Friday, November 30, 2012

How much History?

When Jane Austen wrote her books, she did not include any of the stirring events of the day, despite that a great war raged, and social upheaval was rife.

Unless Georgette Heyer was writing about that great war, she did not often include the notable events of the early nineteenth century in her stories.

Until now, I have, for the most part, followed in their august footsteps. But when Shakoriel and I began to consider an illustrated book, it occurred to me to use history in a new way in my writing. And The Regency Storybook came about.

We already had the pictures for our book. A few years ago, Shakoriel did twelve line drawings of Regency fashions, with reference to original sources, and we published the "Fashions of Regency England Colouring Book". Then in the last year and a half, she painted the pictures digitally, and they have been offered for sale as frameable prints.

When we did the Regency colouring book, the people modelling the fashions had so much personality that, just for fun, we gave each of them a name. Now as we approached The Regency Storybook, we needed only stories to accompany the pictures. But the stories needed a cohesive focus. It seemed to me that the notable events of the era offered that focus.

We all can name events in our own time that have touched our lives to a greater or lesser extent: 9/11, the moon landing, deaths of famous people, encounters with celebrity, etc.
I began to reflect on how the events of the extended Regency era must have touched the lives of the people, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. And so the stories came together.

Anxious Miss Phoebe Churcham is in the street, unusually alone, when the assassination of Prime Minister Spencer Perceval occurs at the Houses of Parliament.

The Dowager Marchioness of Lavington visits her old friend Maria Fitzherbert at her new Steine House; Captain Benjamin Shedfield is missing for a week after the Battle of Waterloo; the death of the Princess Charlotte affects the entire family of Tabitha, Lady Newick -- it all led to our tagline "Twelve people, twelve historical events, twelve stories".

In his story, Sir Aubrey Granthorpe goes in search of Miss Austen's new book, Mansfield Park, though he has never heard of Hatchard's, and has a horror of bookstores in general.

I hope I have done justice--in about 2,000 words each--to the Regency events I have chosen. It was a fascinating experience in writing, weaving important factual events with fictional characters. History always frames my stories but seldom in such an immediate fashion.

This is the first of my books to be in print as opposed to an ebook format. An ebook version of The Regency Storybook will be available from Uncial Press in the fall of 2013.

The aim of Shakoriel and I was to produce a beautiful book, a gift book--in the tradition of storybooks for all ages--and yet one with some depth of storytelling. We hope we have succeeded.

'Til next time,

The Regency Storybook is available from Amazon Createspace,, and Shakoriel's Etsy shop. A limited number of autographed copies accompanied by frameable mini-prints of the artwork is also available from Shakoriel's Etsy store online.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Changing Century Satirized

As the new century--the 19th--began, it seemed to many that the world had changed beyond recognition. By 1803 the changes, particularly to society, had become unavoidable.

The French Revolution had frightened the aristocracy of every nation. If change could be thrust upon people so violently, surely it might be better to resist change altogether. But wars had spread from that revolution, and the greatest of the 19th century wars was about to engulf Europe, and transform Britain. Change could not be denied.

For many, it was the alteration of society that was the most disturbing. The 18th century came to be seen as a society of honesty--rude and vulgar, perhaps, and distressingly indelicate at times--but essentially honest. By 1803, the new century was seen by some as deceitful and duplicitous. Several of the publications of the year chose to address the matter through satire and sarcasm.

The Cyprians Ball by Cruikshank
 The Literary Journal published an article titled "Modern Manners and Style" which began:
Although it may appear presumptuous to anticipate any of the decisions of posterity, it seems not improbable, that, a century hence, the present may be denominated the age of taste. Taste is a word which occurs more frequently than any other in all our printed annals;...
It continues:
At this season of the year taste presides over routs, and balls, and dinners. In these, we perceive that it consists of the aggregate of crowded rooms, chalked floors, and variegated lamps.
The writer continued his delicate diatribe by addressing the fashions of the current season:
With the ladies, it is the object to shew how little will do for dress; with the gentlemen, how much they can carry without fatigue.
The Circular Room at Carlton Palace by Cruikshank
 Another word which seriously disturbed the writer was 'style'.
One man lives in a very genteel style, while another rode his a very pretty style. Mrs. Siddons's style of playing Lady Macbeth is much admired, but not more than Mr. Hoby's style of boot-tops.
He goes on:
So general is the application of this magical word, that the newspaper critics have had a prodigious addition to their necessary employments, and are sometimes expatiating on the style of an epic poem, and sometime descanting on the style of a grand dinner; sometimes examining the style of a treaty, and at other time enlarging on the style of a song;...
The Times took a different approach to satirize the excesses and superficiality of the new century. It invented a mockery of the columns of society news that filled the pages of so many publications. Their "Specimen of Modern Intelligence from The Fashionable World" included these items of farce:
The fashionable Mrs. Hog has taken No. 127, Manchester Place, where she will receive her numerous list of elegant friends, as soon as her little drawing-room has got the new paper.

The great world were last night assembled at the fashionable Mrs. Plug's. It was the greatest squeeze of the winter. Mrs. Flip and Miss Amelia Flirt, we are afflicted to say, fainted in the door-way;...

Sir Frederic First has taken the elegant mansion of the late Lady Large, in Piccadilly.

Lord Thoughtless has increased his establishment by a groom of the chamber; and Sir Lionel Lofty has changed his silver lace [livery] to gold.

The Morning Chronicle published a letter to the editor--four and a half pages long--titled "The National Morality Implicated in Female Dress". It is signed 'Misogymnotas', so some hints of its content may immediately be determined. But the writer begins
While the public mind is agitated by speculations concerning peace or war, my attention is occupied by a subject of far deeper importance.

This subject is the new fashions that the new century has brought. The author is horrified apparently by short skirts and bare shoulders, but he is also offended by "...Bond Street loungers blanching their hands with cosmetics, and embrowning their cheeks with walnut-juice.." He suggests, tongue thoroughly in cheek, that penal acts be placed as " Virtue by authority of Parliament." He cites as examples: a Fichu Bill, a Petticoat Lengthening Bill, the Landau Bill, and the Smock Bill. Perhaps the looming war should have occupied more of his attention!

Finally, the General Evening Post participates in the general satire of the new manners. With 'Directions to a Lobby Lounger', the writer descries the behaviour of the young man about town:
Having gone through the usual routine of the day, as a Bond Street Lounger, a Park Lounger, and a Coffeehouse Lounger, in which several important stations I may hereafter give you some useful instructions, prepare for the theatre, the last scene but one in which you are to exhibit till the next morning.
He advises the young man not to dress for the theatre, and not to worry about bothering other patrons, but to pursue his own ends, enjoyment, and any female that takes his fancy. A parody of behaviour certainly, but also a damning comment on actions of a few.
The Great Subscription Room at Brook's by Cruikshank
All these satiric articles were gathered in one publication bearing the title
The Spirit of the Public Journals for 1803
Its subtitle declares it "An impartial selection of the most exquisite Essays and Jeux d'Esprits, principally prose, that appear in the newspapers and other publications". This magazine began publication in 1797 and ran until 1825. It was at one point owned by C. M. Westmacott, who I have discussed here, and whose publication The English Spy provides the illustrations for this post.

The first editor of the journal, Stephen Jones, stated his to be "a period when the collision of political parties, and the momentous incidents of the war, and of the French Revolution, began to elicit stronger flashes of wit, and satire, from the mind of genius, than had been produced for a long time before." Certainly the changing century brought concerns about all aspects of society to the fore, and the articles I have read shine a bright light on our Regency world.

'Til next time,

Source: Spirit of the Public Journals for 1803 available as a free download from Google Books.

Friday, November 16, 2012

"Machines and Carriages of Conveyance without Horses"

The proudest triumph of mechanics, will be the completion of a machine or carriage for travelling, without horses or other animals to drag it.
So states the The Monthly Magazine in its issue of November 1819. The unnamed writer of the article, which bears the same title as this blog, goes on to rail against the prejudice against change which, it seems to him, prevents the development of such a carriage. He further states that societies which supposedly confer patronage on such inventions are "incapable of appreciating any discovery which does not accord with their past habits and prejudices."

The Monthly Magazine however supported innovation and improvement. In March 1819 the journal carried an article on 'Drax's Velocipede' as improved by Mr. Johnson of Long Acre and made by Mr. Birch, "an eminent coachmaker, of Great Queen-street, London". 
not Drax's, but another velocipede of 1819
That March issue of the magazine is not available to me, and I have no illustration of Drax's invention, but I assume that it was propelled by some kind of pedal arrangement, as an article in the November issue states that "...the peculiar muscular action attending its frequent use, causes ruptures and inflammations of certain muscles of the thighs and legs; and it has in consequence been laid aside."

Upon the discovery of the inadequacies of Count Drax's invention, Mr. Birch, the coachmaker who built Drax's machine, took it upon himself to improve the conveyance.
...he has in consequence produced carriages of several forms and mechanical constructions, which merit the attention of the world, and cannot fail, from their elegance, safety, and power, to command extensive patronage.

This is the "Manivelociter". It is propelled by a sort of rowing action by the man in the rear seat as he pulled upon the levers he is holding. The lady in front steers the machine by means of  the handles attached to a pivot on the front wheel.

For twice the power and speed, Mr. Birch developed the "Bivector."

 Two men pulling two sets of levers--and the front man steers, but it is not clear how, for there is no mention of a pivot on the front wheel.

And finally, there is the "Trivector"--the ultimate machine of Mr. Birch's invention. The front wheel is three feet high (and does have a pivot for steering), the rear wheels are five feet in diameter. The extended frame has a floor for luggage and when loaded the conveyance "weighs 700 weight".

It seems likely that the "ruptures and inflammations of certain muscles of the thighs and legs" caused by Drax's velocipede were replaced by ruptures and inflammations to the arms and shoulders caused by the rowing action of this type of construction. Nevertheless,
This Trivector went from London to Brighton, on Saturday, Sept. 11, worked by three men, as represented in the engraving, in seven hours, where they dined; after which they proceeded thirteen miles farther; making together a distance of sixty-seven miles within the day. It would, however, be possible to run this machine 120 miles in the day, or ten miles an hour.
Well, Birch's machines did not ultimately 'command extensive patronage', and to modern eyes, they look rather ridiculous. But they were steps along a path that the author of the article considered essential: "That the perfection of such machines is most important, is evident from the consideration, that horses consume half the produce of the soil..."

It was only three years later that The Monthly Magazine was reporting on "Carriages to be propelled by Steam on Common Roads, and capable of conveying Goods and Passengers". They could travel five miles per hour, and were touted as reducing costs for everything from goods delivery to postal distribution. Steam was the way of the future, for the nineteenth century, at least.

Part of the charm of the Regency era is the fertile minds at work inventing a future that we take for granted. I sometimes wish they had not succeeded...except when I am in a hurry.

'Til next time,

Friday, November 9, 2012

"Wanton Abuse of the Whip by Coachmen"

1841 illustration El Coche Simon 
The coachman--a ubiquitous figure in life, literature and history. His deeds were legend, and his reports of his personality ranged from the kindly, reliable family retainer to the rough, drunken driver of stagecoaches.

The majority of coachmen likely fell between the two extremes. The coachman was a man with a difficult job to do. It took strength, stamina, and resilience. The control of two, four, or even six, horses was no mean feat. Sitting out of doors in all weather for hours at a time required a constitution of iron, and a will to match. To keep a schedule, manage passengers, know one's horses, cope with accidents, highwaymen and weather needed a cool head and no little intelligence.

cover-pianoforte music Boston Public Library
But there were those who fell short of the requirements of the job. Some of those fell into drink, and the harsh conditions of the labour caused some, no doubt, to be hard and even cruel men.

The behaviour of one such coachman was detailed in the September 1819 issue of The Monthly Magazine or British Register. A correspondent designated only as H. from Kentish-town wrote: 

Riding yesterday a few miles on the outside of a stage-coach, I had an opportunity of observing how wantonly the coachman made use of his whip, not alone on the backs of his unfortunate horses, but on every other animal that had the misfortune to come within its reach. Not an ass, not a horse, not a pig, not a dog, approached him, without feeling the effects of his inhumanity. Yet he did not appear to be an ill-natured man: mischief, not malice, seemed to prompt him.
from The English Spy by Bernard Blackmantle
H. found the coachman to be something of a jokester: "There was indeed, a degree of merriment and liveliness about him...". He was, it seemed, playing to his captive audience of outside passengers, poking fun at the drivers and riders--"a lady", "an elderly man on a sorry horse", "a poor sweep", and "a fat, clumsy-looking citizen of the old school"-- whose animals he touched up with his whip.

H. goes on:

Amongst other subjects of conversation, (for his tongue was not less in perpetual motion than his whip,) benefit-societies [like guilds, or later, trade unions] became the object of his praise;...

...[a] passenger mentioned the name of his society; and the coachman replied, "And mine is the Benevolent Whip,"--at the same instant laying it about the back of a poor dog that happened to be passing.
In conclusion, H. was definite about the need for reform:
This gratuitous exercise of a whip, appears to me to be a species of cruelty sufficiently definable to become the subject of a prohibitory law.

I therefore think, that all acts of cruelty towards animals by persons not using them at the time, and especially towards animals over whom they are not entitled, either by ownership or otherwise, to exercise any control, might, and ought to be, made a punishable offence.
Five years after H. wrote to the Monthly Magazine, in 1824, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was formed. H. must have been pleased.

The coachman continued to go his own way for another ninety years, and then was immortalized in history and fiction. How interesting it is to hear from a gentleman of the Regency era about a real coachman, and his behaviour.

'Til next time,


N.B. The Monthly Magazine or British Register 1819 is available from Google Books free for download.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Etymological Novelties

The people of the Regency were people of words, much more than we of the current day are. I think that we, despite our literacy rates and our love of reading, are very much people of pictures.

A picture is worth a thousand words, the cliche goes. But in the Regency pictures were harder to come by than in our present day. Images, photos, graphics, paintings surround us all, every day, at school, work, and leisure. In the Regency one could, if wealthy, collect and admire paintings. One could stand before the print shop window and enjoy the prints displayed, and even purchase one, funds permitting. Magazines and journals at the beginning of the 19th century carried few pictures, almost none in 1800, and three or four per issue by 1815. Books of engravings became increasingly available throughout the Regency, but it was words that entertained for the most part.

Regency folk enjoyed their words. In July of 1812, the Repository of Arts, Mr. Ackermann's popular journal, published an item--part of an on-going series--titled Etymological Novelties. The words listed are purported to be defined, with their history and evolution delineated, but the explanations are jests, clever convolutions of meaning and message. Some approach logic, some are what we might call 'lame', and some are witty by the standards of any age. Here are some examples:

Extravagance, originally extra-vagrants, from its adding so much to the community of beggars.

Marvellous. Wonders were originally said to be marble-ous, because they made folks stare and roll their eyes about.

Ironical, from ire on I call, as persons using that figure of rhetoric which is termed irony, certainly incur the danger of exciting the ire of those who are the objects of it.

Gazette, a species of newspaper containing information which people are always extremely eager to gaze at.

Maid. This is a playful contradiction--maid before marriage, no longer maid when married, and yet made when well married.

Some of the 'etymological' comments are pointed commentaries on current conditions and politics:

Poor-laws. This appellation was given as a reproof to the legislature of an enlightened country, on account of the defectiveness of a certain part of its laws, in contradistinction to the justice and wisdom of the rest of the code of jurisprudence. The continuance of such a system is a reproach to those whom Providence has placed above wretchedness and poverty. Poor laws, indeed!

Justice, a quality eminently displayed by the Greeks, Romans, and others, where the virtues of the camp superseded all feeling, where fathers adjudged their children to death, owning no relations but those which bound them to their country, and banishing from their hearts every spark of mercy; when they were considered to be neither better nor worse than just ice.
The Regency fascination with words is displayed in many books that were published during the period.

The Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, first published in 1785, demonstrates the humour and facility with language that even the very poor revealed. Of course, a great deal of the wit of the book comes from its author, Captain Francis Grose, but the originators of the slang readily show their facility with words. Pierce Egan's edition of the Dictionary includes his own ready wit and scurrilous definitions. His other books affirm his skill with the written word.

The Miseries of Human Life written by James Beresford in 1805 is another example of the Regency delight in words. In describing the afflictions of the daily round upon sensitive souls, Beresford illustrated a dexterity with language that Regency readers highly approved. Walter Scott himself praised its "wit, ... humour and perfect originality."

In reading Regency periodicals, I am sometimes taken aback by the density of the text, the unrelieved torrent of words. I long for pictures, and indeed, I break up my own torrent of words--my blog--with illustrations. The people of the Regency looked for the words first, and enjoyed the pictures if and when they could be found.

'Til next time,