The Real Regency Reader

Reading was an important pastime in the Regency. With more leisure came more time. And more reading.

In Heyer’s Cotillion, the heroine has had more than enough leisure time at her guardian’s dreary country house, with nothing but her governess’s bookshelf to entertain–and educate her. She elicits the aid of the hero, who, if he can be persuaded to enter into a pretend engagement with her, will take her to London. There she might have the opportunity to bring the dilatory Mr. Westruther up to scratch.

This is the copy I have--from 1968--the hair is a little That Girl, don't you think?

This is the copy I have–from 1968–the hair is a little That Girl, don’t you think?

“No, dash it!” protested Mr. Standen. “Not if you’re engaged to me, Kit!”

She became intent on smoothing the wrinkles from her gloves. Her colour considerably heightened, she said: “No. Only–If there did happen to be some gentleman who–who wished to marry me, do you think he would be deterred by that, Freddy?”

“Be a curst rum touch if he wasn’t, ” replied Freddy unequivocally.

“Yes, but–If he had a partiality for me, and found I had become engaged to Another,” said Kitty, drawing on a knowledge of life culled from the pages of such novels as graced Miss Fishguard’s bookshelf, “he might be wrought upon by jealousy.”

“Who?” demanded Freddy, out of his depth.

“Anyone!” said Kitty.

“But there ain’t anyone!” argued Freddy.

“No,” agreed Kitty, damped. “It was just a passing thought, and not of the least consequence! I shall seek a situation.”

What you read during the Regency was generally held to be informative of your character. In the case of Jane Austen’s novels, you might recall the sensible Anne Elliott in Persuasion enjoys prose and views Mr. Benwick’s inordinate fondness for poetry with a little alarm. Her father, on the other hand, “never took up any book but the Baronetage.”

Then again, too much reliance shouldn’t be placed on a person’s reading selections as a guide to their makeup. This next series of posts is intended to illustrate how diverse a real Regency book can be, and its reader as well. For instance, a novel might deliver a moral tale better than a collection of the vicar’s sermons from Harrow-on-Gate. Also, females thought to be flighty because of their penchant for Gothic tales suddenly reveal themselves to have a will of iron.

Just ask the Honorable Frederick Standen.

The Real Regency Rake: A Man’s Dress

Even in modern times, the rake still manages a “caddish blend of rebellion and classicism” in men’s fashion. Clive Derby’s label RAKE has opened an elegant store in Mayfair where men may shop for luxury bespoke and enjoy an evening with the Whiskey Society. There is even a magazine called  The Rake, which many say is the successor to Men’s Vogue.

Not quite the thing in Regency times. Indeed, a rake could positively put one in a pucker with his manner of dress.

Beau Brummell

Beau Brummell

Take the hero of Heyer’s Cotillion, the Honorable Frederick Standen. He is a little intimidated by his cousin, an acknowledged rake. Jack Westruther flirts with his sister, the married Lady Buckhaven, and seems to enjoy the affections of his fiancée, Miss Kitty Charing. Freddy’s only defense, at the moment, is to decry Jack’s waistcoat:

“Jack,” said Lady Buckhaven, tilting her chin, “said he had never seen me look more becoming.”

“Sort of thing he would say,” responded Freddy, unimpressed. “Daresay you think he looks becoming in that devilish waistcoat he has on. Well, he don’t, that’s all! Take my word for it!”

Affronted, she exclaimed, “I never knew you to be so disagreeable! I have a very good mind not to invite Kitty to visit me!”

A rake wears a devilish waistcoat because he is careless about his dress, at least in the eyes of an Exquisite, like the elegant Mr. Standen.

John Mytton was also careless about his clothes. He had an abundance of them, as a rake must, and a peculiar disregard for their care and use:

“I once counted a hundred and fifty-two pairs of breeches and trousers, with an appropriate apportionment of coats, waistcoats, etc…. The clothes he would put on his person, just as they came to his hand, or as his wild fancy prompted him, and I have seen him nearly destroy a new coat at once wearing. His shoes and boots, all London make, and very light, were also destroyed in an equally summary manner, in his long walks over the country, through or over everything that came in his way.” — Nimrod, Memoirs of the Life of the Late John Mytton

Mytton shooting in a fine lawn nightshirt

Mytton shooting in a fine lawn nightshirt

What a man wears is a matter of character.

Recall Lizzie Bennet’s attempts to discern the character of Mr. Darcy in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The hero  is a cold, reserved fellow–and his dress gives no clue as to resolve the varying accounts she has had of him.

We can only guess what Miss Bennet might have to say about Mytton’s character. Look at what the man is wearing.

Physician to the Regency

Georgette Heyer's Cotillion

I love these old covers. This one is from the 70s, I think.

“Ermine or chincilla with blue, Meg! Sables never show to advantage!”

By the time this point was fully argued, news was brought to Lady Legerwood that the doctor had arrived, whereupon, after hurriedly commending Kitty to her daughter’s care, she hurried away, bent on convincing the worthy physician that certain unfavorable symptoms, which had manifested themselves during the night, made it advisable for him to call in Sir Henry Halford, to prescribe for Edmund.

As the family doctor, a rising man, was at daggers-drawn with the eel-backed baronet, it did not seem probable that she would be seen again for some appreciable time.

——— Cotillion, by Georgette Heyer

Sir Henry Halford (1766 – 1844), was considered the foremost physician to the ton during the Regency.

He was born Henry Vaughan but changed his name by an Act of Parliament to Halford, anticipating a substantial inheritance from the original Halford family.

Sir Henry Halford (looking over the voucher list for Almack's, I'll warrant)

Sir Henry Halford (looking over the voucher list for Almack’s, I’ll warrant)

It was his connections and smooth manners that recommended him and not his skill as a practitioner. It didn’t hurt that he was also married to Elizabeth, the daughter of John St John, 12th Baron St John of Bletsoe. He managed to snag a position as doctor to the Royal Family and was on hand to take custody of the 4th vertebra of Charles I, which still bore marks of the ax.

Ms. Heyer knew her character well. Contemporaries called the good doctor that “eel-backed baronet in consequence of his deep and oft-repeated bows.”