Friday, April 25, 2008
Imagine you are a politician of some renown, in fact some consider you to be one of the greatest politicians ever in English history, you come from an aristocratic family descended from Charles II. Now imagine that you fall madly in love with a woman who has been the mistress of several titled gentlemen, so much in love that you do the unthinkable, and you secretly marry her. Sounds like historical romance doesn't it?
Well, in this case the story is real. Charles James Fox, aristocratic man about town, Whig politician and one of the most brilliant and charismatic men of his day, and Elizabeth Armistead, is one of the greatest love stories of the eighteenth century, if not ever. In some ways, it was inevitable that Charles James Fox, or CJF as I like to call him, would fall madly in love. His family's romantic history alone is littered with people falling in love with what society would consider inappropriate people and living happily ever after.
His own mother, Lady Caroline Lennox, daughter of the Duke of Richmond, married Henry Fox, Lord Holland against her parents wishes. Henry Fox was 18 years older than Lady Caroline, and had alreaady run through one fortune. The couple eloped when Caroline was 21, and lived happily together until Lord Holland's death.
The Duke and his Duchess had been an arranged marriage and had fallen in love, so naturally they reserved the right to make brilliant matches for their children. After all it worked for them. In fact the story of the Duke and Duchess of Richmond is another wonderful love story. The Duke, a grandson of Charles II through his mistress, Louise de Keroualle, had married Lady Sarah Cadogan when she was thirteen and he was eighteen. The marriage had been arranged by their parents to settle the gambling debts of his father. Apparently the newly married couple disliked each other on first sight. Soon after the marriage, the Duke took off for the continent. When he returned three years, he attended an evening at the theater, where he saw a beautiful woman in a box surrounded by admirers. When he inquired who it was, he was informed that it was his wife! This time he wooed her properly and they fell deeply in love. The couple were known for being very affectionate with each other, which was not the norm in aristocratic marriages.
Lady Caroline's sister, Emily, the Duchess of Leinster, remarried her children's tutor, William Ogilivie after her husband's death. And the younger sister, Sarah, after surviving not just the disappointment of being rejected by George III as a bride, but having her first marriage end in divorce, found happiness married to an impoverished soldier, George Napier. With the examples of his mother and his aunts, is it any wonder that when Charles James Fox finally fell deeply in love, there would be nothing to stop him from finally making 'his Liz' his lawful wife?
At the time that Elizabeth and Charles James Fox became reacquainted, she was thirty-three and CJF was thirty-four. Elizabeth had spent the past ten years as one of the most famous courtesans in London. She had appeared upon the stage for a short-time (as most courtesans did at one time or another) before deciding there was more profit to be had from the life of a Cyprian. She had caught the eye of the Prince of Wales after his affair with Mary Robinson, but discovered that Prince was not a good bet since he had a hard time paying his own bills, let alone hers. She moved on to others, finally securing two annuities for her favors. Elizabeth's string of fashionable and aristocratic lovers included two dukes, an earl, a viscount as well as the aforementioned Prince of Wales when she became reacquainted with Charles James Fox. They had mutual friends in common in Whig Society. Charles James Fox had recently ended an affair with Mary Robinson, and Elizabeth had been the mistress of several of his friends (London society was small and notoriously incestuous, everyone was either related to, having affairs with, or married to each other).
She was born Elizabeth Bridget Cane on July 11, 1750. No one is sure if there was a Mr. Armistead or not. It could be that she took the name to spare her family from finding out about her life in London but more than likely he was an early protector of hers. No one knows quite how Elizabeth Armistead came to be 'on the game' as they called it. It wasn't unusual for a girl to be seduced and than abandoned, leaving her no choice but to turn to a life of prositution. The newest neighborhood for the high class brothels of the era or 'nunneries' as they were called was around St. James. It is possible that Elizabeth started her career in one of the brothels before being set up in her own establishment by a protector which was the goal of most women (far better to service one man than several). In a courtesan's lifetime, she might have been kept at various times by several men, either singularly, or at the same time.
Charles James Fox, was a rising star in the Whig party, and a close friend of the Duchess of Devonshire and the Prince of Wales. While his reputation is not what it once was compared to his rival Pitt, Fox was still one of the most beloved politicians in the late 18th and 19th Century. He was born on January 24, 1749, the second surviving son of Henry Fox and Lady Caroline. His parents spoiled him immensely, particularly his father, who indulged him. 'Let nothing be done to break his spirit,' he used to say, 'the world will do that soon enough.' Fox was a child prodigy, who at Eton and Oxford devoured books the way he devoured food. He could read in Greek, French, Latin, Italian, as well as English, and had a passion for mathematics of all things.
His father contributed to his dissipation by taking him off to the continent and introducing him to all manner of vices, including gambling. He was first elected to parliament in 1768 at the tender age of 19 which he was technically ineligible to be a member. Fox was a staunch adversary of George III, he supported the colonists during the American Revolution, dressing in the colors of Washington's army in Parliament. He served briefly as Britain's first Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in 1782, before the fall of North's government and the election of William Pitt, the Younger, as Britain's youngest Prime Minister.
His private life was notorious in an age of licentiousness. He was famed for his drinking and gambling. Although he was very good at card games, what got CJF into trouble were the betting books at his club. They would be on sometimes the most nonsensical things like how long it would take for a drop of rain to make down a window pane, or more serious bets such as how long Lord North would be First Lord of the Treasury. Between 1772 and 1774, his father, Lord Holland had to pay off 120,000 pounds of Charles James's debts, the equivalent today of $11 million dollars! Fox twice went bankrupt in 1781 and 1784 (at one point during their time together, Elizabeth sold her annuities to pay their debts). Although he could best be described as dark, fat, and hairy, he was also a notorious womanizer, who preferred women of easy virtue, which can't have been good for his health. He had two illegitmate children that he supported, Henry, who was deaf and Harriet who may have been dim-witted. He was also a bit of a dandy, one of the leaders of the 'Macaroni' set of followers of continental fashions.
Looking at his portrait, you can see why not just Elizabeth, but everyone loved him. His eyes are kind, and there is a sweetness about his expression. His luxuriant eyebrows made him known among the Whigs as 'the Eyebrow.' He was not just a gifted orator but also a great ranconteur. As for Elizabeth, she seemed to have a stillness about her which calmed CJF's more frenetic energy. She also, according to Katie Hickman, had a genius for friendship. Fox once said that 'friendship was the only real happiness in the world.' Most of her former protectors stayed friends, after CJF's death, they kept her afloat until her death. While not considered to beautiful (although her portrait above by Reynolds suggests that she was quite lovely), she was a good listener, which a trait which can never be underestimated. Soon after they became lovers, it was clear from his letters that she had his absolute confidence and trust, that he treated her like an equal. Unfortunately, most of Elizabeth's letters to Fox haven't survived, so we are missing one part of the equation. But it is clear from his letters to her that she had quickly become indispensible to him. They were two mature people who were delighted to find each other, not two kids in the first flush of infatuation.
Soon after they met and became lovers, they settled down into a monogamous relationship, but sometime after, Elizabeth had a moment of panic. It was the first time in her career that she had no protector to pay the bills. Being a courtesan was an expensive lifestyle, appearances had to be kept up. How did Elizabeth know that Fox's ardor would last? While several courtesans had ended their careers with a stable union, more often then not, they ended ignobly, dying in poverty. Elizabeth had no real ambitions to go on the stage, nor did she harbor literary ambitions like Mary Robinson. Instead, she made the momentous decision to break things off with him, planning on moving to the continent, whether it was because living was cheaper or she thought she could restart her career on the continent.
But Fox would not have it. He wrote her one of the most beautiful love letters that a man could write:
'No my dearest Liz, you must not go indeed you must not, the very thought of living without you so totally sinks my spirits that I am sure the reality would be more than I could bear....I have examined myself and know that I can better abandon friends, country and everything than live without Liz. I could change my name and live with you in the remotest part of Europe in poverty and obscurity. I could bear that very well, but to be parted I can not bear...'
After receiving that letter, what choice did she have but to throw her lot in with Fox, and only him? What woman in her right man would leave a man who could write like that (no British stiff upper lip for him). She had broken one of the cardinal rules of being a courtesan, she had fallen in love with a poor man (Fox had lost all his fortune by now, and he refused to use his office for profit). Instead, Elizabeth sold her houses in London, and moved permanently to Queen Anne's Hill in Chertsey, which she later was able to purchase with help from the Duke of Marlborough.
Deeply in love, they were also best friends. Elizabeth spent most of her time at her home outside of London at Queen Anne's Hill, unless Fox needed her in London. She made him keep regular hours, made sure that he ate, and that he cut back on his drinking. They lived a thoroughly domestic life, in fact their friends were surprised to find out how much they enjoyed little things like shopping together for crockery. They shared an interest in gardening. The only flaw as far as Elizabeth could see was that Fox had no interest in music, a particular love of hers. In town, due to late sessions of Parliament, Fox found it hard to keep on the straight and narrow in regards to his drinking and late nights. She was his sounding board, listening to his speeches, darning his shirts. Their house became a gathering place for the Whig politicians. Fox's nephew, Lord Holland, his elder brother's son, was a frequent visitor from nearby Eton. Elizabeth apparently was a great reader, and they would read aloud to each other from the poets and writers of the day.
Elizabeth would occasionally escape abroad for small holidays or day trips to Bath to take the waters for her rheumatism. Due to their relationship, while in London, they could only been seen in public, in the Park, shopping or at the theater. They couldn't attend social functions together unless they were also public occasions like a public masque. Elizabeth didn't mind, she was a woman of the world, and she knew the rules.
The early years of their life together were notoriously busy for Charles James Fox. He became Secretary of State, not once but twice, the second time in a coalition government, headed by the Whig Duke of Portland. Fox was working on a bill to reform the East India Company, which passed through the House of Commons relatively easy but was stopped cold when it got to the House of Lords. Fox had been done in by Pitt and the King who had formed a plot to sabotage it.
Although they were devoted to each other, Fox was still considered an eligible man, and daughters were pushed at him, even though he was a younger son. Thomas Coutts, the banker, hoped that Fox would marry one of his daughters, Fanny, which would have solved all of his problems. Elizabeth, all together more practical then her lover, resolved to leave him so that he would be free to marry. Once again, he refused to let her leave him. He wrote her this letter:
"I can never be happy without you and you have promised to be ruled in this instance by my determination. That is fixed and if you love me, I shall be happy, if not, I shall be miserable, but still with my Liz, for never can I give my consent to part with her. Do repeat to me my dearest love that you love me tenderly, dearly and fondly for it is such a comf to me to hear it and read it; and it is true, my deatest Liz, is it not?"
It was after the Coutts affair that in 1795, Fox decided it was time for he and Elizabeth to wed. There had been a precedent for courtesans marrying their protectors. Kitty Fisher, one of the most famous courtesans of the 18th Century, married a member of Parliament, and retired to his country estate, until her death 5 months later from using lead-based face paint. There was still the problem of whether or not, Elizabeth would be received, if they married. Elizabeth was also worried that Fox might regret marrying her, but he assured her that after twelve years of connubial yet unmarried bliss, his love for her was as strong as ever. So they married, but Elizabeth insisted that the marriage be kept a secret.
It was only revealed to the public in 1802, after the couple embarked on a trip to France, so that Fox could work on a biography of James II. He wanted to avoid a repeat of their last trip to Europe, where Elizabeth had been snubbed by English travelers that they had met. If it was known they were married, the English abroad would be hard pressed to refuse. There was a brief peace in the hostilities between France and Britain and the English were flocking to France having been denied her pleasures for a number of years. Fox was pleased that Elizabeth was, if not warmly received, that she was not snubbed either. In fact most found it hard not to like Elizabeth when they met.
The only fly in the ointment was Lady Holland, the wife of Fox's nephew. Lady Holland had been married before, when she had embarked on an affair with Holland and become pregnant with his child. After the divorce, they married. Despite Lord Holland's love for his uncle's wife, Elizabeth, Lady Holland refused to meet her. Perhaps, she found Elizabeth's situation too similar to her own. After all, an adulteress and a courtesan are sort of sisters of the same skin.
Lady Holland was also in Paris at this time as well, and was not happy to see Elizabeth such a success. It came that Mrs. Fox was to be presented to Josephine and Napoleon. Elizabeth chose to pretend that her dress was not ready, so that Lady Holland would not be offended. However, Lady Holland left Paris when she found out that she was not invited to any of the private parties.
Back in England, Fox's younger brother Henry, his wife, and Fox's niece Caroline came to call on Elizabeth. Soon other family members followed including, Fox's aunt, the dowager Duchess of Leinster. She soon made a champion out of Lady Holland to everyone's surprise. There were a few hold-outs among Fox's friend's including Thomas Coke of Holkham Hall (who would one day have a granddaughter, Scandalous Woman, Jane Digby). But Whig hostesses Lady Bessborough and the Duchess of Devonshire accepted Elizabeth immediately. Most of Fox's friends, whatever their misgivings, couldn't help but respond to Fox's own happiness at being able to finally show off his Liz.
In 1806, Fox became the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in Lord Grenville's new government. His years in the wilderness were over. He threw himself into the job with a vigor belying his age of 57. Fox had two objectives, to negotiate peace with France, and to abolish the slave trade. However, his health was not what it once was. They moved into a house in London, loaned to them by the Duke of Bedford, where they had a steady stream of visitors. Fox was so swamped with official papers that he had to work late into the night.
Elizabeth was now Mrs. Secretary Fox, the wife of a cabinet minister. He would rely on her strength in the coming months. While he had the affairs of state to handle, Elizabeth had her own official business to tend to. She paid calls and made visits of etiquette, arranging small working dinners for Fox, and tried to shield him as much as possible. Fox's legs started to swell. He eventually needed a wheelchair to get around because of gout.
She also decided to hold her first supper and ball, set for the 19th of May. The Duke of Bedford once again came to the rescue, offering her Bedford House, and the Prince of Wales's upholsterers redecorated the state apartments. The only question was, who would come? They needn't have worried. All told 400 people attended the evening. Elizabeth's ball was an unmitigated success.
Fox's health continued to decline to such an extant that his friends thought to find him a less onerous job, by suggesting a peerage, which would have elevated him to the less strenerous House of Lords, but Fox wouldn't hear of it.
Charles James Fox died at the age in September 1806, almost 8 months after his rival William Pitt. His last words to her were 'It don't signify Liz, my dearest Liz." Although Fox had hoped to be buried at Chertsey with Elizabeth, it was decided that he should be buried in Westminster Abbey on October 10, 1806 on the anniversary of his election to Parliament from Westminster in 1780. Unlike Pitt's funeral, Fox's was a private affair. Elizabeth Armistead outlived her husband by almost thirty-six years, dying in July of 1842 at just 3 days short of her 92nd birthday at Queen Anne's Hill. She was buried in Chertsey. In her last days she was surrounded by a meange of Foxes, Hollands, and other friends.
Most of the Scandalous Women written about on this blog have had lives that ended unhappily for one reason or another, as if they needed to be punished for breaking society's rules or stepping out of the box. Elizabeth Armistead was one Scandalous Woman who managed to have a happy ending. It was a happy ending that by rights should never have happened. Although she was never accepted completely by society, she was Fox's best friend and his greatest confidante, the one woman that he couldn't live without. While others may have thought that it was Elizabeth who gained the most by her association with him, Fox always believed that he was the lucky one, to have met and loved his Liz.
Courtesans - Katie Hickman (All quotes from CJF's letters to EA are from this book)
Passion and Principle: Lives and Loves of Women in Regency England - Jane Aiken Hodge
Places Associated with CJF and EA:
The Fox Club - The Fox Club is a membership only club that is housed in the townhouse where Elizabeth Armistead lived happily for a number of years with Charles James Fox.
Foxhills - Now a family oriented golf club this was once the home of CJF and EA.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
It somehow seems fitting to write about Delia Bacon on Shakespeare's birthday. After almost five hundred years, we still know little more about him then we did a hundred years ago. The mystery surrounding Shakespeare makes him ripe for those who believe, like Delia Bacon, that a man from a small town with very little education, could write the greatest plays known to man.
From the beginning, it seemed as if Delia Bacon was surrounded by bad luck. She was born on the Ohio frontier, on February 2, 1811 (An Aquarius, the sign of original and unusual thinkers), one of six children to a missionary father of Puritan stock. When she was 6 after her father, the Reverend David Bacon went broke, the family moved to Hartford, CT where he promptly died. All six children were promptly farmed out to friends of the family. Delia was lucky enough to attend a private school run by Catharine Beecher, the sister of Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Beecher was one of the foremost teachers in America in the early 19th century. From the beginning, Delia seemed to be marked out for greatness. Catherine Beecher recalled that her 'homeless daughter of the Western missionary was preeminently one who would be pointed out as a genius; and one, too, so exuberant and unregulated as to demand great pruning and restraint." She had one fatal flaw however, a 'morbid sensitivity to criticism' (Banvard's Folly, page 238).
After leaving school, she tried without success, to open her own private school with her older sister. For four years, in New York, Connecticut, and finally New Jersey, she tried and failed to revive the school. There was never sufficient funds and she suffered increasingly from ill-health. She and her sister both came down with malaria, later on Delia was nearly killed by an outbreak of cholera. For the rest of her life, she would struck down for days suffering recurrences of the malaria as well as severe migraine headaches. Still Delia soldiered on. At the age of 20 she wrote and published a book of short stories, called Tales of the Puritans, and at 28 a play, The Bride of Fort Edward, written in blank verse. She also won $100 for her short story "Love's Matyr" from the Philadelphia Saturday Courier, beating out a little known writer from Baltimore named Edgar Allen Poe. The writing career not really taking off, at the same time, she began a modestly successful career lecturing before women's groups on literature.
She also became involved during this time in a disasterous love affair with a younger man, the Reverand Alexander MacWhorter. She was living in a boardinghouse in New Haven when she met MacWhorter, the son of a wealthy family in New Jersey. He was 23 to her 36. There were many witnesses to state that MacWhorter was the one to do the chasing, and Delia, while at first aloof, finally succumbed to the attentions of the much younger man.
Her family was worried about his attentions, and let it be known that they were engaged. When MacWhorter found out, he swiftly changed his tune. In a classic example of He Said/She Said, MacWhorter later claimed that she chased him, sending letters, while Delia claimed that it was MacWhorter who made all the advances. It was a sticky situation because MacWhorter was studying under Nathaniel Taylor at Yale, and Taylor was also close friends with Delia's brother, Leonard Bacon who was also a minister in the Congregationalist Church. Matters came to a head when Delia accused him of making advances, while MacWhorter threatened to make her letters public unless she withdrew the accusation. Taylor was caught in the middle.
Her brother Leonard demanded that MacWhorter, who had applied for a license to preach in the vicinity, be brought before the Congregational Ministerial Association. There was a trail before a jury of 23 ministers. MacWhorter put up a strong defense. He claimed that Delia had ensared his 'unsophisticated affections.' (Wallace, Nymphos and other Maniacs, pg. 281) and that he had never made a declaration of affection. Her brother claimed that MacWhorter had led Delia on, and never had any intention of marrying her. When the jury arrived at their verdict, 11 ministers had found for Delia and 12 for MacWhorter.
Delia became completely disallusioned by men. It was around this time that Delia her investigations into Shakespeare's plays became more pronounced. Ironically, MacWhorter had supported her beliefs about Shakespeare, they had spent hours discussing the authorship of the plays. The more about him she read, and the more she read the plays, the more she became convinced that Shakespeare was a hoax and a fraud. She became fanatical about the whole thing, much to her family's dismay. She had met Samuel Morse in New York while he was teaching art at NYU. It was Morse who told her about Bacon's ciphers that he had used during his diplomatic work. This little fact sparked her idea that the Shakespeare plays were written in a code to hide their political philosophies.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending upon how you want to look at it, through Elizabeth Peabody, who also happened to be Nathaniel Hawthorne's sister-in-law, she met Ralph Waldo Emerson. She somehow managed to convince Emerson of her theory and it was with his support that she was able to travel to England in 1853 to find definitive proof. Emerson advised her in his first letter to her that, "So radical a revolution should be proclaimed with great compression in the declaration and the real grounds rapidly set forth, a good ground in each chapter, and preliminary generalities quite omitted. For there is immense presumption against us which is to be annihilated by battery as fast as possible." (Collins, page 240).
He led her to a wealthy friend, Charles Butler who offered to pay her way for a year in England to do research. Emerson's support also encouraged Putnam's magazine to give her a series of assignments reporting upon her research. Delia was delighted. She told Emerson: 'Confirmations of my theory, which I did not expect to find on this side of the water, have turned up since my last communication to you...Be assured, dear sir, there is no possibility of a doubt as to the main points of my theory." (Wallace, pge. 272)
Emerson also gave her letters of introduction to his good friend, historian Thomas Carlyle, author of The French Revolution, as well as several others who would pave the way for her in England.
Delia wasn't the first person to believe that Shakespeare wasn't the author of the plays, a friend of David Garrick named Herbert Lawrence wrote a book in 1771 called The Life and Adventures of Common Sense, A Historical Allegory in which he put forth the notion that Shakespeare had plagiarized his plays from something called the Commonplace Book. In 1811, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the poet and opium addict, delivered a series of lectures on Shakespeare and Milton in which he questioned Shakespeare's authorship, as did Benjamin Disraeli years later. And then in 1848, a man named Joseph C. Hart wrote a book called the Romance of Yachting in which he talked about a trip he took where he spent time reading Shakespeare and came to the conclusion that the Bard of Avon was a hoax. But these were voices crying out in the wilderness. No one had come up with any solid proof that anyone had written the plays, or a concrete theory until Delia Bacon.
Delia's revolutionary theory was that it was Walter Raleigh, Edmund Spenser and Francis Bacon, as part of a secret Elizabeth society (whose members also included Sir Philip Sidney, Lord Buckhurst, the Earl of Oxford, and Lord Paget. Dan Brown has nothing on this woman) who wrote the plays credited to "that wretched player" Shakespeare. Their purpose, Delia claimed, was to promote radical political philosophies for which they felt that they couldn't afford to assume the responsibility. She argued that William Shakespeare was no more than a 'vulgar, illiterate...deerpoacher' and 'Lord Leicester's stableboy.' She later wrote to Hawthorne "There was no man dead or alive, that really on the whole gave me so much cause of offense with his contradictions. He appeared to be such a standing disgrace to genius and learning, that I had not the heart o ask anybody to study anything." But it was Sir Francis Bacon that Delia was particularly keen on as the chief writer of the plays.
Unfortunately, Delia did not undertake any hard research on the subject at any of the major London museums and libraries, even though Thomas Carlyle suggested that she consult original Shakespearean resources. But Delia never took him up on his offer. The letter to the British Museum lay unopened in a drawer. She did however make a pilgrimage to Sir Francis Bacon's grave. She had the idea of convincing someone to open his grave to see if she could find original papers backing up her theory. When that didn't work, Delia decided that all the evidence she needed was in the plays themselves.
She spent two years in isolation working on her book, reading and re-reading the plays, in particular King Lear, Macbeth and Coriolanus (I'm not quite sure why these 3 plays in particular) hunting for clues left by Francis Bacon. By this time, she had run out of money, living in an unheated room, often not knowing where her next meal was coming from. Her article in Putnam's appeared in January 1856, almost 3 years after her arrival in London. As far as she was concerned, the lack of a historical record of the life of Shakespeare was proof enough for her.
"The two or three historical points we have, or seem to have, at length, succeeded in rescuing from the oblivion to which this man's own time consigned him... and constitute, when put together, precisely that historic trail which an old, defunct, indifferent, fourth-rate play-actor naturally leaves behind him."
Putnam's Magazine dropped her after the one issue, concerned about her lack of research and her increasing monomania, not to mention the negative feedback that they had received from readers. Delia was wounded, but she needed the $55 that they sent her in order to live. She finally wrote to the American consul in Liverpool who just happened to be Nathaniel Hawthorne. She poured out her heart to him, her theories, her hopes and problems. Hawthorne was used to getting letters from Americans who needed help getting out of jail, who ended up on hard times, but he recognized her name from Elizabeth Peabody's letters. He immediately took over and paid her debts and read her essays.
They finally met in June of 1856. Hawthorne praised the parts of the book she had sent him and asked her when she would address the historical documentation. Delia confidently tapped a volume of Bacon's letters. Bacon finally published, thanks to Hawthorne, the fruits of her labor in The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded. He even generously wrote a foreward for the book, even though he didn't believe in her theories for a minute. Delia was furious that Hawthorne had written in the foreward that he didn't believe her theories. His disbelief in the theory was an attack on her as far as she was concerned, they were one in the same. She cut him off without a word and never spoke to him again. However Hawthorne proved to be a true friend to Delia. He paid out of his own pocket to the publisher for the losses of her book, and wrote an essay called "Recollections of a Gifted Woman," in the January 1863 issue of The Atlantic Monthly.
While she waited for publication, she became obsessed with the idea of trying to open Shakespeare's tomb because she was certain Francis Bacon had hidden proof of the plays' authorship in the grave. This despite the warning engraved on the slab:
Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,
To digg the dvst encloased heare!
Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones,
And curst be he yt moves my bones.
Still, Delia would come into the church at night with a lantern, and just stare at the altar. The vicar became so concerned that he actually for a moment considered letting her into the grave. Fortunately for everyone, Delia became ill and gave up her request. Possibly she had doubts at what she might find. Her brother begged her to come home, writing to Hawthorne that he believed that she had been verging on the edge of insanity for at least six years but Delia refused to leave England.
Finally the day came when the 682 page book was published. In the book, she alleged that Shakespeare couldn't have written the plays because he was ignorant and unschooled, that he lacked the knowledge of the law, sports, court that appeared in the plays, that lines in the plays paralleled those written by Spenser, Oxford and Bacon. The book was savaged by critics, and read by no one, although later on, Mark Twain claimed to be impressed by it, and Walt Whitman, Henry James and others came to believe in her theories. But it was too late for Delia, her mental state worsened, she slipped in and out of fevers (presumably her malaria returning and untreated), she became suicidal and actually began to believe that she was related to Sir Francis Bacon (they were not) and she was ultimately committed to an asylum, first by the mayor of Stratford-on-Avon and after her return to the United States by her brother. She died a year later in 1859.
Hawthorne noted after her death that "no author ever hoped so confidently as she; none ever failed more utterly."
Nowadays, the idea that Shakespeare was not the author of the plays is not a new theory. There are societies devoted to the Earl of Oxford as the author, Sir Francis Bacon, even a theory that the playwright Christopher Marlowe wrote them (the fact that he was murdered before most of the plays were written does not deter fans of this theory). But it was Delia Bacon who can claim to be the grandmother of the theorists. Although she wasn't the first to believe that the plays were written by others, she was the first to really put her theories to the test. Unfortunately the effort took her sanity, and she never lived to see the great debate that still rages on.
Banvard's Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn't Change the World - Paul Collins
The Nympho and other Maniacs - Irving Wallace
Prodigal Puritan: A life of Delia Bacon - Vivian Constance Hopkins
Delia Bacon's book The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakspere Unfolded can be found here thanks to Project Gutenberg. (Let me know if you can get through it!)
Thursday, April 17, 2008
She was born Emilie Charlotte LeBreton on October 13, 1853 on the island of Jersey, part of the Channel Islands, where her father, the Very Reverand William Corbet Le Breton, a clergyman was dean and the rector of St. Saviours Parish Church. She inherited her looks from both her parents. Her father was over 6 feet tall, with a shock of white hair and piercing blue eyes, while her mother, Emilie Davis, was petite and auburn haired. Her mother suffered from ill-health through out most of her life, her father was robust and larger than life, with a charismatic personality. The LeBreton family was very well respected and Lillie was naturally proud of her ancestors how had served with William the Conqueror in their defeat of the English at the Battle of Hastings.
Lillie wrote in her autobiography about her father, "I am convinced that the stage suffered a greater loss than the army, for my father had the true histrionic gift, and his dramatic talent would have undoubtedly made him a fine actor."
He was also an inveterate womanizer.
At one point when Lillie was 16, she had fallen in love with a handsome local boy, only to find out from her father, that he was his illegitimate son. Lillie was the only girl among 6 brothers, she grew up believing that anything they could do, she could do or better. The outcome of this upbringing was that Lillie was what they like to call a 'man's woman' utterly at ease in the company of men. She liked them and they liked her. She also understood them, and how to get what she wanted, two traits that would stand her well as she made her way through life. Her father believed in education for women, so Lillie started taking lessons from her brothers tutors in Latin, Greek, maths, German, French, music and art. Not a typical education for a Victorian girl, who mainly learned needlework and how to deal with household management.
She wrote in her autobiography that she was nick-named Lillie because of her beautiful lily-white complexion. She hated the name Emilie as well as her middle name of Charlotte which she considered 'dreadful'. For the rest of her life she would known as Lillie. She grew up into a beauty, the epitome of the 19th century standard. Tall, broad hipped and full-bosomed, with a pearly white complexion, and golden brown hair, Lillie dreamed of a life outside of island of Jersey. She was so beautiful that she received her first marriage proposal at the tender age of 14. Due to her mother's ill-health, Lillie began to appear at official functions, in mother's place. She became accustomed to speaking publicly and to dealing with people from all walks of life, including those who were many years older than her.
She dreamed of London and everything that city conjured up. She'd had one unsuccessful visit here at the age of 16. Many wealthy Londoners chose Jersey as a winter retreat. One of these men, Lord Suffield, suggested that Lillie was beautiful enough to have a London season. Lillie and her mother were elated, but they soon discovered that without connections, it was impossible to navigate the intricacies of London society. The only invitation they had was to a ball hosted by Lord Suffield. Despite her beauty, she more than likely came off as provincial, and lacking in manners. She eagerly wore her one evening dress to the event, but the modiste in Jersey could not compete with the extravagant creations that London society women wore. She talks in her autobiography of being at a dinner and being confused by the many forks and knives displayed in front of her. 'I felt like a clumsy peasant, I disgraced myself so often I could scarcely wait until the evening came to an abysmal end.'
Back home, Lillie determined that if she ever had the chance at London society again, things would be different. She applied herself to studying, preparing herself for the next time she made her way to London. The only problem was how to achieve that goal. Enter one Edward Langtry. She met him in 1873 when her brother William married Elizabeth Price. Edward Langtry was Elizabeth's brother-in-law, a widower, whose wife had died tragically of tuberculosis two years after they were married. His family had been shipbuilders from Belfast, and he owned an 80 foot yacht called The Red Gauntlet. Lillie later said that she fell in love with the yacht but married the owner. Despite her parents belief that she needed to see more of the world, and the disapproval of her younger brother Reggie, she married Edward Langtry several months after they met.
Lillie was in for the shock of her life. Contrary to what she had been led to believe or chose to believe, Edward was not as wealthy as she had thought. The Langtry family had gone from rags to riches and then back again. Edward, as a gentleman, did not work for a living. Their only income came from the rents on some Irish properties that he owned. They moved to Southampton in England, where Lillie was bored out of her mind. There was little society in Southampton and Edward spent most of his time racing his yacht. Lillie also realized that they had nothing in common, while Lillie was intelligent and well read, Edward's interests were mainly yachting and fishing. Things came to a head when Lillie came down with a serious case of typhoid fever, and almost died. Fortunately for her, she was able to convince her doctor that London would be the best place for her to recuperate. Lillie was ecstatic, finally she had arrived!
The couple arrived in London in 1876. But initially Lillie's experience of London this second time was even worse than the first. The couple would spend their days visiting museums or walking through the Park hoping to run into an aquaintance who might help introduce them into society. Once the season was over, and society had fled to their great country estates, Lillie began to spend most of her time indoors reading, while Edward, used to spending a great deal of time out of doors, took to drinking as his newest hobby.
Coinciding with their move to London, Lillie’s younger brother, Reggie, was killed in a freak horse accident. She was now in mourning. It was during this rather bleak period of her life that fate finally intervened. She and Edward were visiting a the new aquarium in Westminster where they ran into old family friends of the Le Bretons, the 7th Viscount Ranalegh and his two daughters, Jersey inhabitants who spent the season in London. The Langtrys were invited to stay at the Ranalegh’s home in Fulham. Ranelegh was somewhat eccentric, he lived with his mistress, the mother of his seven children, who declined to marry. Lillie took Lord Ranelegh into her confidence about their lack of society. Soon after their return to Eaton Place, the Langtry's received an invitation to dinner at the home of Lord and Lady Seabright, friends of Lord Ranelegh. Like their friend, the Seabright's considered themselves to be bohemian, Lady Seabright was a talented amateur actress. Among their frequent guests were artists and actors, including Henry Irving (later to be Sir Henry Irving, the first actor to be knighted), which was unusual for the time when society was much more of a closed circle, limited to those few families who owned most of the land in England.
Edward Langtry was not much of party animal, but Lillie, fully recovered from her illness and very bored, desired a change so she convinced Edward to go. Still wearing mourning, Lillie arrived at the party wearing a plain, figure-hugging black dress. Amid all the colorful plumage of the female guests, Lillie Langtry stuck out like a like a beacon of purity. Immediately, the artists Frank Miles and John Everett Milliais , a fellow countryman, who were also guests at the party, sought out the ethereal beauty and both asked if they could paint her portrait. Millais managed to win the chance to take Lillie into dinner.
Frank Miles, a very popular painter of the era made a line drawing of her on the spot, thus immortalizing her moment of discovery. Not only was Lillie beautiful, it was soon discovered that she was well read and could converse on a variety of topics, making her not just another pretty face. It was hard not to be enchanted by her and she was the hit of the party. Lillie Langtry was now launched not just in Society but to the world at large.
Soon she would pose for most of the major painters of her day including Edward Poynter, James McNeill Whistler, George Frederic Watts, Edward Bourne Jones, and became friends with many of them. She seemed to embody the Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic movements that were coming to fruition in the 1870's. One of the most famous paintings done was by Millais, in which she wore her simple black dress, an amaryllis in her hand. The flower was mistakenly thought of as a Lily giving rise to her new nickname 'The Jersey Lily.' The portrait was hung at the Royal Academy, soon nominated Portrait of the Year and had to be roped off because of the crowds eager to see whom Milliais called “the most beautiful woman on earth.”
But it was the photographs that truly made her famous. Photography was just coming into its own, and many society women, including Jennie Jerome Churchill, Mrs. Luke Wheeler, the Duchess of Leinster and Patsy Cornwallis West (a good friend of Lillie's) had their photographs taken which were then offered for sale. They were known as Professional Beauties or PB's. These photos were collected not just by the lower classes but also by the middle class who kept them in special scrapbooks.
This must have been a heady time for Lillie. In what seemed like an instant, she had gone from obscurity to being feted by most of the artists of the day. In our celebrity driven era, the idea of being flavor of the month or the minute, is taken for granted. But in the late 19th century, the idea that a young woman could become almost famous overnight was a novelty. What was it about Lillie that made her so unique? She seemed to have come out of nowhere, in her one black dress, with her whiff of impoverished gentility.
Soon Lillie and Edward were invited everywhere, not just by the artists of the day, but also by society. Invitations flooding their tiny flat on Eaton Place. James McNeil Whistler helped to relieve some of the gloom of the place by stenciling gold palm fronds on the walls of the maroon drawing room. While Edward was out of his depth, Lillie was in her element. Knowing a good gimmick when she found one, Lillie continued to wear her black evening dress all events. Of course, she had a legitimate excuse, still being in mourning for her brother, but she was more than aware how the dress flattered her creamy complexion and contributed to her fame. The reign of the black dress came to an end when she was invited to a party by Lady Dudley, whose husband disliked the color black. Instead she wore a stunning white velvet confection that hugged her figure (Lillie, unlike most Victorian women, didn't wear a corset). At one dinner party, the Marquess of Hartington, heir to the Duke of Devonshire, stepped into the marble pools in his evening attire at Devonshire House, grabbed out handfuls of the water lilies and offered them to her.
Where ever Lillie went, she was now mobbed. She became a fashion icon, women imitated the way that she wore her hair, her hats, even her dress sense. She acquired many admirers, including John Leslie and Moreton Frewen (who both later married the younger sisters of Jennie Jerome Churchill). Among her coterie of new admirers was also the young Oscar Wilde, who wrote a poem about her called The New Helen. They became great friends, Oscar would teach her Latin and Greek, taking her to the British Museum to look at the antiquities. Laura Beattie, in her excellent biography of Lillie, writes that the two mutually used each other, as they continued their assault on the world. At the time of their meeting, Oscar Wilde was only a few years out of Oxford, and just beginning to make a name for himself in London as a dandy and aesthete. He would later become famous for wearing velvet suits and walking through the streets of London carrying a large lily. He would later be immortalized as one of the inspirations for Bunthorne in Gilbert & Sullivan's operetta Patience.
The Prince was the leader of what became known as The Marlborough House Set, named after Marlborough House, the London home of the Prince and Princess of Wales. At this time, society in London was evolving. While the Queen's court contained many of the same arisocratics that had served the monarchy for centuries, the Prince of Wales sought out not only those aristocrats who had the time and energy to devote themselves to pleasure, but also those men and women who risen through industry and commerce. He also loved beautiful women, particularly witty women. At dinner parties, during the time when men and women seperated, the Prince preferred to be sitting with the women, then spending time smoking cigars and drinking brandy with the men. He loved chatting with them about fashions, and gossiping. Although his wife, Princess Alexandra, was beautiful in her own right, (as the years went by, while he grew fatter and greyer, she seemed frozen in time, captured at the height of her beauty) they had little in common. Marriage and the birth of six children (five of whom lived) hadn't slowed him down.
It was at a dinner party given by Sir Allen Young after the opera in June of 1877. Lillie wrote in her autobiography: "Suddenly, there was a stir, followed by an expectant hush, a hurried exit of Sir Allen, then a slight commotion outside, and presently I heard a deep and cheery voice say: 'I'm afraid I am a little late.' Sir Allen murmured something in reply, and the Prince of Wales, whose face had been previously unfamiliar to me except through photographs, appeared in the doorway of Stratford Placing drawing room."
Lillie being taken up by the Prince meant that she was socially acceptable to a certain segment of society that had been closed to her before then. It was one thing to be the darling of the artists and bohemians of the day, but Lillie was smart enough to realize that her position was solely dependent on her royal lover. She even found herself hobnobbing with members of the Danish Royal family, and the Empress Eugenie of France, who lived in exile in England after Napoleon III was deposed, along with the Prince Imperial. Even Princess Alexandra was won over, Lillie was the only of the Prince of Wale's mistresses, that Alexandra didn't mind. Perhaps it was because she was the first official mistress, or maybe it was because Lillie genuinely liked the Princess.
Lillie was now so famous that the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Prince Rudolf fell in love with her on a visit to London, and pursued her ardently. He famously smudged her beautiful pink dress from Doucet with his sweaty hands. When she asked him to put on his gloves, he declared that it was she who was the one sweating! He presented her with a ring, attempting to press his attentions on her. When Lillie threw the ring into the fire, the Prince dropped to his knees to try and dig it out. Lillie lost all respect for him after that.
The Prince adored Lillie not just because she was a beautiful and sensual woman, but because she was not awed by him. Like the American women who married into the aristocracy, she treated him with the deference due to his rank, but she also wasn't afraid to tweak him when necessary. She loved practical jokes just as much as he did. In fact she once spent time at country house party tobaggoning down the stairs on a silver tray. She had a gregarious and extroverted personality like the Prince, but she was much more of a witty conversationalist than he. They had sailing and racing in common, the Prince was an avid sailor and spent a great deal of time at the races at Goodwood, Ascot and Deauville. Lillie and her younger brother Reggie had once secretly trained a horse that they entered in one of the races in Jersey, which they won. When she was once asked by Prime Minister Disraeli, what he could do for her, she replied "Four new dresses for Ascot."
Very little of the relationship was mentioned in the press. Unlike nowadays when you would be hard pressed to pick up an English tabloid newspaper that didn't have an article on Prince William and Kate Middleton, or Prince Harry and his girlfriend Chelsy Davy, the English papers of the time had a hands off policy towards the Royal Family in terms of their private life. Of course, everyone knew that the Prince of Wales and Lillie Langtry were lovers, one just didn't read about it in the papers. Even during the years when Edward VII's grandson, another Prince of Wales was falling for Wallis Simpson, the papers were remarkably silent. Not so across the Atlantic where even the venerable New York Times remarked on His Royal Highness's relationship with the beautiful Lillie.
The height of Lillie's relationship with the Prince occurred when she was finally presented at court. Generally young women were presented during their first season before they are married, but Lillie pestered the Prince until he agreed. First Edward had to be presented at Court, and then a sponsor had to be found for Lillie. She practiced for weeks to make sure that she didn't step on her train while walking backwards in her Majesty's presence. Women who were presented at court were required to wear white feathers in their hair, and the Queen had been heard to complain about the paltriness of the headresses of the women presented at court. Lillie in a moment of madness and bravado, picked the three tallest, whitest feathers that she could find which she wore in her hair in an imitation of the Prince of Wales insignia. Filled with nerves, she tried to delay her arrival, hoping that the Queen would have gotten tired and left, and she would be presented to the Prince. However, the Queen stayed, curious to see the famous Mrs. Langtry in the flesh (she had earlier taken down a picture of Lillie from her son Prince Leopold's wall). Lillie's presentation was a triumph. She had risen to the top from obscurity, it was only a matter of time before she fell and how hard.
Slowly the cracks were starting to show. From receiving universal acclaim in the press, they started to criticize her. But she still had her relationship with the Prince. For three years, Lillie and the Prince of Wales were lovers, a remarkable feat given the Prince's attention span. Edward Langtry, unfortunately put in the position of being a cuckold, escaped from his life at the bottom of a bottle. He dutifully put in appearances at parties to put the gloss on the relationship with the Prince but he was bitter and unhappy at the hand that fate had dealt him.
While Lillie enjoyed the Prince's favors, he was not the only one who enjoyed the Jersey Lily. Years after their deaths, letters were found in a house in Jersey, that were between Lillie and Arthur Jones, a young man she had known from her days in Jersey. They are passionate letters indicating a long love affair, although little is known about Arthur Jones. He was one of Lord Ranelagh's illegitimate children by his common law wife. Arthur and his brothers and sisters had grown up between Worthing with their mother and Jersey, where he became good friends with Lillie's brother Clement, a relationship that was cemented further when Clement married Arthur's sister Alice. There was also a relationship with the young Lord Shrewsbury, which was instigated by his mother no less, who thought that he would benefit by a realtionship with a slightly older woman (Lillie was still in her mid-twenties).
And Lillie had competition herself for the Prince's favors from none other than the Divine Sarah, Sarah Bernhardt herself, who arrived in London to take the theater world and society by storm in 1878. The Prince took a box at each opening night during the London run. Lillie was also becoming reckless. At a charity event at the Royal Albert Hall, where Lillie was pouring tea, one could purchase a cup of tea for an extra guinea if Lillie took the first tip. When the Prince and Princess of Wales, along with their two young daughters, arrived at her booth, Lillie took a sip without being asked. The Prince wisely told her to pour him a cup that hadn't been touched.
They were instantly smitten with each other. The Prince of Wales encouraged the relationship, since his own interest in Lillie was waning. On her part, Lillie was very much in love with the handsome Prince. However, the relationship could go no further since the Prince was eventually posted to a ship taking him away from Britain. Nor could they marry. Given the circumstances of his own parent's marriage, and Lillie's inconvenient husband, a love affair was the only thing possible.
Lillie's father past discretions also caught up to him around the time of Lillie's pregnancy. He was forced to leave Jersey to accept a position in Kennington as a vicar. The official reason was that it was for his health. Although he remained the Dean of Jersey, it was in name only.
Lillie's story in many ways is a Cinderella story. Young woman is plucked from obscurity to infamy, becoming the mistress to not one but two Princes. Lillie may have been in the right place at the right time in history. Did she love the Prince of Wales? Probably not, is she loved anyone, she loved Arthur Jones, the one man in her life who wanted nothing from her but her love, and could offer her nothing material in return. Lillie loved what the Prince offered her, an entre into a world that she could only dream about, that for a brief time was hers. Being the Prince's first 'official' mistress, brought fame but it also brought just as many problems. Lillie spent those years dancing on a tight rope.
Days I Knew - Lillie Langtry's autobiography (available on Alibris)
Edward the Caresser - Stanley Weintraub
Lillie Langtry: Manners, Masks and Morals - Laura Beatty (available on Alibris)
Cupid and the King - Princess Michael of Kent
The King in Love, Edward VII's Mistresses - Theo Aronson (excellent book, available on Alibris)
Death at Epson Downs by Robin Paige - features Lillie Langtry and Jennie Jerome Churchill as characters
Lillie - This is the miniseries on Masterpiece that started my interest in Lillie Langtry. It stars Francesca Annis as Lillie, Denis Lil as the future Edward VII, Anton Rodgers as Edward Langtry, and Peter Egan as Oscar Wilde. Note: Francesca Annis played Lillie in an earlier miniseries about Edward VII starring Timothy West. It was just a few scenes but it led to her getting her own miniseries.
The Langtry Hotel in Bournemouth - This is the house that Edward VII had built for Lillie which is a luxury hotel where one can stay.
The Langtry Estate Winery - Lillie bought this estate on one of her tours of America in 1888 sight unseen. She sold it in 1906, and the estate was run as Guenoc for a number of years until recently when it changed it's name back to the Langtry Estate Winery. You can buy Lillie wines.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
The very newspapers that Madame Restell advertised in turned on her. Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune wrote editorial after editorial against abortion and quack medicine advertisements. The rise of periodicals like the National Police Gazette, covering the underbelly of American society, also contributed stories about the horrors of abortion and sexual promiscuity. Not one to take things lying down, Madame Restell fought back, writing editorials herself defending her business. One such editorial was pubilshed in the July 15, 1839 issue of the New York Herald. In the editorial she challenged Samuel Smith, the conservative editor of the New York Sunday Morning News, to press charges against her, and offered $100 to anyone who could prove that her 'medicine' was harmful.
Between 1839 and 1845, Madame Restell was indicted 6 times, but each time the case was dropped before it went to trial. She managed to escape prosecution until the one day that a former patient name Marie Bodine charged her in 1847 with performing a late trimester abortion. Marie was seven months pregnant, the father was her employer. Madame Restell tried to convince her not to have the abortion, to just wait until the baby was born, and a family could be found for it. Marie refused, saying that her employer was insisting on the abortion.
Unlike most prisoners on Blackwell's Island, Madame Restell had it pretty easy. She was able to use her money to escape hard labor. While other prisoners slept on hard bunks, she slept on a feather bed, and dressed in fine silk instead of the prison uniform. She had her meals catered by the finest restaurants. Still the trauma of being incarcerated made Madame Restell determined that she would never suffer imprisonment again.
She changed her practice exclusively to the wealthy and middle class who could afford to pay her fees. Instead of charging $10 per abortion like her competitors, Madame Restell raised her prices, now charging $2,000 each. She did a brisk business catering to the single and affluent women who couldn't afford the stigma of having a child out of wedlock or the married women who needed evidence of their adultery taken cafe of.
The tide was turning against abortion for many reasons. The increasing immigration of people who were considered undesirables like the Irish and Italians in the mid to late 19th century sent the fear of God into people. The birth rate had continued to fall and Nativists feared that the country would be overrun and the WASP power structure would be would be in danger. 19th Century Feminists too were against abortion because they felt that it let men who had seduced and abandoned women off the hook, placing the shame solely on the woman. They also felt that it degraded women and that it undermined women's right to refuse to have sex to control the number of offspring, because pregnancy could be fixed by a sum of money.
Anti-abortion laws became stricter, women who had abotions could now be arrested and sent to prison. In 1872, Anthony Comstock entered the picture (the History Hoydens wrote a great post on the subject of Comstock here.) beginning his personal crusade against vice. In 1873, he became the special agent for his own "Act for the Suppression of Trade in and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use" (this was the same act that Margaret Sanger was persecuted under in the 20th Century for distributing material pertaining to birth control). Comstock didn't catch up to Madame Restell in 1878, being busy suppressing vice other places. She finally came onto his radar when he began to be accused of avoiding a conflict with her. Was he afraid of her? people wondered.
On January 28, 1878, Comstock showed up at Madame Restell's door inquiring about birth control practices and made a purchase. A week later, he returned to receive more instruction, and four days later he came back again, this time with the police and a group of newspaper reporters. After all there is no such thing as bad publicity! Madame Restell was arrested and charged with selling abortive and contraceptive devices.
Although she could afford the best attorneys, Madame Restell was quite alone in the world. Her second husband had died and she was estranged from her daughter, who had married a policeman no less. Far short of Madame Restell's ambitions for her. Although her granddaughter Caroline had been her assistant, she too had married. This time, Madame Restell wasn't assured of escaping imprisonment. The newspapers had a field day with her trail, denouncing her on a daily basis and gloating that she was finally going to get her due.
What are we to make of Madame Restell? Was she indeed the Wickedest Woman in New York, or a woman who saw a need and stepped into fill it? The fact that she became exceedingly wealthy providing abortions and a public figure only adds to the legend. While she was denounced for the services she provided, she would not have become so wealthy and successful if there hadn't been a need for them. Unlike other abortionists, Madame Restell dealth with the political and social implications of abortion in her advertisements. She seemed to speak to the poor immigrant women who lived a life of one draining pregnancy after another. Her arguments that limiting families would actually improve the lives of the poor was picked up almost fifty years later by Margaret Sanger.
Madame Restell threatened the social order of the time by insisting that women had the right to make choices about their bodies.
Sources for this post included: wikipedia
The Pro-Life/Choice Debate - Mark Youngblod Herring
Monday, April 7, 2008
In the summer of 1906, in the tony resort town of Oyster Bay, Long Island (home to Theodore Roosevelt and part of what they call the Gold Coast on Long Island), the daughter of William Henry Warren, fell ill with typhoid at their rented summer home. Typhoid was a highly contagious communicable disease (Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's consort died from typhoid fever). During the 19th Century, thousands of people died from typhoid fever. In the year 1906 alone, 23,000 people died in the United States.
Soon five more people in the Warren household fell ill with the fever, including Warren's wife. Experts were brought in to determine what caused the outbreak. Typhoid fever was usually found in the cities slums where sanitary conditions were primitive. Most tenements had one outhouse for several families, and the water was generally unclean. It was unusual for there to be an outbreak in a rich area like Oyster Bay. Unfortunately while the experts were able to pinpoint the point of contagion as being from the daughter, they couldn't find the source of the original infection. Theories bruited about were taht it possibly came from contaminated milk or water, perhaps she ate some spoiled food. There had never been an outbreak of typhoid fever in Oyster Bay either before or after the incident with the Warren family.
George Thompson, the owner of the house the Warren family was renting, was not satisfied with the conclusion of the report. He worried that no one would want to rent his house unless they could be assured that they would not be susceptible to another outbreak. He contacted George Soper, a sanitary engineer (a relatively new profession) in the newly formed Department of Health, to investigate. At this time, Soper had a reputation for being an epidemic fighter, he had been instrumental in setting up emergency procedures in Upstate New York when typhoid epidemics had struck in Ithaca and Watertown.
After eliminating the usual sources of contamination which included the water supply and drainage, he began to concentrate on the possibility that the family had been exposed to a human carrier of the disease. This was a revolutionary idea at the time, developed by a German bacteriologist named Robert Koch. While it was known that humans could be carriers while they were actually ill with the disease themselves (as was proven by the daughter of the Warren family spreading it to five others), and during their recovery, Koch believed that there were humans who while outwardly healthy carried the germs of the disease in their bodies and spread it to the others by say not washing their hands after using the bathroom. Outwardly healthy, their bodies were like a petrie dish of disease.
Knowing that the incubation period for typoid was 10 to 14 days, Soper counted backwards to see who was in the household at the time before August 20th. He discovered that the Warren family had changed cooks on August 4th. The new cook was a woman named Mary Mallon, who Mrs. Warren had found through an employment agency. Interesting to Soper was the fact that Mary had only stayed with the family for three weeks before she left. He also learned that Mary had often prepared a dessert that was a great hit with the family, ice cream with fresh peaches, just the thing to pass along a little typhoid.
Mary Mallon became Soper's primary target in his investigation. Like a detective searching for clues, he went through Mary Mallon's employment records for the previous 3 years. What he found astonished him. It turned out that Mary had left a trail of typhoid fever in her wake over a ten year period. Not only that but she was one of the few people not to come down with the disease while others were stricken, and inevitably fled when the sickness appeared. Soper was determined to find Mary before she infected another family.
It was not until sometime in 1907 that Soper managed to find a lead on Mary. She had gotten a job as a cook for a wealthy family living on Park Avenue in the city. By the time he found her, the daughter of the family was dying from typhoid and a maid was suffering from the disease. Here was where Soper made a huge mistake. On introducing himself to Mary, he told her that he had reason to believe that she was spreading the disease, and that he needed to have her come with him to have her blood, urine and feces tested. Mary reacted as probably any would have done in that situation. She threatened him with a large carving fork, telling him that she had never been sick with typhoid in her life, chasing him out of the apartment. Not only had Soper cornered her at her place of work, jeopardizing her employment, but he was accusing her of being sick and spreading disease. Mary had not left Ireland to come to New York only to be accused of inadvertently killing people.
"She seized a carving fork, and advanced in my direction. I passed rapidly down the long, narrow hall, through the tall iron gate, out through the area, and so to the sidewalk. I felt rather lucky to escape. Apparently Mary did not understand that I wanted to help her."
Soper was not to be deterred however. He found out where Mary was living, and bribing her live-in boyfriend, an unemployed alcoholic named Breihof, found out what time Mary was due home from work. Waiting with another doctor, he confronted her again (clearly he decided that there was safety in numbers. Mary was a big hearty blonde woman). Mary was pissed, she accused Soper of persecuting her. She claimed that there had been no more typhoid where she worked than anywhere else, and that she had been rewarded by the Drayton family for helping to nurse the family when they were sick. Once again, Soper was forced to leave empty handed.
He had one last resort, the Department of Health. He presented his case to them, laying out the facts as he knew them, that Mary Soper was a danger and a health hazard. He claimed that under suitable conditions, she might even trigger an epidemic, say if she were working in a restaurant kitchen, or cooking for a large dinner party.
On March 19, 1907, Dr. Josephine Baker, a Health Department inspector, went to see Mary Mallon with an ambulance and three policemen. She had been given an order by her superior, to get the specimens from Mary. If she resisted, Dr. Baker had orders to bring Mary Mallon in by force. Accompanied by one of the policemen, Dr. Baker approached Mary in the basement entrance. Mary however was prepared and attacked Dr. Baker with a kitchen fork. While the doctor fell into the policemen behind her, Mary took an opportunity to escape, fleeing through the rear of the house. The other servants, out of loyalty to one of their own, denied seeing her.
Dr. Baker and the policemen searched the neighborhood for three hours before finally locating Mary Mallon who was hiding in a shed in a neighbor's yard. Her dress had gotten caught in the door which gave her away. Huge garbage cans had been piled against the door, presumably by the servants to help protect her. Cursing and fighting, Mary put up a good fight. It eventually took 5 policemen to subdue her and Dr. Baker had to sit on Mary in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
Not much is known about who Mary Mallon was before she came onto Soper's radar. At the time that she was taken into custody, she was around 40 years old. Born in County Tyrone, Ireland, in 1869, she emigrated to the United States in 1884 at the age of 15. Due to the nature of the disease, Mary Mallon was often depicted in the press as a slovenly, ignorant, unkempt, woman, which says more about the presses contempt for the Irish then it does about Mary herself. It's hard to imagine nowadays, when everyone celebrates St. Patrick's Day and wears 'Kiss Me, I'm Irish' buttons, but for along time in the 19th century, the Irish were considered even lower than African-Americans. There were signs at boarding houses that said "No Blacks, No Jews, No Irish." They were actually considered a different race than whites. The hatred and racism towards the Irish started with the great influx of immigrants during the potato famine. Most Irish immigrants, if they were men, ended up working digging the Erie Canal and other low-paying jobs, or they worked as domestics or cooks. There were so many Irish women working as domestics, that they were all called Bridget by their employers, no matter what their real names were.
Mary Mallon had worked her way up to being a cook, and was quite proud of her skills in the kitchen. The fact that she worked for several well-to-do families meant that she had to have learned skills beyond the basics of American cuisine. At that the time, the US was in the midst of a culinary revolution. There were fine dining establishments like Delmonicos and Rectors, lobster palaces, cookbooks were being published, Americans who had traveled abroad had brought back tales of the food that they had eaten in Europe. For Mary to be employed consistently by upper middle class families, she had to be up on all the latest techniques. She could read and write, her favorite novels were those by Dickens and her preferred paper was The New York Times.
At the hospital, Mary was isolated, classified as a dangerous patient. She was put into the charge of Dr. Robert L. Wilson, and Dr. William H. Park, who was the chief of the Health Department's bacteriological laboratories. The first tests that came back proved that Mary Mallon was a carrier for typhoid. Subsequent examinations over an 8 month period proved that apart from a few weeks, Mary's body continued to discharge the typhoid germs. Soon after her arrest, Soper came to see her, partly out of a genuine desire to help her, but also partly to gloat that he had been right all along about his theory. He seemed to genuinely be surprised that she wasn't grateful that she had been taken off the streets.
He told her that if she had her gallbladder removed, she might be free of the disease, and could go back to her life. No matter that most operations at that time were dangerous, and that the chances were that, if she even lived, there was no proof that removing the gallbladder meant that she was disease free. Mary refused to cooperate, staring sullenly at Soper.
After several weeks at the Willard Hospital, Mary was transferred to Riverside Hospital, which was located on one of the many barren islands in the East River up near the Bronx. While she was allowed to work as a laundress while she was incacerated, she was isolated from the rest of the patients on the island, living in a little cottage by herself.
Mary decided to fight her incarceration. She found a lawyer who specialized in medical cases, George Francis O'Neill, who argued before a state supreme court judge that Mary was being denied her freedom wihout having been charged of a crime, or knowingly injuring anyone. She had been held without a hearing which was unconstitutional. The judge, although he was sympathetic, refused to set Mary free because he was unwilling to take the responsibility if another family came down with typhoid because of her. In 1909, another judge too denied her petition, stating that the Health Department had been within its rights to hold her since she might cause 'imminent peril.'
The press of the day got hold of the story, dubbing her 'Typhoid Mary,' publishing cartoons of her frying typhoid germs like sausages. Others were kinder, depicting her as a lonely woman. In the meantime, the Health Department began to round up other suspected typhoid carriers. Mary's case had proved that they did exist. Many, like Mary, proved to be chronic carriers, but unlike her, they were allowed to return to their homes after they pledged not to have anything to do with food or its preparation. Finally, Mary saw the handwriting on the wall, if she was ever going to be released, she would have to take the pledge as well not to cook again. She also promised to check in with the health department every 3 months.
In 1911, Mary Mallon was finally released from Riverside Hospital and promptly disappeared. At first she tried to do what the health department wanted, getting a job working as a laundress, but the pay was less and it was a step down. Finally Mary went back to the only job that she knew and was good at, a cook. Avoiding employment agencies all together, Mary found jobs working at several hotels, a fasional resort, and a Broadway restaurant. Once again, everywhere that Mary went, typhoid was sure to follow. However, Mary used aliases icnluding Marie Breshof or Mary Brown.
Finally in 1915, George Soper was called into the Sloane Hospital for Women in New York. 25 people had come down with typhoid, mainly nurses and attendants. Two of them were dying. Examining the personnel records, Soper discovered that a cook had been hired three months before, who had left after being teasing called 'Typhoid Mary.' Examining a sample of her handwriting, Soper determined that the woman was none other than his old nemesis Mary Mallon.
Mary was captured on Long Island where they spotted her carrying a bowl of jello to a friend's house. This time Mary went peacefully. On March 27, 1915, Mary was returned to Riverside Hospital on North Brother's Island. The staff at the hospital tried to cure her using the new methodology that had been developed in the treatment of typhoid. She was given injections of the typhoid bacilli and also given pills that were to be taken at intervals. However, Mary threw them away, resigning herself to life as an outcast.
At the time that Mary was taken into custody for the last time, 53 cases of typhoid had been attributed to her, and 3 deaths, which seems awfully small but those were only the cases of typhoid that could be traced back directly to Mary. There is no telling how many other people she infected over the years before she first came to Soper's notice in 1906. Over the years, she refused to answer any questions or to have her photograph taken. And she never expressed remorse or took responsibility for the suffering that she caused.
Slowly over the years, Mary began to come out of her shell. She was finally given a job working in the hospital laboratories, where she was paid $60 a month, preparing slides, keeping records and generally taking on any task that was given her. She was occasionally allowed to go into the city because authorities knew that this time she would return to the hospital, she had no choice. In 1923, she moved to a one room cottage on the island, where she entertained friends from the hospital. However, when mealtimes came, Mary ate alone. She was examined periodically but continued to prove toxic.
In 1932, she suffered a stroke, which left her paralyzed. She lingered for 6 more years before finally passing away in 1938, after spending almost 30 years in custody. She was buried in St. Raymond's cemetary in the Bronx. At the time of her death, there were 349 known carriers of typhoid but only Mary was considered dangerous enough to be isolated.
Was Mary Mallon victim or villain? On the one hand, she was a woman, came from a race of people that was considered inferior. Was she victimized for being Irish and a woman? Possibly but given the evidence that she was a carrier of typhoid, Mary refused to believe it, and when she was given her freedom, she promptly went back into a profession where she could continue infecting people.
No one will ever know why Mary refused, despite the evidence, to believe that she was a carrier. She wrote no memoirs, wrote no letters of explanation. She refused to talk about her case with anyone. But then who among us would want to believe that we were capable of making people sick? And without proper retraining for a new job, one that would give her as much satisfaction as cooking, why wouldn't Mary resort to the only profession that she was good at and that she loved.
One could blame the Health Department for their actions, but at the time, the idea of a human carrier of typhoid was very new. The fact that George Soper managed to be one of the first to find a human carrier made his name, and that of the New York Department of Health. In their zeal, they clearly thought they were doing the best they could with the knowledge that they had.
So is Mary Mallon villain or victim? The evidence would suggest that she was a little bit of both. Her passion for cooking and her stubborness led to her downfall. Today her name is a generic term for people who spread disease because they refuse to take proper precautions. According to Wikipedia, some of her descendants who live in Northern Ireland run a catering business where something called the 'typhoid bun' is a hit among the locals.
Sources include: Wikipedia
Typhoid Mary, An Urban Historical - Anthony Bourdain (Bourdain, a chef, takes an interesting view of the case. His sympathies clearly lie with Mary.)
NOVA - The Most Dangerous Woman in America: Tyhoid Mary, Villain or Victim? (I saw this episode several years ago, and found it fascinating. It's available on DVD or you can watch it on PBS.org. You can also read the transcript of the program on the site.)
Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public's Health - Judith Leavitt
Crime Library - Typhoid Mary