Friday, August 28, 2009

Canning, How Could You?

Pitt was naturally reserved and called himself "the shyest man alive", so he spent a great deal of time listening to speeches made in the House or in the committees without saying a word or allowing the speaker to approach him. Though this annoyed the House and the committees, it allowed Pitt to display his remarkable capacity for spotting political talent. Of the hundreds of MPs Pitt convinced to either join Parliament to begin with, or to vote along with Pitt's policies, there were two future Prime Ministers and five future Cabinet Ministers. Pitt's ministry in the 1790s even included four of the five Prime Ministers that would take up office after Pitt had left it.

Of course, Pitt focused almost solely on political accumen and not personality. He was not inclined to expand his social circle, he disliked having to meet new people and be friendly to them and resented any intrusion of his privacy by people he a. did not know or b. did not wish to know better. One of these people was George Canning, who, after being discovered by Pitt, developed a devotion to the Prime Minister that bordered on fanatical. Pitt eventually warmed to him, but it took several years for Pitt to consider him a friend, and Pitt was occasionally thrown by Canning's enthusiasm.

At one point, Canning did the unthinkable and touched Pitt on the shoulder in the House of Commons. The other MPs were shocked, Pitt was alarmed and Canning was forced to defend himself in his journal:

"Once I was seen, when I wanted to speak with him, and he was looking another way, to put my hand on his shoulder. How can you conceive a more silly thing to trouble people's heads than this? ... I know indeed that I have, with people whom I like, old or young, great or small, something of a caressing manner... and so have a great many other people--a great many have it not... they consider Mr. Pitt, naturally enough, as one of the latter class, the non-shakers--whereas he is in fact a very hearty, salutation-giving, shake hands sort of person--and one therefore whom I feel it is natural to take by the arm, or to touch upon the shoulder even (which is the great offence)... But if it be wrong it must be altered."

Pitt made it clear that it must be altered and Canning did not touch him on the shoulder again.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

On Parliament

On visiting Parliament, by Carl Moritz:

"I was much shocked by the open abuse which Members of Parliament fling at each other... they enter the house in greatcoats, boots and spurs! It is not unusual to see a member stretched out on one of the benches while the rest are in debate. One Member may be cracking nuts, another eating an orange or whatever fruit may be in season; they are constantly going in and out... whenever one of them speaks badly or the matter of his speech lacks interest for the majority, the noise and laughter are such that the Member can hardly hear his own words."

This seems to be entirely accurate. Edmund Burke, today regarded as one of the best speech-makers of the 18th century, was violently hated in Parliament. The other MPs nicknamed him 'dinner bell' because when he got up to speak, everyone left.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Charles Ain't a Lamb After All

Coleridge was very fond of sentimental friendships, and, in fact, wrote several poems to those who were on the recieving end of his effusions of Romantic feeling. This, however, backfired when it came to Charles Lamb. In This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison, Coleridge describes all the wonderful things his friends (William Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth, and Charles Lamb) were out seeing on their walk while Coleridge had to sit alone in the garden with a burnt foot.

They, being alive to the wonders of nature, appreciated the countryside, but Coleridge was sure that the one who appreciated it the most was, his "gentle-hearted Charles!"

Charles may have appreciated nature, but he did not appreciate the epithet. He later wrote to Coleridge, "For God's sake (I never was more serious), don't make me ridiculous any more by terming me gentle-hearted in print, or do it in better verses."

Friday, August 21, 2009

How Un-Bearable

Though Lord Byron was a cad who, according to popular report "had natural relations with his sister and unnatural relations with his wife", was nevertheless a very good friend.

In school, even though he had a club foot and no money and was therefore bullied himself, he once tried to defend a friend of his against a bully. Said bully scoffed and told him to bugger off. Lord Byron switched tactics and asked him how many lashings said bully was going to give to his friend.

"Why?" asked the bully.

"So that I may have half the beatings," quoth Byron.

Once up at Cambridge, Byron bought a tame bear, at which point, bullies decided they would much rather pick on students who did not have tame bears living in their dorm rooms. The Amateur Historian does not quite know why the teachers allowed this, but presumably, they did not want to have to address their arguments to the bear in question.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Presumably not with your parents

The Amateur Historian apologizes for the break in regular postings, Gentle Readers and begs your indulgence for this summer slackness. She has been going on vacation, a pastime which many Romantic writers were similarly addicted, when they could a. get the money and b. refrain from spending it all on opium.

One such traveler was Charles Lamb, an essayist who, alas, stuck for cash, was one day forced to tour a graveyard in lieu of Southern Italy. Granted, his parents were buried there, and he writes that he, "prostrated [himself] before the spot... kissed the earth that covered them [and]... contemplated, with gloomy delight, the time [he] should mingle his dust with theirs."

This fit of histrionics over, Lamb looked around at the rest of the graveyard and, since he did not think to bring other reading material with him, began reading the tombstones and epitaphs. After passing some time in engraved twee reminiscences about the dead, Lamb turned to his sister and asked, "Where are all the bad people buried?"

Monday, August 3, 2009

Well, you just can't leave an ensemble incomplete....

As has been mentioned before, warfare is no reason to be impolite, and piracy isn't either, at least not in 18th century society.

Captain Benjamin Hornigold's tenure as a scourge of the seven seas lasted from 1715 to 1718, at which point his crew decided that they were not too keen on his never attacking an orphan (actually, never attacking a ship flying a British flag) and his second-in-command, Edward Teach took over. Captain Hornigold does not appear to have been a particularly threatening pirate either.

During one particular attack, Hornigold boarded the ship and, apologetically, asked the crew of the attacked ship for their hats. Captain Hornigold and his crew had overindulged the previous evening and tossed their hats overboard in an excess of drunken merriment. Once Captain Hornigold had recieved the hats, he thanked the crew and sailed away at once.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Madame Tallien

Speaking of Incroyables, the female counterparts, the merveilleuses, were led by the scandelous Theresa Tallien. Since her husband led the Thermidorian reaction that overthrew the Jacobin control of the National Assembly and installed the five-man Directorate, and since she was the lover of one of the Directors, Paul Barras, she was considered to be the It Girl of her day.

She particularly liked to push fashion to the very limit and turned the Neo-Greek and Roman fashions that had gained popularity under the French Republic into fun but frivolous pieces, made in see-through muslins and worn without petticoats (gasp!). Madame Tallien once appeared at the Paris Opera wearing absolutely nothing but a white silk dress. Talleyrand, after admiring her for a few minutes, remarked, "It is not possible to exhibit oneself more sumptuously!"
Considering that, a few weeks before, Madame Tallien had wagered that her earrings weighed more than all her clothes, immediately proved it in public and won, the Amateur Historian is inclined to agree.