Dandiacal

What a delightful fellow is your complete dandy. No mere clothes’ prop
he, the coat does not make the dandy; no mere _flâneur_ in fine garments;
far more than that is our true dandy.

Though there is not any authority for making the statement, we do not
think that we are wrong in asserting that on the day when Adam first
complained to Eve that she had not cut his fig-leaf breeches according
to the latest fashion dandyism was born. It is not dead yet, only
moribund, palsied, shaking and decrepit with old age, blown upon by an
over-practical world of money-spinners and money-spenders. Joy seems
to have become a thing of which it is necessary to go in pursuit; in
the golden days of the dandies it was a good comrade which came almost
without hailing to those who desired its company. A real dandy would
wither and wilt in a world where joy is so much of a stranger as it is
now to most folk.

It is curious that there does not exist any history of the Rise, Decline
and Fall of Dandyism, a subject fit for the pen of Gibbon. But the
reason is, that to write it with anything approaching to accuracy and
completeness, or with sufficient sympathy and insight, would stagger the
painstaking pedantry of a German philosopher and tax the wit and wisdom
of George Meredith. Perhaps some day the University of Oxford or of
Cambridge, when it has finished trifling with ponderous records of kings
and queens, of statesmen and soldiers, of men of science and of writers
of books, will gather together a happy band of scholars and men of the
world, and will issue to us a joint-stock history of Dandyism. Reform is
in the University air; let us hope. Might not the Academic authorities
go even further with profit to themselves and to the nation? Ought they
not to found and well endow a Chair of Dandyism? Should there not be a
Professor of Dandyism to teach the young idea how to distinguish between
dress and mere clothes? Between those two there is as great a gulf fixed
as between the gentle art of the _gourmet_ and the mere feeding of the
_gourmand_. To teach also the art of living and the history of dandies
and of dandyism? In these prosaic days we are only too ready to learn
how to obtain the means of living without acquiring also a knowledge
of how to use those means to good purpose. The Universities should
likewise institute scholarships of dandyism, to encourage the study of
dandyism in our Public and Board Schools, in both of which it is so
grossly neglected. These scholarships must not be of meagre twenties
and thirties of pounds, but of several hundreds per annum, so as to
enable the scholar to practise the arts that he studies. We commend this
outlet for money to millionaires of a practical turn of mind. The future
happiness of our race depends upon its dandyism.

The dandy has played a conspicuous part upon the stage of history:
Alcibiades, Marc Antony, Buckingham, Claude Duval, Benjamin Disraeli
prove the truth of this statement. It would be a nice point to decide how
far their dandyism was part and parcel of their equipment for attaining
greatness. At one period of English history the whole population of the
country was divided between dandies and anti-dandies, Cavaliers and
Puritans, the former dandified in dress, religion, methods of fighting
and in morals. They were great dandies those martial Cavaliers, and so
were a few of their successors, who flirted and frivoled at Whitehall
under Charles II.

The literature of dandyism is varied, vast and interesting, but space
forbids our doing more than briefly alluding to two of its lighter
branches in English letters. The drama—or rather the comedy—of dandyism
holds a very high place in the history of the British Stage. Lyly, the
Euphuist, was a literary dandy of the first water, and his euphuism the
height of dandyism in literary style. Shakespeare in _Love’s Labour Lost_
has given us a whole comedy of dandyism, and in Mercutio a portrait of
the complete Elizabethan dandy. But the comedy of dandyism was at its
zenith in the days of Charles II. Congreve and Wycherley were its high
priests, who preached through the mouths of their brilliant puppets the
gospel of joy which the Court so ably practised. We have in _The School
for Scandal_ another bright flash of dandyism, though Charles Surface has
too much heart for a true and perfect dandy.

In fiction we have many striking examples of dandiacal literature,
notably _Vivian Grey_ and _Pelham_, both written by dandies.

Dandies vary in kind as well as in degree, there being some who play at
dandyism in the days of their youth, such for example as Disraeli; others
who are pinchbeck dandies, falling into the slough of overdressing, such
for example as Charles Dickens, who was a mere colourist in garments.
There are the born dandies, Brummel, D’Orsay, George Bernard Shaw for
examples, the last of whom was born at least 200 years behind his time;
he would have been delightful at the Court of Charles the Merry. It is
not necessary to be in the fashion to achieve the dignity of dandyism; G.
B. S. sets the fashion himself and is the only one who can follow it.

The psychology of the dandy has been much misunderstood, probably because
it has been so little studied. What dandies have done has been told to
us in many a biography, but what they have been—upon that point silence
reigns almost supreme. Yet the mind of the complete dandy is well worth
plumbing. Those who know him not will perchance advance the theory that
a man possessed of a mind cannot be a dandy; as a matter of fact the
reverse is the truth; he must possess mind, but not a heart.

Even so profound a philosopher and student of human nature—the two are
seldom found in conjunction, which accounts for the inefficacy of most
philosophy—as Professor Teufelsdröckh of Weissnichtwo has defined a
dandy as “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: so that others dress to live, he
lives to dress.”

Which proves that though undoubtedly German philosophers know most things
in Heaven and on Earth they do not know all, though they themselves would
never make this admission. Teufelsdröckh’s definition of a dandy is
preposterously incomplete, showing that he did not possess insight into
the heart and soul of dandyism. He perceived the clothes, but not the man.

The proper wearing of proper clothes is but part of the whole duty of a
dandy-man. A complete dandy is dandified in all his modes of life; his
sense of honour and his conceptions of morality are dandified; he is an
epicure in all the arts of fine living, in all forms of fashionable and
expensive amusement, in all luxurious accomplishments. He must be endowed
with wit, or at least gifted with a tongue of sprightliness sufficient
to pass muster as witty. He must be perfect in the amiable art of polite
conversation and expert in the language of love. He must own “the
courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s eye, tongue, sword”; he must be “the
glass of fashion and the mould of form, the observed of all observers.”

How far did D’Orsay fulfil these requirements? It is the aim of the
following pages to answer that question.

D’Orsay

I

JOCUND YOUTH

It is the habit of historians to pay little heed to the childhood and
the training of the kings, conquerors, statesmen and the other big folk
whose achievements they record and whose characters they seldom fathom
or portray. But perhaps they are right just as perhaps sometimes they
are accurate. It is easier to judge correctly and with understanding the
boy and what really were the influences that affected his development,
when we know the performances of his maturity, than it is to trace in the
child the father of the man. By what the man was we may know what the boy
had been. Which brings us to this point, that we need not very deeply
regret that the records of D’Orsay’s early years are but scanty. Such as
they are they suffice to give us all that we require—a fugitive glimpse
here and there of a childhood as great in promise as the manhood was in
performance.

Gédéon Gaspard Alfred de Grimaud, Count d’Orsay and du Saint-Empire,
Prince of Dandies, was born upon the 4th of September, in the year 1801.
Whether or not he came into the world under the influence of a lucky
star we can find no record; upon that point each of us may draw his
own conclusion in accordance with his judgment of D’Orsay’s career and
character.

He sprang from a noble and distinguished family, his father Albert,
Count d’Orsay, being a soldier of the Empire and accepted as one of the
handsomest men of his day, Napoleon saying of him that he was “_aussi
brave que beau_.” It has been written of the son, “Il est le fils d’un
général de nos armées héroiques, aussi célèbre par sa beauté que par
ses faits d’armes.” Alfred inherited his father’s good looks and his
accomplishment with the sword.

Writing in 1828, Lady Blessington says: “General d’Orsay, known from his
youth as Le Beau d’Orsay, still justifies the appellation, for he is the
handsomest man of his age that I have ever beheld…;” and Lady Blessington
was an experienced judge of manly beauty.

His mother, a beautiful woman, was Eléanore, Baroness de Franquemont,
a daughter of the King of Würtemberg by his marriage with Madame
Crawford, also needless to say a beautiful woman; also apparently dowered
handsomely with wit and worldly wisdom. Her marriage with the King who,
it has been neatly said, “baptised with French names his dogs, his
castles and his bastards,” was of course a left-handed affair, and on his
right-handedly marrying within his own rank, she retired in dudgeon to
France. Later she married an Irishman of large means, a Mr O’Sullivan,
with whom she resided for some time in India, surviving him and dying at
the advanced age of eighty-four, full of youthfulness and ardour. The
grandson inherited her accomplishment in love.

So alluring, indeed, were her charms, that on her return from the East
one of her many admirers presented her with a bottle of otto of Roses,
outdone in sweetness by the following Mooreish compliment:—

“Quand la ‘belle Sullivan’ quitta l’Asie,
La Rose, amoureuse de ses charmes,
Pleura le départ de sa belle amie,
Et ce flacon contient ses larmes.”

The fragrance of the otto has long departed but that of the compliment
remains. A pretty compliment deserves to attain immortality.

When in Paris in 1828 Lady Blessington was upon terms of intimacy with
the D’Orsays, and was greatly impressed by _la belle Sullivan_, or,
as she preferred to be called, Madame Crawford. She visited her in a
charming hôtel, “_entre Cour et Jardin_”; and decided that she was the
most “exquisite person of her age” that she had ever seen. She was then
in her eightieth year, but we are told that she did not look more than
fifty-five, and was full of good-humour and vivacity. “Scrupulously exact
in her person, and dressed with the utmost care as well as good taste,
she gives me a notion of the appearance which the celebrated Ninon de
l’Enclos must have presented at the same age, and has much of the charm
of manner said to have belonged to that remarkable woman.”

There is considerable mystery about this good lady’s career.

It was a foregone conclusion that a woman of this style would dote upon
and do her best endeavour to spoil a bright, handsome boy such as was
her grandson Alfred. Being an only son, an elder brother having died
in infancy, the child was made much of on all sides. His good looks,
his smartness, even his early developed taste for extravagant luxuries,
charmed his accomplished grandmother, whom when later on he entered the
army we find presenting him with a magnificent service of plate, which
brought upon him more ridicule than envy from his brother officers.

In 1815 Paris was in a ferment of excitements and entertainments, all
the great men and many of the great ladies of Europe were there gathered
together—where the spoil is there shall the vultures be gathered
together. Young D’Orsay, mere lad though he was, came very much to the
front; even thus early his immaculate dress was noticeable; his spirited
English hunter and his superb horsemanship attracted attention. Though he
probably did not particularly relish the occurrence, he was presented to
the Duke of Wellington. A great meeting this, the conqueror of the men of
France and the future conqueror of the women of England.

Lord William Pitt Lennox, himself only sixteen, relates that he met
D’Orsay in Paris in 1814, and he goes on to state that “in the hours of
recreation, he showed me all the sights of the ‘City of Frivolity,’ as
Paris has been not inaptly named.” Pretty good for two such mere lads!

“One of our first visits was to the Café des Milles Colonnes, which was,
at the period I write of, the most attractive café in Paris. Large as it
was, it was scarcely capable of containing the vast crowds who besieged
it every evening, to admire its saloons decorated with unprecedented
magnificence.…

“Wellington had a private box at the Théâtre Français, which D’Orsay
and myself constantly occupied to witness the splendid acting of Talma,
Madame Georges, Mademoiselle Duchesnois in tragedy, and of that daughter
of Nature, Mademoiselle Mars, in comedy.…

“Upon witnessing Perlet in _Le Comédien d’Etampes_, D’Orsay said—

“‘Is not Perlet _superlative_?’”

In another of his numerous voluminous and often highly entertaining
memoirs, Lord William writes of this same visit to Paris:—

“One youth attracted great attention that day”—it was a royal hunt in
the Bois de Boulogne—“from his handsome appearance, his gentlemanlike
bearing, his faultless dress and the splendid English hunter he was
mounted upon. This was Count Alfred d’Orsay, afterwards so well known
in London society. De Grammont,[1] who some few years after married his
sister, had sent him from England a first-rate Leicestershire hunter,
whose fine shape, simple saddle and bridle contrasted favourably with
the heavy animals and smart caparisons then in fashion with the Parisian
Nimrods.

“The Count was presented to Wellington and his staff, and from that
moment he became a constant guest at the Hôtel Borghese.…”

Of another hunt, or rather of the return from it, we read:—

“Nothing occurred during the day’s sport to merit any particular comment;
perhaps the most amusing part of it was our ‘lark’ home across the
country, when myself, Fremantle, and other _attachés_ of the English
Embassy, led some half dozen Frenchmen a rather stiffish line of stone
walls and brooks. Among the latter was D’Orsay, who, albeit unaccustomed
to go ‘across country,’ was always in the ‘first flight,’ making up by
hard riding whatever he may have lacked in judgment; he afterwards lived
to be an excellent sportsman and a good rider to hounds.”

As became the son of his father, though scarcely fitting in the grandson
of a king, D’Orsay was ever a staunch Bonapartist, feeling the full
strength of the glamour of Napoleon. But the Emperor and the Empire
vanished in cannon smoke; the Bourbons occupied rather uncomfortably
the throne of France, and D’Orsay, much against the grain, entered the
King’s _garde-du-corps_. But so ardent was his devotion to Bonapartism,
that when the new monarch made his state entry into his capital, the lad
refused to be a witness of his triumph, would not add his voice to the
general acclamation, and indulged in the luxury of tears in a back room.

His inherited instincts and his education gave him a taste for all the
fine arts of life, and Nature endowed him with exceptionally good looks.
An upstanding man he became, over six feet in stature; broad-shouldered
and slim-waisted; hands and feet of unusual beauty; long, curly, dark
chestnut hair; forehead high and wide; lips rather full; eyes large,
and light hazel in colour. Though there was something almost femininely
soft about his beauty he was nowise effeminate; in fact, he was a superb
athlete, and highly skilled in almost every form of manly exercise and
sport. We are told that he was a wit; a capital companion at all hours of
the day and night; a quite capable amateur artist, who, as is the way of
amateurs, received assistance from his professional friends, and—which is
unusual at any rate among amateurs in art if not in sport—took pay for
his work. In short, he was a very highly-gifted and accomplished young
man.

D’Orsay was born in an age when the atmosphere was electric with
adventure; when nobodies rapidly became somebodies, and many who had
been brought up to consider themselves very considerable somebodies were
shocked at being told that in truth they were nobodies, or at best but
the thin shadows of great names. It was an age when even the discomforts
of a throne were not an unreasonable aspiration for the most humbly born.
With his beauty of face and figure, fascinating manners and high family
influence, young D’Orsay must have looked upon the world as a fine fat
oyster which he could easily open and from which he could pluck the pearl
of success. He possessed a winning tongue that would have made him a
great diplomat; the daring and skill at arms that would have stood him
in good stead as a soldier of fortune; a power of raising money in most
desperate straits that would have rendered him an unrivalled minister
of finance. From all these roads to distinction he turned aside; he was
born to a greater fate; his was the genius of a complete dandy. Few great
men have been able so justly to appraise their abilities; still fewer to
attain so surely their ambition.

During his short service in the army he proved himself a good officer
and made himself popular with his men by looking to their comfort and
welfare. Naturally he assumed the lead in all the gaieties of the
garrison town, the assemblies, the dances, the dinners, the promenadings,
but how petty they must have been to him, and how often he must have
wistfully repined for Paris. He could not play his great part on so
circumscribed a stage and with so poor a company of players. But if he
could not find sufficient social sport, he could fight, and did. On one
occasion the cause of the duel was noteworthy. It happened only a few
days after he had joined his regiment that at mess one of his brother
officers made use of an offensive expression in connection with the name
of the Blessed Virgin. D’Orsay, as became a devout Catholic gentleman,
expostulated. The offence was offensively repeated, upon which D’Orsay,
evidently feeling that a verbal retort would not suffice to meet the
gravity of the occasion, threw a plateful of spinach in the face of the
transgressor. Thereupon a challenge and a duel fought that evening upon
the town ramparts. With what result? Alas, as so often upon important
affairs, history holds her tongue. The historic muse is an arrant jade,
who chatters unceasingly upon matters of no moment, and is silent upon
points concerning which we thirst for information. That is one of the
ways of women.

On the occasion of a later duel, D’Orsay remarked to his second before
the encounter:—

“You know, my dear friend, I am not on a par with my antagonist; he is a
very ugly fellow, and if I wound him in the face he won’t look much the
worse for it; but on my side it ought to be agreed that he should not
aim higher than my chest, for if my face should be spoiled _ce serait
vraiment dommage_.”

A dandy with a damaged nose or deprived of one eye would be a figure of
fun.

From remote ancestors D’Orsay inherited the spirit of chivalry, setting
woman upon a lofty pedestal and then asking her to step down and make
love to him. He was always ready to rescue a woman—not merely a beauty—in
distress, of which a fine example is an event which befell while he
was living out of barracks in apartments, which were kept by a widow,
who had one son and two daughters. The son was a muscular young man of
robust temper, and attracted—or rather distracted—one day by the sounds
of tumult rising from below, D’Orsay hastened downstairs to find this
youth employed in bullying his mother. The blood of D’Orsay was inflamed;
the dandy thrashed the lout, promising still heavier punishment should
occasion arise.

II

SHE

Even the ardent D’Orsay, while he was thus preparing himself for his
life-work and laying the foundation upon which he was to raise so superb
a fame, could not in the hours of his highest inspiration have dreamed
that Fate was deciding his future in the person of a lovely Irish
peeress, the cynosure of London society. Such, in fact, was the case.
In the year 1821 he visited England and met with the woman who held his
fortunes in her beautiful arms.

Margaret, or as she preferred to be called, and when a lady expresses a
preference that should suffice, Marguerite Power was born at Knockbrit,
near Clonmel, on the 1st of September 1789, being the third of the
six children of Edmund Power, a Tipperary squireen of extravagant
propensities and of a violent temper and overbearing tyranny which
rendered him a curse to his family. He was a good-looking, swaggering
fellow, with a showy air, fond of fine clothes, fine wine, fine horses,
and various other fine things, indulgence in which his income did not
justify. His were a handsome set of children: the two sons, Michael
and Robert, attained the army rank of captain; Marguerite—and two
sisters, Ellen and Mary Anne; the eldest child died young. Of a quieter
disposition than her brothers and sisters, Marguerite as a child was
rather weak and ailing, sensitive and reflective. At that time of her
life her beauty was not obvious; indeed few then seem to have realised
that there was any charm in the soft, round, clear-complexioned face,
with its pretty dimples and large, grey eyes shielded by long, drooping
lashes. Her voice was low, soft, caressing; her movements unstudiedly
graceful. A dreamy child, who lived in fancy-land; strange to her
comrades, who awarded her little else than ridicule and misunderstanding.

In 1796 the Powers moved into Clonmel, which change was welcomed by all
the family save Marguerite, who looked forward to it with a foreboding
that was only too fully fulfilled. In some ways this move wrought good
for the child, awakening her to the realities of life, arousing an
interest in the ways and doings of the society into which she was thrown;
her health improved, and with it her spirits, both mental and physical.

Her father’s pecuniary affairs now went rapidly from worse to much worse,
and his adventures in politics rendered him highly unpopular with those
of his own rank and station. He was a hospitable soul in his reckless,
feckless way while he had a penny to spend, and often when he had not,
filling his house with guests, many of whom were military men, and
emptying his purse.

When only fifteen years old Marguerite began to go out into society, as
did her sister Ellen, her junior by more than a year. The rackety society
of a small, Irish garrison town can scarcely have been wholesome for a
young, impressionable girl, and to its influence may be attributed the
development in Lady Blessington’s character of many evil traits which
healthful surroundings and judicious restraint might have held in check.
The two graceful, pretty children quickly became popular.

Among the familiar guests at the father’s house in 1804 were two
officers of the 47th Regiment of Foot, then stationed in Clonmel,
Captain Murray and Captain Maurice St Leger Farmer, the latter a man of
considerable means, which was quite sufficient in Power’s eyes to make
him an excellent match for Marguerite, to whom both the officers were
paying attention. Though Farmer was young, good-looking, plausible,
the child’s fancy turned toward his rival, who wooed and would have
won her had a fair field been granted him. He warned Marguerite that
Farmer had proposed for her hand to her father, the news coming to her
entirely unexpected, most unwelcome, difficult to credit. But in a few
days the information was proved conclusively to be true, her father
informing her that Farmer had approached him in the matter, and that he
had given his cordial consent to his addresses. Marguerite was dismayed,
at first stunned. She fully understood the strong inducements which
the prospect of her marriage with Farmer had for a man in her father’s
embarrassed circumstances, and knew only too well from bitter experience
how intolerant he was of opposition to any of his whims or wishes, and
how little weight the desires of any of his children bore with him. From
her mother she expected some sympathy, but to her dismay received scant
consideration for her plea to be spared, her unwillingness being counted
the romantic notion of a child too young to be able to form a right
judgment of the advantages offered by this proposed marriage. Tears and
entreaties availed not, and the child was married to a man whom she held
in detestation and in fear.

That the outcome of this inhuman mating was misery is not wonderful;
there was not in it any possibility of happiness. The one a very
turbulent man who, though not actually insane, was subject to paroxysms
of rage that were terrifying; the other a child not yet sixteen years of
age, with a nature very sensitive, impressionable, and with that intense
longing for love, sympathy and understanding so common among Irish
women and men. We know what Marguerite Power did become; it is idle to
conjecture what she might have been had not this abominable marriage been
thrust upon her.

From her own account, which seems trustworthy, we learn that her husband
treated his child-wife outrageously, not even refraining from physical
violence. Her arms were meanly pinched till black and blue; her face
struck. When he went abroad, not infrequently he would lock her into her
room, sometimes leaving her for hours without nourishment.

Three months after their marriage Farmer was ordered to rejoin his
regiment at Kildare, and his wife took the bold, determined step of
refusing to go with him. A separation being arranged, Marguerite returned
to her father’s house, where she received a welcome the reverse of kind.
Home was made utterly distasteful to her, and sympathy—the one thing
that might have saved her—was withheld by her father and mother. It was
given to her from an alien quarter, and she accepted the “protection”
offered to her by Captain Thomas Jenkins of the 11th Light Dragoons, a
Hampshire man of considerable property. The astonishing thing is that
she acted on the advice given to her by Major, afterwards Sir Edward
Blakeney, her supposed friend and well-wisher. Meanwhile Farmer had gone
out to India in the East India Company’s service.

When Lord Mountjoy, better known as Lord Blessington, first met with the
fascinating Marguerite is not quite clear, but in all probability he did
so in or about 1804, when serving as Lieutenant-Colonel of the Tyrone
Militia when stationed at Clonmel.

Blessington plays a considerable and mysterious part in the life of
D’Orsay. His father, the Right Hon. Luke Gardiner, was born in the year
1745, and did his duty by his country and possibly by his conscience in
various ways. He married the daughter of a Scotch baronet, who presented
him with several daughters and two sons, one of these latter dying in
infancy, the other, Charles John, entering the world on July 19, 1782.
He was educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford, and succeeded his
father in the titles of Viscount and Baron Mountjoy in 1798. In 1809
he was elected, upon what qualifications it is difficult to imagine,
a representative peer of Ireland, and in 1816 was created Earl of
Blessington. In this same year we hear of his visiting Marguerite in
Manchester Square, London.

[Illustration: LADY BLESSINGTON

(_From a Water-Colour Drawing by A. E. Chalon, R.A._)

[TO FACE PAGE 28]

As far as wealth was concerned Blessington certainly was granted a fine
start in life, but it may well be doubted if he were well endowed or
endowed at all with brains of any value, though we are informed by a
lukewarm but still possibly too warm biographer that he was “possessed of
some talents.” Let us hope so; but if so, he contrived with great skill
to bury them. We do hear of him speaking in the House of Lords in support
of a motion for a vote of thanks to Lord Wellington, and as a specimen of
his eloquence we quote:—

“No general was better skilled in war, none more enlightened than Lord
Viscount Wellington. The choice of a position at Talavera reflected
lustre on his talents; the victory was as brilliant and as glorious as
any on record. It was entitled to the unanimous approbation of their
lordships, and the eternal gratitude of Spain and of this country.”

It is also recorded that his lordship spoke but seldom, which may be
counted to him for a saving grace.

He seems to have been more at home in the green-room than in the
neighbourhood of the woolsack. He was very wealthy, very prodigal, vastly
futile. Byron relates of him:—“Mountjoy … seems very good-natured,
but is much tamed since I recollect him in all the glory of gems and
snuff-boxes, and uniforms and theatricals, sitting to Strolling, the
painter, to be depicted as one of the heroes of Agincourt.”

In another portrait he appears as Achilles, dragging at his chariot-tail
the body of Hector, a friend “sitting” for the corpse. Physically he was
vigorous; a tall, bright-looking man; a capital companion, when only good
spirits and a strong head unadorned with brain-sauce were called for.

In 1808, or 1809, Blessington—then mere Mountjoy—fell in with a very
charming and well-favoured lady named Brown, but there were “some
difficulties in the way of the resolution he had formed of marrying the
lady, but the obstacles were removed.” The obstacle was the mere trifle
of her already being possessed of if not blessed with a husband, Major
Brown, who, however, discreetly and considerately departed this life in
1812, thus enabling Blessington to legalise the lady’s position in his
establishment, the outcome of his connection with her having already been
that she had borne him two children, Charles John and Emilie Rosalie.
This lady subsequently presented him with two further pledges of her fond
affection, Lady Harriet Anne Frances Gardiner, born in 1812, and Luke
Wellington, afterwards by courtesy Viscount Mountjoy, born in 1814. On
the 9th of September of this same year she died.

Blessington was gifted with a penchant for losing his heart to ladies
possessed of “obstacles” in the way of his complete happiness, for, as
has been noted, he was in 1816 _vice_ Jenkins befriending Marguerite
Farmer. Again fortune smiled on his desires, Farmer dying of injuries
received during a drunken frolic in October 1817. On 16th February of the
following year his widow became Lady Blessington, she then being in her
twenty-ninth, he in his thirty-seventh, year.

Her beauty had ripened into something near akin to perfection, a bright
and radiant spirit shining through the physical tenement. Hers was a
vivid, compelling loveliness, supported by a vivacious good humour. Her
figure, though somewhat tending toward over-fullness, was moulded on
exquisite lines and of almost perfect proportions; her movements still
graceful and free, as they had been when she was a child; her face—now
pensively lovely, now suddenly illuminated with a joyous fancy that
first expressed itself in her sparkling eyes; pouting lips; a clear,
sweet-toned voice; the merriest of merry laughs. In sober truth, a very
fascinating woman.

This wild Irish girl, for certainly she had been a _leetle_ wild, had
climbed high up the social ladder. Without any other fortune than her
face and her winsome ways she had won a peer for her lord, who if not
highly endowed with ability possessed fortune in abundance, which for the
purposes of her contentment was even more to be desired.

The fond pair paid a visit to my lord’s estate in County Tyrone, and
also to Dublin, where the appearance of my lady created no small stir.
From the first day of their marriage Blessington exhibited a sumptuous
extravagance in providing luxuries for Lady Blessington, who herself
records:—“The only complaint I ever have to make of his taste, is its
too great splendour; a proof of which he gave me when I went to Mountjoy
Forest on my marriage, and found my private sitting-room hung with
crimson Genoa silk velvet, trimmed with gold bullion fringe, and all
the furniture of equal richness—a richness that was only suited to a
state-room in a palace,” or to any other room seldom used or seen.

The wilds of Ireland, however, were not a fitting stage for one so
ambitious to charm as was Lady Blessington, so after a short sojourn in
Tyrone she and her husband returned to London, where they took up their
residence at 10 St James’ Square, a house that had been dignified by the
occupancy of Chatham and was to be by that of Gladstone.

Lady Blessington was as blest as was to be the Duke of Leeds’ bride, of
whom the rhyme ran:—

“She shall have all that’s fine and fair,
And the best of silk and satin shall wear;
And ride in a coach to take the air,
And have a house in St James’ Square.”

The mansion was fitted and furnished in a style that only great wealth
could afford or ill taste admire.

Lady Blessington with her “gorgeous charms” set the one-half of London
society raving about her beauty and her extravagance; the other half
avoided the company of a lady with so speckled a past.

There were at that time two great _salons_ in London: the one at Holland
House to which wit, beauty and respectability resorted; the second being
at Lady Blessington’s house, to which only wit and beauty were attracted.
Among the constant visitors to the latter may be named Canning,
Castlereagh, who lived a few doors off; Brougham, Jekyll, Rogers, Moore,
Kemble, Mathews the elder, Lawrence, Wilkie. Moore records a visit paid
by him in May 1822, accompanied by Washington Irving. He speaks of Lady
Blessington as growing “very absurd.”

“I have felt very melancholy and ill all this day,” she said.

“Why is that?” Moore asked, doubtless with becoming sympathy in his voice
and manner.

“Don’t you know?”

“No.”

“It is the anniversary of my poor Napoleon’s death.”

Joseph Jekyll, who was well known in society as a wit and teller of good
stories and to his family as a writer of capital letters, was born in
1754, dying in 1837. It is quite startling to find him writing casually
in 1829 of having talked with “Dr” Goldsmith; how close this brings long
past times; there are those alive who met D’Orsay, who in turn knew
Jekyll, who talked with Goldsmith. Jerdan speaks of Jekyll as having “a
somewhat Voltaire-like countenance, and a flexible person and agreeable
voice.”

He was a great hand at dining-out, though it distressed him to meet other
old folk, whom he unkindly dubbed “Methusalems.”

In November 1821, he writes: “London still dreary enough; but I have
dinners with judges and lawyers—nay, yesterday with the divine bit of
blue, Lady Blessington and her comical Earl. I made love and Mathews (the
elder) was invited to make faces.”

And in the February of the succeeding year, he records another visit to
St James’ Square:—

“London is by no means yet a desert. Lately we had a grand dinner at
Lord Blessington’s, who has transmogrified Sir T. Heathcote’s ground
floor into a vast apartment, and bedizened it with black and gold like an
enormous coffin. We had the Speaker, Lord Thanet, Sir T. Lawrence.…” etc.

In June 1822 we find Blessington in quite unexpected company and engaged
upon matters that would scarcely have seemed likely to appeal to him.
On the first of that month a meeting was held of the British and
Foreign Philanthropic Society, of which the object was “to carry into
effect measures for the permanent relief of the labouring classes, by
communities for mutual interest and co-operation, in which, by means
of education, example and employment, they will be gradually withdrawn
from the evils induced by ignorance, bad habits, poverty and want of
employment.” Robert Owen was the moving spirit of the Society, and the
membership was highly distinguished, including among other unforgotten
names those of Brougham, John Galt and Sir James Graham. At a meeting
at Freemasons’ Hall, Blessington was entrusted with the reading of a
report by the committee, in which it was recommended that communities
should be established on Owen’s wildly visionary plan. The meeting was
enthusiastic, much money was promised, and—history does not record
anything further of the Society.

III

MARS AND VENUS

In France—a youthful son of Mars; in England—Venus at her zenith.

D’Orsay paid his first visit to London in 1821, as the guest of the Duc
de Guiche, to whom his sister, Ida, was married. De Guiche, son of the
Duc de Grammont, had been one of the many “emigrants” of high family
who had sought and had found in England shelter from the tempest of the
Revolution, and had shown his gratitude for hospitality received by
serving in the 10th Hussars during the Peninsular War.

Landor, writing some twenty years later, says: “The Duc de Guiche is
the handsomest man I ever saw. What poor animals other men seem in the
presence of him and D’Orsay. He is also full of fun, of anecdote, of
spirit and of information.”

Gronow describes him as speaking English perfectly, and as “quiet
in manner, and a most chivalrous, high-minded and honourable man.
His complexion was very dark, with crisp black hair curling close to
his small, well-shaped head. His features were regular and somewhat
aquiline; his eyes, large, dark and beautiful; and his manner, voice,
and smile were considered by the fair sex to be perfectly irresistible”;
concluding, “the most perfect gentleman I ever met with in any country.”

So we may take it that D’Orsay did not feel that he was visiting a land
with which he had not any tie of sympathy.

His sister Ida was a year older than himself, or, to put it more
gallantly, a year less young, and bore to him a strong likeness in
appearance but not in disposition—fortunately for her husband. Her good
looks were supported by good sense.

William Archer Shee describes the Duchesse de Guiche as “a blonde, with
blue eyes, fair hair, a majestic figure, an exquisite complexion.…”

In those golden days the adornment of a handsome person with
ultra-fashionable clothes did not qualify a man as a dandy. Much more
was demanded. It was, therefore, no small feather in D’Orsay’s cap that
he came to London an unknown young man, was seen, and by his very rivals
at once acknowledged as a conqueror. His youth, his handsome face, his
debonairness, his wit, were irresistible. Everywhere, even at Holland
House, he made a good impression. He rode in Hyde Park perfectly “turned
out,” the admired of those who were accustomed to receive, not to give,
admiration. At a ball at the French Embassy where all the lights of
fashionable society shone in a brilliant galaxy, he was a centre of
attraction “with his usual escort of dandies.”

[Illustration: ST JAMES’S SQUARE IN 1812

[TO FACE PAGE 36]

At the Blessingtons’ he was a favoured guest. Gronow, discreetly naming
no names, writes of the “unfortunate circumstances which entangled the
Count as with a fatal web from early youth”; surely a poorly prosaic way
of describing the romantic love of a young man for a beautiful woman only
twelve years his senior?

As Grantley Berkeley puts it: “The young Count made a most favourable
impression where-ever he appeared; but nowhere did it pierce so deep or
so lasting as in the heart of his charming hostess of the magnificent
_conversaziones_, _soirées_, dinners, balls, breakfasts and suppers, that
followed each other in rapid succession in that brilliant mansion in St
James’ Square.”

Grantley Berkeley also says: “At his first visit to England, he was
pre-eminently handsome; and, as he dressed fashionably, was thoroughly
accomplished, and gifted with superior intelligence, he became a
favourite with both sexes. He had the reputation of being a lady-killer …
and his pure classical features, his accomplishments, and irreproachable
get-up, were sure to be the centre of attraction, whether in the Park or
dining-room.”

Then of later times: “He used to ride pretty well to hounds, and
joined the hunting men at Melton; but his style was rather that of the
riding-school than of the hunting-field.…

“In dress he was more to the front; indeed, the name of D’Orsay was
attached by tailors to any kind of raiment, till Vestris tried to turn
the Count into ridicule. Application was made to his tailor for a coat
made exactly after the Count’s pattern. The man sent notice of it to
his patron, asking whether he should supply the order, and the answer
being in the affirmative, the garment was made and sent home. No doubt
D’Orsay imagined that some enthusiastic admirer had in this way sought to
testify his appreciation; but, on going to the Olympic Theatre to witness
a new piece, he had the gratification of seeing his coat worn by Liston
as a burlesque of himself.” This “take-off” did not please D’Orsay, who
withdrew his patronage from the Olympic and appeared no more in the
green-room which he had been wont to frequent. But the town, which had
caught wind of the joke, was delighted, and roared with merriment.

Is there a hidden reference to D’Orsay’s visit and possibly even to Lady
Blessington in these lines from “Don Juan”?

“No marvel then he was a favourite;
A full-grown Cupid, very much admired;
A little spoilt, but by no means so quite;
At least he kept his vanity retired.
Such was his tact, he could alike delight
The chaste, and those who are not so much inspired.
The Duchess of Fitz-Fulke, who loved ‘_tracasserie_,’
Began to treat him with some small ‘_agacerie_.’

“She was a fine and somewhat full-blown blonde,
Desirable, distinguished, celebrated
For several winters in the grand _grand monde_.
I’d rather not say what might be related
Of her exploits, for this were ticklish ground.…”

At a later date we find Byron describing the Count to Tom Moore as
one “who has all the air of a _cupidon déchainé_, and is one of the
few specimens I have ever seen of our ideal of a Frenchman before the
Revolution.”

Also at that later date (1823), when he met D’Orsay at Genoa with the
Blessingtons, Byron was lent by Blessington a journal which the Count
had written during this first visit of his to London. When returning it,
he writes, on 5th April:—

“MY DEAR LORD,—How is your gout? or rather how are you?
I return the Count d’Orsay’s journal, which is a very
extraordinary production, and of a most melancholy truth in all
that regards high life in England. I know, or knew personally,
most of the personages and societies which he describes; and
after reading his remarks, have the sensation fresh upon me
as if I had seen them yesterday. I would, however, plead in
behalf of some few exceptions, which I will mention by and bye.
The most singular thing is, _how_ he should have penetrated
_not_ the _facts_, but the _mystery_ of English _ennui_, at
two-and-twenty.[2] I was about the same age when I made the
same discovery, in almost precisely the same circles—for there
is scarcely a person whom I did not see nightly or daily, and
was acquainted more or less intimately with most of them—but
I never could have discovered it so well, _Il faut être
Français_ to effect this. But he ought also to have seen the
country during the hunting season, with ‘a select party of
distinguished guests,’ as the papers term it. He ought to have
seen the gentlemen after dinner (on the hunting days), and the
soirée ensuing thereupon—and the women looking as if they had
hunted, or rather been hunted; and I could have wished that
he had been at a dinner in town, which I recollect at Lord
Cowper’s—small, but select, and composed of the most amusing
people.… Altogether, your friend’s journal is a very formidable
production. Alas! our dearly-beloved countrymen have only
discovered that they are tired, and not that they are tiresome;
and I suspect that the communication of the latter unpleasant
verity will not be better received than truths usually are.
I have read the whole with great attention and instruction—I
am too good a patriot to say _pleasure_—at least I won’t say
so, whatever I may think.… I beg that you will thank the young
philosopher.…”