Friday, August 24, 2012

The Natural World of the Regency

Despite the looming shadow of the Industrial Revolution the people of the Regency were still, essentially, people of the land. Agriculture, though being overtaken by industry, was still the primary source of income. It was, in the case of landowners, the source of wealth.

Given that hunting, shooting, and fishing were important activities for the wealthy, and supplied food, legal or otherwise, for other classes of society, the health of the natural world was paramount.
Gilbert White's Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, written in 1789, had given a new voice to recording the natural world. Zoologists like Thomas Pennant and botanists like Sir Joseph Banks were extending knowledge at a rate previously unknown.

And the magazines of the time did their bit. Both The Monthly Magazine, and The New Monthly Magazine (more about them in a future post) carried, in addition to their monthly agricultural reports, a monthly Naturalist's Report. I find it remarkable to encounter so intimately the countryside of two hundred years ago.

From The Monthly Magazine of 1811, come reports of August - "Reaping month"

Weather more favourable for the reaping and housing of corn, than that which we have had during the present month, has, I believe, been seldom known.

The breed of the partridges is said to have suffered greatly from the wet weather that occurred about the season when young birds were hatched.

...the fruit of the hawthorn is in great abundance. The common people suppose, that this is an indication of an ensuing hard winter...

Mushrooms are very scarce. The season has been altogether unfavourable for them.

The clouded yellow butterflies are in much greater abundance than I have usually seen them.

The redbreast sings.
In 1814, the Naturalists' Monthly Report in The New Monthly Magazine ran from August 18 to September 18 - "Fruiting Month"
The redbreast begins its twittering song, the first signal of approaching winter.

Meadow saffron is now in flower.

The leaves of the lime tree begin to fall.

Mulberries are ripe. This is also the case with greengages and filberts.

Swifts have not been seen for some days past.

And on September 18,

There has been white frost for several nights past.

Several hundred weight of grey mullet were this day caught in the harbour, near Christchurch, Hampshire.
Weymouth Bay by Constable 1816
I can imagine a landowner, his wife, or his heir sitting in their Mayfair drawing room reading the naturalist's report in the latest magazine, and longing to be in the country. Even the poets extolled the joys of the environment--Wordsworth with his rambles and his daffodils, Keats and his nightingale, and the wonderful John Clare, brilliantly evoking an August day:
There is just such a day outside my window at this moment....

'Til next time,

Next week, Regency author Cheryl Bolen will join us to discuss George Romney, renowned artist and devotee of Emma Hamilton. Cheryl's first Regency historical romance was published by Harlequin Historical in 1998. More than a dozen historical novels set in Regency England have followed. Many of her articles on Regency England can be found on her blog,

No comments: