I was turning over the pages of the ‘Morning Chronicle’ recently – the issue dated Monday 8 March 1824, as it happens – when I noticed this advertisement.
Wanted, as a Residence, by a Gentleman’s Family, for two or three years, or on a running lease, at the option of the Tenant (the distance from London not to be less than fifty miles), a substantial, compact, modern-built HOUSE, in the best possible repair, elegantly and completely Furnished, containing good-size dining and drawing rooms – say 28 feet by 20, and high in proportion; comfortable breakfast and library rooms, four large bed rooms, with dressing rooms attached, a spacious nursery, servants’ rooms, coach house, stables, &c. The house to be situated on a Parkish spot, high and dry, in a beautiful part of the country, with rather extensive pleasure grounds, flower, fruit, and vegetable gardens in the highest preservation – hot house not requisite. A church within half a mile; a market at convenient distance, and good roads. The right to shooting over an extensive manor abounding with game, especially pheasants, as wood shooting is most particularly desired to be attached. Any answer to this advertisement must be minute in all particulars, regarding the house, grounds, and shooting, with yearly rent and leave to view, addressed (post-paid) to A.B. at Messrs Jones and Yarrell’s, Bury Street, St James’s, London.
My first thought was, “Gosh, he doesn’t want much, does he?” But do you know what particularly intrigued me about A.B.s demands? He wants a house that is no nearer to London than fifty miles. You’d surely expect a tenant to stipulate he wanted a property no more distant than fifty, or even fewer, miles. So why is A.B. (do you think those are his real initials?) looking for a property some way from London?
I’m a writer. I can construct a scenario from a couple of glances. In fact, sometimes I can’t stop my mind wandering to enlarge upon a detail that’s caught my fancy. By the time I’d finished typing out this advert, I had the whole plot straight in my head. A.B. clearly has a young family, since he stipulates ‘ spacious nursery’. And certainly country air is good for growing children. But as for what provoked the move? I think his eldest daughter has fallen for a rather unsuitable young man in London and her irate Papa has thumped the table with his fist and declared his intention of taking the whole family away to get some sense into – Louisa? – yes, Louisa’s head. Hence a property more than fifty miles from London. A.B. did specify “good roads”, of course, and Mr Darcy may have observed “And what is fifty miles of good road? Little more than half a day’s journey”. But Elizabeth makes it clear that her finances would make that kind of distance an obstacle, so Louisa’s swain – Frederick, do you think? – can’t be well off.
But Papa is not completely heartless. He wants a house in a beautiful part of the country, with extensive pleasure grounds where Louisa may commune with her broken heart. He is aware of the benefits of a life outdoors, amongst growing things, so a hothouse is not necessary but good gardens, with excellent produce, are. A handy church might encourage Louisa to turn her mind to higher things, and there may even be a curate from a respectable family to flirt with. And a house which is “high and dry” will carry no risk of feverish illness for her and the little ones.
He does not, however, intend to be without his own comforts, hence the comfortable breakfast room and library – ‘comfortable’ is not usually the first adjective you would select to describe a library. Here Papa will lounge in his dressing robe over a volume; unless, that is, he has selected some powerful implement from his collection and gone out to shoot pheasants or some of the other game ‘abounding’ locally. And if Frederick does dare to make the journey, I am sure Papa would be happy to add him to the bag.
Do you think I’ve got it right? Or do you have another explanation for this intriguing advertisement?