I’m reading a great book

I’m reading a great book called What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist — the Facts of Daily Life in 19th-Century England.


There’s a bazillion books and self-satisfied magazine articles out there that will explain the quirkier customs of Georgian and Victorian etiquette (“Who goes in to dinner first — the wife of a bishop or the daughter of a Baronet?” [stupid author rolls eyes in a droll manner] “Oh, those cra-a-a-a-zy Victorians!” Feh.)


This book attempts to capture all the day-to-day facts of Victorian life, not just the upstairs/downstairs stuff. I’ve always skimmed over the details in 19th-century books. For example: Sherlock Holmes promises an urchine a crown to wait outside the opium den: is this a nice tip, or a Rodney Dangerfield “Get my bags, park my car, and put on some weight, will ya?!” bribe?


Voila, study material:

VALUE:COIN (nickname)

21 shillings : guinea

20 shillings (one pound) : sovereign (“quid”)

10 shillings : half sovereign
5 shillings : crown (“bull”)

2 1/2 shillings: half crown

2 shillings: florin

12 pence : one shilling

6 pence : sixpence (“bob, hog”)

4 pence : groat (“tanner, bender”)

3 pence : threepence

2 pence : twopence (“tuppence”)

1 pence : penny (“copper”)

1/2 pence : halfpenny (“ha’pence”)

1/4 pence : farthing

1/8 pence : half farthing


Considering that — checking the chapter on “occupations” — kids not employed in the mills could sometimes find work as mudlarks, raking the stagnant banks of the Thames at low tide for stray pieces of coal and bones — yielding, maybe, 3 pence a day, it turns out that Sherlock’s tip was of the Rodney Dangerfield variety.


I now know the difference between a curate, a rector, a vicar, and a parson (mainly, where their income came from) and how many companies make a regiment (8-10), and what the hell a costermonger is (victorian hot-dog cart), and why Victorian damsels were always succumbing to “a chill” (often tuberculosis). Also, the difference between a court, a manse, a grange, and a hall, and how a dog cart is different from a brougham (SUV:station wagon). Oh, and how big a hogshead is, and what honorific suffixes mean: “Wadley Pilkington, bart., R.A.


Y’all better steer clear of me for the next coupla days. Bart, R.A.

I’m reading a great book

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