Jul 222017

I am always intrigued by the ‘Marriages’ section in the Gentleman’s Magazine – at the amount of detail about the age of the participants, and the amount of the fortunes being brought into the marriage.

Sometimes it is difficult to know for whom to feel most sorry – the old bride or the young swain (or, conversely the old goat and the young bride). Consider the second of these two entries:

So we have the 21 year old Captain Peter Hale, of no Business nor Fortune, marrying a rich old biddy of 74, presumably to get his hands on her assets, in this case an income of £300 a year (come on, what other assets do you think he was after?). Having married her he would presumably automatically have become the owner of all her capital (under the law of coverture). I have no idea how many years Sarah Vincent stayed alive, or whether the young captain turned out to be a scoundrel and promptly went off with all her money but I fear the worst!

Sometimes of course the boot was on the other foot, where on 7th September, Mr Dethick, a 70 year old Senior Proctor in Doctors Commons, used his considerable charms to entice a young woman living at the Mitre Coffee House into marriage. She was 23, and I am sure that she would have made the old man very happy…. especially as he had no family and no-one else with a claim on his estate.

Below that entry are the details of two men who each secured a fortune on marriage of £10,000 – equivalent to nearer a million pounds nowadays. Intriguingly, the top entries refer to members of the aristocracy, and on those cases no mention is made of either age or fortune. I rather like the reference to the fact that the “these marriages have not till of late been publickly owned”. But I think my congratulations should be saved for John Sibbs. I have no idea of his age, or how ugly/vivacious was the blushing bride (Miss Mary Herne), but he copped £40,000 by marrying her. Fortunate indeed!

And to illustrate   these entries, how about a G M Woodward caricature from 1803, shown courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library, entitled “An advertisement for a Husband”

The explanation given on the site gives us: “A footman leads a parson and six prospective suitors that have arrived in response to an advertisement for a husband posted by an ‘old maid’. The bachelors include a Welshman, a Scotsman, and a doctor that offer flatteries while waiting, “Splutter hur, how pretty she looks, she be a nice wench.” “Leave a Scotch laddie alone for carrying off the sillar” [silver] and “From my conscience, she looks like a Venus of medicine!” respectively. The footman leans forward to shout into the elderly woman’s ear trumpet, “Please your ladyship all these gentlemen be come about an advertisement  for a husband and to lose no time they have brought the Parson with them; please your Virginship what am I to say to ;em?” The elderly woman responds, “Say to them, why the men are mad, if I was so inclined do they think I would marry six husbands at once!!” A hissing cat followed by a litter of kittens stand beside the woman’s chair.

Or finally, because I am a terrible cynic, a caricature about marital bliss from around 1812, also on the Lewis Walpole site, entitled ‘Hither and thither’.

Jul 022017

I came across these two prints on the ever-excellent Lewis Walpole site while looking for something entirely different! They are both the work of Elias Martin, an artist who died in 1818, but the first was published by William Humphrey on 6 February 1772 and the other, published by Richard Marshall, followed ten days later.

The first print is entitled ‘A city taylor’s wife dressing for the Pantheon’ and it shows the soon-to-be-cuckolded tailor, holding a pair of half-made trousers on his lap, watching in despair as his wife prepares for a night on the town. His fists are clenched, his face etched with despair. He wears outdated clothing – complete with night-cap.

His wife, on the other hand, is dolled up to the nines. She is sporting ever-so-fetching patches all over the place, she is putting on a necklace which has just been taken out of a box, and she is rocking a hat which is ever-so a la mode. No matter that she looks like a hideous raddled old bag – she is on the pull! The house is humble, the furniture spare, and on the wall is an advertising placard – and a chalked figure of a pair of antlers, signifying a cuckold. No-one seeing the print would have been in any doubt as to the intentions of the wife!

Interestingly the Pantheon, just off Oxford Street, opened its doors on 27th January 1772 – just a week before this was published – so it was referring to somewhere very much in vogue. In practice the Pantheon had a very exclusive clientele in its early days – admission was at the invitation of a peer of the realm only. 1700 people drawn from the very highest echelons of society paid fifty pounds each to attend the opening night. For that first season, tickets only got you in to assemblies, without dancing or music, held three times a week. In later years the Pantheon was the venue for masquerades, balls – even operas, and became much more egalitarian. The point about the print is that in its early days, there was no way that the wife of a tailor would gain admission – the trollop clearly had ideas above her station…..

The second print was entitled The Suspicious Husband – apparently the title of a play by Dr Benjamin Hoadly. According to the Lewis Walpole site:  “A fashionably dressed young woman sits at a writing table as she seals an envelope with her stamp while her maid, standing in front of the table, waits attentively. A picture on the wall behind them depicts Cupid flying with an envelope in his hand. From behind a curtain on the right, a man peers into the room, curious and wide-eyed.”

I rather like the details – the attentive maid, the flickering candle, the wax seal being impressed from the lady’s ring, the lady’s left hand holding the letter firmly but delicately in place, the bar of wax on the table, the quill pen….

I know very little of the artist, Elias Martin. Wikipedia has him as a Swedish landscape painter who came to London in 1770 and became an Associate of the Royal Academy. I am not quite sure why he used his talents on producing drolls like these, but there you go! I suspect that he needed the pin money….