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Scenes From the Days of the Dandies

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The term "dandy," as applied to a man who devotes especial care 'to dress, is particularly associated with the clique of young Englishmen of fashion whose reign may be said to date from 1813, though the term was used much earlier, and there were noted "dandies" before the days of "Beau" Brummell.

"The Admirable," otherwise James, Crichton, it would appear, was predominant in whatever pursuits he followed during the twenty-five years of his life in the mid-sixteenth century; but it does not appear that he especially sought renown in that circumscribed area in which costume is the entree to the world of fashion. He entered, so to speak, by the back door, famous as a scholar and a swordsman.

"Beau" Feilding - a connexion of the novelist, Henry Fielding - who flourished late in the seventeenth century, was, it would not unnaturally be assumed, one of the dandies of his day; but, actually, he was no more than roue and bigamist - he married, while his first wife was alive, that Barbara Villiers whom Charles II created Duchess of Cleveland. He was a reprobate and a bully; but he had some aspirations after dandyism in that he had a coach and kept two footmen clothed in yellow, who wore black sashes made out of old mourning hat-bands. This at least brought him the notoriety he desired.

Feilding died in 1712, but seven years before, Richard Nash (p. mi) appeared on the social scene. Nash may be aptly described as " the First of the Dandies." He died in the year after the accession of George III, and there was an interruption of the succession of the leader of fashion, for George Bryan Brummell, the greatest of his kind, was not born until 1778. Eton and the loth Hussars (the Prince of Wales's regiment) were Brummell's introduction t o polite society - his grandfather was a lodging-house keeper in the St. James's district of London. With as little delay as possible he shed his uniform, and settled down when he attained his majority as the dictator of the London world of fashion. Having enlisted the suffrages of the Prince of Wales, he proceeded to patronise him, and one day reduced him to tears by criticising his coat.

George, Prince of Wales, who was fourteen years senior to his self-appointed mentor, had achieved fame, not long after Brummell was born, by inventing a shoe-buckle. This differed from all previous articles of the kind in that it was an inch long and five inches broad, reaching almost to the ground on each side of the shoe. As a beau, however, the Heir-Apparent did not do justice to his florid taste until he attended his first Court ball. Then, it is on record, his coat was pink silk, with white cuffs; his waistcoat adorned with a profusion of French paste; his hat ornamented with two rows of steel beads, five thousand in number, with a button and loop of the same material and cocked in a new military style. Thus attired did his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales make his official bow in society.

A new shoe-buckle! What was that to such a one as Brummell! Before he came into his kingdom neckclothes were worn without stiffening of any kind; on his accession to power he had them starched. A revolution would scarcely have attracted more attention in the polite world. At once a volume called "Neck-clothitania" was published, containing illustrated directions showing how to deal with starched ties, and found a ready sale. Of course, the latest style was exaggerated by some of the disciples of the great man.

Brummell was not behindhand in ridiculing his exuberant followers.

"Is Lord Worcester here?" he asked a waiter at dinner one night, though his Lordship was sitting next but one to him.

"Yes, sir," said the attendant.

"Then tell his Lordship that I shall be happy to drink a glass of wine with him."

"Yes, sir."

After a while; Brummell inquired, "Is his Lordship ready?"

"Then," said Brummell, without turning his head, "tell him I drink his health."

It has often been said that Lord Castlereagh at the Congress of Vienna, wearing evening dress, was the most distinguished figure in the group of the elaborately caparisoned, highly decorated diplomats there assembled. So with Brummell at White's Club. His line was studied simplicity - of the most perfect kind. Everyone knows the story that one of his visitors saw Brummell's valet coming from his master's bedroom with a pile of neckcloths over his arm, and asked what they were. "These, my lord," said the man, "are our to-day's failures."

A gentleman should be seen, but not observed. "If anyone says you are well-dressed," said the Beau, "go home at once and see what is wrong with your clothes."

White's Club was the rallying ground of the dandies. Brummell and his cronies took possession of the famous bow-window that looks out on St. James's Street - much to the disgust of the older members, who regarded the Beau as an upstart. However, his sway was seldom directly challenged. There sat, or stood, the exquisites, hat on head, as was the custom of that day, the admired of all admirers. It was a breach of etiquette to bow to a lady of their acquaintance from the club-window: but a man might be acknowledged.

Brummell, having a keen sense of humour, could not refrain occasionally from parodying the exclusiveness of White's. Someone one day pressed him to repay a loan of five hundred guineas. "I paid you," said he. "Paid me," said the lender; "paid me, when? " "Why," came the unexpected reply, "when I was standing at White's, and said as you passed, 'How d'ye do?'" On another occasion a friend said to Brummell, "I hear your brother William has come to town; isn't he coming here?" "Oh, yes, in a day or two," replied the Beau. "But I have recommended him to walk the back streets until the new clothes come home."

Brummell quarrelled with the Prince of Wales, and afterwards affected to treat him with the utmost contempt. "I made him what he is, and I can unmake him," he said with splendid scorn to one of the royal household, knowing, and desiring, that the speech would be repeated to his Royal Highness.

Brummell's downfall was brought about by his indulgence in play for large stakes. For a while he had novice's success, but good fortune did not continue to favour him, and it deserted him entirely when he lost his lucky sixpence. "You never ascertained what became of it?" he was asked. "Not exactly," he replied with characteristic humour; "but no doubt that rascal Rothschild, or some of his set, got hold of it." An example of his ready wit!

After Brummell's flight to France in the early summer of 1816 the leadership of the dandies was put into commission. There were Lord Petersham and Lord Alvanley, and several others whose names convey nothing to readers of to-day. Still, the dandies were a power, not only socially but politically.

It was at the coronation of George IV that Alfred Guillaume Gabriel, Count d'Orsay, then twenty years of age, first appeared in England, and he was present at the entertainment given at Almack's to the King and the Royal Family by the Due de Grammont, then French Ambassador to the Court of St. James's, whose son, the Due de Guiche, had married his sister. His graceful bearing, his charm of manner, and his attractive appearance caused much attention to him. When soon after he settled in London, the sceptre of Brummell became his almost by right.

D'Orsay ruled society, not so much at the clubs, though there he was popular enough, but from Gore House, Kensington, where lived the Lord and Lady Blessington, whose daughter he had married. For twenty years or so he reigned, though not with the authority of Nash or Brummell. Then the financial crash came, and he returned to France. With his departure from London the dynasty came to an end. D'Orsay was indeed the last of the dandies.

The leading beaux had something more to them than a sense of dress. They ruled by force of character, by wit, and by a knowledge of mankind. That delightful but all too little known writer, Barbey d'Aurevilly, said of Brummell, and what he said applies to all the leading dandies: "Soverain futile d'un monde futile, Brummell a son droit divin et sa raison d'etre comme les autres rois."

The great rendezvous of the dandies was Almack's - the Assembly, not the Club. This was founded in 1765 by a committee of ladies of rank. Five years later Horace Walpole wrote of it: "There is a new institution that begins to make and, if it proceeds, will make a considerable noise. It is a club of both sexes to be erected at Almack's, on the model of that of the men at White's." All the fashionable world wanted the entree, but the Lady Patronesses at once made it clear that the institution was to be the most exclusive ever known. "A feminine oligarchy, less in number, but equal in power to the Venetian Council of Ten," as they were described. Only thirty of the three hundred officers of the Brigade of Guards were elected though about all of them ardently desired to be members.

One of the rejected was so indignant that he challenged the Earl of Jersey to a duel - Lady Jersey being the dominant power. Lord Jersey declined the meeting on the ground that if all the persons who did not receive tickets from his wife challenged him, he would have to make up his mind to become a target for young officers. Every precaution was taken to prevent the intrusion of those who had not the magic key: the form of the voucher - even though the person was well known to the attendants. It is amusing to read how one ingenious person contrived to evade the regulation. He left his coat in his carriage, lying perdu in the shadow close by, and when the first batch of ladies drove off he went upstairs, as if he were one of the party, with the gentlemen who had escorted them to their waiting carriage.

Crockford's Club, in St. James's Street, was another resort of the dandies. It was opened in 1827, and at once became the rage. To make the company as select as possible the establishment, though proprietary, was regularly organized, and the election of members vested in a powerful committee. It was intended primarily for gambling, but many who did not play, including the Duke of Wellington, put their names on the books and frequently used the place. The most elaborate suppers were provided free for all, but those who did not gamble were expected from time to time to make a donation. The stakes were very high. Many men of fashion were ruined, and Crockford became a millionaire. Indeed, it was said of him that he won all the ready money of his generation.

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Pictures for Scenes From the Days of the Dandies

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