Saturday, December 19, 2009

Men Behaving Badly (Christmas Edition): William Hickey

Saturday, December 19, 2009
Susan reporting:

William Hickey (1749-1830) was a successful English-Irish lawyer who would be virtually unknown today except that he wrote one of the most entertaining and readable Memoirs of the 19th c. The memoirs begin when Hickey is an affluent and rascally young gentleman in London, a constant source of despair to his parents, and continue through his experiences in India. As male memoirs go, they're particularly unusual because Hickey never spares himself in the telling. He doesn't try to "improve" the past, or make himself out to be a great man in any way, but remains as cheerfully honest about is failings and misadventures as he is about his successes. This passage takes place when he was only 13, and home from school for the Christmas holidays.

My first venereal attempt was made on a dark night in St. James's Park, upon the grass, about Christmas of the year 1762... and grievously disappointed I was. I cannot describe my feelings upon the occasion; but undoubtedly they were not altogether pleasant. The same evening that this happened, I was to go home and sleep there, my mother having some friends to sup with her, one of whom was desirous of seeing me. From the park therefore I went to [our house in] St. Albans Street, where in the drawing-room several ladies were assembled, amongst them Mrs. Cholmondeley, wife of the Honourable & Reverend Mr. Cholmondeley, son of Lord Malpas, and grandson of Lord Cholmondeley.
Upon my entering the apartment, Mrs. Cholmondeley immediately laid hold of my arm and, drawing me towards her, began questioning me about [my schooling at] Westminster and what books I was reading; after which, with peculiar archness in her manner, she asked,
"And what is the school paved with, stones or brick?"
To which I replied: "Neither, Madam, it has a boarded floor."
"Aye, indeed (rejoined she) I should have thought from your knees, it was of grass."
This naturally attracted my eyes to the knees of my breeches, which unfortunately were of leather and new, and to my confusion, I saw them both strongly marked with green.
I knew not what to say, but most cordially wished my interrogator at the Devil. After some very lame attempts to account for the appearance of my breeches, I made a precipitate retreat for the kitchen, to...a manservant...who was my confidant...[and] I related what had just passed in the drawing-room. He was surprised by my unusual dullness, and asked me why I had not instantly said that, in my haste and eagerness to get home, running through the park I had fallen down and stained my knees. I wondered at my own stupidity....

Above: Portrait of William Hickey by Thomas Hickey, National Gallery of Ireland

11 comments:

Monica Burns said...

I'm like Hickey...never fast enough on the uptake to have a witty repartee. As is said in A&E's production of Scarlet Pimpernel, I'm like Sir Percy. "Alas, your highness, I am possessed of only carriage wit."

The witty repartee that comes to me when I'm long gone from the moment of inquisition or verbal assault. *sigh*

Susan Holloway Scott said...

I know, Monica -- I feel especially sorry for poor tongue-tied teenaged Hickey here. We've all been there (well, maybe not exactly THERE, but we've all been made to twist in the wind, blushing and stammering one time or another.)

And how mean of that Mrs. Chomondeley to set him up like that....!

Mme.Tresbeau said...

Poor boy! He must have been so embarrassed!
However, from this excerpt, it's impossible to tell if Mrs. Chomondeley is scolding him or teasing him. Or perhaps she's flirting with him, and would like to be the "older woman" in his life?

Loretta Chase said...

I, too, wondered if the "archness" in Mrs. Chomondeley's manner was teasing or flirtatious, and that was what got Hickey so tongue-tied. I love the servant's answer. I could picture him thinking, "And this slowtop has an expensive education. Sheesh."

Jane said...

Tsk, tsk, William, grassy knees in Mama's holiday drawing-room! Easy to guess what this boy wants for Christmas, tho, isn't it?::grin::

Susan Holloway Scott said...

I have to admit I didn't consider ALL these interesting possibilities for young William's evening and the arch Mrs. Cholmondeley! And yes, Loretta, the servant-confidant adds the final touch. You can imagine all too well what else was said in the kitchen after poor Mr. William went upstairs to change

Vanessa Kelly said...

I have to say, I also thought Mrs. C was flirting with him. After all, he was obviously a very precocious lad!

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Oh! Please. My son is 12 1/2, so I'm having a bit of trouble breathing right now. Yet in the spirit of 'they lived on a different time table from today's in terms of coming of age, as it were, (or maybe not)' I'll admit this is a humorous. And I'm in the Mrs C as flirt camp.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Michelle, I guess William's age is part of what got me, too. Different times or not, he's still SO young to be trying so hard to act older. Earlier on the same page, he goes to a party with friends and gets so horribly drunk that he throws up in his bed, and it takes him three days to recover. What really struck me was how he was funding these "debauchs" (his words): he used the money his father gave him to go see Punch and Judy shows!

Maybe Mrs. Chomondeley just wanted to see the puppets, too. *g*

Jenny Girl said...

I wonder how old Mrs. C is considering she is flirting with the poor boy with the soiled knees? Oh you know those servants had a good laugh at his expense. like me :)
Thanks for afternoon chuckle.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Jenny Girl, Loretta and I were thinking exactly the same thing. To a thirteen-year-old, anyone over sixteen would be "old". We guessed she might not be much older than he was, to so delight in teasing him like this. Too bad she's not mentioned again!

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