Diligent Officer09 May 2020
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.