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See him seated before his dressing-gla.s.s, a mahogany-framed sliding cheval gla.s.s with bra.s.s arms on either sides for candles. By his side is George IV., recovering from his drunken bout of last night. The Beau's gla.s.s reflects his clean-complexioned face, his grey eyes, his light brown hair, and sandy whiskers. A servant produces a shirt with a 12-inch collar fixed to it, a.s.sists the Beau into it, arranges it, and stands aside. The collar nearly hides the Beau's face. Now, with his hand protected with a discarded shirt, he folds his collar down to the required height. Now he takes his white stock and folds it carefully round the collar; the stock is a foot high and slightly starched. A supreme moment of artistic decision, and the stock and collar take their perfect creases. In an hour or so he will be ready to partake of a light meal with the royal gentleman. He will stand up and survey himself in his morning dress, his regular, quiet suit. A blue coat, light breeches fitting the leg well, a light waistcoat over a waistcoat of some other colour, never a startling contrast, Hessian boots, or top-boots and buckskins. There was nothing very peculiar about his clothes except, as Lord Byron said, 'an exquisite propriety.' His evening dress was a blue coat, white waistcoat, black trousers b.u.t.toned at the ankle--these were of his own invention, and one may say it was the wearing of them that made trousers more popular than knee-breeches--striped silk stockings, and a white stock.
He was a man of perfect taste--of fastidious taste. On his tables lay books of all kinds in fine covers. Who would suspect it? but the Prince is leaning an arm on a copy of Ellis's 'Early English Metrical Romances.' The Beau is a rhymer, an elegant verse-maker. Here we see the paper-presser of Napoleon--I am flitting for the moment over some years, and see him in his room in Calais--here we notice his pa.s.sion for buhl, his Sevres china painted with Court beauties.
In his house in Chapel Street he saw daily portraits of Nelson and Pitt and George III. upon his walls. This is no Beau as we understand the term, for we make it a word of contempt, a nickname for a feeble fellow in magnificent garments. Rather this is the room of an educated gentleman of 'exquisite propriety.'
He played high, as did most gentlemen; he was superst.i.tious, as are many of the best of men. That lucky sixpence with the hole in it that you gave to a cabman, Beau Brummell, was that loss the commencement of your downward career?
There are hundreds of anecdotes of Brummell which, despite those of the 'George, ring the bell' character, and those told of his heavy gaming, are more valuable as showing his wit, his cleanliness, his distaste of display--in fact, his 'exquisite propriety.'
A Beau is hardly a possible figure to-day; we have so few personalities, and those we have are chiefly concerned with trade--men who uphold trusts, men who fight trusts, men who speak for trade in the House of Commons. We have not the same large vulgarities as our grandfathers, nor have we the same wholesome refinement; in killing the evil--the great gambler, the great men of the turf, the great prize-fighters, the heavy wine-drinkers--we have killed, also, the good, the cla.s.sic, well-spoken civil gentleman. Our manners have suffered at the expense of our morals.
Fifty or sixty years ago the world was full of great men, saying, writing, thinking, great things. To-day--perhaps it is too early to speak of to-day. Personalities are so little marked by their clothes, by any stamp of individuality, that the caricaturist, or even the minute and truthful artist, be he painter or writer, has a difficult task before him when he sets out to point at the men of these our times.
George Brummell came into the world on June 7, 1778. He was a year or so late for the Macaroni style of dress, many years behind the Fribbles, after the Smarts, and must have seen the rise and fall of the Zebras when he was thirteen. During his life he saw the old-fashioned full frock-coat, bagwig, solitaire, and ruffles die away; he saw the decline and fall of knee-breeches for common wear, and the pantaloons invented by himself take their place. From these pantaloons reaching to the ankle came the trousers, as fashionable garments, open over the instep at first, and joined by loops and b.u.t.tons, then strapped under the boot, and after that in every manner of cut to the present style. He saw the three-cornered hat vanish from the hat-boxes of the polite world, and he saw fine-coloured clothes give way to blue coats with bra.s.s b.u.t.tons or coats of solemn black.
It may be said that England went into mourning over the French Revolution, and has not yet recovered. Beau Brummell, on his way to Eton, saw a gay-coloured crowd of powdered and patched people, saw claret-coloured coats covered with embroidery, gold-laced hats, twinkling shoe-buckles. On his last walks in Caen, no doubt, he dreamed of London as a place of gay colours instead of the drab place it was beginning to be.
To-day there is no more monotonous sight than the pavements of Piccadilly crowded with people in dingy, sad clothes, with silk tubes on their heads, their black and gray suits being splashed by the mud from black hansoms, or by the scatterings of motor-cars driven by aristocratic-looking mechanics, in which mechanical-looking aristocrats lounge, darkly clad. Here and there some woman's dress enlivens the monotony; here a red pillar-box shines in the sun; there, again, we bless the Post-Office for their red mail-carts, and perhaps we are strengthened to bear the gloom by the sight of a blue or red bus.
But our hearts are not in tune with the picture; we feel the lack of colour, of romance, of everything but money, in the street. Suddenly a magnificent policeman stops the traffic; there is a sound of jingling harness, of horses' hoofs beating in unison. There flashes upon us an escort of Life Guards sparkling in the sun, flashing specks of light from swords, breastplates, helmets. The little forest of waving plumes, the raising of hats, the polite murmuring of cheers, warms us.
We feel young, our hearts beat; we feel more healthy, more alive, for this gleam of colour.
Then an open carriage pa.s.ses us swiftly as we stand with bared heads.
There is a momentary sight of a man in uniform--a man with a wonderful face, clever, dignified, kind. And we say, with a catch in our voices:
'THE KING--G.o.d BLESS HIM!'