A LEGACY OF NEEDLEWORK- Part Three – Mary Linwood

Mary Linwood by Hoppner

Born in Birmingham, needlewoman Mary Linwood moved to Leicester with her family when she was nine, where her mother opened a private boarding school for young ladies in Belgrave Gate, and where Mary herself became a schoolmistress and later headmistress. Mary worked her first needlework picture at the age of 13 and went on to produce a collection of 64 pictures, specialising in full size copies of old master paintings that were worked worked using a combination of irregular and sloping stitches to more closely resemble paint.

By the age of 31, Mary had attracted the notice of many, including the royal family and in particular that of  especially Queen Charlotte, who had been such a champion of Mrs. Delany’s needlework. Mary moved to London and opened an exhibition of her work at The Panthenon, Oxford Street and in 1776 and 1778 her pictures were displayed at the exhibition of the Society of Artists. In 1785 she was summoned to court at Windsor by George III to show her work and according to the Morning Post there were ‘several pieces of needlework wrought in a style superior to anything of the kind yet attempted’ for which she received the Queen’s ‘highest encomiums.’ In the following year Mary sent examples of her work to the Society for the Encouragement of Arts and was awarded a medal. Word of her work spread and in 1783 the Empress Catherine of Russia accepted an example of her work, whilst the King of Poland was also numbered amongst her supporters.

An Exhibition of Mary Linwood’s needlework at Savile House, Leicester Square, London
Mary’s 1798 “needle painting” Partridges, after the painting by Moses Haughton, Exhibited at the Hanover Square Rooms

In 1798 Mary began a series of exhibitions in n the Hanover Square Concert Rooms where she showed thirty nine copies of her work. In 1809, the collection moved into a permanent gallery at Savile House, Leicester Square, the former studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds, the property of the Earl of Aylesbury, where she held an exhibition of fifty-five ‘needle paintings.’  The exhibition remained opened until her death in 1845. She was a regular tourist attraction, mentioned in Curiosities of London and Mogg’s New Picture of London and Visitors’ Guide to its Sights in which the writer observed: “This beautiful style of needlework is the invention of a Leicestershire lady, and consists of fifty nine of the finest pictures in the English and foreign schools of art, possessing all the correct drawing, just colouring and light and shade of the original pictures from which they are taken; in a word, Miss Linwood’s exhibition is one of the most beautiful the metropolis can boast and should unquestionably be witnessed, as it deserves to be, by every admirer of art.”

Mary’s exhibitions were the first to be lit by gas lighting to enable viewing late into the afternoon and she displayed each picture in a specially designed scene, her work being popular for nearly 50 years. Other exhibitions were held in Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and Dublin. The pictures appear to have been cleverly set for picturesque effect. The principal room, a fine gallery, was hung with scarlet cloth, trimmed with gold; and at the end was a throne and canopy of satin and silver. A long dark passage led to a prison cell, in which was Northcote’s Lady Jane Grey Visited by the Abbot and Keeper of the Tower at Night; the scenic illusion being complete. Next was a cottage, with casement and hatch-door, and within it Gainsborough’s Cottage Children, standing by the fire, with chimney-piece and furniture complete. Near to this was a den, with lionesses; and further on, through a cavern aperture was a brilliant sea-view and picturesque shore. The large picture by Carlo Dolci had appropriated to it an entire room. The large saloons of Savile House were well adapted for these exhibition purposes, by insuring distance and effect.

View of Mary Linwood’s Gallery, watercolour c. 1810. V&A

A mention in Chambers’ Book of Days tells us that: The pictures were executed with fine crewels, dyed under Miss Linwood’s own superintendence, and worked on a thick tammy woven expressly for her use: they were entirely drawn and embroidered by herself, no background or other important parts being put in by a less skilful hand—the only assistance she received, if such it may be called, was in the threading of her needles.

And from Mogg’s New Picture of London and Visitor’s Guide to it Sights for 1844: Miss Linwood’s Exhibition of needlework is one of those which has not ceased to create an interest after its novelty had in a measure subsided, and is deserving, did the pages of this work permit, of a minute description. This beautiful style of picturesque needlework is the invention of a Leicestershire lady, and consists, at present of 59 copies of the finest pictures of the English and foreign schools of art, possessing all the correct drawing, just colouring, and light and shade, of the original pcitures from which they were taken; in a word, Miss Linwood’s exhibition is one of the most beautiful the metropolis can boast, and should unquestionably by witnessed, as it deserves to be, by every admirer of art.

Napoleon, embroidered in wool by Mary Linwood in 1825, from the collection  at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The technique of this portrait is known as needlepainting, a type of embroidery, in which oils or other paintings were faithfully copied, with the brush strokes rendered by stitches worked in crewel wool. In 1808 Talleyrand introduced Mary to Napoleon, whose portrait she embroidered twice. He wanted her to take her exhibition to Paris, but was prevented by the outbreak of war between the two countries. Mary received the Freedom of Paris from him in 1825 for the portrait above.

In Music and Friends: or, Pleasant Recollections of a Dilettante, author William Gardiner writes:

“I have understood that Miss Linwood’s mode is analogous to that of a painter; she first sketches the outline, then the parts in detail, and brings out the whole of the design by degrees. I once saw her at work, accoutred as she was with pincushions all round her, stuck with needles, threaded with worsted of every colour, and after having touched the picture with a needle, instead of a brush, she would recede five or six paces back to view the effect. Leicester was a convenient place for dyeing her worsteds; still there were many colours she could not obtain: but being a woman of great genius, she set to work and dyed them herself. Miss Linwood’s skill was well known before she opened her exhibition in London, and it was a common practice for amateurs, in passing through Leicester, to stop and solicit a sight of her extraordinary performances.”

In 1844, during her annual visit to her Exhibition in London, Mary was taken ill and conveyed in an invalid carriage to Leicester, where her health rallied for a time, but a severe attack of influenza terminated her life in her ninetieth year. Mary had continued to exhibit her work until her death. Her last work, completed when she was 75 years of age, was The Judgement of Cain, which had taken her a decade to complete.

Upon her death, Mary’s collection of 100 pictures was offered to the British Museum who could not accommodate it. The work was auctioned at Mr. Christie’s auction rooms at Saville House on 23 April 1846 with the exception of a few. In her will she left her embroidered picture after Salvator Mundi by the seventeenth century Carlo Dolci to Queen Victoria. Mary had previously been offered three thousand guineas for this piece by the Marquis of Exeter of Burleigh House which she had refused. The whole collection fetched a disappointing £300. Her work is now in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Leicester Museum and Kew Palace.  Mary Linwood was buried in St Margaret’s Church, Leicester.

A LEGACY OF NEEDLEWORK – Part Two – Mrs. Delany Continued

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit an exhibition called “Mrs. Delany and Her Circle,” at the Yale Center for British Art. The show, organized by the Center for British Art and Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, included work in every conceivable medium.

Tiffany and Company were inspired to create a china pattern called “Mrs. Delany’s Flowers.”

One of the items included in the exhibition was the needlework Mrs. Delany executed on a black ground for the court dress mentioned in a previous post and shown here.

The piece of fabric was placed between two panes of glass, allowing visitors to examine it closely. I have been doing crewel, embroidery and needlepoint for decades and must say that I’ve never seen anything so astonishing. Mrs. Delany’s stitches were neat and well placed, but that was only the beginning. The reverse of the fabric had been as neatly wrought as the front, with nary a knot in sight. The threads were as vibrantly coloured today as they must have been two hundred years ago, showing the detail of the design and the subtlety of color variations throughout the work. It is astonishing to realize that the designs for Mrs. Delany’s work originated in her own mind. Perhaps she worked her pieces directly from that picture in her mind’s eye. However, she was also able to translate those designs onto other pieces of fabrics and to write instructions and colour directions down, thus making needlework “kits” for her friends and family to execute.

In 1861, Augusta Hall (Baroness Llanover) edited a volume called The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany. In the appendix, the editor wrote:

“Were it possible to give a list of the work designed and executed by Mrs. Delany with the needle, independent of the quantity of various works in various ways designed by her for her friends to execute, it would be a much more extraordinary exemplification of what may be achieved by human industry and ingenuity, aided by natural talent, than the catalogue of her paintings. The Editor is not able to give an account of more than the specimens of Mrs. Delany’s needlework which are in her own possession, and that of her sister, and a few other relations. Of these are a number of chairs, the backs and seats of which are embroidered in a manner entirely different to anything that has ever (in the knowledge of the Editor) been done for a similar purpose. They consist of magnificent groups of flowers from nature, some on light and some on dark grounds, all different from each other, and all executed in worsted chenille, (made upon linen thread;) possessing the finest semi-tones of colour, which produce a variety of tint and harmony, as well as depth of colour, which never appear in the modern dyes of wool of any description. Some of these chairs are worked in embroidery stitch upon canvas, by which means the utmost freedom of outline was possible, and the most exact imitation of nature. In other sets of chairs cloth was used as the ground upon which the outline of the flowers must have been sketched, and the shades and colours filled in by sewing down the worsted chenilles by the eye, and cutting them off where required. These specimens prove Mrs. Delany’s marvellous talent for design, as well as ability in execution, and are suitable for furniture which though ornamental was yet useful; but there also exist bed hangings, and chair and sofa covers, which combine in as remarkable a manner striking effect with every day utility. Some of these were the covers of her drawing-room chairs in London, where the ground was brilliant dark blue linen, bordered with leaves cut out by herself in white linen, and edged and veined with white knotting of different sorts and thickness, sewed down along the edge. A bed completed by herself, and her sister Ann Granville, was of nankeen, with designs executed in white linen, for the headboard and hangings, all different, but well adapted to the various parts, and of a washing material, the durability of which as well as the excellence of the work is best proved by its endurance for near a hundred years in continual use! Mrs. Delany did not employ silk for her furniture, but woollen or linen materials; and the worsted chenilles, made on linen thread, never were attacked by the moths: there is now a box of them in the Editor’s possession left from Mrs. Delany’s work, which are still fit for use; it ought also to be mentioned that all these chenilles were wound on two cards folded together by herself in a peculiar manner, which prevented the chenilles being cut by the edges of the cards.”

Mrs. Delany died April 10th, 1788, and was interred in a vault belonging to St. James’ church, where a monument has been erected to her memory.

For further reading on Mrs. Delany read Mrs. Delany: Her Life and Her Flowers by Ruth Hayden (ISBN: 071418022X / 0-7141-8022-X ); Mrs. Delany (Mary Granville): A Memoir, 1700-1788 by George Paston (ISBN: 1150362642 ) and The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany by Augusta Hall (Baroness Llanover).

A LEGACY OF NEEDLEWORK – Mrs. Delany

Mary Granville, or Mrs. Delany, is remembered for her letters and for her elaborate paper flower work and her magnificent needlework. What’s most remarkable about Mrs. Delany is the fact that she only hit her artistic stride after reaching the age of 72! Twice widowed with no children, Mrs. Delany became a royal favorite and sought after by society, numbering Handel, Jonathan Swift, the Duchess of Portland, Fanny Burney and the king and queen of England among her closest friends, all while executing an astonishing body of work that includes the Flora Delanica – almost 1,000 botanical collages that took a decade to complete.

Mary Granville was married at seventeen to the Cornish squire, Alexander Pendarves of Roscrow, who was more than forty years older than she and described by a contemporary as being ‘ugly, disagreeable and gouty’. After he died in 1724, Mary discovered that she’d been left annuity in the hundreds of pounds, far less than she’d anticipated, yet enough to allow her travel amongst relatives and forge ties and friendships that would serve her well in later life.

In the following years, Mary designed an unusual court dress of intricately detailed floral embroidery on black satin. Portions of the dress, preserved in frames by her heirs, reveal the sort of attention to detail that would later be the hallmark of her lifelike floral collages.

While in Dublin in 1740, Mary met Patrick Delany, a Anglican cleric, widower and close friend of Swift’s who would become her second husband in 1743. The marriage was a true love match and Mary flourished under Mr. Delany’s affection and his support of her talents. She had her own workroom at their home in Ireland, with a large bow window overlooking the gardens. Here, Mary made landscape drawings, silhouettes and “japanned” (lacquered) objects. A larger project was the garden grotto Mary designed and executed at  Alexander Pope’s estate.

Upon Mr. Delany’s death in 1768, Mary took up residence with her friend and fellow widow the Duchess of Portland. It was the Duchess who introduced Mrs. Delany to Queen Charlotte, and she became a firm favourite at court, where her talents, intellect and ‘social refinement’ were much admired.

Mrs Delany’s tools from needlework pocket-book, given by Queen Charlotte to Mrs Delany, 1781.

The Duchess of Portland died in 1785, and the King and Queen, concerned for the welfare of their old friend, offered Mrs. Delany an annuity and a small house at Windsor.

Queen Charlotte

On September 3rd, Queen Charlotte wrote: ‘My dear Mrs. Delany will be glad to hear that I am charged by the king to summon her to her new abode at Windsor for Tuesday next, when she will find all the most essential parts of the house ready, excepting some little trifles that it will be better for Mrs. Delany to direct herself in person or by her little deputy, Miss Port. I need not, I hope, add that I shall be extremely glad and happy to see so amiable an inhabitant in this our sweet retreat, and wish very sincerely that our dear Mrs. Delany may enjoy every blessing among us that her merits deserve, and that we may long enjoy her amiable company. Amen. These are the true sentiments of my dear Mrs. Delany’s very affectionate queen, Charlotte.’

Mrs. Delany wrote the following account of her arrival at Windsor to her friend Mrs. Hamilton : ‘I arrived here about eight o’clock in the evening and found his Majesty in the house ready to receive me. I threw myself at his feet, indeed unable to utter a word; he raised and saluted me, and said he meant not to stay longer than to desire I would order everything that could make the house comfortable and agreeable to me, and then retired. Truly, I found nothing wanting, as it is as pleasant and commodious as I could wish it to be, with a very pretty garden, which joins that of the Queen’s Lodge. The next morning her Majesty sent one of her ladies to know how I had rested, and how I was in health, and whether her coming would not be troublesome. I was lame, and therefore could not go down to the door as I ought to have done, but her Majesty came upstairs. Our meeting was mutually affecting; she well knew the value of what I had lost, and it was some time after we were seated before either of us could speak. She repeated in the strongest terms her wish and the king’s, that I should be as easy and happy as they could possibly make me; that they waived all ceremony, and desired to come to me as friends! The queen also delivered me a paper from the king: it contained the first quarter of £300 per annum, which his majesty allows me out of his privy purse. Their majesties have drunk tea with me five times, and the princesses three. They generally stay two hours or longer. In short, I have either seen them or heard of them every day, but I have not yet been at the Queen’s Lodge, though they have expressed impatience for me to come, as I have still so sad a drawback on my spirits that I must decline that honour till I am better able to enjoy it, and they have the goodness not to press me. Their visits here are paid in the most quiet, private manner, like those of the most consoling, disinterested friends; so that I may truly say they are a royal cordial, and I see very few people besides. I have been three times in the king’s private chapel at early prayers, where the royal family constantly attend, and they walk home to breakfast afterwards, whilst I am conveyed in a very elegant chair which the king has made me a present of for that purpose.

While at Windsor, Mrs. Delany would befriend Fanny Burney and receive regular visits from Mrs. Garrick, the late actor’s widow. Perhaps it was the Duchess of Portland’s friendship that had the most influence on the art Mrs. Delany would undertake later in life. Each year, Mrs. Delany made a visit of several months to Bulstrode, the duchess’s estate in Buckinghamshire, where she had access to an extraordinary cabinet of curiosities that included rare and exotic plants and flowers. Also at Bulstrode were the botanist John Lightfoot, the botanical artist Georg Dionysius Ehret and other advocates of the revolutionary taxonomy developed by the Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus. Mrs. Delany observed their dissections of flowers and taught herself the art of the “hortus siccus,” or pressed-flower composition. These experiments would give her the knowledge and understanding of flowers that would breathe life into her collages.

Eventually, Mrs. Delany devised a means of cutting tiny pieces of paper to create her flower collages and she went on to create several volumes of these ‘paper mosaic’ plants and flowers. So amazing were their realistic qualities that King George III ordered the volumes to be preserved in the British Museum “as a standard work of art unparalleled for accuracy of drawing, form, and perspective, as well as colouring, truth of outline, and close resemblance to nature.” Horace Walpole called her collages “precision and truth unparalleled,” while author William Gilpin wrote, “These flowers have both the beauty of painting, and the exactness of botany.”

Part Two coming soon!

VICTORIA AND ALBERT – ART AND LOVE

Eight years ago (!?) Victoria and I were fortunate enough to attend the Victoria & Albert exhibition in London. Over the years, we have traveled the length and breadth of England together and have had some fabulous experiences, but the one experience we always come back to is this one. It stands alone. In fact, we recently reminisced about it again when we were in England in May, so we’ve decided to run this post, which originally ran in 2010, again for anyone who missed it then.

One of the highlights of the London leg of our tour, and one of the visits Victoria and I had been most looking forward to, was the Victoria and Albert: Art and Love Exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace. I knew it was going to be fabulous, but had no idea how deeply it would affect me.

Upon going through the security checkpoint, we ascended the stone steps to the first gallery in the Exhibition. As we entered, the first thing Victoria and I saw was the portrait below hanging on the far wall.

Winterhalter’s now iconic painting was intended to hang at the family retreat of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. It was exhibited in 1847 at St James’s Palace, where it was seen by 100,000 people. However, the picture was not well received by some of the Press, who criticised its ”sensuous and fleshy” character. Having seen this image over and over in various books, and having a framed print of it in my office, it was breathtaking to realize that we were now gazing upon the original. Once I’d gotten over the initial shock, I looked around the rest of the room, only to find myself being presented with almost every well known, and loved, portrait of the Royal Family done by Winterhalter – in the flesh, so to speak. And all in the same room.  Good thing there were benches provided, as I had to sit down and collect myself.
This gorgeous portrait, commissioned by Queen Victoria and given to Prince Albert on his birthday, 26 August 1843, hung on an adjoining wall. Victoria was just 24 when Winterhalter completed the painting, which was later described as her husband Albert’s “favourite picture.” It’s always been one of my favorites, too, most especially because it breaks the “Victorian” mould by showing Victoria as she was with Albert – a passionate, sensuous woman deeply in love with her Prince.
Queen Victoria and her cousin the Duchess of Neomurs 1852

The painting above captures Queen Victoria with her cousin,Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld-Kohary, who was the daughter of Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Princess Antonie de Kohary. Her father was the second son of Francis Frederick, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Augusta Reuss-Ebersdorf. She married Louis d’Orléans, Duc de Nemours, on 27 April 1840, in Saint-Cloud. Depicted with her hair down and shoulder exposed, Winterhalter again captured Victoria, the young woman, rather than Victoria, the Queen.  She looks relaxed and quite girl-ish as she sits companionably with and holds her cousin’s hand.
The two full length portraits above were commissioned from Winterhalter in 1842.
The First of May: The Duke of Wellington Presenting a Casket on Prince Arthur’s Birthday
Yes, this painting above was also hanging in the same room. I got as close as possible to the canvas and studied the way Winterhalter had painted the fabrics, the skin tones. Truly amazing.

Also in the same gallery were the two portraits below by Edwin Landseer –

Victoria, Princess Royal, with Eos 1841
Eos, A Favorite Greyhound, the Property of H.R.H. Prince Albert. 1841

Queen Victoria commissioned this portait of Eos, Prince Albert’s greyhound, about which I’ve posted before. Prince Albert got Eos when he was fourteen years old and brought her with him when he moved to England. This is another print that I’ve had framed in my office for years. The subject matter, the composition and Landseer’s use of four colors – white, black, red and gold – make this a striking portrait that’s always appealed to me. Eos herself lived a fascinating life, about which I’ll be posting soon. I hadn’t realized just how large the original painting is – 111.8 x 142.9 cm. or about 4 x 5 feet. Another bench was well placed directly before this portrait and I sat gazing at it for sometime. Eventually, I did rouse myself and went to see the rest of the rooms in the Exhibition but, truly, my mind and my heart remained in the first Gallery, to which I returned after a decent interval, telling Vicky she’d find me there whenever she was ready to go.

There were so many highlights on our trip, but I’ll always be grateful for our visit to Art and Love, which gave us the opportunity to see so many of these paintings hanging beside each other. No doubt it will be a long time before that occurs again and I will always remember the special meaning that day had for both Victoria and myself.

Victoria H. chiming in here with a few more favorites from the exhibition. The catalogue says one of these apple blossom brooches was the first gift Albert sent to his fiance. In later years he added to the collection, including more gold, porcelain and enamel brooches and a wreath for the hair. Victoria always wore them on her wedding anniversary.
This piano of gilded, painted and varnished mahogany and other materials dates from 1856. Both Victoria and Albert played, often performing duets for themselves which Albert had written. The grand piano was designed to be a showpiece in the Buckingham Palace State Rooms. One of the most prominent persons to play it was the composer Felix Mendelssohn, who was a friend of the royal couple.
A throne of carved ivory with gold and gemstone decorations was shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851, presented to Queen Victoria by the Maharaja of Travancore.  In 1876, when she became Empress of India, she was pictured sitting on this throne.  The detail is amazing.  One of the guards told us that it needed to be cleaned recently and when it was being disassembled, the curators of the Royal Collection found that it was cleverly constructed to fold up entirely flat.  Made it much easier to ship from India, for sure.
Landseer painted Victoria and Albert in their outfits for the first costume ball they held in 1842. The Buckingham Palace Throne Room was decorated with gothic tenting to delight the 2,000+ guests. Victoria is dressed as Queen Philippa of Hainault, consort of Edward III, portrayed here by Albert. The catalogue says these costumes were designed to give maximum employment to the silk weavers of Spitalfields.
Queen Victoria commissioned marble copies of her children’s forearms and feet. The carvings were based on a plaster cast made from moulds taken while the child slept. This is the hand of Victoria, Princess Royal.
We could go on almost forever about ths fascinating exhibit, but I will close with something unexpected. Neither Victoria nor Albert had a large sum of money to spend on gifts for each other. About 2,000 pounds each per year, which is not peanuts, but neither would a comparable amount in today’s values buy a Van Gogh or Monet.  So they shopped and chose very carefully, often commissioning gifts for each other based on their individual or mutual interests.  Sometimes Albert gave Victoria a song he had written and she gifted him with watercolours of their homes, favorite places and the children.
When one sees how devoted they were to each other and how they enjoyed their family life, it is easier to understand Victoria’s intense sorrow and long, long period of mourning for Albert when he died at the relatively young age of 42, leaving her a widow for 40 years until her own death in 1901.
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Interested in all things Victorian? Consider joining us on the Queen Victoria Tour as we explore Her Majesty’s life, homes and long reign.

ALL THE RIGHT SNUFF

Many snuff-takers, following the example of Frederick the Great of Prussia, made it a hobby to collect snuff-boxes, Beau Brummell having had a very curious and extensive assortment. On one occasion, when dining at Portman Square, on the removal of the cloth, the snuff-boxes made their appearance, and Brummell’s was particularly admired. It was handed round for inspection, and a gentleman, finding it rather difficult to open, incautiously applied a dessert knife to the lid. Poor Brummell was on thorns. At last he could not contain himself any longer, and, addressing the host, said, with his characteristic quaintness — “Will you be good enough to tell your friend that my snuff-box is not an oyster?”

Tortoise shell and silver snuff box,
courtesy of Ernest Johnson Antiques

Beau Brummell also prided himself on his graceful manner of opening the snuff-box with one hand only—the left. Judging from a satirical advertisement which appeared in the Spectator, it would seem that much attention was paid to this act, which afforded an opportunity of displaying the jewelled finger. So important was the act of opening a snuff box that classes were offered:

“The exercise of the snuffbox, according to the most fashionable airs and motions in opposition to the exercise of the fan, will be taught with the best plain or perfumed snuff, at Charles Lillie’s, perfumer, at the corner of Beaufort Buildings, in the Strand, and attendance given for the benefit of the young merchants about the Exchange for two hours every day, at noon, except Saturdays, at a toy-shop, near Garraway’s Coffee House. There will be likewise taught the ceremony of the snuff-box, or rules for offering snuff to a stranger, a friend, or a mistress, according to the degrees of familiarity or distance, with an explanation of the careless, the scornful, the politic, and the surly pinch, and the gestures proper to each of them.”

Another great collector of snuff-boxes was Edward Wortley Montagu, the eccentric son of Lady Mary, who is said to have possessed more boxes than “would suffice a Chinese idol with a hundred noses,” a collection which perhaps was never equalled unless by that of George IV, who was not less extravagant and recherche in snuff and snuff-boxes than in other things.

Then there was Lord Petersham, who boasted a stock of snuffs worth three thousand pounds, while he had boxes adapted for all occasions— boxes for winter wear, boxes for summer use. Indeed, the story goes that he had a different box for every day in the year, and Captain Gronow saw him one day use a beautiful Sevres box, which on being admired, he said, “was a nice summer box, but would not do for winter wear.” He was a great connoisseur of snuffs, and “Lord Petersham’s Mixture” has long been proverbial as a popular snuff. He actually devoted one room of his mansion in Whitehall Gardens to properly storing his snuff. That room was a curiosity in its way, with its rows of well-made jars, and proper materials of all kinds for the due admixture, and management, of the snuffs they contained, under the able superintendence of a well-informed man, who was the guardian angel thereof. After the earl’s death the collection was sold, and prices that seem fabulous to the uninitiated were realized for the finer sorts.

Lord Stanhope used to calculate that a regular snuff-taker took one pinch every ten minutes, each pinch, and its accompanying ceremonies, occupying a minute and a half. One minute and a half out of every ten, it has been pointed out, if sixteen hours be allowed to the day, gives two hours and twenty-four minutes per day, or thirty-six and a half days in the year as the time wasted by a snuff-taker upon his nose.

On the other hand, Talleyrand defended snufftaking, not as a habit, but on principle. He maintained that all diplomatists ought to take snuff, as it afforded them an opportunity of delaying a reply which they might not have ready at hand. It further sanctioned, he said, the removal of one’s eyes from those of the interrogator, and occupied the hands, which otherwise might betray a nervous fidget calculated to expose, rather than conceal, his feelings.

Dryden was a snuff-taker, and was in the habit of frequenting Willis’ Coffee House, in Bow Street, Covent Garden, which consequently became one of the leading resorts of the wits of his time. Thus Ned Ward relates in his ” London Spy ” how “a parcel of raw, second-rate beaux and wits were conceited if they had but the honour to dip a finger into Mr. Dryden’s snuff-box.”

The eleventh Earl of Buchan—brother of Thomas Erskine, who by the force of his eloquence rose to be Lord Chancellor of England—was remarkable for his penuriousness, and eccentricity. In the year 1782 the Goldsmiths of Edinburgh presented him with a mounted snuff-box, made from the tree to which William Wallace had once been indebted for his safety. Ten years afterwards, however, Lord Buchan obtained permission from the Goldsmiths to give the snuff-box to Washington, at that time President of the United States. As a reason for so doing he maintained that Washington was the only man in the world to whom he thought the snuff-box justly due.

When a Mrs. Sterne was about to join her husband in Paris, in the year 1762, he wrote:— “You will find good tea upon the road from York to Dover. Only bring a little to carry you from Calais to Paris. Give the Custom-house Officer what I told you. At Calais give more, if you have much Scotch snuff; but, as tobacco is good here, you had best bring a Scotch mull, and make it yourself—that is, order your valet to manufacture it, ’twill keep him out of mischief;” and in another letter he adds, “You must be cautious about Scotch snuff; take half-a-pound in your pocket, and make Lyd do the same.”

When manager of Drury Lane Theatre, Garrick brought into fashion a particular snuff mixture. It appears that a man named Hardham had been his numberer—to count the audience in the theatre—and on inventing his
“mixture,” Garrick rendered him the following service. Whilst enacting the character of a man of fashion on the stage, Garrick offered a pinch of his snuff to a fellow comedian, observing that it was the most fashionable mixture of the day, and to be had only at Hardham’s, 37, Fleet Street. As may be imagined, the puff answered beyond Garrick’s expectation, and for many years afterwards Hardham’s was the favourite mixture, when snuff-taking was the rage and fashion of the time. It may be added that Hardham, having made a large fortune by his snuff trade in Fleet Street, retired to Chichester, where he died in the year 1772, bequeathing a portion of his well-earned wealth to charitable institutions of that city, which, by-the-bye, was his native place.


Sir Joshua Reynolds took snuff so freely when he was painting that it occasionally inconvenienced his sitters. The story goes that when he was painting the large picture at Blenheim of the Marlborough family, the Duchess one day ordered the servant to bring a broom and sweep up Sir Joshua’s snuff from the carpet; but Reynolds, who would not permit any interruption while engaged in his studio, ordered him to let the snuff remain until the completion of his picture, observing that the dust, raised by the broom, would do more injury to his picture than the snuff could possibly do to the carpet.

According to another story, a gentleman told Wilkie he’d sat to Sir Joshua, “who dabbled in a quantity of snuff, laid the picture on its back, shook it about till it settled like a batter-pudding, and then painted away.”