Philosopher, philanthropists and philanderers: famous and infamous characters from the Regency Era

James Heywood, Founder of the First Free Library in Kensington
James Heywood, Founder of the First Free Library in Kensington

Kensington and Chelsea libraries holds a nationally renowned biography collection at Kensington Central Library (we’ve blogged about it before).   There are over 80,000 printed works with over 1000 new titles added each year.

As part of our celebration of the 200 year anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Two of our Triborough Stock Librarians (who are responsible for the maintenance of the collection), Sally Connew- Volpe and Andy Norton highlight a few of the most important and often notorious characters from the Regency Era who feature in our biography collection.  

The collection features numerous biographies, memoirs, diaries and volumes of letters by and about the contemporaries of Jane Austen.

Charles Babbage by Anthony Hyman
Charles Babbage by Anthony Hyman

Charles Babbage: (26 December 1791 – 18 October 1871) was an English mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer who originated the concept of a programmable computer. Considered a “father of the computer”, Babbage is credited with inventing the first mechanical computer that eventually led to more complex designs

William Blake by Peter Ackroyd
William Blake by Peter Ackroyd

William Blake: (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of poetry and the visual arts.

George IV: A Life in Caricature by Kenneth Baker
George IV: A Life in Caricature by Kenneth Baker
The Prince of Pleasure by J.B. Priestley
The Prince of Pleasure by J.B. Priestley

George IV: (12 August 1762 – 26 June 1830) was king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and king of Hanover following the death of his father, George III, on 29 January 1820, until his own death ten years later. From 1811 until his accession, he served as Prince Regent during his father’s final mental illness.

Beau Brummel by Hubert Cole
Beau Brummel by Hubert Cole

Beau Brummell: (7 June 1778 – 30 March 1840) was an iconic figure in Regency England, the arbiter of men’s fashion, and a friend of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV. He established the mode of dress for men that rejected overly ornate fashions for one of understated, but perfectly fitted and tailored clothing. This look was based on dark coats, full-length trousers rather than knee breeches and stockings, and above all immaculate shirt linen and an elaborately knotted cravat.

Byron: The Flawed Angel by Phyllis Grosskurth and Byron by Benita Eisler
Byron: The Flawed Angel by Phyllis Grosskurth and Byron by Benita Eisler

George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, later George Gordon Noel, 6th Baron Byron, FRS (22 January 1788 – 19 April 1824), commonly known simply as Lord Byron, was an English poet and a leading figure in the Romantic movement. Among Byron’s best-known works are the lengthy narrative poems Don Juan and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and the short lyric “She Walks in Beauty.” He is regarded as one of the greatest British poets and remains widely read and influential.

Coleridge by Richard Holmes
Coleridge by Richard Holmes

Samuel Taylor Coleridge: (21 October 1772 – 25 July 1834) was an English poet, literary critic and philosopher who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake Poets.

Bucks and Bruisers: Pierce Egan and Regency England by J.C. Reid
Bucks and Bruisers: Pierce Egan and Regency England by J.C. Reid

Pierce Egan : (1772–1849) was an early British journalist, sportswriter, and writer on popular culture. He born in the London suburbs, where he spent his life. By 1812 he had established himself as the country’s leading ‘reporter of sporting events’, which at the time meant mainly prize-fights and horse-races. The result of these reports, which won him a countrywide reputation for wit and sporting knowledge, appeared in the four volumes of Boxiana, or, Sketches of Modern Pugilism, which appeared, lavishly illustrated, between 1818-24.

Elizabeth Fry by Catherine Swift
Elizabeth Fry by Catherine Swift

Elizabeth Fry: (21 May 1780 – 12 October 1845) Fry was an English prison reformer, social reformer and, as a Quaker, a Christian philanthropist. She has sometimes been referred to as the “angel of prisons”. Fry was a major driving force behind new legislation to make the treatment of prisoners more humane, and she was supported in her efforts by George IV.

England's Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton by Kate Williams
England’s Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton by Kate Williams

Lady Hamilton: Emma, Lady Hamilton (26 April 1765 – 15 January 1815) is best remembered as the mistress of Lord Nelson.

Edward Jenner by I.E. Levine
Edward Jenner by I.E. Levine

Edward Jenner: (17 May 1749 – 26 January 1823) was an English physician and scientist from Berkeley, Gloucestershire, who was the pioneer of smallpox vaccine. He is often called “the father of immunology”, and his work is said to have “saved more lives than the work of any other man”.

A selection of Nelson biographies
A selection of Nelson biographies
Nelson: a Dream of Glory by John Sugden
Nelson: a Dream of Glory by John Sugden

Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté, KB (29 September 1758 – 21 October 1805) was a flag officer famous for his service in the Royal Navy, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. He was noted for his inspirational leadership and superb grasp of strategy and unconventional tactics, which resulted in a number of decisive naval victories. He was wounded several times in combat, losing one arm and the sight in one eye. Of his several victories, the best known and most notable was the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, during which he was shot and killed.

John Soane by Gillian Darley
John Soane by Gillian Darley

Sir John Soane, RA : (10 September 1753 – 20 January 1837) was an English architect who specialised in the Neo-Classical style. The son of a bricklayer, he rose to the top of his profession, becoming professor of architecture at the Royal Academy and an official architect to the Office of Works. He received a knighthood in 1831.

A Queen on Trial: The Affair of Queen Caroline by E.A. Smith
A Queen on Trial: The Affair of Queen Caroline by E.A. Smith

Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (Caroline Amelia Elizabeth; later Queen Caroline; 17 May 1768 – 7 August 1821) was the Queen consort of King George IV of the United Kingdom from 29 January 1820 until her death. Between 1795 and 1820, she was Princess of Wales.

A Flame in the Sunlight:The Life & Work of Thomas De Quincey by Edward Sackville West
A Flame in the Sunlight:The Life & Work of Thomas De Quincey by Edward Sackville West

Thomas De Quincey (15 August 1785 – 8 December 1859) was an English essayist, best known for his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821).

The Life of Walter Scott by John Sutherland
The Life of Walter Scott by John Sutherland

Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet (15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832) was a Scottish historical novelist, playwright, and poet, popular throughout much of the world during his time. Scott was the first English-language author to have a truly international career in his lifetime. Famous titles include Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, The Lady of the Lake, Waverley, The Heart of Midlothian and The Bride of Lammermoor.

Life of Wellington - in two volumes
Life of Wellington – in two volumes

Duke of Wellington (1 May 1769 – 14 September 1852), was a British soldier and statesman, a native of Ireland from the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy,and one of the leading military and political figures of the 19th century.

The Man Who Freed Slaves: The Story of William Wilberforce by A. & H. Lawson
The Man Who Freed Slaves: The Story of William Wilberforce by A. & H. Lawson

William Wilberforce (24 August 1759 – 29 July 1833) was an English politician, philanthropist, and a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. He headed the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade for twenty-six years until the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807.

Mary Shelley by Muriel Spark
Mary Shelley by Muriel Spark

Mary Shelley (née Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin; 30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851) was an English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein.  She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her father was the political philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.

All of the titles featured above and many more are available for loan from Kensington Central Library.

You can also find more information about these Regency Era characters  online by visiting the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (you’ll need a library membership to access this database outside of the library.

Andy Norton and Sally Connew-Volpe
Andy Norton and Sally Connew-Volpe

Andrew Norton and Sally Connew-Volpe

Tribrorough Stock Librarians

Advertisements

Pride and Prejudice – 200th Anniversary

Jane Austen
Jane Austen
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

This must be one of the most familiar opening lines in English literature.  28 January 2013 is the 200th anniversary of the publication of  Jane’ Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice.

Pride and Prejudice title page
Pride and Prejudice title page

Regularly voted in the top ten of the nations’ favourite books and topping the poll on World Book Day 2007, it is probably the most read novel in English. Our special anniversary blog posts this week celebrate the book and the Regency world in which it is set as well as highlighting all the amazing resources we have.

Jane Austen (1775- 1817) began writing the novel in August 1796 and finished the first three volume version within a year. It was called First Impressions and she was just 21 years of age.

In 1797 her father, George Austen offered the manuscript for publication but it was  rejected without even being seen. Over the next few years  family and friends read the novel and during this time Jane began to  rewrite it or as she put it she ‘ lopt and cropt’  the text making it much tauter.  The most significant changes occurred  in 1811-12. Jane herself  commented that she intended the book to be ‘ light , bright and sparkling’. She was forced to change the name of the novel  following the publication of another work with the same title in 1801. Jane chose a new title Pride and Prejudice a phrase she took from a work by Fanny Burney.

Unlike her first published novel, Sense and Sensibility,  which was published on a  commission basis and for which she received profits for each copy sold, for this, her second novel she sold the copyright outright to Thomas Egerton for £110. Priced at 18 shillings the first edition published in three hardback volumes quickly sold out and a second edition was published in November 1813. This meant that Jane did not receive any profits and it is estimated that she lost about £450 as a result of selling the copyright. It was re-published again in 1817.

Her work was much admired by contemporaries including Sir Walter Scott and the Prince Regent but she remained relatively unknown in her lifetime. Her literary  reputation has  grown over the years and to date it has been estimated that over 20 million copies of the book have been printed.

That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with.

Walter Scott, Journal, 14 March 1826

As you will see from a future blog post, versions of the story have been done in the theatre, television and film. There are also and contemporary authors that have  used the work  as the basis for their own novels, most recently  P.D. James has used Pemberley as a setting for one her mysteries and there is also a zombie version, called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies  by Seth Grahame- Smith.

Jane Austen: 'Offended two or three young ladies', illustration from Pride and Prejudice, 1894 edition
Jane Austen: ‘Offended two or three young ladies’, illustration from Pride and Prejudice, 1894 edition

If you have never read this book  I strongly recommend it,  or why not re-read it  to celebrate  the 200th anniversary of this wonderful book.

Karen Ullesperger, Triborough Reference Manager
Karen Ullesperger

Karen Ullersperger

Triborough Reference Manager

Source materials:

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (you’ll need a library membership to access this database outside of the library)
  • Cambridge  introduction to Jane Austen by Janet Todd (Cambridge University Press) 2009
  • Chambers Biographical Dictionary available via Credo Reference (you’ll need a library membership to access this database outside of the library)