Doing some research about women in 18th-century elections, and came across two fabulous quotes. The first one is from a letter between two politicians during the 1754 parliamentary elections; the woman in question’s husband is involved in two separate elections in different towns in Dorset and she’s helping with his campaign:
“Mrs. Pitt tells me she has been a buck-hunting three days in the week at five o’clock in the morning, and drinking strong beer with the freeholders at that hour, to convince them she is an Englishwoman. She returns to-morrow to assist her worst half at the meeting of the seventh at Dorchester.”
And a commentary from before the same election, from Jackson’s Oxford Journal, about Lady Susan Keck, an important political hostess:
“I am far from thinking that the Ladies are unconcern’d in our Members [i.e. members of parliament/parliamentary affairs], or that they should sit primm’d with their hands passively before ’em, and their Mouths drawn up like the Purse of an old Usurer, whilst we are engaged in this important Business; but then neither would I have them swagger amongst the Men, and Holla, and roar, and fill out Bumpers with an Air more becoming Colonel Bully than Lady Dainty. Much less would I have Ladies of Distinction, out of an intemperate Zeal for their Country, send away from their Houses, not only Men, but even Persons of their own Sex, so disguised with Liquor as to merit the Stocks as an Example.”
Anecdote cited in a footnote of Electoral Behavior in Unreformed England, concerning “treating,” or the practice of patrons providing free food and drink for electors prior to a poll:
At the 1768 Northampton contest, the Earl of Halifax exhausted his store of mature port and turned in desperation to his choicest claret, whereupon the “rabble” deserted his side and joined the forces of the Earl of Northampton, “turning up their noses and vying ‘never to vote in the interest of a man who gave them sour port to drink.'”
Also, in one of the significant contested elections in Norwich, the incumbents were named Harbord Harbord and Edward Bacon. That’s just beautiful. They should have, I don’t know, a comic book series or a buddy cop show about them.
One copy of Proof by Seduction is still up for grabs in the comments of yesterday’s post–let me know if you want it!
But you know what I do hate unequivocally? Apocryphal historical anecdotes repeated as fact! Like how Columbus wanted to prove the world was round, or how Queen Victoria didn’t believe in lesbians. Now this is frequently a mistake made in good faith but I think that is what annoys me the most–how these lies become so ubiquitous they completely obscure the truth. Which leads me to:
2. It’s the anniversary of Waterloo this week (June 18th)! My January book A Lily Among Thorns is set in London in the two weeks before the battle.
But…they’re not actually the two weeks before the battle! They’re the two weeks before the news of the battle reached London, which is actually several days later–late on the night of June 21st. The news quickly spread, turning into an impromptu parade through the streets of London. It must have been so thrilling!
Of course, Nathan Rothschild knew about the outcome of the battle first. The popular story is that he went to the ‘Change and purposely led traders to believe he knew the battle had been lost! There was a panic and he was able to buy up “consols” (OED: “An abbreviation of Consolidated Annuities, i.e. the government securities of Great Britain”) at a very low price, seizing control of the Bank of England and making his fortune.
I totally believed this! You read about it everywhere! I included it in the first draft of A Lily Among Thorns. But oops, it is FALSE. Here’s what The House of Rothschild: Money’s Prophets 1798-1848 by Niall Ferguson has to say (link goes to the Kindle edition because I seriously could not find the paperback even when I looked at “other formats”–I kept getting the second volume in the series and I don’t know if the links are broken or if it’s out of print or what):
No doubt it was gratifying to receive the news of Napoleon’s defeat first, thanks to the speed with which Rothschild couriers were able to relay a newspaper version of the fifth and conclusive extraordinary bulletin–issued in Brussels at midnight on June 18–via Dunkirk and Deal to reach New Court [the location of the Rothschilds’ bank] on the night of the 19th. This was just twenty-four hours after Wellington’s victorious meeting with Blücher on the battlefield and nearly forty-eight hours before Major Henry Percy delivered Wellington’s official dispatch to the Cabinet as its members dined at Lord Harrowby’s house (at 11 p.m. on the 21st.) Indeed, so premature did Nathan’s information appear that it was not believed when he relayed it to the government on the 20th; nor was a second Rothschild courier from Ghent.
He then explains why Waterloo was actually financially disastrous for the Rothschilds, who were financing the British army and had all their money tied up in things that were suddenly no longer necessary–and no longer likely to be paid for by the gov’t.
In London, a frantic Nathan sought to make good the damage; and it is in this context that the firm’s purchases of British stocks have to be seen. On July 20, the evening edition of the London Courier reported that Nathan had made “great purchases of stock.” A week later Roworth heard that Nathan had “done well by the early information which you had of the Victory gained at Waterloo” and asked to participate in any further purchased of government stock “if in your opinion you think any good can be done.” This would seem to confirm the view that Nathan did indeed buy consols on the strength of his prior knowledge of the battle’s outcome. However, the gains made in this way cannot have been very great. As Victor Rothschild conclusively demonstrated, the recovery of consols from their nadir of 53 in fact predated Waterloo by over a week, and even if Nathan had made the maximum possible purchase of £20,000 on June 20, when consols stood at 56.5 and sold a week later when they stood at 60.6, his profits would barely have exceeded £7,000.
He goes on to demonstrate that the brothers were in dire financial straits all through 1815 and beyond although they did come out on top in the end, of course. He also talks at length about their disorganized accounting practices. The whole chapter is incredibly detailed and fascinating–I haven’t read the whole book yet but I want to.
There is a GREAT post on this topic at Risky Regencies here. I really recommend watching the video even though it’s kind of long–and if you don’t want to watch the whole thing, at LEAST watch the first couple minutes so you can see the clip from a Nazi propaganda film showing an exaggerated version of the apocryphal consols story.
What’s your favorite/least favorite apocryphal historical anecdote?
A really interesting excerpt from Byromania and the Birth of Celebrity Culture by Ghislaine McDayter, on the early 20th-century published collection of some of Byron’s fan letters (“To Lord Byron”: Feminine Profiles Based on Unpublished Letters, 1807-1824…which makes me sad because it seems to be the ONLY published collection of Byron’s fan letters and they’ve left out all the ones from men! Which are more relevant to my interests at this particular time even if there were probably less of them…):
“Henrietta writes to Byron asking for his ‘intellectual’ love, and the editors argue that such desires can only be disingenuous. They refer to a second letter as proof, this time from an older and more famous woman, Harriette Wilson: ‘Harriette Wilson even—the most notorious courtesan of the period—recently solicited [Byron’s] acquaintance, adding in a postscript to the effect that what she wanted was not love but an intellectual understanding!’ For these editors, the concept of a courtesan, let alone a starstruck virgin, being interested in a non-sexual relationship with Byron (and equally the concept that he could possibly be interested in such a thing) is dismissed as absurd. Yet, the women who write to Byron repeatedly make it clear that they are interested in some ‘other’ sort of relationship with him. Many speak of their fantasies of befriending his ex-lovers and his future wife, and if, as was sometimes the case, Byron did make a sexual advance on these women, he was often spurned. The “notorious” courtesan was particularly adept at putting Byron in his place, remarking curtly that although she had written in praise of Byron previously, she had merely ‘alluded to your understanding and common sense, not to your —— which I conceived to be entirely out of the question.'”
I haven’t read Harriette Wilson’s memoirs (yet) but she was obviously a snappy writer. Here’s what Sir Walter Scott had to say about her:
“She must have been assisted in the stile spelling and diction though the attempt at wit is poor—that at pathos is sickening. But there is some good retailing of conversations in which the stile of the speakers so far as known to me is exactly imitated.”
I love his assumption that since she’s a courtesan she must have had to be heavily edited! If the Byron letter is an example her “stile” and diction are excellent in their natural state.
I have a pet peeve. And a blog. Match made in Heaven!
I know language evolves. I like that about it, actually. But the way the word “Luddite” has evolved seems disrespectful to me of the original Luddites, who I learned a lot about while researching In for a Penny.
Nowadays, people use the word to mean someone who’s irrationally mistrustful of technology: “My grandmother’s such a Luddite, she won’t get a cellphone.” But here is the original meaning of the word (quoted from Wikipedia—the whole article is great):
The Luddites were a social movement of British textile artisans in the nineteenth century who protested—often by destroying mechanized looms—against the changes produced by the Industrial Revolution, which they felt was leaving them without work and changing their way of life.
Many of the mechanical looms were called “frames” because of their design, so the Luddites were also commonly referred to as “framebreakers.”
These people weren’t opposing technology on philosophical grounds. They weren’t superstitiously afraid of the coming time when the robots would rise up against their masters and enslave them in return. Nor were they simply stubborn and old-fashioned. They were losing their jobs, and there was no provision at all made in the shifting economy to absorb or retrain them.
The textile industry was changing rapidly in this era. Before the Industrial Revolution, skilled weavers worked out of their homes (their cottages, hence, “cottage industry”) in rural areas, using hand looms.
Then new machines were invented that moved weaving into factories in new industrial cities, and required only low-paid, unskilled labor to run them.
Of course, that’s an oversimplification, and the machines may have been not so much themselves the object of the workers’ wrath as simply an easy way to economically damage employers; here’s a great rundown from my current research book, Byron’s Romantic Celebrity by Tom Mole:
[The textile industry] went into crisis in the early 19th century, when economic depression at home and the loss of export markets in Napoleonic Europe and Revolutionary America hit hard. Wage cutting was endemic in the industry, and many workers suffered drastic hardships as wages fell or failed to keep pace with rising prices. A parliamentary committee investigating the situation in 1812 heard that wages were on average one-third lower than they had been in 1807 and before. The workers’ distress was exacerbated by at least three other factors, including the practice of payment in truck [my note: basically the “company store” system]; the introduction of cheaply produced low-quality stockings known as ‘cut-ups’; and the possibility of hiring juvenile and unskilled laborers owing to the lapsed apprenticeship laws, which flooded the labor market and further depressed wages in a practice known as ‘colting.’ The use of new wide weaving frames, which weavers were forced to rent from their employer or from an independent entrepreneur, often at exorbitant rates, also had its part to play in the industry’s degradation.[…]Between 1780 and 1830 workers were reduced from comparative prosperity and independence to crippling poverty and complete dependence on their employer.
Smaller, similar acts of violence to framebreaking happened all over England, directed against new technologies that threatened working families’ ability to make a living. In Penny, the 1816 rioters fired the elder Lord Bedlow’s barn with the new threshing machine inside of it. New threshing machines eliminated an entire large income source (threshing with the flail) for agricultural laborers; I’ll talk about that in another post.
What’s relevant here was that this was almost a culturally recognized form of protest: the workers smashed things up and made demands, and sometimes they got concessions. For this reason one scholar, Hobsbawm, described Luddism as “collective bargaining by riot.”
During the early 19th century, the Combination Laws prohibited trade union activity or collective bargaining for British workers. They weren’t repeated until 1825, and even then union activity was severely limited by law. Requests for changes in company policy backed up by property damage wasn’t a great or safe system, obviously. But anything more orderly and official was equally subject to legal repercussions and much less anonymous.
The framebreakers, of course, were not successful. They lost, and they were punished. The offense was originally punishable by up to 14 years transportation. In 1812 the Frame Bill was passed, making it a capital crime.
Byron opposed the bill in his maiden speech in the House of Lords. The speech is completely brilliant and carefully reasoned and sarcastic and moving and you should absolutely read the whole thing here. Here’s a small excerpt:
The framers of such a bill must be content to inherit the honours of that Athenian law-giver whose edicts were said to be written not in ink but in blood. But suppose it passed; suppose one of these men, as I have seen them,—meagre with famine, sullen with despair, careless of a life which your Lordships are perhaps about to value at something less than the price of a stocking-frame;—suppose this man surrounded by the children for whom be is unable to procure bread at the hazard of his existence, about to be torn for ever from a family which he lately supported in peaceful industry, and which it is not his fault that he can no longer so support;—suppose this man—and there are ten thousand such from whom you may select your victims—dragged into court, to be tried for this new offence, by this new law; still, there are two things wanting to convict and condemn him and these are, in my opinion,—twelve butchers for a jury, and a Jeffreys for a judge!
Mmm, I love a man who can orate. Unfortunately Byron was wrong and quite a lot of framebreakers were hanged after the bill was passed. (“Jeffreys,” by the way, refers to Baron Jeffreys, the notorious “hanging judge” who presided over the trials of Jacobites at the “Bloody Assizes” in 1685–if you’ve seen the Errol Flynn movie Captain Blood you might remember him.)
The closest thing to a modern equivalent of the Luddites in the popular imagination is John Henry, the steel-driving man who competes with the new steam drill to see who can dig the deepest. The outcome varies in different versions of the song, but generally John Henry beats the steam drill and then dies. While he didn’t react to his displacement with active political resistance, he was a powerful symbol to countless workers who did. Here’s Odetta singing it:
The story’s been reworked dozens of times by dozens of singers. My favorite is the Drive-By Truckers’ “The Day John Henry Died”:
You can read the lyrics here. For me, this part captures what makes the John Henry story, and the Luddites’ story, so sad:
It didn’t matter if he won
If he lived, or if he’d run
They changed the way his job was done
Labor costs were high
That new machine was cheap as hell
And only John would work as well
So they left him laying where he fell
The day John Henry died.
The Luddites couldn’t possibly turn back time or get rid of the new machines. The British economy was changing and growing so rapidly that it was no longer practical for farming and textiles to be done the way they had been; more needed to be produced faster and cheaper to support the growing population, and specifically the growing urban population.
Technological progress can’t be stopped or held back just because it changes the economy. Machines make our lives easier in so many ways. Why should someone have to weave cloth or drill steam by hand when a machine can do it? Why should someone have to spend their life in a factory when their job can be done by a computer?
But that doesn’t excuse the employers who leveraged new technologies to erode the established rights and wages of workers, or who exploited newly created groups of workers. And when technological advances happen without any provision for what’s going to happen to the people whose jobs are being replaced (or paid significantly less), you can’t blame those people for being angry.
Today I allowed myself one of the greatest geeky pleasures: a new library card. For a $100 contribution to the Friends of the University of Washington Libraries, I got a borrower’s card! I checked out three books: Byromania and the Birth of Celebrity, Byron’s Romantic Celebrity, and Romanticism and Celebrity Culture, 1750-1850.
As you can probably guess, I’m thinking of writing a character who hero-worships Byron. This type of character was a stock joke in Regency traditionals: they always wore disheveled riding gear and a Belcher handkerchief in place of a cravat in an attempt to ape Byron’s fashion, disordered their hair, and wrote terrible poetry for the heroine. Often they were no good at day-to-day practical things like hailing a cab or remembering to bring an umbrella.
I guess I don’t really see what’s so awful about that? It’s not as if I’ve never bought clothes in an attempt to borrow someone else’s glamor or confidence. It’s not as if I’ve never written terrible poetry. And it’s CERTAINLY not as if I’ve never forgotten to bring an umbrella or missed a bus or left my groceries at the store because I was distracted by the characters in my head.
Plus I think, at the time, Byron was a bad-boy symbol of revolt against the politics and art of The Establishment. Like Marlon Brando or James Dean! (Did you know James Dean’s middle name was “Byron”??)
On a slightly related note: Gossip Girl fans, can’t you just see Chuck Bass and Nate as Byron and Shelley?
I also requested Electoral Behavior in Unreformed England: Plumpers, Splitters, and Straights. This being able to just check books out instead of requesting them through Interlibrary Loan from the Seattle Public Library and then not being able to renew them is heady stuff.
As I was walking back to my car, I passed two twenty-year-old boys talking loudly about how useless book-learning is.
BOY #1: What you learn in here doesn’t mean much out there.
BOY #2: Yeah, the stuff you do here isn’t necessarily applicable to the real world.
BOY #1: To make it in the real world, you don’t need all this stuff. You have to learn it out there.
It was like changes on a theme, and they just sounded pleased with how jaded and worldly they were. I couldn’t help laughing, since I was there to use the historical research skills I learned in college for my “real world” job of writing books!
1. Still deep in revision-land. I took a brief vacation yesterday for a “Robin of Sherwood” (the 80s BBC series) marathon with my friend Gwen. I loved it! Believe me, you will be hearing lots more about that once revisions are over. If you like tightly plotted drama, this show isn’t for you, but if you like humor, engaging characters, villages bursting into flame, well-dressed bickering villains, and some scenery chewing, then yes, this is a show you will probably love. I haven’t laughed so hard in weeks. Also, it gave me the subject line for this post.
2. A couple of days ago I found myself researching how long severed heads stay conscious after decapitation (yes, this was for the book). Luckily I am not the only person who has ever wanted this information. Check out the Straight Dope column. And extra luckily for me, a lot of the most colorful anecdotes are from the French Revolution so my characters can have heard about them! This is my favorite:
According to another tale, when the heads of two rivals in the National Assembly were placed in a sack following execution, one bit the other so badly the two couldn’t be separated.
I did some further research trying to determine the credibility of this versus the likelihood it was an urban legend, but all I could find was that that the anecdote is attributed to Samson, the guy in charge of the guillotine. If anyone knows more, I’d love to hear it!
3. Have any of you taken a workshop with Bob Mayer? If you have, then you may think this is as cool as I do! I think Bob’s a fabulous speaker, and luckily for me he’s a GSRWA member and lives in the Northwest and also sometimes does programming at libraries, so I’ve gotten to hear him present several times over the last year.
There’s a clip from the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line that he likes to show as a good example of how to deal with rejection. (I couldn’t find the clip anywhere online but I was able to find Bob’s blog post about it, which you can read here and which contains a transcript of the short scene.)
In it there’s a music producer/talent scout who rejects Cash’s gospel but likes “Folsom Prison Blues.” This character had previously mainly been interesting to me because he was cute, savvy, and kind of sarcastic, which are qualities I like in a man. But I was recently listening to “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac,” a song by the Drive-By Truckers (an alt-country band I recently discovered), and I noticed this lyric:
“Sam Phillips found Johnny Cash and he was high
High before he ever took those pills”
Yes! This song I love by my new band I love is in fact about that cute talent scout from that clip I’ve seen several times in Bob Mayer workshops! It’s an awesome world.
The song is about…well, it’s kind of complex song but what it’s mainly about for me is creative expression and why we do it, whether it’s for the money or the fame or the lifestyle or because of something else entirely. The backstory is that Sam Phillips promised to buy a Cadillac for the first guy he was producing who got a gold record, and it was Carl Perkins. Here’s a video of the Truckers performing an acoustic version of the song live:
It was the best audio quality I could find. The lyrics are here, too.
My blog tour starts today! You can read my post about classism in Regency England over at History Hoydens. Here’s the opening:
When I started writing In for a Penny, about a rich brewer’s daughter who marries an impoverished earl, I realized I was going to have to do some research to figure out how people in the Regency thought about class. I had general ideas, obviously, but if I was going to write about my heroine from the point of view of my antagonist, the snobby poacher-hating Tory Sir Jasper, or write about my heroine meeting the hero’s newly-middle-class tenant farmers, I needed to understand more.
I quickly discovered that there were endless gradations, just as there are today:
1. A biography of Hannah More tells this story: the Duchess of Gloucester “desired one of her ladies to stop an orange-woman and ask her if she ever sold ballads. ‘No indeed,’ said the woman, ‘I don’t do anything so mean, I don’t even sell apples!'”
And I’m giving away a signed copy of my book in the comments, too. Check it out!