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Manners, Food And Culture - Accomplishements

( Originally Published 1902 )

BOTH men and women of the upper classes were not only well educated, but were expected to have accomplishments. New York was rich in private schools and competent teachers. In the schools, mathematics, Greek, Latin, and modern languages received much attention, and it was usually the custom for the wives of school-masters to hold classes for young ladies, especially to instruct them in plain and fancy needlework and embroidery. A very good idea of the ordinary school course is found as early as 1731, when " at the House of George Brownell near the Custom-House, are taught Reading, Writing, Cyphering, Merchants Accompts, Latin, Greek, etc., also Dancing, Plain-Work, Flourishing, Imbroidery and various sorts of works. Any persons may be taught as private as they please." Languages were of the utmost importance, as will be proved by the following advertisements :

"This is to give notice that over against the Sign of the Black Horse, in Smith Street, near the Old Dutch Church, is carefully taught the French and Spanish Languages after the best method that is now practized in Great Britain." (1735.) The terms were twenty shillings the quarter.

" John William Delisle wants to teach French to Ladies and Gentlemen at one pistole per month and six shillings en-trance." He naively adds : " I hope I shall repair the character of those that are gone away with the public's money." (1749).

" Anthony Fiva has taught English, French, Spanish and Italian for these two years past." (1744)

New Yorkers were always abreast of the latest European steps and dances. W. C. Hulett was as accomplished a dancer and dancing-master as he was a violinist, and taught both music and dancing. (See page 295). In 1753, he taught dancing and advertised himself as " late apprentice to Mr. Grenier of London, dancing-master." His success justified him in opening a Dancing-School in 1764. This was situated in French Church Street, near the Assembly Room. In 1775, he was still a fashionable master, keeping up with the newest dances, teaching " according to the present taste both in London and Paris," the following : " The Louvre ; the Minuet ; Dauphine ; Rigadoon ; Bretagne ; Allemando ; Double Minuet ; Minuet by eight ; Hornpipes ; and the Cotillons and English Country-Dances." His chief rival at this time was Pietro Sodi, who had established with Biferi and Cozani an academy for music, dancing and languages.

There were a number of other dancing-masters and schools ; in many of the latter fencing was taught. Mr. Hulett began this fashion. Among the other dancing-masters were : John Rivers, who opened a dancing and fencing school in Stone Street in 1757, and kept " a public dance Monday evenings" ; William Turner, who had a dancing and fencing school over the Royal Exchange in 1764 ; Du Poke and De St. Pry, who opened a French, Fencing and Dancing Academy in Little Dock Street in 1775, where they taught " French jigs, hornpipes, cotillons, German dances and French country dances of all kinds in the most approved and modern taste " ; and William Tetley, whom we,find in 1775, announcing that " he served an apprenticeship under Mons. Gherarde, of London." He also "paints oil and miniature portraits, and teaches drawing."

To be a graceful and skillful fencer was the ambition of every gentleman. Swords were worn and whipped from their scabbards at the slightest provocation. It was therefore necessary to understand the art of defence. Fencing was—and properly—considered one of the best aids to a graceful carriage, ease of movement, and courtly manners. Gentlemen could take their lessons in the academies, or the teachers would wait upon them at their houses. One of the best fencing-masters thus drew attention to himself :

" These are to give notice to all gentlemen who desire to learn the right Method and true Art of Defence and pursuit of the small sword in its greatest Perfection, and extraordinary quick and speedy with all the guard, Parades, Mounts and lessons thereto belonging, fully described, and the best Rule for Playing against Artists or Others with Blunts or Sharps ; that they may be taught the same by me Richard Lyneall, Professor and Master of the said Art, who is to be spoke with at the House of Mrs. Elizabeth Parmyster in Beaver St. Note, he teaches gentlemen either in Private or Publick by the month or by the whole." (1756).

A very accomplished fencer was Peter Viany who attained fashionable patronage. He lived near the Exchange and also taught dancing. He informed the public that " he has no dancing-room, but will teach privately at their homes the Minuet to ladies and gentlemen in two months' time." In 1769, he was still a fashionable teacher of both accomplishments, which is not astonishing, as he assured his patrons that " he teaches in the style of the best masters in Europe and their manner is discoverable in his scholars." A sword of the period is shown on page 263.

Painting was 'also an accomplishment. There was a Society for Promoting Arts, and every encouragement was given to artists of the brush and pencil. Drawing and painting were taught in the schools and teachers gave private lessons. A portrait-painter came to New York in 1754, and thus announced himself :

" Lawrence Kilburn, Limner, just arrived from London acquaints all gentlemen and ladies inclined to favour him in having their pictures drawn, that he dont doubt of pleasing them in taking a true likeness and finishing the drapery in a proper manner, as also in the choice of attitudes suitable to each person's age and sex and giving agreeable satisfaction, as he has heretofore done to gentlemen and ladies in London."

He succeeded by means of his portraits and lessons, for in 1765 he says : " At present there is no other portrait-painter in this city but himself." A rival portrait-painter was Abraham Delanoy who lived in New Dutch Church Street. In 1768, we read that John Durand has "from his infancy endeavoured to qualify himself in the art of historical painting" and "humbly hopes for that encouragement from the gentlemen and ladies of this city and province that so elegant and entertaining an art has always obtained from people of the most improved minds."

Painting on glass was a favourite art dating from the early part of the century. In 1745, Gerardus Duyckinck taught " any young Gentlemen the Art of Drawing with Painting on Glass " ; and, in 1753, we learn that " By a person lately arrived in this Town, Painting upon Glass (commonly called burning upon glass) is performed in a neat and curious manner so as never to change its colour. Perspective views neatly coloured for the Camera Obscura."

The ladies of our period were as accomplished in needlework as in cookery. Plain and fancy sewing was always a part of a gentlewoman's education. An idea of what was taught in a school especially for young ladies was shown in 1747, when " in the back part of Mr. Benson's Brew-House a school is opened to teach young Ladies Reading and Writing, all sorts of Needlework and the making of Artificial Flowers." Every girl was required to work a sampler. Specimens, owned by Mrs. Charles S. Fairchild; appear on pages 333 and 340. Ladies made many articles for their homes and many of the pretty things they wore. There were a great number of teachers. In 1731,

" Martha GazIey late from Great Britain, now in the City of New York, Makes and Teacheth the following Curious Works, viz, Artificial Fruit and Flowers, and other Wax-Work, Nuns-Work, Philligree and Pencil Work upon Muslin, all sorts of Needle-Work, and Raising of Paste, as also to Paint upon Glass and Transparant for Sconces, with other works. If any young Gentlewomen, or others are inclined to learn any or all of the above-mentioned curious Works, they may be carefully taught and instructed in the same."

In 1765, Mrs. Thomas Carroll, whose husband had a " mathematical school " in Broad Street, taught " Young Ladies plain work, samplars, French quilting, knoting for Bed Quilts or Toilets, Dresden flowering on Catgut, shading with silk on worsted or Cambrick, Lawn or Holland." A specimen of what she was able to teach appears on page 329. In 1769, Clementina and Jane Fergusson taught "plain needlework, sampler, crowning, Dresden catgut, shading in silk on Holland or cambrick and in silk or worsted on canvas, as also all sorts of needlework in use for dress or furniture." In 1773, Mrs. Cole and William and Sarah Long, all from London, were teaching tambour work in gold and silver and embroidery ; and in the next year Mrs. Belton was giving lessons in "tapestry, embroidery, catgut, sprigging of muslin, etc."

On page 273 is shown a small letter-case embroidered in green and red silk by one of the ladies of the day, Mrs. Cornelia Haring Jones, who put the date 1768 upon it. It is owned by her great-great-granddaughter, Mrs. French Ensor Chadwick. Another card- or letter-case is shown on page 263.

Sewing was made attractive. The work-boxes of the period were very beautifully made and fitted up with compartments and furnished with pretty ivory, steel, silver and gold implements of every kind. On page 388 some sewing articles are shown, a set of five pieces made of steel, ornamented with gold and silver ; a stand with three reels for winding silk upon, and two " sewing-birds" with clamps to fasten them on the table. These stand upon a table after a design by J. C. Delafosse. Upon the table are also placed a Vernis Martin box with "Chinoiserie" decoration, a silver punch-ladle with ebony handle, and a pair of candlesticks. These are in the Museum, Cooper Union.

The needlework of the New York ladies was thus very delicate and beautiful: they were not accustomed to do any coarse work that would roughen their hands and fatigue their bodies. The high-heeled shoe of the aristocratic and wealthy woman was accustomed to the pedal of the harpsichord, but had slight acquaintance with the spinning-wheel, and her hands that could sprig muslin or embroider catgut gauze in gold and silver had little knowledge of how to use the distaff. It seems that the spinning-wheel was practically unknown to the ladies of New York, who were quite satisfied to let it keep its proper place. The date of the following item is 1769 :

"Three young Ladies at Huntington on Long Island, namely Ermina, Leticia and Sabina, having met together, agreed to try their Dexterity at the Spinning-Wheel ; accordingly the next morning they sit themselves down, and like the Virtuous Woman, put their Hands to the Spindle and held the Distaff; at Evening they had 26 Skeins of good Linen Yarn each Skin containing 4 ounces, all which were the effects of that Day's Work only.

"N. B. It is hoped that the Ladies of Connecticut and Rhode Island, who have shown their skill and Industry at the spinning-wheel, will be sincerely pleased to find their laudable example so well imitated in Huntington, and that it has kindled a spirit of generous Emulation in the Ladies of New York Government ; we hope the same Spirit will spread thro' the Continent. That the Ladies while they vie with each other in Skill and Industry in this profitable Employment, may vie with the men, in contributing to the Preservation and Prosperity of their Country, and equally share the Honour of it."

There were many opportunities for reading and buying books. In the early part of the century, William Bradford, and later, Hugh Gaine, Garrat Noel and James Rivington, imported nearly everything that was in vogue in London. It is remarkable to see how quickly the new books arrived in New York. Chambers's Universal Dictionary of all Arts and Science was sold by William Bradford in 1733. Bibles, prayer-books, dictionaries, books on navigation, and calendars were always kept in stock ; and the latest sensations, with sermons, novels and songs that were attracting attention abroad were always advertised.

The kind of books that we find most frequently on sale from 1744 to 1751 are : Bibles, Psalters, Testaments, Primers, Watts's Hymns, Seaman's Kalandars, School-books, IEsop's Fables, The Pilgrim's Progress, Mrs. Rowe's Devout Exercises, The Academy of Compliments, Laugh and be Fat, A History of Pirates, Reynard the Fox, Pamela, La Belle Assembly, Clarissa, Peregrine Pickle, Gay's Fables, La Fontaine's Fables, Tom Jones, Heywood's novel, Abercromby's History of Scotland, The Spectator, The Ladies Library (3 vols.), A History of Birds (2 vols.), Voltaire's Letters, Robinson Crusoe, A History of Buccaneers, The Arabian Nights Entertainments (6 vols.), Milton's Paradise Lost, Thompson's Seasons, Valentine and Orson, The Whole Duty of Man, etc., etc.

It would be futile to continue the lists of books that were imported or republished by the printers and booksellers of New York, for they include all the new English publications. The London magazines came in with every ship,—and the Gentleman's Magazine, the Lady's Magazine, the London Magazine, La Belle Assemblee, etc., etc., could be purchased by those who were not special subscribers. Children were not forgotten, for we find books imported for them, especially at the Christmas season : " Pretty Books for Children ; " Pretty Books for Little Masters and Mistresses," constantly appear. In 1767, Garrat Noel was good enough to give a list of juvenile literature. He informed readers that he had " a very large parcel of Mr. Newberry's beautiful Gilt Picture books, for the Entertainment of his old friends, the pretty Masters and Misses of New York. Among them they will find : The History of Giles Gingerbread, Esq.

The History of Goody Two Shoes ; Nurse Truelove's Christmas Box and New Year's Gift; The Easter, Whitsuntide and Valentine's Gift; The Fairing, or Golden Toy,. The Little Lottery Book,. Be Merry and Wise; Master Tommy Tratwits; Jests and Poems for Children Six Feet High ; and Royal Primmer."

It was evidently the custom for many persons to buy their books in cheap covers and to have them bound to suit their own taste. As early as 1732 we learn that " Joseph Johnson, of the City of New York, Book-binder, is now set up Book-binding for himself as formerly and lives in Duke Street (commonly called Bayard's Street) near the Old Slip Market where all Persons in Town or Country, may have their books carefully and neatly new bound, either Plain or Gilt Reasonable."

Persons who borrowed books were not always careful to return them. We read in 1748 and 1749 :

"The she-person that has borrowed Mr. Tho. Brown's works from a gentleman she is well acquainted with, is desired to return them speedily."

" The person that so ingeniously borrowed Sir Isaac New-ton's works out of my printing office is earnestly desired to return them speedily, they being none of my property."

Again, in 1763, some one sends the following to the papers :

" Lent to some persons who have too much modesty to return them unasked-The first volume of Swift's works of a small edition. The ninth volume of the Critical Review. One volume of Tristram Shandy, and the first part of Candid. The owner's arms and name in each, who will be much obliged to the borrowers for the perusal of the above books when they have no further use for them."

There were two good libraries in the city. The oldest was the Society Library. On Oct. 21, 1754, the following notice was printed :

" Notice is hereby given to the proprietors of the New York Society Library that the books belonging to that library, lately imported, are placed for the present, by leave of the Corporation, in their library room in the City Hall; and that the same will be open twice in every week—i. e. on Tuesdays and Fridays from the hours of ten to twelve, when constant attendance will be given. The terms established by the trustees for the loan of books to non-subscribers are: to deposite in the hands of the librarian one third more than the value of the book borrowed, till it shall be returned, and to pay for the use of same when returned, as follows, viz : For a folio size, one month, 4s., for a quarto size, one month, 2S., octavo or lesser vol., one month, is. (one shilling per diem exceeding one month)."

Another circulating library owed its existence to the enterprise of Garrat Noel, the bookseller, who opened a library " consisting of several thousand volumes" in 1763, next door to the Merchant's Coffee House. In 1765, he advertised : "All persons that choose to spend their leisure hours in reading may be supplied from this source of laudable amusement a whole year at the easy rate of four dollars."

It may be interesting now to read a contemporary criticism of one of the popular novels of the day, written without any idea that it would be read save by the person to whom it was ad-dressed. This is contained in a letter dated June 29, 1743, and was written to his sister, Mary Parker, by Elisha Parker (see pages 302-'3), who sent the last two volumes of Pamela :

They are books that have been generally well esteemed of and read by your part of the world especially. I think 'em by far the most proper book of any I ever saw for the youth of both, but especially of your sex. Virtue is there painted in such lively and amiable colours with such great rewards attending it and the bad and its consequences of a vicious course of life so well described that it can't but deeply fix in the mind of an unprejudiced reader a lasting love of the one and utter abhorance of the other. I have too good an opinion of you to think the assistance of books is wanted. However, the more virtuously inclined the mind of any person is, the more will it delight in hearing of virtue praised and this with the advantage that it will be got by reading a stile so beautiful and natural as the stile of Pamela."

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