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Mortally fuddled, 1702
Naughty George promises to do better…
This week’s Histories is born of serendipity: how could I resist a book entitled The Rake’s Diary when I happened upon it in an online second-hand bookshop?
The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest citation for the word ‘rake’ (meaning, of course, “a fashionable or stylish man of dissolute or promiscuous habits”) is from a poem by Richard Ames, ‘The Rake: Or, the Libertine’s Religion’ in 1693 – exactly the era in which our subject this week led his chaotic and dissipated life. His diary is brief but entertaining, perhaps for all the wrong reasons, and it’s his glimmers of self-awareness that make it all the more so.
George Hilton was born in Cumbria (historically, the bit that was Westmorland) in 1673. His father Thomas – who died in 1691 – was lord of the manors of Hilton and Murton near Appleby-in-Westmorland, sandwiched between the Lake District, the Pennines and the Yorkshire Dales. The family were Catholics, in an era when it was difficult to be so, with Protestantism now firmly established under William of Orange (the 1701 Act of Settlement would then ban Catholics from ever taking the throne again). Their seat was Hilton Hall, but they often lived in Beetham Hall, about 30 miles south, and it was here that George was born. He moved around the area with his mother Elizabeth, but in 1700 he took the lease at Beetham Hall himself.
In 1770, the then vicar of Beetham, the Rev William Hutton, compiled a collection of local records,some of which referred to George. Hutton wrote:
This gentleman having sold off many parts of the Tithes, has render’d his name not less known by that, than by his public Conduct. Twenty years after his Decease there was found in an old Woman’s Chest at her Death a journal of this George Hilton’s private Life taken every day or Week… The work of Self Examination is well worth our serious Notice.
But the journal in question vanished, and was only rediscovered in the 20th century. It was published as The Rake’s Diary by the Curwen Archive Trust in 1994, having been transcribed and set in context by Anne Hillman.Being a Catholic, most professions for someone of his background were barred to him, and he seems to have blundered through life thanks to his inheritance – he sold the manor of Hilton in 1696, then got into a difficult legal dispute with his sister Mary – and his rickety land management. George married, but we don’t know who his wife was, or how she put up with him. And he certainly got into scrapes, often ending up in court and occasionally with a night in jail.
Chunks of his diary – which is mostly really an account book of his expenditure along with brief details of where he was and who he was with – survive from 1700 to 1705 and then 1722–3. They are punctuated with forlorn self-recriminations for his lifestyle and hilarious moments – plus the joyous fact that he marked every day when he was hung over (which he called “fuddled”) with an asterisk. More than 600 days have an asterisk.
So let’s join George as he takes stock of his life at Candlemas, 2nd February 1702, as he reflects on an incident five months earlier.
A diary for the year 1702 of all my company that I keep, with my necessary expenses commencing from Monday the 2nd of February 1701/2, commonly called Candlemas, at which time George Hilton now of Beetham Hall in the County of Westmorland Esquire hath taken the underwritten resolutions which I will most sacredly perform for the reason under mentioned. Since the 19th of February last past I have spent in pocket expenses 25 pounds, by which I have often lost my reason by immoderate drinking and am then too provoked to passion, which I have all imaginable reason to shun, bearing witness of an unfortunate stroke I gave a fellow at Appleby the last day of August last past, by which he lost his eye – the consequence of which cost me £50 for which reason I am passionately fixed and resolved to be most zealously governed by the underwritten method not only as to drinking but as to all other moral actions, being now 27 years & 3 months old.
Against drinking: I am most passionately resolved to have so punctual a guard over my inclinations as never to lose my reason my immoderate drinking. In performance of which I hereby oblige myself to shun all alehouses as much as in me lies except called by business or some particular friend and such a case will never drink a pint for my own share at one sitting in any alehouse; neither will I (except detained for business) ever be out of my own lodging after 12 at night nor exceed my bottle for my own share in any strong liquors as wine, punch & 6d in brandy.
2ndly, against whoring: Never will I know a woman carnally except in a lawful state.
3rdly against tattling & backbiting: Never to meddle with any’s business by my own except in my profession; neither will I ever say anything behind people’s backs that I would not say before faces.
4thly, against lying: Never to tell a lie in serious matters except speaking truth might be a detriment to a 3rd person.
5thly, against swearing: And will forbear swearing as much as in me lies.
6thly, against gaming: Never to lose above 10 shillings at one sitting nor play above six hours at one time, in respect to the loss of time – except requested by good company will forbear it.
7thly, against injustice: Never will do an unjust action knowingly to any man.
8thly, against laziness: That I will spend more time in my study than hitherto I have done and will for the future be more circumspect how I dispose of that irreparable loss.
9thly, against remissness in religion: That for the future I never will miss night nor morning without giving unto Almighty God that Honour and Glory justly due to him & daily imploring his special assistance in guiding me to such a Communion that the dictates thereof may bring me to life everlasting. Amen. Amen.
10thly and lastly: Will in the meantime earnestly implore the Almighty that he be so for pleased out of his gracious assistance to enable me to strictly perform the above mentioned moralities; also enable me most exactly to keep all fasting days commanded either by the church of Rome or England.
God the Father, Son and holy ghost, one perfect family, bless me and enable me to conquer stubborn nature that I may be at the last day happy. Amen. Amen.
Want to bet how long it took him to fall off the wagon? Yup: less than two weeks. On 14th February he wrote:
… went to George Dix at the Sandside; with George Wilson broke 3 of my resolutions viz. ate flesh, laid with a woman and up till 2 o’clock in the morning.
Two days later he was again resolving “not to drinke a droppe of stronge liquour this Lent”, imploring “may the great god inable me to doe it”. The diary continues to see him flipflop between getting “fuddled” and renewing his resolutions, and perhaps my favourite entry of all is this from 7th October 1704 (which of course has an asterisk):
At my own house, Beetham Hall. Went in the morning with John Hutton. Was with Mr Rigby, Mr Carelton. At night I drank in at Dixon’s Shop with Will Jones, Jack Tompson, Mr Grahme’s men, John Johnson. Got mortally fuddled, parted with my own horse, lost my hat, wig & steel buckle & handkerchiefs, sword & coat & bridle & rode Mr Grahme’s horse home. Everybody knows about it. Expenses about 3s. 10d.
A decade later, in 1715, George actually fought at the Battle of Preston, at the end of a Jacobite rebellion that sought to put the Catholic Stuarts back on the throne. George was now in his 50s. The Jacobites fought determinedly (in what is sometimes claimed as the last battle on British soil – but let’s not forget Fishguard and other claimants!) but were hemmed in. George was captured and imprisoned but managed to escape and go into hiding. He continued to get into fights and drunken gambling bouts (e.g. Saturday 16th February 1723, “got fuddled, there rambled all night, got into a pimping alehouse called the Fox and Dog, drank there all Sunday…”). George Hilton wrote his will on 11th January 1725 and died less than three weeks later. A wiser man, perhaps not. Not a man whose lifestyle we could really admire. But he certainly lived.
I have used Hillman’s text but modernised all the spellings (even for his era, George was a terrible speller) and added some punctuation for clarity.