Wit, Women, and Wine...

One of the things a woman had to have to be educated was to be highly born or have money - well, both, in fact. And rich married women were, for the most part, hostesses, which means they entertained people in their houses, providing them with all sorts of amusements. And one of those amusements was witty conversations.

A woman, was she a wife or mistress, entertained for several reasons, one of them being to entertain, in the case of a wife, people that could in a way help her husband in his career, and, in the case of a mistress, the lover or possible lovers. It was a kind of common knowledge that a good wife had to, 1: bear a heir; 2: keep house; and 3: entertain guests.

But not many women entertained for the pleasure of witty conversation. In the eighteenth century, it seems there was less prejudice against a woman with brains than in a later period, such as the Regency. Let's not forget that the eighteenth century was indeed the century of enlightment, and that the clever, highly educated and witty women were not few; women that held salons with writers, philosophers, artists of all sorts, such as Madame Geoffrin. Wit was also visible in letters, that were at first a manly ocupation, but as time went by, gradually transformed into a feminine one, in which ladies could demonstrate all their wit!

If the 18th century was known to be a period of enlightment and witty and inteligent conversation, the Regency was known as the Age of Scandal. Certain behaviours that were considered normal in the society of this period would be absolutely scandalous and unnaceptable in the 18th century. A little more prejudice against women with education and inteligence apperead, and people were more devoted to flirting and dancing all the night long than anything else. More improper and scandalous settings provided guests with games of all sorts, including one game of "guessing the kiss". Wow...

Still, there was a quality that was required if you wanted to be perfect, or at least interesting: you had to be able to make witty conversation and entertain people with it. You could be considered vulgar and uninteresting if you didn't know how to converse in an inteligent manner. And one of the most popular games was charades. Some of them were particularly difficult, and required clever people to solve them.

And to all those men who thought they were the only ones capable of witty conversation, an intelligent brain, and whatever else, I dedicate this. Lord Westmorland, a dandy, said this as an answer to a remark made to him by Louis XVIII: "Je wouldrai si je couldrai, mais je ne cannais pas".


The Glass Harmoinca

Remember I told you, dear reads, in the last post, that I'd talk about the Glass Harmonica? Well here I am!

In 1772, Metastase describes the instrument in one of his letters. He said that curious instrument was made of cristal or glass cilinders or rings, that are put together in order of size (from the biggest to the smallest) and are put in a sort of support that spins fast. The player of the instrument touched the cilinders with bare hands, as if it was the keyboard of an organ or harpsichord, and produced an extremely suave sound...

Gluck himself played this instrument, accompanied with an orquestra, and Mozart even composed for it. But wait, the surprises are not over! Benjamin Franklin invented one glass harmonica himself!

"In Franklin's treadle operated version 37 bowls were mounted horizontally on an iron spindle. The whole spindle turned by means of a foot pedal. The sound was produced by touching the rims of the bowls with moistened fingers. Rims were painted different colors according to the pitch of the note. A's were dark blue, B's purple, C's red, D's orange, E's yellow, F's green, G's blue,and accidentals white.With the Franklin design it is possible to play ten glasses simultaneously if desired, a technique that is very difficult if not impossible to execute using upright goblets. Franklin also advocated the use of a small amount of powdered chalk on the fingers which helped produce a clear tone in the same way rosin is applied to the bows of string instruments."

What would you say of that?

There are several different names given tot he glass harmonica according to the language, such as glassharmonica, glass armonica, Armonica de verre in French, Glasharmonika in German, and then a name that I defy you to pronounce: hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica. Isn't that one creepy? It's composed of Greek words and basically means: "harmonica to produce music for the soul by fingers dipped in water". Music for the soul... wonderful!

However, the glass harmonica stated to lose its popularity. Rumors (a tipical 18th century thing!) said that players would go mad, and also the animals in the house of the player. The instrument would make people go into a deep transe and depression, and even shorten their lives! It was forbidden in the 19th century. People also feared that the players suffered from lead poisoning, since it was made with lead glass. However, this was never proven, and in those times, not only harmonica players suffered from lead poisoning - many people did!

Before you leave, take this link with you:


The music is by Mozart. Isn't that sound from the other world?

I hope you enjoyed this short introduction of the glass harmonica!