Robert Southwell, Jesuit Priest and Literary Contemporary of William Shakespeare

url“Robert Southwell was born around 1561 at Horsham St. Faith, Norfolk, the youngest son and fifth child in a family of eight. The Southwells, a county family that had prospered from the dissolution of the monasteries, formed part of a network of wealthy, interrelated families that included the Wriothsleys, Howards, Bacons, and Cecils as well as recusants such as Vaux, Arden, and Copley. Southwell was a studious boy whose father liked to call him ‘Father Robert.’ In 1576 Southwell, like many other boys of his class, was sent overseas to be educated in the Jesuit school at Douai. He would not see England again for ten years. Between the ages of fifteen and seventeen he became convinced of his vocation to a religious life, and in 1578 he was admitted to the noviceship at Rome, where he embarked upon his formation as a Jesuit. In 1581 he transferred from the Roman to the English College, where he became tutor and perfect of studies. He was ordained in 1584 and was sent on the English mission in 1586, landing secretly with his fellow Jesuit Henry Garnet somewhere between Dover and Folkestone in early July. He was about twenty-five years old.

“Christopher Devlin estimated a Catholic priest’s chance of survival in England in 1586 as one in three. Southwell led the active but disguised and secret life of a pastor for six years, working mostly in and around London except for some journeys into the Midlands. For much of this period he lived under the protection of Anne, countess of Arundel, whose husband, the earl, was a prisoner in the Tower of London. In June 1592 the notorious priest hunter Richard Topcliffe succeeded in capturing Southwell. Topcliffe, Elizabeth I’s servant and favorite, “an atrocious psychopath,” in Geoffrey Hill’s  words, was allowed to torture prisoners in his own house. Southwell was in this man’s hands and then in the hands of Privy Council interrogators and torturers for a month; news of his transfer to solitary confinement in the Tower was a relief to his friends.

“After more than two years’ imprisonment he was moved to the notorious cell in Newgate called Limbo, and his trial took place on 20 February 1595 under the statute of 1585, which had made it treason to be a Catholic priest and administer the sacraments in England. He was found guilty and was executed the next day by hanging, drawing, and quartering. At his trial Southwell said that he had been tortured ten times and would rather have endured ten executions. Pierre Janelle, who quotes the records in detail, writes that Southwell made of his trial and execution “a work of art of supreme beauty.” He was thirty-three at his death. Pope Paul VI canonized him on 25 October 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

“Southwell wrote most of his English works between the time of his return to England in 1586 and his capture in 1592. As a prisoner he had no access to writing materials. Janelle described his literary career as an ‘apostolate of letters’ and thought that his superiors had instructed him to make writing a part of his missionary activity. This theory was perhaps based on the fact that Southwell and Garnet carried in their instructions permission to print “some small books for the defense of the faith and the edification of Catholics.” Other critics have treated Southwell’s work as versified doctrine, as religious propaganda, as a substitute for preaching, or as the outcome of his Jesuit training in religious faith and discipline by means of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Southwell states in the prefatory material to Mary Magdalen’s Funeral Tears(1591) and to Saint Peter’s Complaint (1595) that he wished to set an example of writing on religious themes in English, but nowhere does he say how or why he began to write.

imgres“His earliest works, dating from his Roman years, are Latin poems preserved at Stonyhurst. Brian Oxley has shown that these youthful poems share the mature Southwell’s habits of thought as well as the verbal artistry found in his English work: “Southwell’s sense of the artifice of holy things, and indeed, of the holiness of artifice, is central to his life and work.” The Latin poems are evidence of a strong, probably irresistible vocation as a writer and poet.

“Southwell’s first full-length English work was the prose An Epistle of Comfort (1587), which originated as a series of pastoral letters written to his hostess’s husband, the earl of Arundel, imprisoned in the Tower for his religion. Southwell published the book on a secret press supplied by the help of the countess—although it is unlikely that the press was actually in Arundel House, as some authorities suggest. Helen C. White has shown that the Epistle of Comfort—a letter written to encourage the persecuted, even to the point of martyrdom—is an example of an ancient Christian genre. It has sixteen chapters, the first eleven devoted to the various sources of comfort for the afflicted Catholics.

“Southwell begins modestly and generally, pointing out that suffering is a sign that his readers are out of the devil’s power, loved by God, and imitators of Christ. Suffering, he argues, is inseparable from human life and in most cases is no more than the sufferer deserves. Then, at midpoint, he turns to the peculiar situation of the recusants, beginning with the argument that there is comfort in suffering for the Catholic faith. He then presents a series of all-too-real possibilities, starting with general persecution and ascending through imprisonment and violent death to martyrdom itself. The concluding chapters deal with the unhappiness of the lapsed, the impossibility of martyrdom for the heretic, the glory that awaits the martyr, and, lastly, a warning to the persecutors. The content and the style are much influenced by the patristic authors whom Southwell quotes so deftly; the tone is measured, unyielding, even triumphant. In Southwell’s mind, the Catholics’ suffering is a direct consequence of the Protestant heresy, and that in turn is a manifestation of the perennial evil of earthly life. To bear its effects is an honor: “Let our adversaries therefore load us with the infamous titles of traitors and rebels.” (Poetry Foundation)

In “The Burning Babe,” the poet (through the narrator) tells of a cold winter night in which he felt a sudden heat. Looking up he discovers a burning babe, who is weeping. The child says, “I am newly born. My faultless breast is my furnace, and justice gives it fuel. But no men come to warm themselves at this fire. The metals in the fire are the defiled souls of men.” 

“For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good/So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.”

When the babe had finished talking, the poet realized that was Christmas Day. 

This particular poem is an allegory full of religious imagery and is typical of Southwell’s work. Although many of the figures are not particularly poetic (such as…”in fiery heats I fry”) nevertheless, the tone as a whole is quietly passionate and impressive. 

From 1584 until 1592, Robert, an ordained priest, conducted missionary labors in London. Arrested, he remained in jail for three years before being martyred at Tybum. He passed on 21 February 1595. He is one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, canonized in 1970.

Additional Resources:

Catholic Online



Posted in legacy, poetry | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Discovering “Pride” in Pride and Prejudice

images-7The word “pride” finds its origin before the year 1000; Middle English (noun); Old English prȳde(cognate with Old Norse prȳthi bravery, pomp),derivative of prūd. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, we generally think of the word meaning “a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity,importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing,conduct, etc.” (  “Pride is an inwardly directed emotion that carries two antithetical meanings. With a negative connotation pride refers to a foolishly and irrationally corrupt sense of one’s personal value, status or accomplishments, used synonymously with hubris. With a positive connotation, pride refers to a humble and content sense of attachment toward one’s own or another’s choices and actions, or toward a whole group of people, and is a product of praise, independent self-reflection, and a fulfilled feeling of belonging.” (Pride)

Let us look at where the word “pride” appears in the novel. 

images-1From Chapter 5, we find, ““I do not believe a word of it, my dear. If he had been so very agreeable, he would have talked to Mrs. Long. But I can guess how it was; everybody says that he is eat up with pride, and I dare say he had heard somehow that Mrs. Long does not keep a carriage, and had come to the ball in a hack chaise.”

Also from Chapter 5, we have, “His pride,” said Miss Lucas, “does not offend me so much as pride often does, because there is an excuse for it. One cannot wonder that so very fine a young man, with family, fortune, everything in his favour, should think highly of himself. If I may so express it, he has a right to be proud.”

The conversation continues with “That is very true,” replied Elizabeth, “and I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine.”

Pride,” observed Mary, who piqued herself upon the solidity of her reflections, “is a very common failing, I believe. By all that I have ever read, I am convinced that it is very common indeed; that human nature is particularly prone to it, and that there are very few of us who do not cherish a feeling of self-complacency on the score of some quality or other, real or imaginary. Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”

images-4In Chapter 8, the Bingley sisters think Elizabeth displays pride. “When dinner was over, she returned directly to Jane, and Miss Bingley began abusing her as soon as she was out of the room. Her manners were pronounced to be very bad indeed, a mixture of pride and impertinence; she had no conversation, no style, no beauty. Mrs. Hurst thought the same.”

In Chapter 11, after her walk about the room with Miss Bingley, Elizabeth accuses Darcy of being prideful. “Perhaps that is not possible for anyone. But it has been the study of my life to avoid those weaknesses which often expose a strong understanding to ridicule.”
“Such as vanity and pride.”
“Yes, vanity is a weakness indeed. But pride — where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation.”

In Chapter 15, Elizabeth considers pride as one of Mr. Collins’ characteristic. “A fortunate chance had recommended him to Lady Catherine de Bourgh when the living of Hunsford was vacant; and the respect which he felt for her high rank, and his veneration for her as his patroness, mingling with a very good opinion of himself, of his authority as a clergyman, and his right as a rector, made him altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility.”

images-5In Chapter 16, Elizabeth speaks of Darcy’s pride to Wickham. “Upon my word, I say no more here than I might say in any house in the neighbourhood, except Netherfield. He is not at all liked in Hertfordshire. Everybody is disgusted with his pride. You will not find him more favourably spoken of by anyone.”

Later in Chapter 16, Wickham spreads his lies of Darcy. “How strange!” cried Elizabeth. “How abominable! I wonder that the very pride of this Mr. Darcy has not made him just to you! If from no better motive, that he should not have been too proud to be dishonest — for dishonesty I must call it.”

“It is wonderful,” replied Wickham, “for almost all his actions may be traced to pride; and pride had often been his best friend. It has connected him nearer with virtue than with any other feeling. But we are none of us consistent, and in his behaviour to me there were stronger impulses even than pride.”

“Can such abominable pride as his have ever done him good?”

“Yes. It has often led him to be liberal and generous, to give his money freely, to display hospitality, to assist his tenants, and relieve the poor. Family pride, and filial pride — for he is very proud of what his father was — have done this. Not to appear to disgrace his family, to degenerate from the popular qualities, or lose the influence of the Pemberley House, is a powerful motive. He has also brotherly pride, which, with some brotherly affection, makes him a very kind and careful guardian of his sister, and you will hear him generally cried up as the most attentive and best of brothers.”

images-6Later in Chapter 16, Wickham plants doubts of Darcy’s character. “Probably not; but Mr. Darcy can please where he chooses. He does not want abilities. He can be a conversible companion if he thinks it worth his while. Among those who are at all his equals in consequence, he is a very different man from what he is to the less prosperous. His pride never deserts him; but with the rich he is liberal-minded, just, sincere, rational, honourable, and perhaps agreeable — allowing something for fortune and figure.”

Then Wickham describes Lady Catherine to Elizabeth. “I believe her to be both in a great degree,” replied Wickham; “I have not seen her for many years, but I very well remember that I never liked her, and that her manners were dictatorial and insolent. She has the reputation of being remarkably sensible and clever; but I rather believe she derives part of her abilities from her rank and fortune, part from her authoritative manner, and the rest from the pride for her nephew, who chooses that everyone connected with him should have an understanding of the first class.”

In Chapter 20, Elizabeth reflects upon Mr. Collins’ feelings after she refuses his proposal. “Mr. Collins, meanwhile, was meditating in solitude on what had passed. He thought too well of himself to comprehend on what motives his cousin could refuse him; and though his pride was hurt, he suffered in no other way. His regard for her was quite imaginary; and the possibility of her deserving her mother’s reproach prevented his feeling any regret.”

In Chapter 21, both Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins are upset with her refusal of Collins’ proposal. “The morrow produced no abatement of Mrs. Bennet’s ill-humour or ill health. Mr. Collins was also in the same state of angry pride. Elizabeth had hoped that his resentment might shorten his visit, but his plan did not appear in the least affected by it. He was always to have gone on Saturday, and to Saturday he meant to stay.”

In Chapter 24, Elizabeth and Jane discuss the reasons Miss Bingley expresses in her letter for convincing Bingley to leave Netherfield. “Your first position is false. They may wish many things besides his happiness; they may wish his increase of wealth and consequence; they may wish him to marry a girl who has all the importance of money, great connections, and pride.”

imgres-1In Chapter 33, Elizabeth is angry with Darcy after she learns from Colonel Fitzwilliam that he separated Jane from Bingley. “This was spoken jestingly; but it appeared to her so just a picture of Mr. Darcy, that she would not trust herself with an answer, and therefore, abruptly changing the conversation talked on indifferent matters until they reached the Parsonage. There, shut into her own room, as soon as their visitor left them, she could think without interruption of all that she had heard. It was not to be supposed that any other people could be meant than those with whom she was connected. There could not exist in the world two men over whom Mr. Darcy could have such boundless influence. That he had been concerned in the measures taken to separate Bingley and Jane she had never doubted; but she had always attributed to Miss Bingley the principal design and arrangement of them. If his own vanity, however, did not mislead him, he was the cause, his pride and caprice were the cause, of all that Jane had suffered, and still continued to suffer. He had ruined for a while every hope of happiness for the most affectionate, generous heart in the world; and no one could say how lasting an evil he might have inflicted.”

Later in Chapter 33, Elizabeth ruminates in her room at Hunsford Cottage. She wonders upon Mr. Darcy’s criticisms of her family. “To Jane herself,” she exclaimed, “there could be no possibility of objection; all loveliness and goodness as she is! — her understanding excellent, her mind improved, and her manners captivating. Neither could anything be urged against my father, who, though with some peculiarities, has abilities Mr. Darcy himself need not disdain, and respectability which he will probably never each. When she thought of her mother, her confidence gave way a little; but she would not allow that any objections there had material weight with Mr. Darcy, whose pride, she was convinced, would receive a deeper wound from the want of importance in his friend’s connections, than from their want of sense; and she was quite decided, at last, that he had been partly governed by this worst kind of pride, and partly by the wish of retaining Mr. Bingley for his sister.

Chapter 34 brings the reader Elizabeth’s opinion of Mr. Darcy’s proposal. “Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression. She stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent. This he considered sufficient encouragement; and the avowal of all that he felt, and had long felt for her, immediately followed. He spoke well; but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed; and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority — of its being a degradation — of the family obstacles which had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit.”

images-2In the same chapter, Darcy is angry with her refusal and claims Elizabeth of possessing too much pride. “And this,” cried Darcy, as he walked with quick steps across the room, “is your opinion of me! This is the estimation in which you hold me! I thank you for explaining it so fully. My faults, according to this calculation, are heavy indeed! But perhaps,” added he, stopping in his walk, and turning towards her, “these offenses might have been overlooked, had not your pride been hurt by my honest confession of the scruples that had long prevented my forming any serious design. These bitter accusations might have been suppressed, had I, with greater policy, concealed my struggles, and flattered you into the belief of my being impelled by unqualified, unalloyed inclination; by reason, by reflection, by everything. But disguise of every sort is my abhorrence. Nor am I ashamed of the feelings I related. They were natural and just. Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? — to congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?”

At the end of Chapter 34, Elizabeth reflects upon what occurred between her and Darcy. “Her astonishment, as she reflected on what had passed, was increased by every review of it. That she should receive an offer of marriage from Mr. Darcy! That he should have been in love with her for so many months! So much in love as to wish to marry her in spite of all the objections which had made him prevent his friend’s marrying her sister, and which must appear at least with equal force in his own case — was almost incredible! It was gratifying to have inspired unconsciously so strong an affection. But his pride, his abominable pride — his shameless avowal of what he had done with respect to Jane — his unpardonable assurance in acknowledging, though he could not justify it, and the unfeeling manner in which he had mentioned Mr. Wickham, his cruelty towards whom he had not attempted to deny, soon overcame the pity which the consideration of his attachment had for a moment excited.”

imagesIn Chapter 36, Elizabeth reads Mr. Darcy’s letter, but determines him as acting with pride. “She read with an eagerness which hardly left her power of comprehension, and from impatience of knowing what the next sentence might bring, was incapable of attending to the sense of the one before her eyes. His belief of her sister’s insensibility she instantly resolved to be false; and his account of the real, the worst objections to the match, made her too angry to have any wish of doing him justice. He expressed no regret for what he had done which satisfied her; his style was not penitent, but haughty. It was all pride and insolence.”

At the end of Chapter 36, Elizabeth realizes she has acted foolishly. “How despicably I have acted!” she cried; “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable mistrust! How humiliating is this discovery!”

In Chapter 41, Elizabeth again encounters Wickham. The man continues to malign Darcy. “You, who so well know my feeling towards Mr. Darcy, will readily comprehend how sincerely I must rejoice that he is wise enough to assume even the appearance of what is right. His pride, in that direction, may be of service, if not to himself, to many others, for it must only deter him from such foul misconduct as I have suffered by. I only fear that the sort of cautiousness to which you, I imagine, have been alluding, is merely adopted on his visits to his aunt, of whose good opinion and judgement he stands much in awe. His fear of her has always operated, I know, when they were together; and a good deal is to be imputed to his wish of forwarding the match with Miss de Bourgh, which I am certain he has very much at heart.”

In Chapter 43, Mrs. Reynolds takes pride in her position at Pemberley. “And is Miss Darcy as handsome as her brother?” said Mrs. Gardiner.
“Oh! yes — the handsomest young lady that ever was seen; and so accomplished! — She plays and sings all day long. In the next room is a new instrument just come down for her — a present from my master; she comes here to-morrow with him.”
Mr. Gardiner, whose manners were very easy and pleasant, encouraged her communicativeness by his questions and remarks; Mrs. Reynolds, either by pride or attachment, had evidently great pleasure in talking of her master and his sister.

images-3In Chapter 43, Elizabeth expects Darcy’s pride to be evident when she introduces him to her aunt and uncle. “Mrs. Gardiner was standing a little behind; and on her pausing, he asked her if she would do him the honour of introducing him to her friends. This was a stroke of civility for which she was quite unprepared; and she could hardly suppress a smile at his being now seeking the acquaintance of some of those very people against whom his pride had revolted in his offer to herself. ‘What will be his surprise,’ thought she, ‘when he knows who they are? He takes them now for people of fashion.’”

In Chapter 44, the Gardiners draw their own conclusions of Mr. Darcy. “Of Mr. Darcy it was now a matter of anxiety to think well; and, as far as their acquaintance reached, there was no fault to find. They could not be untouched by his politeness; and had they drawn his character from their own feelings and his servant’s report, without any reference to any other account, the circle in Hertfordshire to which he was known would not have recognized it for Mr. Darcy. There was now an interest, however, in believing the housekeeper; and they soon became sensible that the authority of a servant who had known him since he was four years old, and whose own manners indicated respectability, was not to be hastily rejected. Neither had anything occurred in the intelligence of their Lambton friends that could materially lessen its weight. They had nothing to accuse him of but pride; pride he probably had, and if not, it would certainly be imputed by the inhabitants of a small market-town where the family did not visit. It was acknowledged, however, that he was a liberal man, and did much good among the poor.”

At the end of Chapter 44, Elizabeth knows gratitude that Darcy once loved her. “As for Elizabeth, her thoughts were at Pemberley this evening more than the last; and the evening, though as it passed it seemed long, was not long enough to determine her feelings towards one in that mansion; and she lay awake two whole hours endeavouring to make them out. She certainly did not hate him. No; hatred had vanished long ago, and she had almost as long been ashamed of ever feeling a dislike against him, that could be so called. The respect created by the conviction of his valuable qualities, though at first unwillingly admitted, had for some time ceased to be repugnant to her feeling; and it was now heightened into somewhat of a friendlier nature, by the testimony so highly in his favour, and bringing forward his disposition in so amiable a light, which yesterday had produced. But above all, above respect and esteem, there was a motive within her of goodwill which could not be overlooked. It was gratitude; gratitude, not merely for having once loved her, but for loving her still well enough to forgive all the petulance and acrimony of her manner in rejecting him, and all the unjust accusations accompanying her rejection. He who, she had been persuaded, would avoid her as his greatest enemy, seemed, on this accidental meeting, most eager to preserve the acquaintance, and without any indelicate display of regard, or any peculiarity of manner, where their two selves only were concerned, was soliciting the good opinion of her friends, and bent on making her known to his sister. Such a change in a man of so much pride exciting not only astonishment but gratitude — for to love, ardent love, it must be attributed; and as such its impression on her was of a sort to be encouraged, as by no means unpleasing, though it could not be exactly defined. She respected, she esteemed, she was grateful to him, she felt a real interest in his welfare; and she only wanted to know how far she wished that welfare to depend upon herself, and how far it would be for the happiness of both that she should employ the power, which her fancy told her she still possessed, of bringing on her the renewal of his addresses.”

imgresAt the end of Chapter 50, Mr. Gardiner writes of the arrangements made for Wickham and Lydia. “Mr. Bennet and his daughters saw all the advantages of Wickham’s removal from the —— shire as clearly as Mr. Gardiner could do. But Mrs. Bennet was not so well pleased with it. Lydia’s being settled in the North, just when she had expected most pleasure and pride in her company, for she had by no means given up her plan of their residing in Hertfordshire, was a severe disappointment; and, besides, it was such a pity that Lydia should be taken from a regiment where she was acquainted with everybody, and had so many favorites.”

In Chapter 52, Mrs. Gardiner writes of Darcy’s involvement in the marriage of Wickham and Lydia. ” From what I can collect, he left Derbyshire only one day after ourselves, and came to town with the resolution of hunting for them. The motive professed was his conviction of its being owing to himself that Wickham’s worthlessness had not been so well known as to make it impossible for any young woman of character to love or confide in him. He generously imputed the whole to his mistaken pride, and confessed that he had before thought it beneath him to lay his private actions open to the world. His character was to speak for itself. He called it, therefore, his duty to step forward, and endeavour to remedy an evil which had been brought on by himself.”

In Chapter 52, after reading her aunt’s letter, Elizabeth is in a flutter of spirits. “It was difficult to determine whether pleasure or pain bore the greatest share. The vague and unsettled suspicions which uncertainty had produced of what Mr. Darcy might have been doing to forward her sister’s match, which she had feared to encourage as an exertion of goodness too great to be probable, and at the same time dreaded to be just, from the pain of obligation, were proved beyond their greatest extent to be true! He had followed them purposely to town, he had taken on himself all the trouble and mortification attendant on such a research; in which supplication had been necessary to a woman whom he must abominate and despise, and where he was reduced to meet, frequently meet, reason with, persuade, and finally bribe, the man whom he always most wished to avoid, and whose very name it was punishment to him to pronounce. He had done all this for a girl whom he could neither regard nor esteem. Her heart did whisper that he had done it for her. But it was a hope shortly checked by other considerations, and she soon felt that even her vanity was insufficient, when required to depend on his affection for her — for a woman who had already refused him — as able to overcome a sentiment so natural as abhorrence against relationship with Wickham. Brother-in-law of Wickham! Every kind of pride must revolt from the connection.”

At the end of Chapter 53, Mrs. Bennet plans on keeping Bingley’s interest in Jane. “Mrs. Bennet had been strongly inclined to ask them to stay and dine there that day; but, though she always kept a very good table, she did not think anything less than two courses could be good enough for a man on whom she had such anxious designs, or satisfy the appetite and pride of one who had ten thousand a year.”

In Chapter 58, Darcy describes his upbringing. “As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son (for many years an only child), I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father, particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing; to care for none beyond my own family circle; to think meanly of all the rest of the world; to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own.”

In Chapter 59, Elizabeth defends Darcy to her father. “I do, I do like him,” she replied, with tears in her eyes, “I love him. Indeed he has no improper pride. He is perfectly amiable. You do not know what he really is; then pray do not pain me by speaking of him in such terms.”

In Chapter 61, Mrs. Bennet looks upon her “handiwork” with pride. “Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters. With what delighted pride she afterwards visited Mrs. Bingley, and talked of Mrs. Darcy, may be guessed. “




Posted in book excerpts, Georgian England, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, Pride and Prejudice, Regency era, romance | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Best Intentions ~ Celebrating the Release of “Mr. Darcy’s Present” + Excerpt + Giveaway

I admit it. I love autumn. Here in North Carolina for the past two summers we have had a string of 90+ degrees days. This year, since May 27, we have had 82 such days. The lowest temperature we have experienced in three months is 83. So, I am thankful for the latter days of September and the early days of October when the heat and the humidity take a backseat. We will still receive a few days of 85+ degrees until November, but the heat eases, and people start thinking of the upcoming holidays.

Moreover, in my family, we have a series of birthdays between now and year’s end. I turned a sweet 69 years on September 17. [There was a time I thought being 69 meant one was ANCIENT! Not so much now.] My granddaughter Annalise turns 3 in early October. My stepson Tim will be 40 on Halloween. My grandson James will be 5 in early November, and his father (my son) Josh will be 32 in mid November. We have Thanksgiving in the States at the end of November [which included my late mother’s birthday] and Christmas in December. And the much anticipated event at the beginning of January will be a new grandchild. So you can see how my heart grows lighter once the heat of summer disappears.

On one of those recent hot summer evenings, I was speaking to my long time friend Charlotte on the phone, and is customary between us, we were reminiscing about some crazy antics from our childhood. Soon, I was telling her about the year I received four Easter baskets. This was a monumental event for my parents were separated in a time when divorce was still not “accepted.” My mother did not know whether she could scrap up enough money to purchase an Easter basket, and so she had prepared me for disappointment. Then God smiled on my 10-year-old self for my grandfather bought me a basket, our neighbors, who had no children of their own, did likewise, the woman for whom my mother worked presented me with a third one, and my mother was the bearer of the fourth. It was too much chocolate for one child, but I rationed it out to last a LONG time. What was odd about each was that somehow the little note from the presenters were mixed up, and I kept thanking the wrong people for the chocolate bunnies or the jelly beans. Soon the situation became a family source of laughter.

After our conversation between Charlotte and me ended, I held that special moment with me for several hours and into my slumber. As is customary for my writing, soon the idea for a new novel took root, and I decided to write a light-hearted sweet Christmas story with Darcy and Elizabeth. In this tale of Mr. Darcy’s Present, Darcy purchases a small gift for Elizabeth, one he never expects to present her – more one to ease his troubled soul after her rejection of his hand. Unfortunately, the note he sets with the gift becomes mixed up with the ones intended for Georgiana, Anne de Bourgh, and Darcy’s long-time friend Mrs. Osborne. Each of the women receives the wrong note, which causes our favorite hero more than one embarrassing moment.

So, here is a sample of Darcy’s dilemma. I hope you enjoy it.

TRTU eBook Cover

Book Blurb: The Greatest Present He Would Ever Receive is the Gift of Her Love…

What if Mr. Darcy purchased a gift for Elizabeth Bennet to acknowledge the festive days even though he knows he will never present it to her? What if the gift is posted to the lady by his servants and without his knowledge? What if the enclosed card was meant for another and is more suggestive than a gentleman should share with an unmarried lady? Join Darcy and Elizabeth, for a holiday romp, loaded with delightful twists and turns no one expects, but one in which our favorite couple take a very different path in thwarting George Wickham and Lydia Bennet’s elopement. Can a simple book of poetry be Darcy’s means to win Elizabeth’s love? When we care more for another than ourselves, the seeds of love have an opportunity to blossom.

Words of Praise for Mr. Darcy’s Present

Jeffers takes a familiar story and reinvigorates it with humor, warmth, and wisdom.


He set Bingley’s letter aside and quickly read through the other three. Deciding he could do no more until he summoned Sheffield to be his scribe in Bingley’s absence, he carried all four pieces to his study to search through his ledger for the necessary information for his correspondence. However, the empty table where the gifts once rested brought him up short. Swallowing hard against the realization the gift for Elizabeth was also among the missing, he turned to a passing footman to say, “Please ask Mr. Thacker and Mr. Sheffield to attend me here immediately.”

Darcy braced his weight against the doorframe for he did not think his legs would support him. “Surely there is a logical explanation,” he murmured to still the racing of his heart.

An out of breath Thacker came to a halt behind Darcy. “Is there something amiss, Mr. Darcy?”

Darcy did not look upon his servant. Thacker’s tone spoke of the butler’s concern. “May I inquire of the items that were on the table only yesterday?”

Thacker responded in uncertainty. “As Christmas Eve day is but four days hence, you instructed Mr. Sheffield to dispatch the assortment to the proper parties, sir. With the assistance of Mrs. Guthrie and one of the maids, the items were wrapped with paper and string. Mr. Sheffield made certain each parcel had the proper directions while I arranged for the various riders. Even Miss Darcy’s items were sent ahead to Rosings, sir.”

Cautiously, Darcy asked, “There were several items without a recipient’s name. What of those?”

“I cannot say, sir. But here comes Mr. Sheffield. He can speak to your concerns.”

Thinking it best that he interview his valet in private, Darcy motioned Sheffield into the room and closed the door. “Has something amiss occurred, sir?” Sheffield asked with the confidence of a long employed upper servant. Darcy walked toward the far side of the room to prevent anyone from eavesdropping at the door, and Sheffield followed with Darcy’s prompting. “Mr. Thacker informed me that you organized the distribution of the gifts you purchased in my name. Is that correct?”

“Yes, sir.” The confidence had disappeared from the valet’s features. “You presented me specific instructions last evening when you summoned me to assist with your undressing.”

“The same evening hours that, by your own words, I consumed both laudanum and brandy?”

Sheffield swallowed harder. “Yes, sir, but in my defense, at the time you did not appear unclear with your wishes. It was only after you did not wake promptly this morning and after Mrs. Guthrie mentioned your consumption of the brandy that I knew alarm. Your breathing was very shallow for several hours. I asked Thacker to place Nott on alert, but although you refused to arouse completely, Nott assured us it was only a matter of time for the dosage of laudanum to wear away.”

Darcy grumbled, “No more laudanum!”

“But Doctor Nott says…” Sheffield began.

“No more!” Darcy demanded. “Although I admire Nott’s noted knowledge, the physician is too free in dispensing the opiate, and I specifically requested that I not consume the mixture again. I do not appreciate your undermining my orders, even when you think you are serving my interests.” Darcy shot a glance again to the table, almost wishing to view the book and the pin still upon it. “So when exactly did you send out the parcels?”

“All were on their way by nine of the clock, sir.” His servant’s eyes were upon the floor.

“I thought you watched over me?” Darcy asked suspiciously.

“Last evening, after leaving your quarters, I came to your study and wrote out a list of the necessary directions for each parcel. I thought it odd that you chose to post the items for the Matlocks and the De Boughs, as you would customarily place them in your carriage, but I assumed you worried that your injuries could cause you a delay.”

Darcy asked the question to which he had no desire to know the answer for it would turn his life upside down. “And what of the book and the stick pin? The card held no recipient’s name.”

“As neither you or Mr. Bingley chose to sign the card, I assumed the items a gift for someone special. You did not use the initialed cards for that one particular gift. After Mr. Bingley’s man told Thacker that his master was to Hertfordshire, your instructions of last evening for the gift to be sent in Miss Elizabeth’s care made more sense.”

Dread settled in Darcy’s chest. “To Miss Elizabeth? I told you to have the presentation sent into Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s care?”

Confusion returned to Sheffield’s features. “Yes, sir.”

“Again,” Darcy demanded, “this occurred last evening, before I took to my bed?” Darcy did not yet know whether to sack everyone involved or to laugh at the absurdity of the situation.

Sheffield cleared his throat a second time. “Did you not assist in Mr. Bingley’s pursuit of Miss Bennet? It was all quite obvious to the gentleman’s staff in Hertfordshire that Mr. Bingley held the lady in regard. I assumed the message was on the plain card and not signed because Mr. Bingley had yet to know the lady’s heart. You instructed Mr. Bingley, did you not, sir, that a book of poetry, which women appreciate more than men, and an engagement jeweled pin, a gift ‘not too ornate,’ as you declared would be perfect to earn Miss Bennet’s regard. I supposed Mr. Bingley left instructions to send the gift to the lady’s sister, for Miss Elizabeth would have most certainly agreed to assist in Mr. Bingley’s efforts. Mr. Bingley could not offer Miss Bennet the gift until there was an understanding between him and the lady, and with Christmastide, the gentleman would not wish to risk having no gift when the lady accepted his hand. What other explanation could there be?”

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George Read, the Only Signer Who Voted Against the Declaration of Independence, But Still Signed It



readBorn on September 18, 1733, on a family estate at North East, Cecil County,Maryland, George Read was the eldest son of Colonel John Read of Maryland and Delaware. His father, the Colonel, was born in Dublin, Ireland, on January 15, 1688, and was descended from Sir Thomas Read who was one of the knights who accompanied King Henry VI when the king held his Parliament at Reading in 1439. Read’s mother was the daughter of a Welsh planter.

He attended a school in Chester, Pennsylvania, then the Philadelphia Academy under Doctor Francis Allison at New London. At fifteen he graduated and proceeded to study law at the office of John Moland in Philadelphia. He was admitted to the Philadelphia Bar in 1753 at the age of nineteen. He moved to New Castle, Delaware, in 1754. He enlisted a clientele that extended into Maryland. During this period he resided in New Castle, but maintained Stonum, a country retreat near the city. He established quite a reputation in New Castle and was appointed Attorney General to three Delaware counties, an office which he resigned in 1774 when he was elected to the First Continental Congress. In 1764, the period leading up to the Stamp Act protests, Read joined the Delaware Committee of Correspondence and was active in the patriot movement. A moderate Whig, he supported nonimportation measures and dignified protests. At the Continental Congress he found Lee’s Resolution for Independence to be too hasty and voted against it, the only signer of the Declaration to do so, apparently either bowing to the strong Tory sentiment in Delaware, or believing reconciliation with Britain was still possible.. When it was adopted, however, he joined the majority in working toward independence.

imgresRead could be called a “moralist.” But when the chips were down, Read took up the cause. He even helped raise funds to aid those in Boston who lost business because of the Boston Tea Party. 

In reality, Read was not the only delegate who voted against the resolution for independence on 2 July 1776, but as he was the only delegate from Delaware to do so, his “voice” took on special importance. Read had become friends with John Dickinson from Pennsylvania. Dickinson was outspoken advocate for caution. Dickinson thought independence was a premature step. Of the three Delaware representatives, Caesar Rodney did not arrive in Philadelphia in time to vote on 2 July, which left Read, who asked for the delegates to “wait,” set against pro-independence delegate Thomas McKean. Without Rodney’s vote, Delaware’s part in the independence movement would be thrown out as a draw. Therefore, McKean sent a courier to Rodney, who reportedly rode all night to reach Philadelphia in time. It was an 80-mile journey from Dover, Delaware, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Rodney arrived in time to keep Read’s “nay” vote from hurting the independence movement. 

Others who opposed independence abstained from voting. Some voted against the move for independence and later refused to sign the Declaration of Independence. It was only Read who voted against the measure, but still signed the document. It was never that Read supported the British, he just worried for a fledgling country with no army. Even so, after the vote, Read raised money for troops and supplies. He also became part of the militia. 

On January 11, 1763, Read married Gertrude Ross Till, daughter of the Rev. George Ross rector of the Emmanuel Church of New Castle. Gertrude was a widow. The marriage was a powerful union, as the Ross family was prominent and esteemed in the community. In fact, her brother George Ross was an eminent judge and was also a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Gertrude bore Read fours sons and a daughter. 

readgeorgeIn 1776, Read was called upon to join the Constitutional Convention in Delaware, where he served as president of the committee that drafted the document. In 1777 the British captured Delaware governor John McKinly, and Read (then vice governor of the state) took over as governor in the emergency. He lead the state through the crisis of the war, raising money, troops, and supplies for the defense of his state.

in 1784, Read had served on a commission that adjusted New York-Massachusetts land claims. In 1786 he attended the Annapolis Convention. The next year, he participated in the Constitutional Convention, where he missed few if any sessions and championed the rights of the small states. Otherwise, he adopted a Hamiltonian stance, favoring a strong executive. He later led the ratification movement in Delaware, the first state to ratify.

In 1779 he suffered a bout of poor health and had to retire from official duties. He recovered, however, and was appointed Judge in Court of Appeals in admiralty cases three years later. Read went on to be twice elected State Senator under the new constitution, and later still was appointed Chief Justice of the State of Delaware.  He held the office until his death at New Castle 5 years later, just 3 days after he celebrated his 65th birthday. His grave is there in the Immanuel Episcopal Churchyard.the_grave_of_george_read_signer_of_the_declaration_by_wertyla-d7yybgu


American History from Revolution to Reconstruction  “George Read”

U. S. History “Signers of the Declaration of Independence” 

Wikipedia “George Read” 

Posted in Act of Parliament, American History, British history, Declaration of Independence | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Are You Familiar with These Words and Phrases?

043973228x_rgb4_xlgI love unusual words and phrases and often make note of them as I read. Today, we have a nice mix. 

As Nice as Ninepence means neat, tidy, well-ordered. Phrase Finder tells us that the origin of the phrase may include the variants, ‘as right as ninepence’ and ‘as neat as ninepence.’ 

as nice as ninepenceThere are suggestions that this expression derives from from ‘as nice as ninepins.’ In the game of Ninepins (Skittles) the pins are set out in a square. For the game to be fair this must be done neatly and accurately or, in the old parlance, nicely. There are no early records of ‘as nice as ninepins’ in print, which we might expect if the ‘ninepence’ version derived from it. The ‘ninepins’ form, in the guise of ‘as smart as ninepins’ isn’t found until the 20th century, so it is reasonable to assume that it is a simple mishearing of the earlier ‘as neat/clean/grand as ninepence’ versions.

We find the earliest known recorded form of the phrase is ‘as neat as ninepence’; the first citation is in James Howell’s English Proverbs, 1659:

“As fine as fippence, as neat as nine pence.”

as nice as ninepenceThe ‘fippence’ (five pence) here makes it clear that the reference is to money rather than to skittles. For it to appear in a list of sayings viewed as proverbial it must have been in existence for some time before 1659. There was a ninepence coin in circulation in the 16th and 17th centuries, although there was nothing especially neat or nice about it. The rhyming and alliterative style of the citation suggests that the ‘neat’ and ‘nice’ were chosen just for that reason. [When I originally went looking for this phrase, I sought out ninepence to nothing.”]


Next, I have clever about his fambles.” I could not find this one as written, but we could break down the meaning. As a noun, “famble” was a form of obsolete slang meaning “hand.” The word came from the Old English famelen, and as a verb it means “to stammer.” In James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” we find, “White thy fambles, red the gan/And thy quarrons dainly is./Couch a hogshead with me then./In the darkmans clip and kiss.”


Bamboozle” is a word meaning deceive or get the better of (someone) by trickery, flattery, or the like; humbug; hoodwink(often followed by into); perplex; mystify; confound. The origin comes from 1695-1705. Bamboozle is one of those words that has been confounding etymologists for centuries. No one knows for sure what its origins are. One thing we do know is that it was originally considered “low language,” at least among such defenders of the language as British.


It won’t fadge can be found in The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, originally by Francis Grose. It means “it won’t do.” Its origin lie in the Anglo-Saxon,fægen, to fit together; Welsh, ffag, what tends to unite. In literature, we find, “How will this fadge?” from Shakespeare: Twelfth Night, ii. 2. It could also mean a “farthing ~ A corrupt contraction of fardingal, i.e. farthingale. (See Chivy.) Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894.


Earwig is a verb meaning “to eavesdrop on a conversation.” The archaic meaning is “influence (someone) by secret means or to fill the mind of with prejudice by insinuations.” Old English ēarwicga, from ēare ‘ear’ + wicga ‘earwig’ (probably related to wiggle ). “Earwigging” is any of numerous elongate, nocturnal insects of the order Dermaptera, having a pair of large,movable pincers at the rear of the abdomen.The insect is so named because it was once thought to crawl into the human ear. The word comes from the Middle English. 


Humbug comes to us from 1751, student slang, “trick, jest, hoax, imposition, deception,” of unknown origin. Also appearing as a verb at the same time, “deceive by false pretext” (trans.). A vogue word of the early 1750s; its origin was a subject of much whimsical speculation even then. “[A]s with other and more recent words of similar introduction, the facts as to its origin appear to have been lost, even before the word became common enough to excite attention” [OED]. Meaning “spirit of deception or imposition; hollowness, sham” is from 1825.



Holland linens

From Jane Austen in Vermont, we learn the meaning of Holland Covers.” “One of my most favorite scenes in a movie is the opening of the 1995 Persuasion and the slow-motion laying on of the “holland covers” to protect all the Kellynch furniture as the Elliots retrench to Bath.  One can read just about any book of historical fiction and see this term used to refer to furniture coverings:  “shrouded in holland covers” or some such reference.  It is such a common reference in today’s historical fiction writings, and one reads along, knowing what it means, but where does the term come from? and most important of all, did Jane Austen ever use the term? 

“I have a book titled Regency Furniture, by Clifford Musgrave, and there is much on Henry Holland, and I recall when I first bought this book that I thought perhaps this is where the term originated – Holland designed furniture, so coverings for said furniture could be called ‘holland covers’ – no?  Holland was the architect appointed by the Prince Regent [then the Prince of Wales] to rebuild and refurbish Carlton House, the Prince’s London establishment since 1783.”

At British History Online, we find history of the import of holland linen:   

Holland and its neighbours were major producers of LINEN of all grades, the finest of which was usually designated simply as HOLLAND or HOLLAND CLOTH. It was much used for making the highest quality of NAPERY and BED LINEN above those made of DIAPER, HUCKABACK, FLAXEN CLOTH, HEMPEN CLOTH and TOW.

OED earliest date of use: 1617

Found described as PLAIN

A Dictionary of Costume and Fashion by Mary Brooks Picken [Dover, 1999] says the following under “Holland”: 

Closely woven linen fabric originally made in Holland.  The first Hollands were made of this fabric [i.e. a form-fitting foundation made by big establishments for special customers and used as a size guide in cutting and draping to save fittings] – a linen or fine cotton in plain weave, sized and often glazed [p. 175];

and under “Linens”:  firm, course, plain-woven, linen, unbleached or partly bleached, glazed and unglazed; originally from Holland.  Used for aprons, furniture covers, window shades, dress-form covers, etc. [p. 213]

And in Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic life in Victorian England, by Judith Flanders [Norton, 2004]:  

As the second half of the century progressed, hygiene became the overriding concern.  Mrs. Panton, still distressed about bedroom carpets, remembered a carpet that had spent twenty years on the dining room floor, “covered in Holland in the summer,” and preserved from winter wear by the most appallingly frightful printed red and green ‘felt square’ I ever saw.” [with a note:  Holland was a hard-wearing linen fabric, usually left undyed.  It was much used in middle- and upper-class households to cover and protect delicate fabrics and furniture.”  [p.  43] 



Someone steals your thunder when they use your ideas or inventions to their own advantage. Phrase Finder tells us the Origin: Devices that produce the sound of thunder have been called on in theatrical productions for centuries. The methods used include – rolling metal balls down troughs, grinding lead shot in bowls, shaking sheets of thin metal. The latter device, called a thunder sheet, is still in use today. The bowl method was referred to in Alexander Pope’s literary satire The Dunciad, published in 1728:

With Shakespeare’s nature, or with Johnson’s art,
Let others aim: ‘Tis yours to shake the soul
With Thunder rumbling from the mustard bowl.

John DennisThe story that lies behind ‘stealing someone’s thunder‘ is that of the literary critic and largely unsuccessful playwright, John Dennis. In 1704, Dennis’s play Appius and Virginia was produced at the Drury Lane Theatre, London and he invented a new method of creating the sound of thunder for the production. We don’t know now what this method was (some texts say it was a refinement of the mustard bowl referred to by Pope, in which metal balls were rolled around in a wooden bowl), but it is reported that after Appius and Virginia failed and was closed, the method was soon afterwards used in a production of Macbeth. Dennis was less than pleased at having his idea purloined and this account of his response was recorded by the literary scholar Joseph Spence (1699–1768) and later quoted in W. S. Walsh’s Literary Curiosities, 1893:

“Damn them! They will not let my play run, but they steal my thunder.”

The actual words are in doubt and are also reported as “That is my thunder, by God; the villains will play my thunder but not my play!”. What is clear is that Dennis’s experience was the source of this attractive little phrase.


From World Wide Words, we find “dab hand.” This is mainly a British Commonwealth phrase, commonly used in sentences such as “My son has become a dab hand at renovating cast-off computers”. We’re able to trace its origin back to the end of the seventeenth century, but then the trail runs into the sand.

The phrase dab hand turns up first in the early nineteenth century and is widely recorded in English regional and dialect usage through the century. The first recorded use of dab by itself in a related sense is in the Athenian Mercuryof 1691. It’s also in the Dictionary of the Canting Crew of 1698-99: a dab there is “an exquisite expert” in some form of roguery. The US word dabster for an expert comes from the same source, and is recorded from about the same time. Dab is often reported as being school slang, but that may be a later development, as the early sightings all seem to have had criminal associations.

Nobody is even sure where the original dab came from: it may be linked to the Old Dutch dabben and German tappen. The verb first appears about 1300, when it meant to give somebody a sharp blow; it weakened in sense over time, until in the sixteenth century it arrived at its modern meaning of pressing lightly and repeatedly with something soft (the criminal slang dabs for fingerprints seems to derive from this sense, perhaps with a nod towards dab hand). It’s difficult to see how the idea of expertise grew out of the various senses of dab and it’s possible that in this sense it is a separate word, perhaps from adept.

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Life Below Stairs: Benevolent Groups Come to the Aid of Domestic Servants


Life as a servant in Victorian England | Revelations

There were groups operating in London and throughout England to aid domestic servants. The most important of those were…

Established in May 1846, The General Domestic Servants’ Benevolent Institution was located at 32 Sackville Street, Piccadilly. It was under the patronage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. It was registered under the Friendly Societies Act, 13 & 14, Vict. c. 115. This group purpose was “to relieve honest and industrious domestic servants, of both sexes, who have been incapacitated by active duty from unavoidable misfortunes and the advance of age, with its consequent infirmities, by granting to members annual pensions, to be fixed by the committee of management for the time being, after taking into consideration the character, necessities, and especially the duration and the amount of subscription of the applicant, and to grant relief to a limited extent in cases of urgent temporary distress, provided that the members applying have subscribed upwards of three years, to be computed from the day of paying their first subscription money, and within two years of their application.” (Baylis, Thomas Henry. The Master and Mistress and Domestic Servants, London, Sampson Low, Son, and Co., 1857)

To become a member, servants had to be employed within one year of their application. They paid somewhere between 3 s. and 10 s. to become candidates for benefits offered by the institution. Those granted assistance receive 15 -20 Libra per year. The institution had some 7000 members and a permanent fund of 10000l.

The National Guardian Institute was located at 4 Bedford Row, London. It was established in 1825. It supplied families with competent domestic servants of good character. They also maintained almshouses. Almshouses for aged female servants were found in Raven Row, Mile End Road. Those residing there had to have an annual pension of 10l.  Under the patronage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the Servants’ Royal Provident and Benevolent Society was amalgamated with the National Guardian Institute in May 1854. The Servants’ Royal Provident and Benevolent Society  was located at 49 and 9A, Great Marlborough Street, St. James’s. 

11000175893_cd8ca008f1_oThe Female Servants Home Society was located at 21 Nutford Place and 110 Hatton Garden. Lodging was available on Nutford Place for 1s. 9d. per week. At Hatton Garden, the cost was 1s. Medical attendants cared for those too ill to work. The society granted to servants who continued in the same employment rewards proportionate to their length of service. Those who were employed for two years received a copy of the Bible. Five years earned the servant a certificated testimonial and a suitable book. A silver medal was handed out for nine years service, and a good medal rewarded for fifteen years. The group founded homes to receive female servants who were displaced. Those in residence were given religious instruction, as well as advice on providing excellent service. 

The office of the Female Aid Society was located at 27 Red Lion Square. It was established in 1836 to provide shelter and protection to servants and other unprotected young ladies of good character, and to provide asylum to fallen, but penitent females. Three distinct “Homes” were established. A Servants’ Home was established at 51 Southampton Row, Russell Square, for respectable servants who were displaced. A Penitent’s Home was located at 57 White Lion Street, Barnsbury Road, Islington. A Friendless Home for young and friendless girls of good character was found at 17 New Ormond Street, Bedford Row. Foundling Girls



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Being a “Gentleman” in Regency England

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.” But what does “being a gentleman” entail? According to Historical and Regency Romance UK, “The original dictionary definition of the word gentleman was strict: A well-educated man of good family. It was also used to refer to a man whose income derived from property as opposed to a man who worked for a living. It was only in the eighteenth century that it came also to mean a man who was cultured, courteous and well-educated with a code of honour and high standards of proper behaviour. By the time of Jane Austen, the gentleman had come to be defined by his personal qualities as much as by his status as a member of the landed gentry. He was not a member of the nobility but was an “esquire” at the top of the pile of untitled landowners. (Knights and baronets also do not belong to the peerage but are still a cut above an esquire by virtue of holding a title, and of course Jane Austen emphasises beautifully the superiority of Sir Walter Eliott, for example, a baronet, over Lady Russell the widow of a mere knight!) Even so, a gentleman such as Mr Darcy, untitled but well-connected, with a beautiful house and a very good income, was not to be sneezed at.”

Defining what made a “gentleman” was  a fascinating conundrum, basically because the idea and legal aspects of being a ‘gentleman’ was in flux, in transition, under attack, etc. along with the entire upper class.  Gentleman was a legal term and inheritable title according to long-standing laws. New ideas such as Thomas Paine’s “The Rights of Man” and the French Revolution were real threats to legitimacy of the hereditary ruling classes. The growing wealth of the middle class, buying their way into the gentry was another threat.   

quote-he-is-a-gentleman-and-i-am-a-gentleman-s-daughter-so-far-we-are-equal-jane-austen-34-70-04Jane Austen’s books all deal with the question: “What is a true gentleman?” Primogeniture laws existed where only the first son inherited. Therefore, second sons, such as Colonel Fitzwilliam in Pride and Prejudice and Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park, although ostensibly part of the upper class and a gentleman (yet still a commoner), had to discover another means of support. Without forfeiting his place in Society, a landless gentleman could be a barrister because he was given an honorarium, but not a solicitor because he received a salary or fee for work.  He could become a vicar, who was given a ‘living’, possibly several, rather than a salary. He often did not work, per se, generally hiring others. A military officer was another story with its own issues, and one of the more serious threats to the gentry during the Napoleonic Wars. There were far more officers required during the twenty years of war than could be supplied by the upper classes. Purchasing a commission was seen as an entry into the gentry, especially by the wealthy merchant class. In Regency romances, the second son often joins the military ranks, while the third looks to the clergy, and the fourth to the law. Colonel Fitzwilliam tells Elizabeth Bennet, “Younger sons cannot marry where they like.” Needless to say, no one of sense would think Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy “equals,” but by Regency standards they were both of the gentry class.

In addition to the younger sons of the nobility, the gentleman class also included physicians, military, clerics, land stewards, men practicing the law, etc. As time went on, wealthy merchants and manufacturers “cracked” the gentleman classification. Even so, the chasm between the “wanna-bees” and the landed gentry and the aristocracy remained firmly in place.

If we look at order of precedence, we can become more confused. For example, we have at the bottom of the “order” of precedence for those before we even reach the category of “gentleman”…

Eldest sons of the Younger sons of Peers
Eldest sons of Baronets
Eldest sons of Knights
Members of Fifth Class of Victorian Order
Baronets’ Younger sons
Knights Younger sons
Esquires: Including the Eldest sons of the sons of Viscounts and Barons, the eldest sons of all the younger sons of Peers and their eldest sons in perpetual Succession, the younger sons of Baronets, the sons of knights, the eldest son of the eldest son of a Knight in perpetual succession, persons holding the King’s Commission, or who may be styled “Esquire” by the King in any Official Document
Gentlemen (Edwardian Promenade)

Beyond money and land ownership, a “gentleman” was expected to perform in a particular manner. In such is where we find the true “gentleman.” Darcy was superior to either Collins or Wickham. Edmund Bertram outshone his brother Thomas. Sir Walter Elliot was a pompous ass, and his heir Mr. Elliot was a scoundrel, but Captain Wentworth was a true gentleman. Position and wealth were secondary to a sense of honour.

Additional Resources:

Captain Rees Hollow Gronow’s book, The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow, Being Anecdotes of the Camp, Court, Clubs and Society 1810-1860, provides the reader a glimpse into a life of an officer operating among the upper classes. Gronow’s tales speak to acceptance and denial as a military officer/gentleman with little income to claim a position in Society.

There is an interesting 200+ page thesis by Ailwood, Sarah, “What Men Ought to be: Masculinities in Jane Austen novels.” University of Woolongong Theses Collection 2008 that can be downloaded at: It addresses Austen’s ideas of Masculinity, which pretty much targets the society of gentlemen.

11EMBRVQXKL._BO1,204,203,200_Mrs. Humphrey’s Manners for Men, originally published in 1897 (but facsimiles are available on Amazon for £4,50 HERE )

Posted in British history, customs and tradiitons, George Wickham, Georgian England, Great Britain, historical fiction, history, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, primogenture, Regency era | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment