Lenten levity, Georgian style

A fascinating article on activities on Ash Wednesday from the World, February 7, 1788:

Yesterday being the First Day of Lent, the Merchant Taylor’s Company had a lively, pretty dinner, accordingly…

The Anacreontic, last night, was more than usually full and joyful—the Concert had much excellence—and the Supper was very well ordered—but it being Ash Wednesday, it may be easily imagined how few people partook of it—and every body departed very early—soon after four in the morning.*

The Trading Justices, in consequence of each Round-house last night being full, are to meet this morning, to petition for the most strict observance of Lent—that every Concert, as well as the Play-houses, may be shut.**

The shutting of the Theatres on Wednesday and Friday, through Lent, is not in consequence of any specific regulation, from the Magistracy or the Lord Chamberlain—The custom originated with Mr. Fleetwood***—Who being one year, in an extraordinary degree, unsuccessful, thus chose to rid the management of two losing nights—and shut the House, rather than open it to a probable disadvantage.

* The Anacreontic Society was a gentleman’s club, named after Anacreon, a Greek poet, whose work focused on women, wine and entertaining – and as can be seen from this mention, so did the club. Its main aim was ostensibly to celebrate an interest in music. The president, Ralph Tomlinson, wrote a drinking song called ‘The Anacreontic Song’ with music by John Stafford Smith, the latter now better known as the melody for ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’.

** The closing of theatres during Lent was a custom that continued into the nineteenth century. It was in fact a power given to the Lord Chamberlain by statute (Licensing Act, 1737), but only in the city of Westminster, so there were many complaints from theatre owners about lack of fairness (e.g. a parliamentary debate on 28 February 1839).

*** Charles Fleetwood, who died in 1745, managed the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane together with Colley Cibber. His losses might have been rather more due to his famous propensity to gamble.

In the same issue:


The late occurrence of this kind now beginning to be so much talked of—the circumstances are shortly these—The familiar and affectionate intercourse of the parties, was well known.

Being thought not prudential on either side, particularly on the part of the Lady, all thoughts of a match were opposed.

For the Gentleman’s Fortune, is less than 5000l. the Lady has not so much.

Accordingly, after much struggle to conciliate the family, in vain, an Elopement was determined—and it took place the evening before last.

Lady — — was at the Dutchess of Ancaster’s, where there was a small party—Her Ladyship left the room unobserved, and passing the Porter, as it were to go to the next door, got into a carriage, which Mr. C. had in waiting, and so drove off—as it is supposed, to Scotland.

And one for the ladies:

Answer to the ENIGMA inserted in yesterday’s Paper.

EVE is compos’d of three letters alone,

Reads backwards and forwards the same;

Without ever speaking makes sentiments known,

And from beauty, takes too sure an aim!

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