Friday, July 30, 2010

A Remarkable Regency Woman: Maria, Lady Callcott

I've just discovered a remarkable Regency lady. A year or two ago I purchased a charming children's book titled Little Arthur's History of England. I had the intention of writing this blog about that book, first published in 1835. However, I then investigated the author, Maria, Lady Callcott, and was immediately fascinated. Her life discredits all our preconceptions about the sheltered, restricted nature of the lives of Regency women

Maria Dundas was born in Cumberland, July 19, 1785, the daughter of a distinguished naval officer. As he was much at sea, she spent a great deal of her youth at the home of her uncle, Sir David Dundas, where she was exposed to a cultured society of art and literature, including the artist Thomas Lawrence who painted the portrait above of Maria in 1819.

At twenty-three she accompanied her father to India. On the trip she met Captain Thomas Graham and she married him in Bombay in 1809. Their marriage seems to have been a happy--though childless--one, encompassing great stretches of separation which Maria filled with writing, and working as an editor with publisher John Murray. Her first book Journal of a Residence in India was published in 1811.

She became one of the foremost travel writers of her day. Eventually her published travel works included: Three Months Passed in the Mountains East of Rome, Journal of a Voyage to Brazil, Journal of a Residence in Chile and A Short History of Spain. As well, she was an accomplished artist and illustrated her own books.

The illustration left, by Maria, is of Laranjeiras near
Rio de Janeiro

Widowed in 1822 on a voyage to Chile with her husband, she lived alone in Chile for a year and experienced one of the worst earthquakes in the country's history. (In later years she engaged in an argument with the Geological Society in London about the effects of the earthquake.) On leaving Chile she spent portions of the next two years in Brazil, even becoming tutor to a young princess, daughter of the new Brazilian emperor.

The Great Dragon Tree in Tenerife by Maria, Lady Callcott right

On her return to Britain she settled in Kensington and quickly became acquainted with all the London literati. Her household was a centre for their gatherings, both writers and artists--like Constable, Landseer and Turner--and her second husband Augustus Wall Callcott (later Sir Augustus). He was a respected artist, a Royal Academician, and it appears to have been a case of love at first sight. They married in 1827.

Smugglers...1822 by Augustus Wall Callcott

From 1831 Maria suffered ill health but she kept writing. Little Arthur's History of England appeared in 1835 and it was in print for the next 140 years. Her writing style was lively and chatty; it would be interesting to know the opinions of the children toward whom the book was aimed.
"I have so many things to tell you about Henry the Eighth, that I dare say I shall fill three chapters."
She duplicated its success with Historie de France du petit Louis. Many of her works are still available, as downloads from Google Books. She died in 1842 at 57 years of age.

Two happy marriages, a successful writing career, world travel and a plethora of famous friends--Maria Callcott's life was one that any modern woman would be happy to emulate. But this was a Regency lady and, when we think about Regency women, we must keep people like her in mind. All independent, creative fictional heroines, no matter of what era, have their basis in real life people like Maria, Lady Callcott. Truth, as they say, is always stranger than fiction.

'Til next time,


Friday, July 23, 2010

The Regency World Exactly as it Was

In the years before photography, there was still a need and a desire to see the world exactly as it was. Newspapers, journals, and books all wished to have illustrations of towns, landscapes and buildings to bring the world to their readers.
Chapel of St.John the Baptist, Savoy, 1819

This need gave rise to a certain breed of artists--the topographical, architectural and landscape painter. It is yet another career that technology overtook and made redundant. But the artists of the Regency left a wonderful legacy; they left us a view of their world--exactly as it was. I have discussed some of these artists before: Bonington and Boys, Wilkie, Rowlandson and Cotman.

Grosvenor House from Millbank 1809

But this past week, I found a new artist to admire: George Sidney Shepherd. Thirty years ago Mr. Shepherd was thought to be two artists, George and his son Sidney. Then after sifting through all the evidence, the experts decided that there was only one Shepherd--George Sidney, who lived from 1784-1862. The confusion arose because Mr. Shepherd changed his style considerably in the 1820s, and added Sidney to his name to reflect the change.
A steelyard 1811

Shepherd's career took a conventional path. He lived in France until the Revolution broke out, probably worked or studied with Dr. Munro at his 'sketching academy' (I am actively searching for information on this individual and his school) and was awarded a Silver Palette by the Royal Society of Arts in 1803 and 1804. He worked on books for Rudolph Ackermann and contributed to Britton's famous Architectural Antiquities and Beauties.

This painting shows the Congreve Arms public house in Aldermaston, Berks about 1815

All of the above paintings are by George Shepherd. The two works below are borrowed from the website with many thanks. There are few copyright free versions of Shepherd's later work. These examples are from the later 1820s and 1830s. There is a move away from architectural draughtsmanship and a tendency towards more freedom of line and fancy in his work. Also, there is much more figural work.
Covent Garden Market
London University from Old Gower Mews

There is little more known about Mr. Shepherd. He did help to found the New Society of Painters in Watercolours in 1831 but by 1850 he could no longer pay his dues. He was eventually granted Honourary Membership when he was found to be destitute and bedridden. It appears that his career too was overtaken by technology i.e. photography.

Thank goodness for such artists, and thank heaven that their acute eye was not as clinically accurate as photography. They do not show the Regency exactly as it was--their world view was filtered through the artistic impulse and their creative genius. Their work gives a charm to the Regency world that it probably did not possess, but is nevertheless as real today as anything of the period can be.

'Til next time,


Friday, July 16, 2010

Don't Overlook Cricket!

We Regency lovers talk and write about horse racing and prize fighting and fox hunting, with occasional sidetrips into bear-baiting and cock-fighting, but we rarely speak of cricket. Even croquet, which may or may not be anachronistic depending on your sources, receives more attention than cricket. Yet cricket has been played since the 1600's in the villages and schools of England.

Any cricket matters to which I refer in this blog are subject to, and open to, correction. My own understanding of the game is imperfect, to say the least. I make no attempt at all to outline the rules of the game; my own appreciation is for the ambience of the game--green fields, sunny days, a glass of something cool, a parasol in hand, a deck chair to hand, and an afternoon to spend in blissful inactivity--watching!

Above is the cricket ground at Darnell, Sheffield in about 1813.

The Regency era was a particularly important one in the development of cricket. It was during the mid-1700s that adults began to take up the game, and as soon as they did serious gambling on the results of games followed. It was in 1774 that the first laws of cricket were written and in 1787 that the Marylebone Cricket Club was founded.

The early years of the 1800s were even more significant for cricket. County teams were beginning to be formed. The first Eton vs. Harrow school match was held in 1805. In 1806 the first match between the Gentlemen and the Players was held at the first Lord's cricket ground in Dorset Square. As I understand it, the Gentlemen were talented amateurs and the Players were professional athletes of the game.

The new Lord's Cricket Ground in St. John's Wood was officially opened in May 1811 and famous players of the Regency era are still remembered. There were 'gentlemen' amateurs like George Osbaldeston, Lord Frederick Beauclerk, and E. H. Budd who hit the first 'century' on the new Lord's ground. A 'century' is 100 or more runs in a single innings. The 'players' included famous names like William Lambert, Tom Walker, and William 'Silver Billy' Beldham.

The Napoleonic Wars created challenges for the game in terms of funding shortfalls and lack of players, but with the cessation of hostilities cricket resumed with the enthusiasm of its fans unabated. It has since spread all over the world, spawned a literature of its own, created heroes and villains, and become an obsession with many. Below is a cricket match held in Geneva in 1817 at the Plaine de Plainpalais:

Jo Beverley is one Regency romance author who has not neglected cricket. Her book "The Stolen Bride" written in 1990 begins the second chapter with a family cricket match which advances the plot and enhances the characterization. At the end of the book (at least in my Avon edition) she includes a succinct description of the game play and rules. In her 1991 release "The Fortune Hunter" she includes one of the most sensual cricket games probably ever written. The book is a delight (I've been re-reading early Beverleys!) but it's worth reading just for that cricket match.

It would be a mistake to ignore in any genre, set in any country or culture, a game so integral to the history and nature of its people. Do investigate cricket--its intricacies are well worth the study.

'Til next time,


Friday, July 9, 2010

Heroes Never Grow Old

Heroes don't generally live to a ripe old age, but the lst Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, did. He lived in fact until 1852; riding daily until a week before his death at the age of 83. The 195th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo brought him to mind. We've all heard, of course, of the great Wellington, the Iron Duke, soldier, statesman and British historical icon; his name is synonymous with the Regency period. He even makes cameo appearances in Regency romances, and Regency-set films.

He is best known for his army career. I came across the following interesting declaration re-published in the Edinburgh Annual Register of 1813. To me it says something about the man, about the kind of soldier he was and the sort of campaigns he conducted. That he did not always succeed in reaching his ideals as set out in this declaration is a fact, and an unfortunate one, but at least he had the desire to do the right thing.

Proclmation from Field Marshal the Marquis of Wellington to the French people.
December 1st, 1813

Upon entering your country, learn that I have given the most positive orders (a translation of which is subjoined to this) to prevent those evils which are the ordinary consequences of invasion, which you know is the result of that which your government made into Spain, and of the triumphs of the allied army under my command.

You may be certain that I will carry these orders into execution, and I request of you to cause to be arrested, and conveyed to my head-quarters, all those who, contrary to these dispositions, do you any injury.

But it is requisite you should remain in your houses, and take no part whatever in the operations of the war of which your country is going to become the theatre.

(Signed) Wellington
This declaration emphasizes his heroic nature in my mind; strong-minded, incisive and with a fierce sense of justice.  His mind never faltered during his long life. At his death he was Commander-in-Chief of the Forces, Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, Constable of the Tower, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and the Chancellor of the University of Oxford. He had been Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party, Governor of Plymouth (UK), and British Ambassador to France among other things. He held titles in Portugese, Spanish and Dutch nobility as well as the honours Britain heaped upon him.

At left is a daguerrotype of the Duke in 1844. Few of the figures of the Regency lived into the age of photography which only began in the late 1830's. Photography removes the mystique of the period, in my mind, but it is interesting to have such a photograph. 

I find the Duke's choice of apparel charming: "His ordinary dress in summer was a blue frock-coat, white waistcoat and white trousers, and white cravat fastened by a silver buckle behind. In winter the waistcoat was blue, sometimes red, and blue trousers. He never wore a great-coat, but in severe weather a short cape made of blue cloth lined with white."

I have a little book that gives a very personal picture of the Iron Duke. It is titled My Dear Mrs. Jones; The Letters of the Duke of Wellington to Margaret Charlotte Jones 1851-1852. Wellington had met Mr. and Mrs. Jones and their three children sometime in the five years or so before the letters were written. He became fond of the family, and Mrs. Jones' letters helped him stay in touch with society at a time when deafness was plaguing him.

The letters reveal an active old man with a steel-trap mind and, surprisingly, a great love of children. Though his own two sons were never shown that love, his four grandchildren were, and his concern for Mrs. Jones' three children is apparent in his letters.
"I cannot tell you how much I enjoy and prize the affection which children have for me. When they become familiar with me I believe that they consider me one of themselves, and make of me a sort of plaything! They climb upon me and make toys of my Hair and my fingers! They grow up into friends."
(right) Arms of the Dukes of Wellington

Two weeks before his death he wrote:

"I have been so much occupied by the Reception here of the Grand Duchess Catherine of Mecklenburg Strelitz...I had all the Notables here whom you know to meet her at dinner."

A busy man to the last, a hero indeed, and a good friend.

Until next time,


"My Dear Mrs. Jones: The Letter of the Duke of Wellington to Margaret Charlotte Jones 1851-1852"
Miniature Books, The Rodale Press, 1954

Friday, July 2, 2010

'Plain Silk Stocking, with Laced Clocks'

Most of us will never wear that ultimate luxury in hosiery, silk stockings. But in the Regency period, silk stockings were a requisite for the wardrobe of the aristocracy and the well-to-do, both ladies and gentlemen. Then, as now, they were expensive. In Georgette Heyer's Arabella, the eponymous heroine vows to save a little of the money she has for finery for her London season for at least one pair of fine silk stockings.

The title of this blog comes from the fashion notes of Ackernmann's Repository of the Arts for April 1815. The stockings mentioned were part of an evening dress ensemble, largely composed of white, particularly white satin. Though clocks had fallen somewhat out of fashion they were obviously still being worn.

This illustration is from the eighteenth century but shows the clocks that decorated the gusset heel turning of the stocking.

The following advertisement appears in many of the 1815 Ackermann's Repository journals:

The cheapest and by far the largest Stock ever produced by any one House now, on Sale at the Manufacturer's Warehouse, 51, Cheapside. The patterns are of the richest and most elegant description, beginning at the extraordinary low price of 8s. usually sold 10s. 6d. to the very best and finest quality at 12s.6d. usually sold 16s. Economical Silk Stockings, both plain and ribbed, are selling off from 5s to the very best quality cheap in proportion. Children's Dress Silks of every size, an article few houses can produce. JOHNSON and Co. who are the sole manufacturers, wish particularly to recommend their … Black Silk Stockings so much in demand by professional gentlemen, and which, for strength of fabric and brightness of colour, stand unrivalled. To be had exclusively at Johnson & Co.'s 51, Cheapside, near Bow Church
In June of that same year, a competitor clearly thought he needed to advertise:

The Nobility and Gentry are most respectfully informed, by purchasing at the original and old-established Nottingham Stocking Warehouse, No. 81, Charlotte-street, Fitzroy-Square, they will realize a saving of near 20 per cent in that fashionable and elegant part of dress, silk stockings.

Wm. Harris having just received from his Manufactory a superb Assortment of the newest designs in Embroidery and real Lace-Work Clocks, with the greatest variety of plain, from 5s. 9d. up to the very finest qualities, all of which are proportionally cheap;…
Author Kalen Hughes has an interesting article on stockings here. The illustration at left of 1820's silk stockings and their garters is borrowed from her article. Jessamyn's Regency Costume Companion  has an interesting take on Regency underclothes including silk stockings. Reconstructing History has likewise an interesting post on silk stockings.

Gentlemen, it is reported, had often to wear a pair of cotton stockings under their silk ones, to conceal their hairy legs! Ladies accused of improper behaviour were said to have 'tied their garter in public'. The garters that held up silk stockings varied from ribbon to cord, to those with small buckles as above.

The Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, that invaluable collection of slang, describes a run in a stocking as a 'louse ladder'. A revolting simile to be sure, but a reminder of the truth often behind the glamour of such articles of clothing as silk stockings.

One only hopes that the silk stockings of the past did not 'run' with the irritating frequency of their present day counterparts. Then, as now, the expense of clothing the legs could be crippling.

***Many thanks to last week's guest blogger Ann Lethbridge for her informative and enjoyable post on Regency Weddings! 
'Til next week,