Publisher to the Regency

The Publisher to the Regency began as a ‘piratical intruder upon the profession of a bookseller.’ *  In spite of this early criticism, the efforts of John Bell (1745-1831) during the Georgian Age made possible the widespread dissemination of art and literature during the Regency.

As a twenty-something bookseller in the Strand, Bell started printing the Morning Post, a popular Whig publication, in concert with two reverend parsonical banditti (!) While the paper acquired the distinction of spreading “fake news,” (quoting NYR Daily) it answered increased demand for printed material, fueled by the growth of a literate population eager to read.

Bell realized he had tapped into an opportunity for mass press and began to publish English works that were affordable for the ordinary citizen to purchase. His series on Shakespeare and British Theatre, joined later by Poets of Great Britain from Chaucer to Churchill, were highly successful. This was in part due to the use of smaller fonts, which did away with hanging characters and the elongated S, and progressively improving printing methods.

Alarmed, established publishers attacked his papers and his character in their publication.

Bell relished his new-found notoriety and put it to work at other endeavors.  He opened a lending library called the British Library and published another newspaper, the English Chronicle, featuring sports news, mostly from the boxing ring. By 1788, he had become Bookseller to the Prince of Wales, enjoying the honor of hosting HRH at his residence.  Publication of  La Belle Assemblée or, Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies, sealed his reputation.

Another of the prints we like to decorate our Regency blogs with–thank you, Mr. Bell–which features a French court dress, with the court lace lappets suspended from a tiara of gold and pearls. La Belle Assemblée, Vol. 17 & 18, Jan-Dec 1818

However, he continued to be plagued with lawsuits filed against him by jealous rivals.

It was revenue from La Belle Assemblée that sustained him, through the clever use of beautiful engravings in color and paid advertising. One of the services advertised was the Westminster Central Mart, an office he owned which served as a central information board for domestic servants as well as a repository for the references such persons needed for employment. A nominal fee was charged to register with the Mart, and prospective employers could meet there with prospective employees for interviews. It could not have made much money for Bell, for the operation required a good deal of clerical effort to keep things sorted. Some have speculated that the whole thing was got up as an occupation for a needy acquaintance.

This “Puck” of booksellers was in the distribution of information for more than just money.

He died at the ripe age of 86, and his obituary recalled not only his fine publications twinned with artistic style, but  his encouragement and support to those around him: innovative typographers, striking employees bailed out of jail, and sponsorship of young, starving poets.

We are indebted to one of the latter, Leigh Hunt, for providing us with the following contrasts of a man who made reading to the masses possible:

“He had no acquirements, perhaps not even grammar, but his taste in putting forth a publication, and getting the best artists to adorn it, was new in those times, and may be admired in many.”

— Leigh Hunt in his Autobiography (1903 edition)

 

*this and other excellent anecdotes are from the publisher’s biography: John Bell, 1745-1831: A Memoir, by Stanley Morison (1930) and an impressive catalog of art featured in his publications: John Bell, Patron of British Theatrical Portraiture: a Catalog of the Theatrical Portraits in His Editions of Bell’s Shakespeare and Bell’s British Theatre, by Burnim and Highfill (1998)

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Regency’s “Sable Garb of Woe”

From the November, 1818 issue of La Belle Assemblée or, Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies, the following notice appears:

Our Cabinet of Taste is unavoidably closed at present: every European court will, no doubt, adopt the ‘sable garb of woe’ for Britain’s virtuous queen.

It was said by contemporaries that this Lawrence portrait of George III's Consort bore a remarkable likeness to her.

And with that, Adelaide’s adventures come to an end–or, at least, they are no longer reported. Presumably her frivolous ways were considered an affront to the Readership’s sensibilities in this time of mourning following Queen Charlotte’s death.

Instead, anecdotes of the Queen’s final moments were shared. Sir Henry Halford, physician to the Regency, was in attendance during her last illness. It was he who sent to Carlton House, summoning the Prince Regent in:

..a statement so alarming, that the Prince sent instantly for the Duke of York to accompany him to Kew.

The queen was reportedly lucid throughout the duration of her last day on earth, November 17th. She sat in her chair, surrounded by her children, the Prince Regent holding her hand. In keeping with the Magazine’s determined tone of solemnity and discretion, further illustration of the deathbed scene was limited:

The expiring scene–the heart-rending feelings of the Regent, and all present, it will be equally impossible and unbecoming to attempt to describe.

Inevitably, bombazine is the dress material of mourning. This illustration of a carriage dress suitable for mourning, from the Magazine's November issue, is liberally trimmed in black velvet, from spencer to hem.

Inevitably, bombazine is the dress material of mourning. This illustration of a carriage dress suitable for mourning, from the Magazine’s November issue, is liberally trimmed in black velvet, from spencer to hem.

Queen Charlotte served as Consort for fifty-seven years and seventy days.

Just this past week we’ve been reminded of another Consort’s lengthy service.

Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh - 1954

Elizabeth II and Prince Philip–is it him or the uniform that draws the admiring glance? I can’t decide.

 

 

 

 

Adelaide – A Regency Marriage

"Other men might envy Sir Nugent; they could not despise him, for his pedigree was impeccable, his fortune exceeded sixty thousand pounds a year." Sylvester, Heyer

Other men might envy Sir Nugent; they could not despise him, for his pedigree was impeccable, his fortune exceeded sixty thousand pounds a year.”

In Maria’s estimation, marriage served only to increase Adelaide’s extravagance.

“..(Adelaide) has wedded a man so wealthy, that Mexico and Peru seem to be at his command; so much the worse, perhaps, for her, for she is naturally extravagant, and will think his riches inexhaustible.”

— “Letter from a Young Married Lady to her Sister in the Country,” La Belle Assemblée, August, 1818

Surely Heyer’s Ianthe was based on Adelaide, and the preposterous Sir Nugent Fotherby on the man who could bail out entire nations–the Honorable Frederic Cleveland.

Nine years older than his teenage bride, Cleveland owned over thirty “blood” horses, possessed an extensive country estate and funds enough to support the staggeringly expensive habits of a sporting Corinthian:

“..he is fond as ever of his dogs and horses; he is a modern charioteer, a great encourager of pugilism,…most admirable skill in horseflesh.”

Maria marveled to her sister over the fashionable couple’s two (!) separate boxes at the Opera and the immense sums Adelaide pays for milliners’ wares–a continual stream of pelisses, bonnets, bronze half-dresses and furbelows–only to discard them almost at once. She doesn’t ask the price of the trimmings sent “enough for ten months at least,” only that the bills be sent to her husband, who had already proven himself indulgent on the matter of the “vulgar” white bridal dress.

Indeed, Adelaide thinks nothing of throwing down an expensive cashmere shawl for her lap dog or Cleveland’s pointers to rest upon.

Called by its French name "cachemire" in the Magazine, this draped shawl forms part of a walking dress ensemble. -- La Belle Assemblée, May, 1818

Called by its French name “cachemire” in the Magazine, this draped shawl forms part of a walking dress ensemble. — La Belle Assemblée, May, 1818

After observing this increased profligacy, even dashing aunt Lady Worthington was moved to reprove her niece:

“..Lose not your hours, my dear Adelaide, in fashionable follies: do not act like too many votaries of dissipation, as if youth and life were eternal.”

 

 

Adelaide – Regency Era Fashionista

“And now for the fascinating Adelaide; the epitome of fashion, and the best specimen I can give you of the reigning mode..”

— Letter from a Young Married Lady to her Sister in the Country

La Belle Assemblee, January, 1818

Adelaide is a featured character in the Magazine’s Cabinet of Taste. She is the niece of Lady Charlton, who has, like a kind of “Lady Bountiful,”  taken in her dead sister’s  young “town-bred” daughter.  It helps immensely that Adelaide is an heiress.

Maria advises her sister that the cornette is in fashion: "It is composed of the finest Mechlin lace and net; it is lined with soft blush-coloured satin, and fastened under the chin with a quilling of fine lace...the hair is entirely concealed, except a few ringlets that are made to sport around the face." -- print from Ackerman's Repository, May 1818

Maria advises her sister that the cornette is in fashion: “It is composed of the finest Mechlin lace and net; it is lined with soft blush-coloured satin, and fastened under the chin with a quilling of fine lace…the hair is entirely concealed, except a few ringlets that are made to sport around the face.” — print from Ackerman’s Repository, May 1818

The letter-writer, Maria, describes her dashing new acquaintance in a series of letters to her sister Lucy. As a fascinated observer, she alternates between admiration of Adelaide’s determined pursuit of fashion and trepidation that the fashionista will  one day come to grief.

Writing from Brighton, Maria describes her first impression of Adelaide:

“Her fine long light hair is plaited, and then wound elegantly around her head; a Cashmere shawl, light as it is rich and superb, is carelessly thrown over her shoulders, which are, nevertheless, seen to be totally bare under the partial Oriental covering; and also, be it known, (and few who are who do not know it) they are as white as ivory.”

She is slim “as a Sylph” and makes such a grand spectacle at the harp without actually playing that one is really quite convinced she is as a good as a professional musician. But it is her pursuit of fashion that quite distinguishes her above all others.

She wears the perfume  Eau de Millefleurs (albeit “excessively so”) and her small, delicate features are usually hidden behind large hats to excite curiosity. At evening balls, her hair is decorated “with all kinds of flowers.”

Her favorite millinery is Magazin de Modes in St. James’ Square. She sends to them every week for new trimmings. These she drapes them in ecstasy over her harp for exacting inspection. Other tradesmen bring the latest articles of fashion on a frequent basis, necessarily purchased without seeing in order that she may be the first of her acquaintance to wear them.

Inevitably, some of the shawls and robes and half-dresses are so disappointing that she becomes blue-devilled. So great is her feeling of provocation that nothing will rouse her from this state—not even the latest piece of “sentimental trash” from the library, which she abuses in her fury by tearing out the third leaf from the book.

“She lays down on a sofa, complains of the headache, and declares she is the most wretched being in the world.”

Voyons (!)–we shall hear more of Adelaide, you can be sure.

 

Regency Trolls

In the August 1818 volume of La Belle Assemblee, the Listener, who never revealed his true identity, nevertheless admits:

“I have ever regarded the anonymous letter-writer in the same light as I do an assassin who stabs in the dark.”

Nevertheless, he addresses himself almost always to anonymous writers.

English walking dress featured in La Belle Assemblee, October 1818: "Garter purple poplin pelisse, ornamented with black velvet. Mary Scot bonnet and Waterloo half boots.

English walking dress featured in La Belle Assemblee, October 1818: “Garter purple poplin pelisse, ornamented with black velvet. Mary Scot bonnet and Waterloo half boots.

These supplicants, he explains, are very different. They cringe from identifying themselves because of the trouble they find themselves in. They:

“..are a far more different temperament from those miserable beings to whom I allude. They write to me for advice, they lash, in a good-humoured way…”

What of  those  critics who adopted obvious pseudonyms in Regency-era literary reviews? The Leopard and the Scorpion, for instance, who’ve been subjects of this blog in the past?

They were assassins, too, but they stabbed in broad daylight.

No, it is the anonymous writer who deliberately seeks out publicity with the sole  intent to wound that the Listener despises. This malcontent “vents his spleen” and “pours forth her venom” in order to make mischief and sow discord.

“Anonymous” in this regard criticizes an artist’s character (rather than his work) , wrecks marriages, breaks up romantic engagements and sets children against their parents.

The signature of this troll, whether it be Incognito or Ivan the Terrible, is a “dirty mantle.”

“Beware my sting, I inflict it unseen; for Cowardice and Malignancy are my parents; and Envy my instructress and nurse!”

 

 

The Regency Hostess

“Tell me your company, and I will tell you who you are.” — old proverb

Many times this blog has addressed that fascinating character of Regency society–the hostess. She may be one of the ‘best women in the world,’ or from hell. She might be cold as her unheated country house in winter, an accommodating peeress in her own right, an Irish nobody, or a royal eccentric.

The Regency confessor heard from one Hypolotis, who wrote of his experience with a particular hostess who turned out to be quite cunning.

New Self-Acting Kitchen Range -- La Belle Assemblee, August, 1818 "To every family, more especially for Large Establishments, a constant supply of pure hot Water and Steam, must be a valuable acquisition"

La Belle Assemblee, July, 1818 “To every family, more especially for Large Establishments, a constant supply of pure hot Water and Steam, must be a valuable acquisition” — no Regency hostess would be without one!

 

The correspondent’s story begins after a brief accounting of his travels, in which he asserts his congeniality:

“My character is naturally frank and open, and this procures me the friendship of all classes.”

— “Acquaintances,” by the Listener in La Belle Assemblee, July, 1816

In Green Park, he gains admirers among the children when he bestows upon them “balls, tops or cakes.” At the theatre, he is complimented by gentlemen on the “fineness of his linen and the elegant cut of his clothes, and in particular, the lustre of the brilliant on his finger.”

Acquaintances among the latter he tended to form rather easily, he relates, and on one occasion a “man of fashion” hailed him outside of St. James’ Coffee-house. Upon being asked of his plans for the evening, Hypolotis disclosed he’s been invited to an exclusive faro party in Hanover Square. With surprising presumption, the newcomer begged to be included.

Of course, one’s companion might be welcome to a party, but  Hypolotis scarcely knew this fellow. If it were up to him, he’d not deny the request, but he must think of his hostess, for Society jealously guarded the boundaries of her circle. Suitable birth and fortune were just as important in Hanover Square as they were in St. James’.

“What signifies that?” his odious, pushing companion retorted. “Surely one man of fashion may introduce another.”

In the end, congeniality won over good sense and both presented themselves at the faro-party that evening. Their hostess, whose name the correspondent sensibly abbreviates to Mrs. R., admitted both very graciously so that the two men proceeded to play faro and “gallantly” lose to “fair adversaries”–mingling as “two charming young men of fashion and of the most elegant manners.”

However, once separated from his companion, Hypolotis was confronted by Mrs. R’s whisper, desiring that he repeat the name of his particular friend.

“His name?” He is, I assure you, a man of fashion and fortune, and of very good family.”

“But what is his name?”

“(Er) Edmonds.”

Alerted to Hypolotis’ awkward response, she set about unveiling the true identity of the interloper in her ballroom. Moments later, her footman announced that a message was awaiting “Mr. Edmonds” and would he please step into the foyer?

No one came.

Mrs. R. bided her time until her company gathered to leave, when she quietly reprimanded Hypolotis for playing such a trick on her. His friend was no more Mr. Edmonds than she was. Showing even more cunning and discretion, she advised him to find out who his friend really is. If he’s “of family,” she would be happy to host them both again.

Hypolotis did as she requested. To his relief, his rude and inconsiderate acquaintance actually ranked very high in polite society. However,

“… had he been deficient in the former qualifications I could never have shown my face again amongst those who I am continually accustomed to meet in the elegant circles of my honourable female friend.”

 

On Regency Wealth

Not limited to the role of confessor, the Listener (whose real name, it should be repeated, is Timothy Hearwell) heard cautionary tales of advice to Regency-era readers.

The following letter he received from “Prosper” on the “vexations attendant on wealth:”

From the October 1818 issue of the Magazine--a round dress of fine cambric with muslin flounces richly embroidered in Clarence blue.  A Clarence bonnet trimmed with larkspur flowers and a Clarence spencer besides, with lapels of white satin.

From the October 1818 issue of the Magazine–a round half-dress of fine cambric with muslin flounces richly embroidered in Clarence blue. A Clarence bonnet trimmed with larkspur flowers and a Clarence spencer besides, with lapels of white satin.

“..after having ardently desired riches and honour, I am almost tempted to curse the chance that led to them.”

— La Belle Assemblee, January, 1818

What follows is a detailed explanation on the bother and mind-numbing exhaustion that comes from being wealthy in the Regency, particularly when one is not accustomed it.

For instance, one rolls about town in an elegant carriage, foregoing the exercise of walking that had been of such benefit to the constitution. At home, the valet (or one’s “gentleman” as the out-and-outers say ) will hardly allow a man to take off his own shirt. In his study, the secretary commandeers his signature and the steward his accounts.

There’s nothing to do, Prosper complains, but loll on the couch “in the fashionable half-daylight that illumines my apartment, injures my sight and makes me gloomy.”

And yet having cast him into sloth, wealth keeps busy, attracting the noble and the notable. They come for a visit, to gape at his “opulence,” and still others come for a four-course dinner at his board, dishing out “fulsome flattery” on the food served, the plate and even the candles themselves.

Efforts to find some enlivening companionship away from home are met with disappointment. Having been assured that all one needs is “good company,” Prosper fixes his attention upon a lady who has been recommended to him because she dresses well and “has written a stupid romance.”

Once they are at the Opera, he comes to regret their association,

“According to her ideas I should be like a fellow just come from the country if I listen to the performance..if I elevate my eye-glass to look at the actresses, I have vile taste.”

Prosper sighs, longing for the comfort of a few key friends and the two-shilling gallery at the Cock-Pit or Covent Garden.