After the story I told last week, Harriette Wilson, tells us in her memoirs that Mr Meyler paid her ‘unusual attention’ becoming far more attentive, perhaps fearing she might stray…
And then she shares one of her passages that for me is a window in to the past and a very truthful glimpse of the relationship she had with her lover, Mr Meyler.
But before I share it, here’s the history of this series of posts for anyone reading them for the first time today. If you’ve been following Harriette’s story, as always, jump straight the end of the italics.
In 1825 Harriette Wilson, a courtesan, published a series of stories as her memoirs in a British broad sheet paper. The Regency gentleman’s clubs were a buzz, waiting to see the next names mentioned each week. While barriers had to be set up outside the shop of her publisher, Stockdale, to hold back the disapproving mob.
Harriette was born Harriette Debochet, she chose the name Harriette Wilson as her professional name, in the same way Emma Hart, who I’ve blogged about previously, had changed her name. Unlike Emma, it isn’t known why or when Harriette changed her name.
She was one of nine surviving children. Her father was a watchmaker and her mother a stocking repairer, and both were believed to be from illegitimate origin.
Three of Harriette’s sisters also became courtesans. Amy, Fanny and Sophia (who I have written about before). So the tales I am about to begin in my blogs will include some elements from their lives too.
For a start you’ll need to understand the world of the 19th Century Courtesan. It was all about show and not just about sex. The idle rich of the upper class aspired to spending time in the company of courtesans, it was fashionable, the thing to do.
You were envied if you were linked to one of the most popular courtesans or you discovered a new unknown beauty to be admired by others.
Courtesans were also part of the competitive nature of the regency period too, gambling was a large element of the life of the idle rich and courtesans were won and lost and bartered and fought for.
So courtesans obviously aspired to be one of the most popular, and to achieve it they learnt how to play music, read widely, so they could debate, and tried to shine in personality too. They wanted to be a favoured ’original’.
The eccentric and outspoken was admired by gentlemen who liked to consort with boxers and jockeys, and coachmen, so courtesans did not aim for placid but were quite happy to insult and mock men who courted them, and demand money for any small favour.
In Harriette’s words, and I love this because it paints an image in my head, ‘One morning, when I called on him at his house in Grosvenor Square, I found him reclined on his chaise-longue, in a very pensive attitude. On a table, before him, was a most becoming military cap, which appeared to belong to the militia, or might have been worn, for aught I knew, by the hero of some corps of volunteers.’
I can see him there, and without Harriette saying she called on him, I would never have thought she’d have gone to his house! But then she goes on to tell us how he speaks… and you can get a real judgement of his mannerisms.
‘What is the matter, Meyler? And why is that frightful cap stuck up before you?’
‘Ah!’ said Meyler, with his usual slight, but sentimental sigh, ‘frightful indeed! Fancy a little, quiet, country-gentleman, like myself, sticking such a thing as that on his head!’
‘What necessity can there possibly be, for disfiguring yourself so?’ (Harriette has told us previously she never had a fancy for men in uniform. She preferred them in evening dress, in breeches and stockings so she could see their calves).
‘Why you see I am obliged to be Captain of the Hampshire militia, of which Lord Palmerston is Colonel and Commander,’ continued Meyler having another sigh, and looking most interestingly pensive, while his eyes were steadily fixed on the cap.
I could not help laughing; for there was, in fact, a originality about Meyler’s manner of saying mere trifles, which it would be impossible to describe. And then he spoke so very slow, and his mouth was such a model of beauty, that even nonsense came gracefully out of it.’
His speech was so slow, that Harriette recalls his friend mimicking him for fun, Mildmay, of last week’s tale, accused him of taking a half-hour to say the name of his dog, ‘Ch-a-n-c-e’, Harriette berated him for calling Meyler stupid, but Mildmay’s reply was ‘Meyler possess a good understanding when one cane give him a fortnight to consider things; but whenever impulse is required, he is of no use on earth.’
‘I don’t K-n-o-w t-h-a-t’ Harriette says she mimicked, teasing her lover herself.
Still Meyler had another cause to put on military dress…
‘Do you know that Lord Worcester is expected to bring home the next dispatches?’ said Fanny’ to Harriette one night while they sat at the opera.
Well there was a thing, Harriette’s ex-lover, and the man who Meyler had tried to separate her from, initially out of dislike for her, thinking her bad company, and then because he wanted her himself. And the man whose family Meyler was still a close friend of, to the point he regularly stayed with them minus Harriette. When Lord Worcester’s father the Duke, as well as Lord Worcester, had treated Harriette badly.
‘It is all the same to me,’ Harriette replied, ‘since he could be so selfish and vilely shabby as to acquaint his father I had written to him. I shall never respect or like him again.’
But Fanny said she had received another letter from him. ‘A friend of mine, says… he, ‘saw my sweet Harriette in Hyde Park, looking lovely. God bless her! What would I give, but to see her pass, at this moment, even though she refused to acknowledge me.’
Harriette was not at all interested in the young Marquis, and his father the Duke of Beaufort, they had tricked her out of the money she’d been owed from her relationship with Worcester. But the idea of him coming back to London made her feel vulnerable, and in need of Meyler’s company. Yet that night he was invited to the Duchess of Devonshire’s dress-ball. ‘the idea torments me wretchedly.’
The night of the party, Harriette is at the opera, ‘I turned many an anxious glance towards the Duchess of Beaufort’s box’ (where Meyler usually sat if he was not with Harriette) but he did not arrive at either box before the curtain came down. But then as Harriette left the box with her friends there was a voice from a dark corner, saying her name. (Ah, dark corners in an opera house, pure gold to a romance writer – imagine that!)
‘Good gracious, Mr Meyler, is it you?’ He was dressed in a military uniform, and hiding.
‘I am going to the Duke of Devonshire’s dress-ball, where there will be plenty more fools in the same ridiculous sort of costume; and where, I hope, I shall not feel so much ashamed of myself; but here, I cannot for the life of me summon courage to face my acquaintance, and so, here have I been stuck up, in the dark, for the last two hours, trying to get to your box; yet ashamed to venture to my own carriage, till everybody shall have left the house.’
The women laughed at him, ‘the poor little interesting hero! And yet he looked so handsome, and his red coat reflected such a fine glowing tint on his transparent, pale cheeks, that I was selfish and wicked enough to determine against his exhibiting himself at His Grace of Devonshire’s.’
Harriette wanted him to come home, and not go. But as usual what Meyler wanted was what occurred. He told her he would go, as it was the first time he’d been invited and everyone was going, but that he would come back to her as soon as he could.
Bundled into his carriage, with the coachman ordered to take her home, I imagine Harriette’s need to win a battle with an aristocrat and have some comfort over the treatment Lord Worcester had bestowed on her came to a head. She did not want to be his second choice, second best, and she knew he was going back to Grosvenor Square. ‘I had scarcely got into Piccadilly, when the fit of jealousy seized me with such overpowering violence, that I suddenly pulled the check-string, and reqested to be conducted to Meyler’s house.’
When she arrived there she walked right up to his dressing-room. ‘Meyler,’ said I, ‘I have given way, at all times, to your caprice and jealousy. This once, humour mine, and I shall feel most grateful. My health and spirits are low tonight. Pray cut the Duke, and return with me. It is the first time I ever interfered with your amusements, therefore do not refuse me.’
He would have refused her, he did. But. ‘Well, then,’ said I, ‘I shall not return home alone. I propose going to Lord Ebrington’s, and making love to him.’ That speech would have disgusted most men; but I knew Meyler.
‘I am sure you would not leave me for Ebrington…’
‘Upon my word I will, and this very night, if he is to be found and you refuse to return with me.’
‘Well then I must return with you,’ said poor Meyler.’ Finally persuaded.
But Harriette highlights how unusual such anger and blackmail were as a form of persuasion for a courtesan, by telling us that one of Meyler’s friends said her behaviour had been very wrong, bringing Meyler home by force… But it was the format of her relationship with Meyler – anger, control, jealousy and passion, was what they were about.
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romance stories.
See below on the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark