pearls before frogs

Escoffier once prepared a special dish, “Nymphs’ Thighs”, for Nellie Melba, Lily Langtry, the Prince of Wales and Duc d’Orleans. The recipe called for frogs’ legs poached in a court-bouillon with white wine and placed on a layer of champagne jelly with chervil and tarragon leaves between the legs to resemble grass.

image by Milanko

The Prince travelled to Paris, where a far more daring dish was served. When the lid of an enormous tray was raised, there lay before him the celebrated courtesan Cora Pearl, naked save for sprigs of parsley and a rope of pearls.

Coral Pearl

Cora fancied herself as a singer and dancer and often supplemented the income from her wealthy clients with theatrical performances.

“Cora’s artistic rebirth on the Paris stage was a breath of spring for a country anxious about the possibility of war. Determined at last to be seen as an artist, and not merely as a hard working woman, Cora spared no expense, and emerged on the stage in a very provocative costume that left little to the imagination. She had learned from the Italian Masters that there was nothing shameful about the human form, as long as it was exposed for noble purposes. Accentuating the outfit was a pair of boots that caused a gasp of astonishment in the crowded theater. Knee high, they were buttoned with diamonds the size of easter eggs, and the soles were encrusted with more precious stones from toe to heel. One nobleman, a Count, was seized by the desire to own them, and offered 50,000 francs for the chance – twice that if Cora would wear them when she relinquished possession. Though nothing is known of the outcome of this transaction, the evidence will show that Cora was always malleable when it came to men, and quite probably acquiesced to his request, if only so as not to hurt his feelings.


Cora was the trendsetter of 1860s France. Whatever she did, the nation followed. One day, in a lighted-hearted moment of whimsy, she dyed her hair to match the upholstery of her carriage, and the women of France followed suit. She had learned of a cunning make-up house in London, and began to have silver and crushed pearl face powders sent from across the Channel. She even shocked Parisian sensibilities by browning herself in the summer months, something unheard of at the time.

match your rocking horse’s hair to your own

When the Franco-Prussian War begun Cora proved her mettle, and a heroism unparalleled in the history of high society was revealed for the world to see. She turned her largest house into a hospital for officers, ripping apart her curtains and table linens to make bandages for wounded officers.

Torn Curtain by Robert Pyle

After the war ended, Cora attempted to pick up the pieces of her life. One man, Alexander Duval, harassed her constantly. He threw so much money at her that she didn’t know what to do. She tried to make him understand that she could never love him but he pulled out a gun and shot himself on her doorstep.

So overcome was she that she quite forgot to summon help, naturally thinking that others, too, had heard the shot and would do so. At her first social engagement after the shooting, she was stunned to realize that gossips were saying that she had left Mr. Duval to die on her steps, out of a cold-hearted indifference to his plight.

She was forced to sell her possessions and move to a shabby rooming house, where she died in 1886.

Instead of a sad, lonely farewell from a society that had used her and cast her aside, Cora’s funeral was a fairy-tale event organised by a mysterious benefactor, who paid anonymously for the largest, most lavish burial that France had ever seen

image (2010) here

Published in: on October 26, 2010 at 7:29 am  Comments (36)  
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a snuff coloured beaver

Not long after tobacco was introduced to Europe, snuff taking was developed.

making snuff

A huge snuff user was the Emperor of France, Napoleon I (1769-1821). It was estimated that he would use three kilograms of tobacco monthly. He did it often during the day, as in his time, there was not yet a way of consuming enough tobacco to last a whole day. It was a year before his death that the snuff double barrel pistol was invented . The amunition chamber was filled with tobacco and the barrels were placed under the nose, the trigger was pulled, and the shot delivered enough tobacco to the nose to last for an entire day.

snuff bottles

Not everyone was taken with the pistol up the nose method and different social classes used different ways to inhale.

The French historian Henri d’Allemagne aptly describes this:

“To take snuff, people of noble birth were meant to tap on the lid, take a few grains with the tip of their slender fingers, to make a slight gesture and to inhale the powder with ecstasy.

On the contrary, the countryman digged his thumb and forefinger inside the snuff box in order to take out a large pinch of tobacco, putting it on the back of his left hand and snorted it in a noisy way while rubbing his nose.”

Record of a Sneeze

In 1904 Margaret Thompson demonstrated her love for snuff by including these instructions in her will

“I Margaret Thompson being of sound mind etc. do desire that when my soul is departed from this wicked world, my body and effects may be disposed of in the manner following: I desire that all my handkerchiefs that I may have unwashed at the time of my decease, after they have been got together by my old and trusty servant Sara Stewart, to be put by her, and by her alone, at the bottom of my coffin, which I desire may be made large enough for the purpose, together with such quantity of the best Scotch snuff as will cover my Deceased body.

But I strictly charge that no man may be suffered to approach my body till the coffin is closed, and as it is necessary to carry me to my burial which I order in the following manner: Six men to be my bearers who are known to be the greatest snuff takers in the parish of St. James, Westminster.

Instead of mourning, each to wear a snuff coloured beaver hat which I desire to be bought for the purpose and given to them. Six maidens of my old acquaintance to bear my pall, each to wear a proper hood, and to carry a box filled with the best Scotch snuff to take as their refreshment as they go along.

modifications of the beaver hat

I desire my old and faithful servant, Sarah Stewart, to walk before the corpse and to distribute every twenty yards a large handful of Scotch snuff to the ground and upon the crowd who may possibly follow me to my burial place on which condition I bequeathe her £20. And I also desire that at least two bushels of said snuff may be distributed at the door of my house in Boyle Street.”

No snuff was required at King George V’s funeral cortege

Published in: on June 5, 2010 at 8:21 am  Comments (34)  
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