Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Wednesday Search Challenge (8/14/13): Can you find a Victorian domestic scene with music AND (science OR magic)?

This is music in a Victorian household.  Can you find an event of the time with music AND science OR magic?
SearchResearch Regular Reader Nell wrote in the other day with an intriguing question: 
I need to find a description, program, or announcement for a meeting that took place in someone's home combining singing with science or magic in London from 1835-45.  
It's not hard to find public events in that time period, but I want a domestic event, so diaries, letters, novels, and gossip journals are the best place to look. I have lots of magic books and sheet music designed for use in parlors, but no descriptions of anyone using them both in the same evening.
 It's not exactly a traditional challenge, because I haven't found an answer yet, but I'm convinced that this was happening and just need it described. I've heard from a friend that one of the Darwin letters might describe something similar taking place in Oxford, but neither of us can find it again, and I need something in London. 

I couldn't resist this plea for help (especially from someone named Nell--you could go look up why...).  

Nell's request is the kind of thing you hear a lot at the library reference desk--a question that has a lot of specifics (London, 1835-1845, music + science OR magic, written record) and is in a form where there's no obvious data source to go check.  It's a non-trivial challenge, and requires a bit of ingenuity to solve it.

To summarize today's search challenge:  

1.  Can you find a description of an event that took place 
in a London home that combined both music AND science 
OR magic between 1835 and 1845?  

We're looking for something like a diary, a letter, or novel from that time.  

Good luck!  

As always, be sure to tell us a little bit about how you did it.  What search terms did you use?  Where did you focus your search?  (And if you remember, about how long did you take on the search itself?)  

Search on!  


  1. Hi Dr. Russell.

    I have been trying in different ways and at the moment found nothing. I'll keep searching.

  2. I found an article on the "London Society of Magicians which was established in 1941 but was originally constituted arising out of an early collection of magicians who used the title of “The Magical Wanderers“. After the Second World War had commenced in 1939, and the Magic Circle had ceased to function, a few members of the Circle who lived fairly close to one another in London arranged to meet on a regular basis at one another’s homes." See

    My search string looked like this:
    London 1935 | 1936 | 1937 | 1938 | 1939 | 1940 | 1941 | 1942 | 1943 | 1944 | 1945 science | magic

    I forgot to add music or singing and need to find out how to simplify the date range. Will try again

    1. Close... but be sure to note that we're looking for mid 19TH century events. Your search should be for the 1835..1845 time period! (Nice use of the pipe character in place of OR !)

  3. It isn't for the lack of trying. Like Ramon I am still searching. This is difficult because of the time period and the fact that it is not a major event. Looking for a specific event including two forms of entertainment is challenging. As well the 'personal journals' 'diaries' 'family papers' maybe scanned but not readable text. Searching for a quote from a book that may have a "drawing room" entertainment scene seems almost impossible.

    This may be a case of our write-ups showing what didn't work rather than what did. But I will give it some more time. Just didn't want you to think we weren't working on it.

    1. I'm finding this hard too. And I started keeping track of the things I've tried, but NOT succeeded!

    2. Dr. Russell, RoseMary. I have just found something about is Salon and other small things that are not what Nell and us are looking for. Still searching. Have nice day!

  4. I see I am not the only one having trouble with this. The closest I could get were these: Diary entry from 1850 by Mrs Lubbock in which she says her kiddies sang Happy Birthday songs to their daddy and Mr & Mrs exchanged Daguerreotypes of each other. So its domestic and has music and is sort of sciencey. However 5 years too and 5 miles from London. I also found hymns and magic-lantern show in Belfast at the right time. The one I just read is an article about Charles Dickens love affair with magic lanterns which shows clearly in his rendition of Christmas Carol.
    If domestic can mean something at home then in London there were lots of what they called Salons usually held on regular basis in someone home. Holland House was a famous London location for these discussions. But did they have music or magic; probably some science topics.

    My first source which I knew would be winner turned out to not be: But full of curious reading.


  5. I typed this all out on my phone but looks like it wasn't processed - Blah!

    Anyway I found one possibility - there is a book on Google books called "Music and Friends : OR, Pleasant recollections of a dilettante Volume 2" by William Gardiner.
    Page 528, 687-688 mentions astronomy and phrenology. Phrenology is not exactly science but it was at the time!

    It took about an hour over 2 days.
    Initially I tried looking to see if Dickins had written anything but no luck.
    Then through Wikipedia I found that Karl Marx had written for a newspaper in London at the time but didn't get anywhere with that either.
    Today I tried in Google Books [magic music evening] with date limit of 1835 to 1845 and one of first results is the above book.
    I open it up and search inside for [magic] which doesn't find much but when I try [science] quite a few results come up. I read through them and find the above pages which seem relevant to me. And seem to be London.
    There may be more in Volume 1!!

    A TOUGH challenge.

  6. found this by using this term [victorian parlor entertainment london]
    tried multiple combos of terms, this produced the Yahoo summary:
    [19th century london home entertainment]
    found using terms: drawing room, chamber, parlor, victorian — all helpful. Was prompted to the parlor/chamber usage by watching this:
    chamber magic
    also used these:
    the Victorian Web
    page 154 was entertaining, about the right time, but a little vague and on the road/not in a home…

  7. Dr. Russell, searching {magic|science music house entertainment london 1835..1845] found maybe that can help us. In the preview post any clue that can help us to get the answer?

  8. A quick-and-dirty Google search (london mesmerism domestic 1830s 1840s) threw up this conference paper regarding mid-19th century Bloomsbury,, which I think is a good starting-point.

  9. Despite a good amount of time spent on this search I haven't found anything that really answers the question
    Sources (using keywords for the time and place)
    Books (fiction & non fiction)
    Images (paintings, journals)
    Newspapers (London Gazette was only one I could access)
    Magazines (who knew Charles Dickens published a weekly magazine "Household Words")
    Personal Journals/family papers/diaries
    Musicians/magicians (found one person that was both)
    Archives (UK and USA)
    Scholar journals
    My conclusion is that with the vagueness of "a domestic event" almost two hundred years ago combined with having more than one activity (music, magic or science) makes this a search about perservance and willingness to search for the needle in a haystack. A random hit may be achieved.

  10. I tried several searches. This one [london "music" science OR magic 1830s] brought up a page from the Ashmolean Museum which has a description of a peculiar musical evening, describing Paganini's witchcraft music.

  11. Rather than say I found nothing I looked again researching books. My intuition keeps telling me Charles Dickens may have hosted the type of party we're looking for. Then I saw a reference between Dickens and Robert Houdin. I found this book which is the right time, includes magic and music, but without reading too far into it I believe this likely occurred in Paris. Two out of three isn't bad. Here's the title and quotes I have edited down to keep it as brief as possible without sending you on a search.
    Quote 1"Well, M. Robert-Houdin," he said to me, •* console yourself; we may possibly arrange this affair, I am going to give a large party next Wednesday evening', to which my brother has promised to come."On Wednesday, I proceeded to the house use of my new protector, who had the kindness to present me to some of his guests, while confidentially praising- my sleight-of-hand talents. My performance came off, and, judging by the applause I received, I may say it justified their anticipated compliments."
    Quote 2 "I had already given some partial rehearsals, and I now decided on holding one to precede the general rehearsal, but, as I was not quite sure of the success of my experiments, I only invited half a dozen intimate friends, pledged to give me their opinion with the greatest severity. This performance was fixed for the 25th June, 1845, and on that day I made my preparations with as much care as if I were going to give my opening performance, for I had been suffering for nearly a month from a regular panic, which I could attribute to no other cause than my nervous and impressionable temperament.I could not get a wink of sleep, my appetite hadleft me, and I thought of my performances. On the appointed evening, at eight precisely, my friends having duly arrived"
    Quote 3"The pianist, who represented my orchestra, having seen the curtain fall, and hearing no movement on the stage, thought my performance was over, and determined on going.

  12. I am trying new queries for example:

    ["victorian age" household music gatherings] ["victorian age" household music intext:magic intext:science]

    Found these url and now I'll read to see if they have answer or clue.

    Another option could be to find the Darwin letter that Nell mentions.

    I'll keep searching

    1. With this query [london household amusements Music with intext:magic|science "victorian age"] Found In it they mention "magic music" a game that involves music and "magic". It does not a lot more to get a real answer. At least can be a clue.

      Changing queries found it has a good information and mentions books. I research more.

      Out of topic: In this SearchResearch I have found for example that the term "Glee" was first evident in 1600s

  13. This is definitely one of the most interesting and difficult search challenges you have posted. I'm sorry I'm out of free time to contribute. I've just read the latest post on your blog, detailing every attempt made until now and I'm fascinated at the different approaches.

    The only approach I thought of is, in fact, differs from all others at a certain point. I also started by thinking of starting from people, like Dan Brickley. But what I thought after that was that such music and science domestic gatherings must be mentioned in books about music.

    I immediately thought of an excellent Portuguese book in 2 vols by the conductor António Victorino D'Almeida entitled Toda a música que eu conheço (translated, that would be "All the Music I Know") — very funny and serious at the same time, focusing on every aspect of life and music of each period and composer mentioned. I have a hard copy but it's not with me at the moment, so I can't browse it. The e-book version of its 1st volume (the one that matters, dealing with music until the end of the 19th century) is previewable on Google Books. We're searching for composers Clementi, Cramer or John Field, or performers of Handel or Mendelssohn and maybe Schumann or Chopin, for example. Wikipedia mentions that

    "the British singers Michael Kelly, Nancy Storace and John Braham were prominent and by their example sustained the international opera and oratorio works of Handel, Haydn, Mozart and their successors in the British arena."

    I tried to search the preview of Victorino D'Almeida's book but to no avail, for the few searches I've made ( [haydn], [haendel], [ciência], [magia], [londres], [braham] ).

    The first two performers mentioned on the aforementioned Wikipedia article died before 1930, so only John Braham might be of interest for us. When I was about to quit, I found these two sources on the Wikipedia article about John Braham:

    Leigh Hunt, ed. J. Morpurgo, Autobiography, London, 1949
    Charles and Mary Lamb, ed. E. W. Marrs, The Letters of Charles and Mary Lamb, (3 vols), Cornell University Press, 1975-8

    These would be the sources for me to search next.