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Monday, 15 May 2017

Coelebs in Search of a Wife by Hannah More (1808) – a review

Gentleman's full dress  from Ackermann's Repository (1810)
Gentleman's full dress
from Ackermann's Repository (1810)
Coelebs in Search of a Wife 1 could perhaps be more aptly named Reader in Search of a Story! If you pick up this book expecting an action-filled tale of romance and adventure, you will be disappointed. Not much happens! There is a gentle storyline following the hero, Charles, as he looks for a wife, but the book is less about the love story and more about the different people he meets. 

This is what I found fascinating. Hannah More painted a series of character portraits based on her observations, giving the modern-day reader an insight into how people were living their lives in the early 1800s. In particular, More looked at the subject of religion and how people’s beliefs were worked out in their day-to-day lives – or not!

It seems incredible to us that, early on in the book, More felt it was necessary to make an apology, suggesting that ‘the religious may throw it aside as frivolous’.2 I guess it might have seemed frivolous compared to a book of sermons!

It is much easier to understand why she also pre-empted the criticism of the novel reader whom she thought might ‘reject it as dull’. The book is full of good conversation and good advice but, as I’ve already mentioned, very little action takes place.

That said, the book was very popular in its time, and others tried to mimic More’s success with titles such as Nubilia in Search of a Husband. The popularity of Coelebs and the charitable character of its heroine, Lucilla Stanley, helped to make it fashionable to care for the poor.

Hannah More from Memoirs of the life and correspondence  of Mrs Hannah More by William Roberts (1835)
Hannah More
from Memoirs of the life and correspondence 
of Mrs Hannah More by William Roberts (1835)
A summary of the story

What Charles is looking for in a wife

The hero, Charles, lives at the Priory in Westmoreland, where he has been living a retired life, attending his father through his final illness and then supporting his mother until her death. He is now eager to find a wife. His own ideas of the ideal woman are based on Eve in Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Before his death, his father had counselled him to choose a wife who was informed, cultivated and refined. 
The exhibiting, the displaying wife may entertain your company, but it is only the informed, the refined, the cultivated woman who can entertain yourself. 
You will want a companion: an artist you may hire.
He had also urged him not to choose a wife until he had visited his old friend Mr Stanley, who lived at Stanley Grove in Hampshire.

His mother had also given him advice, saying that many unobjectionable characters were not designed to give rational happiness in marriage. She advised him:  
It is not unreasonable to expect consistency.
Charles spells out what he is looking for in a wife: 
I do not want a Helen, a Saint Cecilia, or a Madame Dacier; yet she must be elegant, or I should not love her; sensible, or I should not respect her; well-informed, or she could not educate my children; well-bred, or she could not entertain my friends; consistent, or I should offend the shade of my mother; pious or I should not be happy with her, because the prime comfort in a companion for life is the delightful hope that she will be a companion for eternity.
The search begins

Charles visits some of the local families before heading for London on his way to Mr Stanley’s house. Everywhere he goes, he meets potential brides and becomes aware of numerous inconsistencies in people’s characters.

Charles finds Mr Stanley as amiable as he had hoped. Mr Stanley has the ability to say the right thing at the right time and to turn discussions on non-religious subjects into useful instruction. Mrs Stanley has the ability to bring out the best in people. She laments the damage done by novels by establishing the omnipotence of love, encouraging young readers to unresistingly submit to a feeling.

Lucilla Stanley   

Morning dress  from Ackermann's Repository (1811)
Morning dress
from Ackermann's Repository (1811)
Mr and Mrs Stanley have a family of daughters: 18-year-old Lucilla, 15-year-old Phoebe and several younger girls. They lost their only son some years before. Lucilla is everything that Charles wants in a wife. She is intelligent, kind, truly good and charitable, and modest with it. She has been doing the housekeeping since she was 16 and sets aside a day each week to serve the poor and visits them two evenings a week in their homes. She and her sisters have built up a large stock of clothing that they give out at Christmas.

The Stanleys believe too much time is spent on music for exhibition rather than developing conversation, and so Lucilla is cultured rather than accomplished. 
The excellence of musical performance is a decorated screen, behind which all defects in domestic knowledge, in taste, judgement, and literature, and the talents which make an elegant companion, are creditably concealed.
Fashionable afternoon and morning dress from Lady's Magazine (1807)
Fashionable afternoon and morning dress
from Lady's Magazine (1807)
Charles falls in love with her and asks Mr Stanley for her hand in marriage. Charles is told not to rush, but to stay a month and get to know Lucilla better and win her affections.

Lucilla is not without other suitors and Charles is jealous of Lord Staunton. Lucilla has rejected him once because of his loose principles, but he has not taken ‘no’ for an answer. He has told her that she can reform him. Lucilla refuses to accept a man with promises of reform because if he failed to reform, ‘it would be too late to repent of my folly, after my presumption had incurred its just punishment.’ Charles fears that Lord Staunton will genuinely reform and be accepted.

Charles’s new carriage arrives and Lucilla’s youngest sister, Celia, is afraid that Charles is going to go home. Charles invites her to go with him. She innocently says that she will go to the Priory with him if Lucilla will go too, making her poor sister blush. Despite the promised month not being up, Charles proposes and Lucilla accepts him.

Elliott's patent eccentric laundaulet or chariot   from Ackermann's Repository (1809)
Elliott's patent eccentric laundaulet or chariot
from Ackermann's Repository (1809)
When Charles goes to Mr Stanley to ask for his blessing, he discovers that Mr Stanley and his father had hoped that he would marry Lucilla, although they realised that it was not likely. The two fathers had resolved to keep their children apart until they were adults and then see if they were attracted to each other, but to say nothing, so there would be no compulsion on their part to marry if they were not inclined. Charles and Lucilla were delighted that their marriage had been long hoped for – an extra blessing to their union.

A bevy of little stories

The people that Charles meets along his journey each have a little story of their own, containing examples of good behaviour and bad, and how people either suffered the consequences of their folly or profited from adopting better habits. Here is a summary of some – but by no means all – of these stories.

Sir John and Lady Belfield were religious at heart but it did not affect the way they behaved. Sir John had found that too much religion could damage a man’s reputation. Lady Belfield was over indulgent towards her children. After visiting Stanley Grove and talking with and observing Mr and Mrs Stanley and their family, they made the decision to reduce the time they stayed in London over the winter and instruct their children better.

Mr and Mrs Carlton started off as an unmatched couple, obliged to marry to keep property within the family. Mr Carlton was irreligious and unkind whilst Mrs Carlton was devoutly religious. Although she had been in love with someone else, she lived out her faith in front of her husband, never allowing herself to criticise him and excelling in her domestic duties. Her faithful witness eventually won over her husband.

Ned Tyrrel had been at college with Mr Stanley but turned very dissolute. Later he reformed, but became addicted to ambition and then money, and he adopted some very extreme ideas about religion based on forgiveness without reform. Only when he becomes ill and is about to die does he suddenly realise how hollow his religion is.

Lady Melbury is a very popular lady in London’s high society. She is very charitable, but also very profligate. This comes to a head when she proposes to give a poor girl in a flower shop who is caring for her sick mother her custom but then realises it is her own failure to meet her debts that caused the poverty of the family in the first place. She claims she will give up gambling and never get in debt again, but finds it hard to resist the influence of others. It is only when she is left alone to think about her faults that the change really occurs. She saves enough money to pay off her debt by retiring to the country and cancelling a big entertainment she had planned. She resolves to live a retired life to avoid the contaminating influence of London society.

Opera dress from  Ackermann's Repository (1809)
Opera dress from
Ackermann's Repository (1809)
Lady Denham gives the appearance of religiosity but has no real feeling. She blames her inability to support charity on taxes and yet finds it possible to give generously to her favourite opera singer Signor Squallini’s benefit concert. With her, music is supreme. She gets her come-uppance when her daughter elopes with Squallini.

Lady Aston had lived a retired life in the country ever since her husband’s death. She saw it as a duty to mourn him and would not let her daughters do anything. As a result, they were wasting their time. Mr Stanley encouraged the girls to set up a school for the poor and read with the curate. The whole family became much happier.

Mr and Mrs Ranby had a reputation for being pious, but their religion consisted of a ‘disproportionate zeal for a very few doctrines’. Mrs Ranby was coarse and censorious and gave no religious instruction to her daughters who wasted their time. She thought it was enough to pray for them! Mrs Ranby did not see the relevance of religion to everyday matters, such as governing her temper.

Mr Stanhope was drawn in by beauty to an unequal marriage. His wife held his books in great aversion and was ill-informed and bad tempered. An example of a marriage where two people were ‘joined not matched’.

To protect each other from worry, Mr and Mrs Hamilton had tried to conceal their illnesses from each other for the first seven years of their marriage. They came to realise that concealment was dangerous even when the intentions were good. 
Unreserved communication is the lawful commerce of conjugal affection, and all concealment is contraband.
Miss Sparkes, a single lady of 45 who was neither poor nor ugly, was very masculine in her habits – she was a politician, a huntsman, a farrier and a coachman. She believed that clever men married stupid women because they feared a rival, and that a woman who excelled in domesticity must be downtrodden.

A noble hunting party by T Rowlandson  from Dr Syntax's Three Tours by William Combe (1868)
A noble hunting party by T Rowlandson
from Dr Syntax's Three Tours by William Combe (1868)
Mr Flam had good deeds without religion. Dr Barlow, the minister, warns him that he is as much at risk as Mr Tyrrel and his sham religion. However, Mr Flam is young and thinks he has plenty of time ahead of him to sort things out.

(1) Sometimes written as Cœlebs in Search of a Wife.
(2) All quotes taken from Cœlebs in Search of a Wife by Hannah More, (New York, 1859, edition).

Sunday, 30 April 2017

What Regency Women Did For Us is out now!

Front cover of What Regency Women Did For Us by Rachel Knowles

Today is the UK release date for my new book, What Regency Women Did For Us. The book tells the inspirational stories of twelve women who lived in the Regency period – women whose lives made an impact on the world in which they lived and whose influence can still be felt in some measure today. These women were pioneers for their sex – scientists and authors, actresses and educators, philanthropists and businesswomen – and some of them going where no woman had been before.

Twelve inspirational Regency women

Eleanor Coade was a successful businesswoman who ran an artificial stone manufactory. Coade stone was used to make statues and decorative plaques, many examples of which have survived into the 21st century. You may, perhaps, have seen some of her Coade stone without even realising it. Could you tell that this statue of the River God at Ham House in Richmond, London, was made of Coade stone?

River God statue at Ham House, Richmond
River God statue at Ham House, Richmond
Caroline Herschel’s story is one of hard work and determination. Could a poorly educated German woman, struggling to speak English, become an astronomer in order to help her beloved brother William in his research?

Sarah Siddons was the most famous tragic actress of her time, playing parts such as Lady Macbeth so convincingly that female members of her audience were sometimes sent into hysterics. But it was her respectability that really made a difference to the position of female actors.

Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth  after painting by GH Harlow
Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth
after painting by GH Harlow
Marie Tussaud was probably the most successful female entrepreneur of her time. She came to England after the French Revolution and travelled widely with her waxworks exhibition before eventually settling in London. Madame Tussauds is still a big tourist attraction in London today. But what was it about Marie’s business that set it apart from those of her rivals and helped it to survive into the 21st century? 

Mary Parminter was very unusual for a wealthy Georgian woman. Not only did she choose not to get married; together with her sister and cousin, Jane, she went on a Grand Tour of Europe. But their idea of a Grand Tour was not just seeing the regular sights – it included 200 miles of walking in the Alps and climbing Mont Buet! Perhaps it was hardly surprising that the house that Mary and Jane built when they returned – A la Ronde – was also not what you would have expected.

Packing case on display at A la Ronde
Packing case on display at A la Ronde
Maria Edgeworth is little known today, but in her time, she was much better known than Jane Austen, and much more financially successful. Though her books have largely been forgotten, she is credited with being the inventor of historical fiction – a genre which we take for granted today.

Jane Marcet attended lectures in chemistry at the Royal Institution, but struggled to understand them without her husband’s help. She realised that many women did not have her advantages and decided to write a simple textbook using everyday language to share her new-found knowledge – a ‘Dummies Guide’ to Chemistry. Although intended for a female audience, it was not only women who were influenced by her work. 

Sarah Guppy was a talented scientist and inventor who, even though she was a woman, mixed with and influenced some of the leading scientists of her day. Just how much she had to do with the design of the Clifton Suspension Bridge remains open to conjecture.

Jane Austen is the only one of the twelve women who did not live through the whole Regency period. All her books were, however, published during the Regency, and were popular with the Prince Regent (later George IV) who was such a big fan that Jane felt obliged to dedicate Emma to him. I wonder what Jane would have thought of the worldwide industry that ‘love of Jane Austen’ has become?
Harriot Mellon’s life is a real-life rags to Regency riches story. Starting out life with a band of touring players, she rose to some measure of success on the stage due to a good memory, a pretty face and a pushy mother. But her life changed forever when the wealthy banker Thomas Coutts became her ‘fairy godfather’.

Elizabeth Fry was only the second woman to be depicted on a British banknote, in remembrance of her pioneering work in prison reform. Perhaps less well known is that some also consider her to be the founder of modern nursing.

Elizabeth Fry from Elizabeth Fry, the angel of the prisons by LE Richards (1916)
Elizabeth Fry from Elizabeth Fry,
the angel of the prisons

by LE Richards (1916)
Mary Anning lived all her life in Lyme Regis in Dorset and became an expert fossil finder. But did you know that Mary was famous long before she found her first fossil? Her miraculous escape from death as a baby was often cited in local guidebooks at the time.

You can read the stories of all these women in What Regency Women Did For Us.

Available direct from Pen and Sword history books here.

Available from Amazon UK here: What Regency Women Did for Us

Available for preorder from here: What Regency Women Did For Us

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Haymarket Theatre in Regency London

Old Haymarket Theatre from Old and New London (1873)
Old Haymarket Theatre from Old and New London (1873)
In Georgian London, it was necessary to have a licence in order to perform plays. In 1766, the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, was granted a royal patent, allowing it to put on plays, but only during the summer season. There were only two theatres licensed to put on plays during the winter: The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden

The First Haymarket Theatre

The first theatre in the Haymarket was built by John Potter in 1720 and was known as The First Haymarket Theatre or Little Theatre. The Licensing Act of 1737 meant that theatre companies needed a licence or patent in order to perform plays. The Haymarket had no such licence and was forced to operate under temporary licences or by trying to circumvent the law by putting on a concert with a ‘free’ play afterwards.

Interior of the Little Theatre, Haymarket,  from the Complete Works of Henry Fielding (1902)
Interior of the Little Theatre, Haymarket,
from the Complete Works of Henry Fielding (1902)
The Theatre Royal, Haymarket

From 1746, comic actor and satirical playwright Samuel Foote sporadically rented the Haymarket Theatre. In 1766, whilst the guest of his noble patrons, the Earl and Countess of Mexborough, Foote was goaded into riding a rather lively horse belonging to George III’s brother, Edward, Duke of York. The horse threw him and Foote broke his leg so badly that it had to be amputated. Undeterred, Foote continued to act with a wooden leg:
Strange as it may appear, with the aid of a cork leg he performed his former characters with no less agility and spirit than before, and continued by his laughable performances to draw together crowded houses.1
The accident brought about a change in fortunes for the Haymarket Theatre. Foote requested a royal patent from the Duke of York and on 5 July 1766, a limited patent was granted, for the duration of Foote’s life. The Haymarket Theatre was permitted to show plays during the summer, between 10 May and 15 September.

Foote purchased the theatre outright and immediately set about enlarging it, adding an upper gallery. It reopened as the Theatre Royal on 14 May 1767.

Samuel Foote  from Old and New London (1873)
Samuel Foote
from Old and New London (1873)
George Colman the elder

Playwright George Colman bought the theatre in 1777, but the patent expired on Foote’s death in the same year, forcing him to apply annually for a licence for the summer season. The Haymarket flourished under his management and he amassed a considerable fortune, only to discover that his banker had embezzled it. His son, also called George Colman, gradually took over the management from 1785 due to his father’s ill health.

Sheridan’s Drury Lane Theatre company performed at the Haymarket during the winter season of 1793-4 whilst his theatre was being rebuilt.

Death at the theatre

During this time, a dreadful tragedy took place. On 3 February 1794, George III and Queen Charlotte attended the Haymarket Theatre for the first time that season, and the royal command performance attracted vast numbers of people. The crowds were so huge that when the door was opened, those in the front of the queue were pushed down the stairs leading to the pit. More than 70 people fell and at least 15 people were fatally crushed to death or suffocated.

George Colman the younger

George Colman the younger inherited the theatre on his father’s death in 1794, along with massive debts. Although a successful playwright, he was forced to mortgage the business to repay his father’s debts and finally, in 1805, to sell shares in the theatre. In 1806, he was arrested for debt but he continued to manage the theatre from the King’s Bench Prison until he was discharged in 1817.

King's Bench Prison from The Microcosm of London Vol 2 (1808-10)
King's Bench Prison from The Microcosm of London Vol 2 (1808-10)
The shareholders included his argumentative brother-in-law, David Morris, who involved Colman in such lengthy litigation which forced the theatre to stay closed during the summer of 1813.

According to The Picture of London for 1809, the season at the Haymarket Theatre ran from 15 May to 15 September. It wrote of the Haymarket Theatre:
This theatre, though not so elegant and spacious as either of the winter houses, is fitted up in a neat and tasteful style, and is capable of containing a numerous audience.2
This house contained three tiers of boxes, a pit, and two galleries.

The Haymarket Theatre presented plays and English operas. The Picture of London for 1813 stated that the Haymarket was putting on plays and farces rather than operas.

Visiting the theatre

According to the Picture of London for 1809, the prices at the Haymarket were as follows:

Prices for Haymarket Theatre in 1809

The doors opened at six o'clock, and the performance began at seven. Unlike the winter theatres, there was no half-price entry at the Haymarket part the way through the evening’s performance.

The post-Regency years

After his release from prison, Colman sold the remainder of his interest in the theatre. Under the management of David Morris, the theatre was completely rebuilt in 1820, in a slightly different place, according to the design of architect John Nash. It reopened on 4 July 1821 with a production of Sheridan’s The Rivals.

New Haymarket Theatre from Shakespere to Sheridan by A Thaler (1922)
New Haymarket Theatre from Shakespere to Sheridan by A Thaler (1922)
Old and New London wrote:
The front is of stone, and is about sixty feet in length, and nearly fifty in height. The entrance is through a handsome portico, the entablature and pediment being supported by six columns of the Corinthian order; above are circular windows connected by sculpture of an ornamental character. Under the portico are five doors, leading respectively to the boxes, pit, galleries, and box-office. The shape of the interior differs from that of every other theatre in London, being nearly a square, with the side facing the stage very slightly curved. The expense of the new building was about £20,000. It is a remarkably neat and pretty house, having two tiers of boxes, besides other half-tiers parallel with the lower gallery, and will seat about 1,500 persons with comfort.3
Haymarket Theatre from Leigh's New Picture of London (1827)
Haymarket Theatre from Leigh's New Picture of London (1827)
The Theatre Royal, Haymarket, remains part of the thriving London theatre scene today.

(1) From Walford, Edward, Old and New London: A narrative of its history, its people, and its places (Cassell, Petter & Galpin, 1873, London) Vol 4.
(2) From Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1809 (1809).
(3) From Walford, Edward, Old and New London: A narrative of its history, its people, and its places (Cassell, Petter & Galpin, 1873, London) Vol 4.

Sources used include:
Ackermann, Rudolph, and Pyne, William Henry, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature Volume 2 (Rudolph Ackermann 1808-1810, reprinted 1904)
Baldwin, Olive and Wilson, Thelma, Colman, George, the elder (bap1732, d1794), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn Jan 2008, accessed 12 April 2017)
Birling, William J, Colman, George, the younger (1762-1836), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn Jan 2008, accessed 12 April 2017)
Dircks, Phyllils T, Foote, Samuel (bap 1721, d 1777), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn Sept 2015, accessed 12 April 2017)
Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1809 (1809)
Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1813 (1813)
Walford, Edward, Old and New London: A narrative of its history, its people, and its places (Cassell, Petter & Galpin, 1873, London) Vol 4