The History of Pudica

The History of Pudica was a satirical novel (some would say a scandalous satire) by William Honeycomb (a pseudonym of Richard Gardiner), that was published in 1754. It relates to the goings on of a number of Norfolk families, with William Jermy of Bayfield, and the Preston family of Beeston Hall taking on minor rolls. Judging by some of the internal dating of known events, at least some of the events took place towards the end of 1751 and beginning of 1752.

The book essentially chronicles the attempts of Dick Merryfeather (Richard Gardener) to woo Pudica (Mary Sotherton, only child of Thomas Somerton of Taverham Hall), and the determined attempts by Canidia (Frances Preston) and others to undermine this courtship. (Canidia may have been attracted to Dick, herself.) When the budding relationship with Pudica is over, Dick makes concerted attempts to impugn her good name and virtue.

As was the standard form in such satires, the protaganists were given pseudonymous names to supposedly protect them from general scandal, but names which may have reflected their general manner or nature.

A manuscript originally in the collection of R.W Ketton-Cremer of Felbrigg Hall, contains a Key of the persons supposed to be meant in Pudica. Thus, the people mentioned in the brief extracts below, are known to represent:

Pudica Miss Mary Sotherton
Squire Bull Thomas Sotherton
Canidia Miss Frances Preston, now Mrs Jermy
Billy Popple William Jermy
Jacob Bullet Old Jacob Preston
Counsellor Bullet Isaac Preston
Loggerhead Hall Beeston Hall
Worthy Clergyman Rev. Mr Freeman
Injured Lady Mrs Courtney
Billy Tweed Berwick, a surgeon
Dick Merryfellow Richard Gardiner

If we were to take the pseudonymous names to reflect the nature of the persons they were representing, perhaps we could imply that William Jermy, or Billy Popple was a bit of a lightweight, or a fool? It is clear that the Prestons of Beeston Hall, or Bullets of Loggerhead Hall were an augumentative and aggressive family?

The extracts below are those sections of The History of Pudica that mention Canidia, Billy Popple or the Bullet family.

The opening sentence states: Pudica was the daughter of Thomas Bull, or, as the neighbours called him, Tom Bull, of Ox-Hall Esq; in the County of Norfolk.

Page 13

Pudica danced in her turn, but not so well as to be remarkably taken notice of by Dick at that time, whose attention was chiefly fixed upon Canidia, a Lady hereafter to be mentioned, who, rather than not shew away, as the girls called it, danced a minuet with a gentleman in his boots.

Pages 22 to 29

Canidia was the daughter of Jacob Bullet of Loggerhead Hall; not far from Norwich; she was now in the 30th year of her age, tho' she seldom owned more than twenty five to her male visitants. She was tall, genteel, and very graceful in all her motions, her complexion fair to an uncommon degree, her eyes very large, her neck beautifully rounded and of a hue of alabaster.

This was a secret, however, to all but her female aquaintenance, as she carefully concealed those charms with handkerchiefs and other unfriendly covertures. A wonderful softness appeared in all her looks, and, indeed, in all her words, her action just, her expression gentle, sweet as her very breath, for which she was as remarkable as the illustrious Roman of the same name.

--------------------- ut si
Canidia asslusset, pejor
serpentibus Afris.

But it is not the graces of her person I mean to describe, they are sufficiently known, and long since recommended to the notice, and made her happy in the possession of Billy Popple, who fell in love with her, and some say died for love of her even after marriage. This I believe to be a little fabulous by the unwarrantable neglect of her, that appeared in his last will. It is her mind I shall confine my pen to, that mind which was, indeed, another instance of that lovely fashion so sweetly painted by Sir G--rge L----n.

Her mind was Virtue by the Graces drest.

It was in that she shone, that rigid foe to malice, scandal, and detraction, that breast which truth and tenderness could only enter, that bosom overflowing with the milk of human kindness.

As actions speak for themselves, and are stronger than all words, I shall give the reader an instance, to how great a degree an act of only intended cruelty was capable of affecting the melting heart of the humane Canidia.

Some miscreant had wrote, and sent an anonymous letter to the lady of a worthy clergyman, who was at that time very big with child; accusing her husband of known gallantries with many of her sex, and tending to raise a jealousy and difference between them; the cruel author was most happily dissapointed in every expectation of mischief; the Lady received it in her husband's presence, and that of other company, one afternoon at tea. It is true, she read it with visible discomposure, her condition rendering her more susceptible of sudden alarms, otherwise a woman of great evenness and serenity of mind. Her husband took notice of it, and begged to see the letter, and, to his great astonishment, read the villainous contents, first to himself, and then to the company.

The spirits of the ladies are perhaps more delicate than usual in times of pregnancy, and though she entertained no suspicion from this letter of her husband's integrity or virtue; yet the surprise was so great to be got over immediately, and it was not till some days after that she perfectly recovered it, during which time her friends and husband were in hourly pain left she should miscarry. This story, when reported to the public, was received with an horror, inhumanity only knows how to inspire, every tongue was full of the letter, every conversation abounded with detestations of the vile head, and viler heart, that were capable of inditing it. Though wrote in a woman's hand, no body suspected a woman to be the author, as such an one must have been totally lost to all the feelings of her sex, and abandoned beyond conception, before she had attempted it.

But how shall I express the rage, the agony of the distressed Canidia, when she first heard the story, was told of its consequences and the common censures of the town upon it; she reddened, she bit her lips, she sighed, she fainted, again and again recalled to life, again and again she died away, with all the marks of undissembled fury, and heart-distracting anguish. Such tempests in so soft a bosom was every act of cruelty, though foreign to herself, for ever know to raise; on all other occasions, such as those of mercy and benevolence. Canidia's breast was calm and serene as the unruffled sea.

Sure enough it was a most unhappy circumstance to a young lover, to find a woman, endued with such uncommon accomplishments, and so sweet a disposition, his declared enemy; Dick strove ways to learn the secret of her resentment, and to know the provocation, but all to no purpose. Some fancied it was owing to his keeping company so much with the officers, from whom she and her brother, Counsellor Bullet, had received some little affronts in the protection of an injured lady, who had been insulted by some of the military at a public assembly; indeed it was said, that one of them spit in the Counsellor's face; and another trod a little rudely upon his toes; and a third drew out a chair, and placed it opposite Canidia for a partner for her: But as Dick Merryfellow was present at none of these broils, it was not to be believed a woman, of Canidia's religion and virtue, would take occassion, from the violence of the army, to disturb the peace of the church. Others took it into their heads to imagine Canidia had a liking for the parson herself and therefore turned his enemy with 'Squire Bull, as knowing there could be no hope for her, as long as he had any connection with Pudica; and as it is no uncommon thing for a lady greatly and frequently to abuse the object of her passion, perhaps it was from this the suspicion first took place: And supposing it to be fact, it is very easy to unravel the rest, and rationally account for all the prejudice she did him, for jealous love has been known to overturn the great virtues, and where it takes possession, maked dreadful havoc even in the noblest minds. From one or other, or from whatever cause it was, Canidia became so inveterate a foe to the unhappy lover, certain it is, her resentment was very fatal to him, for she never left persecuting 'Squire Bull with stories of his daughter and Dick, till he began to believe all that Billy Tweed had told him; and fearing Pudica, now all was out, would concert with her lover some measures for their escape, as was expected by all their friends, suddenly conveyed her to Ox-hall, where he kept her immured till the summer assizes, that were held at Norwich the August following.

During Pudica's stay in the country, there were not wanting people, at the instigation of Canidia, who were continually venting in her presence some idle tale or other to the disadvantage of her lover; his bottle-frolicks, his amours (for he had been gay) were ever the subjects of conversation before her, and every thing else that could tend to diminish or wean her affection from him, was talked to her from morn to eve; In a word, their attacks were so frequent, and so well carried on, that what from the absence of her lover, or hopes of a release from confinement if he turned renegado, or the natural unsteadiness of her own temper, they were at last crowned with success, and Miss began to attempt forgetting her passion, and to reconcile her heart to the loss of her swain, in which a few weeks enabled her to make a perfect conquest as she then thought; so that at her return to Norwich at the assizes, when Dick Merryfellow addressed her as usual, endeavouring to revive her love, she gave him his dismission the first day as he stopped her in a street, and fairly told him, "She had nothing to say to him, and begged he would never speak to her again." Dick made her a low bow, and promised her, "he never would be the first to begin a conversation again, as he could not recollect he often had been," so went his way .....

... nothing more is heard of Canidia, Billy Popple, or the Bullet family!

It seems pretty scandalous that although admiring the good breeding and pleasant appearance of Canidia (Frances Preston) Richard Gardener accuses her of writing a jealous letter to the pregnant wife of a clergyman (Rev. Mr Freeman). Presumably he was sure of his facts. All the searching for a suitable mate for Canidia ends when the Preston family selects the recently widowed and dying William Jermy.

Richard Gardener, was the son of Rev. John Gardener of Great Massingham, Norfolk, and was born in Saffron Walden, Essex on 4 October 1723. He was educated at Eton and Cambridge, but left without taking a degree. He served a number of years in the military, before settling back in Norfolk as a Deacon. He probably persued Mary Sotherton because she was an only child and heiress to a fortune estimated at between forty and fifty thousand pounds. He later had a friendship with Miss Belle Buxton, but that ended with her unexpected and tragic death from smallpox. He finally married an Ann Bromhead of Lincoln. He died in Ingoldisthorpe, Norfolk on 14 September 1781.

Richard Gardiner acquired a considerable local reputation (good and bad) as a wit and satirist. He has been called many things, including a sponger and a cad, but there can be no doubt that he was quite a presentable young man who was popular with the ladies. Walter Rye, the well known antiquarian, called him a scurrilous local political writer of some note.

In real life, the "heroine" of the satire, Mary Sotherton, married Miles Branthwayte (who appears as "Miles Dinglebob" in the book) and they had one child, Miles Sotherton Branthwaite, who was born in 1756.

Refs: Dick Merryfeather. 1754. The History of Pudica. M Cooper, London.