William Edward Hartpole Lecky.

A history of England in the eighteenth century online

. (page 16 of 64)
Online LibraryWilliam Edward Hartpole LeckyA history of England in the eighteenth century → online text (page 16 of 64)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

mination for a history of England in the eighteenth century,
though it will be necessary for the completion of my narrative
to carry that portion of my work which relates to Ireland as far
as the Legislative Union of 1800. It remains for me now to
give an outline of the chief social, industrial, and moral changes
which accompanied the political movements that I have de-
scribed, and which form a not less essential part of the history
of the nation.

the regret with which he looked on from Elba. He wrote, at the beg*n-

Waterloo. Napier, the historian of ning of the campaign which ended

the Peninsular War, said of Napoleon, with Waterloo, that he f erven \y

in one place that 'te was the only wished • fwr a saocessfal resistance by

support of real freedom in Europe/ France to the invasion of the allies ; '

and in another that • self had no and when Waterl* o had been fought,

place in his policy, save as bis per- he deplored * the degradation of our

tonal giory was identified with France army in being i he main instrument of

and her prosperi'y. Never before did this warfare against Freedom and

the world see a man snaring so high, Civilisation.' (See Homer' $ Life, it

and devoid of all selfish ambition.' 258, 274.) Robert Hall said of

(See Braces Life of Sir W. Napier, Waterloo: • That battle and its r**sul's

ii. 24.) Horner was no admirer of seemed to me to put b*ck the clock of

Napoleon, but he voted against the the world six degrees.' (Hall's Works,

renewal of the war after the return vi. 124.)

Digitized by LjOOQIC



In undertaking to write the history of England in the eighteenth
century I had proposed to allot a considerable space to the
history of manners and morals, to industrial developments,
prevailing opinions, theories, and tendencies. One chapter in
an earlier volume has accordingly been exclusively devoted to
the social characteristics of that portion of the century which
preceded the accession of George III., and another to religious
tendencies and changes, and in describing the course of legisla-
tion and of parliamentary controversy I have seldom failed to
enlarge upon those portions which throw some light upon the
moral, material, or intellectual condition of the people. In
the last chapters, however, these topics have been somewhat
neglected. Foreign policy has occupied the foremost place, and
the necessity of following in detail long courses of diplomatic
correspondence has given a different character to my work. I
propose in the present chapter to repair the omission, and,
turning away in a great measure from the proceedings of states-
men and parliaments, to bring before my readers a number of
scattered facts, illustrating from different points of view the
habits, manners, conditions, and opinions of the different classes
of the English people.

Glancing first of all at the upper orders, we shall be at once
struck with the immense change ''which has passed over male
attire since the eighteenth century. The contrast of colour
between male and female dress which is now so conspicuous
then hardly existed; and rank, wealth, and pretension, were
still distinctly marked by costly and elaborate attire. Nor
was this simply true of the ( bucks/ ' beaux/ ' fribbles/ ' maca-
ronis/ and ( dandies/ who represented in successive periods the
extremes or the eccentricities of fashion. The neutral dress
scarcely differing in shape or colour which now assimilates all

Digitized by vjOOQ IC


classes from the peer to the shopkeeper was still unknown, and
a mode of attire was in frequent use which survives only in
Court dress, in the powdered footmen of a few wealthy honses,
in City pageants, in the red coats of the hunting field, and in
the gay colouring of military uniforms. The pictures of Reynolds
and Gainsborough have made the fashionable attire of their
period too familiar to need a detailed description, and it may
be abundantly illustrated from contemporary literature. Thus,
when Lord Derwentwater mounted the scaffold, he was dressed
in scarlet, faced with black velvet and trimmed with gold, a
gold-laced waistcoat, and a white feather in his hat. Dr.
Cameron went to execution in a light-coloured coat, red waist-
coat and breeches, and a new bag wig. One of Selwyn'a corre-
spondents describes a well-known highwayman who affected
the airs of fashion as going to Tyburn dressed in a blue and
gold frock, and wearing a white cockade as an emblem of inno-
cence. Dr. Johnson's usual attire was a full suit of plain brown
clothes, with twisted hair buttons of the same colour, black
worsted stockings, a large bushy, greyish wig, and silver buckles;
but on the night when his play of ' Irene ' was first acted he
thought it right to appear in the theatre in a scarlet waistcoat
with rich gold lace, and a gold-laced hat. Goldsmith went out
as a physician in purple silk small-clothes, and with a scarlet
roquelaure, a sword, and a gold-headed cane ; and he had other
suits which were equally conspicuous. Wilkes wrote to his
daughter in Paris, in 1770, asking her to beg Baron Holbach
to purchase for him scarlet cloth of the finest sort and colour
to make a complete suit of clothes, and the most fashionable
gold buttons for the whole. He is described, by one of his
friends, walking to town from a house which he had taken at
Kensington, usually attired either in a scarlet or green suit
edged with gold. 1

In Parliament the variety of colouring easily lent itself to
party designation. In the latter years of the Irish Parliament
the brilliant uniforms of the Volunteers were conspicuous. In
England Fox and his followers wore the buff and blue which

1 See Angelo's BemiuUccnee$, L of SeUoyn* L 864, 866; and several

66; \YUhci$ Corret/hmdrtiee (by ilia trations collected by Mr Foray th

Almon); llosweir* Johnson (Crokers io hi* A'orei* of the Eighteenth Co*.

edition), pp. 61, 203 v 2<* ; Jesse's Life fury, pp. 68, 69.

Digitized by VjOOQIC


had been the uniform of Washington. On the other aide of the
House the dress of the Constitutional Club established in 1789
consisted of a dark blue frock with a broad orange velvet cape,
large yellow buttons, and waistcoat and breeches of white
kerseymere. 1 The ministers wore their stars and ribands, and
North was habitually described in debate as ' the noble Lord
with the blue riband.' The general use of Court dress and
swords in Parliament died out before the end of the American
War, 1 but they were still sometimes worn by a few old members,'
and by the ministers on great occasions. Wraxall has given a
graphic description of the sudden change that took place in the
appearance of the House upon the downfall of Lord North's mi-
nistry in 1782. c The Treasury bench as well as the places behind
it had been for so many years occupied by Lord North and his
friends that it became difficult to recognise them again in their
new seats, dispersed over the Opposition benches in greatcoats,
frocks, and boots. Mr. Ellis himself appeared for the first time
in his life in undress. The ministers, their successors, emerged
from their obscure lodgings or from Brooks's, having thrown off
their blue and buff uniforms ; now ornamented with the appen-
dages of dress, or returning from Court decorated with swords,
lace and hair-powder, excited still more astonishment.' Lord
Nugent having lately been robbed, among other articles, of a
number of laced ruffles, pretended that he saw them on the
Treasury bench, and the appearance of Fox and Burke in full
Court dress gave a point to the witticism. 4 At one period party
spirit ran so high that it was carried even into the ordinary
dress of private society. A scarlet waistcoat with gold buttons
was well known to indicate an admirer of Pitt, and a buff waist*
coat a follower of Fox, and enthusiastic Whig ladies delighted
in appearing with foxes' tails as a head-dress.*

The professions were clearly marked by distinctions of dress.

1 Bland Burgee Piper*, p. 121. place be was invariably babited in a

* Townsend'a History of the House full-dress**! suit of clothes, oomu only
of Common s t ii. 422. of a purple or dark coour, without

* Wraxall gives tbe following de- lace or embroidery, clos* buttoned*
script ion of Rigby as be appeared in with bis sword thrust through the
1781 : • Aa if be had meant to »how pocket.' (Wraxall's Memoir*, i. 639,
th*t he acted independently of minis- 640.)

ten, be never sat od tlie Government * Ib*d. iL 167, 168.

side of tbe House. . • . When in bit .• The Lounger, lio. 10 (1785).


by Google


c The medical character/ wrote Sir John Hawkins, 'speaking of
a period a little before the middle of the century, ' whatever it
is now, was heretofore a grave one. . . • The candidates for
practice, though ever so young, found it necessary to add to
their endeavours a grave and solemn deportment, even to affec-
tation. The physicians in Hogarth's prints are not caricatures.
The full dress with a sword and a great tie wig and the hat
under the arm, and the doctors in consultation each smelling to
a gold-headed cane shaped like a parish beadle's staff, are pictures
of real life in his time ; and I myself have seen a young physician
thus equipped walk the streets of London without attracting the
eyes of passengers.' ' ' A physician,' said a character in Fielding's
'Mock Doctor/ which was published in 1732, 'can no more
practise without a full wig than without a fee.'

In the early half of the century clergymen usually wore their
gowns when walking in the streets of London. In the country the
distinction was less marked. There were clergymen like the Buck
Parson in ' Belinda,' or the squire-in-orders described by Colman
in the ' Connoisseur/ or the workhouse chaplain in Crabbe's * Vil-
lage/ who almost wholly sank the character of a clergyman in that
of a sportsman, and in general the distinction in tastes, habits,
and occupations between the country clergyman and the small
country gentleman was much less than at present. But, even
in the country, till the last quarter of the century, a clergyman
rarely appeared abroad without his cassock, 1 and long after wigs
had fallen into general disuse they were habitually worn by the
leaders of the Law and of the Church. Lord Eldon mentions
that, at his wife's request, he applied to the King to be allowed
to dispense with his wig when not engaged in official functions,
but the King refused the permission, saying he would have no
innovations in his time ;' and a Bishop of London is said to
have been refused admission to the royal closet because he had
laid it aside. As late as 1850, King Ernest of Hanover wrote
to one of his friends some curious and characteristic recollections
of his boyhood, when he lived in England as Duke of Cumber-
land. ' I maintain/ he said, ' that the first change and shock

1 Hawkins* IAfeof Johnson,? 238. Church in the Eighteenth Century,

■ Many particulars about clerical ii. 469-471.

dress in the eighteenth century will be * Twiss's Ufe of Eldon, pp. 339 9

found in Abbey and Overton's English 340.

Digitized by VjOOQIC


in the ecclesiastical habits was the bishops being allowed to lay
aside their wigs, their purple coats, short cassocks and stockings,
and cocked hats, when appearing in public, for I can remember
when Bishop Hurd of Worcester, Courtenay of Exeter, and
Markham, Archbishop of York, resided in Kew and its vicinity,
that as a boy I met them frequently, walking about dressed as I
now tell you, in the fields and walks of the neighbourhood, and
their male servants appeared equally all dressed in purple, which
was the custom. The present Bishop of Oxford was the first
who persuaded George IV. to be allowed to lay aside his wig,
because his wife found him better looking without it/ ' For-
merly,' writes the same old Tory King, 'all peers when a
summons was issued never attended the House but dressed like
gentlemen and peers, and not as they do now, like shopkeepers,
horse-dealers, and tradesmen, with coloured neckcloths and
boots. I remember when no minister came down to the House,
having announced a motion, without being full-dressed, with
his sword by his side.' *

A love of pageantry, greatly in excess of what now prevails,
was shown in many other forms. George III. indeed, though
extremely tenacious of the royal dignity, was by taste simple
and domestic even to a fault ; he scarcely ever received at his
own table,' and the dinner in public at Hampton Court, which
had been customary under his predecessors, was no longer held ;
but it was still the rule for every one to kneel to the King on
entering his chamber. 3 A nobleman or a bishop rarely visited
a country town except in a carriage drawn by four horses.
Travelling, being chiefly by private carriages, was, except in its
humblest and most incommodious forms, almost a monopoly of
the rich ; and at a time when the roads were still infested by
highwaymen the many retainers who accompanied a great man
on his journey were deemed necessary for his security as well as
for his dignity. In this respect the moral and political influ-
ence of railways in levelling social distinctions has been very
great. The pomp and extravagance of English funerals in all
ranks had long been a subject of complaint, and in the case of

1 Fonblanque'8 Lives of the Lards Reign of Queen Mcteria, i. 77.
Strangford, pp. 183, 185. • Jesse, Gecrge III. 11. 279.

• bee GrevUle's Journal of the


by Google

ol xxio. THE ARISTOCRACY. 143

men of high, rank and sometimes even of rich tradesmen the
custom of lying in state was still retained. Horace Walpole
describes how 10,000 people pressed round the coffin of Lady
Coventry, and how Lady Milton and Lady Betty Germain stood
waiting in the mob in St. James's Square till they oould see
Lord Macclesfield lie in state. 1

The position of the aristocracy was a more exceptional one
than it now is, though their real power had sensibly diminished
since the accession of George III. The war which the King
had successfully carried on against the ascendency of the great
families that had existed under his two predecessors, the great
growth of the popular or democratic element in the Constitu-
tion, the lavish creations of North and Pitt, which nearly doubled
the peerage without importing into it any proportionate acces-
sion of ability, and, finally, the rapid multiplication of commer-
cial fortunes and of fortunes acquired in India, were all in their
different ways abridging aristocratic influence. Still, that in-
fluence, though almost wholly unsupported by the invidious class
privileges which prevailed on the Continent, was enormously
great. The peers were the natural heads of that landed interest
which it was one of the main objects of English law to make the
predominant power in the country. They were the centre of a tra-
ditional popular reverence, unmistakable in its power and sin-
cerity. They were a class who devoted themselves from early
manhood and with extraordinary advantages to public life, and
they not only constituted one House of the Legislature, but
largely influenced by their borough patronage the decisions of
the other. With the exception of a few eminent lawyers, who
were readily welcomed into their ranks, almost all the higher
posts of administration were in the hands of noblemen or of men
of noble family. The two strongest ministries of the reign of
George III. were the ministry of North, which lasted for twelve
years, and the ministry of Pitt, which lasted for twenty. In the
Cabinet of 1770 North himself and Sir Edward Hawke were the
only members who were not in the House of Lords, while Pitt
was at first the only commoner in the Cabinet of 1783.* The

1 Walpole to Mann, Not. 1, 1760 ; « See on this subject, Sir C. Lewis's

Walpole to Hertford, March 27, 1764. Administrations of Great Britain,

See too Andrews' Eighteenth Century, pp. 92, 93.
p. 49.


by Google


power of the nobility was supported by great wealth of the kind
which carries with it most social influence, and by a superiority
of education and manners which distinguished them far more
than at present from the average country gentleman. It is not
surprising, therefore, that the separation between the titled and
untitled gentry should have been more marked than in our
generation. In ' Humphrey Clinker ' the nobleman refuses the
satisfaction of a gentleman to the squire on account of the in-
equality of their ranks, and an attentive reader of the light
literature of the time will, I think, be struck with the degree in
which the distinction between peer and commoner is accen-
tuated. Wilberforce gives as one of his reasons for not desiring a
peerage that it would exclude his children from intimacy with
' private gentlemen of moderate fortunes, and clergymen, and
still more, mercantile men/ !

In one important respect a certain retrograde movement may
be traced. The connection between the English nobility and the
trading or commercial classes, which I have already had occasion
more than once to notice, seemed to have disappeared. Not-
withstanding the great prominence which commercial interests
held in the policy of Pitt, and notwithstanding the immense
number of the peerages which he created, the dignity of 9
British peerage was in his ministry scarcely ever conferred on
any man whose fortune was made in commercial pursuits. In
questions of peerages the royal influence is always extremely
great, and ' through his whole reign,' it has been said, ' George
the Third adopted as a fixed principle that no individual
engaged in trade, however ample might be his nominal fortune,
should be created a British peer/ * l At no period in the history of

> Wilberforce's Life, i. 392. often been referred to especially, as

* Wraxall, yottkwmou* Mem. i. introducing into the House of Lords

6ft. Smith the banker, who was made a new description of person. I never

Lord Caning ton, was, Wraxall says, heard Mr. Pitt speak on this subject

the sole esoeption. On the old con- himself, bat I have heard the lata

nection between trade and the peer- Lord Melville say that Mr. Pitt always

age, see Sir Bernaid Burke's Be- defended this creation on principle,

miaUeeneet, Ancestral and Hittoric, and that he maintained the time was

pp. 82-84, 95, 98, 99. See, how- come when for the sake of the House

ever, on the other hand, a curious of Lords it was desirable that it

letter of Lord Aberdeen in the should not be clewed against com-

Crolter Curre$pmde»ce. He says : mercial eminence any more than

* Mr. Pitt has often been reproached other well • founded pretensions.*

for having been too prodigal of (Groker's Carrespcndence, iL 802.)
peerages, and Lord Carrington's has


by Google


England/ wrote Bnrke in 1791, 'had so few peers been taken
ont of trade or from families newly created by commerce. In
no period had so small a number of noble families entered into
the counting-houses. I can call to mind but one in all England,
and his is of near fifty years' standing.' '

The space of two long lives is sufficient to bridge the chasm
that separates as from a society which would appear as strange
to oar eyes as the figures of a fancy ball. With the many
purely capricious changes or fluctuations of fashion we need not
concern ourselves here. The contraction or dilation of the hoops
of ladies' dresses ; their long trains ; the passion for tight-lacing,
which was carried so far that Lady Crewe on her return from
Ranelagh once rushed up to her bedroom, calling her maid
instantly to cut the laces or she would faint ; the pyramids of
false hair, which rose so high that Rogers recollected driving
to Ranelagh with a lady who was compelled to sit on a stool
placed on the floor of the carriage ; the taste for ornaments
made of straw, which, under the patronage of the Duchess of
Rutland and a few other great ladies, became general about
1783; the mufls that were carried, and the high heels that
were worn by men of fashion ; the large gold or amber headed
canes of the physician ; the many forms of wigs ; and the many
changes in the shape, size, and trimmings of hats, have been
abundantly described by the chroniclers of fashion. There were
some changes, however, which fall properly within the province
of this book as indicating important revolutions in the habits or
relations of classes. Sir John Hawkins, in some interesting
notes on those which took place in the forty years that elapsed
between the writings of Addison and the appearance of the
' Rambler,' in 1 750, mentions especially that during that time the
outward distinctions of trades and professions had been steadily
fading. The clergyman dressed more like a layman. 'The
apron, the badge of mechanic occupations in all its varieties of
stuff, was laid aside.' Physicians discarded their great wigs,
and assumed what Boswell called the 'levity of bag wigs.'
Lawyers ceased to wear black except in the actual exercise of

their profession. 1 In the thirty years that followed, wigs passed

> • Thoughts on French Affairs/ Works, vii. 24.
* Hawkins's JAfe o/John*m, p. 261.


out of general use except in the professional classes. In 1765
the peruke-makers presented a carious petition to the King,
complaining bitterly of the growing custom of gentlemen wearing
their own hair, employing foreigners to dress it, and when they
employed natives obliging them to work on the Lord's Day ; '
and they begged the King to discountenance these usages by
his example. Some of the peruke-makers who presented this
petition had themselves conformed to the custom they repro-
bated, which so excited the indignation of the mob that they
seized them and cut off their hair. 9 About 1780, as I have
already had occasion to notice, the custom of wearing swords at
social gatherings and in places of public resort began to go
out of fashion, and about the same time a very important
addition was made to the comfort of life, and especially to that of
the less opulent classes, by the general use of the umbrella.

Its history is 'not without interest. In Queen Anne's time
it is mentioned both by Swift and Gay as employed by women, 8
but up to the middle of the eighteenth century it appears never
to have been used in England by men, though Wolfe, the future
conqueror of Quebec, wrote from Paris in 1752 describing it as
in general use in that city, and wondering that so convenient
a practice had not yet penetrated to England. Hanway, the
famous traveller and philanthropist, who returned to England in
1750, is said to have been the first Englishman who carried an
umbrella ; and a Scotch footman, named John MacDonald, who
had travelled with his master in France and Spain, mentions in
his curious autobiography that he brought one to London in
1778 and persisted in carrying it in wet weather, though a
jeering crowd followed him, crying, ' Frenchman, why don't you

1 This was also a complaint of Safe through the wet on clinking

Hannah More. See her Tlwughtt on pattens tread.

the Manners of the Great. Let Persian dames th' umbrella's ribs

1 Annual Register, 1765, p. 64. display

»« The tucked-up sempstress walks To guard their beauties from the

with hasty strides sunny ray ;

While streams run down her oil'd Or sweating slaves support the shady

umbrella's sides.' T „+ 1mm w « o*a load

lazier, no. £6*. ^^ 1SiSS ^ Tn monarchs ghow their

' Good housewives all the winter's rage state abroad ; ';

despise Britannia's winter only knows its aid

Defended by the riding hood's dig- To guard from chilly showers the

guise ; walking maid.'

Or underneath th' umbrella's oily shed Gay's Trivia.


by Google


get a coach ? ' In about three months, he says, the annoyance
almost ceased, and gradually a few foreigners and then some
Englishmen followed his example. Defoe had described an
umbrella as one of the contrivances of Robinson Crusoe, and
umbrellas were in consequence at one time called ' Robinsons.'
They were long looked on as a sign of extreme effeminacy, and
they multiplied very slowly. Dr. Jamieson in 1782 is said to
have been the first person who used one at Glasgow, and Southey'a

Online LibraryWilliam Edward Hartpole LeckyA history of England in the eighteenth century → online text (page 16 of 64)