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.

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The Real Regency Rake: His Servants

We’ve already discussed Mytton’s agent, that long-suffering fellow from Oswestry, who tried in vain to stay his master’s impulsive spending. Wily merchants, like the pheasant dealer who stocked birds for Mytton’s heronry, learned to bypass Mr. Longueville and apply directly to the baronet for payment. Mytton had a reputation for honoring his debts on the spot, in their entirety. Unfortunately for his agent, he would send the applicant to Oswestry with his invoice in hand upon which was written simply: “Right” and signed “John Mytton.”

John Mytton had several grooms with designated occupations. One had the unlikely name of Tinkler–his “home stud” groom. Tinkler’s job was to oversee his master’s race horse breeding operations. Nimrod reports this employee was of the “old sort,” a “careful nurser of young racing stock.” Mytton was quite in charity with this thinking, not wanting his young stock to be raced too soon. Unfortunately, when other horsemen pushed their young colts and fillies to the track early, Mytton’s stock hadn’t a chance.  “Too fond of green meat,” they said of the groom, and the master.

Valets, as you might have guessed, must needs have their work judged by the turnout of their employer. In Arabella , Heyer gives us an unforgettable image of the posh hero’s body-servant Mr. Painswick (and that name is rather glorious in its setting, you can be sure):

Thank heavens for that little grocery in Staines!

Thank heavens for that little grocery in Staines!

“Your boots, Sir! You will never use a jack!”

“Certainly not,” said Mr. Beaumaris. “Some menial shall pull them off for me.”

Mr. Painswick gave a groan. “With greasy hands, Sir!  And only I know what it means to get a thumb-mark off your Hessians!”

Mytton, in contrast to the elegant Mr. Beaumaris, is a rake. He cares not what society thinks of the state of his Hessians. Which is why he elevated a stable-boy to the rank of valet. It was perhaps an unlucky thing for the boy, who was with Mytton when his four-in-hand, by mistake, turned down a closed road and crashed into a barrier. The valet, riding in the coach with his master, suffered serious injuries. Mytton, as was usually case, came out without a scratch.

In the midst of so much carelessness in Mytton’s service, some fraud was bound to occur. Nimrod was astonished to see a favored servant of Mytton’s roaming aimlessly in Shrewsbury.

“I have left Mr. Mytton’s service,” said the man.

“How so?” observed I, with surprise, knowing him to have been a favourite servant.

Apparently said employee had been induced to change the veterinarian’s bill (is that so wrong?) to pocket the extra change from Mytton’s ever-ready and generous hand. And so he might have gotten away with it but for our man Longueville who discovered the discrepancy. It was Nimrod who interceded for the servant, having always demonstrated good character during his service with a Shrewsbury clergyman. Mytton, in typical fashion, forgave his servant and kicked him back in the servants’ hall with an order to put on his livery.

crash

The Regency Rake: Endurance

Endurance is a particular quality generally associated with rakes. If this brings to mind a certain activity, you may also be aware that one doesn’t have to read above one Regency romance a year to understand the significance of this attribute. However, in polite circles, a rake’s endurance is assessed by his performance in the, er, field.

Hunting field, that is.

Fox covert in Scotland - The copyright on this image is owned by Richard Webb and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license

Fox covert in Scotland – The copyright on this image is owned by Richard Webb and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license

In those days, various groups hunted all throughout England–many more than at present, I daresay. Hunts were organized around the leadership of a well-known figure in the district, or locality–usually a member of the gentry or aristocracy. The range of a hunt might cover hundreds (or more) acres and the terrain could be decidedly rugged. A gentleman’s consequence could be made or broken, given his performance in the field.

“Your father tells me, Miss Marlowe, that you are a notable horsewoman.”

“Does he?” she responded. “Well, he told us you showed him the way with the Heythrop.”

He glanced down quickly at her, but decided, after an instant, that this remark sprang from inanity. “I imagine that I need not tell you that I did no such thing!”

“Oh, no! I am very sure you did not.”

To show anyone the way with a celebrated hunt like the Heythrop (side note: this is the current Prime Minister’s hunt) was high praise indeed. Miss Marlowe in Sylvester, or, The Wicked Uncle, piqued the Duke of Salford when she averred over his ability of riding to hounds.

Heyer at her most clever.

Even as intrepid a heroine as Miss Marlowe would agree there was no more bruising rider than John Mytton. It was said his abilities were known in every county–particularly his endurance. Hunting was the sport that taxed a rider for jumping various obstacles and “often in weather not fit for man nor beast.” In addition to hunting with his own pack, he would hunt with other packs throughout Shropshire.

“During the period of Sir Bellingham Graham hunting Shropshire, (Mytton) performed several gallant feats in the field. Whilst suffering severely from the effects of a fall, and with his right arm in a sling, he rode his favourite hunter, Baronet, over the park paling of the late Lord Berwick..to the astonishment of the whole field–Sir Bellingham himself exclaiming, “Well done, Neck or Nothing; you are not a bad one to breed from.” — Life of Mytton, Nimrod

And now we come full circle.

Lord Derby's Meet

Regency Brothers – The Soldier

Richard, the second oldest brother, was a military man for most of his adult life.

“Well, to own the truth, I’ve never cared for military life above half,” confided Endymion. “But the thing is, Cousin Alverstoke will very likely cut off my allowance, if I sell out, and then, you know, we shall find ourselves obliged to bite on the bridle. Should you object to being a trifle cucumberish? Though I daresay if I took up farming, or breeding horses, or something of that nature, we should find ourselves full of juice.”

another old cover of a marvelous Regency

another old cover of a marvelous Regency

I?” she exclaimed. “Oh, no, indeed! Why, I’ve been cucumberish, as you call it, all my life! But for you it is a different matter! You must not ruin yourself for my sake.”

“It won’t be as bad as that,” he assured her. “My fortune ain’t handsome, but I wasn’t born without a shirt. And if I was to sell out, my cousin couldn’t have me sent abroad.”

“But could he do so now?” she asked anxiously. “Harry says the Life Guards never go abroad, except in time of war.”

Frederica by Georgette Heyer

Endymion was the cousin and heir to the Marquis of Alverstoke, the elegant peer who amused us earlier with his sally about a Baluchistan hound in Regency Dogs. His heir is a young man who feels he is ill-used, despite having a commission in the army purchased for him.

Richard Martin’s family could never hope to have the money to purchase a commission for him. Moreover, he was not well-placed to become a member of the romantic Life Guards Heyer wrote much about:

With white crests and horses’ manes flying, the Life Guards came up at full gallop and crashed upon the cuirassiers in flank. The earth seemed to shudder beneath the shock. The Hyde Park soldiers never drew rein, but swept the cuirassiers from the bank, and across the hollow road in the irresistible impetus of their charge.

An Infamous Army: A Novel of Love, War, Wellington and Waterloo by Georgette Heyer

Richard settled in the enlisted ranks of the First Foot Guards. His regiment was not as prestigious as the Life, but it performed with the greatest distinction in the Peninsular War, as reported in the Grenadier Guards website:

Sir John Moore - "you know I always wished to die this way."

Sir John Moore – “you know I always wished to die this way.”

In the autumn and winter of 1808 they took part in Sir John Moore’s classic march and counter-march against Napoleon in Northern Spain and, when under the terrible hardships encountered on the retreat across the wild Galician mountains the tattered, footsore troops, tested almost beyond endurance, showed signs of collapse, the 1st Foot Guards, with their splendid marching discipline, lost fewer men by sickness and desertion than any other unit in the Army.

Subsequently they took part in the battle of Corunna and when Sir John Moore fell mortally wounded in the hour of victory it was men of the 1st Foot Guards who bore him, dying, from the field.

The Grenadiers got their name when they defeated the Grenadiers of the French Imperial Guard, the best and brightest of Napoleon’s troops, flung as a last-ditch effort into the fray at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Back in England, Richard retired and published a volume of poetry and some pamphlets. His only daughter made what was considered a brilliant marriage, bringing the Keeper of Printed Books of the British Museum up to scratch.

We don’t know much beyond that, besides John’s bitter account that Richard was always applying to him for money.

This must have come as a severe disappointment. When he was in the army, Richard had risen through the ranks to become Quartermaster Sargeant, a non-commissioned officer. It was largely a ceremonious position, but John was confounded as to why his brother had been appointed to watch over the Government’s assets when he could scarcely keep track of his own.

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.”

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.”