Mercury, Vinegar, and Cat-what?! Suffering for Beauty in the Regency Period

gustave_leonard_de_jonghe_-_vanity

Vanity. Gustave Leonard de Jonghe

The Regency period advocated the natural look for women. Heavy, artificial make-up was not the fashion, as it had been in decades previous. Instead, natural beauty was encouraged and good looks came from such admirable qualities like temperance and fresh air.

However, this penchant for the natural did not mean that women adhered to a strict no make up policy or did not seek miracle elixir. Freckles, tans and blemishes were of particularly concern to a lady in Regency times. Indeed, tanned skin was associated with the lower classes and upper class women would avoid sunburn, at all costs. While hiding under a parasol was a safe solution, ladies occasionally had to turn to other more dramatic remedies.

One such preparation was Gowland’s Lotion. Truthfully, this interesting concoction reached the height of its popularity before Regency times. One could suggest that its inventor, John Gowland, was ahead of his time by several hundred years. Gowland’s Lotion was likely one of the first ‘chemical peels’. It contained bitter almonds, sugar, water, and mercuric chloride. This last ingredient was a derivative of sulphuric acid and able to remove a layer of skin.

Mercury was not the only poisonous substance; lead was also used. One example is Bloom de Ninon which contained dangerous white lead. This was found not only in lotions and potions but also in face powder, although that was also made with less harmless ingredients like crushed pearl, rice powder and talc.

However, it was becoming recognized that lead and mercury may not be entirely healthy for one skin, although there were no laws to enforce this. Therefore, homemade cosmetics were becoming popular. A lady’s maid would usually be responsible for making the lotions and cosmetics for her mistress.

In addition to white powder, rouge was also used, although in small and natural amounts. No more bright circles of pink as had been fashionable in Georgian times. These were made from the toxic mineral cinnabar and carmine, derived from cochineal scale insects – okay – not toxic but not exactly pleasant.

The removal of hair was also popular in Regency times. This could be done by methods like sugaring or less pleasant techniques including a peculiar combination of cat feces and vinegar. Anything in the name of beauty.

Sources

The Art of Beauty: or, the Best Methods of Improving and Preserving the Shape, Carriage and Complexion. London, 1825.

Forsling, Yvonne. Regency Cosmetics and Makeup: Looking Your Best in 1811. 

marriedforhisconvenience-ewebsterEleanor Webster loves high-heels and sun, which is ironic as she lives in northern Canada, the land of snowhills and unflattering footwear. Various crafting experiences, including a nasty glue-gun episode, have proven that her creative soul is best expressed through the written word.

Eleanor is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in psychology and holds an undergraduate degree in history and creative writing. She loves to use her writing to explore her fascination with the past. Her latest release, Married for His Convenience, is available now. Find out more at https://eleanorwebsterauthor.com/.

Interested in the history of cosmetics? Here are some more posts for you:

Nineteenth Century Skin Care: Ten Tips from the Ugly Girl Papers

Maybe She’s Born with It (Maybe it’s Lead!): Powder and Patch in the 17th Century

Bathing in the Age of Extravagance: How to Make Your Own 17th Century Washball (Recipe)

Cleopatra’s Eyeliner (Recipe)

Riding Saint George: Regency Sex Terms You Won’t Find in Austen

I’m a big fan of profanity. Some people aren’t crazy about, but I fucking love it. I was one of those kids that makes other people’s parents uncomfortable; at age nine I had a vocabulary that wouldn’t have been too far out of place in the navy. It’s not that I had bad parents; my parents are great, they just had their priorities straight. Swearing was not at the top of their list of concerns, and they didn’t confuse it with lack of intelligence or disrespect. Profanity can’t be reduced to abuse or threatening language; it can also be used effectively for levity or, if you’re a writer, to inject some authenticity into your work (but we’ll get to that).

It’s important to know how to swear properly. Nothing’s going to make you sound more awkward than dropping an f-bomb in an unnatural place. Likewise, all Americans should know how to say ‘twat’ properly (rhymes with cat. Trust me). Unfortunately, American profanity is relatively limited when compared to the colorful vocabulary of the British.

As much as I’d like to use names like knob jockey or twat waffle in my books (I’m not being funny, I would LOVE to), these terms of endearment* are relatively new. Swearing, however, is not. It’s nice to imagine that people of bygone eras engaged in squeaky clean cap-doffing a la Mary Poppins and didn’t feel the need to use rude language (much less engage in rude activity), but that’s just not the case.

You want proof? Let’s look at Captain Francis Grose’s 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

While many of the words in here are not what we might consider profanity** and the phrases are largely bonkers, this book is a fantastic reference for any fan of history. 135 pages of cant and “vulgar language” cover everything from terms for flattery to fornication and include sixty-one words for prostitute.***

One common issue romance writers have in particular is finding historically appropriate euphemisms related to sex. If you’re writing a Regency or Georgian romance and you’re puzzling over another way to say throbbing member, the dictionary has you covered. Let’s take a look at some period terms for naughty bits.

Penis

Arbor Vitae
Gaying Instrument
Horn Colic (“temporary priapism”)
Lobcock (“a large, relaxed penis or a dull inanimate fellow”)
Matrimonial Peace-maker
Piss-proud (“a false erection”)
Plug Tail
Prick
Roger
Pego
Silent Flute
Sugar Stick
Tackle (also a mistress)
Thomas
Tool
Whore Pipe

Vagina

Bite
Carvel’s Ring (“The private parts of a woman. Ham Carvel, a jealous old doctor, being in bed with his wife, dreamed that the Devil gave him a ring, which, so long as he had it on his finger, would prevent his being made a cuckold: waking he found he had his finger the Lord knows where.”)
Cauliflower
Cock Alley (or Lane)
Commodity
Crinkum Crankum
Cunt
Dumb Glutton
Dunnock
Eve’s Custom-House
Fruitful Vine
Madge
Man Trap
Money
Monosyllable
Mother of All Saints
Mother of All Souls
Mother of St. Patrick
Muff
Notch
Quim
Rum Goods (“a maidenhead, being a commodity never entered”)
Tu Quoque
Tuzzy-muzzy
Venerable Monosyllable
Ware
Water-mill

Breasts

Apple Dumplin Shop
Cat Heads
Dairy
Diddeys
Dugs
Kettledrums
Cupid’s Kettledrums
Chest and Bedding (sea term)

Testicles

Nutmegs
Ballocks
Bawbels
Trinkets
Cods
Gingambobs
Thingamabobs
Tallywags
Tarrywags
Twiddle-diddles
Wiffles (“a relaxation of the scrotum”)
Whirlygigs

raphael_-_saint_george_fighting_the_dragon
St. George. Raphael, 1504

Sex

Basket Making
Beast With Two Backs (to make the, from Shakespeare)
to Blow the Grounsils (“to lie with a woman on the floor”)
to Dock
Dog’s Rig (“to copulate until you are tired, then turn tail to it”)
a Flyer (with clothes on)
to Give a Girl a Green Gown (sex in the grass)
to Grind
Hump (at this point an unfashionable term)
to Lay Cane Upon Abel (sex between men)
to Jock
Jockum Cloy
to Keep it Up (“to prolong a debauch, a metaphor drawn from the game of shuttle cock”)
to Knock
to Mow
to Occupy
Prigging
to Relish
Riding St. George (“the woman uppermost in the amorous congress, that is, the dragon upon St. George. This is said to be the way to get a bishop.”)
to Roger
Rutting
to Screw
Shag
State (“to lie in state; to be in bed with three harlots”)
Strapping
Stroke (“to take a stroke”)
to Strum
to Swive
Tiffing
to Tup
Two Handed Put
to Wap

Arse

Blind Cheeks
Blind Cupid
Bum
Bumfiddle
Ars Musica
Cheeks
Double Jugg (a man’s arse)
Pratts
Round Mouth
Wind-mill

Masturbation

To Box the Jesuit and Get Cockroaches (a sea term)
Toss Off

Condoms

Mrs. Phillip’s Ware
Armor
Machines

Venereal Disease

Blue Boar (“a venereal bubo”)
Bube (see above)
Burnt
Clap
Clapham House
Covent Garden Ague
Crinkums
Drury Lane Ague
Dumb Watch
Fire Ship (“a wench with venereal disease”)
Flap Dragon (clap or pox)
French disease
Frenchified (to be infected with venereal disease)
Job’s Dock (“laid up in Job’s Dock, after the ward for venereal patients in St. Bartholomew’s hospital”)
Peppered
Pill or Peele Garlick (“someone whose skin or hair had fallen off from venereal disease”)
Pissing Pins and Needles
Poulain (French, a bubo)
Scalder
Shanker
Venus’ Curse

hogarth2bstocking
A Harlot’s Progress, detail. Hogarth

Prostitute

Petticoat Pensioner (a man, “one kept by a woman for secret services”)
One of Us
One of My Cousins
Barber’s Chair
Bat
Blowen
Bunter
Buttock
Buttock and Twang
Buttock and File (a prostitute who is also a pickpocket)
Case Vrow
Cat
Cattle
Convenient (usually a mistress or concubine)
Covent Garden Nun
Covey (plural prostitutes, a covey of harlots)
Crack
Curtezan
Dirty Puzzle (a loose woman)
Drury Lane Vestal
Easy Virtue
Family of Love (plural prostitutes or a religious sect)
Fancy Man (kept by a lady for secret services)
Fen
Hedge Whore (one who works outdoors)
Impure
Laced Mutton
Left-Handed Wife
Madam (also used for bawd)
Madam Ran
Merry Arse Christian
Miss
Miss Laycock
Mob
Mab
Moll
Peculiar
Proud Ledger
Punk
Trull
Quean
Queer Mort (“a strumpet with venereal disease”)
Receiver General
Rep
Room (“she lets out her front room”)
Short-Heeled Wench (“a girl apt to fall on her back”)
Squirrel
Stallion (a man kept by lady)
Star Gazer (see hedge whore)
Strumpet
Tail
Thorough Good-Natured Wench (“one who being asked to sit, will lie down”)
Three-Penny Upright (one who works standing up)
Town (a woman of)
Trumpery
Madam Van
Unfortunate Women (a termed by other “polite” women)
Wasp (“an infected prostitute, who like a wasp carries a sting in her tail.”)
Wife in Water Colors (a mistress or concubine)
Woman of Town
Woman of Pleasure

Brothel****

Academy
Pushing School
Bordello
Buttocking Shop
Cab
Cavaulting School
Corinth (likewise Corinthians are people who frequent brothels)
Nanny House
Nugging House
Nunnery
School of Venus
Seraglio
Smuggling Ken
Snoozing Ken
Vaulting School

A few extra terms, just for fun:

Duck Fucker (“man who has care of poultry on a ship”)
Kiss Mine Arse (“An offer, as Fielding observes, very frequently made, but never, as he could learn, literally accepted.”)
Queer As Dick’s Hatband (“out of order, without knowing one’s disease”)
Smack (to kiss)
Urinal of the Planets (Ireland, due to its frequent rain*****)

Notes

*I’m totally shitting you, these are not terms of endearment. Don’t call your gran a twat waffle!
**Words we would consider profanity or at least rude such as fuck, arse, piss, whore, cock, etc are used by the author in definitions but he takes for granted the reader is familiar with these and he does not define them.
***It’s interesting to note that prostitutes are referred to affectionately and none of the terms used for them are really insults. The author’s contempt is reserved for celibate women, who are called Ape Leaders (an old maid; their punishment after death, for neglecting increase and multiply, will be, it is said, leading apes into hell) and may suffer from Green Sickness (the disease of maids occasioned by celibacy). Equally, “whore” is not presented as an especially strong insult. Bitch is far worse. He says this is “the worst appellation that can be given to an English woman.”
****Notice how many of these are related to schools. Likewise, “college” was used to refer to prison, college being a natural progression from a school or academy.
*****This book has an incredible number of derisory terms for the Irish…and Welsh, Scottish, Jewish, mixed-race, religious, and people from Boston.