From Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, 1844.
Minor edits by Moonstone Research and Publications.
All things change; ours is the age of masses and classes, the last was the age of individuals. Half a dozen remarkable men then represented the London world, in politics, poetry, bon-mots, dining out, and gaming. Pitt and Fox, the Dukes of Queensbury and Norfolk, Sheridan and General Scott, where the substitutes for mankind in the great metropolis. George Brummell was the last of the beaus. The flame of beauism was expiring; but it flamed in its socket brighter than ever, and Beau Brummell made a more conspicuous figure in the supreme bon-ton of elegant absurdity, than any of his predecessors. The only permanent beau on earth is the American savage. The Indians, who have lately been exhibiting their back-wood deformities in our island at a shilling-a-head, were prodigious dressers; Greek taste might probably have dissented from their principles of costume, but there could be no doubt of the study of their decoration. Their coiffeur might not altogether supersede either the Titus or the Brutus in the eye of a Parisian, but it had evidently been twisted on system; and if their drapery in generally might startle Baron Stulz, it evidently cost as dexterous cutting out, and as ambitious tailoring, as the most recherché suit that ever turned a “middling man” into a figure for Bond Street.
But the charm which is the very soul of European fashion, is scorned by the Indian. Change — the “Cynthia of the minute,” the morning thought and midnight dream of the dilettante in human drapery — has no captivation for the red man. He may like variety in his scalps or his squaws; but not a feather, not a stripe of yellow on one cheek, or of green on another, exhibits a sign of the common mutabilities of man. He struts in the plumes which his fathers wore, is attired in the same nether garments, exhibits the same headgear, and decorates his physiognomy with the same proportion of white-wash, red-lead, bear’s-grease, and Prussian blue.
Beauism, in England, scarcely goes farther back than the days of Charles II. It may be said that Elizabeth had her beaus; but the true beau, being an existence of which no man living can discover the use, and which is, in fact, wholly useless except to his tailor and the caricaturists, the chevaliers of the time of Queen Bess are not entitled to the honour of the name. Raleigh, no doubt was a good dresser; but then he could write and fight and was good for something. Leicester is recorded as a superb dresser; but then he dabbled in statesmanship, war and love-making, and of course had not much time of his hands. The Sedleys, Rochesters, and their companions, had too much actual occupation, good and bad, to be fairly ranked among these gossamery ornaments of mankind; they were idle enough in their hearts for this purpose, but their lives were not shadows, their sole object was not self. They were more nice about swords than snuff-boxes; and, if they were spend-thrifts, their profusion was not limited to a diamond ring or a Perigord pie. They loved, hated, read, wrote, frolicked — fought; they could frown as well as smile, and see the eccentricity of their own follies as well as enjoy them. But the true beau is a beau-ideal, an abstraction substantialized only by the scissors, a concentrated essence of frivolity, infinitely sensitive to his own indulgence, chill as the poles to the indulgences of others; prodigal to his own appetites, never suffering a shilling to escape for the behoof of others; magnanimously mean, ridiculously wise, and contemptibly clever; selfishness is the secret, the spring, and the principle of, par excellence, the beau.
In the brief introduction prefixed to the “Life,” [The Life of George Brummell, Esq. By Captain Jessee] some of those individuals who approached closest to perfection of old times are mentioned.
One of those was Sir George Hewitt, from whom Etheridge, the comic writer sketched his Sir Fopling Flutter. This beau found a place in poetry as well as in prose,
“Had it not better been than thus to roam,
To stay, and tie the cravat-string at home?
To strut, look big, strike pantallon, and swear
With Hewitt ____ D______ me, There’s no action here?”
Wilson followed. He was a personage who first established the fashion of living by one’s wits. Returning from the army in Flanders with forty shillings in his pocket, he suddenly started into high life in the most dashing style, eclipsed everybody by his equipage, stud, table, and dress. As he was not known at the gaming table, conjecture was busy on the subject of his finances; and he was charitably supposed to have commenced his career by robbing a Dutch mail of a large package of diamonds. Still he glittered, until involved in a duel with Mississippi Law; the latter financier, probably jealous of so eminent a rival, ran a rapier through his body.
The next in his list is Beau Fielding. He was intended for the bar, but intending himself for nothing, his pursuit was fashion. He set up a showy equipage, went to court, and led the life of “a man about town.” He was remarkably handsome, attracted the notice of Charles II and reigned as the monarch of beauism. He was rapidly ruined, but repaired his fortunes by marrying an heiress. She died; and the beau was duped by an Englishwoman, whom he married under the idea that she was a Madame Delaune, a widow of great wealth. Finding out the deception, he cast her off, and married the Duchess of Cleveland, though in her sixty-first year. For this marriage he was prosecuted, and found guilty of bigamy. He then became reconciled to his former wife, and died in 1712, at the age of sixty-one. He was the Orlando of the Tatler.
Beau Edgeworth lives only in the record of Steele in the 246th number of the Tatler, as “a very handsome youth who frequented the coffeehouses about Charring-Cross, and wore a very pretty ribbon with a cross of jewels on his breast.” Beau Nash completes the list of the ancient heroes, dying in 1761, at the age of eighty-eight — a man of singular success in his frivolous style, made for a master of the ceremonies, the model of all sovereigns of water-drinking places, absurd and ingenious, silly and shrewd, avaricious and extravagant. He created Bath; he taught decency to “bucks,” civility to card-players, care to prodigals, and caution to Irishmen! Bath has never seen his like again. In English high life, birth is everything or nothing. Men of the lowest extraction generally start up and range the streets arm-in-arm with the highest. Middle life alone is prohibited to make its approach; the line of demarcation there is like the gulf of Curtius, not to be filled up, and is growing wider and wider every day. The line of George Brummell is like that of the Gothic kings — without a pedigree; like that of the Indian rajahs — is lost in the clouds of antiquity; and like that of Romulus — puzzles the sagacious with numerous original irregularity of descent. But the most probable existing conjecture is, that his grandfather was a confectioner in Bury Street, St. James’s. We care not a straw about the matter, though the biographer is evidently uneasy on the subject, doubts the trade, and seems to think that he has thrown a shade of suspicion, a sort of exculpatory veil over this fatal rumour, by proving that this grandfather and his wife were both buried, as is shown by a stone, still to be seen by the curious, in St. James’s churchyard. We were not before aware that Christian burial was forbidden to confectioners. The biographer further adds the convincing evidence of gentility, that this grandfather was buried within a few feet of the well-known ribald, Tom Durfey. Scepticism must now hang down its head and fly the field.
We come to a less misty and remote period. In the house of this ancestor, who (proh dedecus!) let lodgings, lived Charles Jenkinson, then holding some nondescript office under government. We still want a history of that singularly, dexterous, shy, silent and successful man; who, like Jupiter in Homer, did more by a nod than others by a harangue — made more as a scene-shifter, than any actor on the stage of Westminster — continually crept on, while whole generations of highfliers dropped and died; and at length, like a worm at the bottom of a pool, started up to the surface, put on wings, and fluttered into the sunshine, Earl of Liverpool! The loss of such a biography is a positive injury to all students of the art of rising. Jenkinson was struck by the neatness of the autograph in which “Apartments to be Let” was displayed on the door; and probably, conscious that the “art of letting” was the true test of talents, made the young writer his amanuensis, and finally obtained for him a clerkship in the treasury. He was next in connexion with Lord North for the twelve years of that witty and blundering nobleman’s unhappy administration and enjoyed no less than three offices, by which he netted £2500 a year. He was abused a good deal by the party-ink of his time; but the salary enabled him to bear spattering to any amount, and probably only increased Lord North’s sympathy for his fellow-sufferer, until that noble lord was suffocated in the public mire.
But after the crash of the minister, the man felt that his day was done; he retired to “domestic virtue” as it is termed, and took a good house in the country, enjoyed himself, and in 1794 died, leaving two sons and a daughter, and £65,000 among them.
George Bryan Brummell, the second son, was born in June 1778. The biographer observes characteristically that the beau avoided the topic of his genealogical tree with a sacred mystery. It appears he avoided with equal caution all mention of the startling fact, that one of his Christian names was Bryan. It never escaped his lips; it never slipped into his signature; it was never suffered to “come between the wind and his nobility.” If it had by any unhappy chance transpired, he must have fainted on the spot, have fled from society, and hid his discomfiture in “Deserts where no men abide.”
Brummell was a dandy by instinct, a good dresser by the force of original genius, and a first-rate tyer of cravats on the involuntary principle. When a boy at Eton in 1790, he acquired his first distinction not by “longs and shorts,” but by singular nicety of his stock with a gold buckle, the smart cut of his coat, and his finished study of manners. Others might see glory only through hexameters and pentameters; renown might await others only through boating or cricket, with him the colour of his coat and the cut of his waistcoat were the materials of fame. Fellows and provosts of Eton might seem to others the “magnificos” of mankind — the colossal figures which overtopped the age by their elevation or eclipsed it by their splendour — the “dii majorum gentium,” who sat on the pinnacle of the modern Olympus; but Brummell saw nothing great but his tailor — nothing worthy of respect among the human arts but the art of cutting out a coat — and nothing fit to ensure human fame with posterity but the power to create and to bequeath a new fashion.
But the name of dandy was of later date; the age had not attained sufficient elegance for so polished a title; it was still buck or macaroni; the latter having been the legacy of the semi-barbarian age which proceeded the eighteenth century. Brummell was called Buck Brummell when an urchin at Eton — a preliminary evidence of the honours which awaited him in a generation fitter to reward his skill and acknowledge his superiority. Dandy was a thing yet to come, but which, in his instance, was sure to come.
“The force of the little could no further go –
The ‘dandy was the heirloom of the beau.’”
Yet even in boyhood the sly and subtle style, the Brummellism of his after years, began to exhibit itself. A party of boys having quarreled with the boatmen of the Thames, had fallen on one who had rendered himself obnoxious, and were about to throw him into the river. Brummell, who never took part in these affrays, but happened to pass by at the time; said, “My good fellows, don’t throw him into the river; for as the man is in a high state of perspiration, it amounts to a certainty that he will catch cold.” The boys burst into laughter, and let their enemy run for life.
At Eton, however, he was a general favourite, for his pleasantry, the gentleness of his manner and the smartness of his repartee. He had obtained tolerable scholarship, was in the fifth form in 1793, the year in which he left Eton, and wrote good Latin verses, an accomplishment which he partially retained to his last days. From Eton he went to Oriel, and there commenced that cutting system of which he soon became the acknowledged master. He cut an old Eton acquaintance simply because he had entered at an inferior College, and discontinued visiting another because he had invited him to meet to students of a hall which he was pleased to consider obnoxious. In his studies he affected to despise college distinctions, but yet wrote for the Newdigate prize, and produced the second best poem. But his violation of college rules was systematic and contemptuous. He always ordered his horse at hall time, was the author of half the squibs, turned a tame jack-daw with a band on into the quadrangle to burlesque the master, and treated all proctors’ and other penalties with contempt. Such, at least, is the character given him by Mr. Lister in Granby.
But he was now to commence a new career. In 1794 he was gazetted to a cornetcy in the Tenth Hussars, the gift of its colonel, the Prince of Wales. Brummell’s own account of the origin of his court connections is, that when a boy at Eton, he had been presented to the Prince, and that his subsequent intimacy grew out of the Prince’s notice on that occasion. But a friend of his told the biographer that the Prince, hearing of the young Etonian as a second Selwyn, had asked him to his table, and given him the commission to attach him to his service. This was a remarkable distinction, and in many other hands would have been a card of fortune. He was then but sixteen; he was introduced at once into the highest society of fashion; and he was the favourite companion for a prince who required to be amused, delighted in originality, and was fond of having the handsomest and pleasantest men of the age in his regiment.
Brummell, though an elegant appendage to the corps, was too much about the person of the Prince to be a diligent officer. The result was, that he was often late on parade and did not always know his own troop. However, he evaded the latter difficulty in general, by a contrivance peculiarly his own. One of his men had a large blue-tinged nose. Whenever Brummell arrived late, he galloped between the squadrons till he saw the blue nose. There he reigned up and felt secure. Once however, it happened unfortunately that during his absence, there were some changes made in the squadrons, and the place of the blue nose was shifted. Brummell, on coming up late as usual, galloped in search of his beacon, and having found his old friend he reigned up. “Mr. Brummell,” cried the colonel, “you are with the wrong troop.” “No, no,” said Brummell, confirming himself by the sight of the blue nose and adding in a lower tone — “I know better than that; a pretty thing indeed, if I did not know my own troop!”
His promotion was rapid; for he obtained a troop within three years, being captain in 1796. Yet within two years he threw up his commission. The ground of this singular absurdity is scarcely worth enquiring into. He was evidently too idle for any thing which required any degree of regularity. The command of troops requires some degree of attention from the idlest. He had the prospect of competence from his father’s wealth; and his absolute abhorrence of all exertion was probably his chief prompter in throwing away the remarkable advantage of his position — a position from which the exertion of a moderate degree of intellectual vigour, or even of physical activity, might have raised him to high rank in either the state of the army.
Of course, various readings of his resignation have been given; some referred it to his being obliged to wear hair-powder, which was then ceasing to be fashionable; others, more probably, to an original love for doing nothing. The reason which he himself assigned, was comic and characteristic. It was his disgust at the idea of being quartered, for however short a time, in a manufacturing town. An order arrived one evening from the hussars to move to Manchester. Next morning early he waited on the Prince, who, expressing surprise at a visit at such an hour from him, was answered — “The fact is, your royal highness, I have heard that we are ordered to Manchester. Now, you must be aware how disagreeable this would be to me; I really could not go. Think! Manchester! Besides you would not be there. I have therefore, with your permission, determined to sell out.” — “Oh, by all means Brummell!” said the Prince, “do as you please.” And thus he stripped himself of the highest opportunity in the most showy of all professions before he was twenty-one.
He now commenced what is called the bachelor life of England; he took a house in Chesterfield Street, May Fair; gave small but exquisite dinners; invited men of rank and even the Prince, to his table; and avoiding extravagance — for he seldom played, and kept only a pair of horses — established himself as a refined voluptuary.
Yet for this condition his means, though considerable, if aided by a profession, were obviously inadequate. His fortune amounted to only £30,000, though to this something must be added for the sale of his troop. His only resources, thenceforth must be play, or an opulent marriage.
Nature and art had been favourable to him; his exterior, though not distinguished, was graceful and his countenance, though not handsome, was intelligent. He possessed in a certain degree the general accomplishments, and exactly in the degree, which produced a flattering reception in society. He was a tolerable musician, he used his pencil with tolerable skill, and he wrote tolerable verses; more would have been worse than useless. He dressed admirably, and his cheval de battaile, he talked with a keenness of observation and a dexterity of language, scarcely less rare than wit, and still more exciting among the exhausted minds, and in the vapid phraseology of fashion.
His person was well formed, and his dress was a matter of extreme study. But it is rather libelous on the memory of this man of taste to suppose, that he at all resembled in this important matter the strutting display which we have seen in later times, and which irresistibly strikes the beholder with surprise, that any man capable of seeing himself in the glass could exhibit so strong a temptation to laughter; while to the more knowing in the affairs of costume, it betrays instantly the secret that the exhibitor is simply a walking placard for a tailor struggling for employment and supplying the performer on the occasion with a wardrobe for the purpose. Brummell’s dress was finished with perfect skill, but without the slightest attempt at exaggeration. Plain Hessian boots and pantaloons, or top boots and buckskins, which were then more the fashion than they are now, a blue coat, and a buff-coloured waistcoat — for he somewhat learned to Foxite politics for form’s sake, however he despised all politics as unworthy of a man born to give the tone to fashion — was his morning dress. In the evening, he appeared in a blue coat and white waistcoat, black pantaloons closely fitting, and buttoning tight to the ankle, striped silk stockings, and opera hat. We may observe how much Brummell went before his age; for while he thus originated a dress which no modern refinement has yet exceeded, and which contained all that is de bon ton in moderate equipment, he was living in the midst of a generation almost studiously barbarian — the Foxite imitators of the French republicans — where every man’s principle was measured by the closeness of his approach to savagery; and nothing but the war interposed to prevent the sans-culottism alike of the body and the mind.
Brummell though not possessing the patronage of the secretary of state, had the power of making men’s fortunes. His principal tailors were Schweitzer and Davidson of Cork street, Weston, and Meyer of Conduit street. Those names have since disappeared, but their memory is dear to dandyism; and many a superannuated man of elegance will give “the passing tribute of a sigh” to the incomparable neatness of their “fit,” and the unrivaled taste of their scissors. Schweitzer and Meyer worked for the Prince, and the latter was in some degree a royal favourite, and one of the household. He was a man of genius at his needle; an inventor, who occasionally disputed the palm of originality with Brummell himself. The point is not yet settled to whom was due the happy conception of the trouser opening at the ankle and closed by buttons. Brummell laid his claim openly, at least to its improvement; while Meyer, admitting the elegance given to it by the tact of Brummell, persisted in asserting his right to the invention. Yet if, as was said of gunpowder and printing, the true inventor is the man who first brings the discovery into renown, the honour is here Brummell’s, for he was the first who established the trouser in the Bond Street world.
The Prince, at this period, cultivated dress with an ardour which threatened to dethrone Brummell himself, and his wardrobe was calculated to have cost £100,000. But his royal highness had one obstacle to encounter which ultimately drove him from the field, and restricted all his future chances of distinction to wigs, he began to grow corpulent. A scarcely less formidable evil arose in his quarreling with Brummell. In the course of hostilities, the Prince pronounced the beau a tailor’s block; fit for nothing but to hang clothes on; while the retaliation came in the form of a caricature, in which a pair of leather breeches is exhibited lashed up between two bed posts, and an enormously fat man, lifted up to them, is making a desperate struggle to get his limbs properly seated in their capacity; another operation of a still more difficult nature, the making the waistband meet, still threatening to defy all exertion.
Brummell’s style was in fact simplicity, but simplicity of the most studied kind. Lord Byron defined it, “a certain exquisite propriety of dress.” “No perfumes,” the Beau used to say, “but fine linen, plenty of it, and country washing.” His opinion on this subject, however, changed considerably in after time; for he used perfumes, and attributed a characteristic importance to their use. Meeting a gentleman at a ball with whom he conversed for a while, some of the party enquired the stranger’s name. “Can’t possibly tell,” was the Beau’s answer, “But he is evidently a gentleman — his perfumes are good.” He objected to country gentlemen being introduced to Waiter’s, on the ground “that their boots always smelt of horse-dung and bad blacking.”
His taste in matter of virtu was one of the sources of his profusion; but it always had a reference to himself. He evidently preferred a snuff-box which he could display in his hand, to a Raphael which he could exhibit only on his wall. His snuff-boxes were numerous and costly. But even in taking snuff he had his style: he always opened the box with one hand, the left. The Prince imitated him in this tour de grace.
A fashion always becomes more fashionable as it becomes more ridiculous. People cling to it as they pet a monkey, for its deformity. The high head-dresses of France, which must have been a burden, made to tour of Europe, and endured through a century. The high heels, which almost wholly preclude safe walking, lasted their century. The use of powder was universal until it was driven out of France by republicanism, and out of England by famine. The flour used by the British army alone for whitening their heads was calculated to amount to the annual provisions for 50,000 people. Snuff had been universally in use from the middle of the seventeenth century; and the sums spent on this filthy and foolish indulgence, the time wasted on it, and the injury done to health, if they could all have been thrown into the common form of money, would have paid the national debt of England. The common people have their full share in this general absurdity. The gin drank in England and Wales annually amounts to nearly twenty millions of pounds sterling; turned to any public purpose, might cover the land with great institutions — he principal result of this enormous expenditure now being to fill the population with vice, misery and madness.
In the matter of coats Brummell had but one rival, the Prince, whose rank, of course, gave him a general advantage, yet whose taste was clearly held as inferior by the royal artistes themselves. A baronet, who went to Schweitzer’s to get himself equipped in the first style, asked him what cloth he recommended. “Why sir,” was the answer, “the Prince wears superfine, and Mr. Brummell the Bath coating. Suppose sir, we say Bath coating; I think Mr. Brummell has a trifle the preference.” Brummell’s connexion with the Prince, his former rank in the Hussars, and his own agreeable manners, introduced him to the intercourse of the principle nobility. In the intervals of his visits to the Prince at Brighton, he visited Belvoir, Chatsworth, Woburn, &c. But he was absolutely once in town in the month of November, as is proved by the following note from Woburn: –
“My Dear Brummell, — By some accident, which I am unable to account for, your letter of Wednesday did not reach me till Wednesday. I make it a rule never to let my box; but you have the entrée libre whenever you wish to go there, as I informed the box-keeper last year. I hope Beauvais and you will do great execution at Up-Park. I shall probably be there shortly after you. — Ever yours, sincerely, Bedford.”
At Belvoir he was l’ami de la famille, and at Cheveley, another seat of the Duke of Rutland’s, his rooms were as sacred as the Duke of York’s, who was a frequent guest there. On the Duke of Rutland’s coming of age, in 1799, great rejoicings took place at Belvoir, and Brummell was one of the distinguished party there, among whom were the Prince of Wales, the late Duke of Argyll, the Marquis of Lorn, and the other chief fashionable people of the day. This fête was memorable, for it was said to have cost £60,000. Brummell was not altogether effeminate; he could both shoot and ride, but he liked neither: he was never a Melton man. He said that he could not bear to have his tops and leathers splashed by the greasy galloping farmers. The Duke of Rutland raised a corps of volunteers on the renewal of the war in 1803; and as Brummell had been a soldier, the duke gave him a majority. In the course of the general inspections of the volunteer corps, an officer was sent from the Horse Guards to review the duke’s regiment, the major being in command. On the day of the inspection every one was on parole except the major-commandant. Where is Major Brummell, was the indignant enquiry? He was not to be found. The inspection went on. When it was near its close, Brummell was seen coming full gallop across the country in the uniform of the Belvoir Hunt, terribly splashed. He apologized for himself by saying, that having left Belvoir quite early, he had expected to be on the parade in time, the meet being close at hand. However, his favourite hunter had landed him in a ditch, where, having been dreadfully shaken by the fall, he had been lying for an hour. But the general was inexorable, and Brummell used to give the worthy officer’s speech in the following style — “Sir, this conduct is wholly inexcusable. If I remember right, sir, you once had the honour of holding a captain’s commission under his royal highness the Prince of Wales, the heir apparent himself, sir! Now, sir, I tell you; I tell you sir, that I should be wanting in the proper zeal for the honour of the service; I should be wanting sir, if I did not this very evening report this disgraceful neglect of orders to the commander-in-chief, as well as the state in which you present yourself in front of your regiment; and this shall be done sir. You may retire, sir.”
All this was very solemn and astounding; but Brummell’s presence of mind was not often astounded. He had scarcely walked his horse a few paces from the spot, when he returned and said in a subdued tone — “Excuse me, general; but in my anxiety to explain this most unfortunate business, I forgot to deliver a message from the Duke of Rutland. It was to request the honour of your company at dinner.” The culprit and the disciplinarian grinned together; the general coughed, and cleared his throat sufficiently to express his thanks in these words — “Ah! Why, really, I feel and am very much obliged to his grace. Pray, Major Brummell, tell the duke I shall be most happy;” and melodiously raising his voice, (for the Beau had turned his horse once more towards Belvoir,) “Major Brummell, as to this little affair, I am sure no man can regret it more than you do. Assure his grace, that I shall have great pleasure in accepting his very kind invitation;” and they parted amid a shower of smiles. But Brummell had yet but half completed his performance; for the invitation was extempore, and he must gallop to Belvoir to acquaint the duke of the guest he was to receive on that day.
Brummell always appeared at the cover side, admirably dressed in a white cravat and white tops, which latter either he, or Robinson, his valet, introduced and which eventually superseded the brown ones. The subtlety of Brummell’s sneers, which made him so highly amusing to the first rank of society, made him an object of alarm if not of respect to others. “Do you see that gentleman near the door?” said a woman of rank to her daughter, who had been brought for the first time to Almacks. “Yes! Who is he?” replied the young lady. “A person, my dear, who will probably come and speak to us; and if he enters into conversation, be careful to give him a favourable impression of you, for he is the celebrated Mr. Brummell.” The debutante was the daughter of a duke. It has been said that Madame de Stael considered herself as having failed to attract his approval, and that she spoke of it as the greatest malheur which had occurred to her during her stay in London, the next in point of calamity being that the Prince had not called on her in person.
The Beau perfectly knew his own value. In reply to a nobleman who charged him with involving his son in a gaming transaction, he said — “Really I did my best for the young man; I gave him my arm all the way from White’s to Watiers.” However, there can be no doubt that he was very often intolerably impudent; and as impudence is always vulgar, he was guilty of vulgarity. Dining at a gentleman’s house in Hampshire, where the champagne did not happen to suit his taste, he refused his glass when the servant came to help him a second time, with — “No, thank you, I don’t drink cider!” The following anecdote is rather better known. “Where were you yesterday Brummell?” said one of his club friends. “I think,” said he, “I dined in the city.” “What! You dined in the city?” said his friend. “Yes, the man wished me to bring him into notice, and I desired him to give a dinner, to which I invited Alvanley, Mills, Pierrepoint and some others.” “All went off well, of course?” said his friend. “Oh, yes! Perfectly, except one mal-à-apropos: the fellow who gave the dinner had actually the assurance to seat himself at the table.”
Dining at a large party at the house of an opulent but young member of London society, he asked the loan of his carriage to take him to Lady Jersey’s that evening. “I am going there,” said his entertainer, “and will be happy to take you.” “Still there is a difficulty,” said Brummell in his most delicate tone. “You do not mean to get up behind, that would not be quite right in your own carriage; and yet, how would it do for me to be seen in the same carriage with you?” Brummell’s manner probably laughed off impertinences of this order; for, given without their colouring from nature, they would have justified an angry reply. But he seems never to have involved himself in a personal quarrel. He was intact and intangible. Yet he, too, had his mortifications. One night, in going to Lady Dungannon’s he was actually obliged to make use of a hackney coach. He got out of it at an unobserved distance from the door, and made his way up her ladyship’s crowded staircase, conceiving that he had escaped all evidence of his humiliation; however, this was not to be. As he was entering the drawing-room a servant touched his arm, and to his amazement and horror whispered — “Beg pardon, sir, perhaps you are not aware of it, that there is a straw sticking to your shoe.” His style found imitations in the public prints, and one sufficiently characteristic thus set forth the merits of a new patent carriage step: — “There is an art in every thing; and whatever is worthy of being learned, cannot be unworthy of a teacher.” Such was the logical argument of the professor of the art of stepping in and out of a carriage, who represented himself so much patronised by the sublime Beau Brummell, whose deprecation of those horrid coach steps he would repeat with great delight: –
“Mr. Brummell,” he used to say, “considered the sedan was the only vehicle for a gentleman, it having no steps; and he invariably had his own chair, which was lined with white satin quilted, had down squabs, and a white sheepskin rug at the bottom, brought to the door of his dressing-room, on that account always on the ground-floor, from whence it was transferred with its owner to the foot of the staircase of the house that he condescended to visit. Mr. Brummell has told me,” continued the professor, “that to enter a coach was a torture for him. ‘Conceive,’ said he, ‘the horror of sitting in a carriage with an iron apparatus, afflicted with the dreadful thought, the cruel apprehension, of having one’s leg crushed by the machinery. Why are not the steps made to fold outside? The only detraction from the luxury of a vis-à-vis, is the double distress! For both legs — excruciating idea!”
Brummell’s first reform was the neckcloth. Even his reform passed away; such is the transitory nature of all human achievements. But the art of neckcloths was once more than a dubious title to renown in the world of Bond Street. The politics of the time were disorderly; and the dress of politicians had become as disorderly as their principles. The fortunes of whiggism, too, had run low; and the velvet coat and embroidered waistcoat, the costly buckles and gold buttons of better days, were heavier drains on the decreasing revenues of the party than could be long sustained with impunity. Fox had already assumed the sloven — the whole faction followed; and the ghosts of the old oppositionists, in their wigs and silver-laced coats, would have been horrified by the sight of the shock-headed, leather-breeched, and booted generation who howled and harangued on the left side of the Speaker’s chair from 1789 to 1806. All was canaille. Fox could scarcely have been more shabby, had he been a representative of a population of bankrupts. The remainder of the party might have been supposed, without any remarkable stretch of the imagination, to have emerged from the workhouse. All was sincere squalidness, patriotic pauperism — the unwashing principle. One of the cleverest of caricaturists, the Scotchman Gilray, was his sketch of the Whigs preparing for their first levee after the Foxite accession on the death of Pitt. The title was, “Making Decent!” The whole of the new Ministry was exhibited in all the confusion of throwing off their rags and putting on their new clothing. There stood Sheridan, half-smothered in the novel attempt to put on a clean shirt. In another corner Fox, Grey and Lord Moira, straining to peep into the same shaving glass, were all three making awkward efforts to use the long-forgotten razor. Others were gazing at themselves in a sort of savage wonder at the strangeness of new washed faces. Some sans culottes were struggling to get into breeches; and others, whose feet were accustomed to the Ventilation of shoes which let their toes through, were pondering over the embarrassment of shoes impervious to the air. The minor apparatus of court costume scattered round on the chairs, the bags and swords, the buckles and gloves, were stared at by groups with the wonder and perplexity of an American Indian.
Into this irregular state of things Brummell made his first stride in the spirit of a renovator. The prevailing cravat of the time was certainly deplorable. Let us give it in the words of history: — “It was without stiffening of any kind, and bagged out in front, rucking up to the front in a roll.” (We do not precisely comprehend this expression, whose precision, however, we by no means venture to doubt.) Brummell boldly met this calamity, by slightly starching the too flexible material — a change in which, as his biographer with due seriousness and truth observes — “a reasoning mind must acknowledge there is not much objectionable.”
Imitators, of course, always exceed their model and the cravat adopted by the dandies soon became excessively starched; the test being that of raising three parts of their length by one corner without bending. Yet Brummell, though he adhered to the happy medium, and was moderate in his starch, was rigorous in his tie. If his cravat did not correspond to his wishes in its first arrangement, it was instantly cast aside. His valet was seen one morning leaving his chamber with an armful of tumbled cravats, and in being asked the cause, solemnly replied, “These are our failures.”
Perfection is slow in all instances; but talent and diligence are sure to advance. Brummell’s “tie” became speedily the admiration of the beau monde. The manner in which the dexterous operation was accomplished was perfectly his own, and deserves to be recorded for the benefit of posterity.
The collar, which was always fixed to his shirt, was so large, that, before being folded down, it completely hid his head and face, and the neckcloth was at least a foot in height. The first coup d’ archet was made with the shirt collar, which he folded down to its proper size; but the delicate part of the performance was still to come. Brummell “standing before the glass, with his chin raised toward the ceiling, now, by the gentle and gradual declension of his lower jaw, creased the cravat to reasonable dimensions; the form of each succeeding crease being perfected with the shirt which he had just discarded.” We were not aware of the nicety which was demonstrated to complete the folds of this superior swathing; but after this development, who shall pronounce a dandy idle?
Brummell was as critical on the dress of others as he was recherché on his own, and this care he extended to all ranks. He was once walking up St. James’s Street arm-in-arm with a young nobleman whom he condescended to patronize. The Beau suddenly asked him “What he called those things on his feet.” — “Why shoes.” — “Shoes are they?” said Brummell doubtfully, and stooping to look at them; “I thought they were slippers.”
The late Duke of Bedford asked him his opinion of a new coat. “Turn around,” said Mr. Beau. When the examination was concluded in front and rear, the Beau, feeling the lapel delicately with his thumb, asked in a most pathetic manner, “Bedford, do you call this thing a coat?”
Somebody told him, among a knot of loungers at White’s, “Brummell, your brother William is in town. Is he not coming here?” — “Yes,” was the reply, “in a day or two; but I have recommended him to walk the back streets till his new clothes come home.”
Practical jokes are essentially vulgar, and apt to be hazardous besides; two reasons which should have prevented their performance by an individual whose object was to be the standard of elegance, and whose object at no time was to expose himself to the rougher remonstrances of mankind; but the following piece of sportiveness was at least amusing.
Meeting an old emigré Marquis at the seat of some noble friend, and probably finding the Frenchman a bore, he revenged himself by mixing some finely powdered sugar in his hair-powder. On the old Frenchman’s coming into the breakfast room next morning, highly powdered as usual, the flies, attracted by the scent of the sugar, instantly gathered round him. He had scarcely begun his breakfast, when every fly in the room was busy on his head. The unfortunate marquis was forced to lay down his knife and fork, and take out his pocket-handkerchief to repel the troublesome assailants, but they came thicker and thicker. The victim now rose from his seat and changed his position; but all was in vain — the flies followed in fresh clusters. In despair he hurried toward the window; but every fly lingering there was instantly buzzing and tickling. The marquis, feverish with vexation and surprise, threw up the window. This unlucky measure produced only a general invasion by all the host of flies sunning themselves on the lawn. The astonishment and amusement of the guests was excessive. Brummell alone never smiled. At last M. le Marquis gave way in agony, and clapping his hands on his head, and followed by a cloud of flies, rushed out of the room. The secret was then divulged, and all was laughter.
“Poodle B–g,” so well known in the world of fashion, owed his soubiquet to Brummell. B–g was fond of letting his hair, which was light-coloured, curl around his forehead. He was one day driving in his curricle, with a poodle by his side. The Beau hailed him with — “Ah, B—g, how do you do? — A family vehicle, I see.”
Some of those oddities of expression are almost, too well known now for effect; but they must have sparkled prodigiously among the exhausted circles of his West-end day.
“You seem to have caught cold, Brummell,” said a lounging visitor on hearing him cough. “Yes — I got out of my carriage yesterday, coming from the Pavillion, and the wretch of an innkeeper put me into the coffee-room with a damp stranger.”
In a stormy August — “Brummell, did any one ever see such a summer day?” — “Yes, I did last winter.”
On returning from a country mansion, of which he happened to disapprove, he defined it, “An exceedingly good house for stopping a single night in.”
On the whole, the biographer has given a tolerable selection of Brummell’s hits, some of which, however were so intolerably impertinent, that he must have smoothed down their severity by some remarkable tone of voice or pleasantry of visage. Without those palliations, it is not easy to comprehend his occasional rudeness even to friends. One day, standing and speaking at the carriage-door of a lady, she expressed her surprise at his throwing away his time on so quite and unfashionable a person. — “My dear friend, don’t mention it: there is no one to see us.”
But his admiration of the sex must have often brought him close on the edge of serious inconvenience. Once, at the house of a nobleman, he requested a moment’s interview in the library, and then and there communicated the formidable intelligence “that he must immediately leave the house — on that day.”
“Why, you intended to stay a month,” said his hospitable entertainer.
“True — but I must be gone — I feel I am in love with your countess.”
“Well, my dear sir, I can’t help that. I was in love with her myself twenty years ago,” said the good-humoured husband. “But is she in love with you?”
The Beau cast down his eyes, and in all the modesty of impudence, said faintly, “I believe she is.”
“Oh! that alters the case. I shall send for your post-horses. Good morning.”
His life was flirtation, a matter which could not be indulged in matrimony, and he therefore never married. Yet once he went so far as to elope with a young person of rank from a ball: the pair, were, however, immediately overtaken. The affair was, of course, the talk of the clubs. But Brummell had his own way of wearing the willow. “On the whole side,” said he, “I consider I have reason to congratulate myself. I lately heard from her favourite maid that her ladyship had been seen to drink beer!”
Some of the Beau’s letters at this period are given; but they are not fortunate specimens of his taste: even in writing to women they are quaint, affected, and approaching to that unpardonable crime — dullness. His letters written in his wane of life, and render the realities of suffering, are much more striking, contain some pathetic and even some powerful language, and show that fashion and his own follies had obscured a mind of natural talent, if not of original tenderness.
The following letter we look upon as quite sufficient to have excluded him from the recollections of any Lady Jane on earth, if she happened to know the difference between coxcombry and common feeling: –
“My Dear Lady Jane, — With the miniature, it seems, I am not to be trusted even for two pitiful hours. My own memory, must be then my only disconsolate expedient to obtain a resemblance.
“As I am unwilling to merit the imputation of committing myself by too flagrant a liberty in retaining your glove, which you charitably sent at my head yesterday, as you would have extended an eleemosynary sixpence to the supplicating hat of a mendicant, I restore it to you. And, allow me to assure you, that I have too much regard and respect for you, and too little practical vanity myself, (whatever appearances may be against me), to have entertained, for one treacherous instant, the impertinent intention to defraud you of it. You are angry, perhaps, irreparably incensed against me for this petty larceny. I have no defence to offer in mitigation but that of frenzy. But you know that you are an angel visiting these sublunary spheres, and therefore your first quality should be that of mercy. Yet you are sometimes wayward and volatile in your seraphic disposition. Though you have no wings yet you have weapons, and those are resentment and estrangement from me. — With sentiments for the deepest compunction, I am always your miserable slave, George Brummell.”
We have not a doubt that he perused this toilsome performance a dozen times before he folded it up, advanced to his mirror to see how so brilliant a correspondent must look after so astounding a production, moved round the room in a minuet step, and, when he sent it away at last, followed it with a sigh at the burial of so much renown in a woman’s escritoire, and a regret that it could not be stereotyped to make its progress round the world. And yet, as it appeared that the lady had thrown the glove at him, and even lent him her miniature, it would be difficult to discover any ground for her wrath or his compunction. Both were evidently equally imaginary.
The Beau always regarded the city as a terra incognita. A merchant once asked him to dine there. Brummell gave him a look of intense enquiry. The merchant pressed him. “Well,” said the Beau, (who probably had excellent reasons for non-resistance to the man of money) “well, if it must be — but you must first promise faithfully never to say a word on the subject.”
A visitor, full of the importance of a tour in the north of England, asked him which of the lakes he preferred. “I can’t possibly remember,” was the reply; “they are a great way from St. James’s Street and I don’t think they are spoken of in the clubs.” The visitor urged the question. “Robinson,” said the Beau, turning in obvious distress to his valet, “Robinson, pray tell this gentleman which of the lakes I preferred.” “Windermere, sir, I think it was,” said the valet. “Well,” added Brummell, “probably you are right, Robinson. It may have been. Pray sir, will Windermere do?”
“I wonder, Brummell, do you take the trouble of driving to the barracks on the 10th with four horses. It certainly looks rather superb,” said one of the officers. “Why, I dare say it does; but that is not the point. What could I do, when my French valet, the best dresser of hair in the universe, gave me warning that he must leave me to myself, unless I gave up the vulgarity of posting with two?”
We come, in the course of this goodly history, to the second great event of the Beau’s life — the first being his introduction to Carlton House. The second was his being turned out of it. Brummell always denied, and with some indignation, the story of “Wales, ring the bell!” — a version which he justly declared to be “positively vulgar,” and therefore, with due respect for his sense of elegance, absolutely impossible for him. He gave the more rational explanation, that he had taken the part of a lady who was presumed to be a rival of Mrs. Fitzherbert, and had been rash enough to make some remarks on Mrs. Fitzherbert’s en bon point, a matter of course never to be forgiven by a belle. This extended to a “declining love” between him and the Prince, whose folly was a horror of growing corpulent, and whom Brummell therefore denominated “Big Ben,” the nickname of a gigantic porter at Carlton House; adding the sting of calling Mrs. Fritzherbert Benina. Moore, in one of his satires on the Prince’s letter of February 13, 1812 to the Duke of York, in which he cut the Whigs, thus parodies that celebrated “Sentence of banishment:” –
“Neither have I resentments, nor wish
there should come ill
To Mortal, except, now I think on it,
Who threaten’d last year, in a superfine passion,
To cut me and bring the old king into fashion.”
Brummell now, since the sword was drawn, resolved to throw away the sheath, and his hits were keen and “damaging,’ as those things are now termed. In this style he said to little Colonel M’Mahon, the Prince’s secretary — “I made him, and I shall unmake him.”
The “fat friend” hit was more pungent in reality than in its usual form. The Prince walking down St. James’s Street with Lord Moira and seeing Brummell approaching arm-in-arm with a man of rank, determined to show the openness of the quarrel; stopped and spoke to the noble lord with an apparent unconsciousness of ever having seen the Beau before. The moment he was turning away, Brummell asked, in his most distinct voice “Pray, who is your fat friend?” Nothing could be more dexterously impudent; for it repaid the Prince’s pretended want of recognition precisely in his own coin, and besides stung him in the very spot where he was known to be the most thin skinned.
It is sufficiently remarkable, that the alienation of the Prince from Brummell scarcely affected his popularity with the Duke and Duchess of York: He was a frequent guest at Oatlands, and seems to have amused the duke by his pleasantry and cultivated the taste of the duchess by writing her epigrams, and making her presents of little dogs. The Duke of York, though not much gifted with the faculty of making jests, greatly enjoyed them in others. He was a good-humoured, easy-mannered man, wholly without affectation of any kind; well-intentioned with some sagacity — mingled however with a good deal of that abruptness which belonged to all the Brunswicks; and though unfortunate in his domestic conduct . . . yet a brave soldier, and a zealous and most useful commander-in-chief of the Horse Guards. He, too, could say good things now and then. One day at Oatlands, as he was mounting his horse to ride to town, seeing a poor woman driven from the door, he asked a servant what she was. “A beggar, your royal highness; nothing but a soldier’s wife.” — “Nothing but a soldier’s wife! And pray, sir, what is your mistress?” Of course the poor woman was called back and relieved.
Still Brummell continued in high life, and was one of the four who gave the memorable fête at the Argyll Rooms in July, 1813, in consequence of having won a considerable sum at hazard. The other three were, Sir Henry Mildmay, Pierrepoint, and Lord Alvanley. The difficulty was whether or not to invite the Prince, who had quarreled with Mildmay, as well as with Brummell. In this solemn affair, Pierrepoint sounded the Prince and ascertained that he would accept the invitation if it were proposed to him. When the Prince arrived, and was of course received by the four givers of the fête he shook hands with Alvanley and Pierrepoint, but took no notice whatever of the others. Brummell was indignant, and at the close of the night, would not attend the Prince to his carriage. This was observed, and the Prince’s remark on it next day was — “Had Brummell taken the cut I gave him last night good-humouredly, I should have renewed my intimacy with him.” How that was to be done, however, without lying down to be kicked, it would be difficult to discover. Brummell, however, on this occasion, was undoubtedly as much in the right as the Prince was in the wrong.
Brummell, in conformity to the habits of the time, and the proprieties of his caste, was of course a gambler, and of course was rapidly ruined; but we have no knowledge that he went through the whole career and turned swindler. One night he was playing with Combe, who united the three characters of a lover of play, a brewer, and an alderman. It was at Brookes’s, and in the year of his mayoralty. “Come, Mash Tub, what do you set?” said the Beau.
“Twenty-four guineas,” was the answer. The Beau won, and won the same sum twelve times running. Then putting the cash in his pocket, said with a low bow, “Thank you alderman; for this, I’ll always patronize your porter.” — “Very well, sir,” said Combe dryly, “I only wish every other blackguard in London would do the same.”
At this time play ran high at the clubs. A baronet now living was said to have lost at Watier’s £10,000 at one sitting, at ecarté. In 1814, Brummell lost not only all his winnings, but “an unfortunate £10,000,” as he expressed it, the last that he had at his bankers. Brummell was now ruined; and, to prevent the possibility of his recovery at any future period, he raised money at ruinous interest, and finally made his escape to Calais. Still, when every thing else forsook him, his odd way of telling his own story remained. “He said,” observed on of his friends at Caen, when talking about his altered circumstances, “that, up to a particular period of his life, everything prospered with him, and that he attributed his good luck to the possession of a silver sixpence with a hole in it, which someone had give him some years before, with an injunction to take good care of it, as everything would go well with him so long as he kept it, and everything the contrary if he happened to lose it.” And so it turned out; for having at length, in an evil hour, given it by mistake to a hackney coachman, a complete reversal of his affairs took place, and one misfortune followed another until he was obliged to fly. On being asked why he did not advertise a reward for it, he answered — “I did, and twenty people cam with sixpence with holes in them for the reward, but not my sixpence.” “And you never heard any more of it?” “No,” he replied, “no doubt that rascal Rothschild, or some of that set, have got hold of it.”
But the Beau’s retreat from London was still to be characteristic. As it had become expedient that he must make his escape without eclat, on the day of his intended retreat he dined coolly at his club, and finished his London performances by sending from the table a note to his friend Scrope Davies couched in the following prompt and expressive form: -
“My Dear Scrope, — Lend me two hundred pounds: the banks are shut, and all my money is in the 3 per cents. It shall be repaid to-morrow morning — Yours, George Brummell.
The answer was equally prompt and expressive: –
“My Dear George, — It is very unfortunate, but all my money is in the 3 per cents — Yours. S. Davies.”
Nothing daunted, the Beau went to the opera, allowed himself to be seen about the house, then quickly retiring, stepped into a friend’s chaise and met his own carriage, which waited for him a short distance from town. Travelling all night with four horses, he reached Dover by morning, hired a vessel to carry him over, and soon left England and his creditors behind. He was instantly pursued; but the chase stopped on reaching the sea. Debtors could not then be followed to France, and Brummell was secure.
The little, rude and thoroughly comfortless town of Calais was now to be the place of residence, for nearly the rest of his life, to a man accustomed to the highest luxuries of London life, trained to the keenest sensibility of London enjoyment, and utterly absorbed in London objects of every kind. Ovid’s banishment among the Thracians could scarcely be a more formidable change of position. Yet Brummell’s pleasantry did not desert him even in Calais. On some passing friend’s remark on the annoyance of living in such a place — “Pray,” said the Beau, “is it not a general opinion that a gentleman might manage to spend his time pleasantly enough between London and Paris?”
At Calais he took apartments at the house of one Leleux, an old bookseller, which he fitted up to his own taste; and on which, as if adversity had no power to teach him common prudence, he expended the greater part of the 25,000 francs which, by still some problematical means, he had contrived to carry away with him. This was little short of madness; but it was a madness which he had been practicing for the last dozen years, and habit had now rendered ruin familiar to him. At length a little gleam of hope shone across his fortunes. George IV arrived at Calais on his way to Hanover. The Duke d’Angoulême came from Paris to receive his Majesty, and Calais was all in a tumult of loyalty. The reports of Brummell’s conduct on this important arrival, of the King’s notice of him, and of the royal liberality in consequence, were of every shape and shade of invention. But all of them, except the mere circumstance of the King’s pronouncing his name, seem to have been utterly false. Brummell, mingling in the crowd which cheered his Majesty and his progress, was observed by the King, who audibly said, “Good heavens, Brummell!” But the recognition proceeded no further. The Beau sent his valet, who was a renowned maker of punch, to exhibit his talent in that art at the royal entertainment, and also sent a present of some excellent maraschino. But no result followed. The King was said to have transmitted to him a hundred pound note; but even this is unluckily apocryphal. Leleux, his landlord, thus give the version. The English consul at Calais came to Mr. Brummell late one evening and intimated that the King was out of snuff, saying as he took up one of the snuff boxes lying on his table, “Give me one of yours.” — “With all my heart,” was the reply; “but not that box, for if the King saw it I should never have it again.” — implying that there was some story attached to it. On reaching the theatre the consul presented the snuff and the King turning said, “Why, sir, where did you get your snuff? There is only one person that I know that can mix the snuff in this way!” — “It is some of Mr. Brummell’s, your Majesty,” replied the consul. The next day the King left Calais; and as he seated himself in the carriage he said to Sir Arthur Paget, who commanded the yacht that brought him over, “I leave Calais, and have not seen Brummell.” From this his biographer infers that he received neither money nor message, and his landlord is of the same opinion. But slight as those circumstances are, it seems obvious that George IV had a forgiving heart towards the Beau notwithstanding all his impertinences, that he would have been glad to forgive him, and that he would, in all probability have made some provision for his old favourite, if Brummell had exhibited any signs of repentance. On the other hand, Brummell was a man of spirit, and no man ought to put himself in the way of being treated contemptuously even by royalty; but it seems strange that, with all his adroitness, he should not have hit upon a middle way. There could have been no great difficulty in ascertaining whether the King would receive him, in sending a respectful message, in offering his loyal congratulations on the King’s arrival, or even in expressing his regret at his long alienation from a Prince to whom he had been once indebted for many favours, and who certainly never harboured resentment against man. Brummell evidently repented his tardiness on this occasion; for he made up his mind to make a more direct experiment when the King should visit the town-hall on his return. But opportunities once thrown away are seldom regained. The King on his return did not visit the town-hall but hurried on board, and the last chance of reconciliation was gone.
Yet during his long residence at Calais, the liberality of his own connexions in England enabled him to show a good face to poverty. He paid his bills punctually whenever the remittance came, and was charitable to the mendicants who, probably for the last thousand years, have made Calais their headquarters. The general name for him was the Roi de Calais. An anecdote of his pleasantry in almsgiving reached the public ear. A French beggar asked him for a two-sous piece. “I don’t know the coin,” said Brummell, “never having had one; but I suppose you mean a franc. There, take it.”
His former celebrity had also spread far and wide among the population. A couple of English workmen in one of the factories of the town, one day followed a gentleman who had a considerable resemblance to Brummell. He heard one of them say to the other, “Now, I’ll bet you a pot that’s him.” Shortly after, one of them strolled up to him with, “Beg pardon, sir — hope no offence, but we two have got a bet — now, a’n't you George Ring the Bell?”
Brummell’s habits of flirtation did not desert him in France; and in one instance he paid such marked attention to a young English lady, that a friend was deputed to enquire his purposes. Here Brummell’s knowledge of everybody did him good service. The deputy on this occasion having once figured as the head of a veterinary hospital, or some such thing, but being then in the commissariat — “Why Vulcan!” exclaimed Brummell, “what a humbug you must be to come and lecture me on such a subject! You, who were for two years at hide-and-seek to save yourself from being shot by Sir T.S. for running off with one of his daughters.” “Dear me,” said the astonished friend, “you have touched upon a painful chord; I will have no more to do with this business.” This business died a natural death.
His dressing-table was recherché. Its batterie de toilette was curious, complete and of silver; one part of it being a spitting-dish, he always declaring that “it was impossible to spit in clay.” His “making-up” every morning occupied two hours. When he first arrived in Caen he carried a cane, but often exchanged it for a brown silk umbrella, which was always protected by a silk case of remarkable accuracy of fit — the handle surmounted by an ivory head of George the Fourth in well-curled wig and gracious smile.
In the street he never took off his hat to any one, not even to a lady; for it would have been difficult to replace it in the same position, it having been put on with peculiar care. We finish by stating, that he always had the soles of his boots blackened as well as the upper leathers; his reason for this being, that in the usual negligence of human nature, he never could be sure that the polish on the edge of the sole would be accurately produced, unless the whole underwent the operation. He occasionally polished a single boot himself, to show how perfection on this point was to be obtained. Clogs, so indispensable in the dirt of an unpaved French street, he always abhorred; yet, under cover of night he could, now and then, condescend to wear them. “Theft” as the biographer observes, “in Sparta was a crime — but only when it was discovered.”
But after this life of fantasy and frivolity, on which so much cleverness was thrown away, the unfortunate Beau finished his career miserably. On his application to the Foreign Office, representing his wish to be removed to any other consulate where he might serve more effectually, and of course with a better income; the former part of his letter received no answer. We say nothing of this measure, any further than that it had the effect of utter ruin on poor Brummell. The total loss of his intellect followed; he was reduced to absolute beggary, and finally spent his last miserable hours in an hospital for lunatic mendicants. Surely it could not have been difficult, in the enormous patronage of office, to have found some relief for the necessities of a man, whose official character was unimpeached; who had been expressly put into government employment by ministers for the sake of preserving him from penury; who had been the companion, the friend of princes and nobles; and whose faults were not an atom more flagrant than those of every man of fashion of his time. But he was now utterly ruined and wretched. Some strong applications were made to his former friends by a Mr. Armstrong, a merchant of Caen, who seems to have constantly acted a most humane part to him, and occasional donations were sent. A couple of hundred pounds were even remitted from the Foreign Office; and, by the exertions of Lord Alvanley and the present Duke of Beaufort, who never deserted him, and this is much to the honour of both, a kind of small annuity was paid to him. But he was already overwhelmed with debt, for his income from the consulate netted him but £80 a year, the other £320 being in the hands of the banker, his creditor; and it seems probable that his destitution deprived him of his senses after a period of wretchedness and even of rags. Broken-hearted and in despair concluding with hopeless imbecility, this man of taste and talent . . . was left to die in the hands of strangers — no slight reproach to the cruel insensibility of those who, wallowing in wealth, and fluttering from year to year through the round of fashion, suffered their former associate, nay their envied example, to perish in his living charnel. He was buried in the Protestant cemetery of Caen, under a stone with this inscription: –
In Memory of
George Brummell, Esq.
Who departed this life
On the 29th of March 1840
Aged 62 years.