Royal Antics in Regency-era Brighton

“While I hold the reins you will run as I choose, and by God! ma’am, if you try to take the bit between your teeth it will be very much the worse for you!” — super- Alpha Lord Worth scolding his ward, Miss Judith Taverner, for driving her curricle from London to Brighton with only her tiger for an escort.

Brighton was a popular spa and resort of Regency England. An invitation to the Royal Pavilion was supposed to be an honor–a coveted opportunity to be in the company of His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales. Over the years, however, the place developed a reputation for jokes and untoward incidents perpetrated by the Prince who gave his name to the era.

These antics, conducted by the heir-apparent to the British throne, were generally looked upon with grave disapproval:

“..childish practical jokes..continued to amuse him long after the age at which at which such pastimes cease to be excusable.”

Royal Pavilion Music Room – Brighton (photo via brightonmuseums.org.uk)

The Prince’s residence in Brighton necessitated the stationing of dragoons in barracks about a mile and half north of the town. They were to protect His Royal Highness in the event of invasion or some other circumstance threatening his safety. During the course of a late evening entertainment, the Prince inquired whether the dragoons might be summoned at a moment’s notice.

He encouraged their commander to demonstrate such readiness.

In the dead of night, the regiment’s trumpeter was roused to bugle the alarm. Taken completely by surprise and overwhelmed by the prospect of going into battle to protect his sovereign from an unknown enemy already on the attack, he couldn’t find the breath to blow into the horn.

The Music Room at the Royal Pavilion was used as a hospital for WWI soldiers from India fighting for King and Empire.

Another bugler was found, blasting the soldiers from a dead sleep. They hastily scrambled into their uniforms and struggled to tack up mounts spooked by the general disorder. Weapons had to be assembled and flying artillery wagons had to be hitched to plunging teams of horses. Passing a hurried inspection, the dragoons pounded down the road toward Brighton, leaving panicked townspeople and howling dogs in their wake. They were at their Prince’s side within fifteen minutes of the bugle call.

Imagine their disgruntlement when they arrived.

The premier peer of the realm was the old Duke of Norfolk. He probably wished he’d declined the Prince’s invitation to stay overnight at the Pavilion. At dinner, His Royal Highness, with the aid of his royal brothers, attempted to get the duke drunk. Realizing their intentions, His Grace got up to leave:

‘And now I request that my carriage may be ordered out; I mean to go home, and shall never set foot within these doors again.’

Unfortunately, he passed out soon after he entered his carriage. Obliged by Royal command, his coachman drove the ducal equipage around the Pavilion several times, returning his employer to the front door of the palace. The Regent’s servants carried his lordship inside and put him to bed.

Insensible to the entire proceeding, the duke woke up the next morning, confounded he was still ‘under the Prince’s roof.’

The library at Arundel Castle is all that remains of the 11th Duke of Norfolk’s Regency style renovation. Regency can mean chinoiserie–or Gothic. photo via Country Life

The Prince delighted Sir Edmund Nagle, vice-admiral of the Royal Navy and frequent visitor to the Royal Pavilion, with the gift of a specially-bred Hanoverian horse the color of cream. Although it was raining heavily, Sir Edmund insisted on riding his prize along the Steine in front of the Prince’s palace. He returned on a very dark bay horse, dismayed by the streaks of white running down the animal’s hide. In a paroxysm of laughter, the Prince explained he’d had the steed painted as a joke.

Sir Edmund being a good sport, Prinny presented him with a Hanoverian of the right color.

Hanoverian creams were the carriage horses once used by royalty for state occasions. Hanoverians can be pretty good size. One stepped on my foot once. It wasn’t pleasant.

By now, word got around that the royal host at the Royal Pavilion liked to prank his guests.

Upon his arrival at the Pavilion for a reception, the Reverend Sydney Smith was well-prepared for the Prince’s humor. Someone among His Highness’ guests asked the clergyman to identify the world’s most wicked man. The noted Regency wag obliged and shot his mouth off. He named the Duc d’Orleans, for ‘he was a prince!”

No, the Prince retorted, he should be Dubois, for ‘he was a priest!’

William Wilberforce was especially wary of the repeated invitations to the Pavilion he’d received, particularly because everyone knew he strongly disapproved of His Royal Highness’ conduct. He finally accepted a royal request to dine. To his surprise, he was treated very cordially and with profound respect. This encouraged him to accept a second invitation.

The Prince, perhaps feeling he’d come to an understanding with his detractor, teased Wilberforce over how much they’d both changed over the years. The evangelist agreed with this assessment. He added, however, that one hoped his sovereign had taken the opportunity during those years to improve himself (!)

Wilberforce’s opinion of the Pavilion at Brighton was also unsparing:

“St. Paul’s had gone down to the sea and left behind a litter of cupolas.”

First Lady Louisa Adams, wife of John Quincy had this to say about the seaside palace: “Prince George’s fantasy pavilion at Brighton was by far the most erotic. I have never been in a Turkish seraglio, but I’ll wager that even the most sophisticated Pasha was out-done by Prince George. He had erotic furniture, such as comfortable chaise longues [sic] that in Paris were made for ladies to lounge in, but in Prince George’s Brighton palace were for sexual intercourse(!)

All quotes are from Social hours with celebrities; being the third and fourth volumes of “Gossip of the century,” by Mrs. William Pitt Byrne (1898)

The Fighting Peer of the Regency

Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford (1775 – 1804) had a reputation for violent madness the ton deplored, scorned and ultimately mourned. His conduct is a catalog of misadventures that would gratify the wildest schoolboy imagination. His character, a hot mess of contradictions, is the prototypical anti-hero.

He was the fighting peer of the Regency.

1804 memorial etching by Dighton, via the National Portrait Gallery. ‘Lord Camelford was not such a man as you would have supposed. He was tall and bony–rather pale–with his head hanging generally a little on one side–so.’ — Lady Hester Stanhope

Thomas longed to go to sea and at first the notion seemed like a good idea, given his unruliness as a lad:

“If his lordship could have conquered that irritability of temper, which involved him in such a variety of disputes that ultimately ended in his death, he would have attained the highest naval honors.” — Life, Adventures and Eccentricities of the late Lord Camelford (1804)

Perhaps it was that irritability of temper which helped him survive his first voyage, one the history books record as ‘almost unparalleled.’ He and a skeleton crew navigated the crippled frigate HMS Guardian — little more than a raft — almost 2000 kilometers back to port.

And yet:

While imminent shipwreck conditions suited Thomas, smooth sailing did not. His naval career ended after he assaulted his former commander, shot and killed a fellow officer and attempted a solo invasion of France.**

Camelford’s sister, Anne, painted here as Hebe by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun in 1792 —  She was one of the few persons her brother loved. He left his fortune to her and her husband, Prime Minister Lord Grenville.

Thomas was still a seaman when he became Baron Camelford. He inherited a fortune exceeding £150,000 and an annual income over £20,000. His estates sprawled across the counties of Cornwall and Dorset. His family was a powerful and well-connected political dynasty.

And yet:

“..ambition was the spur of his life..to achieve success independent of inherited rank and wealth.” — The Half-Mad Lord, Nikolai Tolstoy (1978)

Returning to England, Thomas became a fearsome presence, particularly in London. He never shrank from physical violence. His temper and courage were legendary. Many thought him insane.

A jury awarded £500 in damages (a huge sum in those days) against him for assault in the Theatre Royal during a play appropriately titled, The Devil to Pay. The watch-house constables knew him well and sometimes let him take their place in adjudicating offenders, who he always pardoned after a stern talking-to. Woe betide the nightwatchman he found asleep at his post.

His notoriety alone invited unprovoked challenges from the foolhardy.

As Lord Camelford, Thomas could live in the most sumptuous of surroundings. He owned beautiful Boconnoc in Cornwall, an estate of over 7,500 acres, ‘made for its late owner and for a great mind.’ His Mayfair townhouse was a refined neo-Classical villa on Park Lane, Camelford House.

Shepherd’s 1850 watercolor of Camelford House, for a short time the residence of Charlotte, Princess of Wales, later demolished in 1915. Photo via British Museum

And yet:

Thomas preferred modest lodgings above a tea shop in Bond Street.

It was here he put to rest the menace posed by the first Bond Street Loungers, dandified young men whose business it was to harass shoppers, block sidewalks, leer at women and generally make a nuisance of themselves. One of these louts brought his boorish behavior into a nearby coffee house. After brow-beating the harassed waiter, he mocked a shabbily dressed young man reading his newspaper nearby. The waiter (with relish, no doubt) informed the coffee-house buck that he’d just taunted Lord Camelford.

” ‘Lord Camelford!’ returned the former, in a tone of voice scarcely audible; horror-struck at the recollection of his own impertinence, and almost doubting whether he was still in existence..actually stole away without daring to taste his Madeira.” — The Eccentric Mirror by G. H Wilson (1807)

Bond Street Loungers

via National Portrait Gallery – Gillray illustrates the rude phenomenon of the Bond Street Loungers in 1796. They were rather more respectable by the time of the famous 1820 illustration from Captain Gronow’s Reminisces.

Thomas was politically connected to both the Pitt and Grenville families (his uncle was William Pitt the Younger). From his father he inherited the rotten borough of Old Sarum. Generally he supported the policies of his sister’s husband, the Pittite Tory William Wyndham Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville.

And yet:

Thomas would get a burr under his saddle and vote for policies that went against his family and their interests–and at the most inconvenient of times. He alarmed both established parties with his connections to the radicals Sir Francis Burdett and John Horne Tooke, espousing their egalitarian principles. At other times he and his cudgel forced radicals to listen to a blind fiddler he hired to play patriotic tunes in their gathering place.

A virulent protester against the peace with Napoleon, Thomas refused to light his windows in support of the nightly London celebrations taking place. A mob broke his windows and knocked down his door. Fearless, he took up a sword and cudgel and dashed into the street, fighting the drunk, maddened crowd all alone, with some success, until felled by a brick from behind. His senseless body mercilessly kicked and stoned, he barely escaped with his life.

He was ready for them the next night, guarding the tea shop with a mob of brawny seamen he’d rounded up on his own.

Bill Richmond, prize fighter and cabinet maker. He is credited with dragging his employer Lord Camelford to safety.

And yet:

Unbeknownst to the fashionable world, his lordship eschewed the social events of the ton to go to areas of London stricken with typhus and blue ruin. There he sought out families to render them financial aid.

“In such deeds as these, and at an expense of several thousands a year (he mortgaged one of his estates in this effort) did this unaffected philanthropist pass the hours which he stole from the dissipation of high life; and his protégées were not aware of the name or quality of their benefactor, until his untimely fate put a period to his munificent donations.” — The Clubs of London, by Charles Marsh (1832)

Thomas loved all kinds of sports and was a nonpareil himself. An accomplished amateur boxer, he sponsored many professionals of the sport and could be counted on for a generous purse even after their careers. He patronized the Jolly Brewer, an establishment owned by the famous Jem Belcher, gifting his valuable dog to the retired pugilist.

“He always received the respect due to his position, and if a coal-heaver or meatporter of his acquaintance attempted any insolence he was swiftly paid in his own coin.” — Tolstoy

And yet:

He could shed his rough exterior and become the fashionable beau, being among the first to wear a Jean de Bry coat and the Belcher neck cloth. He was a rather ‘well-looking man.” This was evident during his brief courtship of his cousin, Lady Hester Stanhope, herself an enigmatic figure of beauty and independence. Her memories of Lord Camelford are full of admiration and very illuminating–‘people were very much mistaken about him.’ His wide-ranging adventures inspired her to embark on her own travels.

Generally unchaperoned, the two attended ton parties, drove down turnpikes in Thomas’ curricle and spent time at his estate in Cornwall. She told her doctor many years later that Lord Camelford’s appearances at balls and routs put people in a fright, but when engaged in conversation, he was ‘charming, irresistible, so well-bred, such a ton about him.’

Her greatest tribute to Thomas was the fact he couldn’t abide hypocrisy, particularly amongst those who occupied the highest levels of society. He hated whoever who took advantage of others and used his status as a peer to rectify injustice:

“He was a true Pitt, and, like me, his blood fired at a fraud or a bad action.” — Memoirs of the Lady Hester Stanhope by Charles Lewis Meryon, I (1846)

Lady Hester Stanhope on Horseback – Her lonely and abusive childhood was similar to Camelford’s–isolated on a country estate with her brother by a father who meant to force his heir to renounce his inheritance, once he came of age, thus breaking the entail that protected the family fortune from Lord Stanhope’s spendthrift habits. Hester helped her brother escape.

The fatal duel that took Thomas’ life could have been avoided, by all accounts. As he lay painfully dying (the bullet was lodged in his spine) he forgave his opponent, Captain Best. Only too late did he realize that the insult lodged against him was fabricated by a disgruntled mistress.

His death occasioned a great deal of comment. The men breathed a sign of relief, ‘it was dangerous to sit in company with such a man,’ one said. Lady Bessborough, who often appears in this blog as Lady B, was sorry for him and the ‘dreadful lesson against violent passion his whole life and death have been!’

“He was a man of superior abilities but of singular character…in him Courage was a struggle of sentiment against Constitution.” — The Farington Diary, Vol II, Joseph Farington (1923)

*The Guardian’s passengers were mostly convicts being transported to Australia. They and the accompanying crew and guards abandoned ship only to die almost to a man in the life boats.

**Lord Camelford was often flogged and placed in irons under mutinous conditions on board ship closely resembling those of the Bounty. Unlike Christian Fletcher, his lordship made it back to England and assaulted old Captain Vancouver until the latter’s brother, fresh from fighting native Americans and felling trees in Kentucky, returned the favor and nearly killed his lordship. As for the murder of a fellow officer, his lordship’s actions were found to be necessary to quash what was ruled a mutiny.

The Violent Secret of Miss Scott

A future prime minister on the subject of love:

“…I’m pretty sure I am not born to die of love and I am quite sure I shall never be a lover.”

That was the impression George Canning (1770-1827) certainly gave, for he made little or no attempt to be agreeable to women. The patroness of his own party, Lady Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, Countess of Sutherland, ‘thoroughly disliked’ him. Canning believed all women of fashion were depraved and corrupt, as Lady Holland noted in her diary, July 4, 1799.

 

Canning was mean to her, Lady Bessborough complained to her lover Granville:

 

“What possible chance have I of escaping under the eye of a person who judges everyone with severity, women particularly and me perhaps more than any other woman?” — August 1798

 

George Canning by Hoppner. “Never was any human being less bent on falling in love than I was…”

That all changed when Canning attended a Tory gathering at Walmer Castle upon the invitation of his mentor, Pitt. There he met Miss Joan Scott, the heiress of a tremendous fortune in gambling proceeds (over £500,000) won by her father, General ‘Pawky’ Scott. Her sister had made a grand match, marrying the heir to the Duke of Portland and former prime minister. The same was expected of Miss Scott but so far she had rejected every suitor for her hand, including that handsome devil Sir Arthur Paget.

 

Contemptuous of the courtship business, Canning refused even the appearance of dangling after Miss Scott.

 

“Perhaps it was in some measure this very circumstance of having her so constantly in my thoughts as something to be avoided, perhaps it was an observation of something I cannot put into words..probably it was the observation which I could not but make of her beauty, and good sense, and quiet, interesting manners…” Canning to Granville Leveson Gower, August 1799

 

The Cottage at Walmer Castle via English Heritage. You can spend your holiday at the Castle and stay in the cottage!

‘Seized by a passion that would last the rest of his life,’ Canning sought out Miss Scott. Unfortunately, embarrassment overcame him and the master parliamentary orator was unable to Speak. He fled to Dover, trying to talk himself out of his infatuation, reasoning that he couldn’t offer for her hand. Their financial circumstances were too disparate. He shuddered to think he might appear as a fortune hunter, particularly when he didn’t have a proper job. She would reject him anyway, leaving him open to jeers and mockery, for Canning’s sharp wit had made him plenty of enemies.

 

Somehow he had to keep the ‘violent secret of Miss Scott’ to himself.

 

At Dover, Canning saw Lady Susan Ryder, his good friend Granville’s sister. Reluctantly, and in the strictest confidence, he told her about his predicament. Fortunately Lady Susan had a slight acquaintance with Miss Scott and volunteered to sound her out for him. Her response, ‘she found me so different from what she expected,’ threw him into a paroxysm of  doubt and perplexity.

 

What did that mean? He knew he had his detractors. Sometimes he carried a joke too far. He even made his own friends cry. That d—d Charles Greville, her relative, must have said something disparaging:

“…he amuses himself by representing me as a compound of satirical and ill-natured and insolent feelings and manners and particularly with stating himself to be an object of my contempt..”

 

‘The Gower Family,’ considered Romney’s masterpiece. Painted in 1776, it depicts the 2nd Earl Gower’s children, two of whom were Canning’s close friends. Lady Susan is in profile, her brother Granville peers around her, his gaze mischievous, his golden hair shining.

What did it matter, anyway? Miss Scott made it clear she didn’t want to marry a politician. So, Lady Susan advised Canning to give it up. He returned to Walmer anyway, unable to contemplate a future without Miss Scott. He reasoned that no objection was ‘sufficient to make it a matter of duty or delicacy in me to see her no more.’ He promised he wouldn’t harass or embarrass her but he had to have her definitive answer, to ‘learn his fate.’

 

That was when

 

“..I first touched my own Love’s hand–and put my arm ’round her, & drew her to me–and she was not very angry (!)–not very angry I think–though it was very saucy in me to do what I did.”

 

Nevertheless, on the question of marriage Miss Scott prevaricated. She would defer to her sister’s husband, Marquess Titchfield, a man who wasn’t her guardian but whom she relied upon for advice. Canning told her he would not retire from the field unless and until he had her repudiation–not something half-hearted and dependent on others.

 

She would remain ‘an object so dear to me.’

 

Meanwhile, the government offered him a real job–an ambassadorship to Holland. He agonized, knowing it was an opportunity he shouldn’t decline and yet if he left England Miss Scott would slip away forever. Then she fell dangerously ill, her life was despaired of. Perhaps her recovery was the catalyst for surrender. She agreed to marry him in the summer.

 

“It is the one Event most essential to my happiness that has ever yet occurred in the course of my life.” — Canning to Granville’s mother, Lady Stafford, May, 1800

 

The secret was out.

 

South Hill Park, the Cannings’ country residence, now an arts centre — photo by Garrick Hywel Darts

 

Postscript: Before his marriage, Canning mentioned to Granville an entanglement he had with a married lady, a relationship that seemed to demand some reluctant reciprocation on his part, for he planned to use the excuse of a pending marriage to escape it. The lady’s identity remains uncertain, but many believe she was Caroline of Brunswick, Princess of Wales. On the other hand, Lady Holland pointed to the Earl of Malmesbury’s wife who hosted her husband’s cadre of foreign affairs protégés, including Canning and another future prime minister, Lord Liverpool. Lady B begged Granville to reveal her identity, having just discovered ‘the violent secret of Miss Scott.’

 

Sources:

 

The Rise of George Canning by Dorothy Marshall (1938) – particularly his letters to Lady Susan Ryder and containing the quote in the photo of South Hill Park above.

 

George Canning: Three Biographical Studies by P. J. V. Rolo (1965)  — best for a glimpse of his devotion to his wife and children ‘if anything should happen to (Canning’s daughter) it would kill him on the spot.’

 

Private correspondence, 1781 – 1821 by Granville Leveson Gower, Earl Granville, et al and edited by Castalia Leveson-Gower, Countess Granville (1916) for all other quotes.

All My Regency Sons

The sons of Lord Uxbridge cut quite a dash during the Regency.

William Paget, 1st Baron Paget and accountant to Henry VIII. “You can’t claim that as a dependent—Why? Because it’s inanimate!”*

Their father, a man humbly named Henry Bayly, inherited an ancient barony through the maternal line of his ancestors. To tidy things up, he took their name Paget. Another privilege, the earldom of Uxbridge, descended lockstep with the barony but Bayly couldn’t inherit that bit since it only passed through the male line.

Not to worry–a second creation made our man an earl.

Henry married the daughter of a minister and they had six sons who survived to maturity (among six daughters)–and good-looking ones, too.

“It is not common to see such..handsome young men in one family.” — Lady Stafford to her son Granville Leveson Gower; (from his correspondence edited by Castalia, Countess Granville 1916)

No. 1 — Field Marshall Henry William Paget, 1st Marquess Anglesey, the eldest and particularly famous for his military exploits during the Napoleonic Wars, an endeavor that cost him a limb which went on to have a career of its own (!) Many remarked upon his equanimity during the amputation procedure:

“I’ve had a pretty long run, I have been a beau these forty-seven years, and it would not be fair to cut the young men out any longer.” — One Leg: The Life and Letters of Henry William Paget, First Marquess of Anglesey; ed. 7th Marquis of Anglesey (1961)

Henry William Paget, 1st Marquess Anglesey by F W Wilkin Of him, Wellington declared ‘he shall not run off with me!’

After that, he wore an artificial limb which may or may not have caused him to fall down leaving the ballroom at Almack’s. Adding insult to injury, his sister Lady Jane Paget screamed ‘violently,’ sending the whole place into a panic.1

Henry’s amorous maneuvers are worth noting for their instructive value in late Georgian divorce law. On a personal level, his father threatened to cut him off ‘without a farthing’ if he did not return to his wife. Lady Williams Wynn (another fond parent of Regency sons) smugly thanked hers for being such a nice boy, pitying Lord Uxbridge for the conduct of his:

“What a misfortune to his family that he (Henry) did not find in Spain the Tomb of honor which they say he so eagerly sought. For his companion in disgrace, we must in charity remember the heavy degree of insanity (!) which prevails throughout her family…”

— from Lady W. W. to Henry W. W. W. March 14, 1809

Correspondence of Charlotte Grenville, Lady Williams Wynn, and her three sons, et al; ed. by Rachel Leighton (1820)

No. 2 — Most thought Captain William Paget, a naval officer, the handsomest of all the Paget boys (excepting Lord Granville’s sister, who danced with him at Lady Hume’s ball but preferred his brother Arthur.)2  William’s father was very proud of his naval service and roundly rebuked any who complained his son was too often absent from parliamentary proceedings as MP for Anglesey.  Captain Paget was busy capturing French vessels–surely a far greater service to King and County than sitting in the Commons. His death at sea was greatly mourned, its cause poorly understood.**

Sir Arthur Paget by Hoppner. He ‘liked to show his shapes to advantage.’

No. 3 — Sir Arthur Paget was a career diplomat and cut a rather extravagant figure while doing it.3  Serving in various posts throughout Europe, he pursued various females, including the daughter of the Esterhazys, earning him a serious smack-down from Leopoldine’s mother.4  The other notable rebuff came from a Miss Scott who preferred George Canning, future Prime Minister.5

On the other hand, Miss Georgiana Seymour was infatuated with him. This young lady, adopted by the Marquess of Cholmondelay, was rumoured to be the love child of the Prince Regent by noted courtesan and spy Grace Dalrymple Elliott.6

In the end, Arthur ran off with Augusta Fane, wife of the appropriately named Lord Boringdon.

No. 4 -General Sir Edward Paget lost an arm and was captured by the French serving under Wellington. When his father became convinced a young ‘hellkite’ was in love with him, to the point he was paying her a generous stipend, Edward was the only one to bring old Lord Uxbridge to his senses. He told his father quite bluntly:

” ‘What should you think if Sir David Dundas (then aged seventy-five) should seriously tell you that a girl of 20 was seriously and truly in Love with His Person? If you did not laugh at him, should you not be disgusted at the communication?’ ” — Charles Paget writing to his brother, Sir Arthur Paget, circa late 1809 as reprinted in One Leg

Sir Charles Paget by Lawrence. In a letter to his brother Arthur, he curses his mother-in-law for falsely accusing him of infidelity with the Duchess of Bedford.+

No. 5 – Sir Charles Paget, a vice-admiral, commanded HMS Endymion when it gallantly rescued the crew of a French warship that had run aground. He married Elizabeth Monck whose mother had an affair with Jack, the aforementioned Lord Boringdon. Charles was steady on–he counseled and supported his parents in their old age and bailed them out by loaning them a substantial portion of the prize money he won capturing four Spanish treasure ships. He died of a fever on board ship.

No. 6 – Berkeley Thomas Paget concerned himself mainly with politics, both as MP and as a Lord of the Treasury for two prime ministers. He and Lady Williams Wynn’s son were rivals for the hand of the beautiful Sophia Bucknall. Fanny, Lady Williams Wynn’s daughter, wrote to her brother encouraging him to make up to Sophia, an heiress ‘with a fortune of at least  £30,000.’ Berkeley won her and her fortune, but was less than faithful.

Berkeley Thomas Paget by Lawrence. His brothers and sisters called him ‘Bartolo,’ and, alternatively, ‘Villain.’

Another schadenfreude moment for Lady W. W.:

“..Mr. Paget has gone back to live with his poor wife, promising, I suppose, never to do so no more. I am sorry for it, as I fear she can have no further prospect of any permanent comfort in him & therefore will only be subjecting herself to further pangs.” — Lady W. W. to Fanny W. W. January 17, 1819 Correspondence of Charlotte Grenville, et al

Oh, those Paget boys.

 

 

*I couldn’t resist quoting from a ‘celebrity accountant‘ commercial that never gets old.

**Some speculated William died from complications due to a wound he sustained ‘years before’ during an assassination attempt in Constantinople, making him a very young teenager at the time of the attack.

+Charles Paget to Sir Arthur, June 17, 1810 written aboard the Revenge, reprinted in The Paget Boys by Sir Arthur Paget, edited by George Jolliff, Baron Hylton (1918). It was an accusation that was particularly troubling to Charles because he and his wife missed each other acutely while he was at sea.

1.From the Journal of Henry Edward Fox, March 27, 1822 by Baron Henry Edward Vassall Fox, ed. by Giles Strangways, Earl of Ilchester (1926)

2. From Lady Charlotte’s Jan. 30th, 1790 letter to her brother, Granville Leveson Gower. She goes on to tell her brother she danced with the oldest Paget boy, Henry, who she said ‘is a great favourite of mine.’ Apparently the brothers were still dancing into the night after she left at four in the morning! Lord Granville Leveson Gower private correspondence, ed. Castalia, Countess Granville (1916) vol. I

3.From the Earl of Dalkeith’s Dec. 31st, 1799 letter to Sir Arthur recommending a breeches maker in Naples, with a sly remark concerning the diplomatic possibilities that awaited there, including Lady Emma Hamilton. The Paget papers; diplomatic and other correspondence of Sir Arthur Paget, 1794-1807. (With two appendices 1808 & 1821 [1828]-1829.) ed Sir Augustus Berkeley Paget (1896) Vol. I

4. From Sir Arthur’s Aug. 18th, 1805 letter to his mother, the Countess of Uxbridge,  Paget Papers Vol II

5. From George Canning’s August 22nd 1799 letter to Lord Granville Leveson Gower expressing his relief that Paget was out of the running for Miss Scott’s hand, based second-hand on a conversation she supposedly had with someone else, an intelligence conveyed to Canning via the unlikely duo of William Pitt and his fixer, Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville. I say unlikely because one would not suspect these two men to be concerned with the romance of a younger ally (Pitt never married and Dundas cut off his adulterous wife from her fortune and children). Private Correspondence, Lord Granville. Postscript: It must be noted that Dundas was Scott’s guardian but both men were anxious for Canning to secure financial stability in order to pursue a promising career as a Tory politician.

6. J. Talbot’s Mar. 12th, 1803 letter to Sir Arthur in Paget’s Papers, Vol I.

 

A Pictorial Regency-era Christmas

Irving by Jarvis (1809) “Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart. ”

It is ironic that an American author describes the sights and sounds of Regency Britain as well as any native diarist of the time. In a previous post, this blog examined Washington Irving’s (1783-1859) remarkable talent for charming the jaded ton. Today’s post takes a look at his first great success, the 1819-1820 serial Sketch Book.*

The chapters on Christmas are written in a visual way that is unusually striking. They have since been printed in a separate volume many times–

A coffee-table book of late-Georgian Yuletide.

Colorful, accessible to everyone’s understanding, Irving’s style might be considered unduly sentimental. Regency-era readers in particular, steeped as they were in the Romantic movement’s faraway, exotic locales, were bound to find a Yankee’s observations of everyday British life provincial and dull.

On the contrary,

“…(the Christmas sketches) are written to engage the finer feelings of the heart, they operate upon the imagination like the polished weapons of modern surgery; they make a deep, but a delicate wound.”

— The Atheneum, Vol I No. 10, February 1828

“Every ragamuffin that has a coat to his back thrusts his hands into the pockets, rolls in his gait, talks slang and is an embryo Coachey.”

The chapters begin with a journey to Squire’s estate via public coach. As an aside, I consider this snippet as good as any primary resource on Regency-era holiday travel.

There is the coachman “with a large bunch of Christmas greens stuck in the button-hole of his coat.” The English inn kitchen is detailed down to the last pot.

Young students returning home from school for the holiday are among the passengers in the coach. They seem perfectly ordinary to the naked eye. After Irving gets through with them, these schoolboys are impossible to forget. When the coach finally rolls to a stop before an ornate country estate gate, they eagerly look to see who has been sent up from the house to wait for them. It is Old John, the family footman. He has brought with him their childhood pony Bantam, an intrepid steed who will clear any hedge. The beloved dog that greets them “wriggles his whole body with joy.”

“..(the boys) held John’s hands, both talking at once, overpowering him with by questions about home, and with school anecdotes.”

Arriving at his own destination, Irving joins a large company of extended family and friends hosted by Squire at Christmas. No creature escapes his keen attention. Squire sings a stanza of an ancient carol, “his eye glistening, his voice rambling out of all the bounds of time and tune,” and the parson scolds the sexton for decorating the church with pagan mistletoe amongst the greens.

Squire’s cousin, Master Simon, acts as master of ceremony.

“..a tight, brisk little man, with the air of an arrant old bachelor…an eye of great quickness and vivacity, with a drollery and lurking waggery of expression that was irresistible.”

 

A disapproving Mama finds Master Simon’s efforts deplorable, as they encourage giggling that is only barely stifled and unbridled merriment among the younger set.

The Christmas Eve meal displays Squire’s singular character. He is a man who loves nothing more than researching the old customs so he can recreate them on important occasions. The sideboard is laden with generous amounts of rich, elaborate dishes, but  Squire forsakes them to eat the simple, traditional meal of frumenty —  ‘England’s oldest national dish.’

For his part, Irving was glad to see the familiar minced pie.

Christmas Day dinner is full of ceremony. The wassail bowl, the boar’s head and meat pie decorated with peacock feathers all warrant extensive explanatory footnotes at the end of the Christmas chapters. It seems Irving was compelled to prove to his astonished London audience that ‘the grave and learned manner of old custom’ was still being carried on in many parts of the country.

‘The tide of wine and wassail fast gaining,’ one might just recognize the outlines of the timeless Christmas party getting out of hand.

Of course there are games and dancing afterward the main meal. Squire’s sons, an army officer and an ‘Oxonian,’ step out with their maiden aunts. Most amusing is the boisterous schoolgirl trying Master Simon’s patience when he partners her in a stately rigadoon. There are masques and mummeries, enacted in costume fashioned from old clothes brought down from the attic, and an ancient hoodening rite whereby the young parade a hobby horse covered in cloth, demanding tribute from the adults.

Charles Dickens by Gillies — He, too had an ‘eagle eye,’ according to  Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Squire worries the Christmas spirit will disappear without the pastoral traditions to sustain it. He may not have been aware that his American guest was about to revive the Yuletide holiday’s former glow. Certainly he did not know that another great storyteller would follow Irving, one who would rekindle the Christmas spirit into a roaring blaze.

*Quotes (unless otherwise noted) are taken from Old Christmas by Washington Irving. This extract is from volume II of the original Sketch Book published in serial form in 1821. The clever illustrations by Randolph Caldecott appear in the 1886 printing.

Standard-Bearer to the Regency – Part Five

This is the final installment of a series examining the personality of Sarah Sophia Villiers, Countess of Jersey. For two centuries she has played a role in late Georgian-themed literature–a remarkable testament to her character’s powerful influence. Writers rely upon her time and again to establish a challenging setting for their plots because she is the symbol of an immovable, rigid society of unbending rules and top-of-the-trees elites.

To repeat: Sarah Sophia was–and still is–the Standard-Bearer to the Regency.

“The devil himself was not more handsome or seductive than this man who called himself Glenarvon. From the moment she met him, Calantha knew she was damned..” –from the back cover

As described in a previous post, Sarah Sophia makes her most significant appearance in the first of many works: Glenarvon (1816). Among the members of the Regency ton, there were plenty of society figures who possessed a penchant for talking excessively and interrupting ongoing conversations, or an obsession with secrets and frenetic socializing. As Lady Holland wrote to Mrs. Creevey1, the libel lay in the way such traits were so cleverly packaged. Future authors would emulate this unique method of characterization.

Lord Worth chides her: “Don’t talk, Sally, you interrupt Miss Crewe.”

Like the intrepid fox-hunting Corinthian in a Heyer romance, Caro showed us all the way.

Sarah Sophia, in the guise of Lady Augusta, deplores Glenarvon’s cruel seduction and expresses sympathy for Calantha, “dying alone, upbraided, despised and deserted.” She recognizes injustice done to another woman but does nothing about it.

It is a virulent portrait of an unfeeling creature, very like contemporary diarist Charles Greville’s2 description of Sarah Sophia–devoid of feminine softness.

“I am like a deer, and ever fly with the herd; there is no excuse..ever, for those who are wounded and bleeding and trodden upon.” — Lady Augusta Selwyn, Glenarvon

When Sarah Sophia was about sixty years of age, she made another appearance in literature, this time as Lady St Julians in Benjamin Disraeli’s Coningsby and Sybil.  Both works reflect the author’s dissatisfaction with established political parties, where members exist only to serve their own interests and not the people they represent.

Lady St. Julians is a creature of the system, ignoring the principle of the thing in favor of her family’s interests, constantly maintaining a network to promote them:

“..she made it a rule to go everywhere and visit everybody, provided they had power, wealth and fashion…” — Coningsby (1844)

Her efforts to influence Conservative politics reflect Sarah Sophia’s, and not in a complimentary way:

 “…driving distractedly about town, calling at clubs, closeted with red tapers*, making ingenuous combinations that would not work, by means of which some of her sons was to stand in coalition with some great parvenu, to pay none of the expenses, and yet come in first.” — Sybil (1845)

” ‘Oh, goodness me! Don’t, I implore you, give her vouchers for Almack’s. ..she presents such a very off-appearance, doesn’t she? ..she looks stupid. I’m persuaded she’s not awake upon any suit!’ “

Thirteen years after her death, Disraeli gave Sarah Sophia immortality as Zenobia in his  Endymion (1880). For all his fascination for her, his published correspondence rarely mentions Lady Jersey, apart from seeing her ablaze with jewels at Queen Victoria’s coronation, and observing her husband’s (bless him) flood of tears when their eldest son married Prime Minister Peel’s daughter.3

 Some have said Zenobia is a composite portrait of Disraeli’s Whig patronesses.4 This is unlikely given his masterful rendition of Lady Jersey’s political efforts–they are hers almost to the life. When Endymion’s Whigs are in the ascendant, Zenobia gnashes her teeth. And when the Whig government resigns, Zenobia triumphs.

Sarah Sophia’s every idiosyncrasy is recalled with exactitude:

“..to listen, among her many talents, was also her rarest…she liked flattery, and always said she did..she liked handsome people, and even handsome women, and persons who were dressed beautifully.. she never liked her male friends to marry..and it was her habit to impress upon her noble fellows of both sexes that there were relations of intimacy between herself and the royal houses of Europe, which were not shared by her class.” — Endymion (1880)

Georgette Heyer resurrected Sarah Sophia to become a powerful utility character in many a Regency romance novel. As Caro did in Glenarvon, Heyer makes Lady Jersey a source of external conflict (society’s strictures) for intrepid heroines to overcome. She is also a tool manipulated by Heyer’s heroes, frequently men she adores, to steer other characters into position for season after season of excellent plot maneuvers.

“Hero would have been astonished, and indeed indignant, had she been aware that she was the object of Lady Jersey’s sympathy.”

Beloved Cotillion mentions the queen of society only in passing, but a chance remark Sarah Sophia makes ‘off-camera’ is telling, putting a very special hero to the blush. Freddy’s sister Meg may proclaim him the best dancer in all London, but for Lady Jersey to add her tribute warrants an exquisite “By Jove!” from him.

In Arabella, Lady Jersey fans the flames of internal conflict. “Vivacious, restless and scintillating,” Sarah Sophia enjoys the hero’s company, rousing jealousy in the breast of a heroine who has just rejected the hero’s marriage proposal out of hand.

One last observation of her character, before we leave her, comes from Henry Edward Fox, son of the aforementioned Lady Holland, appearing in a previous installment of this series. Of all the writers who have described Sarah Sophia, whether in fact or fiction, he is the most eloquent. He gives us the real woman, with all her faults, by the very reason he deeply admired her:

Dined tête-à-tête with Lady Jersey, whose wonderful garrulity does not bore me. I have such an affection for her and feel such perfect confidence in her sincerity that I like what many people cannot endure.” June 30, 1823

The Journal of Henry Edward Fox 1818 – 1830

“Lady Buxted remembered impertinent little Sally Fane, a wretched schoolroom miss to whom she had administered a number of well-deserved setdowns..”

 

*red Toryism – conservative with a small (c)

1 The Creevey Papers Vol I by Thomas Creevey (1904) Sarah Sophia’s Whig rival uses the term amplisagge to describe Caro’s clever rendering.

2 The Greville Memoirs, Charles C.F. Greville, Esq (1875)

3 Lord Beaconsfield’s correspondence with his sister, 1832-1852 by Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881); edited by Ralph Disraeli

4“Endymion, A Review,” Tullidge’s Quarterly, by Edward Tullidge, editor (1881). Tullidge was a Mormon who emigrated from England to Utah. He wrote extensively on a variety of topics and ran several magazines. Known as the Mormon feminist historian, it is ironic that his widow was said to have died penniless from his bankruptcy, her body found on the cold ground with scarcely a blanket to cover her.

Jane Austen’s Haunted Emma

The environs of Jane Austen’s Emma boast some spectral incidents. Set in Surrey “the most misunderstood English county,” the novel features picturesque Box Hill and surrounding villages serving as the backdrop for a subtle complexity of romantic misunderstanding.

All quotes are from the novel.

“Emma had never been to Box Hill; she wished to see what everyone found so well worth seeing..”

Box Hill itself contains the grave of a man buried upside down. Major Peter Labilliere, not surprisingly a somewhat eccentric man, was a particular friend of the 5th Duke of Devonshire. He spent a good deal of his time wandering the hill. His ghost has yet to quit the area, according to reports.

“Let everybody on the Hill hear me if they can. Let my accents swell from Mickleham on one side, and Dorking on the other.”

The road from Box Hill to Dorking passes through the village of Westcott, the location of Stowe Maries, a Grade II listed sixteenth century timbered house once owned by the actor Leslie Howard. Reports of a ghostly horseman abound. One witness saw the roadside bushes part as if pushed aside, accompanied by the sound of a horse trotting by.

“I didn’t chase women, but I couldn’t always be bothered to run away.” — Leslie Howard

The ruins of old Betchworth Castle to the east make it difficult to imagine this medieval fortification had been renovated into a fine Regency-era house. It became part of the grounds of nearby Deepdene, acquired by colorful banker Thomas Hope. His well-developed craze for the Gothic style led him to turn a destructive eye toward old Betchworth. He had the house deliberately reduced to a picturesque ruin. Ironically, his Regency masterpiece Deepdene was destroyed to make an office building.

Betchworth Castle still remains, said to be haunted by a ‘Lord Hope.’ His ghost wanders in perpetual grief over the accidental killing of his son. A spectral black dog prowls the ruins at night as well.

Old Betchworth lies along the River Mole. Spooky, yeah? Photo by Ian Capper via geograph.org.uk

To the west of Dorking is Silent Pool, situated near the old estate of Henry Drummond, one of the wealthier men of Regency England and a rival banker to Sarah Sophia, Countess of Jersey. The body of water has a blue opalescent color. It is said to be haunted by a woodcutter’s daughter who drowned there to escape King John’s embrace.

Mystery writer Agatha Christie mysteriously disappeared near Silent Pool, where her car was found abandoned.

Jane Austen wrote Emma while staying with relatives in Great Bookham, on the outskirts of Dorking. Richard Sheridan, Regency-era playwright and one of Lady Bessborough’s lovers, lived in the neighborhood for a time at Polesdon Lacey, an old manor later remodeled into a villa and fine example of the era’s architecture. The grounds of this house and nearby Cotman Dean heath (Little Bookham Common) long had the reputation of being haunted by the spirit of an old woman.

“..ridiculous, disagreeable old maid! The proper sport of boys and girls..”

The villagers had almost forgotten their local ghost until some boarding school boys resurrected her. They used a dark lanthorn (lantern with sliding black lens) and carried it around the place at night. The villagers were not familiar with this relatively new device. Thus they grew convinced the light moving swiftly around the heath, point to point, could have only been carried thus by spectral means.

The fun ended when the boys were discovered and thrashed within an inch of their lives.

Bookham Commons via nationaltrust.org.uk

 

Standard-Bearer to the Regency – Part One

Her name was Sarah Sophia Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey (1785 – 1867). As Patroness of Almack’s, the portal to Regency ton, she was first among equals. Contemporary observers recorded more accounts of her than just about every other female of note in the ton.

She was (and still is) the standard-bearer to the Regency.

In a highly structured society like late Georgian England, persons with money and birth were furthered sorted by reputation and social connections. Someone had to make these decisions. One negative signal from Lady Jersey spelled disaster for the social climber.

She was human, however–fallible and often contradictory.

I’ve heard so many varying accounts of your character as to puzzle me exceedingly.” Lizzie to Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

Born Sarah Sophia Fane, she had all the advantages noted above from the start. Her mother, Sarah Anne Child, was the sole heiress to the immense banking fortune of the Child family. Her father, John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmorland, a prominent Tory. Had her character not been so distinctive, scarcely a footnote would be written of her. This series of blog posts focuses on the personality of Lady Jersey, so often described in correspondence and diaries from the Regency era.

We’ll also take a look at her role as a pivotal character in Regency romance.

Her parents’ high profile elopement shows what DNA we have to work with. Independent, perhaps impetuous, certainly determined. The bride’s father strongly disapproved of the match, but was tricked into giving his permission when the young earl put the question to him as a seemingly innocuous hypothetical.

Some accounts tell how Mr. Child himself chased after the couple with the result that one of his horses got shot by Westmorland’s pistol.

“..a traveling-carriage drew up outside the house, Lord Dolphinton alighted from it and after casting around him a glance suggestive of a hare hotly pursued by hounds, hurried up the steps to the front door.” — Cotillion, Georgette Heyer

Money and the brains to keep it are other important attributes. Mr. Child wasn’t about to allow his banking fortune to go to an earldom. He made it so that Sarah Sophia, as Sarah Anne’s oldest daughter, inherited it (in the absence of a second son). It was a sizeable amount and came with great responsibility.

As one of the principals in the Child firm, Sarah Sophia would make influential decisions for the business.

Sarah Sophia Child Villiers by Chalon                                ‘It was your family that pushed you into banking–it was their dream for you. ‘ — Seinfeld

Her mother died when Sarah Sophia was about eight years old. It fell to the second Countess of Westmorland to shepherd her first season in London. However, it seems likely Sarah Sophia was the one who did the shepherding. Her stepmother was an indiscreet, garrulous woman who once threatened commit suicide:

“..to which Lord Westmorland replied pooh, pooh, and went away, not thinking any such good fortune would happen to him (!)… (she survived)…of that probably Her Ladyship took very good care.”
— Henry Williams Wynn to his mother, Lady Williams Wynn on Aug. 11, 1810*

As you might guess, Sarah Sophia’s debut was an eagerly anticipated event and she had several high-profile suitors. One of them left behind a wealth of correspondence from this period. In it are glimpses of the heiress’ teen-aged personality:

“Lady Sarah Fane is looking in great Beauty this year, but I am more inclined than ever to believe she has a strong Partiality for Villiers, which he endeavors to confirm by much attention. She is not yet presented, but is generally at the opera with Lady Westmoreland.”
— Lord Granville Leveson Gower to Lady Stafford, February, 1802 **

Lord Granville Leveson Gower, a Whig and diplomat, courted Sarah Sophia under the aegis of two older women in his life. The first being his mother, Lady Stafford. The other was his long-time lover, Henrietta Ponsonby, Lady Bessborough.

Granville by T. Lawrence. Lady Bessborough ‘loved him to idolatry,’ even though he loved her the least, so she believed.

Lady Bessborough threw herself wholeheartedly into the campaign. Avidly following her lover’s efforts, she both encouraged and teased him. She chided him once for choosing a seat at the opera that put him squarely between a former object of his matrimonial pursuit–and Sarah Sophia.

She even imagined herself to be a part of the action. Maybe she was.

As Granville’s letter indicates, George Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey was the main competition. The same age as Granville, Villiers was a Conservative and Lord Chamberlain of the Household. Mad for hunting and racing, his riding skills were unparalleled.

Villiers is very jealous of you, Lady B wrote to Granville. So much so he was ‘less than cordial than he us’d to be.” Granville’s mama concurred, scrupulously repeating an accusation Villiers made, but one she probably feared Sarah Sophia would come to believe.

“Spectators fancy you the favor’d Lover, and take Occasion to report how much Lord Villiers is to be pitied, for that he is well and truly in Love with her, and scruples not to own himself miserable, but that you were attach’d elsewhere and follow her for her Fortune.” — Lady Stafford to G

George Child Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey. Lady Bessborough thought him ‘in great beauty.’ He, on the other hand, had no illusions about her and Granville’s pursuit of Sarah Sophia.

One has a sense that Sarah Sophia was aware of this background scheming. Lively and intelligent, she must have derived some pleasure in leading more than just the men on a merry dance. As the courtship progressed, Lady Bessborough responded to this impertinence with something very like jealousy.

“..in a long walk with Anne she told me some things which have again made me furious with Lady Sarah. I cannot bear her..” — Lady B to G

Just as Granville and Villiers were of an age, so was Sarah Sophia with Lady Bessborough’s daughter, Caroline. The dynamics of the Ponsonby household could not have escaped her notice, even if she wasn’t bosom bows with Caro. Lady Bessborough’s involvement with Granville no doubt raised a red flag in her mind. The prospect of sharing the marriage bed with an older, managing sort of female, however intelligent and accomplished as Lady Bessborough was, could not be appealing to an independent, ambitious miss like Sarah Sophia.

There would come a day when she would have to lower the boom on Lady Bessborough’s troubled daughter, married to a husband who was also once her ladyship’s lover.

Perhaps because he was tired of the suspense, Beau Brummel apparently started a rumor that positively alarmed the Granville camp. Lady Bessborough feared a fortune might be slipping away. She sent Granville reassurances that his suit was not lost yet, calling Sarah Sophia your Sally and your Jewel. She sent her notorious sister Georgiana to Lady Westmorland to gain the confidence of Sarah Sophia’s foolish stepmother, plying her with assurances of deep friendship.

“Lady Westmorland has written a long letter of seven sides to G. (Georgiana Spencer Devonshire) …Lady Sarah is perfectly indifferent to both (Villiers and Granville) and both she and I feel extremely offended at Mr. Brummel’s impertinence, who chuses to set it about that there is an attachment subsisting between Lord V. and Lady S. which is perfectly groundless.”
– Lady B to G

Reporting the results to Granville’s mama, Lady Bessborough said that her son visited Berkeley Square twice and and Sarah Sophia was “very gracious and encouraging.” And yet Sally kept everyone guessing, to her ladyship’s disgust. Still, she grudgingly gave credit to the heiress for a strong presence of mind that precluded any hasty decision or undue influence by others.

For the present, Sarah Sophia declared she wouldn’t choose a husband until she comes of age.

* Correspondence of Charlotte Grenville, Lady Williams Wynn and her three sons, et al 1795 – 1832

** Lord Granville Leveson Gower (first earl Granville): private correspondence, 1781 – 1821, by Granville Leveson Gower, et al; Countess Castalia Leveson-Gower, ed. 1916

 

Immunologist to the Regency

For most of his life, he tirelessly fought against the smallpox, a highly contagious disease with a fearsome mortality rate. But Dr. Edward Jenner (1749 – 1823) had to wait until late in life to finally get some recognition.

That’s when he became the celebrated Immunologist to the Regency.

To put Dr. Jenner’s celebrity in perspective, it bears examining how things used to be. It wasn’t just the mortality rate of smallpox that was so bad. Those who survived the disease were often scarred, maimed or blinded.

Mary Dudley, Lady Sidney caught the pox while attending to a very ill Elizabeth I. Her husband was much aggrieved. “..I found her as fowle a ladie as the smale pox could make her..”

You get a sense of how appalling its ravages were from the lines of a sonnet, written in tribute to Dr. Jenner:

“In village paths, hence, may we never find
their youth on crutches, their children blind;
Nor, when the milk-maid, early from her bed,
beneath the may-bush that embowr’s her head,
sings like a bird, e’er grieve to meet again
The fair cheek injur’d by the scars of pain..”
Good tidings, or, News from the farm, a Poem by Robert Bloomfield (1805)

The practice of inoculating against smallpox had been around for some time but it was quite a risky procedure and not always reliable. Indeed, the treatment was often worse than the cure. Fingers must have been crossed when young Edward Jenner received his own inoculation.

Thank God it didn’t kill him.

As a practicing physician, Dr. Jenner was an keen observer of nature and not afraid to try out ideas. Using scientific experiments, he perfected the work of others to promulgate safe and effective vaccination.

Dr. Jenner’s vocation for zoology led him to discover how the cuckoo chick uses its back to push his rivals’ eggs out of the nest.
Photo By Anderson, et al – CC BY 4.0 Wikimedia

It took awhile for his alternative immunization technique to catch on. Understandably, patients resisted the notion of accepting diseased material from an animal (the cowpox virus) into their bodies. A lay person might view such a procedure in the same way as being bitten by a rabid dog.

Dr. Jenner had to work pretty hard to get folks to trust him.

Trust me, I’m a doctor.

Objections to this newfangled procedure abounded. No less a physician than the Surgeon Extraordinary to the Prince of Wales voiced his concern. Dr. John Birch’s efforts to discredit vaccination bear a strong resemblance to the ones today.

Check out Vaxopedia.org for a great run-down on this.

It must have caused the royal physician no end of chagrin when the Prince Regent, along with his royal brothers of York and Clarence, voiced their support for the Jennerian practice of inoculation:

“His Royal Highness was pleased.. to declare his admiration of this invaluable discovery; to patronize and to cherish it in every way; and at the same time, to announce the highest esteem for the worth and character for its author.”
The life of Edward Jenner, MD, etc., physician extraordinary to the King..with illustrations of his doctrines, and selections from his correspondence, Vol I
by John Baron (1827)

Dr. Jenner rode on a wave of celebrity, fêted by Regency society. Admired to such a degree, many important persons sought his advice and assistance in ways that had nothing to do with getting a shot.

For instance, it was well known that the man behind the vaccine was held in high esteem on the Continent. In 1803, The Marquess of Hertford’s son, young Lord Yarmouth, managed to get himself detained in Paris after hostilities between France and England resumed. Dr. Jenner, upon the marquess’ request, interceded with the French.  Lord Yarmouth was released, going on to a rather dubious career of “undisguised debauchery,” as described in diarist Charles Greville’s scandalous memoirs of the times.

When Thackeray’s Vanity Fair came out, Lord Yarmouth threatened to sue for libel. It seemed the nasty character of Lord Steyne bore a remarkable resemblance to his lordship. — print from the National Portrait Gallery

But fame can be a double-edged sword.

Dr. Jenner’s voluminous correspondence shows how weary he became during the latter part of his life, patiently answering questions and soothing fears expressed in letters from all over the world. He attended to them all, endlessly providing vaccine of his own making, and instruction on how to properly administer it.

Inevitably, there were some failures out of the thousands he immunized.

The most famous case concerned one of Lord Grosvenor’s sons. All the children had been vaccinated years before, yet Master Robert came down with a violent case of the smallpox. Attended by Sir Henry Halford, prominent physician of the ton, the boy survived. It was an event that shocked the ton, delivering a blow to Dr. Jenner’s reputation.

In a letter to one Miss Calcraft* he laments:

“And now this single solitary instance has occurred, all my past labours are forgotten, and I am held up by many, perhaps the majority of the higher classes, as an object of derision and contempt.”
The life of Edward Jenner, MD, etc., physician extraordinary to the King..with illustrations of his doctrines, and selections from his correspondence, Vol II
by John Baron (1827)

Escaping the tumult of fame, Dr. Jenner returned to his medical practice in rural Berkeley, Gloucestershire. From his residence in Chantry Cottage, he treated and vaccinated poor families in a little hut that served as his clinic.

Apart from his correspondence, his meditations and poems show a humble, yet perceptive preoccupation with the natural world, and with the human body. He continued searching for answers, goaded by insatiable curiosity, entreating us all to carry on.

“If we fear all things that are possible, we live without any bounds to our misery.”
— Edward Jenner

 

*Presumably Mary Elizabeth Calcraft, daughter of John Calcraft, MP for Rempston.

 

 

 

Regency-era University Freshman

Hugh Fortescue (1783 – 1861), Viscount Ebrington and heir to the first Earl Fortescue moved in the circle of the powerful Grenville family of Whigs. His viscountcy was a courtesy title, giving him the opportunity to sit in the Commons as an influential MP during the Regency.

Just call him Ebrington
By Frederick Christian Lewis Sr, after Joseph Slater stipple engraving, 1826 or after

He was very good friends with Lady Williams-Wynn’s son, Henry. Among her correspondence is a collection of letters exchanged between the two, going all the way back to their school days and into college. Lady W. W. avidly followed Ebrington’s career in the military, suffering considerable anxiety when he went missing for awhile in Lisbon.

Ebrington’s letters to Henry provide a window into the lifestyle of a young nobleman in the early Regency period. His observations of important events and persons are illuminating. The 1797 Frogmore gala, he reported, was marred when one of the actors putting on a play accidentally shot another actor, to the great disappointment of the Prince of Wales.

On the famous Williams-Wynn cousin, Lady Hester Stanhope:

“..a great strapping ugly girl, talking incessantly on every subject, though sometimes (!) not without sense and humor, and descanting with as much learning on the get of a horse as any Newmarket Jockey.”

Correspondence of Charlotte Grenville, Lady Williams Wynn, and her three sons, et al 1795 – 1832, edited by Rachel Frances Marion Leighton (1920)

She’s been called Desert Queen and Star of the Morning. Ebrington was not impressed.
—Lady Hester Stanhope by Beechey

While Henry was employed in the Foreign Office, Ebrington wrote several letters to him from college. On the whole, Oxford suits him, he reports. Breakfast and prayers in the morning, followed by lecture, dinner at 3, more prayers at 5 and supper at 9 in the evening. He begs Henry to send snuff and copies of parliamentary speeches. He complains that the bursar rations bread.

His first night as a freshman is amusing.

Celebrations began the moment Ebrington’s father dropped him off. After dinner at 4 o’clock, he retired with fourteen other lads to a colleague’s room and drank bumper toasts in his honor, being a newcomer. They then proceeded to a supper at 9:30 in the evening, where he was expected to drink a glass of wine with each person present, and there were many.

I’m starting to feel queasy just reading this.

To Ebrington’s dismay, supper’s end did not mean the evening was over. Several bowls were brought, filled with a drink called tiff, which he describes as a “very strong and spicy” negus. As an aside, The Esquire recipe is my favorite–lemon, sugar and ruby (as opposed to tawny) port.

He was obliged to imbibe a good deal of the stuff:

“–this lasted til past eleven when the party broke up and retired to the enjoyment of sickness, night-mares, blue devils, Head-aches & the other attendants upon overloaded stomachs and overheated Brains.”

“..feverish with hopes and fears, soups and negus...” Mansfield Park, Jane Austen

Ebrington admits to Henry that he hasn’t the stomach for that sort of thing very often. To avoid being called poor-spirited, he escapes future festivities on the excuse of meeting his tutor for some “chop-logick.”

*chop-logick: an extremely detailed argument with overly complex reasoning. — yourdictionary.com