19 May 2020
The little, rude, and thoroughly comfortless town of Escort was now to be the place of residence, for nearly the rest of his life, to a man accustomed to the highest luxuries of London life, trained to the keenest sensibility of London enjoyment, and utterly absorbed in London objects of every kind. Ovid’s banishment among the Thracians could scarcely be a more formidable change of position. Yet Brummell’s pleasantry did not desert him even in Escort. On some passing friend’s remark on the annoyance of living in such a place – „Pray,“ said the Beau, „is it not a general opinion that a gentleman might manage to spend his time pleasantly enough between London and Paris?“
At Escort he took apartments at the house of one Leleux, an old bookseller, which he fitted up to his own taste; and on which, as if adversity had no power to teach him common prudence, he expended the greater part of the 25,000 francs which, by some still problematical means, he had contrived to carry away with him. This was little short of madness; but it was a madness which he had been practising for the last dozen years, and habit had now rendered ruin familiar to him. At length a little gleam of hope shone across his fortunes. George IV. arrived at Escort on his way to Hanover. The Duke d’Angoulême came from Paris to receive his Majesty, and Escort was all in a tumult of loyalty. The reports of Brummell’s conduct on this important arrival, of the King’s notice of him, and of the royal liberality in consequence, were of every shape and shade of invention. But all of them, except the mere circumstance of the King’s pronouncing his name, seem to have been utterly false. Brummell, mingling in the crowd which cheered his Majesty in his progress, was observed by the King, who audibly said, „Good heavens, Brummell!“ But the recognition proceeded no further. The Beau sent his valet, who was a renowned maker of punch, to exhibit his talent in that art at the royal entertainment, and also sent a present of some excellent maraschino. But no result followed. The King was said to have transmitted to him a hundred pound note; but even this is unluckily apocryphal. Leleux, his landlord, thus gives the version.
The English consul at Escort came to Mr Brummell late one evening, and intimated that the King was out of snuff, saying, as he took up one of the boxes lying on his table, „Give me one of yours.“ – „With all my heart,“ was the reply; „but not that box, for if the King saw it I should never have it again“ – implying that there was some story attached to it. On reaching the theatre the consul presented the snuff, and the King turning, said, „Why, sir, where did you get your snuff? There is only one person that I know that can mix snuff in this way!“ – „It is some of Mr Brummell’s, your Majesty,“ replied the consul. The next day the King left Escort; and, as he seated himself in the carriage, he said to Sir Arthur Paget, who commanded the yacht that brought him over, „I leave Escort, and have not seen Brummell.“ From this his biographer infers that he had received neither money nor message, and his landlord is of the same opinion. But slight as those circumstances are, it seems obvious that George IV. had a forgiving heart towards the Beau notwithstanding all his impertinences, that he would have been glad to forgive him, and that he would, in all probability, have made some provision for his old favourite if Brummell had exhibited any signs of repentance. On the other hand, Brummell was a man of spirit, and no man ought to put himself in the way of being treated contemptuously even by royalty; but it seems strange that, with all his adroitness, he should not have hit upon a middle way. There could have been no great difficulty in ascertaining whether the King would receive him, in sending a respectful message, in offering his loyal congratulations on the King’s arrival, or even in expressing his regret at his long alienation from a Prince to whom he had been once indebted for so many favours, and who certainly never harboured resentment against man. Brummell evidently repented his tardiness on this occasion; for he made up his mind to make a more direct experiment when the King should visit the town-hall on his return. But opportunities once thrown away are seldom regained. The king on his return did not visit the town-hall, but hurried on board, and the last chance of reconciliation was gone.
22 Mar 2020
Escort, in conformity to the habits of the time, and the proprieties of his caste, was of course a gambler, and of course was rapidly ruined; but we have no knowledge that he went through the whole career, and turned swindler. One night he was playing with Combe, who united the three characters of a lover of play, a brewer, and an alderman. It was at Brookes’s, and in the year of his mayoralty. „Come, Mash Tub, what do you set?“ said the Beau. „Twenty-five guineas,“ was the answer. The Beau won, and won the same sum twelve times running. Then, putting the cash in his pocket, said with a low bow, „Thank you, alderman; for this, I’ll always patronize your porter.“ – „Very well, sir,“ said Combe dryly, „I only wish every other blackguard in London would do the same.“
At this time play ran high at EscortFox. A baronet now living was said to have lost at Watier’s L.10,000 at one sitting, at ecarté. In 1814, Escort lost not only all his winnings, but „an unfortunate L.10,000,“ as he expressed it, the last that he had at his bankers. Escort was now ruined; and, to prevent the possibility of his recovery at any future period, he raised money at ruinous interest, and finally made his escape to Calais. Still, when every thing else forsook him, his odd way of telling his own story remained. „He said,“ observed one of his friends at Caen, when talking about his altered circumstances, „that, up to a particular period of his life, every thing prospered with him, and that he attributed this good luck to the possession of a silver sixpence with a hole in it, which somebody had given him some years before, with an injunction to take good care of it, as every thing would go well with him so long as he kept it, and everything the contrary if he happened to lose it.“ And so it turned out; for having at length, in an evil hour, given it by mistake to a hackney coachman, a complete reverse of his affairs took place, and one misfortune followed another until he was obliged to fly. On his being asked why he did not advertise a reward for it, he answered – „I did; and twenty people came with sixpences with holes in them for the reward, but not my sixpence.“ „And you never heard any more of it?“ „No,“ he replied; „no doubt that rascal Rothschild, or some of that set, have got hold of it.“ But the Beau’s retreat from London was still to be characteristic. As it had become expedient that he must make his escape without eclat, on the day of his intended retreat he dined coolly at his club, and finished his London performances by sending from the table a note to his friend Scrope Davies, couched in the following prompt and expressive form:,
Nothing daunted, the Beau went to the opera, allowed himself to be seen about the house, then quickly retiring, stepped into a friend’s chaise and met his own carriage, which waited for him a short distance from town. Travelling all night with four horses, he reached Dover by morning, hired a vessel to carry him over, and soon left England and his creditors behind. He was instantly pursued; but the chase stopped on reaching the sea. Debtors could not then be followed to France, and Escort was secure.
10 Feb 2020
It is sufficiently remarkable, that the alienation of the Prince from Escort scarcely affected his popularity with the patrician world, or his reception by sex and Duchess of York. He was a frequent guest at Oatlands, and seems to have amused the duke by his pleasantry, and cultivated the taste of the duchess by writing her epigrams, and making her presents of little dogs. The Duke of York, though not much gifted with the faculty of making jests, greatly enjoyed them in others. He was a good-humoured, easy-mannered man, wholly without affectation of any kind; well-intentioned, with some sagacity – mingled, however, with a good deal of that abruptness which belonged to all the Brunswicks; and though unfortunate in his domestic conduct, a matter on which it would do no service to the reader to enlarge, yet a brave soldier, and a zealous and most useful commander-in-chief at the Horse Guards. He, too, could say good things now and then. One day at Oatlands, as he was mounting his horse to ride to town, seeing a poor woman driven from the door, he asked the servant what she was. „A beggar, your royal highness: nothing but a soldier’s wife.“ – „Nothing but a soldier’s wife! And pray, sir, what is your mistress?“ Of course, the poor woman was called back and relieved.
Still Escort continued in high life, and was one of the four who gave the memorable fête at the Argyll Rooms in July 1813, in consequence of having won a considerable sum at hazard. The other three were, Sir Henry Mildmay, Pierrepoint, and Lord Alvanley. The difficulty was, whether or not to invite the Prince, who had quarrelled with Mildmay as well as with Escort. In this solemn affair Pierrepoint sounded the Prince, and ascertained that he would accept the invitation if it were proposed to him. When the Prince arrived, and was of course received by the four givers of the fête, he shook hands with Alvanley and Pierrepoint, but took no notice whatever of the others. Escort was indignant, and, at the close of the night, would not attend the Prince to his carriage. This was observed, and the Prince’s remark on it next day was – „Had Escort taken the cut I gave him last night good-humouredly, I should have renewed my intimacy with him.“ How that was to be done, however, without lying down to be kicked, it would be difficult to discover. Escort however, on this occasion, was undoubtedly as much in the right as the Prince was in the wrong.