Regency Confessor: Rusticus Returns (Part One)

Rusticus, that erstwhile town buck now turned country gentleman, obliged the Listener (and his readers) and returned to London, for the purpose of recording what it is like to re-enter Society. This he did, detailing a progression of experiences during one night on the town which tended to arouse discomfort in others and disgust in himself.

Self-conscious of the figure he would cut, Rusticus began his preparations at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. It was a good thing, too, that he began these early, as he encountered considerable difficulties making his person presentable.

Summer recess ball dress: frock of white crape, Venetian gauze, richly embellished at the border with small double Indian roses of a beautiful pink colour, and mingled with leaves of crape and pearls...the headdress consists of a double wreath of Indian roses...white satin shoes and white kid gloves.

Summer recess ball dress: frock of white crape, Venetian gauze, richly embellished at the border with small double Indian roses of a beautiful pink colour, and mingled with leaves of crape and pearls…the headdress consists of a double wreath of Indian roses…white satin shoes and white kid gloves.

For instance, his hairdresser took entirely too long to “turn” the curls on the top of his head,  by reason that his hair had become “as straight as a candle and stubborn as the bristles on a hog’s back.”

Meanwhile, articles of the latest in London fashion had arrived. From the great English bootmaker Hoby–six pairs of dress shoes, none of which fitted very well. Indeed, “the pair I kept were so short and tight round the heel that they took my skin off.” His tailor fared no better, and our returning hero was obliged to wear an overly large pair of cream Kerseymere short clothes, “for the fear of the consequences of having (the black satin ones) too tight.” It was not until 5 o’clock that his brand-new shirts, “frilled in the finest French cambric,” returned from the laundress, imperfectly pleated and still damp to the touch.

In retrospect, it would have been a good thing had he ordered the carriage early as well. The hackney coach Rusticus hired to take him to the first of three parties to which he’d been invited had only to cross the square and navigate two short streets. Still, it took the coachman such a long time to get there that it seemed he must have expected to be paid by the hour. The consequences of this dilatory progress made Rusticus late to dinner, a circumstance that was thoroughly embarrassing:

“..the servants looked very angry at seeing me arrive so late; I was desirous of taking my seat without deranging anyone, but I deranged every body.” — La Belle Assemblee, July 1816

Between his teeth, the butler said something naughty as he admitted Mr. Rusticus to the dining room and the diner at the foot of the table made plain his displeasure at the door opening against his chair. Moreover, a “handsome Viscount” was furious that his witty observation to a lady had been interrupted:

“..he was on the right of the lady and I was placed on her left, and she very obligingly half turned her back on me all dinner time.”

Rescue came in the form of that consummate artist of Good Taste and Sense–the Regency hostess:

“..she is one of the best women in the world, and she continually addressed to me that kind and polite conversation which could not fail to console me in the midst of tortures.”

Torture indeed, for the night was only just beginning!