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July 11, 2007

Back in the Eighteenth Century

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen Things about Life and Sex in the Eighteenth Century

1. Coffee houses were places for men to meet, take refreshments and read newspapers, but even here they got into trouble with the opposite sex. Coffee-house owners were blamed for providing attractive barmaids. A quote, “such tempting, deluging, ogling, pretty, young Hussies to be our Bar-keepers, as steal away our Hearts, and insensibly betray us to Extravagance.”

2. If a gentleman had admired a lady at a ball or masquerade the previous evening, he might request to meet her by placing a newspaper ad. An example from 1754: If the Lady that was at the last Masquerade, dress’d in a white Domino, trimm’d with Purple, a hat of the same, tall and genteel in person, will be so obliging as to favor the gentleman who ask’d her to dance, but was refused, with a line when and where he may have the pleasure of seeing her, by directing for C.G. at the Cocoa-Tree in Pall-Mall, he intends to propose something greatly to her advantage.

3. Many taverns doubled as brothels where a man could buy a pint of ale in the front room, pick up a young woman and take her into the back for sex.

4. Despite its seriousness, veneral disease had become so widespread in the eighteen century that any libertine might expect to catch it. When Boswell’s father shared his concerns with his friend, Mrs. Montgomerie-Cunningham, about his son having contracted pox yet again, she responded casually that “it was now become quite common.”

5. It was not only a woman’s chastity that came under scrutiny in the disciplining of the female body, but also her eating habits. A woman should not appear too healthy or robust as it was considered unattractive. The weak and delicate woman, especially when combined with her intermittent fainting, was thought to be the sort to turn a young man’s head.

6. A young man from a moderately wealthy family could make the choice to indulge in a wide range of sybaritic pleasures: heavy drinking, travelling on the Continent, eating to excess, as well as hour upon hour of sex. Frequent sexual activity was seen to be good for a man’s health – doctors advised that sperm should be dispelled regularly to ensure the smooth running of the humours, thus keeping a healthy balance of one’s bodily fluids.

7. Margaret Leeson, Harriette Wilson and Julia Johnstone were all celebrated courtesans. Their extravagant way of living found them frequently in debt. Once they reached an advanced age and were no longer able to attract wealthy lovers, they wrote their racy autobiographies in an attempt to cash in on their lives as some of the most notorious and wealthy men in society.

8. When the London hangman was arrested for debt on the way back from Tyburn, he was able to buy his freedom instantly with the clothes he had stripped off the corpses as one of the perks of the job.

9. Householders were responsible for the lighting outside their houses. There was no insurance against household burglaries. Insurance pertained only to fire.

10. Procreation was universally regarded as the primary purpose of marriage. In London between one-quarter and one-third of babies died before their first birthday. Only half of all children passed the age of fifteen.

11. Admiration of ladies’ feet was commonplace. The sight of a well-turned foot was recognized as an object of desire and something in which men might take a keen interest. Courtesan Harriette Wilson’s small feet were esteemed by her paramours.

12. Rents were high, but the majority of Londoners expected neither space nor privacy. These were unfamiliar concepts. Tall and narrow with two or three rooms a floor, a typical terraced house might be home to a husband and wife, two to four children, two to four servants including apprentices and lodgers. Rooms were small.

13. River transport in London was essential, partly because the streets were so congested and also because the bone-shaking jolting of hackneys was unendurable. The language of the watermen as they indulged in the tradition of shouting insults across the water was “coarse and dirty”. Many travellers opted to disembark rather than brave the rapids at London Bridge. The water was a deep and roaring torrent and was very treacherous.

Would you like to time travel to Eighteenth Century London?

1700 Scenes from London Life by Maureen Waller
Lascivious Bodies, a sexual history of the Eighteen Century by Julie Peakman


  1. Tempest Knight

    Oh, these are awesome facts, Shelley! Loved it! Happy T13!

  2. LA Day

    That’s an amusing list! Glad I wasn’t alive back then.

  3. Jennifer Shirk

    That was very interesting! And I learned something, too! :grin:

    Yeah, I’d like to sneak back in time for a day or two.

  4. Elle Fredrix

    Hah. Some very interesting facts there!

    Oh, and Shelley? I absolutely LOVE your new site!!

  5. Jennifer McKenzie

    This was brilliant. The one that got my attention was the one about placing personal ads!
    I had no idea that men would do that.
    And no, I have NO desire to time travel to the past.

  6. Christine d'Abo

    I love the one about the personal ad! The funny thing is how we still do that today in a way.

    I’d never survive in that society. I like food too much! :mrgreen:

  7. Lesley Speller

    “A woman should not appear too healthy or robust as it was considered unattractive. The weak and delicate woman, especially when combined with her intermittent fainting, was thought to be the sort to turn a young man’s head.”

    That seems pretty similar to modern day actually. Or maybe the 80s…

    I’m going to have to pick up those books they sound great. I love everyday life stuff. I did a TT about London in the 12th century a couple of months ago.

  8. Debbie Mumford

    I love #2 … personals from the 1700’s! And we think we’re so modern …

  9. Jenn L

    Very Interesting list.

  10. Joely

    Oh, I love lists like this! This one’s definitely going into my keeper file. Happy TT and thanks for visiting my blog!

  11. julia

    Fantastic list! And I’m one of those that would love to time travel, eyes wide open. I especially loved the description of the woman dressed in “a white Domino, trimm’d with Purple, a hat of the same”.

  12. Jennifer Bianco

    Wow, how informative. The personal ad is very interesting. I would love to time travel, but wouldn’t want to live in any time but now.

  13. Gabriele

    I think I’d be more at home in Ancient Rome. :grin:

    Interesting list. Does that guy seriously think she’d drop him a line after she refused to dance with him? Male egos. :roll:

  14. Amelia

    And just when I thought MY generation invented foot worship, LOL.

    Nice new site, too, Shelley!

  15. Kissa Starling

    What a lot of research you have done. Wow, this is a great look into history- thanks!

  16. Night Diva Maria

    very educational list! :cool:

  17. Rhonda

    DUDE, what a fascinating list! Thanks for sharing!!!

  18. Shelley Munro

    Thanks so much for the compliments on the new site. I’m thrilled with it. Frauke has done a wonderful job.

    The personal ad made me laugh. I wonder what the something to her advantage actually is? :lol:

    Gabriele – Ancient Rome is probably more civilized. I wouldn’t mind visiting myself.

  19. Lisa Andel

    Oh my, if I went back there I’d be sickly and fainting while he was dispelling his sperm. That so doesn’t work for me. :wink:

  20. Paz Edwards

    Very interesting! I love your new blog look! Congrats on the change.


  21. Shelley Munro

    Lisa, I’m worried. I’m definitely not weak or delicate and I don’t make it in the feet department. If I time traveled they’d spot me in an instant!

    Thanks, Paz! I’m thrilled with the new look.

  22. Gabriele

    Shelley, depends what quarters in Ancient Rome. The Subura was a pretty nasty place, esp. at night. Except if you had an escort of several huge, bulky, mean looking ex-gladiators.

    Now, if you can teach them not to look mean at home ….. :mad:

  23. Shelley Munro

    LOL – you mean I’d have to train them? I have enough trouble with one male :lol:

    Seriously though, I intend to check out Ancient Rome a bit more. I read one of Michelle Styles books and loved all the small details about daily life. I’ve also enjoyed the TV documentaries I’ve seen recently on this era.

  24. Alyssa Goodnight

    Very, very interesting! I don’t think I’d like to travel back, but I love to read about it.

  25. Heather

    Fascinating TT, Shelley! Great new look here, too.

  26. Gabriele

    Yes, it looks like the Romans getting more popular these days.

    I live in a country with Roman remains, so I’ve had them on my brain since my parents took my to see a Limes fort in 1971. :grin: But the interest grew since 2003 when I started writing novels about the guys, and a Roman fort was discovered more or less at my backdoor.

    The best books about life in Rome I have are in German, unfortunately. But there should be English ones as well.