The Works of Max Beerbohm by Max Beerbohm



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The Works of Max Beerbohm
by Max Beerbohm

With a Bibliography by John Lane

`Amid all he has here already achieved, full, we may

think, of the quiet assurance of what is to come,

his attitude is still that of the scholar; he

seems still to be saying, before all

things, from first to last, "I

am utterly purposed

that I will not

offend."'


CONTENTS

Dandies and Dandies

A Good Prince

1880


King George the Fourth

The Pervasion of Rouge

Poor Romeo!

Diminuendo

Bibliography
Dandies and Dandies
How very delightful Grego's drawings are! For all their mad

perspective and crude colour, they have indeed the sentiment of style,

and they reveal, with surer delicacy than does any other record, the

spirit of Mr. Brummell's day. Grego guides me, as Virgil Dante,

through all the mysteries of that other world. He shows me those

stiff-necked, over-hatted, wasp-waisted gentlemen, drinking Burgundy

in the Cafe' des Milles Colonnes or riding through the village of

Newmarket upon their fat cobs or gambling at Crockford's. Grego's

Green Room of the Opera House always delights me. The formal way in

which Mdlle. Mercandotti is standing upon one leg for the pleasure of

Lord Fife and Mr. Ball Hughes; the grave regard directed by Lord

Petersham towards that pretty little maid-a-mischief who is risking

her rouge beneath the chandelier; the unbridled decorum of Mdlle.

Hullin and the decorous debauchery of Prince Esterhazy in the

distance, make altogether a quite enchanting picture. But, of the

whole series, the most illuminative picture is certainly the Ball at

Almack's. In the foreground stand two little figures, beneath whom, on

the nether margin, are inscribed those splendid words, Beau Brummell

in Deep Conversation with the Duchess of Rutland. The Duchess is a

girl in pink, with a great wedge-comb erect among her ringlets, the

Beau tre`s de'gage', his head averse, his chin most supercilious upon

his stock, one foot advanced, the gloved fingers of one hand caught

lightly in his waistcoat; in fact, the very deuce of a pose.
In this, as in all known images of the Beau, we are struck by the

utter simplicity of his attire. The `countless rings' affected by

D'Orsay, the many little golden chains, `every one of them slighter

than a cobweb,' that Disraeli loved to insinuate from one pocket to

another of his vest, would have seemed vulgar to Mr. Brummell. For is

it not to his fine scorn of accessories that we may trace that first

aim of modern dandyism, the production of the supreme effect through

means the least extravagant? In certain congruities of dark cloth, in

the rigid perfection of his linen, in the symmetry of his glove with

his hand, lay the secret of Mr. Brummell's miracles. He was ever most

economical, most scrupulous of means. Treatment was everything with

him. Even foolish Grace and foolish Philip Wharton, in their book

about the beaux and wits of this period, speak of his dressing-room as

`a studio in which he daily composed that elaborate portrait of

himself which was to be exhibited for a few hours in the clubrooms of

the town.' Mr. Brummell was, indeed, in the utmost sense of the word,

an artist. No poet nor cook nor sculptor, ever bore that title more

worthily than he.


And really, outside his art, Mr. Brummell had a personality of almost

Balzacian insignificance. There have been dandies, like D'Orsay, who

were nearly painters; painters, like Mr. Whistler, who wished to be

dandies; dandies, like Disraeli, who afterwards followed some less

arduous calling. I fancy Mr. Brummell was a dandy, nothing but a

dandy, from his cradle to that fearful day when he lost his figure and

had to flee the country, even to that distant day when he died, a

broken exile, in the arms of two religieuses. At Eton, no boy was so

successful as he in avoiding that strict alternative of study and

athletics which we force upon our youth. He once terrified a master,

named Parker, by asserting that he thought cricket `foolish.' Another

time, after listening to a reprimand from the headmaster, he twitted

that learned man with the asymmetry of his neckcloth. Even in Oriel he

could see little charm, and was glad to leave it, at the end of his

first year, for a commission in the Tenth Hussars. Crack though the

regiment was--indeed, all the commissions were granted by the Regent

himself--young Mr. Brummell could not bear to see all his brother-

officers in clothes exactly like his own; was quite as deeply annoyed

as would be some god, suddenly entering a restaurant of many mirrors.

One day, he rode upon parade in a pale blue tunic, with silver

epaulettes. The Colonel, apologising for the narrow system which

compelled him to so painful a duty, asked him to leave the parade. The

Beau saluted, trotted back to quarters and, that afternoon, sent in

his papers. Henceforth he lived freely as a fop, in his maturity,

should.
His de'but in the town was brilliant and delightful. Tales of his

elegance had won for him there a precedent fame. He was reputed rich.

It was known that the Regent desired his acquaintance. And thus,

Fortune speeding the wheels of his cabriolet and Fashion running to

meet him with smiles and roses in St. James's, he might well, had he

been worldly or a weakling, have yielded his soul to the polite

follies. But he passed them by. Once he was settled in his suite, he

never really strayed from his toilet-table, save for a few brief

hours. Thrice every day of the year did he dress, and three hours were

the average of his every toilet, and other hours were spent in council

with the cutter of his coats or with the custodian of his wardrobe. A

single, devoted life! To White's, to routs, to races, he went, it is

true, not reluctantly. He was known to have played battledore and

shuttlecock in a moonlit garden with Mr. Previte' and some other

gentlemen. His elopement with a young Countess from a ball at Lady

Jersey's was quite notorious. It was even whispered that he once, in

the company of some friends, made as though he would wrench the

knocker off the door of some shop. But these things he did, not, most

certainly, for any exuberant love of life. Rather did he regard them

as healthful exercise of the body and a charm against that dreaded

corpulency which, in the end, caused his downfall. Some recreation

from his work even the most strenuous artist must have; and Mr.

Brummell naturally sought his in that exalted sphere whose modish

elegance accorded best with his temperament, the sphere of le plus

beau monde. General Bucknall used to growl, from the window of the

Guards' Club, that such a fellow was only fit to associate with

tailors. But that was an old soldier's fallacy. The proper associates

of an artist are they who practise his own art rather than they who--

however honourably--do but cater for its practice. For the rest, I am

sure that Mr. Brummell was no lackey, as they have suggested. He

wished merely to be seen by those who were best qualified to

appreciate the splendour of his achievements. Shall not the painter

show his work in galleries, the poet flit down Paternoster Row? Of

rank, for its own sake, Mr. Brummell had no love. He patronised all

his patrons. Even to the Regent his attitude was always that of a

master in an art to one who is sincerely willing and anxious to learn

from him.
Indeed, English society is always ruled by a dandy, and the more

absolutely ruled the greater that dandy be. For dandyism, the perfect

flower of outward elegance, is the ideal it is always striving to

realise in its own rather incoherent way. But there is no reason why

dandyism should be confused, as it has been by nearly all writers,

with mere social life. Its contact with social life is, indeed, but

one of the accidents of an art. Its influence, like the scent of a

flower, is diffused unconsciously. It has its own aims and laws, and

knows none other. And the only person who ever fully acknowledged this

truth in aesthetics is, of all persons most unlikely, the author of

Sartor Resartus. That any one who dressed so very badly as did Thomas

Carlyle should have tried to construct a philosophy of clothes has

always seemed to me one of the most pathetic things in literature. He

in the Temple of Vestments! Why sought he to intrude, another Clodius,

upon those mysteries and light his pipe from those ardent censers?

What were his hobnails that they should mar the pavement of that

delicate Temple? Yet, for that he betrayed one secret rightly heard

there, will I pardon his sacrilege. `A dandy,' he cried through the

mask of Teufelsdro"ck, `is a clothes-wearing man, a man whose trade,

office, and existence consists in the wearing of clothes. Every

faculty of his soul, spirit, purse, and person is heroically

consecrated to this one object, the wearing of clothes wisely and

well.' Those are true words. They are, perhaps, the only true words in

Sartor Resartus. And I speak with some authority. For I found the key

to that empty book, long ago, in the lock of the author's empty

wardrobe. His hat, that is still preserved in Chelsea, formed an

important clue.
But (behold!) as we repeat the true words of Teufelsdro"ck, there

comes Monsieur Barbey D'Aurevilly, that gentle moqueur, drawling, with

a wave of his hand, `Les esprits qui ne voient pas les choses que par

leur plus petit co^te', ont imagine' que le Dandysme e'tait surtout

l'art de la mise, une heureuse et audacieuse dictature en fait de

toilette et d'e'le'gance exte'rieure. Tre`s-certainement c'est cela

aussi, mais c'est bien davantage. Le Dandysme est toute une manie`re

d'e^tre et l'on n'est pas que par la co^te' mate'riellement visible.

C'est une manie`re d'e^tre entie`rement compose'e de nuances, comme il

arrive toujours dans les socie'te's tre`s-vieilles et tre`s-

civilise'es.' It is a pleasure to argue with so suave a subtlist, and

we say to him that this comprehensive definition does not please us.

We say we think he errs.
Not that Monsieur's analysis of the dandiacal mind is worthless by any

means. Nor, when he declares that George Brummell was the supreme king

of the dandies and fut le dandysme me^me, can I but piously lay one

hand upon the brim of my hat, the other upon my heart. But it is as an

artist, and for his supremacy in the art of costume, and for all he

did to gain the recognition of costume as in itself an art, and for

that superb taste and subtle simplicity of mode whereby he was able to

expel, at length, the Byzantine spirit of exuberance which had

possessed St. James's and wherefore he is justly called the Father of

Modern Costume, that I do most deeply revere him. It is not a little

strange that Monsieur D'Aurevilly, the biographer who, in many ways,

does seem most perfectly to have understood Mr. Brummell, should

belittle to a mere phase that which was indeed the very core of his

existence. To analyse the temperament of a great artist and then to

declare that his art was but a part--a little part--of his

temperament, is a foolish proceeding. It is as though a man should say

that he finds, on analysis, that gunpowder is composed of potassium

chloride (let me say), nitrate and power of explosion. Dandyism is

ever the outcome of a carefully cultivated temperament, not part of

the temperament itself. That manie`re d'e^tre, entie`rement compose'e

de nuances, was not more, as the writer seems to have supposed, than

attributory to Mr. Brummell's art. Nor is it even peculiar to dandies.

All delicate spirits, to whatever art they turn, even if they turn to

no art, assume an oblique attitude towards life. Of all dandies, Mr.

Brummell did most steadfastly maintain this attitude. Like the single-

minded artist that he was, he turned full and square towards his art

and looked life straight in the face out of the corners of his eyes.
It is not hard to see how, in the effort to give Mr. Brummell his due

place in history, Monsieur D'Aurevilly came to grief. It is but

strange that he should have fallen into a rather obvious trap. Surely

he should have perceived that, so long as Civilisation compels her

children to wear clothes, the thoughtless multitude will never

acknowledge dandyism to be an art. If considerations of modesty or

hygiene compelled every one to stain canvas or chip marble every

morning, painting and sculpture would in like manner be despised. Now,

as these considerations do compel every one to envelop himself in

things made of cloth and linen, this common duty is confounded with

that fair procedure, elaborate of many thoughts, in whose accord the

fop accomplishes his toilet, each morning afresh, Aurora speeding on

to gild his mirror. Not until nudity be popular will the art of

costume be really acknowledged. Nor even then will it be approved.

Communities are ever jealous (quite naturally) of the artist who works

for his own pleasure, not for theirs--more jealous by far of him whose

energy is spent only upon the glorification of himself alone. Carlyle

speaks of dandyism as a survival of `the primeval superstition, self-

worship.' `La vanite',' are almost the first words of Monsieur

D'Aurevilly, `c'est un sentiment contre lequel tout le monde est

impitoyable.' Few remember that the dandy's vanity is far different

from the crude conceit of the merely handsome man. Dandyism is, after

all, one of the decorative arts. A fine ground to work upon is its

first postulate. And the dandy cares for his physical endowments only

in so far as they are susceptible of fine results. They are just so

much to him as to the decorative artist is inilluminate parchment, the

form of a white vase or the surface of a wall where frescoes shall be.
Consider the words of Count D'Orsay, spoken on the eve of some duel,

`We are not fairly matched. If I were to wound him in the face it

would not matter; but if he were to wound me, ce serait vraiment

dommage!' There we have a pure example of a dandy's peculiar vanity--

`It would be a real pity!' They say that D'Orsay killed his man--no

matter whom--in this duel. He never should have gone out. Beau

Brummell never risked his dandyhood in these mean encounters. But

D'Orsay was a wayward, excessive creature, too fond of life and other

follies to achieve real greatness. The power of his predecessor, the

Father of Modern Costume, is over us yet. All that is left of

D'Orsay's art is a waistcoat and a handful of rings--vain relics of no

more value for us than the fiddle of Paganini or the mask of

Menischus! I think that in Carolo's painting of him, we can see the

strength, that was the weakness, of le jeune Cupidon. His fingers are

closed upon his cane as upon a sword. There is mockery in the

inconstant eyes. And the lips, so used to close upon the wine-cup, in

laughter so often parted, they do not seem immobile, even now. Sad

that one so prodigally endowed as he was, with the three essentials of

a dandy--physical distinction, a sense of beauty and wealth or, if you

prefer the term, credit--should not have done greater things. Much of

his costume was merely showy or eccentric, without the rotund unity of

the perfect fop's. It had been well had he lacked that dash and

spontaneous gallantry that make him cut, it may be, a more attractive

figure than Beau Brummell. The youth of St. James's gave him a

wonderful welcome. The flight of Mr. Brummell had left them as sheep

without a shepherd. They had even cried out against the inscrutable

decrees of fashion and curtailed the height of their stocks. And (lo!)

here, ambling down the Mall with tasselled cane, laughing in the

window at White's or in Fop's Alley posturing, here, with the devil in

his eyes and all the graces at his elbow, was D'Orsay, the prince

paramount who should dominate London and should guard life from

monotony by the daring of his whims. He accepted so many engagements

that he often dressed very quickly both in the morning and at

nightfall. His brilliant genius would sometimes enable him to appear

faultless, but at other times not even his fine figure could quite

dispel the shadow of a toilet too hastily conceived. Before long he

took that fatal step, his marriage with Lady Harriet Gardiner. The

marriage, as we all know, was not a happy one, though the wedding was

very pretty. It ruined the life of Lady Harriet and of her mother, the

Blessington. It won the poor Count further still further from his art

and sent him spinning here, there, and everywhere. He was continually

at Cleveden, or Belvoir, or Welbeck, laughing gaily as he brought down

our English partridges, or at Crockford's, smiling as he swept up our

English guineas from the board. Holker declares that, excepting Mr.

Turner, he was the finest equestrian in London and describes how the

mob would gather every morning round his door to see him descend,

insolent from his toilet, and mount and ride away. Indeed, he

surpassed us all in all the exercises of the body. He even essayed

pree"minence in the arts (as if his own art were insufficient to his

vitality!) and was for ever penning impenuous verses for circulation

among his friends. There was no great harm in this, perhaps. Even the

handwriting of Mr. Brummell was not unknown in the albums. But

D'Orsay's painting of portraits is inexcusable. The aesthetic vision

of a dandy should be bounded by his own mirror. A few crayon sketches

of himself--dilectissimae imagines--are as much as he should ever do.

That D'Orsay's portraits, even his much-approved portrait of the Duke

of Wellington, are quite amateurish, is no excuse. It is the process

of painting which is repellent; to force from little tubes of lead a

glutinous flamboyance and to defile, with the hair of a camel therein

steeped, taut canvas, is hardly the diversion for a gentleman; and to

have done all this for a man who was admittedly a field-marshal....
I have often thought that this selfish concentration, which is a part

of dandyism, is also a symbol of that einsamkeit felt in greater or

less degree by the practitioners of every art. But, curiously enough,

the very unity of his mind with the ground he works on exposes the

dandy to the influence of the world. In one way dandyism is the least

selfish of all the arts. Musicians are seen and, except for a price,

not heard. Only for a price may you read what poets have written. All

painters are not so generous as Mr. Watts. But the dandy presents

himself to the nation whenever he sallies from his front door. Princes

and peasants alike may gaze upon his masterpieces. Now, any art which

is pursued directly under the eye of the public is always far more

amenable to fashion than is an art with which the public is but

vicariously concerned. Those standards to which artists have gradually

accustomed it the public will not see lightly set at naught. Very

rigid, for example, are the traditions of the theatre. If my brother

were to declaim his lines at the Haymarket in the florotund manner of

Macready, what a row there would be in the gallery! It is only by the

impalpable process of evolution that change comes to the theatre.

Likewise in the sphere of costume no swift rebellion can succeed, as

was exemplified by the Prince's effort to revive knee-breeches. Had

his Royal Highness elected, in his wisdom, to wear tight trousers

strapped under his boots, `smalls' might, in their turn, have

reappeared, and at length--who knows?--knee-breeches. It is only by

the trifling addition or elimination, modification or extension, made

by this or that dandy and copied by the rest, that the mode proceeds.

The young dandy will find certain laws to which he must conform. If he

outrage them he will be hooted by the urchins of the street, not

unjustly, for he will have outraged the slowly constructed laws of

artists who have preceded him. Let him reflect that fashion is no

bondage imposed by alien hands, but the last wisdom of his own kind,

and that true dandyism is the result of an artistic temperament

working upon a fine body within the wide limits of fashion. Through

this habit of conformity, which it inculcates, the army has given us

nearly all our finest dandies, from Alcibiades to Colonel Br*b*z*n de

nos jours. Even Mr. Brummell, though he defied his Colonel, must have

owed some of his success to the military spirit. Any parent intending

his son to be a dandy will do well to send him first into the army,

there to learn humility, as did his archetype, Apollo, in the house of

Admetus. A sojourn at one of the Public Schools is also to be

commended. The University it were well to avoid.


Of course, the dandy, like any other artist, has moments when his own

period, palling, inclines him to antique modes. A fellow-student once

told me that, after a long vacation spent in touch with modern life,

he had hammered at the little gate of Merton and felt of a sudden his

hat assume plumes and an expansive curl, the impress of a ruff about

his neck, the dangle of a cloak and a sword. I, too, have my Eliza-

bethan, my Caroline moments. I have gone to bed Georgian and awoken

Early Victorian. Even savagery has charmed me. And at such times I

have often wished I could find in my wardrobe suitable costumes. But

these modish regrets are sterile, after all, and comprimend. What

boots it to defy the conventions of our time? The dandy is the `child

of his age,' and his best work must be produced in accord with the

age's natural influence. The true dandy must always love contemporary

costume. In this age, as in all precedent ages, it is only the

tasteless who cavil, being impotent to win from it fair results. How

futile their voices are! The costume of the nineteenth century, as

shadowed for us first by Mr. Brummell, so quiet, so reasonable, and, I

say emphatically, so beautiful; free from folly or affectation, yet

susceptible to exquisite ordering; plastic, austere, economical, may

not be ignored. I spoke of the doom of swift rebellions, but I doubt

even if any soever gradual evolution will lead us astray from the

general precepts of Mr. Brummell's code. At every step in the progress

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