Fishing in Top Hats

DP107961

This photo epitomises everything I love about the Regency era. It was taken by my 4 x great uncle, Roger Fenton, some time in the mid 19th century.

In reality, there were a lot of grim things about the Regency and early Victorian eras that could kill a romance dead at the first honest mention of them. Nevertheless, over the last hundred years or so, the early 19th century seems to have become synonymous with the romantic, almost superceding the Medieval age – with its towering Arthurian Legends – in popularity.

After all, what do we care that penicillin had yet to be discovered and it was still possible to die of a paper cut? What is it to us that neither bra nor knickers had yet been invented and the only thing standing between a woman and her dignity was her ability to keep her knees together and her boobs above her naval? Why should terrifying mortality rates, raging smallpox or rampant cholera trouble us? What do we care that beer was always warm, water always cold and horse power meant just that? Why dwell on the horrendous realities of inequality, poverty, slavery, suffrage or war, when this was an age of such elegance and splendour that men went fishing in top hats?

Could any modern person of good sense conceive of a stupider, more impractical thing to do? No, but did a modern fisherman ever look so good?

It’s not that I want to deny the harsh realities of the time, but if it’s become acceptable to swoon over men clad in breeches and boots, whilst totally ignoring the source of their ill-begotten wealth, who am I to argue? True, the 19th century gave most of its inhabitants a barrowload of grief, but if you squint hard enough at it, you can just make out the rose-tinted view of a man in a coat and tails, who still looks dignified even as he stands knee deep in a stream wrestling a carp off a hook.

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