My 1820 Annual Register arrived yesterday courtesy Kenny’s Bookshop of Galway. What I want to do is sit down and read it. But I can’t because I need to work out the details of the plot of my new book (yes, I am Outline Girl). Oh, right, and there’s that tome on Venice I need to study.
Luckily, the blog offers the perfect excuse to indulge my curiosity about the world my heroes and heroines lived in and share my discoveries. Here are some samples from the Annual Register and elsewhere of what was going on during the last couple of weeks of January in 1820.
First, as Susan/Miranda pointed out, on the 22nd, Lord Byron celebrated his 32nd birthday. The relevant volume of Byron’s Letters and Journals (Marchand, ed.) does not offer a birthday letter or diary entry but here’s Marchand’s translation of the note Byron wrote in Italian to his lover, the Countess Teresa Guiccioli, a week later:
My Love–You are mistaken–I remember nothing of it–and I beg you not to do anything similar without reason.–You have no debts with me if not of Love for which there ‘remains in credit’ for the whole of the present day R.i 1000,000,000. B
Evidently she sent him some money, which he returned with the note, asking if she was mad.
From the 1820 Annual Register entries for January:
25. Tuesday’s Gazette.–DEATH OF HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS THE DUKE OF KENT.
Whitehall, Jan. 24.
Yesterday morning, at 10 o’clock, departed this life, at Sidmouth, after a short illness, his royal highness Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathern, his majesty’s fourth son, to the great grief of all the royal family.
The Lord Chamberlain issues orders for the Court’s going into mourning:
The ladies to wear black bombazins, plain muslin or long lawn, crape hoods, chamois shoes and gloves, and crape fans. (This image is of 1817 mourning attire, courtesy Regency Library and Moonstone Research.)
Undress.–Dark Norwich crape.
The gentlemen to wear black cloth, without buttons on the sleeves or pockets, plain muslin or long lawn cravats and weepers, chamois shoes and gloves, crape hatbands, and black swords and buckles.
Undress.–Dark gray frocks.
Elsewhere, on the 27th–in ARCHES COURT, Doctors’ Commons. George Norton, esq., brings a suit “to annul his marriage on the ground of his own impotency!” [Exclamation point theirs.] The lawyers scrambled for precedents. The judge wondered, among other things, how George had failed to notice he was impotent before he got married and why he didn’t mention this as a possible impediment when he got his marriage license, and what made him decide to bring up the matter seven years later.
Meanwhile on this day, in the Court of Chancery, the Lord Chancellor was “occupied until eleven in his private room” with “a motion for an injunction to restrain the earl of Coventry from encouraging the marriage of his daughter, who is only 17 years of age, with Mr. Gresley, who is not 20 years of age, a student of the University of Oxford, and son of Sir George Gresley; and also to restrain the young people from having any communication or correspondence with each other, during the minority of the lady.” Yes, both fathers were fine with the marriage, but apparently the plaintiff–someone named Atherly (no other identification provided) is a joint guardian of the daughter, and doesn’t approve.
Hmm. Why was Atherly a joint guardian? Was this perhaps a natural daughter of Lord Coventry? Was she really Atherly’s daughter, adopted by his lordship?
Does this sound like a possible story line to you?
Then, on the 29th, at 8:35 p.m., King George III breathed his last. “His majesty expired, without pain,” according to the five physicians in attendance.
Interestingly, for some days before his father’s death, the new king, formerly the Prince Regent, had been suffering from “a violent cold, which settled in his lungs.” Since inflammations of the lungs could be fatal in those days, England very nearly lost him, too, in this eventful January. Some believe this would have been no great loss, and I do sympathize with that point of view. I am not sure, had I known the Prince Regent personally or had I lived in his time, that I would have liked him. And probably the same goes for Lord Byron. For one thing, they both could have used lots and lots of therapy. But if they had had what we consider treatment–injesting antidepressants instead of wine and/or laudanum–they might not have been so interesting.
To me, anyway. After all, I didn’t have to live with them. Instead, I reap the benefits of what they contributed to the world. In the case of King George IV, this includes some of the most beautiful as well as the most extraordinary architecture in England. In Byron’s case, this includes some of my favorite poetry, most especially Don Juan, and the joy of reading his amazingly vibrant letters and journals. In the course of my research, I read a lot of letters and journals of the early 19th C (see my blog Is he for real?, regarding boring letters and biographies). His are most certainly far above the common run. I can hear his voice, and there is no other like it.
Yesterday, at the library, I read an introduction to a book on Venice in which the author said that he hated Byron but was forced to put him in the book (it is a collection of views of Venice by various famous persons) because he was a major figure of the time period for that particular chapter. The author, on the other hand, thought the world of Ruskin. Well, I knew we were not going to see eye to eye, so I put that book back on the shelf.
What about you? How personally do you take the past and those who lived there? Does it give you any insight into yourself and your world? And the dangerous question: Should artists and royals be judged by normal standards or do we put them in a special category as, say, different species?