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As the entries made in their pocket-books by two Austen ladies have been the theme of this week, I thought you might like to have a closer look at one I have in my collection First, a warning- it is in a very poor state and has many missing pages, but what is left is interesting, (well, I consider so) and I’m sure some of you will appreciate the opportunity to see just what these items were like.
They were usually covered in red leather, and this example is just over 3 inches deep by 4 inches wide.
As you can see, mine, which dates from 1778, is not in pristine condition.
The folding top flap has the remains of a marbled paper lining, which you can just discern in the photograph above’
The first two pages are fashion plates, to enable a lady in the shires to see exactly were the latest fashions worn at court. Do note you can enlarge all these photographs by clicking on them, and I do recommend you do so , in order to see the details of the pocket-book pages:
The first shows “A Lady in Full Dress and Another in an Undress of 1777. The next plate show the sumptuous scene at The Windsor Ball:
The ladies who dominate the print are , from left to right, Lady Barrymore, The Duchess of Devonshire and the Duchess of Gloucester
These fashion plates were an important part of the contents of the Pocket Books for Ladies, and if you look at this page from Barbara Johnson’s Book, which has been produced in facsimile by the Victoria and Albert Museum, in whose collection it is, under the title: A Lady of Fashion: Barbara Johnson’s Album of Styles and Fabrics:
you will see that Miss Johnson, a contemporary of Jane Austen, kept, year on year, these little prints all pasted in her album so that she could keep track of the latest fashions. She was surely not alone….Next we have the contents page:
and you can see, for the first time, that while this has much in common with our diaries of today- with useful information -notable dates etc, – there are striking differences.
For example, the insertion of Hints to Unmarried Ladies and the Essay on Modesty, strikes an odd note. It is interesting to me that such conduct book fodder is to be found in this very practical diary. But before we examine those pages in detail in our next post, let’s go back to the beginning of the pocket-book.
After the Introduction,which, you can see, is simply an advertising “puff” telling the purchaser just how useful this little book will prove to be (!), we have the Holidays to be observed in 1778 at the Exchequer, Bank, Stamp Office, Excise Office, East India House, South Sea House and Custom House. We may be astonished at the sheer amount of days upon which these important institutions were closed. Today in England and Wales there are six Bank Holidays plus two pubic holidays- Christmas Day and Good Friday. as you can see, in the late 18th century , these institutions observed saints’ days and religious festivals as holidays.
There are 53 days,by my reckoning, when the offices of most of these institutions would be closed, subject to the individual exceptions shown under the table. Again you can see that they are mostly religious holidays. This situation continued during Jane Austen’s life time but, in 1834, this was reduced to just four holidays: 1 May , 1 November (All Saints Day), Good Friday, and Christmas Day.
Next we have a Table of the Moon for 1778, and a note of all the Legal Terms, when the courts were in session, plus details of the terms at the only two universities in England and Wales at that time, Oxford and Cambridge:
Next, history: A Table of the King and Queens Reigns, plus on the opposite page The Birth Days of the Sovereigns in Europe
Next we have An Index to the Remarkable Days in 1778
These are dominated by dates in the Christian Calendar, together with dates relating to the Royal Family, which underlines the importance of the Anglican Church, and the Royal Family in Georgian England. These dates do still form the basis of the rhythm of the year for many people today, but I think I might be right that they are of a general lesser importance now than they had in the late 18th century . It is interesting to see just how many dates were celebrated, and which ones were thought important.
In my next post we shall continue our look at the contents of these intriguing little books. I do hope you will join me.