In Part 1 of this post we looked at how the people of the Georgian era entertained themselves indoors using cards, dice, and with board games. In Part 2, we look at Georgian era Parlor Games and other “entertainments”.
Entertainments – Parlor Games and Other Pastimes
Artistic accomplishments were valued in a lady, who, according to period expectations, should be educated, but not so much as to be threatening to her husband. As a result, many young women devoted a good part of their time to drawing and painting with common subjects being landscapes and portraits. Drawing could be a form of group entertainment, as the artist’s friends and family might watch her at work if they were not serving as her models.
Blind Man’s Buff is a children’s game played as early as 2,000 years ago in Greece. In the Middle Ages, blind man’s buff was an adult game, and the blindfolded player was usually struck and buffeted as well, hence “buff.” A player touched or caught by the blind man takes on the blindfold, although sometimes the blind man must guess the identity of his captive before the removing the blindfold. If the guess is wrong, the blind man must release the captive and the game continues.
The game has been popular among adults on and off throughout history. The game has been played in England since the Tudor period, when there are references to Henry VIII’s courtiers playing it. During the 17th Century, the English diarist Samuel Pepys reported a game played by his wife and some friends in 1664. Art from the 18th and early 19th centuries shows the game continuing to be popular with adults throughout the era.
Buffy Gruffy is a substitute for Blind man’s buff for those occasions where you do not want the racket of the legitimate Blind Man’s Buff, having your toes trod on, or your furniture bruised and battered. One player, with a blindfold over the eyes, stands in the middle of the room. The others arrange their chairs in a circle and silently trade places. Someone claps to start the game. The blindfolded person passes around the chairs and stops in front of one. The player may use his knees to decide if someone is sitting in that chair, since physical contact is not permitted in polite society, especially between gentlemen and ladies this was quite “stimulating” .
The blindfolded player begins questioning the seated player who answers, while disguising their voice as much as possible. Here is an excellent opportunity for an individual to mock someone they do not like, all under the guise of polite hilarity. After three answers, the blindfolded player must guess who they have questioned. If they are correct, the seated player takes the blindfold and play begins anew. Otherwise, the blindfolded player moves on to question another.
Bullet Pudding is a quite messy, but in a fun way. The game involves retrieving a bullet (round ball) from a bowl of flour using your lips, tongue, and mouth. The following is a description of the game taken from a letter written by Fanny Price Austen (Jane Austen’s cousin).
“You must have a large pewter dish filled with flour which you must pile up into a sort of pudding with a peek at top. You must then lay a bullet at top and everybody cuts a slice of it, and the person that is cutting it when it falls must poke about with their noses and chins till they find it and then take it out with their mouths of which makes them strange figures all covered with flour but the worst is that you must not laugh for fear of the flour getting up your nose and mouth and choking you: You must not use your hands in taking the Bullet out.”
Charades originally involved a riddle, either in verse or in prose, which the listener must guess the meaning, often given syllable by syllable. In France and Italy, the word ‘charade’ still refers to this kind of written linguistic riddle. In the form most played today, it is an acting game in which one player acts out a word or phrase, often by acting out similar-sounding words, and the other players must guess the word or phrase. The idea is to use physical movement instead of verbal language to convey the meaning to another party. In England, the game is traditionally played at Christmas and on New Year’s Eve. Here is an example of one of the Georgian Era charade riddles:
To suffer my second’s the doom of my first,
And of all of my seconds, my whole is the worst.
Handwork. Most ladies embroidered or practiced other fancy work. They might adorn their clothing in this way, or make decorative pillowcases and other household items. Ladies also created other fashion accessories and domestic ornaments, such as painted screens and filigree baskets. All of this was done, and displayed, in order to highlight the young lady’s “cleverness” in the hope of making herself more attractive as a possible wife.
Music was also acceptable and so; one might find many kinds of musical instrument, such as the guitar, dulcimer, and flute in period homes. However, society considered the pianoforte and harp the most suitable for young women. The harp was more expensive than the piano, making it less common but more impressive. Singing, both solos and group singalongs, were quite popular; although sometimes the eagerness of the singer far exceeded their talents.
Musical Magic provided, the perfect opportunity to flirt openly under the cover of being a good sport. One of the party leaves the room until the rest have determined what task he must do. The task can be as simple as snuffing a candle, for a novice player, or, for an experienced player, as complex as kneeling before another player, removing their ring and placing it on the finger of a third player. The player is guided in discovering his task by the playing, singing, or humming of music from soft to loud. When the player is close to the object or action he must do next, the music becomes louder until it stops when he has gotten it right. The further away the player the softer the music. If the player in despair gives up, he must pay a forfeit and another player takes his place.
Reading also became a popular pastime with the first novels published at this time. Many Regency ladies favored Gothic novels but women also read history, conduct books, assorted magazines and journals, or the Romantic poets of the era. Reading was not just a solitary pursuit. A young lady and her friends (and family) often took turns reading aloud to each other. Books were quite expensive, but in many towns, you could pay to join a circulating library.
Short Answers is a game designed to allow young men and women to flirt, or not, and at the same time reveal small things about themselves. The company, once seated in a circle that alternates ladies and gentleman alternately begin the game. A lady commences the game by asking her right-hand neighbor a question, which he must reply to with a word of one syllable. Longer words will exact a penalty, one for each additional syllable. He then turns to the next lady with a question she must answer with a single syllable. The questions may be ordinary as in: “Pray, Sir, permit me to ask if you love dancing?” or distinctive as in: “Pray, Madam, what wood do you think the best for making thumb-screws?” The challenge comes in that neither question NOR answer may be repeated. Any player who repeats a question or answer incurs a forfeit.
Snapdragon (Snap-dragon, Flap-dragon, or Flapdragon) was a parlor game popular from about the 16th to 19th centuries. It was played during the winter, particularly on Christmas Eve. Brandy is heated and placed in a wide shallow bowl; raisins are placed in the brandy, which was then set on fire. Typically, the host extinguishes, or dims, the lights to increase the eerie effect of the blue flames playing across the liquor. The aim of the game is to pluck the raisins out of the burning brandy and eat them, at the risk of burning oneself. Snapdragon was played in England, Canada, and the United States, but there is insufficient evidence of the practice in Scotland, or other countries.
The liquid used in Snapdragon is typically brandy, although similar flammable liquors could also be used. Traditionally, raisins were the treat snatched; other treats, however, could be used. Of these, almonds were the most common alternative, but one could also use currants, candied fruit, figs, grapes, and plums. The low bowl was typically placed in the middle of a table to prevent damage from the inevitable splashes of burning brandy. In one variation, a Christmas pudding is placed in the center of the bowl with raisins around it.
As you can see from this list, evenings in a Georgian era household did not have to be dull and boring. There were plenty of entertainments in which the family and their invited friends might take part. In a future post we will look at entertainments that our Georgian era family might have gone outside or away from home to enjoy.