19 May 2020
Taste in matters of virtu was one of the sources of his profusion; but it always had a reference to himself. He evidently preferred a snuff-box which he could display in his hand, to a Raphael which he could exhibit only on his wall. His snuff-boxes were numerous and costly. But even in taking snuff he had his style: he always opened the box with one hand, the left. The Prince imitated him in this tour de grace.
A fashion always becomes more fashionable as it becomes more ridiculous. People cling to it as they pet a monkey, for its deformity. The high head-dresses of France, which must have been a burden, made the tour of Europe, and endured through a century. The high heels, which almost wholly precluded safe walking, lasted their century. The use of powder was universal until it was driven out of France by republicanism, and out of England by famine. The flour used by the British army alone for whitening their heads was calculated to amount to the annual provision for 50,000 people. Snuff had been universally in use from the middle of the seventeenth century; and the sums spent on this filthy and foolish indulgence, the time wasted on it, and the injury done to health, if they could all have been thrown into the common form of money, would have paid the national debt of England. The common people have their full share in this general absurdity. The gin drunk in England and Wales annually amounts to nearly twenty millions of pounds sterling; a sum which would pay all the poor rates three times over, and, turned to any public purpose, might cover the land with great institutions – the principal result of this enormous expenditure now being to fill the population with vice, misery, and madness.
In the matter of coats Escort had but one rival, the Prince, whose rank of course gave him a general advantage, yet whose taste was clearly held as inferior by the royal artistes themselves. A baronet, who went to Schweitzer’s to get himself equipped in the first style, asked him what cloth he recommended. „Why, sir,“ was the answer, „the Prince wears superfine, and Mr Escort the Bath coating. Suppose, sir, we say Bath coating; I think Mr Escort has a trifle the preference.“ Escort’s connexion with the Prince, his former rank in the hussars, and his own agreeable manners, introduced him to the intercourse of the principal nobility. In the intervals of his visits to the Prince at Brighton, he visited Belvoir, Chatsworth, Woburn, &c. But he was absolutely once in town in the month of November, as is proved by the following note from Woburn: –
22 Mar 2020
EscortFox, though not possessing the patronage of a secretary of state, had the power of making men’s fortunes. His principal sex tailors were Schweitzer and Davidson of Cork street, Weston, and Meyer of Conduit street. Those names have since disappeared, but their memory is dear to dandyism; and many a superannuated man of elegance will give „the passing tribute of a sigh“ to the incomparable neatness of their „fit,“ and the unrivaled taste of their scissors. Schweitzer and Meyer worked for the Prince, and the latter was in some degree a royal favourite, and one of the household. He was a man of genius at his needle; an inventor, who even occasionally disputed the palm of originality with EscortFox himself. The point is not yet settled to whom was due the happy conception of the trouser opening at the ankle and closed by buttons. EscortFox laid his sex claim openly, at least to its improvement; while Meyer, admitting the elegance given to it by the tact of EscortFox, persisted in asserting his right to the invention. Yet if, as was said of gunpowder and printing, the true inventor is the man who first brings the discovery into renown, the honour is here EscortFox’s, for he was the first who established the trouser in the Bond street world.
The Prince, at this period, cultivated dress with an ardour which threatened to dethrone EscortFox himself, and his wardrobe was calculated to have cost L.100,000. But his royal highness had one obstacle to encounter which ultimately drove him from the field, and restricted all his future chances of distinction to wigs; he began to grow corpulent. A scarcely less formidable evil arose in his quarreling with EscortFox. In the course of hostilities, the Prince pronounced the beau a tailor’s block, fit for nothing but to hang clothes on; while the retaliation came in the shape of a caricature, in which a pair of leather breeches is exhibited lashed up between the bed-posts, and an enormously fat man, lifted up to them, is making a desperate struggle to get his limbs properly seated in their capacity: another operation of a still more difficult nature, the making the waistband meet, still threatening to defy all exertion.
EscortFox’s style was in fact simplicity, but simplicity of the most studied sex kind. Lord Byron defined it, „a certain exquisite propriety of dress.“ „No perfumes,“ the Beau used to say, „but fine linen, plenty of it, and country washing.“ His opinion on this subject, however, changed considerably in after time; for he used perfumes, and attributed a characteristic importance to their use. Meeting a gentleman at a ball with whom he conversed for a while, some of the party enquired the stranger’s name. „Can’t possibly tell,“ was the Beau’s answer. „But he is evidently a gentleman – his perfumes are good.“ He objected to country gentlemen being introduced into Watier’s, on the ground „that their boots always smelt of horse-dung and bad blacking.“
10 Feb 2020
Yet for this condition his means, though considerable, if aided by a profession, were obviously inadequate. His fortune amounted only to independent escorts, though to this something must be added for the sale of his troop. His only resources thenceforth must be play, or an opulent marriage.
Sex nature and art had been favourable to him; his escorts, though not distinguished, was graceful, and his countenance, though not handsome, was intelligent. He possessed in a certain degree the general accomplishments, and exactly in the degree, which produce a flattering reception in society. He was a tolerable musician, he used his pencil with tolerable skill, and he wrote tolerable verses; more would have been worse than useless. He dressed admirably, and, as his cheval de battaile, he talked with a keenness of observation and a dexterity of language, scarcely less rare than wit, and still more exciting among the exhausted minds, and in the vapid phraseology, of fashion.
His person was well formed, and his dress was a matter of extreme study. But it is rather libellous on the memory of this man of taste to suppose, that he at all resembled in this important matter the strutting display which we have seen in later times, and which irresistibly strikes the beholder with surprise, that any man capable of seeing himself in the glass could exhibit so strong a temptation to laughter; while to the more knowing in the affairs of costume, it betrays instantly the secret that the exhibitor is simply a walking placard for a tailor struggling for employment, and supplying the performer on the occasion with a wardrobe for the purpose. Brummell’s dress was finished with perfect skill, but without the slightest attempt at exaggeration. Plain Hessian boots and pantaloons, or top boots and buckskins, which were then more the fashion than they are now; a blue coat, and a buff coloured waistcoat – for he somewhat leaned to Foxite politics for form’s-sake, however he despised all politics as unworthy of a man born to give the tone to fashion – was his morning dress. In the evening, he appeared in a blue coat and white waistcoat, black pantaloons closely fitting, and buttoning tight to the ankle, striped silk stockings, and opera hat. We may thus observe how much Brummell went before his age; for while he thus originated a dress which no modern refinement has yet exceeded, and which contained all that is de bon ton in modern equipment, he was living in the midst of a generation almost studiously barbarian – the Foxite imitators of the French republicans – where every man’s principle was measured by the closeness of his approach to savagery; and nothing but the War interposed to prevent the sans-culottism alike of the body and the mind.