Tuesday, October 13, 2020

La Belle Assemblee, Up Close and Personal

Some months back I was fortunate enough to find a complete Ackermann’s Repository of the Arts <cue Marissa hyperventilating> and shared it here with you. Now, my heart is again going pitter-pat over another exciting (to me, anyway!) find: a complete, as it was published, copy of La Belle Assemblée!

The cover is a very sturdy paper, and features a logo of the Three Graces (this changed over the years—issues in its early years had an Egyptian-inspired design) and some hints of the treats within: a portrait of Lady Elizabeth Belgrave as well as two full-color prints of “female fashions.” We can see by this year (1825) that founder John Bell was no longer publishing La Belle Assemblée; rather, George Whittaker was at the helm, and had been since 1823. The back cover features advertisements of new-released books, and ads for the New British Library and Reading Rooms in Cheapside and for marble chimney-pieces (but very superior chimney-pieces, as the purveyor held a royal warrant.) The inside covers feature books published and/or printed by Mr. Whittaker.


The interior is of a lighter-weight but still very sturdy paper; most of the pages are still sewn in place, though a few signatures have come loose. The table of contents features stories, essays factual (Contemporary Poets and Writers of Fiction, No.1—a serial, no less) and humorous (Christmas in the Country), pages of original poetry, a section of fashion (and the featured fashion prints, this month an Evening Dress and a Morning Visiting Dress, complete with the protective piece of tissue paper between them, as can be seen above), and a sort of round-up of reviews and commentary on newly-published books, music, drama, and art as well as of “Literary and Scientific Intelligence”, in which we learn that Mr. Matthew Clarke was awarded an exclusive patent by the tsar to erect gas lighting in Russia (wow--that's a big contract!), and that a mummy unwrapping was held at the Bristol Institution. There’s an advertising supplement too, but I think I’ll save that for a future post because there are some wonderful ads in it.

Among my favorite parts of La Belle Assemblée are the Births, Marriages, and Deaths page (this month noting the death “At Worle, aged 103, Mr. Joel Bishop. He was the father, grandfather, and great grandfather of 180 children, of whom 115 are now living.”) and the note to Subscribers and Correspondents, where submissions were (quite publicly!) accepted or rejected, in terms amusing, kindly, or, on occasion, rather barbed. My favorite in this issue reads “From the extreme difficulty we find in decyphering the MS. of a tale which has reached us without either title or signature, we find ourselves under the necessity of retaining it for further consideration.”  Oops! 😊

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