Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A mania for gossip

‘I am very much struck with the mania for gossip which now rages in society here. There seems to be no other subject of conversation in the fine company of London. The only topics that afford interest are local ones. This arises, doubtless, from the fact that, diplomacy excepted, London society is entirely national; while that of Paris, being more absolutely cosmopolitan, leads to greater familiarity with subjects of general import, and the resources of conversation are there, consequently, much less limited.’ This is from the diary, very gossipy in itself, of one Thomas Raikes, a merchant banker and dandy, who was born 240 years ago today.

Born on 3 October 1777, Raikes was educated at Eton where he became acquainted with Beau Brummel, another dandy-to-be. He visited the Continent with a private tutor to study languages, and then joined his father’s banking firm, but liked the West End clubs better. He was an early member of the Carlton Club, and was nicknamed Apollo because he rose in the east (where his banking house was in the City) and set in the west (where the clubs were). In 1802, he married Sophia Maria, daughter of Nathaniel Bayly, a proprietor in Jamaica. They had one son and three daughters. He was often abroad - The Hague, Paris, Russia - and moved permanently to France in 1833 to escape financial troubles. He returned to London in 1841, spending the next few years there or in Paris, before taking a house at Brighton, where he died in 1848. There is very little further biographical information available online, at Wikipedia, the Regency Reader, or even at Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required).

Raikes is remembered today largely because of his diary, published (1856-1858) in four volumes by Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans: A Portion of the Journal kept by Thomas Raikes, Esq, from 1831 to 1847 comprising reminiscences of Social and Political Life in London and Paris during that period. All four volumes can freely read online at Internet Archive (vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3, vol. 4), and a long review can be found in The Gentlemen’s Magazine (1856). Here is selection of extracts from the diary.

24 February 1832
‘The news of the cholera being in London has been received abroad. According to the feelings of the different nations towards England, France, who wishes to court us, has ordered a quarantine in her ports of three days; Holland, who feels aggrieved by our conduct at the Conference, one of forty days. The fog so thick in London, that the illuminations for the Queen’s birthday were not visible.’

5 March 1832
‘A melancholy event indeed my poor friend Henry B. destroyed himself this morning in his room at Limmer’s Hotel, Conduit Street. Continued losses at play and other pecuniary embarrassments drove him to despair, and he cut his own throat, after shaving and dressing himself completely, while the breakfast was preparing by his servant. It was an infatuation of long standing; his father had twice paid his debts to a large amount, and they were unfortunately not on speaking terms for some time past. His poor mother was burnt to death not two months ago, and he never saw her in her last moments. This sad event, and the recollection of his intimate friend, who last year drowned himself in the Serpentine from the same dreadful cause, most probably accelerated this catastrophe. He left no letter to any one, merely the following words, scribbled on the back of a kind note which he had received the preceding evening from his friend the Duke of Dorset: “I cannot pray, and am determined to rush unbidden into the presence of my God!” What a sickening thought.’

21 March 1832
‘The general fast-day for the cholera. The political unions tried to excite a tumult in the city, but failed. Upon the whole, the day was observed with much decency; the churches were well attended, the shops shut up, and the streets even more quiet than on a Sunday.’

7 May 1832
‘This evening the House of Peers met in committee on the bill; and on the first division the Government were beat by a majority of thirty-five, to their own great astonishment. Lord Grey upon this immediately adjourned the House till Thursday. He said to Lord Wharncliffe, with evident vexation, on going out of the House, “You may now take the bill, and do what you please with it.” They must, it is supposed, now, either make peers, and not less than sixty, or resign.’

8 May 1832
‘Much anxiety and gossiping at all the clubs during the day, but nothing known. Lords Grey and Brougham went down to the King at Windsor, and returned in the evening. A cabinet council was held on their return, which broke up at twelve o’clock; but nothing transpired. One circumstance alone struck me and others forcibly. Sefton was at the opera in the highest spirits possible; he came at half-past one into the supper room at Crockford’s, having most probably driven in the interim to Downing Street, and I never saw such an alteration. His face was the picture of despair and vexation.’

9 May 1832
‘Sefton’s face was a true barometer. The King has refused to make the peers, and this morning the ministers have given in their resignations, which have been accepted. Still they attended at the levee, and the King appeared cheerful. Brookes’s Club is full of weeping and gnashing of teeth, so little was the party prepared for this sudden catastrophe. No one knows to whom the King will turn for his new advisers.’

10 October 1841
‘I called on the Darners, and found them established in the house in Tilney Street, left them by Mrs. Fitzherbert. The Colonel is made Comptroller of the Queen’s Household, with which he is much pleased. I find London very much altered, and in some respects, such as the buildings and parks, very considerably improved. There is much magnificence and luxury in the great houses, and much bustle in the streets; but not that amusing variety which greet you at every step in Paris. The change in society has also become very apparent within the last few years. It was called, and perhaps justly, in my time, dissipated; but the leaders were men of sense and talent, with polished manners, and generally high-minded feelings. The young men of the day seem without any prominent feature of character; indifferent instead of fastidious; careless in their manner to the women, and making it the fashion to afficher a heartless, selfish tone of feeling, such as would not be tolerated in French society, where the women certainly maintain a social influence that is not to be observed here. There is a great deal of beauty in the London drawing-rooms; but hardly any of those √©gards pour les convenances which, abroad, is the simplest and most natural form of high breeding, and which is shown in dress as well as in manner and in language. Steam has here dissolved the exclusive system, and seems to have substituted the love of wealth for both the love of amusement and of social distinction.’

21 October 1841
‘I am very much struck with the mania for gossip which now rages in society here. There seems to be no other subject of conversation in the fine company of London. The only topics that afford interest are local ones. This arises, doubtless, from the fact that, diplomacy excepted, London society is entirely national; while that of Paris, being more absolutely cosmopolitan, leads to greater familiarity with subjects of general import, and the resources of conversation are there, consequently, much less limited.’

25 January 1842
‘The day of the royal christening at Windsor. The Prince of Wales is named Albert Edward. All who have been there say that the scene was very magnificent, and the display of plate at the banquet superb. After the ceremony a silver embossed vessel, containing a whole hogshead of mulled claret, was introduced, and served in bucketfulls to the company, who drank the young Prince’s health. Very few ladies were invited.’

3 February 1842
‘The Queen opened the Parliament in person, attended by the King of Prussia, who sat on her right hand. The Speech, of course, only deals in general allusions to the future measures. The Address was moved by Lord March, eldest son of the Duke of Richmond, which shows that the agricultural interests are not angry. The Duke of Beaufort is come to town, and has received his Garter.’

4 February 1842
‘The debates last night seem to have given general satisfaction. Peel spoke in a very business-like manner, and expressed his determination to lose no time in bringing forward his measures, which were all ready and prepared. He has named Wednesday for the Corn Laws. There is no opposition to the Address.’

31 March 1842
‘I went with Yarmouth to view the property at Strawberry Hill, which is to be sold next month by order of the proprietor, Lord Waldegrave. Here are all the collections of Horace Waipole. There are a few good pictures, but all the rest are of little value. After dinner I went to the mock trials at the Garrick’s Head in Bow Street. There is one man who imitates Brougham very well as counsel, but the subject of debate was coarse, and the audience very vulgar.’

6 May 1842
‘As Lord and Lady Willoughby were coming to dinner yesterday, at General Freemantle’s, where I dined, their carriage drove over a child in Parliament Street, but fortunately without doing it much harm. A mob, of course, was drawn together to the spot; but all agreed that the coachman was by no means in fault, and Lord Willoughby got out of the carriage, and saw that every kind attention was paid to it. How different was the conduct of a French mob, three years ago, in Paris! The old Duchesse de Dodeauville, passing over the Pont Neuf in her carriage, the coachman by accident drove over a child and killed it on the spot. The mob assembled with frightful cries, and called out, “ A la riviere, a la riviere!” meaning to throw the old duchess over the bridge, which they would have executed if the Garde Municipale had not been attracted by the noise. Foiled in this attempt, they picked up the bleeding body of the child, threw it into the old lady’s lap, and made the coachman drive away with it.’

30 May 1842
‘As the Queen was returning home to the palace with Prince Albert this afternoon, descending Constitution Hill, a villain approached the open carriage and fired at her, but fortunately the pistol snapped in the pan. He was immediately secured. It is now known that the same individual made a similar attempt yesterday evening, which was hushed up. The Privy Council was instantly assembled for the examination of the culprit.’

18 June 1842
‘Francis, who fired at the Queen, has been tried at the Old Bailey, found guilty, and sentenced to death. It is hoped by all that the Queen will not interfere to save his life.’

21 June 1842
‘Francis has been overwhelmed with despair since his condemnation; he asserts that the pistol was not loaded with ball, that he had no wish to hurt the Queen, but that his sole object was to obtain notoriety, and be shut up for life like Oxford, where he would be sure of a relief from his poverty, and support at the public Expense.’

3 July 1842
‘This morning another attack was made on the Queen’s life as she was going in her carriage to the Chapel Royal. A humped-back boy presented a pistol at her, which only snapped in the pan; he was arrested by a boy named Docket, who gave him in charge to two police officers, who treated it as a joke, and the young rascal escaped. This may be imputed to the culpable laxity of our Government, who, on the preceding day, remitted the sentence of Francis, and condemned him only to transportation to a penal settlement in Tasmania. There seems to be a general apathy about everything in this country; there is no longer the same interest in politics, the struggle of parties seems finished; Peel is supposed to be in the ascendant, but the ultra Tories are incensed against him for his liberal tendencies. Though all around is a calm, it may be only that which portends a fatal storm.’

16 July 1842
‘I called on the Duke of Wellington this morning; he says the news from France has astounded all the diplomates in London, and gives the most fearful apprehensions for the future, as well for France as for all Europe.’

26 September 1843
‘Clanwilliam mentioned this evening an incident, which proves the wonderful celerity of the railroads. M. Isidore, the Queen’s coiffeur, who receives 200l. a year for dressing Her Majesty’s hair twice a day, had gone to London in the morning, meaning to return to Windsor in time for her toilet; but on arriving at the station he was just five minutes too late, and saw the train depart without him. His horror was great, as he knew that his want of punctuality would deprive him of his place, as no train would start for the next two hours. The only resource was to order a special train, for which he was obliged to pay 18l.; but the establishment feeling the importance of his business, ordered extra steam to be put on, and conveyed the anxious hairdresser eighteen miles in eighteen minutes, which extricated him from all his difficulties.’

9 October 1843
‘This morning, at breakfast, Arbuthnot gave the account of an extensive gang of swindlers in London, who had been lately detected by the Lord Mayor, and remarked how credulous and gullible the English tradesmen were, in becoming such easy dupes to their plots and rogueries.’

6 May 1844
‘What a difference there is between Paris and London. You may walk through the latter from Hyde Park Corner to Wapping, and with the exception of a few old churches, the Tower, and the Monument, you see nothing that calls to mind the ancient history of the country. Here every street is a memoria technica of some anecdote in former times. The one is all poetry, the other is all prose.’

27 May 1844
‘That arch-gambler Crockford is dead, and has left an immense fortune. He was originally a low fishmonger in Fish-street Hill, near the monument, then a leg at Newmarket and keeper of hells in London. He finally set up the club in St. James’s Street opposite to White’s with a hazard bank, by which he won all the disposable money of the men of fashion in London, which was supposed to be near two millions.’

The Diary Junction

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