Leisure and pleasure in the mid 18th century.
Yesterday’s blog covered some of the robust pleasures indulged in by gentlemen and some ladies in the 18th century. Today’s post is about gentler pursuits. Yes, we know the poor worked themselves into early graves, the off-spring of the poor were raised to replace their parents as soon as possible at the least cost. But for people who had any wealth and position, apart from the philanthropic folks and some churchmen in the broadest sense, what did people do for fun.
Of course, same as yesterday the men get the meat of the wedge. Many wealthy young men spent several years on what became known as ‘The Grand Tour’ where they visited europe to absorb culture and history. A lot of these young men came back with collections of art for their country homes. In a Gentleman’s Folly Charles doesn’t take the chance to go to Europe or to join the army, his preference is for gambling.
At home a gentleman’s pursuits ranged from hunting and shooting when in the country, to cards and betting on boxing, horse racing, cock fights and dog fights when in town. He would, as long as he had friends, receive invitations to balls, parties and dinners from a range of his friends. Exhilarating don’t you think. If he chose to delve into the lower levels of entertainment in town he might go see women bare knuckle fighters, the latest freak show or find himself a night’s companion amongst the most unusual company available. The 18th century saw the beginning and flourishing of gentlemen’s clubs in London too.
In the 18th century a so called civilised man would also attend the theatre, musical performances and readings of poetry or books. He might be a follower of the latest geographical or scientific debates too.
Basically, with friends in town and country a gentleman could pick and choose the best and most interesting of entertainments available.
Women had a little less from the options though in the era of A Gentleman’s Folly the mid 1750’s they weren’t quite a stifled as later in the time of the Regency. They could visit the theatre in town, yes, but with accompanying friends, if you had no friends you stayed at home, the same for musical performances, lectures and debates, balls and parties.
Women rode in town, usually on one of the rows or parks, like St. James’ where poor Kitty Fisher was thrown from her horse, but usually they were accompanied by friends.
You could visit places of entertainment such as Ranelagh or Vauxhall Gardens but always with friends. Musical recitals were popular and you might have been fortunate enought to see a young Motzart perform.
In the country you could ride with the hunt if you wished, best accompanied by a gentleman if possible. You could fish too, accompanied by friends.
Without friends you didn’t have many options.
Solo pleasures for women included music and lots of harpsichord and later in the era pianoforte and piano playing. Choral singing, choir singing and music lessons could also while away a few hours. Dancing lessons with a paid dancing master were also something to enjoy.
Yeah Gods, more damn needlework. I say this in respect for the millions and millions of women who from the 8th or 9th century onwards spent their time sewing. I know sewing can produce beautiful results, create art forms when well done, let alone exquisite garments, but I have to say since I first picked up a needle it has only ever induced in me the worst kind of antipathy possible. This lady below shows off the cushion she has embroidered, no wonder she looks a little glum.
My heroine Katherine in A Gentleman’s Folly loathes needlework and I understand why. The only time she sews is to prepare things for her child and again I understand why.
Finally, both men and women could partake of the entertainment of the card table that lured all, rich and poor, to gamble for more than they should. In A Gentleman’s Folly both Charles and Katherine are players, thankfully they never meet at the tables to test each other there.
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