Victorian Perfumes

I’m glad I found this little article “Perfumes and Perfumery” in an 1888 issue of Good Housekeeping. I’ll feel more confident describing my Victorian characters as smelling of lavender, clove, jasmine, or patchouli.

ATCHOULY is an East Indian perfume and was of rare popularity when first brought into prominence as a handkerchief extract by the élite. Of a peculiar heavy smell in its full strength, when diluted as an extract it resembles very much a mixture of camphor and snakeroot (wild ginger). Patchouly is one of the most powerful odors amongst oils, and can be made with other perfumes into exquisite and most harmonious extracts, being possessed of rare qualifications in this respect; or being injudiciously handled may create a very discordant smell.

An extract for the handkerchief is made thus:

Extract Patchouly.

Oil patchouly, one-half dram; cologne spirit, eight ounces. Mix. If desired sweeter, add otto rose, ten drops, oil sandalwood, five drops.

La Toilette
Louise Catherine Breslau

Vetivert is another East Indian perfume, peculiar in its character and not much liked. It assimilates with sandal wood and patchouly, more particularly the latter. Has given a character to many fashionable perfumes.

Civet, an animal perfume of some prominence, is a secretion from the civet cat, a native of the East, whence it was first brought by the Dutch. Civet has a most unpleasant smell in its crude state, and would be thought a very unlikely substance for use in perfumery by most persons. Properly diluted it enters into some of the most flowery bouquets known, is largely employed by the French in their finest extracts, and we think quite a favorite with Americans also, judging from the sense of smell when entering their factories. Its place in perfumes is to “hold” other and more volatile odors, and sometimes to act as a “backer” to some flower perfumes with which it chords.

Ambergris is likewise a well-known animal perfume. Pieces of it have been found upon the seashore from the earliest times.

Tonquin, or Tonka, is a very agreeable and somewhat in tense odor derived from the Tonka bean of commerce–the snuff bean of our grandmother’s days, when one was usually kept in the snuff-box to impart a pleasant odor to its contents.

When fresh they are very fragrant and give out a smell resembling the new made hay of localities where the “sweet smelling vernal grass” is common, as both possess the same odoriferous principle, “coumarin,” which may be seen in the form of crystals upon the beans, and which, according to a German chemist, is found in not less than thirty-one species in two families of plants. Tonquin enters into the composition of a variety of bouquets, being somewhat of a favorite with many perfumers. It is the leader in the perfume we now give, called New-Mown Hay.

Extract Tonquin bean (double), two and one-half ounces; extract rose geranium, one ounce; extract orange flower pomade, one ounce; extract rose pomade, one ounce; extract jasmine pomade, one ounce; extract cassie pomade, one-half ounce; extract rose triple, one ounce. Mix.

Fanny Eaton

Clove is the only one of the spice oils which enters into liquid perfumes worthy of our present notice. It gives to many bouquets a zest not otherwise obtainable, plainly shows its presence in the pink family, and performs a part in Rondeletia of which “more anon.”

Lavender is an old favorite English perfume in which country it finds its best conditions of growth.

There are some four to eight grades of lavender oil in the market, the Mitcham and Hitchin, English, commanding the highest price.

Gustave Léonard de Jonghe

Lavender enters into the composition of colognes, some bouquets, also into Lavender Water.

Oil of lavender (English or French), two drams; cologne spirit, seven ounces; water, free from obvious impurity, one ounce. Mix.

The following recipe is based upon the principle well known to the art of two odors blending together in such harmony as to produce, as it were, a new perfume. It is copied from an old work on perfumery, there having been no essential variation since the writer first had the pleasure of making his debut by attempting this extract over thirty years ago:


Oil lavender, two drams; oil bergamot, oil clove, each, one dram; otto rose, twenty-five drops; extract musk, extract vanilla, extract ambergris, each, one-half ounce; cologne spirit, twenty ounces. Mix. Let stand to age.

Pot pourri
Herbert James Draper 

“Heaven Rests On Those Two Heaving Hills Of Snow” – The Victorian Bosom

Love’s Messengers - Édouard Bisson

I’ve started this thing on my author Facebook page of doing tiny excerpts from old books (I’ll create a summary of them for this blog when I’ve created enough.) After all, I need to do something with all the digital books I’ve collected over the years. I wanted to excerpt this beauty advice from The Arts of Beauty; Or, Secrets of A Lady’s Toilet. With Hints to Gentlemen on the Art of Fascinating, by Madame Lola Montez, Countess of Landsfeld, published in 1858. However, I found it was too long for a Facebook post, yet too much fun to abridge, so I’m placing it here. Enjoy!

A Beautiful Bosom

I AM aware that this is a subject which must be handled with great delicacy; but my book would be incomplete without some notice of this “greatest claim of lovely woman.” And, besides, it is undoubtedly true, that a proper discussion of this subject will seem peculiar only to the most vulgar minded of both sexes. If it be true, as the old poet sung, that

“Heaven rests on those two heaving hills of snow,”

why should not a woman be suitably instructed in the right management of such extraordinary charms?

The first thing to be impressed upon the mind of a lady is, that very low-necked dresses are in exceeding bad taste, and are quite sure to leave upon the mind of a gentleman an equivocal idea, to say the least. A word to the wise on this subject is sufficient. If a young lady has no father, or brother, or husband to direct her taste in this matter, she will do well to sit down and commit the above statement to memory. It is a charm which a woman, who understands herself, will leave not to the public eye of man, but to his imagination. She knows that modesty is the divine spell that binds the heart of man to her forever. But my observation has taught me that few women are well informed as to the physical management of this part of their bodies. The bosom, which nature has formed with exquisite symmetry in itself, and admirable adaptation to the parts of the figure to which it is united, is often transformed into a shape, and transplanted to a place, which deprive it of its original beauty and harmony with the rest of the person.

Vittorio Matteo Corcos 

This deforming metamorphosis is effected by means of stiff stays, or corsets, which force the part out of its natural position, and destroy the natural tension and firmness in which so much of its beauty consists. A young lady should be instructed that she is not to allow even her own hand to press it too roughly. But, above all things, to avoid, especially when young, the constant pressure of such hard substances as whalebone and steel; for, besides the destruction to beauty, they are liable to produce all the terrible consequences of abscesses and cancers. Even the padding which ladies use to give a full appearance, where there is a deficient bosom, is sure, in a little time, to entirely destroy all the natural beauty of the parts. As soon as it becomes apparent that the bosom lacks the rounded fullness due to the rest of her form, instead of trying to repair the deficiency with artificial padding, it should be clothed as loosely as possible, so as to avoid the least artificial pressure. Not only its growth is stopped, but its complexion is spoiled by these tricks. Let the growth of this beautiful part be left as unconfined as the young cedar, or as the lily of the field. And for that reason the bodice should be flexible to the motion of the body and the undulations of the shape. The artificial india-rubber bosoms are not only ridiculous contrivances, but they are absolutely ruinous to the beauty of the part.

John White Alexander

The following preparation, very softly rubbed upon the bosom for five or ten minutes, two or three times a day has been used with success to promote its growth.

Tincture of myrrh … 1/2 oz.
Pimpernel water … 4 oz.
Elder-flower water … 4 oz.
Musk … 1 gr.
Rectified spirits of wine … 6 oz.

I have known ladies to take a preparation of iodyne internally to remedy a too large development of the bosom. But this must be a dangerous experiment for the general health. The following external application has been recommended for this purpose.

Strong essence of mint … 1 oz.
Iodine of zinc … 2 gr.
Aromatic vinegar … 2 gr.
Essence of cedrat … 10 drops.

If, from sickness, or any other cause, the bosom has lost its beauty by becoming soft, the following wash, applied as gently as possible morning and night, will have a most beneficial effect.

Alum water  … ½ oz.
Strong camomile water … 1 oz.
White brandy … 2 oz.

If the whole body is not afflicted with a general decay and flabbiness, the use of this wash for a month or two will be quite sure to produce the happiest effects.

James Tissot 

Working Out the Early Victorian Way

I came across this early Victorian wonderfulness today and had to share. The following can be found in Exercises for Ladies: Calculated to Preserve and Improve Beauty, and to Prevent and Correct Personal Defects, Inseparable from Constrained Or Careless Habits: Founded on Physiological Principles, by Donald Walker and published in London in 1836. 



The rod for this purpose should be light, smooth, inflexible, and need not be more than three or four feet in length.

The rod is first grasped near the extremities by the two hands, the thumbs being inward.— (See PLATE XII, fig. 1.) Without changing the position of the hands on the rod, it is then brought to a vertical position: the right hand being uppermost holds it above the head, the left is against the lower part of the body.By an opposite movement, the right is lowered and the left raised. This change is executed repeatedly and quickly.

From the first position of the rod, it is raised over the head; and, in doing so, the closer the hands are, the better will be the effect upon the shoulder.—(See PLATE XII, fig. 2.)
It is afterwards carried behind the back, holding so firmly that no change takes place in the position of the hands.—(See PLATE XII, fig. 3.)

This movement is then reversed, to bring it back over the head to the first position.

The same exercises are performed by grasping the stick with the hands in an opposite position; that is to say, with the thumbs in front or the palms of the hands forwards.—(See PLATE XIII, fig. 1.) It is raised parallel with the shoulders, extending it first on the left and then on the right arm.

It is next raised above the head, the hands being still in their new position.—(See PLATEXIII, fig. 2.) It is afterwards lowered behind the back.— (See PLATE XIII, fig. 3.)
The exercise is concluded by bringing it to its original position in front.
These exercises cannot be performed in all their different movements with promptitude and regularity without many trials and repetitions. Their tendency is to confirm the good position and the flexibility of the shoulders, produced by the extension motions.


THIS instrument is one of the oldest used in gymnastics. It may be seen in the Latin work of Mercurialis de Arte Gymnastica; and though its form was not precisely the same as at present, the result produced was similar. It has been long in use in England, where it enters into the school exercise of most seminaries for the instruction of ladies.
For children from six to ten years of age, dumbbells should not weigh more than from three to four pounds each; and for children from ten to fifteen years of age, they may weigh from four to six pounds each.To use dumb-bells with all the advantage they admit of, the young person should stand in the fundamental position already described.

To use dumb-bells with all the advantage they admit of, the young person should stand in the fundamental position already described.

To obtain the first position, the hands and the dumb-bells are, by a slight rotatory movement of the arm outward and backward, brought behind the lower part of the body, so as to make the two extremities of the dumb-bells next to the little fingers touch each other.

The fingers in this case touch the muscles of the hips, and the back of the hand is outward.—(See PLATE XIV, Fig. 1.)

In the first exercise from this position, a regular motion is commenced, which consists in giving to the depending and extended arms, at the same time, a circular and rotatory movement, forwards and inwards, to the front of the body, so that the dumb-bells perform each a semicircle, (See PLATE XIV, Fig. 2,) making a complete circle between them, but with this difference in position, that when they are behind, they touch at the exterior extremities, or those on the side of the little finger, and when they are in front of the thighs, they touch at the other extremities.


In the second exercise, —from the same position, the heads are raised together towards the front and middle of the chest, the approximated, so that the ball on the thumb-side of the one dumb-bell may touch that of the other.— (See PLATE XIV, fig. 3.) With the arms extended, they are then allowed to drop with sufficient force to swing them round the body to the first position. This is repeated several times.


In the third exercise,– from the same position in the arms are raised above the head, and the bumb-bells are made to touch at their extremities, being kept in a horizontal position. — (See PLATE XV, fig. 1) The hands are then allowed to fall gently into the first position.


In the fourth exercise, the arms are stretched out straight from the shoulders.—(See PLATE XV, fig. 2;) and the hands are moved horizontally backwards (See PLATE XV, fig. ,) and forwards, the dumb-bells being in a vertical position.

This employment of the dumb-bells should not at first persisted in longer than a minutes or two at a times, but the duration of each succeeding exercise may be gradually increased.

N.B. Until the introduction of the Indian sceptres, of Indian clubs, this exercise was valuable, notwithstanding the inconvenient jerk which communicates to the shoulders. It should not be superseded by that exercise, and beneficial.



1st. A sceptre is held by the handle, pendant on each side, (See PLATE XVI, fig. 1); —that in the right hand is carried over the head and left shoulder until it hangs perpendicularly on the right side of the spine,—(See PLATE XVI, fig. 2);—that in the left hand is carried over the former, in exactly the opposite direction, (see the same figure), until it hangs on the opposite side;—holding both sceptres still pendant, the hands are raised somewhat higher than the head, (See PLATE XVI, fig. 3);—with the sceptres in the same position, both arms are extended outward and backward, (See PLATE XVII, fig. 3);—they are, lastly, dropped into the first position.—All this is done slowly.

2d. Commencing from the same position, the ends of both sceptres are swung upward until they are held, vertically and side by side, at arms length, in front of the body, the hands being as high as the shoulders, (see PLATE XVII, fig. 1);—they are next carried in the same position, at arms length, and on the same level, as far backward as possible, (see PLATE XVII, fig. 2);—each is then dropped backward until it hangs vertically downward, (see PLATE XVII, fig. 3);—and this exercise ends as the first. Previous, however, to dropping the sceptres backwards, it greatly improves this exercise, by a turn of the wrist upward and backward, to carry the sceptres into a horizontal position behind the shoulders, so that if long enough, their ends would touch, (see PLATE XVIII, fig 1) —next, by a turn of the wrist outward and downward, to carry them horizontally outward, (see PLATE XVIII, fig. 2)—then by a turn of the wrist upward and forward, to carry them into a horizontal position before the breast, (see PLATE XVIII, fig. 3); —again, to carry them horizontally outward; —and, finally, to drop them backwards; and thence to the first position. —All this is done slowly.

3d. The sceptres are to be swung by the sides, first separately, and then together, exactly as the hands were in the last extension motion.


1st. The sceptres are held upright in front of the body, the elbows being near the hanches, and the forearms horizontal, (see PLATE XIX, fig. 1):—the sceptre in the right hand is then carried over the head and left shoulder, (see PLATE XIX, fig. 2,) dropping as low as possible behind, (see PLATE XIX, fig. 3,) and returning to its first position;—the same is done with the left hand;—then with the right;—and so on with each alternately.—All this is performed with a swinging motion, so that the end of each sceptre describes a circle which commences before the head, descends obliquely backward, and ascends again.

2d. After carrying the sceptre in the right hand from the same position around the head and left shoulder, as already described, it is stretched horizontally outward by the extended arm, (see PLATE XX, fig. 1); — and thence returned to the first position;—the same is then done with the left hand;—and so on with each alternately.—The swing is here broken by the lateral extension.

3d. The sceptres, held chiefly between the thumb and first and second fingers, rest on the fronts of the arms extended downward and slightly forward, and reach somewhat obliquely from the thumb and now inner side of the hands, of which the backs are turned forward, to the outsides of the shoulders, (see PLATE XX, Jig. 2);—that held in the right hand is then thrown over the shoulder and hangs downward behind it, while the whole of that side of the body is turned forward, the back and neck bent, so that the chin is raised and the chest thrown upward, (see PLATE XX, Jig. 3), and, as the body is again turned to the front, that sceptre is drawn over the shoulder and brought to its first position;—at the moment in which the body reaches the front, however, the same begins to be done with.the left hand;—and so on with each alternately.

4th, This differs from the second only in this respect, that the arms no longer act distinctly, but together; their motions being blended by the left commencing as soon as the right has made its circle round the head, and forming its own circle while the right is extending, and so on with regard to each.—This explanation and a reference to the description and plates illustrating the first and second exercise, make this quite plain.

5th. This differs from the third chiefly in this, that the arms no longer act distinctly, but together; both sceptres, however, being kept down until the lateral turn is complete (See PLATE XXI, fig. 1), both being then thrown over the shoulders at once, with the back and neck bent, (See PLATE XXI, fig. 2), and both returning gradually (See PLATE XXI, fig. 3) over the shoulders as the body passes to the opposite side.

6th. This is an exercise in which the lady crosses the apartment from side to side. The first exercise is here performed once with each arm, commencing with the arm of the side towards which the freer space permits her most readily to go. (See description and plates illustrating the first Exercise.) Supposing this to be to the right of her first position,—on finishing the second circle of the first exercise, namely that with the left arm, and bringing it in front, both sceptres, being thrown to the right side, (See PLATE XXII, Jig. 1,) are swung with extended arms to the left, sweeping in a circle downward in front of the feet, (See PLATE XXII, Jig. 2,) of which the left being at that moment lifted to perform a wheel backward upon the right toe, the face is turned opposite to its first direction, ground is gained by the left foot placing itself toward what was originally the right side, and the ends of the sceptres, without the slightest pause, continue their sweep upward to their first position, (See PLATE XXII, Jig. 3.) The same is only repeated; the lady remembering always to commence with the arm of the side to which she means to advance.




Tidbits on Mid-Victorian Era Menstrual Hygiene

Last night I needed some information on Mid-Victorian era terms for menstrual hygiene for my book Frail, so I did a few quick searches in Google Books, filtering between the years 1800 through 1880. Easy peasy,no? Well, it turns out that Regency and Victorian women didn’t have periods. This whole menstruation thing didn’t come into vogue until around 1880 and then every woman wanted to have a period and stores had to stock “napkins” and “belts”. I’m kidding, of course. I just couldn’t find much information in the years I needed.

So after hours of research on Google Books, I’m sharing with you my copious findings.


From Obstetrics: the Science and the Art, by Charles Delucena Meigs, published 1852:

“For the most part, as soon as the menses are perceived to begin to flow, the woman applies a T-bandage, consisting of a napkin, called the guard, folded like a cravat, which is pressed against the genitalia, while the ends are secured to a string or riband tied around the body above the hips; but I have seen some, not a few women, who assured me they had never used any other precaution than that of putting on a thicker petticoat for fear of the exposure of their condition. Such persons must be very slightly hemorrhagic, since the want of a guard-napkin would otherwise be sure to expose their condition by stains of blood upon their feet or stockings. Many female patients have assured me they never use less than a dozen napkins upon each catamenial occasion— and fifteen, and even twenty such changes are not very rare in the history of healthy menstruations. An ounce to a napkin is, perhaps, not an excessive computation.”

From A Manual of Bandaging: Adapted for Self-instruction, by Charles Henri Leonard, published 1876:


Use of Tampons from The Diseases of Woman, their causes and cure familiarly explained: with practical hints for their prevention, and for the preservation of female health, published in 1847

In those severe cases, when the gush of blood is almost instantaneous, and so great as to endanger life in a very short time, we may employ, temporarily, mechanical means to prevent it. The best of which, and the most readily prepared, is called the tampon or plug. It may be made of linen rag, cotton, or sponge, in the form of a ball, and introduced into the vagina like a pessary, It should be large enough to completely fill up the passage, but must not be introduced more than about two inches, for fear of irritating and inflaming the mouth of the womb, which is then very sensitive.

A very good way to make the plug is, to cut out round pieces of soft linen cloth, then pass a stout thread through the middle of each and press them close together, till the mass is au inch thick. The string is convenient for pulling it out again, and should always be attached to every one. A small bag filled with tan, or ashes, or sawdust soaked in alum water, is also very excellent. These plugs should not be withdrawn in a hurry, unless severe symptoms supervene, and when they are removed, care must be taken not to disturb or irritate the parts. If the danger be imminent, and there be not time, or means to prepare a tampon, the lips and vulva should be firmly pressed together with the hand, till other means can be procured.”

Below are  images of tampons from Minor Surgical Gynecology: a Manual of Uterine Diagnosis and the Lesser Technicalities of Gynecological Practice: For the Use of the Advanced Student and General Practitioner, by Paul Fortunatus Mundém, published 1880. These tampons are for medical use.



*Here’s an additional resource on Menstruation from Georgian London blog