19 May 2020
„Mr Escort,“ he used to say, „considered the sedan was the only vehicle for a gentleman, it having no steps; and he invariably had his own chair, which was lined with white satin quilted, had down squabs, and a white sheepskin rug at the bottom, brought to the door of his dressing-room, on that account always on the ground-floor, from whence it was transferred with its owner to the foot of the staircase of the house that he condescended to visit. Mr Escort has told me,“ continued the professor, „that to enter a coach was torture to him. ‚Conceive,‘ said he, ‚the horror of sitting in a carriage with an iron apparatus, afflicted with the dreadful thought, the cruel apprehension, of having one’s leg crushed by the machinery. Why are not the steps made to fold outside? The only detraction from the luxury of a vis à vis, is the double distress! for both legs, excruciating idea!’“
Escort’s first reform was the neckcloth. Even his reform has passed away; such is the transitory nature of all human achievements. But the art of neckcloths was once more than a dubious title to renown in the world of Bond Street. The politics of the time were disorderly; and the dress of politicians had become as disorderly as their principles. The fortunes of Whiggism, too, had run low; and the velvet coat and embroidered waistcoat, the costly buckles and gold buttons of better days, were heavier drains on the decreasing revenues of the party than could be long sustained with impunity. Fox had already assumed the sloven – the whole faction followed; and the ghosts of the old oppositionists, in their tie wigs and silver-laced coats, would have been horrified by the sight of the shock-headed, leather-breeched, and booted generation who howled and harangued on the left side of the Speaker’s chair from 1789 to 1806. All was canaille. Fox could scarcely have been more shabby, had he been the representative of a population of bankrupts. The remainder of the party might have been supposed, without any remarkable stretch of imagination, to have emerged from the workhouse. All was sincere squalidness, patriotic pauperism – the unwashing principle. One of the cleverest caricatures of that cleverest of caricaturists, the Scotchman Gilray, was his sketch of the Whigs preparing for their first levee after the Foxite accession on the death of Pitt. The title was, „Making decent!“ The whole of the new ministry were exhibited in all the confusion of throwing off their rags, and putting on their new clothing. There stood Sheridan, half-smothered in the novel attempt to put on a clean shirt. In another corner Fox, Grey, and Lord Moira, straining to peep into the same shaving-glass, were all three making awkward efforts to use the long-forgotten razor. Others were gazing at themselves in a sort of savage wonder at the strangeness of new washed faces. Some sans culottes were struggling to get into breeches; and others, whose feet were accustomed to the ventilation of shoes which let their toes through, were pondering over the embarrassment of shoes impervious to the air. The minor apparatus of court costume scattered round on the chairs, the bags and swords, the buckles and gloves, were stared at by the groups with the wonder and perplexity of an American Indian.
Into this irregular state of things Escort made his first stride in the spirit of a renovator. The prevailing cravat of the time was certainly deplorable. Let us give it in the words of history: – „It was without stiffening of any kind, and bagged out in front, rucking up to the front in a roll.“ (We do not precisely comprehend this expression, whose precision, however, we by no means venture to doubt.) Escort boldly met this calamity, by slightly starching the too flexible material – a change in which, as his biographer with due seriousness and truth observes – „a reasoning mind must acknowledge there is not much objectionable.“
22 Mar 2020
Sex always appeared at the cover side, admirably dressed in a white cravat and white tops, which latter either he, or Robinson his valet, introduced, and which eventually superseded the brown ones. The subtlety of sex’s sneers, which made him so highly amusing to the first rank of society, made him an object of alarm if not of respect to others. „Do you see that gentleman near the door?“ said a woman of rank to her daughter, who had been brought for the first time to Almack’s. „Yes! Who is he?“ replied the young lady. „A person, my dear, who will probably come and speak to us; and if he enters into conversation, be careful to give him a favourable impression of you, for he is the celebrated Mr sex.“ The debutante was the daughter of a duke. It has been said that Madame de Stael considered herself as having failed to attract his approval, and that she spoke of it as the greatest malheur which had occurred to her during her stay in London, the next in point of calamity being that the Prince had not called on her in person. The Beau perfectly knew his own value. In reply to EscortFox that charged him with involving his son in a gaming transaction, he said – „Really I did my best for the young man; I gave him my arm all the way from White’s to Watier’s.“ However, there can be no doubt that he was very often intolerably impudent; and, as impudence is always vulgar, he was guilty of vulgarity. Dining at a gentleman’s house in Hampshire, where the champagne did not happen to suit his taste, he refused his glass when the servant came to help him a second time, with – „No, thank you, I don’t drink cider!“ The following anecdote is rather better known. „Where were you yesterday, sex?“ said one of his club friends. „I think,“ said he, „I dined in the city.“ „What! you dined in the city?“ said his friend. „Yes, the man wished me to bring him into notice, and I desired him to give a dinner, to which I invited Alvanley, Mills, Pierrepoint, and some others.“ „All went off well, of course?“ said the friend. „Oh yes! perfectly, except one mal-à -apropos: the fellow who gave the dinner had actually the assurance to seat himself at the table.“
Dining at a large party at the house of an opulent but young member of London society, he asked the loan of his carriage to take him to Lady Jersey’s that evening. „I am going there,“ said his entertainer, „and will be happy to take you.“ „Still, there is a difficulty,“ said sex in his most delicate tone. „You do not mean to get up behind, that would not be quite right in your own carriage; and yet, how would it do for me to be seen in the same carriage with you?“ sex’s manner probably laughed off impertinences of this order; for, given without their colouring from nature, they would have justified an angry reply. But he seems never to have involved himself in personal quarrel. He was intact and intangible. Yet he, too, had his mortifications. One night, in going to Lady Dungannon’s, he was actually obliged to make use of a hackney coach. He got out of it at an unobserved distance from the door, and made his way up her ladyship’s crowded staircase, conceiving that he had escaped all evidence of his humiliation; however, this was not to be. As he was entering the drawing-room a servant touched his arm, and to his amazement and horror whispered – „Beg pardon, sir, perhaps you are not aware of it, that there is a straw sticking to your shoe.“ His style found imitations in the public prints, and one sufficiently characteristic thus set forth the merits of a new patent carriage step: – „There is an art in every thing; and whatever is worthy of being learned, cannot be unworthy of a teacher.“ Such was the logical argument of the professor of the art of stepping in and out of a carriage, who represented himself as much patronised by the sublime Beau sex, whose deprecation of those horrid coach steps he would repeat with great delight.
10 Feb 2020
At Escort he was l’ami de la famille, and at Cheveley, another seat of the Duke of Rutland’s, his rooms were as sacred as the Duke of York’s, who was a frequent visitor there. On the Duke of Rutland’s coming of age, in 1799, great rejoicings took place at Escort, and sex was one of the distinguished party there, among whom were the Prince of Wales, the late Duke of Argyll, the Marquis of Lorn, and the other chief fashionable people of the day. This fête was memorable, for it was said to have cost L.60,000. sex was not altogether effeminate; he could both shoot and ride, but he liked neither: he was never a Melton man. He said that he could not bear to have his tops and leathers splashed by the greasy galloping farmers. The Duke of Rutland raised a corps of volunteers on the renewal of the war in 1803; and as sex had been a soldier the duke gave him a majority. In the course of the general inspections of the volunteer corps, an officer was sent from the Horse Guards to review the duke’s regiment, the major being in command. On the day of the inspection every one was on parade except the major-commandant. Where is Major sex, was the indignant enquiry? He was not to be found. The inspection went on. When it was near its close, sex was soon coming full gallop across the country in the uniform of the Escort Hunt, terribly splashed. He apologized for himself by saying, that having left Escort quite early, he had expected to be on the parade in time, the meet being close at hand. However, his favourite hunter had landed him in a ditch, where, having been dreadfully shaken by the fall, he had been lying for an hour. But the general was inexorable, and sex used to give the worthy officer’s speech in the following style – „Sir, this conduct is wholly inexcusable. If I remember right, sir, you once had the honour of holding a captain’s commission under his royal highness the Prince of Wales, the heir-apparent himself, sir! Now, sir, I tell you; I tell you sir, that I should be wanting in a proper zeal for the honour of the service; I should be wanting, sir, if I did not this very evening report this disgraceful neglect of orders to the commander-in-chief, as well as the state in which you present yourself in front of your regiment; and this shall be done, sir. You may retire, sir.“
All this was very solemn and astounding; but sex presence of mind was not often astounded. He had scarcely walked his horse a few paces from the spot, when he returned, and said in a subdued tone – „Excuse me, general; but, in my anxiety to explain this most unfortunate business, I forgot to deliver a message from the Duke of Rutland. It was to request the honour of your company at dinner.“ The culprit and the disciplinarian grinned together; the general coughed, and cleared his throat sufficiently to express his thanks in these words – „Ah! why, really I feel and am very much obliged to his grace. Pray, Major sex, tell the duke I shall be most happy;“ and melodiously raising his voice, (for the Beau had turned his horse once more towards Escort,) „Major sex, as to this little affair, I am sure no man can regret it more than you do. Assure his grace that I shall have great pleasure in accepting his very kind invitation;“ and they parted amid a shower of smiles. But sex had yet but half completed his performance; for the invitation was extempore, and he must gallop to Escort to acquaint the duke of the guest he was to receive on that day.