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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