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Archive for the ‘18th Century England’ Category

After my previous article on Regency Women: Beauty Behind the Scenes, I realized that the things I really want to know more about concerning Jane Austen’s Regency women aren’t (and weren’t) discussed as much as other topics such as beauty regimes.

I wanted to know about bodily functions (where in the world did a lady relieve herself if she was, say, at a ball?), feminine hygiene (what did women do during “that time of the month?”), and pregnancy and birth (why did so many women die as a result of childbirth?).

Finding this information wasn’t as easy as some of the other information I’ve researched over the years. Why? Because some of these topics (such as menstruation) weren’t discussed openly or written about during Jane Austen’s time. Scholarly authors and bloggers even sometimes make the joke, “maybe women didn’t menstruate back then!”

The truth is, Regency women had specific needs, just as women do now, but information about those needs was shared more discreetly. Women passed information, supplies, and advice to one another—from mother to daughter, sister to sister, cousin to cousin, and even friend to friend. Additionally, terms and nicknames were used for certain topics, such as “in that way” (pregnant); “lying-in” or “confinement” (nearing her due date); and “brought to bed” (gave birth). We can imagine that in some families, young women were informed about such topics without much or any discussion; in others, perhaps a bit more instruction was provided.

Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Palmer, Sense and Sensibility

I can’t help wishing they had not travelled quite so fast, nor made such a long journey of it, for they came all round by London upon account of some business, for you know (nodding significantly and pointing to her daughter) it was wrong in her situation. I wanted her to stay at home and rest this morning, but she would come with us; she longed so much to see you all!”

Mrs. Palmer laughed, and said it would not do her any harm.

“She expects to be confined in February,” continued Mrs. Jennings.

Lady Middleton could no longer endure such a conversation, and therefore exerted herself to ask Mr. Palmer if there was any news in the paper.

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen (emphasis mine)

In attempt to shed some light on these topics, the following is an overview of each, along with a few resources that go into greater detail. As always, I heartily encourage our well-read JAW readers to comment with other resources that can help provide more information on these “privy” matters (pun intended).

Bodily Functions

At home, chamber pots were frequently used and kept under the bed, out of sight, and emptied and cleaned by a servant. A privy or outhouse was outside the home, away from the house. Many times, flowers were planted near the outhouse to help cover the odor. For an in-depth history of Regency plumbing, you can read this wonderful article from The Jane Austen Centre on The Development of Regency Plumbing.

But what about when a lady was traveling or at a ball? As some of you may already know, a fully dressed lady could (carefully) relieve herself using a small chamber pot called a bourdaloue (or bourdalou) without soiling her skirts. Her maid would stand nearby to help and/or receive the pot and empty it. (Note: Men were known to relieve themselves behind a screen into a chamber pot in the dining room.) For more on this strangely intriguing topic, you can read Vic’s engaging article, Regency Hygiene: The Bourdaloue.

Ladies Bourdaloue, a personal chamber pot.

Feminine hygiene and sanitary items

And what, pray tell, did a lady to do when menstruating? In her article “On ‘Flowers’: A short but frank post on how 18thC women dealt with menstruation,” Lucy Inglis has several interesting tidbits to share: Early sanitary pads were used by women in Georgian England, made from a variety of materials. “Women troubled by particularly heavy periods wrapped a belt or bandage about their hips and wore a baby’s muslin napkin looped over the front and back, with stitched ‘sanitary pads’ lining this loincloth.  These pads could be boiled and reused…”

As for tampons, this was surprisingly not unheard of. Early handbooks discuss “‘suppositories’ for the ‘privy place’ made from a smoothed stick, wrapped in absorbent linen rags and securely stitched. A long cord was sewn in. Some disposable; some boiled and reused” (Inglis). For menstrual cramps and other issues, herbal remedies were often used. For more on this topic and others like it, check out Inglis’ book Georgian London: Into the Streets.

Regency families were often large to account for high child mortality rates.

Pregnancy and childbirth

During the Regency era, childbirth was still one of the most dangerous threats to a woman’s health and life. Up to 20% of all women died either in childbirth, or immediately following birth, most often due to infection. (Many accounts place the infant mortality rate at about the same level.) The practice of washing hands, disinfecting instruments, and providing clean linens and ventilation in birthing chambers did not become common until about the 1840s, which then lowered the mortality rate from 18% to about 6% (Jane Austen Centre). To read an in-depth discussion of birth, birthing rooms, and advances in obstetrics, read here: “Developements in Childbirth in Regency and Victorian England: Childbirth and Lying-In during the Regency” by Kathleen Charon.

Some of the issues that plagued new mothers and babies were due to limited medical practices and a lack of simple hygiene, but there were other factors at play as well. For instance, instead of having women move, walk, and get a breath fresh air, a “lying-in” or “confinement” period was observed before, during, and even after giving birth.

During the birth, a midwife would likely be in attendance; in some instances, a doctor might come. The birthing room was heated and enclosed so that women would not catch cold; however, the stifling rooms often caused a host of other issues, including an increase in infection. After giving birth, women were kept in bed, often given only weak tea and a liquid diet, instead of hearty, nourishing foods to help her heal and gain strength.

I have just received a note from James to say that Mary was brought to bed last night, at eleven o’clock, of a fine little boy, and that everything is going on very well. My mother had desired to know nothing of it before it should be all over, and we were clever enough to prevent her having any suspicion of it…

Jane Austen’s Letters, Godmersham Park, 17 November 1798.
Queen Charlotte, King George IIIs consort, gave birth to 15 children in 21 years. These are their 6 eldest.

Indeed, life for women in Jane Austen’s Regency England, even as part of the upper classes, was uncomfortable, difficult, and dangerous. When I think of my own birth, and the births of my two children, by caesarean section, with the help modern medicine, I stand amazed at the bravery of the women who came before me. To say I’m thankful for the miraculous advances in medicine and obstetrics today would be an understatement.

This, I’m sure, is only the tip of the iceberg with these topics. If you have other resources to share, such as books, articles, podcasts, or talks, please include them in the comments! Next month, check back for my upcoming article, Regency Women: Pin Money and Private Expenses.


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is the bestselling author of The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her newest book The Little Women Devotional is now available for pre-order and releases December 2021. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

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Regency women went to great lengths to achieve an effortless, romantic look with long, flowing lines to their dresses and hairstyles. Even their dresses, which appeared to have little underneath, had several layers hidden below the surface. As with everything, nothing in the Regency era is quite as simple as it seems.

And behind the scenes of every genteel woman’s daily beauty regime were servants who made it all possible. Without today’s modern household appliances, a whole team of people were required to make a household run smoothly. There were servants who laundered, mended, ironed, and polished. Maids who buckled, tied, boosted, and smoothed; carried clean, hot water for bathing; and emptied bathtubs and chamber pots. Men and women cleaned, cooked, served, polished, and dusted. All so that life could go on smoothly and seamlessly.

Women in Jane Austen’s world were expected to be many things, especially when it came to their personal appearance, but what went on behind the scenes to make these women appear so effortless and graceful?

Evening dresses, fronticepiece, The Mirror of Graces,, 1811
Evening dresses

[Mr. Bingley] came, and in such very good time that the ladies were none of them dressed. In ran Mrs. Bennet to her daughter’s room, in her dressing gown, and with her hair half finished, crying out:

“My dear Jane, make haste and hurry down. He is come—Mr. Bingley is come. He is, indeed. Make haste, make haste. Here, Sarah, come to Miss Bennet this moment, and help her on with her gown. Never mind Miss Lizzy’s hair.”

“We will be down as soon as we can,” said Jane; “but I dare say Kitty is forwarder than either of us, for she went up stairs half an hour ago.”

Oh! hang Kitty! what has she to do with it? Come be quick, be quick! Where is your sash, my dear?”

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

It took time to achieve the polished look of a Jane Austen heroine; thus, I’ve also included additional links for each of the topics below for those who want to delve deeper. Let’s look behind the scenes:

Bathing

Cleanliness then wasn’t quite what it is today. Bathing only became common during the 18th century in wealthy households. In Jane Austen’s time, baths were taken once a week (more or less depending on the season) with sponge baths in between. This was usually done by sponging off with a pitcher of water and a little basin on the bedroom dresser. To bathe, people sat in a larger tub or stood in a smallish tub on the floor and washed with a pitcher of water. (The Family, Sex & Marriage in England 1500-1800 by Laurence Stone)

A portable bath shower from the mid 19th c.

Affordable soaps of the time were soft and more caustic than the soaps, lathers, and body washes we enjoy today. Firm, refined bar soaps were scented and more costly (and therefore less frequently used). As for a woman’s hair, the same soap used for the body was also used for the hair, and the hair was washed far less often than today.

Oral Health

As for dental health, tooth brushes and tooth powder were used. In Sense and Sensibility, we read this: “He was giving orders for a toothpick-case for himself, and till its size, shape, and ornaments were determined, all of which, after examining and debating for a quarter of an hour over every toothpick-case in the shop, were finally arranged by his own inventive fancy…”

Toothpick Case, National Maritime Museum, 1806

From Austen’s own letters, we know that dentistry in her time was a grisly business:

The poor girls and their teeth! I have not mentioned them yet, but we were a whole hour at Spence’s, and Lizzy’s were filed and lamented over again, and poor Marianne had two taken out after all, the two just beyond the eye teeth, to make room for those in front. When her doom was fixed, Fanny, Lizzy, and I walked into the next room, where we heard each of the two sharp and hasty screams.

The little girls’ teeth I can suppose in a critical state, but I think he must be a lover of teeth and money and mischief, to parade about Fanny’s. I would not have had him look at mine for a shilling a tooth and double it. It was a disagreeable hour.

Jane Austen’s Letters, Henrietta St., 15 Sept. 1813

The advent of modern dentistry, and the use of anesthetics, wouldn’t come until long after Austen’s lifetime. I, for one, feel much more enthusiastic about my next dental cleaning after this. For more on the topic of Regency dentistry, you can read this JAW article on Dental Hygiene in the Regency Period.

Dressing and Undergarments

For the latest fashions, women often shared patterns and new fashions. Those who had lately traveled to London or even Bath brought back descriptions, clippings, and patterns to share with their friends and family member. In Pride and Prejudice, we read this about Mrs. Gardiner’s visit: “The first part of Mrs. Gardiner’s business on her arrival, was to distribute her presents and describe the newest fashions.”

Underdrawers belonging to the Duchess of Kent, 1810-1820

As fashions evolved, so did women’s undergarments. Under their slim, empire-waisted Regency dresses made of thinner material than previous years, women wore a shift, stays, a waist petticoat, stockings, and more. With so much to lace up and buckle, women needed help getting dressed. On the topic of stays, we know that Jane wrote this to Cassandra:

I learnt from Mrs Tickar’s young Lady, to my high amusement, that the stays now are not made to force the Bosom up at all; that was a very unbecoming, unnatural fashion.

Jane Austen’s Letters, September 1813

However, women did not yet wear “underwear,” drawers, or pantaloons. Drawers were considered immodest and improper, something only men wore, until the early to mid 1800s. Slowly they caught on, and by the mid-1800s they were a matter of course when hoop skirts became popular. You can find more here: Ladies Underdrawers in Regency Times: Regency Underwear.

Cosmetics

In terms of cosmetics, a more natural Romantic look took hold during Austen’s life, in large part aided by the blockade during the Napoleonic Wars. Ladies were still, nevertheless, never too far from their rouge pot (Beauty and Cosmetics, 1550-1950 by Sarah Jane Downing). Regardless of one’s complexion or skin tone, a rosy glow was part of achieving that healthy romantic look.

As for covering up body odor, deodorant was not yet used, while the perfumes of the time tended toward sweet, musky scents. To find out more about cosmetics and how they were made (many times out of materials we now know are dangerous), you can read this article: A Deadly Fashion: Beauty and Cosmetics 1550-1950 – A Review.

Hair

During Jane Austen’s lifetime, hairstyles for women became more natural and graceful. This meant instead of powder, wigs, and elaborate updos, the natural hair color became popular again. Women wore their hair swept up into simple twists, buns, and chignons with locks of hair curled around their faces. Curling tongs and curling papers and cloths were used to create this effect.

The fashions and hairstyles all came from the Greco Roman styling that became popular during Austen’s day. You can read more here: Greco Roman Influences on Women’s Hairstyles During the Georgian Era.

Combs used as hair accessories

With the bonnets and caps used at the time, curls were used to frame the face. For evening and dinner parties, accessories such as combs and ribbons were used. Often a maid helped fix a lady’s hair each morning and before an evening dinner or party. What might look like a very natural hairstyle could take quite a bit of time to perfect beforehand. For more, you can read about Regency Hairstyles and their Accessories. Additionally, you can view Vic’s stunning Pictorial History of Regency Hairstyles.

A Look Behind the Scenes

The world of a genteel Regency woman was complex and nuanced. Next month, I’ll discuss “Privy” Matters: Regency Feminine Hygiene, Bodily Functions, and Childbirth. We’ll take an even closer, behind-the-scenes look at a genteel woman’s private life in Jane Austen’s time. All to help us understand the real-life world of carriage rides, balls, dinners, and courtship that we so enjoy in Austen’s novels.

As much as I love dressing up for a Jane Austen event, all of this information reminds me, as ever, that as romantic as everything looks in a Jane Austen film, life for women of her time was anything but simple—even for those who were part of the landed gentry.

When I’ve dressed for the ball given at past JASNA AGMs, my outer layer tends to be the most historically accurate. I’ve yet to invest in undergarments, and I usually “make do” with my own homemade hair accessories, jewelry, and ballet flats. One day, I’d like to invest in a bonnet. As one wise woman once told me at an AGM, “It takes years to build your Regency wardrobe – just take it one piece at a time.” Do you own any Regency clothing? If so, what do you enjoy wearing most? -Rachel


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is the bestselling author of The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her newest book The Little Women Devotional is now available for pre-order and releases December 2021. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

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By Brenda S. Cox

“”By our sufferings, since ye brought us 

To the man-degrading mart,— 

All sustain’d by patience, 

taught us Only by a broken heart,— 

Deem our nation brutes no longer . . .” – Quote opening The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave. The quote is from William Cowper, Austen’s beloved poet. Such narratives at this time often began with quotes from Cowper’s anti-slavery poems, or from the Bible.

We’ve been looking at the situation of black people in Jane Austen’s England. We started with “‘Women of Colour’ in Literature of Jane Austen’s England,” considering Miss Lambe of Sanditon, Olivia of The Woman of Colour, and other fictional women of the time. Next, we learned a little about black people in general in Austen’s England, based on statistics and records, in “Black England: No Wall of Separation?” 

What about the lives of individual black and mixed-race people in Austen’s England? Most of those people were in the lowest “ranks” of society and didn’t leave journals or diaries. Scholars are trying to piece together some of their lives. For an example, listen to Gretchen Gerzina’s talk on Pero Jones and Fanny Coker, an enslaved man and a free woman working as servants in a 1780s Bristol household. 

Today I’ll introduce you to some of the most well-known black and mixed-race people in Austen’s England; people that Jane Austen may have heard of or read about. I can only give you a brief taste of their fascinating stories. For each one, I’ll give you links so you can explore further if you wish. For some, you can read their stories in their own words.

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay (1761-1804) and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray (1760-1825) by David Martin (1737-1797). Public Domain. commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dido_Elizabeth_Belle.jpg

Dido Belle

Austen must have known about one real mixed-race woman, Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804). Dido’s father was a British naval captain, Sir John Lindsay, and her mother was a black enslaved woman named Maria. Lindsay was the nephew of the Earl of Mansfield, who became Chief Justice of England and made several rulings benefiting black people in England. Lindsay asked his childless uncle and aunt to raise Dido, and she grew up in the Mansfield household.

When another great-niece, Lady Elizabeth Murray, lost her mother at the age of six, the earl and his wife took her in and raised her along with Dido; they were around the same age. A portrait of the two girls as young ladies shows an apparently close relationship, though the white girl takes the central place in the picture. It is unclear exactly what Dido’s position was in the household. One guest noted that she did not eat dinner with the family and their guests, but joined them afterwards. She then walked arm-in-arm in the garden with her cousin.

The earl became very attached to Dido. In his will he confirmed her freedom and left her money. Dido married a white French servant, John Davinier. Her money enabled him to rise to the status of “gentleman.”

Dido’s white cousin Elizabeth Murray married wealthy George Finch-Hatton, a friend of Jane Austen’s brother Edward Knight. On a visit to her brother in 1805, Jane visited the Finch-Hattons. She was not impressed with Lady Elizabeth, writing on Aug. 24, 1805, “Lady Elizabeth for a woman in her age & situation, has astonishingly little to say for herself.”

It seems likely that Austen would have known about Elizabeth’s adoptive sister. She might conceivably have met her if Dido visited while Jane was at Godmersham, though we have no record of a meeting. Perhaps Austen was imagining how Dido Belle became a beloved member of the Earl of Mansfield’s family when she wrote Mansfield Park. Fanny Price is a little like Dido in that she arrives as a marginalized member of the household, but eventually becomes a valued family member.

For more on Dido Belle, you can listen to “Dido Belle and Francis Barber” or read Paula Byrne’s Belle.  (Byrne also has a chapter (12) on Dido in The Real Jane Austen.) The movie Belle  gives an imaginative portrayal of what Dido Belle’s life might have been like, based on the few facts that we have. Etienne Daly has been researching Dido and her family, and you can find his posts on All Things Georgian

Ignatius Sancho (c. 1729-1780) by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), 1768. Public domain. commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:IgnatiusSancho.jpg

Ignatius Sancho

Ignatius Sancho (1729-1780), born on a slave ship, ended up in England. The Duke of Montague took an interest him, educated him, and made him his valet, then his butler. Sancho eventually owned a grocer’s shop in Westminster. He was also a composer and art critic. He mixed with people like Thomas Gainsborough, who painted his portrait. Sancho married a black woman and had six children. He owned enough property that he could vote; he is the first known African-background person in England to have voted in a general election.

Sancho’s letters were published in 1782, after his death. Sancho supported the abolition movement; one letter condemns “the Christians’ abominable traffic in slaves” as “uniformly wicked.” In another he expresses his faith by looking forward to heaven, “the promise of never, never-ending existence and felicity.” He also wrote to encourage a young man who had recently gone to India to stay firm in his faith: “Read your Bible—As day follows night, God’s blessing follows virtue—honor and riches bring up the rear—and the end is peace—Courage, my boy—I have done preaching.”

You can read the original Letters of Ignatius Sancho (1784), with a memoir of his life. Modernized paperback versions with more commentary are also available, as well as Dr. Gerzina’s talk on Sancho

Samuel Johnson, one of Austen’s favorite authors, left most of his possessions to his black manservant, Francis Barber. Samuel Johnson, from a portrait attributed to John Opie R.A., 1911.

Francis Barber

Samuel Johnson, whose writings Jane Austen appreciated, thought highly of his black manservant, Francis Barber (1745-1801). Born enslaved in Jamaica, Barber was brought to England as a child by his master Richard Bathurst. Bathurst had him baptized him and named him. When Bathurst died, his will freed the boy.

Barber worked as Johnson’s servant. Johnson, who was against slavery, educated Barber and treated him like a son. Barber’s black friends came to visit him in Johnson’s home. Barber left Johnson for a few years, working for an apothecary, and then in the navy. Johnson got him out of the navy and brought him back. Barber married a white wife, Elizabeth, and had five children. They all lived in Johnson’s home.

When Johnson died, he left money, an annuity (yearly income of £70), and most of his possessions to Barber: property, books and papers, and other items. Barber and his wife moved to Lichfield, where he eventually ran a village school. 

Barber’s children and grandchildren married white people. Most became manual laborers, blending in with the poorer population of London. Barber’s son Samuel grew up to become a Methodist lay-minister (a preacher who was not ordained).⁠

For more on Francis Barber, you can check out Dr. Gerzina’s talk, or this biography.

Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography went through multiple editions and was published in multiple languages. archive.org/details/lifeofolaudahequ00equi_0

Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797) was the most famous formerly-enslaved person in Austen’s England. From the Igbo people group in Nigeria, he was enslaved as a child, owned by a series of people and traveled the world. Through trade, he earned enough to buy his freedom from a Quaker master when he was about 21. After several people in Georgia and the West Indies attempted to kidnap Equiano and re-enslave him, he decided to move to England. From there he worked as a seaman on long voyages.

Equiano became a leader of the movement for the abolition of the slave trade and slavery. His autobiography was published in 1789. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano; or, Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself  ran through nine editions in England, and was widely read in the US and translated into Dutch, German, and Russian. (Equiano’s owners gave him several names when he was young; Gustavus Vassa was one that he continued using in England.) Equiano traveled around the country promoting his book and campaigning against slavery.

Equiano vividly describes his African childhood and his experiences on a slave ship and as an enslaved man. (Some scholars believe he was actually born in South Carolina rather than in Africa, but his autobiography describes his childhood in Africa.) He tells of the abuses suffered by slaves, and the challenges he faced as a free black man.

In 1774, Equiano was dramatically converted to Christianity. More than 20 pages of his autobiography describe the various people who shared passages from the Bible with him, his own conviction of sin, and finally his vision of “bright beams of heavenly light” coming into a “dark place” as he accepted Jesus’s death for his sins. He became a member of the Church of England. Equiano often tried to persuade others to become Christians. He attempted to get ordained and go as a missionary to Africa, but the bishop chose not to ordain him.

In 1786, Equiano was asked to help with a new project. At first he was enthusiastic about the idea. The government was planning to send a group of black people to Sierra Leone in Africa to set up a colony there. Equiano was to supervise the provisioning of the ships. However, he complained of corruption and poor, insufficient supplies, and was dismissed from his position. The expedition did take place, but the colony faced huge difficulties and many died.

Equiano closed his autobiography with a plea to end slavery, and instead to trade with Africa for goods like indigo and cotton. He went on to explain that he had included many seemingly small details of his life, since he had learned to see the hand of God in all those details, and to learn lessons “of morality and religion” from all that happened; he hoped his readers would also learn from his experiences.

For more on Equiano’s life, I recommend his autobiography. It was very popular in the eighteenth century, though we don’t know if Jane Austen ever read it. Modern versions with additional material are also available. For a briefer survey, listen to Dr. Gerzina’s talk.

Like many black writers of the time, Gronniosaw included his Christian testimony in his memoir.

Ukawsaw Gronniosaw

Ukawsaw Gronniosaw (c. 1705-1775), an African prince from Nigeria, became a Christian while he was enslaved in America. Like many of the formerly-enslaved people who wrote their stories at this time, he includes his faith experiences. His owner was a Reformed Dutch minister who sent him to school. Gronniosaw was converted when he read Richard Baxter’s A Call to the Unconverted, so he was obviously very literate. He wrote, “I was so drawn out of myself, and so fill’d and awed by the Presence of God that I saw (or thought I saw) light inexpressible dart down from heaven upon me . . . I seemed to possess a full assurance that my sins were forgiven me. I went home all my way rejoicing . . .”.

Gronniosaw was eventually freed and settled in England. He was influenced by multiple denominations there. He became friends with the famous Methodist preacher George Whitefield, joined a Baptist church, shared his testimony with Dutch Calvinists, and received help from Quakers. When he wanted to marry a white English woman who had helped him grow in his faith, the leaders of his church objected: not because of race, but because she was poor. He paid off her debts and married her anyway. She was a weaver; he worked at whatever jobs he could find.

 Gronniosaw, like most black people in Britain, was not born in a British parish and therefore not eligible for parish help when he was in need. In his memoir he describes one severe winter when he and his wife were both unemployed and “reduc’d to the greatest distress imaginable.” He did not want to beg, but when their “last bit of bread was gone” he had to ask for help. They moved elsewhere and his wife found work again as a weaver, but the situation was still difficult. He thanks God for the “charitable assistance” of others and looks forward to relief in heaven.

You can read Gronniosaw’s story in his own words in A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw.

Mary Prince’s autobiography increased public outrage over the abuses experienced by enslaved people in the West Indies.

Mary Prince

The only autobiography of a black woman in England that we have from this time is the story of Mary Prince (1788-183?). Mary was born into slavery in Bermuda. She later lived in Antigua, where Moravian missionaries taught her to read and write in a Bible class. She joined the Moravian church, which helped many enslaved people in Antigua. Mary married a freeman in the church, though the Church of England there apparently did not allow slaves to marry. A Moravian missionary attempted to buy Mary’s freedom, but her owner, John Wood, refused to let her go. He took her away from her husband and brought her to England.

In England she fled from the Wood family’s cruelty. The Anti-Slavery Society took her in. She worked as a servant for the secretary of the society, and the society helped her published her autobiography, The History of Mary Prince, in 1831. At the end of her story, she is enjoying the kindness and hospitality of Christians in the Anti-Slavery Society, and appreciates going to church three times on Sunday. But she longs for her husband and her home, and cannot return because that would mean returning to slavery.

Gretchen Gerzina shares some of Mary’s story on Britain’s Black Past,  using some of Mary’s own words. You can read Mary Prince’s autobiography in various editions, and on google books. The Moravians also record information about Mary.

Black Clergy

We also know of a few black or mixed-race clergymen in Austen’s England. Brian Mackey, the son of a white father and a black West Indian woman, held two church livings in 1805.  We only know about his racial background because one of his contemporaries, clergyman William Holland, was his parents’ neighbor and wrote about Mackey in his diary. Nathaniel Wells, mentioned in last month’s post, had two sons who became clergymen. Philip Quaque (or Kwekwe) was a black African who studied in England, was ordained, and married an English wife. In 1766 he returned to Cape Coast, Africa, as the Church of England’s first African missionary. For more on black people in the Church of England, I recommend Black Voices: The Shaping of Our Christian Experience by David Killingray and Joel Edwards, which includes extensive quotes from black people in England over the centuries.

These are only a few of the many black people who lived at least part of their lives in Austen’s England. I hope you will have a chance to read some of their stories in more detail. And please tell us about others you are familiar with!

 

Note: Last month when I talked about mixed-race Nathaniel Wells and his wealth and position in society, I should also have said that Wells, as his slave-owning father’s heir, owned slave plantations, and the enslaved people apparently were not treated well. Gretchen Gerzina tells more of his troubling story in Britain’s Black Past

© Brenda S. Cox 2021, excerpted from the upcoming book Fashionable Goodness: Faith in Jane Austen’s England by Brenda S. Cox

Other Sources

  • William Holland, Paupers and Pig Killers, 106. Jan. 25, 1805. (On Brian Mackey)
  • Untold Histories by Kathleen Chater (Manchester University Press, 2009)
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  • Black London: Life Before Emancipation by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina (Hanover: Dartmouth College Library, 1995)
  • Dr. Johnson’s portrait is from commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Samuel_Johnson_(1911)_Frontispiece.png
  • You can find further resources here.

For more on individual black lives in Austen’s England, check out Professor Gretchen Gerzina’s series, “Britain’s Black Past,” on BBC radio.

I also recommend recordings of this year’s excellent Race and the Regency series from Jane Austen and Co.

 

You can connect with Brenda S. Cox, the author of this article, at Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen or on Facebook.

 

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Reviewed by Brenda S. Cox

The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman: The Life and Times of Richard Hall, 1729-1801 provides fascinating insights into Jane Austen’s England.

The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman, by Mike Rendell, explores 18th century life in England

Richard Hall was a tradesman, a hosier who made stockings in a shop near London Bridge. Like the Coles in Emma, he “was of low origin, in trade,” but moved up in society as he became wealthier. Hall accumulated his fortune through hard work, marriage, inheritance, and investments. From selling silk stockings, he moved into selling fine fabrics, silver buckles, and other fashionable accessories. Hall eventually owned several estates, and retired as a country gentleman. 

I asked the author, Mike Rendell, to tell us more about how he wrote this book.

Rendell says he inherited “a vast pile of old family papers, . . . stuffed into tea chests and boxes in the back of the garage” in his grandmother’s house. He focused on the papers related to Richard Hall and found it “a fascinating voyage of discovery.” 

This trunk was full of papers from the eighteenth century.

Rendell continues, “For instance, if he [Richard Hall] recorded in his diary that he had ‘visited the museum’ it made me research the origins of the British Museum, realizing that he was one of the earliest visitors. Which led on to researching what he might have seen, etc.”

He adds, “Writing my first book opened my eyes to a great deal about the world in which Jane [Austen] was brought up. I love her works – especially P&P and I must admit to binge-watching the entire BBC version in a single sitting, at least twice a year!”

In the context of Richard Hall’s story, Rendell tells us about many aspects of life in the eighteenth century, based on his extensive research. For example:

Religion

Richard Hall was a Baptist, one of the Dissenter (non-Church of England) groups in Austen’s England. This meant that even though Hall loved learning, he was not able to attend university. Oxford and Cambridge, the two English universities, would not give degrees to Dissenters. Hall could have studied in Holland, but his family decided to bring him directly into their hosiery business instead.

Richard Hall’s grandfather and father were Baptists, and Richard attended a Baptist church and listened to sermons by the famous Baptist preacher Dr. John Gill for many years. Richard also collected printed sermons by Dr. Gill. However, it was not until Richard was 36 that he “gave in his experience” and was baptized. Rendell explains that “giving in his experience” meant “explaining before the whole church at Carter Lane in Southwark how he had come to faith in Christ.”

Some of the leaders of the English Baptists of the time are part of Hall’s story, as well as disputes and divisions between Baptist churches.

Hall sometimes attended Anglican churches, and was even a churchwarden for a time. Rendell comments, “The fact that he was a Baptist did not mean that he was unwilling to attend Church of England services – just as long as the gospel was being preached.”

Methodists were another important movement in Hall’s England, though they were still part of the Anglican Church for most of Hall’s lifetime. One of Hall’s relatives, William Seward, became an early Methodist minister, preaching to open-air crowds. Rendell writes that Seward “died after being hit by a stone on the back of the head while preaching to a crowd at Hay-on-Wye, on 22 October 1740 – one of the first Methodist martyrs.”

Silhouette of Richard Hall, probably “taken” (cut out) by his daughter Martha. In 1777 Martha “gave her experience” and was baptized in a Baptist church, as her father had done.

Science

Rendell often explains advances in science that affected Hall’s life (and Jane Austen’s). He writes, “By the standards of his day . . . Richard was a well-educated man. Above all, he was a product of his time – there was a thirst for knowledge all around Richard as he grew up. There were new ideas in religion, in philosophy, in art and in architecture. This was the age of the grand tour, of trade developments with the Far East, and a new awareness of the planets and astronomy as well as an interest in chemistry and physics. It was a time when the landed gentry were experimenting with new farming methods – inspired by ‘Turnip’ Townsend and Jethro Tull – and where a nascent industrial revolution was making its faltering first steps.” Richard wrote down many scientific “facts”—or fictions—some of which are listed in an appendix.

Surprisingly, Richard Hall records several times that he saw the Aurora Borealis in southern England. Apparently, the aurora was sighted many times in Austen’s England, though it has since migrated northward.

Rendell also tells us about an invention that greatly improved transportation: the development of macadam roads. These were named for the Scotsman John McAdam who invented the process. When bitumen (tar) was added in the nineteenth century, such roads were called “tar-macadamised”: a word eventually shortened to “tarmac.”

Travel was quite an adventure in Austen’s time. Richard Hall made this detailed paper cutout of a coach and four, showing one of the fastest means of transportation available at the time. Hall also did cutouts of a coach and four about to crash because of a boulder in the road, and a one-horse coach being held up by a highwayman.

Medicine

Richard Hall’s small daughter was inoculated against smallpox, which meant she was given the actual disease. She had “between two and three hundred pustules.” But Richard writes that about three weeks later, “Through the goodness of God . . . the Dear Baby finally recovered from inoculation.” 

About ten years later, inoculation–giving the patient a hopefully mild case of smallpox–was replaced by vaccination. Dr. Edward Jenner developed this technique, where patients were given cowpox rather than smallpox to develop their immunity. However, Jenner became a member of the Royal Society (of scientists) not for his work on vaccination, but for his observations of cuckoos and their habits! He also experimented with hydrogen-filled balloons. The “naturalists” (not yet called “scientists”) of this age were interested in topics that nowadays we would separate into many different branches of science.

When Hall’s first wife, Eleanor, died of a stroke, he cut this tiny Chinese pagoda in memoriam, with her name, age, and date of death. Rendell says it is “like
lace. It is just an inch and a quarter across and most probably fitted in between the outer and inner cases of his pocket watch. In other words it was worn next to his heart. Very romantic!”

Weather

Hall also noted the weather. In 1783 he refers often “to a stifling heat, a constant haze, and to huge electrical storms which illuminated the ash cloud in a fearsome manner.” These were the effects of a huge volcanic eruption in Iceland, the Laki volcano. This eruption, the most catastrophic in history, caused an estimated two million deaths worldwide, and wiped out a quarter of the population of Iceland. In England, the harvest failed, cattle died, and about 23,000 people died of lung damage and respiratory failure.

Highwaymen were another danger in Austen’s England. In this paper cutting by Richard Hall, a criminal, possibly a highwayman, hangs on the gallows while spectators are unconcerned.

Language

Richard Hall wrote a list for himself of words that sound different than they look. He gives the spelling, then the pronunciation, which helps us see how people in his area and level of society spoke. A few examples:

Apron—Apurn

Chaise—Shaze

Cucumber—Cowcumber

Sheriff—Shreeve

Birmingham—Brummijum

Nurse—Nus

Dictionary—Dixnary

The history of some words are also explained. For example, the word “gossip” was a contraction of “God’s siblings.” Such women helped mothers in childbirth. The “gossips” offered sympathy, kept men away, and chattered in order to keep up the mother’s spirits throughout her labor.

Museums and Exhibitions

Rendell describes several museums and exhibitions that Hall visited. One of the most intriguing is Cox’s Museum, which Hall and his wife visited the year Austen was born. It featured rooms full of “bejewelled automata.” The most famous was a life-size silver swan, still a popular exhibit at the Bowes Museum in Durham (northern England). The Museum says it “rests on a stream made of twisted glass rods interspersed with silver fish. When the mechanism is wound up, the glass rods rotate, the music begins, and the Swan twists its head to the left and right and appears to preen its back. It then appears to sight a fish in the water below and bends down to catch it, which it then swallows as the music stops and it resumes its upright position.” No less a personage than Mark Twain admired this swan and wrote about it in The Innocents Abroad.

Richard Hall’s upbringing stressed values which still resonate with many people today. Rendell writes, “. . .from an early age it had been instilled into Richard that there were only three things which could help stop the fall into the abyss of poverty, sickness and death. The first was a strong belief in the Lord, and that without faith you got nowhere. The second was the importance of education. The third was that you got nothing without working hard for it. These were the cornerstones of his upbringing – and of the whole of his subsequent life.”

Richard Hall was an artist of paper cutting. He cut out everyday objects and scenes. Many, like this finely-done rapier, were found among his books and journals.

And Much More

The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman is full of treasures for those of us who love reading about Jane Austen’s time period. We learn about guilds, clothing, food, disasters, transportation, prices, medical advances, explorers, and much more. 

To Rendell, Richard Hall “came across as a bit of a joyless, pious individual but then I thought: hang on, he had to face exactly the same problems as we do today – illness, worries about the business, problems with a son who was a mischief maker at school, problems with the drains etc etc. When he re-married  he fell out with his children because they didn’t approve of his new bride – and they excommunicated him [avoided and ignored him] for the rest of his life. In that sense his life was just as much of a mess as the ones we lead today!”

While Rendell originally wrote this story for his own family, when he decided to make it widely available he found he needed to promote it. He ended up in a surprising job. He says, “I had never before tried public speaking but quickly found that I loved it – and ended up with a totally new ‘career’ as a cruise ship lecturer (when Covid 19 permits!) travelling the world and talking about everyday life in the 18th Century. . . . These talks include talks about Jane Austen – in particular about the different adaptations, prequels, sequels, etc. of Pride and Prejudice – as well as talks about the venues used in the various films of Jane’s books. I also write articles for Jane Austen’s Regency World. . . . One thing led to another and I have now had a dozen books published, with two more in the pipeline.”

Mike Rendell’s books include topics such as Astley’s Circus (Astley’s is mentioned in Emma and in one of Jane Austen’s letters), Trailblazing Women of the Georgian EraPirates and Privateers in the 18th Century, and more. 18th Century Paper Cutting shows the illustrations used in this article, along with other lovely paper cuttings by Richard Hall. See Mike Rendell’s blog at mikerendell.com for more of Mike’s books and blog posts.

The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman is available from amazon in the US and the UK. It is offered on kindle unlimited. If you order a paperback copy from Mike Rendell (Georgiangent on amazon.co.uk), he says, “if anyone orders a copy I will ask (through amazon) and see if they want a personal dedication/signed copy before popping it in the post.” (It is listed there as a hardback but is actually a paperback.)

By the way, Rendell pointed out that Jane Austen’s nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, also did paper cutting (or silhouettes). You can see examples of James’s work in Life in the Country. There is also a well-known silhouette of Jane’s brother Edward being presented to the Knight family; that one was done by a London artist, William Wellings.

The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman gives us valuable insights into the life of an Austen-era tradesman who became a country gentleman. What would you most like to know about the life of such a person?

___________

Brenda S. Cox blogs about Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen, and is currently working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. You can also find her on Facebook.

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“‘a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George’s Fields, the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood . . .'” —Northanger Abbey

The only riot in Jane Austen’s novels takes place in Eleanor Tilney’s mind, her brother says. But is it only in her mind?

In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland is walking with Henry and Eleanor Tilney  on Beechen Cliff, which overlooks Bath. They admire the scenery, then the conversation moves to government and politics;

“from politics, it was an easy step to silence. The general pause which succeeded [Henry’s] short disquisition on the state of the nation was put an end to by Catherine, who, in rather a solemn tone of voice, uttered these words, “I have heard that something very shocking indeed will soon come out in London.”

Not surprisingly, since they had just been talking about government and politics, Eleanor thinks that Catherine has heard rumors of something terrible about to happen in London.

“Miss Tilney, to whom this was chiefly addressed, was startled, and hastily replied, ‘Indeed! And of what nature?’”

[Catherine responds,] “’That I do not know, nor who is the author. I have only heard that it is to be more horrible than anything we have met with yet.’”

“’Good heaven! Where could you hear of such a thing?’”

“’A particular friend of mine had an account of it in a letter from London yesterday. It is to be uncommonly dreadful. I shall expect murder and everything of the kind.’”

“’You speak with astonishing composure! But I hope your friend’s accounts have been exaggerated; and if such a design is known beforehand, proper measures will undoubtedly be taken by government to prevent its coming to effect.’”

“’Government,’ said Henry, endeavouring not to smile, ‘neither desires nor dares to interfere in such matters. There must be murder; and government cares not how much.’”

[Eleanor responds,] “’Miss Morland, do not mind what he says; but have the goodness to satisfy me as to this dreadful riot.’”

“”Riot! What riot?’”

[Henry explains,] “’My dear Eleanor, the riot is only in your own brain. The confusion there is scandalous. Miss Morland has been talking of nothing more dreadful than a new publication which is shortly to come out . . .’”.

Catherine is talking about a new Gothic novel!

Henry explains that Eleanor, though,

“’immediately pictured to herself a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George’s Fields, the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood, a detachment of the Twelfth Light Dragoons (the hopes of the nation) called up from Northampton to quell the insurgents, and the gallant Captain Frederick Tilney, in the moment of charging at the head of his troop, knocked off his horse by a brickbat from an upper window.’”

Henry think Eleanor is foolish to imagine such a thing, but was she? Was Jane Austen perhaps describing a real riot?

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Captain Frederick Tilney, knocked off his horse? “Gordon Riots,” Project Gutenberg eText 19609, by John Seymour Lucas, 1879. Public domain.

The Gordon Riots

Such riots had happened before. Henry might have been talking about the Gordon Riots of 1780.* These are considered the most destructive and violent riots in English history. Lord George Gordon initiated these anti-Catholic riots, though he intended only a peaceful demonstration. At that time, Catholics in England had very limited rights. An Act of Parliament, passed in 1778, gave Catholics a few rights, including the rights to buy and inherit property, and to join the military, if they took an oath of allegiance to the Crown.

On June 2, 1780, Gordon gathered a crowd of around sixty thousand people at St. George’s Fields, London. They marched to Parliament to present a petition. Parliament did not choose to overturn the law.

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Thousands gathered in St. George’s Fields. “The Gordon Riots,” Charles Green (1840-1898) / Public domain

Riots ensued, with people shouting “No popery!” and burning down Catholic chapels, priests’ houses, Catholic homes, shops, and schools, and a distillery owned by a Catholic. Lord Chief Justice Mansfield had supported the Catholic Relief Act (he later supported rights for black people in England as well); his house was looted. (Yes, Mansfield Park may have been named after this Lord Mansfield.) The homes of other politicians who supported the Act were also attacked. Lord Gordon tried to calm the situation; he took no responsibility for the riots.

Mobs, already angry about poverty and injustice, attacked the Bank of England on June 7. They burned prisons and prisoners went free. The rioting lasted for about a week. Over ten thousand soldiers were brought in to quell the riots. More than three hundred rioters were killed during the riots or executed afterwards. (By the way, at least two black men, included in the picture below, were involved in the rioting, and black writer Ignatius Sancho witnessed it and wrote about it. The story is told at Black Presence.) George Gordon was imprisoned in the Tower of London but was eventually acquitted of treason.

800px-An_exact_representation_of_the_Burning,_Plundering_and_Destruction_of_Newgate_by_the_rioters,_on_the_memorable_7th_of_June_1780_(BM_Z,1.4)

Newgate Prison was burned during the Gordon Riots. “An exact representation of the Burning, Plundering and Destruction of Newgate by the rioters, on the memorable 7th of June 1780,” by Henry Roberts, 1781. © The Trustees of the British Museum, released as CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

The Gordon Riots seem an appropriate possibility for Henry’s description: thousands gathering in St. George’s Fields (though many more than what he described), the bank attacked, the army called in, many people killed. I haven’t found references to the Tower of London being threatened, however.

These riots also relate to Bath, where Henry and the ladies were having their conversation. During the Gordon riots, anti-Catholic rioting also broke out in Bath. Rioters burned down the Catholic chapel, the bishop’s house and the priest’s house. The city of Bath responded strongly, hanging the ringleader and taxing the whole city to pay for the building of a new Catholic chapel.

Other Riots

However, the Gordon Riots took place when Jane Austen was only four years old; long before she wrote Northanger Abbey. Could she have been referring to more recent riots? Collins Hemingway, in an article in Jane Austen’s Regency World (July/Aug 2018), suggests that it is more likely that Austen was describing one of the many riots going on in England closer to the time when Northanger Abbey was written or revised. (The novel was apparently written between 1797 and 1803, and revised somewhat in 1816-17.)

Some examples of riots closer to the writing of Northanger Abbey:

  • The Priestley Riots in Birmingham in 1791: Rioters attacked Dissenters (non-Anglicans) who were supporting the French Revolution, including Joseph Priestley. Priestley was a Unitarian minister as well as the chemist who discovered oxygen. Houses, chapels, and businesses were burned.
  • The Bristol Bridge Riot in 1793 in Bristol was a protest against taxes and tolls. Soldiers were called in and 11 people were killed and 45 injured. This was the second most violent riot in England in the eighteenth century.
  • A series of riots in 1795, in various towns in England, has been called “the Revolt of the Housewives.” Led mostly by women, these were protests against high food prices. Women would seize the goods of a merchant who they thought was overcharging customers. The women sold the goods at what they considered a fair price, and gave the money to the merchant.
  • A London riot in 1809, the Old Price Riot, protested price increases at the newly-rebuilt Covent Garden Theatre. The management eventually gave in. They restored earlier prices so the theatre would be accessible to everyone, rich and poor.
  • In late 1816, as Austen may have been revising Northanger Abbey, a mob of about 10,000 people in Spa Fields, London demanded election reforms and relief for the poor. The first meeting was peaceful, but the second meeting, of about 20,000 people, turned violent. They attempted to attack the Tower of London. However, troops quickly put down the riots. Perhaps this riot inspired Austen to mention “the tower threatened.”

Hemingway suggests that the most likely riot to have inspired Austen was a riot in Manchester in 1808. Six thousand weavers gathered in St. George’s Field, Manchester (rather than St. George’s Field, London) to demand a minimum wage. Dragoons were sent to restore order. According to Hemingway, when Henry Tilney says the dragoons were called “up from Northampton,” it may mean they were called up to the north, to Manchester. One man was killed, and others were injured. The rioting spread to neighboring towns. Weavers did receive a small pay increase in the end. Surprisingly, the dragoons later apologized to the weavers for their actions, and took up a collection for the family of the man who was killed.

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Illustration from Charles Dickens’ historical novel about the Gordon Riots, Barnaby Rudge, “Barnaby at the Gordon Riots,” 1871, public domain.

However, London is mentioned several times in the Northanger Abbey passage. It’s possible that Austen was taking details of other recent riots and transplanting them to London, for the story. To me, however, the Gordon Riots seem to most closely fit the details given. While there was not a time when the streets of London were literally “flowing with blood,” those were the riots in which the most people were killed.

Although Henry says Catherine’s “words could relate only to a circulating library,” riots similar to what he described had happened in recent history. Of course he also criticizes her vivid imagination when she thinks his father has committed a terrible crime. It turns out that his father is not a murderer, but does treat Catherine cruelly. Henry’s words are often ironic.

What do you think? Was Austen referring to a real riot (or several riots) here, or was the riot only in Eleanor’s mind?

 

*R. W. Chapman (1923 edition of Northanger Abbey), Roger E. Moore (Jane Austen and the Reformation, 105), and others consider this riot to refer to the Gordon Riots.

Brenda S. Cox blogs about Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen, and is currently working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. You can also find her on Facebook.

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