The Courtesan Actress and the Press

Perdita, Dally The Tall, and The Bird of Paradise

Perdita, Dally The Tall, and The Bird of Paradise

For a number of weeks I have been studying and charting the coverage given to the ‘frail sisterhood’ in the gossip rags of 18th century London. The Morning Herald was the beacon of Cyprian tittle-tattle and probably would have published photos of a duchess’ boobs if given the chance, but it was the 18th century and it had to settle for language couched in tropes and innuendo. I discovered via Michael Gamer’s wonderful article “Mary Robinson and the Dramatic Art of the Comeback“, just how important this language was. The following example taken from the Morning Herald of 9th July 1783 illustrates the use of association and juxtapostion shown by Gamer in his article; it also gives credence to the argument that the newspaper audience would have understood the satirical references. The final paragraph, hilarious though it may be, brings the piece almost full circle:

 
‘The following is as authentic a state of summer cantonments of the principal Pe[?] corps, as we have been able to procure, viz.
 
 
1. Dalrymple,   – Duke de Chartres Chateau near Paris
2. Perdita,   – Shades of Windsor.
3. Armsted,   – Buxton.
4. Benwell,   – Boulogne Sur Mer.
5. The Watsons,   – Scarborough.
6. Harvey,   – Brighthelmstone.
7. Weston’s fencibles,   – Ditto.
8. Cox and Banks   – Weymouth.
9. The Carters,   – Hampstead.
10.Roupe,   – Tunbridge.
11.Bird of Paradise,   – Islington Spa.
12.Our Bridget*,   – Bagnigge Wells.
13.Kit Frederick,   – Dog and Duck.
14.Mother Windsor’s }   – Margate, by the Hoy.
   Heavy Chasseures,
 
the whole are expected to take place in their respective cantonments, or or before the 15th inst. and immediately to commence some new evolutions for the good of the service : — great things are expected on this occasion from Weston’s fencibles, who have long excelled in the dextrous management of the hand grenade! — Windsor’s heavy Chasseurs will be be on constant duty, being ordered down to Margate for the express purpose of annoying Lord N—h’s Smugglers, by a heavy, and unremitting fire!
   ‘Perdita complains aloud of the scantiness of a certain establishment, saying that the allowance is barely sufficient to keep even the woman of the houshold in tolerable humour!
   ‘Mr. Secretary Fox pressed hard for the 100,000l. per ann. on the above occasion, and that very feelingly; but, happily for this impoverished country, the real patriotism of his M—–y got the better of the prodigality of his Minister!
   ‘A female correspondent of the Cyprian ton congratulates those of the Sisterhood who have so often complained of long-standing arrears, on a recent establishment, contracted as it may be; and recommends from Gil Blas decoratively enamelled on their chamber-door, by C—j—y, the Paphian painter: viz. “les bienfaits des PRINCES, doivent devancer leur Galanteries!”
   ‘We have authority to say, that Mr Andrews never had the least concern in the new Comedy now performing at the Theatre in the Haymarket, nor ever saw or heard a single line of it, till it appeared before the public.
    ‘Considering that part of society called the beau monde collectively, it is difficult to mark the grand distinction of sexes by external appearance; the characteristics of dress, countenance, and manners, are now so interblendia that it is scarcely possible to decide where ends the female, or where begins the male. In every public circle we meet jolly looking personages, with slouched hats, sun-burnt cheeks, swinging clubs of hair, half-boots, horse-whips, and epicene riding-dresses, who tell us they are of the softer kind. We meet also pretty, slender, essenced, pale-faced, spindled, tender beings, in nankeen breeches, reaching almost to their chins, waistcoasts not more than six inches long, lisping and simpering, like boarding-school chits, who tell us they are men!’
 
 


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