Page 7, 22nd January 1937

22nd January 1937
Page 7
Page 7, 22nd January 1937 — THE ROMANCE OF COMMON THINGS

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Locations: Canterbury


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(7) BEDS


" And so to bed." The remark nowadays has become a cliche; and (dare one. suggest it?) is probably the only thing about Pepys that most people rememberl It is true that bed closes each man's day sooner or later; but that mankind in the past has endorsed the lines of the unknown writer " And love it is the best of them, And sleep worth all the rest of them," may be gauged from the " equipageous grandosity " (as Alice called it) of the beds of the rich and powerful through the ages.

We have simplicity of form among the Greeks and the Egyptians veneered with expensive woods of tortoise shell, ivory and silver. In later Roman times hangings of the costliest and finest description made their appearance.

Bronze Bedsteads

The bedsteads themselves were often of bronze with silver inlay and Heliogabalus had, like some modern Indian princes, a bed of solid silver. All this luxury was swept away in the dark ages with the invasion of Vandal and Goth, who we find lying on beds of leaves covered with skins, or in a kind of shallow chest filled with leaves and moss.

But in the early Middle Ages mattresses filled with feathers or hair made their

appearance. The thirteenth Century saw the return of the wooden bedsteads much decorated with inlaid, carved and painted

ornament. They also had folding beds, which served as couches by day and had cushions covered with silk laid upon leather. At night a linen sheet was spread and pillows placed while silk-covered skins served as coverlets.

Early "Reading Lamps"

Even in the twelfth century curtains had appeared, and to have a light over the bed is no modern invention, and it was known then, as we see in the quaint pictures of the period.

In the fourteenth century the tester, or canopied bed, made its appearance. The tester was slung from the ceiling or fastened to the walls, a form which developed later into a room within a room, shut in by double curtains so as to exclude all draughts. The space between the bed and the wall was called the melte (French for " little lane") and very intimate friends were received there.

It was by use of the melte that a priest

was introduced into the bedroom of the dying Charles II. and thus received him into the Catholic! Church, and this with the Archbishop of Canterbury standing unaware of what was happening, in the same room.

The Big Bed Age

In the fifteenth century beds became very large, reaching seven or eight feet by six or seven feet. The Great Bed of Ware is

a famous example of the period. It is mentioned by Shakespeare in Twelfth Night. It is a huge fourposter of carved black oak, and is now twelve feet square, but at one time it was three yards long and afforded accommodation for twelve people.

There is a record in Norfolk, at Scole. of a round bed large enough to hold forty people, but this has long since vanished.

About the sixteenth century the old solid type of bed gave way to a lighter and more decorative kind; as life tended to become more settled. The seventeenth century was called the "Century of magnificent beds." Louis XIV had an enormous collection of sumptuous affairs, as many as 413 being catalogued in the inventories of his palaces.

The hangings alone are worth several fortunes. Some of them had embroideries enriched with pearls, and figures on a silver or gold ground. The carving was the work of Proux or Caffieri and the gilding by La Baronniere.

De Maintenon's Puritanism

The great bed at Versailles had crimson velvet curtains on which " the Triumph of Venus '' was so heavily embroidered in gold that the velvet hardly showed.

A touch of almost absurd puritanism is given to the history of the bed by Madame de Maintenon's insistence that " The Sacrifice of Abraham," which is now on the tester, replaced " The Triumph of Venus." A dull woman with no sense of humour!

It was at this period that the style a la duchesse, with tester and curtains only at the head, replaced the more enclosed beds in France, though they lasted much longer in England. History does not relate which duchess introduced so hygienic a reform, but we may be sure that the de Maintenons branded her as a shameless hussy and went

on resolutely suffocating themselves with curtains!

Respected Like Altars

The etiquette of the bedchamber both in France and Germany is both interesting and amusing. It was exceedingly elaborate, and the beds of the kings and queens were saluted by the courtiers as if they were altars; and none approached them, even when there was no railing to prevent it.

These railings were apparently placed for other than ceremonial reasons originally, and in the accounts of several castles in the fifteenth century mention is made of a railing to keep dogs from the bed.

The custom of " the bed of justice " upon which the King of France reclined when he was present in Parliament, the princes being seated, the great officials standing, the lesser officials kneeling, was held to denote the royal power even more than the throne. Louis XI introduced the custom. which lasted till the close of the monarchy. Out of this arose the entire ceremonial of the "lit de parement," " petit lever " and " grand lever" of Le Roi Soleil, and the whole marvellous pivoting of Court life.

£25,000 for a Bed

But Marie Antoinette outrivalled Louis XIV in extravagance, and considered £25,000 quite a reasonable price to pay for any bed that caught her fancy.

The sight of so much magnificence and squandered wealth infuriated the mob which crowded into the Tuileries, and a grimy hawker installed himself in one, exclaiming " Now it is the nation's turn to be comfortable!"

Ludwig II, the unfortunate King of Bavaria, so infamously treated by Wagner, numbered many expensive beds among his other extravagances. One, which cost him £125.000, was constructed to resemble a Gothic cathedral, with tall windows, exquisite carvings and a famous painting of the Madonna set in the head. Another, afterwards sold to an Indian prince, was made of silver and mother-of-pearl.

The most costly bed in the world belonged to the Czars of Russia. It was made entirely of crystal with steps of cut glass worked in imitation of large diamonds.

It is an ironic comment on all this magnificence that sleep renders one completely oblivious of it; and should sleep not come, all this splendour will not compensate for a night's rest lost,

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