Eighteenth-Century Agony Aunts

We came across the following publication which caused us more than a little amusement, so we thought we would share a few snippets with you. The Gentleman and Lady of Pleasure’s Amusement published 1759. The book is a series of questions about eighteenth-century dilemmas with the author(s) offering replies – something akin to agony aunts of the day.

For ease of reading, we have updated the questions and their replies into today’s language. So, here below is a sample of the 80 questions in the book, with more to follow next week.

A woman swearing a child.
A woman swearing a child. Lewis Walpole Library

A young lady is pregnant and not sure how it happened.

Question: I am in the prime of life and not unattractive, one of two daughters to a loving and industrious father. I now think I am pregnant, not sure how or when it happened, but I’m worried that my father will disinherit me.  My question being, is it possible for me to have become pregnant whilst asleep as that is the only way it could have happened, and didn’t know about it? Also, is it legal for me to kill the embryo so that my father doesn’t find out?

Answer: It is highly unlikely that you could have become pregnant without knowing it unless you were very drunk or having a swooning fit. Given that neither of these seem likely, we are sure that you will be fine, so stop worrying about it. In answer to your second question – that would be murder and treated accordingly.

A gentleman in love with two sisters.

Question: I’ve been dating two sisters, both equally beautiful and talented. I know I can’t have them both, what should I do?

Answer: As you appear to love them both, you can’t pretend to either, as we presume you expect a whole heart in return for only half of yours!

The Misses Van by Lady Salisbury, 1791.
The Misses Van by Lady Salisbury, 1791. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

A young gentleman twice married to one lady

Question: Before I reached the age of consent (21) I married a young lady, without telling my family. Now that I am of the age of consent, can I lawfully marry her a second time in the presence of my parents?

Answer: Yes, effectively you are renewing your vows, it is not illegal to marry the same person twice, it is only illegal to marry someone else whilst still married to the first person.

The Village Wedding, Thomas Falcon Marshall
The Village Wedding, Thomas Falcon Marshall; Fylde Borough Council

An Old Maid has an inclination for a young man

Question: I’m an old maid and going grey, but I’d like to marry a ‘toy boy’, but I’m not sure he would want me, although I have plenty of money, but … there’s a wretched old bachelor in the way who declares his love for me – or perhaps just my money. What should I do?

Answer: As you’re grey already, speed is necessary for any decision, so we’ll reply with haste. Whichever appears first, lock them in, throw away the key and keep them there – haste is paramount.

An advertisement for a husband! Lewis Walpole Library
An advertisement for a husband. Lewis Walpole Library

The Devil

Question: What sex is the devil?

Answer: By his roughness one assumes male, but as he often appears in petticoats, we believe him a hermaphrodite.

A wife wants to read her husband’s mail

Question: Is it acceptable for me to read his mail without his consent?

Answer: Goodness, if you opened his mail once, where could that lead? But seriously, a good husband wouldn’t object to you reading his mail – once opened by him, of course.

Anonymous Letter by Thomas Rowlandson
Anonymous Letter by Thomas Rowlandson. Lewis Walpole Library

I promised to marry her

Question: I made a promise to marry a young lady whilst under the influence of drink, although I didn’t really mean it. My uncle, who is my guardian expects me to marry a young, wealthy widow, what should I do as the young lady says I’m committed to her and that I can’t go back on my promise which I did repeat again when sober?

Answer: Whilst it wasn’t very clever to have proposed to her when under the influence, you did repeat it when sober. Hard luck, you’ve made the commitment, so you must follow it through.

The Proposal by Thomas Clater
The Proposal by Thomas Clater; Stockport Heritage Services

An apprentice to trade for himself

Question: I’m not asking for myself, but, an acquaintance of mine is an apprentice to a surgeon and a friend of his contracted a disease from a young girl. He approached the apprentice for a cure for the condition. The apprentice provided the cure and was paid for it. Is it acceptable for him to keep the payment or should it belong to his master?

Answer: Whilst employed by the master they are duty bound to give it to their master or to advise their master what has occurred and find out how the master wishes to deal with it.

We do hope you have enjoyed some of these anecdotes from our eighteenth-century agony aunts.

10 thoughts on “Eighteenth-Century Agony Aunts

    1. Sarah Murden

      Aww thank you so much; thrilled that you liked it, we’ve got some more next week too, then we may look at working through the others at a later stage 🙂


    1. Sarah Murden

      Yes, we thought some were really funny, we have ‘tweaked’ them slightly to fit today’s language, but they are their replies – wait until next week we’ve got some more we had to share 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. As always a very good article, it shows that under very different garments we all have very much the same worries or issues regarding ourselves or society as the Georgians had. This also brings to mind an excellent book by Elizabeth Burton “The Georgians at Home” (1967) Have you read it? It is a fantastic and detailed survey of everyday life in Georgian times


    1. Sarah Murden

      Many thanks for your feedback and always we’re delighted that people enjoy our posts. The Elizabeth Burton book is another to add to the reading pile, thank you 🙂


  2. Richard Portman

    Please do share a few more of these. I have great sympathy for our poor old ancestors. It is good to hear from them as people and not just kings, wars, plagues and dates in history.


    1. Sarah Murden

      Many thanks Richard, we’re so pleased you enjoyed it, there’s more to follow on Tuesday, we hope you’ll enjoy those as much 🙂


  3. Pingback: “Very silly questions very foolishly answered” | History on the mysteryStream

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