Jeanne McElvaney's Blog - Posts Tagged "regency-england"

July 26, 2011

The coolest, newest, latest phone might be an essential ingredient of peer pressure today, but 200 years ago, in Jane Austen's England, gambling was the sure way for a young man to capture the esteem of friends.

Cards and dice were the usual games, but gentlemen could bet on anything and they did. One of the premier mens clubs in London had a famous betting book for placing these wagers. At White’s, a young man might place a wager on who could steal a certain young lady’s hanky or a kiss… or which ale would loose its foam first.

It didn’t matter what the bet, it was just essential that wagers were taking place. It might be at one of the exclusive mens clubs, the card rooms at private social events, at the race tracks, or the less reputable “gaming hells” where odds were against the unwary and “Captain Sharps” were on the hunt for those who were new to town.

This past time among the younger set was supported by activities of many leaders of the country. The Prince of Wales rebelled against his serious-minded father and became a notorious gambler. At one time, he was involved in a national gaming scandal.

The long war with Napoleon fed this beast of pride and chance, but the banking system and acceptable “vowels” acknowledging gambling debts encouraged games of chance to get out of control. During the Regency era, both local banks and the Bank of England could print their own bank notes and, with several hundred banks competing, it was easy for a gentleman to get an advance.

This often led to dire results. Gamblers lost entire estates in an evening of over-betting. Some would flee mounting debts by moving out of the country. Others took their own life because gambling obligations were considered “debts of honor”. Aristocrats could ignore payments to shopkeepers, tailors, even servants, but they could not ignore what was due when they gambled and lost. The only thing worse than not paying was cheating.

While the young women of early 1800’s England were closely watched and held to an excessively high standard of innocence, the young men were encouraged to get some “town bronze” and gambling was an essential ingredient in their coming of age. For some, it became a passion. One story reveals the 4th Earl of Sandwich asking for a slice of meat between bread so he wouldn’t have to stop gaming in order to eat.

Notes along the way... Jeanne McElvaney
More notes at GoToSpirit.comHarrietta's Happenstance
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Published on July 26, 2011 13:14 • 96 views • Tags: coming-of-age, gambling, gotospirit-com, jane-austen, jeanne-mcelvaney, regency-england, young-men
August 6, 2011

For me, the magic of a tree lies beyond the color and shape of its leaves or the silhouette it creates against the skyline. I love knowing it has been a witness to time. I’m convinced each tree is a diary of the lives it has sheltered from the sun.

The oak trees scattered across Jane Austen’s England, hold the intimate secrets of days when there were no street lights. Sitting beside a country road that may still be there, this gnarled friend of the past stood quietly as carriages took ladies of the local gentry and aristocracy to visit their neighbors for tea. Many evenings would pass without a single traveler at a time when events were planned around the light of the moon.

If I passed by that tree today, I would wonder what the tree heard back then when every day life had a completely different sounds. Mother Nature’s thunder might have been the big event. The clop, clop of a single horse and rider would have mingled with occasional conversation, buzz of bumblebees, and birds that landed on the limbs. I’m inclined to think this was a time when many trees were becoming used to eavesdropping on the lives of people.

I wonder if the trees noticed the changes in color. The seasonal wildflower beauty was now accompanied by spring blossoms of crops growing across the landscape and flower gardens on estates. Pamona green and Paris green gowns mingled with the different shades of leaves, stems, and grasses. Young men who were called fops or tulips of the ton wore shocking combinations of colors giving the trees a parade of changing hues and tones.

John O’Donohue wrote, “Because we tend to place ourselves at the centre of the spaces we occupy, we inevitably view these spaces in terms of how they house us. We rarely consider them in relation to how they might feel as a shape of embrace.” When I pass a tree, I feel it gently considering me; I often wish I knew how to tree-speak so we could have a conversation about the wonders of the past.

Notes along the way... Jeanne McElvaney
More notes at GoToSpirit.comHarrietta's Happenstance
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November 10, 2011

In 1661, M.P. wrote this about coffee: ‘Tis extolled for drying up the Crudities of the Stomack and for expelling Fumes out of the Head.’ The medicinal qualities of this berry drew me to coffee too. I learned it was high in antioxidants and started drinking a cup a day. In Jane Austen’s England, coffee was simply the kissing cousin of tea and chocolate drinks.

Coffee houses came before tea shops. By 1675, the landscape of England was dotted with 3000 ancestors of Starbucks. In 1717, Thomas Twining turned his coffee house into a tea shop and began a new fad. By the early 1800’s tea had become more affordable and a common drink in the middle class as well as those with more income, but Jane Austen’s era and come and gone before the Duchess of Bedford started the English tradition of late afternoon tea time. Even then, coffee was invited.

Coffee tended to be a masculine drink. It was generally believed women’s minds couldn’t handle complex thought and their bodies needed a more gentle drink. Coffee houses were, at one time, restricted to men. They were known as “Penny Universities”. These cafes attracted people from all walks of life for discussions on every topic. Some houses drew men with similar interests, encouraging conversations and shared information from politics to maritime.

Regency England was a very modern time. The aristocracy prided itself in intellectual pursuits, social gatherings, and stimulating conversations. I have to wonder what they would have thought about our Penny Universities… coffee cafes to delight every taste with WiFi on the menu.

Notes along the way… Jeanne McElvaney
More notes at GoToSpirit.com Old Maggie's Spirit Whispers by Jeanne McElvaney
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Published on November 10, 2011 14:06 • 70 views • Tags: coffee, gotospirit-com, history, jane-austen, jeanne-mcelvaney, regency-england, tea