Standard-Bearer to the Regency – Part One

Her name was Sarah Sophia Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey (1785 – 1867). As Patroness of Almack’s, the portal to Regency ton, she was first among equals. Contemporary observers recorded more accounts of her than just about every other female of note in the ton.

She was (and still is) the standard-bearer to the Regency.

In a highly structured society like late Georgian England, persons with money and birth were furthered sorted by reputation and social connections. Someone had to make these decisions. One negative signal from Lady Jersey spelled disaster for the social climber.

She was human, however–fallible and often contradictory.

I’ve heard so many varying accounts of your character as to puzzle me exceedingly.” Lizzie to Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

Born Sarah Sophia Fane, she had all the advantages noted above from the start. Her mother, Sarah Anne Child, was the sole heiress to the immense banking fortune of the Child family. Her father, John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmorland, a prominent Tory. Had her character not been so distinctive, scarcely a footnote would be written of her. This series of blog posts focuses on the personality of Lady Jersey, so often described in correspondence and diaries from the Regency era.

We’ll also take a look at her role as a pivotal character in Regency romance.

Her parents’ high profile elopement shows what DNA we have to work with. Independent, perhaps impetuous, certainly determined. The bride’s father strongly disapproved of the match, but was tricked into giving his permission when the young earl put the question to him as a seemingly innocuous hypothetical.

Some accounts tell how Mr. Child himself chased after the couple with the result that one of his horses got shot by Westmorland’s pistol.

“..a traveling-carriage drew up outside the house, Lord Dolphinton alighted from it and after casting around him a glance suggestive of a hare hotly pursued by hounds, hurried up the steps to the front door.” — Cotillion, Georgette Heyer

Money and the brains to keep it are other important attributes. Mr. Child wasn’t about to allow his banking fortune to go to an earldom. He made it so that Sarah Sophia, as Sarah Anne’s oldest daughter, inherited it (in the absence of a second son). It was a sizeable amount and came with great responsibility.

As one of the principals in the Child firm, Sarah Sophia would make influential decisions for the business.

Sarah Sophia Child Villiers by Chalon                                ‘It was your family that pushed you into banking–it was their dream for you. ‘ — Seinfeld

Her mother died when Sarah Sophia was about eight years old. It fell to the second Countess of Westmorland to shepherd her first season in London. However, it seems likely Sarah Sophia was the one who did the shepherding. Her stepmother was an indiscreet, garrulous woman who once threatened commit suicide:

“..to which Lord Westmorland replied pooh, pooh, and went away, not thinking any such good fortune would happen to him (!)… (she survived)…of that probably Her Ladyship took very good care.”
— Henry Williams Wynn to his mother, Lady Williams Wynn on Aug. 11, 1810*

As you might guess, Sarah Sophia’s debut was an eagerly anticipated event and she had several high-profile suitors. One of them left behind a wealth of correspondence from this period. In it are glimpses of the heiress’ teen-aged personality:

“Lady Sarah Fane is looking in great Beauty this year, but I am more inclined than ever to believe she has a strong Partiality for Villiers, which he endeavors to confirm by much attention. She is not yet presented, but is generally at the opera with Lady Westmoreland.”
— Lord Granville Leveson Gower to Lady Stafford, February, 1802 **

Lord Granville Leveson Gower, a Whig and diplomat, courted Sarah Sophia under the aegis of two older women in his life. The first being his mother, Lady Stafford. The other was his long-time lover, Henrietta Ponsonby, Lady Bessborough.

Granville by T. Lawrence. Lady Bessborough ‘loved him to idolatry,’ even though he loved her the least, so she believed.

Lady Bessborough threw herself wholeheartedly into the campaign. Avidly following her lover’s efforts, she both encouraged and teased him. She chided him once for choosing a seat at the opera that put him squarely between a former object of his matrimonial pursuit–and Sarah Sophia.

She even imagined herself to be a part of the action. Maybe she was.

As Granville’s letter indicates, George Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey was the main competition. The same age as Granville, Villiers was a Conservative and Lord Chamberlain of the Household. Mad for hunting and racing, his riding skills were unparalleled.

Villiers is very jealous of you, Lady B wrote to Granville. So much so he was ‘less than cordial than he us’d to be.” Granville’s mama concurred, scrupulously repeating an accusation Villiers made, but one she probably feared Sarah Sophia would come to believe.

“Spectators fancy you the favor’d Lover, and take Occasion to report how much Lord Villiers is to be pitied, for that he is well and truly in Love with her, and scruples not to own himself miserable, but that you were attach’d elsewhere and follow her for her Fortune.” — Lady Stafford to G

George Child Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey. Lady Bessborough thought him ‘in great beauty.’ He, on the other hand, had no illusions about her and Granville’s pursuit of Sarah Sophia.

One has a sense that Sarah Sophia was aware of this background scheming. Lively and intelligent, she must have derived some pleasure in leading more than just the men on a merry dance. As the courtship progressed, Lady Bessborough responded to this impertinence with something very like jealousy.

“..in a long walk with Anne she told me some things which have again made me furious with Lady Sarah. I cannot bear her..” — Lady B to G

Just as Granville and Villiers were of an age, so was Sarah Sophia with Lady Bessborough’s daughter, Caroline. The dynamics of the Ponsonby household could not have escaped her notice, even if she wasn’t bosom bows with Caro. Lady Bessborough’s involvement with Granville no doubt raised a red flag in her mind. The prospect of sharing the marriage bed with an older, managing sort of female, however intelligent and accomplished as Lady Bessborough was, could not be appealing to an independent, ambitious miss like Sarah Sophia.

There would come a day when she would have to lower the boom on Lady Bessborough’s troubled daughter, married to a husband who was also once her ladyship’s lover.

Perhaps because he was tired of the suspense, Beau Brummel apparently started a rumor that positively alarmed the Granville camp. Lady Bessborough feared a fortune might be slipping away. She sent Granville reassurances that his suit was not lost yet, calling Sarah Sophia your Sally and your Jewel. She sent her notorious sister Georgiana to Lady Westmorland to gain the confidence of Sarah Sophia’s foolish stepmother, plying her with assurances of deep friendship.

“Lady Westmorland has written a long letter of seven sides to G. (Georgiana Spencer Devonshire) …Lady Sarah is perfectly indifferent to both (Villiers and Granville) and both she and I feel extremely offended at Mr. Brummel’s impertinence, who chuses to set it about that there is an attachment subsisting between Lord V. and Lady S. which is perfectly groundless.”
– Lady B to G

Reporting the results to Granville’s mama, Lady Bessborough said that her son visited Berkeley Square twice and and Sarah Sophia was “very gracious and encouraging.” And yet Sally kept everyone guessing, to her ladyship’s disgust. Still, she grudgingly gave credit to the heiress for a strong presence of mind that precluded any hasty decision or undue influence by others.

For the present, Sarah Sophia declared she wouldn’t choose a husband until she comes of age.

* Correspondence of Charlotte Grenville, Lady Williams Wynn and her three sons, et al 1795 – 1832

** Lord Granville Leveson Gower (first earl Granville): private correspondence, 1781 – 1821, by Granville Leveson Gower, et al; Countess Castalia Leveson-Gower, ed. 1916

 

Regency-era University Freshman

Hugh Fortescue (1783 – 1861), Viscount Ebrington and heir to the first Earl Fortescue moved in the circle of the powerful Grenville family of Whigs. His viscountcy was a courtesy title, giving him the opportunity to sit in the Commons as an influential MP during the Regency.

Just call him Ebrington
By Frederick Christian Lewis Sr, after Joseph Slater stipple engraving, 1826 or after

He was very good friends with Lady Williams-Wynn’s son, Henry. Among her correspondence is a collection of letters exchanged between the two, going all the way back to their school days and into college. Lady W. W. avidly followed Ebrington’s career in the military, suffering considerable anxiety when he went missing for awhile in Lisbon.

Ebrington’s letters to Henry provide a window into the lifestyle of a young nobleman in the early Regency period. His observations of important events and persons are illuminating. The 1797 Frogmore gala, he reported, was marred when one of the actors putting on a play accidentally shot another actor, to the great disappointment of the Prince of Wales.

On the famous Williams-Wynn cousin, Lady Hester Stanhope:

“..a great strapping ugly girl, talking incessantly on every subject, though sometimes (!) not without sense and humor, and descanting with as much learning on the get of a horse as any Newmarket Jockey.”

Correspondence of Charlotte Grenville, Lady Williams Wynn, and her three sons, et al 1795 – 1832, edited by Rachel Frances Marion Leighton (1920)

She’s been called Desert Queen and Star of the Morning. Ebrington was not impressed.
—Lady Hester Stanhope by Beechey

While Henry was employed in the Foreign Office, Ebrington wrote several letters to him from college. On the whole, Oxford suits him, he reports. Breakfast and prayers in the morning, followed by lecture, dinner at 3, more prayers at 5 and supper at 9 in the evening. He begs Henry to send snuff and copies of parliamentary speeches. He complains that the bursar rations bread.

His first night as a freshman is amusing.

Celebrations began the moment Ebrington’s father dropped him off. After dinner at 4 o’clock, he retired with fourteen other lads to a colleague’s room and drank bumper toasts in his honor, being a newcomer. They then proceeded to a supper at 9:30 in the evening, where he was expected to drink a glass of wine with each person present, and there were many.

I’m starting to feel queasy just reading this.

To Ebrington’s dismay, supper’s end did not mean the evening was over. Several bowls were brought, filled with a drink called tiff, which he describes as a “very strong and spicy” negus. As an aside, The Esquire recipe is my favorite–lemon, sugar and ruby (as opposed to tawny) port.

He was obliged to imbibe a good deal of the stuff:

“–this lasted til past eleven when the party broke up and retired to the enjoyment of sickness, night-mares, blue devils, Head-aches & the other attendants upon overloaded stomachs and overheated Brains.”

“..feverish with hopes and fears, soups and negus...” Mansfield Park, Jane Austen

Ebrington admits to Henry that he hasn’t the stomach for that sort of thing very often. To avoid being called poor-spirited, he escapes future festivities on the excuse of meeting his tutor for some “chop-logick.”

*chop-logick: an extremely detailed argument with overly complex reasoning. — yourdictionary.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Composer to the Regency

This Blog has often addressed the burgeoning need for access to the arts during the Regency period. Muzio Clementi (1752 – 1832) was the man who brought the music to the age.

The father of the piano

Born in Italy, as a young man he came to England at the behest of his patron, Sir Peter Beckford, to develop his musical talent and entertain the Lord Mayor’s country household. His public performances as a pianist and organist were quite the treat for a provincial audience far removed from London. It was perhaps inevitable that Dorset would not hold him forever, and upon his release from obligations to Sir Peter, he was on his way to the Metropolis, and fame.

He was to become the musician to the Regency.

Late Georgian England was already attracting many accomplished composers from the Continent, including Joseph Haydn and Mozart. Upon his arrival in London, Clementi began composing, and his talent aroused great interest among the ton, and notice among the great masters.

Mozart: ‘Clementi is a charlatan, like all Italians.’ Clementi: ‘Until (Mozart) I had never heard anyone play with such spirit and grace.’

His talent took him to the Continent as well. Among his first performances was the famous competition between himself and Mozart, before the Imperial court of Austria. But unlike poor Salieri, Clementi held his own against the better-remembered Mozart, astonishing the emperor and those in attendance. Indeed, the man later known as Amadeus gave the ultimate compliment to his rival, using Clementi’s beginning motif to his Sonata in B-flat Major, No. 2 in the famous overture to The Magic Flute.

Back in England, Clementi’s influence was considerable, finding its way into music rooms and parlors, figuring largely in lessons on the pianoforte. His compositions were considered most challenging, being intricate and often difficult to play, despite their ‘simplicity, brilliancy and originality.’

“The celebrated John Christian Bach (son of John Sebastian Bach’s second marriage) spoke of (Clementi’s Opera 2) in the highest terms; but although one of the most able players of the time, he would not attempt its performance….his works ‘could only be performed by the author or the devil himself.’ ”

— Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review, vol 2, 1820

Composing and performing were not particularly lucrative. Clementi supplemented his income by publishing the works of other composers, in addition to his own. He used his connections with notable musicians to gain exclusive rights to publish their compositions, fulfilling increasing demand for sheet music, both for piano and flute.

Beethoven made his nephew play these exclusively. My piano teacher employed the same philosophy with me.

From his publishing company’s Appendix to their Catalog of 1816:

Clementi & Co., having established a Correspondence with several of the most respectable Continental Publishers, they have entered into such arrangements as will enable them to supply their friends and the public, at a short notice, with Correct Editions of the most esteemed Productions of the Foreign Musical Press.

Having a robust musical library was just as important as having a large and varied collection of books. Scattered sheets of music, however messy, was a mark of distinction for any household.

Clementi was the exclusive publisher of Beethoven’s compositions sold in Britain.

Clementi also had a piano factory, building instruments that incorporated his designs to improve their performance. Innovations in case construction allowed a pianoforte to retain its pitch and tone longer, so that tuning was not so frequently required. Clementi also patented a process that allowed strings to be attached directly to the soundboard, lengthening tone and increasing resonance.

‘..old-fashioned square parlor…the proper air of confusion by a grand piano-forte and a harp..’ Persuasion, by Jane Austen
photo via bestbrodipianos.co.uk

Unfortunately the manufacturing plant was destroyed by fire in 1807, from a stove flue that ignited surrounding woodwork. The engines for putting out the fire arrived fairly quickly, but were unable to stop the destruction because, as the Athenaeum of 1807 reports,’no water could be procured for nearly an hour after.’

His obituary summarizes his remarkable career with special tribute paid to Clementi’s humanity, his kindness to others*, his capacity for feeling. Noted with sadness is the composer’s suffering over the death of his first wife in childbirth, and his son’s premature demise from a pistol’s accidental discharge.

At his funeral:

“The cheerful noon-sun shone through the cathedral windows when the procession began to move…it was the illumination most befitting so clear and natural a spirit as Clementi.”

— Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol 102, Part 1 (1832)

In Austen’s novel Persuasion, Captain Harville and Anne discuss ‘the richness of the present age.” It is perhaps no small surprise that the father of the piano should have inhabited the Age of the Regency, and adorned its music.

* He was known to have sponsored a subscription fund for the widow of fellow composer John Gildon, so that she could live in comfort, and even start a business. Ackermann’s Repository (vol 10, July 1813)

 

 

Bonomi – Architect to the Regency

” ‘I am excessively fond of a cottage; there is always so much comfort, so much elegance about them.’ ”

Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen (1811)

So says Mr. Robert Ferrers, a secondary character in Austen’s novel. His oft-quoted ode, following a discourse on Gray’s toothpick cases, forms a particularly odious lecture given to Elinor, the heroine. Odious because he clearly imagines his patronizing speech will inspire her to feel fortunate in her much-reduced circumstances after his sister forces her and her family to move out of their home, Norland Park.

“..a cottage… calculated for the convenience of persons of moderate income.” Designs for Elegant Cottages and Small Villas, E. Gyffard (1806)

He positively presses Elinor on the advantages of building a cottage, going so far as to relate to her, in his self-important way, that he advised no less a personage than Lord Courtland on the matter.

” ‘Lord Courtland came to me the other day on purpose to ask my advice, and laid before me three different plans of Bonomi’s. I was to decide on the best of them.’ “

 

Rear view of cottage showing servants’ entrance to the kitchen and extension of a veranda

Joseph (born Giuseppe) Bonomi came to England in 1767 at age twenty-eight, to work as a draftsman at the invitation of the Adam brothers, innovators of Neo-classicism in Georgian design and architecture. Bonomi also worked with Thomas Leverton, the famed English architect who had the distinction of executing a triumphal arch commemorating American independence for a British nobleman.

From these connections, Bonomi took his native foundation in Roman antiquity to design country residences for the ton. He was known for adapting classicism to suit practical needs. As an example, classicism demands an even number of columns, but Bonomi would made their number odd, if that suited the proportion and function of a building. He took the classical portico and extended it, to protect arriving and departing carriages from inclement weather.

The Royal Institute of British Architects calls Bonomi the creator of the porte-cochère.

Roseneath House, designed by Bonomi for the Duke of Argyll. Note the fifth column, put there so folks wouldn’t confuse the carriage way with a grand entrance. — from Papers Read at the Royal Institute of British Architects (1869)

A Bonomi-designed country house was the sign of marked distinction during the Regency. Even his drawings were on display at the Royal Academy. Yet Robert Ferrers destroyed Lord Courtland’s set, boasting:

” ‘My dear Courtland,’ said I, immediately throwing them all into the fire, ‘do not adopt either of them, but by all means build a cottage.’ And that, I fancy, will be the end of it.”

One must surely choose a cottage over a mansion, after such a masterful demonstration of preference (and destruction!) We do not learn of Lord Courtland’s eventual course of action, but Robert Ferrers lives on as perhaps the most-quoted person on the desirability of cottage-living.

I daresay his brilliance has quite cast poor Elinor in the shade. Her reaction to his conceit, ever sublime, can scarcely be remembered:

“Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.”

 

 

Regency-Era Electrical Resuscitation

Jane Austen’s Character Falls at Lyme Regis

During the Regency era, electrical shock was beginning to be used at various times to revive persons knocked unconscious from blows to the head. I’m not sure this would have benefited Louisa Musgrove, but it brings up interesting notions about the advances of resuscitation in the late Georgian era.

“…but no, he reasoned and talked in vain, she smiled and said, “I am determined I will:” he put out his hands; she was too precipitate by half a second, she fell on the pavement on the Lower Cobb, and was taken up lifeless!” — Persuasion, Jane Austen

Persuasion’s Anne Elliot is my favorite of all Jane Austen’s characters–mostly because she is quite useful in an emergency. When calm is required, she remains practical and wholly free from the hysterical outbursts that characterize her sister’s behavior. Such excellent qualities are demonstrated not only when her young nephew suffers a fall from a tree, but after Louisa Musgrove’s dreadful fall, as she is knocked out cold.

Dr. James Curry notes that falls often stun the victim into a state of apparent lifelessness. The heart stops and does not restart until the brain is roused sufficiently so as to direct it to begin beating again. Many times this occurs without intervention; however, stimulation must be employed when the victim does not rouse on her own:

Stimulants of every kind have this tendency in a greater or less degree, but none so much as Electricity.”

Observations on Apparent Death from Drowning, Hanging, Suffocation: &c. by James Curry, MD (1815)

Dr. Curry cites two examples of children rendered unconscious from falls down steps. Fortunately, in both cases, neighbors with the right apparatus were able to apply electricity to the chests of each boy, with the happy result of reviving both. Apparently assembling a machine to generate mild electric shocks was something that could be done with readily available materials, but only by knowledgeable persons:

“..jar of twenty-four inches, or thirty inches coated surface, and the discharging electrometer placed about one-third or one-half of an inch from the knob of the jar, or from the prime conductor; accordingly as it is applied from one to the other, in the machine used.”

Dr. Curry goes on to relate that from this machine discharging rods may be connected (and he goes into some detail about their assembly) which when applied to the body can be made to pass electricity through it.

The effect of reading Persuasion is much the same–electrifying the heart with such simple stimulation.

Collecting fossils at Lyme Regis, a subject visited previously in this blog, regarding those Paleontologists to the Regency – photo by John Cummings via Wikicommons

 

Regency Impudence: Jane Austen

“..certainly silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way. Wickedness is always wickedness, but folly is not always folly.—It depends upon the character of those who handle it.”

–Emma

Thus the heroine describes Frank Churchill, who has surprised her by admitting he posted to London merely to get his hair cut. She knew him to be a charming fellow, with good address and a handsome appearance. From this she inferred him to be of good character and sensibility.

Seems he might have to go back for another haircut.

Now she is not so sure.

Tonnish gentlemen valued a good barber, particularly one who was awake on every suit in the dressing of hair. But Mr. Churchill wasn’t seeking such services because they were scarce in the country. He went to London at great expense and difficulty to attend to his appearance because of the reaction such impulsive conduct would provoke in others.

He was proud, impudently so, of his folly.

Impudence is the lightning rod that strikes the placid treeline of Regency society. Jane Austen uses the impudent character to put her heroes and heroines in a bustle. Her Churchills and Willoughbys and Wickhams bring conflict and disorder to what would normally be harmonious and orderly.

What Marianne saw in him I confess I shall never know.

‘Brandon is just the kind of man,’ said Willoughby one day when they were talking of him together, ‘whom everybody speaks well of, and nobody cares about; whom all are delighted to see, and nobody remembers to talk to.’

— Sense and Sensibility

Austen heightens the tension the impudent character brings by placing him very near to his polar opposite. Fully aware of this contrast, the impudent Willoughby does not shrink from commenting on Colonel Brandon’s character.  He is so far unrepentant of his impudence he can scarcely refrain from making the insult so exquisitely wrought in the passage above.

What a bore to be like Colonel Brandon. Now this is impudence indeed!

Mr. Wickham is perhaps the most impudent of Austen characters. Without him, the delicious sparring between hero and heroine would be rather less so. It is near the end of  Pride and Prejudice when the author unveils the tip of impudence’s sword, sharpening folly’s dull blade without warning.

When Wickham returns after marrying Lydia, darling Lizzie is amazed.  She expected Lydia to declare herself well-satisfied, for that gel is unthinking folly itself. But Wickham had been positively constrained to enter into wedlock. Chagrined was he? Indeed, no! Miss Bennet learns a valuable lesson from this unveiling, leaving her to resolve privately that henceforth she will “draw no limits in future to the impudence of an impudent man.”

But my favorite illustration of Wickham’s impudence is delivered by Mr. Bennet.  Mr. Collins has the effrontery to warn against an alliance between the rector’s daughter and Mr. Darcy. Couched in the following ode to such unconscious foolishness, Mr. Bennet makes a despairing admission.

“I cannot help giving [Mr. Collins] precedence even over Mr. Wickham, much as I value the impudence and hypocrisy of my son-in-law.”

Mr. Collins is completely unaware of how offensive his conduct is, immersed as he is in self-satisfaction. Mr. Bennet finds this amusing. But he views Wickham’s behavior with grim dismay.  Lydia’s happiness has been placed in careless, selfish hands.

Her father is particularly bothered since he knows Mr. Wickham knows. Impudence is very self-aware. It appreciates the consequences of its conduct.

And impudence doesn’t care.

 

 

Jane Austen and a Regency house remnant

The reference Jane Austen makes to Kempshott Park is from her January, 1799 letter– familiar to many of her fans:

“Charles is not come yet, but he must come this morning or he shall never know what I will do to him. The ball at Kempshott is this evening and I have got him an invitation . . . . I am not to wear my white satin cap to-night, after all; I am to wear a mamalouc cap instead,..”

The turban Mrs. Croft wore in 1995’s BBC version of Persuasion is probably similar to the marmalouc cap — a nod of admiration to British efforts against Napoleon in Egypt.

Kempshott was an out-the-way manor in Hampshire’s Basingstoke Hundred, and not far from Miss Austen’s residence in Steventon.  The logistics of nearby toll roads and rather good hunting combined to make this corner of England greatly desired during the Regency and Kempshott came to the notice of the Prince of Wales, who conceived a fancy for the estate as his hunting box.

HRH leased the commodious house from a man named Crooke, who was then residing at Stratton Park, the mutilated house mentioned in this blog’s previous post.  The course of the house’s history during this time is well-documented at Kempshott Park: a Prince’s Retreat. At various times the Prince entertained both Mrs. Fitzherbert and Princess Caroline of Wales at Kempshott.

By the time Miss Austen was summoned there, Prinny had left for the Grange–the one whose fabulous art collection was bombed by the Luftwaffe (see previous post).  Then Kempshott was leased to Lady Dorchester. It was her ball Miss Austen immortalized in her letter, living on after countless others have been forgotten.

Alas, Kempshott House did not live on. We are lucky one Constance Hill, author of Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends (1904), was able to visit the mansion in its waning years. It had come into the hands of the Rycroft baronets, after undergoing some alteration since the Regency, sporting a fine Italianate exterior that had been added in the 1830s. Miss Hill was able to discover the ball-room of Jane Austen’s day and noted that it had been divided in later years to form a drawing room.

Presumably Miss Hill had her sketchbook with her, for she includes a fine pencil drawing of the ballroom’s intricate door frame in her volume.

World War I led to a long period where the house was vacant, its fixtures gradually dismantled and sold. One dealer attempted to capitalize on the house’s impressive connections, for a chimney piece like the one pictured below was plundered from Kempshott. This was sent on to America where it was joined with odds and ends from unknown origin, to form the centerpiece of a room puffed off as if taken from the house wholly intact–what some would later call a spoof.

This chimney piece, attributed to Henry Holland, is crafted out of Breche marble. Holland was in his French period when hired by Prinny to redo Kempshott, and would have favored this type of marble prominently featured at Versailles. Photo via 1st Dibs

Kempshott House was about to be demolished when visited by author John Harris in the 1960s.

“We found a brooding house, dark and gloomy, its stucco crumbling, deserted, abandoned to agricultural use…potatoes inside, and bales of hay, and an end wall had been broken open at ground floor level to shelter a tractor.”

— No Voice from the Hall by John Harris (1998)

One wonders what Jane Austen would have thought of potatoes piled where she once danced.

Regency Domesticity: the Reformed Rake

“It is a maxim, not uncommonly supported in female society, that ‘a reformed rake makes the best husband.’ ” —  Ackermann’s Repository, December 1, 1816, Vol. II No. XII

In a singular letter to the Tattler, the writer offers a disdainful explanation for such a phenomenon. One has either fallen violently in love with a rake and is blinded by passion to his many disastrous characteristics, or she’s such an innocent as to be wholly unacquainted with what a genuine rake is.

“I could manage him,’ she sighed. ‘Oh, but I could!”

“ ‘I could manage him,’ she sighed. ‘Oh, but I could!’ ”

Far better to seek a man of great intellect and maturity, more concerned with the affairs of the world than the high life. One that only a bluestocking could love.

"He was lewd, lascivious, mocking..." And yet a bluestocking fell in love with him.

Balogh’s rake was “lewd, lascivious, mocking..”  And yet a bluestocking fell in love with him.

Of course, marriage to a prosing fool or some worthy devoted to his rural estate would be very dull. It is proposed, therefore, that a little dash, some elegance and the ease that characterizes the rake can be had as long as the intended spouse is endowed with a quantity of good nature.

Beware of unrestrained good nature, however. Profligate generosity has led many (see John Mytton) to throw good fortune to the four winds. Cannot marriage to such a man be made wretched when good nature:

“..induces him to sacrifice his own health to promote the jovial pleasures of his friends and acquaintance? Is it not his good-nature, that, to gratify the vanity of his wife in all the figure and fashion of high life, brings on the impoverishment of his estate? “

"...her only chance to find the true man behind the wicked facade."

“…dissolute, reckless and extravagant–and lost to the world.”

As this letter is in the vein of a good many Regency epistles, the true aim of its discourse is to praise that prized quality of the time–the quality of good character.

Good nature that is both amiable and tempered by sense can only be discerned by observation of the prospective husband.

“Do his dependents approach him with cheerful respect?  Does he disdain to be merry at the expense of another? Does he mention the absent with candour, and behave to those who are present with manly complacency?”

Regency preoccupation with character is the reason why Ms. Austen forces darling Lizzie to quiz poor Mr. Darcy. She searches for amiability despite his forbidding manner, readily admitting that she is quite determined to discover the nature of his character.

How wonderful when she does, and that it took her some time to discern it!

John Keats: Mr. Darcy

“I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love,” said Darcy.

“Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.”

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

One of a surfeit of sequels, I daresay.

One of a surfeit of sequels, I daresay.

A surfeit of anything, be it lampreys or love, can be a bad thing.

This notion was well-known to Austen heroines like darling Lizzie and beloved Anne. Indeed, during the Regency, the rise of Romanticism in art was viewed with some alarm because it unleashed longing, passionate love. If it could be confined to the landscape of nature and politics, then all should be well.

And then along came Keats.

Despised “above all” by Byron, John Keats (1795 – 1821) remains the most enduring poet to inform us on Regency love. And, as Mr. Darcy pointed out in that discerning way of his, poetry is so necessary to love that the latter could not exist without it.

Keats felt the same way.

Long before he was known for his love poetry, his friends knew him as a man of love. Keats was, they said, a loveable as opposed to an amiable man. The painter Joseph Severn said “there was a strong bias of the beautiful side of humanity in every thing he did.”

However, Keats struggled to translate his sympathy for all things loving onto paper. When he managed to produce something, his work was subject to vicious criticism. Some said his verse was the vulgar product of a “Cockney poetaster,” that his writings shall have “our very footmen composing tragedies” and turn the heads of “farm-servants and unmarried ladies.”

He corresponded with Wordsworth and lived with Leigh Hunt, but the way these men wrote poetry seemed particularly unsuited to Keats’ desire for expression. His inspiration was Shakespeare, whose Twelfth Night mentioned death caused by a surfeit of music.  Like the Bard, Keats needed to explore love in its full expression, with all its “World of Pains.”

And then along came Fanny Brawne:

To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.
Bright Star by John Keats
Bright Star

The passionate Bright Star, considered to be his love verse to Fanny, burst forth like a comet, the glorious Hyperion and Ode to a Grecian Urn in its blazing wake. These works have risen above all other poems of the Regency and indeed, higher than any other, of the nineteenth century.

Keats died young, suffering from the great love he bore his bright muse. His poetry is still the food of love today, and is one of Regency love’s greatest legacies.

Robert Southey: General Tilney

“.. Though I don’t suppose he could be as villainous as Count Ugolino. No one could be.”

“Oh, no, he isn’t villainous at all–at least, I shouldn’t think he would be, but I’m not even acquainted with him! I only chose him for Ugolino because of the way his eyebrows slant, which makes him look just like a villain. And also, of course, because of his crested air–which made me long to give him a setdown!”

Sylvester, or, The Wicked Uncle by Georgette Heyer

Robert Hardy as General Tilney--this actor was a marvelous Leicester in Elizabeth R--image from Jane Austen Today

Robert Hardy as General Tilney–this actor was a marvelous Leicester in Elizabeth R–image from Jane Austen Today

In Northanger Abbey, the heroine, fresh from reading Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, didn’t immediately perceive General Tilney to be a “bad man.” Jane Austen had made him a handsome, vigorous man “of commanding aspect.”

Catherine’s opinion changed dramatically once she stayed at Northanger Abbey. Henry Tilney’s father became stern and menacing, scrupulously avoiding all mention of his dead wife. Catherine disliked him every bit as much as darling Phoebe did the Duke of Salford.

Moreover, the general was a busy man:

‘I have many pamphlets to finish,’ said he to Catherine, ‘before I can close my eyes, and perhaps may be poring over the affairs of the nation for hours after you are asleep. Can either of us be more meetly employed? My eyes will be blinding for the good of others, and yours preparing by rest for future mischief.’ — Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen

You and your “stupid” pamphlets.

Stupid or not, General Tilney’s reading was probably an obsessive affair:

“…we should also assume that the General is actually worried about how his country was doing in its war against France, at a time when Napoleon was emerging as the seemingly invincible military genius of the day.” Parents against children: General Tilney as Gothic Monster, John Dussinger, PhD for JASNA.ORG

Staying up all night, reading and watching for spies in the neighborhood, can make a fellow downright surly. And when one has seen war, it’s not impossible to imagine how its re-emergence might throw a character’s personality in disorder:

Where some wrecked army from the Conquerors might

Robert Southey -- the butt of Byron's jokes

Robert Southey — his critics detested his reversal in politics, that he would woo Liberty as his mistress and marry the disreputable Legitimacy

Speed their disastrous flight,

With thee fierce Genius! let me trace their way,

And hear at times the deep-heart groan

Of some poor sufferer left to die alone,

His sore wounds smarting with the winds of night;

And we will pause, where, on the wild,

The Mother to her frozen breast

On the heap’d snows reclining clasps her child

And with him sleeps, chill’d to eternal rest!

To Horror by Robert Southey