Friday, 22 July 2011

The Best of Horace Walpole

I think Horace Walpole is easily one if the most accessible commentators of his age. A prolific letter-writer with a colourful personality, his ascerbic wit and keen observational skills make reading his correspondence an absolute joy! Each week I will provide a short extract from one of his letters. The first concerns the weather (a familar discourse in Walpole's compositions) and his encountering a hot air balloon - the letter dates from June of 1784 and the first manned balloon flight took place in October of 1793.
To the Hon H.S. Conway
Strawberry Hill, June 30th 1784

The Duke and Duchess of Marlborough breakfasted here on Monday and seemed much pleased, though it rained the whole time with an Egyptian darkness. I should have thought there had been deluges enough to destroy all of Egypt's other plagues: but the the newspapers talk of locusts: I suppose relations of your beetles, though probably not so fond of green fruit, for the scene of their campaign is Queen square, Westminster, where there has certainly not been an orchard since the reign of Canute.

I have, at last, seen an air balloon, just as I did once see a tiny review, by passing one accidentally on Hounslow-Heath. I was going last night to Lady Oslow at Richmond and over Mr. Cambridge's field I saw a bundle in the air not bigger than the moon, and she herself could not have descended with more composure if she had she had expected to find Endymion fast asleep. It seemed to 'light on Richmond-hill; but Mrs. Hobart was going by, and her coiffure prevented my seeing it alight. The papers say, that a balloon has been made at Paris representing the castle of Stockholm, in compliment to the King of Sweden; but that they are afraid to let it off: so, I suppose, it will be served up to him in a dessert. No great progress.. surely, is made in these airy navigations, if they are still afraid of risking the necks of two or three subjects for the entertainment of a visiting sovereign. There is seldom a feu de joie for the birth of a Dauphin that does not cost more lives. I thought royalty and science never haggled about the value of blood when experiments are in the question.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Law and Order Part One: The Trial

Criminal trials in the eighteenth century were notoriously brief - rarely exceeding half an hour in duration. Most defendants awaited trial in prisons such as Newgate and were rarely informed of the exact nature of their charge as it was described in the indictment. All were expected to defend themselves as defense counsel was prohibited (though in actual fact, defense lawyers could technically be procured as they were permitted in partake in a limited capacity in felony trials from the mid 1730's onwards, however they were not allowed to speak on behalf of their client until 1836 under the Prisoner's Counsel Act) - according to the 18th century political writer and sergeant-at-law, this stipulation was owing to the belief:

It requires no manner of Skill to make plain and honest Defence, which in Cases of this Kind is always the best; the Simplicity and Innocence, artless and ingenuous Behaviour of one whose Conscience acquits him having something in it more moving and convincing than the highest Eloquence of Persons speaking in a cause not their Own...[whereas] the very Speech, Gesture and Countenance and Manner of Defence of those who are Guilty, when they speak for themselves, may often help to disclose the Truth.

The accused's innocence was not presumed. 

Monday, 18 July 2011

A Look at the Life of Hannah More

If you have been fortunate enough to see the most excellent film 'Amazing Grace' (2006) concerning the abolitionist movement headed by William wilberforce you may recall that a woman sat at the helm of the movement alongside such luminaries as  Equiano, Sharp and Clarkson. That woman's name was Hannah More and she constitutes the subject of today's article.

Born in the outskirts of Bristol in 1745, Hannah More was known in her lifetime for a vast number and variety of things - she was best described at various times of her life as a teacher, a playwright, a novelist, an Evangelical reformer, a philanthropist and latterly, a political writer.

More began life as a teacher, administering an upmarket ladies academy in trinity street, Bristol alongside her sisters. Amongst her young pupils was Mary 'Perdita' Robinson, who famously became the Prince Regent's first mistress. The blue-stocking Mrs Thrale later remarked: 

of all Biographical Anecdotes none ever struck me more forcibly than the one saying how Hannah More la devote was the woman who educated fair Perdita la percheress

In her memoirs Robinson noted:

[at the school] there was a concentration on French,reading, writing, arithmetic and needle-work...a dancing master properly attended...[Hannah] divided her hours between the arduous task of teaching the young ideas how to shoot and exemplifying by works of taste and fancy the powers of a mind already so cultivated.

More was prone throughout her life to bouts of depression, described as often '[giving] herself up to headaches, colds, bilious attacks and other functional illnesses". She ceased working at the school upon becoming engaged to a man named Edward Turner, the owner of a large estate within the district. Turner however, was reluctant to set a date for their wedding, and after six years he broke off their long engagement, agreeing to pay More a annuity of £200 as means of compensation. It appears that More subsequently suffered a nervous breakdown and she retired to Uphill, near Weston-super-Mare to recuperate. It was said at the time that she was "recovering from an ague." She would never marry.

Instead, More would go on to pursue her interest in theatre, collaborating with the great David Garrick. Her first play was entitled The Inflexible Captive and opened in 1775 at the Theatre Royal in Bath to much acclaim. Whilst she enjoyed a moderately successful theatrical career, according to her biographer Mary Alden Hopkins:

the deaths of Garrick, her father, and Dr Samuel Johnson saddened her and made her more susceptible to the influence of deepening friendships with the evangelical men and women of the Clapham Sect and other progressive religious groups.

 It was with such groups that More would contribute to the abolitionist movement. In later life, she would become known both for her philanthropy and for possessing a strong (though not entirely progressive) view on the education and role of women. As Hopkins has argued: 

She made many excellent observations on the subject, pointing out that it was unjust to keep women ignorant and scorn them for it, holding that education should be a preparation for life rather than an adornment; she advocated only for exceptional girls the classical education which she and her sisters had received. She would have the average girl trained in whatever 'inculcates principles, polishes taste, regulates temper, subdues passion, directs the feelings, habituates to reflection, trains to self-denial, and more especially, that which refers to all actions, feelings and tastes, and passions to the love and fear of God'. She would have history taught to show the wickedness of mankind and the guiding hand of God, and geography to indicate how Providence has graciously consulted man's comfort in suiting vegetation and climate to his needs.

More died in 1833, at the age of 88. It appears she retained possession of all her mental faculties up until this time as according to Mark K. Smith, "as she recognised death was getting close she began to arrange for the disposal of much of her fortune among various charities and religious societies." 

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The Nature of Impressment

In 1779 in a debate concerning the Royal Navy in the Lords, the Duke of Richmond defined impressment as “a compulsory mode of obliging persons to take up arms, to become either soldiers or sailors.” This form of coercion was widely deemed necessary as the navy struggled to recruit the required quantity of men to man its fleets during such engagements as the Napoleonic Wars. Indeed, according to Historian Nicholas Rogers, Britain was “at war approximately one in every two years from 1690-1815, and within the timeframe of 1739-1815, just under two in every three...The wartime demand for seaman outstripped supply by almost two to one.” He also points out that impressment was much more common in the navy than in the army - for soldiers’ enlistment entailed a justice of the peace to be present in order to confirm it was voluntary, whereas there existed no such formalities when a sailor was deemed to be a fit recruit for the navy by a press officer.

'Manning the Navy' (caricature) - a coloured etching by Collings

Impressing at sea was a time-honoured practice within the navy, but during the eighteenth century, impressing one shore became increasingly common. It is difficult to determine what proportion of sailors in the eighteenth-century navy were there owing to impressment. Figures vary, but an alarming 1803-1805 survey conducted by the Admiralty reveals that in those years, 48% of 11,600 surveyed recruits were impressed into the navy. During the first half of the eighteenth century, impressment was largely centred in the south – in London, the Downs, Portsmouth and Plymouth. However, as the century wore on and with the instigation of the Seven Years War, press warrants began to be issued more often in Bristol, Liverpool, Newcastle, Hull and Yarmouth. In the year 1780, the impress services constituted  a major operation that employed some 30 captains, 105 lieutenants and 215 petty officers. Seaman – merchant sailors for example - were mainly targeted, though technically any man between the ages of 18 and 55 who ‘used the sea’ were eligible. In an age where tin-miners and Scottish farmers alike were known at times to take to their boats in pursuit of fish, this latter category encompassed a great multitude of men. It is little wonder then that William Lovett recorded that

The cry that ‘press gang was coming’ was sufficient to cause all the young and eligible men of the town to flock up the hills and away to the country as far as possible, and to hide themselves in all manner of places till the danger was supposed to be over.
Indeed, records from the Old Bailey in London reveal that the press gangs were even used as a form of alibi – a thief named John Flat who stole from a lighter on the Thames claimed he was only aboard the vessel because ‘the Press-Gang’ was come’ . In 1776, Bere Alston lightermen who carried lime stone up the river were targeted by the press gangs, according to a local publication they “were dragged out of their craft like dogs...leaving their families in great distress.”
Exemptions were rare. Some ‘protections’ were offered to a specific number of seaman in a designated area in order to protect that area’s commercial activity. Certain industries such as whaling were also protected – statutory exemptions were extended to sea apprenctices, Greenland harpooners, Thames watermen and Tyne and Wear colliers.
Hogarth: An execution at Tyburn, much like Mary Jones' would have been
The effects of impressment was felt not only by the victim, but also by their family. In 1771, on the 11th of September under the Shoplifting Act, a young mother of two named Mary Jones was sentenced to death. Her husband, the family’s principal ‘bread-winner’ had been impressed during the Falkland Islands crisis of 1770, and deprived of an income, Mary had been driven to slip ‘the remnants of worked muslin’ valued at £5. 10s. (£5.50) under her cloak – a crime she paid for with her life as the value of the goods stolen exceeded five shillings (25p). Six years later, Whig MP Sir William Meredith would argue:
The state bereaved the woman of her husband, and the children of a father....The law deprived the woman of her life, and the children of their remaining parent. Take all the circumstances together, I do not believe that a fouler murder was ever committed against law than the murder of this woman by law.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Pregnancy and Birth

Maria Duchess of Gloucester with child
It is my intention to explore the nature of an eighteenth century person’s life at every stage – from infancy to death. I will therefore begin with describing the general experience of childbirth in Georgian times:
The most prominent name in eighteenth century obstetrics was undoubtedly the Scottish doctor, William Smellie, author of the Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Midwifery (1752) who revolutionised birthing practices in Britain and claimed to have, during his lifetime, delivered more than a thousand women. In his London practice, he taught some 900 doctors and ‘a few female students’ the necessary skills to successfully deliver babies and he notes that he invariably employed in his lectures "machines which I have contrived to resemble and represent women children”. Smellie also introduced into polite society the concept of man-midwives (or accoucheurs) who, given their superior strength to (most) midwives, were able to actively intervene during difficult births by employing obstetrical forceps (which were designed by Smellie). Indeed, a 1746 edition of the Gentleman’s Magazine notes that “an eminent man midwife” was sued for 1000 pounds for not having arrived in time to deliver a child.
A multitude of advice books were published on the subject of pregnancy and birth. Eliza Smith’s Complete Housewife or
Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion
  contained a recipe for a draught "to prevent miscarrying" and another "to procure easy be taken twice a day for six weeks before the time.” The Ladies Dispensary, or Every Woman Her Own Physician (1739) advised (rather ambiguously) that a woman "should avoid [during pregnancy] every thing that might anyway prove offensive but may drink a little wine to comfort her stomach." It is noted that "particular Regard must be had to gratify her desires." During labour, the same book prescribes:

wine occasionally diluted with water may be used for common drink for some time before and after delivery. It is customary in the very Hour to administer a Glass of some cordial water [i.e. Gin] between whiles [contractions]....and when the whole affair is over...a proper cordial [i.e. liquid laudanum] or a glass of hot wine ought instantly to be given her.
During labour, while Smellie instructed that doctors were to be “agreeable to the distressed patient.” He advised that:
if the mother and her assistants [friends and relatives] are clamorous that she should be given medication, first try argument and gentle persuasion, but if they still insist, give her some innocent Placemus [placebo] to beguile the time and please her imagination.
The same book advocated breastfeeding, arguing “Can you think that Nature should have furnished women with those two beautiful excresences for ornament alone?”
 Smellie insisted that a mother ought to enter in to a period of complete bed rest for a period extending up to five days after even a normal delivery. Prior to the birth, in order to ensure that this subsequent period rest remained uninterrupted, Smellie recommended that the attendants should see to:

covering up the floors and stairs with carpets and cloths, oiling the hinges of the doors, silencing the bells, tying up the knockers, and in noisy streets strewing the pavements with straw.
Eliza Smith’s instructions read that the newborn was be bathed in “small beer and butter” and she notes that:
'tis a usual thing to give him a little fresh butter and sugar to clear his breathing and purge off excrementitious matter from the Bowels...a little warm wine should be poured down the throat or squirted up the nostrils... but he should not have brandy, geneva, aniseed water or any of the like fiery cordials.
If the baby did not breathe initially Smellie’s recommendation was that “it must be moved, shaken, whipt: the head, temples, and breast rubbed with spirits, garlics, onions or mustard applied to the moth and nose.” If all else failed, the attendant must “try blowing into the infant’s as to expand the lungs.” Aferwards, Eliza Smith maintained that the baby “should lie with his head comfortably raised, that the Phlegm...may the readier be discharged, and suffocation prevented.” She scoldingly remarks that “..the sudden deaths of young children...are very often owing to a neglect of this caution.” Dr Smellie simply noted  that the baby ought to be washed in water and dressed, and  “[the infant’s head should be] accommodated with a cap adorned with as much finery as the tire-woman shall think proper to bestow.”
Liza Picard notes that in 1747, “a clutch of maternity or lying in hospitals opened.” The Middle-sex Hospital off Tottenham Court Road opened a maternity ward in that year, in which:
Married women only [were] admitted in the last month of their pregnancy. They [were] to be under the care of the man-midwife, Mr Layard, to be delivered by him and furnished with all necessaries at the charge of the hospital...Tuesday is the day of admission but accident [sudden laborus] are admitted every day without recommendation [no need of a governor’s letter].

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Way They Sounded

I have heard it said that the French Canadian accent - at times lampooned by the French - somewhat resembles the way in which the early French colonists themselves spoke. I'm by no means an authority on the subject, but it provides a nice lead in to my topic today - that is, the nature of spoken English during the eighteenth century.

One does not gain an entirely favourable impression of Georgian London and the language of its inhabitants from Monsieur Pierre-Jean Grosley's 1770 account of his brief sojourn in the city. For one thing, he never did manage to see the Apothecaries' Garden (or the Physics Garden) in Chelsea owing to the fact that none could understand his pronounciation of Apothecary (he found later that it was incongruously pronounced 'Potticary'). As a result, he wrote the following scathing attack on the English language:
The English Language as generally spoken seems to consist entirely of monosyllables...the first [syllable] is pronounced with emphasis and the rest, being half suppossed, dies away with the may be easier here to speak to a horse than a fellow human being.
He noted also the idiosyncratic discrepancy between written and spoken English using as his example that surgeon, whilst pronounced as it is today, was written 'chirurgeon'.

The most admired speaker of the Georgian age was most probably the actor David Garrick (pictured above with his wife), but the fact even he also was guilty of obscure pronounciation (he was said to pronounce 'firm' and 'girth' as 'gurd' and 'furm' and apparently "his example was followed by many of his imitators on the stage...who could do well to correct this impropriety") is evidence that there was a comparable variety in the way in which words were pronounced in London alone as there is today with the regional variations of the British accent.

Dr Samuel Johnson remarked that in London, 'gold' was pronounced 'goold' and 'Rome', 'room' and that 'Ea' in combination with two or more consonants (such as in the world 'earth') should be pronounced as in 'realm', similarily, 'Au' in words should be pronounced as a sharp 'a' as in 'cat'. Dr Johnson seemed to concur though with M. Grosley, asserting:
Our speech [is] copious without order, and energetick without rules...[our vowels] are so capriciously pronounced and so differently modified by accident or affection.
In 'The Complete Letter-Writer' of 1768, it is noted that many words contain letters which are not pronounced 'but must be wrote'. It uses as its examples 'devil' and 'venison' which both omitted an 'i' in pronounciation and 'Bristol' which apparently then was pronounced without an 'l' - indeed it appears in some Georgian maps as 'Bristow'.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

Perhaps a good example of singular Georgian pronounciation is the 'Cavendish drawl' or the 'Devonshire House drawl' - an odd form of pronounciation employed by the Cavendishes - notably the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and their inner circle. According to Georgiana Cavendish (the Duchess of Devonshire)'s biographer Amanda Foreman:
Hope was written and pronounced as 'whop'; you become 'oo'. Vowels were composed and extended so that cucumber became 'cowcumber', yellow 'yaller' and spoil rhymed with mile. Stresses fell on unexpected syllables, such as bal-cony and con-template. By the middle of the next century, all Whigs would speak in the Drawl...but in Georgiana's time, it remained the Circle's own patois
Pronounciation was not the only hurdle foreigners like poor M. Grosley had to overcome. In her book, 'Dr Johnson's London', Liza Picard provides us with an excellent list of the some of the curious terms prevalent in the Georgian vernacular:

Bingo: brandy
bread: employment
chatter broth: tea
crack: prostitute
fireship: prostitute with venereal disease
homely: plain
honey month: the first month after marriage
looking glass: not a mirror, but a chamber pot
louse ladder: dropped stitch in stocking
mob: a term coined by the elites from mobile vulgas, the fickle crowd
niffy-naffy fellow: a joker; a wit
old hat: a woman's genitalia
rhino: cash; bills of money

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Almack's, Brooks's and Whites's

In the late eighteenth century, gentleman's clubs came into their own as the primary social oulet for men of fashion, supplanting the coffee houses and chocolate houses of former years. Their membership was at this time, fairly exclusive as many of the clubs specalised in 'high play' - the wagering of significant sums of money. Indeed, Horace Walpole's description of the prominent Whig Charles James Fox losing a seemingly inordinate amount of money in a single sitting does not seem to be an unusual occurrence at this time:
He had sat up...playing hazard [a gambling game played with dice] at Almack's, from Tuesday evening 4th till five in the afternoon of Wednesday 5th. An hour before he had recovered £12,000 [approximately £720,000 pounds today] that he had lost and by dinner, which was five o'clock, he had ended by loosing £11,000 £660,000 today].
Indeed, Walpole himself notes that:
In less than two hours, the Duke of Cumberland lost four hundred and fifty pounds at Loo [a card game] Miss Pelham won three hundred and I, the rest. On another occasion, I lost fifty-six guineas before I could say Ave Maria.
Within their confines gossip was exchanged, heated debate of a political nature took place and men, like Charles Fox, gambled themselves into near-ruinous debt.

Exterior of Whites's Club
The first of these clubs to gain prominence was Whites's which originally took over the site of Whites's Chocolate House in Chesterfield Street. In 1778, it moved to St Jame's Street which simultanously became the premier street for the gentleman's clubs. Horace Walpole records how:
The [citizens of London] trudge[d] to St James's Street in expectation of seeing judgements executed on Whites's angels with flaming swords and devils flying away with dice-boxes.
Almack's Club began as a rival to White's on the opposite side of the St James Street. It's name derives from a reversal of it's founder's name, Macall. It was among the first of its kind to admit both men and women, indeed, it was once described as a 'female Brooks's' and it was presided over by a prestigous committee of six or seven influential ladies who constituted its governing body - the Lady Patronesses. These women determined who was admitted into the club and were scrupulous in their judgement to say the least - The Duke of Wellington, hero of Waterloo, was at one time barred from entering for committing the gross satorial crime of wearing trousers in place of the customary stockings and breeches.

The Assembly Room at Almacks's
The third club I will introduce today is Brooks's, which was launched in 1778 on St James Street as a rival to Almacks's and became the spiritual home of the Foxite Whigs (that is, the followers of Charles James Fox). Brooks was a wine merchant -
whose speculative skill
In hasty credit and distant bill,
...nursed in clubs, disdain[ed] a vulgar trade,
Exult[ed] to trust, and blush[ed] to be paid
More simply, George Selwyn (a man who incidentally spent a record 44 years in the House of Commons without making a speech) described him as "the completest composition of knave and fool that ever was, to which I may add liar." Unsuprisingly, Selwyn "relinquished nasty Brooks's" in favour of Whites's across the road, which he described in a manner that suggests it become more conservative after the establishment of its competitors - for Selwyn maintains that Whites's had, at this time, 'no more than 300 members', little gambling beyond 'the occasional trente-quarante for a few guineas' and afforded 'very little amusement'. But still, it was better than Brooks's which he deemed 'a precipice of perdition.'

Gaming Room at Brooks's

Gentleman's clubs is subject on which I have much to say and thus, this post will be no means be the last resource I post on them, but I thought it best to begin with a brief introduction.