Nothing sums up the Victorians’ freakish attitudes on sex as the notion that they were aroused by cabinetry. The author Matthew Sweet has shown that this fanciful story actually began with an English tourist in the United States. In 1837, a pompous Captain Frederick Marryat visited a seminary for young ladies in Niagara Falls, where he was astonished to discover the piano legs sheathed in “modest little trousers.” These covers, a local guide confided, were necessary to preserve the “utmost purity of ideas” amongst the impressionable young girls. On another occasion, a Yankee girl told Marryat that even saying the word leg was considered too risqué in America; “limb” was preferred at a pinch. Captain Marryat dutifully recorded these factoids in A Diary in America.

There are no other records of this conservative New York habit; possibly the piano legs were really covered at the seminary to keep off dust…. More…