Regency furnishings: Egyptian

“Mr. Chawleigh had fallen victim to the fashionable rage for the Egyptian…”

— A Civil Contract, Georgette Heyer (1961)

“..chimney piece of Mona marble, or verd antique, and decorated in the Egyptian style. ” —Ackermann’s Repository, Vol. 14, December, 1822

In 1798, Britain scored a major triumph over Napoleon in the Battle of the Nile. Naturally, the Egyptian motif was in order, recalling the Nation’s exploits in a land most had never seen, but assumed was covered in sphinxes and other sorts of ancient artifacts.

A recent trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London confirms a lot of furnishings in the Egyptian style had been made during the Regency. Certainly a good deal of the stuff managed to survive two hundred years.

Egyptian chair, by Thomas Hope — Victoria and Albert Museum

Much of this was due to Thomas Hope (1769-1831), a wealthy merchant of Scot and Dutch extract. As a young man, he traveled extensively throughout the Ottoman Empire. He used these experiences, and the vast collections he had acquired, to establish himself as an interior decorator to the Regency.

You can still purchase his 1807 book, Household Furniture and Interior Decoration.

They called him ‘the costume and furniture man.’ Thomas Hope, by Beechey (1798)

His London house was in Duchess Street, Cavendish Square. It acted as a sort of showroom for those who sought eclectic ideas to freshen up the neoclassical style that had been the vogue for some time. His country house, Deepdene, had a resort-like reputation. Guests would relax in rooms equipped with personal libraries and enjoy excellent advice on all things fashionable.

One could get carried away with the Egyptian style, as is often the case with anything that becomes all the rage. In one sentence, Heyer tells us of Mr. Chawleigh’s excessive predilection for the Egyptian.

We know his character better than if she’d described it several.

Hope’s possessions were dispersed by descendants. His son demolished the town residence and British Rail replaced the country mansion with an office block of ‘unsurpassed mediocrity.’  Only his mausoleum survives, on the grounds of vanished Deepdene.

Even this structure was forgotten, buried beneath a huge mound of earth, until it was discovered and restored. Now it can be seen along the public walk outside Dorking. If newspaper accounts are to be believed, a variety of persons and organizations hand a hand in this, including the Lottery Fund, an intrepid Council worker and Julian Fellowes.

The Hope Mausoleum. Resurrected like an ancient Sphinx from the desert sands that buried it.

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Regency Impudence: Jane Austen

“..certainly silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way. Wickedness is always wickedness, but folly is not always folly.—It depends upon the character of those who handle it.”

–Emma

Thus the heroine describes Frank Churchill, who has surprised her by admitting he posted to London merely to get his hair cut. She knew him to be a charming fellow, with good address and a handsome appearance. From this she inferred him to be of good character and sensibility.

Seems he might have to go back for another haircut.

Now she is not so sure.

Tonnish gentlemen valued a good barber, particularly one who was awake on every suit in the dressing of hair. But Mr. Churchill wasn’t seeking such services because they were scarce in the country. He went to London at great expense and difficulty to attend to his appearance because of the reaction such impulsive conduct would provoke in others.

He was proud, impudently so, of his folly.

Impudence is the lightning rod that strikes the placid treeline of Regency society. Jane Austen uses the impudent character to put her heroes and heroines in a bustle. Her Churchills and Willoughbys and Wickhams bring conflict and disorder to what would normally be harmonious and orderly.

What Marianne saw in him I confess I shall never know.

‘Brandon is just the kind of man,’ said Willoughby one day when they were talking of him together, ‘whom everybody speaks well of, and nobody cares about; whom all are delighted to see, and nobody remembers to talk to.’

— Sense and Sensibility

Austen heightens the tension the impudent character brings by placing him very near to his polar opposite. Fully aware of this contrast, the impudent Willoughby does not shrink from commenting on Colonel Brandon’s character.  He is so far unrepentant of his impudence he can scarcely refrain from making the insult so exquisitely wrought in the passage above.

What a bore to be like Colonel Brandon. Now this is impudence indeed!

Mr. Wickham is perhaps the most impudent of Austen characters. Without him, the delicious sparring between hero and heroine would be rather less so. It is near the end of  Pride and Prejudice when the author unveils the tip of impudence’s sword, sharpening folly’s dull blade without warning.

When Wickham returns after marrying Lydia, darling Lizzie is amazed.  She expected Lydia to declare herself well-satisfied, for that gel is unthinking folly itself. But Wickham had been positively constrained to enter into wedlock. Chagrined was he? Indeed, no! Miss Bennet learns a valuable lesson from this unveiling, leaving her to resolve privately that henceforth she will “draw no limits in future to the impudence of an impudent man.”

But my favorite illustration of Wickham’s impudence is delivered by Mr. Bennet.  Mr. Collins has the effrontery to warn against an alliance between the rector’s daughter and Mr. Darcy. Couched in the following ode to such unconscious foolishness, Mr. Bennet makes a despairing admission.

“I cannot help giving [Mr. Collins] precedence even over Mr. Wickham, much as I value the impudence and hypocrisy of my son-in-law.”

Mr. Collins is completely unaware of how offensive his conduct is, immersed as he is in self-satisfaction. Mr. Bennet finds this amusing. But he views Wickham’s behavior with grim dismay.  Lydia’s happiness has been placed in careless, selfish hands.

Her father is particularly bothered since he knows Mr. Wickham knows. Impudence is very self-aware. It appreciates the consequences of its conduct.

And impudence doesn’t care.

 

 

Regency Impudence: Joseph Hume

“I see precisely how it is! You are very like my father, Salford! ..the only time  when either of you remembers what you are is when some impudent fellow don’t treat you with respect!”

— Sylvester: or The Wicked Uncle, by Georgette Heyer

Impudence is a powerful force of conflict in Regency-themed literature. The setting of these stories is profoundly concerned with status, and the orderly categorization of the individual within a deeply stratified society. The impudent character bucks the rules, and zounds! the reader is hooked.

The term impudence used to refer to conduct that was immodest. This was during the medieval period. With the rise of the middle class in nineteenth century Britain, the term came to mean behavior that challenged landed class privilege at all levels–political, cultural, social, eliciting dismay, but more often amusement.

Dashed good fun to flout those who are just a little high in the instep.

In the Regency-era political arena, much of the impudence on display can be attributed to Joseph Hume (1777-1855). Made wealthy from a technique to keep gunpowder dry, he purchased a Tory seat, only for that session of Parliament to dissolve.  Chagrined, he “ratted” upon his return, and became a Radical MP.

Joseph Hume, “a burly man with a massive head and virtually no neck.” by John Whitehead Walton

His achievements, which were many, attempted to force retrenchment upon the government’s purse. His biographical entry in History of Parliament states he was “willfully perverse..largely impervious to the ridicule and abuse which he largely attracted from his political adversaries.”

This was impudence indeed, but that was not the half of it.

“..very very noisy, very violent … and on many points unintelligible, but quite satisfied with himself.”

— John Gladstone, Tory MP (letter to George Canning, Feb. 1822)

He was proud of his conduct, and that was the crux of his impudence. This unrepentant quality of character excited Maria Edgeworth’s considerable disgust. In her Letters she thought him most impudent for attacking ‘all things and all persons,’ but more particularly because he refused to heed all advice to moderate his good opinion of himself.

Tories detested him. His natural allies, the Whigs, were at times delighted and incensed by him. Sir Henry Brougham wrote to a colleague that Hume makes a ‘stupid ass’ of himself in parliamentary proceedings, inducing most to either fall asleep or walk out with his interminable demands for an accounting of even the most minute of government expenditures.

The fact he went about the thing with an air of superiority was Too Much.

“…his stupid vanity … His kind patronage of Archy [Hamilton] is only laughable, but to see him splitting on that rock (of egotism and vanity) is rather provoking. What right has he to talk of the Whigs never coming to his support on … reform?”

The Creevey Papers (1822)

There were many who tried to reform society at the political level. There were not many who did it as impudently as Hume, as two occasions demonstrate. One concerned an investigation he launched into profiteering at the Crown’s stationary office. The other was the buying and selling of Greek bonds on the taxpayer’s dime.

He admitted to having done both.

In the case of the first charge, he compounded his impudence by admitting his perfidy in writing, on the very stationary in question. As to the second charge, his corruptible speculation resulted in a personal financial loss, for which he demanded the poor Greeks compensate him.

“Could he, in the incipient stages of his existence, have looked forward to the brazen celebrity which he now obtained, we might almost wonder that he could have the impudence to be born.”

— Anecdotes of Impudence, Charles Tilt (publisher) 1827

‘If Hume should be returned for Middlesex, he of course will forget that he owes his seat to me twice over,” said moderate Whig George Byng, here bearing a most impudent Hume on his back.

 

 

They Wrote History – Regency’s Horses Part III

The character of the military equine must necessarily be memorable, given the brutal circumstances of his surroundings. Those that are remembered, however, tend to have their traits and habits subsumed in the personalities of their famous riders.  By the dawn of the Regency, and the Romantic age, an expanding literate population hungered for stories that centered on the personality of the military charger without regard to whoever was on her back.

At this time, the French had superior cavalry, and Napoleon’s horses figured largely in the history of Regency-era chargers.

L’Empereur had a deep, abiding relationship with his horses. He favored Arab stallions  but also kept a few mares. All were required to be  ‘sweet, gentle and reliable.’ Accounts relate how well his mounts were suited to him.  This was a good thing, for apparently Napoleon had a unique style of riding–one that combined effective direction while managing to appear as if he might fall off at any moment.

Meissonier’s portrait below agrees with these contemporary observations. Napoleon’s weight is not centered, but pressing against a very sensitive area of the animal’s back, just behind the cantle. His heel is too far forward, and the reins are slack. It takes a special horse to remain balanced, not to mention sweet, when being ridden this way, particularly as Napoleon was known to take off suddenly, only to slide to a crashing halt while on the field of battle.

Le Vizir, a favored mount, can still be seen today in Paris. He was stuffed after his death, the imperial N brand visible on his hip.

Napoleon had pet names for his horses, a habit that gives us a window into their characters.   Cirus, for example, he referred to as Austerlitz, for displaying uncommon equine valor at the famous battle.  Another stallion he nicknamed Cuchillero, which means assassin.  Coco was an affectionate reference to still another, meaning mate or friend. He called his mare Marie Zina, which means adultery.

I’ve known a few mares who displayed remarkable tendencies toward the hussy end of the character spectrum.

On the British side, the stories of Sir Thomas Brotherton’s mare Fatima are especially memorable. She was a pure Arab given to him by his father, on the occasion of his gaining a commission in the Coldstream Guards in 1800.  Her exploits in battle are exquisitely illustrative of her character.

Note the fly swatter attached to the horse’s bridle–Fatima, like many Arab-type chargers, had sensitive skin and required such a device to ward off biting flies.
Light Dragoons Officer (1805) by Robert Dighton, the Younger

According to Col. Hamilton, this intrepid mare suffered several injuries in combat, including sabre cuts to the head. Undaunted, she would fight the enemy with her hooves and teeth.  She saw action at Salamanca, when she was nearly put down from a grave injury to her stifle, but for the intervention of the stud-groom accompanying a noble comrade-in-arms. Other noblemen in service would offer fabulous sums of money to Brotherton to have her, including Sir Charles Stewart, brother to the Viscount Castlereagh, British Foreign Secretary.

“She was particularly fond of raw beef-steaks and it was difficult to keep the men’s rations from her, even if suspended on trees, as they usually were, for safety.”

— Historical Record of the 14th (King’s) Hussars, 1715 – 1900 by Colonel Henry Blackburne Hamilton (1901)

In the end, she was captured by the French Government, and carried away to the stud farm.

 

They Wrote History ~ Regency Horses Part II

Oh! the joy of the chase. Especially in the fall, when the morning air is sharp and cool.

“With high-over–now press him!  Talley-ho! Talley-ho!”

— Sporting Anecdotes, Egan (1807)

The excitement begins upon arrival. The hunters disembark from their trailers, greeting strangers and friends alike with animated snorting and the occasional squeal. A gelding ranges too close to a mare, who nips him in outrage.  The poor fellow shivers from hurt feelings and embarrassment. All is forgotten when another hunter bucks in excitement, a maneuver garnished with an exuberant fart.

Hunter Pace at Sweet Briar College with the Bedford County Hunt–no live quarry involved. Great fun!

As in the last post, the focus here is less on the Regency era’s breeding and training of the hunter. Today we are more concerned with the hunter’s character, best displayed in the often-alarming atmosphere of hunting with hounds.

Pierce Egan in his Anecdotes relates what happens when an experienced hunter is paired with an inexperienced rider.

A young Oxford man was egged on by his colleagues to purchase a seasoned hunting horse for forty-five guineas. The November weather of that first hunt lulled our virgin Nimrod into a sense that fox hunting was wretched, boring work with a lot of standing around under dripping trees.

That is, until the hounds scented the fox.

His mount immediately perceived this and the next three hours were spent in a “state of torment,” as the rider was carried along helplessly, his hunter following the chase, over coop and hedge, and dashing down boggy lanes. Finally, he came to a stop so abruptly rider and horse parted company. No entreaties could persuade either of them to partner again.

It cannot be said enough that horses have minds of their own.

The horse is Undertaker, Sir Ralph Lambton’s favorite, gathering hounds at a covert. By James Ward via Wikigallery

“..returning from a hard chase with his victorious horse Telegraph (which he bought of Lord Villers for 600 guineas) Sir Henry St. John Mildmay dismounted and told his groom he might venture to pat him; and accordingly [the Baronet] put his right hand towards his neck, when the horse instantly seized it in his mouth and held it there for over a minute..

Despite the endeavors of two grooms to disengage it, the consequence was that Sir Henry was compelled to suffer an amputation of all his fingers from that hand, in the course of the day.”

— Annual Register, Volume 39 (1800)

Never look a gift horse in the mouth–via WelcomeImages.org

The Monthly Review of 1835 contains a lively essay of early nineteenth century fox hunting in England. Among the reports is that of one Reverend Marmaduke Theakston. In the heat of the chase, this man of God was thrown as he tried to ford the River Tees aboard ‘a spirited and powerful animal. ‘ One should never navigate by sawing on the reins. Horses know very well how to swim.

Simply hold onto the mane, as the editor related his own personal experience. He was hunting with Sir Watkin Wynn aboard Thetis (goddess of water, yeah?) Left to her own devices, the mare saved him from being dashed and drowned amongst a stream’s boulders.

Still,

“A man may attempt the Hellespont for a woman; but on cooler reflection, he is scarcely justified in running such risks of his life for a fox.”

from Nimrod’s Hunting Tours, Pittman (1835)

Thetis rides Hippocamp bearing her son’s armor. She appears quite often in English maritime history–twelve ships of the Royal Navy have borne her name.

 

 

 

 

They Wrote History ~ Regency’s Horses Part I

There are many blogs out there that do a remarkable job of recreating what we know of the equine’s contributions to Regency-era history. Some are overviews of breeds, others concern themselves with riding and driving techniques of the time.

This series of posts is devoted to various reports of equine personalities during the late Georgian era. Did horses then differ much in attitude from today’s Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, Holsteiners, among others?

Perhaps not much, but combing through the Regency’s magazines and sporting manuals, it becomes clear a good story is even better when the horse is a character.

“Come, gentlemen sportsmen, I’ll sing you a song,

Of Marcia’s Son, who can run the day long.

Otho, they call him, and he got his name

After conquering Merlin, that racer of fame.”

— Sporting Magazine, Rogerson and Tuxford, Volume 5 (1820)

In the waning years of George III’s reign, the enthusiasm for the sport of horse racing was only growing. What was recorded included a good deal of individual racers themselves, their temperaments, their good qualities, and their vices.

Sultan–a Regency-era horse, successful at racing and at stud. He suffered chronic pain in his legs, and the editors of1820’s Sporting Magazine worried he might have to “undergo the iron,” referring to pin-firing therapy. The method is still used today, under anesthesia.

The names given to Georgian era racehorses–instructive of the time–said less about the nags and more about their owners.  Apparently the more vulgar the name, the better the horse performed, or so the thinking went. As the Regency approached, demand for civility increased at sporting events. To get around this stricture, and still preserve the expectation of winning, the christening could be drawn from a foreign language–preferably dead or French, in that order.

From Horse Racing in England–a Synoptical Review by Robert Black, 1893, the following examples:

Pudenda, Filho de Puta and Melampygus.*

Not necessarily vulgar, but to amuse spectators and confound bookmakers:

Abomelique, Foxhuntoribus, Fal-de-ral-tit, Ploughator and Pot-8-Os (a la OU812).

Racehorses more often than not were lauded for perseverance in difficult circumstances.  Take, for instance, Dr. Syntax, a rather small, mousy-colored colt who had a long career that ended in paralysis, for which he was put down behind the racing barn at Newmarket in the sad presence of many trainers and jockeys.

“He would not brook either whip or spur..and yet, by simple stroking and talking and an occasional hiss, he could always be made to do his best.”

Horse Racing in England–a Synoptical Review by Robert Black, 1893

Dr. Syntax sired a racemare, Beeswing, so beloved they called her the Pride of Northumberland, and several villages renamed themselves in her honor.

It is possible that the skeleton revealed during excavation at Newmarket in 2014 is that of Dr. Syntax — the corpse was carefully buried and there was ‘substantial wear and tear’ on the legs

In Lawrence’s 1820 British Field Sports Guide there is an entire chapter devoted to abuse by whip and spur. The point of the passage is concerned less with cruelty, however, and more with the opposite result such treatment tended to bring about.

In short, horses did, and still do, have minds of their own:

“..the old Duke of Cumberland had a winning horse brought to a dead stop –within half a distance of the Ending Post—by a stroke upon a delicate part, under the flank.”

George Lane Fox (1793-1848), known in Regency circles as (and this is saying a lot) ‘the Gambler,’ was a Whig with a ‘stumbling oratory style.’ He had dissipated most of his fortune, separated from his wife, unsuccessfully tried to reconcile with her, lost his home in a fire, and refused to provide villagers with a beast for bull-baiting, because he hated the cruelty of the sport.

Black’s Review reports Fox pitted his racing colt Merlin in a match against the Earl of Portland’s Tiresias in 1820. During the race, the former broke his leg. All efforts were exerted to save the horse, but he struggled against the slings that would mend the break, frustrated and insensible of his owner’s good intentions. The result was that Merlin

“..became one of the worst ‘savages’ ever known, and murdered his groom with most ghastly accessories.”

“Grunting, Henry replied, ‘He’s as cunning as he is vicious.’ ” Satan, an unforgettable equine character, since 1947.

 

 

*I left out some of the more colorful examples listed in Black’s Review. Look them up, if you wish, but don’t tell him I sent you.

 

 

 

 

Publisher to the Regency

The Publisher to the Regency began as a ‘piratical intruder upon the profession of a bookseller.’ *  In spite of this early criticism, the efforts of John Bell (1745-1831) during the Georgian Age made possible the widespread dissemination of art and literature during the Regency.

As a twenty-something bookseller in the Strand, Bell started printing the Morning Post, a popular Whig publication, in concert with two reverend parsonical banditti (!) While the paper acquired the distinction of spreading “fake news,” (quoting NYR Daily) it answered increased demand for printed material, fueled by the growth of a literate population eager to read.

Bell realized he had tapped into an opportunity for mass press and began to publish English works that were affordable for the ordinary citizen to purchase. His series on Shakespeare and British Theatre, joined later by Poets of Great Britain from Chaucer to Churchill, were highly successful. This was in part due to the use of smaller fonts, which did away with hanging characters and the elongated S, and progressively improving printing methods.

Alarmed, established publishers attacked his papers and his character in their publication.

Bell relished his new-found notoriety and put it to work at other endeavors.  He opened a lending library called the British Library and published another newspaper, the English Chronicle, featuring sports news, mostly from the boxing ring. By 1788, he had become Bookseller to the Prince of Wales, enjoying the honor of hosting HRH at his residence.  Publication of  La Belle Assemblée or, Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies, sealed his reputation.

Another of the prints we like to decorate our Regency blogs with–thank you, Mr. Bell–which features a French court dress, with the court lace lappets suspended from a tiara of gold and pearls. La Belle Assemblée, Vol. 17 & 18, Jan-Dec 1818

However, he continued to be plagued with lawsuits filed against him by jealous rivals.

It was revenue from La Belle Assemblée that sustained him, through the clever use of beautiful engravings in color and paid advertising. One of the services advertised was the Westminster Central Mart, an office he owned which served as a central information board for domestic servants as well as a repository for the references such persons needed for employment. A nominal fee was charged to register with the Mart, and prospective employers could meet there with prospective employees for interviews. It could not have made much money for Bell, for the operation required a good deal of clerical effort to keep things sorted. Some have speculated that the whole thing was got up as an occupation for a needy acquaintance.

This “Puck” of booksellers was in the distribution of information for more than just money.

He died at the ripe age of 86, and his obituary recalled not only his fine publications twinned with artistic style, but  his encouragement and support to those around him: innovative typographers, striking employees bailed out of jail, and sponsorship of young, starving poets.

We are indebted to one of the latter, Leigh Hunt, for providing us with the following contrasts of a man who made reading to the masses possible:

“He had no acquirements, perhaps not even grammar, but his taste in putting forth a publication, and getting the best artists to adorn it, was new in those times, and may be admired in many.”

— Leigh Hunt in his Autobiography (1903 edition)

 

*this and other excellent anecdotes are from the publisher’s biography: John Bell, 1745-1831: A Memoir, by Stanley Morison (1930) and an impressive catalog of art featured in his publications: John Bell, Patron of British Theatrical Portraiture: a Catalog of the Theatrical Portraits in His Editions of Bell’s Shakespeare and Bell’s British Theatre, by Burnim and Highfill (1998)