The Regency Traveller

Another cautionary tale shared by the Listener at La Belle Assemblee, lamenting the fashion during the Regency of travelling abroad:

“Engaged in a continual tumult, he calls that living which is only wandering through the wilderness of existence.”

— La Belle Assemblee, February, 1818

From the October 1818 edition, La Belle Assemblee, we have the Parisian promenade dress made of cambric muslin and trimmed in muslin medallion puffs which are separated by rich embroidery, topped by a bonnet of white crape trimmed with blond and purple poppies on the side

From the October 1818 edition, La Belle Assemblee, we have the Parisian promenade dress made of cambric muslin and trimmed in muslin medallion puffs which are separated by rich embroidery, topped by a bonnet of white crape trimmed with blond and purple poppies on the side

The writer, simply named Alfred, relates that travel used to be extremely arduous, even dangerous, and undertaken only in matters of urgent business, like claiming an inheritance or filing a lawsuit.

The traveller would be male, well-matured and careful to put his affairs in order before setting out, even if it meant updating his will.

His departure was attended with tears and ardent prayers for his safe return.

Nowadays, he writes, travelling is undertaken not so much to accomplish anything, but for pleasure alone:

Irishmen come to England and Englishmen go to Ireland. The natives of Somersetshire come to London, and the Londoners flock to Bath.

It has become common for families to be divided by great distance, and, more sadly, by time, spanning as much as thirty years. The traveller nevertheless is content, and eventually forgets “his dearest friends and brethren.”

Still, he cannot escape the dissatisfaction of a prodigal son, finding few he can call truly friend and surrounded by “men who seek to deceive us, and women who beguile us.”

Truly unfortunate is the one who realizes, when he finally returns home, that Death has taken the place of the one–

“..whom he had ardently desired to have embraced once more, or to have had the pious gratification of catching their last sigh, and closing those eyes that were shut forever from the light of day!

 

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.