Cara King, Author

Private life in the Regency

One window into the private attitudes of people during the Regency is given by the kind of literature that they read, and plays that they saw. What follows is a sample of things that a woman living during the extended English Regency period (approximately 1790 to 1830) might have read or seen on stage which dealt with various “private” subjects (such as sex, drugs, gambling, etc.) Keep in mind that unmarried women might be more restricted in their reading than married, middle-class women more than gentry, gentry more than aristocracy, and women later in this period more than those earlier.


From the 1803 play “JOHN BULL - or the Englishman’s Fireside” by George Colman the Younger:
Lady Caroline:  I came to see if you had any of the last novels in your book-room.
Sir Simon:  The last novels!  [Aside.] Most of the female New School are ghost-bitten, they tell me! [Aloud, pointing to the table.]  There’s Fielding’s works, and you’ll find Tom Jones, you know.
Caroline:  Psha, that’s such a hack!
Simon: A hack, Lady Caroline, that the knowing ones have warranted sound....
Caroline: Pope.  Come, as there are no novels, this may be tolerable.

From the 1814 burletta “Whackham and Windham, or, The Wrangling Lawyers” by Jane Scott:
Whackham:  Now once more. [reads.] Sir Botheram arose
and said that he should set his face against the
Why miss you are not heeding?
Some strange romance or novel or fresh you're reading.
To corrupt your morals; bah! Stuff! Lies and fabrication.
Here you find truth, improvement and information.
Maria:  As for truth, in my opinion I may declare
Newspapers and novels they are on a square.
And as for morals...
Whackham:  Hold upon review,
I think a novel the harmless of the two.

from JANE AUSTEN’S LETTERS, (January 24, 1809)
[referring to Hannah More’s new book]:   You have by no means raised my curiosity after Caleb. My disinclination for it before was affected, but now it is real. I do not like the evangelicals. Of course I shall be delighted when I read it, like other people, but till I do I dislike it.



From the 1796 novel “The Monk” by Matthew Lewis:
He had already committed the crime, and why should he refrain from enjoying its reward? He clasped her to his breast with redoubled ardour. No longer repressed by the sense of shame, he gave a loose to his intemperate appetites: While the fair wanton put every invention of lust into practice, every refinement in the art of pleasure, which might heighten the bliss of her possession, and render her lover’s transports still more exquisite.

From the 1820 theatrical piece “The Vampire; or, the Bride of the Isles” by J.R. Planche:
M’SWILL:  Once upon a time, there lived a lady named Blanch, in this very castle, and she was betrothed to a rich Scotch nobleman; all the preparations for the wedding were finished, when, on the evening before it was to take place, the lovers strolled into the forest--
M’SWILL: No; together to be sure.
BRID: Well, I think it was highly improper.
M’SWILL: Well, they were seen to enter the grotto, and --
ROBERT: And what?
M’SWILL: They never came out again. The next morning the body of the lady was found covered with blood, and the marks of human teeth on her throat, but no trace of the nobleman could be discovered, and from that time to this he has never been heard of; and they do say, (I hope nobody hears us) they do say that the nobleman was a Vampire, for a friar afterwards confessed on his death bed, that he had privately married them in the morning by the nobleman’s request, and that he fully believed it some fiend incarnate, for he could not say the responses without stuttering.  Moreoever, I’ve heard that these horrible spirits, call’d Vampires, kill and suck the blood of beautiful young maidens, whom they are obliged to marry before they can destroy.--And they do say that such is the condition of their existence, that if, at stated periods, they should fail to obtain a virgin bride, whose life blood may sustain them, they would instantly perish.

From the 1788 play “The Ton; or, Follies of Fashion” by Lady Wallace:
MACPHARO: I suppose you mean Raymond's marriage with the Cit.
DAFFODIL:  Yes.—I vow I was quite overwhelm'd in Ennui, till I heard of this glorious piece of vulgar fresh game.
MACPHARO:  Glorious indeed!—A hundred thousand pounder, is she not?

From the 1787 play “Such Things Are” by Elizabeth Inchbald:
Sir Luke:  I tell you, madam, you are two and thirty.
Lady Tremor:  I tell you, sir, you are mistaken.
Sir Luke:  Why, did not you come over from England exactly sixteen years ago?
Lady:  Not so long.
Sir Luke:  Have not we been married, the tenth of next April, sixteen years?
Lady:  Not so long.
Sir Luke:  Did you not come over the year of the great eclipse?--answer me that.
Lady:  I don’t remember it.
Sir Luke:  But I do--and shall remember it as long as I live.--The first time I saw you was in the garden of the Dutch envoy: you were looking through a glass at the sun--I immediately began to make love to you, and the whole affair was settled while the eclipse lasted--just one hour, eleven minutes, and three seconds.


From the 1815 play “Smiles and Tears” by Marie-Therese De Camp:
MRS. JEFFERIES: He very soon contrived to get her out of the window, under pretence of carrying her off to Gretna-Green; but before he had got fifty miles on his way, he found, poor man! that he had forgotten his pocket-book; and consequently, not having money enough to proceed to Scotland, he must bring her to London, and place her in a quiet lodging till a licence could be procured.
STANLY: But that, I imagine, was dispensed with?
MRS. JEFFERIES: It was, Sir; and Miss Fitzharding is now a mother at eighteen years of age...

From the 1811 novel “Self-Control” by Mary Brunton:
“Talk not now of returning,” cried Hargrave impetuously, “trust yourself to a heart that adores you. Reward all my lingering pains, and let this happy hour begin a life of love and rapture.” -- Laura, wholly unconscious of his meaning, looked up in his face with an innocent smile. “I have often taxed you with raving,” said she, “now, I am sure, you must admit the charge.” -- “Do not sport with me loveliest,” cried Hargrave, “nor waste these precious moments in cold delay. Leave forms to the frozen hearts that wait them, and be from this hour mine, wholly and for ever.” Laura threw a tearful glance on her mourning habit. “Is this like bridal attire?” said she: “Would you bring your nuptial festivities into the house of death, and mingle the sound of your marriage vow with my mother’s dying groans?” Can this simplicity be affected, thought Hargrave. Is it that she will not understand me? He examined her countenance.  All there was candour and unsuspecting love. Her arm rested on his with confiding pressure, and for a moment Hargrave faltered in his purpose. The next, he imagined that he had gone too far to recede; and pressing her to his breast with all the vehemence of passion, he, in hurried half-articulate whispers, informed her of his real design. No words can express her feelings, when, the veil thus rudely torn from her eyes, she saw her pure, her magnanimous Hargrave -- the god of her idolatry, degraded to a sensualist -- a seducer. Casting on him a look of mingled horror, dismay, and anguish, she exclaimed, “Are you so base?” and freeing herself, with convulsive struggle, from his gasp, sunk without sense or motion to the ground.

From the 1788 play “The Ton; or, Follies of Fashion” by Lady Wallace:
LORD ORMOND:  Unfortunately led into a state of intoxication, when insensible of his actions, he was tempted to triumph over the sister of his best friend; an innocent girl; exposed by the frivolity and errors of a modern education.

From the 1803 play “John Bull; or, the Englishman’s Fireside” by George Colman the Younger:
Job:  a scoundrel with a smiling face creeps to my fireside and robs my daughter of her innocence...pray don’t insult the father by calling money a reparation from the seducer!

From the 1780 play “The Belle’s Stratagem” by Hannah Cowley:
CROWQUILL: I am the gentleman who writes the tete-a-tetes in the magazines. . . .
PORTER: Oh, oh! I heard the butler talk of you when I lived at Lord Tinket’s.  But what the devil do you mean by a bottle of wine?  You gave him a crown for a retaining fee.
CROWQUILL: Oh, sir, that was for a lord’s amours; a commoner’s are never but half.  Why, I have had a baronet’s for five shillings, though he was a married man and changed his mistress every six weeks.

From the 1780 play “The Belle’s Stratagem” by Hannah Cowley: 
SAVILLE:  Though art a most licentious fellow!
COURTALL:  I should hate my own wife, that’s certain, but I have a warm heart for those of other people.  And so, here’s to the prettiest wife in England: Lady Frances Touchwood.
SAVILLE: . . .  How the devil came Lady Frances in your head?  I never knew you give a woman of chastity before.
COURTALL:  (sneeringly)  That’s odd, for you have heard me give half the women of fashion in England.


From the 1788 play “The Ton; or, Follies of Fashion” by Lady Wallace:
LADY BONTON:  So says every fond fair in the honey moon. Perhaps your Lord may turn out a phìnix; but they are singular productions.—I have lived long enough in the beau monde to be convinced that we should deaden our feelings as much as we can, and substitute the pleasures of dissipation for the domestic comfort, which is seldom or never realized—Submit to me, and I will teach you.
[Enter Mrs. Tender.]
MRS. TENDER:  To carry on as many intrigues as you please, and yet escape detection.—This I doubt not is what Lady Bonton would have said—and if to be, in a sly way, a woman of intrigue is your Ladyship's intention, she will indeed prove a most convenient friend;—for she is the very soul of Ton, and understands every art, from that of placing with grace a feather in your Ladyship's cap, to the secreting a lover in your Lord's bed-chamber.
LADY BONTON:  And if, my dear, you should chuse to mope, be constant to your husband, fret in solitude for his losses at the club—his amourettes—and other follies; or if led from spirit and good humour, you partake the gaieties of society; rigid virtue will avail you nothing since Mrs. Tender's over-scrupulous religion will set down every man you speak to, as a favored gallant.
LADY RAYMOND:  Heavens! Ladies, you astonish me! till now, I thought it sufficient to be really virtuous, to preserve one's reputation.
LADY BONTON:  Lord, child! they an't so alarmed at the idea of gallantry now in the beau monde, since one finds purity of virtue, and excessive delicacy, neglected by the women, and laughed at by the men.—The sure way to be sought after by every gay circle, and have your virtue and charms resounded by every beau, is to have a little condescension.—It raises one to eclat, fashion, and general admiration—it is that—
MRS. TENDER:  And money now that stamps the value on individuals, and often insures the most unworthy the best welcome; every where it is the passe-partout;—but reputation is of no more use in the gay world, than pattens to a lady who never walks; they are valued by the bourgeois only. Fashion asks, what fortune, what eclat you have; not what virtues you possess.
LADY BONTON:  Oh, no; your heroines of sentiment are for Arcadian scenes, or solitude, where conscience only accompanies them.
MRS. TENDER:  So, only favor a few of the puffing coxcombs of fashion, and see that your Lord don't by an unlucky run lose your fortune, and you may do what you please.—Oh! what a world we live in!—I am petrified with its wickedness!
LADY BONTON:  I protest I never hear a woman rail so at gallantry, but I suppose that it is occasioned by her want of success. The same reason that I rail at play, tho' I cannot go one night without it.
LADY RAYMOND:  It surely is very painful to be so religious, Mrs. Tender; for you absolutely go through a kind of purgatory, for the sins of all your acquaintance.
LADY BONTON:  I keep all my morality for my closet.
MRS. TENDER:  That is, because your Ladyship's house, being a new-fashioned one, has no closets.

From the 1788 play “The Ton; or, Follies of Fashion” by Lady Wallace:
DAFFODIL:  Perhaps her Ladyship dislikes the opera singers, because they are like fashionable husbands! he! he! he!
MACPHARO:  Like fashionable husbands!—How is that, Daffodil?—is it because they are usually accompanied by horns?
LADY BONTON:  More likely, because they have most strange crotchets, and are often out of tune.
DAFFODIL:  He! he! monstrous clever, my lady; very well, indeed:—but the similitude which I meant was, because they never compose their own airs! he! he! he!

From the 1788 play “The Ton; or, Follies of Fashion” by Lady Wallace:
LADY BONTON:  But he puts on such looks, that all the world sets it down as an appointment made, or at least an assurance that he dies all deaths to obtain one.
LADY RAYMOND:  And this is all the ground they generally have for suspecting women!—Is this the mighty crim. con. so much talked of?

From the 1780 play “The Belle’s Stratagem” by Hannah Cowley:
DORICOURT: Oh, Flutter, do you know that charming creature?
FLUTTER:  What charming creature?  I passed a thousand.
DORICOURT: She went out at that door, as you entered.
FLUTTER:  Oh, yes;  I know her very well.
DORICOURT:  Do you, my dear fellow?  Who?
FLUTTER:  She’s kept by Lord George Jennet.
FLUTTER:  Yes;  Colonel Gorget had her first, then Mr Loveill, then--I forget exactly how many--and at last she’s Lord George’s.

From the 1780 play “The Belle’s Stratagem” by Hannah Cowley:
DORICOURT: Do you know Lord George Jennet?
DORICOURT: Has he a mistress?
DORICOURT: What sort of creature is she?
SAVILLE:  Why, she spends him three thousand a year with the ease of a duchess and entertains his friends with the grace of a Ninon.  Ergo, she is handsome, spirited, and clever.  (Doricourt walks about disordered) In the name of caprice, what ails you?
DORICOURT: You have hit it: Elle est mon caprice.  The mistress of Lord George Jennet is my caprice--oh, insufferable!
SAVILLE: What, you saw her at the masquerade?
DORICOURT:  Saw her, loved her, died for her--without knowing her.  And now the curse is, I can’t hate her.
SAVILLE:  Ridiculous enough!  All this distress about a kept woman, whom any man may have, I dare swear, in a fortnight.  They’ve been jarring some time.


From the 1788 play “The Ton; or, Follies of Fashion” by Lady Wallace:
LORD BONTON:  Let us enquire after her—I have a fancy for her, if it won't take too much trouble;—but I hate attendance and courtship.—Will ye, or will ye not Madam, is my way.
MACPHARO:  Raymond won't easily forgive you; you know a man of Ton thinks his wife fair game for every one; but to seduce a mistress whom he loves would be rather dishonorable.

From the 1780 play “The Belle’s Stratagem” by Hannah Cowley:
SAVILLE:  Let me see...  Can’t you get it insinuated that you are a devilish wild fellow, that you are an infidel, and attached to wenching, gaming, and so forth?
DORICOURT: Aye, such a character might have done some good two centuries back, but who the devil can it frighten now?

The following excerpts are all from the 1788 play “The Ton; or, Follies of Fashion” by Lady Wallace:
PINK:  Will you have the Olimpian dew, the Venetian cream, or the Milk of roses to prepare for the rouge to-day?
DAFFODIL:  Neither; I han't time now; only give me the rouge, and the black for my eye-brows.

DAFFODIL.:  as for my part, I vow the only joy I know of intrigue, is teizing a husband, setting him a spy over his wife:—his jealousy sets one's name up, and wherever one appears all the women exclaim—"Oh! here comes the dear, dangerous, seducing wretch!"—Then the wife, par contradiction, is so anxious for an opportunity to slip a billet-doux,—give a promising look, and it is so delightful to baulk her at last, he, he, he!—These are the joys of intrigue,—but they are chilled, nipt in the bud, by the husbands all being so indifferent.
MACPHARO:  Ha! by St. Partrick, my boy, I forgot now that your corps are more for shew than use:—You like all the parade and shew of the business; now as for me, by the Lord Harry, I'm quite different.
DAFFODIL:  Oh thou art a most graceless varlet—have you no compunction for transgression?—Thank God, I have no sins of that sort to answer for!—Whenever the lady comes to that, D. I. O., say I.
MACPHARO:  D. I. O.—Oh, that is a new game I suppose—I hope it will take; and to be sure play will take a man from the woman he loves, the best upon earth.
DAFFODIL:  A new game! He, he, he! La, it is only a way of saying, dammee, I'm off, without the grossiertè of an oath. Could you really suppose me such a ninny, as to give up my person to the mercy of a cormorant woman of quality? How then shou'd I be able to fly here and there, with the Duchess of Dash—the Countess of Careless—Lady Giggle—and a thousand others upon my list?
MACPHARO:  Burn me, but they get little for their reputation by your own account of it.—. . . you are a sad dog, upon my conscience, for you ruin the husband's quiet, and the wife's reputation, all for nothing at all, at all.

MACPHARO:  What a damn'd insignificant he-she thing this man-milliner is!

LORD RAYMOND:  He has the same inclination to defame with Mrs. Tender, though I fancy he has a better right to talk scandal; for I take him to be much the chastest of the two, spite of all his boasted bonnes fortunes.
[All laugh]
LORD ORMOND:  What has the villain dared——
LORD RAYMOND:  Stop, Ormond; I have more cause of quarrel than you have; but one can neither expect from him the conduct of a man or the satisfaction of a gentleman.—So don't frighten the poor thing out of its wits.

From the 1788 play “The Ton; or, Follies of Fashion” by Lady Wallace:
MRS. TENDER:  Yes; but he don't distinguish himself with the plumes of fashion;—he don't lose money at the clubs—has never yet had address enough to get the credit of an affair with a friend's wife—never sported a new fashion—or even a mistress in a splendid vis-a-vis. I don't believe the vulgar wretch is even in debt; and let a man be every thing charming and clever, if he don't signalize himself in the annals of Fashion—lord! one is asham'd to be seen talking to him

From the 1803 play “John Bull; or, the Englishman’s Fireside” by George Colman the Younger: 
Sir Simon:  “he pulled down an English dictionary, where (if you’ll believe me) he found my definition of stylish living under the word 'insolvency'...and modern gallantry 'adultery and seduction.' ”


From the 1816 novel “Emma” by Jane Austen:
Harriet Smith was the natural daughter of somebody. Somebody had placed her, several years back, at Mrs. Goddard’s school, and somebody had lately raised her from the condition of scholar to that of parlor boarder. This was all that was generally known of her history...
“As to the circumstances of her birth, though in a legal sense she may be called Nobody, it will not hold in common sense. She is not to pay for the offence of others, by being held below the level of those with whom she is brought up. There can scarcely be a doubt that her father is a gentleman...”

From the 1802 play “A Tale of Mystery” by Thomas Holcroft:
BONAMO:  Oh, shame! dishonour! treachery!
STEPHANO: My father!--
SELINA:  My uncle!
BONAMO: (Repelling her) I am not your uncle.
BONAMO: She is the child of crime! of adultery.
STEPHANO: ‘Tis malice, my father!
STEPHANO: The calumny of Romaldi!
STEPHANO: “Selina is not your brother’s daughter. To prove I speak nothing but the truth, I send you the certificate of her baptism.”

From the 1818 satiric novel “Nightmare Abbey” by Thomas Love Peacock:
On one occasion, being in want of a footman, he received a letter from a person signing himself Diggory Deathshead, and lost no time in securing this acquisition;...[he] disturbed the echoes of the hall with so much unhallowed laughter, that Mr Glowry gave him his discharge.  Diggory, however, had staid long enough to make conquests of all the old gentleman’s maids, and left him a flourishing colony of young Deathsheads to join chorus with the owls...

From the 1767 novel “Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy” by Laurence Sterne. (I have altered the punctuation and paragraphing to make it more readable.)
[Tristram’s mother goes into labour]:
     “Sir,” answered Obadiah, making a bow towards his left shoulder, “my mistress is taken very badly;”
     “And where’s Susannah running down the garden there, as if they were going to ravish her?”
     “Sir, she is running the shortest cut into the town,” replied Obadiah, “to fetch the old midwife.”
     “Then saddle a horse,” quoth my father, “and do you go directly for Dr Slop, the man-midwife, with all our services,--and let him know your Mistress is fallen into labour--and that I desire he will return to you with all speed.”
     “It is very strange,” says my father, addressing himself to my uncle Toby, as Obadiah shut the door,--“as there is so expert an operator as Dr Slop so near--that my wife should persist to the last in this obstinate humour of hers, in trusting the life of my child, who has one misfortune already, to the ignorance of an old woman;--and not only the life of my child, brother--but her own life, and with it the lives of all the children I might, peradventure, have begot out of her hereafter.”
     “Mayhap, brother,” replied my uncle Toby, “my sister does is to save the expence:”
     “A pudding’s end,” replied my father, “the doctor must be paid the same for inaction as action,--if not better,--to keep him in temper.”
    “Then it can be out of nothing in the whole world,” quoth my uncle Toby, in the simplicity of
his heart,--“but MODESTY:--My sister, I dare say,” added he, “does not care to let a man come so
near her ****.” I will not say whether my uncle Toby had completed the sentence or not;--’tis for his advantage to suppose he had,--as, I think, he could have added no ONE WORD which would have improved it.
[Later, Tristram’s father addresses the doctor]:
     “Thou hast come forth unarmed;--thou hast left thy tire-tete,--thy new-invented forceps,--thy crotchet,--thy squirt, and all thy instruments of salvation and deliverance behind thee.”

From the 1798 Gothic novel “The Midnight Bell” by Francis Lathom:
    At the time of Theodore’s arrival in Germany, Lauretta was in an advanced state of pregnancy; but she appeared not the less fascinating in his eyes; and, from the first moment of his beholding her, he marked her out for his lustful prey.

From the 1803 play “John Bull; or, the Englishman’s Fireside” by George Colman the Younger:
Dennis:  “a German larned me physic at a fair in Devonshire...  He cured the yellow glanders, and restored prolification to families who wanted an heir.”

From the 1798 Gothic novel “The Midnight Bell” by Francis Lathom:
 At the expected period Lauretta gave birth to a female infant, whose being was but that of a few hours.  Lauretta was much affected by the loss of her first-born; Alphonsus, though he rejoiced at the safety of his wife, dropped a tear in sympathy with her sorrow at the fate of his child.

Excerpts from Jane Austen's Letters:
October 27, 1798
Mrs. Hall, of Sherborne, was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, owing to a fright . . . .
Dame Tilbury's daughter has lain in. Shall I give her any of your baby clothes?

November 17, 1798
I believe I never told you that Mrs. Coulthard and Anne, late of Manydown, are both dead, and both died in childbed . . . . 
I have just received a note from James to say that Mary was brought to bed last night, at eleven o'clock, of a fine little boy, and that everything is going on very well.

From the 1795 fiction work “Letters for Literary Ladies” by Maria Edgeworth: [excerpt from a letter to a woman “Upon her intended separation from her husband”]:
You say that it is easier to break a chain than to stretch it; but remember that when broken, your part of the chain, Julia, will remain with you, and fetter and disgrace you through life. Why should a woman be so circumspect in her choice? Is it not because when once made she must abide by it?... But what resource has a woman? Precluded from all the occupations common to the other sex, she loses even those peculiar to her own. She has no remedy, from the company of a man she dislikes, but a separation; and this remedy, desperate as it is, is allowed only to a certain class of women in society; to those whose fortune affords them the means of subsistence, and whose friends have secured to them a separate maintenance. A peeress then, probably, can leave her husband if she wish it; a peasant’s wife cannot; she depends upon the character and privileges of a wife for actual subsistence....

From the 1788 play “The Ton; or, Follies of Fashion” by Lady Wallace:
MRS. TENDER:  Pardon me, though some of the beaux of fashion speculate in this way, yet there are some very sly fellows, and wickedness enough goes on I warrant.—Had it not been for Lady Bonton's savoir faire—we should have had four right honourable divorces last winter.
LADY BONTON:  Perhaps you mean to be severe, Mrs. Tender, but I an't asham'd to be taxed with the concealing the follies of my own sex; for no character I so much detest as that malevolent one which is ever on the fret to destroy the confidence of the married, and the reputation of the single.

From the 1821 Memoir “CONFESSIONS OF AN ENGLISH OPIUM EATER” by Thomas De Quincey:
This person was a young woman, and one of that unhappy class who belong to the outcasts and pariahs of our female population. I feel no shame, nor have any reason to feel it, in avowing that I was then on familiar and friendly terms with many women in that unfortunate condition.... These unhappy women, to me, were simply sisters in calamity; and sisters amongst whom, in as large measure as amongst any other equal number of persons, commanding more of the world’s respect, were to be found humanity, disinterested generosity, courage that would not falter in defence of the helpless, and fidelity that would have scorned to take bribes for betraying.... Being myself at that time, of necessity a peripatetic, or a walker of the streets, I naturally fell in more frequently with those peripatetics who are technically called street-walkers.... For many weeks I had walked, at nights, with this poor friendless girl up and down Oxford Street, or had rested with her on steps and under the shelter of porticos. She could not be so old as myself: she told me, indeed, that she had not completed her sixteenth year.

From the 1821 fictional work “Real Life in London” by Pierce Egan:
     “Who is that Lady?” said Bob, seeing Tom bow as a dashing carriage passed them.
     “That is a Lady Townley, according to the generally received term.”
     “A lady of title, as I suspected,” said Bob.
     “Yes, yes,” replied Tom Dashall, “a distinguished personage, I can assure you--one of the most dashing demireps of the present day, basking at this moment in the plenitude of her good fortune. She is however deserving of a better fate: well educated and brought up, she was early initiated into the mysteries and miseries of high life....”
     “, after the first step, there is but a degree betwixt the Demirep and the gazetted Cyprian, who is known by head-mark to every insipid Amateur and Fancier in the town. The number of these frail ones is so great, that, if I were to attempt to go through the shades and gradations, the distinctions and titles, from the promiscuous Duchess to the interested Marchande de mode, and from her down to the Wood Nymphs of the English Opera, there would be such a longo ordine gentes . . .”

From the 1767 novel “Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy” by Laurence Sterne.
--There you push the argument again too far, cried Didius--for there is no prohibition in nature, though there is in the Levitical law--but that a man may beget a child upon his grandmother--in which case, supposing the issue a daughter, she would stand in relation both of--But who ever thought, cried Kysarcius, of laying with his grandmother?--The young gentleman, replied Yorick, whom Selden speaks of--who not only thought of it, but justified his intention to his father by the argument drawn from the law of retaliation.--'You laid, Sir, with my mother,' said the lad--'why may not I lay with yours?'-


From 1821 Memoir “CONFESSIONS OF AN ENGLISH OPIUM EATER” by Thomas De Quincey:
     Guilt, therefore, I do not acknowledge; and, if I did, it is possible that I might still resolve on the present act of confession, in consideration of the service which I may thereby render to the whole class of opium-eaters. But who are they? Reader, I am bound to say, a very numerous class indeed. Of this I became convinced, some years ago, by computing at that time the number of those in one small class of English society (the class of men distinguished for talent and notoriety) who were known to me, directly or indirectly, as opium-eaters; such, for instance, as the eloquent and benevolent William Wilberforce; the late Dean of Carlisle, Dr. Isaac Milner, the first Lord Erskine... Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and many others, hardly less celebrated.... Three respectable London druggists, in widely remote quarters of London, from whom I happened to be purchasing small quantities of opium, assured me that the number of amateur opium eaters (as I may term them) was at this time immense; and that the difficulty of distinguishing these persons, to whom habit had rendered opium necessary, from such as were purchasing it with a view to suicide, occasioned them daily trouble and disputes....
      I have often been asked--how it was, and through what series of steps, that I became an opium-eater....since oftentimes lozenges, for the relief of pulmonary affections, found their efficacy upon the opium which they contain, upon this, and this only, though clamorously disavowing so suspicious an alliance: and under such treacherous disguises multitudes are seduced into a dependency which they had not foreseen upon a drug which they had not known; not known even by name or by sight: and thus the case is not rare--that the chain of abject slavery is first detected when it has inextricably would itself about the constitutional system.... Simply as an anodyne it was, under the mere coercion of pain the severest, that I first resorted to opium... Coleridge’s bodily affliction was simple rheumatism. Mine, which intermittingly raged for ten years, was rheumatism in the face combined with toothache....
     I, for my part, after I had become a regular opium-eater, and from mismanagement had fallen into miserable excesses in the use of opium, did nevertheless, four several times, contend successfully against the dominion of this drug; did four several times renounce it; renounced it for long intervals; and finally resumed it upon the warrant of my enlightened and deliberate judgment, as being of two evils by very much the least.
     By accident, I met a college acquaintance, who recommended opium. Opium! dread agent of unimaginable pleasure and pain! I had heard of it as I had heard of manna or of ambrosia, but no further.... I saw a druggist’s shop....and when I asked for the tincture of opium, he gave it to me as any other man might do; and, furthermore, out of my shilling returned to me what seemed to be real copper halfpence, taken out of a real wooden drawer.... I took it; and in an hour, O Heavens I what a revulsion! what a resurrection, from its lowest depths of the inner spirit! what an apocalypse of the world within me....
     First, then, it is not so much affirmed as taken for granted by all who ever mention opium, formally or incidentally, that it does or can produce intoxication. Now, reader, assure yourself, meo periculo that no quantity of opium ever did, or could, intoxicate. As to the tincture of opium (commonly called laudanum), that might certainly intoxicate, if a man could bear to take enough of it; but why? Because it contains so much proof spirits of wine, and not because it contains so much opium.... The pleasure given by wine is always rapidly mounting, and tending to a crisis, after which as rapidly it declines; that from opium, when once generated, is stationary for eight or ten hours: the first, to borrow a technical distinction from medicine, is a case of acute, the second of chronic, pleasure.... But the main distinction lies in this--that whereas wine disorders the mental faculties, opium, on the contrary (if taken in a proper manner), introduces amongst them the most exquisite order, legislation, and harmony.

From Jane Austen’s Letters:
October 27, 1798
We arrived here yesterday between four and five, but I cannot send you quite so triumphant an account of our last day's journey as of the first and second. Soon after I had finished my letter from Staines, my mother began to suffer from the exercise or fatigue of travelling, and she was a good deal indisposed. She had not a very good night at Staines, but bore her journey better than I had expected, and at Basingstoke, where we stopped more than half an hour, received much comfort from a mess of broth and the sight of Mr. Lyford, who recommended her to take twelve drops of laudanum when she went to bed as a composer, which she accordingly did.
It is now Saturday evening, but I wrote the chief of this in the morning. My mother has not been down at all to-day; the laudanum made her sleep a good deal, and upon the whole I think she is better.

From “Confessions of a Drunkard” in the 1822 “Last Essays of Elia” by Charles Lamb:
     Dehortations from the use of strong liquors have been the favourite topic of sober declaimers in all ages, and have been received with abundance of applause by water-drinking critics. But with the patient himself, the man that is to be cured, unfortunately their sound has seldom prevailed. Yet the evil is acknowledged, the remedy simple. Abstain. No force can oblige a man to raise the glass to his head against his will. ‘Tis as easy as not to steal, not to tell lies....
     But what if the beginning be dreadful, the first steps not like climbing a mountain but going through fire? what if the whole system must undergo a change violent as that which we conceive of the mutation of form in some insects? what if a process comparable to flaying alive be to be gone through? is the weakness that sinks under such struggles to be confounded with the pertinacity which clings to other vices, which have induced no constitutional necessity, no engagement of the whole victim, body and soul?
     I have known one in that state, when he has tried to abstain but for one evening,--though the poisonous potion had long since ceased to bring back its first enchantments...--in the violence of the struggle...I have known him to scream out, to cry aloud, for the anguish and pain of the strife within him....
     I believe that there are constitutions, robust heads and iron insides, whom scarce any excesses can hurt; whom brandy (I have seen them drink it like wine), at all events whom wine, taken in ever so plentiful a measure, can do no worse injury to than just muddle their faculties, perhaps never very pellucid....
     They were no drinkers, but, one from professional habits, and another from a custom derived from his father, smoked tobacco. The devil could not have devised a more subtle trap to re-take a backsliding penitent. The transition, from gulping down draughts of liquid fire to puffing out innocuous blasts of dry smoke, was so like cheating him.... That (comparatively) white devil of tobacco brought with him in the end seven worse than himself.
      It were impertinent to carry the reader through all the processes by which, from smoking at first with malt liquor, I took my degrees through thin wines, through stronger wine and water, through small punch, to those juggling compositions, which, under the name of mixed liquors, slur a great deal of brandy or other poison under less and less water continually, until they come next to none, and so to none at all....
     I should repel my readers, from a mere incapacity of believing me, were I to tell them what tobacco has been to me, the drudging service which I have paid, the slavery which I have vowed to it.... How the reading of it casually in a book, as where Adams takes his whiff in the chimney-corner of some inn in Joseph Andrews, or Piscator in the Complete Angler breaks his fast upon a morning pipe in that delicate room Piscatoribus Sacrum, has in a moment broken down the resistance of weeks. How a pipe was ever in my midnight path before me...
     But is there no middle way betwixt total abstinence and the excess which kills you?--For your sake, reader, and that you may never attain to my experience, with pain I must utter the dreadful truth, that there is none, none that I can find. In my stage of habit (I speak not of habits less confirmed--for some of them I believe the advice to be most prudential), in the stage which I have reached, to stop short of that measure which is sufficient to draw on torpor and sleep, the benumbing apoplectic sleep of the drunkard, is to have taken none at all.... The drinking man is never less himself than during his sober intervals. Evil is so far his good....
     Now, except when I am losing myself in a sea of drink, I am never free from those uneasy sensations in head and stomach, which are so much worse to bear than any definite pains or aches.

FROM THE 1779 play “The Times” by Elizabeth Griffith:
SIR WILLIAM: I am no drinking man myself, Belford, but yet I do not approve of this water system of yours.  It keeps the spirits too low--
BELFORD: To say or do anything mad or foolish, I grant it may.  But if water does not raise, it never depresses the spirits.  Can you say as much for your generous wine?
SIR WILLIAM:  Well, well, I won’t dispute with you because I hate argument, and, as you are an honest fellow, I can venture to take my glass cheerfully in your company though you don’t partake of my liquor.  But I’d give something, ay, more than I’ll mention, that you’d share only one pint of claret with me now.
BELFORD:  I have made no vows, Sir William, and to humour a friend can easily dispense with rules of my own making. [Takes glass.]  So, here’s your fair niece, Louisa Woodley, in a bumper. [Both drink.]
SIR WILLIAM:  Thank you, thank you, my good friend! She is a most excellent girl, and I like to have her toasted by such a man as you.

From the 1780 play “The Belle’s Stratagem” by Hannah Cowley:
COURTALL:  You shan’t go yet.--Another catch, and another bottle!
FIRST GENTLEMAN: May I be a bottle, and an empty bottle, if you catch me at that!  Why, I am going to the masquerade.  Jack--you know who I mean--is to meet me, and we are to have a leap at the new lustres.
SECOND GENTLEMAN: And I am going too--a harlequin.  (Hiccups)  Am not I in a pretty pickle to make harlequinades?  And Tony, here, he is going in the disguise--in the disguise--of a gentleman!
FIRST G: We are all very disguised;  so bid them draw up.--D’ye hear!
(Exeunt the three gentlemen)
SAVILLE: Thy skull, Courtall, is a lady’s thimble--no, an eggshell.
COURTALL:  Nay, then you are gone too; you never aspire to similes but in your cups.
SAVILLE: No, no;  I am steady enough, but the fumes of the wine pass directly through thy eggshell and leave thy brain as cool as--hey!  I am quite sober;  my similes fail me.
COURTALL:  Then we’ll sit down here, and have one sober bottle.

From the 1814 burletta “Whackham and Windham, or, The Wrangling Lawyers” by Jane Scott:
Thomas:  Yes sir—now don't the lady's find their
little bags miss—monstrous handy.
For a few mutton chops—or a snug drop of brandy.
Maria:  Thomas--
Thomas:  I don't say you drinks brandy miss, No as I am a sinner
You never touches brandy unless we have fish
or goose or pork or sausages for dinner.

From the 1818 satiric novel “Nightmare Abbey” by Thomas Love Peacock:
His fellow students, however, who drove tandem and random in great perfection, and were connoisseurs in good inns, had taught him to drink deep ere he departed.  He had passed much of his time with these choice spirits, and had seen the rays of the midnight lamp tremble on many a lengthening file of empty bottles.

From the 1820 theatrical piece “The Vampire; or, the Bride of the Isles” by J.R. Planche:
M’SWILL: My master’s gone mad--there’s a pretty job.  If he had been going to be married, instead of the Earl, I shouldn’t have wondered so much; but for an old man to go mad, who can sit and drink all day;, without any one to snub him for it, is the most ridiculous thing that ever came under my observation.... (Pulls out a Flask)  Now this is what I call my ‘Young Man’s Best Companion;’ it’s a great consolation on a night excursion, to one who has so respectful a belief in bogles and warlocks, as I have.--Whiskey’s the only spirit I feel a wish to be intimately acquainted with.


From the 1811 novel “Self-Control” by Mary Brunton:
     It was intended that Laura should at first be induced to play for a stake too small to alarm her, yet sufficiently great to make success desirable; that she should at first be allowed to win; that the stake should be increased until she should lose a sum which it might incommode her to part with; and then that the stale cheat of gamblers, hope of retrieving her loss, should be pressed on her as a motive for venturing nearer to destruction....
     While dividing the cards, Laura recollected that, in town, every game seemed played for money; and she asked her antagonist what was to be the stake. He of course referred that point to her own decision; but Laura, in profound ignorance of the arcana of card-tables, blushed, hesitated, and looked at Lady Pelham and Mrs Clermont for instructions. “We don’t play high in this house, my dear,” said Mrs Clermont, “Colonel Hargrave and I were only playing guineas.” “Laura is only a beginner,” said Lady Pelham, “and perhaps half a guinea”--Laura interrupted her aunt by rising and deliberately collecting the cards, “Colonel Hargrave will excuse me,“ said she. “That is far too great a stake for me.”

From the 1821 fictional work “Real Life in London” by Pierce Egan:
     “Come along,” said Merrywell, “let us see what they are made of: are either of you known? for Cerberus, who keeps the door, is d---d particular, in consequence of some rows they have recently had, and the devil is careful to pick his customers.”
     “To pluck them, you mean,” said Tom; “but perhaps you are in possession of the pass-word -- if so, lead on.”
     Tallyho had already heard so much about Hells, Gambling-houses, and Subscription-houses, that he was all anxiety for an interior view, and the same feeling animated Mortimer. As they were about to enter, they were not a little surprised to find that houses which are spoken of so publicly, have in general the appearance of private dwellings, with the exception that the hall-door is left ajar during the hours usually devoted to play, like those of trap-cages, to catch the passing pigeons, and to obviate the delay which might be occasioned by the necessity of knocking--a delay which might expose the customers to the glances of an unsuspecting creditor--a confiding father, or a starving wife; and, as Merrywell observed, “It was to be understood that the entrance was well guarded, and that no gentleman could be permitted to risk or lose his money, without an introduction.” A very necessary precaution to obviate the danger of being surprised by the officers of the law; but that rule is too easily to be broken, for any gentleman whom the doorkeeper has sufficient reason to think is not an Officer of Justice, finds the avenues to these labyrinths too ready for his admission.
On passing the outer-door, they found themselves impeded by a second, and a third, and each door constructed with a small spy-hole, exhibiting the ball of a ruffian’s eye, intently gazing on and examining their figures...they proceeded through the last, which was an iron door, and were shewn directly into the room, which presented a scene of dazzling astonishment.
     On entering, they discovered the votaries of gaming around an oblong table, covered with green cloth, and the priests of the ceremony in the centre, one to deal cards and decide events, and another to assist him in collecting the plunder which should follow such decisions....
     The appearance at the door of half a dozen persons armed with pistols, rushing past the guardians, and bearing away all before them, had such an instantaneous effect upon the company, that they all arose, as it were, to receive them, and the leader of the party threw himself suddenly upon the pile of Bank-notes in the centre of the table, with intent to seize the whole bank.

From the 1779 play “The Times” by Elizabeth Griffith:
COLONEL MOUNTFORT: I expected to find you booted and ready to set out for Newmarket.  You’ll be late on the turf.  Your horses run, I suppose?  What matches have you made?
MR. WOODLEY:  None, Colonel.  I shall not be there this meeting...I am sick of the diversion and shall never make another bet on the turf while I live.
MOUNTFORT:  Why don’t you dispose of your stud, then?  It must be an enormous, and now an useless, expense.
WOODLEY:  Horses are the least part of the extravagances incident to racing.
MOUNTFORT:  That is selon, Woodley, for I have known several fortunes made on the turf.

From the 1779 play “The Times” by Elizabeth Griffith:
SIR WILLIAM WOODLEY: Bring the backgammon tables here; then go to Counsellor Belford and desire him to come to me, directly.  (Waters going through the middle door.)  Why don’t you go the shortest way?  (Pointing to the side-door.)
WATERS:  Your honour bid me bring the tables first.
SIR WILLIAM:  Of what use are they when Belford is not here to play?  (Waters going.)  No, come back and fetch the tables, and I’ll place the men just to show you how I was gammoned, and I think you’ll allow there never was such luck.
WATERS:  I am utterly ignorant of every point of the game, sir.
SIR WILLIAM:  Stupidity in the abstract!  How often have you been in the room while Belford and I have been playing?  Had we been saying or doing anything we ought not, you would have picked it up fast enough, I warrant you.
WATERS:  Indeed, sir--
SIR WILLIAM:  No words!  I hate prate.  Fly to Mr. Belford’s.
(Exit Waters.)
I’ll go and show Jones how it was; for though she is my housekeeper now, she is a parson’s daughter and must understand backgammon.  I am sure she will be astonished at Belford’s move.

From the 1779 play “The Times” by Elizabeth Griffith:
 Lady Mary:  Then there’s that poor, drooping Mrs Henpeck, who always loses, and sits moaning over her losses and playing the after-game, till the servants are obliged to put her out along with the candles.

From the 1779 play “The Times” by Elizabeth Griffith:
Colonel Mountfort: For shame, Woodley!  At hazard in your own house! I thought you had enough of that at clubs.
BROMLEY: Play among friends is wrong, very wrong, I confess, colonel; but one can’t be always grave and wise.--Come, my dear Woodley, let us make an end of our business: the pen, or the box, my dear boy?
WOODLEY: (aside) Desperate situations require desperate remedies. [To Bromley] Give me the box.  (Woodley and Bromley throw)  Damn the dice!
BROMLEY:  ‘Tis double now, you know, my unlucky friend, which makes upon the whole exactly the sum of seven thousand three hundred and fifty-four pounds, including the dear Lady Mary’s trifling debt to Mrs. Bromley. ...
WOODLEY: Never, by heaven, will I touch a die again!

From the 1779 play “The Times” by Elizabeth Griffith:
MRS BROMLEY: I am to play gold loo tonight, and I have a certain presentiment that I shall win considerably.
BROMLEY: As to winning, I believe you are pretty secure in that point.  You don’t leave much to chance, I imagine, my dove.

From the 1779 play “The Times” by Elizabeth Griffith:
A drawing room.  Card-tables, with company at play.
FIRST LOO: A Pam flush!
SECOND LOO: You seldom deal, I think, without one, madam.
FIRST LOO: My Pam-box can best answer that hint, madam, for this is the first guinea I have been able to put into it this whole winter.  But you lose, at present, madam, and therefore have leave to speak.  Please mark the loo, madam: ‘tis just sixty guineas.

From the 1788 play “The Ton; or, Follies of Fashion” by Lady Wallace:
LADY BONTON:  Pray don't talk of it!—I lost every thing—I absolutely lost eight hundred pounds on one card; and it grew worse after supper.—I got to bed by six, but faro had murdered sleep.

From the 1797 play “Wives as They Were, and Maids as they Are”  by Elizabeth Inchbald:
Miss Dorrillon:  Why, I am vext—and I don't like to be found fault with in my best humour, much less when I have so many things to tease me.
Lady Mary:  What are they?
Miss Dorrillon:  I have now lost all my money, and all my jewels. at play; it is almost two years since I have received a single remittance from my father; and Mr. Norberry refuses to advance me a shilling more.— What I shall do to discharge a debt which must be paid either to-day or to-morrow, heaven knows!— Dear Lady Mary, you could not lend me a small sum, could you?
Lady Mary:  Who? I! [with surprise]—My dear creature, it was the very thing I was going to ask of you: for when you have money, I know no one so willing to disperse it among her friends.
Miss Dorrillon:  Am not I?—I protest I love to part with my money; for I know with what pleasure I receive it myself, and I like to see that joy sparkle in another's eye, which has so often brightened my own. But last night ruined me—I must have money somewhere. —As you can't assist me, I must ask Mr. Norberry for his carriage, and immediately go in search of some friend that can lend me four, or five, or six, or seven hundred pounds. But the worst is, I have lost my credit—Is not that dreadful?
Lady Mary:  Yes, yes, I know what it is.

From the 1797 play “Wives as They Were, and Maids as they Are”  by Elizabeth Inchbald:
Miss Dorrillon [follows and lays hold of him.]:  Oh, for heaven's sake, have pity on me—they are merciless creditors—I shall be dragged to a prison. Do not deliver me up—I am unfortunate—I am overwhelmed with misfortune—have compassion on me!
[She falls on her knees.
Sir William [in great agitation.]:  Don't kneel to me!—I don't mean you to kneel to me!—What makes you think of kneeling to me?— I must do my duty.
[He unlocks the door.  Enter Nabson—Miss Dorrillon steals behind the book-case.]
Sir William:  What did you want, Sir?
Nabson:  A lady, that I have just this minute made my prisoner; but she ran from me, and locked herself in here.
Sir William [with surprise.]:  Arrested a lady!
Nabson: Yes, Sir; and if you mean to deny her being here, I must make bold to search the room.
Sir William:  Let me look at your credentials.—[takes the writ.] —"Elizabeth Dorrillon for six hundred pounds." Pray, Sir, is it customary to have female names on pieces of paper of this denomination?
Nabson:  Oh yes, Sir, very customary. There are as many ladies who will run into tradesmen's books, as there are gentlemen; and when one goes to take the ladies, they are a thousand times more slippery to catch than the men.

From the 1818 satiric novel “Nightmare Abbey” by Thomas Love Peacock:
Nothing came amiss to him,--a game at billiards, at chess, at draughts, at backgammon, at piquet, or at all-fours in a tete-a-tete,--or any game on the cards, round, square, or triangular, in a party of any number exceeding two.

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Last updated 13 August 2005.

All text and images copyright 2005 by Cara King