Thursday, 28 July 2011

Remembering Brummell ... The "Beau"



Brummell was born in London, the son of William Brummell, of Donnington Grove in Berkshire. He was fair complexioned, and had "a high nose, which was broken down by a kick from a horse soon after he went into the Tenth Dragoons...." His father died in 1794, leaving him an inheritance of more than 20,000 pounds. He was educated at Eton and at Oriel College, and later joined the Tenth Light Dragoons. It was during this time he came to the attention of George, Prince of Wales. Through the influence of the Prince, Brummell had been promoted to captain by 1796. When his regiment was sent from London to Manchester he resigned his commission because of Manchester's poor reputation and atmosphere and the lack of culture and civility exercised by the general populace.

Brummell took a house on Chesterfield Street in Mayfair, and, for a time, avoided extravagance and gaming: for example, he kept horses but no carriages. He was included in Prince George's circle, where he made an impression with his elegant, understated manner of dress and clever remarks. His fastidious attention to cleaning his teeth, shaving, and bathing daily became popular. When asked how much it would cost to keep a single man in clothes, he was alleged to have replied: "Why, with tolerable economy, I think it might be done with £800." (The average wage for a craftsman being £1 a week) Such liberal spending rapidly began to take a toll on his capital.

He was influenced by his wealthy friends as well. He began spending and gambling as though his fortune were as great as theirs. This was not a problem while he could still float credit. Brummell, Lord Alvanley, Henry Mildmay and Henry Pierrepoint were considered the prime movers of Watier's, dubbed "the Dandy Club" by Byron. They were also the four hosts of the masquerade ball in July 1813 at which the Prince Regent greeted Alvanley and Pierrepoint, but then "cut" Brummell and Mildmay by snubbing them, staring them in the face but not speaking to them. This provoked Brummell's famous remark, "Alvanley, who's your fat friend?". This finalized the long-developed rift between them, 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.

However, his debt spiralled out of control, and he tried to recover by devices that only dug the hole deeper. In 1816, he fled to France to escape debtor's prison - he owed thousands of pounds. Usually, Brummell's gambling debts, as "debts of honour", were always paid immediately. The one exception to this was the final wager recorded for him in White's betting book. Recorded March, 1815, the debt was marked "not paid, 20th January, 1816".

He lived the remainder of his life in France, acquiring an appointment to the consulate at Caen due to the influence of Lord Alvanley and the Marquess of Worcester, only in the reign of William IV. This provided him with a small annuity. He died penniless and insane from strokes in Caen in 1840.

A statue of Brummell by Irena Sedlecka was erected on London's Jermyn Street in 2002




All mouth and trousers
Famed for a wit that was as sharp as the cut of his tail coat, Beau Brummell set the standard for the modern dandy. Simon Mills measures up his successors
Simon Mills
The Guardian, Saturday 17 June 2006

Baudelaire once commented that true dandies should have "no profession other than elegance ... no other status but that of cultivating the idea of beauty in their own persons." "The dandy," he wrote, "must aspire to be sublime without interruption; he must live and sleep before a mirror."
George Bryan "Beau" Brummell, then, must qualify as the most committed dandy of them all. Not only was he an enthusiastic, lifelong slave to his mirrors, he also polished them with champagne. His outrageously flamboyant, nascent rock'n'roll lifestyle, decadent splurging, shameless narcissism and meticulous attention to vanity and wardrobe has set the gold standard for dandies ever since.
Today, the dandy is the celebrity who has made shopping into a spectator sport, whose extravagant lifestyle has become the stuff of entertaining tittle-tattle in Heat, Closer and Tatler. The likes of Puff Daddy and Jay-Z, both of whom adopt an obsessively hygienic "fresh to death" approach to toilet and trouser, footballer David Beckham, who is said to throw away his Calvin Klein underpants after a single wearing, even interior designer Nicky Haslam, who Andy Warhol once called "the best dressed man in the world", are dandies in every way.
Despite their blue-blooded affectations, bona fide dandies were never proper toffs and used their rigorously considered outfits and highfalutin' mannerisms as deception. Even though they were frequently living on the poverty line, they audaciously copied the peccadilloes of the aristocracy, and were tireless contrapuntists when it came to clobber. "The dandy," says James Purefoy's Brummell in BBC4's excellent new drama, "is a portrait of studied carelessness but without the appearance of study." Here's how he compares with others down the years.
Beau Brummell
Beau had three hairdressers to groom him, one for the sideburns, one for the forelock and one for the back of the head. Other aesthetic conceits included having two glovers, one for the thumb and one for the fingers, and sending his laundry to the country, claiming that they were the only ones who knew how to bleach correctly. Brummell was also a profoundly influential trend-setter who rejected powdered wigs, rouge, stiffly-starched cravats and knee breeches made of peacock silks, and dressed, instead, in unfashionably edgy, austere blacks, whites and greys. He preferred smart trousers to pantomimic pantaloons and the natural fragrance of "country air" to poncy, concocted fragrances. Audaciously, he even managed to persuade the Prince Regent to do the same. Brummell died, a malodorous and incontinent sloven, in a mental hospital at the age of 61.
Count D'Orsay
Alfred Guillaume Gabriel d'Orsay was a bisexual, gambler, political fixer and extreme dandy who directly influenced the sartorial style of admirers and groupies including Thackeray, Disraeli and Dickens. D'Orsay would employ two men to carry his dressing case, changed his heavily-perfumed dog-skin gloves six times a day, had his tailor make trousers for his pet pigeons and would pay a boy a guinea a pop to light his cigars. D'Orsay's personal life was not so particular. Like some tawdry denizen of a 19th-century Jeremy Kyle show, he had an affair with Lord Blessington, married Blessington's daughter, and then set up house with Blessington's widow. Always living beyond his means, he once avoided arrest by telling police to wait while he dressed. He then spent so long at his mirror the cops gave up and went home. Eventually, he escaped to the continent armed only with an essential gem-set umbrella. He was buried in a pyramid-shaped tomb of his own design.
Oscar Wilde
His ambition was to render every aspect of his short, starry life preposterously aesthetic. Like all proper dandies Wilde took pride in grandiose displays of public wastefulness and would hail a cab just to cross the street. He had his clothes designed by theatre costumiers who could more easily interpret the dramatic flamboyance he desired. Wilde's mufti included a velvet coat edged with braid, knee breeches, black silk stockings, a soft loose blouse and a large flowing pale green tie. This would be accessorised with huge sunflowers, peacock feathers and dainty lilies as buttonholes. For inspiration, he relied on dreams. In one such sartorial reverie "a ghostly personage appeared in a coat of shape and colour that somehow reminded him of a violoncello. On waking he hastily sketched out what he had seen and brought the drawing to his tailor. The coat was cut to meet the dream specification: in some lights it looked bronze, in others red, and the back of it ... resembled the outline of a cello".
Bunny Roger
Neil Monroe "Bunny" Roger was probably not the most fearsome soldier the allied army has ever had in its ranks. Fighting for the British Rifle Brigade during the second world war, he went to battle wearing a chiffon scarf and brandishing a copy of Vogue. Once, when his sergeant asked him what should be done about the advancing enemy troops, Roger, who liked to wear rouge even with his khakis, replied, "When in doubt, powder heavily." When he ran into an old friend in the hellish, bombed-out monestary of Monte Cassino in Italy he responded to his pal's incredulous "What on earth are you doing here?" greeting with one word: "Shopping". As dandies go, Roger wasn't a massive spender - he bought a mere 15 suits a year from his London tailor, Watson, Fargerstrom & Hughes, but, boy, was he ever particular. He liked exquisitely cut tartans, Edwardian-style jackets in pale shades of cerulean blue, lilac and shell pink, sharply tapered at the middle to show off his astonishing 29-inch waist. Roger, like all proper dandies, rivalled Wilde in the one-liner department. When a gobby cab driver yelled from his window, "Watch out, you've dropped your diamond necklace, love," Roger replied, in a flash, "Diamonds with tweed? Never!"
Bryan Ferry
For a certain kind of aspirantly louche middle-aged man, Bryan Ferry is the benchmark of rock'n'roll dandy. There are dozens of pivotal images to draw on: the sharp, military dash of the GI look on the cover of Roxy Music's live album Viva, the Billy Fury-does-the-Jetsons glamslam of the first two Roxy album sleeves (courtesy of designer Antony Price), or the waggish ante-upping of the socially incorrect white dinner jacket on the cover of Another Time, Another Place. Even now Ferry continues to be what he calls "a pimpernel" (he's currently wearing Prada, Hedi Slimane and Kilgour) but his tireless dandiness can be summed up by two incidents: the time he put a world tour in jeopardy by destroying his passport because he didn't like the photo and the moment in 2000 when he was on an aircraft almost downed by a deranged passenger who tried to enter the cockpit. Asked later what he recalled of the drama as fellow passengers pinned the would-be hijacker to the floor, Ferry replied: "The crazy man's socks weren't very attractive. They were kind of striped and I didn't really care for them much at all."
Sean "P Diddy" Combs
Brummell would, perhaps, have bridled at some of the hip-hop entrepreneur's more naive attempts at dandiness, but only a tweedy pedant could fail to be entertained by the sight of Mr Combs, in full-length white towelling robe, sunglasses and a cigar, taking a pre-breakfast jet-ski ride in St Tropez harbour a few summers ago. Puffy famously employed a butler called Farnsworth Bentley who, during hot weather, would follow his master around holding a parasol. But butlers can make mistakes. Arriving on the Cote d'Azur for his annual vacation a couple of years ago, the man now called "Diddy" realised he had failed to bring a case of his favourite neckties from the US and promptly had Farnsworth book a first-class seat on a New York flight for the silky foulards. Often called "the black Sinatra" or "the black Donald Trump", Puffy can also claim credit for coining the phrase "ghetto fabulous". He once described this to your reporter as "my style, an organic thing. It's wearing jeans and $10,000-worth of jewellery around your neck."


Beau Brummell: This Charming Man was a 2006 BBC Television drama in based on the biography of Beau Brummell by Ian Kelly.
Brummell shares an intimate moment with Prince George while advising him on his wedding outfit and invites him to dinner along with his friends. He is appointed as royal sartorial advisor by the newly dandified Prince and all debts his are dropped as word of his new position is spread. He and the Prince become close friends drinking and gambling in the clubs of London straining his finances and relations with others.
Brummel’s relationship with the Prince is strained as his fame begins to spread. He becomes enamoured with the dangerous Lord Byron against the warnings of the Prince further straining their relationship. He ignores a summons from the Prince to enjoy the favours of Miss Julia along with Byron. His manservant Robinson is forced to intervene when the Prince and Byron go head-to-head.
Brummell’s loss of royal favour leaves him outcast and indebted as the bailiffs begin to turn violent. He takes out a large loan with some close associates and even steals from Robinson but quickly gambles it all away. A disgraced and equally destitute Byron returns to London but the two fall out. Unable to pay back the loan he is expelled from his club, abandoned by Robinson, and forced to flee to France.


James Purefoy as Beau Brummell
Hugh Bonneville as Prince Regent
Phil Davis as Robinson
Elliot Levey as Tailor
John Telfer as Fop
Tim Hudson as Fop
Zoe Telford as Julia
Justin Salinger as Richard Meyler
Nicholas Rowe as Lord Charles Manners
Ian Kelly as Lord Robert Manners
Jonathan Aris as Marquis of Worcester
Daniel Fine as Cloth Merchant
Nick Richards as Snuff Merchant
Anthony Calf as Duke of York
Matthew Rhys as Lord Byron
Rebecca Johnson as Duchess of York
Max Gell as Palace Footman
Howard Coggins as Edward











By Nick Willard in "Dandyism net"
Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style
By Ian Kelly
Free Press
I was prepared to thoroughly dislike Ian Kelly’s biography of Beau Brummell. The attendant ballyhoo, here in the US and last year in the UK, has been lascivious and sensational — Brummell as “a Casanova and a playboy;” variously the “Boy Toy” and “Toy Boy” of the Duchess of Devonshire; taking lovers of both sexes; his grandfather a brothel keeper, and his mother a courtesan. It has also affected a vulgar contemporaneity. He was the “first celebrity;” “the first metrosexual,” and “the inventor of the suit” — odd, since he never wore one. In the unkindest cut, the subtitle, in crossing the Atlantic from Britain to America, was switched from “The Ultimate Dandy” (something of an oxymoron, as Brummell originated dandyism) to “The Ultimate Man of Style.”
My worst fears have been disappointed. Mr. Kelly’s account of Brummell’s life is well written, lively, informative, factual, balanced and innovative. It is, simply put, the best biography of Brummell.
The granddaddy of Beau-ography is Capt. Jesse’s “A Life of George Bryan Brummell, Esq.,” published four years after Brummell’s rather ignored death. Jesse had the unique advantage of meeting Brummell during his exile in France. He saw Brummell’s bathing and dressing ritual, and all subsequent biographers have used his eyewitness accounts. He also saw many of Brummell’s early letters, long since destroyed. He interviewed many of Brummell’s acquaintances. But Jesse has many flaws as well. His account is skewered to the Beau’s exile and decline, when most of his sources knew the Brummell. It is long winded. Perhaps most importantly, Jesse is no professional biographer: he uncritically accepts almost every story told to him. Another weakness is that his book came out before the publication of the many Regency memoirs and diaries that mention Brummell (with the exception of Harriette Wilson’s, the leading courtesan in London and a boon companion of Brummell).
Jesse and these memoirs — particularly the recollections of Wilson, Thomas Raikes, poet Tom Moore, Lady Hester Stanhope, and Capt. RH Gronow — are the fount for the bulk of the inimitable anecdotes that constitute Brummells life. The same stories get recycled, with slight variations and an occasional novelty, in the subsequent biographies. They start with Roger Boutet de Monvel’s “Beau Brummell and his Times,” dating from the first decade of the twentieth century. Lewis Melville’s “Beau Brummell; His Life and Letters,” published in the 1920s, significantly appended many of the Beau’s letters from the later days. Willard Connelly’s “The Reign of Beau Brummell” is yeoman-like. Kathleen Campbell’s “Beau Brummell” is one of my favorites because it sympathetically captures his spirit. Both were published in the 1940s. In the 1950s came Carl Maria Franzero’s “Beau Brummell,” which rehashes the same stories to such an extent that he appears to have lifted whole paragraphs from D’Aurevilly’s “Du Dandysme.” Samuel Tennenbaum’s late 1960s book “The Incredible Beau Brummell” adds nothing new, except replenishing the Victorian censoriousness that Campbell had helped to dispel. From the 1970s, Keith B. Poole’s monograph on Brummell in “The Two Beaux” is fact-logged and uninspired. Hubert Cole’s “Beau Brummell” was a breakthrough. He went back to original sources and uncovered many facts, locating, for example the will of William Brummell, Brummell’s father, and a hitherto undiscovered drawing of the Beau in his prime. His biography had been the most factually accurate, though somewhat dry. In addition to the full-length biographies, Brummell has earned a chapter in numerous collections, such as Clare Jerrold’s “The Beaux and the Dandies” (1909) and the Whartons’ reproving “Wits and Beaux of Society,” dating from the mid-19th century. These shorter pieces tend to be unoriginal.
Although not a biography, and not book length, Ellen Moers’ consideration of Brummell is as important as anything else. She devotes a chapter to him and another to the Regency dandies in “The Dandy.” She does a masterly job of fixing Brummell and the Regency dandies in the context of their time. Her analysis informs all subsequent writing about the Brummell. She also legitimizes the use of Regency fiction in assessing the Brummell, greatly enriching our understanding. More about the Beau is scattered throughout the rest of her tome, including the endnotes, so the entire book is an important contribution to Brummell scholarship.
Other staples include Hazlitt’s contemporary, though written from afar, appraisal, “Brummelliana;” an anonymous article from Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, D’Aurevilly’s notoriously fanciful “Du Dandysme et de Georges Brummell,” the Incomparable Max’s exposition on Brummell and the nature of dandyism “Dandies and Dandies,” and Virginia Woolf’s appreciation in “The Second Common Reader,” which, because of its author, gave Brummell a certain gravitas.
It is upon this foundation that Mr. Kelly builds or, more accurately, improves. He dutifully includes most of the chestnuts without which a biography of Brummell could not exist: “Who’s your fat friend?” “You call that a coat?” Brummell’s (mistaken) use of a blue-nosed soldier to locate his own troops, among many others. His retelling of these stories tends to be spare. This is both good and bad. Bad because an individual tale about Brummell, like all good tales, gets better (if not more accurate) with more elaboration. Good because there are so many tales that their accumulation would become monotonous. Mr. Kelly imaginatively organizes them (except for those that must have occurred at a specific point in the Brummell’s life) by when they would have occurred during the Beau’s day.
Context is where the book shines. By imaginatively exploiting extensive scholarship from the fields of fashion, history, sociology, art and medicine that prior biographers did not, Mr. Kelly gives us new insights. His description of the clothes Brummell wore is clear and detailed, simply because he took the time to personally investigate surviving examples of Regency men’s clothes. He traces the origin of Brummell’s revolutionary style to one of the Beau’s Eton “school uniforms,” and also to Brummell’s military uniform, neoclassical art, and simple sex appeal.
Mr. Kelly, like Cole, went back to the original documents (such as the betting books at Brummell’s clubs as well as his Eton and Oxford records). In addition to gleaning some new stories, he is more precise in the mundane matters, such as dates, that are the bedrock of any definitive biography. He even gives us a reasonable estimate of Brummell’s height — something no one else has ever done — by extrapolating from the Beau’s entries in the weighing books at Berry Bros. And it is reassuring to discover that the Brummell’s universally admired physique started to balloon at the tender age of 30!
Kelly’s assiduousness has produced at least one major revelation: He uncovered medical records at the asylum where Brummell spent his last year. They show that Brummell suffered and died from syphilis. No prior biography ever hinted at this. Brummell’s disease explains many things: his loss of hair in his late thirties, previously attributed to his use of a heating wand to curl his hair; his large chemist bill, previously attributed to his fondness for cold cream (!); and his drooling, exacerbated by his medicine rather than purely brought about by a stroke. Indeed, Mr. Kelly attributes Brummell’s lasting contribution to hygiene, his famously elaborate bathing regimen, where he thoroughly scrubbed his entire body, as a necessity to erase his syphilitic cankers and rashes, not simply as a cosmetic.
The book also contains two contemporary drawings of the bust of Brummell not seen in prior books. These drawings look nothing like the two other busts of the Beau: his features are much coarser, but consistent with the broken nose that Brummell was known to have suffered. It would have been helpful if Mr. Kelly had elaborated on the origins of all four and evaluated them. Without explanation, the book omits the only full-length contemporary drawing (by Dighton) of Brummell. Mr. Kelly mentions that Brummell as an adult never sat for a full-length portrait. One is left wondering if he is implying that this drawing is not an accurate portrayal, or is of someone else or merely not taken from life.
The prurience suggested by much of the media coverage is in fact quite minimal. There is only one sentence in the book about the Brummell’s grandfather being a pimp. Because his lodging house was located on a disreputable street, it “may have been a bawdy house.” There is no authority cited to support this supposition. In the absence of anything further, I therefore side with the usual version, that he was a servant and/or a confectioner, as well as a renter of lodgings. In the book, the Brummell’s mother is described not as a whore but as only “unconventional” because she lived openly with his father before their marriage. Fair enough.
On the issue of Brummell’s sexuality, Mr. Kelly acquits himself well. His brief is not that Brummell was a Casanova, but that he had normal sexual appetites and engaged in normal sexual activity. The prevailing opinion, first advanced by Jesse and championed by Moers, has been that the Beau was chaste if not celibate. Kelly disagrees, based on the discovery that Brummell had syphilis, his known friendship with two of the leading London courtesans, and the commingling with prostitutes that was typical of the Beau’s set. Mr. Kelly concludes that, far from being her boy toy, Brummell probably did not have an affair with the much older Duchess of Devonshire; he may or may not have had one with the Duchess of York, the woman to whom he was most attached; and he definitely was not exclusively homosexual, although, in the Beau’s pre-Freudian times and social milieu, normally there was a certain homo-erotic (Kelly dubs it “homosocial”) tinge to male companionship and masculine activities. He reasonably speculates that the Beau contracted his disease from one of the prostitutes with whom he consorted socially.
As for those gaffes trying to make Brummell contemporary, Mr. Kelly gets them over with in the introductory chapter. This introduction contains a gracefully written assessment of the Beau’s impact on fashion, society and philosophy. He draws interesting parallels between Brummell and Oscar Wilde, two dandies who are often contrasted. When he goes beyond Brummell and considers dandyism in general, however, Mr. Kelly blithely repeats current commonplaces, such as the Garelick/Walden trope of the dandy as modern media celebrity. He is also indulgent concerning the pseudo-intellectualization of Brummell by my personal bugaboo, those demmed Frenchies, Barbey and Baudelaire. Mr. Kelly ends the lineage of the dandy (except for tossing out names of modern celebrities as possible dandies, à la Garelick and Walden) with the Incomparable Max, thus mimicking Moers’ pioneering work. Indeed, his thoughts on dandyism seem more like those of a schoolboy who parrots his homework, rather than someone who has critically appraised what he has studied.
After that first, somewhat rocky beginning, the book is pure gilt. All in all, if you have but one book to read about Brummell, it should be this one: After almost two centuries, Brummell has finally been rewarded with the biography he has always merited.



Jane Stevenson
The Observer, Sunday 1 January 2006
Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Dandy
Ian Kelly
Hodder & Stoughton

This immensely entertaining book, as stylish as its subject, tells the story of the man who became king of Regency London society by sheer force of personality and has since fascinated people as diverse as Baudelaire, Barthes and Virginia Woolf. George Brummell is a curiously modern figure; the first English celebrity famous for being famous, though Kelly never loses track of the extent to which he was also a man in and of a particular moment. Byron declared: 'There are three great men of our age: myself, Napoleon and Brummell. But of we three, the greatest of all is Brummell.'
However, unlike Byron or Napoleon, Beau Brummell's extraordinary fame arose entirely from his acting out an idea of himself. Handsome, clever and rich (though of undistinguished origins), he dedicated his life to the embodiment of a precise and austere visual aesthetic; a style rather than a fashion, because once created, he stuck with it.
His vision was so persuasive that, almost singlehandedly, he took rich men out of the brocade and taffeta that had expressed wealth for centuries and put them into the broadcloth and linen they have worn ever since. He was the apostle of the principle that a peculiarly masculine elegance is best expressed by neutrally coloured clothes cut with the precision for which Savile Row became famous.
It was a new, understated, less-is-more stylishness, in which extravagance was no longer to be expressed by perfume or jewellery (he banned both) but by perfection of line and exquisite cleanliness, the latter a sufficiently difficult and expensive enough business in 18th-century London to sort out the rich from the poor by itself.
One of the many pleasures of Kelly's text is a splendid chapter on Brummell's clothes, written with an informed passion for the tailor's art. He brings into focus what a sexy style Brummell's was. He was tall, with an excellent figure, and the pale trousers he popularised, often made of stockinette or even chamois leather, were close-fitting, worn without underpants and framed by a dark cutaway coat to display the wearer's thighs and groin with the candour of a ballet dancer's tights.
The coat was artfully structured and padded to give at least the illusion of wide shoulders and a narrow waist. It all looked wonderful on Brummell, less so on the averagely shapeless man, let alone the obese Prince Regent. Later generations hung on to Brummell's basic idea, but evolved a less taxing version: the three-piece suit.
Sang-froid and stoicism were attributes necessary for surviving the brutality of the 18th century, but Brummell transformed these contemporary virtues into something more like modern 'cool'. It was the essence of his style: he was witty rather than warm; sociable and attractive, without ever committing himself to relationships. Kelly comments shrewdly that he liked the company of courtesans, being seen in dégagé pursuit of noted beauties and engineering situations that put girls at a disadvantage.
The only things he was serious about - his clothes and deportment - were so self-evidently absurd that his whole life looked like an elaborate practical joke. His humour was throwaway, and he won or lost fortunes at the gambling table with equal imperturbability, a posture that made him, for many years, impregnable.
Brummell's charm is apparent even after 200 years. Everyone wanted to know him and, after reading this book, you want to have known him too. He was humorous and reliably witty; he had a very light touch. Above all, he had the complete self-confidence that forced others to take him at his own valuation. Though he was a rigorous snob, he was, paradoxically, the first commoner to rule English society.
His downfall came when he allowed himself to believe his own propaganda. Cut by the Prince Regent, his temper flashed and he returned insult for insult. 'Alvanley,' he demanded, 'who's your fat friend?' But the Prince Regent's power was real, the dandy's fictive. George never forgot or forgave.
Brummell's 23 years of glory as Petronius to Prinny's Nero ended in a moment of hubris. Twenty-four years of eclipse followed, culminating in his death of the man of pleasure's typical disease, syphilis. To live rich and die poor is hardly unusual for a celebrity, but there is a peculiar ugliness about a man of balletically exact deportment and almost unprecedented personal cleanliness ending his days drooling and doubly incontinent.
Kelly argues that syphilis was taking its toll years earlier. Towards the end of his reign, there were signs that Brummell was losing touch with reality. The depression and headaches he was beginning to suffer may also have been caused by syphilis. But, while this is a tragic story, it is a tragedy of fashion, of a butterfly broken upon the wheel. Brummell ruined himself (and others) but probably, if he could have foreseen the end, he would have gone on regardless.
In classical style, he lived for fame and achieved it; he also had the saving grace of not taking himself too seriously. His biographer manages the remarkable feat of taking him just seriously enough, without ever descending into solemnity.

This immensely entertaining book, as stylish as its subject, tells the story of the man who became king of Regency London society by sheer force of personality and has since fascinated people as diverse as Baudelaire, Barthes and Virginia Woolf. George Brummell is a curiously modern figure; the first English celebrity famous for being famous, though Kelly never loses track of the extent to which he was also a man in and of a particular moment. Byron declared: 'There are three great men of our age: myself, Napoleon and Brummell. But of we three, the greatest of all is Brummell.'
However, unlike Byron or Napoleon, Beau Brummell's extraordinary fame arose entirely from his acting out an idea of himself. Handsome, clever and rich (though of undistinguished origins), he dedicated his life to the embodiment of a precise and austere visual aesthetic; a style rather than a fashion, because once created, he stuck with it.
His vision was so persuasive that, almost singlehandedly, he took rich men out of the brocade and taffeta that had expressed wealth for centuries and put them into the broadcloth and linen they have worn ever since. He was the apostle of the principle that a peculiarly masculine elegance is best expressed by neutrally coloured clothes cut with the precision for which Savile Row became famous.
It was a new, understated, less-is-more stylishness, in which extravagance was no longer to be expressed by perfume or jewellery (he banned both) but by perfection of line and exquisite cleanliness, the latter a sufficiently difficult and expensive enough business in 18th-century London to sort out the rich from the poor by itself.
One of the many pleasures of Kelly's text is a splendid chapter on Brummell's clothes, written with an informed passion for the tailor's art. He brings into focus what a sexy style Brummell's was. He was tall, with an excellent figure, and the pale trousers he popularised, often made of stockinette or even chamois leather, were close-fitting, worn without underpants and framed by a dark cutaway coat to display the wearer's thighs and groin with the candour of a ballet dancer's tights.
The coat was artfully structured and padded to give at least the illusion of wide shoulders and a narrow waist. It all looked wonderful on Brummell, less so on the averagely shapeless man, let alone the obese Prince Regent. Later generations hung on to Brummell's basic idea, but evolved a less taxing version: the three-piece suit.
Sang-froid and stoicism were attributes necessary for surviving the brutality of the 18th century, but Brummell transformed these contemporary virtues into something more like modern 'cool'. It was the essence of his style: he was witty rather than warm; sociable and attractive, without ever committing himself to relationships. Kelly comments shrewdly that he liked the company of courtesans, being seen in dégagé pursuit of noted beauties and engineering situations that put girls at a disadvantage.
The only things he was serious about - his clothes and deportment - were so self-evidently absurd that his whole life looked like an elaborate practical joke. His humour was throwaway, and he won or lost fortunes at the gambling table with equal imperturbability, a posture that made him, for many years, impregnable.
Brummell's charm is apparent even after 200 years. Everyone wanted to know him and, after reading this book, you want to have known him too. He was humorous and reliably witty; he had a very light touch. Above all, he had the complete self-confidence that forced others to take him at his own valuation. Though he was a rigorous snob, he was, paradoxically, the first commoner to rule English society.
His downfall came when he allowed himself to believe his own propaganda. Cut by the Prince Regent, his temper flashed and he returned insult for insult. 'Alvanley,' he demanded, 'who's your fat friend?' But the Prince Regent's power was real, the dandy's fictive. George never forgot or forgave.
Brummell's 23 years of glory as Petronius to Prinny's Nero ended in a moment of hubris. Twenty-four years of eclipse followed, culminating in his death of the man of pleasure's typical disease, syphilis. To live rich and die poor is hardly unusual for a celebrity, but there is a peculiar ugliness about a man of balletically exact deportment and almost unprecedented personal cleanliness ending his days drooling and doubly incontinent.
Kelly argues that syphilis was taking its toll years earlier. Towards the end of his reign, there were signs that Brummell was losing touch with reality. The depression and headaches he was beginning to suffer may also have been caused by syphilis. But, while this is a tragic story, it is a tragedy of fashion, of a butterfly broken upon the wheel. Brummell ruined himself (and others) but probably, if he could have foreseen the end, he would have gone on regardless.
In classical style, he lived for fame and achieved it; he also had the saving grace of not taking himself too seriously. His biographer manages the remarkable feat of taking him just seriously enough, without ever descending into solemnity.

This immensely entertaining book, as stylish as its subject, tells the story of the man who became king of Regency London society by sheer force of personality and has since fascinated people as diverse as Baudelaire, Barthes and Virginia Woolf. George Brummell is a curiously modern figure; the first English celebrity famous for being famous, though Kelly never loses track of the extent to which he was also a man in and of a particular moment. Byron declared: 'There are three great men of our age: myself, Napoleon and Brummell. But of we three, the greatest of all is Brummell.'
However, unlike Byron or Napoleon, Beau Brummell's extraordinary fame arose entirely from his acting out an idea of himself. Handsome, clever and rich (though of undistinguished origins), he dedicated his life to the embodiment of a precise and austere visual aesthetic; a style rather than a fashion, because once created, he stuck with it.
His vision was so persuasive that, almost singlehandedly, he took rich men out of the brocade and taffeta that had expressed wealth for centuries and put them into the broadcloth and linen they have worn ever since. He was the apostle of the principle that a peculiarly masculine elegance is best expressed by neutrally coloured clothes cut with the precision for which Savile Row became famous.
It was a new, understated, less-is-more stylishness, in which extravagance was no longer to be expressed by perfume or jewellery (he banned both) but by perfection of line and exquisite cleanliness, the latter a sufficiently difficult and expensive enough business in 18th-century London to sort out the rich from the poor by itself.
One of the many pleasures of Kelly's text is a splendid chapter on Brummell's clothes, written with an informed passion for the tailor's art. He brings into focus what a sexy style Brummell's was. He was tall, with an excellent figure, and the pale trousers he popularised, often made of stockinette or even chamois leather, were close-fitting, worn without underpants and framed by a dark cutaway coat to display the wearer's thighs and groin with the candour of a ballet dancer's tights.
The coat was artfully structured and padded to give at least the illusion of wide shoulders and a narrow waist. It all looked wonderful on Brummell, less so on the averagely shapeless man, let alone the obese Prince Regent. Later generations hung on to Brummell's basic idea, but evolved a less taxing version: the three-piece suit.
Sang-froid and stoicism were attributes necessary for surviving the brutality of the 18th century, but Brummell transformed these contemporary virtues into something more like modern 'cool'. It was the essence of his style: he was witty rather than warm; sociable and attractive, without ever committing himself to relationships. Kelly comments shrewdly that he liked the company of courtesans, being seen in dégagé pursuit of noted beauties and engineering situations that put girls at a disadvantage.
The only things he was serious about - his clothes and deportment - were so self-evidently absurd that his whole life looked like an elaborate practical joke. His humour was throwaway, and he won or lost fortunes at the gambling table with equal imperturbability, a posture that made him, for many years, impregnable.
Brummell's charm is apparent even after 200 years. Everyone wanted to know him and, after reading this book, you want to have known him too. He was humorous and reliably witty; he had a very light touch. Above all, he had the complete self-confidence that forced others to take him at his own valuation. Though he was a rigorous snob, he was, paradoxically, the first commoner to rule English society.
His downfall came when he allowed himself to believe his own propaganda. Cut by the Prince Regent, his temper flashed and he returned insult for insult. 'Alvanley,' he demanded, 'who's your fat friend?' But the Prince Regent's power was real, the dandy's fictive. George never forgot or forgave.
Brummell's 23 years of glory as Petronius to Prinny's Nero ended in a moment of hubris. Twenty-four years of eclipse followed, culminating in his death of the man of pleasure's typical disease, syphilis. To live rich and die poor is hardly unusual for a celebrity, but there is a peculiar ugliness about a man of balletically exact deportment and almost unprecedented personal cleanliness ending his days drooling and doubly incontinent.
Kelly argues that syphilis was taking its toll years earlier. Towards the end of his reign, there were signs that Brummell was losing touch with reality. The depression and headaches he was beginning to suffer may also have been caused by syphilis. But, while this is a tragic story, it is a tragedy of fashion, of a butterfly broken upon the wheel. Brummell ruined himself (and others) but probably, if he could have foreseen the end, he would have gone on regardless.
In classical style, he lived for fame and achieved it; he also had the saving grace of not taking himself too seriously. His biographer manages the remarkable feat of taking him just seriously enough, without ever descending into solemnity.

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