As Loretta and I have often observed (here and here are only a couple of examples), the life of an English gentleman in the past could be pretty sweet. To be young, rich, and titled was licence to run wild each night through London with few, if any, consequences, and contemporary sources are filled with justified outrage at what these bucks and bloods got away with.
Clearly the excesses of the night have taken their toll on the young rakehell, left. His stockings are ungartered, his wig's on backwards, and he requires the assistance of his friend and a chairman to cover the short distance between his sedan chair and his door. The servant who has waited up for his return takes his hat and sword from his friend, and her lack of surprise proves this is not an exceptional occurrence. This print's title says it all: Two Bloods of Humour, returning from the Bagnio, after having kept it up.
It's obvious how the anonymous writer of the satirical except, below, feels about this kind of behavior:
"The noblest exploit of a man of the town, the highest proof and utmost effort of his genius and pleasantry is The Frolick. This piece of humour consistes in playing the most wild and extravagant pranks that wantonness and debauchery can suggest; and it is the distinguishing characteristick of the Buck and Blood. These facetious gentlemen, and whenever Champagne has put them in spirits, sally out 'flown with insolence and wine' in quest of adventures. At such a time, the more harm they do the more they show their wit; and their frolicks like the mirth of a monkey, are made up of mischief...The present race of Bucks commonly begin their frolick in a tavern and end it in the round-house, and during the course of it, practice several might pretty pleasantries. There is a great deal of humour in what is called beating the rounds, that is, in plain English, taking a tour of the principal bawdy-houses; breaking of lamps and skirmishes with watchmen are very good jests; and the insulting of dull sober fools that are quietly trudging about their business, or a rape on a modest woman are particularly facetious. Whatever is in violation of all decency and order is an exquisite piece of wit; and in short a frolick and playing the devil bear the same explanation in a modern glossary."
-- "Frolicks of BUCKS and BLOODS", from The Connoisseur, Feb. 6, The London Magazine, 1755
Above: Two Bloods of Humour, returning from the Bagnio, after having Kept it up, published by Carington Bowles, London, 1772, copyright The Trustees of the British Museum.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.