I told my love, I told my love,
I told her all my heart,
Trembling, cold, in ghastly fears.
Ah! she did depart!1
Ah love, it conquers all. This thought struck me as I was researching at Liverpool Central Library these last two weeks, following on from a small story I had found a month or two previous in the Caledonian Mercury (below). How central to the press of the 18th century was love, marriage, finding partners and the like? There is little chance, I thought, of the “Must have GSOH” type adverts that appeared in the 1980s and 90s.
Well, love did make its way into the press, sometimes directly, as in the reporting of royal marriages, which were always popular (would that they have seen what today’s celebrity culture is like); and sometimes indirectly, inadvertently providing details through almost perfunctory adverts, as we shall see. Apart from the first, these adverts are all from The Liverpool General Advertiser, 1775-1780. But first, as an old romantic, one of my favourite finds, the aforementioned story from the Caledonian Mercury:
EDINBURGH, April 16.
Last Week [redacted] Hutt, Dragoon in the Hon.
Lord Mark Ker’s Regiment, now quartered at
Haddington, aged 20, was married to Helen
Douglas, who keeps a publick House at Garleton
near Haddington, aged 96. Never was juvenile
Miss more fond than is Mrs. Hutt, and vice versá;
they kiss and fool the Day long, and promise
mighty Doings against Night; he calls her My a-
miable Nell. She designs him, My buksome Dra-
gooner. But ’tis agreed they’ll not raise Dragoons
for his Majesty’s Service.2
Proof, surely, that love really does conquer all.
Some say there is only one thing better than love: the chase. That wonderful stage of butterflies and uncertainty, as you hope to find the person that will enter your life out of nowhere, and suddenly mean the world to you. Dating and courting, wooing and pursuing. Love is finding the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, and that’s all there is to it. Right?
[A YOUNG GENTLEMAN]
Who is Tired of CELIBACY,
Wants a LADY of good EDUCATION;
Her Character must bear the Strictest Scrutiny.
ANY Lady whom this Advertisement may suit, is
desired to write and to be as particular as possible
respecting herself and connections, to Mr. JOHN COPE,
to be left at the Post-Office, Manchester, in Lancashire.3
Oh well, yes, I suppose there’s that as well. His local post office, in Manchester, is a fair way from Liverpool, which raises a couple of questions. Has his (alarmingly) honest pursuit of a partner fallen short in Manchester already; are Manchester women just not up to the strictest scrutiny; or is this advert just part of a wider operation he has planned? These answers we might never know, but I personally hope that Mr. Cope found a woman who was also tired of celibacy.
Alas, even if he did, the course of true love never did run smooth, as many contemporaries would have been aware having read, seen performed or at least heard Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Most women were treated as second class citizens during the 18th century (as would continue to be the case until, embarrassingly so, less than a hundred years ago in 1928).
This did not mean they were helpless, with Eleanor Gordon and many other historians pointing out the important, dynamic role they played in urban life (listen to Gordon’s talk on Georgian women in Glasgow here), and there are excellent adverts that provide evidence of women successfully continuing a business when their husband dies, taking over other businesses, and expanding their own. Despite this, they were still subjected to a pretty patronising press whenever men were writing:
WHEREAS ISABEL BROWN, wife of Thomas
Brown, watchmaker, in Huyton, hath eloped
from her Husband without any just cause, and hath been
very imprudent and extravagant. THIS IS TO GIVE
NOTICE, to all persons not to trust her on my account,
as I will not be accountable for any debts she may con-
tract from this time, as witness my hand, 15th October,
This isn’t to suggest, however, that they never got their own back…
WHEREAS ELEANOR, wife of Allan Carter, of
Liverpool, mariner, has, during his voyage to
Africa and the West-Indies, sold or pawned all his hous-
hold goods and cloaths; and not content with that, has
borrowed cloaths of other persons, and sold or pledged
them, and run him into other debts, which is impossible
for him to pay; and as she still follows the same wicked
practices, this is to caution all persons, and the pawn-
brokers in particular, not to take any thing whatever
from the said Eleanor Carter, as she doth not, nor can-
not come lawfully by any thing she sells or pawns; and
whatever debts she doth contract hereafter he will never
pay. As witness his hand this 5th Feb. 1778.
So there we have it: the chase – the mutual love affair (or mutual ending-of-celibacy at least) – the hiccups of the relationship – the inevitable separation and selling of clothes – and then…? That’s right, as true then as it is today, the exposé! In an awful moment of foreshadowing today’s gutter press, we have a book detailing the messy break ups over adultery…
(and it is a rather terrible picture – I apologise, after four straight hours I was clearly struggling!)
TRIALS for ADULTERY.
On Saturday the 6th of Nov. was published,
(Printed on a New Type, and Superfine Paper,
The whole to be comprised in fifty Numbers, making
free handsome Volumes in Octavo.)
NUMBER 1. To be continued Weekly, Of
TRIALS for ADULTERY:
The HISTORY of DIVORCES.
SELECT TRIALS at DOCTOR’s COMMONS,
FORNICATION, IMPOTENCE, &c.
Fro the Year 1760, to the present Time,
Including the whole of the EVIDENCE on each Cause.
TOGETHER WITH THE
CORRESPONDENCE between the amorous Parties.
The whole forming a complete history of the Private
life, Intrigues, and Amours, of many characters in the
most elevated sphere of life: every scene and transaction,
being fairly represented, as becomes a faithful historian.
Taken in Short-Hand, by a CIVILIAN.
Thanks for reading – if you enjoyed these short blogs, you can follow me on twitter for more pictures of the curious, the peculiar and the downright silly @NelsonHistory.
As always, I am greatly indebted to the British Newspaper Archive, and also the archival team at Liverpool’s Central Library, who were accommodating, friendly, and a great help over the last two weeks – thank you! Please bear in mind that though this blog sometimes represents semi-decent historical enquiry, other times I enjoy just poking fun.
The title image is the anonymous work from circa 1500, The Condemnation of Susanna.
1. William Blake, Love’s Secret. Courtesy of www.poemofquotes.com↩
2. The Caledonian Mercury, Thursday the 16th, April 1741, p.3. Short tall tales like this often made an appearance in newspapers of the time. ↩
3. The Liverpool General Advertiser. Friday, June 1778, p.3. The top line is cut off, but looks most likely to say “A Young Gentleman”. Whether this was a genuine advert or some friends teasing another we’ll never know. ↩
4. The Liverpool General Advertiser. Friday the 15th October 1777, p.3. ↩
5. The Liverpool General Advertiser. Friday the 5th February 1778, p.3. ↩
6. The Liverpool General Advertiser. Friday, June 1779, p.4. ↩