Tag Archives: England

A History of English Miniatures

As is often the case, I recently came across a very dry history book with some hidden gems in it.  Miniatures: Ancient and Modern was written by Cyril Davenport and published in 1908 and although I wouldn’t recommend reading it if you’re a miniaturist dilettante like I am, it does offer a useful perspective on how English miniatures changed from the 16th through the 19th centuries.  The short answer is not much in terms of shape and overall presentation. Excluding the style exhibited in the day’s favored painter,  miniature portraits gradually grew more sophisticated in terms of backgrounds and range of mediums, but they are still miniatures.

England’s Three Periods of Miniature Art

Thomas Wriothesley, First Earl of Southampton by Hans Holbein the Younger (1535) (c) Met Museum
Thomas Wriothesley, First Earl of Southampton by
Hans Holbein the Younger (1535) (c) Met Museum

The 16th century Tudor period marks the first time in English history when miniatures appear in large numbers.  They are influenced by the work of Hans Holbein, the younger and are fairly uniform in design.  Simple blue or red backgrounds predominate and men are the likeliest subjects, although important high-born ladies and Queen Elizabeth do appear.

The shape of the miniature is round, the medium gouache or oils, on vellum or paper, wood or metal, respectively, and no shadows present themselves on the portrait itself. Davenport’s definition of a miniature is no larger than 7×7 inches, which sounds fairly large to me if you wanted to admire someone in the palm of your hand (I always thought miniatures were somewhere in the range of 2×2 inches or less, but I guess not). Anything larger than 7×7 inches gets classified as a cabinet painting, which would measure no more than 2×2 feet.

The black and white mother and son portrait miniatures are from Elizabeth’s reign.  If you do know what Henry, Prince of Wales looks like, you might be wondering if this miniature is actually of his younger brother, Charles I.  Here’s a portrait from 1610-12 painted shortly before Henry death at age 18, making the age depicted in the miniature improbable.

Maybe the miniature below is a keepsake of what Henry would have looked like if he hadn’t died (hmm, I wonder if that was done)?  Or maybe the painter sucked at his art? Another of history’s mysteries, if you’re up for some sleuthing.  You can see Anne’s miniature in color here–the jewels in her hair and ruff are crazy!

The style of the 17th century Stuart period takes a nod from the work of Anthony van Dyck.  Instead of being strictly blue or red, backgrounds add distinctive scenery and short oval shapes compete with the rounds of the previous century.  The mediums have not yet changed.  I personally like the first miniature of a Lady as Flora that was painted by Issac Oliver between 1575 and his death in 1617, making it straddle the Tudor and Stuart period.  The duke in the second miniature has smug looking lips though, so I can’t recommend him.

Portrait of a Lady Dressed as Flora

books-2Before daguerrotypes came onto the scene and resounded the miniature death knell, the third period extended into the 18th and 19th centuries.  They styles is a reflection of Sir Joshua Reynolds’s paintings.  Transparent watercolors were introduced, the shape turned oval, and ivory is a popular medium on which to paint.  Ladies also start to appear in miniatures with regularity, though I must say I’ve seen a lot of ladies in 17th century miniatures.

The first three below are 18th century, the fourth is from the 19th, and the fifth is late 19th to early 20th century.

Archibald Robertson by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1786-91) (c) Met Museum
Archibald Robertson by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1786-91) (c) Met Museum

 

Portrait of a Woman, Said to Be Madame Récamier by  Nicolas François Dun (1812-14) (c) Met Museum
Portrait of a Woman, Said to Be Madame Récamier by
Nicolas François Dun (1812-14) (c) Met Museum

One last medium that I haven’t mentioned is enamel.  Portraits on enamel have been around since the Byzantine period and during the 16th-19th centuries, were more popular on the continent than in England.  I like how glossy they look.  The colored Mary Wortley Montagu miniature at the top of the post is also enamel.

George IV  as Prince Regent, after Lawrence Henry Bone (1816) (c) Met Museum
George IV as Prince Regent, after Lawrence
Henry Bone (1816) (c) Met Museum

Unlike miniatures from the 16th century onward, early examples of Roman miniatures from the first and second centuries A.D. were painted on gold leaf and encased in glass plaques.  The Greeks produced encaustic miniatures, painted on wood with hot beeswax, while Renaissance Italians and Germans also excelled at encaustic works, setting their miniatures in relief with most of their subjects in profile.

Clearly, there’s always been a desire to carry a beloved’s portrait around, making me think that miniatures are kind of romantic.  Yes, they were given as diplomatic gifts and created to commemorate an age or occasion, but I can’t help but feel that many of them are as sentimental as a picture or a photograph in locket, which has got me thinking . . . what’s the history of lockets?

For more information on miniatures, do see:

Victoria & Albert Museum Portrait Miniatures Collection

And if you’d like to know what was going on across the pond, visit the Metropolitan’s Museum of 18th century American miniatures and 19th century American miniatures.  Of particular note is the daring Sarah Goodridge’s self-portrait.  Gotta love a lady with pluck!

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The Sagacious Letters of Lord Chesterfield REPOST

For the next 12 days I’ve scheduled a series that may assist with your resolutions for 2013  (naw, probably not, but I’m trying here).  I didn’t get many blog hits back in 2010, so with any luck these reposts will be fresh for the majority of you.

I’ll be on blog vacation through the second week of January, but will be responding to comments, as usual.

Happy New Year, readers!  Here’s hoping that 2013 gives you the best it has to offer.

Originally posted 12/26/10

In the spirit of bettering oneself in the New Year we make resolutions to be fitter, richer, and, if we’re all lucky, kinder. But do we ever resolve to be wiser? Common sense suggests a well-turned out mind is earned through experience over tutelage, but in the case of the 18th century upper classes, les maniéres nobles were gained through rigorous adherence to a social code that demanded one improve upon politesse.  An enviable restraint in animal spirits–virtually extinct today–was what afforded ladies and lords the power to glide through fashionable circles with few incidents to mar their family name.

Given our current fall from social graces, we thankfully possess Lord Chesterfield’s correspondence.  It serves as a guide to what may seem like many a muddled affair of dead persons to the uncritical observer, but I assure you, the advice is pertinent.   For the edification of us all, please allow me to introduce you to our guest, Philip Dormer Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield . . .

Best known for his letters to his namesake son, his preeminent work involves schooling his heir on lessons most of us suffer to learn through painful trial and error.  His excessive sophistication at times seems foolish (“In my mind there is nothing so illiberal, and so ill-bred, as audible laughter. . . I am sure that since I have had the full use of my reason nobody has ever heard me laugh.”) but on the whole, his advice is suprisingly apt.  Think of his letters as an 18th century version of the popular book by Dale Carnegie, How to Make Friends and Influence People.

Tomorrow I will begin the first of a seven day course for those interested in how to improve wanting social graces, 18th century style.  We’ll call it Dear Lord Chesterfield (a refined Dear Abby) but for the moment, I’ll leave you with a few fine words from his lordship on achievement dated October 9, 1746:

“. . . I have discovered [in you] laziness, inattention, and indifference; faults of which are only pardonable in old men, who, in the decline of life, when health and spirits fail, have a kind of claim to that sort of tranquility.  But a young man should be ambitious to shine and excel; alert, active, and indefatigable in the means of doing it . . . Without the desire and the pains necessary to be considerable, depend upon it, you never can be so; as without the desire and attention necessary to please, you can never please.

I am very sure that any man of common understanding may, by proper culture, care, attention, and labour, make himself whatever he pleases, except a good poet.”

“Cut Out For a Man, Only the Devil Ran Away with the Pattern”

“Circumstances conspired to make Charlotte Charke one of the most striking impersonators of male character, and one of the unhappiest creatures of her time.  Her father, Colley Cibber, was ill-advised enough to give her a training more befitting a boy than a girl, with the result that after years she evinced no delight save in purely masculine amusements.” – Gentleman’s Magazine, January to June 1896

Who was Charlotte Charke really?  It’s the question her contemporary biographers would’ve asked themselves without ever coming to a satisfying conclusion.  From what I’ve gleaned, she was a woman in possession of great temerity, evading definition and inviting bias as well as scorn.  In our time and in hers, her puzzling personas allowed for many curiosities.  She was an actress, mother, playwright, transvestite, philanderer’s wife, estranged daughter, gentleman’s valet, a gentleman called Mr. Brown, would-be blackmailer, and novelist.

An eccentric, to be sure.

In her memoirs, Charlotte remembers being unconventional from the get-go.  Femininity was a rigid construction of another’s making, a role lacking in both sports and sciences.  She, frankly, wanted to do with it.  To the chagrin of her family, who tried to amend the error of her ways, “housewifely perfections” held no appeal.  She recounts of her introduction to womanhood and its labors: “Many and vain attempts were used to bring me into their working community, but I had so great a veneration for cattle and husbandry, it was impossible for them, either by threats or tender advice, to bring me into their sober scheme.”

From her earliest memories, Charlotte’s passions centered around riding, shooting, and emulating the males around her.  At age four, she had already cultivated an attachment to periwigs and male dress, stealing her brother’s and father’s clothes to strut in a ditch and bow to passersby.  When a crowd—perhaps her first—gathered to gawk at the unusual child, Charlotte took the attention as a mark of esteem.  She’d succeeded in playing the squire, and what else could she play?  Doctor, certainly.  She learned this noblest of professions via a short stint aiding her cousin, a country physician, and absent his tutelage, found herself unable to give up the practice.   Invalids were everywhere, complaints, aplenty, and Charlotte treated—gratis—all who might honor her with a visit.

She dispensed medicines procured from an apothecary widow, quackery salves and potions made by her own hand, and only her father’s ire at being billed the dear expense of her treatments put a stop to “Doctor Charlotte”.  But the world was open to her now.  Next she was a gardener, a porter, a horsemaster—truly there were no end to her roleplaying, except in love.

Love was one of her great disappointments.

“I thought it gave me an air of more consequence to be called Mrs. Charke than Miss Charlotte,” she glibly recalls in her memoirs, but marriage produced the opposite effect.  After a courtship of six months, she had foolishly tied her lot to Richard Charke, he of the Drury Lane groupies.  This new role, not a theoretical assumption but a role steeped in reality, was a terrible error in her judgment.  On later reflection she would call her precocious vows, “My indiscreetly plumping into the sea of matrimony, and becoming a wife before I had the proper understanding of a reasonable child.”

The child of seventeen, it seemed, had much to learn.

Soon after Charlotte’s nuptials, she was pregnant and trolling the streets around the theatre, looking for the romantic violinist whose affections, once liberally bestowed on her, proved liberal by general direction.  The year of her marriage also coincided with Charlotte’s first onstage part–an event that would attract the attention of Fortuna and fix Charlotte permanently on the wheel.

But for now Charlotte was pleased with her prosperity.  Although unhappy that her premiere role was attributed to “a young gentlewoman” in the bill (her father’s way of testing her abilities before claiming them), she found inspiration and encouragement from the retiring Anne Oldfield, an occasional breeches role actress.  Commencing with her first performance, Charlotte’s talent proved sufficient and from 1733-34 she studied the art of playing a man.  The vagaries of success followed, and after numerous productions under different management, including her father selling his shares in the Drury Lane Theatre, she joined the theatre in Haymarket to play Lord Place in Henry Fielding’s Pasquin.

The play was among those banished from the stage in the Licensing Act of 1737, due, in no small account, to its attack of Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole’s government.  As one might expect, Charlotte’s role was embarrassing, if not outright damaging, to her father, the then Poet Laureate.  Colley Cibber was no stranger to criticism, but unlike line 97 of Alexander Pope’s Dunciad “the Pigeon at thine ear/Be rich in ancient brass, tho’ not in gold“, the mouthpiece of Lord Place was his daughter.  He believed her public disrespect of him an unjust blow, and the incident afforded Charlotte a deal of paternal and personal discord.  The Licensing Act interrupted her salary at the theatre, and prompted her to work as a puppeteer, a field ungoverned by the new restrictions.

The years 1736-37 were unlucky years.  By this time she was separated from her husband, and, as a single mother, sorely in need of funds.  Although her marriage had dissolved by mutual agreement, Richard Charke had done more than abandon wife and child; he had abandoned England.  After staking his future in one too many gaming hells, Charke had fled his home in 1736 to avoid debtor’s prison.  Misfortune met him in the turquoise waters and he died in Jamaica shortly after his arrival in late 1737, early 1738.  When the reaper returned to take her mother–who had been ill since Charlotte’s childhood–the twenty-four year old Charlotte, estranged from father, husband, and stage, was forced her to depend entirely on herself.

This led to a series of  peculiar employments.  Among the most interesting was the Albert Nobbs-esque position as valet to Richard Annesley, the 6th Earl of Anglesey.  For the service of dressing her new master–an intimate position that was decidedly not sexual in nature–she was paid a guinea a week.  Lord Anglesey had heard “the piteous account of [her] misfortunes, which his lordship very tenderly considered,” and offered her relief.  The ruse, however, was up five weeks after it had begun.  Upon threat of being exposed as a cross-dressing woman with the impudence to work as a valet, Anglesey was compelled to terminate her employment.  And Charlotte was again left grasping for money.

She made sausages; she acted at the theatre; she even opened the Charlotte Charke Tavern on Drury Lane.  But no matter her choice of profession, she enjoyed little stability.  The eating house failed and she became a strolling-player, a pastry cook from London with aspirations to become a farmer and a hog merchant, and, somewhere along the way, a vagabond.  During this period, she had remarried to one John Sacheverall, possibly in a marriage of convenience (he died), and she had played Mr. Brown to a Mrs. Brown, an arrangement that some have suggested points to lesbianism.  The introduction to her memoirs simply state an account of “her adventures in men’s clothes, going by the name of Mr. Brown, and being beloved by a lady of great fortune, who intended to marry her.”  But the meat of her story with the widowed heiress Mrs. Brown contains no real meat, only clues.

In 1756 she did write a novel about homosexuality wherein a gay man professes his love for another man, dresses himself as a woman, and proceeds to kiss his beloved.  He is then beaten by his beloved and his beloved’s friends.  What to make of this?  Was the plot a social commentary that hits closely to home, or merely a tale similar to what she would’ve experienced playing travesty parts?

Fictions, of course, became Charlotte’s life, and whether or not she wrote autobiographical novels is up for debate.  Based on her memoirs alone, it appears Charlotte and Mrs. Brown were co-conspirators while Mrs. Brown awaited her legacy from her father.  In a time of need, Mrs. Brown had offered Charlotte comfort, a dream of a new undertaking that might turn the tide of fortune, and Charlotte in return offered her distinct blend of brashness and resiliency.  They were confidantes in the toils of making it in an ambivalent world, and whether Charlotte was a lesbian or a subversive doesn’t really matter.

Her character does.  If anything, Charlotte was enterprising, the kind of woman so independently willed that she was a patriarchal anarchist.  Her temperament made her foolish and wayward, but she was always looking out for opportunity, a gamester of life, if you will.  She wore many hats, gentlemens’ and ladies’, and wasn’t afraid to keep on when she was at her wits’ end.  When she died in 1760, she was penniless, but she had left an indelible imprint on the people who knew her.  Despite her domestic estrangements, which were never resolved, she had a talent for engendering friendships in tough places, and when she sat down to write The Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Charlotte Charke, she didn’t forgot the kind words she owed to others.  

The Gentleman’s Magazine may have said of her that she was “cut out for a man, only the devil ran away with the pattern,” but Charlotte was the heroine of her own life.  Today her memoirs remain the romp of a singular woman with ambition–just as they must have been when she was out collecting the original memories 250 plus years ago.

The Bird Still Sings: Underrated Poet, Anne Finch (1661-1720)

Yesterday I received an email from a musician specializing in the 18th century who had recently begun a YouTube project on the poems of Anne Finch, née Kingsmill.  If you’re not familiar with the Countess of Winchilsea, she was one of England’s earliest celebrated female poets and served as a trailblazer to all aspiring stanza scribblers of the feminine persuasion during the 18th century.

Only a handful of collections by female poets were published prior to her, and Anne herself was nervous of the negative reputation gained by her predecessors.  For a long time after coming to court at St. James’ Palace, where she served as Maid of Honour to the Duke of York’s (later King James II) wife, she kept her scribblings private.

When she married in 1684, her husband Heneage Finch strongly supported her work.  Since she possessed hopelessly illegible penmanship, he eventually transcribed her poems into a folio manuscript around 1694 -1695.  His encouragement, along with that of her friends, played a signifcant role in getting her poems before the public eye.

Anne’s daily struggles provided fodder for her writing.  The Finches led an exciting life of political upheaval, starting with their refusal to swear an oath to William of Orange during the Bloodless Revolution.  Stressors regarding her husband’s arrest and their subsequent exile resulted in Anne having a depressive period, which produced one of her most famous poems, The Spleen.

Although Anne is not part of the popular British canon today, she was a well-heeled wit who could hold her own against contemporary poets.  She was unusual for her time not only because she was a published female poet, but unlike many of her peers, she was happily married.  These unique circumstances turned Anne into an upper class observer, and lucky for us, her poetry provides a window into the 18th century elite without being too firmly entrenched in the inside view.

Many of her poems center around love and friendship, but her topics went beyond proper female preoccupations of the time.  They ranged from keen political observations to feminist commentary on sufferance and repression.  And as poets are wont to do, she had a satirical devotion to the human condition, though, unlike some of her male contemporaries, she posessed a tendency to temper her barbs.

If you like your poetry read to you with music accompaniment and video, please consider visiting Anne Finch Poetry on Youtube.  I’ve embedded ‘Tis Strange, This Heart’ for your enjoyment:

If you’re interested in Anne, a more complete history can be found at Celebration of Women Writers, Biography and Links to Works from UPenn.  I will also provide links to Anne Finch’s poetry and the YouTube channel in the 18th Century Reading Room for later reference.

Lady Caro Crops Her Hair

The worst I can say about Lady Caroline Lamb is that she suffered from erotomania.  This is the medical euphemism for saying she was sexually, intellectually, and psychically besotted with Lord Byron to a degree that made him squirm in his trousers.

Lady Caroline Lamb – Thomas Phillips

Their short affair lasted from March to August of 1812 and made an indelible impression on his poetry.  A number are direct rejoinders to Caro’s immoderate behavior.  (*Sigh* All the years I spent at university learning about Romantic poets and never once encountered Byron’s “Remember Thee”.  The poem was a stab at his ex-lover when, in a fit of desperation, she descended upon his household and scribbled in the flyleaf of one of his books “Remember thee!”)

 Lord Byron – Thomas Phillips

For the man she had initially spurned as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” Caro had it bad.  She is credited with being the first celebrity stalker, running her sprightly self around London trying to enflame Byron by Any Means Necessary.  She even impersonated Byron in writing, requesting his favorite miniature portrait of himself from his publishers.

Mimicry was nothing new for Caro.  As Lady Morgan recounts in her memoirs, Caro’s childhood at the Duchess of Devonshire’s household:

Caro’s unconventional education was her solace amid the madness of the aristocracy.  Her perspective turned her into a novelist and poet, and to Byron’s annoyance, a damn good copyist.  He criticized her for modeling the great originals in her work, lamenting over her ability to capture voice—especially his own.

Although history relegates her to the archives of the sexually diseased, she was witty and singular.  Her work and legacy deserve a closer look.  Dickens called her “One of the most interesting stories of fashionable life . . . [a] really clever woman—a heroine in a way. . .”  Byron recognized her eccentricity saying, “I do not at all know how to deal with her, because she is unlike everyone else.” (BLJ 2:222)

Lady Caroline Lamb – Sir Thomas Lawrence (1805)

Caro’s reputation, through much her own fault, was defamed by her peers.  In a letter of November 1824 written to Captain Thomas Medwin, Byron’s biographer and close friend, she imparts her version of a salacious tale following their breakup:

“. . . unhappily, we continued occasionally to meet. Lord Byron liked others, I only him–The scene at Lady Heathcote’s is nearly true–he had made me swear I was never to Waltz. Lady Heathcote said, Come, Lady Caroline, you must begin, & I bitterly answered–oh yes! I am in a merry humour. I did so–but whispered to Lord Byron ‘I conclude I may waltz _now_’ and he answered sarcastically, ‘with every body in turn–you always did it better than any one.  I shall have a pleasure in seeing you.”–I did so you may judge with what feelings.  After this, feeling ill, I went into a small inner room where supper was prepared; Lord Byron & Lady Rancliffe entered after; seeing me, he said, ‘I have been admiring your dexterity.’ I clasped a knife, not intending anything. ‘Do, my dear,’ he said. ‘But if you mean to act a Roman’s part, mind which way you strike with your knife–be it at your own heart, not mine–you have struck there already.’ ‘Byron,’ I said, and ran away with the knife. I never stabbed myself. It is false.”

Take the tale out of context and Caro does seem crazy, but if we are to trust her word, Byron taunted her nearly as much as she harassed him.  They were that broken couple, terrible together, terrible apart.

It didn’t help that Caro refused to shrug off her individuality.  Her inability to comport like other ladies made the ton jittery and even estranged her friends.  She possessed an artful way of living but was artless, by her own account “not a woman of the world.”

Physical and emotional hardships persisted throughout her life.  At age 19, she married William Lamb for love.  By 26, she’d lost a daughter and tried to raise her mentally handicapped son.  She’d turned from her former piety, aped the ton’s moral ambiguities, and taken Byron as a lover.  She was a woman like no other, cropping her hair when hair, no matter how tightly wound upon the head during the day, was long and heavy against the neck at night.  As she said about herself once:

“…everybody wishes to run down and suppress the vital spark of genius I have, and in truth, it is but small (about what one sees a maid gets by excessive beating on a tinder-box). I am not vain, believe me, nor selfish, nor in love with my authorship; but I am independent, as far as a mite and bit of dust can be.” *

Further Information:

Handsome Devils and their Deeds: Banastre Tarleton

 

In the eternal bad guy versus good guy debate, Banastre Tarleton was the original Byronic hero before the actual Byron existed.  To the patriots of the American Revolution, he was a villain, “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” in the truest sense.  Along with Benedict Arnold, no other soldier treading on American soil was more hated than Tarleton.  His youth and the robust traits that sprung for it–recklessness, daring, and outright aggression on the field–made the commander of the British Legion a formidable opponent.  So formidable, in fact, that Americans used him as propaganda.

“Join, or Die” by Benjamin Franklin, 1754 (otherise known as Join and Die to the likes of Tarleton)

“Join, or Die” was the motto of the revolutionaries.  Tarleton, an upstart in the eyes of his elder superiors, spawned a reply of his own.  “Tarleton’s quarter”, which ironically meant “give no quarter”, became the rallying cry for the Battle of Cowpens where the Americans gained a decisive victory against the British.  Capitalizing on Tarleton’s signature style of rushing brutal attacks, William Washington, the commander of the light dragoons, flanked the British troops and ushered in a defeat.  That he engaged in vicious hand to hand combat with the fleeing Tarleton earned him a silver medal and only served to bolster Tarleton’s reputation.  Ignominious, would be the word.

Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton, Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1782

Tarleton was no gentleman’s war hero.  Although European convention dictated that acts of war occur strictly on the field, Tarleton took his cue from the guerilla fighters he opposed.  He fought dirty, burning down houses, razings crops and livestock.  Upon one occasion, he is reputed to have unearthed a widow’s husband from the grave—a hateful act presumably to terrorize the local populace and to illustrate that those resisting British rule would be punished by any means possible.  Later he dined at the widow’s table, undoubtedly enjoying his meal with gusto.  He was, after all, making a point.

Five years after sailing to America, the commander best known for massacring the surrendered patriots at Waxhaws was doing pretty well for himself.  In England, Tarleton had been the third eldest son of an upper middle class merchant and slaver from Liverpool.  As befit his station, he prepared for a perfectly staid career in law at Middle Temple in London and University College in Oxford.  His father’s death in 1773 changed all that.

With a £5,000 inheritance to burn, Tarleton squandered a small fortune on gaming and prostitutes.  By 1775, he was desperate for a change of pace.  Faced with penury and his family’s disapproval, he did what younger sons normally did: He joined the cavalry with the lowest purchased rank of cornet.  Despite his eventual rise to general in 1812, he never had to purchase another rank again.  The man who was hopeless to live within his means had finally found something he excelled at.

Engraving depicting fight against Tarleton’s cavalry

Tarleton, if anything, was an aggressive military strategist.  On a scouting trip, he captured General Charles Lee by threatening to burn down the tavern the general was staying in.  This feat was accomplished in 15 minutes, no less.  As the story goes,  the unlucky Lee was taken hatless in his dressing gown.  One for Team George!  (Boo, says this American)

Later, Tarleton would lead a raid to capture the then govenor Thomas Jefferson.  History might have played out differently if he had succeeded in more than disrupting the Virginia legislature.  Jefferson, alerted by Jack Jouette, the “Paul Revere of the South”, slipped quietly out of reach and that was the end of that.

Tarleton would evenutally write a book about his experiences during the American Revolution.  A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Provinces of North America was more than an eyewitness account, it was a self-congratulatory nod in the braggart’s favor.  Not that he needed any help in that department.  He killed with almost as much fanfare as he bedded women.

And did he have a favorite lady, you ask?  None other than Mrs. Robinson, the actress and woman of letters.   I’ll post their story tomorrow in anticipation of February, the month of romance blogging.  To those of you who scorn Valentine’s Day, not to worry; I’ve got something planned for you, too.   It’s called the anti-romance tag.

 

Follies: An 18th Century Fascination

My interest with follies began in the early summer of 2001.  I had hiked up a long, sloping hill in Barcelona to visit Gaudi’s Guell park, seeking to bask in the artist’s vision beneath a sweltering midday sun.

I knew what to expect.  I had seen the apartment he’d designed along the busy street far from El Carmel Hill, strolled through the perpetually-in-progress La Sagrada Familia.  In the light of his creations, I understood one thing: magic pervades his work.  The symmetry feels utterly foreign, as though you’ve stepped in Dali painting and are unsure whether you wish to find your way out.  His world is at times sinister, at other times stricken with childish delights, but despite its fantastical elements, Gaudi’s buildings would not be considered follies.

 

The demarcation between fantasy and folly lies in the buildings intended use.  Upon approaching the nineteenth century, however, follies were increasingly allocated to activities beyond titillating one’s family and friends.

A confusing and ambiguous definition, when you get down to it.

Essentially, the strict definition of a folly distills down to two components.  One: does the buildings express purpose lie in ornamentation?  Two: is the nature of the structure symbolically relevant in terms of ideals and/or values?  Answer yes to both and you have genuine folly on your hands.

Sir Thomas Tresham’s Rushton Triangular Lodge, built 1593-1597.  This is what gets built when you imprison a Roman Catholic for not converting to Protestantism.   Throughout the design, you’ll see symbols of the Holy Trinity with its enthusiam for threes.

In addition to being expensive and impractical, follies were imitative in desgin.  Art wanted to reproduce a life already lived.  Like most trends, the initial concept of follies started with the privileged and trickled down to all who could afford historical aspirations, including the actor David Garrick

Garrick’s Temple by Johan Zoffany, 1762.  As a Shakespearean actor, Garrick desired to commemorate the playwright with a temple in his honor. Located on the north bank of the Thames in Hampton, London on what was once land adjoining Garrick’s villa, it’s the only known tribute devoted entirely to Shakespeare.   

Aristocrats whose estates boasted authentic ruins were envied by peers who viewed their lands as aesthetically barren.  To honor the upper class dictate of do thy neighbor one better, the 18th century—the last great hurrah of the landed aristocracy—saw a renewal in folly construction, although the trend was born some two centuries before.

Conceit was the lifeblood of these fantasy constructions.  Roman and Doric temples illustrated a desire to emulate classical virtues.  Nods to faraway cultures gave way to Egyptian pyramids, Chinese temples, and Tatar tents.  Travelling abroad, one might say, without ever leaving home.

Désert de Retz near Chambourcy, France

Simple peasant virtues, like those expressed in Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet at Versailles, were somewhat rarer but appeared in the form of mills, cottages, and rustic villages.  As the eighteenth century progressed, exoticism surfaced much the same way Chinoiserie did in textiles and home décor in the early 1700s.  Chinese pagodas and Japanese bridges were favored in lieu of castles and ruins, furthering euphoria over displaying one’s wealth through useless landscape ornaments.

 Brizlee Tower, from A Description and Historical View of Alnwick, 1822

Many notable follies were built to commemorate a loved one, particularly a woman.  Brizlee Tower, located on Hulne park near Alnwick Castle, was commissioned by Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland, after Lady Elizabeth Seymour’s death in 1776.  In high gothic style, the tower sits atop a hill and rises 26 meters for a clear birdseye view from the north, east, and west.  As with a number of the tower follies, a beacon is surmounted at its heights.  When lit the fire can be seen for miles around.

Broadway Tower via Wiki Commons 

This is likewise the case with Broadway Tower.  Built in 1799 for Lady Coventry, the tower functioned as a sort of test to ascertain whether or not she could see its beacon from her house in Worcestershire, 22 miles away.  She could.

Stancombe Lake and Temple from The Temple

Among the most romantic examples of a folly is the temple at Stancombe Park in Gloucestershire.  Although its creator, the reverend David Purnell-Edwards, was newly married and more pointedly a reverend at the time, the temple was supposedly an ode to his secret lover. The legend surrounding its construction is something of an amusing tale.  Apparently, when Purnell-Edwards married, the dowry he received was as equally generous as the physical proportions of his bride.  We are left to imagine they didn’t take well together.  Mismatched personality, sizist attitude, no love lost–well, irrespective of the facts, Purnell-Edwards had a beautiful gyspy on the side and no suitable place to engage in trysts with her.

His solution?  Construct a romantic walk around a two acre lake, conceive a series of tunnels too narrow for the wifey to fit through (they measured just over three feet in width), and at the walk’s end, erect a temple outfitted with snuggling quarters and a boudoir.  The good news is that for £300  a night, the lover’s tryst is all yours to re-enact.  The bad news, however, is that considering it was once voted the most romantic place in Britain, that re-enactment has been set on repeat for quite some time now.

Happy 2012, readers, and thanks for being among the first visitors of the new year!  Your comments and faithful readership are very much appreciated!

Hogarth’s The Harlot’s Progress, Plate 2

Oh, how greatly Moll has fallen since arriving on London’s doorstep.  Such was the way with most 18th century prostitutes, rags to riches and back again, except that rags the second time around were death shrouds.  But we’ll get to that later.  For now, Moll has glided into glory, her slippered feet barely entertaining thoughts of touching the ground.  For a country girl with few prospects or hopes of luxury, she is living the dream, but it’s already begun to crumble.

Despite the tumultuous milieu, Moll is at her peak here.  She’s snagged a Jewish lover (notice the thick, black eyebrows!) and although he seems to have given her everything her heart desires, she’s already cavorting with other men.  In the background, her young lover sneaks by on stockinged feet, Moll’s maid holding his buckled shoes, and we have only leave to assume he slithered out of the drawn canopy bed moments before.  Her affluent lover is a bit disconcerted by the scene he’s unknowingly interrupted, mostly because Moll is kicking over the table and making a petite moue at him in her cheeky way.  With the expression on his face, he has to be wondering what’s got hold of his pretentious ladybird.  “She used to be so sweet, so innocent,” he groans. His silent lamentation is the beginning of the end for Moll.

Instead of the shy, new-to-London chit we saw in the last plate, Moll is all about wanton sophistication.  She’s wearing a patch on her forehead, the sign of a haughty or majestic demeanor.  She knows how high she’s risen in a short period and although she seems secure in regard to her fine furnishings and person, she is anything but. Her life has turned into one big, rollicking farce.  She’s a masquerader, her true self concealed beneath so many layers of paint, and at this point, she’s enjoying it.  Her tea is spilling, her pots of rouge and paint breaking, but it’s all in good fun.  Moll finally has tenuous power over someone and she’s exploiting it just as others have exploited her.

Paintings and Appurtenances

As a fallen woman existing on the margins of Christian morality, Moll bears a kinship to the men in the two portraits behind her.  The paintings are of  Thomas Woolston and Samuel Clarke, English freethinkers who placed rationality and nature above doctrine.  The question begs to be asked: as with the larger canvasses above, do the portraits simply belong to her patron or does Moll sympathize with their sitters, judging herself as acting in accordance with the natural order?  For what, she might ask, could be more natural than sex?

The two remaining paintings in the plate recall scenes from the Old Testament.  Like everything else in the house, they are presumably owned by the man who is affording Moll this extravagant lifestyle.  Her gown now has the effulgence of Mother Needham’s in Plate 1 and matches the upper part of the coat on her very own slave.  During this period, ladies were known to hire black boys to serve them tea, a tradition taken from colonialism, and carried out with great pretension back in England.  His presence is highly suggestive of the process of creating wealth that in turn provides for Moll’s lifestyle, but at the same time, he is dressed to mock it.  Like the monkey, he is Moll’s exotic toy, just as she is the exotic toy of her patron.  Indeed, all of Plate two centers on deceit.  But we’re left to wonder . . . who’s fooling who here?

Handsome Devils and Their Digs: Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, 8th Duke of Hamilton

Douglas Hamilton with Dr. John Moore and Sir John Moore, 1775-1776, by Gavin Hamilton (yes, a relation–son of James, Duke of Chatellerault)

Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, 8th duke of a headache-inducing number of titles– including Duke Hamilton of Scotland, Duke Brandon of England, Duke Chatellerault of France, Marquess of Hamilton, of Clydesdale, of Douglas; Earl of Angus, Arran, and Lanark; Lord Macanshire, Polmont, Abernathey and Aberbrothock of Scotland; Baron Dutton and Hamilton in England . . . Still got your attention?  Good.  Our handsome devil (more devil than handsome, a certain lady wife might say), whom we shall call Double Douglas just once in this post, lived in a big, lovely house called Hamilton Palace.

Hamilton Palace, built in 1695, demolished in 1921. 

**Much of the Hamilton fortune derived from the coal industry.  The mining that took part on the property resulted in the property being deemed unsafe.  So sad!  It once housed priceless art works which in 1882 were sold for £397,562, including a throne from St. Petersburg, floors and doors of black Galway marble,  a grand Corinthian portico, and green porphyry columns taken from the Basilica di Semproneo originally from Ancient Rome. More here.

He was the second son of the 6th duke who had the keen misfortune of dying from a cold after a hunting expedition.  His brother, James, the heir apparent from age two onward, died from consumption–or if we are to trust Dodley’s Annual Register , “his growing so exceedingly fast is said to have been the cause of death”–before reaching the age of 15.  The 7th duke was already 5’8 in his early teens which was apparently thought to be a medical condition on account of vertical largess (5’8 or so being the average male height during C18).

Having lost her first heir, Hamilton’s mother panicked and shipped the newest duke off to the Continent as he was also known to suffer from a delicate constitution.  After four years touring Europe with his tutor, Dr. John Moore, Hamilton returned to England, his vitality restored, his mother happy, and all well and right with his world.  The parson’s mousetrap, however, caught up with him.  Two years after his homecoming, Hamilton entered into an imprudent match with Elizabeth Anne Burrell, daughter of a Mr. Peter Burrell.  This is where the road gets bumpy.

Duchess and Duke of Hamilton, a now extinct portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, painted 1779, a year after they were married.  A sweet portrait; the affection between them is palpable.

To say the least, Mother Duchess was not pleased.  Given the inequality of the untion, one can only assume this relationship between Miss Burrell and Hamilton began as a love match, but it quickly descended into unhappiness.  From Famous Beauties of Two Reigns, it is said of Hamilton,

One gets the sense he was not exactly a gentleman of moderation, at least not when it came to women.  Like many Georgian-era lords, Hamilton did have a regrettable tendency to be the paramour of his loose lady friends–one of the reasons his duchess later divorced him.  Although divorces were rare for the period, the action brought before Parliament by Duchess Hamilton was not an overwrought dramatization of a marriage gone wrong.  On the contrary, it was a sensible move without much bitterness involved.  It is described thusly in Alienated Affections:

“The case of Her Grace Elizabeth Anne Burrell Duchess of Hamilton and Brandon against Douglas Duke of Hamilton and Brandon was extremely amicable and had clearly been agreed on beforehand.  They had been married in 1778, and the libel stated that his adultery began in 1787, without naming the ‘Lady or Woman’ with whom he was then guilty.  The case was founded on another affair, carried on over the months preceding the summons in November 1793.  His mistress was ‘Mrs. Eisten the actress’, and he brought her to Hamilton and took her along to Arran where they could be seen together by all the servants.  Her Grace, having left Hamilton a year earlier, had no trouble obtaining her divorce.  She remarried, but not until 1800, so that could not have been the motive for bringing the divorce action.”

In the Duchess’s mind, this divorce action had roots in Hamilton’s previous affair with the Earl of Eglinton’s wife, neé Frances Twysden, around 1787.  The then 31 year old Hamilton would visit Lady Eglinton at night, including when Lord Eglinton was shortly away at supper.  Their congress occurred with such regularity that the Earl’s servant, Montgomery Lawson, was boldly asked by Lady Eglinton, “if he would admit the Duke of Hamilton into her bedchamber”.  He refused.  She admitted the married duke anyway and so continued her not-so-discreet affair.

For another 12 years, Hamilton continued in as much the same manner as he had before his divorce.  Despite the duke’s stimulating lifestyle, however, he failed to remarry and died at the age of 43.  He did have an illegitimate child with the actress Harriet Pye Bennett (at the time called Mrs. Esten), but never produced issue.  The title passed to his father’s youngest brother, Archibald Hamilton, the 5th duke’s eldest living son.  Archibald Hamilton, the 9th duke, was only 16 years older than the 8th duke, and unlike dukes 5 through 8 who succumbed to illness before their mid-forties, Archibald managed to overcome what had proven to be a delicate constitution in the exalted line and lived until the ripe age of 79.

Hogarth’s The Harlot’s Progress, Plate 1

Wherein Moll Hackabout, a country miss, arrives in London and pauses at the Bell Inn off Cheapside, a thoroughfare just east of St. Paul’s Church, which westward past Drury Lane and southward to St. James’s connects the primary area’s of the London sex trade.


As with all five plates, Hogarth uses plenty of rich imagery, leaving much to be dissected.  Moll and Mother Needham stand at center stage but beyond them, the dense figures and bustling scenery dim, giving us the impression of the workings that will bring Moll to her downfall.  What we are seeing here is Moll’s first foray into debauchery except she doesn’t quite know it yet.  Mother Needham is gesturing to her with a kindly posture, presumably offering assistance to the confused girl.  Moll’s trunk, bearing her initials MH, sits to the right in the street beside a dead goose with a tag strung around its neck saying: “my lofing cosen in Tems stret in London”.  Thames street, which runs parallel to the river, is home to Moll’s relations, where she is likely headed for a visit, but instead she has been waylaid by the bawd, promised God-knows-what, with the rakish Colonel Charteris looking appraisingly on.

(click for larger view)

Mother Needham and Colonel Charteris

Both historical figures, Mother Needham was the procuress of the most exclusive bawdy house in 18th century London.  Her clientele numerated among the aristocracy as well as the merchant rich, and she would go to any length to acquire new girls.  Trickery was a means of daily profit.  As in Moll’s case, she preyed on girls fresh from the country who had likely come to London to gain domestic employ.  The wagon to the left of Moll, where two girls nervously sit, brought goods and on occasion passengers into town.  All Mother Needham need do is convince them of their good luck in acquiring a post, thereby negating their journey to the intelligence office.  Similar to the vague explanations given to Fanny in Fanny Hill, these girls would have thought themselves ahead of the game as country misses looking to work in the city were a dime a dozen.  Once the seemingly proper Mother Needham conveyed them back to her establishment–Park Place, St. James–she would have arranged a quick debauchery and indebted the girl to her sordid service by means of outfitting the girl in new gowns paid by the Mother herself.

Colonel Charteris,  known at the “rape-master general”, had a reputation for hiring young female dometics for the sole purpose of luring them into his bed.  Even before his trial for the rape of Anne Bond, he solicited girls to work in his household using an alias for fear that if they recognized the infamous Charteris name, they would avoid him at all costs.  His trial in 1730 resulted in a capital felony and a death sentence.  The then 70 year old rake was carted off to Newgate prison, but two months later, he was pardoned by King George II at the insistence of, among others, his victim, Anne Bond.  Charteris, however, was a very rich man and was known to throw his money at important political figures when his foulness ran him aground.  Anne Bond, disgraced by the trial wherein the defense accused her of immorality and thievery, was rumored to have received an annuity from Charteris which would have secured her a steady income where otherwise she would’ve greatly suffered from lack of tolerable employment.

The Background

A few additional details in plate one are worth noticing.  Clockwise from the left of Moll are two toppling baskets, suggestive of Moll’s imperiled virtue.  Above the baskets are the two country girl’s, witness to what may very well await them at the next wagon stop.   On a horse that’s blithely eating hay we have a clergyman who, instead of rescuing Moll from Mother Needham, is cocking his head in persual of a letter or perhaps a list.  To the right of the clergyman’s hat a woman hangs a pair of stocking–undergarments–out to dry.  Eight pairs of hands are shown throughout the plate, each relaying an emotion.  Charteris is fishing around in his overcoat pocket, his fingers alarmingly near the fall of his breeches, whereas the pimp, John Gourlay, is crossing his hands in a speculative manner.

Back at the plate’s foreground with Moll and Mother Needham, Moll is arresting her wrist, the palm of one hand gesturing toward the bawd and, further on, the men.  Mother Needham lays a gentle hand on Moll’s chin, a slight smile on her patched face as she tilts Moll’s face to full inspection.  To the inexperienced, Mother Needham would have appeared respectable.  She is wearing fine fashionable clothing, the expense apparent in the manner her silken gown falls and catches the light.   The numerous patches on her face, although suggestive of degeneracy in our eyes, were a common indication of pock marks.  When used to a lesser degree (although some ladies did wear seven or eight), they announced a deliberate flirtation or lack thereof (see To Patch or Not to Patch).  Mother Needham’s additional accessories–gloves, a fan, and a pocket watch–were also ordinary.  The taking off of one glove for skin to skin contact, the pointing of a closed fan, and the visible watch to suggest a careful keeping of hours, however, were anything but.