter from the frozen river Schwente and stored under a layer of straw in the barn.
  • A mother’s letter to her son, a soldier in the German army, 30 August, 1944:[We] were assigned three Jewish workers, certainly the worst of the lot in the whole transport. They did nothing. After two days all three pretended to be sick. It was hard to take. Walter asked me to take them back to Stuttgart, which I did… I hope this terrible war will soon be over.
  • On 24 January, 1945, the inhabitants of Marienau flee from the advancing Russian army. Gerda Esau writes: Only one person remained behind on each farm to look after the animals. In our case, it was Heinrich Schulz. He said good-bye to his wife and eight children, who came along with us…We didn’t wait for the others because it was snowing and the situation was critical. Gustav Philippsen writes:  We waited to be picked up, but no one came. The Russian tanks had reached Elbing. The roads were full of refugees, so we decided to set out with our goods packed in sleds and baby carriages. Gustav Fieguth writes: The commotion was great. The axles of many covered wagons broke, some of them were dashed. A few kilometers behind us the battle was raging. In the early morning of 24 January the Russians came and shot the owner of the milk-processing plant, together with his two sons, and raped his wife. He had stayed behind, thinking the Russians would spare them because he was a Swiss citizen.

The source of these passages is a book, written in German and self-published by Helmut Enss (b. 1921), a German high school teacher, who wanted to document the history of his native village, Marienau.  ANYONE INTERESTED IN TRANSLATING THE BOOK INTO ENGLISH?


Wednesday 2 July 2014


  • It’s your wedding night. Your wife is a virgin. Better give her instructions, such as: Now take pleasure in what I do and let me know that you do. Then go about consummating the marriage, and if all goes well, she will clasp you and swoon.
  • She doesn’t return your feelings? Make her feel guilty. Tell her you are dying of love for her. Your life is in her hands. And whoever can save someone and refrains from doing so is a murderer.
  • Explain the advantages of an active sex life: I see many girls who before marriage were pale, run-down, and as good as gone.  The sexual side of marriage brightened them so much that they began to bloom at last.
  • Do NOT follow this man’s example: He sits at table like one who is mute, speaking to his wife only when he decides to rattle her ears and reprimand whatever she has said or done.
  • Here is another method that didn’t succeed:He climbed up a tree to my bedroom window…I rushed to the window naked as on the day I was born, and slammed it in his face.

But even if you can’t win her heart, do not go to extremes like this unhappy lover:
He concentrated his thought on his long love for her, on her present coldness towards him and resolved not to go on living. He clenched his fists and held his breath until finally he expired.

(Sources: Gherardi da Prato, Erasmus, Boccaccio)