1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Brummell, George Bryan

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735761911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 4 — Brummell, George Bryan

BRUMMELL, GEORGE BRYAN (1778–1840), English man of fashion, known as “Beau Brummell,” was born in London on the 7th of June 1778. His father was private secretary to Lord North from 1770 to 1782, and subsequently high sheriff of Berkshire; his grandfather was a shopkeeper in the parish of St James, who supplemented his income by letting lodgings to the aristocracy. From his early years George Brummell paid great attention to his dress. At Eton, where he was sent to school in 1790, and was extremely popular, he was known as Buck Brummell, and at Oxford, where he spent a brief period as an undergraduate of Oriel College, he preserved this reputation, and added to it that of a wit and good story-teller, while the fact that he was second for the Newdigate prize is evidence of his literary capacity. Before he was sixteen, however, he left Oxford, for London, where the prince of Wales (afterwards George IV.), to whom he had been presented at Eton, and who had been told that Brummell was a highly amusing fellow, gave him a commission in his own regiment (1794). Brummell soon became intimate with his patron—indeed he was so constantly in the prince’s company that he is reported not to have known his own regimental troop. In 1798, having then reached the rank of captain, he left the service, and next year succeeded to a fortune of about £30,000. Setting up a bachelor establishment in Mayfair, he became, thanks to the prince of Wales’s friendship and his own good taste in dress, the recognized arbiter elegantiarum. His social success was instant and complete, his repartees were the talk of the town, and, if not accurately speaking a wit, he had a remarkable talent for presenting the most ordinary circumstances in an amusing light. Though he always dressed well, he was no mere fop—Lord Byron is credited with the remark that there was nothing remarkable about his dress save “a certain exquisite propriety.” For a time Brummell’s sway was undisputed. But eventually gambling and extravagance exhausted his fortune, while his tongue proved too sharp for his royal patron. They quarrelled, and though for a time Brummell continued to hold his place in society, his popularity began to decline. In 1816 he fled to Calais to avoid his creditors. Here he struggled on for fourteen years, receiving help from time to time from his friends in England, but always hopelessly in debt. In 1830 the interest of these friends secured him the post of British consul at Caen, to which a moderate salary was attached, but two years later the office was abolished. In 1835 Brummell’s French creditors in Calais and Caen lost patience and he was imprisoned, but his friends once more came to the rescue, paid his debts and provided him with a small income. He had now lost all his interest in dress; his personal appearance was slovenly and dirty. In 1837, after two attacks of paralysis, shelter was found for him in the charitable asylum of Bon Sauveur, Caen, where he died on the 30th of March 1840.

See Captain William Jesse, Life of Brummell (London, 1844, revised edition 1886); Percy H. Fitzgerald, Life of George IV. (London, 1881); R. Boutet de Monvel, Beau Brummel (trans. 1908).