Archive for February, 2012

Happy Presidents’ Day!  We finish up Hidden Dirk Mercantile‘s guest-writer Carolyn Smith’s look at some poetry of Robert Burns with a very fitting Ode for General Washington on his Birth-Day.  View Smith’s additional articles on Burns’ My Handsome Nell, Highland Mary, Ae Fond Kiss, and I Love My Jean.   

Ode for General Washington on his Birth-Day

This will be my last post on Robert Burns for now, and I move a bit from the poems of love to Burns’ passion for freedom and liberty, even revolution.  Burns valued the revolutionary spirit of the medieval borderland Scots led by William Wallace who fought unsuccessfully to overthrow British rule. An ingrained respect for the downtrodden and the powerless led to Burns’ respect for the American Revolution of his youth and the French Revolution brewing during his fame.  

In a letter to literary friend Mrs. Dunlop, he referenced lines he was composing for General George Washington, America’s president:

I am just going to trouble your critical patience with the first sketch of a stanza I have been framing, as I passed along the road.  The subject is Liberty: you know, my honoured friend, how dear the theme is to me.  I design it an irregular ode for General Washington’s birth-day.  After having mentioned the degeneracy of other kingdoms I come to Scotland thus:

Thee, Caledonia, thy wild heaths among,
Thee, famed for martial deed and sacred song,
To thee I turn with swimming eyes;
Where is that soul of freedom fled?
Immingled with the mighty dead!
Hear it not, Wallace, in thy bed of death;
Ye babbling winds, in silence sweep,
Disturb ye not the hero’s sleep.

You will probably have another scrawl from me in a stage or two.

I am not sure if “another scrawl” about this poem ever surfaced, but Burns did write the full poem, four stanzas eventually.  It remained unpublished in his lifetime, likely because it was too political, encouraging democratic ideals at a time when Britain feared terrorism stemming from the wild French Revolution just across the channel.  Even dear friend, Mrs. Dunlop, disapproving of Burns’ support of the French Revolution, cut off correspondence with Burns during the last few years of his life. 

In Ode for General Washington on his Birth-Day Burns praises Columbia (America) for casting off the tyrant’s chains and becoming a land of liberty, the “brave and free.” The sons of that revolution, he says, stand up and declare “the Royalty of Man.”  

The last stanza includes lines from the letter above, honoring Scotland (Caledonia) whose heroes and hopes for freedom lie in a silent grave, no one standing in the present to represent the deeds of the brave heart, William Wallace.  The contrast between what America had accomplished and what Scotland could not, when faced with the same tyrant, England, fills readers with conflicting emotions: overwhelming pride in America and overwhelming sadness for the defeated heroes of Scotland.

Some lines from Ode for General Washington on his Birth-Day 

‘Tis liberty’s bold note I swell,
Thy harp, Columbia, let me take!
See gathering thousands, while I sing,
A broken chain exulting bring, And dash it in a tyrant’s face,

But come, ye sons of Liberty,
Columbia’s offspring, brave as free,
In danger’s hour still flaming in the van,
Ye know, and dare maintain, the Royalty of Man!

How you inspired our poet, General Washington!  Happy Birthday! And fare thee weel, Rabbie Burns. We leave you for a time. 

Hello, to you Alexander Pope! Next month we move back in time from the late 18th century turbulence of romance and revolution to the writers at the beginning of the 18th century—those writers who following the Age of Enlightenment chose reason and pragmatism over emotion.  

See you in March, dear readers.

Carolyn Smith


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We continue with the fourth in a series of a look into 18th century poetry by Hidden Dirk Mercantile 18th Century Clothing Reproductions‘ guest writer, Carolyn Smith.  You may also read her articles on Robert BurnsMy Handsome Nell ,  Highland Mary, and Ae Fond Kiss.  Read the introductory article on Robert Burns here, in the February edition of Hidden Dirk Mercantile’s 18th century education-focused newsletter.

I Love My Jean

Robert Burns’ relationship with Jean Armour lasted from 1784 when they began seeing each other until his death in 1796.  The two grew up knowing each other and carried on a secret love affair for a year—until she became pregnant.  Burns’ wrote a letter of marriage, but Armour’s father, James Armour, ripped it up and sent her away. Armour, a successful stonemason, would not wed his daughter to a destitute ploughman who was a philanderer as well.  Burns planned to leave for Jamaica, upset with Jean that she would not disobey her father’s wishes. James Armour threatened to have Burns arrested for abandonment.

Shortly after, Burns’ circumstances were much improved thanks to the first Kilmarnock edition of Burns’ Scottish dialect poems.  Burns, nowever, had moved on and met a different group of women,  more educated or daughters of gentry, in Edinburgh.  Still, he and Jean reunited in 1786 and she bore two more children, but they did not wed. Eventually, looking for a method of earning a living that supplemented his poetry, he applied for a position as Exciseman, and gave up the liberty of bachelorhood to officially marry Jean Armour in 1788. 

The poem that follows was written shortly after their marriage:

I Love My Jean

Of a’ the airts the wind can blaw,  
I dearly like the West; 
For there the bonie Lassie lives, 
The Lassie I lo’e best: 
There’s wild-woods grow, and rivers row, 
And mony a hill between; 
But day and night my fancy’s flight 
Is ever wi’ my Jean. 

I see her in the dewy flowers, 
I see her sweet and fair; 
I hear her in the tunefu’ birds, 
I hear her charm the air: 
There’s not a bonie flower that springs 
By fountain, shaw, or green; 
There’s not a bonie bird that sings 
But minds me o’ my Jean.

In Burns’ notes and in several letters after their marriage, he writes, “I am more and more pleased with the step I took respecting ‘my Jean’.”  That he repeats these words verbatim from his notes implies how he struggled with the decision to marry.  Why he married Jean Armour may best be explained in one of his many letters to Mrs. Frances Dunlop, an advisor, patron, and friend:

            When Mrs. Burns [before their marriage], Madam, first found herself “as women wish to be who love their lords [pregnant],” as I loved her nearly to distraction, we took steps for a private marriage.  Her parents got the hint; and not only forbade me her company and their house, but, on my rumoured West Indian voyage, got a warrant to put me in jail, till I should find security in my about-to-be-paternal relation. You know my lucky reverse of fortune. On my éclatant return to Mauchline, I was made very welcome to visit my girl.  The usual consequences [pregnancy] began to betray her; and as I was at that time laid up a cripple in Edinburgh, she was turned, literally turned, out of doors, and I wrote a friend to shelter her till my return, when our marriage was declared….

            The muses must not be offended when I tell them, the concerns of my wife and family will, in my mind, always take the pas; but I assure them their ladyships will ever come next in place.

            You are right that a bachelor state would have insured me more friends; but, from a cause you will easily guess, conscious peace in the enjoyment of my own mind, and unmistrusting confidence in approaching my God, would seldom have been of the number.

            Circumstanced as I am, I could never have got a female partner for life who could have entered into my favorite studies, relished my favourite authors, etc., without probably entailing on me at the same time expensive living, fantastic caprice, perhaps apish affectation, with all the other blessed boarding-school acquirements, which (pardonnez moi, Madame) are sometimes to be found among females of the upper ranks, but almost universally pervade the misses of the would-be gentry.

Robert Burns made many women his bedfellows, fell in and out of love easily, and called other women his muses. But he returned again and again to Jean Armour. She bore him nine children and raised some of his illegitimate ones.  Many of Burns’ most admired love poems are written about her and after their marriage.  Still, one might say he settled for Jean, but I choose to think he preferred her because she was more like him. He did not have to play the role of educated ploughman to entertain her.  He did not have to be witty and on guard with her; he could be himself with “Bonie Jean.”

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We continue with the third in a series of 18th century poetry by Hidden Dirk Mercantile 18th Century Clothing Reproductions‘ guest writer, Carolyn Smith.  You may also read her articles on Robert BurnsMy Handsome Nell and Highland Mary.

Ae Fond Kiss

Scottish poet Robert Burns participated with Mrs. Agnes (Nancy) Craig M’Lehose in a romance of letters and dinner dates for a three-month period from December to March in 1787-1788.  The relationship was apparently serious and non-sexual to protect Nancy’s reputation in her prominent Glasgow family.  M’Lehose was one of the few educated women Burns met.  They wrote and discussed poetry and used the names Clarinda and Sylvander in their messages that arrived often, sometimes more than once a day. 

M’Lehose was married and had three children, but she had separated from an abusive husband who went to the West Indies to earn his fortune.  Both writers struggled with the fact of their love and forced its platonic nature with words like “esteem” and “religion” and “friendship” in their letters.  When Burns pressed for closer ties, Mrs. M’Lehose, at the urging of family, terminated the relationship.  Meanwhile, Jenny Crow, a house servant, bore Burns a son.  

A couple of months after the relationship ended, Burns married Jean Armour, a former lover, and settled into  a position, granted through favors, as an exciseman.  He oversaw taxes, especially of alcohol brought in on ships.

Mrs. M’Lehose traveled to the West Indies to reunite with her husband but returned soon after discovering that he had a new family there.

Here Burns struggles with declaring and holding back his passion.

                  I just now received your first letter of yesterday, by the careless negligence of the penny-post.  Clarinda, matters are grown very serious with us; then seriously hear me, and hear me, Heaven—I met you, my dear Nancy, by far the first of womankind, at least to me; I esteemed, I loved you at first sight; the longer I am acquainted with you the more innate amiableness and worth I discover in you.  You have suffered a loss, I confess, for my sake:  but if the firmest, steadiest, warmest friendship; if every endeavour to be worthy of your friendship; if a love, strong as the ties of nature, and holy as the duties of religion—if all these can make anything like a compensation for the evil I have occasioned you, if they be worth your acceptance, or can in the least add to your enjoyment—so help Sylvander, ye Powers above, in his hour of need, as he freely give these all to Clarinda!
                  I esteem you, I love you as a friend; I admire you, I love you as a woman, beyond any one in all the circle of creation; I know I shall continue to esteem you, to love you, to pray for you, nay, to pray for myself for your sake.
                  Expect me at eight.  And believe me to be ever, my dearest Madam, yours most entirely, SYLVANDER.
Thurs, 14th Feb., Two o’clock

Burns mentions Nancy by name in this poem, possibly revised from a non-Burns song “The Parting Kiss.”

Ae Fond Kiss

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I’ll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee! 

Who shall say that Fortune grieves him
While the star of hope she leaves him?
Me, nae cheerfu’ twinkle lights  me,
Dark despair around benights me. 

I’ll ne’er blame my partial fancy;
Naething could resist my Nancy;
But to see her was to love her,
Love but her, and love for ever. 

Had we never loved sae kindly,
Had we never loved sae blindly,
Never met—or never parted,
We had ne’er been broken-hearted.

Fare the weel, thou first and fairest!
Fare thee weel, thou best and deartest!
Thin be ilka joy and treasure,
Peace, enjoyment, love, and pleasure!

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!
Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I’ll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee!

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Today we feature our second installment for our romantic 18th century poetry week from a special guest author at Hidden Dirk Mercantile 18th Century Reproduction Clothing – Carolyn Smith.  View yesterday’s post on My Handsome Nell. 

In this post, Ms. Smith looks at Highland Mary by Robert Burns.

Eighteenth century Scottish poet Robert Burns had already met and conceived a child with Jean Armour, his future wife, before he met Mary Campbell, the subject of the poem Highland Mary.

Because he was in trouble with the law and rejected by Jean Armour’s family, Burns had decided to move to Jamaica. Evidence suggests that Mary Campbell, a dairy maid, planned to go with him. Burns’ own writing implies the two were married, perhaps in the Scottish tradition of exchanging personal vows. On her way to the coast to meet Burns for passage to Jamaica, Mary came down with a fever and died.

In a letter to John Arnot, after Mary Campbell’s death, Burns calls himself “a poor heart-crushed devil” who would have killed himself for sorrow except for his obligation to poetry. Here, he describes his loss:

I have lost, Sir, that dearest earthly treasure, that greatest blessing here below, that last, best gift which completed Adam’s happiness in the garden of bliss; I have lost, I have lost—my trembling hand refuses its office, the frighted ink recoils up the quill,–I have lost a, a, a wife.
Fairest of God’s creation, last and best,
Now art thou lost!

April, 1786

Highland Mary

Ye banks and braes, and streams around
            The castle o’ Montgomery,
Green be your woods and fair your flowers,
            Your waters never drumlie!
There Summer first unfald her robes,
            And there the langest tarry;
For there I took the last fareweel,
            O’ my sweet Highland Mary.

How sweetly bloomed the gay, green birk,
            How rich the hawthorn’s blossom,
As underneath their fragrant shade
             I clasped her to my bosom!
The golden hours on angel wings
             Flew o’er me and my dearie;
For dear to me as light and life
             Was my sweet Highland Mary.

Wi’ monie a vow and locked embrace
              Our parting was fu’ tender’
And, pledging aft to meet again,
              We tore oursels asunder,
But O, fell Death’s untimely frost,
              That nipt my flower sae early!
Now green’s the sod and cauld’s the clay,
              That wraps my Highland Mary!

O pale, pale now, those rosy lips,
               I aft hae kissed sae fondly;
And closed for ay, the sparkling glance
              That dwalt on me sae kindly;
And moldering now in silent dust
              That heart that lo’ed me dearly!
But still within my bosom’s core
              Shall live my Highland Mary.


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Happy Valentine’s Day!  Today we have a post from a special guest author at Hidden Dirk Mercantile 18th century Reproduction Clothing – Carolyn Smith.  In this post, Ms. Smith looks at My Handsome Nell by Robert Burns.

Handsome Nell

Robert Burns calls Handsome Nell the first of his “performances.” Its subject is Nelly Kilpatrick, the daughter of the village blacksmith.  He describes the circumstances of this first poem, written in 1774, in an autobiographical letter to Dr. John Moore, a doctor and writer with whom he corresponded.

This kind of life [as a tenant farmer’s son] –the cheerless gloom of a hermit with the unceasing moil of a galley-slave, brought me to my sixteenth year; a little before which period I first committed the sin of rhyme.  You know our country custom of coupling a man and woman together as partners in the labors of harvest.  In my fifteenth autumn, my partner was a bewitching creature, a year younger than myself….

Among her other love-inspiring qualities, she sung sweetly; and it was her favourite reel to which I attempted giving an embodied vehicle in rhyme….

Thus with me began love and poetry; which at times have been my only, and till within the last twelve months, have been my highest enjoyment.   August 2, 1787

Notice Burns’s use of “light” Scottish dialect in the poem as opposed to the clear, straightforward English excerpts from his letter. As you read this poem and others posted this week on the blog, remember that “a” often replaces “o” and vice-versa in Burns’ Scottish dialect.  Thus “mony” is “many,” “ony” is “any,” “sae” is “so.”  It’s helpful to know that “bonie” means “pretty” and “hae” means “have.” 

My Handsome Nell

O, once I lov’d a bonie lass, Ay, and I love her still; And, whilst that virtue warms my breast I’ll love my handsome Nell.

As bonie lasses I hae seen, And mony full as braw; But for a modest gracefu’ mien, The like I never saw.

A bonie lass, I will confess, Is pleasant to the e’e, But without some better qualities, She’s no a lass for me.

But Nelly’s looks are blythe and sweet, And what is best of a’ – Her reputation is complete, And fair without a flaw.

She dresses aye sae clean and neat, Baith decent and genteel: An’ then there’s something in her gait Gars ony dress look weel.

A gaudy dress and gentle air May slightly touch the heart; But it’s innocence and modesty That polishes the dart.

‘T is this in Nelly pleases me, ‘T is this enchants my soul! For absolutely in my breast She reigns without control.

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As Valentine’s Day is upon us in just a few short days, we thought we’d take a very quick look at 18th century lingerie…stays.  Throughout this brief article we will use the term jumps, as it is a widely accepted name for a lightly boned undergarment with shoulder straps – though the documented terminology seems to be “stays”.  Corset appears to be a term not used until the 19th century. Though jumps were only one of several layers that made up underpinnings in an 18th century outfit, they will be our focus for today. 

Jumps, stays, corset…to some these may seem like dreaded words; bringing up images of women holding bedposts while chamber maids push a foot on their backs straining to get the laces ever tighter.  Gladly – the ideas that jumps or stays are uncomfortable, impossible to wear all day, or inappropriate for some social classes are myths! 

Well-fitting jumps are an absolute necessity to pull off a period correct, 18th century look.  Note, we say “well-fitting.”  Ill-fitting jumps and stays are where the poor underpinnings get their bad reputation. In fact, that famous drawing that shows the chamber maid tightening her lady’s stays to a ridiculous tightness was actually making fun of those “vain” enough to wear their stays too restrictive and was titled “Tight Lacing, or Fashion before Ease.”

In the 18th century, jumps and stays were the equivalent of today’s sports bra – giving much needed support to the back and bosom of all classes.  A bonus is that they also support the sometimes not-so-toned areas of us women as well – giving a smooth appearance, much like today’s body shapers – helping us comfortably fit in the form-fitting bodices our era’s clothes demand.

Jumps were such an important garment in the 18th century that there were even charities established so that women of all classes, even the poorest of souls, could purchase them.  The term “loose woman” actually came from those sassy enough not to wear jumps or stays!

As with all 18th century garments that were sleeveless (yup – that includes weskits gentlemen!), jumps and items like sleeveless bodices are considered undergarments.  Though some laboring women would wear them showing while performing heavy work (fielding, laundry, etc.) if they saw company coming, went into town or visited a friend – they would not think of going out without putting a jacket or gown over them.  To that point, there are some examples of jumps or under bodices having detachable sleeves that would tie on to the shoulder straps – but a jacket or gown would still be worn out in public. 

We at Hidden Dirk Mercantile are very proud to offer, what we consider, an extremely comfortable, light-weight version of jumps for today’s modern woman who needs the basic shape and support for 18th century reproduction clothing, while keeping the comfort of 21st century undergarments. Our jumps are lightly boned with flexible plastic boning, which makes them a perfect set of first stays or for those who don’t want the rigidity or price of fully boned stays. 

Our jumps are available for purchase online in tabbed or tab-less versions with back, front or double lacing options and, like all of Hidden Dirk’s garments, in your choice of colors.  Need some design inspiration?  Check out the custom gallery on our website where, as you can see from our creative customer’s choices, the combinations are endless!

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Following-up on our post on 18th century lingerie (stays, aka jumps) today’s Museum Monday features some wonderful extant examples from The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Silk stays from Britain.  Notice the beautiful (what looks like) tatted lace.  I also find the shoulders on this set to be quite interesting and different from many we’ve seen. Here we see the side tabs do not use the expensive silk fabric and there appears to be a lack of an outward binding along the edges as we see on many other extant examples.

Late 18th century British silk stays.  This set also has waist tabs that do not utilize the silk featured on the rest of the garment.

Mid 18th century stays from Italy in silk.  I love these stays!  Wide tabs at the waist and an stomacher over-lace design with in a lovely embroidered silk print.  The shoulder straps on these are quite wide compared to many we’ve seen and are sewn in – not adjustable with ties as many other extant examples we’ve come across.  The look definitely says “Italian” to me!

1780 silk stays from Italy.  Another beautiful set of embroidered silk stays.  Here we see the waist tabs in a coordinating fabric with (most-likely) lambskin binding around the edges.  This is a really nice example of duel lacing stays – having laces in both the front and back.

The 1780 Italian silk stays back view. 

Which are your favorite?

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