The two illustrations of courtship and the unwanted baby below are details from a fan dated 1797 entitled The Lady’s Advisor, Physician & Moralist which takes a sharp look at everything from spinsters with cats to the unwelcome effects of jealousy.
The image of the courting couple above is captioned “Look upon or listen to or an object which is agreeable to your mind & if you have the least sensibility you will most probably be over head & ears in pickle.” They are going to end up married out of an illusion of love, at least on her side, according to the cynical writer.
However they ended up in wedlock, most Georgian husbands probably liked to think of themselves as ‘the Cove of the Ken’ – the master of the household, according to the slang dictionaries – but that might not be how their wives, or other men (including their fathers in law), saw them. Wives acquired a ‘tenant for life’, and he might acquire a ‘petticoat hold’ on her fortune or, if he had a generous father-in-law he might receive ‘hand-basket portions’ or gifts from him.
But what if she has a lover, thus rendering him a cuckold? If he’s an old man with a young wife she might well have a ‘court of assistants’ who ensure that he is wearing ‘the bull’s feather’ and ‘horn mad’ with jealousy. Or she might be a nag – a ‘buttock and tongue’ – and the poor man lives ‘under the cat’s foot’ ‘in Queen Street’. He might then turn to drink, although if she is tolerant she might accompany him to the alehouse which makes him a ‘freeholder’ although if she marches down there to drag him out he will have been ‘arrested by the white sarjeant.’
He could, of course, be very happy with his ‘comfortable importance’, his ‘lawful blanket’ or his ‘rib’ but he might be ‘flying the kite’ with his mistress and if that leads to rows he might ‘divide the house’ with his wife, giving her the outside while he keeps the inside – and the front door key. Certainly someone turning up with a baby to lay at his feet would result in a serious rift, as in the scene below, captioned ‘The Unwelcome Present.’ the husband, looks very shifty as the old lady presents him with his child – and his wife is giving him a decidedly frosty look. Or perhaps she is simply appalled at what he is wearing.
Of course the Georgian husband might be delighted with the arrival of babies – brats, chips, squeakers or bantlings – and I will leave you with this picture of domestic bliss – the happy father pulling his two youngest children in a ‘shay’ up Highgate Hill on a pleasure outing accompanied by his lovely wife and his son. Doesn’t he look happy with his lot in life?
The Highgate Hill print is from a book of satirical verse, Takings, or the Life of a Collegian by R. Dagley (1821).
Lots more slang and cant may be found in Regency Slang Revealed