The Dandies

rakish1.jpgThe Dandies
From Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature Science and Arts, 1861
By Anonymous

While George III was king, a great number of remarkable events took place, not, indeed, by reason of the vigour and sapience of that monarch, but simply because he was what Mr. Cobbett called “a very long ruler.” Among the rest, the order of Dandies, to whom his august son George himself belonged, was instituted. A Dandy is now a term almost extinct, and its only signification is that of a person scrupulously careful of his personal appearance, delicate as to his boots, faultless as to his neck-tie, and immaculate in the matter of his lemon-coloured kid gloves. The Dandies of old were indeed particular in their attire, but that was but a small part of their elegant peculiarities. Beau Brummell, it is true, was one of their chiefs, but the great Duke of Wellington was himself not a little Dandified too, and much cultivated the society of Dandies. Their historian is no less a person than the late Thomas Raikes, Esq., of Grosvenor Square, whose diaries have already taught us that the “good old times” which are said to have been so much better than our own, did not, at all events, take place at the beginning of the present century.

The dandies, says the editress of Mr Raikes’s Private Correspondence, just published, swayed Society neither through the power of great rank nor great wealth; nor did either in itself admit its possessor to their freemasonry. Their fraternity was founded upon the Science of Civilised Existence, for the purpose of uniting the pleasures of intelligence with those of dissipation. “The manners of the dandies were in themselves a charm, retained by some through infirmity and age. Their speech was pleasant, their language thorough-bred, their raillery conciliating, their satire what they intended it to be; many among them highly gifted; doing all that they did well; the less apt always to the point, letting it alone; without enthusiasm, without allusions — a school of gentlemen, liberal and open-handed; ephemeral as youth and spirits, yet marked by this endearing quality, that they remained, with few exceptions, true and loyal friends, tested through years of later adversity, and even death’s oblivion.”

They seem, however, to have borne even the deaths of their friends with much equanimity, if at least they were so vulgar as to hold as friends their relatives — their uncles, for instance. “I am told by [Lord] Alvanley,” writes one, “that his uncle is dying of apoplexy. Drummond Burrell [the present Lord Willoughby de Eresby] has turned away his cook; but A. has begged he will keep the cook disengaged for a month, that he may have him if the event should occur.'” The engagement of a cook was perhaps the one transaction of life which the Dandies treated seriously. “I am going to ask you,” writes Lord Yarmouth, “to undertake a most perilous adventure, one in which I hope you feel with bowels of compassion for my forlorn state. My prayer is, that you will look out, if possible, for what is called a valet de chambre cuisinier, a good pâtissier above all things, and a perfect operator, and not above casting his eye towards the déjèuner a la fourchette, or the coffee-manufacture. I hate a fine or a difficult gentleman, and I abhor a rogue, more from irritation even than economy. I care not whether I give him one hundred or two a year. I am looking out, so do not engage anybody till you have written to me, lest I should have twins.” This communication is signed, “Amusez vous, and so God bless you – YARMOUTH;” which is the nearest approach to the expression of a religious feeling throughout the letters. Like Mrs. Quickly, they trust that the time has not arrived when they need think of such things.

They make themselves very merry with the demise of M. de Talleyrand, with whom one would think, of all men, they ought to have sympathised. “Montrond is wonderful; apoplexy and gout do their worst, but cannot subdue his spirits and esprit. He killed us with laughing at his stories about M. de Talleyrand’s death, which, though it deeply affected him, has still its ludicrous side; and his legacy of a standing-up desk to write at did not soften his natural inclination to be a little sarcastic. He said that when the signature to the retractation was signed, a priest declared that it was a miracle; on which he gravely said that he had known of just such another miracle – that when General Gouvins was killed, he, Montrond, with General Latour Maubourg, went to the spot where he lay, and that they asked the only person who had seen the catastrophe how it occurred. This was a hussar, who replied: ” Le boulet l’a frappé, et il n’avoit que juste le temps de me dire: Prenez ma bourse et ma montre; et il est mort.” Nay, even when Montrond came to die, the manner in which his own familiar friend, Mr. Raikes himself, narrates the circumstance, by no means conveys the notion of excessive sensitiveness. “Having so long known his antecedents, I was naturally very curious to learn the tone of his feelings and the state of his mind at such a crisis, more particularly as I had often heard that his head was as clear and as collected as ever. Three or four days ago, when it was said to him: “Prenez bon courage, vous irez peut-être mieux; assez bien même pour sortir en voiture.” He replied: “Oui, je sais bien la voiture dans laquelle je sortirai.” Since this, I find, to my great surprise, that the Duc de Broglie took upon himself to opérer son salut, and was unceasing in his efforts to bring him to a sense of religion; as also Madame Hamelia, who is become a very strict dévote. The same effort was made some years ago by that excellent woman the late Duchesse de Broglie, when Montrond was also in a state of extreme danger. She came and prayed by his bedside, but at that time without making the slightest effect on his mind, for he was then convinced he should recover, and by dint of his own energy. I remember very well he afterwards said to me: “J’aurais très bien pu mourir, si je l’avois voulu.” Now it is said that he has shewn great signs of religion and contrition: ” il a été administré, et il s’est confessé trois fois.” The Abbé Petitpas was constantly with him, and during his first entretien said to him: “Vous avez sans doute dans votre temps dit beaucoup de plaisanteries contre la religion.” His reply was: “Non, jamais; j’ai toujours véçu en bonne compagnie;” an expression which, though by no means true, shewed his good worldly taste. This change (for I will not call it conversion) is, however, very remarkable, particularly as we well remember that he did everything in his power to dissuade M. de Talleyrand from signing his retractation on his deathbed; and then turned it into ridicule. Enfin, he died yesterday in what the Catholics call odeur de sainteté; he desired the crucifix to be placed at his bed’s head, and would not allow it to be removed. Peace to his manes!” In reply, the Duke of Wellington writes: “I am sorry for poor Montrond, but pleased that he died a Christian.”

The most surprising things in this volume are the letters of the Great Duke. He often writes twice a week from England to Thomas Raikes, Esq., in Paris, with no apparent object whatsoever. His little notes, which begin with, “–Your letter of the 28th has interested me greatly,” “Your letters are most valuable to me,” or, “I am very much obliged to you for the communication of the circumstances you have mentioned,” contain absolutely nothing — nothing whatever beyond such hopes as any country gentleman might express that there would be peace and fine weather. The replies of Mr. Raikes are indeed long enough, but contain quite as little — chitchat about the state of things in Paris, and deductions of his own about what will happen in consequence between France and England, all which turn out to be false. The Duke’s own prophecies in return are equally unfortunate in their non-fulfillment, but nevertheless Mr. Raikes never fails to head his communications with “Your Grace’s opinion is undeniable.” Perhaps it is but just that Statesmen, who have so much power while alive, should be subject more than any other class of people to have their reputations exploded — hoisted with their own petard — after death; and certain it is that one seldom reads the letters of a departed minister or diplomatist without being reminded of Oxenstiern’s remark: “With how little wisdom the world is governed!”

The political opinions of the Dandies are, as might be expected, ludicrous in the extreme. So late as 1843, we find Lord Rokely writing of “the senseless dreams of the Anti-corn-law League;” but in 1831 the Dandies believed all was over with good society, and that, so far from engaging cooks, they might think themselves fortunate if they obtained a living in that capacity themselves. “What a moment,” writes one, “have our ministers selected for revolutionising the old-established constitution of the country! whilst the Jacobins of every country are moving heaven and earth to overthrow all existing governments! Surely, if it could be proved that such a step was necessary, this is not the time. But I trust that parliament will reject the measure. The democracy is already too powerful; give it additional strength, and it will overwhelm both throne and state.” The Marquis of Hertford actually fixes the general overturn at “a year hence probably;” but he is living at Rome, and therefore not personally concerned. These patriotic gentlemen, indeed, generally prefer to spend their money abroad, and out of what they not very respectfully term “Bulldom.” One of the epicureans writes from Naples in a strain that leads us to hope he was enjoying himself there, in spite of the darkness of the political horizon. “Here I am quite alone, as far as English are concerned, for they are all gone, and I alone cannot tear myself away from this delightful do-nothing place. I have got to think that looking out of window at the sea, snuffing up the afternoon breeze, driving up and down the Corso at night, and then supping lightly on fish and Lacryma Christi, is the perfection of existence; and when a souvenir of more brilliant amusements, more exciting pleasures, and younger and happier days, flashes across my memory, I only heave a little very quiet sigh, drink another glass of lacryma, and relapse back into the vacancy of thought from which it had momentarily roused me.” The writer adds: “The people of the world here are glad to see you, if you come to them, and don’t care if you don’t.” Such were just the people the Dandies liked, and to whom they themselves belonged. They were altogether incapable of real friendship. The greatest kindness they ever did, even for one another, was to communicate, in gossiping letters, the latest scandal, or the last ‘good thing” they had chanced to hear or remember.

Scrope Davis writes from Dunkerque: ‘”Bob Bligh, when travelling with the Marquis of Ely through the Highlands, turned the marquis out of his own carriage, because he did not know who was the mother of Queen Elizabeth. In vain might he look for a travelling companion here. Do you recollect a story of Tom Stepney’s — a man far underrated, in point of humour, by you and your Oatlands friends — about his countrymen, the Welsh? On the restoration of Charles II, a form of prayer and thanksgiving was sent down into Wales, to be read in all churches and chapels. ‘This is all very well, perhaps, for Charles II.,’ said the Welsh; ‘but what is become of Charles I?’ Of Cromwell, they had never heard a word. What I have, that I send thee.” Generally speaking, however, these letters are crammed with French phrases and French sentiment — all glitter and polish, with very little good material underneath, if the Dandy grew poor, the other dandies fled from him as though he had had the leprosy. Poor Brummell, in his wretched exile at Calais, got very few amusing letters from any of them. “If,” writes he pathetically to one of his ancient friends, “you shall have a rainy morning and ten minutes of leisure, do not, I beseech you, forget such an exiled disconsolate devil as I.” He actually apologises to Mr. Raikes for troubling him with a letter at all. “As my personal communication at this place is confined to M.. Quillac, his waiter, to a domestic upon trial — who I firmly believe to be the Duc de Castries in disguise — and to an old abbé, who daily instructs me in the French dialect, at three francs an hour, you must allow me, with all that kindness you have of late so ostensibly shewn me, to talk to yon a little in correspondence.” He goes on to beg piteously for a little Façon de Parie snuff, and for some square pieces of muslin, wherewith, we suppose, to make those cravats, for the tying of which he had had in ancient days a European reputation.

The character of the Dandies generally will by no means be raised by the publication of Mr Raikes’s correspondence; nor will many be found to regret, with its accomplished editress, that “they have been entirely effaced in the rapidity of industrial progress, and the increasing necessity and enormous power of money in the social scale.”

There are, however, some things in the volume, independent of the Dandies, well worthy of attention. Letters from Russia in 1812 describe the retreat of the Grand Army in striking colours. ‘”When the Russian army reaches the ground last abandoned by the French, they find, in general, many of these unhappy wretches frozen to death, in the very position of sitting round their fires warming themselves. Some had fallen into the fire, and their heads were burned to cinders, not having had sufficient strength to recover their perpendicular after once losing their balance. The roads are strewed with their bodies, and every village is filled with them.”

Mr. Raikes thus describes to the Duke of Wellington the arrival of the ashes of the Emperor Napoleon from St Helena in 1840. “I think it will gratify your Grace to hear that the singular and anxious scene of yesterday went off more favourably than could possibly have been expected. As soon as it was light, all the inhabitants of Paris were on their way to the scene of march, which extended through the Champs Elysées from the Pont de Neuilly to the Invalides, and was guarded by a double line of troops from one point to the other. The immense multitude collected on this spot, from the city and from all the surrounding country, must have amounted to nearly a million of souls; and yet, wonderful to relate, the tranquility of the scene was undisturbed, and the ceremony passed off without the result of even a single accident. Your Grace will see detailed in the papers the programme of the procession. I will only add, that although there was an evident intention to give it more a triumphant than a funereal air, it was really a serious and a solemn sight. Some of the people who lined the road, notwithstanding the intense cold, had climbed upon the trees and on the posts, between which immense pots of fire blazed into the frosty air; and when the gorgeous funeral-car appeared, followed by the imperial eagles, veiled with crape, a host of ideas, for which I had hardly been prepared, rushed upon the mind. The extraordinary career of the man, to whose tomb at St Helena this pilgrimage had been made; the countless multitudes assembled to hail the corpse of one whose memory had for twenty-five years been proscribed; the sudden silence; the torrent of heads that followed after, so thick, so close, that the earth seemed alive with; altogether were of an effect that created a nervous and extraordinary sensation in the mind. All this multitude dispersed afterwards with the utmost tranquility. Paris was as quiet through the night as if no occurrence had drawn the inhabitants from their daily occupations. It is true that all the military posts were doubled, and patrols of horse and foot hourly paraded through the streets; but not a cry of disorder was heard, and even a silly Englishman, who had thought fit to put on a volunteer uniform, was allowed to pass unnoticed, notwithstanding the papers had advised us not to appear. I hear the scene at the débarcadère at Courbevoie was very striking. When the coffin was borne from the steamer to be placed on the funeral-car, your Grace’s friend, the old Marshal Soult, who was waiting, bare-headed, on the shore, prostrated himself before it, and burst into a flood of tears.”

Of the grasping character of the late Louis-Philippe, the same correspondent, writing to the same high personage, gives us these particulars. “He was elected king of the French on the 7th August. On the previous day (the 6th), he made over, by a deed drawn up by Dupin the lawyer, all his private property, as Duke of Orleans, being five millions per annum, to his own children, reserving the usufruct to himself. He enjoys the income of the Due d’Aumale (acquired from the Prince de Condé) till his majority, and his civil list is from twelve to fourteen millions per annum. With these colossal means, the whole study of his life is to throw, by every manœuvre, his own incidental expenses on the shoulders of the nation.”

Finally, we have this extraordinary account of the manner of treatment of prisoners in France who are accused of high treason; if the date of the letter were not 1841, we might almost imagine we were reading of the middle ages.

“My Lord Duke — Darmez, the assassin, who in October last made an attempt on the life of the king, is confined in the Conciergerie, and subjected to the prison discipline; but no preparations are as yet apparently made for his trial. The system enforced in such cases is this: the prisoner is at first treated with the greatest indulgence; nothing that he desires is refused him; the Chancellor and the Grand Referendary visit him, and the people about him are attentive to his wishes, and anxious to converse with him. This is called the process of kindness; and if it fails to work upon the culprit’s gratitude, and to produce the discovery of his plot or accomplices, recourse is then had to the process of reduction. He receives little or no nutriment, is frequently bled, and never allowed to go to sleep; his strength is sapped away by inches; and if in this exhausted state he makes no revelations, a third experiment is tried — the process of excitement. Wine and spirituous liquors are administered bon gré, mal gré ; he is kept in a state of constant intoxication, in hopes that his incoherent replies may give some clue to his secret thoughts. Thus, the physical powers are tortured and perverted, to weaken the firmness of the moral.”

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