Regency Domesticity: Living the High Life

The Tattler, as she(?) readily admits, has been applied to for advice not only in the arts and sciences, but in matters of astrology (“I have had money offered to me in an attempt to bribe me into a fit of supernatural occasion) and medicine (no less than three letters requesting receipts to cure corns and another for the mode to cure chilblains).

But on matters of marital discord, we find her squarely on the side of Pope, whose famous Epistle to the saintly Anne Blount is prefaced with the well-known eighteenth century notion that ‘most women have no characters at all.’

For example, in Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, etc., March 1, 1818, Vol. V, the Tattler addresses two letters from harassed husbands of the Regency.

The first from a husband who has:

“..a clever, managing kind of wife, and, though I say it, rather pretty in her person; but then she has a tongue that never lies still for a moment..”

He has heard of some rubbish that cutting the hand in a certain area will cause lock-jaw. His wife likes to cut her own bread and butter (for the servants are usually wasteful if they do it) and might he be served in his complaint if he were to help said knife along during one of her economizing endeavors?

The Tattler replies, much offended:

…if he can possibly be serious in his request, then he is a fool; and if he thinks it is a good joke to attempt to impose upon and laugh at me, I have a different word to apply to his character, which it does not become me to name.”

To another request for advice on marital discord, she is rather more encouraging. The applicant is possessed of a handsome fortune and seeks remedy for “a serious and vexatious experience,” being married to a female:

“..afflicted with the mania of always being in the height, even to the minutest circumstance, of what is the prevailing fashion of the day.”

All winter they go to fashionable parties, ball, routs, etc., their plans dependent on  his wife’s consultations of card racks and porters’ books to determine their itinerary for conquering the ton.

In summer, she must drag the family to various watering-places, for their fine country estate is:

“..a scene of dullness and stupidity, where she sees and is seen by no one(!)”

Remonstrations by the husband are routinely met with a fit of the vapors by the wife. Her much-harassed physician, when called into consultation, takes the spouse aside and castigates him for causing his poor lady so much upset. Her constitution is too delicate to bear any correction, the good doctor warns, even as he ignores the signs of his patient’s dissipation from staying out late night after night.

What, the husband asks, is

“the least painful mode of convincing the lady in question, that real happiness is not to be found in the riot and rout of what is called the high life?”

The Tattler answers by relating a sanctimonious confessional of a similarly situated female, who was finally recalled to her senses by the most persistent and patient of all husbands.

“..a little reflection, and his kind attentions, not only altered her conduct, but brought her to think so contemptibly of it, that among her friends she will sometimes allude to her folly…”

My advice? Keep living the High Life.

The Ottomann couch, as it appears in the Magazine of July, 1814, volume XII showing "great diversity of form and arrangement, and an unbounded variety of decoration." For living the High Life

The Ottomane couch, as it appears in the Magazine of July, 1814, volume XII showing “great diversity of form and arrangement, and an unbounded variety of decoration.” Perfect for living…the High Life.

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Regency Domesticity: The Vacation Home

From Ackermann’s Repository, October 1st, 1816, Volume II, the Tattler shares correspondence from a reader who is married to a Temple Bar shopkeeper.

The matron relates that business was profitable and in such a climate of prosperity her husband began to notice the fashion among other shopkeepers for keeping a second house in the country–a place away from the bustle and grime of London, for relaxation and recharging.

Appalled with the notion, she writes:

“It was in vain that I remonstrated on the inconveniences which it would inevitably produce, the probable neglect of business it might occasion, and the additional expense it certainly would produce.”

In spite of her arguments, the spirit of rivalry remained strong in the tradesman. He went so far as to hold up the example of Spangle, the laceman, who took a lease on a marvelous country home in Edmonton. Moreover, her husband had the effrontery to rely on the well-known principle that to appear to have a fortune is an easy means by which to acquire it. A summer residence is the very thing, he exclaimed, and did I not buy that handsome winter pelisse for you when you told me that keeping up appearances was critical to the status of a shopkeeper’s wife?

The result: they took out a lease on a very genteel home along a major coaching road from London, and not above four miles from the Exchange.

It was not long before the novelty of the summer house began to wear thin. The nearby turnpike rendered the environs dusty, so that the windows must be kept shut even in summer. The garden at the back, beautifully arranged with twining honeysuckles and jessamine, was nevertheless made unpleasant by the sounds and smells of the neighbor’s hog farm situated at the back of it.

The worst, however, was the continual plague of acquaintances from town. Full of excitement over the new acquisition of the “villa,” and with the easy manners of familiarity, these so-called friends of the tradesman began to make it their custom to ride out into the country for a visit, and of course, ask his long-suffering wife if they could take their Sunday’s “mutton” while there.

She relates:

“I was obliged to affect the appearance of satisfaction, and to use the language of hearty welcome, to the very people whom I wished in a horse-pond, or should have been glad to have scolded out of the house.”

In 1815, keeping a country house was not only a burden in time and inconvenience, it was a dashed expensive extravagance. The following is a list of the summer house accounts for that year, in pounds sterling:

rent – 60

taxes – 12

additional servants’ wages, board – 30

interest for money expended in furniture – 25

accidents and repairs – 10

coach-hire backwards and forwards – 10

extra entertainments – 30

“We have three children and this confounded country house,” the correspondent concludes, railing that the latter was far more expensive than maintaining and educating a dozen of the former!

A vicarage-house: "..purposed to be erected in a situation where the scenery is both rural and romantic.."

A vicarage-house: “..purposed to be erected in a situation where the scenery is both rural and romantic..” from the Magazine