Category Archives: Books

“And Many a Frightful Face…”

For All Hallows Eve I am writing about Whitby for its connection with Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This Gothic horror story was written in 1897, well outside my usual period, but the tale would have greatly appealed to readers of Gothic novels in the early part of the century and the ruins that inspired Stoker certainly had a spookily romantic effect on an earlier visitor.whitby-abbey-1813

Prince Hermann Ludwig Heinrich von Puckler-Muskau travelled extensively in England during his visits and left detailed diaries. In 1827 he found the little fishing town of Whitby picturesque, but dirty and “miserable”. He did admire the abbey “…now the property of some private individual…[whose] cattle feed among it mouldering walls” just as they do in William Daniell’s illustration (above) in his A Voyage Round the Coast of Great Britain…(1814).

von Puckler-Muskau visited the ruins of the abbey “..by the light of the young moon, and was enchanted by the romantic effect – lofty columns, darting up into the air like the slender trunks of pines; long rows of windows in good preservation, and many finely executed ornaments about them, still as perfect as if the wind of the first autumn now played among their ample arches. Other parts were quite altered and decayed, and many a frightful face lay scattered about, grinning at me in the moonlight.”

Perhaps it was those “frightful faces” that played on Bram Stoker’s imagination when he visited the abbey. Certainly its ruins, high on the cliff, would have been the first thing that was visible when the doomed ship bearing Count Dracula in his coffin full of Transylvanian earth sailed towards the coast. When it crashed to the shore the crew was found to be missing or dead and a great dog leapt ashore to vanish into the darkness…

Even in broad daylight the sight is impressive from the sea as I found earlier this year when I sailed into Whitby!

whitby-from-sea

 

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The Real Castle of Otranto

In 1764 Horace Walpole published The Castle of Otranto, A Story. Translated by William Marshal, Gent. From the Original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, Canon of the Church of St. Nicholas at Otranto. [Image: British Library]

oTRANTO FRONT

Walpole (1717-97) was the son of Robert Walpole, recognised as Britain’s first Prime Minister, and was variously a Whig politician, a dilettante, an antiquarian and the creator of the wonderful Gothic masterpiece, Strawberry Hill, his house in Twickenham.

Walpole’s book – often considered to be the first Gothic novel – has the lot: a giant supernatural helmet that crushes a bridegroom to death, thwarted love, tragic stabbings, lustful noblemen, vengeful fathers, sword fights, ghostly happenings and much, much more. Frankly, attempting to summarise the plot is impossible but a short extract gives the flavour:

Manfred, whose spirits were inflamed, and whom Isabelle had driven from her on his urging his passion with too little reserve, did not doubt but that the inquietude she had expressed had been occasioned by her impatience to meet Theodore. Provoked by these conjectures, and enraged at her father, he hastened secretly to the great church.  Gliding softly between the aisles, and guided by an imperfect gleam of moonlight that shone faintly through the illuminated windows, he stole towards the tomb of Alfonso…

After the success of the first edition, purporting to be a translation of an ancient manuscript, Walpole came clean for the second edition and admitted to writing it. It was hugely popular, spawned an entire genre of fiction and inspired numerous stage melodramas.

I was recently on a small ship cruise in the Mediterranean in the footsteps of Edward Lear and found myself in the Italian port of Otranto. Obviously the priority was to seek out the castle. I had visions of gothic towers, creepy turrets, gloomy dungeons, gargoyles… Actually, it is nothing like that at all, which was rather a disappointment.Otranto

It is known as The Castello Aragonese, was rebuilt by Alphonso II of Naples in 1485–98 and is an aggressively militaristic edifice with not a gargoyle in sight. Over the entrance is the coat of arms of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-58) who owned southern Italy when it was part of the Kingdom of Aragon.

Otranto arms

An impressive castle – but not, I fear, the house of horrors of Walpole’s imagination, unless one pictures the huge coat of arms taking off on those strange wings behind it and crashing down on some unfortunate bridegroom…

Napoleon stationed naval ships  in Otranto harbour from 1804 and in 1808 created the hereditary title Duc d’Otrante for his Minister of Police Joseph Fouché when the town became duché grand-fief in the satellite Kingdom of Naples. The dukes now live in Sweden and the title is still extant, apparently without any gothic nightmares to haunt the family.Otranto moat

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Catching a Cawchery in a Slap-Ang Shop – Eating In the Regency Underworld

lodgingsYou are slumming it in Regency London – perhaps you’re in cheap lodgings avoiding your creditors, or dodging a furious father armed with a shotgun or your gambling habit has got the better of you and you are seriously out of pocket. You have found your cheap lodgings – a miserable, unheated room that you share with bedbugs, fleas, mice and the other inhabitants of your straw pallet – now you need to find something to eat. [The print above is of Logic’s lodgings in one of the Tom & Jerry tales by Pierce Egan. Note the dome of St Paul’s behind and the pawnbroker’s shop with its three gold balls on the left.]

A respectable eating house with a decent daily ordinary might be within your means, otherwise you’ll be looking for a grubbery and, in this kind of area, it is probably a hand-in-pocket shop where ready money is expected and no credit is given or even a slam-bang or slap-ang shop, the lowest form of cook shop. Even if you are clammed, sharp-set or positively gutfoundered, you’ll still be hoping that it isn’t run by a cook ruffian, a really bad cook who’ll beat all to a todge, or unrecognisable mess.

If all you can afford is buster and beeswax or bread and cheese, it will taste better if it has been toasted to make a Welsh rabbit or, failing the cheese, you may have to make do with a scratch platter or tailor’s ragout of bread and sliced cucumbers slopped in vinegar.

If there’s a smell of cooking meat the chances are it will be a sheep’s head  – baked to make a Bloody Jemmy or Field Lane Duck or boiled with onions which makes a German Duck. But that might be too expensive so you settle for a galimaufry, a hodge-podge of leftovers or a cawchery, a stew (best not to investigate the ingredients). If you are lucky it might be padded out with some naked boys – rather lumpy dumplings. Below is a detail from “Tom and Jerry Masquerading Among the Cadgers in the Back Slum in the Holy Land” with the diners tucking into their food next to the stove while a riot breaks out in the background.

slum eating

Just when it all seems hopeless and you are contemplating a diet of flummery – oatmeal and water boiled to a jelly – one of your friends turns up with a loan and you can foul a plate and polish a bone with them and treat yourselves to an alderman – a fine roast turkey with a garland of sausages in place of the alderman’s chain of office.

As for what you’ll drink with your alderman, that’s another story – but the chances are you’ll be washing it down with a tankard or two of heavy wet.

GroseFrancis Grose toured the back-slums and the rookeries of London in the 1780s collecting cant and slang terms for his Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue,  assisted (or possibly supported) by his servant Batch. Judging by his portrait Grose had sampled plenty of naked boys, aldermen and Bloody Jemmys himself. He inspired a number of imitators (and downright plagiarists) but all these late Georgian slang dictionaries are arranged in alphabetical order of the terms defined.  Regency Slang Revealed  takes four of them and organises them thematically, with an index – the perfect guide for the explorer of the Regency underworld. Regency Slang Revealed Cover MEDIUM WEB

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The Earl of Wittering Goes to the Seaside: Part Six The Ladies (and Porrett) Visit the Library

It is raining today, the second of the Gatwick family’s stay in Weymouth, so Lady Ditherstone abandons her father in law and husband to their news sheets, deals firmly with her daughter Emily’s pleas that taking to the ocean in the rain can hardly make you any wetter than you will be already, and carries off her mother in law the Countess of Wittering, Emily and young Arthur to visit the subscription library.

library

‘You have researched the available libraries I trust, Mr Porrett?’ She is inclined to rather like the Earl’s secretary, such a thoroughly nice, intelligent young man and really, once he takes off those wire-rimmed spectacles, quite good-looking. Intelligent, good-looking men are in short supply in the Gatwick household, although young Arthur certainly has a keen interest in natural philosophy.

‘Certainly, Lady Ditherstone. There are several, but most are not of a standard that would suit you, I fear. However there is one excellent one. As The Guide to All the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places remarks, those who frequent a good circulating library rather than a ballroom “frequently enjoy the most rational and the most permanent pleasure.” ‘ He regrets the quote as soon as he makes it, for Miss Emily fixes him with a look that is anything but kindly. So far as she is concerned nothing, but nothing, can exceed the pleasures of the ballroom.

‘Mr Porrett can come with us and carry our books as he is so fond of libraries,’ she says pertly. ‘And the umbrellas.’

Porrett, no fool, even if he is blinded by hopeless love, enlists the umbrella-wielding support of two footmen leaving himself to shelter Miss Emily. He employs the walk to the library with regaining her good graces. ‘They have all the latest fashion journals,’ he assures her. ‘And the latest novels.’ From ahead he can hear young Arthur stating that he needs a book on rocks and something on seaweed as he intends to collect both. Porrett is not certain, but he thinks the Viscountess gives the slightest, most well-bred, shudder. ‘And there is a section selling toys (he means novelties and small frivolities for adults, of course) – all the finest fans and reticules and so forth and souvenirs.’

Pic105Emily gives him a beaming smile, much restored by thoughts of shopping, as they reach the circulating library. Porrett, having established that the monthly subscription is eight shillings, deals with the business side, taking out a subscription for both senior ladies. He also subscribes for himself, for he has a secret penchant for poetry and intends to take a slim volume off to the garden where he can brood on his heartache in peace. (Above, the artist of a Regency ‘bat print’ bowl has caught Porrett immersed in his poetry next to a beehive.)

The library they find themselves in very like the one shown at the top of the post (Illustration of 1813 by Rowlandson). Note the shelf of New Arrivals on the right and the two gentlemen in energetic dispute over a political pamphlet on the left. A horn sprouting writing quills hangs in the right-hand window and a poster advertises a new book on Westminster and Its Monuments. The younger ladies shown are all in the height of fashion whereas the older lady with her little dog, long stick and black footman in attendance wisely chooses rather wider skirts and a lower waistline. Note the parasol propped up against the counter – it has the handle at what, today, is the wrong end. This persisted until about 1815 when the point where a parasol or umbrella was held when not in use shifted ends.

This evening the family attends the Assembly Rooms for an evening of dancing and cards. Porrett is thrilled to have been invited to accompany them, but somehow this afternoon, he is going to have to purchase a new pair of black silk stockings. Dare he risk ones with a stripe? What are the shops likely to be like? Find out more in   The Georgian Seaside: the English resorts before the railways came.

 

 

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A Blue Plaque for Georgette Heyer

An absolute favourite writer for most lovers of the Regency is Georgette Heyer, and the great news is that on Friday 5th June English Heritage unveiled a Blue Plaque at 103, Woodside, Wimbledon, where Georgette was born on 16th August 1902.
I’ve been a Heyer fan as long as I can remember, and I particularly get a thrill when I’m in the History stacks at the London Library in St James’s Square and recall that this was where she did so much of her research.
Heyer’s novels are a treat for anyone who loves Georgian London and my favourite is Frederica, with its priceless image of the dreadful dog Lufra chasing the cows in Green Park, even if it does contain one of Heyer’s few research failures when she located the Soho Foundry, not in Birmingham, but in…Soho.
For anyone who is inclined to dismiss her writing as romantic froth, I would recommend Jenny Haddon’s post http://jennyhaddon.com/?p=973 “The Space Between the Words” on the understated power of her writing. And if you haven’t already read it, Jennifer Kloester’s biography Georgette Heyer, is the perfect accompaniment to her books.
I’ll leave you with a picture of two books from my collection, including one of my precious first editions. And if you like to see a (good) feature film, made of one of her novels, why not sign the petition http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/georgetteheyerfilm
Heyer_0002

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The Road to Waterloo Week Six – “The Belgians Undergo the Most Lively Sensations.”

By Monday April 3rd the book publishers had jumped on the Napoleonic bandwagon and advertisements began appearing in the newspapers –
“Letter to a noble lord on the present situation of France and Europe accompanied by official and original documents. John Murray Albemarle-street.”
“The CRISIS, addressed to the people of ENGLAND on the Emperor NAPOLEON’S returned to Power. By a barrister of the Middle Temple. James Ridgway Piccadilly (Price 2s)”
“The STATEMENT of BONAPARTE’S plot made to Earl BATHURST and the FRENCH AMBASSADOR in October and November last by WILLIAM PLAYFAIR Esq. is now ready, price 1s 6d. It contains also the Cypher in which Bonaparte corresponded, with the Key, his Proclamation in Cypher and Decyphered etc. At 41 Pall-mall.”

Fashion 1815
For those hoping to ignore the rumbling threat of war, an intriguing fashion advert describes garments that can be bought ready-made and then altered to fit the customer:
“Elegant, Nouvelle and Fashionable Millinery, Dresses, Pellisses, Mantles etc etc – Thomas and Co. agreeable to their usual plan, have (under the superintendence of Mrs. Thomas) completed the greatest choice of articles in the above branches, uniting in a pleasing style, the French with the English taste, and which are composed of prime and nouvelle materials. The above are particularly adapted for evening or full dress, the dinner party or the promenade and from being made in all sizes enables them to execute any commissions with all possible speed and thereby doing away (in a very material degree) the necessity of giving orders. 193 Fleet- street, west end corner of Chancery-lane.” The charming little image above is from a lady’s memorandum book for 1815.

The foreign papers, reported on Monday, told that the Belgians were undergoing “the most lively sensations” – as well they might. British ships had been permitted to enter Dieppe peaceably and that appeared to be the official port for communications, Meanwhile, in Paris, Napoleon seemed largely concerned with returning affairs as quickly as possible to the position before he left, including changing back the names of Paris streets.

“The Duc d’Orleans and his daughter, with their suite, arrived from Amsterdam and put up at Greillon’s (sic) Hotel, Albemarle Street.” It was not clear whether they intended staying for the duration of the emergency, or whether this was just a visit.

“Madame Catalini’s delightful retreat, The Hermitage, at Old Brompton is to be disposed of. In the event of her return from France, her engagements are so numerous and particularly during the summer months, when the Hermitage may really be compared to a paradise, that she has no means of enjoying thcatalanie advantages that its easy access to town will afford some more fortunate purchaser. The interior embellishments and furniture are spoken of in high terms of admiration. Mssrs. Robins are empowered to dispose of it, and report says, at a sacrifice to the fair warbler of many thousand pounds.” Madame Catalini (shown left) was a singer of huge international fame who would appear in Brussels to great acclaim as the crisis developed.

Wellington arrived in Brussels on Tuesday to take command of an Allied army that would total between 800,000-1,200,000 men when mustered and on Saturday 8th April Bonaparte ordered the general mobilisation of France. The situation was escalating.
The Marriages column of the Morning Post on Monday recorded one of the marriages of military men now gathering in Belgium.
“A few days since, by special licence, at Bruxelles Lieut. Colonel George H. Berkeley to Miss Sutton eldest daughter of Lady Sutton of Mosely House in the county of Surrey. His Grace the Duke of Richmond gave away the bride.”

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Going to the Library In Georgian London

In a recent post I used two of Cruickshank’s delightful monthly views of London to illustrate the state of the streets. When I looked at March I found it showed the effects of March gales on pedestrians passing the doors of Tilt, Bookseller & Publisher, which made me dig further into my collection to see what I had on access to books.

March
For the middle and upper classes in Georgian London reading was a significant leisure pastime, whether the book was a collection of sermons, a political dissertation, a scientific work or a scandalous novel full of haunted castles, wicked barons and innocent young ladies in peril.
To have a library, however modest, was the mark of a gentleman, but not everyone could afford every book that they wanted, or wanted to own every book that they read.  The subscription circulating library came into existence to satisfy the reading habits of anyone who could afford a few pounds annual subscription and who required “Rational Entertainment In the Time of Rainy Weather, Long Evenings and Leisure Hours”, as the advertisement for James Creighton’s Circulating Library at no.14, Tavistock Street, Covent Garden put it in October 1808.

No doubt the elegant gentleman at the foot of this post would have satisfied his reading habit from one of these libraries. (He is sitting in his garden with a large bee skip in the background and is one of my favourite designs from my collection of bat-printed table wares. Bat printing refers to the method, by the way, and has nothing to do with flying mammals!)
The only bookshop and circulating library of the period that survives today is Hatchard’s in Piccadilly. It was established in 1797 and shared the street with Ridgeway’s and Stockdale’s libraries. The photograph of a modern book display in Hatchard’s was kindly sent to me by a reader who spotted my Walking Jane Austen’s London on the table.Jane Austen in Hatchards. Henshaw (2nd from the right, 2nd row from the front).
Circulating libraries ranged in size from the modest collection of books in a stationer’s shop to large and very splendid collections.

At the top end of the scale was the “Temple of the Muses”, the establishment of Messrs. Lackington and Allen in Finsbury Square. The print shows the main room with the counter under the imposing galleried dome and is dated April 1809. The accompanying text, in Ackermann’s Repository, states that it has a stock of a million volumes. The “Temple” was both a book shop and a circulating library and the pLackingtonsroprietors were also publishers and printers of their own editions. As well as the main room shown in the print there were also “two spacious and cheerful apartments looking towards Finsbury-square, which are elegantly fitted up with glass cases, inclosing books in superb bindings, as well as others of ancient printing, but of great variety and value. These lounging rooms, as they are termed, are intended merely for the accommodation of ladies and gentlemen, to whom the bustle of the ware-room may be an interruption.”
Richards libraryCirculating libraries advertised regularly in all the London newspapers and the advertisement here is a particularly detailed one from a new firm, Richard’s of 9, Cornhill and shows the subscription costs which varied between Town and Country. Special boxes were provided for the transport of books out of London, which was at the cost of the subscriber. Imagine the excitement of a lady living in some distant country house when the package arrived with one of the two books a month her subscription of 4 guineas had purchased!

Reading bat bowl

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