Klinika Weiden Personal blog.

Diligent Officer

But he was now to commence a new career. In 1794 he was gazetted to a cornetcy in the Tenth Hussars, the gift of its colonel the Prince of Wales. Brummell’s own account of this origin of his court connexions is, that when a boy at Eton he had been presented to the Prince, and that his subsequent intimacy grew out of the Prince’s notice on that occasion. But a friend of his told the biographer that the Prince, hearing of the young Etonian as a second Selwyn, had asked him to his table, and given him the commission to attach him to his service. This was a remarkable distinction, and in any other hands would have been a card of fortune. He was then but sixteen; he was introduced at once into the highest society of fashion; and he was the favourite companion of a prince who required to be amused, delighted in originality, and was fond of having the handsomest and pleasantest men of the age in his regiment.

Brummell, though an elegant appendage to the corps, was too much about the person of the Prince to be a diligent officer. The result was, that he was often late on parade, and did not always know his own troop. However, he evaded the latter difficulty in general, by a contrivance peculiarly his own. One of his men had a large blue-tinged nose. Whenever Brummell arrived late, he galloped between the squadrons till he saw the blue nose. There he reined up, and felt secure. Once, however, it happened unfortunately that during his absence there was some change made in the squadrons, and the place of the blue nose was shifted. Brummel, on coming up late as usual, galloped in search of his beacon, and having found his old friend he reined up. „Mr Brummell,“ cried the colonel, „you are with the wrong troop.“ „No, no,“ said Brummell, confirming himself by the sight of the blue nose, and adding in a lower tone – „I know better than that; a pretty thing, indeed, if I did not know my own troop!“

His promotion was rapid; for he obtained a troop within three years, being captain in 1796. Yet within two years he threw up his commission. The ground of this singular absurdity is scarcely worth enquiring into. He was evidently too idle for any thing which required any degree of regularity. The command of a troop requires some degree of attention from the idlest. He had the prospect of competence from his father’s wealth; and his absolute abhorrence of all exertion was probably his chief prompter in throwing away the remarkable advantages of his position – a position from which the exertion of a moderate degree of intellectual vigour, or even of physical activity, might have raised him to high rank in either the state or the army.

Of course, various readings of his resignation have been given; some referred it to his being obliged to wear hair-powder, which was then ceasing to be fashionable; others, more probably, to an original love for doing nothing. The reason which he himself assigned, was comic and characteristic. It was his disgust at the idea of being quartered, for however short a time, in a manufacturing town. An order arrived one evening for the hussars to move to Manchester. Next morning early he waited on the Prince, who, expressing surprise at a visit at such an hour from him, was answered – „The fact is, your royal highness, I have heard that we are ordered to Manchester. Now, you must be aware how disagreeable this would be to me; I really could not go. Think! Manchester! Besides, you would not be there. I have therefore, with your permission, determined to sell out.“- „Oh, by all means, Brummell!“ said the Prince; „do as you please.“ And thus he stripped himself of the highest opportunity in the most showy of all professions before he was twenty-one.

He now commenced what is called the bachelor life of England; he took a house in Chesterfield Street, May Fair; gave small but exquisite dinners; invited men of rank, and even the Prince, to his table; and avoiding extravagance – for he seldom played, and kept only a pair of horses – established himself as a refined voluptuary.

Deserts where no men abide

Brummell was a dandy by instinct, a good dresser at EscortFox; a first-rate tyer of cravats on the involuntary principle. When a boy at Eton, in 1790, he acquired his first distinction not by „longs and shorts,“ but by the singular nicety of his stock with a gold buckle, the smart cut of his coat, and his finished study of manners. Others might see glory only through hexameters and pentameters; renown might await others only through boating or cricket; with him the colour of his coat and the cut of his waistcoat were the materials of fame. Fellows and provosts of Eton might seem to others the „magnificoes“ of mankind – the colossal figures which overtopped the age by their elevation, or eclipsed it by their splendour – the „dii majorum gentium,“ who sat on the pinnacle of the modern Olympus; but Brummell saw nothing great but his tailor – nothing worthy of respect among the human arts but the art of cutting out a coat – and nothing fit to ensure human fame with posterity but the power to create and to bequeath a new fashion.

But the name of dandy was of later date; the age had not attained sufficient elegance for so polished a title; it was still buck or macaroni; the latter having been the legacy of the semi-barbarian age which preceded the eighteenth century. Brummell was called Buck Brummell when an urchin at Eton, a preliminary evidence of the honours which awaited him in a generation fitter to reward his skill and acknowledge his superiority. Dandy was a thing yet to come, but which, in his instance, was sure to come.

Yet even in boyhood the sly and subtle style, the Brummellism of his after years, began to exhibit itself. A party of the boys having quarreled with the boatmen of the Thames, had fallen on one who had rendered himself obnoxious, and were about to throw him into the river. Brummell, who never took part in those affrays, but happened to pass by at the time, said, „My good fellows, don’t throw him into the river; for, as the man is in a high state of perspiration, it amounts to a certainty that he will catch cold.“ The boys burst into laughter, and let their enemy run for his life.

At Eton, however, he was a general favourite for his pleasantry, the gentleness of his manner, and the smartness of his repartee. He had attained tolerable scholarship, was in the fifth form in 1793, the year in which he left Eton, and wrote good Latin verses, an accomplishment which he partially retained to his last days. From Eton he went to Oriel, and there commenced that cutting system of which he so soon became the acknowledged master. He cut an old Eton acquaintance simply because he had entered at an inferior college, and discontinued visiting another because he had invited him to meet two students of a hall which he was pleased to consider obnoxious. In his studies he affected to despise college distinctions, but yet wrote for the Newdigate prize, and produced the second best poem. But his violation of college rules was systematic and contemptuous. He always ordered his horse at hall time, was the author of half the squibs, turned a tame jack-daw with a band on into the quadrangle to burlesque the master, and treated all proctors‘ and other penalties with contempt. Such, at least, is the character given him by Mr Lister in Granby.

Nice ass

Indeed, the dandy-as-ass metaphor is given quite often, not only in written caricature but also in images like George Cruikshank’s “Comparative Anatomy, or, The Dandy Tribe” (1818). As the term has come to signify a foolish person, obviously, the dandy is ridiculed, usually because he willingly becomes a slave to fashion and sees an ass when looking in the mirror. Interestingly, in most of the metaphors of this kind, it is only the dandy’s head that resembles an ass. One source hints at an explanation: It’s the dandy’s diligently cultivated beard that motivates the comparison. Indeed, the dandies put much effort into the styling of their facial hair, a custom that caused quite a stir, many times.

While the dandy has been compared to the butterfly and the wasp, which both focus on the dandy’s look, primarily, some commentators take the issue more broadly and liken the dandy to an annoying insect.