In my last review of the English Regency, amongst other diversions, we took a fine whirl about the pursuits of the Prince Regent in the lap of his London luxury, and as seen through the eyes of those partaking in the fare. In this little review, we continue our journey with those who actively indulged in the delights and novelties of this era, and left such colorful accounts of these that they live vividly in history today.
It was well known how very fond of Brighton the Prince and his devotees were. His grand oriental palace, the Royal Pavilion, was a monumental tribute to the place and pleasures. Everything about the Regent's life in and out of London was elegant and lively. Thomas Creevey the notable diarist recorded a dash of it, while in Brighton:
"Nov. 1st. We were at the Pavilion last night -- Mrs Creevey's three daughters, and myself -- and had a very pleasant evening ... About half-past nine, which might be a quarter of an hour after we arrived, the Prince came out of the dining-room. He was in his best humour, bowed and spoke to all of us, and looked uncommonly well, tho' very fat. He was in his full Field Marshal's uniform. He remained quite as cheerful and full of fun to the last -- half-past twelve -- asked after Mrs Creevey's health, and nodded and spoke when he passed us ... The officers of the Prince's regiment had all dined with him, and looked very ornamental monkeys in their red breeches with gold fringe and yellow boots. The Prince's band played as usual in the dining-room till 12, when the pages and footmen brought about iced champagne punch, lemonade and sandwiches ...
The Prince looked much happier and more unembarrassed by care than I have seen him since this time six years ... Now that he has the weight of the Empire upon him, he is quite alive ...
Nov. 2nd. We were again at the Pavilion last night ... The Regent sat in the Musick Room almost all the time between Viotti, the famous violin player, and Lady Jane Houston, and he went on for hours beating his thighs the proper time for the band, and singing out aloud, and looking about him for accompaniment from Viotti and Lady Jane. It was a curious sight to see a Regent thus employed, but he seemed in high good humour ..."
And what would a bird's eye view of the Regency be without the celebrated Irish novelist Maria Edgeworth's account of it. In 1813 she came to England and conquered it, queening it at every glittering social occasion:
"We have been to a grand night at Mrs Hope's ... rooms really deserve the French epithet superbe! All of beauty, rank and fashion that London can assemble I believe I may say in the newspaper style was there ... The Prince Regent stood holding converse with Lady Elizabeth Monck one third of the night -- she leaning gracefully on a bronze table in the center of the room ... About 500 people were at this assembly -- The crowd of carriages so great that after sitting an hour waiting in ours, the coachman told us there was no chance of our getting in unless we got out and walked."
In 1818, paying another visit to England, but in a very different round of engagements, Miss Edgeworth then found herself staying with Joanna Baillie, the authoress, in the village of Hampstead.
"For 6 or 7 miles as we approached Hampstead the whole country seemed to be what you might call a citizens paradise -- not a fools paradise, though a fastidious man of taste or an intolerant philosopher might think them synonymous terms. No, here are means of comfort and enjoyment more substantial than ever were provided in any fools paradise. Then such odd prettinesses -- Such a variety of little snuggeries and such green trellises and bowers and vinecovered fronts of houses that look as if they had been built and painted in exact imitation of the cottages in the front and side-scenes of Drury-lane ...
Joanna Baillie and her sister, the most kind cordial warm-hearted creatures, came running down their little flagged walk to welcome us ...
Wednesday morning. Breakfast time in this house is very pleasant. These two good sisters so neat and cheerful when we meet them in the morning -- delicately white tablecloth -- Scotch marmalade -- Excellent tea and coffee -- Everything at breakfast and at dinner at all times so neat and suitable! ... They told us the history of Mrs Fry the quaker who goes to reform the people at Newgate. They know her intimately. She is very rich -- very handsome, a delicate madonna-looking woman -- married to a man who adores her and what is much more to the purpose, supplies her with money and lets her follow her benevolent courses (I did not say whims) as she pleases."
In that same year our Miss E. also secured herself an invitation to the great country house, Bowood, which was very different to the rustic charm of Miss Baillie's 'snuggery':
"Breakfast at 1/2 after nine -- Breakfast very pleasant tho a servant waits -- but he is an Italian, a Milanese -- seems like a machine who understands only what relates to his service -- stands by a round table placed in front of a stand of flowers -- on this table large silver lamp tea urn -- Coffee urn and all necessary for tea and coffee to be made by him. On the large round table at which we sit there appears ... mixed cut glass and beautiful china -- meat sweetmeats -- cakes -- buns -- rolls &c. in each or china basket -- numbers of cut glass ewers and cut glass sugar basins. Milanese watches all who enter -- salvers them with tea and coffee -- and cups are changed and all continually supplied without hands crossing or any I'll trouble yous. I am a convert which I thought I should never be to this system. Conversation goes on delightfully and one forgets the existence of the dumb waiter."
Undoubtedly the 'dumb waiter' had a great deal to say to his peers below stairs about Miss Edgeworth's high life above him, and some of it might have troubled her indeed! And some due thought to the classes that served the Regency gentry and the aristocratic hierarchy is starkly delivered in this exceprt from an essay on social consciousness, entitled The Praise of Chimney Sweepers', by Charles Lamb:
" ... to see a chit no bigger than one's-self enter, one knew not by what process, into what seemed the fauces Averni -- to pursue him in imagination, as he went sounding on through so many dark stifling caverns, horrid shades! -- to revive at hearing his feeble shout of discovered day-light, and then ... running out of doors, to come just in time to see the sable phenomenon emerge in safety, the brandished weapon of his art victorious like some flag waved over a conquered citadel! I seem to remember having been told, that a bad sweep was once left in a stack with his brush, to indicate which way the wind blew."
One can only hope that that stack started to smoke all the indulged inhumane inside into oblivion. Poor little 'chit'! And chimney sweepers were but the least of the horror of child labor. During the Regency, and thanks to the coinciding effects of the Industrial Revolution, children were sent to work in the mines to haul trucks of coal that warmed the hearths, but evidently not the hearts, of the callous upper classes. Indeed, this indifference to the suffering of the indigent masses, eventually so spurred on social unrest amongst them that it did, very expediently, begin the course of popular education. Though the aristocracy and the middle class could avail themselves of public and grammar schools, and the privileges of Cambridge and Oxford, the working classes, too, were, at last, given the chance of a basic education. Mr. Rush the American Minister reported as much to the Secretary of State upon the last session of Parliament:
Photo: courtesy Arnoldius
"Education. I notice the report to the House of Commons, by which it appeared how this great work is advancing in England; for that, whilst in 1812, the number of schools, under the national school system, was only 52, and the pupils 8000, this report shows that the former had risen, in 1818, to above 1400, and the number of pupils to 200,000."
In my next review of this fascinating era, we venture into the bewitching houses and gardens that universally capture our imagination to this day. From landmark architecture and landscape gardening to furniture and fashion, the elegance of the Regency in all of its most popular glory will be revealed in very dashing detail!
Sources: Richardson J. The Regency (Collins, 1973.)
Images courtesy Wikimedia Commons
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