Beau Brummell

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For other uses, see Beau Brummell (disambiguation).
Brummell, engraved from a miniature portrait

George Bryan "Beau" Brummell (7 June 1778 – 30 March 1840) was an iconic figure in Regency England, the arbiter of men's fashion, and a friend of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV. He established the mode of dress for men that rejected overly ornate fashions for one of understated, but perfectly fitted and tailored bespoke garments. This look was based on dark coats, full-length trousers rather than knee breeches and stockings, and above all immaculate shirt linen and an elaborately knotted cravat.[1]

Beau Brummell is credited with introducing, and establishing as fashion, the modern men's suit, worn with a necktie.[2] He claimed he took five hours a day to dress, and recommended that boots be polished with champagne.[3] His style of dress is often referred to as dandyism.[4]

Biography[edit]

Brummell was born in London, the younger son of William Brummell, a politician, of Donnington Grove in Berkshire. The family was middle class, but the elder Brummell was ambitious for his son to become a gentleman, and young George was raised with that understanding. Brummell was educated at Eton and made his precocious mark on fashion when he not only modernised the white stock, or cravat, that was the mark of the Eton boy, but added a gold buckle to it.[5]

He progressed to Oxford University, where, by his own example, he made cotton stockings and dingy cravats a thing of the past. While an undergraduate at Oriel College in 1793, he competed for the Chancellor's Prize for Latin Verse, coming second to Edward Copleston, who was later to become provost of his college.[6] He left the university after only a year at the age of sixteen.

Military career[edit]

In June 1794 Brummell joined the illustrious Tenth Royal Hussars as a cornet, or lowest rank of commissioned officer,[7] and soon after had his nose broken by a kick from a horse.[8] His father died in 1795, by which time George had been promoted to lieutenant.[9] His father had left an inheritance of £65,000, of which Brummell was entitled to a third. Normally an extensive sum, it was inadequate for the expenses of an aspiring officer in the personal regiment of the Prince of Wales. The officers, many of whom would be inheriting noble titles and lands "wore their estates upon their backs – some of them before they had inherited the paternal acres."[10] Officers in any military regiment were required to provide their own mounts and uniforms and be responsible for mess bills, but the 10th in particular had elaborate and almost unending variations of costume. In addition, their mess expenses were enormous as the regiment did not stint itself on either banquets or entertainment.

1805 caricature of Brummell by Richard Dighton

For such a junior officer, Brummell took the regiment by storm, fascinating the prince, 'the first gentleman of England', by the force of his personality. He was allowed to miss parade, shirk his duties, and in essence, do exactly as he pleased. Within three years, by 1796, he was made a captain, to the combined envy and disgust of the older officers, who felt that: "our general’s friend was now the general."[11] When his regiment was sent from London to Manchester he immediately resigned his commission, citing the city's poor reputation, lack of atmosphere, and an absence of culture and civility.[12]

In London society[edit]

Although he was now a civilian, Brummell's friendship with, and influence over, the Prince continued. His simple yet elegant and understated manner of dress, coupled with his natural wit, gained him entry to the Regent's royal society. The life and the daily routine of most aristocratic men of the time included making one's toilette and shopping in the morning; riding in Hyde Park or making the round of gentlemen’s clubs in the afternoon; followed by the theatre, gambling at Almack's or a private party, or visiting the brothels in the evening. He took a house on Chesterfield Street in Mayfair[13] and for a time managed to avoid the nightly gaming and other extravagances needed to move in such elevated circles. Where he refused to economise was on his dress: When asked how much it would cost to keep a single man in clothes, he was said to have replied: "Why, with tolerable economy, I think it might be done with £800." [14] That amount is approximately £103,000 ($160,000) in 2012 currency; the average wage for a craftsman at that time was £1 a week.[15]

Brummell put into practice the principles of harmony of shape and contrast of colors with such a pleasing result that men of superior rank sought his professional opinion on their dress.

The Duke of Bedford once did this touching a coat. Brummell examined his Grace with the cool impertinence which was his Grace’s due. He turned him about, scanned him with scrutinizing, contemptuous eye, and then taking the lapel between his dainty finger and thumb, he exclaimed in a tone of pitying wonder, “Bedford do you call this thing a coat?”[16]

His personal habits, such as a fastidious attention to cleaning his teeth, shaving, and daily bathing exerted an influence on the ton, upper echelons of polite society, who began to do likewise. Enthralled, the Prince would spend hours in Brummell's dressing room, witnessing the progress of his friend's lengthy morning toilette.

A ball at Almack's, supposedly in 1815; the couple on the left are annotated as 'Beau Brummell in deep conversation with the Duchess of Rutland'.

Unfortunately, Brummell's wealthy friends had a less than satisfactory influence on him; he soon began spending and gambling as though his fortunes were as extensive as theirs. Such liberal outlay began to deplete his capital rapidly, and he found it increasingly difficult to maintain his prestige, although he could still float a line of credit on account of his connections. This changed on July 1813 at a masquerade ball at Watier's private club, when Brummell, who was one of the hosts, openly antagonised the Prince Regent, thereby forcing society to choose between them.

Brummell, Lord Alvanley, Henry Mildmay and Henry Pierrepoint were considered the prime movers of Watier's, dubbed "the Dandy Club" by Byron. All four were hosts at the ball where the Prince Regent greeted Alvanley and Pierrepoint but then "cut" Brummell and Mildmay by staring them in the face without speaking to them.[17] This provoked Brummell's famous remark, "Alvanley, who's your fat friend?" The incident, finalising the long-developing rift between them, is dated by Campbell to 1811, the year the Prince became Regent and began abandoning all his old Whig friends. Normally, the loss of royal favour to a favourite was doom, but Brummell ran as much on the approval and friendship of other rulers of the several fashion circles. He became the anomaly of a favourite flourishing without a patron, still in charge of fashion and courted by large segments of society.[18]

Later life[edit]

In 1816 Brummell fled to France to escape debtor's prison, owing thousands of pounds. Usually Brummell's gambling obligations, as "debts of honour", were always paid immediately. The one exception to this was the final wager, dated March 1815 in White's betting book, which was marked "not paid, 20th January, 1816".[19]

He lived the remainder of his life in French exile, spending ten years in Calais without an official passport before acquiring an appointment to the consulate at Caen via the influence of Lord Alvanley and the Marquess of Worcester, only in the reign of William IV. This provided him with a small annuity. This appointment lasted for two years before Brummell recommended that the Foreign Office abolish the consulate at Caen in the hope of being moved to a more profitable position elsewhere. The consulate was abolished but no new position was granted. Brummell rapidly ran out of money and was forced into debtors' prison by his long-put-off Calais creditors; only after the charitable intervention of his friends in England was he able to secure release. Brummell died penniless and insane from syphilis at Le Bon Sauveur Asylum on the outskirts of Caen in 1840.

Cricket[edit]

While at Eton, Brummell is said to have once terrified a master by asserting that he thought cricket "foolish".[20] He did, however, play a single first-class match for pre-county club Hampshire in 1807 against an early England side. Brummell made scores of 23 and 3 on that occasion, to leave him with a career batting average of 13.00.[21]

Artistic and literary portrayal[edit]

The 2002 statue of Beau Brummell by Irena Sedlecka in London's Jermyn Street

A very early portrait of George, along with his elder brother William, occurs in the Joshua Reynolds painting of the curly-headed Brummell children, dating from 1781 and now in the Kenwood House collection.[22] The caricaturist Richard Dighton was later to paint a watercolour of Brummell at the elegant height of his dandyism and use it as the basis for a popular print in 1805. Two centuries on it served again as model for the 2002 statue of Brummell by Irena Sedlecká erected in Jermyn Street. An earlier American work of art bearing Brummell's name is in the grounds of Augusta College, Georgia. Created by Roger Finch, it is an abstract sculpture of black-painted welded steel dating from 1985.[23]

In literature, Brummell left a more extensive mark. Scarcely had he left England than a collection of witticisms ascribed to him and of anecdotes about him appeared under the title "Brummelliana" and was republished many times in the following decades.[24] This began with the notorious story of his enquiring the identity of his companion's 'fat friend'. William Hazlitt borrowed the same title of "Brummelliana" for an unsympathetic essay published in 1828, referring to some of these stories and repeating others uncollected there.[25] Dandyism also came under attack in George Robert Wythen Baxter's satirical essay "Kiddyism", published in humorous journals from 1832 onwards, which culminates in a set of satirical aphorisms purporting to be yet more "Brummelliana".[26]

Further fictitous aphorisms were published in France by Honoré de Balzac in the course of a series of articles published under the title Traité de la vie élégante (1830). These sayings were supposed to have arisen during an interview with Brummell in Bologna, rather than Calais, and epitomise his view of 'the elegant life'.[27] In the following decade two more books were dedicated to confirming Brummell as a cult figure. In England there was Captain Jesse's two volume Life of George Brummell (1844), the first biography devoted to him.[28] In France there was the influential essay of Barbey d’Aurevilly, Du dandysme et de George Brummell (1845), which seeks to define the essence of dandyism through a study of his career and opinions.

In the course of his essay, Barbey d’Aurevilly deprecates English attempts to portray Brummell in fiction. "Within Brummell's lifetime two well-known authors took up their pen – sharpened to exquisite points and dipped in musk-scented Chinese ink – to cast on blue-tinted paper with silver borders a few facile lines where one catches a glimpse of Brummell."[29] He was referring to two liminal examples of the fashionable or silver fork novel of which more than a thousand were to be written over the next two decades. The first such depiction is through the character Trebeck in Thomas Henry Lister’s Granby (1826), who abandons dandyism when he discovers a waistcoat of his devising worn by ‘a natty apprentice’.[30] In Bulwer Lytton's 1828 novel Pelham, the hero of the title portrays a dandy who, at one point, passes through Calais and meets the inspiration of his way of life in the character of Mr. Russelton. The latter is modeled on Brummell and to him are attributed such stories from the Brummell apocrypha as his once needing three tailors to contribute to the making of his gloves and the sartorial insult, "Do you call this a coat?"[31]

Brummell was to appear under his own name as a character in Arthur Conan Doyle's 1896 historical novel Rodney Stone. In this, the title character's uncle, Charles Tregellis, is the center of the London fashion world, until Brummell ultimately supplants him. Tregellis's subsequent death from mortification serves as a deus ex machina in that it resolves Rodney Stone's family poverty.[32]

In the United States, Brummell's life was dramatised in an 1890 stage play in four acts by Clyde Fitch with Richard Mansfield as the 'Beau'. This in turn was adapted for the 1924 silent movie with John Barrymore and Mary Astor.[33] Another play about him, authored by Bertram P Matthews, is only remembered because it had incidental music written for it by Edward Elgar. It was staged at the Theatre Royal, Birmingham in November 1928, with Elgar himself conducting the orchestra on its first night. Only the minuet from this is now performed.[34] Brummell's later years were the setting for Ron Hutchinson's 2001 two-handed play The Beau (originally Beau Brummell), which following a UK national tour played for one month at Theatre Royal Haymarket, starring Peter Bowles as Brummell.[35]

Earlier movies included a 10-minute film by the Vitagraph Company of America (1913), based on a Booth Tarkington story, and the 1913 Beau Brummell and his Bride, a short comedy made by the Edison Company. Brummell's life was also made the subject of a 1931 three-act operetta by Reynaldo Hahn, later broadcast by Radio-Lille (1963). In 1937 there was a radio drama on Lux Radio Theater with Robert Montgomery as Brummell. A further film, Beau Brummell, was made in 1954 with Stewart Granger playing the title role and Elizabeth Taylor as Lady Patricia Belham.[36] There were also two television dramas: the sixty-minute So war Herr Brummell (Süddeutscher Rundfunk, 1967) and the UK Beau Brummell: This Charming Man (2006).[37]

Gillette advertisement (1917)

Georgette Heyer, author of a number of Regency romance novels, included Brummell as a character in her 1935 novel Regency Buck. He is also referred to, or figures as a minor character, in the work of later writers of this genre. More recently, Brummell was made the detective-hero of a series of period mysteries by Californian novelist Rosemary Stevens, starting with Death on a Silver Tray in 2000. These are written as if related by their hero.[38] Yet another American reinterpretation of his character appears in Cecilia Ryan's homoerotic novella The Sartorialist (2012).[39]

In popular culture[edit]

Brummell's name became associated with style and good looks and was therefore borrowed for a variety of products or alluded to in songs and poetry. One example was the paint colour Beau Brummel Brown, used exclusively on the 1931 Oldsmobile.[40] In 1934 a rhododendron hybridised by Lionel de Rothschild was named after the dandy.[41] Then during the 1940s and 1950s watchmaker LeCoultre marketed a Beau Brummel watch with a minimalist design and no numbers.[42]

T. S. Eliot's poem about "Bustopher Jones: The Cat About Town" refers to him as the "Brummell of Cats",[43] an allusion taken up in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats, the 1981 musical based on Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939). Around that time other allusions to Brummell appeared in pop and rock lyrics, such as Billy Joel's 1980 hit, "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" (see below), but the name had already been adopted by rock bands in the 1960s: the faux-British Invasion band The Beau Brummels[44] and Beau Brummell Esquire and His Noble Men, the name used by South African born Michael Bush for his English rock group.[45]

Further reading[edit]

  • Jesse, Captain William. The Life of Beau Brummell. Published in two volumes[46]
  • Barbey d'Aurevilly, Jules. Of Dandyism and of George Brummell, 1845
  • Wharton, Grace and Philip. Wits and Beaux of Society. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1861
  • Lewis, Melville. Beau Brummell: His Life and Letters. New York: Doran, 1925
  • Campbell, Kathleen. Beau Brummell. London: Hammond, 1948
  • Moers, Ellen. The Dandy: Brummell to Beerbohm. London: Secker and Warburg, 1960
  • Nicolay, Claire. Origins and Reception of Regency Dandyism: Brummell to Baudelaire. Ph.D. diss., Loyola U of Chicago, 1998
  • Kelly, Ian. Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Dandy. Hodder & Stoughton, 2005

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "A Poet of Cloth", a Spring 2006 article on Brummell's cravats from Cabinet magazine
  2. ^ Kelly, Ian (17 September 2005), The man who invented the suit, London: The Times Online, retrieved 2010-09-14 
  3. ^ Beau Brummell and the Birth of Regency Fashion, from the Jane Austen Centre's online magazine
  4. ^ Barbey d'Aurevilly, Jules. Of Dandyism and of George Brummell. Translated by Douglas Ainslie. New York: PAJ Publications, 1988.
  5. ^ John, Doran (1857), Miscellaneous Works, Volume I: Habits and Men, Beau Brummell, Great Britain: Richard Bentley, p. 379 
  6. ^ The list of winners appears in successive editions of the Oxford University Calendar
  7. ^ The London Gazette: no. 13677. p. 619. 24—28 June 1794.
  8. ^ Jesse, William (1844), The Life of George Brummell, Esq., Commonly Called Beau Brummell, Great Britain: Saunders and Otley, p. 383 
  9. ^ The London Gazette: no. 13773. p. 379. 25—28 April 1795.
  10. ^ Doran, p. 380
  11. ^ Doran, p. 380
  12. ^ Jesse
  13. ^ "Chesterfield Street". Daily Telegraph. 
  14. ^ The laws of etiquette: or, Short rules and reflections for conduct in society by A Gentleman, Carey, Lea, & Blanchard, 1836 p. 136
  15. ^ http://privatewww.essex.ac.uk/~alan/family/N-Money.html#1264
  16. ^ Doran, p.386
  17. ^ The Wits and Beaux of Society, Volume 2, Grace Wharton and Philip Wharton, 1861.
  18. ^ Kelly, Campbell, Jerrold
  19. ^ The Regency Underworld, Donald A Lowe
  20. ^ Max Beerbohm, Dandies and Dandies (1896)
  21. ^ Brummell at CricketArchive
  22. ^ Bridgeman Art
  23. ^ Smithsonian catalogue
  24. ^ The Flowers of Literature vol.2, London 1821, p.131-4
  25. ^ Dandyism site
  26. ^ Humour and Pathos, London 1838, pp.98-102
  27. ^ Rising Star: Dandyism, Gender, and Performance in the Fin de Siecle, Princeton University 1999, p.16
  28. ^ Available on Google Books
  29. ^ Du dandysme et de George Brummell, chapter 7
  30. ^ Available on the Internet Archive
  31. ^ Richard Cronin, "Bulwer, Carlyle and the fashionable novel" in The Subverting Vision of Bulwer Lytton, University of Delaware 2004, pp.38-41; the chapters in the novel are 32-3
  32. ^ Available at Gutenberg
  33. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0014702; there are also two excerpts on YouTube, one from the beginning on YouTube and one from the end on YouTube.
  34. ^ The first page of the score is reproduced here
  35. ^ "Bowles Closes Early in Hutchinson's Beau, 23 Jun". WhatsOnStage.com. 8 June 2001. Retrieved 5 December 2013. 
  36. ^ http://www.doctormacro.com/Movie%20Summaries/B/Beau%20Brummell%20%281954%29.htm
  37. ^ James Purefoy as Brummell in a BBC television drama; this can carrently be viewed on YouTube
  38. ^ There are excerpts here
  39. ^ Excerpts on Google Books
  40. ^ Paintref
  41. ^ It is illustrated here
  42. ^ Illustrated here
  43. ^ In Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, London 1939; text available online
  44. ^ "Laugh, laugh" on YouTube and others are available on YouTube
  45. ^ He went on to found a nudist colony in South Africa
  46. ^ Available in Google Books,vol.1 and vol.2

External links[edit]