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!

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Love and the Real Regency Rake

Miniature of John Mytton by Samuel John Stump

Miniature of John Mytton by Samuel John Stump

The rake is supposed to be an object of desire, a hero of modern Regency romance. There is nothing desirable nor heroic about John Mytton. Something is missing in his story.

The character of the rake first appeared in seventeenth century. He was a libertine, a prodigal bent on rebellion and frequently addicted to excessive appetites. During Charles II’s reign, Restoration comedies modeled this new kind of hero after certain aristocrats who indulged in such antics. They could be anything from Sir Charles Sedley, a man who simulated sex in public while drunkenly naked, to the more notorious (!) George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham who killed the Earl of Shrewsbury in a duel over the latter’s wife.

After a while, however, the tiresome rake began to weary the play-going public.

Enter the feisty heroine, employed to restore the libertine to his senses and thus allow the rake to remain a popular device in literature. She, too, was modeled after redeeming females. Even though Sedley couldn’t marry her, being unable to obtain a divorce from his insane wife, Ann Ayscough remained with him until the end of his life. Villiers’ wife took him back after the affair with the widowed Countess of Shrewsbury:

“The Duchess of Buckingham has merit and virtue; she is brown and lean, but had she been the most beautiful and charming of her sex, the being his wife would have been sufficient alone to have inspired him with a dislike. Notwithstanding she knew he was always intriguing, yet she never spoke of it, and had complaisance enough to entertain his mistresses, and even to lodge them in her house; all which she suffered because she loved him.” — Memoirs of the English Court by Madame Dunois (1699)

She loved him.

Without such love, poor John Mytton was doomed. Recall in an earlier post the warning that Mytton was not fit for marriage. Did that make him insensible to love?

After his second wife left him, John tried in vain to get her to return to him. He even went so far as to seek her out at Chillington Hall, her family’s home to which she had fled. Constables were summoned to handcuff him, for in his great strength he had knocked down eight strong manservants in the foyer, desperate to see the one he loved.

His friend Nimrod laments the self-destruction that not only robbed Mytton of his happiness, but the love of his life as well:

“He loved this woman to distraction; he would have given the apple of his eye for her at any time; he would have risked twenty lives to have gotten her back again, and obtained her forgiveness; he raved about her in his madness, and sent her his dying benediction!”

Chillington Hall, now a wedding venue. Photograph licensed by John M. per Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0

Chillington Hall, now a wedding venue. Photograph licensed by John M. per Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0

The Real Regency Rake: Mother’s Love

John Mytton was a rake only a mother could love.

“The excessive tenderness of a fond mother is no match for the wayward temper of a darling boy, and how often is his ruin to be traced to this source!” — Nimrod, John Mytton

That fond mother was Sarah-Harriet Owen, daughter of a neighboring squire. After five years of marriage to the elder John Mytton, she was left a widow with a daughter, Harriet-Rebecca, and her son, John to raise. The two-year-old boy’s nearest relation, apart from mother and sister, was his uncle, his mother’s brother. Mr. Owen lived near Shrewsbury in Woodhouse and tried to advise his young nephew (and perhaps remonstrate with his sister) but these attempts to moderate the scion’s reckless behavior were rebuffed. Later, in conversation with Nimrod, the uncle confides he might lament the ruin his nephew had wrought, but was thankful he had nothing to do with it.

Don't stay out too late, dearest, and please refrain from harassing the neighbors.

“Don’t stay out too late, dearest, and please refrain from vexing the neighbors.”

A neighbor, Sir Richard Puleston, observed the raising of Master Mytton from closer quarters than Uncle Owen and called the little fellow “Mango, king of the pickles,” for “he was as finished a Pickle as the fondest mother and his own will could possibly have made him.”

By all accounts, Harriet-Rebecca was a dutiful girl and exhibited none of the deplorable qualities of her brother. She made a respectable  marriage to Sir John Heskith-Lethbridge. Although long-forgotten as her brother’s memory lives on, Harriet-Rebecca’s death was recorded by an admiring essay in the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1826.

That his sister was admirable and John was not is the foundation of Nimrod’s accusation–the woman who brought John forth was the author of his downfall:

Thus fell John Mytton–by nature, what God must have intended every man should be; by education, or rather, from the want of proper education, nearly at last what man should not be. The seed was good; but it fell among thorns and was choked.”

Lady Berwick's son, the 5th Baronet. Very good and very dull.

Lady Berwick’s son, the 5th Baronet. Very good and very dull.

John never blamed his mother and settled a handsome annuity upon her. Nor did she abandon him in his final desperation. After the sale of his unentailed properties and a failed attempt to woo his estranged wife, John escaped to France. He eventually landed in prison and not four days after being informed of this circumstance, his mother went to be with him. She managed to extricate him from this present coil, but continued heavy drinking and a propensity for insulting the French made it necessary to bring John back to England:

“where not only a prison, but the grave, yawned to receive him, and in prison he died.”

She survived John by several years, dying in Cheltenham. In her obituary, scant mention was made of the ruin that was her beloved son. This was passed over with hardly any comment, as if the author searched for some redeeming quality to mention. This was found in the lady’s connection with the nobility–her sister was the late Lady Berwick.

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 Real Regency Rake: His Nag

In The Great Lady Tony, Lucien St. Clare “was the most disgraceful lord in London. He had unforgivably broken a gentleman’s code of honor, unthinkingly broken a legion of ladies’ hearts, and unrepentingly broken every rule of decent behavior.”

In short, a rake. The Great Lady Tony - Lindsey

The heroine, Lady Antonia, only child of the elegant Duke of Mountjoy, rides a magnificent bay that any gentleman would covet. Lord St. Clare, however, is not impressed:

She was a little stung, despite herself. “If so, I will still contrive to give you the lead on this circus animal, as you call him. Had I known you meant to mount a draft animal, I would have reconsidered myself.”

He merely laughed and patted the neck of his ugly gray. “Dorcas? What she lacks in beauty she more than makes up in stamina, and a comfortable ride. I can travel on her back day after day, and frequently have. But if you end up with an aching back and wrenched arms, it’s nothing to do with me, after all, and I daresay it’s a small-enough price to pay for looking magnificent.”

The Great Lady Tony (Signet Regency romance), by Dawn Lindsey

John Mytton had a favorite horse–Baronet. After a day of hunting, Mytton rode home and his pack of hounds was dismissed to the kennel. By this time, his mount, not a stupid animal, must have believed his labor was over, after a hard day in the field. Baronet was by now, as they said in those days, “in cool blood.”

However, his master and others accompanying him found their attention drawn to a nearby brook, measuring seven yards in width.

“Facing a brook” while hunting is the most difficult part of riding to hounds, according to Nimrod. I am quite in charity with this assessment. Horses do not like rushing water. Moreover, the banks are likely to be soft, making a fall at such an obstacle highly likely, affording no small amusement to those observing, to one’s eternal embarrassment.

Mytton’s “brute” was put to the obstacle. He cleared it–a leap measuring nine and a quarter yards in all–to the astonishment of all.

Was Baronet a magnificent steed, with flowing mane and tail? Hardly. He was “a mean-looking horse, with only one eye.”

The mount of a rake is chosen for function only, in complete disregard of convention. In short, the rake rides a nag:

“(Baronet) may be said to be stout as steel; and if there was rank among brutes, this Baronet would have been raised to the peerage.” — Nimrod’s Hunting Tours

Baronet clears a stream

Baronet clears a stream

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.

The Real Regency Rake: Rich or Poor

They generally start out rich and then, generally, become poor.

By the time widow Lady Mornington met Lord Edmond Waite, a rake well-known for womanizing and drink, he had not quite run through his fortune.  At first, things didn’t seem very promising:

“You make me sick” she said. “Physically sick. Nauseated.”

Mary Balogh’s The Notorious Rake has finally been re-released (in conjunction with The Counterfeit Bride) as of April 30th.

Alas, the real Regency rake, John Mytton, did not “suffer” Lord Waite’s happy fate.

He succeeded to his father’s estate at Halston, entailed like the other he inherited, Habberly. What was not entailed included three other properties in Shropshire along with a fine shooting estate in northern Wales. The income generated from these ranged from ten to sixty thousand pounds a year.

It was never enough.

He had an agent, Longueville, out of Oswestry. The man despaired of his master’s spendthrift ways and begged Mytton’s friend, Nimrod, to urge him to practice some economy:

‘I have reason to believe you can say as much to Mytton as any man can; will you have the goodness to tell him you heard me say, that if he will be content to live on six thousand pounds per annum, for the next six years, he need not sell the fine old (Wales) estate..’

Nimrod relates how this news was received. Mytton was in his carriage at the time, lolling with that indolence peculiar to many a rake, and told his friend that Longueville may keep his counsel to himself.

To generate more revenue, he was eventually obliged to part with those properties that were unentailed, including the one in Shrewsbury. A relative begged him not to sell it, that it had been in the family for five centuries.

“The devil it has!” came the reply. “Then it is high time it should go out of it.”

Money had to be spent on dogs, horses and even the heronry at Halston. But by and large, a good part of it was just simply lost.

Light come, light go

Light come, light go

Mytton had a habit of carrying large sums of cash about him. It was not unknown for visitors to Halston to find rolled up bank bills that he had dropped in the fields. Even more remarkable was the manner in which he secured his cash on the road. On one occasion, after breaking the banks of two well-known gambling houses in London (a rake is also a damn fine gamester), he stuffed the rolls of bank bills into a travelling writing desk that sat on his carriage seat. He was off to the Doncaster races and liked to keep the windows down so that wind may blow through the conveyance. Mytton told Nimrod he was counting the bills on the seat when a gale came up, blowing the lot out of the carriage.

And so, by this means and others, he lost over a half million pounds sterling in less than fifteen years.

Light come, light go.