Wednesday, 16 November 2011

La Belle Assemblée

Front cover of La Belle Assemblée (1806)
An unparallelled periodical

La Belle Assemblée, or Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine addressed particularly to the ladies, was a monthly ladies’ periodical which first appeared in February 1806. It continued under this name until 1832 when it became The Court Magazine and Belle Assemblée and later it merged with the Lady’s Magazine and Museum.

It was the creation of John Bell who published it from 1806 until his retirement in 1821. He recommended his new magazine to its readers with these words: “In introducing the first Number of our Miscellany to the world, we flatter ourselves that we are laying the foundation of a Work, which, in the comprehensiveness of its instruction, the variety of its amusements, and the elegance of its embellishment, has had no parallel in the history of periodical publications.”

It was quite expensive compared to other periodicals at the time. At the beginning of 1807, the magazine cost 2 shillings and 6d, that is, half a crown. An alternative version was then introduced which containing coloured plates for the higher price of 3s 6d. The price advertised at the end of 1811 was 3 shillings for the 1812 series.

A magazine with embellishments

When it was first published, La Belle Assemblée was available in two parts – a magazine section and a fashion section, though this distinction was later dropped. It offered a lot more reading material than other contemporary magazines, like the Lady’s Monthly Museum, and a number of embellishments which usually included an engraving, an original piece of music, a needlework pattern and two fashion plates.

Left: Evening or ball dress
Right: Walking or carriage costume
from La Belle Assemblée (April 1807)
Biographical sketches of illustrious ladies

The magazine section opened with a biographical sketch of an eminent lady accompanied by an expert engraving. During the first volume, the ladies profiled were: Queen Charlotte; the Princess of Wales; Princess Sophia of Gloucester; the Duchess of Devonshire (no engraving); Charlotte, the Princess Royal; Princess Sophia Augusta and Princess Elizabeth. Later issues included profiles of the actress, Mrs Siddons, the Prince Regent’s mistress, Mrs Fitzherbert, and the famous singer, Madame Catalani.
Engraving of the Duchess of Brunswick
from La Belle Assemblée (1807)
Original contents

La Belle Assemblée prided itself on the originality of its contents and within the sections that followed, published a variety of original communications and letters, under section titles that varied over the years. These included miscellaneous anecdotes and pieces of prose such as “A history of the new world” which appeared in the first issue and advice on health, beauty and behaviour, such as “Maxims and rules for the conduct of women”.

Article from La Belle Assemblée (1806)
Lectures on useful sciences were also included covering such subjects as the culinary system, botany, heraldry and gardening.

The serialised novel

It also included short stories and serialised novels, such as Hymenea in Search of a Husband and Oakwood House, later published as Oakwood Hall, by Catherine Hutton. Poetry and music were another important element, with issues including both original and select poetry and an original piece of sheet music.

The cabinet of taste

The first volume included a retrospect of politics which had a section looking at the public amusements currently available in London, including a critical evaluation of what was on at the theatre. This section expanded in later volumes to form a 'cabinet of taste' which gave reviews of paintings, books, music and the theatre. Births, marriages and deaths were also published.

Fashion in the 1800s

The second division of the magazine was devoted to fashion and included the two fashion plates with detailed descriptions. These were originally printed in black and white, for ladies to colour themselves, but from 1807, they were available ready-coloured. As well as general information about fashions for the coming month, this section included detailed descriptions of the dress worn by the social elite at important events, such as the king’s birthday celebrations. It also included a needlework pattern. The periodical finished with a section of advertisements, which included a list of the latest novels.
Walking dress
from La Belle Assemblée (October 1808)
Supplemental numbers

Every volume offered a supplemental number with embellishments which was devoted to art and literature. The supplement to the first volume included a review of the literature of the previous six months but later supplements were sometimes focused on a single subject, such as the works of Alexander Pope.

A list of editions available online with links to fashion plates where available on this page.

Sources used include:
Morison, Stanley, A Memoir of John Bell (1930)
Bell, John, La Belle Assemblée, various (1806-1831)

3 comments:

  1. Hello, I have one question that bothers me and I can't actually undestand it. Can you tell me if La Belle Assemblee was available every single month or it was rather being bought only every six months?

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    1. La Belle Assemblée was published monthly but it was expected that ladies would save their copies and have them bound at the end of each volume, which covered six months. A title page and index were given in the final number of each volume for this purpose.

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