Even in modern times, the rake still manages a “caddish blend of rebellion and classicism” in men’s fashion. Clive Derby’s label RAKE has opened an elegant store in Mayfair where men may shop for luxury bespoke and enjoy an evening with the Whiskey Society. There is even a magazine called The Rake, which many say is the successor to Men’s Vogue.
Not quite the thing in Regency times. Indeed, a rake could positively put one in a pucker with his manner of dress.
Take the hero of Heyer’s Cotillion, the Honorable Frederick Standen. He is a little intimidated by his cousin, an acknowledged rake. Jack Westruther flirts with his sister, the married Lady Buckhaven, and seems to enjoy the affections of his fiancée, Miss Kitty Charing. Freddy’s only defense, at the moment, is to decry Jack’s waistcoat:
“Jack,” said Lady Buckhaven, tilting her chin, “said he had never seen me look more becoming.”
“Sort of thing he would say,” responded Freddy, unimpressed. “Daresay you think he looks becoming in that devilish waistcoat he has on. Well, he don’t, that’s all! Take my word for it!”
Affronted, she exclaimed, “I never knew you to be so disagreeable! I have a very good mind not to invite Kitty to visit me!”
A rake wears a devilish waistcoat because he is careless about his dress, at least in the eyes of an Exquisite, like the elegant Mr. Standen.
John Mytton was also careless about his clothes. He had an abundance of them, as a rake must, and a peculiar disregard for their care and use:
“I once counted a hundred and fifty-two pairs of breeches and trousers, with an appropriate apportionment of coats, waistcoats, etc…. The clothes he would put on his person, just as they came to his hand, or as his wild fancy prompted him, and I have seen him nearly destroy a new coat at once wearing. His shoes and boots, all London make, and very light, were also destroyed in an equally summary manner, in his long walks over the country, through or over everything that came in his way.” — Nimrod, Memoirs of the Life of the Late John Mytton
What a man wears is a matter of character.
Recall Lizzie Bennet’s attempts to discern the character of Mr. Darcy in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The hero is a cold, reserved fellow–and his dress gives no clue as to resolve the varying accounts she has had of him.
We can only guess what Miss Bennet might have to say about Mytton’s character. Look at what the man is wearing.
They generally start out rich and then, generally, become poor.
By the time widow Lady Mornington met Lord Edmond Waite, a rake well-known for womanizing and drink, he had not quite run through his fortune. At first, things didn’t seem very promising:
“You make me sick” she said. “Physically sick. Nauseated.”
Mary Balogh’s The Notorious Rake has finally been re-released (in conjunction with The Counterfeit Bride) as of April 30th.
Alas, the real Regency rake, John Mytton, did not “suffer” Lord Waite’s happy fate.
He succeeded to his father’s estate at Halston, entailed like the other he inherited, Habberly. What was not entailed included three other properties in Shropshire along with a fine shooting estate in northern Wales. The income generated from these ranged from ten to sixty thousand pounds a year.
It was never enough.
He had an agent, Longueville, out of Oswestry. The man despaired of his master’s spendthrift ways and begged Mytton’s friend, Nimrod, to urge him to practice some economy:
‘I have reason to believe you can say as much to Mytton as any man can; will you have the goodness to tell him you heard me say, that if he will be content to live on six thousand pounds per annum, for the next six years, he need not sell the fine old (Wales) estate..’
Nimrod relates how this news was received. Mytton was in his carriage at the time, lolling with that indolence peculiar to many a rake, and told his friend that Longueville may keep his counsel to himself.
To generate more revenue, he was eventually obliged to part with those properties that were unentailed, including the one in Shrewsbury. A relative begged him not to sell it, that it had been in the family for five centuries.
“The devil it has!” came the reply. “Then it is high time it should go out of it.”
Money had to be spent on dogs, horses and even the heronry at Halston. But by and large, a good part of it was just simply lost.
Mytton had a habit of carrying large sums of cash about him. It was not unknown for visitors to Halston to find rolled up bank bills that he had dropped in the fields. Even more remarkable was the manner in which he secured his cash on the road. On one occasion, after breaking the banks of two well-known gambling houses in London (a rake is also a damn fine gamester), he stuffed the rolls of bank bills into a travelling writing desk that sat on his carriage seat. He was off to the Doncaster races and liked to keep the windows down so that wind may blow through the conveyance. Mytton told Nimrod he was counting the bills on the seat when a gale came up, blowing the lot out of the carriage.
And so, by this means and others, he lost over a half million pounds sterling in less than fifteen years.
Light come, light go.
Endurance is a particular quality generally associated with rakes. If this brings to mind a certain activity, you may also be aware that one doesn’t have to read above one Regency romance a year to understand the significance of this attribute. However, in polite circles, a rake’s endurance is assessed by his performance in the, er, field.
Hunting field, that is.
In those days, various groups hunted all throughout England–many more than at present, I daresay. Hunts were organized around the leadership of a well-known figure in the district, or locality–usually a member of the gentry or aristocracy. The range of a hunt might cover hundreds (or more) acres and the terrain could be decidedly rugged. A gentleman’s consequence could be made or broken, given his performance in the field.
“Your father tells me, Miss Marlowe, that you are a notable horsewoman.”
“Does he?” she responded. “Well, he told us you showed him the way with the Heythrop.”
He glanced down quickly at her, but decided, after an instant, that this remark sprang from inanity. “I imagine that I need not tell you that I did no such thing!”
“Oh, no! I am very sure you did not.”
To show anyone the way with a celebrated hunt like the Heythrop (side note: this is the current Prime Minister’s hunt) was high praise indeed. Miss Marlowe in Sylvester, or, The Wicked Uncle, piqued the Duke of Salford when she averred over his ability of riding to hounds.
Heyer at her most clever.
Even as intrepid a heroine as Miss Marlowe would agree there was no more bruising rider than John Mytton. It was said his abilities were known in every county–particularly his endurance. Hunting was the sport that taxed a rider for jumping various obstacles and “often in weather not fit for man nor beast.” In addition to hunting with his own pack, he would hunt with other packs throughout Shropshire.
“During the period of Sir Bellingham Graham hunting Shropshire, (Mytton) performed several gallant feats in the field. Whilst suffering severely from the effects of a fall, and with his right arm in a sling, he rode his favourite hunter, Baronet, over the park paling of the late Lord Berwick..to the astonishment of the whole field–Sir Bellingham himself exclaiming, “Well done, Neck or Nothing; you are not a bad one to breed from.” — Life of Mytton, Nimrod
And now we come full circle.
A gentleman knows how to shoot.
A rake is a damn fine shot.
According to one eyewitness account, John Mytton was known to take a cork (“not above an inch and a half in diameter”) used in pike fishing and afix a white piece of paper to it. This he placed on top of a kennel he kept for tame foxes and their cubs. From fifty-five yards or more, he would shoot the cork for the amusement of his guests:
“..this he would do over and over to the amazement of all who witnessed it, and with his rifle to his shoulder, and not on a rest, as might be imagined by some. Talk of Americans, for their precision in shooting, after this! It cannot be surpassed, if equalled.” — Memoirs, Nimrod
To be compared to the Americans was something rather distinctive, indeed.
To such feats may be added the spectacular exhibit of Mytton shooting rats from atop the roof at Halston.
Halston, his country estate, afforded every kind of game to suit a hunter’s fancy. Twelve hundred brace of pheasants could be harvested there in a year. A brace equals a male and a female.
Multiply Halston’s yield in a year and that would be 2400 birds!
“It was not in the power of woman, no–nor in the power of himself–to have made John Mytton a good husband; indeed, he ought not to have entered into the marriage state at all.” — Memoirs of the Life of the Late John Mytton, by Nimrod
The real Regency rake poses a problem not only to himself but to the woman who thinks to conquer him.
Regency scholars were amazed at the reports brought back to them of Egyptian antiquities, particularly fascinated with the way women were depicted in mythology. Hathor, queen of heaven and perhaps a bastardization of the imported cult of Aphrodite/Diana, was discovered on many a priestess tombstone standing upon a lion. Gentlemen who studied the classics surmised that this motif was love was conquering the beast.
Whether such a miracle can be wrought (on a permanent basis) has yet to be proved.
John Mytton had been married before–to Harriet Emma–but she died in 1820 after two years of marriage.
Nimrod (Charles James Apperly) remembers counselling the mother of Mytton’s second wife. Her daughter Caroline was the issue of the late Earl Courtney of Powderham Castle in Devon. When her daughter was seventeen years of age, she approached Mytton’s close friend for advice and received this ambivalent response:
“In my opinion, Lady Charlotte, Mr. Mytton has no business with a wife at all; but should he marry your daughter, Caroline, there is a greater prospect of his making a good husband to her, than to any other woman in the world.”
Isn’t that always the case? You alone have the best chance, but beware–the man has no business with a wife at all.
Caroline bore Mytton five children after marrying him in 1821. She saw him throw their babies up in the air and pelt them with oranges. That was more than enough. She ran away from him in 1830.
Eastertide during the Regency was a holiday facilitated by the adjournment of Parliament, new bonnets and rolling eggs downhill to symbolize the removal of the stone from the tomb.
Here are a few Regency Easter anecdotes:The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historikal Chronicle reports that in 1814 a man in a northern county was found in arrears–he had refused to pay his Easter tithe to the parish. The Committee appointed to protect the Civil Rights of Protestant Dissenters dismissed the case brought by the curate. This dismissal provoked widespread outrage, some even going so far as to say the committee has thrown down “an apple of discord between a clergyman and his parishioners.”
In 1818 there seemed to be, at least among some readers of the Gentleman’s Magazine, not a little confusion concerning the dating of Easter Sunday. “Almanacks,” that is, publications containing calendars and other important forecasting of dates, had Easter Sunday occurring on March 22nd. However, this date was apparently put into some dispute by the English Book of Common Prayer, which contained a Table that seemed to place the day as March 29th, if one followed the appearance of the full moon.The dating of Easter Sunday in England, as in other countries in Europe, mandated Easter fall on the Sunday after the first full moon following the March equinox of March 21st. This results in a difference between astronomical and ecclesiastical (that is, Paschal) full moons.A reader was so vexed by this difference that he was moved to comment to the editor of Gentleman’s Magazine:
“This discrepancy is awkward and strange–and ought not to be permitted. I have more than once conversed with able Astronomers on the subject, but the anomaly is not for the Almanack-makers, but for the Legislators to correct, and I wish they could be persuaded to undertake it.”
In 1824, the great Regency poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, died on April 19th. The English were shocked and appalled by the manner of his death. The Greeks cancelled Easter.
“Rochester was drunk for five years continually. Mytton beat him by seven.”
—-Memoirs of the life of the late John Mytton, Nimrod
How the devil does one stay inebriated continuously? John Mytton’s biographer Nimrod makes the stunning observation that there were few drunken parties at Halston, the rake’s country house. Indeed, he does not recall attending a single one even though Mytton’s best friends confirmed he was drunk almost all the time. There were two reasons for this: Mytton was already drunk by the time his guests arrived and once they did, he wouldn’t sit still long enough for anyone to have a drink. He would jump out of a window or race off to the billiard table.
Mytton favored port wine and drank it all day as follows:
“He shaved with a bottle of it on his toilet; he worked steadily at it throughout the day, by a glass or two of it at a time, and at least a bottle of it with his luncheon; and the after dinner and after supper work — not losing site of it in the billiard room — completed the Herculean task.”
Nimrod goes on to speculate that it was the quality of the port wine Mytton drank, having aged about eight years, that took many years before it began to work against his constitution. William Pitt the Younger was known to be a “three-bottle man” for his consumption of port wine and it caught up to him in 1806 at the age of forty-seven, when he died looking more like he was seventy-seven. Nimrod believes it was the brandy Mytton eventually switched to that got the best of him in the end, citing the autopsy results (called an inquest upon the body at the time) that were widely published, perhaps as a cautionary tale.
Not attractive, even if he is a rake.But in the hands of a masterful artist like Georgette Heyer, our drunk has become something not only seductive, but dangerous.
The Marquis was drinking steadily. So were several others, notably Mr. Quarles, whose scowl deepened with each glass. On the Marquis, the wine seemed to have little or no effect. His hand was steady enough, and there was only that glitter in his eyes to betray to one who knew him how much he had drunk.
–Devil’s Cub (1932)