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Archive for the ‘Regency’ Category

By Brenda S. Cox

Last week we looked at the lady “Rock Stars of the Regency” identified by Dr. Jocelyn Harris at this year’s JASNA AGM.* The other two Regency celebrities, who Jane Austen certainly knew about, but almost certainly never met, were the Prince Regent and Lord Byron. Both were flamboyant, charismatic, and extravagant. Jane Austen certainly did not like the prince, and I doubt she thought very highly of Byron. Let’s take a look at these two gentleman.Then I’ll add another famous gentleman, one I think she might have admired.

The Prince Regent (1762-1830)

As you probably know, King George III’s eldest son became Regent of England during the king’s madness from 1811-1820. When his father died, the Prince Regent became King George IV, until his own death in 1830.

The Prince Regent, later King George IV, by Henry Bone, 1816, public domain, wikimedia

Sometimes called “Prinny,” the Prince of Wales (heir to the throne) was an elegant man with a wide education, excellent artistic taste, and great charm. As a boy, his father insisted that he be taught simplicity and hard work. The prince was whipped severely for any laziness or lying. However, he disappointed his father’s hopes. The prince was known for his faults more than for his strengths.

By the time he was seventeen, he was already involved with several women. A series of many mistresses followed. Although he could not legally marry without his father’s consent, he went through a form of marriage with a Catholic widow, Mrs. Maria Fitzerbert, in 1785. This quasi-marriage to a Catholic caused him difficulty with Parliament, who were often being asked to pay his bills. (Catholics faced many restrictions at this time, and if the prince were actually married to a Catholic he could not legally become king.)

Prinny constantly ran up amazing debts. He lavishly furnished his mansion, Carlton House, running up almost £270,000 in debt! Parliament helped him defray that debt, partially. He immediately began another project, the even more opulent and fantastically expensive Marine Pavilion at Brighton.

In 1789, the king appeared to be going mad, probably because of the disease porphyria. The prince’s supporters tried to get the prince declared regent. His enemies attacked him as being Catholic, or married to a Catholic, and as a gambler who spent his time with unsavory people. Newspapers condemned the prince as “a hard-drinking, swearing, whoring man” who “at all times would prefer a girl and a bottle to politics and a sermon” (quoted in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). The king recovered, and the prince did not become regent yet.

To get his debts settled, the prince agreed to marry his cousin Caroline, daughter of the Duke of Brunswick. Caroline and the prince had one daughter, Charlotte. (Charlotte eventually died giving birth to a stillborn child, so she never inherited the throne.)

The prince’s marriage to Caroline was miserable from the start. The prince soon went back to his mistresses, and Caroline was later also accused of sleeping around, though it was not proven.

The king lapsed back into madness in 1811, and the prince was sworn in as regent. His political policies were unpopular. Oddly, considering that his formerly-beloved Mrs. Fitzherbert was Catholic, he was strongly against giving any civil rights to Catholics.

In 1820 his father died and he became King George IV. He did not want his wife Caroline to be queen, so he put her on trial for adultery. She was not convicted, but she died a few weeks after his coronation.

George IV’s years of indulgence, gluttony, and drinking took their toll, and he became more and more ill. He died in 1830.

Jane Austen’s Perspective

The Prince Regent was a fan of Jane Austen’s. He requested, via his librarian, that she dedicate Emma to him, and she reluctantly did. He apparently read her books often, and kept a set of them in each of his residences. She did not return his admiration.

Jane Austen reluctantly dedicated Emma to the Prince Regent, at his request.

In 1813, when the Regent was in the midst of a controversy with his wife, Austen wrote about her in a private letter: “Poor Woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband” (Feb. 16, 1813).

Why did Jane Austen “hate” the Prince Regent? I imagine there were multiple reasons:

  • He treated his wife very badly, avoiding her, flaunting his unfaithfulness to her, slandering her, and finally putting her on public trial. Earlier he had also been unfaithful to his first “wife,” Mrs. Fitzherbert, and even allowed others to slander her in Parliament.
  • He was extravagant, wasting the country’s money. He was a Sir Walter Elliot on steroids, not willing to give up any pleasure, inordinately proud of his position, and always spending far beyond his income.
  • He was known for drinking, gambling, laziness, and of course sexual immorality. He also apparently had little regard for church or religion. Austen did not appreciate such shortcomings.

For more on the Prince Regent: Colleen Sheehan speculates delightfully about all the places in Emma where Jane Austen may have been making fun of the Prince Regent in “Jane Austen’s ‘Tribute’ to the Prince Regent: A Gentleman Ridiculed with Difficulty.” Mr. Knightley, as a true gentleman, contrasts with the Regent. Be sure to follow the link at the end of Sheehan’s article, which takes you to a second article with an entertaining alternate solution to the “courtship” riddle!

Lord Byron (1788-1824)

“Mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” That’s how one of Byron’s lovers, Caroline Lamb, described him. George Gordon Noel, Lord Byron, was as famous and infamous as the Prince Regent.

Lord Byron, replica by Thomas Phillips, circa 1835, based on a work of 1813. © National Portrait Gallery, London Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Byron’s narrative poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, based on his travels in southern Europe and the Ottoman Empire, took London by storm in 1812. The upper classes adored him. He was quite cynical about society and its institutions, however. He called his country’s leaders “The Mad—the Bad—the Useless—or the Base” (from an epigram written in 1814).

Byron soon became known as much for his love affairs as for his poetry. An affair with married Caroline Lamb, whom he called a “little volcano,” ended when he got bored with her. She, however, blatantly pursued him everywhere. (Her husband, by the way, later became Lord Melbourne, the prime minister who so much influenced young Queen Victoria.) She even published a popular novel, Glenarvon, based on her marriage and her affair with Byron.

In the following years, Byron continued to write romances about Byronic heroes: broody men with dark secrets, in exotic settings. He also continued to have torrid affairs with married women. He became close friends with his married half-sister Augusta, who he considered the only woman who understood him. It’s possible, but not proven, that he was the father of her daughter Medora, born in 1814.

Perhaps the desire to squash rumors about his relationship with his half-sister contributed to Byron’s decision to get married in January, 1815. He married Annabella Milbanke (niece of Lady Melbourne, Caroline Lamb’s mother-in-law). Apparently they were fond of each other, and Byron “esteemed” her. However, the marriage was a disaster and they separated in January, 1816. She believed he was insane.

They had a daughter, Augusta Ada Byron. (That daughter became Ada Lovelace, one of the developers of the first computer.) One of Byron’s later lovers, Claire Clairmont, gave him another daughter, Allegra. Allegra died of a fever at age five. Byron also had a child with one of his maids, and he provided for her.

Byron spent money extravagantly. He inherited his title and family estates, but they were already deeply encumbered by debt. At first he refused to take payment for his writing (making his publisher rich instead), but by 1814 he began to accept, and even negotiate for, large amounts for the copyrights of his books.

Byron continued traveling, writing, and having affairs. His newer books, including Don Juan, increasingly shocked society. His original publisher finally refused to publish any more of Byron’s books, but Byron quickly found another publisher.

Lord Byron eventually got involved in the Greek struggle for independence, which suited his romantic ideals. He fell ill and died in Greece in 1824.

Jane Austen’s Perspective

Byron’s personal life was doubtless repugnant to Jane Austen. His open adultery with a long series of married women, and his taking sexual advantage of maidservants, would both have disgusted her. I imagine she also thought poorly of his extravagance and debts. What about his writing?

Lord Byron was the epitome of the literary movement, Romanticism. He wrote and lived the untamed passions of individual desire, the wildness of nature, imagination, and vision. Jane Austen epitomizes the best of the opposite movement, Rationalism. It emphasized self-control, order, harmony, balance, and logical truth. Austen and Byron did have something in common, though: both used irony and satire to confront flaws in their society, though in different ways.

Austen, like others in her society, read Byron’s books. In 1814 she wrote unenthusiastically, “I have read the “Corsair,” mended my petticoat, and have nothing else to do.” There is no indication that Byron read Austen’s books. Byron’s wife, however, wrote in 1813 that Pride and Prejudice was “a very superior work . . . the most probable fiction I have ever read.”

In Persuasion, Anne Elliot and Captain Benwick talk about Lord Byron and Walter Scott and disagree about their merits. They also mention Lord Byron’s “dark blue seas.” Benwick appreciates the “impassioned descriptions of hopeless agony” in Byron’s Giaour and Bride of Abydos. Anne doesn’t think Byron’s poetry is healthy reading for the grieving Benwick. She encourages him to read more prose, especially works by the “best moralists, such collections of the finest letters, such memoirs of characters of worth and suffering, as occurred to her at the moment as calculated to rouse and fortify the mind by the highest precepts, and the strongest examples of moral and religious endurances.”

Anne Elliot and Captain Benwick discuss how to pronounce the title of Lord Byron’s Giaour. (Online dictionaries say it’s something like JOW-er, or jowr. Merriam Webster says it means “one outside the Islamic faith.”)

According to the editors of the Cambridge edition of Persuasion (Janet Todd and Antje Blank), Giaour and Bride of Abydos “have exotic eastern settings, in which despotic rulers murder disobedient women and moody, passionate heroes are consumed with grief and guilt over violent crimes they commit.” They suggest that Anne Elliot’s alternative reading would have included Samuel Johnson’s articles in The Rambler. Johnson recommends (in issues 32 and 47) that in times of calamity, loss, and sorrow, we turn to hard work, diligence, and keeping our minds busy with other things.

I think Anne might also have recommended another of Austen’s favorite writers, William Cowper. Cowper suffered with depression for much of his life. One of the remedies that helped him at various periods was keeping busy with meaningful tasks, especially writing. Both Johnson and Cowper were known for their devotion to God; Byron, on the other hand, was known for his religious skepticism. Both Johnson and Cowper died well before the Regency, so we can’t consider them “Regency rock stars.” However, both were very popular authors that Jane Austen admired.

For more on Lord Byron and Jane Austen, see “Romanticism, a Romance: Jane Austen and Lord Byron, 1813-1815,” and “Jane Austen and Lord Byron: Connections.”

For those who like their history presented as fiction, I enjoyed this novel, based on Byron’s marriage: Dangerous to Know, by Megan Whitson Lee.

Lord Byron” by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) offers the next generation’s perspective on Byron’s religious views.

On Samuel Johnson, see “Finding Jane Austen’s ‘Dear Dr. Johnson’ at the Godmersham Park Library.

On William Cowper, see “William Cowper: Joy and Depression, Glimmers of Light in the Midst of Darkness,” “’With what intense desire she wants her home’: Cowper’s Influence on Jane Austen,”  and “William Cowper, Beloved of Jane Austen.

William Wilberforce? (1759-1833)

I want to nominate one more “rock star of the Regency”; this time, one that Austen may have admired, though she doesn’t mention him. In an age of corrupt, self-seeking politicians, a mad king, and a profligate Prince Regent, M.P. William Wilberforce lived a life of integrity, devotion to God, and concern for the poor and downtrodden. Wilberforce was much loved and respected in England, even by those who disagreed with him, for his gentle kindness and his persuasive speaking.

Statue of William Wilberforce at St. John’s College, Cambridge University

Wilberforce is best known for leading the fight against the slave trade and slavery. Thomas Clarkson, who Jane Austen said she “loved,” worked with Wilberforce. Clarkson collected evidence and wrote books promoting abolition. Wilberforce and his friends persevered for almost twenty years, against great opposition, until the British slave trade was abolished in 1807. The House of Commons, who had previously voted down Wilberforce’s proposal ten times, this time gave him a standing ovation. The fight continued until slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1833, as Wilberforce was dying.

In contrast to other “rock stars” of the Regency, Wilberforce lived frugally. He was wealthy, but during his lifetime he gave away most of his wealth to people in need and to various causes he supported. For example, he supported groups working to relieve the miseries of climbing boys (chimney sweeps’ apprentices), to reform prisons, and to prevent cruelty to animals. He helped start the first “free church” in the country, a church in Bath where the poor got the best seats on the main floor rather than being marginalized because they could not pay pew rents. He also financially supported free education for the poor. However, he was not a radical, and he has been criticized for supporting government crackdowns on rioters and protesters, and for opposing labor unions.

Wilberforce was also a leader of the Evangelical movement in the Church of England. (Please note that the word evangelical did not have the same political implications that it has today; it meant, and technically still means, those with certain religious beliefs.) He wrote a best-selling book which challenged the shallow faith of the upper and middle classes of his day.

William Wilberforce’s Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians

Jane Austen’s Perspective

Obviously Jane Austen would have admired Wilberforce’s faith, lifestyle, and integrity. In 1809 her sister was trying to persuade her to read a letter by Evangelical Hannah More, and Austen wrote, “I do not like the Evangelicals.” However, by 1814, her niece was considering marrying an Evangelical. Austen wrote “I am by no means convinced that we ought not all to be Evangelicals, & am at least persuaded that they who are so from Reason and Feeling must be happiest & safest. . . . don’t be frightened by the idea of his acting more strictly up to the precepts of the New Testament than others.” She was not an Evangelical herself, but apparently her attitude toward the Evangelicals was very positive at that point. Wilberforce’s actions and reputation may have been one reason for that change.

For more about Wilberforce, see “William Wilberforce’s Joy”  and “William Wilberforce.”

 

We have now considered Jocelyn Harris’s five “Rock Stars of the Regency,” plus my own nominees for others.

What do you think of them? And what do you think Jane Austen would have thought? Who would you add to this roster?

 

In the presentation for the *Jane Austen Society of America’s Annual General Meeting, the “rock stars” were skilfully played by:

Emma Brodey as Emma Hamilton

Deborah Barnum as Dora Jordan

Linda Troost as Fanny Burney

Christopher Duda as The Prince Regent

Paul Savidge as Lord Byron

Jocelyn Harris, as the narrator, was dressed as Dolly Parton.

“Rock Stars of the Regency” was originally scheduled to be shown at Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but instead, of course, it was online.

 

Sources: These summaries are based on entries in the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, plus Jocelyn Harris’s presentation for the JASNA AGM, “Rock Stars of the Regency.”

Please note that the thoughts about Austen’s responses to the rock stars are mine, not Dr. Harris’s.

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Who were the famous and admired “rock stars” of Regency England? At the Jane Austen Society of North America’s Annual General Meeting (JASNA AGM) recently, Dr. Jocelyn Harris identified five charismatic celebrities of Regency England. Jane Austen would certainly have known about them.

Dr. Harris chose:

  • Emma Hamilton
  • Dora Jordan
  • Fanny Burney
  • The Prince Regent
  • Lord Byron

Who were these people, and what might Jane Austen have thought about them? As I watched their presentations, I thought that Austen probably didn’t think very highly of some of them. See what you think.

Emma Hamilton

Emma, Lady Hamilton is best known for her love affair with the naval hero Lord Nelson.

George Romney was captivated by Emma Hamilton’s beauty, as were other artists. This shows Emma as Circe.

 

Early in her life, Emma Lyon worked as a housemaid, but her classical beauty and vivacious spirit brought her to the attention of several rich young men. She became the mistress of one, had his child, then moved in with one of his friends. That friend traded her to his rich uncle, Sir William Hamilton, in exchange for becoming his uncle’s heir. Hamilton, the British ambassador to Naples, married Emma and made her Lady Hamilton in 1791; he was sixty and she was about twenty-six.

In Naples, Emma became known for her dramatic “attitudes.” She wore classical Greek dress and struck a series of poses representing various emotions and classical stories. She was very expressive and visitors loved to watch her. She was also talented at learning languages. She helped her husband, and later Lord Nelson, with diplomacy. After a few years, she became seriously overweight, but apparently was still enchanting.

Emma Hamilton by George Romney, circa 1785 ©National Portrait Gallery, London.   Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Around 1798 Emma Hamilton and Lord Nelson fell in love. Both were married to someone else. But they seem to have adored each other. She bore him three children, though only one survived, a daughter named Horatia. Nelson said of her, as she was courageously seeing him off to sea, “Brave Emma! Good Emma! If there were more Emmas there would be more Nelsons.”

Emma’s husband died in 1803, then Admiral Nelson died in 1805. Emma was heartbroken at Nelson’s death. She received a large legacy and annuity, but continued her extravagance until she was imprisoned for debt in 1813. Friends helped her get released. She spent her final days, drunken and bedridden, in Calais, France. Her daughter Horatia tended her until she died in 1815. When Horatia returned to England, she was taken in by Nelson’s sisters, and ended up marrying a curate and having a large family. She acknowledged that Nelson was her father, but refused to acknowledge Lady Hamilton as her mother.

Jane Austen’s Perspective

In her letters (Oct. 11, 1813), Austen says that she is tired of biographies of Nelson, though she hasn’t read any. Perhaps his open adultery diminished his glory in her eyes, though we don’t know for sure. Her brother Frank wrote admiringly of Nelson’s judgment and decisiveness, and his ability to motivate others. He said nothing of Nelson’s moral values, however (Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters, 1913, chapter 12).

Austen makes no mention of Emma Hamilton in her writings. Dr. Harris speculates that Mrs. Smith of Persuasion, whose maiden name was Miss Hamilton, might have some connection to Emma Hamilton, or even Emma Woodhouse herself, as Emma Hamilton was also known as a matchmaker and lady bountiful. To me it seems unlikely that Austen would have named either of them after such a scandalous celebrity. In Mansfield Park, fashionable Mary Crawford thinks of adultery as folly to be concealed. However, it seems to me that Austen agrees with her hero and heroine, Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price, who consider it serious sin. So I don’t think she would have thought very highly of Emma Hamilton.

For more on Emma Hamilton (1765-1815), see “Emma at Home: Lady Hamilton and Her ‘Attitudes,’” which includes further links.

 

Dorothy Jordan

Dorothy Jordan was a famous actress of Austen’s time. In her early years, she shone in a variety of roles, but eventually settled down to become a comic actress. Sarah Siddons (who might be considered another Regency “Rock Star”) was the queen of tragedy, and Dorothy Jordan was the “comic muse.” A woman of several names, she was also called Dora or Dorothea. She was born Dorothy Bland and when her father deserted the family she became Dorothy Phillips. She was commonly known as Mrs. Jordan, though she never married.

Jordan’s parents were a vicar’s daughter who had become a London actress, and an Irish captain whose father, a judge, disinherited him for his liaison with Jordan’s mother. (They may have married, but as minors, the marriage was not valid.) Her father later made a legal marriage in Ireland to another woman.

By 1779, eighteen-year-old Dorothea was working as an actress in Dublin. She was seduced by her manager, conceived his child, and fled when he threatened her with debtor’s prison. (Her manager reminds me of Willoughby with Eliza, only even worse!) She got another job in Leeds, where they called her Mrs. Jordan because she was pregnant (therefore “Mrs.”) and had crossed over the water to get to England from Ireland, like the Israelites crossing the Jordan River in the Bible.

She gradually moved up in her profession, until she was acting in the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. There she became the mistress of Richard Ford, son of the court physician, and had three children with him.

In 1790, Prince William Henry, duke of Clarence (third son of George III), fell in love with her and she became his mistress. He provided her with an annuity of £1200, a carriage, and provision for all her children. However, she continued to act around the country, and she shared her income with the duke. People wondered which of them supported the other!

She bore ten children to the duke and acted as his wife and hostess. However, in 1811 his debts were increasing and he told her they had to separate so he could marry someone rich.

Mrs Jordan from The Life of Mrs Jordan by J Boaden (1831), public domain

Mrs. Jordan continued acting, to great acclaim, and traveling. She was very well-paid, but generous and extravagant. Late in her life, while she was in ill health, her son-in-law defrauded her of much of her money. She died impoverished near Paris, with only about £10 to her name.

Jane Austen’s Perspective

Austen mentions Mrs. Jordan in a letter (1801), admiring Cassandra’s resignation when she could not come to London and see Mrs. Jordan. According to Dr. Harris, in 1814, when Jane was looking forward to seeing the play “The Devil to Pay” and expecting to be “very much amused,” Jane was going to see Mrs. Jordan perform. No doubt the sisters, great fans of the theater, much admired Mrs. Jordan’s acting, as everyone else did. We don’t know what Austen thought of Mrs. Jordan’s personal life. Harris speculates that Jordan’s personality, arch, playful, bewitching, and frank, may be reflected in Elizabeth Bennet.

Mrs. Jordan seems to have been a faithful and domestic “wife” to the Duke of Clarence for many years, and popular opinion held that he should not have deserted her. Their children, who received the surname FitzClarence, were of course illegitimate. Fitz-, by the way, simply means “son of,” though from the 1600s it came to be used for illegitimate royal children. (Did the Fitzwilliams of Pride and Prejudice have an illegitimate royal ancestor? Or were they from an older Norman family, perhaps descended from the younger son of a warrior named William? It could be either.) Clarence’s oldest son, by Mrs. Jordan, could not inherit the throne after the Duke of Clarence became King William IV.

In Emma, Emma thinks Harriet is well-born, the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman. However, it turns out that Harriet is the daughter of a tradesman. Emma thinks, “The stain of illegitimacy, unbleached by nobility or wealth, would have been a stain indeed.” Did Jane Austen herself think that that it was acceptable for those with “nobility or wealth” to have illegitimate children? Or was she continuing to make fun of Emma’s snobbishness?

Personally, I think that as a devout Anglican, Austen would not have approved of Mrs. Jordan’s liaison even with a duke. But, she may have felt sympathy for a couple who loved each other but were not legally allowed to marry. And Mrs. Jordan seems to have been a good influence on her Duke. I see no firm evidence either way for Austen’s opinion. She certainly admired Mrs. Jordan as an actress.

For more on Dorothy Jordan (1761-1816), see “Mrs. Dora Jordan—The Comic Muse.

On Sarah Siddons (1755-1831), see “Austen’s Regretted Mischance to see Mrs. Siddons” and “The Indomitable Mrs. Siddons.

 

Fanny Burney (Madame D’Arblay)

Our third “Rock Star” was a popular novelist like Jane Austen, but Burney was much more well-known in her time than Austen. Burney came from a more conventional middle class background than Emma Hamilton or Dorothy Jordan did. Her father was a well-known music teacher who went on musical tours of Europe; Fanny helped him with the books he wrote.

Her family brought her into contact with some of the leading people of her day, including Samuel Johnson, the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, writer Hester Thrale (later Piozzi), bluestockings Elizabeth Montagu and Hannah More, and many others. Austen, of course, did not move in such intellectual or social circles.

Like Jane Austen, Burney published her first book, Evelina, anonymously. Not even her father knew that she had written it until some months after it came out. (He had disapproved of her earlier writing, but liked Evelina.) It was well-reviewed and over 2000 copies sold. Bookstores in fashionable spas and in London had a hard time keeping it in stock. Burney’s next, longer book, Cecilia, was also a great success.

Portrait of Madame D’Arblay (Fanny Burney) engraved from a painting by Edward Francis Burney (Portraits of Eminent Men and Women, 1873), public domain, wikimedia

After a few years without writing, Burney was offered a place at court, as second keeper of the robes to Queen Charlotte. Her father persuaded her to accept, for the family’s advantage. However, Burney was miserable with the drudgery and routine of court life. She did have one adventure, though, when King George III, in a fit of madness, chased her around Kew Gardens. After five years she asked to retire due to ill health, and was allowed to go.

At age forty-one, Fanny met a French military officer, D’Arblay. They fell in love and were married. Fanny’s father was unhappy about the match, since Fanny had little money and D’Arblay had none. However, they had a happy marriage. Their son Alexander was born about a year and a half after their wedding.

Fanny continued writing; mostly plays that were not performed in her lifetime (one was performed for one night, but was an immediate failure). Her novel Camilla, though, was another success, and provided enough money for the D’Arblays to build their own home.

While Fanny’s siblings sometimes acted scandalously, she herself lived a conventional, moral life. Her books express solid moral values, while showing the restrictions placed on women. She died in her home in London in 1840. Fanny Burney has been called the mother of English fiction. She was one of the first successful English novelists.

Jane Austen’s Perspective

Burney’s novels Cecilia and Camilla are mentioned in glowing terms in Northanger Abbey:

“‘It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda’; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.”

Jane Austen subscribed to Camilla. (That means that she gave financial support for it before it was published, something like a Kickstarter campaign today.) In her letters, Austen also mentions characters from Burney’s novels. The novels seem to have influenced her own. Harris also speculates that Burney’s experiences at court, recorded in her journals and passed on by Austen’s mother’s cousin Cassandra Cooke (Burney’s neighbor), might be reflected in some of Fanny Price’s experiences in Mansfield Park. Austen obviously admired Fanny Burney’s work, and I think she would have admired Burney personally as well. Jocelyn Harris calls Burney and Austen “sisters of the pen.”

 

Two other women authors of Jane Austen’s day might qualify as “rock stars,” in terms of popularity, even more than Fanny Burney. Maria Edgeworth, whose novel Belinda is mentioned in Northanger Abbey along with Burney’s novels, was the most successful novelist of her time, in terms of sales and income. Hannah More, whose writings Austen doesn’t seem to have cared for, wrote mostly nonfiction, a tremendous range of books for rich and poor, which were wildly popular. She wrote and worked for causes including the abolition of slavery, education for women and for the poor, and better moral values.

For more on Fanny Burney (1752-1840), see “Only a Novel: The Life of Fanny Burney.”  For more on Burney’s novels, and ways they may have influenced Jane Austen, see “Jane Austen a-Shopping with Burney’s Evelina.

On Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849), see “Maria Edgeworth, Jane Austen’s Forgotten Idol.

On Hannah More, see “Jane Austen’s Novels and Hannah More’s Life—Intersecting Planes” and “Jane Austen, Hanah More, and the Novel of Education.”

 

What do you think of these “rock stars” of Austen’s England? What do you think Austen would have liked and not liked about them? Are there other women of the time that you would nominate?

In Part 2 we’ll look at some gentlemen “Rock Stars of the Regency.”

 

Source: These summaries are based on entries in the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, plus Jocelyn Harris’s presentation for the JASNA AGM, “Rock Stars of the Regency.”

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Available March 8, also as a Kindle book

The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England by Margaret C. Sullivan, will be available for purchase on March 8. Ms. Sullivan, who many readers know as the editrix of Austenblog, has graciously consented to answer a few questions. Like her books and blog, her information is filled with wit and insight.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Margaret.

Hello to readers of Jane Austen’s World and thanks for having me!

1. How long did it take you to write The Jane Austen Handbook? Was it self-published at first? Who distributed the book? (I know that it sat proudly on the shelves of the gift shop at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath.)

It has always been published by Quirk Books! Just now it has a new cover. Also Quirk books are now being distributed by Random House. Before they were mostly in gift stores (Like the JA Centre–and my friend Julie Tynion sent me a photo of the book on the shelves of the gift shop at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton. I think they heard my SQUEEEEE at the International Space Station.) The coolest place I think anyone told me they saw the book was the gift shop of the QE2, while she was still a cruise ship.

As to how long it took me to write it, I had six weeks between the offer and the due date for the first draft, so it was a pretty frantic time. However, the editor and I had worked out an outline so I wasn’t starting completely from scratch, and there were rewrites a little bit later, especially the section on dancing, which I think is my favorite and was greatly expanded in the rewrite stage.

I was working full-time while I was writing it as well, which in retrospect was not the smartest idea. At least near the end I should have taken some time off. I was worn out!

2. Did you approach Quirk Books or did they approach you in publishing this edition of your book?

They approached me. They already had a line of handbooks such as the Batman Handbook, the Spiderman Handbook, etc., which were usually geared towards big summer films. They wanted to do something more literary, and decided to do a Jane Austen Handbook to go along with the release of Becoming Jane. (And yes, I do realize that I am Irony’s Plaything in that regard.) The editor told me she found the blog and thought I would be a good candidate, and “stalked me online” for a few days before approaching me.

Jason Rekulak, Godfather of the Jane Austen Zombie Revolution (like I said, Irony’s Plaything), called me last year and said Random House was interested in re-releasing the book, and it was due for a reprint anyway, but they wanted a different cover. Et voila! Random House’s distribution is, I believe, more focused on traditional bookstores. Also, as a great enthusiast for ebooks, I’m really pleased that at last the Handbook will be available in digital, and I confess I’m also curious to see what the ebook will look like.

3. In regard to writing and publishing, what advice would you give a newbie writer?

As to advice for aspiring authors, I would say to always endeavor to be professional. Jane Austen was extremely professional in her dealings with publishers and fans. Then she abused them with great spirit among her friends. ;-) She was also very professional in the way she approached her craft. She worked at it and was an excellent self-editor, and knew what made a story enjoyable and what was good writing. It distresses me when authors let their emotions get the better of their professional demeanor. Bad reviews happen, and part of the job is learning to accept them, even when they hurt or don’t seem fair. Act like you’ve been there. Shoving your Published Author status in people’s faces seems vulgar to me. And once you arrive, help those who come after you!

4. You’ve been visible on the blogosphere since *cough* its dark ages. Am I right in thinking that your began Austenblog in 2004? What was being the queen of the Jane fandom like back then?

Yes! I created AustenBlog during the very hot July 4th weekend of 2004, and had an official launch later that month. Back then we were excited about a new film version of P&P! Once again: Irony’s Plaything!

I certainly wasn’t the queen of the Austen fandom then, nor am I now. ;-) I don’t think there is a queen. It’s much too anarchic a group. If they don’t like something or their desires aren’t being met, they’ll go make a website or online community of their own, especially now with all the great online tools available. Also nobody really knew about AustenBlog at first. It’s always been movies that attracted the most attention, so when the last bunch of films were being made and shown was when we first attracted a lot of attention. (Say it with me: Irony’s Plaything!)

5. Tell us about the changes in Jane fandom since then and what you think of future trends for Austen aficionados.

I think the main difference is that the fandom is becoming more diverse and I think as a whole not so “particularly friendly to very severe, very intense application,” as Mr. Tilney would say. Their Jane Austen fandom goes along with lots of other interests, some inter-related and some not. There are still obsessives as well, and I’m pleased to see more people having fun with their fandom and allowing themselves to be sometimes silly with it. It’s interesting, while JASNA tends to attract the more devoted fans, I’ve noticed a bit of a culture shift over the past ten years or so. The members are becoming a little more popular culture-oriented, or at least more aware of the popular culture aspects of the fandom, even if that’s not necessarily their cup of tea. Costuming has become a lot more popular. At my first AGM in 2000, only a handful of people dressed in period costume for at least part of the conference, and in the past couple of years it’s really taken off. I think the programs are becoming more diverse, too–there is something for everyone. Janeiteism is a big tent, and I celebrate it, even while I sometimes deplore the fringier groups. ;-)

6. Your love for Henry Tilney is well known. What are the qualities about this hero that attract you so? Which scene in Northanger Abbey in particular do you find memorable?

NA was the fifth of the six novels that I’d read (MP was last) and when this charming, funny guy showed up, I was instantly attracted to his obvious intelligence and wit and general coolness, but it seemed to me that in the other four novels I’d read, the funny, charming guy turned out to be the villain. Thus, I spent the whole book waiting for the other shoe to drop. Imagine my joy when I got to the end and realized it was not only fun to love Henry Tilney, it was the right thing to do.

Henry is not only charming, but honorable. He’s very human and really not as perfect as I’d like to pretend, but he is kind to Catherine, and besides his sister is practically the only person in the book who never condescends to her or treats her like she’s stupid or tries to trick her. If his conversation sometimes goes over her head, it’s paying her a compliment in a way–the compliment of rational companionship, if I may borrow a little from Miss Dashwood!

I have many favorite scenes, but I’ve picked one out, from Vol. II, Ch. I:

Henry smiled, and said, “How very little trouble it can give you to understand the motive of other people’s actions.”

“Why? — What do you mean?”

“With you, it is not, How is such a one likely to be influenced, What is the inducement most likely to act upon such a person’s feelings, age, situation, and probable habits of life considered? — but, How should I be influenced, what would be my inducement in acting so and so?”

“I do not understand you.”

“Then we are on very unequal terms, for I understand you perfectly well.”

“Me? — yes; I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”

“Bravo! — an excellent satire on modern language.”

“But pray tell me what you mean.”

“Shall I indeed? — Do you really desire it? But you are not aware of the consequences; it will involve you in a very cruel embarrassment, and certainly bring on a disagreement between us.”

“No, no; it shall not do either; I am not afraid.”

“Well, then, I only meant that your attributing my brother’s wish of dancing with Miss Thorpe to good-nature alone convinced me of your being superior in good-nature yourself to all the rest of the world.”

Catherine blushed and disclaimed, and the gentleman’s predictions were verified. There was a something, however, in his words which repaid her for the pain of confusion; and that something occupied her mind so much that she drew back for some time, forgetting to speak or to listen, and almost forgetting where she was…

For all those who say that Henry isn’t really in love with Catherine, read that scene. He is not going to pay her profuse compliments that she might not trust to be real; and when he does pay her a compliment, he does it subtly, with humor, and with that “something” that gives Catherine the collywobbles. You can practically smell the pheromones flying back and forth. That man’s in love–and so is Catherine! I think in that scene her love for Henry turns the corner from a girlish crush to a deeper and more adult feeling.

7. My assumption is that you have been to England and visited a number of places that Jane Austen lived in and visited herself. Do you have any extraordinary memories that you’d like to share with us?

I traveled to the UK in October 2005 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar–I’m a big Age of Sail fan as well–with my Horatian buddies (we Hornblower fans call ourselves Horatians). While in Portsmouth I walked the ramparts, like Fanny Price, and saw the ruins of the Marine chapel where they went to church (and also was amused to see a hair stylist shop run by one Andrew Price in downtown Portsmouth–nice to see the Prices are still in town, even if they are in trade). I felt very close to Captain Wentworth and his friends there. In London, we went to the National Portrait Gallery to visit Jane’s portrait, and the British Library to see her writing desk and the manuscripts for History of England and the canceled chapters of Persuasion.

We also went to Bath, and it was a real thrill. I kept running into Jane’s characters around every corner, especially as my two favorite books are the two Bath books, Persuasion and NA. I remember walking up Milsom Street, getting to the top of the street, looking up, and seeing “Edgar’s Buildings” engraved on the wall. Walking through Laura Place, down Pulteney Street, out to see 4 Sydney Place where the Austens lived, were all amazing–especially to know that in many ways they were nearly the same as in Jane Austen’s time. I also loved going up to Camden Place and seeing how utterly perfect it was to be the home of Sir Walter Elliot. All of Bath was, quite literally, at his feet; and yet it was built on unsteady land, and did not have the proper neoclassical regularity–it was all off-center. Perfect! And a really funny moment was when we were taking the bus uptown, and asked the bus driver to let us know when we were near Camden Crescent. He looked at our cameras and, clearly not a Janeite, said, “Taking pictures, luv? You should go over to Lansdowne Crescent instead. For my money, it’s the prettiest crescent in Bath.” I wonder what Sir Walter and Miss would have said to that! It was such a delightfully Austenian moment.

And of course we went to Chawton and Steventon. They were the places I felt closest to Jane herself. Chawton was charming, so peaceful and quiet, and inspiring for a writer. Finding Steventon was not easy–it was kind of like trying to find Shangri-La. The GPS sent us to Berkshire, which of course is totally the wrong direction. We drove despairingly around Basingstoke trying to find a local who could direct us, but we were a mile away from Steventon at one point and locals just looked at us blankly when we asked if they could give us directions. Finally we found a helpful person who gave us excellent directions, and arrived at the church in late afternoon just as the rain was letting up. I loved both St. Nicholas’ churches, in Chawton and Steventon–I loved that they were both still obviously working churches, and not just tourist attractions. Jane would have really appreciated that, I think. (And thanks to Mike for driving and his lovely pianoforte playing at Chawton, and Kathleen for the companionship, snark, and hosting me in London! I should have just let you guys ring the churchbell at Steventon.)

Margaret Sullivan at JASNA, 2008. Image @Laurie Viera Rigler

Margaret, it was a pleasure to interview you! I’ve seen your book and intend to review it soon. I can’t wait to read it. Vic

Thanks for the interview! This was really fun!

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The Parks of London by Mary Elizabeth Brandon, 1868, on Dandyism.net discusses the dandies parading up and down London’s fashionable parks. After visiting that site, return to read some of my older posts about Hyde Park and the pleasure gardens.

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In romance novels footmen are depicted as tall, dark, and handsome men in fancy livery, preferably matched in height. Surprisingly, this description of these statuesque men, who were as much a status symbol as servant, is true. According to Daniel Pool in What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, footmen wore:

“livery,” or household uniform of fancy coat, knee breeches, stockings, and powdered hair, a costume that endured to the end of th 1800s. Because of their appearance at dinner and in public with the family, footmen were supposed to be the most “presentable” of the male servants. They were evaluated on the basis of the appearance of their calves in silk stocking, and they often gave their height when advertising for positions in the paper–it was considered absurd to have a pair of footmen who didn’t match in height. (Poole, p. 221)

In olden days, footmen traditionally ran alongside carriages or to obtain items of importance, or raced other footmen of great houses in order to win bets for their masters. The Chamber Book of Days relates these stories of legend:

For example: the Earl of Home, residing at Hume Castle in Berwickshire, had occasion to send his foot-man to Edinburgh one evening on important business. Descending to the hall in the morning, he found the man asleep on a bench, and, thinking he had neglected his duty, prepared to chastise him, but found, to his surprise, that the man had been to Edinburgh (thirty-five miles) and back, with his business sped, since the past evening. As another instance: the Duke of Landerdale, in the reign of Charles II, being to give a large dinner-party at his castle of Thirlstane, near Lander, it was discovered, at the laying of the cloth, that songe additional plate would be required from the Duke’s other seat of Lethington, near Haddington, fully fifteen miles distant across the Lammirmuir hills. The running footman instantly darted off, and was back with the required articles in time for dinner!

Footmen acquired their names from their running duties, accompanying their masters or mistresses alongside carriages or horses. They carried a long cane containing a mixture of eggs and white wine for sustenance, but many accounts talk of thin, gaunt footmen who became too old before their time.

In the eighteenth century [footmen] were frequently matched to run against horses and carriages One of the last recorded contests was in 1770 between a famous running footman and the Duke of Marlborough, the latter wagering that in his phaeton and four he would beat the footman in a race from Windsor to London. His Grace won by a very small margin. The poor footman worn out by his exertions and much chagrined by his defeat, died, it was said, of over fatigue. In the north of England the running footman was not quite extinct till well into the middle of the nineteenth century. So recently as 1851, on the opening of an assize court, there the sheriff and judges were preceded by two running footmen. About the same date the carriage of the High Sheriff of Northumberland on its way to meet the judges of assize, was attended by two pages on foot holding on to the door handles of the carriage and running beside it. A Handy Book of Curious Information: Comprising Strange Happenings in the … By William Shepard Walsh, 1913

By the 18th century, footmen began to work under the supervision of a butler, taking on such duties as “carrying coals up to rooms, cleaning boots, trimming lamps, laying the table for meals, answering the front door and, at Erddig, sleeping in the butler’s pantry to ensure nobody stole the family silver” (Willes, page 18). The footman’s life was not an easy one. He arose at the crack of dawn and worked until 11 p.m. at night almost without pause. Frederick John Gorst, a former footman at the turn of the 20th century tells of the day he fainted:

Dr. Burton asked me how much time I had off for rest and recreation, and I told him that I had not had a day off since I began to work at Ashton-Hayes six months ago. Moreover, I had not had a holiday nor seen my family in more than three years. He shook his head in disbelief, and said:

“John, this is a very serious matter. How old are you?”

“I’m almost eighteen, Dr. Burton,” I said.

“You are very tall for your age, and your pale complexion leads me to believe that you need some sunshine and fresh air.”

To gain some insights into a footman’s day and duties, click on the following links:

The Footman: A Servant’s Day in London

Dear FRIEND,
Since I am now at leisure,
And in the Country taking Pleasure,
If it be worth your while to hear
A silly Footman’s Business there,
I’ll try to tell, in easy Rhyme,
How I in London spend my Time.And first,
As soon as Laziness will let me,
To cleaning Glasses, Knives, and Plate,
And such-like dirty Work as that,
Which (by the bye) is what I hate.
This done; with expeditious Care,
To dress myself I strait prepare;
I clean my Buckles, black my Shoes;
Powder my Wig, and brush my Cloaths;
Take off my Beard, and wash my Face,
And then I’m ready for the Chace.Down comes my Lady’s Woman strait:
Where’s Robin? Here. Pray take your Hat,
And go—and go—and go—and go—;
And this—and that desire to know.
The Charge receiv’d, away run I,And here, and there, and yonder fly,
With Services, and How-d’ye’does,
Then Home return full fraught with News.Here some short Time does interpose,
‘Till warm Efflucia’s greet my Nose,
Which from the Spits and Kettles fly,
Declaring Dinner-time is nigh.
To lay the Cloth I now prepare,
With Uniformity and Care;
In Order Knives and Forks are laid,
With folded Napkins, Salt, and Bread:
The Side-boards glittering too appear,
With Plate, and Glass, and China-ware.
Then Ale, and Beer, and Wine decanted,
And all Things ready which are wanted,
The smoaking Dishes enter in
To Stomachs sharp a grateful Scene;
Which on the Table being plac’d,
And some few Ceremonies past,
They all sit down, and fall to eating,
Whilst I behind stand silent waiting.

This is the only pleasant Hour
Which I have in the Twenty-four;
For whilst I unregarded stand,
With ready Salver in my Hand,
And seem to understand no more
Than just what’s call’d for, out to pour;
I hear, and mark the courtly Phrases,
And all the elegance that passes;
Disputes maintain’d without Digression,
With ready Wit, and fine Expression;
The Laws of true Politeness stated,
And what Good-breeding is, debated:
Where all unanimously exclude
The vain Coquet, the formal Prude,
The Ceremonious, and the Rude.
The flattering, fawning, praising Train;
The fluttering, empty, noisy, vain;
Detraction, Smut, and what’s prophane.

This happy Hour elaps’d and gone,
The Time of drinking Tea comes on.
The Kettle fill’d, the Water boil’d,
The Cream provided, Biscuits pil’d,
And Lamp prepar’d; I strait engage
The Lilliputian Equipage
Of Dishes, Saucers, Spoons, and Tongs,
And all th’ Et cetera which thereto belongs.
Which rang’d in order and Decorum,
I carry in, and set before ’em;
Then pour or Green, or Bohea out,
And, as commanded, hand about.

This Business over, presently
The Hour of visiting draws nigh;
The Chairman strait prepare the Chair,
A lighted Flambeau I prepare;
And Orders given where to go,
We march along, and bustle thro’
The parting Crouds, who all stand off
To give us Room. O how you’d laugh!
To see me strut before a Chair,
And with a stirdy Voice, and Air,
Crying—By your Leave, Sir! have a Care!
From Place to Place with speed we fly,
And Rat-tatat the Knockers cry:
Pray is your Lady, Sir, within?
If no, go on; if yes, we enter in.

Then to the Hall I guide my Steps,
Amongst a Croud of Brother Skips,
Drinking Small-beer, and talking Smut,
And this Fool’s Nonsence puting that Fool’s out.
Whilst Oaths and Peals of Laughter meet,
And he who’d loudest, is the greatest Wit.
But here amongst us the chief Trade is
To rail against our Lords and Ladies;
To aggravate their smallest Failings,
T’expose their Faults with saucy Railings.
For my Part, as I hate the Practice,
And see in them how base and black ’tis,
To some bye Place I therefore creep,
And sit me down, and feign to sleep;
And could I with old Morpheus bargain,
‘Twou’d save my Ears much Noise and Jargon.
But down my Lady comes again,
And I’m released from my Pain.
To some new Place our Steps we bend,
The tedious Evening out to spend;
Sometimes, perhaps, to see the Play,
Assembly, or the Opera;
Then home and sup, and thus we end the Day.

Norton Anthology: Robert Dodsley Poem: The Footman, 18th Century

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The Dictionary of Sensibility

This dictionary, created by graduate students at the University of Virginia, lists 24 terms pertaining to the eighteenth-century idea of “sensibility”, such as benevolent, sublime, and imagination. Each term links to an introduction and source bibliography that provides the primary texts; the critical bibliography; and secondary sources.

Clicking on a term in the term list will take you to an introduction to the word and a list of excerpts. Each excerpt provides links to other terms used in or implied by the passage. On the excerpt pages, primary material is in bold; the commentary is in roman typeface. Click here to enter the site.

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Cookery Books

Although England was at war with France during the Regency Era, the upper crust considered it fashionable to hire a French chef. This common practice was considered a folly by cookery book author, Hannah Glasse, who said her fellow Englishmen “would rather be impos’d on by a French Booby, than give Encouragement to a good English Cook!”

For the more ordinary households, the most popular cookery books of the era were written by women: Eliza Smith,1727; Hannah Glasse, 1747; and Elizabeth Raffald,1769. Hanna’s wildly popular book was reprinted 17 times between 1747 and 1803! In those days, the authors borrowed recipes liberally from each other, but Mrs. Glasse’s recipes were more detailed and clearly written than most. “I have attempted a Branch of Cookery which Nobody has yet thought worth their while to write upon…My Intention is to instruct the lower Sort [so that] every servant who can read will be capable of making a tolerable good Cook.” Tipsy Cake
Reading Hannah’s recipes, we can see how much our tastes in food have changed. Her Cookery Book included recipes for Jugged Pigeons, Potted Venison, Fried Celery, Tipsy Cake, and Salamangundy (a salad made with cuccumber, apples, grapes, herring, red cabbage, hard boiled eggs, and cooked fowl.) As to how the food of the day tasted, here are Jane Austen’s words, scribbled to Cassandra in 1808:

“The Widgeon and the preserved ginger were as delicious as one could wish. But as to our black butter, do not decoy anybody to Southampton by such a lure, for it is all gone …”

From Food: and Cooking in 18th Century Britain: History and Recipes, Jennifer Snead, English Heritage, ISBN 1 85074 084 4

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Bicycling During the Regency Era

Image above from: The Dandy’s Perambulations, 1819, from Dandyism.net

ON 5 April 1815, Mount Tambora in Indonesia began to grumble. A week later the volcano blew its top in a spectacular eruption that went on until July. It was the biggest eruption in recorded history, killing around 92,000 people and ejecting so much ash into the atmosphere that average global temperatures dipped by 3 °C. In the northern hemisphere 1816 became known as the year without a summer. New England had blizzards in July and crops failed. Europe was hit just as badly.

On holiday by Lake Geneva the 18-year-old Mary Shelley and her husband Percy were trapped in Lord Byron’s house by constant rain. To divert his guests Byron suggested a competition to write a ghost story. The result was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Across the border in the German state of Baden the soaring price of oats prompted the 32-year-old Karl Drais to invent a replacement for the horse – the first bicycle.

From Histories: Brimstone and Bicycles

Jane Austen died the year a two-wheeled bicycle called the running machine was invented in 1817. Chances are she would never have mentioned such a marvelous invention as the velocipede in her novels, as one is hard pressed to recall her descriptions of ground breaking scientific advances of the Georgian and Regency eras as the steam locomotive, macadam roads, small pox vaccinations, and hot air balloons. The industrial revolution was in full swing in Great Britain by the early 19th century, and bicycles were but one byproduct of that heady, inventive time.

Karl Drais’ design was made of wood (see Karl in the picture above,) and boasted a seat and handle bars, but it came with no pedals. Nevertheless, by pushing with one’s feet this invention could go as fast as 10 miles per hour. Karl’s contraption was called several names, including the Draisienne and the dandy horse in England – an allusion to the fact that the dandy horses riders were mostly dapper young men with too much money on their hands. Intellectual property rights were still in their infancy and the bicycle was widely copied. Subsequently, Drais never made a huge sum of money from his invention.

Only two years after the bicycle was invented, an unknown gentleman wrote the delightfully droll The Dandy’s Perambulations. (Click on the link at the top of this post to read it.) Read more about the beginning of the bicycle in the following links:

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The lady and the artist

For some reason, this breathtaking image of Mrs. Jens Wolff, 1803-1815, by Sir Thomas Lawrence has me mesmerized. It turns out, she and the artist’s sister were friends, and she corresponded regularly with Sir Thomas until her death in 1829. Find out more about her relationship with the artist in the Life and Correspondence of Sir Thomas Lawrence, by D.E.Williams. The original text can be found on Google book search.

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Illustration from the Jane Austen Society of Australia Website

(Post Updated: May, 2008): Until the last two centuries, adequate interior lighting was difficult to achieve. Oil lamps, around since ancient times, were smelly, and fish oil had an especially unpleasant odor. Rushlights dipped in tallow were commonly used, since candles were prohibitively expensive. It was the custom for families to sit near the fireplace at night as a group, reading, doing needlework, or telling stories, but generally people rose with the light and went to bed shortly after sunset. Only the more affluent members of society could afford to burn a large number of candles at a time, and their homes were characterized by spacious windows and well placed reflectors and mirrors.

“Traditionally in England, candles were used in great halls, monasteries and churches of medieval times. In addition, candles were used to light cottages and shops. King Alfred of England stuck torches in walls to supply lighting. The simplest (and smelliest) candles known as rush light were made by dipping rushes in leftover kitchen fat. For many centuries, candles were considered expensive items in Europe. Town-made candles from the wax-chandler were available for those who could afford them. These candles were made of wax or animal fat and were placed in silver, wooden or pewter candlesticks.”


Until the 19th century tallow candles and rushlights were the principal form of light for the poor. The slaughter of one bullock provided enough tallow for three years’ worth of candles and a well organised household could produce 300 or so at a candle making session. The Newsfinder Website: A Short History of Candles discusses how lighting remained essentially unchanged for hundreds of years until the early 19th century. Then, “the growth of the whaling industry in the late 18th century brought the first major change in candlemaking since the Middle Ages, when spermaceti – a wax obtained by crystallizing sperm whale oil – became available in quantity. Like beeswax, the spermaceti wax did not elicit a repugnant odor when burned, and produced a significantly brighter light. It also was harder than either tallow or beeswax, so it wouldn’t soften or bend in the summer heat. Historians note that the first “standard candles” were made from spermaceti wax.” From Cierra Candles

In Light Fittings in Georgian and Early Victorian Interiors, Jonathan Taylor writes,

“Candles were used sparingly. Even in the homes of the wealthy, when the family was not entertaining guest, only the minimum number of candles were used in a room at any one time, and these were positioned close to where the light was most needed. A single candle was carried to light the way from one room to another. Everyday lighting was therefore moveable, and not part of the architectural design of the interior.”

George III Regency Mirror, circa 1810, with Two pairs of ormolu candle arms

In The Transformation of Lanhydrock House, Cornwall, 1758–1829: a paper presented to the CHN Conference 2002: The Country House, the authors describe the architectural parts of a house’s lighting:

“The main lighting in the eighteenth century house was by ‘2 glass lanterns’ one in the Prayer Room Passage and the other on the Staircase. The Dining Room was well illuminated by a ‘pier glass with chandelier’, ‘2 girandola in white carved frames’ and candle branches over the chimney. By c.1829 Wedgwood candlesticks and glass candelabra were replacing the more traditional candle branches and Corinthian pillared candlesticks. The emphasis towards quality lighting was displayed through the use of Spermaceti candles that were running low in stock by 1802. 26 There was no evidence by 1829 of oil lighting in the house. This reflects the often slow adherence to some aspects of contemporary technology.”

After the turn of the century, there was an explosion in candlemaking technology, as the Newsfinder website describes.

In 1709 in Britain, candles were taxed and people forbidden from making their own. This punitive tax was eventually repealled in 1831, resulting in a renaissance of decorative candles. It was not until new alternatives were looming when frenchman M. Chevereul purified tallow by treating it with alkali & sulphuric acid thus creating a clean-burning stearin candle which was long-lasting.

M. Cambaceres another Frenchman devised the plaited wick in 1825. This he steeped in mineral salts to make it curve on burning, thereby obviating the need to trim wicks.

In 1834 Joseph Morgan created a candle making machine which could produce up to 1500 candles an hour. In 1850, parrafin wax appeared, shortly followed in 1857 with the combination of stearin & the plaited wick resulting in a bright affordable candle.

The nineteenth century brought the development of patented candlemaking machines, making candles available for the poorest homes. In an attempt to protect the industry, England passed a law forbidding the making of candles at home without purchase of a special licence. At this time, a chemist named Michel Eugene Chevreul made an important discovery. He realized that tallow was not one substance but a composition of two fatty acids, stearic acid and oleic acid, combined with glycerine to form a neutral non-flammable material.”

By removing the glycerine from the tallow mixture, Chevreul invented a new substance called “stearine.” Stearine was harder than tallow and burned brighter and longer. It is this substance known today as stearin or stearic acid that led to the improvement of candle quality. Stearin also made improvements in the manufacture of wicks possible. It put an end to the constant round of snuffing and trimming wicks once they were lit. Instead of being made of simply twisted strands of cotton, wicks were now plaited tightly; the burned portion curled over and was completely consumed, rather than falling messily into the melting wax.

More improvements such as the addition of lime, palmatine, and paraffin developed in commercial candle manufacture. Paraffin wax was extracted from crude oil . It equalled beeswax and spermaceti candles for brightness and hardness and were cheaper. Paraffin wax is still widely used today in commercial candlemaking.”

Rushlight Stand


For more resources on lighting, see

  • For a more detailed history of historical lighting, click on Early Lighting, a fabulous site filled with photos, illustrations, and definitions.

  • Candlelight reflectors
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    In honor of the 200 year anniversary of William Wordsworth’s poem, “Daffodils,” the Cumbria Tourism board in the Lake District of England created a rap video by the squirrel M.C. Nuts to attract younger tourists.

    My, how times have changed since Jane’s time! For comparison, here’s the original poem:

     

    “Daffodils” (1804)

    I WANDER’D lonely as a cloud

    That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

    When all at once I saw a crowd,

    A host, of golden daffodils;

    Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

    Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

    Continuous as the stars that shine

    And twinkle on the Milky Way,

    They stretch’d in never-ending line

    Along the margin of a bay:

    Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

    Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

    The waves beside them danced; but they

    Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

    A poet could not but be gay,

    In such a jocund company:

    I gazed — and gazed — but little thought

    What wealth the show to me had brought:

    For oft, when on my couch I lie

    In vacant or in pensive mood,

    They flash upon that inward eye

    Which is the bliss of solitude;

    And then my heart with pleasure fills,

    And dances with the daffodils.

    By William Wordsworth (1770-1850).

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    Lady Caroline Lamb

    Caroline Ponsonby married William Lamb in 1805 with the expectation of inheriting wealth and riches, but her father-in-law was still living at the time of her death in 1828.

    A woman of independent character who rarely conformed to society’s expectations, “Caro” still provokes strong reactions to her life and work, and affair with Lord Byron in 1812.

    “As a child she was a tomboy – and a spirit of recklessness and disdain for convention never left her. She had no formal education and was unable to read until late adolescence. But she was intelligent and witty; as an adult, she wrote poetry and prose and drew portraits. She was the first woman of Byron’s class to captivate the poet completely. He treated Caroline badly after the grand infatuation faded. But while it lasted, he was demanding and possessive, goading her to admit she loved him more than her husband. He pursued her with abandon, once planning to flee England with her. Caroline’s reaction to the break-up is understandable; Byron led her to believe he loved her. It was her sad fate to discover Byron’s interpretation of love – a mad, passionate obsession which is abandoned as soon as curiosity and desire are sated.” From English History net.

    Byron described Caroline as “the cleverest most agreeable, absurd, amiable, perplexing, dangerous fascinating little being that lives now or ought to have lived 2000 years ago.” Their brief but intense affair lasted only from March until August 1812, but it was to have longer lasting consequences for both of them.

     

     

    Melbourne Hall, Home of Lady Caroline Lamb

    Lady Caro’s body of literary work has not fared well with critics over the ages. Of Glenarvon, her first novel in 1816, she wondered why “everybody wishes to run down and suppress the vital spark of genius I have, and in truth, it is but small (about what one sees a maid gets by excessive beating on a tinder-box). I am not vain, believe me, nor selfish, nor in love with my authorship; but I am independent, as far as a mite and bit of dust can be.” Those who have judged her novels and poetry have treated them as an extension of her personality: at best the production of a neurotic mind, and at worst a devious attempt to hurt Byron.

     

     

    Lady Caroline Ponsonby Lamb)(dghtr of Henrietta Spencer and Frederic Ponsonby, erd Earl of Bessborough, spouse of William Lamb, 2nd Visc. Melbourne)-painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence

    Lady Caroline certainly suffered when Byron ended their affair. She was threatened with a straitjacket several times subsequently. After Byron left England, however, her life did not devolve into complete histrionics. She published three novels, two accomplished parodies of Byron’s poetry, several poems in literary journals, and a number of songs — besides having worked up three other novel projects and a “pocket-diary” called Penruddock that she printed in England and sought to publish in Ireland. ”

    According to Wikipedia, “In 1824, she accidentally came across Byron’s funeral cortège on its way to his burial place, and this incident drove her to a nervous breakdown, and rumoured insanity. She lived her last years in seclusion at Brocket Hall.”

    Learn more about Lady Caroline here.

    Caro: The Lady Caroline Lamb Website

    Lady Caroline Lamb

    Byron

    The Literacy Encyclopedia

    Lord Byron: Letter to Lady Caroline Lamb


    Lady Caro’s letter to Lord Byron

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