J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, April 02, 2015

David Hartley: “singular in his dress”

Last month I wrote about David Hartley (1732-1813), the Member of Parliament who went from being a far-out-of-power rookie lawmaker in 1774 to signing the Treaty of Paris for Britain in 1783.

He was by no means a typical British gentleman of the time, and not just because of his scientific talent or progressive views on slavery. In The Literature and Literati of Bath (1854), George Monkland wrote of Hartley (at least in later life):
He was a man of an ingenious and inventive mind; in his person and appearance, I can recollect, he was somewhat eccentric; he wore a hat of peculiar shape, and no cravat, but his shirt collar was turned down, and simply confined by a black ribbon tied in a bow, which, at the time I speak of, was by no means an usual style of costume; now-a-days, when men wear anything and everything, he might perhaps have passed unobserved.
In a supplemental volume published the next year, Monkland quoted from a letter by the Rev. Richard Warner (1763-1857):
David Hartley was singular in his dress and simple in his manners, and (perhaps) rather affected the quaint apparel of the puritans; he never wore stockings. . . .

One day after dinner [in the fellows’ room of Merton College, Oxford, of which he was the second oldest fellow], allusion was made to Hartley’s stockingless legs, and denounced as a dirty practice. “I beg your pardon,” said Hartley, and throwing off his shoe, and spreading his naked limb upon the table, “There, gentlemen, you see that there is not a speck of dust upon my foot.”
I think about this in contrast to how Hollywood would want to cast and dress a British diplomat signing the peace treaty with the Americans: as a highly aristocratic, formally dressed snob brought low, not an eccentric intellectual who probably outdid Benjamin Franklin in informality.

For more on eighteenth-century stockings, particularly ladies’, see this post on All Things Georgian.


Don Carleton (Jr.) said...

I note that Hartley is "stockinged" in the mezzotint (?) portrait you show, though! What does strike me is that he is wearing glasses--pretty rare for a genteel 18th century portrait!

J. L. Bell said...

The descriptions might date from Hartley's old age, after his parliamentary career and his portrait. But I think they would still speak to his personality and personal style.