An 18th-century Clergyman Loses his Maidenhead

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I cannot resist quoting this letter in full so that you can make up your own minds how much is genuine excitement at the prospect of a night of sex (at last?) and how much is pure exaggeration and a mannered sense of fun.

The letter was written by Rev. William Nevar to Ashe Windham (1673–1749) of Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk, probably late in the 1690s or just after, when Windham would have been in his early 20s. Nevar was older. He had been Windham’s tutor, so my guess would be he was perhaps around 40 or so at the time of writing. His name crops up as curate of Wye Church in Kent in 1712, which would fit in with this supposition. Windham had been travelling abroad on an Italian Grand Tour from 1693–6, so the letter likely dates after that time.

In 1699, Humphrey Prideaux described Ashe Windham as:

… a young gentleman of a very considerable estate in this country, but, having had an Italian education, is all over Italiz’d, that is an Italian as to religion, I mean a downright atheist; an Italian in politics, that is a Commonwealthsman; and an Italian I doubt in his morals, for he cannot be persuaded to marry. He is … of a tolerable good understanding and an estate of £4,000 per annum.

With reference to his ‘Italian’ morals, Windham had an illegitimate daughter in 1689, of whom little seems to be known. At the time of her birth he must still have been at Eton, since he did not go up to Cambridge until 1691. His eventual marriage, which took place in 1709 when he was 36, was far from happy. He married ‘on the rebound’ after his first choice of fiancée, Hester Duckworth, died suddenly from smallpox.

Tensions in the marriage surfaced early on.  Even the birth of a son and heir in 1717 made things no better. The two fell out irrevocably over how the boy should be raised and parted soon after. Windham then suffered some kind of breakdown in 1721 and withdrew from the world, spending his time pursuing various ‘cures’ at Bath and elsewhere or staying in London, leaving Felbrigg in the care of Patrick St. Clair, his ‘man of business’. He died in 1749.

At least this letter hints at happier times. Spelling is original.

Sir,

I date this letter from the happiest day of my life, a Levitical Conjurer transformed me this morning from an Insipid, Unrelishing Batchelour into a Loving Passionate Husband, but in the midst of all the raptures of approaching Joys, some of my thoughts must fly to Felbrigg, and though I am called away 17 times in a minute to new exquisite dainties, yet I cannot resist the inticing temptation of conversing with you, and acquainting you, with tears in my Eyes, that I am going to lose my Maidenhead; but you’ll think perhaps of the old Saying, that some for Joy do cry, and some for Sorrow sing. Colonel Finch, who honours us with his merry company, tells me of the dismall dangers I am to run before the next Sun shines upon me, but the Spouse Of my bosom being of a meek, forgiving temper, I hope she will be merciful, and not suffer a young beginner to dye in the Experiment. I commend myself to your best prayers in this dreadful Juncture, and wishing you speedily such a happy night, as I have now in prospect.

I remain
Your most humble and
Most obedient Servant
W. Nevar


Source: Simms, Nicholas ed. The Footfall’s Echo: An Anthology from Norfolk’s Past. Orlando Publishing, Briston, Norfolk, 1989.


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About William Savage

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One Response to An 18th-century Clergyman Loses his Maidenhead

  1. noelleg44 says:

    So subtly and cleverly put! We don’t know how to write real letters nowadays!

    Liked by 1 person

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