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.
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!The Regency fascination with words is displayed in many books that were published during the period.
Justice, a quality eminently displayed by the Greeks, Romans, and others, where the virtues of the camp superseded all feeling, where fathers adjudged their children to death, owning no relations but those which bound them to their country, and banishing from their hearts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 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,