June 27, 2011

Louis Daguerre on Postmortem Photography

Written by Rosa Morgan

You may find these images disturbing or macabre, however, as the inventor of the daguerreotype in 1839, I attest they were not created with this intention. On the contrary, they were keepsakes of loved ones, proudly displayed in the home and circulated amongst friends and family. This young girl in her new dress has a circlet of flowers on her head, a bouquet at her shoulder, and one single blossom in her hand. Flowers held meaning for the Victorians, and a forget-me-not would be a most appropriate choice. Planks of wood in the background, may have been leftover lumber from the coffin's construction.

Infant mortality was high, especially in cities with poor sanitation and dirty water. An often overlooked cause of death was the use of narcotics to quiet bawling infants. Godfrey's Cordial, a mixture of opium, treacle, water, and spices was a favorite of working class mothers. In Manchester, England, five out of six families dosed their infants with opium.

Because my artistry of photography was expensive, most families may not have had an opportunity to capture a young child's likeness before they died. I often posed my subject as if they were alive, clutching a favorite toy. At times, I painted the pupils on the closed eyelids, or on the print itself. In this case, a rosy glow is added to the cheeks with great effect.

It's unknown what horrible catastrophe wiped out this entire family, but epidemics of cholera, tuberculosis, influenza, and smallpox went unchecked in overcrowded cities. Death by sickness was at a level not seen since the Black Death of the Middle Ages.

Living children often posed with their dead siblings. Due to the long exposure time, I had to ask my subjects to remain motionless for three to fifteen minutes.

Keen on capturing the essence of an individual, I, would at times, go to great lengths. This gentleman was able to maintain his noble bearing with the help of a steel rod attached to his back, and wires positioning his arms. A close-up of his eyes reveals the vacant stare of death.

Unfortunately, with the advancement of photography, and thus the resulting economy of capturing one's likeness, memento mori is no longer in vogue.

(Dear Gentle Reader, Please post your comment regarding this fascinating
Victorian art form.)

June 20, 2011

Sir Joseph Banks & Victorian Roses

Written by Rosa Morgan

As a naturalist, botanist, and prime developer of London's Kew Gardens, and the man who brought eucalyptus, acacia, and mimosa to the Western world, I feel eminently qualified to speak on the subject of roses. I've selected a few, which were bred in the Victorian times, and are currently termed "antique roses." These are carefree specimens, not needing tiresome pruning, nor noxious spraying. They are a delight that everyone should have in their gardens.

"Lady Banks"
Named after my darling wife, Dorthea. The Guinness Book of World Records lists a specimen growing in Tombstone, Arizona,
covering 8,000 sq. ft., as being the largest rose in the world.

"Archduke Charles"
sweet smelling, repeat bloomer; its petals change from pink to crimson. Named after Archduke Charles of Austria, military strategist and hero of the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars.

"Souvenir de la Malmaison"

Chateau Malmaison was the home of Josephine, Empress of France and wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. It is here, she grew over 250 varieties of roses.

"Mrs. B.R. Cant"

Benjamin Revett Cant came from a long line of nurserymen; his grandfather starting a nursery in 1766. Benjamin was the king of exhibition roses in England, and named this fragrant cabbage rose after his wife, Elizabeth, who was 24 years his junior and gave him seven children.

I encourage you to plant one of these beauties in your own garden. It will surely delight all your senses.

But he that dares not grasp the thorn, should never crave the rose.
-Anne Bronte

Dear Gentle Reader, Please leave a comment on what your favorite rose is.

June 13, 2011

Grover Cleveland's Secret Surgery

Written by Rosa Morgan

July 1, 1893 Cleveland ran his tongue across his ulcerated palate for the umpteenth time. It was the side he chewed his cigars on, and the spot had pained him for months. It was a damnable inconvenience to get sick, he thought; what with the Depression and the fiery debate over the Silver Act. However, he couldn't refute Dr. O'Reilly's orders; an examination and biopsy confirmed cancer and demanded an operation. At fifty-six, despite being extremely corpulent with gout, he considered himself a bull of a man, and he'd be put to the test on this score in the next few weeks.

Frances, seven months pregnant, came into the room with their daughter. "Baby Ruth, give your papa a kiss goodbye; he's going on a well-deserved holiday and have those rotten teeth of his pulled." The child obliged, though her father's bushy mustache tickled her lips. Cleveland gazed fondly at his little family. His wife was twenty-seven years his junior, and still had the blush of youth. He dared not reveal to her, his illness, nor the true purpose of his sojourn. He asked, "Have you had the rat catchers called? These rodents are taking over the White House." She retorted, "You've said a woman shouldn't bother her head over political parties, and I tell you not to worry about domestic affairs." The president lovingly rubbed her growing belly. "Good-bye, my darling. Take care, and I'll be back soon."

Cleveland lay down in the cabin below. In order to keep his illness a secret from the public, as well as his own Cabinet and Vice-President, he was to be operated on the yacht, Oneida, as it sailed from New York to his summer home in Massachusetts. The surgeons sedated him with nitrous oxide and ether, and used Cocaine as a topical anesthetic.

The surgery took nearly an hour and a half and was done completely within the mouth, without external incisions. Parts of his upper left jaw and hard palate were removed, leaving his mouth disfigured. After the cavity was packed with gauze, a hypodermic of one-sixth of a grain of morphine was given: the only narcotic administered at any time. On July 17, a second surgery was performed aboard the same ship. In October, he received a vulcanized rubber palate implant.

It was 25 years before the details of this secret surgery was compromised.

(Dear Reader, Please leave your comments on whether or not the President of the United States should disclose the details of his health)

June 6, 2011

Queen Victoria Taking the Waters

Written by Rosa Morgan

In this portrait, Franz Winterhalter captured me relaxing after an autumn yachting expedition. It was 1843, and I, at the tender age of 24, went with my dear Albert to visit the kings of both France and Belgium. We thoroughly enjoyed our sojourn and the subsequent entertainment, and found our maritime mode of transportation to be of so little inconvenience, that I have often since said, "I took to water like a duck."

I've always enjoyed seaside pastimes, including bathing. A debate rages between naysayers, who proclaim submerging oneself in water is hazardous to one's health, while others, including noted physicians, prescribe it as therapy for their invalid patients. I, myself, am of a strong constitution and give partial credit to regularly imbibing a pint of seawater.

Of course, proper attire is necessary to protect one's porcelain complexion from the pernicious effects of the sun, as well as ogling from the male population. The preferred bathing costume begins with a tight fitting cap to conceal one's locks. A wool smock, belted with weights sewn in the hem, prevents the water from immodestly exposing you. Complete your fashionable ensemble with flannel Turkish trousers, which Amelia Bloomer has made popular as of late.

Bathing Machines have been in vogue at fresh water spas since the early 1700's, but are now a common sight at the seaside. Horses pull these cabanas directly into the surf, providing a convenient and modest means of disrobing. Insecure swimmers can tether themselves to the wagon for added security.

In this age of rail transport and paid holidays, I encourage everyone to take the waters this summer. However, I add a stern caveat; do not allow the wanton intermixture of males and females, for wet bathing costumes immodestly cling to the human form.

Dear Gentle Reader, Leave a comment as to where your favorite swimming hole is.