The life of George Brummell, esq:
commonly called Beau Brummell,
Volume 1 (Part 1)
By William Jesse BEAU BRUMMELL.
Early Distinctions in Dress—Milton’s Eve— The Roman Exquisite— The Native Princes of Britain—Hotspur’s Fop—The Beaux in the Reign of Charles the Second—Beau Until!—Bfau Wilson— Bean Fielding—Beau Edgeworth—Beau Nash—Petrarch—Lord Byron—The Abbe Delille—Prince Kaunitz—English Fops.
Those who yet remain of his generation, but who were not acquainted with the subject of these memoirs, will, no doubt, be astonished that any one should have taken the trouble to be his biographer, and much wonder what there can possibly be to say about Beau Brummell—unless, indeed, it were to give the impertinent witticisms currently reported of him. But of those contemporaries who knew him intimately and still survive, few will be surprised that I have found some amusement in col
Death of the Duchess of York—The Petition of a Newfoundland Dog, addressed to Her Royal Highness—Brummelfs Memorandum on the Back of it—George the Fourth Arrives at Calais—The Dinner at Dessiris—The Mayor Unfortunately without a Snuff-box—The King’s Remark on Leaving the Town—The Beau’s increasing Embarrassments—The Totacconitt’s Opinion of him—The English Tullistes—Their Odd Assault on one of Bntmmell’s Friends.
In the August of 1820, Brummell lost one of his best benefactors. The Duchess of York died on the 6th of that month. Deeply, and let us hope feelingly, did her pensioner deplore that event; for, by the demise of that amiable woman, he was deprived of one of his firmest friends, and much valuable assistance and sympathy, arising from her keen sense of the change in his position, and the generous impulses of a kind heart.
VOL. II. A
” Few characters,” says Mr. Raikes, ” in any situation of life, could be placed in competition with the late Duchess of York; she was not only a tresgrande dame, in the highest acceptation of the term, but a woman of the most sound sense and accurate judgment, with a heart full of kindness, beneficence, and charity. The former was amply proved, by the adroitness and tact with which she so successfully avoided all collision with the cabals and tracasseries, which for so many years unfortunately ruled in various branches of the royal family; and the latter was attested by the constant attachment of her friends and dependants ; the gratitude of her poor neighbours during her life, and the undisguised grief of all at her death. Whatever clouds (if indeed they ever existed) obscured the earlier part of her marriage, were in later times completely dispersed; and nothing could equal the respect and attention with which she was always treated by the Duke, who rarely failed to consult her opinion on most questions of real importance to his own interests. To the distinguished manners belonging to her rank, and a proper sense of the dignity befitting her exalted position in the country, she added a simplicity of character and a general affability which placed every one at their ease, and gave a peculiar charm to her society. Endowed by nature with a very superior mind, which had been highly cultivated and improved by books, she was at all times able to take the lead on any subject; her conversation was full of point, blended with great naivete, and devoid of all sarcastic allusions; she had a very refined taste, and a great knowledge of the world; but, contrary to all received opinions, her study of mankind had never operated to check that feeling of general benevolence which formed the brightest gem in her character.”
The extraordinary passion that Her Royal Highness had for dogs has been already mentioned; it was probably generally known, and accounts for the following curious petition having been sent to her, in the name of a fine Newfoundland, by some person who was desirous of having him well taken care of:—
“TO HER ROYAL HIGHNESS THE DUCHESS OF YORK.
” The humble Petition of Neptune
” That your Royal Highness’s Petitioner, at an age so early that no trace of the circumstance is recorded in his memory, was torn from his fond mother and native mountains of Newfoundland, by an officer of the British navy, who during his life was a kind master to him; that, at his ever to be lamented death, your Royal Highness’s Petitioner encountered many hardships of cold, hunger, and neglect; that he was rescued from this unhappy situation by an officer of militia, and by him sent as an offering of friendship to his present protector, who has ever treated him with kindness and humanity! but alas! your Royal Highness’s humble Petitioner is fated again to experience ‘ the stings and arrows of outrageous fortune, ‘ unless your Royal Highness, with that benevolence which marks every action of your life, will stretch out your humane hand to save him. The gentleman with whom he now resides is under the necessity of leaving England, and, finding it inconvenient to make your Petitioner the companion of his travels, intends to part with him, when he may become the slave of some unfeeling master, who may, in addition to the sufferings he has already endured, deprive him of that liberty he loves, the only blessing of which fate has never yet bereft him.
” Humbly then does your Royal Highness’s Petitioner implore your Royal Highness to take him into your service, and every moment of his life (if permitted) shall be passed at your Royal feet, and his faithful mind be filled with fidelity, gratitude, and attachment towards his Royal Benefactress: on the earth, or in the water, he will be a zealously-devoted attendant and humble friend, who will fawn, without meaning to flatter, and would endanger his own life to defend that of his generous Mistress, most happy to follow her Royal footsteps through the sequestered glades of Oatlands, pursue her carriage, panting with dutiful devotion, or swim round her barge as it glides on the silver Thames.
” Without vanity, your Royal Highness’s Petitioner may boast of being, in strength, beauty, and fidelity, equal to any dog his frozen clime ever produced ; and,
happiest of the canine race will he be, if permitted the transcendent felicity of dedicating the remainder of his life to your Royal Highness’s service. Oh ! most amiable Duchess, grant this, your Petitioner’s humble prayer, and he, with all the fervour his heart and language are capable of, will ever, ever pray.
” P.S.—A line, by command of your Royal Highness, addressed under cover to Mr. , Street,
Westminster, if your Royal Highness deigns to accept his services, will bring your Petitioner, with awful respect, to your gate.”
This petition was forwarded to the Duchess of York in September 1815, and on the back of a copy of it presented by Brummell to a friend of the author’s, was the following note, which, from the appearance of the ink, had evidently been written by him a short time after Her Royal Highness’s demise—probably when looking over his portfolio of recollective relics.
” The Duchess of York immediately sent for this amiable dog : his previous master would never reveal his name to Her Royal Highness. Five years after, Her Royal Highness, to the deep regret of all the world, died, and this poor animal walked in procession at her funeral. It is no romance, but the dog lingered in evident affliction, and died ten months after! The Duchess gave me this petition.
” George Brummell.”
In the September of the following year, 1821, the greatest event of his Calais life took place ; the royal personage at whose festive board he had in former days been so frequent a guest, arrived in that town. George the Fourth was on his way to visit his Hanoverian subjects, and the place was not a little shaken from its monotonous routine by that occurrence. Fishing-boats were laid up, and the fisherwomen set ” all alive O “—the authorities furbished up their old uniforms, and the Duke d’Angouleme, who had been deputed by Louis the Eighteenth to congratulate His Majesty on his arrival in the French dominions, received him at Dessin’s Hotel, and there they put up their horses together. When the King landed, the pier was crowded with spectators, and as he stepped on shore from his barge, his hat fell from his hand : this accident a quick-witted urchin immediately took advantage of, and rushing forward, restored it to His Majesty, who put his hand into his pocket, and drew forth enough of the precious metals to provide his impromptu page with peg-tops and brioches for years to come.
But where was the Beau all this time ? According to one rumour, he accompanied the Mayor to the landing-place, ready to profit by any opportunity that might occur of placing himself in the King’s way. But this is an error; Brummell had gone out to take his accustomed walk in an opposite direction, and was returning to his lodgings at the very moment that his former patron, accompanied by the French ambassador, was proceeding in a close carriage to the hotel. ” I was standing at my shop door,” said Mr. Leleux, ” and saw Mr. Brummell trying to make his way across the street to my house, but the crowd was so great that he could not succeed, and he was therefore obliged to remain on the opposite side. Of course, all hats were taken off as the carriage approached, and when it was close to the door, I heard the King say in a loud voice, ‘ Good God! Brummell!’ the latter, who was uncovered at that time, now crossed over, as pale as death, entered the house by the private door, and retired to his room, without addressing me.”
A sumptuous dinner was given in the evening at Dessin’s, and Selegue, Brummell’s valet, who was a chef in his way, attended to make the punch; he took with him, also, by his master’s orders, some excellent maraschino, a liqueur to which he remembered the King was extremely partial, though cannelle was, I believe, his favourite dram. In the afternoon it was observed, His Majesty was not in his usual spirits; was this occasioned by his recognition of the morning, and to the uncertainty whether Brummell would make his appearance or not ? Chi lo sa ? he never came— the maraschino at dinner diminished any unpleasant feeling (if it ever did exist) that the dread of such a contretemps might have created, and the evening passed off admirably. The Mayor, and several of the civil functionaries, were invited and came to the fete; and after dinner, the King requested the former to lend him his snuff-box, but he replied, he did not take snuff, and had no box. The commissaire de police, being a sharp specimen of that branch of the Government, immediately presented his ; His Majesty accepted it, took a pinch, which, in all probability, he allowed to fall on the floor, and the next morning sent him a gold box. It was on occasions like these that George the Fourth displayed his tact in bestowing favours, and Monsieur le Maire is said to have felt at that moment not a little annoyed that he did not carry a box. This gentleman was a wine-merchant, and a friend of Brummell’s ; he recommended him to several of his friends, and his wine being very bad, I believe that most of them found it difficult to forget and forgive the introduction.
The morning after the King’s arrival, every one of his
suite, with the exception of Sir , afterwards
Lord , called on Brummell. His visitors remained
some time, and before they took their leave, endeavoured to persuade him to request an interview with the King, as he returned to England; Brummell had written his name in the book at Dessin’s, but abstained from presenting himself, as he probably felt that a refusal to see him would be an indignity to which he did not choose to be exposed : though his finances at this time were anything but flourishing, and an official appointment of some kind would have been a most desirable thing for him, he felt, even in his difficulties, most unwilling to cringe to the only man who could grant him the favour he so much needed. It has been stated that, during the King’s stay at Calais, Brummell sent him a box of snuff, and that His Majesty, having previously heard that he was in distress, said, ” I understand what it means,” placed a hundred pound note in it, and returned it by one of his suite, desiring him at the same time to say that he could not see him.
The English papers gave out, that he stood in a conspicuous position in the lobby of the theatre when the King went to his box, with the view of bringing their former intimacy to his remembrance, and profiting thereby; and that His Majesty bowed to him, and sent him a present during the evening. Another edition of the story was, that the Beau’s present of snuff was accompanied by two or three yards of sausages, that he had selected and purchased himself at some charcutier’s in the town, who was famous for these delicacies; but sausages and Beau Brummell do not read consistently together. According to M. Leleux, the real version of the snuff-box story was this:— The Consul came to Brummell late one evening, and intimated that the King was out of snuff, saying, as he took up one of the boxes that were lying on the Beau’s table, ” Give me one of yours.” ” With all my heart,” replied Brummell, ” but not that box, for if the King saw it I should never have it again :” implying thereby that there was some history attached to it in which His Majesty was concerned. On reaching the theatre, the Consul presented the snuff, when an exclamation followed the first pinch, and the King turning round said, ” Why, sir, where did you get
your snuff? there is only one person that I know who can mix snuff in this way.” ” It is some of Mr. Brummell’s, your Majesty,” replied the Consul, and the conversation here closed.
The next day the King left for Cassel; 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.” This remark was heard by several persons who were assembled in the yard of Dessin’s hotel, and leads to the conclusion that Brummell never received either money or message, and that the whole story was a fabrication. M. Leleux said, that had he been the King’s debtor on this occasion, he must have known it, for that Brummell was at this time in great want of money, and remained so; besides, directly he had any funds, he always paid a portion of his bills, which was not the case at this period.
The King’s visit, on which he had probably rested some hopes, produced no amelioration in the Beau’s now reduced circumstances, and was only a source of annoyance to him. But the remark made by His Majesty to Sir Arthur Paget, implying that he had in some degree expected Brummell to make his appearance at the public levee held at the hotel, possibly diminished the fear he felt of receiving a rebuff. This, combined with the previous persuasions of those who wished him to do the best for himself, determined him to make some approach to a meeting with His Majesty on his return, though he could not bring
himself to call, without receiving some official intimation that such was the King’s pleasure : by inscribing his name in the book at Dessin’s, he had fulfilled the etiquette due to his sovereign, and no one could presume to do more without receiving the Royal commands. The authorities expected that, on his way back to England, the King would visit the Town Hall, and Brummell thought he should have been able to accomplish his purpose on this occasion; but the Royal visitor was much pressed for time, and hurried on board immediately after his arrival. Whether this circumstance was, or was not, unfortunate for Brummell, no one can tell now : His Majesty might perhaps have intended to bestow some mark of his favour upon him; and if that was really the case, it was an adverse turn of fortune for Brummell. On the other hand, it is so easy for royalty to make a mere signal, in obeying which no one can feel that he is acting a servile part, that it is not unreasonable to conclude, that if George the Fourth had been generously disposed towards his impudent but luckless favourite, he would never have left him to endure the mortification that he must have felt, when he found His Majesty’s recognition of him in the street was not followed by some message of a kind and gracious character.
Brummell’s affairs now became more and more embarrassed; the last years of his residence in Calais were passed in frequent applications for money to his relatives and friends, and, thanks to their kindness and the advances that were made from time to time by his banker, he was always able to show a good front to the world. It is rather singular, but no, Englishman amongst this assemblage of debtors was more prompt in discharging the debts he owed to his different tradesmen than Brummell, when fortune provided him with the means of doing so. During my stay at Calais, I was enabled to form an opinion of the estimation in which he was held by this class of people, and was glad to find it favourable. A female tobacconist, whose shop I entered with a friend, especially drew my attention to the fact—and this, without the possibility of her knowing that I was interested in his history. I was remarking, that the hotels were fallen off since I was last in Calais, and, in defending her native town from the aspersion thus thrown upon it, she replied, ” Go and see Dessin’s before you condemn them; your King slept there once ” (like many of her class in Calais, she spoke a little English); ” and do you know, a friend of his lived here many years—we used to call him le Roi de Calais, he lodged at that house;” pointing to M. Leleux’s, which was nearly opposite to hers. ” Ah ! c’e”tait un bien brave homme, tres-e”legant, et avec beaucoup de moyens—he always paid his bills, sir, and was very good to the poor; and every one was very sorry when he left. I wonder,” continued the bourgeoise, ” le Roi George did not take bettare care of his frandes.”