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Romance of London: Eccentricities of Lord Byron

Romance of London: Strange Stories, Scenes And Remarkable Person of the Great Town in 3 Volumes

John Timbs

John Timbs (1801-1875), who also wrote as Horace Welby, was an English author and aficionado of antiquities. Born in Clerkenwell, London, he was apprenticed at 16 to a druggist and printer, where he soon showed great literary promise. At 19, he began to write for Monthly Magazine, and a year later he was made secretary to the magazine’s proprietor and there began his career as a writer, editor, and antiquarian.

This particular book is available at googlebooks for free in ebook form. Or you can pay for a print version.

George Gordon, 6th Baron Byron

George Gordon, 6th Baron Byron

Eccentricities of Lord Byron

Mr. Rogers, in his Table Talk, writes:—”Neither [Thomas] Moore nor myself had ever seen Byron, when it was settled that he should dine at my house to meet Moore; nor was he known by sight to [Thomas] Campbell, who, happening to call upon me that morning, consented to join the party.  I thought it best that I alone should be in the drawing-room when Byron entered it; and Moore and Campbell accordingly withdrew. Soon after his arrival they returned, and I introduced them to him severally, naming then as Adam named the beasts. When we sat down to dinner, I asked Byron if he would take soup? ‘No; he never took soup.’—Would he take some fish? ‘No; he never took fish.’ Presently, I asked if he would eat some mutton? ‘No’ he never ate mutton.’—I then asked if he would take a glass of wine? ‘No; he never tasted wine.’—It was now necessary to inquire what he did eat and drink’ and the answer was,—’Nothing but hard biscuits and soda-water.’ Unfortunately, neither hard biscuits nor soda-water were at hand; and he dined upon potatoes bruised down on his plate and drenched with vinegar. My guests stayed till very late, discussing the merits of Walter Scott and Joanna Baillie. Some days after, meeting Hobhouse, I said to him, ‘How long will Lord Byron persevere in his present diet?’ He replied,—’Just as long as you continue to notice it.’ I did not then know what I now know to be a fact, that Byron, after leaving my house, had gone to a club in St. James’s Street and eaten a hearty meat supper… Byron had a prodigious facility of composition. He was fond of suppers, and used often to sup at my house and eat heartily (for he had then given up the hard biscuit and soda-water diet); after going home he would throw off sixty or eighty verses, which he would send to press next morning… In those days, at least, Byron had no readiness of reply in conversation. If you happened to let fall any observation which offended him, he would say nothing at the time, but the offence would lie rankling in his mind, and, perhaps, a fortnight after, he would suddenly come out with some very cutting remarks upon you, giving them as his deliberate opinions, the results of his experience of your character.”

Joanna Baillie, Scottish poet and dramatist

Joanna Baillie, Scottish poet and dramatist

 

Sir Walter Scott, Scottish historical novelist, poet, and playwright

Sir Walter Scott, Scottish historical novelist, poet, and playwright

 

Romance of London Series

  1. Romance of London: The Lord Mayor’s Fool… and a Dessert
  2. Romance of London: Carlton House and the Regency
  3. Romance of London: The Championship at George IV’s Coronation
  4. Romance of London: Mrs. Cornelys at Carlisle House
  5. Romance of London: The Bottle Conjuror
  6. Romance of London: Bartholomew Fair
  7. Romance of London: The May Fair and the Strong Woman
  8. Romance of London: Nancy Dawson, the Hornpipe Dancer
  9. Romance of London: Milkmaids on May-Day
  10. Romance of London: Lord Stowell’s Love of Sight-seeing
  11. Romance of London: The Mermaid Hoax
  12. Romance of London: The Bluestocking and the Sweeps’ Holiday
  13. Romance of London: Comments on Hogarth’s “Industries and Idle Apprentices”
  14. Romance of London: The Lansdowne Family
  15. Romance of London: St. Margaret’s Painted Window at Westminster
  16. Romance of London: Montague House and the British Museum
  17. Romance of London: The Bursting of the South Sea Bubble
  18. Romance of London: The Thames Tunnel
  19. Romance of London: Sir William Petty and the Lansdowne Family
  20. Romance of London: Marlborough House and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough
  21. Romance of London: The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities
  22. Romance of London: Voltaire in London
  23. Romance of London: The Crossing Sweeper
  24. Romance of London: Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s Fear of Assassination
  25. Romance of London: Samuel Rogers, the Banker Poet
  26. Romance of London: The Eccentricities of Lord Byron
  27. Romance of London: A London Recluse

Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part II

vauxhallbook

Vauxhall Gardens: A History

David Coke & Alan Borg

The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens is one of the places I’d love to slip back in time to visit, just to catch a glimpse of what it was like. After recently splurging to buy this lovely coffee-table book, I thought it might make a wonderful subject for a new blog series. But do buy the book too, if you can!

Grand Military Fetes and Displays

The first record of a military fete was on 30 May 1786, the day after the Jubilee, when transparencies of British men-of-war by the marine painter John Thomas Serres (1759-1825) were presented with other decorations, including a representation of the British lion trampling the Spanish flag. The newly formed Duke of York’s Band played military airs and was to perform regularly in the gardens until 1816. This period saw an increasing presence of soldiers and military bands, theoretically in response to the threat of invasion from France, but more directly in an attempt to rival the jingoistic displays to be seen at Astley’s. In 1787 the Cascade, the most famous of Vauxhall attractions in the eighteenth century, included marching soldiers. These military displays gradually expanded and needed more space, so from 1816 the Cascade site was used by Madame Saqui’s rope-dancing troupe.

Eventually, grand military fetes to celebrate actual events involved firework displays.

On 11 June 1810, Mizra Abul Hassan Khan wrote about his visit to the Gardens for the Grand Oriental Fete in honour of the Persian Ambassador:

The avenues were lighted by rows of tall candelabra and by lanterns hung from trees. In one place there were fireworks: when they did not rise high enough, everyone laughed and said ‘Shocking!’ The fireworks ended with the name of the Qibleh of the Universe written in Persian letters! Everyone appreciated this display and clapped their hands together. From there we went to a large covered place, beautifully lighted and decorated, like a theatre in the city. It was built to accommodate 5000 people in case of rain. After the fireworks, some people sat down to eat; later they danced.

American Samuel Morse, inventor of the Morse code, visiting on 17 September 1811:

A few evenings since I visited the celebrated Vauxhall Gardens, of which you have doubtless often heard. I must say they far exceeded my expectations; I never before had an idea of such splendor. The moment I went in I was almost struck blind with the blaze of light proceeding from thousands of lamps and those of every color. […] All is gayety throughout the gardens; every one is in motion, and care, that bane of human happiness, for a time seems to have lost her dominion over the human heart. Had the Eastern sage, who was in search of the land of happiness, at this moment been introduced into Vauxhall, I think his ost exalted conceptions of happiness would have been surpassed, and he would rest contented in having at last found the object of his wishes. […] The music and this course of dancing continue till about four o’clock in the morning, when the lights are extinguished and the company disperses. On this evening, which was by now means considered as a full night, the company consisted of perhaps three thousand persons.

vauxhall-pleasure-gardens-00364-800

George Cruikshank, Vauxhall Fete, engraving, 1813 (British Museum, London., 1862.1217.309). This satirical print shows many of the leading figures who attended the Grand Festival in honor of the Battle of Vittoria. On the left the Duke of York vomits against a tree; other notables include the Duke of Sussex in Highland uniform, the Duke of Clarence dressed as an Admiral, the Lord Mayor of London and Lord Castlereigh. On the far right a fat lady exclaims ‘They’re all drunk, the Brutes.’

Grand Festival of the Battle of Vittoria

On 20 July 1813, a Grand Festival of the Battle of Vittoria was held in honor of the then Marquess Wellesley, who attended. “The festival was ‘perhaps the most superb and costly entertainment ever given in England’ and such was its popularity that ‘the limited number’ of tickets ‘was exceeded and, in consequence, from ten to fifteen pounds was offered for a ticket’”. Byron noted:

There is to be a thing on Tuesday ycleped a national fete. The Regent and *** are to be there, and everybody else, who has shillings enough for what was once a guinea. Vauxhall is the scene—there are six tickets issued for the modest women, and it is supposed that there will be three to spare. The passports for the lax are beyond my arithmetic.

At a dinner for twelve hundred people in the Rotunda, the VIPs sat at a crescent-shaped, raised table. There was also

a row of crimson steps covered with massive pieces of ornamental gold and silver plate, with the bust of the Lord Wellington on the summit. At the foot, and leaning against a silver vase of exquisite workmanship, was the Marshal’s staff taken in the battle. Two trumpeters in their state liveries and with silver trumpets, stood forward from the pile, and between them a grenadier of the Guards held the standard of the 100th French regiment of the line.

Neither George III nor the Prince of Wales attended (in spite of Byron’s expectation), but otherwise, the list of attendees was quite impressive. Wellesley arrived late for the dinner and found his seat of honor occupied, but presumably that was quickly dealt with. The ladies joined the party at 9 p.m., and at 11 p.m., the Princess of Wales arrived. She

was conducted around the chief promenade several times by his Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester and Col St Leger. The Princess was hailed repeatedly with loud greeting, and repaid the attentions of the company in the most courteous manner. She was dressed ina white satin train with a dark vet and ornaments, richly embroidered. On her head-dress she wore a green wreath, with diamonds.

Even later, “many of the nobility came from the Opera House after the conclusion of the ballet.”

In the course of the evening a new air called The plains of Vitoria was performed by the orchestra, while military bands, including those of the Foot and Life Guards, the Duke of Kent’s Regiment, and the 7th Hussars, played and marched up and down the Walks. ‘The appearance of some of these bands in the forest part of the garden was extremely picturesque, and presented some idea, at times, of soldiers in a campaign regaling and reposing themselves under the shade. The fireworks were set off in three sessions, at 11 p.m. and at 1 and 2 a.m. These were devised and directed by ‘Colonel Congreve’, the inventor of the Congreve Rocket, which was much used in the Napoleonic wars.

Other Military Fetes at Vauxhall

More fabulous military fetes were held in the following year, one of 13 June 1814 to celebrate the Treaty of Paris, and in August, a mock sea battle (Grand Mechanical Naumachia). Although there were fireworks on 15 August 1815 following Napoleon’s surrender at Waterloo, there were no specific events to mark the occasion until 18 June 1817. This became an annual celebration, eventually involving a reconstruction of the battle on the southeast side of the old Grand Walk, which became known as the Waterloo Ground.

View of Vauxhall, Lady's magazine

Anon., View of Vauxhall Gardens, engraving (Lambeth Landmark 1260) from the Lady’s Magazine, XXX (1799), supplement. The walks were covered to counter the rains which proverbially started when the Vauxhall season opened; they were extended all round the Grove in 1810.

 

Susana’s Vauxhall Blog Post Series

Chatsworth: A Grand House, To Be Sure, But Would You Wish to Live There?

Charming Chatsworth

Since reading Amanda Foreman’s Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, which includes much of the infamous duchess’s letters and journal entries, I’ve been fascinated by the Devonshire family. The only thing missing among the highly dramatic history of this noble, highly-esteemed family—possibly the wealthiest in England in the Georgian era—is a happy ending. The Devonshires of this period are prime examples of failed British aristocratic marriage and family values. With a seemingly endless source of income and the highest social status, why were these people so desperately unhappy?

It also begs the question that if we all truly believe that money and possessions not only do not make us happy but tend to bring along with them worries and responsibilities to weigh us down, then why do so many of us never seem to have enough? How much is enough? A comfortable life with enough income to cover the bills sounds reasonable. But does that mean stately homes, expensive cars, and a yacht to sail around the world? If you have that, would you be satisfied, or would you yearn for even more? If the billionaires of this world were truly happy, then why do they keep going after more and more? What do you do with a billion dollars anyway, especially with tax loopholes that the ordinary citizen does not enjoy? In the end, do you get a solid gold casket or something? Do you get special privileges in heaven?

Enough preaching. I wanted to write about my Chatsworth experiences this week. Yes, there are lessons to be learned. Unfortunately, most people aren’t inclined to learn from the past, and thus we keep making the same mistakes over and over.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire

Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire

Pronounced George-ayna, by the way. Georgiana was the oldest daughter of the First Earl Spencer and his wife, also Georgiana. The Earl and his wife were childhood sweethearts. If you visit Spencer House on St. James Place in London (see my Pinterest board here), you will be told about their great love and shown all sorts of decorative features that proclaim their love match. It truly warms the heart of a romance addict. Except that…it doesn’t ring true when you realize they subjected their beloved seventeen-year-old daughter to a loveless marriage that brought her much unhappiness. What went wrong?

Well, perhaps it wasn’t entirely their fault. Young Georgiana probably thought it was a dream come true to marry the richest man in England who also happened to be a duke (the 5th Duke of Devonshire). It must have been a shock, though, to discover that her husband had no intention of being faithful, that even at the time of their marriage, his mistress gave birth to an illegitimate daughter who was eventually brought into the Devonshire family to be raised after her mother died. Georgiana herself found it difficult to conceive and suffered miscarriages before producing three children, two daughters, and finally a son, sixteen years after her marriage.

William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire

William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire

Georgiana enjoyed her life as a leading lady of fashion and politics in the ton. A friend of Queen Marie Antoinette of France, they copied each other’s fashions, including excessively tall hairstyles and large hats. Georgiana was also a leader of the Whig movement, hosting popular salons at Devonshire House in London for all the prominent Whigs of the time. (See a blog post here about her political exploits.) But with all this, she wasn’t happy. She spent lavishly, and gambled excessively (see post about her gambling exploits here), to the point where even the coffers of the richest man in England were seriously threatened. Her mother, the Countess Spencer—who also gambled beyond her means, particularly after her beloved husband died—warned her to be honest with her husband and to be more prudent in her gambling. Didn’t happen. The duke only found out the truth about her debts after her death. I guess they didn’t have Gamblers Anonymous in those days, or they’d know an addict isn’t able to manage his addiction prudently without giving it up entirely.

Georgiana seemed to have everything, and yet, she didn’t. Desperate for a close friend, when she met Lady Elizabeth Foster, who was separated from her husband and sons and seemingly destitute, Georgiana insisted she reside with them, and so began the ménage à trois. Lady Foster bore Georgiana’s husband two illegitimate children, who were brought up in the Devonshire home with their half-siblings, and Georgiana didn’t seem to mind. She and Bess were the best of friends, although many, including Lady Spencer, believed Bess to be a con-artist of the worst kind.

Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey and later Prime Minister

Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey and later Prime Minister

After the birth of her son, who later became the 6th Duke, Georgiana felt free to have love affairs of her own. She fell in love with Charles Grey, later to become an earl and a prime minister, and bore him a daughter, who was raised by the child’s paternal grandparents. Her husband was enraged and exiled Georgiana to France for three years, during which time she worried that her son would never know her. (Okay, the duke was a man of his time and perhaps not so terrible as he seems today, but punishing his wife for something he’d been doing for all their marriage just does not give a good impression of his character. Maybe it’s just me?)

Georgiana died in 1806 at 48 of a liver abscess (an eerie coincidence since I had this same affliction last fall, but am completely healed, thank heavens), and three years later, Lady Foster married the duke and became the second duchess, whereupon she admitted the paternity of her two illegitimate children and demanded that the duke provide for them as handsomely (or more so) as his legitimate children. (No, I don’t like her. Can you tell?)

Elizabeth Cavendish, second wife of the 5th Duke of Devonshire

Elizabeth Cavendish, second wife of the 5th Duke of Devonshire

The 6th Duke

Georgiana’s son was sixteen when his mother died and twenty-one when his father died and he inherited. He was active in Whig politics, but his special interest was landscaping and architecture. He had a north wing added to the house and an extensive renovation of the gardens. He spent lavishly to improve the property, which at that time included about 83,000 acres. William never married, having courted Georgiana’s sister’s daughter, Lady Caroline Ponsonby (yes, the one who went nutso over Lord Byron) and lost her to William Lamb, who undoubtedly regretted his marriage in retrospect. Perhaps His Grace realized his good fortunate in escaping a miserable marriage and couldn’t bring himself to risk it again. Certainly the marriages in his own family must have given him quite a few qualms!

The Devonshire Arms

The Devonshire Arms

The Devonshire Arms

Described as “a picturesque country pub at the heart of village life, offering the charm and character of an historic inn with a contemporary twist,” the Devonshire Arms offers comfortable rooms, superb food, and a quaint, medieval building that won’t fail to inspire any dedicated history lovers who book rooms here. Check out my Pinterest board here. And the village of Beeley is equally charming.

Chatsworth

Chatsworth is such a beautiful place, filled with such priceless art and furnishings (see Pinterest board here), that one can’t quite understand how so many of its inhabitants, possessed of great wealth and just about anything they wished, were so obviously unhappy. I thought about this a great deal as I took my time touring the rooms and listening to the audioguide, and even as I walked among the rolling hills and sheep from my lodgings to the house. So much beauty and wealth, and yet, I am not envious. At this point in my life, I don’t aspire to such heavy responsibilities, no matter the grandeur and glamorous lifestyle. It is enough for me to have the privilege of seeing it and experiencing it this one time.

Lovely ceilings throughout the house

Lovely ceilings throughout the house

Sketches Room (my favorite)

Sketches Room (my favorite)

Countess Spencer, Georgiana's mother

Countess Spencer, Georgiana’s mother

Dining Room

Dining Room

Devonshire family portraits

Devonshire family portraits

Wellington Bedroom

Wellington Bedroom

On With the New: Wall sculpture of DNA maps of current Devonshire family

On With the New: Wall sculpture of DNA maps of current Devonshire family

What do you think? Would you like to live the life of a wealthy celebrity? I’m curious to know if others feel as I do that “enough is enough”, and that happiness is not found in great wealth and possessions.

Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London

Gentlemen of birth and/or wealth aspired to membership at one of London’s exclusive gentlemen’s clubs, where they could indulge in drink and gambling without the intrusion of lesser men. Potential members could be refused membership by one blackball.

Captain Gronow comments in his “Reminiscences” that

“female society amongst the upper classes was notoriously neglected….How could it be otherwise, when husbands spent their days in the hunting field, or were entirely occupied with politics, and always away from home during the day; whilst the dinner party, commencing at seven or eight, frequently did not break up before one in the morning. There were then, four- and even five-bottle men, and the only thing that saved them was drinking very slowly out of very small glasses.”

White's: note the famous Bow Window

White’s: note the famous Bow Window

White’s

White’s was the unofficial headquarters of the Tory party, while Brooks’s was for the Whigs, although several gentlemen belonged to both. From 1812 to 1816, Beau Brummell reigned supreme at White’s, along with his circle of friends, which included Lord Alvanley, the Duke of Argyll, “Poodle” Byng, “Ball” Hughes, Sir Lumley Skeffington, and Lords Sefton, Worcester, and Foley. Brummell approved who was allowed to sit in the famous Bow window, and decreed that there would be no acknowledgments of passersby. After Brummell’s fall from grace, Lord Alvanley replaced him. This is reportedly where Alvanley wagered 3,000 pounds on which of two raindrops would reach the bottom of the window first. It is not known whether he won or lost.

Gambling and betting were the two main forms of entertainment. The famous White’s Betting Book contains documentation for bets on a wide variety of subjects, including births, deaths, marriages, and battles. In the card rooms, fortunes were won or lost playing card games, the most popular of which was whist.

Gaming room at Brook's

Gaming room at Brooks’s

Brooks’s

The club that became Brooks’s was founded by William Almack, also the founder of Almack’s Assembly Rooms. Brooks’s was the preferred club of many famous Whigs, such as the Prince Regent, William Wilberforce, William Lamb, Charles James Fox, Lord Carlisle, Lord Robert Spencer, and General Fitzpatrick. The preferred card games here were faro, hazzard and macao.

Boodle's

Boodle’s

Boodle’s

Another establishment founded by the industrious William Almack, Boodle’s also had a famous bow window. Boodle’s was mostly patronized by country gentlemen who came to town for the good food and the gambling. Brummell, Wellington, and Wilberforce held memberships here as well.

Watier's: nicknamed the Dandy Club by Lord Byron

Watier’s: nicknamed the Dandy Club by Lord Byron

Watier’s

Considered the greatest gambling club of the Regency before its demise in 1819, Watier’s was founded in 1805 when the Prince Regent and his dinner guests were complaining about the monotonous food at the gentlemen’s clubs. The Prince asked one of his cooks, a Mr. Watier, if he would consider taking a house and starting a club.

Byron called it the Dandy Club. As the acknowledged arbiter of gentlemen’s fashions and behavior, Brummell reigned supreme here as well. The game of macao was the preferred game of chance, and Brummell himself lost a fortune here.

Gaming Hells

There was no lack of gaming establishments for the lesser souls who did not qualify for the exclusive men’s clubs. The play at these gaming “hells” was not always above-board, and many a greenhorn was exploited there, along with many unfortunate highly-ranked players. Many of these were owned by shady characters who operated under the radar of law-enforcement.

brook's chips

Gronow, Rees Howell, Reminiscences of Captain Gronow, Kindle edition free on Amazon

Laudermilk, Sharon H. and Hamlin, Theresa L., The Regency Companion, Garland Publishing, 1989.

The Regency Gentleman series

The Regency Gentleman: His Upbringing

The Fashionable Gentleman

The Rise and Fall of Beau Brummell 

Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London

Captain Who?

Gentlemen’s Sports in the Regency

The Gentleman’s Passion for Horses

Riding to the Hounds

The Regency Gentleman’s Passion for the Turf

The Blue Stockings Society and Benjamin Stillingfleet

In the Regency era, a young lady who gained the reputation of being a bluestocking would likely find herself “holding up the walls” as a wallflower at a ton event, since it was not the thing for a woman to be more educated than a man. Women were to be beautiful, fashionable, eloquent yet demure, and proficient in the social graces. A typical lady’s education would include reading, writing, geography, history, embroidery, drawing, French (or at least some French phrases), music, dancing, and, of course, riding, should her family have the means for a stable.

While there were, of course, learned ladies in society, it was thought prudent to keep one’s scholarly achievements private in order to avoid the bluestocking label, particularly for a young lady on the marriage market, which most genteel young ladies were. One hint that she might have blue tendencies could ruin her reputation and her opportunities for an advantageous marriage. And for most young ladies, marriage was the decision of a lifetime. Since divorce was nearly impossible and the husband held all the cards in the relationship, a mésalliance could very well mean a lifetime of misery and regrets.

In spite of this, there did exist a smattering of ladies—even some young, unmarried ladies—who defied prudence and flaunted their academic superiority to all and sundry. Some were married already, probably to indulgent husbands or those who were scholarly themselves. Those who were unmarried typically disdained the traditional role of women and did not aspire to giving some man control over them, although presumably these, too, were blessed with indulgent families with enough wealth to support a daughter for the rest of her life. There were some, like Hannah More, who, although she eschewed the frivolity of the ton, advocated the traditional role of marriage as the ideal for women, even though she herself never married.

Elizabeth Montagu

In the mid-eighteenth century, Elizabeth Montagu and Elizabeth Vesey, among others, founded a women’s literary discussion group, that later came to include gentlemen as well. The society promoted education for all (including women and the poor). Several prominent members of the society, which came to be known as The Blue Stockings Society, were (at one time or another):

  • Elizabeth Montagu: social reformer, patron of the arts, salonist, literary critic, and writer who helped organize and lead the Blue Stockings Society
  • Elizabeth Vesey: a wealthy patron of the society
  • Samuel Johnson: poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer
  • Anna Williams: poet and companion of Samuel Johnson
  • David Garrick: English author and playwright, friend of Samuel Johnson
  • Anna Laetitia Barbauld: a prominent English poet, essayist, literary critic, editor, and children’s author
  • James Beattie: Scottish poet, moralist, and philosopher
  • Frances Boscawen: literary hostess and correspondent
  • Edmund Burke: Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher
  • Frances Burney: novelist, diarist, and playwright
  • Elizabeth Carter: poet, classicist, writer, and translator
  • Margaret Cavendish-Harley: Duchess of Portland, and scholar/collector of natural history
  • Hester Chapone: author of conduct books for women
  • Mary Delaney: artist and letter-writer
  • Sarah Fielding: sister of Henry Fielding, novelist herself, who wrote the first children’s novel
  • Ada Lovelace: daughter of Lord Byron and his wife Annabella Millbank (who was a scholar herself), a noted mathematician and considered to be the first computer programmer
  • Catharine Macalay: historian
  • Hannah More: religious writer and philanthropost (see earlier post on this blog)
  • Sarah Scott: novelist, translator, social reformer, and sister of Elizabeth Montagu
  • Sir Joshua Reynolds: prominent portrait painter
  • Horace Walpole: art historian, man of letters, antiquarian, and Whig politician

Benjamin Stillingfleet

The name of the group supposedly came from an invited guest, Benjamin Stillingfleet, a noted botanist and scholar, who wore blue worsted stockings to the meetings because he could not afford the requisite black silk ones. Since the group prided itself on valuing conversation over fashion, the term bluestocking was more of a jest than a slight in the early days of the society. It was later that it became a term of shame and derision when applied to a young lady.

Stillingfleet was the son of a physician who attended Cambridge and worked as a tutor to his young relative, William Windham. He later accompanied Windham on a Grand Tour of the Continent, where they lingered several years, doing, among other things, scientific studies of the glaciers, for which his protégé was later honored as a Fellow of the Royal Society.

A bluestocking heroine, you say?

It can be done, of course. I’ve read dozens—if not hundreds—of historicals with bluestocking heroines. But she needs a special sort of hero, doesn’t she?—one who has enough confidence in his own abilities to appreciate and desire to nurture hers. Or at least, that’s what he needs to become by the end of the story. And I think it’s also important for him to be able to draw her out of her preoccupation with academics and into the real world on occasion as well.

However, in order to become a bluestocking in the first place, a heroine would need to have been brought up in a manner that would make this possible. A rare, scholarly family, perhaps, or a negligent one that doesn’t realize how much time she spends with her brother’s tutor and is properly horrified when they discover it. Because any girl tagged as a bluestocking would become the object of much derision and gossip by the high-sticklers of society, and these high-stickers never forgot such things, even when they were proven untrue. A marriage-minded miss and her mother would be horrified at the very thought.

Donning my teacher hat

As a former teacher, I cannot help comparing this to the seeming popularity of idiocy in modern culture, at least among the youth (I was a middle school teacher). It’s always been a concern of mine that adolescents—particularly girls—play down their intelligence in pursuit of popularity. Frankly, I’ve never understood it, not even when I was that age. Why anyone should eschew their God-given intelligence in order to cater to someone else’s insecurities is beyond me. One would think that we would have evolved beyond this by now, especially with the job market being so competitive, but I’ve seen too many students of both genders fail to take advantage of their academic abilities and end up with lives on the fringes of success. And frankly, all the standardized tests in the world are not making a whit of difference in the status quo.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think? Do you think movies like Dumb and Dumber only serve to lower the value of serious scholarship among our young people?

Blog Barrage for Treasuring Theresa

CBLSbarragebanner

CBLS Promotions is sponsoring a Blog Barrage for Treasuring Theresa today and tomorrow. Check out the stops and enter the Rafflecopter contest for my newest treasure box (including UK souvenirs) (see below).

Lovely wooden box, 2013 Ellora's Cave playing cards (for adults only), sheep soap, James I and II necklace, Union Jack sequined coin purse, plaid bagpipes Christmas ornament, Treasuring Theresa key chain, plaid pen, crown pencil, fizzing bath crystals

Mark Your Calendar

fall2010

Coffeetime Romance Chat 

August 24  • 8:00-10:00 p.m. EDT

Eight Authors • Eight Giveaways

Theme: Historical Romance

Participating Authors

Aileen Fish
Shelly Munro
Lexi Post
Susana Ellis
Amy Hearst
Sasha Cottman
Sabrina York
Julie Johnstone

Episode #13: Lady P Discusses the Luddite Uprising, the Assassination of Spencer Perceval, and the General Unfairness of Life

Lady Pendleton, Damian Ashby’s eccentric aunt (see the epilogue to Treasuring Theresa on Susana’s web site), is visiting Susana from the early 19th century. She’s intrigued by life in 21st century Toledo, Ohio, and, of course, Susana is thrilled to have the opportunity to pick her brain about life in Regency England. It certainly gives her a great deal to write about in Susana’s Parlour!

Susana: Lady P and I recently returned to Ohio after spending a month in Florida where she enjoyed taking daily “constitutionals” around the retirement village where my parents live, and eventually condescended to take a dip in the heated pool, although the bathing costume she rigged for herself raised more than a few eyebrows from the other swimmers.

Lady P [indignantly]: My dear Susana, I could not possibly have appeared in public in those-those underthings you and your mother wore. I should have been utterly humiliated!

Susana: They are called swimsuits, Lady P. Bathing costumes. And that’s what everyone else wore.

Lady P [with a hand to her head]: The gentlemen—such as they were—were much worse. I thought I would swoon when I saw those naked chests!

Susana [chuckling]: But surely you have seen a bare-chested man before, Lady P. Why, you and Lord P were married for nearly twenty years, were you not?

Lady P: Well, of course I did, but not in public, Susana. Why, my Pendleton was exceedingly conscious of propriety. He would never have appeared in public half-dressed; why his valet would have slit his own throat before allowing it!

Susana [biting her lips to keep from laughing at the thought of the suicidal valet]: These gentlemen are from the 21st century, Lady P. Frankly, what these men wore was quite modest compared to some of the younger gentlemen. Don’t you remember that day when we went to the beach and saw—

Lady P [shuddering]: Do not even remind me, Susana. The young women’s attire…why they were nearly as naked as the day they were born! Where is their sense of modesty?

Susana [making a mental note to avoid beaches and pools in the future]: Perhaps we should get back to today’s topic—the Luddite revolt in 1811-12. Can you tell my readers what you recall of that uncertain time?

Lady P: Indeed I can, although one could wish to forget it.

ludditesSusana: It started in the Midlands with the stocking industry, when stockingers, using looms and equipment leased from their employers in their homes, lost more than half their income when they were forced to produce cheap stockings that their employers could sell in larger quantities and increase their profits. Is that correct?

Lady P: How could I forget? Those stockings fell apart after barely a week of wear, and even the servants disdained them!

Susana: That was the same year the harvest failed, and food prices rose to an alarming level, and more and more people were suffering in economic distress.

Lady P: A shilling for a loaf of bread! It was outrageous!

Susana: People became desperate, and before long, gangs of disguised men started going around destroying the frames and looms used to produce the stockings to protest the treatment of the workers and the poverty more and more of them were forced to endure.

Lady P: That may be how it started, Susana, but it escalated into so much more than that. Why, many of us feared an uprising against the monarchy comparable to the French Terror of barely two decades past. And there wasn’t much to be done about it; Pendleton told me that fully half of the militia had taken up the cudgel for General Ludd in stealth and would turn against their officers in a trice if ordered to put down the revolutionaries.

Susana: I’m curious to know what Lord P thought should be done about it. He was a Tory, and the Tories were in power. Did he approve the decision to make frame-breaking a capital offense?

Lady P [shaking her head and sighing]: No, of course he did not. He thought it was incredibly stupid to think that masses of starving insurgents could be deterred by fear of the gibbet if they were caught. [Swallowing hard] He was, in fact, quite moved by Lord Byron’s speech in the House of Lords, where he decried the Tories’ attempt to solve the problem by force. He insisted—quite eloquently, Lord P admitted—that the Midland workers were being exploited to increase the profits of a few hosiers, and that the resulting misery benefitted no one.

Susana [thoughtfully]: The more things change, the more they stay the same. [Seeing Lady P’s raised eyebrow]: I was just thinking of how the Ohio House of Representatives just voted to eliminate the forty-hour work week so that employers won’t have to pay overtime—pay them double—for working more than that.

Lady P: As to that, I can’t say, Susana. But that is one reason I became a Whig. I would never go so far as to overturn the entire government and plunge the country into turmoil and terror such as what happened in France, but I have always believed that certain reforms to prevent the poor from being exploited could be instituted without much upheaval, and that the entire country would be the better for it. [Sighing] Dear Pendleton felt the same, but he was unable to persuade his colleagues to listen to reason. As afraid as they were of a revolution, the only solution the Tories could agree on was to threaten the insurgents.

Susana: It wasn’t long after that the Tories fell out of power, didn’t they? After the assassination of the Prime Minister?

Lady P: Indeed, and it was well-deserved too. Not because the Whigs’ ideas were much better, although they certainly used the Tories’ imprudence to their advantage. The Prince Regent’s intemperate behavior and his treatment of his wife made him vastly unpopular, so the Whigs took up the cudgel for Princess Caroline, proclaiming that she was being badly treated, and causing more riots, spreading to the north.

percevalSusana: And didn’t the people actually cheer the assassin as he was led to his execution a week later? There was that much dissatisfaction with the government that they cheered the murderer of the Prime Minister?

Lady P [tight-lipped]: Poor Lord Perceval. He was a good man. Had twelve children, you know. A family man. He could have gone far, if it weren’t for that Bellingham fellow shooting him in the House of Commons. Do you know the government wouldn’t even give him a public funeral because they were fearful of riots? I hardly knew what to say to his wife Jane when I saw her after that.

Susana [sighing]: Some things seem so unfair, don’t they? Like my friend whose daughter just died of breast cancer at age thirty-seven. Or many of my friends whose husbands lost their jobs and couldn’t find anything comparable afterward because of their age and the cost of health insurance. What do you say? How do you help them?

Lady P [clucking]: I suppose there will always be misery and injustice, no matter how diligently we try to eliminate it.

Susana: But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.

Lady P [smiling]: Exactly. Now, Susana, don’t you think something should be done about all the weeds in the back garden? Since the weather turned warmer, they seem to be popping up all over the place.

Susana [leaving the room]: Have at ’em, Lady P. There’s a hoe in the shed and some work gloves in the drawer over there.

Lady P [frowning]: And where might you be going, then?

Susana [from the office]: I have a Christmas story to write. Deadline, you know. Can’t be bothered with weeds for awhile.

Lady P makes a beeline for the back door, audibly grumbling about “misplaced priorities,” “writing Christmas stories in May,” and that she “really should go back to the 19th century where there were gardeners to do such onerous tasks.”

As always, please do comment if you have any questions you’d like to ask Lady P about the late Georgian/Regency era. She does love to chat!

The Lady P Series

Episode #1: Susana’s Adventures With Lady P: The Introduction

Episode #2: Lady P Talks About… Pride and Prejudice?

Episode #3: Lady P and the Duchess Who Lost a Billion Dollars

Episode #4: Lady P and the Face On the $100 Bill

Episode #5: In Which Lady P Discovers Sparkly Fabrics and Ponders Violating the Prime Directive

Episode #6: Lady P Dishes the Dirt on the Duchess of Devonshire

Episode #7: The Political Exploits of Lady P and the Duchess of Devonshire

Episode #8: Lady P and the Prince Regent’s Illicit Marriage

Episode #9: In Which Lady P Depletes the Cooking Sherry During Her Discussion of Caroline of Brunswick

Episode #10: Lord Byron: Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know

Episode #11: In Which Lady P Talks About Hannah More and the Rights of Women

Episode #12: Lady P’s Revelations Regarding George III and His Peculiar Progeny

Episode #13: Lady P Discusses the Luddite Uprising, the Assassination of Spencer Perceval, and the General Unfairness of Life

Episode #14: In Which Leticia, Lady Beauchamp, Pops In For an Interview On Her Personal Acquaintance With Princess Charlotte of Wales

Episode #15: Lady P On Assignment in 1814 Kent

Lady P Quizzes Jane Livingston, the Hero’s Sister From “A Twelfth Night Tale”

Episode #11: In Which Lady P Talks About Hannah More and the Rights of Women

Lady Pendleton, Damian Ashby’s eccentric aunt (see the epilogue to Treasuring Theresa on Susana’s web site), is visiting Susana from the early 19th century. She’s intrigued by life in 21st century Toledo, Ohio, and, of course, Susana is thrilled to have the opportunity to pick her brain about life in Regency England. It certainly gives her a great deal to write about in Susana’s Parlour!

Susana: [to the Reader]:

The other day, Lady P and I got to talking about the position of women in the Regency period and how it evolved from the late 18th century when women such as Georgiana Cavendish held political salons and marched in support of political candidates to a time when women were to be saintly and devout and “protected” from the seamier side of life, leaving the important decisions to their sturdier husbands.

Miss_Hannah_More-304x400Lady P: ‘Twas Hannah More and the Evangelicals that popularized it. Women were to be seen and not heard, at the same time obedient to their husbands and revered by them. [Snorting in an unladylike manner] Pendleton and I laughed about it on many an occasion. I’ve never been the obedient sort, and Lord P would not have wed me if I were. Nor did I wish to be worshiped either. The very idea!

Susana: No doubt it was a reaction against the excesses of the previous generation. The Devonshire ménage-à-trois, for example. The Prince Regent and his illicit marriage, as well as all of his mistresses and excessive spending. The scandalous behavior of Lady Caroline Lamb.

Lady P [Frowning]: There were excesses, of course, which did lead to the pendulum swinging in the other direction. But such extreme changes more often than not led to equally harmful excesses on the other side.

Susana: Indeed. I can certainly see that is true in the 21st century. But do explain what you mean, Lady P. What were the harmful excesses caused by the Evangelical movement?

Lady P: A popular interpretation of the wife-as-saintly approach was that the husband was allowed and even expected to be a sinner.

Susana: Which gave him the freedom to take mistresses and carouse as often as he liked, while his “sainted wife” stayed home and raised the children.

caroline_lambLady P: Well, yes, but it was rather more than that. As unrealistic and unfair as it was to the women, I believe it was equally unfair to the men. Lord Byron, for example. Why would such a dissolute young man choose to marry a staid bluestocking like Annabella Milbanke?

Susana: Because she was an heiress and he was close to bankruptcy?

Lady P: Then why would she agree to marry him? She had turned him down flat in the past, having recognized that he was a loose screw.

Susana: Because opposites attract? Because she thought she could reform him?

Lady P: Exactly! She was quite forthcoming about it, actually, and Lord Byron seemed to agree that she would be a good influence on him, at least at first. But as the wedding drew near, he began to have doubts, complaining to his bosom bows that he feared the medicine would be far more disagreeable than the disease itself.

Susana: It can be tiresome to be preached at all the time. In a true partnership, both partners accept each other, flaws and all.

Lady P: Precisely. In this case, Annabella overestimated her own influence and underestimated the extent of her husband’s vices. She did not know of his immoral relationship with his half-sister Augusta until after the marriage, for example, and like most women who incessantly nag their husbands, she came to be regarded by her husband as a nuisance.

Susana: But as you say, Byron was a bit of a loose screw. Would it have worked between them, do you think, if he’d been on some sort of medication?

Lady P [with a loud harrumph]: Your society seems to be of the opinion that all can be cured with a tiny pill, Susana, but I’m not so sure. We had quacks touting medicines in our day too. Why, the stories I could tell you about laudanum…!

Susana: But getting back to the issue of women’s rights, what did you think of people like Hannah More, Lady P? Was she a good influence or a bad one? She did influence people to care for the poor, did she not?

Lady P: Hannah More and those around her were neither good nor bad, Susana. The mistake, in my opinion, is to paint everything in life broadly as either white or black. Hannah More did a great deal to awaken society to the plight of the poor and stir up support on their behalf, that is true. But I believe that she did a disservice to both women and men in promoting the role of women as subservient to men.

Susana: But women were still legally the chattel of men, were they not? And they were not given the right to vote for another hundred years.

Lady P [somewhat impatiently]: Legally, yes, that is true. But my dear Susana, you must not assume that every marriage was built on such an unequal basis. Discerning women always knew how to manage their husbands, so long as they took care to marry a husband who could be managed, that is. I daresay even the redoubtable Hannah herself could not have managed such a bedlamite as Lord Byron.

Susana: But you said yourself that you never told Lord Pendleton about your Whig activities with the Duchess of Devonshire.

Lady P: Indeed not. It was for his own protection. His family would have been scandalized.

Susana [shaking her head]: Sometimes your logic escapes me, Lady P.

Lady P: I’m not saying that my own marriage was ideal, or that most marriages were not unequal in my day, Susana. There was just as much hypocrisy in society then as there is in your century. Why Hannah herself apologized in her books for having the temerity to write them at all, being a mere woman as she was. My point is that one must consider one’s options and make the wisest choices possible in whatever circumstances one finds oneself. I may have decided to become a Whig, but I wasn’t foolish enough to believe they should have unilateral power. No indeed. Some of their official policies were ridiculous in the extreme, and I was glad there were rational voices on the other side to temper their excesses.

Susana: In that respect, I certainly agree with you, Lady P. I find I cannot blindly accept any philosophy or ideology without considering each facet of it on its own merits. But I find it extremely frustrating that there are so many who do, as though they haven’t a brain to think for themselves.

Lady P [dryly]: So I’ve noticed that about you. But Susana, it does appear that you are missing the point. People are who they are, and there’s not a lot you can do to change them. My counsel in such cases has always been to do what you can and let the rest be, else you work yourself into a state fit for Bedlam.

Susana: [shaking her head]. You remind me so much of Dr. Ellis, author of How To Stubbornly Refuse To Make Yourself Miserable About Anything, Yes Anything.

Lady P: What a singular title for a book! The logic seems sound, however. Why, many was the time when Lord P left me alone to go to his club that I could have spent the night fuming, but I decided instead to use that time to follow my own interests.

Susana: Such as attend the Whig salons at Devonshire house?

Lady P: Yes, and attend balls and musicals that Lord P did not enjoy. It wasn’t fashionable to live in one another’s pockets, in any case. We muddled along well enough, I do believe. How I do miss the dear man! [Sigh]

As always, please do comment if you have any questions you’d like to ask Lady P about the late Georgian/Regency era. She does love to chat!

The Lady P Series

Episode #1: Susana’s Adventures With Lady P: The Introduction

Episode #2: Lady P Talks About… Pride and Prejudice?

Episode #3: Lady P and the Duchess Who Lost a Billion Dollars

Episode #4: Lady P and the Face On the $100 Bill

Episode #5: In Which Lady P Discovers Sparkly Fabrics and Ponders Violating the Prime Directive

Episode #6: Lady P Dishes the Dirt on the Duchess of Devonshire

Episode #7: The Political Exploits of Lady P and the Duchess of Devonshire

Episode #8: Lady P and the Prince Regent’s Illicit Marriage

Episode #9: In Which Lady P Depletes the Cooking Sherry During Her Discussion of Caroline of Brunswick

Episode #10: Lord Byron: Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know

Episode #11: In Which Lady P Talks About Hannah More and the Rights of Women

Episode #12: Lady P’s Revelations Regarding George III and His Peculiar Progeny

Episode #13: Lady P Discusses the Luddite Uprising, the Assassination of Spencer Perceval, and the General Unfairness of Life

Episode #14: In Which Leticia, Lady Beauchamp, Pops In For an Interview On Her Personal Acquaintance With Princess Charlotte of Wales

Episode #15: Lady P On Assignment in 1814 Kent

Lady P Quizzes Jane Livingston, the Hero’s Sister From “A Twelfth Night Tale”