As part of my research on the Hundred Days and Waterloo for my next Carina book, An Infamous Marriage, I've been poring over March and April 1815 editions of the Times of London to find out how the news of Napoleon's escape from Elba and resumption of the French throne spread through England--i.e., what would my hero and heroine know, and when would they know it?
Having access to the Times archive dating all the way back to 1788 is one of the nicer perks of my day job. I'm a grant analyst at the University of Washington, and my staff ID and login give me full access to the university's library resources. I love to just walk the upper floors of the Suzzallo-Allen Library, drinking in the old book smell. If anyone ever made that a perfume, I'd wear it.
But since the Times archives are online, I can view them from home, with my manuscript open in another window. So convenient...if I didn't keep getting distracted by everything else in the paper. The papers of 200 years ago look nothing like the ones we read now (or were reading until we started getting all our news from the internet instead!). There are no big headlines screaming out Bonaparte's deeds, and the front page is occupied by something our papers bury deep within: classified ads. (Whether or not that's the period-appropriate British term, I don't know, but that's exactly what they look like.)
I never thought I'd spend hours of fascination reading classified ads, but when they're almost 200 years old, they're a window into a bygone world. Here are a few that particularly caught my eye:
INSANITY -- WANTS a SITUATION, a middle-aged Woman, who has for many years been accustomed to attend the most respectable persons labouring under a state of MENTAL DERANGEMENT, and can have the most satisfactory recommendation. Address, post paid, to Mr Grinly, apothecary, 42 Marsham-street, Westminster.
WANTS a SITUATION, with a single gentleman (if with a foreigner, no objection), a Man who perfectly understands the capacity of travelling as VALET, &c, having had long practice in various parts of the Continent, France, &c; can speak French, English, &c; and prefers travelling on the French territories if convenient. Reference for character can be strongly obtained from an established family he is about to leave, which he has served for several years. Address, post paid, to Z.A.D., 20 Old Cavendish-street, Cavendish-square. No office letter can be admitted.
WANT of EDUCATION in Adults or young Persons SPEEDILY REMOVED; Greek, Latin, English, &c. are taught upon an easy method known to the ancients. Ista facile discuntur si habeas qui docere fideliter possit. Address by letter only, post paid, A.X. Eaton, stationer, 31, Strand.
N.B. Due to my own WANT of EDUCATION, I'm not sure I transcribed the Latin in the ad above precisely. The PDF scans are a little blurry in spots, which in English I can fill in from context clues. In Latin, NSM.
IF the PERSON who LEFT his FAMILY on Wednesday, the 7th instant, in the forenoon, will forward his BOOKS and PAPERS, together with such explanations as the nature of the unpleasant business may require, to the Jerusalem Tavern, St John's-square, Clerkenwell, properly packed up and secured, it will have a very material tendency to remove the present very great difficulty under which the different parties labour. J.D., of Berners-street, pledges his honour that if, in addition to the foregoing, the above person will appoint a time and place for an interview with J.D. only, nothing unpleasant shall result therefrom.
DOG LOST - TWO GUINEAS REWARD. LOST, about three weeks since, a POODLE; his hind quarters are sheared, both ears, and the top of his back, and the end of his tail, are of a dark brown; answers to the name of Hussar; had on when lost a collar, bearing the name of his master, --Rue St Dominque, Paris. Any person who will give such information as shall lead to recovery, shall receive a reward, at 5 Arlington-street, Piccadilly.
I swear any one of those could be the springboard of a plot. If I ever run short of ideas, I know where to go.
Susanna Fraser writes Regency romance with a focus on the Napoleonic Wars. The Sergeant's Lady and A Marriage of Inconvenience are available now from Carina Press.