On Saturday 25th January a small group of OBERTO students attended a talk at Handel House entitled ‘Gossip and Celebrity in the Age of Handel’. The talk was given by Adrian Teal, a caricaturist who has recently written The Gin-Lane Gazette, a marvellously funny volume that Teal describes as “a Georgian Heat Magazine”. In this book, designed in the style of an eighteenth-century newspaper, Teal shares a wide range of weird and wonderful Georgian news stories, all illustrated with his excellent cartoons. Although many of these stories are truly astonishing and sound unlikely, they are in fact all true!
Teal shared many of the best stories during his talk, bringing the London of Handel vividly to life. The city in the eighteenth century, he argued, was akin to a “sexual theme park” where both sex and drink featured prominently. His anecdotes certainly supported this claim; some of my favourites concerned extremely unusual bets – one involved a particularly adventurous gentleman having sex in a hot air balloon “one thousand yards from Earth” and yet another resulted in an unfortunate horse being launched from an upstairs window. Perhaps unsurprisingly, musical personalities featured highly in Teal’s stories. He spoke of the notorious castrato Tenducci (who gave Casanova a particularly intriguing explanation of how he had been able to father children) and of the remarkable career of Handel’s contralto Susannah Cibber.
The talk brought eighteenth-century London brilliantly and hilariously to life. I purchased Teal’s book and cannot recommend it enough – it is a treasure-trove of historical gems. From Charles James Fox’s essay on ‘farting’, to the woman who claimed to have given birth to 17 rabbits and the lover of Beau Nash who lived in a hollowed-out tree, it will keep me amused for a long time! Bring back the eighteenth-century I say; our so-called ‘celebrities’ aren’t half as entertaining!