Social Life in Queen Anne's Reign, Volume I.

Ashton, John


CHAPTER II: Childhood and Education (Girls)

CHAPTER II: Childhood and Education (Girls)


GIRLS were not all educated at home-though, doubtless, the majority of them were, with the exception of their dancing lessons-but had boarding schools of their own; and the schoolmistresses seem always to have been harassed by malicious reports. For instance: 'Whereas it is reported that Mrs. Overing who keeps a Boarding School at near Hackney, is leaving off; this is to give Notice that the said Report is false, if not Malicious. And that she continues to take sober young Gentlewomen to board, and teaches whatsoever is necessary to the Accomplishment of that Sex.' Take another: ' Mrs. Elizabeth Tutchin [1]  continues to keep her School at , notwithstanding Reports to the contrary. Where young Gentlewomen may be soberly Educated, and taught all sorts of Learning fit for young Gentlewomen.' Observe the stress that was then laid on the sobriety inculcated in these establishments. Read the plays-read the essays of the time-and then, if they are to be taken at all as a just standard of feminine conduct, you will, undoubtedly, come to the conclusion that sobriety of conduct was just the very quality that required instilling into the heads of the maidenhood of the time. Pert little hoydens-ogling the men, flirting their fans, their thoughts always running on a husband-the schoolmistresses of that time must have had hard work to keep them serious, and need of most dragon-like


guardianship. They were not taught much, these girls; 'the Needle, Dancing, and the French Tongue,' says one- ' a little Music, on the Harpsichord, or Spinet, to read, write, and cast accounts in a small way' -this was the sum of their education. Essentially were they to be housekeepers. Here is the description an exceptionally accomplished young lady gives of her own education:[2]  ' You know my father was a tradesman, and lived very well by his traffick; and I, being beautiful, he thought nature had already given me part of my portion, and therefore he would add a liberal education, that I might be a complete gentlewoman; away he sent me to the boarding school; there I learned to dance and sing, to play on the bass viol, virginals, spinet, and guitar. I learned to make wax work, japan, paint upon glass, to raise paste, make sweetmeats, sauces, and everything that was genteel and fashionable.' Here we see the best obtainable education of the town-bred lady. What was a girl's education in the country like ? [3] 

Did she not bestow good breeding upon you there ? Breeding! what, to learn to feed Ducklings, and cram Chickens ? To see Cows milk'd, learn to Churn, and make Cheese ? To make Clouted cream, and whipt Sillabubs ? To make a Caraway Cake and raise Py Crust ? And to learn the top of your skill in Syrrup, Sweetmeats, Aqua mirabilis, and Snayl water. Or your great Cunning in Cheese cakes, several Creams and Almond butter. Ay, ay, and 'twere better for all the Gentlemen in England that Wives had no other breeding, but you had Musick and Dancing. Yes, an ignorant, illiterate, hopping Puppy, that rides his Dancing Circuit thirty Miles about, lights off his tyred Steed, draws his Kit [4]  at a poor Country Creature, and gives her a Hich in her Pace, that she shall never recover. And for Musick an old hoarse singing man riding ten miles from his Cathedral to Quaver out the Glories of our Birth and State, or it may be a Scotch Song more hideous and barbarous than an Irish Cronan. And another Musick Master from the next town to Teach one to


twinkle out Lilly burlero [5]  upon an old pair of Virginals, that sound worse than a Tinker's Kettle that he cries his work on.

We saw that even the accomplished town young lady was taught how to raise paste, &c.; indeed that was a regular branch of a girl's education, and all housewifely gifts were thoroughly appreciated.

Good madam, don't upbraid me with my Mother Bridget, and an excellent housewife. Yes, I say, she was, and spent her time in better Learning than ever you did. Not in reading of Fights and Battels of Dwarfs and Giants; but in writing out receipts for Broths, Possets, Caudles and Surfeit Waters, as became a good Country Gentlewoman.[6] 

But, if girls could not learn pastry-making at home, or wanted a higher class of education therein, there were the forerunners of our 'Schools of Cookery' in the shape of 'Pastry Schools,' where the professor demonstrated. Here is one of them. 'To all Young Ladies at Edw. Kidder's Pastry School in little Lincoln's Inn Fields, are taught all Sorts of Pastry and Cookery, Dutch hollow works, and Butter Works, on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays in the Afternoon, and on the same days, in the Morning, at his School in in , and at his School in St. Martin's Le Grand, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in the Afternoon. And at his School at St. Mary Overies Dock, Mondays Tuesdays and Wednesday mornings from 9 to 12.'

But one branch of a girl's education seems never to have been neglected--her dancing. says, [7]  'When a girl is safely brought from her nurse, before she is capable of forming one simple notion of anything in life, she is delivered to the hands of her dancing master, and with a collar round her neck, the pretty wild thing is taught a fantastical gravity of behaviour, and forced to a particular way of holding her head, heaving her breast, and moving with her whole body;


and all this under pain of never having a husband, if she steps, looks or moves awry.'

He gives a humorous description of the dancing master:[8]  'There was Colonel Jumper's Lady, a Colonel of the Train Bands, that has a great Interest in her Parish; she recommends Mr. Trott for the prettiest Master in Town, that no Man teaches a Jigg like him, that she has seen him rise Six or Seven Capers together with the greatest Ease imaginable, and that his Scholars twist themselves more ways than the Scholars of any Master in Town; besides there is Madam Prim, the Alderman's Lady, recommends a Master of her Own Name, but she declares he is not of their Family, yet a very extraordinary Man in his Way; for, besides a very soft Air he has in Dancing, he gives them a particular Behaviour at a Tea-Table, and in presenting their Snuff Box: to twirl, flip or flirt a Fan, and how to place Patches to the best advantage, either for Fat or Lean, Long or Oval Faces.'

Indeed, dancing was much thought of as an accomplishment, and more will be said of it in its place among the social habits of the time. One book alone, 'The Dancing Master' for , 15th ed., contains 358 different figures and tunes for country dances. It got to be a fine art, and books were written on ' Chorography' and 'Orchesography,' illustrated with wonderful and most perplexing diagrams. A contemporary sketch of a dancing academy is interesting. It is by Budgell.[9]  'I am a Man in Years, and by an honest Industry in the World have acquired enough to give my Children a liberal Education, tho' I was an utter Stranger to it myself. My eldest Daughter, a Girl of Sixteen, has for some time past been under the Tuition of Monsieur Rigadoon, a Dancing Master in the City; and I was prevailed upon by her and her Mother to go last Night to one of his Balls. I must own to you, Sir, that having never been at any such Place before, I was very much pleased and surprized with that Part of his Entertainment which he called French Dancing. There were several young Men and Women, whose limbs seemed to have no other Motion but purely what the Musick gave them. After this Part was over, they began a Diversion


which they call Country Dancing, and wherein there were also some things not disagreeable, and divers Emblematical Figures, compos'd, as I guess, by Wise Men for the Instruction of Youth.

Amongst the rest, I observed one, which I think they call [10]  Hunt the Squirrel, in which while the Woman flies, the Man pursues her; but as soon as she turns, he runs away, and she is obliged to follow.

The Moral of this Dance does, I think, very aptly recommend Modesty and Discretion to the Female Sex.

But as the best Institutions are liable to Corruptions, so, Sir, I must acquaint you, that very great Abuses are crept into this Entertainment. I was Amazed to see my Girl handed by, and handing young Fellows with so much Familiarity; and I could not have thought it had been in the Child. They very often made use of a most impudent and lascivious Step called Setting, which I know not how to describe to you, but by telling you that it is the very reverse of Back to Back. At last an impudent young Dog bid the Fiddlers play a Dance called Mol Patley, [11]  and after having made two or three Capers, ran to his Partner, locked his Arms in hers, and whisked her round Cleverly above Ground in such manner that I, who sat upon one of the lowest Benches, saw further above her Shoe than I can think fit to acquaint you with. I could no longer endure these Enormities; wherefore, just as my Girl was going to be made a Whirligig, I ran in, seized on the Child, and carried her home.'

Poor Budgell! what would have been his feelings could he have but seen a galop, or a valse a deux temps ?

We may now consider the girl's education complete, and, as she may be 'sweet seventeen' or so, she naturally would be, if either pretty or witty, 'a TOAST' among her male friends. This peculiar institution has its rise in Queen Anne's time, and is aptly described [12]  as 'a new name found out by the Wits, to make a lady have the same effect, as burridge in the glass when a man is drinking.' , even, could hardly make it out.

Say why are beauties prais'd and honour'd most, The wise man's passion, and the vain man's toast ? Why deck'd with all that land and sea afford, Why angels call'd, and angel-like adored ?

It was an old English custom to put a toast, a roasted pippin or so, in a hot drink, such as a tankard of spiced ale, or of sack; and this is whimsically applied as the derivation of the word used to express the slavish adulation and worship of the fair sex, as embodied in this custom. [13]  'Many of the Wits of the last age will assert that the word, in its present sense, was known among them in their youth, and had its rise from an accident at the town of Bath, in the reign of Charles the Second. It happened that, on a public day, a celebrated beauty of those times was in the Cross Bath, and one of the crowd of her admirers took a glass of the water in which the fair one stood and drank her health to the Company. There was in the place a gay fellow half fuddled, who offered to jump in, and swore, though he liked not the liquor, he would have the Toast. He was opposed in his resolution; yet this whim gave foundation to the present honour which is done to the lady we mention in our liquors, who has ever since been called a TOAST. Though this institution had so trivial a beginning, it is now elevated into a formal order; and that happy virgin, who is received and drunk to at their meetings, has no more to do in this life but to judge and accept of the first good offer. The manner of her inauguration is much like that of the choice of a Doge in Venice: it is performed by balloting; and when she is so chosen, she reigns indisputably for that ensuing year; but must be re-elected anew to prolong her empire a moment beyond it. When she is regularly chosen, her name is written with a diamond on a drinking glass. The hieroglyphic of the diamond is to shew her that her value is imaginary; and that of the glass to acquaint her, that her condition is frail, and depends on the hand which holds her.' Many of the members of the '' -Lords Halifax, Wharton, Lansdowne, and Carbury, Mr. Maynwaring and others-thus immortalised their Toasts.


One, by Lord Lansdowne, will amply serve as an illustration--

Love is enjoyn'd to make his favourite toast, And HARE'S the goddess that delights him most.

There were two very famous toasts in Queen Anne's time; one in particular was Lady Sunderland, a daughter of the Duke of Marlborough, who was known by the sobriquet of 'The Little Whig.' She was the toast of her party, and her nickname was so well known that it is said the first stone of 's theatre in the Haymarket had 'Little Whig' cut upon it. The other was Mademoiselle Spanheim, the daughter of Baron Spanheim, Ambassador Extraordinary from the Court of Prussia. She was very lovely; indeed, her good looks were proverbial, as the current expression, 'as beautiful as Madam Spanheim,' shows. She was married early in the year 171O to the Marquis de Montandre. Her father died here in November of the same year, aged 81 ; and the Queen presented the Marchioness de Montandre with a thousand guineas, which was the usual present then given to an ambassador on taking his leave.


[1] She was sister of Tutchin, of the Observator.

[2] The Levellers, a dialogue between two young ladies concerning matrimony, &c.

[3] The Scowrers, by Shadwell.

[4] A pocket violin.

[5] See Appendix. ' Lilli burlero' and 'Bullen a lah' are said to have been the watchwords used by the Irish Papists in their massacre of the Protestants in 1641. The ballad to this tune was written in 1686, when James II. made the Earl of Tyrconnel, a bigoted papist, Lieutenant of Ireland. The words are nonsensical, but the tune is catching, and became very popular. This song is said to have contributed greatly in bringing about the Revolution of 1688.

[6] The Tender Husband (Steele).

[7] Spectator, 66.

[8] Spectator, 376.

[9] Ibid. 67.

[10] See Appendix.

[11] See Appendix.

[12] Tatler, 31.

[13] Tatler, 24.