Friday, March 5, 2010

The Things You Can and Cannot Learn from Magazines

Marissa and I have mentioned La Belle Assemblée many times. It was one of the premier ladies’ magazines in nineteenth century England. Some of the gorgeous fashion plates Marissa shares come from that magazine. In La Belle Assemblée, a lady learned what was in vogue, what was considered passé, how to dress, how to wear her hair, and what cosmetics to try.

But the magazine also covered other matters. It detailed deaths:

Died.—In Old Burlington-street, the Hon. E. Bouverie, M.P. for Northampton, and uncle to the Earl of Radnor.—Mr. Howe, a respectable tradesman in Mary-le-bone-street, expired without a groan, whilst in the act of stooping for a pipe, which he let fall from his mouth in the shop.—After a lingering illness, Lieut. Frederick Talbot Fowler, of the Royal Marines, aged 21, only son of Mr. Fowler, of Clement’s-Inn, Solicitor. His remains were interred in the burying ground at Chatham, with military honours, at which every Officer at headquarters attended.

It marveled on marriages:

Married.—Henry Richard Wood, Esq. only son of Colonel Wood, of Hollin-Hall, in the county of York, to Miss Eckersall, eldest daughter of J. Eckersall, Esq. of Calverton-house, near Bath.—Lord Falmouth, to Miss Bankes, eldest daughter of Henry Bankes, Esq. The happy pair passed the honey-moon at Mr. Bankes’s seat in Hampshire.

But sometimes it told stories of odd happenings around town. I found this one from the September 1810 issue particularly interesting:

The passengers through Piccadilly, and many of the inhabitants, were thrown into great consternation on Sunday night, September 2, by the escape of a leopard from a caravan which was conveying it to Bartholomew Fair. The animal ran into the lower part of one of the houses which are re-building on the south side of the street between the church and the Haymarket. The keeper, who soon discovered the escape of the animal, ran about in great agony, calling for a blanket and some ropes; but when the people heard the purpose for which they were wanted, they retreated from the spot with the utmost precipitation.
[Well, I would think so!]

A gentleman walking near the end of the Haymarket, in Piccadilly, excited not a little of the fears of the spectators for his safety. The leopard lay couched on the flags [sidewalk], and the gentleman, apparently to avoid falling over him, stopped; upon which the animal raised himself up in the most awful manner, moving his tail. The spectators, and his keepers in particular, who had just arrived, cried out repeatedly, “For Heaven’s sake, Sir, take care, it is a tiger.” The gentleman, however, firmly kept his ground, nor did he move till the animal left him a free passage, by a most wonderful spring against the side of one of the houses, and then into the middle of the street. He then walked on with all the coolness imaginable, refusing to tell his name.

They caught the leopard, but I’d like to know more about the gentleman who faced it down. Who was he? Why was he so unconcerned to find a leopard in his path? Was it arrogance or supreme confidence in his own abilities that allowed him to look the creature square in the eye and demand obedience? Or did he simply not care about his life enough to challenge injury or death? What could have driven him to such a place?

It seems even the exalted La Belle Assemblée has --gasp!-- limitations!


Liviania said...

That is an amazing story. Personally, I'll stay away from leopards.

Tricia Tighe said...

It's interesting how little things have changed with obituaries and marriage announcements.

If I were to guess, and maybe I read too many novels that feature haughty members of the aristocracy, I would say the gentleman waited for the leopard to move out of arrogance. ;-)

Marissa Doyle said...

He was obviously a lineal ancestor of Katharine Hepburn's character Susan in Bringing Up Baby!

Regina Scott said...

I don't know--maybe he had an aversion to spots? :-)

Rachel said...

Well, that is an interesting story! Thank goodness the gentleman didn't move, the leopard might have attacked him. Ah, the aristocracy. Gotta love them.

By the way, are there websites where you can view digital scans of La Belle Assemblée magazines? I know some universities that have put up old issues of Lady's Godey's magazines. Thought I'd ask!

Marissa Doyle said...

Rachel, a quick trip to Google found this:

ChaChaneen said...

ha ha Now that's a Texas kind of man, starring the beast straight in the eyes! ha ha

Shana said...

Thank you for reprinting these tidbits. So much fun!