1818:   The Year In Review

By the time the year 1818 came to an end, the king’s wife of more than half a century had passed away, and the Crown had sold off a Royal Forest. The old Parliament had been dissolved and elections held for a new one. Due to government effort, there was a temporary lull in the social unrest which had unsettled much of the country since the final defeat of Napoleon. A new theatre had opened in London and a fascinating automaton had returned to mystify the metropolis. Important work in the fields of art and antiquities had taken place. There had also been new innovations in security devices and food production that year, as well as the first successful blood human-to-human transfusion. In addition, several important publications with which we are familiar today first went to press.

A look back at the year 1818 . . .

Just three days into the new year of 1818, a rare astronomical event, the occultation of Jupiter by Venus, took place. However, it was only visible from a fairly small area of the surface of the Earth, and none of that area included the British Isles. Therefore, it would have been of interest primarily to Regency astronomers and other scientists. Another, somewhat related event was the fact that, based on astronomical calculations, Easter Sunday fell on the earliest possible date on the Western Christian calendar. Most educated people who lived during the Regency were aware that Easter Sunday would not come as early again for another 467 years. Easter Sunday of 1818 also fell just three days before Lady Day. There were a few who believed this juxtaposition of Easter Sunday and Lady Day was an omen that dire calamities would occur in the coming year.

In February of 1818, Jeremiah Chubb applied for a patent on a new lock which he had dubbed the Chubb Detector Lock. Not only did each individual lock require a unique key to open it, if a skeleton key, or any other implement was used to try to force it open, a "detector" mechanism inside would cause the lock to become inoperable. It could only be restored to normal functionality by a special and unique "regulating" key. Though this lock had been invented for use in protecting valuable commodities stored in the warehouses on the Portsmouth docks, it was not long before many businesses and even affluent private individuals were ordering Chubb Detector Locks to protect their property and possessions.

In 1818, Peter Durand, a Frenchman who had developed new and expanded processes in Britain for canning food on a large scale, applied for a patent on his process in the United States. In the end, Durand did not open a canning factory in the United States. A few years later, he sold his rights to someone else, who eventually did open a canning factory there. However, in Britain, in 1818, a canning factory which had been founded using some of Durand’s earlier patents was actively producing large volumes of canned foods for the military. The first process for canning food was developed in France, and another new innovation in food production was also introduced in that country, in 1818. A new company, Coignet & Cie., was founded in Lyons, France, to produce gelatin on an industrial scale. Like the technology for canning food, the technology for making gelatin on an industrial scale soon crossed the Channel to Britain, making gelatin less expensive and more readily available to more people.

A notable and entertaining vistor to Britain from the Continent in 1818, was The Turk, a full-size pseudo clock-work machine which supposedly could play chess so well that it beat most of its opponents.The Turk was on display in London for several months, after which it toured the provinces for about a year. In 1820, The Turk retuned to London for a few months before it was taken back to the Continent. In the spring of 1818, a new entertainment venue became available in London, with the opening of the new Royal Coburg Theatre in Lambeth, on the south bank of the Thames. This new theatre was easily accessible from central London over the new Waterloo Bridge. Since it was not an official patent theatre, it could not offer serious drama. Therefore, the peformances there were melodramas, pantomimes, ballets and farces, among other lighter fare.

In addition to options for public entertainment, quite a number of new books became available to literate Londoners in 1818. Early in the year, the final two novels written by Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published posthumously by her family. Another young lady’s novel was published at about that same time, anonymously, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, written by Mary Shelley. The novel was well-recieved by the public and by most critics, while other critics found it "a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity." The popularity of the book generated much speculation on who might have written such a fantastic tale, but the author’s name was not generally known until it appeared on the title page of the 1823 edition. That summer, the seventh of the Waverly novels, the The Heart of Midlothian, was published. The true author was Walter Scott, though at the time, it was published using the pseudonym, Jedediah Cleishbotham. The book was very popular when it was published, and even today, many believe it is Scott’s finest novel. A few weeks later, the satirical novel, Nightmare Abbey, was published anonymously. The principal theme of this short novel was the current partiality of novelists and poets of the time to focus on morbid subjects and gothic settings. It was the work of Thomas Love Peacock, and is considered to be his most successful work. Curiously, Peacock was a close friend of Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his wife, Mary Shelley, who had just published Frankenstein. This year also saw the birth, on 30 July, of a baby girl who would grow up to become the novelist, Emily Brontë, the author of Wuthering Heights.

Some notable and important English poems were also published in 1818. Two were published by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ozymandias, published under the pseudonym "Glirastes," and The Revolt of Islam, a poem in twelve cantos, published under his own name. This longer poem had been re-worked from an earlier poem, Laon and Cythna, which some had condemned for its theme of incest and comments on the nature of religion. Despite its title, the poem was not about the Islamic faith. Rather, it was essentially a parable on the revolutionary idealism in the wake of the disillusionment of the French Revolution. Perhaps the longest poem to be published in 1818, was Endymion, by John Keats. This poem consisted of four volumes, of 1000 lines each. Published under his own name, the first line of this poem is "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever." The poem has a rural setting in Classical Greece, in which the young hero, Endymion, recounts a series of adventures in which he encounters various gods and goddesses. Though it seems that many in the general public enjoyed this lengthy poem, most critics were scathing in their remarks. However, a few critics were quite taken by the dreamlike tale and thought it served to emphasize the youth and freshness of the story.

Children’s literature was not ignored in the year 1818. The first volume of The History of the Fairchild Family, or, the Child’s Manual, was published, anonymously. The author was Mary Martha Sherwood, an evangelical Christian author and boarding school proprietress. This was the first volume of what would eventually be a three-volume story, the second volume being published in 1842 and the third volume being published in 1847. This novel is considered to be Sherwood’s most successful and popular set of stories for children. The tale is woven around the Fairchild family, which consisted of the parents and three children, two girls and a boy. Sherwood was an intensely moralistic writer whose stories were filled with moral lessons which would ensure children were properly educated in a devout manner so that they were able to achieve redemption and thus, salvation. That same year, Thomas Bowdler published the second edition of The Family Shakespeare, an expurgated and sanitized version of the plays of William Shakespeare. Bowdler’s sister, Harriette, had expurgated the first edition, but, as a determined evangelical Christian, she had slashed a great deal from the plays, anything she considered even remotely off-color or blasphemous, which left a great deal of Shakespeare’s work on the cutting room floor. Her brother, though a religious man, was less prudish than his sister, and actually restored some of what she had cut. This new edition, in ten volumes, was published by Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, of London. Sales were initially slow, but increased over time.

Fortunately for the children of Regency Britain, not all children’s literature available in 1818 was produced by such didactic authors and editors as Mary Sherwood and Thomas Bowdler. Some of the most innovative and imaginative stories were published by Tabart & Company at The Juvenile and School Library. Though Benjamin Tabart had all but disappeared from the London publishing scene in 1818, the books which had been published by his firm (or was that the firm of Sir Richard Phillips?) were still available in bookshops across Britain. In addition to the many fables and fairy tales which had been published by Tabart & Company, by 1818, other publishers had followed suit. One of the most notable of those was The Juvenile Library, which had been established in 1805, by William Godwin and his second wife, Mary Jane Clairmont. In addition to a wide selection of European fairy tales, this firm also published stories for children written by the Godwins, or some of their more enlightened literary friends. Books from The Juvenile Library were also available in many bookshops across Britain. There was also a sad loss for children’s literature early in the year, when Johann David Wyss, the author of Swiss Family Robinson, passed away in January of 1818.

On Wednesday, 10 June 1818, the Prince Regent made the trip to Westminster, with all pomp and circumstance, in order to dissolve Parliament in person. Elections for new members of Parliament began almost immediately, as the new Parliamentary session was scheduled to be called to order on Tuesday, 4 August 1818. Though Parliament was dissolved because it had become hopelessly grid locked, other parts of the government were still functioning. There had been a certain amount of civil unrest in Britain since soon after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, in large part due to the perception by the public that the government was continuing several wasteful spending practices. Much of that spending had been necessary during wartime, but most people considered it both unnecessary and irresponsible in peacetime. Even more painful to the population, the price of food had risen and wages had fallen with the glut of labor in the form of soldiers returning home. The end of the war had also resulted in the near monopoly which Britain had held on maritime commerce. One of the worst outbreaks of the growing civil unrest was the riots in Spitalfields, which took place in December of 1816. This so rattled the government that they adopted a number of sharp measures in 1817, such as the suppression of what they considered "seditious meetings" as well as the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. One of the results of this governmental crackdown was the banning of the radical political and debating society, known as the Hampden Clubs, in 1818. These severe measures had the initial effect of damping public outbreaks of riots and other disorderly protests, so that there was something of a lull in such actions during 1818.

That summer, the great Royal Forest of Exmoor was disafforested and sold into private hands by the Crown. The Exmoor Forest had been designated a Royal Forest by William the Conqueror, not long after he had invaded England. This break with tradition and the sale of the land caused great turmoil among many living in the area, for both humans and animals, though it resulted in a tidy profit for the Crown. There was another radical change to the Crown in 1818, when Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III and the longest serving British consort to that time, died in November. She had been ill for some time, so her death was not unexpected and did not generate the massive outpouring of public grief which had been seen after the death of her grand-daughter, Princess Charlotte, the previous year. The death of Queen Charlotte also precipitated a rather indecorous scramble by the Prince Regent to seize as many of her jewels and other property as he could.

The fields of art and antiquities saw two very important events take place in the year of 1818. In July, Charles Stothard and his bride, Eliza, traveled to the French town of Bayeux. There, he would complete his careful and painstakingly detailed drawings of the ancient Bayeux Tapestry. The following year, Strothard’s hand-colored drawings were published by the Society of Antiquities and they remain one of the most accurate and authentic visual records of the state and appearance of the Bayeux Tapestry in the early nineteenth century. A few months later, Giovanni Belzoni, located the correct position of ruins of the Ancient Egyptian port city of Berenike and surveyed the area. Though his wife, Sarah, had accompanied him to Egypt, she had remained behind in Cairo, as it would have been too dangerous for her to travel with him on that third expedition. The following year, the Belzonis returned to Britain, and published a book about their expeditions in Egypt which became a great success with the public. In addition to Giovanni’s narrative of his travels in Egypt, the book also included Sarah’s first-had observations of Middle Eastern women.

The fields of science and medicine saw a major breakthrough in 1818, when Dr. James Blundell successfully performed the first human-to-human blood transfusion. This was an emergency procedure, to save the life of a young woman who had suffered a severe postpartum hemorrhage. She was so weak with loss of blood that Dr. Blundell believed she would die without an immediate transfusion. Fortunately, her husband not only agreed to the procedure, he offered his own blood to save his wife. The transfusion was a success and the young woman survived.

The sports world was rocked in 1818, when George "Squire" Osbaldeston, in a fit of extreme anger over a match, resigned his membership in the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). Osbaldeston was considered to be the fastest underarm bowler in the sport and he had played at least thirty-three first class matches for MCC. When he had cooled off, Osbaldeston re-applied for membership in the MCC, encouraged by many members of the club. However, his vindictive rival, Lord Frederick Beauclerk, repeatedly blocked his application and thus ended Squire Osbaldeston’s career at the Marylebone Cricket Club. But cricket was not Osbaldeston’s only sport, so he was not idle. He was keen on many field sports, and was Master of the Quorn Hunt. He was also fond of horse racing, both flat and steeplechase, in addition to carriage racing. Most of these sporting activities were usually accompanied by heavy wagering.

As was noted last week, Christmas Eve of 1818 was also the first performance of the beautiful Christmas carol, Stille Nacht, or Silent Night. Though that first performance took place in the church of a small Austrian village, it was not long before it was carried further afield and become one of the most beloved Christmas carols throughout the world.

All in all, the year 1818 was perhaps one of the calmest years of our favorite decade, with the war over and social unrest generally supressed. In addition, a number of positive events took place during this year, in several fields of endeavour. Dear Regency Authors, which of those events might inspire you with an idea for a story of romance set during the last years of the Regency?

About Kathryn Kane

Historian with a particular interest the English Regency era.   An avid reader of novels set in that time, holding strong opinions on the historical accuracy to be found in said novels.
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3 Responses to 1818:   The Year In Review

  1. I did use the rick burning in ‘Jane and the Burning Question and other stories’ in which an insurance fraud is perpetrated … the new series I am starting begins in 1812 but the last book planned will take place in 1818. So I will have to consider….

    • Kathryn Kane says:

      So far as I can tell, there was very little civil unrest in 1818, probably as a result of the extreme government crackdown. But that seems to have gone very wrong the following year, since 1819 was the year of Peterloo and other violent scenes. So, you can have relative calm in 1818, or go for a lot of violence in 1819.

      =^..^=

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