The Regency Poet of Wine and Love

Thomas Moore (1779 – 1852) was an Irish poet popular not only in Regency England but in America as well.

They called him Anacreon Moore, and not just for his translation of that poet’s Odes.

The Greek poet Anacreon 582-485 BC)

Anacreon was an ancient Greek poet whose bacchanalia earned him the reputation of a lecherous drunkard:

Ah tell me why you turn and fly,My little Thracian filly shy?

I can tell you why.  Just look at the man.

Apart from wine and love, a poet must needs be passionate, and Tom Moore was definitely that. It helped to be Irish–he being the son of a Dublin grocer.  Upon his arrival in London, Lord Lansdowne was among the first to recognize his considerable talent.  The marquess introduced him to the first circles of the ton and soon he was writing to his mama about how he was

“dining with bishops, supping with princes, going to concerts with Lady Harrington, escorting Lady Charlotte Moira to balls and attending Blue-Stocking parties.” — The Chautauquan:  Organ of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, Volume 18

His diary at the time was filled with evidence of his immense popularity and the significance of Lansdowne House to his rising star:

“Dined at Lord Lansdowne’s..Introduced to Lady Cochrane, who told me she would at any time have walked ten miles barefooted to see me.”

All of this was bound to go to a young man’s head.

A triumphant tour of the United States ended rather badly.  Moore was an outspoken critic of the Democratic-Republican (dear me!) party and of Thomas Jefferson in particular.

By the time he returned to England, his passionate nature had not yet been tempered.  This made him particularly vulnerable to his critics and led him to fighting a duel with one of them, Francis Jeffrey, an editor (!)  Byron relished the events surrounding his potent rival and most particularly the rumor Moore had supplied his opponent with an empty pistol, gleefully observing:

 “…on examination, the balls of the pistols, like the courage of the combatants, were found to have evaporated.”

The duel was broken up and the combatants imprisoned.  Moore was eventually released but his love for extravagance and marriage to a penniless actress soon landed him in dun territory.  It was Lord Lansdowne who fished him out of River Tick but Moore found himself compelled to leave England.  In his travels abroad, he was to encounter Byron again.  That old Romantic begged his former rival to publish his memoirs.  However, Byron’s family persuaded Moore to destroy them which he did, to much criticism.

Thomas Moore - national bard of Ireland

Like many thwarted in other ambitions, Moore did two things.  He returned to his homeland to sing a duet with the Queen Mother before HM Queen Victoria.  And settle down to write novels.

Tragically, he witnessed the death of all his children.  Yet song and poetry remained to comfort him.

He is to Ireland what Robert Burns is to Scotland.  A true protegee of Lansdowne House.

The Most Popular Man of the Regency

Richard Sharp (1759 – 1835), born in Newfoundland, was a hatter and later prominent merchant in London.  He was also a Dissenter, becoming the champion of adult education.  His powers of persuasion were responsible for establishing the forerunner of the University of London, the London Institution, open to scientific scholars who were denied entrance to Cambridge and Oxford because of their unorthodox religious beliefs.

Richard "Conversation" Sharp - he quite looks like Geoffrey Rush, does he not?  Delightful man.

Richard "Conversation" Sharp - he quite looks like Geoffrey Rush, does he not? Delightful man.

Lansdowne House, along with its rival Holland House, drew Sharp into its orbit not only for these accomplishments, but because of his conversation.

Yes–conversation.  A highly sought-after quality in Regency England

You must remember from Anne Elliott’s declaration from Jane Austen’s Persuasion.  And William Elliott’s equally fine rejoinder:

“My idea of good company…is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.’

‘You are mistaken,’ said he gently, ‘that is not good company, that is the best.”

London was filled with good conversationalists.  Town wits, they were called, frequently evaluating one another and publishing their findings in essays and other periodicals for the delectation of the ton.

Byron (1788 – 1824) was a notable practitioner of the art–his poetry the vehicle for satirizing other conversationalists.  Wordsworth was frequently a target for his notions of solitude and the love of the sublime.  But when it came to describing Sharp, Satire completely failed her master, giving way to her cousin, the Simple Truth.

“A man of elegant mind.”

Indeed, this is where we find not just the good, but the best.

But how?  The key lies in the recollection from a fellow Lansdowne House intimate, Thomas Babington Macauley, 1st Baron Macauley (1800 – 1859)

“One thing I have observed in Sharp which is quite peculiar to him among Town wits and diners-out – he never talks scandal. If he can say nothing good of a man he holds his tongue. I do not of course mean that in confidential communications about politics he does not speak freely of public men, but about the follies of individuals I do not believe that – as much as I have talked with him.”

Richard Sharp remained single all his life.  Yet he was moved to adopt a little girl, orphaned in a volcanic eruption in the West Indies.

He never wanted to be remembered after he died.

Sadly, his wish was granted, with one or two notable exceptions, like the following admonishment from a reader of Gentlemen’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle 1869) that reads like a Who’s Who list of the Regency:

“…your serial is calculated to mislead your numerous readers by giving them the idea that (Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe) was the celebrated person who obtained the sobriquet of ‘Conversation Sharp’ ….. From his extraordinary conversational powers, and his attainments generally, he became the intimate friend of all the leading men of his time, especially of the Whig party, of whom space will not permit me to name more than a few–as Lord Holland, Marquis of Lansdowne, Duke of Somerset, Earl of Darnley, Lord Eskine (who consulted him constantly), Grattan, Curran, Plunkett, Campbell, the poet Moore, Sir James Scarlett, afterwards Lord Abinger, Wordsworth, Rev. Sydney Smith, &etc….A reference to the memoirs (amongst others) of Francis Horner, James Macintosh, Sir Samuel Romilly, Samuel Rogers, the poet, and Moor’s Life of Byron, will at once settle the identity of Mr. Richard Sharp.”

Regency Cicisbeo

love that 60's cover!

When Hero “Kitten” Wantage enters the ballroom at Almack’s on the arm of Lord George Wrotham, a man who is decidedly not her husband, Miss Milborne finds this circumstance positively lowering.

You see, George was her beau.  Yet he was on the arm of a married woman.

 “The dreadful suspicion that the passion her admirers declared themselves to feel for her was nothing more than an evanescent emotion, soon recovered from, could not be stifled, and made Miss Milborne wretched indeed.  She waited for George to come across the room to her side, which he would surely do as soon as another man relieved him of the charge of Hero.  Hero was led on to the floor by Marmaduke Fakenham to dance the waltz; George strolled away to exchange greetings with a group of his friends.  Miss Milborne, too mortified to remember that she had refused to receive him when he had called to pay her a morning visit, could only suppose that his passion for her had burnt itself out…

‘I observe,’ said Mrs. Milborne on the way home, ‘that our little friend (Hero) has lost no time in acquiring a cicisbeo!  Well!  I wish her joy of young Wrotham!  He seemed to me to be quite epris in that direction….’

Friday’s Child, Georgette Heyer

What is a cicisbeo?

They are sometimes called cavalier servente.  That is, a gallant servant.

The Archetype of a Cavalier

Hmmm.  I quite like the boots.  Are they expensive?

The first usage of the term cicisbeo was found in some correspondence from the British ambassador’s wife during her travels.  In 1749, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu wrote to Lady Pomfret (which is also the term for a species of fish) of an unknown lady and her escort, an abbot from Genoa.  He was both witty and learned “in a very ugly form.”  Not quite the compliment one initially expects but there is much worse to come:

“I hear (he is) declared her cicisbeo in all forms, poor man!  He must be in the same situation with Mr. Southcote, when my Lady Townshend figured him in the body of old Cleveland, like Van Trump, lost in an ocean neither side nor bottom!”

Good heavens.  I daresay her ladyship of Pomfret was confounded by the ambiguous nature of this correspondence.  I know I was.

After some study, I divined the following meaning:  cicisbeo is the male attendant of a female who stands in the place of her husband.  The man of the cloth was considered more than just the unknown lady’s acquaintance.  And Southcote was apparently Lady Townshend’s man while in public, hence the term “in the body” of her living husband, the second duke of Cleveland.

Leaving aside further speculation on that particular emphasis on body, we can also deduce that this occupation was rather frustrating.  For the man.

Indeed, what can be more pointless or exhausting than being lost in a body of water that has no bottom or end?

I find it ironic that the romantic poet Byron should hate the notion of the cicisbeo.  Yet apparently he had experience in the matter.  He was cicisbeo to an Italian contessa.

This is an excerpt on the matter from his poem Beppo.

Besides, within the Alps, to every woman, ( Although, God knows, it is a grievous sin, )

‘Tis, I may say, permitted to have two men; I can’t tell who first brought the custom in,

But “Cavalier Serventes” are quite common, And no one notices nor cares a pin;

And we may call this ( not to say the worst ) A second marriage which corrupts the first.

Two men at once.  The very idea!  Dashed bad ton, you may be sure.

Regency dogs

Jane Austen’s World and Regency Ramble both give comprehensive discussions on dogs of the early nineteenth century.

In this post, however, I would like to draw attention to the changing nature of how persons viewed their dogs during the Regency.

Of course one valued his canine friend for his practical traits which aided such pursuits like hunting.  But the dog was also becoming prized for those qualities that were lauded in the romantic literature of the period–noble characteristics that were always evident in Man’s best friend, but never appreciated fully until now:  bravery, loyalty, humility, etc.

Boatwain’s Monument – licensed by Johnson Camerface

Byron wrote a poem eulogizing his own Newfoundland, which had contracted rabies and died in 1808.  The poet nursed his dog throughout the illness, never minding that he himself might contract the disease.  Boatswain was buried on his lordship’s estate at Newstead Abbey.  His monument is larger than that of his owner.

The last line of the Epitaph for a Dog are particularly affecting:

“To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise; I never knew but one – and here he lies.”

Regency owners also saw their dogs as an extension of their own personality and their tastes in the exotic.  It became particularly fashionable among the ton to own a dog with a background that inspires one to think of faraway places in the Orient.

The author Georgette Heyer demonstrated just this very aspect in her delightful Frederica.

In this novel, the jaded hero makes an elaborate representation to an irate cowman, two park-rangers and one hatchet-faced lady that the heroine’s family pet, which had caused some riot and rumpus, is actually a rare speciman from Asia.  He succeeded in fooling me as well.  There is no such thing as a Baluchistan hound.  What manner of breed Lufra was is up to conjecture, but the Marquis of Alverstoke demonstrates an insightful perspective into Man’s best friend in the early nineteenth century.

1967 Edition -- blame the gay nineties look on Avon!

1967 Edition — blame the gay nineties look on Avon!

You see, all except for the hatchet-faced lady were only too ready to believe that a nobleman had taken a fancy to owning an exotic dog.  In the Regency, anything attached to one’s person that spoke of the Orient gave a fellow distinction.

I also was unaware that persons under royal license were allowed to graze cattle in London’s Green Park.  That famous Regency denizan Beau Brummel had the distinction of being related to two aunts who held such a license to graze their milch cows in the park.

I love dogs and I love Regency romance.  This passage combines the best of both:

“Really, Cousin, you are too shatterbrained.  He is a hound, not a collie; and what I told you was not Barcelona, but Baluchistan!  Baluchistan, Frederica!”

“Oh, dear!  So you did.  How–how stupid of me!” she replied unsteadily.

Neither of the park-keepers seemed to find his lordship’s explanation unacceptable.  The elder said wisely that that would account for it; and the younger reminded the company that he had known all along that the dog wasn’t Spanish.  But the cowman was plainly dissatisfied; and the hatchet-faced lady said sharply:  “I don’t believe there is such a place!”

“Oh, yes!” replied his lordship, walking towards the window and giving one of the two globes which stood there a twist.  “Come and see for youself!”

Everyone obeyed this invitation; and Frederica said reproachfully:  “If you had only told me it was in Asia, Cousin!”

“Oh, Asia!” said the elder park-keeper, glad to be enlightened.  “A kind of Indian dog, I daresay.”

“Well, not precisely,” said Frederica.  “At least, I don’t think so.  It’s this bit, you see.  It’s a very wild place, and the dog had to be smuggled out, because the natives are hostile.  And that’s why I said he was very rare.  Indeed, he is the only Baluchistan dog in this country, isn’t he, Cousin?”

“I devoutly hope he may be,” returned his lordship dryly.

“Well, all I have to say it that it makes it so much the worse!” declared the hatchet-faced lady.  “The idea of bringing wild foreign animals into the park!  Smuggled, too!  I don’t scruple to tell you, my lord, that I very much disapprove of such practices and I have a very good mind to report it to the Customs!…I am speaking of the English Customs, my lord!” she said, glaring at him.

“Oh, that wouldn’t be of the least use!  I didn’t smuggle the dog into the country; I mrerely caused him to be smuggled out of Baluchistan.”

Ignominious Burial

In Notorious Match, the hero uncovers the truth behind the carriage wreck that killed the Earl of Northam and his wife.  See this post for further detail.

Diana shook her head at the pity in Griffin’s expression.

“My uncle always blamed himself for my parents’ death,” she explained.  “He still did, even after the evidence all pointed to murder-suicide.  Of course, it was all very hushed up.  But the state of the earldom’s finances could not lie.  My father was under a mountain of debt and about to lose everything.  So he took my mother with him and left me.”

Griffin stepped forward and cradled her face in his hands, his shoulders strangely hunched up as if she were something fragile.

Poor little rich girl.

 She pulled away, feeling the revulsion against herself coming up from her stomach to gag her.  “Don’t do that, please.  It’s quite unnecessary.”

“Good God, Diana, why shouldn’t I?  You’ve—”

“Don’t pity me, for God’s sake,” she interrupted, her voice quavering so much she wanted to choke herself.  “Please.  I’ve done absolutely nothing to deserve your pity.”

Griffin remained silent, inviting her to continue.

“I wasn’t glad that they died,” she said.  “Not even I could be so heartless.  But I was ever so glad they left me behind.”

Robert Stewart, Marquess Londonderry

Suicide deaths were condemned right through the Regency.  Diana’s uncle, the Marquess Wimberley, did everything possible to shield the truth of his older’s brother’s death from the ton. 

Why?

To avoid the horror of the ignominous burial.

Case in point:  Marquess of Londonderry, 1822.

Robert Stewart served as Chief Secretary for Ireland and was known as Viscount Castleraugh for most of his life before succeeding to his father’s title as marquess. He was a force to be reckoned with in British politics.  The Napoleonic Wars required extraordinary skill in diplomacy and his lordship provided ample support as a member of the Ministry of all the Talents (yes, that was a real ministry).  See an earlier post on the matter.  He was Lord Secretary of Ireland, securing union with that land to prevent it from becoming a French satellite as Scotland had been three hundred years before.  He became Secretary of State of War and the Colonies and later Foreign Secretary, an illustrious diplomatic career that culminated in the Congress of Vienna.

His wife was Amelia (Emily) Hobart, daughter of the second Earl of Buckinghamshire.  Regency lovers know her as a Patroness of Almack’s.  The couple had no children but remained devoted to one another.  She was there to support her husband when he fell in a deep depression from his widespread unpopularity.  Even the poet Shelley excoriated him:

I met Murder on the way/He had a face like Castlereagh

The marquess had the unfortunate destiny of being reviled for effecting decisive policies for the kingdom.  It is a fate which no politician, even to this day, can escape.

In any case, his sovereign, George IV, was so alarmed at his condition His Majesty took it upon himself to notify Stewart’s doctor.   It was too late.  Robert Stewart used a penknife, left forgotten in a desk drawer, to slit his throat.

It was a terrible scandal.  Were the marquess declared a suicide, he would have commited a felo de se, or crime against the self.  It was an old common law offense that bedevilled prosecution until a more horrible penance could be devised–one that was extracted from the survivors.  The body of a suicide was denied burial in consecrated ground.  Worse, it would be consigned to an ignominious burial in a highway crossroads where all manner of cartage and transport may occur over the body.  A demeaning location of anonymity where the remains would suffer the indignity of offal and every kind of refuse, to be trampled and mingled with the earth that held the body of a person once kissed, caressed and held.

Worse, the decedent’s body would be staked through the heart.  Presumably to prevent removal by the family.

Even Byron was relishing the prospect of this suicide’s burial:

Posterity will ne’er surveyA nobler grave than this:Here lie the bones of Castlereagh:Stop, traveller, and piss.[16]

And you thought you knew Shelley, Byron and Stoker.

Lady Castleraugh was desperate–enough to have her husband declared insane.  Without intent, as the requirement of common law demands, a suicide had not occurred.  And his lordship could be given a proper burial.

Today you can see his lordship’s grave near his mentor, William Pitt, at Westminster Abbey–the graveyard of England’s greatest.