Celebrity gossip is nothing new (as Loretta described here), but the 18th c was the first time that London-based magazines and journals presented panting scandal for everyone to read.
Alexander Hamilton (the publisher, not the founding father) established Town and Country Magazine in 1769, and for a generation the magazine offered thinly-veiled tattle about fashionable society and upper classes for the rest of the world to devour, along with a smattering of political commentary, poetry, mathematical puzzles, and domestic intelligence. To avoid prosecution for libel, the actual names of the participants were replaced by often-jaunty nicknames - here the Combustible Lover and the Eloped Clara - but enough other details and illustrations were provided that informed 18th c readers had no trouble guessing their identities. My characters in When You Wish Upon a Duke dread seeing themselves in print, and with good reason: at the height of its popularity, Town and Country Magazine was said to have a monthly circulation of more than 12,000.
This story appeared in January, 1776. The Combustible Lover, below, was the dashing son of a prosperous grocer who seems to have been raised to believe he is a true gentleman and handsome enough to pull it off. He wanders about the Continent for a while, breaking hearts and conducting love affairs with titled ladies, before he returns home and begins dabbling in producing plays - and seducing actresses - in the playhouse. There he meets Clara, above, "the brunette Syren," an aspiring actress. She, too, has a doting father who is a wealthy tradesman, and despite giving his daughter a lady's education, he reluctantly permits her to go on the stage - and into the path of temptation.
The Combustible Lover found [Clara's] attractions so great, that he left no method unpracticed to insinuate himself into her good graces, and with great assiduity, he, at length, prevailed. She quitted her father's house, and flew with the happy man to some sequestered place, where for a short time they remained concealed; but a father's affliction and vigilance traced them out, and the young lady, as well as her swain, were compelled to make their appearance before a certain worshipful justice, who in examining the merits of the affair, asked our hero if he had any esteem for the young lady - he replied "he loved her better than life." "Why then," said the justice, "do you not marry her?" "Because," replied our hero, "I am married already." The enquiry here terminated, and Miss was committed to the care of her father, who kept a more vigilant eye upon her than before; but...our hero resolved to be once more in possession of his charmer. He according laid a plan to carry her off one night after the performances. The plan succeeded agreeable to their wishes, and Clara (very characteristically) made another elopement....Incessant search has been made after the fair fugitive, but hitherto unsuccessfully. Some asserted that the lovers are flown to France, to give a'loose to their raptures unallayed, and without interruption, but there was also reason to believe that the lady lay concealed in the labyrinths of this metropolis....Our heroine is not at this period more than eighteen; so that we may, from this early sample of her passion for intrigue, suggest that her future history will afford ample matter for amorous biographers.
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.