Dec 042018
 

Today is the birthday (1875) of René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke better known as Rainer Maria Rilke, a Bohemian poet and novelist who is known for his lyrically intense poetry and prose. He invokes images that focus on the difficulty of communion with the ineffable in an age of disbelief, solitude and profound anxiety. While Rilke is most known for his contributions to German literature, over 400 poems were originally written in French and dedicated to the canton of Valais in Switzerland. Among English-language readers, his best-known works include the poetry collections Duino Elegies (Duineser Elegien) and Sonnets to Orpheus (Die Sonette an Orpheus), the semi-autobiographical novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge), and a collection of ten letters that was published after his death under the title Letters to a Young Poet (Briefe an einen jungen Dichter). In the later 20th century, his work found new audiences through use by New Age theologians and self-help authors, which could explain why I find his work unappealing.

Rilke was born in Prague, then capital of Bohemia. His father, Josef Rilke (1838–1906), became a railway official after an unsuccessful military career. His mother, Sophie (“Phia”) Entz (1851–1931), came from a well-to-do Prague family, the Entz-Kinzelbergers, who lived in a house on the Herrengasse (Panská) 8, where Rilke also spent many of his early years. The relationship between Phia and her only son was colored by her mourning for an earlier child, a daughter who had died only one week old. During Rilke’s early years Phia acted as if she sought to recover the lost girl through the boy by dressing him in girl’s clothing. His parents’ marriage failed in 1884. His parents pressured him into entering a military academy in St. Pölten, Lower Austria, which he attended from 1886 until 1891, when he left owing to illness.

He moved to Linz, where he attended trade school. He was expelled from the school in May 1892, and returned to Prague. From 1892 to 1895 he was tutored for the university entrance exam, which he passed in 1895. Until 1896 he studied literature, art history, and philosophy in Prague and Munich.

In 1897 in Munich, Rilke met and fell in love with the widely traveled, intellectual – but married – woman of letters Lou Andreas-Salomé. Rilke changed his first name from “René” to “Rainer” at Salomé’s urging because she thought that name to be more masculine, forceful, and Germanic. His relationship with her lasted until 1900. But even after their separation, Salomé continued to be Rilke’s most important confidante until the end of his life. Having trained from 1912 to 1913 as a psychoanalyst with Sigmund Freud, she shared her knowledge of psychoanalysis with Rilke.

In 1898, Rilke undertook a journey lasting several weeks to Italy. In 1899, he traveled with Salomé and her husband, Friedrich Andreas, to Moscow where he met Leo Tolstoy. Between May and August 1900, a second journey to Russia, accompanied only by Salomé, again took him to Moscow and Saint Petersburg, where he met the family of Boris Pasternak and Spiridon Drozhzhin, a peasant poet.

In 1900, Rilke stayed at the artists’ colony at Worpswede. Here he met the sculptor Clara Westhoff, whom he married the following year. Their daughter Ruth (1901–1972) was born in December 1901. Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907), an early expressionist painter, became acquainted with Rilke in Worpswede and Paris, and painted his portrait in 1906. In the summer of 1902, Rilke left home and traveled to Paris to write a monograph on Auguste Rodin. His wife left their daughter with her parents and joined Rilke there. The relationship between Rilke and Clara Westhoff continued for the rest of his life; a mutually-agreed-upon effort at divorce was bureaucratically hindered by Rilke’s “official” status as a Catholic, though a non-practicing one.

At first, Rilke had a difficult time in Paris, an experience that he called on in the first part of his only novel, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. At the same time, his encounter with modernism was stimulating: Rilke became deeply involved with the sculpture of Rodin, then the work of Paul Cézanne. For a time, he acted as Rodin’s secretary, also lecturing and writing a long essay on Rodin and his work. Rodin taught him the value of observation and, under this influence, Rilke dramatically transformed his poetic style from the subjective and sometimes incantatory language of his earlier work into something quite new in European literature. The result was the New Poems, famous for the “thing-poems” expressing Rilke’s rejuvenated artistic vision. During these years, Paris increasingly became his main residence.

Between October 1911 and May 1912, Rilke stayed at the Castle Duino, near Trieste, home of Princess Marie of Thurn und Taxis. He began the poem cycle called the Duino Elegies there in 1912 which would remain unfinished for a decade because of a long-lasting creativity crisis. Rilke had developed an admiration for El Greco as early as 1908, so he visited Toledo during the winter of 1912/13 to see his paintings. Subsequently, Rilke spent extended periods in Ronda, the famous bullfighting center in southern Spain. He kept a permanent room at the Hotel Reina Victoria from December 1912 to February 1913.

The outbreak of World War I surprised Rilke during a stay in Germany. He was unable to return to Paris, where his property was confiscated and auctioned. He spent the greater part of the war in Munich. From 1914 to 1916 he had a turbulent affair with the painter Lou Albert-Lasard. Rilke was called up at the beginning of 1916 and had to undertake basic training in Vienna. Influential friends interceded on his behalf, and he was transferred to the War Records Office and discharged from the military on 9th June 1916. He returned to Munich, interrupted by a stay on Hertha Koenig’s Gut Bockel in Westphalia. The traumatic experience of military service, a reminder of the horrors of the military academy, almost completely silenced him as a poet.

On 11th June 1919, Rilke traveled from Munich to Switzerland. The outward motive was an invitation to lecture in Zurich, but the real reason was the wish to escape the post-war chaos and take up his work on the Duino Elegies once again. The search for a suitable and affordable place to live proved to be very difficult. Among other places, Rilke lived in Soglio, Locarno and Berg am Irchel. Only in mid-1921 was he able to find a permanent residence in the Château de Muzot in the commune of Veyras, close to Sierre in Valais. In an intensely creative period, Rilke completed the Duino Elegies in several weeks in February 1922. Before and after, Rilke rapidly wrote both parts of the poem cycle Sonnets to Orpheus containing 55 entire sonnets. Together, these two have often been taken as constituting the high points of Rilke’s work. In May 1922, Rilke’s patron Werner Reinhart bought and renovated Muzot so that Rilke could live there rent-free.

During this time, Reinhart introduced Rilke to his protégée, the Australian violinist Alma Moodie. Rilke was so impressed with her playing that he wrote in a letter: “What a sound, what richness, what determination. That and the Sonnets to Orpheus, those were two strings of the same voice. And she plays mostly Bach! Muzot has received its musical christening…” From 1923 on, Rilke increasingly had to struggle with health problems that necessitated many long stays at a sanatorium in Territet, near Montreux, on Lake Geneva. His long stay in Paris between January and August 1925 was an attempt to escape his illness through a change in location and living conditions. Despite this, numerous important individual poems appeared in the years 1923–1926 (including Gong and Mausoleum), as well as his abundant lyrical work in French.

In 1924, Erika Mitterer began writing poems to Rilke, who wrote back with approximately fifty poems of his own and called her verse a Herzlandschaft (landscape of the heart). This was the only time Rilke had a productive poetic collaboration throughout all his work. Mitterer also visited Rilke. In 1950, her Correspondence in Verse with Rilke was published.

Rilke supported the Russian Revolution in 1917 as well as the Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1919. He became friends with Ernst Toller and mourned the deaths of Rosa Luxembourg, Kurt Eisner, and Karl Liebknecht. He confided that of the five or six newspapers he read daily, those on the far left came closest to his own opinions.[30] He developed a reputation for supporting left-wing causes, and thus, out of fear for his own safety, became more reticent about politics after the Bavarian Republic was crushed by the right-wing Freikorps. Yet, in January and February 1926, Rilke wrote three letters to the Mussolini-adversary Aurelia Gallarati Scotti in which he praised Benito Mussolini and described fascism as a healing agent.

Shortly before his death, Rilke’s illness was diagnosed as leukemia. He suffered ulcerous sores in his mouth, pain troubled his stomach and intestines, and he struggled with increasingly low spirits. Open-eyed, he died in the arms of his doctor on December 29th, 1926, in the Valmont Sanatorium in Switzerland. He was buried on January 2, 1927, in the Raron cemetery to the west of Visp.

Rilke had chosen as his own epitaph this poem:

Rose, oh reiner Widerspruch, Lust, Niemandes Schlaf zu sein unter soviel Lidern.

Rose, o pure contradiction, desire to be no one’s sleep beneath so many lids.

A legend developed surrounding his death and roses. It was said: “To honor a visitor, the Egyptian beauty Nimet Eloui Bey, Rilke gathered some roses from his garden. While doing so, he pricked his hand on a thorn. This small wound failed to heal, grew rapidly worse, soon his entire arm was swollen, and his other arm became affected as well”, and so he died.

Here is a Bohemian recipe for baked rabbit that I have selected for Rilke, partly because he reminds me of a rabbit (don’t ask), and partly because I miss rabbit since I left Italy.

Bohemian Baked Rabbit

Ingredients

1 rabbit, jointed
1 tbsp caraway seeds
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
100ml white wine vinegar
2 tbsp plain flour
oil, for frying
100 gm pitted prunes, halved
250ml beer
2 tbsp sour cream
salt and white pepper

Instructions

Soak a clean tea towel with vinegar. Place the rabbit pieces on the towel and press the caraway seeds into the meat. Scatter the chopped onion over the rabbit, and then wrap it up in the tea towel. Place the wrapped meat on a dish and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 150°C. Unwrap the pieces of meat and dust them with the flour. Heat a little oil in large skillet over a medium heat and sauté the rabbit pieces until browned on all sides. Transfer the rabbit pieces to a lidded casserole and add the prunes and beer. Cook in the oven for 1 hour, turning the pieces over from time to time. About 15 minutes before the end of cooking, season with salt and pepper.

Remove the meat from the casserole and leave to stand, covered, for 7–8 minutes. Add the sour cream to the sauce and stir. Place the rabbit pieces on a heated serving dish, pour the casserole sauce over the rabbit, and serve.

 

Nov 252018
 

Today is the birthday (1638) of Catherine of Braganza, queen consort of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1662 to 1685, as the wife of Charles II. She was the daughter of John IV, who became the first king of Portugal from the House of Braganza in 1640 after overthrowing the rule of the Spanish Habsburgs in Portugal.

Negotiations for the marriage of Catherine and Charles began during the reign of Charles I, were suspended during the Commonwealth, and then renewed immediately after the Restoration. On 23rd June 1661, in spite of Spanish opposition, the marriage contract was signed. In the contract, England secured Tangier (in North Africa) and the Seven Islands of Bombay (in India), trading privileges in Brazil and the East Indies, religious and commercial freedom in Portugal, and two million Portuguese crowns (about £300,000). In return Portugal got assurance of British military and naval support in its fight against Spain and liberty of worship for Catherine. She arrived at Portsmouth on the night of 13–14th May 1662, but was not visited there by Charles until 20th May. The following day they were married in Portsmouth at two ceremonies – a Catholic one conducted in secret, followed by a public Anglican service.

On 30th September 1662 Charles and Catharine entered London as part of a large procession, which included the Portuguese delegation and many members of the court. There were also minstrels and musicians, among them ten playing shawms and twelve playing Portuguese bagpipes, Catharine’s favorite instruments. The procession continued over a large bridge, especially designed and built for the occasion, which led into the palace where Henrietta Maria, the queen mother waited, along with the British court and nobility. This was followed by feasting and firework displays.

Catherine had been brought up in a convent, secluded from the world, and was scarcely a wife Charles would have chosen for himself. The queen mother wrote that she is “The best creature in the world, from whom I have so much affection, I have the joy to see the King love her extremely. She is a Saint!” In reality, Catherine’s personal charms could not draw Charles away from the society of his mistresses, and in a few weeks after her arrival she became aware of her position as the wife of a licentious king.

Little is known of Catherine’s own thoughts on the match. While her mother plotted to secure an alliance with England and thus support in Portugal’s fight for independence, and her future husband celebrated his restoration with his mistresses, Catherine’s time had been spent in the seclusion of her convent home, with little opportunity for fun or frivolity. Even outside the convent her actions were governed by the strict etiquette of the royal court of Portugal. By all accounts Catherine grew into a quiet, even-tempered young woman.

At the time of her marriage she was already 23 and had long since resigned herself to the necessity of making a match abroad to help her family and country. Catherine’s response on being told of her impending nuptials was to request permission to make a pilgrimage to a favorite shrine of hers in Lisbon. Catherine became pregnant and miscarried at least three times, and during a severe illness in 1663, she imagined, for a time, that she had given birth. Charles comforted her by telling her she had indeed given birth to two sons and a daughter. Her position was a difficult one, and though Charles continued to have children by his many mistresses, he insisted she be treated with respect, and sided with her against his mistresses when he felt she was not receiving the respect she was due. After her three miscarriages, it seemed to be more and more unlikely that the queen would bear an heir. Royal advisors urged Charles to seek a divorce, hoping that the new wife would be Protestant and fertile – but Charles refused. This eventually led to her being made a target by courtiers. Throughout his reign, Charles firmly dismissed the idea of divorcing Catherine, and she remained faithful to Charles throughout their marriage.

Catherine was not a particularly popular choice of queen since she was Roman Catholic. Her religion prevented her from being crowned, as Catholics were forbidden to take part in Anglican services. She initially faced hardships due to the language barrier, the king’s infidelities and the political conflicts between Roman Catholics and Anglicans. Over time, her quiet decorum, loyalty and genuine affection for Charles changed the public’s perception of her.

Although her difficulties with the English language persisted, as time went on, the once rigidly formal Portuguese Infanta mellowed and began to enjoy some of the more innocent pleasures of the court. She loved to play cards and shocked devout Protestants by playing on Sundays. She enjoyed dancing and took great delight in organising masques. She had a great love for the countryside and picnics; fishing and archery were also favourite pastimes. In a far cry from her convent-days the newly liberated Catherine displayed a fondness for the recent trend of court ladies wearing men’s clothing, which we are told, “showed off her pretty, neat legs and ankles”; and she was even reported to have considered leading the way in wearing shorter dresses, which would show off her feet. In 1670, on a trip to Audley End with her ladies-in-waiting, the once chronically shy Catherine attended a country fair disguised as a village maiden, but was soon discovered and, due to the large crowds, forced to make a hasty retreat. And when in 1664 her favorite painter, Jacob Huysmans, a Flemish Catholic, painted her as St Catherine, it promptly set a trend among court ladies.

She did not involve herself in English politics, instead she kept up an active interest in her native country. Anxious to re-establish good relations with the Pope and perhaps gain recognition for Portuguese independence, she sent Richard Bellings, later her principal secretary, to Rome with letters for the pope and several cardinals. In 1669 she involved herself in the last-ditch effort to relieve Candia in Crete, which was under siege by the Turks and whose cause Rome was promoting, although she failed to persuade Charles to take any action. In 1670, as a sign of her rising favor with the pope she requested, and was granted, devotional objects. In 1670 Charles II ordered the building of a Royal yacht HMY Saudadoes for her, used for pleasure trips on the Thames and to maintain communications with the Queen’s homeland of Portugal, making the journey twice.

Catherine fainted when Charles’s official mistress, Barbara Palmer was presented to her. Charles insisted on making Palmer Catherine’s Lady of the Bedchamber. After this incident, Catherine withdrew from spending time with the king, declaring she would return to Portugal rather than openly accept the arrangement with Palmer. Clarendon failed to convince her to change her mind. Charles then dismissed nearly all the members of Catherine’s Portuguese retinue, after which she stopped actively resisting, which pleased the king, however she participated very little in court life and activities.

In 1675 the stress of a possible revival of the divorce project indirectly led to another illness, which Catherine’s physicians claimed was “due as much to mental as physical causes”. In the same year, all Irish and English Catholic priests were ordered to leave the country, which left Catherine dependent upon foreign priests. As increasingly harsher measures were put in place against Catholics, Catherine appointed her close friend and adviser, the devoutly Catholic Francisco de Mello, former Portuguese Ambassador to England, as her Lord Chamberlain. It was an unusual and controversial move but wishing to please Catherine and perhaps demonstrate the futility of moves for divorce, the King granted his permission. De Mello was dismissed the following year for ordering the printing of a Catholic book, leaving Catherine even more isolated at court. One consolation was that Louise de Kérouaille, duchess of Portsmouth, who replaced Barbara Palmer as reigning mistress, always treated Catharine with proper deference. Catharine in return showed her gratitude by using her own influence to protect Louise during the Popish Plot.

The Test Act of 1673 had driven all Catholics out of public office, and anti-Catholic feelings intensified the following years. Although she was not active in religious politics, in 1675 Catherine was criticized for supposedly supporting the idea of appointing a bishop to England who, it was hoped, would resolve the internal disputes of Catholics. Critics also noted the fact that, despite orders to the contrary, English Catholics attended her private chapel. As the highest-ranking Catholic in the country, Catherine was an obvious target for Protestant extremists, and it was hardly surprising that the Popish Plot of 1678 would directly threaten her position. The Popish Plot was a fictitious conspiracy concocted by Titus Oates that gripped England and Scotland in anti-Catholic hysteria between 1678 and 1681. Oates alleged that there was an extensive Catholic conspiracy to assassinate Charles II, accusations that led to the executions of at least 22 men and precipitated the Exclusion Bill Crisis. Eventually Oates’s intricate web of accusations fell apart, leading to his arrest and conviction for perjury.

Fortunately, Catherine was completely secure in her husband’s favor (“she could never do anything wicked, and it would be a horrible thing to abandon her” he told Gilbert Burnet), and the House of Lords, most of whom knew her and liked her, refused by an overwhelming majority to impeach her. Relations between the royal couple became notably warmer: Catherine wrote of Charles’ “wonderful kindness” to her. and it was noted that his visits to her apartments became longer and more frequent.

At Charles’ final illness in 1685, Catharine showed expectations for his reconciliation with Catholic faith, and she exhibited great grief at his death. When he lay dying in 1685, he asked for Catherine, but she sent a message asking that her presence be excused and “to beg his pardon if she had offended him all his life.” He answered, “Alas poor woman! she asks for my pardon? I beg hers with all my heart; take her back that answer.” Later in the same year, she unsuccessfully interceded with James II for the life of James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, Charles’s illegitimate son and leader of the Monmouth Rebellion – even though Monmouth in rebellion had called upon the support represented by the staunch Protestants opposed to the Catholic Church.

Catherine remained in England, living at Somerset House, through the reign of James and his deposition in the Glorious Revolution by William and Mary. She remained in England partly because of a protracted lawsuit against her former Lord Chamberlain, Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon, over money that she claimed as part of her allowance and that he claimed was part of the perquisite of his office. Catherine’s fondness for money is one of the more unexpected features of her character: her brother-in-law James, who was himself notably avaricious, remarked that she always drove a hard bargain.

Initially on good terms with William and Mary, her position deteriorated as the practice of her religion led to misunderstandings and increasing isolation. A bill was introduced to Parliament to limit the number of Catherine’s Catholic servants, and she was warned not to agitate against the government. She finally returned to Portugal in March 1692, where she took care of and mentored her nephew, prince John. His mother, Maria Sofia of Neuburg, had recently died, and the prince had fallen into a depression. Catherine was instrumental in lifting the young prince’s spirits, and soon became a key part in his life, as his tutor and main female figure in his life. Her death would, in fact, cause John to experience another depression.

In 1703, she supported the Treaty of Methuen between Portugal and England. She acted as regent for her brother, Peter II, in 1701 and 1704–05. She died at the Bemposta Palace in Lisbon on 31st December 1705 and was buried at the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora Lisbon.

Here is a Stuart era recipe from The Whole Duty of a Woman: Or a Guide to the Female Sex, (1696). It is described as a way to prepare lamb so that it tastes like venison. The “coffin” mentioned in the recipe means pastry, so it appears to be a kind of lamb roulade en croute.

Lamb to make like Venison.

Bone it, and take the side or quarter, and dip it in its Blood, sprinkle it over with Salt, Cinamon and Pepper, rowl it up, and parboyl it, adding some Vinegar to the Water you boyl it in, a sprig or two of Hysop and Thyme, let it stand six hours in the water when it is off the Fire, put it into a coffin, and pour to it when half Baked, Claret and Melted Butter, with some Cloves Mace and dryed Rosemary, finely beaten.

Aug 132017
 

Today is the birthday (1860) of Annie Oakley (born Phoebe Ann “Annie” Mosey), famed exhibition sharpshooter. She came to almost instant fame when, possibly at age 15, she won a shooting match with traveling-show marksman Frank E. Butler, whom she married a year later. The couple joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show some time after that (dates, ages, and timing are all a bit murky). Oakley became a renowned international star, performing before royalty and heads of state. She was also a tireless champion of women’s rights. My favorite quote: “I ain’t afraid to love a man. I ain’t afraid to shoot one either.”

Oakley was born in a cabin about 2 miles (3.2 km) northwest of Woodland, now Willowdell, in Darke County, Ohio, a rural western border county at the time. There is a stone-mounted plaque in the vicinity of the cabin site, which was placed by the Annie Oakley Committee in 1981. Annie’s father, who had fought in the War of 1812, became an invalid from overexposure during a blizzard in late 1865 and died of pneumonia in early 1866 at age 66. Following the death of her father, Oakley did not regularly attend school as a young child because of lack of funds, but she did attend later in childhood and in adulthood. On March 15, 1870, at age 9, Oakley was admitted to the Darke County Infirmary, along with elder sister Sarah Ellen. According to her autobiography, she was put in the care of the infirmary’s superintendent, Samuel Crawford Edington, and his wife Nancy, who taught her to sew and decorate. Beginning in the spring of 1870, she was “bound out” to a local family to help care for their infant son, on the false promise of 50 cents a week and an education. The couple had originally wanted someone who could pump water, cook, and who was bigger. She spent about two years in near-slavery to them where she endured mental and physical abuse. One time, the wife put Annie out in the freezing cold, without shoes, as a punishment because she had fallen asleep over some darning. Oakley referred to them as “the wolves” and even in her autobiography, she never revealed the couple’s real name (reputedly out of kindness despite their treatment of her). Around the spring of 1872, Annie ran away from “the wolves.” According to biographer Shirl Kasper, it was only at this point that Annie had met and lived with the Edingtons, returning to her mother’s home around the age of 15, by which time her mother had remarried (for a second time, having been twice widowed).

Oakley began trapping before the age of 7, and shooting and hunting by age 8, to support her siblings and her widowed mother. She sold the hunted game to locals in Greenville, such as shopkeepers Charles and G. Anthony Katzenberger, who shipped it to hotels in Cincinnati and other cities. She also sold the game herself to restaurants and hotels in northern Ohio. Her shooting prowess earned her enough money that she was able to pay off the mortgage on her mother’s farm by the time she was 15.

Oakley’s skill was well known throughout the region where she lived. According to the conventional account, on Thanksgiving Day 1875, the Baughman & Butler shooting act was booked in Cincinnati. Traveling show marksman and former dog trainer Frank E. Butler (1847–1926), an Irish immigrant, placed a $100 bet (worth $2,181 today) with Cincinnati hotel owner Jack Frost that Butler could beat any local “fancy shooter.” Frost arranged a shooting match between Butler and the 15-year-old Oakley, saying, “The last opponent Butler expected was a five-foot-tall 15-year-old girl named Annie.” The actual details of the match, as well as the dates, are sketchy at best. The general story is that Butler missed on his 25th shot and Oakley won. Subsequently, Butler who was 28 and married at the time, courted Oakley and married her a year later after he divorced his wife. I don’t see any reason to doubt that a 16-year-old Oakley would marry a man 13 years her senior, but many historians have expressed some incredulity.  You need to consider that this was the 19th century and Oakley had already lived a tough frontier life before she met Butler.  There are other possibilities, however.

Many modern accounts put the shooting match in 1881, not 1875. The Annie Oakley Center Foundation mentions Oakley visiting her married sister, Lydia Stein, at her home near Cincinnati in 1875. That information is incorrect as Lydia didn’t marry Joseph C. Stein until March 19, 1877. It is likely that Oakley and her mother visited Lydia in 1881 as she was seriously ill from tuberculosis. The Bevis House hotel (where the shooting match supposedly took place) was still being operated by Martin Bevis and W. H. Ridenour in 1875. Jack Frost didn’t obtain management of the hotel until 1879. The Baughman & Butler shooting act first appeared on the pages of The Cincinnati Enquirer in 1880. They signed with Sells Brothers Circus in 1881 and made an appearance at the Coliseum Opera House later that year.

Oakley and Butler were married a year after the shooting match and there is a certificate currently on file with the Archives of Ontario, Registration Number 49594, reporting Butler and Oakley being wed on June 20, 1882, in Windsor, Ontario. Other sources say that the marriage took place on August 23, 1876, in Cincinnati, but there is no recorded certificate to validate that date and place. Throughout Oakley’s show-business career, the public was often led to believe that she was five to six years younger than her actual age. Claiming the later marriage date would therefore have better supported her fictional age. Confused yet? I’d say that the smart money is on the shooting match taking place when Oakley was 21 and she married Butler when she was 22 in Ontario. Her show publicity shaved 5 or 6 years off her life, saying she was 15 when the match took place, not 21. Some contemporaries knowing her actual year of birth (1860) did the arithmetic and pegged the date of the match (erroneously) at 1875, and it stuck.

Annie and Frank lived in Cincinnati for a time. Oakley, the stage name she adopted when she and Frank began performing together, is believed to have been taken from the city’s neighborhood of Oakley, where they resided. They joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in 1885. During her first engagement with the Buffalo Bill show, Oakley had a tense professional rivalry with rifle sharpshooter Lillian Smith. Smith, 11 years younger than Oakley, was 15 years old at the time she joined the show in 1886, which was probably the main reason Oakley obscured her actual age in later years. For some time Smith’s press coverage was more favorable than hers. Oakley temporarily left the Buffalo Bill show but returned two years later, after Smith departed, in time for the Paris Exposition of 1889. This three-year tour cemented Oakley’s place as a premier celebrity back in the US. She earned more than any other performer in the show, except for “Buffalo Bill” Cody himself.

In Europe, she performed for Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, King Umberto I of Italy, President Marie François Sadi Carnot of France and other crowned heads of state. Oakley is said to have shot the ashes off a cigarette/cigar held in the mouth (or hand) of the future German Kaiser Wilhelm II. Supposedly Oakley asked for volunteers as part of the act, and usually none came forward. This allowed Frank to step into the hot spot. However, in Germany the Kaiser gladly volunteered to everyone’s surprise. Endless speculation has followed. What if she had accidentally blown his head off?  Would the Great War have been averted? There is also a legend that in 1916 Oakley requested a second shot.

There is a movie extant of Oakley performing produced at Edison’s Black Maria studio.  It’s not exactly a showcase of her skills but is a period piece

Oakley promoted the service of women in combat operations for the United States armed forces. She wrote a letter to President William McKinley on April 5, 1898, “offering the government the services of a company of 50 ‘lady sharpshooters’ who would provide their own arms and ammunition should the U.S. go to war with Spain.” The Spanish–American War did occur, but Oakley’s offer was not accepted. Theodore Roosevelt, did, however, name his volunteer cavalry the “Rough Riders” after the “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World” where Oakley was a major star.

In 1901, Oakley was badly injured in a train accident, but she recovered after temporary paralysis and five spinal operations. She left the Buffalo Bill show and in 1902 began a quieter acting career in a stage play written especially for her, The Western Girl. Oakley played the role of Nancy Berry and used a pistol, a rifle and rope to outsmart a group of outlaws. Her injury and change of career only added to her legend that her shooting expertise continued to increase into her 60s.

Throughout her career, it is believed that Oakley taught upwards of 15,000 women how to use a gun. Perhaps Oakley’s most famous trick was her ability to repeatedly split a playing card, edge-on, and put several more holes in it before it could touch the ground, while using a .22 caliber rifle, at 90 feet (27 m).

In 1904, sensational cocaine prohibition stories were selling well. Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst published a false story that Oakley had been arrested for stealing to support a cocaine habit. The woman actually arrested was a burlesque performer who told Chicago police that her name was Annie Oakley. Most of the newspapers that printed the story had relied on the Hearst article, and they immediately retracted it with apologies upon learning of the libelous error. Hearst, however, tried to avoid paying the anticipated court judgments of $20,000 ($533,111 in today’s dollars) by sending an investigator to Darke County, Ohio with the intent of collecting reputation-smearing gossip from Oakley’s past. The investigator found nothing. Oakley spent much of the next six years winning 54 of 55 libel lawsuits against newspapers. She collected less in judgments than the total of her legal expenses, but she felt that a restored reputation justified the loss of time and money.

In 1917 Oakley and Butler moved to North Carolina and returned to public life. She continued to set records into her 60s, and she also engaged in extensive philanthropy for women’s rights and other causes, including the support of young women whom she knew. She embarked on a comeback and intended to star in a feature-length silent movie which never materialized. She hit 100 clay targets in a row from 16 yards (15 m) at age 62 in a 1922 shooting contest in Pinehurst, North Carolina.

In late 1922, the couple were in a car accident that forced her to wear a steel brace on her right leg. She eventually performed again after more than a year of recovery, and she was still setting records in 1924. Her health declined in 1925 and she died of pernicious anemia in Greenville, Ohio at the age of 66 on November 3, 1926. Her body was cremated in Cincinnati two days later and the ashes buried at Brock Cemetery near Greenville, Ohio. Butler was so grieved by her death that he stopped eating and died 18 days later in Michigan. His body was buried next to Oakley’s ashes. After her death, her incomplete autobiography was given to stage comedian Fred Stone, and it was discovered that she had spent her entire fortune on her family and her charities.

By some accounts Oakley’s favorite dish was chicken and rice, so you can make some version of arroz con pollo in celebration if you want to. There is however a reasonably well known oatmeal cookie called Annie Oakley, so I’ll go with that.

Annie Oakley Cookies

Ingredients

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup butter, melted
1 tsp baking soda
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups oatmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
butter, for greasing

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350˚F.

Lightly grease two baking sheets with butter.

Mix all the dry ingredients in a mix bowl, then add the melted butter and eggs. Stir thoroughly to form a soft dough.

Drop the dough by the tablespoon on to the baking sheets, leaving enough space between them for the cookies to expand.

Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the baking sheets with a spatula and cool on wire racks.

Jun 112017
 

Today is the birthday (1776) of John Constable, RA, renowned English painter of the Romantic era known principally for his landscape paintings of Dedham Vale, the area surrounding his home — now known as “Constable Country.” Constable was never financially successful and he did not become a member of the establishment until he was elected to the Royal Academy at the age of 52. However, his work was embraced in France, where he sold more works than in his native England and inspired both Romantics and early Impressionists.

Constable was born in East Bergholt, a village on the River Stour in Suffolk, to Golding and Ann (Watts) Constable. His father was a wealthy corn merchant, owner of Flatford Mill in East Bergholt and, later, Dedham Mill in Essex. Golding also owned a small ship, The Telegraph, which he moored at Mistley on the Stour estuary, and used to transport corn to London. After a brief period at a boarding school in Lavenham, Constable was enrolled in a day school in Dedham. Constable worked in the corn business after leaving school, but his younger brother Abram eventually took over the running of the mills.

In his youth, Constable went on sketching trips in the surrounding Suffolk and Essex countryside, which was to become the subject of major portion of his art. These scenes, in his own words, “made me a painter, and I am grateful”; “the sound of water escaping from mill dams etc., willows, old rotten planks, slimy posts, and brickwork, I love such things.” Later, while visiting relatives in Middlesex, he was introduced to the professional artist John Thomas Smith, who advised him on painting but also urged him to remain in his father’s business rather than take up art professionally.

In 1799, Constable persuaded his father to let him pursue a career in art, and Golding granted him a small allowance. Entering the Royal Academy Schools as a probationer, he attended life classes and anatomical dissections, and studied and copied old masters. In 1802 he refused the position of drawing master at Great Marlow Military College, a move which Benjamin West (then master of the RA) counseled would mean the end of his career. In that year, Constable wrote a letter to John Dunthorne in which he spelled out his determination to become a professional landscape painter:

For the last two years I have been running after pictures, and seeking the truth at second hand… I have not endeavoured to represent nature with the same elevation of mind with which I set out, but have rather tried to make my performances look like the work of other men…There is room enough for a natural painter. The great vice of the present day is bravura, an attempt to do something beyond the truth.

Constable’s usual subjects, scenes of ordinary daily life, were unfashionable in an age that looked for more romantic visions of wild landscapes and ruins. He made occasional trips further afield. By 1803, he was exhibiting paintings at the Royal Academy. In April he spent almost a month aboard the East Indiaman Coutts as it visited south-east ports while sailing from London to Deal before leaving for China. In 1806 he went on a two-month tour of the Lake District. He told his friend and biographer, Charles Leslie, that the solitude of the mountains oppressed his spirits, and Leslie wrote:

His nature was peculiarly social and could not feel satisfied with scenery, however grand in itself, that did not abound in human associations. He required villages, churches, farmhouses and cottages.

To make ends meet, Constable took up portraiture, which he found dull, though he executed many fine portraits. He also painted occasional religious pictures but, according to John Walker, “Constable’s incapacity as a religious painter cannot be overstated.”

Constable adopted a routine of spending winter in London and painting at East Bergholt in summer. In 1811 he first visited John Fisher and his family in Salisbury, a city whose cathedral and surrounding landscape were to inspire some of his greatest paintings.

From 1809, his childhood friendship with Maria Elizabeth Bicknell developed into a deep, mutual love. Their marriage in 1816 when Constable was 40 was opposed by Maria’s grandfather, Dr Rhudde, rector of East Bergholt. He considered the Constables his social inferiors and threatened Maria with disinheritance. Maria’s father, Charles Bicknell, solicitor to King George IV and the Admiralty, was reluctant to see Maria throw away her inheritance. Maria pointed out to John that a penniless marriage would detract from any chances he had of making a career in painting. Golding and Ann Constable, while approving the match, held out no prospect of supporting the marriage until Constable was financially secure. After they died in quick succession, Constable inherited a fifth share in the family business.

John and Maria’s marriage in October 1816 at St Martin-in-the-Fields (with Fisher officiating) was followed by time at Fisher’s vicarage and a honeymoon tour of the south coast. The sea at Weymouth and Brighton stimulated Constable to develop new techniques of brilliant color and strong brushwork. At the same time he put more overt and bold emotion into his art.

Although he had scraped an income from painting, it was not until 1819 that Constable sold his first important canvas, The White Horse, which led to a series of “six footers”, as he called his large-scale paintings. That year he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy. In 1821 he showed The Hay Wain (a view from Flatford Mill) at the Academy’s exhibition. Théodore Géricault saw it on a visit to London and praised Constable in Paris, where a dealer, John Arrowsmith, bought four paintings, including The Hay Wain. It was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1824, winning a gold medal.

In his lifetime, Constable sold only 20 paintings in England, but in France he sold more than 20 in just a few years. Despite this, he refused all invitations to travel internationally to promote his work, writing to Francis Darby: “I would rather be a poor man [in England] than a rich man abroad.” In 1825, perhaps due partly to the worry of his wife’s ill-health, distaste of living in Brighton (“Piccadilly by the Seaside”), and the pressure of numerous outstanding commissions, he quarreled with Arrowsmith and lost his French outlet.

After the birth of their seventh child in January 1828, Maria fell ill and died of tuberculosis on 23 November at the age of 41. Intensely saddened, Constable wrote to his brother Golding, “hourly do I feel the loss of my departed Angel—God only knows how my children will be brought up…the face of the World is totally changed to me.” Thereafter, he dressed in black and was, according to Leslie, “a prey to melancholy and anxious thoughts”. He cared for his seven children alone for the rest of his life. He was elected to the Royal Academy in February 1829, at the age of 52. In 1831 he was appointed Visitor at the Royal Academy, where he seems to have been popular with the students.

He began to deliver public lectures on the history of landscape painting, which were attended by distinguished audiences. In a series of lectures at the Royal Institution, Constable proposed a three-fold thesis: firstly, landscape painting is scientific as well as poetic; secondly, the imagination cannot alone produce art to bear comparison with reality; and thirdly, no great painter was ever self-taught. He also spoke against the new Gothic Revival movement, which he considered mere “imitation”.

He died on the night of 31 March 1837, apparently from heart failure, and was buried with Maria in the graveyard of St John-at-Hampstead, Hampstead. (His children John Charles Constable and Charles Golding Constable are also buried in this family tomb.)

Constable quietly rebelled against the artistic culture that taught artists to use their imagination to compose their pictures rather than nature itself. He told Leslie, “When I sit down to make a sketch from nature, the first thing I try to do is to forget that I have ever seen a picture.” He was never satisfied with following a formula. “The world is wide”, he wrote, “no two days are alike, nor even two hours; neither were there ever two leaves of a tree alike since the creation of all the world; and the genuine productions of art, like those of nature, are all distinct from each other.”

Constable’s watercolors were also remarkably free for their time: the almost mystical Stonehenge, 1835, with its double rainbow, is often considered to be one of the greatest watercolors ever painted. When he exhibited it in 1836, Constable appended a text to the title: “The mysterious monument of Stonehenge, standing remote on a bare and boundless heath, as much unconnected with the events of past ages as it is with the uses of the present, carries you back beyond all historical records into the obscurity of a totally unknown period.”

In addition to the full-scale oil sketches, Constable completed numerous observational studies of landscapes and clouds, determined to become more scientific in his recording of atmospheric conditions. The power of his physical effects was sometimes apparent even in the full-scale paintings which he exhibited in London; The Chain Pier, 1827, for example, prompted a critic to write: “the atmosphere possesses a characteristic humidity about it, that almost imparts the wish for an umbrella”.

Constable’s oil sketches were innovative in that he did them in oils directly from the subject in the open air. To convey the effects of light and movement, Constable used broken brushstrokes, often in small touches, which he scumbled (covered in a very thin layer of opaque paint) over lighter passages, creating an impression of sparkling light enveloping the entire landscape. One of the most expressionistic and powerful of all his studies is Seascape Study with Rain Cloud, painted about 1824 at Brighton, which captures with slashing dark brushstrokes the immediacy of an exploding cumulus shower at sea. Constable also became interested in painting rainbow effects, for example in Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, 1831, and in Cottage at East Bergholt, 1833.

To the sky studies he added notes, often on the back of the sketches, of the prevailing weather conditions, direction of light, and time of day, believing that the sky was “the key note, the standard of scale, and the chief organ of sentiment” in a landscape painting. In this habit he is known to have been influenced by the pioneering work of the meteorologist Luke Howard on the classification of clouds; Constable’s annotations of his own copy of Researches About Atmospheric Phaenomena by Thomas Forster show him to have been fully abreast of meteorological terminology. “I have done a good deal of skying”, Constable wrote to Fisher on 23 October 1821; “I am determined to conquer all difficulties, and that most arduous one among the rest.”

Constable once wrote in a letter to Leslie, “My limited and abstracted art is to be found under every hedge, and in every lane, and therefore nobody thinks it worth picking up.”

East Anglian kitchels have been mentioned in English literature dating back to Chaucer. They can still be found easily in Suffolk or Essex. They are raisins, mixed peel, and almonds with spices sandwiched between layers of puff pastry. They are made by baking a single block and then cutting it into squares or rectangles so that the sides are open, not crimped.  I generally use commercial frozen puff pastry for convenience, but if you are a dab hand, make your own. I tend to use a lot more spice than standard recipes.  You choose how much you want, or select individual ingredients from my list at the bottom.

Suffolk Kitchels

Ingredients

3 oz butter
10 oz currants
4 oz chopped candied peel
4 oz coarsely ground almonds
3 tsp mixed spice (see below)
1lb puff pastry (thawed if frozen)
extra melted butter for glazing
caster sugar (optional)

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C

Melt the butter over low heat in a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium-low heat and add the currants, peel, almonds and spice. Stir well with a wooden spoon so that everything is mixed thoroughly. Check seasonings. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Grease a large baking sheet very well.

Divide the pastry in 2 and roll out each half into equal rectangles. Place one half on the greased baking sheet and brush generously with melted butter.

Spread the fruit/nut mixture evenly over the pastry base, ensuring there is a margin around all four edges. Give the edges an extra brush of butter and carefully place the second rectangle of pastry on top. Crimp the edges and brush the top with melted butter. Score squares or rectangles (as you prefer) in the top with a sharp knife.

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until puffed and golden. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack, sprinkle with caster sugar if you wish, and allow to cool slightly. Cut away the crimped edges along the short sides , and use the score marks to cut the whole piece into squares (or rectangles).

Serve warm or cold.  I like a little whipped cream with them, but that’s probably a bit too indulgent, and is not traditional.

You’ll see “mixed spice” as an ingredient listed in English recipes for desserts. It’s analogous to “pumpkin pie spice” in the US in that you can buy it prepared.  I prefer to make my own, or, more commonly, add separate spices as I see fit.  If you want precise measurements, here you are.

Mixed Spice

1 tbsp ground allspice
1 tbsp  ground cinnamon
1 tbsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp ground mace
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground ginger

Mix the spices together thoroughly and store in an air-tight container in the freezer.