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

Ashton, John


CHAPTER VIII: Daily Life (Women)

CHAPTER VIII: Daily Life (Women)


AND how did the women fare? We have seen that among the middle classes the domestic virtues were encouraged and highly extolled, and to be a 'notable housewife' was a legitimate and proper ambition; but how did the fine-lady class spend their time? Were their lives more usefully employed than those of the beaus ? says that he remembers the time when ladies received visits in bed, and thus graphically describes the custom :[1]  ' It was then looked upon as a piece of Ill breeding for a Woman to refuse to see a Man, because she was not stirring; and a Porter would have been thought unfit for his Place, that could have made so awkward an Excuse. As I love to see everything that is new, I once prevailed upon my Friend Will Honeycomb to carry me along with him to one of these Travelled Ladies, desiring him at the same time, to present me as a Foreigner who could not speak English, so that I might not be obliged to bear a Part in the Discourse. The Lady, tho' willing to appear undrest, had put on her best Looks, and painted herself for our Reception. Her Hair appeared in a very nice Disorder, as the Night Gown which was thrown upon her Shoulders was ruffled with great Care.'

There is an amusing little pamphlet-not a chap book proper [2] --which, though undated, bears internal evidence


of the time of its birth, which gives an account of a fine lady's life. 'How do you employ your time now ?' 'I lie in Bed till Noon, dress all the Afternoon, Dine in the Evening, and play at Cards till Midnight.' 'How do you spend the Sabbath ?' 'In Chit Chat.' 'What do you talk of?' ' New Fashions and New Plays.' 'How often do you go to Church?' 'Twice a year or oftener, according as my Husband gives me new Cloaths.' 'Why do you go to Church when you have new Cloaths ?' 'To see other Peoples Finery, and to show my own, and to laugh at those scurvy, out of fashion Creatures that come there for Devotion.' 'Pray, Madam, what Books do you read?' 'I read lewd Plays and winning Romances.' 'Who is it you love?' 'Myself.' 'What! nobody else?' 'My Page, my Monkey, and my Lap Dog.' 'Why do you love them?' 'Why, because I am an English Lady, and they are Foreign Creatures; my Page from Genoa, my Monkey from the East Indies, and my Lap Dog from Vigo.' [3]  'Would not they have pleased you as well if they had been English ?' 'No, for I hate everything that Old England brings forth, except it be the temper of an English Husband, and the liberty of an English wife; I love the French Bread, French Wines, French Sauces, and a French Cook; in short, I have all about me French or Foreign, from my Waiting Woman to my Parrot.' And tells much the same story when he gives a portion of the diary of a lady of quality.[4]  'Wednesday. From Eight 'till Ten. Drank two Dishes of Chocolate in Bed, and fell asleep after 'em.


' From Ten to Eleven. Eat a Slice of Bread and Butter, drank a Dish of Bohea, read the . 'From Eleven to One. At my Toilet, try'd a new Head. Gave orders for Veney to be combed and washed. Mem. I look best in Blue. ' From One till Half an Hour after Two. Drove to the Change. Cheapned a couple of Fans. ' Till Four. At Dinner. Mem. Mr. Froth passed by in his new Liveries. ' From Four to Six. Dressed, paid a Visit to old lady Blithe and her Sister, having heard they were gone out of Town that Day. ' From Six to Eleven. At Basset. Mem. Never set again upon the Ace of Diamonds. 'Thursday. From Eleven at Night to Eight in the Morning. Dream'd that I punted to Mr. Froth. 'From Eight to Ten. Chocolate. Read two Acts in [5]  abed. ' From Ten to Eleven. Tea Table. Sent to borrow Lady Faddle's Cupid for Veney. Read the Play-Bills. Received a Letter from Mr. Froth. Mem. Locked it up in my strong box. 'Rest of the Morning. Fontange the Tire woman, her Account of my Lady Blithe's Wash. Broke a Tooth in my little Tortoiseshell Comb. Sent Frank to know how my Lady Hectick rested after her Monky's leaping out at Window. Looked pale. Fontange tells me my Glass is not true. Dressed by Three. 'From Three to Four. Dinner cold before I sat down. ' From Four to Eleven. Saw Company. Mr. Froth's opinion of Milton. His Account of the Mohocks. His Fancy for a Pin-cushion. Picture in the Lid of his Snuff-box. Old Lady Faddle promises me her Woman to cut my Hair. Lost five Guineas at Crimp. ' Twelve a Clock at Night. Went to Bed. 'Friday. Eight in the Morning. Abed. Read over all Mr. Froth's Letters. Cupid and Veney. ' Ten a Clock. Stay'd within all day-not at home. 'From Ten to Twelve. In Conference with my Mantua


Maker. Sorted a Suit of Ribbands. Broke my Blue China Cup. ' From Twelve to One. Shut myself up in my Chamber, practised Lady Betty Modely's Skuttle. 'One in the Afternoon. Called for my flowered Handkerchief. Worked half a Violet Leaf in it. Eyes aked and Head out of Order. Threw by my Work, and read over the remaining Part of Aurenzebe. ' From Three to Four. Dined. ' From Four to Twelve. Changed my Mind, dressed, went abroad, and play'd at Crimp till Midnight. Found Mrs. Spitely at home. Conversation: Mrs. Brilliant's Necklace false Stones. Old Lady Loveday going to be married to a young Fellow that is not worth a Groat. Miss Pruegone into the Country. Tom Townley has red Hair. Mem. Mrs. Spitely whispered in my Ear that she had something to tell me about Mr. Froth, I am sure it is not true. 'Between Twelve and One. Dreamed that Mr. Froth lay at my Feet and called me Indamora.[6]  ' Saturday. Rose at Eight a Clock in the Morning. Sate down to my Toilet. 'From Eight to Nine. Shifted a Patch for Half an Hour before I could determine it. Fixed it above my left Eyebrow. ' From Nine to Twelve. Drank my Tea and Dressed. From Twelve to Two. At Chappel. A great deal of good Company. Mem. The third Air in the new Opera. Lady Blithe dressed frightfully. 'From Three to Four. Dined. Miss Kitty called upon me to go to the Opera before I was risen from Table. ' From Dinner to Six. Drank Tea. Turned off a Footman for being rude to Veney. ' Six a Clock. Went to the Opera. I did not see Mr. Froth till the beginning of the second Act. Mr. Froth talked to a Gentleman in a black Wig. Bowed to a Lady in the Front Box. Mr. Froth and his Friend clapp'd Nicolini in the third Act. Mr. Froth cried out Ancora. Mr. Froth led me to my Chair. I think he squeezed my Hand.


' Eleven at Night. Went to Bed. Melancholy Dreams. Methought Nicolini said he was Mr. Froth. 'Sunday. Indisposed. 'Monday. Eight a Clock. Waked by Miss Kitty. Aurenzebe lay upon the Chair by me. Kitty repeated without Book the Eight best Lines in the Play. Went in our Mobbs to the dumb Man,[7]  according to Appointment. Told me that my Lover's Name began with a G. Mem. The Conjurer was within a Letter of Mr. Froth's Name,' &c.

Virtually, these two different versions of how an idle woman passed her time agree remarkably well, and they let a whole flood of daylight into the inner life of the time-on what they breakfasted, when they dined, what time the opera began, etc. Apart from opera, the play, and cards, how were the females of the middle class to amuse themselves of an evening? Say they had been busy all day, the evenings had to be passed somehow. There was very little of that domesticity and home life of which we are so proud, for the men spent their evenings at their club, their coffee-house, the tavern, or the play, so they had to amuse themselves with such innocent games as hot cockles, questions and commands, mottoes, similes, cross purposes, blindman's buff, and a game called 'Parson has lost his Cloak,' or else 'Bouts rimes,' which consisted of giving four terminal words of any kind so that they rhymed, and then some one else filling up the blank lines, and making four lines of sensible poetry.[8]  In fact, just the same amusements that are now compelled to be resorted to as pastimes in a village home. The better class had musical evenings, for chamber music was popular, but the spinets and harpsichords were of moderate compass, and very slight in sound. They danced country dances too, any quantity of them; and there was the curse of the age-cards-as a never-failing resource.

The women did not walk much. seems to think they did; but then a little walking went a long way with him. He quite boasts of his walk from and to of a day, a good two-mile walk each way, as somewhat of a feat, and he


repeatedly grumbles at Stella for not walking more-tells her to knock off her claret and buy a pair of good strong boots and use them.[9]  'When I pass the Mall in the evening it is prodigious to see the number of ladies walking there; and I always cry shame at the ladies of Ireland, who never walk at all, as if their legs were of no use, but to be laid aside. ... I tell you what, if I was with you, when we went to Stoyte, at Donnybrook, we would only take a coach to the hither end of Stephen's Green, and from thence go every step on foot; yes, faith, every step.'

The Mall was the fashionable lounge, or the Parade, where smoking was not allowed.[10]  'From thence we walk'd into the Parade, which my Friend told me us'd, in a Morning, to be cover'd with the Bones of Red Herrings, and smelt as strong about Breakfast Times as a Wet Salter's Shop at Midsummer. But now, says he, its perfum'd again with English Breath; and the scent of Oroonoko Tobacco no more offends the Nostrils of our squeamish Ladies.' And there were the lucks to feed on the canal. But the Mall was the place. goes into ecstasies over it: never was there such a sight. 'From thence we went thro' the Pallace into the Park about the time when the Court Ladies raise their extended Limbs from their downy Couches, and Walk into the Mall to refresh their charming Bodies with the Cooling and Salubrious Breezes of the Gilded Evening. We could not possibly have chose a Luckier Minute to have seen the delightful Park in its greatest Glory and Perfection; for the brightest Stars of the Creation sure (that shine by no other Power than humane Excellence) were moving here with such awful State and Majesty that their Graceful Deportments bespoke 'em Goddesses,' etc.

Of course they paid visits-how could women live without a little gossip ? The invaluable takes a note of the practice. ' Persons of the first Quality visit one another in England as much as we do in France, generally about Evening; but the ordinary Sort of People have not that Custom. Among us all the little Shopkeepers, particularly the Women, go with their Gowns about their Heels to visit one another by Turns, either


to crack and bounce to one another, or else to sit with their Arms a cross, and say nothing. What can be more tedious, impertinent, and ridiculous than such Visits ? Here, Persons of that Condition go to see one another with their Work in their Hands and Chearfulness in their Countenance, without Rule or Constraint. Upon certain Occasions, as upon Mourning or Marriage, they pay one another Visits of Ceremony.' gives a most amusing description[11]  of 'the City Ladies Visiting Day, which is a familiar Assembly, or a general Council, of the fair and charming Sex, where all the important affairs of their Neighbours are largely discuss'd, but judg'd in an arbitrary
manner, without hearing the Parties speak for themselves. Nothing comes amiss to these Tribunals; matters of high and no consequence, as Religion and Cuckoldom, Commodes and Sermons, Politicks and Gallantry, Receipts of Cookery and Scandal, Coquetry and Preserving, Jilting and Laundry; in short, every thing is subject to the Jurisdiction of this Court, and no Appeal lies from it. The Coach stops at the Goldsmith's or Mercer's Door, and off leaps Mr. Skip Kennel from behind it, and makes his Address to the Book Keeper or Prentice, and asks if his Lady (for that is always the name of


the Mistress) receives any Visits that day or No; some stay must be made till the Woman above stairs sends down her Answer, and then the Pink of Courtesie is receiv'd at the top of the Stairs, like King James by the French King, and handed to her stool of discourse... Thus they take a sip of Tea, then for a draught or two of Scandal to digest it, next let it be Ratafia, or any other Favourite Liquor, Scandal must be the after draught to make it sit easie on their Stomach, till the half hour's past, and they have disburthen'd themselves of their Secrets, and take Coach for some other place to collect new matter for Defamation.'

Tea was then in its infancy, but it was an extremely fashionable beverage, in spite of its expense, and the teatable was the very centre of scandal and gossip.

How see we Scandal (for our sex too base), Seat in dread Empire in the Female Race, 'Mong Beaus and Women, Fans and Mechlin Lace, Chief seat of Slander, Ever there we see Thick Scandal circulate with right Bohea. There, source of black'ning Falshood's Mint of Lies, Each Dame th' Improvement of her Talent tries, And at each Sip a Lady's Honour dies; Truth rare as Silence, or a Negro Swan, Appears among those Daughters of the Fan.

Naturally, when out walking they did a little shopping, or what passed as such; for then, as now, many

a fine lady would go into a shop and look at the goods simply to pass away the time, regardless of the loss and inconvenience to the shopkeeper. notices this-indeed, what little social blot ever went undetected by the omniscient ?-in the following amusing strain: [12] 

'I am,

dear Sir, one of the top China Women about Town; and though I say it, keep as good Things and receive as fine Company as any o' this End of the Town, let the other be who she will. In short I am in a fair Way to be easy, were it not for a Club of Female Rakes who, under pretence of taking their innocent rambles, forsooth, and diverting the Spleen, seldom fail to plague me twice or thrice a day to cheapen Tea, or buy a Skreen. What else should they mean ? as they often repeat it. These Rakes are your idle Ladies of Fashion, who having nothing to do employ themselves in tumbling over my Ware. One of these No Customers (for, by the way, they seldom or never buy anything) calls for a set of Tea Dishes, another for a Bason, a third for my best Green Tea, and even to the Punch bowl; there's scarce a piece in my Shop but must be displaced, and the whole agreeable Architecture disordered, so that I can compare 'em to nothing but to the Night Goblins that take a Pleasure to overturn the Disposition of Plates and Dishes in the kitchens of your housewifely Maids. Well, after all this Racket and Clutter, this is too dear, that is their Aversion; another thing is Charming, but not wanted. The Ladies are cured of the Spleen, but I am not a Shilling the better for it.'

One famous place for shopping was the New Exchange, in , which must have been something like our arcades; and many are the allusions, in contemporary literature, to the dangerous allurements of the Exchange shopgirls. 'Did you buy anything? Some Bawbles. But my choice was so distracted among the Pretty Merchants and their Dealers, I knew not where to run first. One little lisping Rogue, Ribbandths, Gloveths, Tippeths. Sir, cries another, will you buy a fine Sword Knot; then a third, pretty voice and Curtsie, Does not your Lady want Hoods, Scarfs, fine green silk Stockings. I went by as if I had been in a Seraglio, a living Gallery of Beauties-staring from side to side, I bowing, they laughing; so made my escape.' [13] 

This was the universal description of the New Exchange, and the character of their wares has been immortalised in a song by :-


Fine Lace or Linnen, Sir,

Good Gloves or Ribbons here;

What is't you please to Buy,


Pray what d'ye ask for this ?

Ten Shillings is the Price;

It cost me, sir, no less,

I Scorn to tell a Lye, Sir.

Madam, what is't you want,

Rich Fans of India paint ?

Fine Hoods or Scarfs, my Lady?

Silk Stockings will you buy,

In Grain or other Dye ?

Pray, Madam, please your Eye;

I've good as e'er was made ye.

My Lady, feel the Weight,

They're Fine, and yet not Slight;

I'd with my Mother trust 'em.

For Goodness and for Wear,

Madam, I Vow and Swear.

I show'd you this same Pair

In hopes to gain your Custom.

Pray tell me in a Word,

At what you can afford,

With Living Gain to sell 'em:

The price is one Pound five,

And as I hope to Live,

I do my Profit give,

Your Honour's very welcome.

Knives, Penknives, Combs or


Tooth Pickers, Sirs, or Tweesers;

Or Walking Canes to Ease ye.

Ladies, d'ye want fine Toys,

For Misses or for Boys ?

Of all sorts I have Choice,

And pretty things to please ye.

I want a little Babye,

As pretty a one as may be,

With Head dress made of Feather:

And now I think again,

I want a Toy from Spain,

You know what 'tis I mean:

Pray send 'em home together.

Another female practice, then, was to go to daily service at church especially-and , , was a very fashionable church at which to worship, or ogle the beaus. [14]  'This Market and that Church,' says my friend, 'hides more faults of kind Wives and Daughters among the Neighbouring Inhabitants than the pretended Visits either to my Cousin at t'other end of the Town, or some other distant Acquaintance; for if the Husband asks, Where have you been, Wife ? or the Parent, Where have you been, Daughter ? the Answer, if it be after Eleven in the forenoon, or between Three and Four in the Afternoon, is, At Prayers. But, if early in the Morning, then their excuse is, I took a walk to Market, not being very well, to refresh myself with the scent of the Herbs and Flowers; Bringing a Flower, or a Sprig of Sweet Bryar, home in her Hand, and it confirms the matter.'

When not walking, ladies used either a coach or a sedan chair, and but seldom rode on horseback; but, when they did so, they generally preferred the pillion to the side-saddle, as


in the accompanying illustration, and held on by the belt either of her cavalier or groom.

In the country, horse exercise was much more in vogue, and repeatedly alludes to, and reminds Stella of, her riding. When riding, ladies very frequently wore masks to protect the countenance from the rays of the sun.

Frequent allusions are made to a lady's pets, her lap-dog or her parrot; but very few people know the very wide range of choice she had in the selection of those pets. Needless to say there were monkeys, both Marmoset and other kinds; there were paroquets, paroquets of Guinea, cockatoos and macaws, scarlet nightingales from the West Indies, lorries or lurries, canaries, both ash and lemon colour, white and grey turtle doves from Barbary, white turtle doves, and the turtle doves from Moco, no bigger than a lark, spotted very fine. There were milk-white peacocks, white and pyed pheasants, bantams, and furbelow fowls from the East Indies, and

top-knot hens from Hamburg. She would hardly want the 'Parcel of living Vipers, fresh taken, fat and good, are to be sold by the dozen,' nor would she care about the 'fine Tyger from the East Indies, who was brought over together with some fine geese from the same part of the world,' and some 'Amedawares.' In fact there were 'Jamrachs' then as now, and many of the bird shops were in , near which locality they still abound. There is a curious advertisement in the , January 12/15, , which settles the date of bird-seed glasses 'The so much approved and most convenient new fashion Crystal Bird Glasses, which effectually prevent the Littering of the Seeds into the Rooms.'

An innocent amusement, of which they were very fond, was dancing. And of dances there were a considerable quantity: country dances and jigs, of which there was an infinite variety, and minuets, rigadoons, and other more stately and stagey dances, as the 'Louvre and the French Brittagne.' These latter were elaborate, and absolutely inaugurated


a fresh literature devoted to their cult. This seems to have been started by one Thoinet Arbeau, in a book published by him in , and he may be called the originator of the ballet. Both Beauchamp and Feuillet wrote on this subject in French. Feuillet's book was translated and improved upon by Siris, in . John Weaver wrote on this subject (in his ' Orchesography' ) about , and John Essex (in the 'Treatise of Chorography' ) in . The object was to teach the different steps and dances, by means of diagrams. Thus coupees, bourees, fleurets, bounds or tacs, contretemps, chasses, sissones, pirouettes, capers, entrechats, etc., all had their distinguishing marks.

The effect of learning by this method is whimsically given by . [15]  'I was this morning awakened by a sudden

shake of the house, and as soon as I had got a little out of my consternation I felt another, which was followed by two or three repetitions of the same convulsion. I got up as fast as possible, girt on my rapier, and snatched up my hat, when my landlady came up to me and told me "that the gentlewoman of the next house begged me to step thither, for that a lodger she had taken in was run mad, and she desired my advice," as indeed everybody in the whole lane does upon important occasions. I am not like some artists, saucy, because I can be beneficial, but went immediately. Our neighbour told us " she had the day before let her second floor to a very genteel youngish man, who told her he kept extraordinary good hours, and was generally home most part of


the morning and evening at study; but that this morning he had for an hour together made this extravagant noise which we then heard." I went up stairs with my hand upon the hilt of my rapier, and approached this new lodger's door.

'I looked in at the keyhole, and there I saw a well made man look with great attention on a book, and on a sudden jump into the air so high, that his head almost touched the ceiling. He came down safe on his right foot, and again flew up, alighting on his left; then looked again at his book, and holding out his right leg, put it into such a quivering motion, that I thought he would have shaked it off. He then used the left after the same manner, when on a sudden, to my great surprise, he stooped himself incredibly low, and turned gently on his toes. After this circular motion, he continued bent in that humble posture for some time, looking on his book. After this, he recovered himself with a sudden spring, and flew round the room in all the violence and disorder imaginable, until he made a full pause for want of breath.

'In this interim, my women asked "what I thought." I whispered, " that I thought this learned person an enthusiast, who possibly had his first education in the Peripatetic way, which was a sect of Philosophers, who always studied when walking." But observing him much out of breath, I thought it the best time to master him if he were disordered, and knocked at his door. I was surprized to find him open it, and say with great civility and good mien, " that he hoped he had not disturbed us." I believed him in a lucid interval, and desired "he would please to let me see his book." He did so, smiling. I could not make anything of it, and therefore asked " in what language it was writ." He said, "it was one he studied with great application; that it was his profession to teach it, and he could not communicate his knowledge without a consideration." I answered " that I hoped he would hereafter keep his thoughts to himself, for his meditation this morning had cost me three coffee dishes, and a clean pipe." He seemed concerned at that, and told me " he was a dancing master, and had been reading a dance or two before he went out, which had been written by one who had been taught at an Academy in France." He observed me at a stand, and


went on to inform me, "that now Articulate MOTIONS as well as were expressed by Proper , and that there is nothing so common as to communicate a Dance by a letter." I besought him hereafter to meditate in a ground room.'

The public dancers were utilised in rather a curious way, if we may credit -who certainly ought to know. She says, in 'Love at a Venture,' ' Sir Paul Cautious, Go to the Play House, and desire some of the Singers and Dancers to come hither,' and the servant, later on in the play, announces 'The Singers and Dancers are come, Sir. (Here is songs and dances.)'


[1] Spectator, No. 45.

[2] The English Lady's Catechism. I have seen the original edition, dated 1703.-J. A.

[3] This settles the date as being early in Anne's reign, as the galleons were captured at Vigo in 1702, and everything from Vigo was fashionable.

[4] Spectator, No. 323.

[5] By Dryden.

[6] The heroine in Aurenzebe.

[7] Duncan Campbell, who pretended to tell fortunes by second sight.

[8] See Spectator, No. 60.

[9] Journal to Stella, letter 23.

[10] The London Spy.

[11] The Works of ThomasBrown, ed. 1708, vol. iii p. 86.

[12] Spectator, No. 337.

[13] The Lying Lover.

[14] The London Spy.

[15] The Tatler, No. 88.