Tag Archive | William Hogarth

Bow Street: Thomas de Veil’s London

A House in Bow Street

Crime and the Magistracy

London 1740-1881

Anthony Babington, 1969

Thomas de Veil’s London

Some time in 1740 Colonel Thomas De Veil, a justice of the peace for the Count of Middlesex and for the City and Liberty of Westminster, decided to move his magistrate’s office from Thrift Street, now called Frith Street, in Soho to a house at Bow Street in Covent Garden.

Thomas de Veil

The Covent Garden area was once pasture land owned by the Abbots of Westminster. Later, it became the site of Inigo Jones’s famous Piazza, with fashionable terraced houses and a small church. The nobility and the gentry scrambled to build homes here.

By the beginning of the eighteenth century the character of Covent Garden was undergoing a perceptible change. It was, perhaps, inevitable that the ultra-fashionable Piazza and the locality all about it should attract a swarm of tradesmen, artisans and others who were needed to cater for the requirements of the wealthy. At the same time the narrow passages, the darkened alleys, and the secluded courtyard which separated the streets and the houses drew in a far less respectable segment of the community. Another factor affecting the type of inhabitant settling in the neighbourhood was the continual tendency of the nobility and the aristocracy to drift westwards as other areas were developed further and fruther from the walls of the City. Soon after the Restoration the newly-built St. James’s Square superseded the Piazza as the centre of fashion, and in the early days of the eighteenth century Mayfair was further developed with the setting up the palatial mansions of Cavendish Square, Hanover Square and Grosevenor Square. However, one of the major factors which contributed to the transformation of Covent Garden was that it was becoming the principal artistic and theatrical locality of London.

Covent Garden in 1737, by Nebot

Actors and actresses and their audiences flocked to theaters such as Drury Lane, the Opera House, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and Covent Gardens. Literary folk and ‘wits’ flocked to the coffee-houses such as Will’s, Buttons’s, and Tom’s. When Tom King died, his widow turned his coffee-house into a brothel. And so it was that “the streets of Covent Garden and the Strand became the chosen haunts of the prostitutes.”

Royal Opera House

“An age of lawlessness and disorder in which the power of the mob and the violence of the criminal were ever paramount”

It was becoming obvious that the current system of policing was inadequate. Streets were especially dangerous at night due to the lack of a proper lighting system.

Pickpockets

A guidebook of the period warned its readers: “A man who saunters about the capital with pockets on the outside of his coat deserves no pity.” As shown by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist, young boys and girls could be very deft at this particular offense. Richard Oakey would trip up a woman from behind and remove her pocket (pockets dangled from the waist on the outside of a woman’s dress) before she hit the ground. Mary Young had a pair of artificial arms made so that she could sit primly in a church pew with the artificial arms folded on her lap while she used her real arms to rob from those sitting next to her.

Footpads

Henry Fielding said that the alleys, courts and lanes in London were “like a vast wood of forest in which a thief may harbour with as great security as the wild beasts do in the deserts of Africa or Arabia.” And not just at night either. Fanny Burney complained about footpads and robbers before breakfast.

Criminals operating in gangs made the situation even worse. In 1712, a band of thugs called the Mohocks would greet people in the streets and if they responded, beat them up. They attacked the watch in Devereux Court and Essex Street; they also slit two people’s noses, and cut a woman in the arm with a pen-knife. One night about twenty of them stormed the Gatehouse, wounded the jailor, and released their confederate from the jail.

No person was safe and equally no home was secure. Madam Roland… said that when the wealthy left London in the summer they took with them all their articles of value or else sent the lot to their bankers, because ‘on their return they expect to find their houses robbed.’

Highwaymen

The highwaymen were regarded both by the public and amongst the criminal fraternity as being the princes of the underworld. It is difficult to understand why they had so glamorous a reputation in the eighteenth century and, indeed, why their image has been so romanticised ever since. By and large they were simply robbers on horseback and many of them had deplorable backgrounds. Dick Turpin’s gang, for example, was well-known for violence, terrorism, rape, and even murder.

Their favorite hunting-grounds were the roads just outside London. For that reason, dwellers of the suburban areas organized vigilante patrols, and in some areas, squads of soldiers were used to escort travelers in and out of town. Horace Walpole told of an attack on a post-chaise outside his home in Piccadilly, and also of a personal encounter with two of them in Hyde Park.

Why the mounting lawlessness?

Some blamed it on the “large numbers of disbanded soldiers and sailors roaming the country without work and without subsistence. Others held that it was due to drunkenness and cheap gin. A few—but a very few—saw a possible cause in the harsh administration of the Poor Laws and the way in which homeless and the destitute were hounded from parish to parish, coupled with the terrible social conditions of the poor.”

Whatever the reasons, the precincts of the capital and its approaches were deteriorating into a state of lawlessness which bordered on anarchy, and the machinery for preserving the peace was becoming increasingly impotent. The ancient system with its corner stones in the amateur magistrate and the part-time constable, had worked comparatively well throughout the ages in the rural areas of Britain but had proved completely unadaptable to an expanding urban community. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the basic problem remained unsolved—and barely appreciated.

It was in a London such as this that Colonel Thomas De Veil opened his Office at Bow Street.

The Four Times of the Day

The Four Times of the Day, a series of paintings by Hogarth in 1738, illustrated the sort of place Covent Garden had become. Read more about it here.

Amusements of Old London: London al fresco: Vauxhall

Amusements of Old London

William B. Boulton, 1901

“… an attempt to survey the amusements of Londoners during a period which began… with the Restoration of King Charles the Second and ended with the accession of Her Majesty Queen Victoria.”

The “New” Spring Gardens

As mentioned in an earlier post, the original Spring Gardens was adjacent to Charles I’s gardens at Whitehall, which gave it an almost royal flavor. Naturally, its popularity was enough to convince the Puritans to shut it down, although it opened up almost immediately after the death of Cromwell. However, Charles II’s ambitious building plans put an end to it, leaving the name to the sole use of the Spring Gardens that had been established earlier in Lambeth along Kennington Lane.

Established around 1660, the “New Spring Gardens,” which, confusingly, ran alongside the “Old Spring Gardens” (the two were eventually combined), charged no admission, but made its profits solely on the sale of food and beverages. “Balthazar Monconys speaks of the place as “lawns and gravel walks dividing squares of twenty to thirty yards enclosed with hedges of gooseberry trees within which were planted roses.” No doubt the coincidence of the name being the same as the former royal gardens added to its popularity, as did the fact that it could best be accessed at the time by the highway of the Thames, there being no bridge between London Bridge and Kingston.

Taking water for vauxhall - Be careful, my love, don't expose your leg

Taking water for vauxhall – Be careful, my love, don’t expose your leg

The fares on the Thames were extraordinarily moderate. There are regulations of the Corporation extant which tell us that the citizen wishing to go by Vauxhall by water could take a pair-oared wherry at Whitehall for sixpence, or if he was content with sculls for half that moderate fee. Then the journey by water was itself an attraction which brought advantages to the gardens. The place was in the country, and a visit in the heat of summer was something in the nature of an expedition to the substantial merchant from the city and his family. They were apt to stay longer and eat more after the little voyage, in which their appetites were sharpened by the fresh air of the river.

The name Vauxhall took its name from a famous manor in South Lambeth called “Fulke’s Hall,” Faukeshall, Foxhall, Vauxhall.

The Gardens After the Restoration

The humours of Spring Gardens at Charing Cross were removed to Spring Gardens at Vauxhall, with little maiming of their rites; there are the same rumours of syllabubs and cheesecakes, the same wandering of damsels through the close walks of the wildrness, the same whispering of gallants in love-locks to ladies in masks and flame-coloured gowns. Spring Gardens appear in the pages of Wycherley and Congreve, and Vanbrugh and Sedley, as a spot upon which much of the glitter and revelry of that reckless society, lately released from the bondage of the Puritans, displayed itself to the best advantage. The historical evidence of Mr. Samuel Pepys, too, is to the same effect. Samuel was there often, and in many moods; with the maids, with his wife, and without his wife but with other people’s at times. The vice of the age as exhibited by the company in the gardens, would shock him one day, and on another, he would kiss Knipp [actress Mary Nepp] in the arbour, “it being darkish.” But that quaint sinner can speak best for himself. “Thence to the new one,” he says in May of 1662, speaking of the Old and New Spring Gardens, “where I never was before, which much exceeds the other; and here we also walked, and the boy crept through the hedge, and gathered abundance of roses, and, after a long walk, passed out of the doors, as we did at the other place.”

Jonathan Tyers: The True Genius

It wasn’t until Jonathan Tyers took a lease on the place, added some acreage, and spent four years transforming the place that Vauxhall Gardens began to rise above all other such entertainments, in England, and also all of Europe (the capitals of which were damaged by war at one point or another). He saw Heidegger making a fortune on masquerades in the theatre and took the idea one step further by bringing them out-of-doors in the fresh air. His ridotto al fresco of 1732 was a great success.

It requires little imagination to recall the famous Ridotto al fresco of 1732; the river still without bridges, boat-loads of happy people in fancy-dress going up-stream, as the evening closed in, in boats preceded by others playing music, the lights of the flotilla and the fancy dresses and the music giving a touch of Venetian gaiety to the lovely but sober reaches of the Thames. There were some hundreds only of the élite of London Society admitted to this fête, as we are told, and Prince Frederick, Prince of Wales, came down the river in his barge from Kew. The night was fine, and they kept it up till the birds sang and the daylight came at four o’clock the next morning.

Hogarth's season ticket

Hogarth’s season ticket

The success of the ridotto notwithstanding, the financial side of the gardens was precarious at first. At one point, when Tyers was feeling almost suicidal, he ran across William Hogarth, who was living across the street at the time. That began a longstanding friendship between the two. Hogarth lent his abilities to the enterprise by donating a painting to one of the saloons, as well as designing the silver or bronze season tickets. He himself received a lifetime ticket “to admit a coachful”, inscribed with “in perpetuam beneficii memoriam.”

The Physical Layout

The Grove in the middle; the house in the foreground is the Prince's Pavilion

The Grove is in the middle; the house in the foreground is the Prince’s Pavilion (1751).

The place was a parallelogram, and its main features were groves of trees which eventually assumed the dignity of forest timber, intersected by gravel walks crossing each other at right angles. It was entered by a gateway through an ordinary-looking house of brick of three storeys, which with a high brick wall enclosed the gardens on the western side bounded by Kennington lane. On the three other sides its borders were the hayfields of the open country. As you entered the place from the gateway through the manager’s house you looked up the Grand Walk, planted with a stately avenue of elms, and extending the whole length of the demesne. Parallel to the Grand Walk on the right hand ran the South Walk, an avenue of much the same length and dimensions, which was crossed by three triumphal arches of a rather debased Renaissance design. A third avenue, the Grand Cross Walk, ran across the whole garden at right angles to the two avenues we have named. On the right the Grand Cross Walk gave access to the Dark Walks, the Druids’ Walk, or the Lovers’ Walk, the secluded alleys of Vauxhall which gave the place much of its fame and not a little of its attractions for some of its patrons. On the left the Grand Cross Walk led to the Wildernesses and Rural Downs, more open shrubbery-like spaces which afforded a view of the country towards the river. The whole place covered about twelve acres…

The secret to Vauxhall’s long popularity was Tyers’s dedication to constant improvements to the grounds and attractions. He had sculptures of Handel and Milton made and placed them prominently in the gardens, as well as building an impressive orchestra in what he called the “Grove,” “a space of nearly five acres near the entrance on the right, where bands of the ablest musicians in London played good music in most imposing cocked hats, and tenors and prima donnas trilled and quavered for half a century.”

handel statue

Handel statue that appeared at Vauxhall Gardens for over a century

Round and about the Grove were clustered the temples, the pavilions, the rotundas, the great rooms, the music rooms, the picture rooms, the covered colonnades for wet weather, above all the famous supper boxes built in straight rows or curving sweeps. In those famous supper boxes, where generations of Londoners ate the noted Vauxhall chicken and ham, were the paintings which gave a quaint interest to each, every picture displayed by its own little oil lamp… Above all, Mr. Tyers lighted up the darkness of his groves “with above a thousand lamps so disposed that they all took fire together, with such a sudden blaze as was perfectly surprising.”

The illuminations of Vauxhall were undoubtedly arranged with much taste, and the sudden lighting of the lamps, with a simultaneous crash of music from the orchestra, had a considerable effect. Moreover, the illuminations of Vauxhall gained greatly by contrast with the aspect of the town of that day. Long after the general use of gas, London after nightfall was a dull and gloomy place. The streets were generally narrow and ill lighted… Vauxhall was really the only place where the citizen could see anything of the beauty of artificial light intelligently employed.

Vauxhall After Tyers

The great period of Vauxhall Gardens lasted, as we believe, until the year 1791, when the ordinary price of admission of one shilling was doubled by a new management, and a series of entertainments were begun… which marked the inevitable period of decline. Jonathan Tyers died in 1767, was succeeded by his son of the same name, and the old traditions of his management lasted until the year we have named.

ballloon

Although there were still nearly seventy years of life, and perhaps half that number of prosperity, in store for Vauxhall, its history after 1791 interests us less… The old social features of the gardens are much less in evidence during its later history, the spectacular and the sensational much more… The taste of Londoners progressed if it did not improve, and the new views of life and its opportunities, which began to prevail after the Revolution in France, were no longer satisfied with the placid joys which had delighted earlier generations… There was a firework platform erected at the eastern end of the grounds, a firework tower, and a mast sixty feet high, fright which the “ethereal Saqui” descended on the tight-rope in a blaze of blue flame and Chinese fire… As the present century ran into its teens, there were changes which may have caused old Jonathan Tyers to turn in his grave. They cut down many of the trees in his grove, and two sides of that pleasant enclosure and a geat part of the Grand Walk were covered in by a colonnade with cast-iron pillars… The later Vauxhall of dancing-floors and balloon ascents, of spectacular panoramas of Arctic regions, if Indian jugglers and Mr. Ducrow’s equestrian entertainments—above all the Vauxhall of Mr. Simpson, the wondrous master of the ceremonies, the “gentle Simpson, that kind smiling idiot,” whose personality is preserved in the wonderful etching by Robert Cruikshank… The stout at Vauxhall grew muddier, the slices of ham, if possible, thinner, the chickens more skinny, and the company more raffish as modern England became transformed by railways and Reform Bills. There was no place in London for an entertainment which in anyway represented the old pleasant tradition of the al fresco.

Robert Cruikshank, C.H. Simpson Esq.' M.C.R.G.V., engraving, 1833 (Lambeth Landmark 1301). The Master of Ceremonies is shown welcoming the Duke of Wellington, 19 August 1833, on the occasion of his benefit night. Cruikshank drew this scene in the gardens on the spot; the huge illuminated figure of Simpson was one of the special effects created for the event.

Robert Cruikshank, C.H. Simpson Esq.’ M.C.R.G.V., engraving, 1833 (Lambeth Landmark 1301). The Master of Ceremonies is shown welcoming the Duke of Wellington, 19 August 1833, on the occasion of his benefit night. Cruikshank drew this scene in the gardens on the spot; the huge illuminated figure of Simpson was one of the special effects created for the event.

For more information:

Susana’s Vauxhall Blog Post Series

Amusements of Old London series

Amusements of Old London: The Play and the Opera

Amusements of Old London

William B. Boulton, 1901

“… an attempt to survey the amusements of Londoners during a period which began… with the Restoration of King Charles the Second and ended with the accession of Her Majesty Queen Victoria.”

The Restoration and King Charles II

The puritanical opposition to everything connected with the drama… was now exchanged for the patronage of those in high places. There has perhaps never been so good a friend to the actor and to the theatrical interest generally as his Majesty King Charles. The king, by granting a patent to Mr. Tom Killigrew at the Cockpit in Drury Lane, established that principal of monopoly in things dramatic which lasted till well on in the present reign. The actors of Drury Lane were the king’s servants and a party of the royal household under the administration of the Lord Chamberlain; a certain number of them indeed wore his Majesty’s uniform of red cloth and silver lace, and ranked as Gentlemen of the Chamber. The king’s brother, the Duke of York, had his own company at the Lincoln’s Inn Theatre in Portugal Street, or at Sir Christopher Wren’s house in Dorset Gardens under Davenant, with privileges scarcely less valuable, including a patent to which theatrical historians will trace back all the subsequent glories of the great house in Covent Garden. It was under his Majesty’s auspices that women’s parts were first played by women, and he was good enough, as we know, to honour the profession by forming very intimate alliances with some of those ladies. Lastly, there has never been a more assiduous playgoer than his Majesty King Charles himself.

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys

Relying on diarists such as Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, Mr. Boulton states

The theatre of the Restoration was in reality much more of a social resort than the play or the opera as we know them. The pit of the playhouse of the Restoration was a social exchange, where the young man of condition displayed his graces and exchanged pleasantries with his fellows; where the man of wit discharged his carefully-prepared impromptus; and where the actors and actresses, not actually engaged on the stage, were accustomed to keep themselves in evidence by mixing freely and ostentatiously with the audience. The stage-door and the green-room, too, were attractions for a large class of men whose attentions to the actresses became a source of embarrassment to the management… Finally, the patronage which Charles the Second gave to both the theatres of his time, and the nature of his relations with some of his subjects who appeared with him in the royal box, gave an interest to a visit to the play of those days which is lacking in later and more sedate times.

Theaters of the time consisted of the pit on the ground floor, rows of continuous boxes on the first, open seats and a few boxes on the second, and the shilling gallery on the third. “The stage ran out a distance of several feet… into the body of the theatre, and was thus exposed on three of its sides to the spectators who occupied the pit.”

Riot during a performance of Artaxerxes

Riot during a performance of Artaxerxes, 1763

The prices for each sector divided the spectators into social classes. A half-crown would get you into the pit. A shilling would get an apprentice to the gallery. A box on the second floor cost eighteen pence, and the best seats in the lower section would cost about four shillings. Although you could purchase tickets for all the seats in the box for your party, if you did not, you might well find yourself sitting next to strangers.

The only manner of reserving seats in this period was to send someone ahead to pay for your ticket and hold your seat. Footmen quite frequently performed this duty for their masters and mistresses, after which they were admitted to the upper gallery to watch the play.  Boulton says that “they became a very noisy, and consequently, a very important part of the audience.”

Pepys records seeing women on the stage in 1661; prior to that, women’s parts were played by men. He complains about having to spend outrageous amounts on oranges (at sixpence each) for the ladies in his company. The seats in the pit were rows of benches without backs.

I was sitting behind in a dark place, and a lady spit backward upon me by mistake, not seeing me, but after seeing her to be a very pretty lady I was not troubled at it all.

Ah, but Pepys did have a fondness for a pretty face!

Lavania Fenton as Polly Peachum in The Beggar's Opera

Lavania Fenton as Polly Peachum in The Beggar’s Opera

He is in continual ecstasy about the beauty of one or the other of those ladies of the Court, most constant, however, to the Castlemaine, but appreciative of the Stewart, “with her little Roman nose,” or “pretty witty Nell,” or Mrs. Middleton “with a very excellent face, and body I think.” If neither Hart nor Nell nor Knipp [Mary Knep] were there the play, however good, would not please him. With Knipp present he would enjoy the worst of pieces even by the side of Mrs. Pepys. “But it is pretty to observe,” he says, “how I did look up and down and did spy Knipp, but durst not own it to my wife, who do not like my kindness to her.” Little wonder, indeed, for Mrs. Pepys surely had much to put up with. Samuel was decorum itself by her side, but when she was away he would find himself sitting in front of Knipp and Pierce, “who pulled me by the hair, so I addressed myself to them.” Knipp sang a song in the flies at the King’s House which pleased Samuel mightily, “where Knipp, after her song in the clouds, came to me in the pit.” Finally, the shameless rogue had the conscience to put on record his feelings at the performance of the “Virgin Martyr,” where “the wind musique when the angel comes down is so sweet that it ravished me, so that it made me realy sick, as I have formerly been when in love with my wife.”

Joseph Addison by Sir Godfrey Kneller

Joseph Addison

Joseph Addison of The Spectator tells about the ladies of fashion in 1711 who took the notion of wearing patches on the right or left side of the forehead to indicate their adherence to a certain political party. Addison “tells us of Rosalinda, a famous Whig partisan, who had unfortunately a very beautiful mole on the Tory part of her forehead, which misled several coxcombs “to converse in the wrong strain, when on a sudden she has given them an unexpected fire which sunk them all at once.” Then there was Nigranilla too, “unhappy in a pimple, which forces her against her inclinations to patch on the Whig side.”

The Trunkmaker of the Upper Gallery

Addison’s immortal paper begins:

It has been observed that of late years there has been a certain person in the upper gallery of the playhouse, who, when he is pleased with anything on the stage, expresses his approbation by a loud knock upon the benches or the wainscot which may be heard over the whole house.

The Trunkmaker was a large black man whom nobody knew, who was never seen to smile, “but upon hearing anything to please him takes up his huge oaken plank and laid it upon the next piece of timber that stood in his way with exceeding vehemence. If the audience does not concur with him, he smites a second time, and if the audience is not yet awakened, looks round him with great wrath, and repeats the blow a third time, which never fails to produce the clap. …[H]e seldom went away from any tragedy by Shakespeare without leaving the wainscot completely shattered. The players cheerfully repair at their own cost whatever damages he makes… [T]he actors valued no applause which had not the sound of the oak plank in it.

During this time, it was common for certain fashionable braggadocios to linger on the stage and distract the audience from the play. Although Queen Anne issued a royal proclamation against it in 1711, but it was obviously not enforced, as can be seen in Mr. Hogarth’s painting of the Third Act of The Beggars’ Opera, where, in addition to the actors on the stage can be seen in the box on the right, the “Duke of Bolton ogling Vinnie Fenton, who he will presently remove from the stage and marry…” and the crowd of spectators on the stage in 1727.

William Hogarth, Act III, Beggar's Opera

William Hogarth, Act III, Beggar’s Opera

As Boulton has stated, the activities of the stage were only part of the entertainment. Observing the other audience members—particularly the noble ones—was a particular interest of Samuel Pepys. A rejected swain might get his revenge by throwing rubbish at a pretty actress on the stage. A particular target for disgruntled audience was the harpsichord, but if the play or grievance was really bad, the benches and seats and other furnishings might be destroyed as well.

Opera at the King’s Theatre in Haymarket

Opera was first patronized by King George I, who “gave a subscription of £1000, as well as his own name, to the Opera House.”

Farinelli

Farinelli

Fashionable London was so fond of opera in 1735 that it paid £5000 a year to Farinelli, and when that incomparable singer was at the Haymarket an enthusiastic lady in the boxes was heard to exclaim in her ecstasy, “One God, one Farinelli.” Then singers and their competing merits were a continual joy to generations of noble patrons, and their preferences for one singer or another often inspired ladies of high fashion with very unfashionable feelings. Thus when the rival warblers Cuzzoni and Faustina were appearing at the opera in 1726, they each had a party of thick and thin supporters in distinguished circles. There was the Countess of Pembroke at the head of her party in a box, who was prepared to go all lengths for Cuzzoni; the Countess of Burlington and Lady Delaware, with their train of young men in another, were fierce and determined on behalf of the Faustina. So when Cuzzoni came on the noble faction which supported Faustina hissed her into silence, when Faustina appeared she was shrieked off the stage by the devoted band at the back of my Lady Pembroke.

By the early nineteenth century,

…there was a cult of deportment which developed in social London, and constituted a tyranny under which society groaned for a couple of generations. Beau Brummell and his set at the clubs in St. James’s Street represented the male element of this autocracy of fashion, the lady patronesses at Almack’s in King Street the feminine; and at the opera they both united their forces… There was the peerless Mr. Brummell, with his satellite exquisites in Fop’s Alley, the interest of the whole mankind of the house, we are asked to believe, centred in the question of his raiment for the evening… The ladies of the grand tier, we are told, including the chaperons, were more anxious for his notice than for that of the Prince Regent. The opera, in fact, like Almack’s, was a social function which entirely outclassed anything of the sort at Court after the retirement of the poor blind King George the Third. There was no question of getting in by the mere payment of money, a committee of ladies supervised the issue of every ticket, and a man or a lady went to the opera or did not, according as their social position was or was not considered worthy of that honour by the Lady Patronesses… who controlled London society from the time of the Regency until her Majesty came to the throne. [They] were accustomed to sit in conclave upon all the young men about to enter life, and decide as to whether or not they were eligible for admission such stately functions as Almack’s and the opera.

Interior of theater at Sadler's Wells, 1810

Interior of theater at Sadler’s Wells, 1810

 

Amusements of Old London series

Amusements of London: The Masked Assembly

Amusements of Old London

William B. Boulton, 1901

“… an attempt to survey the amusements of Londoners during a period which began… with the Restoration of King Charles the Second and ended with the accession of Her Majesty Queen Victoria.”

The Ridotto in Venice, Pietro Longhi, 1750's

The Ridotto in Venice, Pietro Longhi, 1750’s

The wearing of masks to disguise one’s identity was nothing new when the “quasi heathenish fêtes” of the medieval Venetians spread to 17th century England. After all, inquisitors, executioners, and highwaymen wore them as they completed their odious business. Pagan rites such as Bacchanalia and Saturnalia and the fêtes des innocents or fêtes de fous were masked revels in which participants could, along with their attire, shed their normal scruples and give way to their impulses. While there are accounts of masked events in Henry VIII’s court as well as the some of the Stuarts’, the “true masquerade,” where all guests were dressed in costume, was a long time coming to England from the Continent, probably because of its foreign origin in a Papist country.

It was only at the beginning of the 18th century that moralizing on the subject of masquerades began to appear in publications such as The Tatler and The Spectator.

It is worthy of note that the masked assembly was never an institution that had any great vogue among the common people, either in this country, or elsewhere. The wearing of masks or of disguises in private life was from very early times the exclusive privilege of the great or of those who imitated them.

Constables or police who raided some of these events discovered prominent men and women among the masked revelers and eventually released them.

The High Constable of Westminster descended upon a masquerade at midnight and made a great haul, which he duly displayed before Mr. Fielding. That eminent magistrate sat up all night to hear the charge, “but several of them being found to be persons of distinction, the justice, not thinking it proper to expose them, after a severe reprimand, dismissed them all.

“The women either come by themselves,” says Addison, describing the amenities of the masquerade of 1711, “or are introduced by friends, who are obliged to quit them upon their first entrance to the conversation of anybody that addresses himself to them.” This by the way was one of the rules of the true masquerade, which was its chief attraction for the frisky maid or matron of those days. Introductions were unknown, and absolute incognito was possible for all who wished to preserve it. The mask and domino were inviolable, except indeed to the police, and any infringement of that rule by a masker led to the inevitable chastisement of the offender by the other men in the room, of which there are numerous fatal results recorded. “But,” continues Mr. Addison, “there are several rooms where the parties may retire and show their faces by consent.”

The subject of masquerades evoked the growing censure of the press for the next half century, but “the masquerade absolutely throve on opposition.” The Bishop of London’s scathing sermons had no effect, nor did the satirical prints and prose that was disseminated throughout the city.

There were strange financial proposals too from amateur chancellors of the exchequer, who proposed to levy taxes upon all tickets for those ungodly diversions and to devote the proceeds to the Foundling Hospital, an institution which they declared was populated by the amours which were kindled by the opportunities of the masquerade. Grave statisticians drew attention to what they contended was an appalling fact, that the vogue of the masquerade quadrupled the normal number of divorces, and pious God-fearing people, whose nerves were sorely shaken by the two smart shocks of earthquake which startled London towards the middle of the century, pointed to the judgment of heaven which these unholy revels were calling upon the town.

It was precisely during the period of this continued opposition, which stretched practically from the days of Queen Anne to those of George the Third, that the masquerade established itself as one of the chief amusements of the upper classes of society in London. Middle class England might still cherish its memories of the Puritans, but there were other views in high quarters, and a mere newspaper agitation was of little effect in a day when four-fifths of the popular could not read. The diversions of an aristocracy, too, were moderately safe from interference by legislation provided by a Parliament whose two houses were composed of the aristocracy and its nominees. The well-born and well-placed classes of Anne and the Georges, in short, with King George the Second at their head, enjoyed the fredaines of the masquerade, and determined to keep them in spite of the bishops and the moralists of the press. And they succeeded perfectly.

The appearance of “party organizers” such as “Beau Nash in Bath, Robert Arthur at White’s Club, William Brooks at Brooks’s, Almack at his Assembly Rooms in King Street, Crockford at the big gaming club in St. James’s Street” had considerable influence on the amusements of late Georgian aristocrats.

John James Heidegger

The son of a pastor from Zurich, Heidegger “wandered about Europe for a quarter of a century living by his wits and acquiring knowledge of men and cities.” He came to England at the age of fifty and enlisted in the Guards, “a regiment in which you might at that time find very well-born men among the rank and file.” Known as the “Swiss Count,” his face was considered one of the ugliest ever seen. It is said that Lord Chesterfield, in lieu of paying his bill, told his tailor, a Mr. Jolly, that “he would not pay him until he could produce an uglier man than himself.” Mr. Jolly showed up with Heidegger and promptly received his money. A measure of Heidegger’s social success is the fact that he was accepted as a member of the very exclusive White’s Club.

john_james_heidegger_by_john_faberHeidegger possessed extraordinary organizational and entrepreneurial skills. His first venture, which involved producing an opera at the Queen’s Theatre in Haymarket, brought him much financial success, and established him as a theatre consultant.

The great world took him up and caressed him; princes gave him amethyst snuff-boxes set in gold; if my lady wanted a rout arranged at her mansion, or if there was a musical entertainment or a dancing assembly to be arranged at a public room, Mr. Heidegger was called in and did the thing to perfection.

King George I loved him and made him manager of His Majesty’s Theatre in Haymarket, where he worked with Handel on producing an opera. And then he set his mind to improving masquerades (which delighted the king even more than opera).

Unfortunately, many in the theater community resented the popularity of masquerades, seeing it as competition for their own offerings. There were also plenty of rumors of gamesters, women of the street, and even highwaymen present at these affairs. But with the king’s support, Heidegger had no fear of the naysayers—the pamphleteers and moralizers and disgruntled theatre people. (Theresa Cornelys was not so fortunate.) “Heidegger boasted of making £5000 a  year by this business.” At one point, when the king signed a royal proclamation against masquerades, Heidegger called the next one a ridotto, and not only got away with it, but the king was one of the guests!

“Thou Heidegger the English taste has found

And rul’st the mob of quality with sound’

In Lent, if masquerades displease the town

Call ’em ridottos, and they will still go down.

Go on, Prince Phiz, to please the British nation

Call thy next masquerade a convocation.”

Heidegger’s legacy to the British people, according to the London Post, was the perfected masquerade. Even after his death in 1749, the masquerade continued to flourish in several new buildings around town.

Ranelagh

ranelagh_gardens_eighteenth_century_original

The Rotunda at Ranelagh, 142 feet in diameter, proved to be an attractive venue for masquerades. There was no stage for actors and thus it was not competition for theaters. After a very successful “Jubilee Masquerade in the Venetian manner,” on 1st May 1749 to celebrate the peace in that year, “it was determined to repeat it in the form of a subscription masquerade.” Horace Walpole writes:

When you entered you found the whole garden filled with masks and spread with tents, which remained all night very commodely. In one quarter was a maypole dressed with garlands, and people dancing round it to a tabor and pipe and rustic music, all masked, as were all the various bands of music, which were disposed in different parts of the garden, some like huntsmen with French horns, some like peasants, and a troupe of harlequins and scaramouches in the little open temple on the mount. On the canal was a sort of gondola adorned with flags and streamers, and filled with music rowing about. All round the outside of the amphitheatre were shops filled with Dresden China, Japan, &cc., and all the shopkeepers in mask. The amphitheatre was illuminated, and in the middle was a circular bower composed of all kinds of firs in tubs, from twenty to thirty feet high, under the orange trees, with small lamps in each orange, and below them all sorts of the finest auriculus in pots and festoons of natural flowers hanging from tree to tree. There were booths for tea and wine, gaming-tables, and dancing, and about two thousand persons. In short, it pleased me more than anything I ever saw.

The Inauguration of the Pantheon in Oxford Street (1772)

sophia-baddeleyIt was rumored that the managers were set against inviting women with less-than-stellar reputations, i.e. actresses and demimondaines. Sophia Baddeley was one such actress with high connections—she was Lord Melbourne’s mistress at the time—and a score or so of her supporters assembled at Pall Mall and escorted her chair to St. James’s Street, where they were joined by even more fine gentlemen from White’s. The procession continued all the way to the Pantheon, whereupon they took out their swords and frightened the porters who were ordered to deny her entrance. This allowed the triumphant Sophia to march into the “fine room under a long canopy made by the crossed swords of her gallant escort.” Eventually, the managers made their apologies to her, and two duchesses “came forward to express to Mrs. Baddeley the pleasure it gave their graces to welcome such an ornament to the assembly.”

Mrs. Cornelys of Carlisle House

was the second person to make a business of organizing amusements for the upper classes. Her story was featured in an earlier post on this blog. Click here to read more.

hogarth-masqueradesoperas

The Bad Taste of the Town (also known as Masquerades and Operas) is an early print by William Hogarth, published in February 1723/24. The small print mocks the contemporary fashion for foreign culture, including Palladian architecture, pantomimes based on the Italian commedia dell’arte, masquerades (masked balls), and Italian opera.

 

Amusements of Old London series

Romance of London: The Bursting of the South Sea Bubble

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.

The word “Bubble” as applied to any ruinous speculation, was first applied to the transactions of the South Sea Company, in the disastrous year 1720. It originated in the exaggerated representations of the sudden riches to be realized by the opening of new branches of trade to the South Sea, the monopoly of which was to be secured to the South Sea Company, upon their pretext of paying off the National Debt. The Company was to become the richest the world ever saw, and each hundred pounds of their stock would produce hundreds per annum to the holder. By this means the stock was raised to near 400; it then fluctuated, and settled at 330.

512px-South_Sea_Bubble

E.M. Ward, “‘Change Alley during the South Sea Bubble.”

Exchange Alley was the seat of the gambling fever;* it was blocked up every day by crowds, as were Cornhill and Lombard Street with carriages.  In the words of the ballads of the day:—

There is a gulf where thousands fell,

There all the bold adventurers came;

A narrow sound, though deep as hell,

‘Change Alley is the dreadful name.—Swift

Then stars and garters did appear

Among the meaner rabble;

To buy and sell, to see and hear

The Jews and Gentiles squabble.

The greatest ladies thither came,

And plied in chariots daily,

Or pawned their jewels for a sum

To venture in the Alley.

Innumerable bubble companies soon started up, by which one million and a half sterling was won and lost in a very short time. The absurdity of the schemes was monstrous: one was “a company for carrying on an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know where it is.” In all these bubbles, persons of both sexes alike engaged; the men meeting their brokers at taverns and coffee-houses, and the ladies at the shops of milliners and haberdashers; and in Exchange Alley, shares in the same bubble were sold, at the same instant, then per cent. Higher at one end of the Alley than the other. Meanwhile, the Minister warmed the nation, and the King declared such projects unlawful, and trafficking brokers were liable to 5,000l penalty. The companies were dissolved, but others as soon sprung up. The folly was satirized in caricatures and “stock-jobbing cards.” When Sir Isaac Newton was asked about the continuance of the rising of the South Sea stock, he answered that he could not calculate the madness of the people…

Among the victims was Gay, the poet [author of The Beggar’s Opera], who having had some South Sea Stock presented to him, supposed himself to be the master of 20,000l: his friends importuned him to sell, but he refused, and profit and principal were lost. The ministers grew more alarmed, the directors were insulted in the streets, and riots were apprehended; a run commenced upon the most eminent goldsmiths and bankers, some of whom absconded.

The Committee of Secrecy reported to Parliament the results of their enquiry, showing how false and fictitious entries had been made in the books, erasures and alterations made, and leaves torn out; and some of the most important books had been destroyed altogether. The properties of many thousands of persons, amounting to many millions of money, had been away with. Fictitious stock had been distributed among members of the Government, by way of bribe, to facilitate the passing of the Bill. One of the Secretaries to the Treasury had received 250,000l, as the difference in the price of some stock, and the account of the Chancellor of the Exchequer showed 794,451l. He proved the greatest criminal, and was expelled the House, all his estate seized, and he was committed a close prisoner to the Tower of London. Next day Sir George Casual, of a firm of jobbers who had implicated in the business, was expelled the House, committed to the Tower, and ordered to refund 250,000l. Mr. Craggs the elder died the day before his examination was to have come on. He left a fortune of a million and a half, which was confiscated for the benefit of the sufferers. Every director was mulcted [fined], and two millions and fourteen thousand pounds were confiscated, each director being allowed a small residue to begin the world anew.

The history of the Bubble and other speculations contemporaneously with the South Sea scheme is well narrated in Charles Mackay’s Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions, vol. i. Pp. 45-84.

The Night Singer of Shares

The Night Singer of Shares

It was about the year 1688 that the world ‘stock-jobber’ was first heard in London. In the short space of four years a crowd of companies, every one of which confidently held out to subscribers the hope of immense gains, sprang into existence: the Insurance Company, the Paper Company, the Lutestring Company, the Pearl Fishery Company, the Glass Bottle Company, the Alum Company, the Blythe Coal Company, the Sword-blade Company. There was a Tapestry Company, which would soon furnish pretty hangings for all the parlours of the middle class, and for all the bed-chambers of the higher.

Others included in Mackay’s publication were:

  • The Copper Company
  • The Diving Company (to investigate shipwrecks), which put on an impressive show of their advanced diving equipment on the Thames for fine gentlemen and ladies eager to be a part of such thrilling treasure-hunting
  • The Greenland Fishing Company
  • The Tanning Company
  • The Royal Academy Company, which would educate 2000 winners of a lottery in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish, conic sections, trigonometry, heraldry, japanning, fortification, bookkeeping, and the art of playing the theorbo.

Some of these companies took large mansions and printed their advertisements in gilded letters. Others, less ostentatious, were content with ink, and met at coffee-houses in the neighbourhood of the Royal Exchange. Jonathan’s and Garraway’s were in a constant ferment with brokers, buyers, sellers, meetings of directors, meetings of proprietors. Time-bargains soon came into fashion. Extensive combinations were formed, and monstrous fables were circulated, for the purpose of raising or depressing the price of shares.

William Hogarth, Emblematical Print on the South Sea Scheme (1721). In the bottom left corner are Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish figures gambling, while in the middle there is a huge machine, like a merry-go-round, which people are boarding. At the top is a goat, written below which is "Who'l Ride". The people are scattered around the picture with a sense of disorder, while the progress of the well-dressed people towards the ride in the middle represents the foolishness of the crowd in buying stock in the South Sea Company, which spent more time issuing stock than anything else.

William Hogarth, Emblematical Print on the South Sea Scheme (1721). In the bottom left corner are Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish figures gambling, while in the middle there is a huge machine, like a merry-go-round, which people are boarding. At the top is a goat, written below which is “Who’l Ride”. The people are scattered around the picture with a sense of disorder, while the progress of the well-dressed people towards the ride in the middle represents the foolishness of the crowd in buying stock in the South Sea Company, which spent more time issuing stock than anything else.

Our country witnessed for the first time those phenomena for which a long experience has made us familiar—a mania, of which the symptoms were essentially the same with those of the mania of 1721, of the mania of 1825, of the mania of 1845, seized the public mind. An impatience to be rich, a contempt for those slow but sure gains which are the proper reward of industry, patience and thrift, spread through society. The spirit of the cogging dicers of Whitefriars took possession of the grave senators of the City, wardens of trades, deputies, aldermen. It was much easier and much more lucrative to put forth a lying prospectus, announcing a new stock, to persuade ignorant people that the dividends could not fall short of twenty per cent., and to part with 5,000l of this imaginary wealth for ten thousand sold guineas, than to load a ship with well-chosen cargo for Virginia or the Levant. Every day a new bubble was puffed into existence, rose buoyant, shone bright, burst, and was forgotten.

*Mr. E.M. Ward, R.A., has painted, with wonderful effect, “‘Change Alley during the South Sea Bubble,” a picture very properly placed in our National Gallery. [Currently Tate]

Susana’s remarks

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. 

  • You aren’t going to win a big lottery prize. Or the Publishers’ Clearing House Sweepstakes. Or find buried treasure in your backyard.
  • When someone—even if it’s the Pope himself—offers you something that’s too good to be true, it really is too good to be true. Don’t be fooled.
  • Don’t be greedy. Be satisfied with “slow but sure gains” that are the reward of industry, patience and thrift.”

 

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

Romance of London: The Lansdowne Family

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.

William Petty, 1st Marquis Lansdowne

William Petty, 1st Marquis Lansdowne

In 1805 died the second Marquis of Landsdowne, having by this time passed very much out of popular notice, and the principal cause of public regret for his demise was that only a fortnight before his death he had declared his knowledge of the Junius secret [see below], and yet among his papers was to be found no indication that could lead to its discovery. He was succeeded by his eldest son, the Earl of Wycombe, whose first act on coming into possession was to sell almost all of the literary and artistic treasures which his father had accumulated with so much love and labour. The greater part of these were dispersed under the hammer of the auctioneer, many of the pictures going to enrich the Grosvenor, the National, and other galleries; only the Lansdowne MSS. Were kept together, being purchased by the British Museum; while the gallery of antique marbles was the sole portion of the collection for which the Marquis showed any appreciation—his opinion being expressed in the fact that he purchased it from his father’s executors for 6,000l. If, however, this nobleman did not show much respect to his father’s cultivated tastes, he was not without a certain ancestral pride; for he tried to build a vessel on the principle of Sir William Petty’s double-bottomed ship that was to sail against wind and tide—a model of which was then, and is perhaps still, exhibited in the Council-room of the Royal Society. Of nautical habits, he also built near the Southampton Water a marine villa, in which, from dining-hall and private bower to kitchen and scullery, all was utter Gothic, while the gardens belonging to the castle were laid out at Romsey, some ten or twelve miles distant, on a site which formed the original estate of the Petty family.

John Petty, 2nd Marquis of Lansdowne

John Petty, 2nd Marquis of Lansdowne

Here, if not in his yacht voyaging to Ireland or the Continent, he spent most of his time. In London he was a marked man—remarkable for his disregard of dress, and for the pride which he took in appearing on the coldest days in winter without a greatcoat and without gloves. He died in November 1809, and was succeeded by his half-brother, the fourth [third] Marquis, whose first care was to purchase the antique marbles from his sister-in-law, and there at Landsdowne House they may now be seen—some of them, as the youthful Hercules and the Mercury, justly considered the finest statues of the kind that have found their way to this country. As for the pictures, when the Marquis succeeded to the title, in 1809, there was not one in this splendid mansion, with the exception of a few family portraits; but Lord Lansdowne set himself to the formation of a gallery which now comprises nearly 200 pictures of rare interest and value, but miscellaneous in their character, no school nor master predominating unless it be Sir Joshua Reynolds. Some of the portraits in this collection are of great interest. There is the celebrated portrait of Pope by Jervas; Reynolds’s wonderful portrait of Sterne; one of Franklin, by Gainsborough; a beautiful one of Peg Woffington, by Hogarth; Lady Hamilton appears twice—as a bacchante and a gipsy, from the pencil of Romney; Horner, the old college friend of Lord Lansdowne, is not forgotten; but, most interesting of all, there is the lovely portrait of Mrs. Sheridan, as St. Cecilia, painted by Reynolds.

mrs. sheridan

Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan, by Gainsborough

It may recall with some vividness the fashion of those times if we record a little incident connected with this portrait. During the short-lived Ministery of “All the Talents,” the Whig leaders celebrated their return to power by a continual found of festivities, in which Sheridan outside all his colleagues. One Sunday (25th of May 1806) he gave a grand dinner; on the Monday following a supper and ball, at which the dancing was prolonged to past eight o’clock next morning; on the Tuesday, a christening, a masque, and another ball, the Prince being present on each occasion, and the Lord Chancellor Erskine and the young Chanceller of the Exchequer, Henry Petty, being conspicuous among the dancers. On the occasion of the dinner, the portrait of Mrs. Sheridan was redeemed for one night only from the pawnbroker’s, and exhibited in its place in the dining-room; when poor Sheridan died, it was still in possession of the pawnbroker; it then fell into the hands of Sheridan’s solicitor, and from him it was purchased for 600l. By Lord Lansdowne. In this little incident we get some glimpses of that conviviality for which the Whigs were distinguished. “Le Whig est la femme de votre Gouvernement,” says Balzac, and the truth of the remark is especially illustrated in that social influence which the Whigs have always cultivated more than the Tories.*

Lansdowne House (1820)

Lansdowne House (1820)

Lansdowne House was built by Robert Adam for the Marquis of Bute, when minister to George III, and sold by the Marquis before completion to Lord Shelburne, afterwards Marquis of Lansdowne, for 22,000l., which was supposed to be 3,000l. Less than it cost. There is, also, a piece of political scandal—that Lansdowne House was constructed by one Peace (Lord Bute’s, in 1762), and paid for by another (Lord Shelburne’s, in 1783).

*From The Times journal

Lansdowne House was partially demolished in the 1930’s to make room for a new road, and some of its noted interiors located elsewhere.

The dining room from Landsdowne House, now located at the Lloyd's Building

The dining room from Landsdowne House, now located at the Lloyd’s Building

 

A drawing room now found at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

A drawing room now found at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

Lansdowne House ceiling (Robert Adam)

Lansdowne House ceiling (Robert Adam)

 

*The Junius Secret

Junius was the pseudonym of a man who wrote letters exposing corruption in government from 1768 to 1772. His identity has never been discovered, but was the source of much speculation. If Lord Lansdowne indeed knew it, he died without revealing the secret.

More information on Wikipedia.

The Secret Revealed of the Authorship of Junius’s Letters

Romance of London: Comments on Hogarth’s “Industrious and Idle Apprentices”

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.

Comments on Hogarth’s “Industrious and Idle Apprentices”

William Makepeace Thackeray

William Makepeace Thackeray

Mr. Thackeray, in his Lectures on the English Humorists, thus vividly paints the scenes of Hogarth’s masterpieces; at the same time he very ingeniously contrasts the past with the present—one of the more immediate benefits of the Lecture: the past is generally interesting, but it chiefly becomes instructive when brought under the powerful focus of the present. His account of Hogarth’s “Apprentices” is a masterpiece in this way:

1William_Hogarth_-_Industry_and_Idleness,_Plate_1;_The_Fellow_'Prentices_at_their_Looms

William_Hogarth-Industry and Idleness, Plate 1; The Fellow ‘Prentices at their Looms

Fair-haired Frank Goodchild smiles at his work, whilst naughty Tom Idle snores over his loom. Frank reads the edifying ballads of Whittington and the London ‘Prentice: whilst that reprobate Tom Idle prefers Moll Flanders, and drinks hugely of beer.

2william_hogarth_-_industry_and_idleness_plate_2_the_industrious_prentice_performing_the_duty_of_a_christian.png

William Hogarth-industry and idleness plate 2 the industrious prentice_performing the duty of a Christian

Frank goes to church on a Sunday, and warbles hymns from the gallery; while Tom lies on a tomb-stone outside playing at halfpenny-under-the-hat, and with street blackguards, and deservedly caned by the beadle.

william_hogarth_-_industry_and_idleness_plate_3_the_idle_prentice_at_play_in_the_church_yard_during_divine_service

william hogarth -industry and idleness plate 3 the idle prentice at play in the church yard during divine service

Frank is made overseer of the business; whilst Tom is sent to sea.

4William_Hogarth_-_Industry_and_Idleness,_Plate_4;_The_Industrious_'Prentice_a_Favourite,_and_entrusted_by_his_Master

William_Hogarth Industry and Idleness, Plate 4; The Industrious ‘Prentice a Favourite, and entrusted by his Master

 

william_hogarth_-_industry_and_idleness_plate_5_the_idle_prentice_turnd_away_and_sent_to_sea

william hogarth – industry and idleness plate 5 the idle prentice turnd away and sent to sea

Frank is taken into partnership, and marries his master’s daughter, sends out broken victuals to the poor, and listens in his night-cap and gown with the lovely Mrs. Goodchild by his side, to the nuptial music of the city bands and the marrow-bones and cleavers; whilst idle Tom, returned from sea, shudders in a garret lest the officers are coming to take him for picking pockets.

william_hogarth_-_industry_and_idleness_plate_6_the_industrious_prentice_out_of_his_time__married_to_his_masters_daughter

william hogarth – industry and idleness plate 6 the industrious prentice out of his time married to his masters daughter

william_hogarth_-_industry_and_idleness_plate_7_the_idle_prentice_returnd_from_sea__in_a_garret_with_common_prostitute

william hogarth – industry and idleness plate 7 the idle prentice returnd from sea in a garret with common prostitute

The Worshipful Francis Goodchild, Esq., becomes Sheriff of London, and partakes of the most splendid dinners which money can purchase or alderman devour; whilst poor Tom is taken up in a night cellar, with that one-eyed and disreputable accomplice who first taught him to play chuck-farthing on a Sunday.

william_hogarth_-_industry_and_idleness_plate_8_the_industrious_prentice_grown_right__sheriff_of_london

william hogarth – industry and idleness plate 8 the industrious prentice grown right sheriff of london

What happens next? Tom is brought up before the justice of his county, in the person of Mr. Alderman Goodchild, who weeps as he recognizes his old brother ‘prentice, as Tom’s one-eyed friend peaches on him, as the clerk makes out the poor rogue’s ticket for Newgate.

william_hogarth_-_industry_and_idleness_plate_9_the_idle_prentice_betrayed_and_taken_in_a_night-cellar_with_his_accomplice

william hogarth – industry and idleness plate 9 the idle prentice betrayed and taken in a night-cellar with his accomplice

 

william_hogarth_-_industry_and_idleness_plate_10_the_industrious_prentice_alderman_of_london_the_idle_on_brought_before_him__impreachd_by_his_accomplice

william hogarth -industry and idleness plate 10 the industrious prentice alderman of_london the idle on brought before him impreachd by his accomplice

Then the end comes. Tom goes to Tyburn in a cart with a coffin in it; whilst the right Honorable Francis Goodchild, Lord Mayor of London, proceeds to his Mansion House, in his gilt coach, with four footmen and a sword-bearer, whilst the companies of London march in the august procession, whilst the train-bands of the city fire their pieces and get drunk in his honor; and oh, crowning delight and glory of all, whilst his majesty the king looks out of his royal balcony, with his ribbon on his breast, and his queen and his star by his side at the corner house of St. Paul’s Church-yard, where the toy-shop is now.

william_hogarth_-_industry_and_idleness_plate_11_the_idle_prentice_executed_at_tyburn

william_hogarth- industry and idleness plate 11 the idle prentice executed at tyburn

 

william_hogarth_-_industry_and_idleness_plate_12_the_industrious_prentice_lord-mayor_of_london

william_hogarth -industry and idleness plate 12 the industrious prentice ord-mayor of london

How the times have changed! The new Post-office now not disadvantageously occupies that spot where the scaffolding is on the picture, where the tipsy trainband-man is lurching against the post, with his wig over one eye, and the ‘prentice-boy is trying to kiss the pretty girl in the gallery. Past away ‘prentice boy and pretty girl! Past away tipsy trainband-man with wig and bandolier! On the spot where Tom Idle (for whom I have an unaffected pity) made his exit from this wicked world, and where you see the hangman smoking his pipe, as he reclines on the gibbet, and views the hills of Harrow on Hampstead beyond—a splendid marble arch, a vast and modern city—clean, airy, painted drab, populous with nursery-maids and children, the abodes of wealth and comfort—the elegant, the prosperous, the polite Tyburnia rises, the most respectable district in the habitable globe!

In that last plate of the London Apprentices, in which the apotheosis of the Right Honorable Francis Goodchild is drawn, a ragged fellow is represented in the corner of the simple kindly piece, offering for sale a broadside, purporting to contain an account of the appearance of the ghost of Tom Idle, executed at Tyburn. Could Tom’s ghost have made its appearance in 1847, and not in 1747, what changes would have been remarked by that astonished escaped criminal! Over that road which the hangman used to travel constantly, and the Oxford stage twice a week, go ten thousand carriages every day; over yonder road, by which Dick Turpin fled to Windsor, and Squire Western journeyed into town, when he came to take up his quarters at the Hercules Pillars not he outskirts of London, what a rush of civilization and order flows now! What armies of gentlemen with umbrellas march to banks, and chambers, and counting-houses! What regiments of nursery-maids and pretty infantry: what peaceful processions of policemen, what light broughams and what gay carriages, what swarms of busy apprentices and artificers, riding on omnibus-roofs, pass daily and hourly! Tom Idle’s times are quite changed; many of the institutions gone into disuse which were admired in his day. There’s more pity and kindness, and a better chance for poor Tom’s successors now than at that simpler period, when Fielding hanged him, and Hogarth drew him.

One hundred and fifty years after Thackeray’s assertions that the world is a kinder place toward kids like Idle Tom, I’m not so certain I can say the same. As a former teacher, it seems to me that the system is still stacked against kids who “dance to a different drum” or who are raised in poverty and/or by indifferent parents. And I’ll be damned if I know how to change that. What do you think?

 

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