And the great fog. (More of this anon.)
The end of yet another year is upon us, and two hundred years ago, so too was the end of the third year of the English Regency. The year 1813 saw an ongoing war with the former colonies, and a major victory in the Peninsula, but there were also important artistic and political milestones which were marked in that year. A look back at the year 1813 …
The last week of January 1813 included two significant events related to the arts. The Philharmonic Society was founded in London, on Sunday, 24 January. This society was formed by a number of professional musicians and composers to encourage more live musical performances in the city. Their first chamber music concert took place on Monday, 8 March 1813, and they continued to give concerts through the Regency, and on into the twentieth century. Most of these concerts took place in the Queen’s Concert Rooms, also known as the Hanover Square Rooms.
Four days after the founding meeting of The Philharmonic Society, on Thursday, 28 January, Jane Austen’s second novel, Pride and Prejudice, was published. The publication of this novel was especially heartening to Austen, because it had been rejected by a publisher sixteen years before. Her favorite story, Sense and Sensibility, the novel she had published the year before, was selling slowly. Perhaps because she had less faith in Pride and Prejudice, she decided to sell the copyright for a lump sum payment. Unfortunately for Austen, the reading public adored the romance between Lizzy Bennett and Mr. Darcy. The first print run of 1500 books had sold out by October and a second print run was released by the publisher, who reaped all the profits. Nevertheless, the brisk sales were very encouraging to Austen and she did go on to complete four more novels in the four years which were left to her.
On Tuesday, 23 March, Princess Augusta, the eldest and favorite sister of George III, died of a severe attack of asthma. At her death, Augusta was the Dowager Duchess of Brunswick, and the mother-in-law of the Prince Regent. During the preparation of a place for her coffin at Windsor Castle, workers knocked in part of a wall in the vault. Beyond that damaged wall was found the supposedly lost burial place of the executed Stuart king, Charles I. A devotee of the Stuart line of kings, the Prince Regent was eager to inspect this tomb immediately, but had to observe the proprieties of his mother-in-law’s funeral. He was not able to arrange for the opening of the coffin of Charles I until the afternoon of Thursday, 1 April.
Just a couple of weeks later, on Wednesday, 21 April, Lord Byron wrote a letter to his publisher, John Murray. In this letter, Byron requested that Murray not reveal his authorship of his recently published poem, The Waltz. This denial was due, in part, to fear of retribution from the Prince Regent, whom he obliquely maligned in the poem. But he may have also wished to conceal his authorship since he was trying to rebuild his relationship with the wealthy Annabella Milbanke. The young lady had once refused his proposal of marriage, and, in need of her fortune, he still had hope of wooing her into wedlock.
Most of the news in the papers through the spring and in to the summer were reports of military actions. The War of 1812 was ongoing in North America, primarily along the border between the United States and Canada. In the Iberian Peninsula, General the Marquess of Wellington had spent the previous months consolidating and training his forces for another run at the French Army in Spain. On 21 June, Wellington’s allied army soundly defeated the French at Vitoria. The news reached London in a few days and the Prince Regent was overjoyed when he was informed of the victory. There was great rejoicing throughout Britain as word of the French defeat spread across the country. In the aftermath of the Battle of Vitoria, Joseph Bonaparte’s carriage was captured by English troops, and much of his loot eventually became the property of the man who defeated him, the soon-to-be Duke of Wellington.
On Thursday, 1 July, the British Parliament enacted The East India Company Act 1813, which is also known as the Charter Act of 1813. By this act, Parliament renewed the East India Company’s charter for another twenty years. However, this renewal came with amendments by which Parliament terminated most of the Company’s monopoly on the Indian trade. This act also gave the British Crown sovereignty over the territory in India which had previously been held by the East India Company, and forced them to allow Christian missionaries into India. This act of Parliament did not receive much attention at the time, except from the members of the East India Company, since celebrations for Wellington’s victory in Spain were still ongoing.
Probably soon after the passage of The East India Company Act of 1813, the Prince Regent was so appallingly rude to his one-time friend, Beau Brummell, that the Beau was driven to deliver an insult to the Prince which permanently severed their relationship. Sometime in early July, Brummell and three of his closest friends hosted the Dandies’ Ball, which took place in London, at the Argyll Rooms. On that night, the Prince gave an obvious cut direct to Brummell, who was in the receiving line with the other hosts when the Regent arrived. Stunned and angry at this shocking breach of etiquette on the part of their royal guest, Brummell turned to the man next to him and asked, "Who is your fat friend?" Brummell and the Regent never spoke to each other again.
In September, when Walter Scott refused the post, the poet, Robert Southy, was named the new Poet Laureate of Great Britain. Fortunately, since Southy was supporting not only his family, the wife and children of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the widow and son of the poet Robert Lowell, this position came with an annual honorarium. Though he had been quite radical in his youth, Southy had become increasingly conservative over the years, making him eminently acceptable to the Prince Regent and his government. Southy held the position for thirty years, until his death in 1843.
There was good news from the Peninsula, when the British Army marched into France on Thursday, 7 October. Two weeks later, on 21 October, the eighth anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, a monument to Admiral Lord Nelson, commissioned by the Liverpool City Council, was unveiled. The design competition was won by Matthew Cotes Wyatt, the son of the noted architect, James Wyatt. Sadly, the elder Wyatt had been killed in a carriage accident barely a month before, on 4 September 1813. The first stone for the base was laid on 15 July 1812, and the monument itself was cast in bronze. Though it has been relocated and stands on a new base, the monument can still be found in Liverpool today.
Throughout 1813, William Hedley, overseer of the Wylam Colliery, was working on a design for a steam-powered locomotive. By November, the prototype locomotive had been completed and was undergoing testing. Dubbed "Puffing Billy," this locomotive was in service by the end of 1813, hauling coal from the mine to the port, five miles away. Puffing Billy continued to haul coal from the Wylam Colliery for nearly half a century, finally being retired in 1862, when it was moved to the South Kensington Museum. Today, Puffing Billy is the oldest existing original steam locomotive in the world.
On Wednesday, 8 December, Beethoven’s new symphony, Wellington’s Victory, was first performed, in Vienna. This symphony was written to commemorate the allied victory over the French at Vitoria the previous June, and was dedicated to the Prince Regent. The symphony would be performed in London in early 1814, despite Beethoven’s attempts to prevent it. It remained popular through the Regency and for several years thereafter, before it fell out of fashion. It is seldom performed today.
The Prince Regent was unable to make a planned trip to Hatfield House in Hertfordshire because an extraordinarily thick fog rolled in over south-east England as far north as London, on Monday, 27 December. Visibility was so poor that carriage travel was nearly impossible. Over the course of a few days, the fog pushed farther and farther north so that the Birmingham mail coach took more than seven hours to reach Uxbridge, a trip which was usually accomplished in about five hours. London and the surrounding area remained covered by this heavy fog for eight days. It did not clear out until Monday, 3 January 1814. Thus, in London and across most of south-eastern England, 1813 ended shrouded in a thick mist.