from The History of White's
by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
Beau Brummell was famous not only for his elegance in dress, but also for his wit. He loved to play practical jokes and took great pleasure in confounding his audience by saying something unexpected and making them laugh at his absurdities. Often he used his wit to depress pretension. Many quotes and anecdotes about the Beau exist. I expect that most of them are true though some may simply be stories that grew up or were invented by the Beau to entertain.
1: “Who’s your fat friend?”
Jesse describes how the Prince and Lord Moira were out walking in the street and met Lord Alvanley and Brummell coming the other way. The Regent pointedly talked to Alvanley, but ignored Brummell, hence his oft-quoted remark: “Alvanley, who’s your fat friend?”
|William Arden, 2nd Baron Alvanley|
from The History of White's
by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
Another version of the story suggests that the famous interchange happened at a ball held by Brummell and three friends where the Regent openly ignored his host, leading to the rude rejoinder.
2: Brummell sells out
When applying to the Regent for permission to sell out of the army, Brummell replied:
“Why 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, Your Royal Highness, Manchester! Besides,” he added with tactfulness and revealing the real reason for his dislike of the move, “you would not be there.”
3: “I made him… and I can unmake him.”
Brummell is reported to have said of the Regent to Colonel McMahon, the Prince’s private secretary: “I made him what he is, and I can unmake him.”
4: Lack of respect for Mrs Fitzherbert
At a ball at Lady Jersey’s house, the Prince asked Brummell to order Mrs Fitzherbert’s carriage. He did so, purposely stressing the request for Mistress Fitzherbert’s carriage, rather than the customary Mrs, much to that lady’s annoyance.
from The Creevey Papers
by Thomas Creevey (1904)
5: Big Ben and Benina
The Prince had a porter at Carlton House who was very tall and beefy who was nicknamed Big Ben. Brummell formed the habit of referring to the Prince, who was growing increasingly fat, as Big Ben, and Mrs Fitzherbert as Benina.
6: A note on the Prince’s lack of propriety
After Brummell’s flight to France, his possessions were sold in order to pay his debts. A note was found in one particular snuffbox: “This snuffbox was intended for the Prince Regent, if he had conducted himself with more propriety towards me.”
|George, Prince of Wales, later George IV|
from Memoirs of Her Late Majesty
Queen Charlotte by WC Oulton (1819)
7: On preserving a favourite snuffbox
Even when he was in exile, the snuffbox was still a matter of contention. Whilst George IV was staying in Calais, word was sent to Brummell requesting some snuff for the King. “With all my heart,” replied Brummell, “but not that box, for if the King saw it I should never have it again.”
8: A snuffbox is not an oyster
When Brummell found that someone had been trying to open a favourite snuffbox of his with a knife, he exclaimed: “Confound the fellow, he takes my snuff-box for an oyster.”
9: Brummell on fashion
His biographer Jesse said of Brummell: “No perfumes, he used to say, but very fine linen, plenty of it, and country washing.”
10: A tailor’s opinion of Brummell
A baronet went to Schweitzer for a coat and asked his tailor what cloth he recommended. “Why, Sir,” said the tailor, “the Prince wears superfine, and Mr Brummell the Bath coating; but it is immaterial which you choose, Sir John, you must be right; suppose, Sir, we say Bath coating - I think Mr Brummell has a trifle the preference.”
11: Shoes or slippers?
Brummell asked a friend of his what he called those things on his feet. “Why shoes,” he replied. “Shoes, are they?” said Brummell doubtfully, and stooping to look at them, “I thought they were slippers.”
12: The Duke of Bedford’s coat
The Duke of Bedford asked Brummell for an opinion on his new coat. Brummell examined him meticulously from head to toe and then said, in a most earnest and amusing manner, “Bedford, do you call this thing a coat?”
13: Brummell on his brother
When Brummell’s brother William was in town, he was asked if he was not going to see him, Brummell replied: “Yes, in a day or two; but I have recommended him to walk the back streets till his new clothes come home.”
14: On the cost of being fashionable
When asked by a widow lady of fashion how much it would cost for her son to be fashionably dressed, Brummell is credited with replying, in all seriousness: “My dear Madam, with strict economy, it might be done for eight hundred a year.”
15: Brummell on mornings
Brummell used to say that “whether it was summer or winter, he always like to have the morning well-aired before he got up”.
16: Brummell on Brighton
“Come to Brighton, my dear fellow,” Brummell once said to Cecil Jenkinson, later Lord Liverpool. “Let us be off tomorrow; we’ll eat currant-tart, and live in chintz and salt-water.”
17: The Beau depresses pretension
On one occasion, a woman called down to Brummell from her balcony, inviting him up to take tea. “Madam, you take medicine, you take a walk, you take a liberty, but you drink tea.”
18: Brummell on the Lake District
An acquaintance once asked Brummell which of the lakes in the Lake District he preferred. Brummell, quite tired of the man’s tedious raptures, turned his head imploringly towards his valet, who was arranging something in the room, and said, "Robinson."
"Which of the lakes do I admire?"
"Windermere, sir," replied that distinguished individual.
"Ah, yes, - Windermere," repeated Brummell, "so it is – Windermere."
19: Brummell on vegetables
A lady at dinner, observing that he did not take any vegetables, asked him whether such was his general habit, and if he never ate any. He replied, “Yes, madam, I once ate a pea.”
20: Brummell’s dislike of cabbage
Brummell was taxed with why a matrimonial prospect had failed. “Why what could I do, my good fellow, but cut the connexion? I discovered that Lady Mary actually ate cabbage!”
21: Brummell’s opinion of himself
Brummell wrote to Lady Hester Stanhope: “If the world is so silly as to admire my absurdities, you and I may know better, but what does that signify?”
22: An absurdity
One day a friend, meeting him limping in Bond Street, asked him what was the matter. He replied, he had hurt his leg, and the worst of it was, “it was his favourite leg”.
23: Another absurdity
Once Brummell had a bad cold, and a friend asked him how he had got it. Brummell replied: “Why, do you know, I left my carriage yesterday evening, on my way to town from the Pavilion, and the infidel of a landlord put me into a room with a damp stranger.”
24: Dealing with unfashionable persons
At an Ascot meeting, early in the day, Brummell walked his horse up a certain lady’s carriage. She expressed her surprise at his throwing away his time on her, or running the risk of being seen talking to such a very quiet and unfashionable person. “My dear Lady ___,” he replied, “pray don’t mention it; there is no one near us.”
25: Brummell’s self-importance
Brummell was once offered a lift to Lady Jersey’s ball in the carriage of a young gentleman. “Thank you exceedingly,” replied the Beau, “very kind of you, indeed! But pray how are you to go? You surely would not like to get up behind; no that would not be right, and yet it will scarcely do for me to be seen in the same carriage with you.”
26: Brummell on the horrors of prison
“Imagine a position more wretched than mine - they have put me with all the common people. I am surrounded by the greatest villains, and have nothing but prison fare.”
27: Lord Byron on Brummell
Lord Byron described Brummell to Leigh Hunt as “having nothing remarkable in his style of dress, except a ‘certain exquisite propriety’”.
|Lord Byron from |
from The Life of Lord Byron
by Thomas Moore (1844)
28: A fashionable arm
When Brummell was accused by an angry father of leading his son into a disreputable gambling transaction, Brummell replied, “Really, I did all I could for the young man. I once gave him my arm all the way from White’s to Watier’s.”
29: Thompson and Johnson
There were once two ladies in London who both liked to hold great parties, one called Mrs Thompson and the other, Mrs Johnson. Sometime after the Beau’s quarrel with the Prince, Mrs Thompson gave a party which the Prince was to attend. As a result, Brummell was not invited. Nevertheless, he turned up at the party whilst the lady was anxiously waiting for her royal guest. Mrs Thompson explained that he was not invited.
“Not invited, Madam! Not invited! Surely there must be some mistake,” declared Brummell. He sought in his pocket for an invitation card and handed it to the lady.
“That card, sir, is a Mrs Johnson’s; my name is Thompson.”
“Is it indeed?” replied Brummell. “Dear me, how very unfortunate! Really, Mrs Johns – Thompson, I mean, I am very sorry for this mistake; but you know, Johnson and Thompson – and Thompson and Johnson, are really so much the same kind of thing.”
30: Bad champagne
Once when Brummell was dining at a gentleman’s house in Hampshire, the champagne was far from good. Brummell waited for a pause in the conversation and then raised his glass and said, in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, “John, give me some more of that cider.”
Sources used include:
Bourke, Hon. Algernon, The History of White's (1892)
Jesse, William, The Life of George Brummell, esq., Commonly called Beau Brummell (Saunders & Otley, 1844, London)
Kelly, Ian, Beau Brummell, The Ultimate Dandy (Hodder & Stoughton, 2005)
Macfarlane, Charles, Reminiscences of a literary life (J. Murray, 1917)