Regency Obituaries

By 1814, the Romantic “cult of feeling” was finding its way into all sorts of media, including the obituary section of Regency-era periodical. Evocation of far-away places, heroic sacrifice, violence and a desire to return to the natural state of things were being expressed:

 

Sarah Anderson, a free black woman, a native of Guinea, of the Congo country, died the 20th of September last, at Providence Grove, St. John’s, Jamaica, at the extraordinary age of 146 years! She arrived on that island in 1687, during the Government of the Duke of Albemarle, whom she remembered well, and whose person she described quite accurately.

 

Major Maxwell McKenzie, Lieutenant-Colonel of the 71st Regiment..this gallant officer received his mortal wound in an engagement with the enemy near Bayonne, while nobly cheering and leading on his men to charge the enemy, and thus terminated an honorable life in a glorious death..

 

At Gibraltar, in consequence of a severe and violent attack of the dreadful disease raging at that place, John Smith, Esq., son of the late J. Smith, merchant from Inverness

 

In Presburg, Hungary, Eve Zuacher, at the advanced age of 123 years. Her hair was abundant and remained black; her teeth were very white and she retained all her senses to the last. Her sight was so piercing, that she could, at a distance of 1000 paces, distinguish the different kinds of cattle in the meadows. When questioned once as to her mode of living, she answered, ‘I eat and drink, not because the victuals are placed before me, but because I am hungry and dry; I go to rest with the cock and rise with him.’ A few days before her death she taught catechism to an infant of four years and walked eight miles (!)

 

— taken from The Scots Magazine and Edinburgh Literary Miscellany, Volume 76, dated 1814

 

This engraving comes from one of many so-called “Memoirs” published in the immediate aftermath of Her Highness’ death. Note the prostrate gentleman at the foot of the memorial, complete with discarded shield and heroic bust. I wonder if he is meant to be Prince Leopold, her husband, or the Author, humble esquire.

 

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Regency Painters – Part Three

Painting during the Regency could never permanently leave behind Classicism and its successor, neo-Classicism, until a bridge could be formed to woo the remaining adherents of the old style (read old money) to Romanticism, the new style.

That bridge was provided by the young French painter Theodore Gericault (1791 – 1824).  The legacy left behind by his tragically short career is marked by classical subjects rendered in urgent emotion.  He took the human and animal forms of the old French masters and placed them against burgeoning tapestries that Turner was later known for.  Gericault pitted the orderly and the structured against the unrestrained violence of nature.

Gericault’s work reduced the gulf between the raised swords of David and the suffering of Delacroix.

He certainly looks like a classical romantic, doesn’t he?

A year after the events in Notorious Match, Emma Montgomery came to a momentous decision to travel abroad.  She had never been beyond England’s borders, having grown up the penniless daughter of a sheep herder only to become widowed at age sixteen with an infant daughter she named Vivien, the heroine of Notorious Vow.  Thanks to a timely investment from an unknown benefactor, Emma’s brother reaped a fortune in the wool trade.  This gave her the means to travel abroad, but not the desire to do so.  At least, not yet.  That only came about when her nephew Griffin, the hero of Notorious Match, arrived homeless from France.  She took him in and listening to his vivid descriptions of the France of his youth, she slowly conceived a longing to see it for herself.

It was 1816 and the Bourbon dynasty had been restored in France with Napoleon’s defeat.  It seemed the perfect time to go to Paris and Emma announced her imminent departure for that city, and places beyond, insisting on going alone.  Neither Vivien nor Griffin liked this sudden impulse she had conceived.  But they were helpless to dissuade her.

Emma was quite Determined.

While she was travelling, Emma wrote frequently to her daughter in crisscrossed lines that was her usual fashion to save on postage.  In June, several months after her departure, the letters stopped, the last one not only difficult to read but puzzling as well.  Who was this Medusa?

Then news of a maritime disaster riveted people on both sides of the Channel.  The Meduse was a French frigate that had seen action in the Napoleonic wars.  Much of her artillery had been removed when she was made to ferry officials to the French colony of Senegal in a convoy of ships whose names read like a cast of characters in the Iliad.  Faster than her companions, the Argos and the Echo, Meduse outsailed the other ships and ran aground 50 kilometers off the coast on a sandbank under the cowhanded command of a political appointee.

Her launches were put in the water with as many survivors as they could hold and given the task of towing the remaining passengers–146 men and one woman–on a hastily constructed (and entirely unnavigable) raft.  A gale arose and fearing mutiny, the launches cut the hapless raft adrift.  The raft became a gruesome scene of suicide, cannibalism and despair.

It was a tale of incompetence, cowardice and negligence.  A national disgrace for France.

For Gericault, the Wreck of the Medusa unmasked human frailty that had been heretofore disguised in military glory and order, leaving it bare and naked before the unbridled and destructive forces of nature.

Imagine the horror Vivien and Griffin must have felt, believing Emma had become a victim of shipwreck.

Their only hope of finding her alive rested upon a man whose own disgrace was as monumental as that of France’s.

It is the story of a Notorious Affair.

Regency painters – Part One

Oath of the Horatii - Jaques-Louis David, 1784

At the time of my story Notorious Match, painting, along with the other fine arts, was transitioning toward Romanticism.  Think Turner and Constable.  In the next few posts, the blog will concentrate on painters of the Regency period and how their visual interpretation of subjects greatly affected their audience in England.

Neo-Classicism was in full force by the time of the Regency in England.  Paintings were eschewing the rococo manner so beloved by the ancienne regime to become more commonly executed in a formal, restrained manner, using classical subjects ranging from mythological figures to Corinthian columns.

Like previous styles of painting, and future ones to come, neo-Classicism was eventually taken over by the political movement of the times.  At the height of his power, Napoleon discovered an affinity for the symmetric, incisive nature of the classical heroic movement and used it to demonstrate his own personal power and that of the Republic.

He chose for his portrait painter Jacques-Louis David, a major contributor to the stylistic painting of this period both in France and England.  David had rejected the earlier passion for indolent aristocrats riding beribboned swings, pursuing love and other nonsense among flowers.  He hated rococo, you see. So much better to paint great gods of Olympus and sturdy mortals of Rome imposing order by sword and mighty oaths.

By Jove, it makes one want to get to one’s bootmaker and demand a pair of dashed sandals.

David was an ardent supporter of the French Revolution and had been favored by Citizen Robespierre, before the fellow got himself guillotined.

Napoleon at the St. Bernard Pass - 1801

It was David who executed the famous, but dreary pencil sketch of a grim Marie Antoinette awaiting Madame La Guillotine.  He voted as a member of the General Assembly to have Louis XVI executed.  It was alleged he participated in the death of the young dauphin after the boy was forced to testify against his mother on several crimes, including incest, to secure her execution.

It was not as easy to execute women in those days, you see.

One of David’s great friends was the revolutionary Paul Murat, an architect of the Terror.  The artist was so distraught when Murat was found murdered in his bath, he painted one of art’s great masterpieces, immortalizing him and the revolutionary for all time.

“(It was) a moving testimony to what can be achieved when an artist’s political convictions are directly manifested in his work.”  Boime, Albert (1987), Social History of Modern Art: Art in the Age of Revolution, 1750-1800 volume 1, Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, ISBN

Napoleon commissioned David to create the giant Coronation mural as well as the famous Marengo painting (above).  The painter died an exile from France after Napoleon’s defeat, run over by a carriage.

From Notorious Match:

Diana asked Griffin about his family.

“My father left Wales for France after some scandal,” he told her.  “A scandal I’m sure your grandmother, Lady Nellie, can better explain than I.  In any case, I never knew him.  He married my mother, the daughter of a minor noble, but left her for Paris after I was born.”

“Who raised you?” Diana probed.

“Mostly my grandfather.   My mother was killed when I was ten.  During the Revolution.”

Diana’s eyes widened.  “Oh, Griffin.  Was she—”

“No, she was not a victim of Madame la Guillotine,” he explained, matter-of-factly.   “Instead, my mother was hung.  For conspiring to murder the revolutionary Jean-Paul Murat.”

“Good God.  Wasn’t it Charlotte Corday who stabbed him in his bath?  The one they call the Angel of Assassination?”

Griffin nodded.  “My mother and Charlotte were schoolmates in Caen.  When Charlotte was arrested for killing Murat, my mother went to Paris to beg for her freedom.  She was warned to stay away on penalty of death.  But she could not.  It seemed incomprehensible to her, you see, that her beloved friend should be executed for killing one man to save one hundred thousand.”

The Death of Murat, 1793