Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Happy New Year!

Wishing you health, happiness and contented blogging in 2009.

Above: Lichfield market square. © Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs Woffington.

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Monday, 29 December 2008

St Bride's, London

Thought I'd share with you my picture of the exterior of St Bride's church in London. I discovered it when - on a crazy errand - I dragged my patient boyfriend from Smithfield to Covent Garden because characters in my 18th-century novel had walked this route and I wanted to know how long it took and what sights they would have seen along the way (it took 35 minutes and a lot of imagination). For some reason, which I forget, we were also trying to find out where the Fleet river came out, having read some fascinating stuff about it in Peter Ackroyd's London: The Biography.

Anyway, on Fleet Street we got side-tracked by this intriguing church (begun in 1673 by Sir Christopher Wren, with the spire finally completed in 1703), which is dedicated to journalists, and because we are both journalists, it seemed rude not to stop and pay our respects. Fifteen minutes browsing the wonderful interior followed. The steeple is actually the model for the traditional wedding cake, first made by a baker on Ludgate Hill in the 18th century (at 234ft it was Wren's tallest). Although my picture of the outside is pretty unimpressive, the inside is beautiful, though it's not original - sadly the interior was destroyed by a fire bomb in 1940, but rebuilt according to the designs of Godfrey Allen, Surveyor to the Fabric of St Paul's Cathedral.

Photograph © Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs Woffington.

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Sunday, 28 December 2008

Garrick Temple

Well, in my post about fire destroying Garrick's villa I promised you a blog on the Temple to Shakespeare at Hampton, and here it is. Garrick built the Temple in 1756 and it now houses a small exhibition about the great actor-manager; it's usually open to the public on Sundays between April and September but we made a special trip during Open House London. On this weekend you can get into a range of historic buildings for free - we had a fantastic day in Hampton and Teddington, though I regret not taking the opportunity to visit Horace Walpole's Gothic castle Strawberry Hill while we were in the area (especially as it's now closed for restoration until 2010).

Below is the front of the little Palladian Temple, which you'll recognise immediately from the Zoffany painting above, picturing Garrick with his wife Eva Maria and (I think) a little nephew, playing on the steps.

The Temple itself was possibly modelled on Lord Burlington's Temple at Chiswick House and was a nice spot to invite friends for tea and indulge in a spot of fishing. The riverbank alongside the Temple, which you can see in the picture above, was remodelled with advice by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, who lived nearby and was a good friend of the Garricks. Their villa and the Temple were linked by a grotto-like tunnel under the Kingston to Staines Road which divides the two properties (sadly, it's not open to the public). Below are some pictures of the permanent exhibition, including reproductions of the Zoffany conversation piece and Hogarth's portrait of Garrick as Richard III.

We loved talking to the volunteers at the Temple, who fondly refer to the actor as 'our Garrick', and you have a real sense of his spirit being kept alive. Below is a sculpture of Garrick, sporting a daisy chain.

Garrick also commissioned the fashionable sculptor Roubiliac to create a life-sized marble statue of Shakespeare (below). Visitors were invited to 'sacrifice to Shakespeare' by leaving verses in his honour at the foot of the statue (these often ended up in the newspapers, thanks to Garrick's knack for self-publicity). The actor-manager also displayed his collection of supposedly Shakespearian artefacts here, including a glove, a salt cellar and a signet ring bearing the initials WS.

All Temple photographs © Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs Woffington.

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Saturday, 27 December 2008

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

I've just finished reading Amanda Foreman's biog of the Duchess of Devonshire. I've got to tell you, I was somewhat disappointed. I know the book caused a sensation when it came out ten years ago, and I admire Foreman's scholarly take on the Duchess which avoids making nonsense assumptions that its subject was a proto-feminist, but a lot of the time I kept wondering if Georgiana was really worthy of a biography of such weight. Yes, she was an interesting woman, but she was constrained by her aristocratic position, which meant much of the book is taken up with trivialities: her ruinous gambling habit and the general bed-hopping of her set. This is why I've now turned to Norma Clarke's Queen of the Wits: A Life of Laetitia Pilkington because I'm more interested in figures on the fringes of Georgian society - people who had the freedom of movement than Georgiana did. I'll post more on that when I've finished it.

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Friday, 26 December 2008

Christmas Turkey

Just finished watching the BBC's premiere of Casanova from 2005, with Heath Ledger in the title role. Looks like it cost a fortune - a stellar British cast phoned in their performances, including Tim McInnery as the Doge (a spectacular piece of miscasting) and Jeremy Irons as the scenery-chewing head of the Inquisition. Great music, costumes and setting, but given that the film's wittiest moment was a shot of a pig in a ruff, I think it's fair to call this a turkey.

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Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Merry Christmas

Thank you for your kind support over the last month as this blog took its first tentative steps - it means a lot to me. I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!

Lichfield Cathedral, Staffordshire. Copper engraved print published in The Beauties of England and Wales, 1801.
Source: Ancestry Images.

Lichfield Cathedral, Staffordshire, photographed by me yesterday.

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Monday, 22 December 2008

Boswell: King of the Rakes

Well, I confess I'm really surprised by the rake votes - not a single vote for Casanova, and a tie-breaker between Boswell and the Earl of Rochester! Well, after much deliberation, I've decided to crown Boswell as favourite rake, if only because his cosy image as Dr Johnson's biographer needs challenging.

He was born in 1740, the son of a judge, Alexander Boswell, 8th Laird of Auchinleck and his wife Euphemia Erskine. His early years were characterised by a clash between profligate tendencies and and a powerful sense of duty to his father, who wanted him to study law. Following an unrequited passion for an actress, Mrs Cowper, he hit upon the idea of going to London to become a Roman Catholic priest (the piousness of Mrs Cowper no doubt inspired this). He rode non-stop for two and a half days in order to reach the capital, and when there, abandoned his religious intentions almost immediately in favour of 'the melting and transporting rites of love' at the Blue Perriwig in Holborn.

Back in Scotland, Boswell embarked on various dalliances, one of which - with his maidservant Peggy Doig - resulted in the birth of the first of his illegitimate children. Meanwhile, virtually any woman in the vicinity took his fancy: 'At supper I fell much in love with the chambermaid who served us who was a handsome girl with an insinuating wantonness of look,' he drooled.

Returning to London in 1762, his London Journal includes many accounts of his exploits, a typical diary entry being as follows:
I should have mentioned last night that I met with a monstrous big whore in the Strand... I went into a tavern with her, where she displayed to me all the parts of her enormous carcass; but I found that her avarice was as large as her a---, for she would by no means take what I offered her... I was so much in the lewd humour that I felt myself restless, and took a little girl into a court; but wanted vigour. So I went home, resolved against low street debauchery.
Much of this seems surprising when you consider Boswell's friendship with Johnson: a pious man who took a dim view of indulgences of any kind; in Boswell's Life of Johnson he records an exchange with the writer on the subject of prostitution, in which Johnson remarks: 'Sir, it is very absurd to argue, as has been often done, that prostitutes are necessary to prevent the violent effects of appetite from violating the decent order of life; nay, should be permitted, in order to preserve the chastity of our wives and daughters. Depend upon it, Sir, severe laws, steadily enforced, would be sufficient against those evils, and would promote marriage.'

As Julie Peakman observes in Lascivious Bodies (to which I'm indebted for this article), Boswell was a man of inconstant moods, who burned with passion one moment and dropped a woman the next. He later settled down with his cousin, Margaret Montgomerie, who bore him seven children, yet like most 18th-century libertines, though he loved 'that valuable woman', he continued his dalliances for the rest of his life.

Thank you all for voting!

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Word of the Week: Buffleheaded

A man with a large head, like a buffalo; dull; stupid; foolish.

From: Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language: An Anthology

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Friday, 19 December 2008

A Rakish Reminder

A note to say that I’m out of the loop this weekend, but don’t forget to vote for your favourite rake (voting ends on Sunday!) and I’ll post about the victor next week.

In the meantime, you might want to check out these blogs:

The Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Guide to the 18th Century
There’s not much time left to leave a comment on your favourite tart posting for a chance to win one of Heather Carroll’s exquisite Christmas decorations!

Tempus Fugit
The time-travelling physician continues to enlighten readers on the art of 18th-century medicine from his post south of the Ohio river.

Nature Diary
Not so much a blog as a civilised stroll in the Hampshire countryside with nature notes and poetry from Colonel Brandon.

Above: The blogosphere, as depicted by Hogarth...

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On Not Being Served

Servants were nothing but trouble in the 18th century: or at least, that's what the literature of the time tells us. A passage from Boswell's Life of Johnson concerns the dirty habits of French servants (as described by Johnson):
"At Madame ----'s, a literary lady of rank, the footman took the sugar in his fingers, and threw it into my coffee. I was going to put it aside; but hearing it was made on purpose for me, I e'en tasted Tom's fingers. The same lady would needs make tea à la Angloise. The spout of the tea-pot would not pour freely; she bade the footman blow into it. France is worse than Scotland in every thing but climate."
Strong words when you consider how much Johnson complained about Scotland! Footmen were also viewed dubiously in Jonathan Swift's hilarious Directions to Servants: a kind of primer in which he addresses sardonic advice to each servant in the household. To the footman:
Take off the largest dishes and set them on with one hand, to show the ladies your vigour and strength of back, but always do it between two ladies, that if the dish happens to slip, the soup or sauce may fall on their clothes and not daub the floor... When you carry up a dish of meat, dip your fingers in the sauce, or lick it with your tongue to try whether it be good and fit for your master's table... If you are ordered to break the claw of a crab or lobster, clap it between the sides of the dining-room door between the hinges...
Above is William Hogarth's wonderful Heads of Six of Hogarth's Servants (circa 1750-5).

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Thursday, 18 December 2008

William Blake: The River of Life

I’ve always been interested in the interplay of word and image, so one thing that I dearly hope to be catching over the Christmas period is Tate Liverpool’s show, William Blake - The River of Life (until Mar 29, 2009). Surprisingly, there’s virtually nothing about it on the website, apart from a press release, but the display apparently includes watercolour illustrations to Dante’s The Divine Comedy (above), plus some major paintings.

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Word of the Week: Whifflers

An ancient name for fifers; also persons at the universities who examine candidates for degrees. A whiffling cur, a small yelping cur.

From: Captain Grose's 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

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Wednesday, 17 December 2008

The Celestial Bed

Due to an unpopular office move, I find myself having to wait for a shuttle bus in the freezing cold on a daily basis, but this morning I at least got some entertainment from Frances Wilson's article in the Literary Review on Lydia Syson's new book: Doctor of Love: James Graham and his Celestial Bed.Graham was a quack who opened a Temple of Health on the banks of Thames next-door to Garrick's villa, followed by the Temple of Prolific Hymen, where his celestial bed allowed 'the ton' to sow their wild oats for £50 a night in the hope of removing barenness and invigorating 'the bodily, and through them, the mental faculties of the human species'. Astonishing!

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Lost Architectural Gems

Having a sift through The Georgian Group’s website, I was heartened to read about the Darnley Mausoleum in Kent – abandoned, then virtually destroyed when kids lit a bonfire inside it in 1980 – but now lovingly restored by Cobham Hall Estate, with funds from The Georgian Group and Union Railways.

I have an interest in the earls of Darnley, particularly the second earl, Edward Bligh (who was one of Mrs Woffington’s lovers). Like the Darnleys before him, when Edward died in 1747, he was buried in Westminster Abbey. Later in the century, with the Darnley vaults full, the third earl, John Bligh, left instructions in his will for the construction of a mausoleum in Cobham Park. The contract was given to James Wyatt and the mausoleum completed in 1786, though oddly, never consecrated (see above for one of Wyatt's drawings). The Telegraph has an article and some beautiful pix showing the transformation.

How different the plight of Little Green Street, off Highgate Road in Kentish Town, which is one of only a few intact Georgian streets in London, but is to be turned into a truck route by developers, who wish to build on an adjacent plot of land (a real problem when the street is only 2.5m wide!) Despite opposition from tens and thousands of people, the national Government's agency determined that construction can go ahead, and the only thing stopping them is the current financial crisis! Thanks to Jane Austen World for flagging this up. What Little Green Street needs now is a miracle…

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Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The Provoked Wife

I felt a bit bad about my Handel in the nude posting, so to make it up to him, I'm giving a shout-out to the Messiah, and the intriguing news that Stephen Fry is supposed to be making a biopic about the composer.

Now, I don't know much about this project, but I'm assuming that the screenplay will be drawing on an amazing book (sadly, out of print) by Mary Nash called The Provoked Wife: The Life and Times of Susannah Cibber. I acquired my copy (left) ages ago and talk about a blockbuster! It charts the sad, scandalous and, at times, downright bizarre, events in the life of this 18th-century actress and was so gripping I bored my boyfriend endlessly by reading huge sections out to him.

Anwyay, most of the book is devoted to Susannah's disastrous marriage to actor Theophilus Cibber and the celebrated 'alienation of affections' trial, but it also gives a touching portrayal of her relationship with Handel and her involvement, as a singer, with the premiere of the Messiah. Despite being pretty uncompromising, Handel actually reset several arias for Mrs Cibber's untrained voice and wrote He Was Despised especially for her (this was based on declamation rather than cantabile, which was easier for Cibber to sing). He clearly liked her tender, melancholy voice, and her expressiveness.

And of course, her shocking back-story brought that extra frisson to the Messiah's debut, and explains why, when she had finished singing, a tearful audience member cried out: 'Woman, for this all thy sins be forgiven thee!'

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Sunday, 14 December 2008

Giddy libertines and drunken ravishers

I'm aware that I haven't exactly depicted these rakes in a romantic light, but if one man's outrageous behaviour has particularly amused you, then please vote for him on the right-hand sidebar and/or post some comments - I'd love to hear what you think! And check back for info on the rakes' progress - I'll post an article on the winning libertine in due course.

Sir Francis Dashwood (1708-81)
Rake, profligate and chancellor of the exchequer (1761-3), Dashwood is perhaps best known as the founder of the Hell-Fire Club and the Society of Dilettanti. Horace Walpole described the latter as ‘a club of which the nominal qualification is having been to Italy, and the real one of being drunk’. Dashwood conceived the idea for the Hell-Fire Club while at a service at the Sistine Chapel, during which worshippers pretended to scourge themselves with whips. Unsatisfied with this pretence, he returned later with a horsewhip and thrashed the congregation soundly. He was thrown out of Italy for ‘scandalous behaviour’.

James Boswell (1740-1795)
The diarist and biographer of Johnson had a lecherous eye for the ladies, not to mention a penchant for ‘old hock’ and rude drinking songs. Young, restless and spurned by an actress, he decided to leave Glasgow for London in order to become a Roman Catholic priest. No sooner had he arrived than he was seeking out the ‘melting and transporting rites of love’ courtesy of girls in the Strand. While detailing his philanderings with an actress in his London Journal, he boasted: ‘Proud of my godlike vigour, I soon resumed the noble game… [Louisa] declared I was a prodigy.’ His feelings cooled when he realised she had given him the pox.

Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798)
Silver-tongued Casanova understood and loved women, though he was not above bribing them: ‘There exists no honest woman with an uncorrupted heart whom a man is not sure of conquering by gratitude,’ he crowed. Favoured with a special dispensation from the Pope to read pornography, he lived a life of quick exits across rooftops and fields, pursued by husbands and debt-collectors. It was all too much for the Venetian Inquisition, which imprisoned him for contempt of religion in 1755, but following a spectacular jail-break, he roamed Europe in pursuit of the ladies, penning his sensational memoir Histoire de ma vie, which was published posthumously.

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (1647-1680)
Wilmot was a renowned poet, wit and friend to King Charles II. At court he became known for drunkenness and ‘extravagant frolics’ as part of a group called the Merry Gang. Obsessed with the theatre, he flirted with actresses and began an affair with the great Restoration actress Elizabeth Barry, though his poems suggest that he was, in fact, bisexual. Having offended the king, he was briefly exiled, and in 1676 compounded matters by causing a scuffle in which a man was killed. He went underground, taking on the persona of a quack physician called Doctor Bendo who - rather suspiciously - specialised in infertility. He died aged 33 of syphilis or alcoholism, or both.

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Saturday, 13 December 2008

Happy birthday, Erasmus

How remiss of me, I forgot to wish Erasmus Darwin a happy birthday yesterday. Thank goodness that Palaeoblog remembered! Here's a seasonal excerpt from my copy of Darwin's The Loves of the Plants, which, because I'm short on time, I'm going to have to generalise as a botanical poem concerning itself with the sex life of flowers. Yes, really...
Ambitious Visca [mistletoe], from thy eagle-flight! - Scorning the sordid soil, aloft she springs, Shakes her white plume, and claps her golden wings; High o'er the fields of boundless ether roves, and seeks amid the clouds her soaring loves!
Footnote: Viscum. Mistletoe. This plant never grows upon the ground; the foliage is yellow, and the berries milk-white; the berries are so viscous, as to serve for bird-lime; and when they fall, adhere to the branches of the tree, on which the plant grows, and strike root into its bark; or are carried to distant trees by birds.

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Friday, 12 December 2008

The Chap

Ah, The Chap magazine. While the country plunges deeper into recession, The Chap goes A4 and expands to 12 pages. Thank goodness! Where else can one obtain glossy articles on Georgian rakes?
From The Chap Manifesto: Society has become sick with some nameless malady of the soul. We have become the playthings of corporations intent on converting our world into a gargantuan shopping precinct... we live in a world where children are huge hooded creatures lurking in the shadows; the local hostelry has been taken over by a large chain that specialises in chilled lager, whose principal function is to aggravate the nervous system... It is time for Chaps and Chapettes from all walks of life to stand up and be counted. But fear not, ye languid and ye plain idle: ours is a revolution based not on getting up early and exerting oneself - but a revolution that can be achieved by a single raised eyebrow over a monocle; the ordering of a glass of port in All Bar One; the wearing of a particularly fetching cardigan upon a visit to one's bookmaker...

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Triumphing over smallpox

I was intrigued when I came across this monument to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in Lichfield Cathedral a few days ago, though puzzled as to its origins, given that she's buried in (I think) Yorkshire. It reads:
Sacred to the Memory of The Right Honorable Lady MARY WORTLEY MONTAGUE, who happily introduced from Turkey into this country the Salutary Art of inoculating the Small-Pox. Convinc'd of its Efficacy she first tried it with Success On her own Children and then recommended the practice of it To her fellow-Citizens. Then by her Example and Advice we have soften'd the Virulence and escaped the danger of this malignant Disease. To perpetuate the Memory of such Benevolence, and express her Gratitude for the benefit she herself has receiv'd from the alleviating Art, this Monument is erected by HENRIETTA INGE relict of THEODORE WILLIAM INGE, Esq.r. and Daughter of Sir JOHN WROTTESLEY Baronet in the Year of OUR LORD MDCCLXXXIX

Happily, Rob Hardy's blog, written during a sabbatical in Warwickshire, answers my questions, provides a neat little biog of Lady Mary, and an overview of the scourge of smallpox in the 18th century.

A small addendum to Hardy's article: Edward Jenner was born in Berkeley, England, on 17 May 1749, and would become a pioneer of smallpox vaccination. The act of deliberately giving people smallpox to create immunity, popularised by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, became known as variolation. Jenner was variolated at school: he was starved, purged and bled, then locked up in a stable with other artificially infected boys until the disease had run its course! Because variolation was still an imprecise science, the technique was a risky one, and some died from it.

Operating as a country doctor, Jenner soon observed the effects of cowpox, and speculated, correctly, that it could act as a safer protective against smallpox. In his garden he installed what would become known as the Temple of Vaccinia: a small hut with a thatched roof where he vaccinated the local poor.

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