Entailment of Property in Early 19th Century England

By Marvin Payne (appearing as Mr. Bennet in BYU’s Pride and Prejudice)

[Most of this is edited from something John Hopfner wrote in a post to pemberley.com on 22 September 1996. My intrusions will appear in brackets. After apologizing for being neither a lawyer nor a legal historian, he writes in a lawyerly and historianly way:]

“The first thing to consider is the importance that ownership of land had, both in the England of Jane Austen’s time and in England for centuries previous to her day. Ownership of land wasn’t just an ornament to the family (in the way that a collection of paintings or a library might be considered an ornament). Land was what made a family part of the aristocracy or gentry. Ownership of land produced an income that was steady, predictable, and recurring. That income was what freed the family from the necessity to earn their living by daily effort. It freed them to secure and enjoy an education, to—as they chose—dabble in the arts and sciences, become involved in politics, or lead a life of idleness and refinement. This gave ownership of land a cachet that went beyond ownership of cash or movable goods. A landed estate was [called] The Patrimony—it conferred status in society, not just on one person for one generation, but on the family so long as it lasted.


“Members of the gentry and aristocracy [knew there were] two real dangers that threaten a landed estate: [1] dissipation by sale, if the head of the family at any point in time (a wastrel, say, or a foolish speculator) were to sell his land to raise funds, and then fritter away the sales proceeds; and [2] subdivision (if an estate were divided equally between all sons or children over several generations, then a single Patrimony, sufficient to make its holder a gentleman and member of the gentry, becomes a multitude of smaller patrimonies that, individually, don’t qualify his descendents for the same social status [because they generate insufficient income]).

“The result is that the whole family sinks into obscurity, which was held to be a bad thing. The answer to this problem is primogeniture [rights of the firstborn] among male heirs, which keeps The Patrimony itself intact and under the control of the head of the family in each generation—though at the cost of unfairness to other surviving children of the family head.

“If the family head dies without sons [one would think] the estate would be inherited equally by all the man’s daughters. If there were several daughters, they each would inherit an equal share, and the subdivision problem occurs. But even if the head of the family died leaving only one daughter, the daughter almost surely will marry — and at her death her heirs would be, presumably, the children she had with her husband. Which means that the ‘Bennet’ patrimony ceases to exist, and becomes part of the Darcy or Bingley estates (for example). [To prevent this, the common law made] provision to extend primogeniture to the entire male line, not just to the male sons of a given holder of a landed estate.” [Italics mine. This is where Mr. Collins comes in.]

Legal Aspects of Entails

The “common law” Hopfner mentions was a system of laws based not on what was legislated by representatives of the people, but on custom, tradition, and the tendency of court decisions on a particular subject over centuries. Of course, the elements of common law having to do with securing property through generations were shaped very early by the rich and powerful, so the sanctity of property ownership, beginning as custom and enforced by self-interested nobles, passed into law, which then reinforced custom.

The fact that an entail could be “broken” with the consent of the primary heir allows us an insight into Mr. Bennet’s vision of the future and apparent disdain for the past. Hopfner quotes this passage from chapter 50 in Pride and Prejudice:

“When first Mr. Bennet had married… of course, they were to have a son. This son was to join in cutting off the entail, as soon as he should be of age, and the widow and younger children would by that means be provided for.” [My italics.]

But he had no male heir, and Mr. Bennet hadn’t the authority to break the entail on his own, so Longbourn will go to Mr. Collins.

Attitudes to the Entail in Pride and Prejudice

Back to Hopfner:

“Jane Austen expected her readers to understand that it is no joke that if Mr. Bennet died, his wife and five daughters would have to leave Longbourn and live on the interest of £5,000 [$267,000 in today’s dollars], or a little more than £200 [$11,000] a year (because Mr. Bennet has been unable to save anything). Since Lydia alone costs Mr. Bennet about £90 [$5000] a year, it is obvious that their standard of living would drop; probably they would be partly dependent on the charity of the Gardiners, the Philipses, or even Mr. Collins. (After Jane Austen’s father died in 1805, Jane Austen and her mother and sister Cassandra needed an income of about £450 [$24,000], which had to be partly supplied by some of Jane Austen’s brothers.)

*These modern dollar equivalents are based on the fact that a British pound is thought to have purchased in 1810 what would require 34 pounds to buy today. A pound today equals about $1.57 US. This math is according to an anonymous guy on wiki.answers. I’ve rounded the figures upward promiscuously.

“Therefore Mrs. Bennet’s threat to Elizabeth that ‘If you go on refusing every offer of marriage, you will never get a husband—and I am sure I do not know who is to maintain you when your father is dead’ has some realism. This is the background against which Elizabeth and Jane are not desperate to be married to anyone with a good income.”

All this presupposes that finding a new way to do some work and make some money was beneath the dignity of someone who had inherited “gentry” status. We are to hope that after Mr. Bennet’s death, his widow and any unmarried (or ill-married) daughters will survive on the charity of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy and Mr. and Mrs. Bingley. (The Darcys make $533,000 annually, the Bingleys about half that.)

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The Structure and Social Function of Assemblies, Balls, Parties, and Dances.

By Cosette Hatch (appearing as Kitty Bennet in BYU’s Pride and Prejudice)

Following the fall of the Ancient Regime in 1789, social dancing became more natural and egalitarian.  Both clothing and dancing became less elaborate and restrictive as the rigid formalities of the Baroque ballroom eased.

19th century social dance can be seen as three eras, each with its unique clothing, manners, music and dances:

The Regency Era

This term, referring to the English Prince Regent (1811-1820), is sometimes used informally to refer to the wider period between 1800 and 1830.   In England and France, the most popular new dance of 1815 was the Quadrille, created from older French Contradanse and Cotillon figures.  The Quadrille was performed with a wide variety of rapid, skimming steps, such as the chassé, jeté assemblé and entrechats.  English Country Dances, the Scotch Reel and Mazurka also featured intricate steps, and added variety to an evening’s dancing.  These set dances, done in formations of squares and lines, were joined by an unusual novelty performed by individual couples: the Waltz, which had risen from peasant origins to society assembly rooms.  However the Waltz was more often discussed than actually danced at first.  After centuries of dancing at arm’s length from one’s partner, much of genteel society was not ready to accept the closed embrace of the Waltz.

The flowering of the Romantic Era


While the Waltz received a great deal of criticism, as “leading to the most licentious of consequences,” it slowly made some inroads into the ballroom, aided by the occasional performance by a notable society figure.  Waltzing jumped ahead in acceptability when its inherent sensuousness was tempered with a playful exuberance, first by the Galop and then by the Polka.  The Polka from Bohemia became an overnight sensation in society ballrooms in 1844, eclipsing the Waltz at the time.  The Polka’s good-natured quality of wholesome joy finally made closed-couple turning acceptable, introducing thousands of dancers to the pleasure of spinning in the arms of another.  Once they tasted this euphoria, dancers quickly developed an appetite for more.  The Polka mania led to a flowering of other couple dances, including the Schottische, Valse à Deux Temps, Redowa, Five-Step Waltz and Varsouvienne, plus new variations on the earlier Waltz, Mazurka and Galop.  Meanwhile, the increasing trend toward ease and naturalness in dancing had eliminated the intricate steps from the Quadrille and country dances, reducing their performance to simple walking.
The overall spirit of this era’s dancing (1840s-1860s) was one of excitement, exuberance and gracious romance.  The dances were fresh, inventive, youthful and somewhat daring.  Society fashions were rich and elegant, but continued an emphasis on simplicity.  By the 1850s, the ballroom had reached its zenith.

The High Victorian Era

vicotiranBy 1870, social dances were now those of one’s parents, or even grandparents.  The ballroom was slowly becoming the domain of high society’s Old Guard. As dancing become less exciting, fewer people devoted themselves to mastering the full repertoire of dances.  One-by-one, the Mazurka, Schottische, Redowa and Polka began to fade.  Dance masters formed professional associations in an attempt to save their trade, but these organizations mostly resulted in the standardization and codification of dance steps, which further dampened the public’s enthusiasm.  Dance masters invented dozens of new steps in an attempt to revive interest, but the public remained largely indifferent.  High society balls shifted their emphasis to the “German” parlor cotillion games, featuring expensive favors (prizes).  Middle class public balls saw the great variety of dances dwindle to just two: the Waltz and Two-Step.  By the end of the century, dancers were ready for something completely different.  After centuries of innovations created by European leaders of society, they would not have guessed that the next wave of popular dance and music would come from America’s lower classes.


Types of Balls

These balls included: Assembly Room dances that occurred in town, smaller dances thrown at country inns, and private balls given at a country home by a private citizen. These social events were used as ways to network as well as give young people an opportunity to catch a future spouse.

The Assembly Room Balls

Assembly Rooms were public venues specifically built for public balls. In his book What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, Daniel Pool talks about the Master of Ceremonies, whose responsibility was to know the background of the young men and women present, and then introduce them so they could dance, as it was improper for men and women of the day to introduce themselves. The Master of ceremonies also made sure that the attendees maintained their propriety and proper etiquette.

Dances at country inns

Dances at country inns were similar to this, but on a much smaller scale. They were usually held in smaller communities, organized by locals, and consisted of dancing and dining.

The Private Balls

The smallest gatherings were balls thrown at private estates by individuals.These balls would also consist of dining as well as dancing. The dinner was held very late (around midnight) and could consist of a few courses to sometimes even eight or ten. According to Maggie Lane’s book Jane Austen’s World,the menu consisted of things such as soup, pigeon pie, veal, cheese, oysters, and trifles, and was typically served with wine or negus, which was a mixture of boiling water, wine, lemon, spices, and calves-foot jelly. Mr. Bingley throws one of these balls at Netherfield Park in Pride and Prejudice.

The Style of Dancing

As for the actual dances, they were not the dances of couples as we know in the modern sense. According to Janet Todd’s Jane Austen in Context,, the “ladies and gentlemen [would be] standing opposite each other in a line or a circle.” These dances could have as few as three couples, and upwards of twenty. Because all of the dancers, not just the couples, were involved with the dancing, the more couples involved with the dance, the longer a set lasted. This was good for the couples, because if there were a lot of people dancing, they may have to wait their turn to dance, so they could flirt with their partner. This is seen at the Netherfield Ball in Pride and Prejudice when Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth converse throughout their dance. An average dance would last around thirty minutes, giving the couple ample opportunity to talk.

The Etiquette of Dancing

As for the dancing, it was improper etiquette for a woman to dance more than two dances with the same partner, and if two people did dance more than two dances together, they were assumed engaged. This is seen in Sense and Sensibility when Marianne and Willoughby are “partners for half the time” and “were careful to stand together and scarcely spoke a word to anybody else.” According to Pool, ladies would also carry dance cards to mark the names of men who they had promised dances to, so as to keep it all in order.

All of these circumstances provided the perfect opportunity to have fun, and if they were lucky, make a life match.



“19th Century Social Dance.” 19th Century Social Dance. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2014.

“Formal Balls in Jane Austen and Regency England.” Suite101.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2014.




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The Life and Options of 19th Century Women

By Aubrey Reynolds (appearing as Jane Bennet in BYU’s Pride and Prejudice)

The social anthropology in eighteenth century England was intricate and in flux. It presents a clash between two social elements namely, class and gender. Additionally, the social caste comprised mainly of the upper or aristocratic class, middle class, and lower class. There were many things that influenced the way women behaved in society.

1. Common assumptions about women:

Most doctors of the period believed that “true” women felt little or no sexual desire, and that only abnormal or “pathological” women felt strong sexual desire.

“Proof” of these points came from Dr. William Acton who wrote in the 1860s that the “majority of women (happily for them) are not very much troubled with sexual feelings of any kind. . . . No nervous or feeble young man need, therefore, be deterred from marriage by an exaggerated notion of the duties required from him. . . .The married woman has no wish to be treated on the footing of a mistress.” Proof that those ideas did not hold true for all women was found in the research of a Scottish physician who found, in the 1890s, following a survey of over 190 women that 152 admitted that they did have sexual desires and 134 reported having had orgasms. The physician sent out 500 surveys and got only 190 back, perhaps showing the influence of the ideal on a woman’s behavior.

2. Fashion:

Fashion evolves to complement this view of sexuality and control. Women began to wear long skirts with layers of petticoats and then crinolines, which made it both difficult for woman to dress and undress by herself and time consuming.

fashion     fashion2     fashion3

As corsets develop, the woman’s breathing becomes much more difficult. Fainting as a reaction to excitement or an “improper” situation is acceptable and frequent, as it denotes that a woman is truly a lady.

fashion4                fashion5

Proper employment:

Lower-class women could be servants, domestic help, factory workers, prostitutes, etc. Middle- and upper-class women could help, in some cases, with a family business, but generally, the economy and the society dictated that women should work in the home, taking care of home and hearth. They could be educated and could study, as long as it did not interfere with their housework. Any serious or passionate study of any subject was seen as harmful to the family, unless that serious and passionate study dealt with a social or religious issue, or to the woman, herself. Physicians believed that if a woman became too scholarly, her uterus would become dysfunctional, possibly leading to madness.


Women were not allowed to attend the institutionalized rungs on the educational ladder: “public” schools such as Eton (which Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park attends), and the universities (Oxford and Cambridge). The (somewhat dubious) prime symbol of academic knowledge, and more-or-less exclusively masculine educational attainments, was the Classical languages Greek and Latin, to which a great deal of time was devoted in “genteel” boys’ education, but which few women studied. Jane Austen never refers to Classical literature, except in a joking way in some of the Juvenilia (in one of her letters to Mr. Clarke, Jane Austen cites her ignorance of the Classical languages as one of the factors which would prevent her from writing a novel on a subject suggested by Mr. Clarke).

Since women did not usually have careers as such, and were not “citizens” in the sense of being directly involved in politics, there was little generally-perceived need for such higher education for them, and most writers on the subject of “female education” preferred that women receive a practical (and religious) training for their domestic rôle — thus Byron once spouted off the remark that women should “read neither poetry nor politics — nothing but books of piety and cookery” (leavened with the conventional “accomplishments” of “music — drawing — dancing”). See the account of Mrs. Goddard’s school in Emma for the frequent relative lack of attention to academics in the female education of the time (the London “seminary” attended by the Bingley sisters would have been much more elegant, but not necessarily much more academically rigorous).

For women of the “genteel” classes the goal of non-domestic education was thus often the acquisition of “accomplishments”, such as the ability to draw, sing, play music, or speak modern (i.e. non-Classical) languages (generally French and Italian). Though it was not usually stated with such open cynicism, the purpose of such accomplishments was often only to attract a husband; so that these skills then tended to be neglected after marriage (Lady Middleton in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility “had celebrated her marriage by giving up music, although by her mother’s account she had played extremely well, and by her own was very fond of it”, while Mrs. Elton in Emma fears that her musical skills will deteriorate as have those of several married women she knows). In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet displays her relatively detached attitude towards the more trivial aspects of this conventional game by adopting a somewhat careless attitude towards her “accomplishment” of playing the piano, and not practicing it diligently.

Aubrey’s Thoughts:

It’s hard to get down to the nitty-gritty in all this. In everything I’ve read, it really does seem that the women want to marry and aspire to find security and comfort through marriage. There is little else to suggest otherwise. It makes sense, though, since women couldn’t really reasonably live on their own anyway. The only way to begin a life of her own, was for a young lady to marry into it.


Radek, Kimberly M. “Women in the Nineteenth Century.” Women in the Nineteenth Century. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Jan. 2014.

“Jane Austen’s World.” Jane Austens World. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Jan. 2014. <http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/social-customs-and-the-regency-world/&gt;.

“Pride and Prejudice — Notes on Education, Marriage, Status of Women, Etc.” Jane Austen:. The Republic of Pemberley, n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2014.

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Vocational Options for Men

By Matt Krantz (appearing in BYU’s Pride and Prejudice as George Wickham)

A host of 19th century occupations have passed into oblivion, owing to changes in taste, scientific advances, social customs and the like. Naturally, the rich were not inclined to work as they had their incomes from land-ownership, grants from peers and their titles – there was very little need as it was not deemed respectable to earn a living in the upper class. Here’s a handful of the occupations taken up by the more “common” people:

Article clerks – these were young men who had been apprenticed or “articled” to practicing lawyers, generally for a period of five years, so they could learn the profession. Bouts were not articled to courtroom lawyers like barristers but rather to solicitors and other non-litigating practitioners.

Chandlers – Originally, a chandler was a dealer in candles. By the 19th century however, a chandler was the man who ran the neighbourhood store on the corner. He sold many of the basics needed by the poor such as cheese, bacon and other groceries.

Cheap-jacks – A familiar figure at fairs, the cheap-jack sold inexpensive metal objects and harward like watch chains, knives, and the like and was a “patterer” – his spiel was a key to his success.

Coal porters – The men who unloaded coal from ships at wharfside or from the lighters into which coal had been unloaded by coal whippers. Also delivered to residential customers.

Coal whippers – So called because they “whipped” the coal out of the colliers that brought it down the coast and into the Thames river and into the lighters and barges from which it was then unloaded by the coal porters.

Costermonger – In theory a fruit and vegetable seller, but he also sold fish, sometimes at a stall, sometimes walking on the street crying his wares. In London, costermongers brought their merchandise at Covent Gardon or Billingsgate, sometimes travelling ten miles a day on foot to hawk it.

Crossing sweeper – There was a crossing sweeper at every major street intersection in London. Dodging in and out of passing waggons and carriages they brushed away the mud and dust collected in the strets – they did their best business in wet weather – so that the genteel could cross the street without getting their feet dirty. It was not a well-paying job, seven shillings a week being a decent average wage, but with luck a sweeper who stayed at the same spot might know the “regulars” who might send him on small errands.

Dustman – Most city houses had dustbins into which dust – the refuse from the ashes and cinders of coal fires and similar household matter – was regularly dumped. The dustman would periodically come around to collect the dust, whence it would be hauled away to be used for bricks and manure after being carefully sifted for carelessly discarded valuables.

Mudlarks – Because the Thames is a tidal river, at low tide, it is possible to walk out into the mud and scrounge for anything that might have washed up to shore – small trinkets, rope – basically anything of salable value. Many of them were six-to-twelve year-olds and this “occupation” could garner thruppence a day – if you were lucky.

Packman – No, not a yellow, round computer character that eats ghosts. Packmen were travelling peddlers who carried their wares around in his pack. He usually sold small fineries for the ladies such as linens, silks (if lucky) and cotton.

Pieman – A pie seller of course! Fruit pies and meat pies – though it was debatable as to exactly what sort of meat found it’s way into the pies during winter… (meow?).

Ratcatcher – A very good occupation for a lower-class boy who had little education. Rats were all over, due to inadequate sewage, granaries and stables filled with oats for horses. The ratcatcher used poison or a ferret to chase the rats out of holes where upon his little terrier would pounce and kill the rodents. The going rate for de-ratting a house in London ranged from two shillings to a pound.

Sweeps – A good old chimney sweep! Not as romantic as the kindly one we find in Mary Poppins. Often young boys were sent to be “apprentices” to older chimney sweeps – many as young as four years old, and pushed up chimneys as small as 7 inches square to sweep out the huge deposits of soot deposited by the coal fires in residential homes. The boys were “encouraged” up the chimneys faster by cruel masters pressing pins into or holding a lit newspaper up to their feet – or they were beaten into obeying. Country children were often warned “the sweeps will get you!” to keep them from wandering and indeed, small children in very rural areas were often kidnapped for the trade.

Watermen – The name was applied to two different kinds of London workers. First, to the men who rowed people across the Thames – this required seven years apprenticeship. The second was the name given to the men who watered the horses at cab stands.

 Life in the Church

collinsWork in the church led towards a safe life within the church of England though required a certain degree of social esteem as well as education to achieve such paths. Those clergy who were educated at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge are listed in Joseph Foster, Alumni Oxonienses 1500-1886. Entries show the student’s age at entrance and the degrees obtained. The father’s name, place of residence and status generally appears but is lacking in many early instances and, at some Cambridge colleges, even in the 19th century. They may also provide the name of the school attended and some outline of the subsequent career of the student, where this has been identified with reasonable certainty. From the late 18th century the date and diocese of ordination of those students entering the Church is usually included. The volumes for Cambridge are in general much more detailed than those for Oxford. Where the register of the college attended has been published this may give additional detail.

 As time wore on the need for college education seemed to dwindle in the 18th century and, for the clergy at least, did not greatly improve until the mid-19th century. Many university students, whose future incomes from family benefices were guaranteed, were targeted by moneylenders and the debts they then incurred were a frequent problem to them in later life. The general overstocking of the profession continued. Non-graduate clergy from humbler backgrounds suffered the most, finding secure benefices, a regular income and advancement difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

The situation was made worse when non-university training became possible with the foundation of the first theological colleges at Lampeter in Cardiganshire (1822), St Aidan’s at Birkenhead, and St Bees in Cumberland (1817). The products of these institutions found temporary places as curates to absentees and pluralists and then, perhaps more permanently but still as curates, in the large industrial parishes of northern England and south Wales and in the colonies. By 1890 a quarter of the clergy had been educated at such colleges. The north/south divide remained. In 1865 some eighty percent of new clergy in the south had been to university; in the north the figure was only forty per cent.

Albeit a sought after position, life within the church did not support the same style of life as the upper-class. Although the position slowly improved, it was found in 1833 that 47% of the parishes in England and Wales could not provide a reasonable standard of living of about £200 a year. Many were worth less than £100. The pluralism of earlier days remained a problem, the more desirable parishes often being held jointly with other offices by those with the best connections. Following the appointment of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1835, however, a series of reforms attempted a more equal distribution of endowments. These Commissioners were united with Queen Anne’s Bounty in 1948 to form the present Church Commissioners.

Life in the Military

Wickham costumeAnother main option for men was in the military. The United Kingdom’s struggle with France during the Napoleonic wars required the British Army to expand rapidly. Ordinary recruiting methods failed to supply the number of men required to fill the Army ranks. The main methods used for recruiting were: private individuals were recruited for their own interests; volunteers from the militia and, placing obligations on communities to enlist. Generals called for conscription for the first time in British History, although this was never enacted for the regular army. During this period Great Britain was at a disadvantage to her enemy, as due to the Industrial Revolution potential recruits were instead drawn to the cities to earn more money in the many factories now being built in the country, while France was still largely an agrarian society.

Competition from civilian occupations was intense and highlighted in the disparity in pay; where a private could earn 7s per week in 1806, a dockworker could expect to earn 28s. However soldiers would expect to supplement this meagre income with promotion and loot on campaign. During the early phases of the war joining the Army could still mean effectively joining for life, which was frequently brutally cut short. For instance a posting to the Caribbean in 1790 was seen as a near death sentence, as thousands of men died or were disabled by disease there. The Army still struggled to raise the troops required to replace the discharged, wounded and dead as the war against France continued. As early as 1794, 18,596 soldiers died on active service and another 40,639 men were discharged. This would remain a constant theme during the Napoleonic wars, and the British Army also used foreign volunteers, such as French Royalists, Germans, Greeks and Corsicans to supplement its forces. In 1813 one fifth of the army, 52,000 men, were such volunteers. The British Army in 1813 contained over 250,000 men, though this was much larger in comparison to the army at the beginning of the war, the all volunteer British army was still much smaller than that of France, which with conscription had an army over 2.6 million.


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Probable Illnesses and Popular Treatment Options in the 19th Century

By Becky Maskell (appearing in BYU’s Pride and Prejudice as Anne de Bourgh)

“In The Healthy Body and Victorian Culture, Bruce Haley asserts that the Victorians were concerned with health over almost all, if not all, other issues.”

-Laurelyn Douglas

'Patent electric-medical machine', Davis and Kidder, Britain, 1870-1900. Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library

‘Patent electric-medical machine’, Davis and Kidder, Britain, 1870-1900. Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library

Early Victorian ideas of human physiology involved a clear understanding of anatomy (at least among experts; but the populace often had hazy knowledge of the location and role of internal organs), allied to a concept of vital forces focused on the hematological and nervous systems that now seems closer to the ancient ‘humours’ than to present-day models. Little was known of biochemistry or endocrinology. Traditional ideas of the body, whereby women were regarded as smaller versions of men, and ‘turned outside in’ (i.e. with internal rather than external sexual organs) were gradually superseded by a binary concept of sexual determinism, in which difference governed all aspects of physiology, health and social behaviour. As the body was also defined as a closed system of energy, physical, mental and reproductive expenditure were held to be in competition. Hence the notions that male sexual ‘excess’ led to debility and female reproductive health was damaged by intellectual study. Hence, too, must have derived the Victorian prescription for many ailments: rest.

Disease Transmission

In the early Victorian period disease transmission was largely understood as a matter of inherited susceptibility (today’s ‘genetic’ component) and individual intemperance (‘lifestyle’), abetted by climate and location, which were deemed productive of noxious exhalations (a version of environmental causation). Water- and air-borne infection was not generally accepted.

Thus the 1848 edition of Buchan’s Domestic Medicine, with its coloured frontispiece showing the symptoms of smallpox, scarlet fever and measles, listed among the general causes of illness ‘diseased parents’, night air, sedentary habits, anger, wet feet and abrupt changes of temperature. The causes of fever included injury, bad air, violent emotion, irregular bowels and extremes of heat and cold. Cholera, shortly to be epidemic in many British cities, was said to be caused by rancid or putrid food, by ‘cold fruits’ such as cucumbers and melons, and by passionate fear or rage.

Popular Treatments and Illnesses

Treatments relied heavily on a ‘change of air’ (to the coast, for example), together with emetic and laxative purgation and bleeding by cup or leech (a traditional remedy only abandoned in mid-century) to clear ‘impurities’ from the body. A limited range of medication was employed, and the power of prayer was regularly invoked.

Diseases such as pulmonary tuberculosis (often called consumption) were endemic; others such as cholera, were frighteningly epidemic. In the morbidity statistics, infectious and respiratory causes predominated (the latter owing much to the sulphurous fogs known as pea-soupers). Male death rates were aggravated by occupational injury and toxic substances, those for women by childbirth and violence. Work-related conditions were often specific: young women match-makers suffered ‘phossy jaw’, an incurable necrosis caused by exposure to phosphorous.

Searching for Cures

In Britain, epidemiological measuring and mapping of mortality and morbidity was one of the first fruits of the Victorian passion for taxonomy, leading to the clear association of pollution and disease, followed by appropriate environmental health measures. A major breakthrough came during the 1854 cholera outbreak, when Dr John Snow demonstrated that infection was spread not by miasmas but by contaminated water from a public pump in crowded Soho. When the pump handle was removed, cholera subsided. It was then possible for public health officials such as Sir John Simon to push forward projects to provide clean water, separate sewage systems and rubbish removal in urban areas, as well as to legislate for improved housing – one goal being to reduce overcrowding. The number of inhabitants per house in Scotland, for example, fell from 7.6 in 1861 to 4.7 in 1901. Between 1847 and 1900 there were 50 new statutes on housing, ranging from the major Public Health Acts of 1848 and 1872 to the 1866 Lodging Houses and Dwellings (Ireland) Act, the 1885 Housing of the Working Classes Act and the 1888 Local Government Act. On a household basis, the indoor water-closet began to replace the traditional outdoor privy.

Scientific developments in the 19th century had a major impact on understanding health and disease, as experimental research resulted in new knowledge in histology, pathology and microbiology. Few of these advances took place in Britain, where medical practice was rarely linked to scientific work and there was public hostility to the animal vivisection on which many experiments relied. By the end of the century a new understanding of biology was thus coming into being, ushering in a new emphasis on rigorous hygiene and fresh air, and a long-lasting fear of invisible contagion from the unwashed multitude, toilet seats and shared utensils. British patent applications around 1900 include devices for avoiding infection via the communion chalice and the new-fangled telephone.

Technological developments underpinned this process, from the opthalmoscope and improved microscopes that revealed micro-organisms, to instruments like the kymograph, to measure blood pressure and muscular contraction. By mid-century, the stethoscope, invented in France in 1817 to aid diagnosis of respiratory and cardiac disorders, became the symbolic icon of the medical profession. However, the most famous British visual image, Luke Fildes’s The Doctor (exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1891) shows a medical man with virtually no ‘modern’ equipment.

The Doctor, by Luke Fildes

The Doctor, by Luke Fildes

Surgery advanced – or at least increased – owing largely to the invention of anaesthesia in the late 1840s. Significant events include a notable public demonstration of the effects of ether in London in October 1846 and the use of chloroform for the queen’s eighth confinement in 1853. Anaesthetics enabled surgeons to perform more sophisticated operations in addition to the traditional amputations. Specialised surgical instruments and techniques followed, for some time with mixed results, as unsterile equipment frequently led to fatal infection.

In 1895, at the end of the era, came Wilhelm Roentgen’s discovery of X-rays, and in due course the photo of Roentgen’s wife’s hand became a potent sign of medical advance through scientific instruments. But overall the 19th century is notable more for systematic monitoring of disease aetiology than for curative treatment.

Names of Illnesses

Many medical terms from the 19th Century are currently outdated, but definitions can still be found online.  Most of the definitions of diagnoses in the glossary that follows are from medical dictionaries or medical texts compiled at different points in the nineteenth century.


Outdated Term

Current Term

AMERICAN PLAGUE yellow fever
APOPLEXY paralysis due to stroke
BAD BLOOD Syphilis
BILIOUSNESS liver disease symptoms. Bilious is defined as having an undue amount of bile.  Bilious fever is defined as a fever _supposed_ to be caused by a liver disorder.  (It probably also has something to do with gallbladder disease.)
BRAIN FEVER today known as meningitis
BRIGHT’S DISEASE Glomerulonephritis (kidney inflammation)
CATALEPSY seizures/trances
CHLOROSIS iron deficiency anemia
CHOLERA an acute infectious disease characterized by severe diarrhea, vomiting, muscle cramps and prostration. The severe dehydration leads to shock and death.
CONSUMPTION Tuberculosis, pulmonary
CRETINISM Hypothyroidism, congential
DROPSY Congestive heart failure. Taken  from  an  old  “Cyclopedic  Medical  Dictionary” :  ‘dropsy; from Hydrops, a condition rather than a disease.  morbid accumulation of water in the  tissues and cavities.’  It  goes on to  mention  dropsy  of  the  amnion, belly, brain, heart, chest,   peritoneum,  tubes  (e.g.  fallopian)  and  uterus.   It could be congestive heart failure or just a general accumulation of  fluid in unwanted places.  (Not the bladder after too much beer though!

#1. A condition rather than a disease. Morbid accumulation of  water in the tissues and cavities. (chest=thorax)

#2. a fever with vomiting of bile.  (a symptom due to disordered condition of the liver.)FATTY LIVERCirrhosisGLANDULAR FEVERMononucleosisGRIPPEan old term for influenzaJAIL FEVERTyphusLOCK JAWTetanusLUNG FEVERpneumoniaLUNG SICKNESSTuberculosisMILK SICKpoisoning resulting from the drinking of milk produced by a cow who had eaten a plant known as white snake rootMORMALgangreenPLAGUE/BLACK DEATHBubonic PlaguePODAGRAGoutPOTTS DISEASETuberculosis of the spinal vertebraeQUINSYanother name for tonsillitis; acute inflammation of the tonsil <& surrounding tissue>, usually forming an abscess.SOFTENING OF THE BRAINcerebral hemorrhage/strokeVARIOLAsmallpoxWINTER FEVERpneumonia


Douglas, Laurelyn. “Health and Hygeine in the Nineteenth Century.” http://www.victorianweb.org/science/health/health10.html

Marsh, Jan. “Health & Medicine in the 19th Century”


Tebbetts, Peggy. “Nighteenth Century Diseases.”


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The Anglican Clergy in Jane Austen’s Novels

By Jacob Swain (appearing as Mr. Collins in BYU’s Pride and Prejudice)

The clergy occupy an essential place in Jane Austen’s work, even more than the Royal Navy, because Jane Austen’s father himself was a clergyman, as were her brother James, and briefly her brother Henry. The moral principles taught by her father are found in the moral precepts sprinkled throughout the novels.

An Anglican church, circa 1800.

An Anglican church, circa 1800.

The position of clergyman at the time was a special one from several points of view. Firstly, becoming a clergyman was a profession. Any well-educated, well-spoken man of sound morals could enter it, and no particular religious vocation was called for. The living attached to the post of vicar guaranteed a good income for work that was not onerous. Moreover, thanks to the living, a clergyman was in a position to start a family earlier than a naval officer, who might have to wait years before raising enough money to do so.

Clergymen in the novels do not benefit from any special consideration on the part of the author. On the contrary, they are frequently depicted in a very unflattering light, although there are some who are shown as sympathetic and admirable characters.

For example, Mr. Elton in Emma demonstrates an excessive social ambition in proposing to the eponymous Emma Woodhouse, and once he is married later in the novel, he and his wife Augusta patronize the villagers and disgust Emma with their pretentiousness.

In Pride and Prejudice Mr. Collins is an example of what a clergyman ought not to be. He is obsequious towards the powerful, arrogant towards the weak, sententious and narrow-minded. In spite of his faults, however, he seems to be more involved in his job than Edward Ferrars or Henry Tilney.

In fact, Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey is absent from his parish half the time and takes holidays in Bath, so that in spite of his intellectual and moral qualities, he bears witness to the lack of commitment of certain clergymen towards their flock.

As for Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility, he does give evidence of a more definite vocation when he insists that he has “always preferred the Church” as his profession, even though his family consider a career in the army or the Royal Navy “more appropriate”, or the law more worthy of a gentleman.

Edmund Bertram alone, in Mansfield Park, shows an unshakeable vocation that all Mary Crawford’s charm and seductiveness never succeed in weakening. Try as she may, incessantly praising the superior merits and prestige of a military career, the solidity of his principles and his deep conviction prevent him from doubting.

Revenues of the clergyman

The income of a clergyman varied a great deal depending on the living assigned to him. A small, poor, rural parish like Steventon (where Jane Austen’s father served as rector) might be worth only about £100 (or $5600 today) a year, while a good parish could be worth nearly £1000 (or $56,000 today). The allocation of the living, and therefore of the benefits attached to it, was in the hands of the local lord of the manor. (This right was called the right of advowson.) The two components of the living were the tithe and the glebe of which the incumbent was the beneficiary.

The tithe

The caption of this painting reads, "The vicar of the parish receiving his tithes."

The caption of this painting reads, “The vicar of the parish receiving his tithes.” Circa 1790.

The tithe in theory guaranteed the clergyman one tenth of the product of all the cultivated land in the parish; it constituted a sort of tax which had existed in England since the 9th century, with the clergyman himself as the tax-collector. Legally, however, the beneficiary of the tithe was not the clergyman (who might find that only part was allocated to him), but the rector. Thus when Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility informs Edward Ferrars that “Delaford is a rectory”, he is also informing him that if he were awarded the parish, he would receive the whole of the corresponding tithe. Jane Austen’s father was himself rector of Steventon. Once collected, the revenue had to be managed carefully, since in a poor rural economy the tithe was often paid in kind. This led to a clergyman’s needing to have the use of a tithe barn in which to store what he had collected. He also had to negotiate with his parishioners in order to get all that he was owed. The parishioners did not always react well to his role as tax collector, which took up a large part of a clergyman’s time, so much so that Mr. Collins lists it as the first of his duties, ahead even of writing sermons, which comes in second place. The patron of the living also of course had an interest in increasing the revenue raised by the incumbent since this raised the value of the charge he could sell or bestow. The curate or rector’s protector is a major personage in the region (as for example is Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Collins’ patron). Moreover, this patron may want to reserve a living for a younger son.

The glebe

The glebe was a parcel of land donated to the church, often in the distant past, whose produce was designated for the incumbent of the corresponding parish. This necessarily made the clergyman into a farmer, a job which therefore took up a large part of his time. This necessary farm work further reduced the time actually spent on religious tasks as such. In addition to the tithe and glebe, there was some money to be made from collecting fees from weddings, baptisms, and funerals, as well as tutoring boys in their home, as Jane Austen’s father did.

The circumstances and amounts involved in collecting monies made it almost impossible for the clergyman to have a secure old age; there was no home ownership and never enough money available to save for one. The Austen ladies’ insecure situation when Mr. Austen died points out to us how difficult it was for the parson’s family left with no home, and even before that, when Mr. Austen retired, how little there was to live on and how pitiful their circumstances. While entering the Church was seen as a respectable, well-regarded profession, it did not provide much promise for security in one’s old age.

The Parson’s wife

The Parson's wife, circa 1815.

The Parson’s wife, circa 1815.

A brief word about marrying a clergyman: When women seem eager and well-suited to marry men bound for the Church, do we wonder, at times, why is this so? Unless there is some family money behind them, we now know that they might not always live comfortably or in pleasant circumstances. Certainly, The Collinses will be cared for by Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but not every clergy couple had it so good. The parson’s wife and family was accepted immediately into the neighborhood by the gentry because they represented the Church. Their financial state did not matter, so they were always included in the parties at the “big house” and were not expected to entertain in kind. “Mrs. Parson” would be expected to make the rounds of the parish, visiting the sick and the elderly, dispensing jellies and herbal remedies, if possible, and helping out wherever needed, sitting at sick beds, helping new mothers. A young woman, hoping to marry the new, unwed clergyman in town, had surely better know what she was letting herself in for! It goes without saying that when her own children came along, they had best be paragons of virtue, because it would be their mother who would be criticized if they were not, rather than their father.


“Georgian society in Jane Austen’s novels.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Jan. 2014. Web. 24 Jan. 2014.<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgian_society_in_Jane_Austen’s_novels>.

Capitani, Diane . “JASNA-GCR.” The Clergy in Jane Austen’s Time. Jane Austen Society of North America, Greater Chicago Area, n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2014. <http://www.jasnachicago.org/jane-austen/online-exhibits/96-jane-austen/online-exhibits/115-the-clergy-in-jane-austens-time#clergy-revenues&gt;.

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Courtship and Marriage in the Regency Period

By Laura Wardle (appearing as Mrs. Bennet in BYU’s Pride and Prejudice)

“Sir James Martin had been drawn in by that young lady to pay her some attention; and as he is a man of fortune, it was easy to see HER views extended to marriage. It is well know that Miss M. is absolutely on the catch for a husband…”  ~ Jane Austen, from her novel Lady Susan

"Courtship" by Felix Friedrich Von Ende, 1856

“Courtship” by Felix Friedrich Von Ende, 1856

By the 18th and 19th centuries, the idea of marrying for love was gaining ground, although it was considered déclassé to demonstrate too much passion for one’s spouse. A man proposed to the woman of his choice, but parental approval of the engagement, especially for the woman, still needed to be obtained; for a father could withhold a fortune from a daughter, whereas it was out of his power to prevent a son from inheriting his estate.

Courtship was a complicated business for the more privileged members of society in England during Jane Austen’s time. A son of a noble family—even one with a “womanizer” name for himself—might successfully court a merchant’s daughter, if her fortune was great enough, and her reputation beyond question. He might indeed, be put under pressure by his parents to do so, in order to bring in a huge boost to the family’s wealth.

However, a nobleman’s daughter must remember that she would not be allowed to marry a merchant, because the family’s great estates might then fall under the control of a dealer in trade, and the family name and continuity might be lost. In those days, people who were born into the higher classes regarded themselves as more established and important than people who had only recently become wealthy. Running a business and being “in trade” was thought of as earning “new money” in contrast to being rich with “old money” from property, which had been held within the family for a long time. In Pride and Prejudice, The Bingleys are an example of the nouveau riche family; they are wealthy and respectable but not of the same status as Mr. Darcy.

Jane Austen herself, as a clergyman’s daughter, did not hold sufficient promise of land or dowry to attract a noble suitor. However, it would have been important for her to make a match worthy of her mother’s distinguished relations and her father’s scholarly and religious status in their community. Her attractive vitality did win her the interest of more than one suitable young man during her courtship days, but despite the temptation of a proposal from a well-born, if awkward, young man of property, she was not prepared to endure “the misery of being bound without love,” and therefore chose to reject the offer.

In the early 1800s, there were certain manners and customs in courtship, which were vital for young ladies and gentlemen to obey if they were to be accepted as potential participants within high society’s marriage market. The underlying principle, which informed these codes, was that a young person displayed her or his availability and attractions to appropriate members of the opposite sex effectively, yet without deception, vulgarity or exploitation.

Young ladies and gentlemen of the Regency period must carefully adhere to  rules appropriate behavior during courtship.

Young ladies and gentlemen of the Regency period must carefully adhere to rules appropriate behavior during courtship.

We now turn to look at actual rules of etiquette between young ladies and gentlemen in the 1800s. The protocol of what was “done” and “not done” must have seemed extremely complicated to any young person with the intention to socialize faultlessly. In terms of day-to-day socializing, a gentleman needed to establish that he was paying attention to the appropriate daughter of a family, since it was bad form to take an interest in a younger sister “still in the school room” who had not yet started on the seasonal rounds of balls and dances. This was particularly frowned upon if the young girl had an older sister who was “out”, available for courtship and not yet spoken for.

A lady must not be kept standing and talking in the street; a gentleman must turn and walk with the young lady if she indicated that she was willing to converse. This escorting might be necessary for her safety if her well-born status was apparent to any criminal member of the lower classes who might be tempted to rob or “dishonor” her in some way. Harriet Smith is subjected to just such an attack in Emma.

Additional “rules of engagement” during courtship include protocol for dancing at a ball. If a gentleman and lady danced more than two sets together (a set consisted of 2 dances and approximately 15 minute duration) they would be considered engaged by society.  Mr. Collins’ intention to stay close to Elizabeth during the Netherfield Ball is a public declaration of his intentions toward her.

Letters were only sent to one to whom you were engaged. In order to assure adherence to this code of conduct, Darcy hand delivers his letter to Elizabeth. Jane & Bingley ultimately rip up the letters they are writing to each other because, despite their desire to communicate, it would be untoward to send letters to one another.  In Sense and Sensibility Marianne’s daily letters to Willoughby give rise to the assumption by her sister Elinor and others that Marianne is engaged to Willoughby.

Before an engagement, couples could not converse privately, be alone in a room, travel unchaperoned in a carriage or call one another by their Christian names. Another example of gentlemanly behavior was that a gentleman must always be introduced to a lady, since it was presumed to be an honor to meet her—never the other way round. These three rules serve to indicate the importance of protecting a virtuous young lady’s reputation by avoiding inappropriate interactions.

The first time most couples were alone was during the actual proposal. Engagement rings were not necessarily given as a symbol of the lady’s acceptance.  A woman’s power of refusal was her only control in the situation. Rarely did a woman refuse the proposal (except in the case of Elizabeth Bennet with both Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy). Mr. Collins points out that Elizabeth is not likely to receive another proposal if she refuses him. Occasionally, a woman would break the engagement, but it was frowned upon for a gentleman to break the engagement. (Society’s disapproval of his breaking the engagement is why Edward Ferrars keeps his word to Lucy Steele in Sense and Sensibility.)

Once the woman accepts the proposal, the gentleman then asks the bride’s father for permission to marry her. Once the bride’s father approved, the marriage articles were drawn up. This contract defined the distribution of wealth and property in the marriage and what would happen to the wife and children if the husband met an early death. Occasionally, a jointure became part of the articles.  A jointure stated that the wife would receive a guaranteed portion of her husband’s property upon his death.

A poetic caricature of courtship, 1805.

A Receipt for Courtship, 1805.


“The Manners and Customs of life in Jane Austen’s time – OR how to win the mating game!” http://www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk/educ_schools/pdfs/Manners_and_Customs.pdf

“The Marriage Mart” http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2008/07/06/the-marriage-mart-a-romantic-ending-to-an-unromantic-beginning/

“In Courtship a Man Pursues a Woman” http://austenauthors.net/in-courtship-a-man-pursues-a-woman

“Courtship During the Regency Period” http://reginajeffers.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/courtship-during-the-regency-period/

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