Romeo Is Breeding

In preparation for round two of Trivial Pursuit, The Test of Dandy Knowledge (see previous post), we suggest poring over the latest addition to the library in an effort to better acquaint yourself with your dandy forefathers.

The Amateur of Fashion,” is an article on the eccentric Romeo Coates that dates from 1862. Coates was no sober Brummellian, but a butterfly dandy of almost Liberace proportions. When a meeting with the Prince Regent was scheduled, Coates began his fastidious preparations:

His tailor was sent for post-haste, and at least an hour of precious time passed in deciding upon the materials of a new dress suit. The handsomest ruffles, the most perfect cravat, were purchased without delay, and entirely regardless of expense, He was measured for a pair of pumps, that were to be fastened with gold buckles set with diamonds. The diamond-hilt sword was polished all over with wash-leather and a silk handkerchief; and diamond buttons, a diamond brooch, and a diamond ring bought for the occasion.

Max Beerbohm’s take on Coates, written many years later, can be found here.

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One Response to “Romeo Is Breeding”

  1. JES Says:

    From the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

    Coates, Robert [known as Romeo Coates] (1772–1848), actor, was born in Antigua, the only survivor of the nine children of Alexander Coates (1734–1807), a merchant and sugar planter, and his wife, Dorothy. When he was about eight Coates was brought to England, where he received a liberal classical education. After returning to Antigua he first showed his taste for the theatre by taking part in amateur theatricals. His father’s death in 1807 left him in possession of a vast fortune and a large collection of diamonds, and he settled at Bath in England as a man of fashion. He soon became well known by the first of his series of nicknames—Diamond Coates. In consequence of his ostentatious manner of living, which included dressing in furs and diamonds, and driving in a curricle in the shape of a kettledrum with a large, brazen cock on its bar and the motto ‘Whilst I live I’ll crow’, he was also called Cock-a-doodle-doo Coates.

    Coates’s habit of declaiming Shakespeare over breakfast attracted attention, and the Theatre Royal, Bath, was taken for 9 February 1810 for a production of Romeo and Juliet, with Coates in the part of Romeo and professional actors in all the other roles. He was laughed from the stage by the end of the fourth act, so the audience was on this occasion spared his death scene, in which, mindful of his clothes and desirous of presenting his best aspect to the audience at all times, he would take out his handkerchief, dust the stage, place his hat on the outspread handkerchief, and arrange himself into a becoming attitude for death. Inevitably, he became known as Romeo Coates.

    On 9 December 1811 Coates presented himself before a London audience for the first time, in the part of Lothario in Nicholas Rowe’s The Fair Penitent at the Haymarket. Again the performance did not pass the fourth act, as the crowing of the audience would not be quieted even by the direct plea of Coates from the stage. Despite public ridicule and critical panning, Romeo Coates continued to perform on the stage (including appearances at the Haymarket and at Drury Lane) until 1816. He always retained his amateur status, and his performances were invariably in aid of charitable causes: his own preferred sobriquet was ‘the Celebrated Philanthropic Amateur’. Indeed, he was sufficiently celebrated to be the subject of an impersonation by Charles Mathews in his Covent Garden At Home in February 1813. His pretensions were the victim of a cruel hoax in 1813, when Theodore Hook sent him an invitation which purported to be to attend a ball at Carlton House; Coates was turned away from the door, but his face was saved by the angry prince regent, who invited him to view the decorations the following day.

    By 1816 the public had tired even of laughing at Coates, and theatre managers refused him the use of their premises. He eventually fell into financial difficulties and retired to Boulogne. There he met his future wife, Emma Anne, the daughter of Lieutenant William McDowell Robinson RN. Having reached an arrangement with his creditors he returned to England, married Emma Robinson on 6 September 1823, and lived soberly and respectably on the wreck of his fortune. On 15 February 1848 he attended Allcroft’s grand annual concert at Drury Lane, and, after the performance, was crossing Russell Street, when he was crushed between a hansom cab and a private carriage. He died from the effects of his injuries on 21 February 1848 at his residence, 28 Montagu Square; the coroner recorded a verdict of manslaughter by person or persons unknown. Later in the same year his widow remarried, her second husband being Mark Boyd.

    Nilanjana Banerji and K. D. Reynolds
    Sources J. R. Robinson and H. H. Robinson, The life of Robert Coates (1891) · The Era (27 Feb 1848) · Adams, Drama · P. Hartnoll, ed., The Oxford companion to the theatre (1951); 2nd edn (1957); 3rd edn (1967) · P. Hartnoll, ed., The concise Oxford companion to the theatre (1972) · N. Bentley, ed., Selections from the reminiscences of Captain Grenow (1977) · J. Scotney, ‘Romeo Coates, the celebrated amateur of fashion’, The British eccentric, ed. H. Bridgeman and E. Drury (1975), 149–60 · R. K. Dent, Old and new Birmingham: a history of the town and its people, 3 vols. (1879–80) · Hall, Dramatic ports., 1.260–61 · ‘Memoir of Robert Coates, Esq.’, European Magazine and London Review, 63 (1813), 179–83 · GM, 1st ser., 78 (1808), 1188 · GM, 2nd ser., 29 (1848), 557–8 · Morning Herald [London] (11 Dec 1811) · Genest, Eng. stage

    Likenesses etching, pubd 1811, NPG · T. Blood, engraving (after miniature by Newton), repro. in European Magazine, 63 (March 1813), 178 and frontispiece · S. De Wilde, watercolour drawing, Garr. Club · portraits, repro. in Scotney, ‘Romeo Coates’, 150–51, 153, 155–6, 160 · theatrical prints, BM, NPG

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