It’s not much of a spoiler to tell you that Thorn is secretly a playwright. But the plays he’s writing are loosely based on a novel by a man named Pierce Egan. Egan’s Life in London or, the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, esq., and his elegant friend, Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in their rambles and sprees through the Metropolis spawned not only a theatrical adaptation (Tom and Jerry, or Life in London by William Thomas Moncrieffe), but had all of polite London society using the lowbrow slang of its characters. The Tom and Jerry cocktail created by Egan to publicize his work is still drunk by people who probably don’t even know where it originated. And the book was the inspiration for the Tom and Jerry cartoons more than a century later. How’s that for author longevity?
In honor of Halloween, I thought I’d talk about something rather grisly: embalming. Although it wasn’t popular in the Regency, the rich did tend to do it, especially since it enabled them to have open caskets for public funerals. So Olivia has a legitimate concern when she worries that if Grey’s father was embalmed, she might not be able to tell if he was poisoned. Every undertaker had different embalming methods at this time. How do I know? Because I stumbled across a very interesting source—Civil War era undertakers who shared their “recipes” for embalming fluid in The Era formulary: 5000 Formulas for Druggists! Most of the embalming ones contain arsenic in the form of arsenious acid. Eventually, formaldehyde replaced arsenic in embalming fluid, but that happened after the Civil War. You can find the entire formulary here.
One question I get asked a lot is where I get the names for my characters. Mostly, I get them from a book: The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names (Christian names are first names, the name given at the baby’s baptism/christening). I consider myself fortunate to have been able to buy a copy years ago, since it’s now been long out of print. In addition to telling the origin and meaning of the name, it gives the periods when the name was popular and makes it clear when a name didn’t come into being until later.
But I also use the book to check a name’s suitability after I’ve picked a name for some other reason. For example, in Thorn and Ophelia’s story, I picked Mr. Juncker’s name from a Danish girlfriend I had in graduate school named Juncker. I wanted it to be German-sounding, and Juncker originated as a German surname. I also have a tendency to use Shakespearean names since I like Shakespeare’s works. Sometimes, a name just leaps into my head, and I use that one. But before I make it permanent, I always check for it in—you guessed it—The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names!
According to William Hone’s period tome, The Every Day Book, New Year’s Day in London was primarily celebrated with small social gatherings and the wearing of new clothes (out of a superstition that not doing so was unlucky—which Mr. Hone disparages). He also says, “The only open demonstration of joy in the metropolis, is the ringing of merry peals from the belfries of the numerous steeples, late on the eve of the new year, and until after the chimes of the clock have sounded its last hour.” I think I’d prefer that to fireworks.
The Risk of Rogues takes place partly on St. Valentine’s Day, which was celebrated even then. Before Christmas cards became a thing in the Regency, St. Valentine’s Day cards were exchanged with loved ones. These were usually handmade and decorated, although in 1815, companies started mass-producing Valentines. In the Victorian age, a class of cards called “mocking Valentines” (“vinegar valentines” in the U.S.) started to be produced. Essentially, they insulted the person who received them. Can you imagine getting one of those in the mail? Especially since, at this time, it was the receiving party who paid the postage. Talk about adding insult to injury! Anyway, you can see a variety of Valentines from the period on my Pinterest page.
Did you know that the first British pre-printed greeting cards were valentines and not Christmas cards? Before the late Georgian era, people were sending elaborate hand-made valentines, with actual fabric lace and ribbons and other pretty trimmings. In 1797, a book was even released to provide unpoetical gentlemen with valentine sentiments: The Young Man’s Valentine Writer. In fact, handmade valentines out-sold pre-printed ones until the Victorian age began. It’s no wonder, when artists like Elizabeth Knipe Cobbold were creating intricate cut paper valentines with their own hand-written poetry, like this one on my Pinterest Guide to Regency valentines.
I learn something new every day. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before, but Regency era theaters were fully lit during the entirety of performances. There was no turning down of the lights, because the “house lights” were candles in sconces and chandeliers! Can you imagine lighting all those, and then blowing them all out, then lighting them again, etc.? It would take forever and be utterly impractical. As for the stage, they had foot lights, which were also candles but set in reflectors. Here’s a drawing I found of them on Pinterest. I collect tons of Regency era images on my various boards, so follow me on Pinterest so we can journey down the historical picture rabbit hole together!
Regency era women of the ton wore beads (glass, not plastic) all the time . . . but on their dresses and reticules and even shoes! There’s a lovely example of a Regency beaded gown here. Just imagine how much time it took to sew all those colored beads on, not to mention drawing out the design in the first place. Years ago, I made my own wedding dress and sewed tiny pearls on just portions of it, and it took hours of work for my simple decoration. This is far more complex. So I would imagine only the rich could afford such a gown.
You were probably unaware that the study in Armitage House in London (Sheridan’s townhouse) looks out on a courtyard with a garden Sheridan stares at when he needs solace. The English have enjoyed gardening (and gardens) for centuries, to the extent that some of their landscape gardeners became celebrities. Lancelot “Capability” Brown comes to mind, although it was his successor, Humphry Repton, who coined the term “landscape gardener.” They were known for “creating” charmingly informal vistas, where there were fake ruins (which exist at Armitage Hall in the country), manufactured ponds and lakes, structured slopes, and ha-ha’s (hidden ditches that prevented animals from grazing near the house, essentially), all of it intended to look utterly natural. The style was popular for a century or more. If you want to be impressed, look up Capability Brown and you’ll discover the sheer volume of parks and gardens he designed in his lifetime. It has its own category on Wikipedia!
My favorite part about doing research is stumbling over real stories of people. We tend to have misconceptions about the past: Everyone married only once and died young is a popular one. The last part in particular isn’t true, because the data used to determine life expectancy factors in all the many children who died of illnesses that we now vaccinate for—polio, smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, etc. Here’s a case in point. The Duke of Leinster and his wife, one of the famous Lennox sisters, Emily, had 19 children. Of them, only 10 survived to adulthood. One died on the day of her birth although I couldn’t discover if she was stillborn. The last child was actually Emily’s illegitimate son by William Ogilvie, the tutor to her eldest son, although her duke husband claimed him. After her husband’s death, she married Ogilvie and had 3 more children, only two of whom survived to adulthood. She lived to the ripe old age of 82 and he died at 91. He was 18 years younger than she, but they lived happily together for 40 years. She must have been one amazing woman, and he must have been an amazing man. The woman bore 22 children in all. How incredible is that?