The Hours of the Georgian Day

‘The present folly’, wrote Horace Walpole in 1777, ‘is late hours.’ To arrive late at a party in the Georgian era, writes John Riely, was a sign of fashionable distinction.

One of William Hogarth’s famous ‘modern moral subjects’, The Four Times of the Day, portrays English life in its diverse ways and conditions about the year 1738. The title of the series suggests how much is revealed by an inquiry into the hours of the daily routine.

This basic information, so essential for understanding a period two hundred or more years ago, is often assumed or taken for granted. When did most people dine in the eighteenth century? At what hour did they go to work, or to the theatre? The answers to such questions are to be found in contemporary letters, diaries, newspapers, and journals of foreign visitors.

It has often been said that the Georgian period is distinguished by contrasts - of high and low life, of vast wealth and wretched poverty. This might also be said of its hours. The hours observed by the rich and the well-to-do are in general quite different from those kept by tradesmen or labourers, or even by what Daniel Defoe called ‘the middle sort’. It is, in short, the fashionable versus the unfashionable, or simply non-fashionable.

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