Saturday, 3 December 2011

Ongar: An extract from the Commonplace Book of Edward Reeve c1860

Life in the West Suffolk Militia
A Letter

Newcastle.   12th July 1810

Mr dear Major,

The Masquerade went off extremely well and I regret very much you were not there for I am certain you would have enjoyed the fun very much – No expense was spared, and I have heard it cost our friend Lamb at least £300.  Supper was laid for 350 and as usual Mr Gunter displayed his great taste, and extravagance.  The first thing I saw, I observed in the lobby, was a pointed board “requesting the Ladies and Gentlemen to take off their Masques when the bell rang for supper”, and in my life I never heard such a row when this warning took place.  The Baronet’s [Sir Buckworth Harner] rich, and handsome court dress of Mrs Smith’s Father in the reign of Geo: the 2nd which she lent me, fitted exactly, and I soon found a Lady in the most superb dress to correspond with mine, we danced a minuet, and which was encored, but she begg’d to decline the honor, as it was very exciting, and rather too much expose she felt to be repeated.  I could not imagine who it could possibly be, but when the bell rang for supper, I discovered out favourite Lady Mayoress, Mrs Cookson.  Before we began our minuet, a hollow square was formed and I was told that during our performance much wispering and conjecturing, who we were, and some did not hesitate to declare, we were from the Theatre, and engaged for the occasion.

One of the best supported characters in the Rooms was a Quaker, I saluted him as Obadiah Prim and gave him at the same time a most hearty rap upon the back shoulders.  Who did you imagine it was?  General Johnson!

After supper I apologised for my familiarity but he begged I would not apologize as he considered my not knowing him was the greatest compliment I would possibly pay him.  Ralph Selby and Miss Waldie were capital, the former an old Duanna with her Grandaughter you know how very plain she is, and it’s a pity she ever appears in public without a very pretty masque, for her elegant figure was so much admired.  The Miss Pembertons as Sheppardesses I soon discovered by their pet lamb which the younger led with a blue ribbon and a flageolet suspended from her neck.  I requested she would favor me with a tune but she could not paly upon it.  I play’d for her ‘Fern of Aberdeen’ in compliment you know to her Scotch Lover, she was so astonished.  The two Miss Bakers as flower girls and their father as Tony Lumpkin were excellent characters.  I introduced my friend the Quaker and they prevailed on him to put a rose into the button hole of his demure coat, they discovered me by my laugh and then recommended a Rose as the Duke of Grafton was never seen without, and added Suffolk was a County they were well acquainted with – Our Rev. friend Orde (the priviledged man upon all occasions) proposed a toast: “May the innocent Lamb never meet with a Wolf in Sheep’s clothing” no one appeared more pleased with the toast than Lamb himself many however thought it rather severe wit and so did I.  Our Brigadier Major 6 feet high as a Boarding School Miss dress’d with a Pink sach and frock, and red slippers, the whole room were convulsed with laughter.  I hope you will soon return when I will give you a further description of the other characters, some worth hearing.

Yours faithfully
Edward Reeve

We expect a rout for Scotland any day, and I long to hear our Band strike up “The Girls we left behind us”.

Amongst the many observations of the Quaker, one was worth repeating, “Friend, if all thy faults, and peccadillos were written on thy waistcoat, thou wouldst button thy Coat”.

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