The Qualities of a Gentleman

A_Gentleman_at_Heart_posterNicola here. An astonishing twelve years ago, I wrote a blog piece about what constituted a gentleman in the modern era. Is it dress, manners, background or behaviour? I was thinking about this again recently (and indeed, wondering what makes a "lady" in the equivalent sense) after reading a depressing article in the paper at the weekend which claimed that everyone is getting ruder as a result of the pandemic making us forget how to relate to one another and the pressures of modern life being to great. The article cited stories of drunken fighting in the theatre and abuse of waiting staff in restaurants, of cities like York overrun with Hen Parties and places like Cheltenham  (surely not that centre of Regency society!) becoming no-go areas at night when the races are on. And yet, if you go online, there are any number of websites giving advice on the sort of qualities a modern lady or gentleman should cultivate. It seems there is still a demand for guidance on good behaviour. And a lot of us are still entranced by the manners and mores of past times.

It was all so much more clear cut a few centuries ago. In 1583 Sir Thomas Smith wrote: “One who can live idly and without manual labour and will bear the port (deportment) and countenance of a gentleman, he shall be taken for a gentleman.” The luxury goods and extravagant clothing of late 16th and 17th century London were an avenue to social mobility. Sumptuary legislation – the laws that governed the types of clothes that the different social classes were entitled to wear – had lapsed and a consumer revolution was taking over. Eighty years after Smith was writing, the diarist John Evelyn complained: “How many times have I saluted the fine man for the master, and stood with my hat off to the gay feather, when I found the bird to be all this while but a daw.” In other words, in the 17th century smart clothes and an appearance of wealth made the gentleman. Or perhaps gave the appearance of a gentleman.

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Oranges and Lemons, Say the Bells of St. Clements

Raphaelle Peale (American artist, 1774-1825) Orange And A BookOranges and Lemons,

Ring ye bells at St. Clements.
When will you pay me,
Ring ye Bells at ye Old Bailey.
When I am Rich,
Ring ye Bells at Fleetditch.
     Tradtional Counting Rhyme 

There are any number of interpretations as to what this all means, but I see it mostly a reminder that poetry does not necessarily have to make sense.

Joanna here, talking about Regency oranges.

Those of us with a keen interest in botany will have noticed that oranges — not to mention lemons — don't thrive in the British climate.  Well, maybe down in south Devon where hopeful souls sometimes plant palm trees.  But citrus isn't plucked off the tree on Hampstead Heath or in the Welsh mountains.

What is an orange doing in an old, old counting rhyme?
Not to mention lemons.
How come?

Because the Regency and Georgian folks imported their oranges (and lemons) enthusiastically or grew them enthusiastically in greenhouses.  

Musee carnavalet orangerie exterior Paris 1


I'll just wander off track for a minute to point out that greenhouse in the Regency didn't mean a building all made of glass with a roof of glass panes.  That's Victorian.  In the Regency a greenhouse was a tall room with high windows, like this to the right.

Sometimes, they called them orangeries.
I think not.

In the Regency we're talking about three different species of oranges, just because life is complicated.

Our first guest orange  . . . the bitter one.

The oraOrangeBloss_wbnge is another of those marvelous botanical productions of the Orient, like lychees and tea and peaches.  They've been cultivated in China for four thousand years, in several varieties. The bitter or sour orange, Citrus aurantium— what we'd call a Seville orange — made a complicated journey overland to Europe, piggybacking its way from the Middle East to Italy and Spain with the returning Crusaders.

Here's a picture of an early orange in Van Eyck's Amolfini Portrait of 1434.  This picture records a
Van_Eyck_-_Arnolfini_Portrait full sizemarriage and it's just bristling with nifty references faithfulness and fertility. 

Van_Eyck_-_Arnolfini_Portrait detailSee those those oranges in the Van Eyck painting, over next to the window?  Symbolic as heck.

Oranges were symbolic of marriage, maybe because the plant bears its flowers and its fully ripened fruit at the same time, thus being both the potential fertility of the innocent flower and the fecundity of the plump fruit. 
Queen Victoria wore orange blossoms in her hair at her wedding.  Maybe some of the folks reading this today wore them too.  You can look at that Van Eyck and know the symbol is more than 500 years old.

As a totally unrelated side comment, Isobel Carr points out that the little dog in that picture might just be the earliest depiction of a pet animal in a European painting. 
Its name is Max.
. . . Okay.  I'm kidding about the name.

They called the bitter orange a 'Seville orange' because that's where they were grown and shipped from in Tudor times and beyond. 
Our English, French and other European folks used skin, juice, root, leaf and branch in
medicine and for making cordials and syrups and orange-water for scent
and flavoring.

"Nor can I blame you, if a drop you take,
of orange-water, for perfuming-sake."
John Breval

Seville oranges nowadays are used about exclusively for making that wonderful marmalade you can still pick up in the grocery if you go searching a while for the authentic stuff.  It's the same marmalade they made in Regency times.  When you spread it on your toast, you can think about Elizabeth Bennet doing pretty much the same, except she's sitting across the breatkfast table from Mr. Darcy.

Looking next at . . . 
. . .  Ahem. 
Eyes off Mr. Darcy, if you please.  Thank you.

Turning to this second type of orange, I hear you saying, "What about the sweet orange, Citrus sinensis, my supermarket orange, the ones that the lack of is like a day without sunshine, the ones Nell Gywn sold at Drury Lane?"

I will pause an instant to offer Samuel Pepys' take on orange juice:
"and here, which I never did before, I drank a glass, of a pint, I believe, at one draught, of the juice of oranges, of whose peel they make comfits; and here they drink the juice as wine, with sugar, and it is very fine drink; but, it being new, I was doubtful whether it might not do me hurt. "

Anyhow, these newcomer sweet oranges showed up in the 1500s.  They were called sweet oranges because, well, they were sweet, and China oranges to distinguish them from the Seville oranges which were not so sweet.  'China' because, unlike their bitter cousins, they didn't migrate slowly overland.  They arrived in style by ship, brought by Portuguese and Italian merchants directly from China. 

This is when the orange became a hand-eating f3 Francis Wheatley (English artist, 1747-1801) Cries of London 1792-1795 Sweet China Oranges, Sweet Chinaruit, sold in baskets on the street.  Nell Gywn, before she became mistress of King Charles II and presumably went out of the retail fruit business, was one of the scantily clad young women who sold sweet oranges in the Drury Lane Theatre (sixpence apiece,) for the refreshment of the patrons and as a handy means of expressing dissatisfaction with the performance.

In case you were wondering — as who has not — whether the orange fruit was named after the color,

("Oh look! There's a whole bunch of oranges up in the tree, and some reds over on this tree and look at all those blues down here on the bushes.")

or the color was named after the fruit.  I can set your mind at rest.
The color is named after the fruit.
The word orange meandered into English from the Sanskrit word for the fruit —nāranja — through Arabic, Old Provencal, Old French and Middle English.

Before the Fourteenth Century, folks had to refer to the color as geoluhread.  As in, "Wow. Love your geoluhread i-pod!"  Geoluhread would roughly translate as yellow-red and I am sure we are all grateful to Sanskrit for its intervention into what would have been a dismal shade with a long name.

How common were oranges in Georgian and Regency England?  How expensive? 
In the mid-1700s oranges sold on the street four a penny when hot cross buns were 'one a penny, two a penny'.  That doesn't seem outrageously expensive, does it — two oranges for the price of a bun? 

Zurbaran 1633 still life

lemons and oranges in 1633

Karl Phillip Moritz, about that time, wrote, "All over London as one walks, one everywhere, in the
season, sees oranges to sell, and they are in general sold tolerably cheap, one and even sometimes two for a halfpenny."

By 1828, one could speak of "The China, or sweet oranges, with which this country is now so amply supplied, and at such moderate prices that all classes of society enjoy them as perfectly as if they had been indigenous to the climate."  John S. Skinne


Francisco_de_zurbaran about 1630

a really annoyed cup, above

And our third orange? 

It was almost the blood orange.  I mean, there the blood orange was, in Italy, as a
mutation among sweet oranges in the 1600s.  Really no reason it couldn't have been a trade item.
I'd love to add it to the Regency table.

But it looks like they weren't imported.  Mention is made of blood orange trees brought into England as greenhouse curiosities in the 1820s. I suppose some intrepid traveller might have brought back a box of fruit for friends any time. 

Must have been a shock when that first blood orange was cut open at the table for everyone to see.

But the third of the Regency orange trio turns out to be the mandarin orange, the tangerine, our friend Citrus reticulata, which is technically a kind of orange rather than a separate fruit altogether, if we listen to those tricky botanists who dabble in such matters.  Trees were brought to England direct from China — the word mandarin is a dead giveaway — in about 1805. It settled into the greenhouses of England.  Not a fruit for the street crowd.  An exotic treat.  As late as 1817, a botanist could say it was a pity none of the countries exporting citrus to England had established the tangerine as a crop. 

After 1805, your Regency heroine might be offered a mandarin, sensuously peeled, by someone who owns a very fancy greenhouse.  A spiffy little factoid.

Seville orange leMoynCOME buy my fine oranges, sauce for your veal,

And charming when squeez'd in a pot of brown ale;
Well roasted, with sugar and wine in a cup,
They'll make a sweet bishop when gentlefolks sup.


The world would be a poorer place without oranges — and I happen to notice I've got a half-eaten clementine beside me as I write this post.

What's your favorite oranges recipe?  I used lemons to make a fancy syllabub not so very long ago, but I bet it'd be equally good with oranges.  And I love me some orange cake.  Also Benedictine-just-abour-anything.

One lucky commenter gets to pick a copy of any of my books.

Mr. Darcy

Hi, here's Jo, about to be a bit iconoclastic about our Fitzwilliam Darcy. And even about Colin Firth. You have been warned!

I can't remember when I first read Pride and Predjudice,  but it was in my teens. I adored it, but looking back it wasn't about Darcy at all. For me it was a Cinderella story and Darcy was the placeholder for the Prince. The Prince in this context is the prize, the gold medal, the goblet. He's set up as the local prize, and as unattainable.

For many readers (and viewers) Darcy clearly is that other character, the Romantic Hero. He stirs romantic emotions and dreams and makes the heart beat faster. This is fine, but it's not like that for me.

Which is Darcy for you? Or do you disagree with my analysis entirely?

Of the recent screen Darcys, I prefer David Rintoul, though none have hit the spot for me, perhaps because they were all supposed to be Romantic Hero Darcy rather that Prince Darcy. Prince Darcy would put all the emphasis on his wealth, status, and unreachablity. Romantic Darcy requires some dash and earthiness that undermines that. Colin Firth is a great actor and could have done Prince Darcy perfectly, but instead we see him fencing — fencing! — and emerging bedraggled from a lake.

MdgcI've been thinking about this because I was sent a review copy of an amusing book, Mr. Darcy's Guide to Courtship, by of course Fitzwilliam Darcy, "as dictated to Miss Emily Brand." This is a nicely presented volume on heavy cream paper with greyscale period illustrations and some new drawings that fit in perfectly. It has a period feel without losing readability and would make an excellent gift for an Austen fan.

It's more of a dipping book than one to read straight through, but the dips are tasty. The book draws on period resources, most of them pre-Regency, and there are plenty of Austen references and devices, such as the "ludicrous examples of studied compliments' of Mr. Collins."

 Darcy lays out the appropriate behaviours for gentlemen and ladies, but primarily for the gentlemen, on "Making Oneself Ageeable", "Selecting a Bride" etc, and even has as "Ask Darcy" section at the end. This is Darcy before he meets Elizabeth Bennet, haughty, cynical and wry. Right at the beginning it says, "There are some errata in this book, but the Author says he is too busy and important to give you a note of them." You see — Prince Darcy.

This book is delightful as a pastime, but there are period details, literary references and wry depths that reward repeat visits.

Mr. Darcy's Guide to Courtship, from Old House Books.

Seduction in Silk is out now, so if you don't have your copy, make haste! Readers in the UK now have a UK e-book edition (with an odd cover, I must say) but for a print edition must go for the moment to The Book Depository, which ships book free.




A New Slant on Writing

Book-cover-pride-and-prejudiceIn the Matthew Macfadyen / Keira Knightley 2005 production of Pride and Prejudice, there's a scene where Mr. Darcy is writing a letter, despite Miss Bingley's determination he shall pay attention to her instead.  It reads, in part:

Elizabeth took up some needlework, and was sufficiently amused in attending to what passed between Darcy and his companion. The perpetual commendations of the lady either on his hand-writing, or on the evenness of his lines, or on the length of his letter, with the perfect unconcern with which her praises were received, formed a curious dialogue, and was exactly in unison with her opinion of each.

"How delighted Miss Darcy will be to receive such a letter!"

He made no answer.

"You write uncommonly fast."

"You are mistaken. I write rather slowly."

"How many letters you must have occasion to write in the course of the year! Letters of business too! How odious I should think them!"

"It is fortunate, then, that they fall to my lot instead of to yours."

In that scFashionable letter 2 writer troy ny merrian moore 1850eHenry wallis dr johnson at cave's the publisherne, we see Mr. Darcy writing his letter using a "writing slope''.  Go ahead.  Rent the film and see. 

This 'writing slope' is a wood box with an angled surface, elevated a couple inches above the desk or table, slanted and padded with felt or leather.  See the folks at the left using these.  The man in the wig is Samuel Johnson. 

Pole In the Library 1805This writing slope might be a heavy object, made for use in the comfort of the library or study.  It might stay at home, perfectly content, and never go adventuring.  Or the writing slant might lead a very exciting life indeed … 


Toward the end of the Eighteenth Century, the writing slope shrank in size, sprouted handles, and transformed itself into a sort of traveling desk.  Jefferson's desk wiki2 Lap_desk_interior_view wiki

It was now both a a writing surface and a sturdy wood box for transporting and storing the impedimenta.  Like the stay-at-home writing slopes, these traveling desks or 'lap desks' were angled to provide that optimal slanted writing experience. 

That writing desk on the far right, by the way, is said to have belonged to Thomas Jefferson.  

The lap desk was hinged in the middle and opened to reveal the felted or leather writing surface.  Underneath each half were compartments for storing writing paper and letters half completed.  Maybe there'd be a slim drawer at the end, especially in the early examples.  In any case, you'd have your ingenious cubbies to hold ink bottles and quill pens, sealing wax, silver sand, blotters, penwipes and so on.  Some of the most elaborate lap desks had sneaky little compartments lurking behind the drawers or opening with clever, secret levers and slides.

A man's penmanship is an unfailing index of his character, moral and mental, and a criterion by which to judge his peculiarities of taste and sentiments.
                 Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield

Portable writing desk c18
This sturdy, portable writing desk was the computer laptap of the Regency, encouraging literacy and correspondence on shipboard and battlefield, at any stray country inn or during the occasional stint in prison. 

From the name 'lap desk' you'd think you could use them in your lap.  But they folded in the middle, you see, so I feel a certain skepticism.  On the other hand, computer laptops aren't used in laps either, most generally, so it is a lesson not to be so literal.

Gd writing box 2

Seeing Mr. Darcy engage in writing on his writing slope sent me to hauling out a lap desk that belonged to my grandfather.  It's about a century old, I would think, and an inexpe nsive example of theLetter breed.  The felted writing surface is worn and torn.  Some of the wood's stained.  But it got a lot of use, writing letters home.    

Gd writing desk 11aThis one for instance, on the left.  I like to think it was written using that writing desk.

Looking at all this collection of images across the centuries, I spent a while considering why folks liked to write at a slant, did it for so long, and then just seemed to lose the desire.  Slanted writing surfaces seem to peter out in the Twentieth Century. 

In what was a flash of insight for me, but may be obvious to everybody else, I decided ink flows more easily if the downward stroke is laid across paper at a slant.  On flat paper the writing is more likely to pool and blot when the ink flows with unruly haste. 
When we gave up quill pens and fountain pens, we also gave up the leisurely application of pen to gracefully slanted paper.  

… the beauty and nobility, the august mission and destiny, of human handwriting.
                 George Bernard Shaw

I see artists working on a huge slanted surface.  Anybody here use a slant for writing or drawing?  For calligraphy?