Untold lives blog

33 posts categorized "Georgians-revealed"

24 March 2014

Meet the Benthams: an extraordinary Georgian family

The British Library has joined the Transcribe Bentham initiative, and needs your help to uncover the secret life of Jeremy Bentham, philosopher, reformer, and Georgian gentleman.  Transcribe Bentham, an online scholarly crowdsourcing project, invites members of the public to explore and transcribe the manuscripts of Jeremy Bentham.  Since its launch in 2010, Transcribe Bentham’s online volunteers have made important discoveries in UCL’s collection of digitised Bentham manuscripts, for instance in relation to his most famous invention—the Panopticon prison.

The British Library is digitising its own collection of Bentham papers and these are now being made available on Transcribe Bentham to complement UCL’s own on-going digitisation programme, virtually reuniting the two Bentham collections for the first time since Bentham’s death.  Volunteers do not need any specialist equipment or expert knowledge to begin participating—just a willingness to get to grips with 18th and 19th century handwriting and to type what they read into a text box using a specially-adapted transcription toolbar.  

  Pseudo-Voltaire (John Lind) to Jeremy Bentham, sent in 1774
NocPseudo-Voltaire (John Lind) to Jeremy Bentham, sent in 1774 (British Library Add MS 33537 f.294r)

Whilst the UCL collection contains mainly philosophical writings, in the British Library collection there is potential to uncover Bentham’s more personal side, as it contains thousands of letters.  Bentham was described by Jose del Valle, the Guatemalan politician, as the ‘Legislator of the world’ and such a title is certainly justified by the sheer number of nationally and internationally important figures with whom he corresponded.  Within the British Library’s collection are letters from the French general Lafayette, the English abolitionist William Wilberforce, and Alexander I, Emperor of Russia.  But the collection also contains a great deal of personal correspondence, and volunteers will encounter Jeremy’s extended family: his mother, Alicia; his step-mother, Sarah; his brother, Samuel, the renowned naval architect; his step-brother Charles Abbot, later 1st Baron Colchester, Speaker of the House of Commons; his nephew George, the famous botanist; and the patriarch of the family, Jeremiah Bentham.  There is even a letter from Jeremiah to Jeremy’s headmaster at Westminster School, complaining about the alleged plundering of his son’s book case by some older ‘lads’.  

   Jeremiah Bentham’s letter to Mr Cooper, complaining about the theft of little Jeremy’s school books

Jeremiah Bentham’s letter to Mr Cooper, complaining about the theft of little Jeremy’s school books (British Library Add MS 33537 f. 37r)  Noc

Because some of this correspondence has not been read since its original composition, discoveries made by volunteers have the potential to fundamentally shape and illuminate our understanding of Bentham’s life and relationships (the definitive biography of Bentham still remains unwritten).  Once completed, transcripts are presented alongside the original manuscript image in a digital repository, freely accessible to anyone interested in researching Bentham.  In addition, any volunteers who produce transcripts that are subsequently used in the new edition of Bentham’s Collected Works, currently being prepared by the Bentham Project at UCL and published by Oxford University Press, will receive full credit for their contribution in the particular volume’s acknowledgements.

Kris Grint
Research Associate, Bentham Project, Faculty of Laws, UCL   Cc-by

Visit the Transcribe Bentham  Transcription Desk today

Follow Transcribe Bentham on Twitter @TranscriBentham

Further reading:

Jeremy Bentham, Selected Writings, ed. by Stephen Engelmann (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011)

Philip Schofield, Bentham: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: Continuum, 2009)


26 February 2014

The Beauties of the Male Leg

The young French dancer Auguste Vestris made his London debut on 16 December 1780 at the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket (the capital’s opera house). He immediately drew audience attention through his combination of dance virtuosity, youth and good looks. The Morning Chronicle for 19 December 1780 tried to describe his talents:

It is impossible for words to convey an adequate idea of the strength, grace, and agility of this wonderful performer. … His entrechats were lofty and neat beyond imagination, and his balance appeared almost the effect of enchantment. Both in the serious and comic dances his attitudes were perfect models of elegance and picturesque expression.

Monsieur Vestris Junior

Monsr. Vestris Junr. London Magazine, May 1781 (P.P.5437).  Noc

Some months later, a pamphlet entitled An Heroic Epistle, from Mons. Vestris, Sen:  was published in London. Ostensibly written by his famous father Gaetan Vestris (but probably by the classical scholar John Nott), it was as much concerned with Vestris Junior’s  sex-appeal as his dancing prowess. After disparaging the home-grown dancers and dismissing other local entertainments, the writer turns to the new sensation whom he calls a ‘young Adonis’. The poem details the young man’s effect on the women in his audiences. Ogling the beautiful youth, one ‘hot matron’ exclaims  ‘Then what firm legs, and what delicious thighs!’.  

PP5437 Vestris SenSignor Vestris Senr. London Magazine, April 1781 (P.P.5437) Noc

Vestris Senior (then the leading dancer at the Paris Opera) did not appear at the King’s Theatre until 22 February 1781, when he and his son danced leading roles in the ballet Ninette à la Cour.  The performance was a benefit for Vestris Junior and drew vast crowds of would-be spectators. The London Courant and Westminster Chronicle for 23 February 1781 marvelled that ‘The passion for seeing a Frenchman dance, has thrown the town into a kind of delirium’. The opera house had been ‘literally besieged at five o’clock’ by people wanting tickets.  According to St James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post for 17-20 February 1781 the benefit was even mentioned during a debate in the House of Commons. So many members wished to attend that Parliament took a recess. On the night the theatre was so full that, inevitably, there was a disturbance when the curtain rose. Nevertheless the concluding ballet with its French stars was a great success. Auguste Vestris was said to have made £1000 from the performance. For the moment at least, he became London’s leading celebrity.

 Moira Goff
Curator Printed Historical Sources 1501-1800 Cc-by

Further reading

Judith Milhous, ‘Vestris-Mania and the Construction of Celebrity: Auguste Vestris in London, 1780-1781’, Harvard Library Bulletin, 5 (1994-5): 30-64.

Curtis Price, Judith Milhous, Robert D. Hume, Italian Opera in Late Eighteenth-Century London.  Vol. 1. The King’s Theatre, Haymarket, 1778-1791. Oxford, 1995.


17 February 2014

Fanny Murray, Fair and Reigning Toast

A unique illustrated broadside in the British Library’s collections shows the courtesan Fanny Murray (1729-1778) in two guises. In one woodcut she appears ‘in her primitive innocence’, which in this case means a fashionable gown designed to demurely cover her charms. She holds a sheet of music in her hand and a fan and a book lie on the table before her.  This is an image of a genteel and accomplished young lady.

 Fanny Murray ‘in her primitive innocence’ Fanny Murray ‘in her primitive innocence’  Noc

 The woodcut is accompanied by verses which point a moral. Above the picture the lines refer to youthful, happy love. Below, they describe Fanny’s haughty disdain towards would-be lovers and how as she ages and loses her beauty they desert her, until she is forced to turn ‘monstrously devout’.  The stomacher and fichu of her dress appear to be English in style. They resemble those in her well-known mezzotint portrait, which must have had a wide circulation given Fanny Murray’s undoubted celebrity.

In the other woodcut, titled the ‘Careless Maid’ she is dressed en deshabille and has her skirt hitched up to adjust her garter. Her neckline is low and she shows a great deal of leg. She is, apparently, standing before her dressing table. This is an image of the courtesan preparing for work.

Fanny Murray - ‘The Careless Maid’
 ‘The Careless Maid’  Noc

The text below compares and contrasts the fashions of English and French women. ‘Elegant Shapes have always been reckoned the peculiar Perfections of English women’, it begins. French ladies ‘invented a Dress to disguise the Shape’ in a bid ‘to hide the Defects of Nature’. Neatness, shown by ‘good Linen, and a great deal of it about their Persons’ is among the excellences of English women. French ladies, on the other hand, favour the latest fashions ‘dingy Gauze, taudry Ribbons, Peten-lairs, Negligees, Sacks, Half-Sacks, and Bed-Gowns’. Miss Murray appears to be dressed in the French style, with a ‘Peten-lair’, a short jacket with a sack-back, over a ‘Negligee’ if not a ‘Bed-Gown’.

She must also be advocating the advice in the text on how to become a ‘compleat’ French lady. ‘

1st. The free Privilege of receiving in their Beds all Visits, as well from their Male as Female Acquaintance.

2dly. A sufficient Number of Male Bedmakers and Valet de Chambres, for their own personal and particular Service.

3dly. The Right of lolling upon Fellows without Controul, nay of kissing ‘em, chucking them under the Chin, and fingering them as much in publick as they please.

4thly. The free Liberty of talking aloud in publick Places of, and laughing at, the Amours of Men, and more particularly those of their own Husbands.

5thly. The full Privilege of openly gartering up their stockings in all publick Assemblies, without being so much as obliged to turn about towards the Wall.’

And 6thly. The free use of the Jordan in all mixed Companies whatever.’

Fanny Murray was definitely in the forefront of fashion, both in her dress and her behaviour.

Moira Goff
Curator Printed Historical Sources 1501-1800  Cc-by

Visit our exhibition Georgians Revealed

Further reading:

E.J. Burford. Wits, Wenchers and Wantons. London’s Low Life: Covent Garden in the Eighteenth Century. London, 1986.

Memoirs of the celebrated Miss Fanny M-. 2nd edition. London, 1759.

10 February 2014

Disputed Succession - Edinburgh’s Dancing Masters

On 10 February 1821 an advertisement appeared in the Caledonian Mercury which points to a dispute among Edinburgh’s dancing masters.  ‘Mr Strathy, Teacher of Dancing’ describes himself as ‘Successor to the late Mr Ritchie’ and offers lessons to Ritchie’s erstwhile pupils at the late dancing master’s premises in St James’s Square, Edinburgh as well as at his own rooms in South Hanover Street. Ritchie had died as recently as 4 February 1821. The Caledonian Mercury for 15 February 1821 carries an advertisement by ‘Mrs Ritchie, Widow of the late Mr. Wm. Ritchie’ asserting that her husband’s classes would be continued at St James’s Square by Messrs Dun.  They had been advertising classes in Edinburgh since at least 1812. Barclay Dun’s A Translation of Nine of the most Fashionable Quadrilles was published in Edinburgh in 1818. By September 1821, the Duns father and son were advertising their classes both in Hanover Street and St James’s Square so they must have established themselves as Ritchie’s successors. A Mr Dun is still advertising as late as 1839.

Male dancerPlate from Alexander Strathy, Elements of the art of dancing. Edinburgh, 1822.  Noc

Strathy, on the other hand, apparently disappears from the newspapers until a new advertisement in the Caledonian Mercury of 24 September 1821. He tells ‘the Nobility and Gentry’ that he is ‘just arrived from Paris and London, where he has acquired an additional variety of Steps, tastefully arranged for the Quadrille’. He offers private teaching in Hanover Street and announces his forthcoming treatise. The Caledonian Mercury for 17 January 1822 advertised the publication of Alexander Strathy’s Elements of the Art of Dancing with illustrations at a price of ‘5s.6d. boards’. The copy in the British Library retains its original binding with printed boards and has two pretty plates– one showing a young lady and the other a young gentleman ready to dance. The Caledonian Mercury for 19 September 1822 announces that ‘Mr Strathy has resumed his Classes and Private Teaching’, but there seem to be no subsequent advertisements by which to chart his later career.

Alexander’s Strathy’s treatise provides surprising insights into social dancing technique in early 19th century Britain. The steps and exercises he describes are very close to those still practised in ballet classes today. Young dancers of the early 1800s were obviously expected to take their dancing seriously.

Moira Goff
Curator Printed Historical Sources 1501-1800  Cc-by

Further reading

Barclay Dun, A Translation of Nine of the most Fashionable Quadrilles. Edinburgh, 1818.

Alexander Strathy, Elements of the art of dancing. Edinburgh, 1822.

Sandra Noll Hammond, Ballet: beyond the Basics. Palo Alto, 1982


03 February 2014

Printing on Ice

What would we do if the Thames froze over this winter? Would we hold a traditional Frost Fair, health and safety permitting?  The Thames froze over on at least 23 occasions between 1309 and 1814, and the most extensive freezes were recorded in 1683/4, 1715/16, 1739/40, 1789, and, for the last time, in February 1814. 

Why did the Thames freeze over then and not now? There are two main reasons: the temperatures were lower on average and remained lower for longer periods, and the architecture along the river was different, slowing down the water’s flow. The Old London Bridge was a stone building with nineteen arches, and all piers under the bridge were equipped with breakwaters to protect the bridge and the houses on top of it from the full force of the water. The river’s path was thereby slowed down, enabling the river to freeze in the right conditions. When the Old London Bridge was replaced in 1831 with a newer model with only five arches, the water was able to flow much faster, and the river never froze again near the centre of London.

Frost Fair on the River Thames
Noc Frost Fair on the River Thames

When the ice on the river was solid enough Frost Fairs were held between the Old London Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge. The Fairs were spontaneous parties on the frozen river, and large numbers of people joined in. Tents were erected, made up of blankets held up by disused oars. There were temporary pubs on the ice with names such as ‘The City of Moscow’ or ‘The Wellington’,  whole oxen were roasted, and people could enjoy entertainments such as bull or bear baiting, roundabouts, and puppet-shows, or play football or other games. Of course not everyone was pleased and in the mood for a party when the river froze over. The watermen who usually ferried people across the water by boat did of course have to continue to make a living and therefore charged anyone who wanted to cross the frozen river.

   Frost Fair Printing Office
Noc Frost Fair Printing Office

Frost Fairs were occasions to remember, and printing presses were brought on to the ice to print souvenirs for people who had visited them. In 1814 two types of presses were installed on the river, a hand-press for letterpress printing and a copperplate printing press. The British Library has a number of examples of these souvenirs which were ‘printed on the ice on the River Thames’ from all recorded Frost Fairs. The printing presses are very clearly visible in contemporary illustrations, showing that they were very much part of the occasion. In 1814 there was a 'Frost Fair Printing Office’ with a large crowd of people surrounding the letterpress printing press. The souvenirs usually contain a decorative border, a poem or other short text, and the visitor’s name.

Frost Fair keepsake, printed on the Thames: 'Mrs Mary Coates'Noc  Frost Fair keepsake, printed on the Thames: 'Mrs Mary Coates'

We definitely wouldn’t bring old-fashioned printing presses on to the river if it did freeze again now, but I’m sure we would take pictures of each other and have other little souvenirs produced which would remind us of the once-in-a-lifetime visit to the frozen River Thames.

Karen Limper-Herz
Printed Historical Sources  Cc-by


Illustrations taken from From A collection of bills, cuttings from periodicals, prints, etc. illustrating the fairs held on the Thames, during the winters of 1683-4, 1814, etc - reference 840.m.27.(1.)


17 January 2014

Scandal and bigamy in Georgian London

Elizabeth Chudleigh (c1720-1788) was among the more notorious celebrities of the Georgian period.  Her background was apparently privileged.  Her father, Colonel Thomas Chudleigh, was lieutenant-governor of Chelsea Hospital and the family were friendly with Sir Robert Walpole’s children.  He, of course, is known as Britain’s first prime minister.  In 1743, Elizabeth was appointed as maid of honour to Princess Augusta, mother of the future King George III.

Her status, however, was more questionable than it appeared.  By the time Elizabeth Chudleigh married the Honourable Augustus John Hervey (1724-1779), the son of that assiduous courtier Lord Hervey, in 1744 she had already had several liaisons.  She was not faithful to her new husband and the couple parted in 1749.  This was the year in which she became the centre of a scandal which was still remembered forty years later. As The Life and Memoirs of Elizabeth Chudleigh, published in 1788, put it:

… it has been asserted this lady appeared [at a masquerade] in a shape of flesh-coloured silk so nicely and closely fitted to her body as to produce a perfect review of the unadorned mother of mankind, and that this fair representative of frailty, … had contrived a method of giving as evident tokens of modesty, by binding her loins with a partial covering, or zone, of fig-leaves.

The Life and Memoirs included an engraving of her in costume, which agreed with this description by showing Elizabeth Chudleigh nearly naked. Her character was not Eve but Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon sacrificed to ensure a fair wind to Troy.

Elizabeth Chudleigh in the character of Iphigenia

Miss Chudleigh in the Character of Iphigenia, at the Venetian Ambassadors Masquerade'  from Life and Memoirs   Images OnlineNoc

Soon afterwards, she became the mistress of Evelyn Pierrepont, second Duke of Kingston (1712-1773).  In 1769, ‘Miss Chudleigh’ married him, having gained a legal ruling that her marriage to Augustus Hervey had not taken place.  All was fine until the Duke died and she was accused of bigamy by his nephew and heir.  The case quickly reached the press.  The June 1775 issue of The Matrimonial Magazine included a five-page article ‘Memoirs of the Married Maid of Honour; or, The Widow’d Wife’ with ‘an elegant Engraving’  containing portraits of her with both her ‘husbands’. It recounted details of her scandalous career, lingering over her love of luxury and her valuable collection of jewellery.

Portraits of Elizabeth Chudleigh and both her husbands  Plate from The Matrimonial Magazine, June 1775 Images Online Noc

In 1776, the ‘Duchess of Kingston’ was tried in Westminster Hall for bigamy and found guilty.  She immediately left Britain and never returned.  When she died in 1788, in Paris, several accounts of her life were quickly published in London.  Elizabeth Chudleigh was most definitely a celebrity in the modern style.

Moira Goff
Curator Printed Historical Sources 1501-1800    Cc-by

Curator Printed Historical Sources 1501-1800

Visit our  exhibition Georgians Revealed

Further reading:
Claire Gervat. Elizabeth, the scandalous life of the Duchess of Kingston. London, 2003.
Matthew J. Kinservik. Sex, scandal and celebrity in late eighteenth-century England. Basingstoke, 2007.

09 January 2014

George IV in Highland Dress

The Prince Regent became King George IV on 29 January 1820 and was crowned on 19 July the same year.  The coronation provided the occasion for a display of unparalleled magnificence – not least in the new monarch’s dress.  George IV was keen for further opportunities to display himself in royal state to his subjects.  In 1821 he visited both Ireland and Hanover.  In 1822 it was the turn of Scotland.

Portrait of George IV when Prince of WalesNocPortrait of George IV (when Prince of Wales) from The British Gallery of Contemporary Portraits. London, 1822.  (Tab.1249.a.)

The Scottish visit was recorded in some detail by Robert Mudie, at that time a reporter for the London newspaper the Morning Chronicle, in A Historical Account of His Majesty’s Visit to Scotland published soon afterwards.  Mudie provided a minutely detailed account, from the King’s journey to Greenwich to embark for his voyage to Edinburgh until his departure from the Scottish capital for his return by sea to London.

Apart from the ecstatic reception on his arrival in Edinburgh, one of the high points of the visit was the King’s levee held at the palace of Holyrood on 17 August 1822.  The Caledonian Mercury for 19 August provided a report, declaring:

On Saturday, his Majesty held his first levee in the Scottish metropolis, which was most splendidly attended, and we hear that the numbers exceeded those of any levee ever held in London.

There followed a lengthy list of those who ‘had the honour of being presented to his Majesty’.  According to Mudie ‘The King himself remarked at the close, that there must have passed him not less than 2000 persons’.

George IV at Leith - arriving by boatNocDetail from a plate in Mudie, A Historical Account of His Majesty’s Visit to Scotland, ‘TheLanding of King George IV at Leith, 15th August 1822’. (811.d.33)

George IV took care to be appropriately attired.  According to the Caledonian Mercury ‘His Majesty was superbly dressed in the Highland costume, with trews of the Stuart tartan. … the manly and graceful figure of his Majesty was finely displayed in this martial dress’.  London’s Morning Post for 22 August added a few details - ‘his Majesty was dressed in a full Highland uniform, and wore the broad sword, pistols, and philebeg [a belted plaid]’.  The King was painted in his Highland dress some years later by Sir David Wilkie - the portrait is now in the Royal Collection.  Wilkie took care to emphasise George IV’s ‘manly and graceful figure’ and to depict the many rich jewels that formed part of the King’s exuberantly luxurious appearance.


Moira Goff
Curator Printed Historical Sources 1501-1800 Cc-by

Visit our  exhibition Georgians Revealed

Further reading:
Robert Mudie. A Historical Account of His Majesty’s Visit to Scotland. Edinburgh, 1822.
Stephen Parissien. George IV: the Grand Entertainment. London, 2001.
E.A. Smith. George IV. New Haven and London, 1999.


08 January 2014

George III and Architectural Drawing

King George III’s education included languages (English, German and Latin), sciences (physics, chemistry and astronomy), history and mathematics.  He learnt about art and architecture, and he was taught several accomplishments.  Amongst these last, he learnt to dance, to fence, to ride, music (he played the harpsichord and the flute) and to draw.  His artistic education was varied.  The artist and architect Joshua Kirby (1716-1774) was appointed as his drawing master in 1756, while George was still Prince of Wales, and taught him perspectival drawing.

In 1761, not long after George succeeded his grandfather as King of Great Britain, Kirby published The Perspective of Architecture.  The large folio volume included ‘One Hundred Copper-Plates’ with a frontispiece designed by William Hogarth, and cost three guineas ‘in sheets’ (unbound).  It was a luxurious and expensive volume, dedicated to the King.  The elaborately calligraphy of the engraved dedication leaf proclaimed that the work was ‘begun by Your Majesty’s Command, carried on under your Eye, and now Published by Your Royal Munificence’.  More than that, it also included one plate for which the original had been drawn by George himself, although Kirby did not have the presumption to say so explicitly.

Plate 66 shows a colonnaded house in Palladian style.

Colonnaded house in Palladian styleJohn Kirby, The Perspective of Architecture. London, 1761. Plate 66 (Reference: 56.i.19-20) Noc

The original drawing in pencil, pen and ink and grey wash is now in the Royal Collection, described as a ‘Perspective drawing of a classical building with pavilion wings’.  An annotation by Kirby ascribes it to his royal pupil.

Kirby and his son William were made joint clerks of the works at  in 1761.  George III’s interest in architectural drawing, also fostered by his simultaneous study of architecture with Sir William Chambers, continued for many years.  It is evident in the King’s Library (where what must have been Kirby’s presentation copy is kept) and the King’s Topographical Collection, which contains many drawings as well as innumerable architectural prints.  Both collections provide ample testimony to the range and depth of the King’s artistic and cultural interests.

George III Tobias Smollett. Continuation of the Complete History of England. London, 1760-65. Vol. 4 (Reference: 1608/476)  Noc


Moira Goff
Curator Printed Historical Sources 1501-1800 Cc-by

Further reading:
Jeremy Black. George III: America’s last King. New Haven and London, 2006.
John Brooke, King George III.  London, 1985

Visit our exhibition Georgians Revealed

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