Mar 312017
 

It seems to me that if you were going to the theatre in the Eighteenth Century, you probably wouldn’t want to take your wife with you! This view is reinforced by an interesting Rowlandson print, shown courtesy of the British Museum, entitled “The Lobby Loungers” showing people gathered in the foyer at Covent Garden theatre. The year: 1786.

AN00949544_001In the centre, the notorious lecher George Hanger is busy negotiating terms with a pair of prostitutes.

AN00949544_001 - Copy

AN00949544_001 - CopyThe girl next to him has a sexy, laced-up bodice and a daring amount of cleavage. She wears a polonaise gown and a fine feathered hat, and the point of her fan is directed towards the “lunch box” of Naughty Georgie, who was no doubt hoping to “Buy One – Get one Free.”

AN00949544_001 - CopyOn the right, there is a scene of misunderstanding and consternation, with a man, quizzing glass in hand, seeking to importune a “respectable lady” – well, she may or may not have been respectable, but she was already spoken for and has a much younger companion to her side.

AN00949544_001 - CopyOn the left is another chatting-up scene, with a bawd, basket in hand, hoping to negotiate a price for the young girl, sitting down.

Who then was George Hanger? A bit of a lad really, often featured by Gillray in his caricatures. Hanger was the third of seven children born to an M.P. in Gloucester. Never likely to inherit his father’s estates, he followed the well-worn route for third sons i.e. into the Army. Indeed he bought a commission and served with Tarleton in the American Revolutionary War. When Tarleton was indisposed due to illness, he led the British troops in an attack on Charlotte (North Carolina) but was ambushed, and his men took something of a  a mauling. Hanger was injured, but not seriously.George Hanger 4th_Baron_Coleraine

When he returned to England he became a close friend of the Prince of Wales, being made Equerry in 1791. He was great company, a great gambler and womaniser, and eventually succeeded to his father’s title having outlived both his elder brothers to become 4th Baron Coleraine. Women seemed to slip through his fingers – he reputedly married once, to a gypsy girl, but she ran off with a passing tinker….some you win, some you lose!

Gillray, in one of twenty etchings featuring Hanger held by the National Portrait Gallery, showed him riding a horse down Grosvenor Street, in “Georgey a’ Cockhorse”:

NPG D12584; George Hanger, 4th Baron Coleraine ('Georgey a' cock-horse') by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He also features in one of the best-known Gillray prints, “The Royal Joke – or Black Jack’s Delight” shown courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery. The scene is at the home of the Prince of Wales (Carlton House). In the foreground The Prince of Wales holds the rather stout Mrs. Sawbridge across his knees and prepares to spank her; she holds out her arms imploringly. Her husband is shown enthusiastically playing a fiddle and dancing. On the left Lady Archer, dressed in her usual red riding habit, holds a driving-whip, and points angrily at Mrs Sawbridge. Next to her a little girl, the daughter of Mrs Sawbridge, looks on in horror at the way her mother is being treated. Various onlookers are in the background, including Mrs Fitzherbert who seems to have  the politician Fox draped amorously around her. Next to Fox, George Hanger stands in profile, looking to the left and wearing his military uniform.

NPG D12996; 'The royal joke, - or - black jacks delight' by James Gillray, published by Samuel William Fores

One of the more curious aspects of his life was that when he got into serious financial difficulties – on account of his gambling – he showed that he was far from afraid to get his hands dirty. He became a coal merchant! Gillray shows him lugging a sack of coal in this caricature from 1800, entitled “Georgey in the coal-hole” and shown courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

NPG D12741; George Hanger, 4th Baron Coleraine ('Georgey in the coal-hole') by James Gillray, published by  Hannah Humphrey

Hanger died in 1824 at the age of 73 – the title died out with him. Speaking of his experiences in life, he apparently stated “I was early introduced into life, and often kept both good and bad company; associated with men both good and bad, and with lewd women, and women not lewd, wicked and not wicked; — in short, with men and women of every description, and of every rank, from the highest to the lowest, from St. James’s to St. Giles’s; in palaces and night cellars; from the drawing-room to the dust cart….Human nature is in general frail, and mine I confess has been wonderfully so.”

a2

That’s all very well, but I still don’t think I will allow him to accompany my wife to the theatre….! He does however get a mention in my book “In bed with the Georgians: Sex, Scandal & Satire” as being one of those rakish, lovable, rogues who drifted in and out of the story of the Prince Regent. Farewell General George, the randiest coal merchant I have ever encountered!

Dec 072016
 

Regardless of whether or not you like boxing, the fact remains that in the eighteenth century boxing  was hugely popular, and was regarded as fairer than duelling with sword or pistol. Huge crowds were attracted to bouts, which could last from dawn until dusk, and widespread gambling underpinned the contests.

7th December marks the anniversary of the death in 1734 of one James Figg, hailed at the time as the Father of Modern Boxing (or, as he would call it, the ‘manly art of self-defence’).

figg-4-plaqueHe had been born around 1695 to a poor farming family in Thame, Oxfordshire, the youngest of seven childen. Later he was to develop into a 6-foot tall, 185-pound athlete, who early-on exhibited a prodigious talent for fencing. He also mastered the short sword, cudgel, and quarterstaff. Later he took up the study of “boxing” as the unarmed combat, which had become popular in the late 1600’s, was commonly called.

figg-1
The “boxing”practiced by Figg was in a different league to what we know today: it was a no-holds-barred contest which would usually take place over 3 bouts, one of swordplay with a choice of live swords, daggers & shields; one of bare-knuckle boxing; and one of quarterstaff or cudgels. Bare knuckle fighting permitted eye gouging, hair pulling, spitting, head-butting, purring (shin-kicking), stomping and kicking downed opponents, as well as wrestling throws, and grappling whilst on the ground. The men who took part in these gladiatorial contests were called prize fighters – because they fought for a prize of a purse, or cups or free drinks etc. Of all these prize fighters, James Figg was the outstanding champion of his time.

He developed his own unique style  (known as ‘Figg’s fighting’) – rather than wading in and risking injury to himself he would sum up his opponent first and alter his style accordingly. He brought to boxing the thrust-and-parry skills he had perfected while fencing. If his opponent was a wrestler he would batter him with fierce blows; if the rival was a better boxer then he would grapple him to the ground to gain a submission. Figg prospered as he travelled the length and breadth of the country attending fairs and shows, challenging all-comers. He gained the patronage of the Earl of Peterborough and set up a fighting academy to train other pugilists, as well as a fighting stage known as Figg’s Amphitheatre’. Similar amphitheatres were set up in Hyde Park and in Oxford Street.

Figg went on to claim the title of Champion of  England in 1719.

The pub in Thame named after local hero James Figg

The pub in Thame named after local hero James Figg

He defended his title on many occasions and is believed to have won 269 out of his 270 fights. The only blemish on his record was when he lost to Ned Sutton, a man he had previously beaten.

figg-5

The Sutton v Figg match

The decider was to take place on 6th of June 1727, in front of an audience of 3,000 spectators, including the Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole. The first round was with swords and a cut to Sutton’s shoulder resulted in Figg winning that round. A thirty minute break was permitted before the start of the second round. This was bare knuckle fighting which Figg won by a submission. The third round was with cudgels during which Figg shattered Sutton’s knee to win the match and reclaim the title. Not the sort of man to run into on a dark night!

After 1730 Figg largely gave up fighting, concentrating on training and promoting others, in particular George Taylor (who succeeded him as Champion of England and who was to take over the business when Figg died) and the legendary Jack Broughton (possibly Figg’s own grandson, and a man who will get a post of his own in due course). It was Broughton who was the first to introduce rules for boxing (laying down regulations about the size of the ring, who holds the purse, not kicking a man when he is down, and the length of count). Under ‘Broughton’s Rules’ a fallen boxer would be given a count of thirty seconds to come up to his mark – a line scratched on the floor of the ring, If he failed to ‘come up to scratch’ he lost the bout. Prior to Broughton there was the chaotic situation where there were no weight divisions or round limits, and no referee. Broughton also brought in an early form of boxing glove or muffler, but these were used only for exhibition matches and for practice bouts in order to avoid the risk of injury to his trainees, many of whom were young aristocrats.

James Figg's trade card

James Figg’s trade card

Nov 092016
 

Tuesday 9th November 1779 – Richard Hall noted “Saw the Lord Mayor’s Show by water. Wet in morn’g. Was fine at the time of the show, afternoon fair, not cold.”

LordMayorsshowbywater001.jpg

London had a mayor way back in the reign of King John, although there wasn’t a ‘Lord Mayor’ until the fifteenth century. The first mayors were appointed but in recognition of the support given by the good burghers of the City, the monarch granted them the privilege of electing their mayor – but on one condition: once a year the mayor had to present himself at Westminster to pledge allegiance to the Crown. And so it was that the new mayor, with his retinue of supporters from the various Livery Companies, made his way upriver from the City to Westminster. And for nearly 800 years each mayor has done the same, with a few breaks for the odd war or civil insurrection.

Nowadays the Lord Mayor is met by the Lord Chief Justice rather than by the monarch in person*, but for centuries it has been a pageant, with much finery on display, with tableaux and floats (indeed the name ‘float’ originated form the elaborate displays which were brought up-river on decorated barges).

Some time in the fifteenth century the Lord Mayor , then a draper called John Norman, decided to make at least part of the journey by boat, and the livery companies vied with each other for grand barges to accompany the procession. It became the ‘done thing’ to view proceedings from the water – hence Richard’s reference to it in his diary. It would have been a grand spectacle, with music, singing and great displays. No wonder Canaletto, on one of his visits to the City, painted a couple of views of the pageant, viewed from the Thames.

The Thames and the City, Canaletto

File:Canaletto Westminster Bridge 1746.jpg

London Westminster Bridge From The North On Lord Mayors Day

Just twenty or so years before Richard’s diary entry a decision was made to use a formal carriage to enable the Lord Mayor to make the journey in style. An earlier mayor had fallen from his horse when being barracked by a woman variously described as a flower seller and a fishwife. Maybe she was both, but it was a serious case of lèse-majesté and a coach was accordingly ordered to be made. It cost over a thousand pounds to be built in 1757 – and each of the aldermen had to cough up some sixty pounds (nearly £5000 in today’s money). It is a wonderful sight, with its side panels decorated by the Italian painter Cipriani.lord-m

In Richard’s day all the apprentices would have been given the day off to follow the procession and to see the tableaux and wonder at the sheer glitter of it all. London was indeed a city of huge wealth, just as much as it was a place of grinding poverty.

Historically the show was held on 29 October each year but when the calendar changed  in 1752 it moved on by the ‘missing’ 11 days to 9th November. Since 1959 it has been moved to the second Saturday in November, and hence this year will be on 12 November.

 

*My thanks to Tracey Hill for pointing out that the monarch did not personally receive the Lord Mayor – this was done on his behalf by the Barons of the Exchequer.

Oct 142016
 

zebra 2Standing in the dappled shade on the edge of a woodland  a zebra looks majestically … around the gardens of Buckingham House. The scene was painted by George Stubbs and the picture, shown courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art, is one of a number of exotic wild animals painted by Stubbs. Normally this artist was known for his equine paintings, and he achieved his amazing lifelike studies by spending hours dissecting dead horses. By revealing the muscles and ligaments and by attaching weights and pulleys, he was able to see how the animal moved. But this time the subject, a zebra, was still very much alive and kicking. Besides, its owner was no less a person than Her Majesty the Queen and she was rather fond of her zebra, or she-ass as it was known, on account of the fact that it/she was a wedding present.

The Queen, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, had married King George III on 8 September 1761 in the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace and of course that raised an immediate problem for all the officials, diplomats, courtiers and hangers-on: what to give the royal couple as a wedding present? For the governor of the Cape in far off South Africa it was simple – round up a couple of Cape zebras, one male and one female, load them on board HMS Terpsichore under the command of Sir Thomas Adams, and pack them off to London. Unfortunately the male zebra died on the way, but the “Queen’s Ass” (as she was rudely known from the outset) was a favourite of the young Queen. The year was 1762 and a constant stream of visitors called to see the beast, reputedly the first such zebra ever observed in  Great Britain. As one observer noted: “The Queen’s she-ass was pestered with visits, and had all her hours employed from morning to night in satisfying the curiosity of the public. She had a sentinel and guard placed at the door of her stable. . . . The crowds that resorted to the Asinine palace were exceeding great.”  Was the zebra lonely for company? Apparently not, because she was  given the company of a royal elephant (my, how those royals must have loved opening their presents from far away countries!).

I rather like the story recounted by Sir David Attenborough to the effect that the Queen wished to breed from the zebra, and in the absence of a male of the species resorted to the ploy of getting a male donkey, painting white stripes across its backside, and introducing it to the “Queen’s Ass”. Incredibly the ruse worked – the zebra became pregnant and in due course gave birth to a “zebroid”. The Queen’s Ass lived until 3 April 1773, having been moved to the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London. Apparently the taxidermists then got to work and before long the stuffed remains were on display at The Leverian, after it had moved for Leicester Square to its new home at the end of Blackfriars Bridge.

The Queen's Ass - otherwise known as the Prince of Wales.

The Queen’s Ass – otherwise known as the Prince of Wales.

In its lifetime the poor animal became a pseudonym for any of the Queen’s favourites, most notably the Prince of Wales, shown here with his striped jacket, waistcoat and stockings. In time the epithet was applied to others such as William Pitt and a number of other sycophantic politicians. It became an easy symbol for caricaturists. The public were quickly familiar with the expression “The Queen’s Ass” especially after this rude ditty was published:

queens ass 2Ye Bucks and ye Jemmies who amble the Park,

Whose Hearts and whose Heads are as lightsome as Cork,

Through “Buckingham Gate”, as to “Chelsea” you pass,

Without Fee or Reward, you may see the Q—‘s A–.

“See the Q—‘s A–. See the Q—‘s A–, Without Fee or Reward”, &c.

 

(The Queen’s Ass. A new humorous allegorical song . . . By H. Howard, To the Tune of “Stick a Pin There”. Broadsheet, shown courtesy of the British Museum).

The Queens female zebra 1762 LWL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘The Queens Female Zebra’  shown on the Lewis Walpole Library site and appearing first in 1762 in The London magazine; or, Gentleman’s monthly intelligencer.

Other caricatures lampooned a variety of political allies of the Queen, as here in ‘The Asses of Great Britain’ (also via Lewis Walpole Library). It came out in 1764 and was drawn and published by John Jones, and is having a go at the Earl of  Bute, George Whitefield,  the magistrate Sir John Fielding, Irish writer Arthur Murphy,  and the Scottish poet and author Tobias Smollett.

John Jones' asses of GB 1762 Bute Whitefield Fielding Murphy Smollett LWL

 

Sometimes the Queen’s Ass was a metaphor for the Queen herself, as with this caricature, apparently  by Thomas Rowlandson, from December 1788 and entitled ‘The Q.A. loaded with the spoils of India and Britain”. It is shown on the British Museum site who describe it as “Pitt rides (right to left) a zebra; he sits on the animal’s hind quarters, flourishing a whip; before him are two panniers filled with jewels…The zebra (the Queen) is led by Dundas (left) … and urged on by Richmond (right), who prods it with a goad. It says, “What are Childrens rights to Ambition – I will rule in spite of them if I can conceal things at Q.” [Kew.] In front of Dundas (left) is a signpost: “To Tower Hill by B——m [Buckingham] house”.

QA

So, the zebra became a shorthand for  royal greed and stupidity. In Return to the Political Ark, also on the British Museum site, we see William Pitt as the Queen’s Ass:

Return to the ark

He is shown as one of a procession of Members of Parliament heading for the ark (representing the House of Commons). The British Museum commentary states: “In the lower left corner is Pitt as a zebra on his hind-legs ; he holds a bunch of grapes to his mouth, in his other forefoot is a paper inscribed ‘Pay to my Order on Demand five Millions for Bouncing. P. To John Bull’; beside it is a paper inscribed ‘Open to future Insult’. On his back is a saddle-cloth inscribed ‘Art of preventing War’. He excretes ‘Convention Drops’ which are eagerly devoured by geese, dogs, a cock, and two asses with human profiles”

Given that this was supposedly the very first time a zebra had been seen in the country these caricatures give some idea how quickly the exotically marked animal captured the human imagination. Others quickly followed – in 1779 one was being exhibited at Astley’s Amphitheatre near Westminster Bridge. I came across the occasion when researching for my book “Astley’s Circus – the Story of an English Hussar” about the great exhibitionist Philip Astley. Mind you, Astley was keen to get rid of the creature and advertised that it was available for purchase for 400 guineas. I suspect that he would have despaired of training the animal, since obedience was the keystone of the Astley act. A disobedient zebra, however pretty, was never going to make it as a star. It was never going to rival General Jackoo, his performing monkey, and so the zebra went the way of the ostrich, another of Astley’s exotica …

Another zebra collector was Robert Clive. I am not quite sure why “Clive of India” chose an African animal but presumably no self respecting nabob wanted to be upstaged by the Queen. Apparently he had his own private menagerie – and the same story is told that he successfully introduced his (female) zebra to a paint-striped male donkey, with successful results. When Clive died in 1774 an inventory of the livestock at his home showed a zebra and foal, two small cows, two spotted deer,  two antelopes, six hog deer and, bracketed together as “very troublesome”, seven goats and an African bull. According to a helpful paper published by the University of York:  The running and Grazing of the Young Zebra cost 3s. a week, while in 1777 £18 8s.6d. was spent on the Young Zebra being sent into Shropshire. Quite what happened after it got to Shropshire I do not know – perhaps it got sold to Astley.

Years later, George III was presented with a quagga. A sub-species of the Plains Zebra, the quagga was extinct by the late 1870s, but for some years  a royal specimen was kept at Kew. This is shown courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art.

Rather more about the exotic animals collected by the Georgians can be found in Christopher Plumb’s excellent book “The Georgian Menagerie: Exotic Animals in Eighteenth-Century London” details of which appear here.  Christopher was kind enough to draw on some of the records kept by my ancestor Richard Hall, so the least I can do is return the mention!

James Sowerbys portrait of a quagga, painted in 1824

James Sowerby’s portrait of a quagga, painted in 1824

Mar 172016
 

Would my ancestor have noticed an Irish connection on 17th March as he grew up in London in the middle of the eighteenth Century? Almost certainly, yes. Dean Swift in his Journal to Stella demonstrates that the wearing of crosses on this day was not confined to Ireland and that the custom had travelled abroad with its citizens as they crossed the Irish Sea. Writing in 1713 he remarks that in London “The Irish folks were disappointed that the Parliament did not meet today, because it was St Patrick’s Day; and the Mall was so full of crosses, that I thought all the world was Irish”

The traditional St Patrick’s Cross differed  according to gender: the one worn by men and boys was made of a square of paper, each side about three inches long, on which a circle was drawn. Using a quill pen and the index finger as a rough pair of dividers the circumference of the circle was used to create small arcs inside the circle. These would then be coloured, often by the children, traditionally using egg yolk for yellow, chewed grass for green – and a pricked finger for red! An alternative pattern was to draw an inner circle, ringed along its edge with six smaller circles. The whole would then be set within a larger circle and each of the constituent parts of the pattern would then be coloured. The resulting equivalent of an intricately designed Celtic cross would then be pinned to the cap and worn throughout the 17th  March.

For the girls there was a different custom: a cross was made of stiff card and pinned onto a circle of silk. The arms of the cross would then be decorated with ribbons and bows, with a rosette of emerald green silk  attached to  the centre. The decorated cross would then be pinned beneath the wearer’s shoulder on her right hand side.     (Illustration  courtesy of National Museum, Dublin).

And the wearing of the shamrock? Well that was certainly already a custom in the 1700’s. In 1727 the botanist Caleb Threlkeld identified the shamrock as the white clover (‘Trifoleum repens’) and remarked “This plant is worn on the 17th March yearly, which is called St Patrick’s Day, it being a current tradition that by this three-leaved grass, he emblematically set forth to them the mystery of the Holy Trinity. However that be, when they wear their seamar-oge, they often commit excess in liquor, which is not a right keeping of a day to the Lord; error generally leading to debauchery.” He goes on to describe the break in Lenten fasting as being called “wetting the shamrock”

Others have identified the shamrock with other plants from the same family. But whether it was the clover or oxalis or the common trefoil, tradition had it that when the last drink was about to be drunk, the wearer removed the leaf and placed in St Patrick’s Pot (‘pota Pádraig’), delivered a toast, and then having emptied the pot or bumper, threw the leaf over his left shoulder.

So, there we have it – the day was celebrated by young and old alike, at home in Ireland but also wherever they congregated overseas, and it invariably ended up with the consumption of alcohol. It also was a pretext for abandoning the rigours of Lent for one day – observers of St Patrick’s Day felt able to eat meat instead of the wretched herring on which they had subsisted for the previous few weeks!

But those who were not of Irish extraction were always happy to use the Saint’s Day as an excuse for ribaldry and frankly racist behaviour, as shown by a newspaper report from March 1740 :

“Being St Patrick’s Day, the Butchers in Clare Market hung up a Grotesque Figure, to represent an Irishman; and a great Number of Irishmen coming to pull it ’down a fierce Battle ensu’d, when much Mischief was done, and some very dangerously wounded; but a File of Musqueteers being fetched from St James’s several of the Rioters were carry’d before Col De-Veil, who sent three of them to Newgate”.

By 1803 the celebration of  St Patrick’s Day seems to have become rather more fun …. (shown courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library).

St Patricks day in the morning

P.S. Why 17th March? Because that was the day in 432 that St Patrick, a bishop, was captured and carried off to Ireland as a slave.

P.P.S. First time St Patrick’s Day was celebrated in New York City? 1756 in the Crown & Thistle Tavern

Jan 202016
 

Q1In April 1755 my ancestor Richard Hall took his horse and carriage up river to Chelsea, and visited Don Saltero’s coffee house. He records that he spent thirteen shillings there – an improbably large amount on coffee, and much more likely to reflect a purchase of one or more of the other items which “Don Saltero” offered for sale.

“Don Saltero” was an interesting character. His real name was John Salter but her fancied that being a “Don” gave him an air of Spanish mystery and he liked to pose as a sea captain back from foreign parts….

He had originally been trained as a barber and had then become valet to Sir Hans Slaone (the man famous for being the benefactor of some 71,000 items given to the newly formed British Museum). When Salter left his master’s employment he cadged a vast amount of bric-a-brac off Sir Hans, and used it to festoon his coffee shop, which he opened right by the River Thames in 1693.

Q2The coffee houses had by then developed as great centres of “intelligence” – where people could meet and discuss issues of the day, and share information about trade and so on. But the Salter Coffee House in Chelsea was something quite unlike any of its rivals! He attracted custom from naval officers who gave him other curiosities brought back from around the world and which Salter displayed in glass cabinets, or hung from the walls by the thousand. Visitors were not charged to see the “museum” but were expected to drink coffee or buy a catalogue for two pence. We know from the catalogues – and from the auction inventory when the contents were eventually sold in 1799, that Richard would have been able to see:

a curious model of our Saviour’s sepulchre, a Roman bishop’s crosier, antique coins and medals, minerals, fossils, antique fire-arms, curious birds, fishes, and other productions of nature, and a large collection of various antiquities and curiosities, glass-cases, &c”

Relics included:-

“King James’s coronation sword; King William’s coronation sword and shoes; Henry VIII.’s coat of mail, gloves, and spurs; Queen Elizabeth’s Prayer-book, stirrup, and strawberry dish; the Pope’s infallible candle; a set of beads, consecrated by Clement VII., made of the bones of St.Anthony of Padua; a piece of the royal oak; a petrified child, or the figure of death; a curious piece of metal, found in the ruins of Troy; a pair of Saxon stockings; William the Conqueror’s family sword; Oliver’s broad-sword; the King of Whiddaw’s staff; Bistreanier’s staff; a wooden shoe, put under the Speaker’s chair in James II’s time; the Emperor of Morocco’s tobacco pipe; a curious flea-trap; an Indian prince’s crown; a starved cat, found between the walls of Westminster Abbey when the east end was repaired; the jaws of a wild boar that was starved to death by his tusks growing inward; a frog, fifteen inches long, found in the Isle of Dogs; the Staffordshire almanack, used when the Danes were in England; the lance of Captain Tow How-Sham, king of the Darien Indians, with which he killed six Spaniards, and took a tooth out of each head, and put in his lance as a trophy of his valour; a coffin of state for a friar’s bones; a cockatrice serpent; a large snake, seventeen feet long, taken in a pigeon-house in Sumatra—it had in its belly fifteen fowls and five pigeons; a dolphin with a flying-fish at his mouth; a gargulet, that Indians used to cool their water with; a whistling arrow, which the Indians use when they would treat of peace; a negro boy’s cap, made of a rat-skin; Mary Queen of Scots’ pin-cushion; a purse made of a spider from Antigua; manna from Canaan; a jaw of a skate, with 500 teeth; the mermaid fish; the wild man of the woods; the flying bull’s head……”  

Richard must have been in his element at such a display – a veritable treasure trove of tat embellished with improbable claims, the walls festooned with exhibits. But to pay out thirteen shillings – that’s a lot of coffee! My guess is that he purchased some of the fossils on display, and his collection included these which he drew in meticulous detail.

Q3  Q4

 

Personally speaking, I just wish that he had instead bought William the Conqueror’s sword, but there you go. It must have been quite a sight, and for a man like Richard Hall, who loved natural curiosities, it was a visit which well-deserved its diary entry.

Sep 042015
 

I have to start with a confession: I am not a lover of bag-pipes. Or accordions. Or indeed anything you have to squeeze in order to make a noise. ‘Droning’ just about says it all…

I find them  discordant, loud, and fit only for dirges, but if bagpipes and so on are your thing, well, good for you, but don’t invite me round to any of your parties! The phrase ‘squealing like a stuck pig’ springs to mind – which is why I was so delighted to see this caricature  entitled “Musick on an entire new plan” which was published by William Holland some time between 1782 and 1801.

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It  is on the ever-fascinating Lewis Walpole site. A musician with a wooden leg is squeezing a baby boar while holding its tail, playing a tune as per the written score. I am not entirely sure if the porcine  noise  is made by its mouth or its backside – take your pick!

The artist may have been taking a swipe at the humble bagpipe, as here, with the 1793 “The strolling bagpiper.”

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Or it may have reflected the fact that  the latter years of the century saw a whole range of new instruments coming through into popularity. My first thought was that it was aimed at a precursor of the accordion. The text books suggest that this was invented by Buschmann in 1822, and developed further in 1829 by the Viennese piano and organ builder Cyrill Demian, But there are also reports that an earlier pain-inducing machine  was invented by a Swede by the name of Friedrich Lohner, who was born in 1737 and died in 1816.

The satire may be aimed at an earlier instrument called a musette de cour, popular in the French court in the 18th Century but very much going out of fashion by the time of the French Revolution. Or it may have been  based on the popularity of the hurdy-gurdy, an instrument described as producing a noise  ‘like a bagpipe mated with a violin’. Wikipedia says that “During the 18th century French Rococo tastes for rustic diversions brought the hurdy-gurdy back to the attention of the upper classes, where it acquired tremendous popularity among the nobility, with famous composers writing works for [it]”

The Travelling Musician', an old soldier playing hurdy-gurdy outside the Mermaid Inn, after John Collet,  1772

The Travelling Musician’, an old soldier playing hurdy-gurdy outside the Mermaid Inn, after John Collet, 1772

Either way, for my money it says all that needs to be said about musical instruments which get the squeeze. I am reminded of a time in Spain when I was enjoying a delightful romantic meal when a pestering accordion player came round the tables, single-handedly destroying the charm of the evening. I stood up and at the top of my voice howled like a wolf at the poor musician – who promptly fled the building! I sat down to polite applause from my fellow-diners….

Aug 162015
 

A few caricatures on the subject of going to the opera in Georgian England – as usual, courtesy of those lovely people at the Lewis Walpole Library site, here. The first one appeared on New Year’s Day 1781 and was published by James  Wicksteed – a rather nice comment on the fashion for wearing muffs, and for enormous hair-pieces topped with  little mob-caps:1Mrs Bruin is shown using her opera glass to look across at someone else in the auditorium – surely one of the most important points about going to the opera, i.e. to see what everyone else of fashion was wearing.

Next up, a couple of Gillray’s, the first from 1791 showing Lady Henrietta Cecilia Johnston. She featured in at least half a dozen of his caricatures, this one entitled “At the Opera.”

2The next, from 1795, is called “Characters in high life : sketch’d at the new rooms, Opera House” and apparently features the Duchess of Rutland, and her sister Lady  Manners.  I bet one of those two ladies was none too pleased at that portrayal! But it does show the ridiculous lengths feathered hats had gone to by the last decade of the century – imagine sitting behind that pair having your nose tickled by ostrich feathers throughout the performance!5An aquatint from 1792 by S W Fores apparently duplicated an image from ten years earlier (so presumably the fashions are from the ’80s rather than the 90’s), and also demonstrates the absurdity of high  fashion, especially for the more mature, larger, lady! Here we see a pair, trussed and be-ribboned, under the title of  “A side box at the opera.” It is a wonder that the Georgians left us with any ostriches roaming the wilds of Africa at all….

7

Fast forward to 1829 and we see another example of fashion idiocy – enormous hats making the wearer either invisible or looking like a midget. It is entitled “Hat-boxes” and was by William Heath.

6It all goes to show – the first and last pictures are half a century apart, but they both show the same thing – ladies loved to get dressed to go to the opera – to see and be seen!

Post script: the more I see of caricatures the more I become a fan of Thomas Rowlandson, so here are two of his – the first showing the rake George Hanger chatting up a pair of ladies in the theatre lobby (shown courtesy of the British Museum) and the second showing the audience during a performance. In neither case is the watching of the play especially important – it was a social event which for many of the people attending was primarily aimed at flirting, and lining up the entertainment for later in the evening. It must have been quite difficult for the actors having to contend with an audience who were drinking, playing cards, chatting with others around them, and such like. On the other hand, at least they didn’t have to contend with mobile phones going off…..box lobby loungers

1024px-Thomas_Rowlandson_-_An_Audience_Watching_a_Play_at_Drury_Lane_Theatre_-_Google_Art_ProjectO.K., one more – “Symptoms of lewdness, or, A peep into the boxes” by Isaac Cruikshank. It appeared in 1794, is shown on the Lewis Walpole site, and features the ample charms of Maria Anne Fitzherbert and Albinia Hobart, Countess of Buckinghamshire. And yes, it is one of the images I will be using in “Sex Scandal and Satire – in bed with the Georgians.” My apologies if it appears sexist – if I had found one of half-dressed men I would have shown that as well….

I have included it because it demonstrates that the obsession of the Press with “wardrobe malfunctions”, nipples and high fashion is nothing new. The Eighteenth Century is so very like our own in certain respects!

BBB Maria Fitzherbert & Albinia C of Bucks lwlpr08317

 

 

Jan 242015
 

January 24th marks the birthday of Carlo Broschi, one of the most famous of the 18th Century curiosities, the castrati. He was born on this day in 1705 near Naples. Like several thousand poor Italian boys each year, he was castrated in the hope that this would preserve his high-pitched singing voice. But unlike so many of his fellow-eunuchs, he did become a singing sensation, and did become rich and famous. He adopted the name Farinelli, supposedly after an Italian magistrate who possibly acted as patron, and made his first public singing appearance in 1720. Two years later he made a sensational debut in Rome, apparently out-performing a leading trumpeter (for whom  the composer Nicola Porpora had written an obbligato) by holding and swelling a note of prodigious length, purity and power. Not only did he out-blast the trumpeter but added his own variations, roulades and trills which left the audience enraptured.

He went on to wow Venice, Vienna and Milan and in 1734 arrived in London, where Handel had established the Royal Academy of Music at a theatre in the Haymarket with the castrato Senesino as lead male singer. Senesino had been on a reported salary of some two thousand guineas – a vast sum of money. Handel and Senesino were constantly at loggerheads and when Senesino went off and set up a rival company known as the Opera of the Nobility in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, it was here that Farinelli performed. He was a stunning success and was showered with expensive gifts and awarded a salary of 1500 guineas per annum. But one season’s meteor was the next season’s damp squib, and his popularity started to wane to the extent that when he received a summons to go and visit the Spanish court in 1737 he did so with alacrity. On his way he stopped off to sing for Louis XV, being rewarded with a large pile of money and his portrait framed with diamonds. He arrived in Madrid in August 1737, expecting to stay a few months, but remained for nearly a quarter of a century…

The court of King Philip V must have been a strange place – the King suffered from extreme melancholia and it was hoped that Farinelli’s exquisite voice would drive away the sadness. And so he sang, night after night, the same songs over and over again, until the old king died nine years later. This was not the end of Farinelli’s influence – far from it. The new king was Philip’s son, Ferdinand VI. He too required an exclusive access to the voice of Farinelli (who never sang in public again) and would accompany him on the harpsichord while Farinelli sang duets with  the Queen. He was  a close personal friend of them both and was made Knight of the Order of Calatrava in 1750, an honour of which he was inordinately proud. With the honours came power and influence (some have described him as being de facto prime minister, although he does not appear to have meddled in politics). Nevertheless he was extremely influential and it must have been a huge blow when Ferdinand died in 1759 and was succeeded by his decidedly non-musical half-brother. Farinelli stayed long enough to pick up a decent pension, then packed his bags and went back to Italy. He lived in considerable wealth but increasing loneliness at Bologna until his death  in 1782. His estate include art works by Velázquez and Murillo as well as a violin crafted by Stradivarius and a number of exquisite harpsichords and early pianos.

The castrati remained popular throughout the 1700’s, but fashions changed in the following century and they went out of favour. It is said that the effect of ‘the snip’ was to make the castrati not just long-lived (and hirsute!) but also altered their musculature so that they ended up extremely tall and with extended ribs and hence a huge lung capacity. This is what gave them the ability to hold a note for so long. The practice of castrating young boys for this purpose was banned in Italy in 1870, and the singing role in arias etc has been taken over by mezzo-sopranos or countertenors. Somehow baroque music will never sound the same again – poor Handel would be turning in his grave.

Nov 232014
 

1212One of the phenomena of the Georgian era was the popularity of the masked ball. It appealed to all social classes, and people did rather more than just put on a ‘Lone Ranger’ pair of eye-goggles; they dressed up as clowns, shepherdesses, allegorical figures vegetables – whatever took their fancy. They cross-dressed, and, liberated by their apparent anonymity, abandoned all propriety and sense of inhibition.

Probably for that reason they were often frequented by prostitutes on the pull. Which is where my interest comes in, because I have been looking  at masquerades in context of the forthcoming oeuvre  ie “Sex, Scandal and Satire – In bed with the Georgians”.

The image at the top comes from the ever-excellent Lewis Walpole Library site, and shows all the principal characters at a masquerade in 1789 at the Rotunda. As you can see, the people attending theses balls went to a lot of trouble with their costumes. The same site gives us “The Beauty Unmask’d” (left) and “Lady Betty Bustle and her Maid Lucy preparing for the Masquerade at The Pantheon” on the right.

1313    1515

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The one on the left, with her ermine-lined cape, dates from 1770, and the elegant lady dolled up to the nines on the right is from two years later. Somehow I don’t see them as bestowing their favours on the young gallants for less than a fortune. On the other hand, this one from the British Museum site, is clearly ready for a bit of horizontal jogging – her swain has already removed his mask and is absolutely sure that he is on to a good thing. It dates from 1771.

1616

As the verse underneath puts it, ‘Our Buck unmasks and makes his wishes known, … No Art can curb, no Mask can hide desire.’

Here is a more ‘tasteful’ image, once more from Lewis Walpole, showing a masquerade at the Argyll Rooms in 1826:

1414It all seems a bit staid to me, so to end with, a view from the raucous, joyful, over-the-top Thomas Rowlandson in his 1790 picture entitled “Dressing for a masquerade”

171717A group of happy hookers are getting ready for the ball, decolletages to the fore. I love all the action, with the hairdresser, the maid holding up a mirror, the stocking being rolled up, the masquerade head-dress with its discreet veil, and the dog barking at all the excitement. The masked lady on the right is gazing at her reflection as she struggles with the lacing on the back on her outfit, and as ever with Rowlandson, the figures are either rather beautiful or incredibly ugly!  Somehow you know that their evening will revolve around pleasure – and that someone is going to have to pay for it!