Thomas H. Duncombe remembers the Dandies
The dandies of that day were as various in character as in capacity; they included persons of the highest rank, as well as individuals whose pretensions to gentle blood were more than equivocal. The Prince Regent was styled the first gentleman in Europe; then came the Duke of Argyll (George William, sixth Duke); and the Marquis of Worcester (Duke of Beaufort); Lord Foley (the third baron); Lord Alvanley (son of Pepper Arden, first baron); Henry William Lord de Roos; Bradshaw, who married Miss Tree; the Hon. George Dawson Darner; and Charles Standish — these were A 1. Brummell, though without family pretensions; and Tom Raikes, though a member of the commercial community, contrived to belong to the same set. The pavement in Bondstreet and in St. James’s-street, and the bow window of White’s Club House, in the latter fashionable thoroughfare, were their chief places of resort.
Many absurd statements have been published respecting Brummell; and a book has been written about him that on equally scanty knowledge of the subject professes to give his life. He was not of plebeian birth; his father was well off, and held a good position when George was born, in 1777. After a course of study at Eton, where he made influential friends, a cornetcy was obtained for him in a crack cavalry regiment; where his elegant manners and lively conversation, and handsome appearance, recommended him to the colonel, who was the Prince of Wales. The intimacy increased, till they became almost inseparables at Carlton Palace, at the Pavilion, on the race-course, and in the Park — in short, they were always together. Mr. Brummell not only moved in the best society, but his opinion in all matters of taste, of dress, and of fashion, became its law with both sexes.
The notoriously fickle disposition of the Prince terminated this close friendship. Mr. Brummell became a frequent visitor at Watier’s and Brookes’s; and, as regarded royalty, contented himself with the society of the Duke and Duchess of York, who were extremely partial to him. At the club he commenced gambling, played high, and at first won large sums: but his luck changed, till he shared the fate of many of his contemporaries. He went to Calais to avoid his creditors, and maintained himself by the contributions of his friends. Here he got also involved in pecuniary difficulties, when the post of consul at Caen was given to him. At Caen the same habits involved him in the same embarrassments, till he found himself in a prison. This miserable condition the once autocrat of the beau monde changed only for the much more lamentable one of a maniac.
Lord Alvanley was also something more than a dandy, more than a lord among dandies. His bon mots would have entitled him to rank as a lord among wits. His associates were generally proverbial for their plaisanteries; nevertheless, they were not precisely wits — beaux, though not beaux esprits. His lordship’s impromptu sayings were in great vogue amongst them; consequently, he continued to enjoy a large amount of social reputation. He had travelled much, and was pretty well acquainted with the world, great and little; and his only affectation, the lisp — in much favour among the dandies — did not lessen the effect of his good nature. His round, somewhat jolly expression of features, florid complexion, small nose, dark eyes, and strong built figure, were easily recognisable either when in the club, or going across country. He prided himself on giving capital dinners; and Mr. Duncombe was frequently among the select eight invited to enjoy them.
Lord Alvanley was in general request at country houses, and, indeed, in town houses also; for his repartees were often extremely good. He was to be found at dinners, balls, and private theatricals, helping largely to increase the sociability of the party. Only once was it known that he exhibited any reticence in making himself agreeable; but it was done in his characteristic manner. Some friends were attempting to get up Ivanhoe, and asked him to take the part of Isaac. He declined, assuring them that he never in his life could do a Jew. There are scores of his sayings still afloat in society equally amusing; and his manner of delivering them invariably added to their humour. This felicity of impromptu made him invaluable as a guest, and accounts for his success in society.
Lord Petersham, notoriously a connoisseur in dress, in snuff, and in everything that assisted in making a fashionable appearance, was also remarkable for a tall and graceful figure, an affected manner, and a lisping accent. The tailor he employed found much profit in his patronage, for he, like Brummell, D’Orsay, and other male leaders of the beau monde, possessed, or fancied he possessed, a sartorial genius. The overcoat he invented still bears his name, though the fashion has altered; but his equipage and liveries retain their peculiar colour and shape — the designer, however, has long ceased to require them. As a descendant of the Chesterfield, his lordship possessed a legitimate right to the dignity of arbiter elegantiarum. If he did not inherit that great man’s talent, with his courtesy, he possessed more than his share of amiability. His ruling passion would not have been content at a last interview with saying, “ Give Dayrolles a chair:“ he would instantly have made a codicil to his will, and left his visitor a legacy.
Tom Raikes, though regarded by some of his aristocratic friends as a plebeian, and sometimes treated by them as a butt, had been educated at Eton, had travelled extensively on the continent, and though employed in mercantile affairs, was an accomplished gentleman. He wrote and published „Letters from St. Petersburg“ and „Paris since 1830.“ Since his decease on the 3rd of July, 1848, in his seventieth year, there has been published „A Portion of the Journal of Thomas Raikes, 1856,“ in four volumes, which contains abundant evidence of the estimation in which he was held both at home and abroad by the most eminent men of his time.
Other dandies, presently to be noticed, were equally well known at the west-end of town, but there was not one who was better dressed or made a more attractive appearance than the young Guardsman, occasionally seen in the company of the most distinguished of them — the most elegant of the fine gentlemen of that day.
Alfred Count D’Orsay was in the hands of the Philistines! He gave the most conclusive evidence in his own faultless appearance that he lived to please; but there existed many serious difficulties in the way of his pleasing to live. No one was better adapted socially and physically to enjoy life, as every one will readily testify who remembers the gay-hearted, handsome Frenchman, in those extremely agreeable parties that were held at Gore House as long as the ways and means of its fair possessor lasted; but during the later years of his reign as the beau ideal, he was very much pushed— mobbed, we might say, by duns — and the usual recourse under such circumstances to moneylenders, was in his case attended with increased difficulty in consequence of the increased risk in the transaction. We print from his own pen an illustration of the peril of borrowing:
Saturday, February 12th, 1842. My Dear Tommy, — I know that you have been to C. Lewis, and that he told you that it was settled. It is not so; he expected that I would have signed the renewals at 60 per cent, which he sent me, and which I declined.
Therefore if you have a moment to lose, have the kindness to see him this morning, and persuade him of the impossibility of my renewing at that rate; say anything you like on the subject, but that is the moral of the tale. You must come and dine with us soon again.
Yours faithfully, D’orsay.
Mr. Duncombe sympathised thoroughly with his agreeable friend; he was not ignorant of the evils that afflicted him, and could have brought forward many sensible reasons for their mitigation or entire abolition. He was even then a reformer, and could not avoid noticing the necessity for a reformation in the law as well as in the legislature; indeed, it was not easy to see the use of the franchise to a voter under lock and key, and it could not but be intolerably tantalising to hear of the privileges allowed to free and independent electors, when the elector could not stir beyond the sanctuary of his own house without risk of being arrested by a sheriff’s officer. Mr. Duncombe therefore readily lent his aid to those who desired to give the subject the benefit of Parliamentary consideration.
Thursday, April 6th, 1842.
My Dear Tommy, — I see by the papers that Lord Campbell and Mr. T. S. Duncombe received a petition against the Imprisonment for Debt! It is the moment to immortalize yourself, and also the sweetest revenge against all our gangs of Jews, if you succeed in carrying this petition through. I have taken proper means to keep this proposal alive in the Press.
When will you come to dine with us?
Yours affectionately, D’orsay.
The handsome Count, in the summer of 1842, was still in the lamentable position of “ a victim to circumstances.“ The reference in the following brief note to a luminous page in modern history probably was to a schedule of his debts; and an extremely dazzling column it must have been. Gore House was very gay, and the gay company that flocked to it could not but add considerably to the liabilities of their extravagant entertainers. The Irish Countess remained brilliant, but her pen was not — and after the attraction of her name had ceased, the worthlessness of her writings became more and more obvious. Mr. Duncombe was still one of her guests, apparently one of the most esteemed; and was quite as much in the confidence of her son-in-law, whom he consoled and advised, and assisted to the best of his power.
6th June, 1843.
My Dear Tommy, — I send you this precious document; the only one I could obtain. It is a flaring-up page of the History of the Nineteenth Century! God is great, and will be greater the day he will annihilate our persecutors.
En attendant, I am always
Your affectionate friend, D’orsay.
Nugee was the fashionable English tailor; and Moore gives an amusing account of his first interview with him; he, as he states, having been obliged to have recourse to his skill in consequence of the bankruptcy of the man who had previously made his clothes. After promising to dress the poet better than ever he had been dressed in his life, he added, „There’s not much of you, sir, and therefore my object must be to make the most I can of you!“ Moore declares that he was quite „a jewel of a man.“ This was in the midsummer of 1827.
Mr. Duncombe also employed Nugee for several years; and certainly the poet’s jewel of a man set him off to the best advantage. This, and his constant association with the most elegant and accomplished men of that epoch, gave an air of grace and refinement to his appearance that contributed largely to his social success.
One of the great celebrities of that day was Beckford, the proprietor of Fonthill; but so completely was he out of the pale of society, that no one ventured on a visit of ceremony to the millionaire, without incurring public opprobrium. He possessed considerable satirical talent, and wrote a couple of fictions, „Agenia“ and „The Elegant Enthusiast,“ in ridicule of fashionable contemporary romance writers; besides his better known Eastern romance, „Vathek.“ In the “ Elegant Enthusiast“ the climax is created by all the characters dying of eating stewed lampreys. Mr. Beckford’s hobby was not dandyism, but an ostentatious style of living, which made him sacrifice a fortune in surrounding himself with evidences of a luxurious taste — all, in the end, to be sold by auction.
A novel called „Six Weeks at Long’s,“ was published as a quiz upon fashionable society. In its pages figured Brummell, Lords Byron and Yarmouth, and other men about town. It was written by „An Officer of the Guards,“ and revised and increased by Jerdan and Nugent. Although the lieutenant of the Coldstreams was diligently cultivating a literary taste, there is no evidence in existence to prove his authorship of the work.
In October, 1842, the fashionable world was startled by a paragraph published in the Morning Chronicle, referring to a Prince of the Royal Family and the daughter of an English duke, afterwards married to the representative in this country of the most influential of continental sovereigns. With both Mr. Duncombe was personally intimate; and being equally well known to the reputed proprietor of the journal, Mr., afterwards Sir John, Easthope, he at once attempted to stop the foolish comments it had excited. It was then ascertained that the names of these distinguished persons had been placed in juxtaposition by mistake. His good offices were thus recognised by the Duke of Beaufort:—
My Dear Tommy, — Many thanks for your kindness. After the matter has once been put straight by the Morning Chronicle, to-morrow, I hope that it will drop altogether, if the Court Circular will but insert the names correctly. I have no doubt, though, that the mistake was intentional on the part of the Court Circular, as they always have the names given them by the royal servants of the persons in attendance on their Royal Masters and Mistresses. Again thanking you, believe me, my dear Tommy,
Always yours faithfully, Beaufort.
„The Imprisonment Abolition Bill“ did not proceed fast enough for the numerous waiters on Providence who were looking forward to it as a means of enjoying a stroll in the Park on other days besides Sundays. No one was a greater advocate for the liberty of the subject than the accomplished gentleman whose note we are going to print; but he found that liberty extremely difficult to obtain.
Among the distinguished men who sympathised with the Count was Mr. Henry Brougham. Like the celebrated legal contemporary to whom he refers in the reply printed below, he was a frequent visitor at Gore House:
Mon Cher Tommy, — I think that we ought to try to ascertain how far the humbugging system can go. As soon that I received your note this morning I wrote to Brougham, and explained all the unfructuous attempts of Mr. Hawes. I enclose the first answer. Now, he has just been here, after having had a long conversation with Lyndhurst, who is decided to spur the Solicitor-General, stating, as the Parliament will last until Thursday week, there will be time enough to pass the Bill. See what you can do with Mr. Hawes. I am sure that if he will strike the iron now, when it is so hot, that we have still a chance. Lyndhurst, I assure you, is very anxious about it, and expressed it strongly to Brougham.
Do not be yet discouraged.
Yours affectionately, D’orsay.
Mon Cher A., — Je suis coleré plutôt que desesperé. II faut que je mette ordre a tout cela. Je vais chez Lyndhurst dans l’instant.
The preceding note seems to have been hurriedly written. Mr. Brougham’s powerful mind though then engaged in the most important forensic, legislative, and literary labours, readily lent itself to the assistance of his beau frère. It is a trait of amiability that will do no discredit to the future Lord Chancellor, popular statesman, and celebrated author.
From: Thomas H. Duncombe: The life and correspondence of Thomas Slingsby Duncombe: late M.P for Finsbury, Band 1. London, 1868.