Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Gossip, scandal and scurrilous jokes in Regency Edinburgh

Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe was a noted Scottish antiquary, collector of ballads, and friend of Sir Walter Scott. But let's not hold that against him. He was also a scurrilous gossip and scandal-monger with a crude sense of humour.

A couple of letters from 1817 show that his waspish if somewhat cruel sense of humour has stood the test of time.

Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, comtesse de Flahault de la Billarderie, 2nd Baroness Keith and de jure 7th Lady Nairne, noted socialite, and, for the record, mother of five daughters.

    "Our last tea-table sensation was caused by the marriage of Miss Mercer Elphinstone ... the bride with green gloves and ribbons, and not one of her near relations to countenance her folly.  It is said the count is very gentlemanly as to manner, but that is all.  I have had the honour of being known to the lady all my life, and never imagined that she would marry for love.  She was person who always flirted with what was fashionable for the moment - Lord Cochrane - Tommy Moore - Sir Godfrey Webster's moustache, etc etc ..."

    "An heiress in her teens is excusable for pleasing herself as to a husband - at thirty she should in decency have some respect for the world; however, our Schottish heiresses don't trouble their heads much about making great matches, witness Lady Hood, whose husband is a very good sort of man, and was once good looking; but (alas!) resembles a Jew in face more than in fortune. I suppose it was an innate love of old cloaths that made him admire Lady H., who never wore a new thing in her life, and is herself the left off surtout of old Sir Samuel."

    "I hear that there never were two such happy people as Countess Flahault and her husband; 'tis the billing of the eagle and the solan goose, the entwining of the fleur-de-lis with the thistle; but from this auspicious junction I am assured no issue can proceed, for the count is so worn out, that he's like an over-milked cow on a common, or our Edinburgh pumps in a dry summer. ... When the count and countess were at Drummond Castle, before they went home, a female friend of mine happened to call upon them one day while a bagpipe player was in the courtyard. The countess called him upstairs and placed him in the passage, but the door was very soon shut upon him. When my friend saw him afterwards, she said 'Weel, Donald, how did the count like your music?' 'No very weel, madam, he had enough o't the last time he heard it.'"

Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe. With a haircut like that, you'd think he'd be a little less critical of others' looks.

    'Lord Elcho is on the point of being married to Lady Louisa Bingham, the intended wife of Michael Stewart; his friends, who cannot, internally, be very well pleased, put a good face upon it.  I remember the lady's elder sister, Lady Elizabeth Vernon, giving a supper to the Duke of Devonshire, before her marriage ... the duke was as deaf as the chair on which he reposed, and as cold as the ice he devoured.  Cupid's dart was weak as the javelin of Priam.'

    ''I suppose that Elcho is married by this time. His rival, young Gilbert Heathcote, is at present in Edinburgh, but denies to me all sober sadness in his admiration of Lady Louisa, who is pretty, tho' marked with the small pox, and having a broken front tooth."