Regency Confessor: Rusticus Returns (part two)

The report on Rusticus’ return to Regency Society continued upon his arrival at the second party to which he’d been invited. This was a celebration of a young matron’s birthday, and invitees were obliged to offer natal congratulations in the form of a literary device.

The English Winter Carriage Costume, from the Magazine's March 1818 edition: "round dress of fine cambric muslin, superbly embroidered round the border in three distinct rows. Pelisse of rich Tobine silk striped, of Christmas holly-berry colour, and bright grass green, trimmed round collar, cuffs and down the front with very broad swansdown."

The English Winter Carriage Costume, from the Magazine’s March 1818 edition: “round dress of fine cambric muslin, superbly embroidered round the border in three distinct rows. Pelisse of rich Tobine silk striped, of Christmas holly-berry colour, and bright grass green, trimmed round collar, cuffs and down the front with very broad swansdown.”

One of those in attendance was a celebrated poet, but ostensibly complaining of the head-ache, his offering only served to confirm (in the opinion of our hero) that the poor man might indeed be suffering from “a disorder in his brain.”

Emboldened by his fellow party-goer’s failing, Rusticus eagerly offered his own ditty, which was based upon a polonaise taken from the comic opera The Cabinet, popular at the time. Despite careful preparation of the selection:

“There were three verses; and I declare I knew not of one indecorous word or meaning they contained; but such is the delicacy of modern ears, and the quickness of modern conceptions, that at the first verse the ladies blushed up to their eyes, at the second the mammas began to shrug their shoulders and find their seats uneasy, and at the third there was not a papa but what turned his back upon me.”

— from the Listener’s “A Second Letter from Rusticus,” La Belle Assemblee, November 1816

Somehow, he’d made a mull of it.

Better received at the party was a singular young lady who’d been implored to Catalanize to the company–that is, to sing in the style of the great opera singer of the time, Madame Catalani. Apparently, opera wasn’t objectionable to the company, just the person who performed it.

Rusticus, still smarting from being rebuffed, acidly noted:

“..the cruel virtuoso deprived us of the pleasure of hearing any more than two or three notes…(it seems) a young person is not to learn to sing to be called upon every occasion; formerly, when they had only one singing master, they were more obliging; now they have ten music-masters, and never sing when they are first asked.”

Presently a waltz played and Rusticus was determined to dance. He chose a lady who demonstrated some skill, but instead of becoming her dance partner, he became her “victim,” managing to bump into every other couple in the room and knock over a group of spectators standing by, which led him to become “totally disconcerted.”

By now it was two in the morning. Taking an embarrassed leave from the birthday party, Rusticus went to a faro-party being given by an older female relative. Unfortunately, he arrived only in time to discover a “German Baron” had made off with all the winnings, which put all the ladies sadly out of countenance. Too late to retreat, Rusticus found himself obliged to escort home one “pretty gambler” who’d lost her last shilling and was consequently without a feather to fly. This task was made miserable for two reasons–the lady was in high ill-humor for having lost all her money and the manner of conveyance was another hackney carriage, just as wretchedly slow as the last one.

“Now what have I gained by my journey to town but fatigue and crosses? Ah! my dear friend, say no more against the comforts of my dear fire-side in the country, where I can enjoy my Homer and my Plutarch without molestation.”

Wasn’t it Homer who said, “it is equally offensive to speed a guest who would like to stay and to detain one who is anxious to leave..”?

London need not weep for Rusticus.

Regency Essay on Ghosts

From a delightful Regency-era discussion in the Edinburgh Observer, or, Town and Country Magazine, Jan. 3, 1818:


In churchyards:

“(they) have no particular business, but seem to appear, pro bono publico, or to scare idle apprentices from playing pranks over their tombs.”

Their appearance:

“dragging chains is not the fashion of English ghosts; chains and black vestments being chiefly the accoutrements of foreign spectres, seen in arbitrary governments.”

The female:

“if a tree stood in her way, she will always go through it. This I do not doubt: because women will go through anything, even if it be fire and water, much less a sturdy oak, to compass their end.”

they call him "Skeletor" -- an unexplained figure captured by closed-circuit camera at Hampton Court Palace

they call him “Skeletor” — an unexplained figure captured by closed-circuit camera at Hampton Court Palace

The effect of Christmas Eve:

“It is an established law, however, that none can appear on Christmas Eve…(and) there being some persons, particularly those born on Christmas Eve, who cannot see spirits.”


“The most approved mode of addressing a ghost is by commanding it in the name of the three Persons of the Trinity to tell you who it is, and what is its business. This may be necessary to repeat three times; after which it will, in a low and hollow voice, declare its satisfaction at being spoken to, and desire the party addressing it not to be afraid, for it will do him no harm.”

Mode of redress:

“In cases of murder, a ghost, instead of going to the next justice of the peace, or to the nearest relation of the deceased, appears to some poor labourer who knows none of the parties, draws the curtains of some decrepid nurse or alms-woman, or hovers about the place where the body is deposited.. the ghost commonly appl(ies) to a third person, ignorant of the whole affair, and a stranger to all concerned.”

Method of approach:

“The coming of a spirit is announced some time before its appearance, by a variety of loud and dreadful noises; sometimes rattling in an old hall, like a coach-an-six, and rumbling up and down the stair-case like the trundling of bowls or cannon balls..when any eminent person is about to enter their regions they make a great noise, like a fire in the night-time.”

Getting rid of them:

“The process is to issue a summons to his worship, the parson of the parish , and another to the butler of the castle, who is required (by duces tecum) to bring him some of the best ale and provisions which he can find in his master’s larder. ..he is met and discomfited with ease by the parson in a Latin formulary:–a language that strikes the most audacious ghost with terror. What would be the effect of Greek, or wild Irish, or the American Choctaw, is not yet known.”

Place of banishment:

“..a but of beer, if an alderman–a pipe of Madeira, if a gentleman–he may be rolled up in parchment, if a lawyer, or confined to the garret, if an author.


an authoritative book on the matter for late twentieth century juveniles

another authoritative source on the subject aimed at an audience of late twentieth century juveniles





Regency Wrecks

Ship surgeon Jean Baptiste Henri Savigny reached Paris on September 11, 1816, having just survived an ordeal that was to become a sensation of the Regency. Within twenty-four hours of his arrival, a tiny paragraph was inserted in the newspapers that the ship he sailed on, the Medusa, had been lost off the coast of West Africa.

Shipwreck was common in those days, but Monsieur Savigny carried with him a singular account of his ordeal. He had been one of the survivors consigned to a cumbersome raft to be pulled by one of the ship’s lifeboats to safety. He submitted his diary to the French government, detailing:

“the hasty and chaotic abandonment of the Medusa and detailing the suffering of the 150 people on the raft. Although soberly and tightly written, the facts of cannibalism and butchery were in themselves sensational. Nor had he concealed the fact that the towrope of the raft has been deliberately cast off by the First Lieutenant of the Medusa, amid cries of “Let’s abandon them!”

Turner's Shipwreck (1805)

Turner’s Shipwreck (1805)

Monsieur Savigny was simply looking to be compensated for his expenses incurred by his voyage home, and for the loss of his property in the shipwreck. The government accepted his account and did nothing. However, a copy of his account was carried away. The damning story of the Wreck was published soon after and it was not long before English translations of it were available to Regency England. It was a sensation, the story of French sailors and captain, charged with the responsibility and safety of their passengers, deliberately abandoning them to a fate of privations so horrible that an entire Nation was shamed before all Europe.

This is not the first time this blog has addressed the singular catastrophe that was known as the Wreck of the Medusa. It was a powerful subject of the Romantic age, a sublime image of depravity and abandonment in an age that prided itself for culture and civilization. I am compelled to return to this subject matter because these occurrences captured the attention of Regency society. There are other Regency wrecks that bear attending to, of other French ships under Britain’s flag, and the heroism of their crews that inspired even the admiration of Jane Austen.

The Real Regency Reader: A World Without Souls

In 1805, John William Cunningham had the great fortune of marrying Sophia Williams, youngest daughter of a wealthy Hertfordshire merchant. She gave him nine children and her papa bought him the living of Harrow-on-the-Hill. As vicar, he could leave many duties to his curate, and concentrate on his Calling–sermonizing.

Sophia's father owned Moor Park. Photographed by Nigel Cox, Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0

Sophia’s father owned Moor Park. Photographed by Nigel Cox, Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0

Unfortunately, there was only so much sermonizing the people in the village could take.

To reach the faithful beyond Harrow-on-the-Hill, John was determined to publish a book of sermons. However, he must have realized his potential readers, like the villagers, might be put off by his message. He decided to put forth his evangelizing effort in the guise of a Novel. His publisher, the venerable Hatchards, evidently approved.

John wrote his novel after the fashion of a work he much admired, The Story of La Roche, which follows the travels of a Christian philosopher and his beautiful daughter, Madamoiselle La Roche. It was a French tale serialized in The Mirror (not the current tabloid, but a late eighteenth century magazine out of Edinburgh). Incidentally, the editor warned the readers of the Mirror in the preface to La Roche that the work had a religious theme.

Inspired, John dashed off A World Without Souls. In it, a young man, Gustavus, leaves his home and the girl he is much attached to and travels abroad (to a place very like Regency England) in the company of a wise mentor. They come to a place resembling Hyde Park where the ladies and gentlemen are in full promenade on Sunday:

“But have they no veneration for the Sabbath?”

“Yes..the females do their enforcing servants and horses upon unnecessary employments, to defraud two beasts of their lawful rest, and shut out two souls from heaven.”



Souls was well-received by some, but excoriated by others. Not because it was religious in nature, but that it sought to fool the reader into thinking it was a novel. And one should never try to fool the Regency reader:

“We cannot say that such flimzy disguises altogether please our taste. They remind us of a coarse and clumsy deception well known to and put into practice by Essex shepherds. When an ewe has lost a lamb by premature death, these men strip the fleece off the carcase, and fasten it on the young of some other ewe, in order to induce the mourner to suckle the substitute.

With the silly animal the imposture succeeds. Not so does it fare with man. We detect, we smile, we contempt, we are disgusted.”

The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle (1813)

John was completely unapologetic. Even in the epilogue of his novel, he disparages the notion his young male character be reunited with his love:

“If I marry Gustavus and Emily, it will be objected to me, that it is incredible a tale of truth like mine should terminate like a novel (!)”

The Real Regency Hoyden

“A wild, boisterous girl. A tomboy.”

Originally the term hoyden referred to a boy–a rude, boorish youth noted in sixteenth century school records. Later the word becomes a symbol of a rude, boorish girl in Vanbrugh’s The Relapse, a parody on an earlier play extolling the reformation of the rake. For more on rakes, please see the previous posts on this blog.

An oldie but a goodie. Joan Smith. Joan Wilder. Great romance--Juanita!

Joan Wilder? THE Joan Wilder? No, but someone even better in the 80s.

In The Relapse, the character Hoyden is a country heiress whose romping ways make her impatient for a life in the city. There she imagines wild indulgence in excitement and intrigue. She manages to marry two men on the same day to achieve this ambition.

“…her language is too lewd to be quoted. Here is a compound of ill manners and contradiction! Is this a good resemblance of quality, the description of a great heiress and the effect of a cautious education? By her coarseness you would think her bred upon a common, and by her confidence, in the nursery of a play-house.” –Jeremy Collier, A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (1698)

Not at all flattering.

The distinction of being a hoyden was scarcely more flattering by the nineteenth century. Indeed, its precise meaning remained more or less the same. It was not her occupation, her sins, nor her flamboyance that was censured—but the fact she cared not a whit what others thought.

Well-known examples of hoydenish behavior during the Regency will be examined in future posts. A new series, if you will, of the real Regency hoyden.

“Good gracious, what fun this has been! Who knew I would return home married?” Lydia laughed.

Her insensitivity upset Jane, Elizabeth and their father.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

Regency Brothers — the Arsonist

The last of these Regency brothers, Jonathan Martin became the best known for the worst of reasons–he was the Incendiary of York Minster.

But before that, he was the scourge of the Regency’s churches:

“No Covenanter, no Cameronian, ever pursued Episcopacy with a bitterer hatred or more impassioned denunciations than he. All the anathemas that Luther directed against the Church of Rome, Jonathan inflicted on the Church of England.” — All the Year Round by Charles Dickens (vols. 15-16, 1866) Jonathan Martin

In 1804, after a period of being apprenticed to a tanner, Jonathan Martin decided to see the metropolis of London. He was a twenty-two year old raw lad from Yorkshire and easy prey. Having confided to a stranger he should like to see more of the world, he was swept up in the clutches of a press-gang and made to serve aboard the Hercules in the Copenhagen campaign under Lord Nelson. After a successful engagement against the French, Martin’s ship set off for Lisbon. During this voyage, Martin related a number of fanciful dreams and excursions he had taken, even seeing the buildings Joseph used to store grain against Egypt’s future famine. This vision was evidence of his future calling–to warn and prophecy against coming doom.

Martin’s shipmates remember him always preaching and exhorting them. He didn’t pray much, apparently, preferring to argue with others on religious subjects instead. He always enjoyed talking about the stars observed on board ship, but would quake at the thought of anyone pointing at a celestial body. It is said in Yorkshire that to point to a star would mean certain death, as it is a grave sin.

His shipmates had mixed emotions about him. Some thought his behavior was very odd, dangerous even. Once he fell from the top mast of the ship, catching the hair of a shipmate on the way down and tearing off part of the poor devil’s scalp. Another time he complained his book had been shot from his hand during battle. He took it as a warning from heaven. His shipmates took it to mean “he ought to have been otherwise employed rather than in reading at such a time; a reply to which he abused the person who rebuked him.”

He was also remembered for being absolutely fearless, once dousing a fire set off by a gunner’s yeoman below decks when everyone else was making for the lifeboats. He would calmly sing psalms in the mortar boat, an auxiliary vessel for firing additional munitions, oblivious to the hazards attendant to navigating the open sea in a leaky container filled with a large amount of explosives. The sharks that followed the ship (for many had died and their bodies were discharged overboard) were of little concern to him. He would oblige the crew and catch one or two for eating, hooking them with burnt bricks disguised in the funereal shrouds the fish had learned to recognize as a covering for their next meal.

It was a deception which he eventually abandoned, convinced that God could not be happy with such guile that fooled his creatures.

Martin left the navy and returned to Yorkshire, taking up farming and marriage. After attending a Methodist service, he became entranced with the notion that his hitherto random existence was for a specific purpose and completely justified by his faith in God alone. To his wife’s dismay, he broke off farming for preaching and was soon berating what he considered Regency England’s greatest evil–the Established Church and in particular the laxity of its clergy which always “pursued parties, balls and plays.”

When no one was in a church, he would break in and hide himself in the pulpit until the service began, at which time he would leap up and begin to preach, with “violent gesticulations.”

Then reports came that the Bishop of Oxford was to come to Yorkshire and hold a confirmation for the Bishop of Durham.

York Cathedral (photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

York Cathedral (photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

“I was glad to hear so good a report of him, and concluded that if he really were so good a man and so eminent a Christian, he would not fear death, and (I) resolved to try his faith by pretending to shoot him(!)” — from Jonathan Martin’s memoir which appears in The Incendiary of York Minster

Already convinced those dreadful Methodists had unhinged her husband, Mrs. Martin had threatened to leave him if he did not leave them. All seemed well when they threw Martin out, until Mrs. Martin observed her husband had obtained an old pistol from his soldier brother in Newcastle. She asked him what he was going to do with it and he, in his usual forthright fashion, told her his intentions. Quietly she removed the pistol when he wasn’t looking.

Martin was taken in for questioning when word got around about his intentions. Eventually this led to his commitment to an insane asylum and onto greater notoriety.

His wife died in the meantime, leaving a son who later committed suicide over his father’s misfortunes.

There are those who caution against thwarting God’s will. Don’t forget about the will of one’s wife.


Regency Brothers – Tinker, Painter, Soldier and–Arsonist

We love the Regency era novels of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion for the same reasons we like the Edwardian era dramas of Gosford Park and Downton Abbey. These are stories that take place in stratified societies with rules the plot must heed like lodestones. If they stray too far they will offend the reader.

It sounds like a recipe for boredom and might well be–but for the persons that threaten to upset one’s beautiful world. Characters like George Wickham, Mrs. Clay, Mr. Parks and Tom Branson.

This post is an introduction to four brothers of the Regency, whose contributions, some dubious, enriched and horrified the Beau Monde.

Syon Park's conservatory to hold beautiful plants for the Duke of Northumberland (taken by Phill Brown - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

Syon Park’s conservatory to hold beautiful plants for the Duke of Northumberland (taken by Phill Brown – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

The Martin boys were among twelve children born to William Fenwick Martin and his wife Isabella in Northumberland. The family was decidedly lower class, the father being somewhat peripatetic in both lodging and trade. He had at one time been a fencing master but also built coaches, tanned hides and kept taverns.

Such an unstable environment was perhaps unsuitable for raising children and they were sent to live at various times with relatives before both parents died in 1813.

The sons were as follows:

The Tinker:  William– the oldest. An inventor and philosopher who “tinkered” with machines and ideas.

The Painter:  John — the youngest. An artist and historical painter to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg.

The Soldier:  Richard — the second oldest. A quartermaster in the Guards, serving in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo.

The Arsonist:  Jonathan – the third oldest. Arguably the most famous of all.

They entertained the ton, existing in the beautiful world that was all around them, but forever out of reach.

Perhaps their stories will entertain you as well.

Northumberland cottage (photographed by Brian Norman and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

Northumberland cottage (photographed by Brian Norman and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

Holland House – A Rival to Lansdowne House (part one)

Its turrets and gables lacked the elegance of London’s newer, Palladian town homes.  Its “relics and curios” were dusty books and historic English papers.  Its location was staid Kensington, not fashionable Mayfair.  Its mistress was not even received at court.  But this Regency seat of influence was nontheless a formidable rival to glittering Lansdowne House:

Holland House

Yet great things were done at Holland House–reforms planned and accomplished, literary lions fed with appreciation and encouragement.  All the great names of that period may be found on the lists of the Holland House entertainments.

—  Charles Dickens, “Holland House,” All the Year Round, A Weekly Journal, Vol. 66, 1890

With the Regency barely on the horizon, the house was known as Cope Castle and practically a ruin when it came into the possession of Lord Henry Richard Fox, third Baron Holland.  He was a mere baby and presumably not ready to take on any renovations even though the house had an illustrious history.  Its best days, it seemed, were behind it.

Those days began when Queen Elizabeth I granted a part of Kensington Manor to one Walter Cope–that part that once belonged to the Abbot of Abingdon–and built a multi-turreted Jacobean mansion that others mockingly called Cope’s Castle.  The Renaissance had penetrated English architecture by the time of its construction in 1607 but classical features like columns, arcades, parapets and the like were applied in a more freeform style rather than with any strict order that characterized the later Palladian movement.  Cope Castle, unlike Lansdowne House, was more like a free spirit.

the haunted Gilt Room

Cope’s daughter inherited the house and it became greatly enlarged upon her union with the Rich family, also grown wealthy on confiscated church property when its patriarch had prosecuted Sir Thomas More on Henry VIII’s behalf.  Her husband was Henry Rich, Earl of Holland, from whom the house takes its present name.   He negotiated the marriage of Henrietta Maria to Charles I and built the house’s famous gilt-room in expectation of entertaining the new Queen there.  This did not come to pass, nor was the Earl to survive the coming storm.  His ghost was said to be seen in that very room, richly dressed as he had been on the scaffold, holding his head in his hands.

After the Restoration of Charles II, the house was sold to Henry Fox, whose sire had the distinction of fathering this first of three sons at the age of seventy-three.  Fox eloped with one of the famous Lennox sisters and it was his grandson, also named Henry, third Baron Holland, who made Holland House a rival in Regency gatherings, as we shall soon see.  Today, Holland House is a ruin, destroyed by a fire-bomb in World War II.

Holland House library – World War II

An Attorney in Lansdowne House

He was Lord Brougham and Vaux.  Before he gave his name to a special sort of carriage and legions of General Motors vehicles, he came down to London from Scotland to be a member of the House of Commons as a Whig.  This gained him entry to Lansdowne House.  His renown came from his heroic defense of Queen Caroline of Brunswick, the erstwhile wife of the Regent.

“He was a man of marked abilities, distinguished as a statesman, as an orator, a historian, a lecturer, an essayist, a political economist.  As a lawyer, he rose to the top of his profession; as a statesman, he rose to the office of Lord High Chancellor, as an orator, his reputation was among the first of his time, as an essayist, he was one of the brilliant band of writers who made the Edinburgh Review the leading literary authority in the world.”

They left out the part of his dalliance with the Regency’s most celebrated courtesan, Harriette Wilson.  Her clients included the Prince of Wales, four Prime Ministers, as well as the Lord High Chancellor.


A Reverend in Lansdowne House

Sydney Smith was another visitor to Lansdowne House.  He was a minister, with a lively sense of fun that had everyone rolling in London, as well as in the church aisles.

His quotes from are amusing, and speak for themselves:  

A comfortable house is a great source of happiness. It ranks immediately after health and a good conscience.
A great deal of talent is lost to the world for want of a little courage. Every day sends to their graves obscure men whose timidity prevented them from making a first effort.
Among the smaller duties of life I hardly know any one more important than that of not praising where praise is not due.
As the French say, there are three sexes – men, women, and clergymen.
Bishop Berkeley destroyed this world in one volume octavo; and nothing remained, after his time, but mind; which experienced a similar fate from the hand of Mr. Hume in 1737.
Correspondences are like small clothes before the invention of suspenders; it is impossible to keep them up.
Do not try to push your way through to the front ranks of your profession; do not run after distinctions and rewards; but do your utmost to find an entry into the world of beauty.
Errors, to be dangerous, must have a great deal of truth mingled with them. It is only from this alliance that they can ever obtain an extensive circulation.
Find fault when you must find fault in private, and if possible sometime after the offense, rather than at the time.
Great men hallow a whole people, and lift up all who live in their time.
Have the courage to be ignorant of a great number of things, in order to avoid the calamity of being ignorant of everything.
Heaven never helps the men who will not act.
I have, alas, only one illusion left, and that is the Archbishop of Canterbury.
I look upon Switzerland as an inferior sort of Scotland.
I never read a book before previewing it; it prejudices a man so.
In composing, as a general rule, run your pen through every other word you have written; you have no idea what vigor it will give your style.
It is safest to be moderately base – to be flexible in shame, and to be always ready for what is generous, good, and just, when anything is to be gained by virtue.
It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little – do what you can.
It resembles a pair of shears, so joined that they cannot be separated, often moving in opposite directions, yet always punishing anyone who comes between them.