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The Microcosm of London: Astley’s Amphitheatre

Edward and Frank are both gone out to seek their fortunes; the latter is to return soon and help us seek ours. The former we shall never see again. We are to be at Astley’s to-night, which I am glad of. Edward has heard from Henry this morning. He has not been at the races at all, unless his driving Miss Pearson over to Rowling one day can be so called. We shall find him there on Thursday.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
August 1796

In 1808, Rudolph Ackerman (famous for his Repository of Arts and Literature) published a multi volume set entitled The Microcosm of London, wherein, he described various locals and hotspots with a tour guide’s enthusiasm, leaving an illustrated, detailed record of the London that Austen knew. Astley’s Amphitheatre, famous for both the riding school and circus type show they offered was just such an attraction, attended by Jane and her brothers on at least one trip to London in 1796. Advertising for the Amphitheatre offered such delights as an eight year old girl who could ride two galloping horses, simultaneously, Astley’s son, who was reported to dance the minuet on the backs of three running horses, and of course, ‘the Little Military-Learned Horse’ who could, it is said, “play dead, set a tea table and heat a kettle to make tea, jump through hoops, play hide-and-seek, do mathematical calculations and fire a pistol.”*

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John Playford: The English Dancing Master

John Playford was born in Norwich in 1623, and died in London in 1686. His father was a mercer, also named John. Local records show that he was one of a large family, many of whom were scriveners or stationers. While his brother Matthew was recorded at a grammar school, there is no record that John did so. It is likely that his education came from the almonry, or choir-school, which was attached to the cathedral, and it was here he probably acquired a knowledge of music and the “love of Divine Service”. After his father’s death in 1639, Playford was apprenticed to John Benson, a London publisher of St. Dunstan’s Churchyard on Fleet Street. After seven years, he earned his freedom and became a member of the Yeomanry of the Stationer’s Company in 1647, which enabled him to trade as a publisher. Playford secured the tenancy of a shop in the porch of the Temple Church, the place from where all his publications were issued until his retirement in 1684. His publications included political tracts, miscellaneous non-musical works, music theory, lessons for various instruments, collections of songs, and psalms. His books had a ready market with the law students of the Inns of Court, or Law School, that passed his shop each day. By personal inclination and family, Playford was a Royalist. One of his political tracts was The Perfect Narrative of the Tryal of the King, as well as others relating to the executions of royalist nobility. In (more…)
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How to Dance Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot

  To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love -Pride and Prejudice Many English Country Dances, like American contra dances, are danced to a pair of phrases of music played AABB — i.e. the first phrase is played twice, and then the second twice. In contrast, the generally accepted version of Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot–a version usually attributed to Pat Shaw–has the structure AAB. This is the version given here. When Cecil Sharp interpreted this dance for modern consumption, he decided he could not get all the instructions to fit into so little music, so he published a dance to fit AABB. Cecil Sharp’s version is also widely known, and is given in Palmer’s Pocket Playford.* This dance was originally printed in Playford’s Dancing Master in 1695. Although neither this particular dance nor the duple minor formation it is in were being used in Jane Austen’s day, the dance is a very ‘cinegenic’ dance. I’m not here giving the Cecil Sharp version which has a longer B part dance sequence to fill out a repeated B part (even though the original clearly says play the second strain but once). I’m here giving a closer-to-original Dancing Master (1695-1728) version. This is the sequence they dance in the movie Emma, but in that movie they dance the sequence just once then go into a snowballing cast off. P&P2 has the same non-Sharp B part as given below and used in Emma (with the dramtaic up and back) but (more…)
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How to Waltz

Few sights are as romantic as that of a couple, absorbed in each other, sweeping across the floor in a dreamy waltz. It is certainly the highlight of many a fairy tale and even Jane Austen allows her couples ample time on the dance floor. While the English Country Dance is most associated with Jane Austen’s novels, many will be surprised to discover that by the early 1800’s the waltz had also made it’s way across the channel and was being danced by the more progressive of the Beau Monde. By 1814, the waltz, originally considered decadent, was finally sanctioned as appropriate behaviour at the ultra fashionable Almacks, though the patronesses there still kept a firm hand on who was allowed permission to dance “the godless…Spinner”. No debutante could waltz unless one of the patronesses had given her permission, something that was only granted to girls “whose deportment was considered impeccable.”* The following easy to follow tips and instructional video are provided by Wikihow.       Find a song that is a slow 3/4 song because anything faster would be a different type of waltz, with different set of guidelines. Though you can keep the basic waltz steps and apply it across different genres. Learn the basic handhold (“frame”). The right hand of the man will be on the woman’s shoulder blade, rarely the waist or under her armpit. The lady’s left hand is on the partner’s shoulder or upper arm. Girls, mirror what your partner does. But that’s (more…)
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Jane Austen’s Wise Wit

“It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy.–I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples.” – Pride and Prejudice With this tongue-in-cheek admonishment, so like that of a dancing master hired to prepare Darcy for society, begins one of the greatest romances in literature. What is it that gives Jane Austen’s writing such timeless appeal? For me, and many others I have spoken to, it is her keen observation of human nature tempered by humor and the ultimate romance of the playful, witty repartee between her hero and heroine. So often movies and books that are represented as romantic lack an essential element of romance– witty repartee. Perhaps this is due to the high level of difficulty in composing humor that works. It is no wonder that Jane Austen’s work would be so popular at a moment when there is a lack of wit and humor in romantic entertainment. Playfulness and wit are something we all look for in our romantic attachments. How often has a female friend described the new man in her life to you as someone who makes her laugh? We all seem to be looking for someone to share a few laughs with on the road of life. There is also something so sexy about being intellectually engaged with another which can only be improved by the addition of humor. Jane Austen’s keen eye for the ridiculous (more…)
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Regency Dancing

“…To be fond of dancing is a certain step towards falling in Love… ” – Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey The late Eighteenth century brought great changes in both Europe and American society – the upheavals of both the American and French Revolutions had shaken the well-ordered social strata; and the decline of “aristocratic” ideas entered the forum of social dance as well. Public balls and “dance Assemblies” became more popular than ever, especially in America -“all ranks here being equal” – at least on the dance floor. Country dancing was a favorite evening diversion for the young as well as the more mature ladies and gentlemen of the genteel classes, and a pastine frequently mentioned by the well-known authoress, Jane Austen, whose heroines and suitors often encountered each other at public or private dances. Bringing to life the ballroom scenes from Pride and Prejudice with fashionable dances such as “La Boulanger” (a favorite of Jane Austen’s) or charming country dances with names such as “Teasing Made Easy”, the dancers of Tapestry bring to life an”Austen Assembly” of the early 1800’s. Regency dance is the term for historical dances of the period ranging roughly from 1790 to 1825. The term is popular but is actually a misnomer, as the actual English Regency (the future George IV ruling on behalf of mad King George III) lasted from 1810 until 1820. Nevertheless, there are consistencies of style over this period which make having a single term useful. Most popular exposure to this era (more…)
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Christmas Day with the Austen Family

In came a fiddler with a music-book, and went up to the lofty desk, and made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomach-aches. In came Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile. In came the three Miss Fezziwigs, beaming and lovable. In came the six young followers whose hearts they broke. In came all the young men and women employed in the business. In came the housemaid, with her cousin, the baker. In came the cook, with her brother’s particular friend, the milkman. In came the boy from over the way, who was suspected of not having board enough from his master; trying to hide himself behind the girl from next door but one, who was proved to have had her ears pulled by her mistress. In they all came, one after another; some shyly, some boldly, some gracefully, some awkwardly, some pushing, some pulling; in they all came, anyhow and everyhow. Away they all went, twenty couple at once; hands half round and back again the other way; down the middle and up again; round and round in various stages of affectionate grouping; old top couple always turning up in the wrong place; new top couple starting off again, as soon as they got there; all top couples at last, and not a bottom one to help them! When this result was brought about, old Fezziwig, clapping his hands to stop the dance, cried out, “Well done!” and the fiddler plunged his hot face into a pot of (more…)
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The History of the Waltz

“Here ceased the concert part of the evening, for Miss Woodhouse and Miss Fairfax were the only young lady performers; but soon (within five minutes) the proposal of dancing — originating nobody exactly knew where — was so effectually promoted by Mr and Mrs Cole, that every thing was rapidly clearing away, to give proper space. Mrs Weston, capital in her country-dances, was seated, and beginning an irresistible waltz; and Frank Churchill, coming up with most becoming gallantry to Emma, had secured her hand, and led her up to the top.” Emma Few sights are as romantic as that of a couple, absorbed in each other, sweeping across the floor in a dreamy waltz. It is certainly the highlight of many a fairy tale and even Jane Austen allows her couples ample time on the dance floor. While the English Country Dance is most associated with Jane Austen’s novels, many will be surprised to discover that by the early 1800’s the waltz had also made it’s way across the channel and was being danced by the more progressive of the Beau Monde. The fact that it was a couples dance (as opposed to the traditional group dances), and that the gentleman actually clasped his arm around the lady’s waist, gave it a dubious moral status in the eyes of some. By 1814, the waltz, originally considered decadent, was finally sanctioned as appropriate behaviour when it was approved at the ultra fashionable Almacks, though the patronesses there still kept a firm (more…)