A Dangerous Game of Billiards

Today I’d like to share with you an account I found of a 1798 billiard game that went horribly wrong.

This was a case that attracted a lot of attention at the time. The parties were:

Mr. Pitter, “a German” who had been a gentleman’s servant; and

Colonel Fitzroy, a man of some renown and, possibly (based on his surname), a man connected to the Royal Family.

Here’s the news account:

“It appeared in evidence that, on the third of August last, the plaintiff and defendant were at the library at Eastbourn. In this library there was a billiard table. Mr. North (the Bishop of Winchester’s son) and other gentlemen were present.”

Game of Billiards by August Serrure

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“The plaintiff . . . played several games with the Colonel.”

A Game of Billiards by Louis-Leopold Boilly, 1807

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“A dispute took place respecting the laws of the game, in the course of which the plaintiff contradicted the defendant.”

“The Colonel asked him how he dared to contradict a gentleman, and then beat him in so violent a manner, that he was under a surgeon’s hands, and kept his bed for several days.”

Game of Billiards by Theodore Levigne

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“The defence to this action was that the plaintiff had used very provoking language to the defendant, and that he had brought the assault upon himself by his insolent behaviour.”

“The learned judge of the court lamented that gentlemen of fortune and family should play with such men as the plaintiff. If they chose to make any men their companions, and get into scrapes, they must abide the consequences. His verdict: The plaintiff was entitled to a verdict, with reasonable damages. Verdict for the plaintiff—Damages Ten Pounds.”

The Billiard Game by Jean-Baptiste_Simeon Chardin, 1725

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I love reading accounts like this because they contain so much information about what it was like to live in Georgian England. The story is a compact little primer on societal prejudices, class distinctions, and monetary values in the late 1700s.  I was also intrigued by the reasoning the judge used to reach his verdict.

Who knew a simple game of billiards could have such consequences!

 

Jane Austen and the Weekly Reader Book Club

When I was a kid in grade school the best day ever was the day my teacher distributed the Weekly Reader Book Club catalog to the class.

A Weekly Reader catalog from 1964

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It was a four-page listing of paperback books children could purchase. For me (growing up in a family that didn’t believe in giving children an allowance) that meant I had to earn the money to buy books. I did extra chores for my parents and neighbors, like pulling weeds for a quarter and sweeping out the garage for fifty cents. I essentially volunteered to do any job that no one else wanted to do.

But come Weekly Reader day, I had money to spend, and that’s what mattered.

Arrow Book Club catalog from the late 1960s

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I have vivid memories of taking my Weekly Reader catalog home and studying it very carefully. My money was hard-earned, and there was only so much of it to go around. I was intent on making the best possible book choices.

Once I decided on my purchases, I filled out the order slip, counted my change into an envelope, which I sealed and wrote my name on, and handed everything—order form and envelope—to my teacher the next day.

The Wrong Box was the first book I read by Robert Louis Stevenson, bought through the Weekly Reader.

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Now that I think about it, ordering the books was easy. The difficult part was waiting for the books to arrive. It’s hard to describe how exciting it was for me two weeks later to see the box sitting on my teacher’s desk, knowing she was going to open it at the end of the day and deliver my books to me at my desk.

My books. Those two words were powerful to me. I loved the idea of owning books of my very own. Books I didn’t have to return to a library; books that didn’t come from a second–hand store. The books my teacher delivered to me were new and beautiful and had never been read by anyone else before. They were just for me.

That experience—repeated over and over again through my elementary and middle school years—firmly established my life-long love for books and reading. The books I bought as a child became my treasures. Now, as an adult, I still have many of the first books I purchased through the Weekly Reader Book Club.

Another purchase. I bought this novel because it was the basis for a Disney movie.

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One of those books was Pride and Prejudice, which I bought when I was 12 years old. Like all lovers of Jane Austen, I now have multiple copies of the novel, but my 1966 Weekly Reader edition is still my go-to copy.

On the inside front cover is my signature scrawled in a twelve-year-old’s hand; and if I set the book down on its spine, the pages now fall naturally open to my favorite parts of the book.

My first copy of Sense and Sensibility also found its way into my home library through the Weekly Reader program. It was Sense and Sensibility that sealed my love for Jane Austen. It, too, is well worn; the cover and most of the pages came loose from the spine decades ago, and I have to keep them in place by tying the book with a ribbon. Still, this version remains my favorite reading copy of S&S.

It’s interesting to me that my love for Jane Austen’s novels was sparked at the same time I first realized my love for books and reading in general. They were simultaneous occurrences, and both combined into a single desire to build my own library of books that I would treasure my entire life.

Another Weekly Reader buy. Not everything I read as a kid was high-brow.

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What about you? Did you buy your own books from a school program like the Weekly Reader?

Do you remember the first book you ever bought? Please share the name of the book in the comments section. Do you still have the book today?

Geeking Out Over the Georgian Papers

Because I write historical romance, I do a lot of research. It’s part of the job, and I thank my lucky stars every day that I live in an age when a lot of what I want or need to know is only a mouse click away.

This week I found a new on-line resource for researching English history during the Georgian Era. It’s a website called The Georgian Papers Programme, and it houses the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle.

The project to make the Royal Archives available on the Internet was begun by Queen Elizabeth II in 2015. Workers are still digitizing documents, and the project is scheduled to be completed in 2020. By that time, there will be over 350,000 pages of Georgian diaries, essays, love letters, state documents and dinner menus spanning the years 1714 to 1837.

I’ve already spent many pleasant hours browsing the collection. Much of what’s been digitized so far centers around King George III and his family.

King George III in his coronation robes

One of the treasures I found on the site is a hand-written book of menus documenting the meals served to the Prince of Wales and his guests at Carlton House.

As an example, here’s a portion of the dinner menu for the evening of Tuesday, December 1, 1812:

It’s hard to read, but the first course consists of:

Soupe Rice with Pullets
Soupe Clear

Soles for Shrimp Sauce

Turkey boild with Oyster Sause 2 pints
Ham with Scotch Cale

Mutton Pullets a la Soubrasse
Croquets of Pullet
Pullets of Capon
Fillets of Whiting with Tarragon

There’s another entire menu book devoted to the day of the Prince of Wales’ (George IV’s) Coronation.

There are drawings of almost fifty different dining tables, showing the place setting for each guest and where on the table each individual serving dish was to be placed.

It’s this level of detail that makes my inner Royalty Geek incredibly happy!

Another find was a 1781 letter from King George III to his Prime Minister Lord North that reads, in part:

My eldest son got last year into a very improper connection with an actress and woman of indifferent character. Through the friendly assistance of Ld. Malden a multitude of letters past which she has threatened to publish unless he in short bought them of her …

The letter goes on to reveal just how much the king was willing to pay that Woman of Indifferent Character to hand over those letters Prinny wrote, and he asks Lord North to help him settle the matter.

The Prince of Wales in 1798, by William Beechey; (c) Royal Academy of Arts; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

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More treasures I discovered:

  • Records of spies working for King George III
  • Lovely letters written by Queen Charlotte to Lady Charlotte Finch, governess to the royal children
  • An abdication plan drafted by King George III
  • Princess Amelia’s will in which she (King George III’s youngest child) scandalized her family by leaving her possessions to Charles FitzRoy, her father’s equerry and the man she loved.

Princess Amelia

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I was even able to compare King George III’s signatures from 1787 to 1810, hinting at the progression of the disease that would eventually kill him.

King George III’s signature in 1788

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King George III’s signature in 1809

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King George III’s signature in 1810

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If you love digging into the details of royal life—especially royalty in the Georgian age—you’ll find plenty to delight you at the Georgian Papers Programme.

Here’s where you’ll find the website:

gpp.royalcollection.org.uk

Enjoy!

A Celebration of Jane Austen

200 years ago today, Jane Austen passed away. She left behind an enduring legacy of much-loved novels and correspondence that—to this day—still captivate readers and inspire writers.

Around the globe today are celebrations of Jane Austen’s life and works. If you cannot attend an event in person, I hope you will join one of the many observances taking place on social media today.

On Twitter you can follow hashtag #janeausten200

On Facebook you can go to one of these pages:

@janeausten200

@janeaustenauthor

You can also read a blog post by Kyra Kramer on AustenAuthors.com. Kyra’s post is a lovely and thoughtful tribute to Jane Austen’s life.

Jane Austen’s final resting place is in Winchester Cathedral. Her memorial stone makes no mention of her novels, but today we celebrate them along with her life, and thank her for 200 years of enjoyment and inspiration her books have given us all.

Bike to Work, Regency Style

Today is Bike to Work Day in Colorado. In honor of the day, I’m re-reading Frederica by Georgette Heyer.

Why re-read Frederica?

Reason Number One: It’s a darn good book. I love to read stories in which one or more of the lead characters is redeemed. In Frederica the Marquis of Alverstoke is a reluctant hero. But despite his reluctance, the selfish, entitled nobleman is slowly but surely transformed by of his blossoming love for Frederica and his growing affection for her younger brothers and sister.

Reason Number Two: Frederica—like all of Heyer’s novels—is packed with historical tid-bits about life in the Regency era. It was while reading Frederica many years ago that I first learned that an early form of our modern bicycle made its debut during the Regency.

In Regency England it was called a Pedestrian Curricle or Pedestrian Hobbyhorse; and in the novel, Jessamy (one of Frederica’s younger brothers) learns to ride “the ingenious machine” that was all the crack.

Here’s how Georgette Heyer described the Pedestrian Curricle in Frederica:

Of simple construction, it consisted of two wheels, with a saddle hung between them, the foremost of which could be made to turn by means of a bar. It was propelled by the rider’s feet on the road, and experts could achieve quite astonishing speeds, when, admirably balancing themselves, they would lift their feet from the ground and coast along at a great rate, and to the amazement of beholders.

Frederica’s younger brother Jessamy was one of those amazed beholders. Seeing the Pedestrian Curricle in motion for the first time, Jessamy made it his purpose in life to gain the mastery of the new machine and impress his family with his prowess. So he rented a machine, took lessons, and spent several hours practicing his new skill.

In Chapter 14 Jessamy sets off on one last solo ride before revealing his secret skill to Frederica and the rest of his siblings.

Unfortunately, things don’t go as well as planned, and Jessamy finds himself mired in a nightmare situation from which only the Marquis of Alverstoke can save him. What follows is a very sweet scene between Jessamy and the marquis that is one of my favorites in all of Heyer’s novels, because it shows just how much the marquis has changed for the better, without altering his true personality.

I won’t give away any more of the story, except to say that by the end of the novel, I was a little bit in love with the Marquis of Alverstoke myself. So if you haven’t yet read Frederica, I hope you’ll find a copy and read it right away.

And if you have read Frederica before, today might be a good day to re-read it—especially Chapter 14—in honor of Bike to Work Day in Colorado.


If you’d like to learn more about Regency-era bicycles, check out these links:

BicycleHistory.net

Beware the Draisine! by author Sharon Lathan

The Modern Bicycle and its Accessories; a Complete Reference Book

Mary and the Captain is now available in paperback!

Good news! Mary and the Captain is now available in paperback on Amazon.

You can also find Mary and the Captain in print at BarnesandNoble.com beginning next week. I’ll post an update here as soon as I have an exact date.

And if you prefer to read Mary and the Captain on your favorite device, you can download it from most major e-book retailers, like Inktera, iTunes, Barnes and Noble Nook, ScribdSmashwords, and Kobo. I hope you enjoy the book!

Any questions? Feel free to leave a reply below. I love to hear from readers and always respond as soon as I can, so let me know your thoughts.

 

Sir Walter Elliot and Me

I’ve been fascinated by English nobility for as long as I can remember. And like most writers who pen stories set in the era of Regency England, I’ve made a study of the peerage with its ranks and titles, hierarchies and presidencies.

That explains why—whenever I read the opening paragraphs of Jane Austen’s Persuasion—I feel a strong connection with Sir Walter Elliot and his preoccupation with his own book about the baronetage:

Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed. This was the page at which the favourite volume always opened:

ELLIOT OF KELLYNCH HALL.

“Walter Elliot, born March 1, 1760, married, July 15, 1784, Elizabeth, daughter of James Stevenson, Esq. of South Park, in the county of Gloucester, by which lady (who died 1800) he has issue Elizabeth, born June 1, 1785; Anne, born August 9, 1787; a still-born son, November 5, 1789; Mary, born November 20, 1791.”

There are plenty of instances in Persuasion where Austen gives readers reasons to dislike Sir Walter Elliot for his arrogance, or holds him up to ridicule for his vanity; but I have to agree with Sir Walter on one thing: I love a good book about the peerage.

Several years ago, I found my own copy of a book like Sir Walter’s Baronetage, and it’s one of my prized possessions.

In a used book store in southern California I found a battered 1806 edition of Debrett’s Peerage of England, Scotland and Ireland. Here’s the title page:

It’s a thick book, weighing in at over 400 pages of very tiny type; but it contains everything you’d ever want to know about the hereditary peers of Great Britain and Ireland in the early Nineteenth Century.

The book names each peer by rank, his wife (if married), his children (detailing whether they’re alive or deceased), and the name of the peer’s heir.

It even includes illustrations of the major peers’ coats of arms, and their mottoes. For example, the Marquis of Downshire’s motto is:

“Either attempt not, or accomplish.”

That sounds a lot like Yoda’s “Do or do not; there is no try,” doesn’t it? Here’s a page showing some of the coats of arms for English Marquisses:

And like Sir Walter Elliot, I enjoy browsing through the pages of the book whenever I have an idle moment.

In my novel Mary and the Captain, my copy of Debrett’s played a pivotal role in the story. Mary Bennet used the entries in Debrett’s to figure out the identity of a boy apprentice she and Captain Robert Bingley (Caroline and Charles’ brother) rescue from a cruel taskmaster.

But I don’t want to give you the impression that there’s nothing to Debrett’s but a long list of peers, their ancestors, and heirs.

My 1806 edition includes a handy explanation of heraldic terms. I’ve spent many enjoyable hours poring over these pages with a magnifying glass trying to reason out for myself what each symbol meant on a given coat of arms.

Every little detail on a coat of arms means something. For someone like me who enjoys solving puzzles, interpreting the arms shown in the book has been a fun challenge using the illustrations of terms.

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Like Sir Walter, my Debrett’s has given me “occupation for an idle hour” and I’m still discovering fascinating new bits of information in its pages; like this entry for Elizabeth Rawdon, Baroness Hungerford:

What?!? I was pretty startled to see a woman listed among the barons, since all my research showed noble titles were passed from male to male in each generation. But with Lady Hungerford’s entry, I charged off on a new flurry of research to figure out how it was possible that a woman inherited a baronetcy.

I’m still working my way through the book, and with each reading I seem to discover new revelations that fascinate me. That’s why I can whole-heartedly agree with Sir Walter: poring over the pages of a book about the peerage never fails to hold my interest.

 

 

My Inspiration for Mary and the Captain

Mary and the Captain was so much fun to write! As part of my writing process I collected several images that helped inspire (directly and indirectly) different scenes in the story. I thought I’d share a few of those images with you.

We all know Mary Bennet loved to play the pianoforte and the image below made me think of Mary (although I believe Mary would have worn her hair in a much plainer style). Added inspiration: I love the intricate mullions that divide the panes of glass in the window behind Mary.

I found the following image on an old Rafael Tuck French postcard. Although I didn’t have a scene in the book where Mary played for a young child, I though this illustration was very sweet.

In the book, ten-year-old boy Daniel Westover receives a gift of new toys from Kitty Bennet. This 1774 painting by Jean Simeon Chardin shows a boy about the same age as Daniel Westover, playing with a small top, similar to the one Kitty would have given Daniel.

And this painting by Louis Monzies shows three men playing with bilbo-catchers, trying to get the ball in the cup.

When I wrote the scene where Caroline Bingley calls upon Mr. Penrose at the vicarage, I had in mind this lovely watercolor of Oakham Parsonage by John Hassell:

And here’s a second view by the same artist showing Oakham Church. Wouldn’t this be a lovely place to listen to one of Mr. Penrose’s sermons?

Now that I’ve shared these images with you, I wonder if they match the way you envisioned the same scenes in Mary and the Captain?

Haven’t read Mary and the Captain yet? You can read the first four chapters of Mary and the Captain; just click here!

 

Byron’s Bible

George Gordon, Lord Byron certainly had a reputation.

Lord Byron (National Portrait Gallery, London)

In fact, he had several reputations. Even today some people think of him as the noble, courageous, yet doomed hero he wrote about in his verses.

Others think of him as a scandalous cad who embarked on a series of inappropriate relationships, seduced his half-sister, cruelly disgraced his wife, and drove Caroline Lamb to madness.

Byron in Albanian Dress by Thomas Phillips

But he also had a reputation as a wit. His sense of humor ranged from cheeky to outrageous, and he delighted in catching people off guard. Here’s an example:

Byron’s publisher was a man named John Murray. In appreciation of their long-time association, Byron one day presented Murray with a beautifully bound Bible in which he had written a very flattering inscription to Murray. Murray prized the Bible and kept in on a table where anyone who entered his office could not help but see it and be impressed by it.

One day a visitor to Murray’s office was admiring the Bible and flipping through the pages, when he called Murray’s attention to John 18:40, which read “Now Barabbas was a robber.”

Byron had scratched through the word “robber” and substituted “publisher.”

An 1840 print of Lord Byron by Currier and Ives

The account I read didn’t describe how John Murray reacted to the discovery, but it did report that Murray stopped displaying Byron’s Bible in his office.

 

Take Two Pigeons and Call Me in the Morning

Inaccurate—and sometimes preposterous—news stories have been circulating since mankind first began stringing words together in a sentence. History shows that even reputable publications sometimes pick up questionable stories and run with them.

To illustrate the point, here’s a news item I found in a 1798 issue of Sporting Magazine about a revolutionary medical treatment:

We inserted in a former Number, an article respecting a child being recovered from convulsion fits, by applying the naked breast of a live pigeon to its stomach: the same experiment has been lately made on the child of a poor person at Clipstone, Northamptonshire, and with equal success. The infant had had several violent fits, and its life was despaired of. In one of these the breast of a pigeon was applied to the pit of the stomach, and in a few minutes the child revived. The same experiment was made several times, and with the same effect: the pigeon, however, did not appear to be convulsed, nor to have sustained any injury, and notwithstanding the loss of feathers, it is still alive, and pecks as well as usual.

This may read like nothing more than a bit of Regency-era quackery, but at least the story had a happy ending: both patient and pigeon survived.

The pigeon was not so lucky in the following account of a similar encounter, which I found in The Monthly Gazette of Health, Vol. IV for the Year 1819 by Richard Reece, M.D. of London:

Epilepsy.—An intelligent gentleman of Gloucester, informs us, that the parents of a young man residing at Fairford, who had been for four or five years subject to epileptic fits, applied (by the advice of a friend) a live pigeon to the pit of his stomach during an attack of the paroxysm. The fit terminated much sooner than usual, and the pigeon on being removed was observed to be stupid. On a return of the fit the same pigeon was re-applied to the pit of the stomach, and soon afterwards the patient recovered, and the pigeon exhibited some symptoms of being convulsed.

These two stories aren’t necessarily representative of the state of early nineteenth century medicine, but they do make an important point: In Regency-era England, physician-prescribed medical treatments (like blood-letting, laxative-induced purging, and applying leeches) often did more harm than good. It was natural, then, for people to search for alternatives, like folk remedies, to cure what ailed them.

After all, pigeons were plentiful; and with stories like these fueling people’s imaginations, desperate families (and a few untrained members in the medical profession) had nothing to lose by turning to pigeons to ease the symptoms of a loved one’s illness.

Medical anthropologist and author Kyra Kramer recently did a guest post about Regency medicine on Maria Grace’s blog, Random Bits of Fascination. It’s an interesting read with nary a mention of pigeons. I hope you check it out.