Deserts where no men abide19 Apr 2020
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.