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.

 

 

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There Must be No Children

When on holiday, it is a good thing to pass the time with friends.

Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (1759 – 1806) achieved his political fame at a very early age. Thus, his circle of friends and allies was comprised of generally young men–former schoolmates and up-and-coming politicians.  As comforting as loyal company was, however, Pitt occasionally needed a break from it all.

The following video illustrates the tumult of No. 10 Downing Street rather well:

When Pitt sought relief in the country,  he not only enjoyed the change of scenery, but the change of company as well. There was riding, dogs and dining with the large families of the district. Laddishness was exchanged for domestic tranquility.

Holwood, Pitt’s country estate, is about fourteen and a half miles from London Bridge down to Keston, the nearest village. In his time, the road used to pass a Roman encampment called Caesar’s Camp which the prime minister eventually had enclosed in his property there.

As an aside, many remarkable objects had been retrieved from the site over the years–tiles, broken bits of pottery and coins–inspiring a group of enthusiasts to formally get together to try to preserve it.

‘We have not heard much of the results from them beyond some agreeable meetings.’ — Handbook to the Environs of London,  Murray (1876)

Agreeable meetings can sometimes make up for lack of progress. My own experience is proof of that.

Holwood House was for sale in 2015 for £12 million. http://dailym.ai/1w9Vpys

Also in the neighborhood of Holwood were other country estates, such as historic Breckenham, once the home of Henry VIII’s boon companion, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Nearer was Eden Farm, a manor set a park of 130 acres. This estate was sort of a stopover for many dignitaries and other famous persons transiting the country, for Lord Aukland, the owner, was a member of the influential Eden family. Pitt would often take his dinner there, spending the night afterwards, even though his own house was close by.

One of Pitt’s protégés, George Canning, (whose supernatural exploits have been previously addressed in this blog), was not content to remain in London, cooling his heels and waiting for the return of his master.  Upon visiting Holwood, he made a startling discovery:

“… a rare development in Pitt’s life–an apparently close friendship with a woman.”

— William Pitt the Younger, by William Hague( (2004)

The lady in question was Lord Aukland’s daughter, Eleanor Agnes.  Pitt’s sojourns to the country took on an entirely different meaning, touching off all kinds of rumors and disquiet, particularly among those left behind in London.

Pitt made a point to deny a serious attachment, to his laddish friends as well as to the outraged father.  Indeed, he seemed more horrified than the poor girl, snuffing out their friendship as if he’d  been caught doing something forbidden.

Writing to her father, he was unable to repeat her very name:

“It can hardly, I think, be necessary to say that the time I have passed among your family has led to my forming sentiments of very real attachment towards them all, and of much more than attachment towards one whom I need not name…”

— Wiliiam Pitt the Younger, to Lord Aukland, 20 January 1797

Of course, the abrupt nature of Pitt’s action, ending the connection, led to increased speculation. He only added fuel to the fire when he stated that continuing the connection was made quite impossible by “insurmountable obstacles.”

“He never touched a woman,” one of his cronies said, that rascal Dundas.

It was an awkward, blundering action by one who was erudite and masterful in his dealings with others. The ax he let fall between himself and Eleanor points to a troubled past–one he could not allow another to be made to suffer by it.

ITV’s television series, Number 10, starring the incomparable Jeremy Brett as William Pitt, the Younger, explains:

“There must be no children.”

 

Francis Chantrey – Sculptor to the Regency

In 1813, a newly made widow was journeying to Bath, accompanied by her young daughter. Ellen-Jane, for she was named after her mother, was perhaps unused to travelling. It may have even been the unfamiliar surroundings. One night, as she was preparing for bed, the little girl’s nightdress suddenly caught fire. She soon died of the burns she received. Distraught, the widow returned home to seek comfort in the company of her last remaining daughter, Marianne. Alas, a wretched illness overtook the child while they were in London. The widow had lost her entire family in the space of a few years.

Chantrey's Sleeping Children - photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

Chantrey’s Sleeping Children – photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

Look at those sleeping children; softly tread, Lest thou do mar their dream, and come not nigh
Till their fond mother, with a kiss, shall cry,  ‘Tis morn, awake! awake! Ah! they are dead!

William Lisle Bowles, chaplain to the Prince Regent

Untimely death was so very common in those days. However, this widow was determined her children would not be forgotten. She commissioned their likeness so their memory may live on. In death, their sculpture took the  ton by storm. By the time the Sleeping Children had been moved to the cathedral in Lichfield, the creator had become the new sculptor to the Regency:  Sir Francis Chantrey (1781 – 1841)

“Chantrey was designed by his father for the law; accident made him a carver in wood, poverty a painter, and his own genius a sculptor.” — The Eclectic Museum of Foreign Literature, Science and Art (vol. II, 1843)

His genius was clearly apparent in the tender simplicity expressed in his work. It is almost as if Chantrey was driven to create an unforgettable impression. Perhaps he had been moved by the widow’s fear her little girls would be forgotten, having been on this earth for such a short time. Indeed, it seems Chantrey was driven all his life to set portraits in stone before death destroyed the sitter’s flesh–and time his memory.

Chantrey’s sculptures of the Georgian era’s greatest figures still remain, even if their legacies are less certain: George III and his son, the Prince Regent. William Pitt the Younger and George Canning. They are also so numerous one can scarcely travel through England without encountering a roundabout circling “a Chantrey.”

The sculptor had a reputation for being blunt, which was somewhat surprising in a man who carved with such delicacy. That candor is perhaps a clue into his genius–a sign that Chantrey himself was suffering from an inordinate fear of being forgotten. It seems he felt that the ones who should remember him won’t. That the ones who he hoped loved him best will forsake his memory all too soon.

The acts of women in this regard seemed to have vexed him most particularly.

Grave of Marie Louise of Austria - Kaisergruft, Vienna

Grave of Marie Louise of Austria – Kaisergruft, Vienna

On several occasions he expressed extreme displeasure when any widow cast off her black weeds. His own mother had remarried after his father died, an act which he never forgave her for. Throughout the rest of her life he called her by her first married name–Mrs. Chantrey–and made certain all his letters to her were addressed in the same way. After he had become famous, his opinion on Napoleon’s widow remarrying made the rounds in Mayfair. His ideal was the famous Duchess of Marlborough, who swore never to remarry. Although her own architect (in a fit of temper) wished a Scottish ensign to have her, Sir Chantrey quite approved of the example she set.

When his own death approached, the sculptor took no chances. He drew up a will cutting off Lady Chantrey’s income if she should remarry. He had less success with the plans for his elaborate tomb. A close friend thought he was mad, not understanding how one should desire to be sealed up “like a toad in a stone for some future geologist to discover.”

But no marble tomb or bust encrusted with pigeon droppings can compare to the legacy Chantrey’s will created. Dutiful to the last, his widow left behind his fortune for the benefit of others. This bequest created and maintained England’s marvelous Tate Museum, an effort which continues to this day.

Thanks for the memories.

Ghostly Portent – the Radiant Boy

There is something particularly disturbing about the association of children with the supernatural.

I know someone who used to live far out in the country. Her house sat off an isolated, rural road and her nearest neighbor was a mile away. One night she looked out of her window. The only thing to light the gloom was a single overhead light suspended on a pole. A figure stood beneath the bright circle created by the light pole, surrounded by darkness. It was exactly the height of a young child. Horrified, she was about to turn away to rescue the toddler when it turned its head in her direction.

It was an enormous owl.

She was scared out of her wits and so was I.

The Marquis of Londonderry was not by any means mistaken. He really did see a ghostly child. And the ones who loved him wished he hadn’t.

Robert Stewart, Viscount Catlereagh
You know what a neckcloth and cutaway coat does to me.

But before we get to that, a little background is necessary.

The Reverend Richard Harris Barham (1788 – 1845), intimate of  Regency wit Sydney Smith , mentioned the spectral phenomenon known as the radiant boy in his famous Ingoldsby Legends (1837). In the tale of the “Radiant Boy,” a family’s young son is obsessed with the spirit of a boy, pale and crying, who wanders the manor’s grounds. His mother tells him it is nothing:

“The linden tree is straight and tall, its leaves are fresh and fair;

but there’s no little boy at all–no pretty boy is there.”

Later in the story the narrator notes how the mother’s cheek is a little red, her voice losing its customary tone. She knew the legend of the radiant boy. She knew he was a portent of bad luck and violent death.

The basis of the legend appears to come from Germanic folklore–the curse of the kindermorderinn–children murdered by their mothers. Commonly seen in northern England, these ghosts were thought to be heirs deprived of their inheritance, returning to haunt the great estates of the wealthy. They appeared as young boys naked or nearly so, surrounded by white light.

Corby Castle in Cumbria, with its Regency facade by Peter Nicholson, used to be nothing more than a Border tower. In the old part of the house, the rector of Greystoke stayed with his wife. They departed so precipitously the following morning their hired chaise knocked down part of a fence to the flower garden. He later wrote:

“Soon after we went to bed, we fell asleep; it might be between one and two in the morning when I awoke. I observed that the fire was totally extinguished; but, although that was the case, and we had no light, I saw a glimmer in the centre of the room, which suddenly increased to a bright flame. I looked out, apprehending that something had caught fire, when, to my amazement, I beheld a beautiful boy, clothed in white, with bright locks resembling gold, standing by my bedside, in which position he remained some minutes, fixing his eyes upon me with a mild and benevolent expression. He then glided gently towards the side of the chimney, where it is obvious there is no possible egress, and entirely disappeared. I found myself again in total darkness, and all remained quiet until the usual hour of rising. I declare this to be a true account of what I saw at Corby Castle, upon my word as a clergyman.”

Corby Castle in Cumbria

The so-called “Blue Boy” resides in another border fortress, this one in Northumberland. Chillingham Castle was once the seat of the Grey family and the Earls of Tankerville. In the late nineteenth century, before the castle was allowed to fall into ruin, country party guests staying there frequently reported blue flashes followed by a loud wail in a chamber known as the Pink Room. Today, Chillingham is undergoing restoration by its new owner, Sir Humphrey Wakefield. The remarkable account of this process and a picture of the Pink Room can be found here.

And now to the Marquis of Londonderry. He’s better known as Viscount Castlereagh and in certain circles, the husband of an Almack’s Patroness.  Long before his duel with rival and fellow ghost-observer George Canning, Robert Stewart was serving His Majesty’s forces in Ireland when he saw the Goblin Child of Belashanney in the village barracks. According to Thomas Moore, “Regency Poet of Wine and Love,” the Duke of Wellington made Castlereagh recount the story to Sir Walter Scott. He complied and “told it without hesitation as if he believed it implicitly:”

“It was one night when he was in the barracks and the face brightened gradually out of the fireplace and approached him. Lord Castlereagh stepped forward to it, and it receded again and faded into the same place  approached it.”

Moore goes on to relate that Scott swore only two men ever admitted to him they saw a ghost and both eventually ended their lives by suicide. One was Stanhope.

The other was Lord Castlereagh.