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.

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Regency Confessor: A Suitor Responds

It was not long after our widow poured her desire into the Listener’s ear that she received a response.

“To the young widow who seems desirous of marrying again..this challenge of yours operates like an electric shock, and revives my hope of still being married.”

— “To the Young Widow Who Seems Desirous of Marrying Again,” The Listener, La Belle Assemblee, May, 1818

Signed Frederic Freeman (italics mine), the respondent, rather cleverly, admits that he has had ill luck at love. The woman he intended to marry was, alas, naught but a coquette who cast him and his extended courtship of her hand aside with nothing more than “an unfeeling nod.”

"Round dress of the new Parisian tissue silk, of a beautiful blush colour, trimmed round the border with Persian of the same hue...Bonnet of white Gras de Naples...triple ruff of fine lace, black kid slippers, tan-coloured kid gloves, and parasol of pearl gray."

“Round dress of the new Parisian tissue silk, of a beautiful blush colour, trimmed round the border with Persian of the same hue…Bonnet of white Gras de Naples…triple ruff of fine lace, black kid slippers, tan-coloured kid gloves, and parasol of pearl gray.”

He makes some noise of appreciation over the widow’s declarations of “plain dealing.” Her warning about conduct and character does not dismay him and agrees that such practical considerations can be dealt with later.

With that said, he busies himself with a more important task at hand–the kindling of romance.

“If I should be the man of your choice you never would have red eyes with crying for the coldness and unkindness of your husband (as too many of our modern ladies have); neither would you look “like a witch” through sorrow, or decrease your “native plumpness” through vexation.”

What shall I wear to please you? he asks, since the widow is ready to cast the color of black aside. Any color in the rainbow, he swears, if only to show her how accommodating a spouse he would make. As for those drawing room gentlemen she complains of–he is not of their ilk, that class of males called rakes. Indeed, he staunchly declares, such a suitor would make Euphrasia the worst of a second husband.

He speaks with peculiar authority on the matter, I daresay.

In any case, it is amusing to speculate on the result of such determined courtship on the part of a gentleman who exquisitely relates his past experience at love as a whipping by “Lucretia’s” lash. But that is all in the past, for he is filled with confidence that he is the man she will choose, and calls upon the Greek god of marriage as witness:

“If you, Madam, will take me for better and for worse, I also will be preparing my wedding garments. Then Hymen will announce to all his neighboring deities that Euphrasia and Frederic shall be an example of connubial felicity.”

 

 

Regency Confessor: Widow Seeking Husband

From the Magazine's September 1818 issue: "Parisian walking dress is a round dress of printed muslin, of a cerulean blue spotted with black, with bordered flounces of the same material to correspond, between each flounce a layer placed of black brocaded satin ribbon--bonnet of black brocaded satin ribband..parasol of barbel blue..slippers of pale blue kid and washing leather gloves."

From the Magazine’s September 1818 issue: “Parisian walking dress is a round dress of printed muslin, of a cerulean blue spotted with black, with bordered flounces of the same material to correspond, between each flounce a layer placed of black brocaded satin ribbon–bonnet of black brocaded satin ribband..parasol of barbel blue..slippers of pale blue kid and washing leather gloves.”

I am going to pass a week at Richmond, while my house in Manchester-square is getting ready; but do not imagine I am going alone.

— The Listener, “Letter from a Young Widow,” La Belle Assemblee, May, 1818

So writes a young widow who publicly states her desire for a companion–not another widow, or even a female.

But a man.

After two years of grieving the death of her husband, she had been left thin and red-eyed as a witch. She’s quite recovered her looks, she hastens to add, even so much as to be proud that her “native” plumpness has returned (!)

Now she will open her London town house and, as she plainly says in her letter to the Listener, she seeks a husband.

“I do not want a philosopher; but a man of mild and agreeable manners, and an easy temper: I would wish him always to be well-dressed; and, above all things, to have his heart in the right place.”

Upon this last quality she dwells a good deal, so that one wonders how unhappy her previous marriage had been. Indeed, there is mention of faithfulness, that women would never stray from their marital vows if their husbands did not cause them to do so. As if afraid she may have revealed too much, she states firmly her clear conscience regarding  the matter of her previous marital relationship.

Indeed, the purpose of her letter, she reminds the reader, is one of exigency. The drawing room should be the proper place to seek a second husband, but alas, that place:

“..is frequently deserted for the pleasures of Bacchus; and over the bottle, politics, fortune, and the way to rise in the world, are the favorite topics of men’s discourse, as they have long been the deities of their worship.”

Having failed through normal channels, she offers her hand to the Listener’s well-numbered audience, but in the words of a challenge. If any man should pick up the glove she has thrown down, he must be in earnest, for she will not enter marriage a second time without an abundance of caution:

“I shall take care to acquaint myself with every particular of their conduct and character.”

Signed, Euphrasia, for that well-known herbal remedy to clear the eyes.

 

 

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.

 

Regency Confessor – Chance over Reason

From the archives of La Belle Assemblee, we find a section  entitled “The Listener,” a sort of  “Dear Abby” column for Regency readers. The next few posts will be taken from this informed source, appropriately named Timothy Hearwell, Esq.,  on salient points of good character during the reign of the Prince Regent.

From “Chance over Reason,” March, 1816 edition:

“There are, as Solomon says, those who strive and strive and yet are more behind.”

In this column, the writer pours a tale of caution into “the Listener’s” ear. He had got up a business, purely by chance, and made a considerable fortune.

The Saxe-Coburg robe for evening dress as featured in the magazine

The Saxe-Coburg pink robe for evening dress, featured in the magazine, worn over a white satin slip flounced with crape, finished by blond. Bridal veil, fastened with a brooch of pearl and pink topazes, with the hair simply dressed in light curls and parted on the forehead. A muff formed of white satin and gossamer silk trimming. Necklace and armlets of pearls and pink topazes. White satin slippers and white kid gloves.

.

Ashamed of owing everything to good luck, and nothing to my own genius, wishing, as much as in me lay, to justify the favors of Heaven, I began to work (with purpose)….”

To his chagrin, his earnest labors were met with either criticism or downright annoyance, as his efforts seemed only to be getting in the way of the business, until even his friends avoided him. The business turning to failure, the penitent wrote a play about his troubles, a comedy, and later romantic novels that were written hurriedly, (and badly):

I took no pains to conceal the machinery by which I set my puppets in motion. I took care to banish from my works every serious and moral reflection, and only thought of crowding events one upon the other.

Having made another fortune in this accidental endeavor, the writer resolved to marry. His protestations of love with one young lady were met with little comment, she answering his suit by merely raising her “beautiful” eyes upward, as if overcome with like sentiment. This went on for some time, until one evening, as he was leaving her house, he spied a dark figure dropping to the street from the balcony of her window. He raised the alarm, thinking thieves were at work, but soon discovered his beloved in the act of elopement. Therefore, he cautions,

we must not always trust to simplicity of demeanor, or fine eyes cast modestly toward heaven.

Cursing his belabored attempt at matrimony, the writer resolved to flirt injudiciously with every pretty woman he met, having no regard for the feelings of expectation he might arouse in the feminine breast while himself remaining insensible to any like feeling the recipient of his “dishonorable” addresses might arouse in him. He happened upon a widow with five daughters, who made their living by executing painting on velvet (!). They, too, were victims of his false blandishments, except for one. This daughter remained “sprightly” in spite of his flirting, her fine mind ultimately catching his regard and his love, so that:

I had united my fate with the best of women, and ever since I have a thousand times blest that destiny which has always been a safer guide to me, than my own prudence.”

A destiny that was further rewarded by immense wealth bestowed on the widow and daughters by an uncle’s will, securing the happy couple’s financial future and rewarding, quite by accident, the writer’s trust in chance.