Friday, September 20, 2013

Poetry -- Everywhere, All the Time

The greatest poets of the modern age lived during the Regency era: Wordsworth, Byron, Keats, Shelley, Blake, Coleridge, etc. etc. And they lived in a era that believed in poetry, was absorbed by poetry, and encouraged everyone, it seems, to write poetry.

Virtually every magazine of the period had a poetry section. One would expect poetry from Ackermann's Repository of Arts, Literature etc., The Ladies' Monthly Museum and La Belle Assemblee. But The Gentleman's Magazine, as well as The Lady's Magazine, offered poetry. And more unexpectedly, The Annual Register, The European Magazine, and even The Theatrical Inquisitor printed poetry...a great deal of it.

Some offerings reflected the political world of the time, and some the trials of war:

From The Annual Register 1814

from Repository of Arts 1812
Many poems celebrated a fierce patriotism and a narrow view of nationalism we would not subscribe to today.
from The Lady's Magazine January 1804
There were sad love poems, and ubiquitous poems to roses:
from La Belle Assemblee January 1807

from The Ladies' Monthly Museum July 1816
The thing that all these poems have in common is that they are not very good. They rhyme, and they make liberal use of apostrophes and archaic word forms, but they are sentimental, emotive, and unoriginal.

One editor of The London Magazine (1820-1829 incarnation) was blunt with one writer:
And he was completely dismissive of several others:
Its dependence upon, and fascination with, poetry is an important feature to remember about the Regency era. Whether it was the death of a beagle
from The Gentleman's Magazine June 1803
the death of an actor
from The Theatrical Inquisitor 1821
or a move,
from The European Magazine January 1813
all was grist for the poetic mill. A hero or heroine who writes poetry is not unusual. It was simply something that educated people of the nineteenth century did. Whether they did it well or not, only history, and editors, decide.

'Til next time,


N.B. Due to writing deadlines and family commitments, I must limit my blogging from now on to two times a month. Watch for new posts on the first and third Fridays of each month! Thank you for joining me.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Female Instructor

There were dozens of them--dozens of books telling women (married and unmarried) how to behave, what to think, how to improve their minds, their household, their conversation. They bore titles such as "The Female Preceptor", "Mentoria", "Advice to Young Ladies", and "The Matrimonial Miscellany".

One of the longest-lived of such tomes was "The Female Instructor, or Young Woman's Companion". I believe it was first published in 1811.

In 1834, it was still being published then as "The New Female Instructor" subtitled "Young Woman's Guide to Domestic Happiness".

These books all revolved around a single premise, that a young woman's only goals were matrimony, and the happiness of the men in her life.

The frontispiece of the original 1811 volume shows the 'perfect woman', with her sewing, her symbols of music and her improving books, and her air of humble serenity.
The preface of the 1811 edition advises that "Domestic employments, particularly after marriage, will be found to be the source of unnumbered pleasures." And the chapter on matrimonial duty--which I personally find infuriating--comes with an illustration:

I cannot think that the cloying advice was the reason for the success and longevity of this volume. It must be the practical advice that caused it to be reprinted through the years. Indeed, the 'index' or table of contents cannot be read without a smile. Everything from 'frying in general' to 'Dr. Hawe's method of returning Drowned persons to life' plus 'How to clean Gold and Silver lace' and 'Sentiments of divine love' is covered. 'Parental duties considered' is listed next to 'Cleaning paper Hangings'. The 'necessity for Religious instruction' is next to 'to stop Retching'.

The most practical instructions are clear and concise. 'Management of poultry', 'puddings baked and boiled', 'how to roast game' are juxtaposed with useful illustrations:
I was interested to see the word 'dessert' used below, even if the spelling is, to our eyes, eccentric.
It bothers me to think of these paternalistic texts with their personality-destroying sentiments being read by generations of young women. I do hope that some women handed the books to their daughters with the words, "Never mind the advice, dear, the recipes are excellent".

'Til next time,


N.B. The Female Instructor is available for download from Google Books.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Situations Wanted

"To work is to live, without dying" -- well, Rilke's context for this phrase is very different, but there is an essential truth. To live we must work, and it has always been so.

The Regency era was no different from our own. There were thousands of people looking for work. There were myriad ways of finding the jobs available. There were register offices--pay a fee, be placed on their books, get a call if a position that fits comes up. There was word of mouth--someone knows someone who needs a seamstress, or a butler, or an apprentice. There were want ads--wanted, a cook; wanted, a clerk; wanted, a land agent.

And then there were advertisements placed by individuals looking for employment. They are among the most poignant items placed in newspapers and journals of the period. They tell stories, and hint at lives lived, private desperation, secret hopes. 

There were the highly skilled people looking for work, as this governess advertising in the Morning Chronicle of January 1815. The daily governess was a teacher who did not 'live-in' but arrived each day to teach her classes.
There were those looking to finish their education--their knowledge of their craft. From the same Morning Chronicle of 1815, an apprentice shoemaker looks to finish 'his time'.
And twenty years earlier, in the Daily Advertiser of 1796, a young man wishes to article in hair-dressing, and he is particular--his new master must have experience in both male and female hairdressing.

La Belle Assemblee in 1807 brought two advertisements, in imitation of each other. I wonder what these young women thought of their future as a drudge in a lady's household. Would they be fortunate enough to find a pleasant position, a kind mistress?

In the Hampshire Telegraph of August 1806, an ambitious young man is willing to start small. I wondered if he dreamed of a future as butler in one of the great homes of Britain.
And the Morning Chronicle of March 1810 has a list of people from the country  looking to better their position in life. I hope they found all they hoped for in the great city of London. 

Looking for work is never easy. These advertisements remind us that our stories are little different from their stories, though two hundred years separate these people from us.

'Til next time,