Georgian romance, Reverend Collins style

Every so often I stumble upon little gems of history hidden away in eighteenth-century newspapers. They’re not necessarily ‘important’, just small details from the lives of ordinary people long forgotten. Personal ads are often brilliant, and if you’re not careful you can find yourself lost in thoughts of whether these hopeful romantics ever found what they were looking for. Seriously, anything distracts me from research. Sometimes these ads are rather sweet and heartwarming. Take this message from ‘A. B.’ in Lloyd’s Evening Post from December 1761:

Honestly, I really hope A. B. is genuine. When I first shared this on Facebook one of my creative writing friends asked if she could nab it for a story and I don’t blame her. He could of course be one of these rakish rogues my mother always warned me about, but I choose to believe his languishing was quite literal.

A. B.

Above: A. B. languishing. Or possibly a young Father Christmas.

Unfortunately, the eighteenth century held no shortage of Mr Less-than-rights. Ruth Scobie has already picked out ten ‘nice guys’ of the eighteenth century who graciously informed the fairer sex of all they had to offer in personal ads. Yep, for every Darcy there’s a Wickham, and about a dozen Mr Collinses.

Don't pretend you're not intrigued...

Don’t pretend you’re not intrigued…

So let’s take a moment to look at a couple of choice Collinses, and remember what Georgian ladies had to put up with. The ad below is from the Caledonian Mercury, 8th August 1764. ‘Y. Z.’ clearly believes that the best tactic for securing a match is specificity:

MATRIMONY. Wanted, by a young gentleman just beginning house-keeping, a lady between 18 and 25 years of age, with a good education, and a fortune not less that 5000l. Sound wind and limb, five feet four inches without her shoes, not fat, nor yet too lean, a clear skin, sweet breath, with a good set of teeth, no pride or affectation, not very talkative, nor one that’s dumb, no scold, but of a spirit to resent an affront, or a charitable disposition, not over fond of dress, tho’ always decent and clean; that will entertain her husband’s friends with affability and cheerfulness, and prefer his company to public diversions and gadding about; One who can keep his secrets, that he may open his heart to her, without reserve, upon all occasions; that can extend domestic expences with economy, as prosperity advances, without ostentation, and retrench them with chearfulness, if occasion should require. Any lady disposed to matrimony, answering to this description, is desired to direct for Y. Z. at the Baptist Head Coffee House, Aldermanbury. None but principals will be treated with, nor need any apply that are deficient in any one particular; the gentleman can make adequate return, and is in every respect deserving a lady with the above qualifications.

Be still, my beating heart! To be fair Y. Z. never specified whether the ‘good set of teeth’ had to be the lady’s own; as long as you can rustle up some decent dentures from a handy orphan you may still be in with a chance. In my head Y. Z. eventually finds a 22 year old young lady whose wind and limb are sufficiently sound, but dies of a broken heart upon learning she’s 5ft5.

"Oh wait, actually I am 5ft4 without shoesies. Darling...?"

“Oh sorry darling, without shoes I actually am 5ft4. Darling…?”

For those Georgian Gents who lacked the charm and eloquence God so graciously bestowed upon Y. Z., help was still available. The New English Letter Writer of 1770 provided young beaus with handy examples of romantic epistles. How could any man fail to become a master of woo? In letter 65, a sailor named Tom informs his sweetheart of his success at battle and desire to wed. The honest tar first demonstrates why Bett should choose him over other potential suitors:

Jack Capstan, whom you once loved, had his head knocked off in the engagement; and Tom Forecastle, another of your sweethearts, was washed overboard. Let them go, and happy for me they are gone, because I shall now enjoy my dear Bett.

A fine display of the ‘a bronze medal is still a medal’ argument. But wait Bett, there’s more! Tom also intends to buy a pub in Wapping and make you the landlady! Still not enough? Very well, perhaps a little something extra just to sweeten the deal:

I have a large assortment of china, a fine silk gown, and twenty yards of muslin which I will lay in your lap.

'Three steps to a successful courtship' by Tom Tar and Reverend Collins

‘Three steps to a successful courtship’ by Tom Tar (Foreword by Reverend Collins)

It seems romance was a tricky business even in the Romantic age. At least we can be thankful that we don’t have to put up with Reverend Collinses today.


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