Posted on

Richard “Beau” Nash: The Original Beau

Beau Nash

Richard “Beau” Nash: The Original Beau

That the elder ladies and children be contented with a second bench at the ball, as being past or not come to perfection.
–Rule VIII of Nash’s Rules by General Consent Determined

 

Richard ‘Beau’ Nash was born in 1674 in Swansea, Wales. His father, also Richard, was a partner in a glass-making factory. I could find nothing about siblings so he may have been an only child. Little is known about the young Richard except that he was reputed to have ‘a natural vivacity’.

At twelve he was sent to the Free Grammar School of Queen Elizabeth in Carnarthen 20 miles north of Swansea where he distinguished himself as an athlete, particularly it seems at both forward and backward standing jumps.

From the Grammar School he went to Jesus College, Oxford, to read Law. He did not shine at his studies and was sent down some time later for becoming embroiled with too many women, probably of the wrong sort. With the financial backing of his father he then became an ensign in the Guards but soon found both the obligations of the Army and the lack of ready money a problem. He persuaded his father to let him revert to the study of Law, this time at the Inner Temple in London.

Nash was a dandy from a young age, sporting a velvet coat, ruffles, diamond buckles and a diamond brooch, and soon became aware that he possessed a certain style and manner which attracted people to him. He was not well off but supplemented his income by gambling, at which he appears to have been extraordinarily successful. He was by now a well-known young man-about-town and was welcomed into society.

Nash gradually lost interest in the Law and in 1705 decided to try his luck in Bath, which was just beginning to become popular as a health spa. He became acquainted with the then Master of Ceremonies, Captain Webster, and was soon appointed his assistant. Shortly afterwards the unfortunate Captain was killed in a sword-fighting duel and Nash, still in his early thirties, found himself elected by the Corporation of Bath as the new Master of Ceremonies. Because of the recent disaster Nash began his term by abolishing the wearing of swords and, ipso facto, the abandonment of duelling came about. He next insisted that all lodging houses, most of which were damp and dilapidated, must be renovated and he himself fixed a tariff for every room.

In 1708 Nash arranged for an Assembly House to be built and levied a subscription on all visitors to Bath. As Maggie Lane told us, he forbade all private parties (what power!) but invited everyone to the Assembly House for dinners, teas, breakfast concerts and balls. On the orders of the resident doctor who was concerned for the health of those who had come ‘to take the waters’, and with the concurrence of Nash, all balls began at 6pm and finished precisely at eleven.

A list of rules was drawn up and deportment at dances was strictly regulated. Nash even forbade ‘exhibitions of resentment from either gentlemen or ladies, (who displayed it) on the grounds that someone had danced out of turn.’ He ridiculed, and so made unfashionable, the wearing of boots in the Assembly House and let it be known that swearing was out of order.

Most things in Bath seem to have cost a great deal of money, e.g. a crown for pen and paper to write a letter and up to a guinea to borrow books from the bookseller. Amazingly enough there was no revolt against either the restrictions or the charges and it is reported that guests were pleased to obey.

Just prior to 1720 Nash arranged for a large ballroom to be added to the Assembly House. Later on he was involved in the encouragement and employment of architect John Wood who is famous for his wonderful Bath buildings. This was the beginning of the expansion of Bath as many more visitors, including artists and writers, members of the aristocracy and later royalty, started to arrive. It is of interest that Nash was famous enough to rate a mention in Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones in the chapter called ‘The History of Mrs Fitzpatrick’. His name can also be come across in Georgette Heyer’s novels.

During the period 1720 to the 1740s Beau Nash lead a busy life. As well as other duties he organised the recreations of the day, arranged for the ringing of bells to announce the arrival of distinguished guests to Bath, visited the new arrivals to pay his respects, arbitrated differences between neighbours or visitors and solicited subscriptions for his latest plan, a hospital. In 1735 he was also installed as Master of Ceremonies at Tunbridge Wells where he enforced similar rules to those at Bath.

Nash was a prodigious gambler but went to a great deal of trouble to prevent others less experienced than he from losing all their money. He had long been a dandy and an arbiter of fashion, and it was said that his well-known white hat was awarded more respect than many a general. There is a lovely quote from Lord Chesterfield describing the Beau at a ball:

He wore his gold-laced clothes on the occasion, and looked so fine that, standing by chance in the middle of the dancers, he was taken by many at a distance for a gilt garland.

Although an earlier law against gambling had been enacted, Nash and his fellow players, male and female, had managed to get around this by various means including the invention of new games. However in 1745 the anti-gambling law was tightened. Although the popularity of Bath continued this was a great drawback to Nash, not only because of being a successful gambler on his own account, but because he had awarded himself as Master of Ceremonies a percentage of all winnings. From this time on his fortunes and his influence gradually declined. He had been the epitome of the benevolent dictator, an imperious rule-maker who nevertheless showed great generosity to those who had come across hard times. He now found himself in the same predicament, and had to sell most of his possessions to survive. He died in straitened circumstances in 1762, aged 87.

Beau Nash never married but had a relationship of many years standing with one Fanny Murray. After she left him he took up with Juliana Papjoy who was his companion and who cared for him until his death.

The name of Richard ‘Beau’ Nash is intricately entwined with that of Bath and it could be said that the city itself is his monument. It seems to me that here was a man who was able to use his talents in a way that suited him and who more than many of us, truly found his niche in life.

 

This article, wriiten by Halcyon Evans, was copied by permission of The Jane Austen Society of Australia. It first appeared in their December 2000 newsletter. To learn more about this organization, visit their website: http://www.jasa.net.au/. Notes taken from Beau Nash: Monarch of Bath and Tunbridge Wells, by Willard Connely; 1955.

Posted on

The Prince of Wales: The Man who gave the Regency its Name

“I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter. Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband — but I can hardly forgive her for calling herself ‘attached & affectionate’ to a Man whom she must detest — & the intimacy said to subsist between her & Lady Oxford is bad — I do not know what to do about it; but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first. –”
Jane Austen,
February 16, 1813

George, the eldest son of George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, was born in St James’s Palace. At his birth, he automatically became Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay; he was created Prince of Wales shortly thereafter. He was a talented student, quickly learning to speak not only English but also French, German and Italian.

The Prince of Wales turned twenty-one years old in 1783. He obtained a grant of £60,000 from Parliament, and an annual income of £50,000 from his father. The Prince of Wales established his residence in Carlton House, where he lived a profligate life. Animosity between him and his father, a monarch who desired more frugal behaviour on the part of the heir-apparent, developed. The King, a strong supporter of the Tory party, was also alienated by the Prince of Wales’s adherence to Charles James Fox and other Whigs.

Soon after he reached the age of twenty-one years, the Prince of Wales fell in love with a Roman Catholic, Maria Anne Fitzherbert. Mrs Fitzherbert was a widow; her first husband, Edward Weld died in 1775; her second husband, Thomas Fitzherbert, did the same in 1781. A marriage between the two was impeded by the Act of Settlement 1701, which declared those who married Roman Catholics ineligible to succeed to the Throne. An even more daunting barrier was the Royal Marriages Act 1772, under which the Prince of Wales could not marry without the consent of the King, which, unquestionably, would have never been granted. Nevertheless, the Prince of Wales and Mrs Fitzherbert contracted a “marriage” in 1785. Legally the union was void, for the King’s assent was never requested and received. Yet, Mrs Fitzherbert believed that she was the Prince of Wales’s canonical and true wife, holding the law of the Church to be superior to the law of the State. For political reasons, the union remained secret, and Mrs Fitzherbert promised not to publish any evidence relating to the same.

The Prince of Wales was plunged into debt by his exorbitant lifestyle. His father refused to assist him, forcing him to quit Carlton House and live in Mrs Fitzherbert’s residence. In 1787, the Prince of Wales’s allies in the House of Commons introduced a proposal to relieve his debts with a parliamentary grant. At the time, many suspected the Prince of Wales’s personal relationship with Mrs Fitzherbert. The revalation of the illegal marriage would have scandalised the nation, and would have certainly doomed any parliamentary proposal to aid the Prince of Wales to failure. Acting on the Prince’s authority, the Whig leader Charles James Fox declared that the story was a calumniation. Mrs Fitzherbert was not pleased with the public denial of the marriage in such vehement terms, and contemplated severing her ties to the Prince. The Prince of Wales propitiated his companion by requesting another Whig, Richard Brinsley Sheridan (the famous playwright), to carefully restate Fox’s forceful declaration. Parliament, in the meantime, was sufficiently pleased to grant the Prince of Wales £161,000 for the payment of his debts, in addition to £20,000 for improvements to Carlton House. The King also agreed to increase the Prince of Wales’s annual allowance by £10,000.

Regency Crisis of 1788

George III suffered from an hereditary disease known as porphyria. In the summer of 1788, the King showed severe symptoms of insanity, but was nonetheless able to discharge some of his duties. Thus, he was able to declare Parliament prorogued from 25 September to 20 November 1788. During the prorogation, however, George III became deranged, posing a threat to his own life. Thus, when Parliament reconvened in November, the King could not deliver the customary Speech from the Throne during the State Opening. Parliament found itself in an untenable position: according to long-established law, it could not proceed to any business whatsoever until the delivery of the King’s Speech at a State Opening.

Although theoretically barred from doing so, Parliament began debating a Regency. In the House of Commons, Charles James Fox declared his opinion that the Prince of Wales was automatically entitled to exercise sovereignty during the King’s incapacity. A contrasting opinion was held by the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, who argued that, in the absence of a statute to the contrary, the right to choose a Regent belonged to Parliament alone. He even stated that, without parliamentary authority, “the Prince of Wales had no more right … to assume the government, than any other individual subject of the country.” Though disagreeing on the principle underlying a Regency, Pitt agreed with Fox that the Prince of Wales would be the most convenient choice for a Regent.

The Prince of Wales—though offended by Pitt’s boldness—did not lend his full support to Fox’s philosophy. HRH The Prince Frederick, Duke of York declared that his brother, the Prince of Wales, would not attempt to exercise any power without previously obtaining the consent of Parliament. Following the passage of a number of preliminary resolutions, William Pitt outlined a formal plan for the Regency, suggesting that the powers of the Prince of Wales be greatly limited. (Amongst other things, the Prince of Wales could neither sell the King’s property nor grant a peerage dignity to anyone other than a child of the King). The Prince of Wales denounced Pitt’s scheme, declaring it “project for producing weakness, disorder, and insecurity in every branch of the administration of affairs.” Nevertheless, in the interest of the nation, both factions agreed to compromise.

A significant technical impediment to any Regency Bill involved the lack of a Speech from the Throne, which was theoretically necessary before Parliament could proceed to any debates or votes. The Speech, it was noticed, was normally delivered by the King, but could also be delivered by royal representatives known as Lords Commissioners. But no document could empower the Lords Commissioners to act, unless the Great Seal of the Realm was affixed to it; and the said Seal could not be legally affixed without the prior authorisation of the Sovereign. Pitt and his fellow ministers ignored the last requirement, and instructed the Lord Chancellor to affix the Great Seal without the King’s consent. This course of action was denounced as a “phantom,” as a “fiction,” and even as a “forgery.” The Prince of Wales’s brother, the Duke of York, described the plan as “unconstitutional and illegal.” Nevertheless, others in Parliament felt that such a scheme was neccessary in order to preserve an effective government. Consequently, on 3 February 1789, over two months after it had convened, Parliament was formally opened by an “illegal” group of Lords Commissioners. The Regency Bill was introduced, but, before it could be passed, the King recovered. Retroactively, the King declared that the instrument authorising the Lords Commissioners to act was valid.

Marriage

In the meantime, the Prince of Wales’s debts continued to climb; his father refused to aid him unless he married his cousin, Caroline of Brunswick. In 1795, the Prince of Wales acquiesced. The marriage, however, was disastrous; each party was completely unsuited for the other. The two were formally separated after the birth of their only child—HRH Princess Augusta—in 1796. The Prince and Princess of Wales were separated for the remainder of their lives. The Prince of Wales remained attached to Mrs Fitzherbert for the remainder of his life, despite several periods of estrangement. In the meantime, the problem of the Prince of Wales’s debts (which then amounted to an extraordinary sum, £660,000, in 1796) was solved (at least temporarily) by Parliament. Parliament was unwilling to make an outright grant to relieve them; instead, it provided him an additional sum of £65,000 per annum. In 1803, a further £60,000 was added, and the Prince of Wales’s debts were finally paid.

Regency

From 1811, his father was permanently incapacitated, and he achieved a more definite status as Prince Regent. His extravagance continued, despite the involvement of Britain in the Napoleonic Wars, and during this period, much of the city of London was redesigned—hence Regent’s Park and Regent Street. The architect, John Nash, and the dandy, Beau Brummell, were among the Regent’s best-known associates.

As can be seen from the comment above, Jane Austen held no high opinion of the Prince of Wales, though he, on the other hand, kept specially bound editons of her works in all his houses. Imagine her surprise when, in 1815, she was waited upon by his Librarian, Mr. Clarke, and invited to visit Carlton House. This honor she declined, but was unable to refuse the other he offered– that of dedicating her next book (Emma, printed in March, 1816) to His Royal Highness. How it must have rankled to pen the words:

TO
HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS
THE PRINCE REGENT,
THIS WORK IS,
BY HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS’S PERMISSION,
MOST REPECTFULLY DEDICATED,
BY HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS’S
DUTIFUL
AND OBEDIENT
HUMBLE SERVANT,
THE AUTHOR

Reign

When the king died in 1820, the Prince Regent finally ascended the throne as King George IV. He had acted conservatively as Regent and with major achievements as a collector and patron of the arts not seen in a monarch since Charles I, but by the time of his coronation he was seriously overweight and possibly addicted to laudanum as well as showing some signs of the insanity that had affected his father. The Coronation, July 19, 1821, was mounted with unparalleled magnificence, a fancy-dress occasion with a somewhat Elizabethan theme. His gold-embroidered crimson velvet and ermine coronation robe, with a 27-foot train held by sons of peers, cost 24,000 pounds. The diamonds in the crown were hired for the occasion, but the King wore the Hope Diamond (as it was soon to be called), which he had purchased the previous year. Parliament had agreed on 243,000 pounds to be spent on the Coronation. The Queen found herself unable to gain access to Westminster Abbey or the banquet at Westminmster Hall. The event was extremely popular: Sir Thomas Lawrence’s coronation portrait was multiplied in the painter’s studio and many more modest souvenirs were issued; a panorama recording the event toured the cities of England afterwards. George IV enjoyed many weeks of popularity.

In 1822 the King visited Edinburgh for “one and twenty daft days” as the first reigning monarch to visit Scotland since 1650. The visit was organised by Sir Walter Scott, who seized the opportunity to invent another splendid pageant, wherein ancient Scotland would be reborn, and the King who had been parodied in cartoons as a fat debauché would be seen as “a portly handsome man looking and moving every inch a King”. George would be presented as a new Jacobite King, with the logic that he was by bloodline as much a Stuart as Bonnie Prince Charlie had been, and would win the affections of the Scots away from radical reform. Scott had persuaded George that he was not only a Stuart prince, but also a Jacobite Highlander, and could rightly and properly swathe himself in “the garb of old Gaul”, so in July 1822 the King placed his order with George Hunter & Co., outfitters of Tokenhouse Yard, London and Princes Street, Edinburgh for £1,354 18s worth of highland outfit in bright red Royal Tartan, later known as Royal Stuart, complete with pink tights, gold chains and assorted weaponry including dirk, sword and pistols. Dressed in this “our fat friend” was hoisted onto a horse and rode triumphantly into Edinburgh for an event that made tartans and kilts fashionable and turned them into the national icons they are today.

He spent the majority of his reign in seclusion at Windsor Castle, but continued to interfere unwisely in politics, opposing social reforms such as the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. As a result of Princess Charlotte’s death, his younger brother, Frederick, Duke of York, became heir to the throne; however, Frederick died in 1827.

King George IV died on June 26, 1830 and is buried at Windsor Castle. He was succeeded by his younger brother, as William IV.
George’s official style whilst King was, “George the Fourth, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith.” His arms were: Quarterly, I and IV Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England); II Or a lion rampant within a tressure flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland); III Azure a harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland); overall an escutcheon tierced per pale and per chevron (for Hanover), I Gules two lions passant guardant Or (for Brunswick), II Or a semy of hearts Gules a lion rampant Azure (for Lüneburg), III Gules a horse courant Argent (for Westfalen), the whole inescutcheon surmounted by a crown.

This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.

Posted on

Elizabeth Montague: Queen of the Bluestockings

Elizabeth Robinson was born very wealthy and well-connected. She grew up in Coveney, Cambridgeshire, under supervision of her grandparents, and was frequent childhood visitor to Cambridge where her grandfather was Librarian of Cambridge University. As a child, she demonstrated a serious interest in literature and, at 12 began a correspondence with Lady Cavendish Harley that lasted 50 years. Known in her youth as `Fidget’, she was very fond of dancing. On this she remarked `Why shall a table that stands still require so many legs when I can fidget on two?’

In 1742, Elizabeth married Edward Montagu, a grandson of the first Earl of Sandwich. The couple was devoted to each other, but they led individual lives. During the early years of her marriage, Elizabeth suffered many tragedies. Her only child died within a year, 1744; her mother in 1746, and brother in 1747.

Bereaved, she took up residence in London in 1850, in an explicit attempt to set up a central point for intellect and fashion. Known for giving intellect the precedence of rank, she wrote: `I never invite idiots to my house.’ Through her lead, `conversation parties’ became known throughout London. These were elaborate evening affairs where gambling was not permitted and literature was frequently discussed; these parties became known as blue-stockings. For 50 years she was the preeminent intellectual hostess in London, though a number of similar `competitors’ appeared.

Mrs. Montagu also found a great deal of fulfillment in Bath, where she lived at various times in several houses—in Orange Court, Edgar Buildings, Gay Street, Queen’s Parade, the Circus and Royal Crescent. She entertained frequently, and Fanny Burney, Mrs. Thrale, Lady Huntingdon, Christopher Anstey and Lord Lyttleton, among others, enjoyed her hospitality, and the conversation that she so assiduously engendered.

The house she occupied in Royal Crescent appears to have been 16 (now the site of the Royal Crescent Hotel). She refers to it in one of her letters as ‘the centre house’, and goes on to say

‘the beautiful situation of the Crescent cannot be understood by any comparison with anything in any town whatsoever’.

Her friends included Horace Walpole, Burke, and Dr. Johnson. She had a number of protégés, some of which seem to have been in love with her, but she was very proper. When Dr. Monsey `declared that he did not believe a more perfect human being was ever created.‘ Burke replied `And I do not think that he said a word too much.’ Dr. Johnson reflected, `She diffuses more knowledge than any woman I know, or indeed, almost any man. … Conversing with her, you may find variety in one.’

Elizabeth Montague anonymously contributed 3 dialogs to Lyttelton’s Dialogues of the Dead in 1760. During the 1760’s, the Montagues traveled extensively, visiting Paris, Germany, Holland, and Scotland. While on these trips she visited many of the celebrities of the day. Offended by Voltaire’s contempt for Shakespeare, she published her book An Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespeare compared with the Greek and French Dramatic Poets, with some Remarks upon the Misrepresentations of Mons. de Voltaire in 1769. This was a great success and she became known as its author. In her defense, she states,

“Few people know anything of the English history but what they learn from Shakespeare; for our story is rather a tissue of personal adventures and catastrophes than a series of political events.”

When her husband died in 1775, Elizabeth took control of the families’ interests and proved a formidable business woman. She was, apparently, always on good terms with her family. Friends recalled her as ‘handsome, fat, and merry.’ Her nephew, Morris Robinson, was her favorite and chief companion after her husband’s death. He took the name of Montagu in 1776, and received all her (very extensive) property upon her death in 1800.

History adapted from They Came to Bath and The Montagu Millenium: 1,000 Years of Worldwide Family History.

Posted on

Beau Brummell: Nothing but a Name Mysteriously Sparkling

The name Beau Brummell is synonymous with Regency England, but what do you know about him? Researching this article I found that people associate him with silks, satins, and snuff, while one thought he was a fictional detective. It seemed the French writer Barbey d’Aurevilly was right: once the most famous man in the kingdom was “nothing but a name mysteriously sparkling in all the memoirs of his time.” So, what happened to Beau Brummell?

George Bryan Brummell was born in 10 Downing Street on 7th June 1778. He was the youngest son of William Brummell – an enterprising man who had risen to the position of Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, with all the influence and trappings that came with the role – a grace and favour apartment in Hampton Court Palace, a country house in Berkshire, and friendship with Charles James Fox, Richard Sheridan, and Sir Joshua Reynolds, who painted the two curly-haired Brummell boys in 1781. The Brummell family had risen a long way in two generations and young George was to take the family name to even greater heights, and depths. He became a legend in his own lifetime and worked as hard at this as his father had done as a junior clerk.

In 1783, William Brummell retired with an income of about £2,500 a year – enough to send his two sons to Eton. There, George was well liked. He was good natured and clever but lazy and already developing his fastidious nature, avoiding the streets in wet weather and careful of his dignity. George went on to Oriel College at Oxford but left in 1794 when his father died, and instead joined the Prince of Wales’ own regiment, the Tenth Dragoons – or ‘The Elegant Extracts’ as they were known. The Dragoons were based in Brighton until civil unrest called them to the north and Brummell resigned immediately, saying that Manchester would be too disagreeable for him. His £40,000 inheritance meant he could afford to concentrate on being a gentleman. Quickly given the soubriquet ‘Beau’, he proved to be a witty and observant figure who made many friends. Charles Stanhope said

“I could understand a good deal of the secret of Brummell’s extraordinary success and influence in the highest society. He was a vast deal more than a mere dandy; he had wit as well as humour and drollery, and the most perfect coolness and self-possession.”

To be part of Brummell’s set was Society’s top cachet, and to be cut by him was social death. In the novel Granby there is a poorly disguised portrait.

“In the art of cutting he shone unrivalled. He could assume that calm but wandering gaze which veers, as if unconsciously, round the proscribed individual, neither fixing not to be fixed, not looking on vacancy nor on any one object, neither occupied nor abstracted, a look which perhaps excuses you to the person cut and, at any rate, prevents him from accosting you.”

Brummell was careful to remain free from obligations or attachments (he is said to have cut his own brother) and there were no signs of any relationships – either with women or men. His first biographer, Captain Jesse, thought that Brummell “had too much self love ever to be really in love.” Beau himself told Lady Hester Stanhope that he had adopted the only course possible to distance himself from ordinary men. As Oscar Wilde said more than a century later “to love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.”

His friendship with the Prince of Wales did not last. As Brummell ceased to need the Prince’s patronage, so the Prince became jealous of Brummell’s position, but Brummell did not care. “I made him what he is and I can unmake him.” he quipped in an unguarded moment. By 1813 the end of the friendship was scandalously public when the Prince arrived at a party with Lord Alvanley and coldly ignored Brummell.

“Ah, Alvanley,” Brummell’s voice rang out clearly over the shocked silence, “Who is your fat friend?”

Brummell maintained his image so well that everyone was shocked when debts forced him to Calais in May 1816. In London, his effects were sold at auction, including his fine cellar “10 dozen Capital Old Port, 16 dozen of Burgundy, Claret, and Still Champagne. . .” They were, the publicity assured potential buyers, “the genuine property of a man of fashion, gone to the continent.” The auction raised £1000, but this was not enough to enable Brummell to return.

However, life in Calais was bearable. “No one can lead a more pleasant life than Brummell, for he passes his time between London and Paris” the British ambassador quipped, and Brummell’s friends visited him there, bring presents of money or gifts such as his favourite Façon de Paris snuff. In 1818 rumours abounded that he had been offered £5 thousand to write his memoirs, and that the Prince of Wales had offered £6 thousand for him not to do it.

Brummell became very popular in Calais “We used to call him Le Roi de Calais. He was a truly fine man, very elegant, and really well off – he always paid his bills and was very good to the poor; everyone was very sorry when he left.” said a Calais shopkeeper. Brummell was always careful to settle his debts with tradesmen – instead he owed increasingly vast amounts of money to bankers and his friends but his good nature and wit charmed them all.

When asked to make a contribution towards a Church of England chapel in Calais, he replied “I am very sorry you did not call last week, for it was only yesterday that I became a catholic.”

In 1827 Brummell’s patron the Duke of York died, and Brummell’s creditors began to close in. That summer, Brummell’s letters contained a note of panic. “I am sadly alarmed lest some overwhelming disaster should befall me” he wrote. While George IV was king, there was little hope of rapprochement, but good fortune did come along in June 1830 when Brummell was appointed His Majesty’s Consul for the departments of Calvados, La Manche, and Ille et Vilaine. The post was paid £400 a year and was based in Caen. However, there was a problem; with more than £1000 of debts, Brummell’s creditors were very reluctant to see him leave Calais. It was not until he signed a crippling agreement to assign his salary to his attorneys to deal with his debts that he was allowed to leave.

In Caen, he soon became a popular figure, noted for the way he would tiptoe across the cobbles to avoid getting dirt on his boots. He struck up a friendship with the grocer and wine merchant Charles Armstrong, who also cashed bills and money orders. Money remained a problem and he continued to press for a superior job; he wrote to Lord Palmerston that the post at Caen was not needed and he (Brummell) could do something better. On the 21st March 1832 he received a reply: HM Govt had “come to the conclusion that the post of British Consul at Caen may be abolished without prejudice to the public service . . . your salary will cease on the 31st May.” The news did not stay secret for long and he only escaped from the bailiffs when his landlady hid him in a wardrobe.

Armstrong went to England to collect money from Brummell’s friends and arranged £120 a year for his keep. Although generous, this was a pittance which at one time he would have spent in less than a month – when asked how much it would cost to launch a young man into London society, he once replied “with strict economy, it might be done for eight hundred pounds a year.”

His situation began to tell upon his mind, “I am incompetent to do anything but to ruminate over the broken toys of my past days” he mourned to his landlady’s daughter. That summer, the stress and worry probably contributed to his first stroke, and he moved to smaller lodgings at L’ Hotel d’Angleterre where, in April 1834, he had his second stroke whilst dining. Recovery was slow this time and he became dogged with a sense of his own mortality: “they are weaving a shroud about me; still I trust I shall yet escape” he wrote. A third stroke ended that year and the following May he was arrested for debt and taken to gaol where he shared a stone cell with three others. He had not been allowed to dress properly before his arrest and the degradation bewildered him.

“Image a position more wretched than mine! They have put me with all the common people! I am surrounded by the greatest villains and have nothing but prison fare!”

Once again, his remarkable friends rallied round and although they could not raise enough to secure his release, they paid for him to share the private room of political prisoner, Charles Godefroy. Armstrong arranged food, laundry, and sent in his washing basin so that he could perform his famous toilette – to Godefroy’s amazement. Armstrong also looked after his property and went to Calais and London to raise a fund for him. This time, Lord Palmerston agreed to £200 in recognition of the severance of the Caen contract, and once again his friends contributed, including £100 from King William IV.

Brummell was released on the 21st July 1835, and Armstrong made it clear that he would not honour any debts run up without his knowledge. The fastidious Beau was reduced to wearing cast-off clothes and a black silk cravat instead of white linen to save on the washing. When his trousers needed mending, he stayed in bed because they were his only pair. Brummell’s tragedy was that he outlived his time. His fairy-tale had ended twenty years before and now the new young Queen was ushering in the Victorian era while his friends were themselves passing into shadows.

As his illness grew, the former dandy neglected his cleanliness and threw fantasy parties for friends who were long dead. In 1839, he was taken to the asylum of the Bon Saveur – shrieking they were putting him into prison but where his last months were peaceful and he died in his bed on 30th March 1840. The legendary Beau Brummell lies in a plain grave in Calais, unnoticed and forgotten, the name more glittering and the man more elusive with each passing year.

Further reading:
Kelly, I (2006) Beau Brummell, the Ultimate Dandy. Free Press.
Barbey d’Aurevilly J (1845) Du Dandysme et de George Brummell.
Cole H (1977) Beau Brummell. Granada: London
Lister T H (1826) Granby. A Novel in three volumes. Colburn: London.
Muers E (1963) The Dandy. Secker & Warburg: London.

This article, by Joanna Brown, was copied by permission of Jane Austen’s Regency World. To learn more about this magazine, the only full color magazine devoted to Jane Austen, or to subscribe, visit their website: www.worldmags.com

Posted on

James Brydges: Cassanda Austen’s Princely Uncle

James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos, MP, PC (6 January 1673 – 9 August 1744) was the first of fourteen children by Sir James Brydges, 3rd Baronet of Wilton Castle, Sheriff of Herefordshire, 8th Baron Chandos; and Elizabeth Barnard. Three days after his father’s death on 16 October 1714, when he became 9th Baron Chandos, he was created 1st Viscount Wilton and 1st Earl of Carnarvon; he became 1st Duke of Chandos and 1st Marquess of Carnarvon in 1719. He was a Member of Parliament for Hereford from 1698 to 1714.

The rise and fall of Henry James Brydges, first duke of Chandos, provides as worthy a subject as any for a film or television drama. Within the space of ten years, from say 1710 to 1720, he rose to fame and riches, only to descend into relative obscurity following the loss of his wealth which was equally as dramatic as the gaining of it. Along the way he created one of baroque London’s most palatial mansions, and was responsible for bequeathing to posterity the inestimable gift of Handel’s Chandos Anthems.

Born in 1673 the son of a Herefordshire squire, in 1696 he married his cousin, Mary Lake (c.1666-1712), who brought to the marriage the manor known as Canons as part of her dowry. Two years after his marriage to Mary Lake, Brydges became Member of Parliament for Hereford. He rose by force of personality, administrative ability and the favour of the Duke of Marlborough to become Paymaster of the Forces Abroad during the War of the Spanish Succession. The Paymaster was able to speculate with the monies he received, and by the time he left the post in 1713 Brydges had accumulated a fortune estimated at £600,000, a sum having in the year 1713 the same purchasing power as £58 million, or $95 million today.

One of the improvements Chandos made to the estate was the expansion of the gardens and addition of several Water features. Chandos had a passion for exotic plants and was one of the first to grow coffee and pineapples in England. He was aided in his attempts by Sir Matthew Decker, a Dutchman living in England and a director of the East India Company. Decker is credited as the first man to grow pineapples on English soil.

Many readers of Jane Austen’s life and letters will recall the name Brydges as it appears frequently in print. Austen’s own mother, another Cassandra (named, perhaps, for her illustrious ancestor), was a great-neice of the Duke and maintained a relationship with many of the Brydges family, including Brookes Brydges, who, perhaps, had an interest in Jane. By this time, Cassandra had become a family name, bestowed on Austen’s own elder sister, a cousin and three of her nieces. These Brydges were not related to Austen’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth Bridges Austen Knight of Goodnestone.

On August 4th, the same year that Lord Brydges was made a Duke, he secured the services of who joined the Chapelmaster Dr. Pepusch as composer-in-residence. The Duke maintained an excellent musical establishment of up to thirty first-class players among whom were named Francesco Scarlatti, brother of Alessandro, and Johann Christoph Bach, cousin of J.S.

The Church of St. Lawrence on the Canons Estate had been almost entirely rebuilt in 1715 by Brydges. Only the tower of the original medieval church remained. A lavish patron of the arts, Brydges employed the fashionable artists of his day to decorate his great mansion of Canons, and those same artists – Antonio Bellucci, Louis Laguerre, Francesco Sleter – created the dramatic interior of the church. Walls and ceiling were covered with paintings of biblical scenes, some brilliantly coloured, others in sepia and grisaille. “Trompe – l’oeil” was used to considerable effect. The splendid woodwork included an organ case carved by Grinling Gibbons, and Handel would certainly have played on this organ.

The Chandos Anthems would have been performed in this church, and it seems likely that the Duke, excited by the progression of the interior frescoes, would have called upon Handel to provide suitable music for church performance, for Handel began work almost immediately on the Chandos Anthems. Less than two months later, on September 25th Brydges wrote to Dr Arbuthnot, Court Physician and well known patron of the arts: Mr. Handle has made me two new anthems very noble ones & Most think they far exceed the two first. He is at work for 2 more and some Overtures to be plaid before the lesson.

The first two to which James Brydges refers are O Sing unto the Lord a New Song and As Pants the Hart. The second pair consisted of Let God Arise and My Song shall be Alway . The next pair (about which “he is at work”) were probably Have Mercy Upon Me and O be Joyful in the Lord. It is likely that In the Lord put I my Trust and I will Magnify Thee were completed before that winter. Of the eleven in total, the remaining anthems were probably written during 1718.

In certain respects the life-style of “Princely Chandos” was, as contemporaries recognized, as grand as that of a German electoral prince. In 1720 however, the year in which the rebuilding of the palace was completed, the almost miraculous rise in the fortunes of Chandos (as Brydges was styled from April 1717) crashed abruptly in what became known as the South Sea Bubble financial disaster.

When the South Sea Company had been set up in 1711, it was granted a monopoly on trade with all Spanish territories, South America and the west coast of North America. In 1720, the government encouraged investors to trade government stocks for South Sea Company shares and as these boomed, more and more people speculated in them, forcing the share price higher. In much the same way as many internet stocks today, the price was “talked up” based on nebulous, largely unfounded future prospects, and the price of nominal £100 shares rose to almost £1,000. In July 1720, with company shares at a vastly inflated, unrealistic and unsustainable level, confidence collapsed, and with it the share price. Investors lost considerable amounts and some even committed suicide. Chandos himself suffered major losses, signaling the end of his princely lifestyle. Needless to say, Handel left to seek his fortune elsewhere.

Chandos himself survived, though in greatly reduced circumstances. His wife Cassandra died in 1735, and a year later he married a 43 year-old widow (Lydia, Lady Davall) who revived the family fortunes by bringing with her a dowry estimated at around £40,000. Chandos died in 1744, and his third wife Lydia died in 1750.

Chandos was buried at St Lawrence, Whitchurch, next to his first two wives. His third wife, who survived him, moved to Shaw House, Berkshire.

He was succeeded by his son, Henry Brydges, 2nd Duke of Chandos, who found the estate so encumbered by debt that a demolition sale of Cannons was held in 1747, which dispersed furnishings and structural elements. The Palace was demolished in 1747. The original colonnade now stands in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, London, and the gates at New College, Oxford. The estate itself and the materials remaining on site were bought by William Hallett, a prosperous cabinet-maker turned gentleman, who built a country house (the ‘old house’ of what is now North London Collegiate School) on a relatively modest scale in 1760. The Canons church of St Lawrence however, remains today, its frescoes fully restored. And the musical legacy of Handel at Canons is ours to enjoy.

The second Duke’s history has even more the makings of a romance novel. On December 5, 1744 the widowed Duke married his second wife, Anne Wells, daughter of John Wells of Newbury and a chambermaid at the Pelican Inn, Newbury. The circumstances of Henry’s marriage to Anne were unconventional and described by a witness as follows:

The Duke of Chandos and a companion dined at the Pelican, Newbury, on the way to London. A stir in the Inn yard led to their being told that a man was going to sell his wife, and they are leading her up with a halter around her neck. They went to see. The Duke was smitten with her beauty and patient acquiescence in a process which would (as then supposed) free her from a harsh and ill-conditioned husband. He bought her, and subsequently married her (at Keith’s Chapel) Christmas Day, 1744.

Anne died in 1759 and Brydges, like his father, married for a third time before his death in 1771.

In another twist of fate, binding Jane Austen even more closely to the Brydges family, Chandos House in London was chosen as one of the locations for Ang Lee’s 1995 film, Sense and Sensibility.


Michael Sartorius is the curator of www.baroquemusic.org. The material on his page has been accumulated over 30 years in the music/recording business. It is quoted here with permission.

Further information about the cultivation of the Pineapple in England can be found in Susan Campbell’s A History of Kitchen Gardening

Posted on

Samuel Fancourt: Founder of the First Circulating Library

The Circulating Library

Samuel Fancourt: Founder of the First Circulating Library

Charles Hayter had been at Lyme oftener than suited her; and when they dined with the Harvilles there had been only a maid-servant to wait, and at first Mrs Harville had always given Mrs Musgrove precedence; but then, she had received so very handsome an apology from her on finding out whose daughter she was, and there had been so much going on every day, there had been so many walks between their lodgings and the Harvilles, and she had got books from the library, and changed them so often, that the balance had certainly been much in favour of Lyme.
Persuasion

To the Editor:

Sir,
The formation of the circulating library has conferred such an obligation on the reading public, that it will perhaps thank an admirer of your work for affording them some particulars of the life of one who was the author and origin of so innocent and profitable a scheme.
J. C.

Samuel Fancourt, a native of the west of England, was at the beginning of the last century pastor of a congregation of Protestant Dissenters in Salisbury, where he had a number of hearers for near twenty years. Professing a creed very different from the opinions of Calvin, as appears by his numerous publications, he incurred the displeasure of persons of that persuasion, and a controversy arose, in which clergymen of the Establishment and Dissenters had an equal share. It turned on the divine prescience, the freedom of the human will, the greatness of the divine love, and the doctrine of reprobation.

Driven from a comfortable settlement to the great metropolis, where he acquired no new one as a teacher, Mr. Fancourt, about 1740 or 1745, established the first circulating library for gentlemen and ladies, at a subscription of a guinea a year for reading; but, in 1748, he extended it to a guinea in all, for the purchase of a better library, half to be paid at the time of subscribing, the other half at the delivery of a new catalogue, then in the press, and twelve-pence a quarter besides, to begin from Michaelmas 1754, to the librarian. Subscriptions were to be paid without further charge to the proprietors, but only from the time of subscribing; out of which quarterly payments were to be deducted the rent of the rooms to receive the books and to accommodate subscribers; a salary to the librarian, to keep an open account and to circulate the books; a stock to buy new books, and duplicates as there was occasion; the expense of providing catalogues, and drawing up writings for settling the trust. This trust was to be vested in twelve or thirteen persons chosen by ballot out pf the body of proprietors, and the proposer, Mr. Fancourt himself, was to be the first librarian, and to continue so as long as he discharged his office with diligence and fidelity. Every single subscription entitled the subscriber to one book and one pamphlet at a time, to be changed ad libitum for others, and kept ad libitum if not wanted by other subscribers. Mr. Fancourt advertised himself also in these proposals as a teacher of Latin, which he engaged to enable pupils to read, write, and speak with fluency in a year or less; or twelve guineas a year, one guinea a month, or twelve-pence an hour, allowing five or six hours in a week.

Not to trace the poor librarian through every shifting of his quarters, he fixed at last at the corner of one of the streets in the Strand, where, encumbered with a helpless and sick wife, turned out of fashion and outplanned by a variety of imitators, and entangled with a variety of schemes, not one of which could extricate him from perplexities, this poor man, who may be said to have first circulated knowledge among us, sunk under a load of debt, unmerited reproach, and a failure of his faculties, brought on by the decay of age and precipitated by misfortunes. His library became the property of creditors, and he retired in humble poverty to Hoxton-square, where some of his brethren relieved his necessities till the close of his life, in his ninetieth year, June 8, 1768. As a preacher, though neither what is now called popular, nor pastor of a London congregation, he was occasionally called upon to fill up vacancies, and is said to have acquitted himself with a considerable degree of manly eloquence. He published three or four occasional sermons, besides his tracts against Calvinistical principles, which were answered by Messrs. Morgan, Norman, Bliss, Millar, and Eliot, all, or mostly, Dissenting ministers, and defended in various pamphlets by the author.


This article, outlining the life of Samuel Fancourt, founder of the first circulating library, was first published in Ackermann’s Repository, March 1824.

Posted on

Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany

The Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (Frederick Augustus; 16 August 1763 – 5 January 1827) was a member of the Hanoverian and British Royal Family, the second eldest child, and second son, of King George III. From the death of his father in 1820 until his own death in 1827, he was the heir presumptive to his elder brother, King George IV, both to the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Hanover.

As an inexperienced young military officer, he presided over the unsuccessful campaign against the forces of France in the Low Countries, during the conflict which followed the French Revolution. Later, as commander-in-chief of the British army, he made amends for his initial military setbacks during the late 1790s by brilliantly reorganising his nation’s forces, putting in place administrative reforms which enabled the British to defeat Napoleon’s crack troops. He also founded the United Kingdom’s renowned military college, Sandhurst, which promoted the professional, merit-based training of future commissioned officers.

Early life

Prince Frederick Augustus, or the Duke of York as he became in later life, belonged to the House of Hanover. He was born on 16 August 1763, at St. James’s Palace, London. His father was the reigning British monarch, King George III. His mother was Queen Charlotte (née Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz).

On 27 February 1764, when Prince Frederick was six months old, his father secured his election as Prince-Bishop of Osnabrück in today’s Lower Saxony. He received this title because the prince-electors of Hanover (which included his father) were entitled to select every other holder of this title (in alternation with the Holy Roman Emperor), to which considerable revenues accrued, and the King apparently decided to ensure that the title remained in the family for as long as possible. At only 196 days of age he is therefore listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the youngest bishop in history. He was invested as Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath in 1767 and as a Knight of the Order of the Garter on 19 June 1771.

Even though he was the second son, Frederick was favoured over his elder brother The Prince of Wales.

George III decided that his second son would pursue an army career and had him gazetted colonel in 1780. From 1781 to 1787, Prince Frederick lived in Hanover, where he drank and fornicated immoderately yet still found time to earnestly attend the manoeuvres of the Austrian and Prussian armies and studied (along with his younger brothers, Prince Edward, Prince Ernest, Prince Augustus and Prince Adolphus) at the University of Göttingen. He was appointed colonel of the 2nd Horse Grenadier Guards (now 2nd Life Guards) in 1782, and promoted major-general and appointed colonel of the Coldstream Guards in 1784.

Life in the Army

Frederick was created Duke of York and Albany and Earl of Ulster on 27 November 1784 and became a member of the Privy Council. He retained the bishopric of Osnabrück until 1803, when, in the course of the secularization preceding the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, the bishopric was incorporated into Hanover. In the summer of 1787, American newspaper accounts said that a government plot was under way to invite Prince Frederick to become “King of the United States”. On his return to Britain, the Duke took his seat in the House of Lords, where, on 15 December 1788 during the Regency crisis, he opposed William Pitt’s Regency Bill in a speech which was supposed to have been caused by the Prince of Wales.

In 1795 The Duke of York took command of the regular British Army, including the Ordnance Corps, the Militia, and the Volunteers, and immediately declared “that no officer should ever be subject to the same disadvantages under which he had laboured”, reflecting on the Netherlands campaigns of 1793-94. The Duke of York’s participation in the Anglo-Russian invasion of North Holland in 1799 made a strong impression on him, and he was the single most responsible person in the British Army to institute reforms that created the force which later was able to serve in the Peninsular War, as well as the preparations for the expected French invasion of United Kingdom in 1803.

The Duke of York was his father’s favorite son. He remained, however, somewhat in the shadow of his flashy elder brother, George, Prince of Wales, especially after the latter became Prince Regent due to the mental incapacity of the King. However, the two brothers continued to enjoy a warm relationship. They had many interests in common and they both enjoyed indulging their physical desires; but generally speaking, the Duke of York took a more diligent approach to the discharge of his public duties than did the Prince Regent.

The 72nd Regiment of Foot was renamed 72nd (Duke of Albany’s Own Highlanders) Regiment of Foot on 19 December 1823.

Marriage

On 29 September 1791 at Charlottenburg, Berlin, and again on 23 November 1791 at Buckingham Palace, the Duke of York married his cousin Princess Frederica Charlotte of Prussia, the daughter of King Frederick William II of Prussia and Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Lüneburg. The new Duchess of York received an enthusiastic welcome in London, but the marriage was not a happy one. The couple soon separated and the Duchess retired to Oatlands Park, Weybridge, where she lived eccentrically and died in 1820. Their relationship after separation appears to have been amicable, but there was never any question of reconciliation.

The Duke and Duchess of York had no children, but the Duke was rumored to have sired several illegitimate offspring by different mothers over the years. Believed to be among the Duke’s extra-marital children are: Captain Charles Hesse (circa 1786-1832), a British military officer; Frederick George (1800–1848) and Louisa Ann (1802–1890) Vaniest; Colonel John George Nathaniel Gibbes (1787-1873), who served as a commissioned British officer in the Napoleonic Wars and became Collector of Customs for the Colony of New South Wales, Australia, from 1834 until his retirement in 1859; and army Captain John Molloy (1788/89-1867), a landowner and pioneer of Augusta in Western Australia.

Flanders

In 1793, the Duke of York was sent to Flanders in command of the British contingent of Coburg’s army destined for the invasion of France, a force which captured and occupied Valenciennes in July that year. On his return to Britain in the following year, George III promoted him to the rank of field marshal, and on 3 April 1795, appointed him Commander-in-Chief in succession to Lord Amherst. His second field command was with the army sent to invade Holland in conjunction with a Russian corps d’armée in 1799. Sir Ralph Abercromby and Admiral Sir Charles Mitchell, in charge of the vanguard, had succeeded in capturing the Dutch ships in Den Helder. However, following the Duke of York’s arrival with the main body of the army, a number of disasters befell the allied forces. On 17 October, the Duke signed the Convention of Alkmaar, by which the allied expedition withdrew after giving up its prisoners.

These military setbacks were inevitable, given the Duke’s lack of combat experience as a field commander, the lamentable state of the British army at the time, and the intervention of pure bad luck during the campaign. Nonetheless, because of Flanders, the Prince was destined to be unfairly pilloried for all time in the rhyme The Grand Old Duke of York, which goes:

The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men.
He marched them up to the top of the hill
And he marched them down again.
And when they were up, they were up.
And when they were down, they were down.
And when they were only halfway up,
They were neither up nor down.

Later life

Mindful of the poor performance of the British army that he had experienced in Flanders, the Duke of York carried out many significant structural, training and logistical reforms to the British military forces during his service as the army’s commander-in-chief during the early 19th Century. These reforms contributed to Great Britain’s subsequent successes in the wars against Napoleon. In these positive outcomes, culminating in the victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, the Duke was aided by the military genius of the Duke of Wellington, who eventually would succeed him as commander-in-chief of the army. It should be noted that the Duke resigned for a time as commander-in-chief, on 25 March 1809, as the result of a scandal caused by the activities of his latest mistress, Mary Anne Clarke. Mary Anne Clarke is an ancestor of the writer Daphne du Maurier. Clarke was accused of illicitly selling army commissions under the Duke’s aegis. A select committee was appointed by the British House of Commons to enquire into the matter. The parliament eventually acquitted the Duke of having received bribes by 278 votes to 196. He nevertheless resigned because of the high tally against him. Two years later, on 29 May 1811, after it was revealed that Clarke had received payment from the Duke’s disgraced chief accuser, the Prince Regent reappointed the now exonerated Duke of York as commander-in-chief. The Duke would hold this post for the rest of his life. In addition, the Prince Regent created his brother a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Guelphic Order.

The Duke of York maintained a country residence at Oatlands near Weybridge, Surrey; but he was seldom there, preferring to immerse himself in his administrative work at Horse Guards (the British army’s headquarters) and, after hours, in London’s high life, with its gaming tables and attendant vices. (The Duke was perpetually in debt due to his excessive gambling on cards and racehorses.) Following the unexpected death of his niece, Princess Charlotte of Wales in 1817, the Duke became second in line to the throne, with a serious chance of inheriting it. This opportunity to become king improved further in 1820 when he became heir presumptive with the death of his father, the elderly and mentally ill George III.

The Duke of York died of dropsy and apparent cardio-vascular disease at the home of the Duke of Rutland on Arlington Street, London, in 1827. His dissipated lifestyle had no doubt led to his relatively early demise, thus denying him the throne. After lying in state in London, the Duke’s remains were interred in St. George’s Chapel, at Windsor.


From Wikipedia

Enjoyed this article? Visit our giftshop and escape into the world of Jane Austen.

Posted on

The Rev. Sidney Smith

“I sat next to Sydney Smith, who was delightful–I don’t remember a more
agreeable party.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli
In late 1797, Jane Austen, her sister Cassandra, and their parents made a visit
to Bath. They had connections there; Mrs. Austen’s brother and his wife, the
Leigh Perrots, lived there, and the Austens had courted and been married there.
1797 was the year of Cassandra’s bereavement, when her fiancé Tom Fowle died of
yellow fever during military service in the West Indies, and perhaps Mrs. Austen
thought her daughter’s grief would be alleviated by the gaiety of the resort
town.In 1797 Bath was still relatively fashionable and attracted a large crowd in the
winter months. But that particular winter a gentleman was in town, a young
clergyman who was acting as a tutor to the eldest son of a family from near
Salisbury. His name was Sydney Smith, and he would go on to become one of the
most celebrated wits of his day.

“He drew such a ludicrous caricature that Sir James Mackintosh rolled on the
floor in fits of laughter.” ~ Lord John Russell

sydney smithBut in the winter of 1797, Sydney Smith was tutor to Michael Hicks Beach. The Hicks Beach family was related to the Bramstons of Oakley Hall in Hampshire, very near to Steventon, and the Austens were acquainted with the Hicks Beaches through that connection. And, as Irene Collins says, “Even without such information, the Master of Ceremonies would have regarded a clergyman-tutor as the very person to introduce to a clergyman’s daughter had they coincided at an Assembly in the Lower Rooms” (163), much the same way that Mr. King introduced Henry Tilney to Catherine Morland, who was, like her creator, a clergyman’s daughter.

There is no record stating that Sydney Smith and Jane Austen ever met, let alone that they might have danced together at an assembly. But, as David Cecil points out, Sydney Smith in 1797 was “tall, pleasant-looking and extraordinarily  amusing in a vein of humour peculiarly his own.” (79) As is Henry Tilney.

“Sydney at breakfast made me actually cry with laughing. I was obliged to
start up from the table.” ~ Thomas Moore

Henry Tilney is perhaps one of the most misunderstood characters in the Austen
oeuvre; he has been called effete, sexist, and cruel. Most of these
interpretations seem to arise from readers who take seriously his outrageous
remarks. We never really know what Henry is thinking, although the authoress
allows us the occasional slight glimpse into his mind; however, the hints are in
general so small and subtle that it is easy for a reader to misinterpret his
character. This can also be considered a necessary part of the plot, as
Catherine is an inexperienced judge of human nature and we are left in the dark
along with her.

However, if one accepts the possibility that Jane Austen met and was inspired by
Sydney Smith, a comparison between the two can explain a great deal about Henry.
For instance, Sydney Smith “delighted in talking nonsense on serious subjects
and in producing strings of ludicrous images to prove his point; Henry Tilney’s
comparison between dancing and marriage was very much in his line.” (Collins
163) W.H. Auden agrees, stating that Smith liked to “create pictures in what
might be called the ludicrous baroque style.”

Of course, Jane Austen always claimed that she did not base her characters upon
real people. But it is the everyday minutiae of life that awaken the writer’s
muse. The smallest, most insignificant event can send our imaginations in a
million directions. Is it impossible to believe that Jane Austen met a young,
tall, very near to handsome clergyman, that they danced together, that they sat
down to tea together? It is fun to imagine that “Sydney enjoyed himself at the
expense of Aunt Leigh Perrot as Henry Tilney does at the expense of Mrs. Allen.
He was noted for embarking on such conversations without malice aforethought and
for being able to carry them off without causing offense.” (Collins 163) And it
impossible to believe that this meeting inspired Jane when, sometime during the
next year, she created Henry Tilney? Is it too much of a coincidence? Perhaps.
But Jane Austen’s work is full of such concidences. Life is full of such
coincidences. And life inspires art.

“The only wit on record, whom brilliant social success had done nothing to
spoil or harden.” ~ Henry Fothergill Chorley

From my readings about Sydney Smith, however, he is not much like Tilney fans’
idealized version of Henry. Auden wrote that “Mentally, like so many funny men,
[Sydney] had to struggle constantly against melancholia: he found it difficult
to get up in the morning, he could not bear dimly lit rooms.” (vii) Attributes
worthy of a Gothic hero, of a Heathcliff or a Rochester, but not of the
playfully cheerful Henry Tilney. Of course, one or two meetings in the
crowded public rooms of Bath would not have revealed these facets of Sydney’s
personality to Jane. If she took from Sydney to make Henry, she only took what
was best about him.

The interested scholar can find other literary inspiration for the Rev. Mr.
Tilney as well. Northanger Abbey is nearly a point-to-point parody of Ann
Radcliffe’s novel The Mysteries of Udolpho; however, the noble
Valancourt, the hero of Udolpho, has little in common with Henry. It
seems that Jane Austen was more taken with Henri de Villefort, the witty and
charming young gentleman whose family befriends the heroine after she escapes
from the clutches of the evil Montoni. Consider the following offering by young
Henri, from Volume III, Chapter X of Udolpho:

“‘My dear Mademoiselle Bearn,’ said Henri, as he met her at the door of the
parlour, ‘no ghost of these days would be so savage as to impose silence on you.
Our ghosts are more civilized than to condemn a lady to a purgatory severer
even, than their own, be it what it may.'”

Compare this to Henry Tilney’s remark from Volume I, Chapter XIV of
Northanger Abbey:

“‘Miss Morland, no one can think more highly of the understanding of women than
I do. In my opinion, nature has given them so much that they never find it
necessary to use more than half.'”

I like to think that the similarities between Henry and Henri is Jane’s sly way
of tweaking Mrs. Radcliffe, and of stating that she took the more interesting
male character for her hero, rather than the weepy, emotional Valancourt. Jane
is on record as disapproving of excessive sensibility, and Valancourt makes
Marianne Dashwood seem positively phlegmatic.

And from whence came the name Tilney, and Northanger Abbey itself? They were
probably found somewhat closer to home. As Park Honan points out, near Jane
Austen’s home town of Steventon, Hampshire, “Elms and beeches along the turnpike
clung to banked hillside as ‘hangers;’ there would be a line of northerly
hangers not far from Basingstoke and Tylney Hall, of Sir James Tylney Long,
Bart.” (7)

“He is a very clever fellow, but he will never be a bishop.” ~ Georg

Enjoyed this article? Visit our giftshop and escape into the world of Jane Austen.