3 Jun 2009

When they were Young

Archelaus, my hero, is 19 in 1720, the year that Pullen is set. The illegitimate child of a nobleman and a theatrical performer, Archie has never met his father, who dies shortly after the novel opens.

As I want him to gradually develop enough feeling for this man he's never known to want to avenge his death, it is important that he gain some sense of him. So in the course of visiting an old friend of his father's, Archie will see a set of miniatures painted in about 1676, when his father would himself have been nineteen - and on the Grand Tour with his friend Ervin.

It was customary for young men to have themselves depicted in full classical antic mode, with ruined columns, rent curtains, toga-type gowns and bits of armour. I wouldn't imagine - no matter what the skill of that year's modish artist - that it was always easy to make a young man look good like this:

(Nicholaes Maes, Portrait of a Young Man, 1676)

But for every ten chaps who looked a bit burkish, there was always one who managed to look cool no matter what get-up he was shown in:

(Unknown artist, John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, c. 1665-75)

Archie, who is not immune to a bit of vanity, will have his first throb of fellow-feeling for his father when he sees how much they are alike.

2 Jun 2009

Tell it to the Bees

It's not often that I descend from the 18thC to the present day, but even I'm willing to make the trip for my friend Fiona's latest novel (her fourth) - Tell it to the Bees (publ. Tindal Street).

Told through the eyes of a young boy, Charlie, growing up in the 1950s, it is the story of the dissolution of a marriage and development of a love. It is subtly and gently told, and utterly gripping. I read it in two sittings.

If you've just finished a book or are looking for a present for someone else, I couldn't recommend it highly enough if it were my own!

30 May 2009

Sarah Churchill on the Credit Crunch:

Among those who sold their shares in the South Sea Co. and made a killing before it all went chalk-outline-of-banker-on-the-pavement shaped, was Sarah Churchill (née Jenyns), Duchess of Marlborough.

Her Duke, the victor of Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde and Malplaquet, may, as she reported, have on his return "pleasured her twice in his top boots", but financially she wore the trousers. It was she who built Blenheim palace and its grounds, and amassed a vast and lasting fortune.

Her punditry is as pertinent today as it was in 1720:

"Every mortal that has common sense or that knows anything of figures, sees that 'tis not possible by all the arts and tricks upon earth long to carry £400,000,000 of paper credit with £15,000,000 of specie. This makes me think that this project must burst in a little while and fall to nothing."

29 May 2009

Scandal-broth: Tea

Might it be for more than Fashion, that the lovely Mrs. H-- H-- H-- has recently shown herself so taken by her new Turban-Hat, from which neither Sun, Rain nor ingallant Breezes can part her?

We have heard that her Attachment to the outlandish Headgear is due to an unfortunate Circumstance - the lady has lost the Wealth of lustrous Curls for which she was rightly famed. Nature is not to be upgraded for this barbarity, however; but rather Mammon.

Her husband, whose debts to Dame Fortune and the Beauties of the Bagnio have made the name H-- H-- a Byword for bad Credit, deserves some degree of Censure. His Lady found it necessary to offer her Tresses on the open Market in order to have anything to serve their Guests at a forthcoming Party.

27 May 2009

Swift on the Credit Crunch:

..."How will the caitiff wretch be scared
When first he finds himself awake
At the last trumpet, unprepared,
And all his grand account to make!

For in that universal call,
Few bankers will to Heav'n be mounters:
They'll cry, 'Ye shops, upon us fall!
Conceal and cover us, ye counters.'"

Jonathan Swift, The Run upon the Bankers (repr. 1720)

St. James's Street

Nip through the Park and do a quick dog-leg by way of Spring Garden (an alley), Cockspur, Warwick Street and Pall Mall, and you would find yourself in St. James's Street.

Here you could enjoy the company of the gentle sex (for a price) at the Bagnio at number 63. Next door were Fenton's Hotel and the Cocoa Tree coffee shop (no. 64) which catered to the Tory MPs. The Whigs used the St. James coffee house just up the road at number 60.

White's Chocolate House at number 28 had a gaming room for gamblers, next door to Mrs. Hannah Humphrey's bookshop at no. 27.

22 May 2009

Sedan Chair - part one

A Modern Belle going to the Rooms at Bath
James Gillray (1796)