Lady Diana Beauclerk Draws a Travelling Zoo

Before the establishment of zoological gardens in the early nineteenth century, people living outside of London with its Tower Menagerie were unlikely to have the opportunity of seeing large exotic animals unless the proprietor of a travelling menagerie rolled into town.  George Wombwell (1777-1850) was the greatest of them all.   Around 1810 he began touring the seasonal fairs, where it was easy to gather a crowd.    Eventually he had three units, each with its brightly painted wagons and brass bands, covering the circuit.

Cotsen recently acquired a late eighteenth-century drawing by Lady Diana Beauclerk that documents the visit of a travelling menagerie to an unspecified location in the English countryside.   Perhaps the animal show of Gilbert Pidcock, which was on the road in the late 1700s, is depicted here, although there is no way of being sure because the wagon has no identifying marks.   The showman gestures with his staff towards the enormous lion, whose head seems to be lowered, possibly exhausted after a long bumpy ride on bad roads.  Wonder and awe, not fear, animate the faces in the little crowd standing a safe distance from the creature’s cage on wheels.  At least two little ones are being held up so they won’t miss seeing the noble beast.

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Lady Diana Beauclerk, ” A travelling menagerie.” ca. 1790? Provenance: Theodore Besterman-Paula Peyraud.

The drawing is signed “D.B.” in the lower left hand corner and “D:B:” below the border in the middle.  Those initials belong to the one the most celebrated amateur woman artists of the period: Lady Diana Beauclerk (1734-1808), daughter of the Honorable Elizabeth Trevor and Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough.  She also has the distinction of being the first of the celebrated Di Spencers.

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Sir Joshua Reynolds’ 1768 portrait of Lady Diana.

A number of her drawings survive and perhaps this one of the travelling menagerie  is related to others she did on popular entertainments: one of a showman with dancing bears, and another of street musicians.  While there is no reason to think Lady Di drew any of them for the delight of her children or grandchildren (nor is there any evidence they were intended as illustrations for a book, much less a children’s book),  the drawings open a window on the experiences of children in the late Georgian period.

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Lady Diana Beauclerk, “A performing bear” ca. 1790. The showman is jabbing the bear to make it dance. There is a second bear with a monkey on its back to the left. A trumpeter, who probably played to gather an audience, stands with his back to the wall. Lydiard House, Swindon, Wiltshire.

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Lady Diana Beauclerk, “Street musicians” ca. 1790. The young woman is playing a hurdy-gurdy to the accompaniment of a tambourine. In the background a man is operating a peep show for two young customers.

Who was the artist of these charming drawings?   Lady Diana would have been notorious even if she had not been part of the fast set of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.   Beauclerk has probably been the inspiration for many characters in Regency romances…  Dr. Johnson dismissed Lady Di as a “whore”  but Edmund Burke was more forgiving on account of her two dreadful marriages, the first to the dissolute womanizer Frederick St. John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke, who succeeded in divorcing her for adultery on the third try in 1768.   Diana may not have felt the need for absolute discretion when her husband was rarely home at night.

Two days after the divorce was final, she married her long-time lover Topham Beauclerk.  He should have been an improvement over Bolingbroke, as  the great-grandson of Charles II, a friend of Horace Walpole and Dr. Johnson, a wit, and notable book collector.  But his personal hygiene was as appalling as his temper and Lady Di was frequently the victim of his rages.  Even his friends said Topham was so filthy that it was possible to catch lice from his wig.

After Topham’s death in 1780s, Lady Di’s life must have improved dramatically, now that she was the mistress of a pleasant small house, a regular income, and peace to devote to a range of artistic pursuits.   Probably her best known works are the designs she executed for Josiah Wedgewood, which were used on plaques, jugs, and other ceramic pieces.

Plaque,_modeled_by_Lady_Diana_Beauclerk_(1734-1808)_-_Wedgwood,_undated_-_Brooklyn_Museum_-_DSC09014She also created a series of nine drawings which were inset in the door of an elaborate ebony cabinet that Horace Walpole commissioned from Edward Edwards.

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The Beauclerk cabinet, originally in the Great North Bedchamber, Strawberry Hill. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

Bad Boys Make Mischief in 19th-century Children’s Books

Boys being boys… Another episode in the ongoing rivalry between Horrid Henry and Peter Perfect

During the Big Move–shifting miles of rare materials into RBSC’s cavernous new vault whose completion was celebrated in the previous post, “Moving Day in Feather Town“–I discovered three really awful nineteenth-century books about bad boys.  In contemporary children’s books, characters whose halos have slipped down around their shoulders are not exactly  underrepresented…   Think of Francesca Simon’s Horrid Henry, whose antics have given rise to a multi-media empire.  Bad boys are by no means non-existent in older children’s books, but the way boyish misbehavior was punished has changed dramatically as attitudes towards authority, curiosity, mischief, and mistakes have become more lenient.

Two well-known stories about bad boys display zero tolerance for boys like Horrid Henry who disrespected authority.   In Kings 2:22-3 of the Old Testament, the prophet Elisha passes a pack of young louts on the road to Bethel.   These ancestors of the Purple Gang yell at Elisha, “Go up, you old baldy” and  Elisha retaliates by cursing them.  Two female bears come out of the woods and maul forty-two of the no-goods.

Oh dear…

 

Undoubtedly this gruesome story was the inspiration for many cautionary tales about bad boys.   Daniel Fenning’s best-selling school book, The Universal Spelling Book (1756) was the source of this famous one about the brothers Tommy and Harry, which Charles Dickens alluded to in David Copperfield.   Harry the elder brother was a rotter and Tommy the younger was a Peter Perfect.  Guess which brother was eaten by lions?

Woodcut, page 43, Cotsen 118 (19th edition, 1773)

Woodcut of the lion lunching on Harry on page 43 of the 19th edition of Fenning’s Universal Speller (1773). Cotsen 118.

By the nineteenth century bad boys are all over picture books, but  they usually make mischief in a series of illustrations rather than starring in a continuous narrative.  All three of the books I found during the Big Move–one French, one British, and one German–fall into the second category.  In Les Proverbes de Pierre (1890), illustrator Jean Geoffrey dresses up his little devils in Pierrot costumes and sets them loose in the classroom and in the street.  Notice that it takes a young peep show operator (the one with what looks like a little tower strapped on his back) and the boy-gendarme to break up the squabble below.    The second picture shows what can happen when the teacher steps out of the classroom.  Is the boy in the upper left sending up his teacher?  Where are the wild beasts?

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Page 21, Cotsen 10743

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The one boy waves a hat that reads “Ass” while his accomplices dance on a sign saying “Lazy.” Cotsen 10743, 1

In the British picture book Young Troublesome (ca. 1850), John Leech gleefully shows just how much mischief a public school boy could make at home during the Christmas holidays.  In this plate the adults stand by helplessly as the young pickle shows his little brothers and sisters how easy and delightful it is to slide down a bannister.

Plate [2], Cotsen 3141

Plate 2, Cotsen 3141

There are also illustrations showing boys playing practical jokes that are anything but fun and games.   In Ludwig Kies’ Der Kinder Art und Unart (ca. 1855′), the boys in the boat dump an elaborately dressed tailor overboard.  The tailor’s terrified expression suggests he thinks that once his heavy clothes become waterlogged, he will drown.  The boys, who may be working class, show no remorse for what they have done and it looks as if no one will step forward and punish them. .

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Plate [53], Cotsen 24963

 Likewise Leech’s Young Troublesome seems to think nothing of interfering with the servants while they are working, or apologizing when his prank ruins their clothing.  The hapless servant may have no other recourse than complaining to his comrades below the stairs.

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Plate 10, Cotsen 3141

Of all activities forbidden to children, playing with fire may have been one of the most satisfying because it was so risky.  From the late eighteenth century onward, it is not especially difficult to find illustrations of children whose clothes have caught fire, a very real possibility in homes where there were multiple fireplaces with open grates.  William Darton senior liked such subjects, but no engraving in his firm’s juvenile books can compare with this one from Der Kinder Art und Unart of a boy running out of the hen house, which he accidentally set aflame.  Unlike many of the plates in this book, no adult appears to reprimand the little arsonist (or mourn his passing as the kitties did Hoffmann’s Paulinchen).

Plate [30], Cotsen 24963

Plate [30], Cotsen 24963

In sharp contrast, Young Troublesome and his assistant look as if they have deployed every bit of firepower behind the scenes to bring the juvenile theater production of The Miller and His Men to a triumphant conclusion. The size of the explosion seems to have given his papa pause.  Or perhaps his ears were ringing from all the racket from the special effects.

Plate 7, 3141

Plate 7, 3141

Last but not least, is this illustration of a boy on his way to school pausing to get a light from a street urchin, while a gaping classmate watches them indulging in a forbidden vice.  A casual depiction of underage smoking like this one in a picture book would be enough to get Les proverbes de Pierre a PG-13 rating these days and possibly launch a heated discussion on childlit-listserv…

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More bad habits… Cotsen 10743, 33.