Picking Darcy’s Pocket – Something to Read

In May 1812, Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy is walking down a London street. As has been his practice of late, he had been turning over the words of Elizabeth Bennet in his mind. ‘Had you acted in a more gentlemanlike manner’. Distracted, he doesn’t notice a shabby young man in a long coat brush past him. Israel Fagin, at the beginning of his long and disreputable career (which was to lead to literary fame and the condemned cell at Newgate), had taken something from his pocket – but what?

At the end of the eighteenth century, publishing really took off. Books were published in their thousands to satisfy the new readership. We tend to think of books of this period in terms of the large volumes we see in country house libraries. However novels and poetry were usually published in small volumes, about the size of the modern paperback, but there was another class of books that are almost forgotten, pocket size books. These are really small, about 3inches by 5 inches  and could easily be slipped into the pocket of your frock or tail coat ( or tucked into your reticule). I have several in my library, and have picked out a couple that Mr Darcy could well have had in his chaise as he headed north to Pemberley, in that memorable summer of 1812.

Featured image

The first is Lord Chesterfield’s letters to his son. This was an incredibly popular book of advice on behaviour, and would certainly have been studied by Mr Darcy in his youth. Lord Chesterfield had decided views on things like;

Laughter – There is nothing so ill-bred as audible laughter. (Mr Darcy might have agreed)

Good Company – Consists of people of considerable birth, rank, and character. (Mr Elliot would have agreed, Anne Elliot would have not)

Dancing – A silly, trifling thing (Sir William Lucas, and all Austen heroines, would have disagreed)

Pride – Nothing vilifies and degrades [a man] more than pride (clearly Mr Darcy had missed this bit)

There is useful advice on spelling,

A woman of a tolerable education will despise and laugh at an ill-spelt letter.

and cleanliness,

Nothing looks more ordinary, vulgar, and illiberal, than dirty hands, and ugly, ragged, and uneven nails.

This last was clearly something that was noticed in polite society. The delightful Lady Nugent disliked Lord Balcarres because of his hands.

July 31st 1801

I wish Lord B would wash his hands, and use a nail brush, for the black edges of his nails really make me sick. He has, besides, an extraordinary propensity to dip his fingers into every dish.

This led her to deliberately commit a social error and place a lowly ranked officer in a more senior position at the Governors dinner table.

August 24th 1801

I behaved very ill, having placed an Aide-de-camp between me and his Lordship; for really his hands, we so dirty, I could not have eaten anything any thing he had been near.

Featured image

My second book is the Poems of Ossian, by James Macpherson. This was an immensely popular work in the late eighteenth century. Translations of Scottish Gaelic poems, the manuscripts had been discovered by James Macpherson and translated before publication as, he claimed, his publisher only wanted to print the work in English.

The poems were an immense success, here was a Scottish equivalent to the tales of Finn McCool in Ireland, the poems of Bards of Wales or the Arthurian romances of England. Then doubts arouse, Dr Johnson thought they were a monstrous imposition, a complete fake. When Macpherson was asked to produce his manuscripts, he left Scotland for ten years!

Now it is thought that he collected oral tales and then fitted the fragments together in a coherent whole. If he had just published his collection of oral traditions he would be honoured today, as it is he is considered one of the greatest literary hoaxers of all time.

I am currently working on a project called Picking Darcy’s Pocket, where I will be using objects that might have been found in the pocket of a Regency gentleman, to discuss various aspects of the period. In due course I will be doing this as a lecture/ performance, but for now I am just collecting the objects real or facsimile


Filed under Jane Austen, Picking Darcy's Pocket

7 responses to “Picking Darcy’s Pocket – Something to Read

  1. I really enjoyed this very amusing and informative! I am with Lady N and Lord C on the subject of hands and nails …they speak volumes about the owner!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As usual very interesting; I enjoyed the bit about spelling and a nice touch about Fagin; there is an interesting theme there, having different author’s characters meet up. Maybe you should start piecing them together for your Christmas story; my blog is reserved for you for the five days pre Xmas and I won’t be disappointed!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I already have an idea or two for a tale, mixing characters might be a bit difficult to bring in now. However it is an idea that might be worth following.
      On that theme, I remember a short story, either by Kipling or Conan Doyle, where Odysseus, on his way to Troy, and Hiram, off to get timber for King Solomon, bump into each other in a harbour-side tavern.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Only you… BTW changing subjects when was the Doom painting in Chaldon Church revealed? I remember going in probably the late 60s but was it recent to then or long before? I’ve half a mind to go back and have a look.


      • It was found in the late 60s, 1869 according to ‘The Charm of Old Surrey’ it was found during the restoration of 1869-70. Is that what you wanted.


  3. Autism Mom

    Thoroughly enjoyable as usual! I have a small volume of Emerson’s essays, similar to the ones you highlight, though 100 years newer. My favorite part is the inscription in the front: “To Ella with fond memories of a happy day.” I wonder about that happy day and the memories the book carries that I know nothing about.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to gordon759 Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s