Regency Confessor: Rusticus Returns (Part One)

Rusticus, that erstwhile town buck now turned country gentleman, obliged the Listener (and his readers) and returned to London, for the purpose of recording what it is like to re-enter Society. This he did, detailing a progression of experiences during one night on the town which tended to arouse discomfort in others and disgust in himself.

Self-conscious of the figure he would cut, Rusticus began his preparations at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. It was a good thing, too, that he began these early, as he encountered considerable difficulties making his person presentable.

Summer recess ball dress: frock of white crape, Venetian gauze, richly embellished at the border with small double Indian roses of a beautiful pink colour, and mingled with leaves of crape and pearls...the headdress consists of a double wreath of Indian roses...white satin shoes and white kid gloves.

Summer recess ball dress: frock of white crape, Venetian gauze, richly embellished at the border with small double Indian roses of a beautiful pink colour, and mingled with leaves of crape and pearls…the headdress consists of a double wreath of Indian roses…white satin shoes and white kid gloves.

For instance, his hairdresser took entirely too long to “turn” the curls on the top of his head,  by reason that his hair had become “as straight as a candle and stubborn as the bristles on a hog’s back.”

Meanwhile, articles of the latest in London fashion had arrived. From the great English bootmaker Hoby–six pairs of dress shoes, none of which fitted very well. Indeed, “the pair I kept were so short and tight round the heel that they took my skin off.” His tailor fared no better, and our returning hero was obliged to wear an overly large pair of cream Kerseymere short clothes, “for the fear of the consequences of having (the black satin ones) too tight.” It was not until 5 o’clock that his brand-new shirts, “frilled in the finest French cambric,” returned from the laundress, imperfectly pleated and still damp to the touch.

In retrospect, it would have been a good thing had he ordered the carriage early as well. The hackney coach Rusticus hired to take him to the first of three parties to which he’d been invited had only to cross the square and navigate two short streets. Still, it took the coachman such a long time to get there that it seemed he must have expected to be paid by the hour. The consequences of this dilatory progress made Rusticus late to dinner, a circumstance that was thoroughly embarrassing:

“..the servants looked very angry at seeing me arrive so late; I was desirous of taking my seat without deranging anyone, but I deranged every body.” — La Belle Assemblee, July 1816

Between his teeth, the butler said something naughty as he admitted Mr. Rusticus to the dining room and the diner at the foot of the table made plain his displeasure at the door opening against his chair. Moreover, a “handsome Viscount” was furious that his witty observation to a lady had been interrupted:

“..he was on the right of the lady and I was placed on her left, and she very obligingly half turned her back on me all dinner time.”

Rescue came in the form of that consummate artist of Good Taste and Sense–the Regency hostess:

“..she is one of the best women in the world, and she continually addressed to me that kind and polite conversation which could not fail to console me in the midst of tortures.”

Torture indeed, for the night was only just beginning!

 

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Regency Confessor – London Buck turned Country Gentleman

From La Belle Assemblee, June, 1816 edition–another offering from The Listener:

“Letter from a Gentleman, Formerly a Modern Buck:”

I was for some time an inhabitant of London, and fluttered around all the goddesses of fashion and beauty; but now I am become a complete country gentleman, and no one can distinguish by my present appearance that I have been a dashing buck of the town.

The writer signs himself merely “Rusticus” (!) and extols the virtues he has discovered since retiring from town life. He describes these new virtues as follows:

Opera dress, as exhibited in the magazine, consisting of a slip of pink satin, ornamented down the front and border in black velvet bias, under a robe of black satin richly flowered in black velvet down the sides, full sleeves of black satin ornamented with pink, over a chemisette sleeve of white sarsnet. Hat of fancy spotted straw, lined with pink satin, with a superb wreath of full-blown roses. Shoes of white satin , with white kid gloves.

Opera dress, as exhibited in the magazine, consisting of a slip of pink satin, ornamented down the front and border in black velvet bias, under a robe of black satin richly flowered in black velvet down the sides, full sleeves of black satin ornamented with pink, over a chemisette sleeve of white sarsnet. Hat of fancy spotted straw, lined with pink satin, with a superb wreath of full-blown roses. Shoes of white satin , with white kid gloves.

In town, he would dine out, but hardly ate a thing. Instead, he would swear at the waiters, poke holes in the damask breakfast cloths or throw wine he found disagreeable out of the window. In the country:

I can attack a venison pasty with that keenness of hunger given by the sports of the chace, and even when I see my servant cut the bread with hands not over-clean, I fall to, without taking time to reprove him.

His clothes used to require hours planning with his tailors to prepare for the upcoming season, making certain his coats were tight at the bottom of his waist and his pantaloons preserved the exact shape of his knees.

Now I am very easily pleased; my wife’s dressmaker makes all my waistcoats and pantaloons, and this young woman, who is very clever, comes every six months and stays with us a fortnight, during which time she makes our clothes for the next six.

As much as London offered many amusements, they were all fatiguing. Plays full of cold chambermaids, grimacing footmen and the inflated language of lovers left him searching for something better, until he finally found it in the country:

Now I find the most beautiful spectacle in the rising sun, the beauteous hills and vallies, the verdant carpet and the glassy current.

On conveyances:

I had a telegraph in town as light as a fly, the best calculated in the world to throw anyone out…Now I have a good solid Yarmouth cart, which is never overturned, let the roads be ever so bad.

He used to have as many as ten “favourite” ladies, which equally swore fidelity to him even as he falsely promised them the same. Constant declarations such as these were tedious as much as they were hypocritical. But now that he is married:

My wife is the only woman I really love; I have no occasion where I must continually repeat my vows to her, she sees what my daily conduct is toward her, she knows the inmost thoughts of my heart; I divine hers, and our life is a series of mutual confidence, happiness and concord.

A veritable paragon of a man, I daresay.