The main bad habits of the Regency era were not, in many ways, too different from the bad habits of today.
Gentlemen of the ton were lamentably likely to become overly engaged in gambling, drinking, drug addiction (yes, they had drugs…. just not the same ones), getting into fights, and spending all too much time in brothels.
Ladies were also prone to some bad habits, although slightly different. Those included gambling, but in different places, and drug addiction (laudanum), gossip, overspending on fashion and extramarital affairs (if you married for political reasons, not love, wouldn’t you be tempted….).
Not so different at all. What was different was how these things were viewed. Amongst the ton, whilst all of these habits, of both gentlemen and ladies, were regarded as less than ideal, they were, in general, ignored – it was impolite to take note of such things. Things might reach a crisis if a gentleman’s gambling reached the point where he was run out of money to an unrecoverable point, but that took a lot of doing. Equally, a lady’s affairs might cause a significant scandal should she be found in bed with the wrong man, but it had to be a very bad choice for it not to be able to be hushed up, and forgotten by next season , in favour of some newer, juicier gossip.
Drugs could also become a problem. Such things were not illegal at that point, and the most common addiction was Laudanum, which contained a large percentage of opium. It was good in small doses, as an anaesthetic or tranquilliser, but repeated use meant larger and larger doses, and a dependency, which became debilitating. Opium was also smoked – a habit which had been brought back from the East, and became popular in some circles, amongst poets and others who rebelled against the societal conventions.
Smoking was becoming more common, mainly cigars amongst the aristocracy, and chewing tobacco was used by the lower classes.
Alcoholic drinks were standard, ranging from an assortment of ales and beers, through cider, wine, fortifieds like sherry and port, to whisky, brandy and other strong spirits. Alcohols were, in most places, taken instead of water, as water might be polluted and cause illness. Water was generally only consumed by the aristocracy when it had been boiled and turned into a tea or similar herbal infusion. A consequence of this was that alcoholic addiction became quite common, especially amongst those who could afford to indulge whenever they liked.
It is interesting to consider that, in a time when honourable behaviour was valued, they still managed to maintain that, with violence (duels, a propensity for boxing and other person to person fighting etc), drug addiction and alcoholism being ‘normal. They did rather well, don’t you think?
Sadly, it seems that we humans are prone to the same bad behaviour, no matter what century we live in.
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