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THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY:
OR ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE MANNERS AND CUSTOMS OF OUR GRAND
BY ALEXANDER ANDREWS. If it were possible for us to retrace but three steps down the ladder of time, we should alight into a world which we should not recognise as our own-as rich in curiosities as the buried cities of Italy and of which, in the course of another generation, we shall know as little about the domestic customs as we do about the every-day life of Etruria. So rapidly do the manners of a nation change. Time leads men into different paths from those in which their grandfathers trod ; and the period of a century frequently makes the generations which it separates as different people from each other as a rolling ocean or leagues of desert country-different in their tastes--different in their ideas-different in their employments-different in their inclinations, as well as in their dress and customs.
England in the present century no more resembles England in the last, than the native inhabitants of Australia resemble those of Africa ; and the progress which science has made, in the invention of gas, and the various applications of steam and electricity, have not only altered the aspects of our streets and the face of our country, but have altered the life, public and private, of ourselves. England may almost be said to have been in a transition state during the last century. Arousing, after the revival of letters, when the religious bigotry which had held her in chains was conquered, and people began to interchange and compare ideas through the extension of the press, she languidly shook off her fetters and began the work of improvement; but her plans were not yet properly matured, and her social arrangements appear at times strange and eccentrie. Out of them our own customs have grown, but they are so changed as to preserve little or no likeness of the originals. Our criminal code might be the code of a different country, for all the resemblance it bears to that of 1720_our modes of travelling are as much like those which our grandsires pursued, as a locomotive is like a packhorse-our newspapers, how different from the diminutive sheets of the last century-our trim policeman, how little he resembles the aged sentinel who woke our grandfathers up every hour in the night, to tell them what o'clock it was !-our well-kept roads, how improved upon the old roads, abounding in holes and ruts !-our cities, a blaze of light at night, seem to throw the subject of street appearances a hundred years ago into a deeper darkness. Would it, then, be an unprofitable task to inquire into the state in which generations, removed from us only by one or two, existed, and to preserve some memorials of their domestic habits and customs—to collect, in illustration of the history of public affairs, facts connected with every-day life, and to place and arrange them in our Museum? We think not. We may alternately have cause for congratulation or for regret, as we see the changes which time has
effected ; if the former, it should make us more contented with our condition ; if the latter, it will open our eyes to the means of improving it.
Why should we allow this particular century to roll away into the ocean of history, without analysing each drop of which it was composed ? There is yet a chance of ascertaining how the people who then existed passed their time-how they travelled—how they dressed-what they did, said, and thought; and shall we reject this information, and slight the subject, because it can boast no high antiquity ?
Our Museum will, we think, contain some curious specimens, and we will do our best to label and describe them-putting, as it were, the EIGHTEENTH CENTURY carefully away in our cabinet for more able philosophers than ourselves to moralise upon. Such sketches as may be offered of the men and women of the time will be drawn by themselves ; the descriptions of their ways of living taken from the books in which they have related them-genuine, authentic, and contemporary; and no assertion will be made but upon the best authority.
Of such materials, then, our Museum will be composed. We throw it open, and invite those who are curious about the life their fathers led before them, to come and see. It is but patchwork, but it is the panorama of a hundred years ago—a view no longer obscured by the fogs and mists of time, for the leading features may be discerned and brought back to the eye.
We have swept the dust from our specimens—come and look at them.
FASHIONABLE LIFE IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY. The follies of fashion have always been considered legitimate marks for the satirist and the playwright to aim their shafts at, which have frequently done more execution among these flimsy trappings of civilisation than the heavy artillery discharged against them by the philosopher or the divine. Addison, and the other essayists, and Fielding, and his brother-novelists, knew how to expose the trumpery in the light in which its transparency was the most obvious, and yet Fashion, poor silly thing! remained true to its principles, at the sacrifice of its reputation ; the works of these keen and clever observers were no sooner sought after from their intrinsic value, than she, poor suicide! true to her governing rule of following in the steps of the wealthy and the most shining characters, put her stamp upon the very publications which laughed her to scorn ; purchased the ink that poisoned the feathered dart with which they pierced her ; in fact, signed the bill of indictment which they had prepared against her. No publications of their time it was more « fashionable" to read and speak of than “ The Tatler,".“ The Spectator,” and “ The Guardian;" yet what were the avowed purposes with which they were written? “ To correct,” says the opening address of “ The Tatler,” “ the follies, foibles, and fashions of the time."
But it is always so. Every sly inuendo to which we may be equally open, we consider is levelled at our neighbour, and laugh him to scorn, not thinking, or not knowing, we are enjoying a good joke upon ourselves. And thus the world of fashion cried “ Good? good !" to the very figure
which it saw but did not recognise in the looking-glass which the essayists and satirists held up to it.
Several of these features of the fashionable world of the last century were so prominent as to demand a separate chapter to themselves, but we may take a general glance at the prevailing tastes and occupations of the “ton,” the "beau monde,” the " quality,” the "town," or whatever other distinctive appellation it may have gone by.
In the last century, the fashionable world resided much nearer to the smoke of London than would be now considered beneficial to the complexions of a generation which has grown more sparing of the use of paint and cosmetics. The fashionable world disdained not Holborn, and was very aristocratic in Bloomsbury; Bedford-row, Bloomsbury-square, Brunswick-square, Mecklenburg-square, with the streets thereunto appertaining, were its habitations early in the century; then, defying even highwaymen and burglars in its anxiety to escape the threatened invasion of the “ merchant princes” from their mansions in Broad-street, Billitersquare, Goodman's-fields, and Bishopsgate, it pushed as far as Hanoversquare, Gower-street, and Great Coram-street; thence it dispersed, as the city carrion trod upon its toes, into Piccadilly and Pall-mall. Now it has gone mad, and the impertinence of citizens and traders, who attempted to intrude within its sacred precincts, has forced it to emigrate to the formerly unheard-of regions of Shepherd's Bush, Notting-hill, or Pimlico.
The rents at the West-end of the town appear to have been very moderate in Swift's time; the expense of the journey to and fro was sufficient to exclude the city man of business then. Under date “ September 21st, 1710," the Dean informs Stella that he has taken lodgings in Bury-street, “ the first floor, a dining-room and bed-chamber, at eight shillings a week.” This, too, he calls “ plaguy dear," and thinks “it will be expensive." In 1733, Alderman Barber (then Lord Mayor), complains to him of his chaplain, the Rev. Mr. Pilkington, giving « the extravagant sum of thirty pounds a year for lodgings," when, if he had lived in the city, he might have got them for ten or twelve. (Apropos of rooms and lodgings: the art of paper-hanging was, at this time, seldom called into use. As late as June 27th, 1752, Fielding, in his “ Covent Garden Journal,” says, “ Our printed paper is scarcely distin. guishable from the finest silk, and there is scarcely a modern house which hath not one or more rooms lined with this furniture." Previously to this time, the better sort of rooms had continued to be hung with tapestry.)
London was then only winter-quarters, and at the time of which we were speaking, when it went out of town (which it did in May, and returned in October), the fashionable world at first resorted to Islington, “ to drink the waters," to Hampstead, or to Chelsea Swift, in his “ Journal to Stella,” repeatedly alludes to “ Addison's country-house at Chelsea ;” and, on taking lodgings there himself, talks of the beautiful scent of the new-made hay around, and says he gets quite sunburnt in his journeys to and fro, and whenever he stays late in London, he congratulates himself on having no money, so that he cannot be robbed on his way home. That this was no burlesque, the following confirmatory extracts will show :
* Many persons arrived in town from their country-houses in Marybone."- Daily Journal, October 15, 1728.
“ The Right Honourable Sir Robert Walpole comes to town this day from Chelsea.”-Ibid.
But even at this distance, Trade hotly pressed again, and Fashion fled in dismay to Tonbridge Wells, Scarborough, Broadstairs, or Bath (“the Bath,” as it was then styled). How it has left these, and sought refuge by turns at Dover, Brighton, Worthing, Hastings, Cheltenham, Leamington, Buxton, &c., is within our own memories; in despair, a discomfited fragment of it actually secreted itself at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, and thence fled to Weston-super-Mare, but were, we believe, lost in the desert, or starved for want of supplies, and devoured by the hungry aborigines; while others, following the example of the Queen, place time and distance as barriers against the pursuit of Trade, and escape him by getting to the Isle of Wight or the Highlands, where the London tradesman cannot get a day-ticket to enable him to intrude upon them. Paris, Brussels, even the Rhine, are no longer sacred to them; Baden-Baden, Rome, Florence-in none are they secure. What will be the result of this cruel persecution we know not, but may expect the fashionable world will have to take refuge in the Arctic Regions, where it will certainly be ice-elated enough, and whence it can send its fashions in “furs and other novelties of the winter season,” by the returning whale-ships.
But, to return to the period when the world of fashion lived in Holborn, and went to Islington and Lambeth Wells to drink the waters. We do not often meet with it taking a carriage airing in the Parks, or lounging in Kensington Gardens to hear the band, but its occupations were equally insipid. An old writer (Mackay, in his “Journey through England”), in 1724, describes its proceedings thus :-" The street called Pall-mall is the ordinary residence of all strangers, because of its vicinity to the king's palace, the park, the parliament-house, the theatres, and the chocolate and coffee-houses, where the best company frequent. We rise by time, and those that frequent great men's levees find entertainment at them till eleven, or, as in Holland, go to tea-tables. About twelve, the beau monde assembles in several chocolate and coffee-houses, the best of which are the Cocoa Tree and White's Chocolate-houses, the Saint James's, the Smyrna, and the British Coffee-houses; and all these so near one another, that in less than an hour you see the company in them all. We are carried to these places in chairs. If it be fine weather, we take a turn in the Park till two, and if it be dirty, you are entertained at piquet or basset at White's, or you may talk politics at the Smyrna or Saint James's. At two we generally go to dinner, and in the evening to the playhouse. After the play, the best company generally go to Tom's and Will's Coffee-houses, near adjoining, where there is playing at piquet and the best of conversation till midnight. Here you will see blue-and-green ribbons and stars sitting familiarly with private gentlemen, and talking with the same freedom as if they had left their quality and degrees of distance at home ; or, if you like rather the company of ladies, there are assemblies at most people of quality's houses."
Besides these resorts, another favourite lounge for fashionables of both sexes was the Auction Rooms, at which articles of vertu, and nicknackery of all sorts, were sold; and among the evening entertainments, Fielding enumerates “plays, operas, and oratorios, masquerades and ridottos, assemblies, drums, routs, riots, and hurricanes.” At the last six of this list, card-playing, and, in fact, gambling were carried on to a terrible extent; and the four first, especially masquerades, lent a cloak to intrigue and debauchery, and proved the ruin of many of their female devotees.
Occasionally offensive as Fielding's works undeniably are, there is no writer of his time who approaches him for a faithful portraiture of men and manners. In “Joseph Andrews" he has handed down to us the journal of a man of fashion, of a period nearly twenty years later than Mackay's account, which we may quote as the picture, not the caricature, of a day's existence such as a “gentleman of quality” laboured through ia the year of grace 1740:
“In the morning I arose, took my great stick, and walked out in my green frock, with my hair in papers, and sauntered about till ten. Went to the Auction; told Lady B. she had a dirty face-laughed heartily at something Captain G. said (I can't remember what, for I did not very well hear it)-whispered Lord bowed to the Duke of — , and was going to bid for a snuff-box, but did not, for fear I should have had it. “From 2 to 4-dressed myself.
» 4 to 6-dined.
, 10 to 12–Drawing-room.” This may be presumed to have been the routine in the highest grade of the fashionable world; but our man of quality forfeited its esteem by refusing to fight a duel with an officer of whom he knew nothing, and he accordingly found himself slighted, “ Not-at-homed,” cut, and finally sent to Coventry by his acquaintance. Fallen from his sphere, he was content to join stars of less magnitude than his old associates, and now allied himself with a lower rank of fashionables—the beaux and loungers of the Temple, which comprised the several classes known as “ Bloods,” “Bucks,” Macaronies,” “ Biters,” and “Pretty Fellows” generally. The favourite haunts of these worthies appear to have been in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden, where they “made love to orange-wenches and damned plays.” But, as we shall, perhaps, examine this tribe more particularly in another place, we may take leave of the portrait which Fielding has drawn us of the man of fashion, merely adding, that after duly acquitting himself in that character, as a seducer, gambler, and debauchee of no scruples, he became surfeited with the amusements and follies of the town, and retired, a reformed and domestic man, into obscurity and a quiet country life.
Fielding, it will be seen, fixes the fashionable hour for dinner at four, but Mackay, twenty years previously, has it at two o'clock; and this is confirmed by Swift, who, we find, in his “Journal,” often speaks of dining at the nobility's houses, and getting home at five, six, and seven ; and, in one place, mentions dining at Secretary St. John's (Bolingbroke's) at three, and at Mr. Harley's (lord-treasurer) at four. We may assume, then, that in Queen Anne's reign, the "state" dinner-hour was no later