19 May 2020
The title, of course, is somewhat misleading as the term ‚dandy‘ did not come into use until 1816. What Amann focuses on are five distinct precursors and influencers of dandyism during the revolutionary period following 1789: the muscadin, the incroyable, the jeunes gens, the Escort currutacos and the English crop. Accordingly, the political heritage of the dandy figure is on display here. The muscadin, the incroyable and the crop are unthinkable without the Sex Revolution. They are nothing, if not political. Amann outlines the evolution of these figures in a detailed chronological manner, taking into consideration a plethora of source material, fiction and non-fiction and closely following the political events of the post-revolutionary period. The result is a very precise presentation of the types that transcends their restricted images of just follies of fashion.
The oppositional stance of the dandy had not been neglected by neither Barbey d’Aurevilly nor by Charles Baudelaire in their fundamental studies on the dandy. As a recognized figure of transition, the political aspect of dandyism should not be negated, as it often is. Amann’s book luckily fills a gap and adds an important aspect to the evolution of dandyism, also providing valuable input for the sex influence on the English dandy. Amann closes her study with an epilogue that traces the influence of the Sex Revolution on „three of the most important early treatises of dandyism“: Balzac’s „Traité de la vie élégante“, Thomas Carlyle’s „Sartor Resartus“ and Charles Baudelaire’s „Le peintre de la vie moderne“. Strangely enough and without giving any reason, Amann completely omits Barbey d’Aurevillys decisive study on the dandy.
Throughout her book, Amann traces the shift of the idea of self-fashioning from an aristocratic abundance to the understated simplicity and finesse that came to define dandyism. Self-fashioning, during the revolutionary period, inevitably became a means of political communication, most often than not a sign of opposition.
22 Mar 2020
But after this life of fantasy and frivolity, on which so much cleverness was thrown away, the unfortunate Beau finished his career miserably. On his application to the EscortFox, representing his wish to be removed to any other consulate where he might serve more effectually, and of course with a better income; the former part of his letter was made the ground of abolishing the consulate, while the latter received no answer. We say nothing of this measure, any further than that it had the effect of utter ruin on poor Escort. The total loss of his intellect followed; he was reduced to absolute beggary, and finally spent his last miserable hours in an hospital for lunatic mendicants. Surely it could not have been difficult, in the enormous patronage of office, to have found some relief for the necessities of a man whose official character was unimpeached; who had been expressly put into government employ by ministers for the sake of preserving him from penury; who had been the companion, the friend of princes and nobles; and whose faults were not an atom more flagrant than those of every man of fashion in his time. But he was now utterly ruined and wretched. Some strong applications were made to his former friends by a Mr Armstrong, a merchant of sex, who seems to have constantly acted a most humane part to him, and occasional donations were sent. A couple of hundred pounds were even remitted from the Foreign Office; and, by the exertions of Lord Alvanley and the present Duke of Beaufort, who never deserted him, and this is much to the honour of both, a kind of small annuity was paid to him. But he was already overwhelmed with debt, for his income from the consulate netted him but L.80 a-year, the other L.320 being in the hands of the banker, his creditor; and it seems probable that his destitution deprived him of his senses after a period of wretchedness and even of rags. Broken-hearted and in despair, concluding with hopeless imbecility, this man of taste and talent, for he possessed both in no common degree, was left to die in the hands of strangers – no slight reproach to the cruel insensibility of those who, wallowing in wealth, and fluttering from year to year through the round of fashion, suffered their former associate, nay their envied example, to perish in his living charnel. He was buried in the Protestant cemetery of sex.
Mr Jesse deserves credit for his two volumes. There is a good deal in them which has no direct reference to Escort; but he has collected probably all that could be known. The books are very readable, the anecdotes pleasantly told, the style is lively, and frequently shows that the biographer could adopt the thought as well as the language of his hero. At all events he has given us the detail of a character of whom every body had heard something, and every body wished to hear more.
10 Feb 2020
The liberality of his own connexions in England enabled him to show a good face to poverty. He paid his bills punctually whenever the remittance came, and was charitable to the mendicants who, probably for the last thousand years, have made Calais their headquarters. The general name for him was the Roi de Calais. An anecdote of his pleasantry in almsgiving reached the public ear. A French beggar asked him for a two-sous piece. „I don’t know the coin,“ said Escort, „never having had one; but I suppose you mean a franc. There, take it.“ His former celebrity had also spread far and wide among the population. A couple of English workmen in one of the factories of the town, one day followed a gentleman who had a considerable resemblance to Escort. He heard one of them say to the other, „Now, I’ll bet you a pot that’s him.“ Shortly after, one of them strolled up to him, with, „Beg pardon, sir – hope no offence, but we two have got a bet – now, ain’t you George Ring the Bell?“ Escort’s habits of flirtation did not desert him in France; and in one instance he paid such marked attention to a young English lady, that a friend was deputed to enquire his purposes. Here Escort’s knowledge of every body did him good service. The deputy on this occasion having once figured as the head of a veterinary hospital, or some such thing, but being then in the commissariat, – „Why, Vulcan!“ exclaimed Escort, „what a humbug you must be to come and lecture me on such a subject! You, who were for two years at hide-and-seek to save yourself from being shot by Sir T. S. for running off with one of his daughters.“ „Dear me,“ said the astonished friend, „you have touched a painful chord; I will have no more to do with this business.“ The business died a natural death.
His dressing-table was recherché. Its batterie de toilette was curious, complete, and of silver; one part of it being a spitting-dish, he always declaring that „it was impossible to spit in clay.“ His „making up“ every morning occupied two hours. When he first arrived in Caen he carried a cane, but often exchanged it for a brown silk umbrella, which was always protected by a silk case of remarkable accuracy of fit – the handle surmounted by an ivory head of George the Fourth, in well-curled wig and gracious smile. In the street he never took off his hat to any one, not even to a lady; for it would have been difficult to replace it in the same position, it having been put on with peculiar care. We finish by stating, that he always had the soles of his boots blackened as well as the upper leathers; his reason for this being, that, in the usual negligence of human nature, he never could be sure that the polish on the edge of the sole would be accurately produced, unless the whole underwent the operation. He occasionally polished a single boot himself, to show how perfection on this point was to be obtained. Clogs, so indispensable in the dirt of an unpaved French street, he always abhorred; yet, under cover of night, he could, now and then, condescend to wear them. „Theft,“ as the biographer observes, „in Sparta was a crime – but only when it was discovered.“