Yes, I’m ranting…

Yes, I am ranting.  Rant, rant, rant

And I’ll tell you why.  Because of the internet. 

Because it makes me crazy and because so many misstatements of fact, so many bare-faced lies, and so much misinformed drivel is trotted out as fact on all the various blogs that clot up the blogosphere that it makes me absobloominglutely crazy. 

So there I was today, reading along in my quaint little Englishey fashion, when I came upon a blog about George Brummell–or Beau Brummell, if you prefer.  Whatever. 

And within two paragraphs, I was swearing.  Expleting.  Using the full-force of my extensive vocabulary in three languages! 

(It’s at times like this that I hate being an expert.  I hate, hate, hate it.  I want to be a nice person, you see.  I want to be supportive and lovely and charming and say things like, “That’s utterly fab!” and “I think you’ve done a smashing job…” 

I do not, not, not want to be known as that wild-eyed, wilder-haired semi-lunatic professor who throws chalk [hard] with unerring accuracy at his students and hits them smack in the forehead when they get their Latin verbs wrong!  [I had a professor like that once.  He was utterly brilliant.  Terrifying.  But brilliant.])

Also, please understand that I don’t really have an interest in Brummell one way or another.  I mean, I know lots about the fellow, because I read and research bloody everything, but knowing about him doesn’t get me firing on all cylinders like say the Russian light cavalry or formation of the Landwehr in 1813 does, or anything.  I mean, I’m sure he was perfectly delightful but…

But, okay, back to this blog…Because the first thing that set my teeth on edge was a bit about Brummell going to Eton where he ‘got to rub shoulders with the aristocracy’ as if it’s some sort of rare privilege accorded to a special few and we should all genuflect or something. 

So let me be perfectly clear here:  I am friends with several members of the aristocracy.  Get over it. 

In fact, until her death, my very dearest friend in all the world had a title–an ancient one.  And do you know what?  She was brilliant.  She was smashing.  She was the very least up-herself, stand-on-ceremony, proud or arrogant person in the entire world.  And I loved her dearly.  And I miss her like stink. 

But I’ll tell you something else.  She had to brush her teeth.  Just like everyone else.  And when she didn’t, she got cavities.  Just like everyone else. 

But back to Brummell. 

The thing about that statement–besides the obvious aristophilia issue which has me splenetically croaking–is that the author had just finished telling us that Brummell was born at 10 Downing Street where his father lived because he was the private secretary to Lord North.  Who was the Prime Minister under George III.  And who had, clearly, a title. 

And in and out of the front door of Downing Street, handing Billy Brummell (young George’s father) the requisite sweeteners to ensure that they could get in to see the Prime Minister were half the aristocratic heads in the kingdom.  Because that’s how politics worked in those days.  

So, young George would have been ‘rubbing shoulders’ with the aristocracy from the day he was born–or any time he wasn’t in the nursery…

Okay.  (Breathing in.  Breathing out.)  So then I skipped a bit, because there wasn’t a wall close enough at hand against which I could bang my head.  Hard…

And then I came across the statement that the thingie that’s called a Bow-window is called that because Beau Brummell used to sit in White’s bow window overlooking St. James’s Street.  What? 

Has no one but me heard of that superlative set of volumes known as the Oxford English Dictionary????  The repository of all the most wonderful information and the definitive authority on how and when words came into use in English?  And there’s no bally excuse for not using it because it’s now ON-LINE!

And had the author of this blog bothered to check any of her facts in that fine and noble work, she would know that it was Samuel Richardson who first used the word ‘bow-window’ in print in the year 1753. 

That’s 25 years before George Brummell made his appearance in Downing Street as a squalling brat. 

Later, Repton uses in in a discourse on gardens and conservatories or something.  And Austen used it in 1816 in Emma.  It had nothing to do with Brummell or his soubriquet.

[I have–since yesterday–refered to the index in my copy of Ian Kelly’s biography, Beau Brummell, The Ultimate Dandy, and have found that Kelly does indeed refer to this thrice between pages 245-46.  He writes:  “The facade of White’s clubhouse…was remodelled during the second half of the eighteenth century, and a little later a bay window was added over a former doorway that became a landmark on St. James’s Street.  Here Brummell held court in the afternoons, in a bow window that became known as the Beau Window…The men of the Dandiacal Body…’mustered in force’ around Brummel’s chair in the Beau Window, watching the world go by and telling jokes.”  I, therefore, stand corrected on this point.]

Pause for more of that breathing manoeuvre…

So then, I skipped along and discovered the startling information that [allegedly] Brummell contracted the syphilis from which he died in 1840 in the last years of the 18th century, when he was stationed in Brighton with the Prince’s own 10th Regiment of Light Dragoons. 

Hello? 

The only problem with that bijou fact-ette is that it’s impossible–which she would have known had the author bothered to read the whole of the Kelly biography that she cited in her footnotes. 

Because syphilis was a fast-working killer in those days and as Brummell was clearly suffering the torments of tertiary syphilis in the 1820s and 30’s, he had to have contracted the disease in London, at the height of his fame and popularity.  So around 1811. 

Because by 1816, he’d shaved off his hair to combat the baldness that was a side-effect of the mercury treatment.

Had he contracted the disease in Brighton before 1797 as she averred, he would have been bald and losing his teeth by 1803–the very time he was introducing the starched cravat of folded linen to the gentlemen of White’s Club! 

And the thing that really vexes me and peeves me in all this is that now this blog with all this rot is out there.  You know?  And some perfectly charming little person, having read a Georgette Heyer novel or something, will think, “Oooh Beau Brummell, I should google him…”  

But instead of coming across a piece that will enlighten her and give her an insight into the early 19th century mindset and provide some useful historical context, instead of all that, this charming little person will get regurgitated sancitmonious Victorian de-sexualising b*ll*cks. 

Because that’s what happened!  By the time Gronow and his mateys were writing this pap about Brummell, Victoria was on the throne, Wellington–another quite the virile man about town–was a staid, elderly statesman, and all that naughty Regency stuff had to be white-washed–and for heaven’s sake, no one mention Harriette Wilson (Brummell’s close confidante and Wellington’s former mistress).  And to say they messed with their facts doesn’t even get warm!

The very worst I ever read of that stuff was one late Victorian biog of Brummell which simpered on about his mincing walk which was like he was tiptoeing around the raindrops. 

Ya, right.  A chappie who was a cavalry officer–think boots, well-built shoulders, hard-drinking, hard-swearing, hard-riding, manly man, a fellow who spent 4-5 hours in the saddle every day–is supposed to have tippy-toed around the raindrops.  I don’t think so.

Oh–and another thing.  Brummell broke his nose when meeting face-to-face with a cobblestone.  On account of his horse having shied and spooked. 

Ehem. 

I also have met with the ground, nose to nose, as it were, pretty much in the same way.  Fortunately, it wasn’t a cobblestone, it was a hummock on the South Downs, so my nose does not have an interesting tilt to one side.  However…It’s not Romantic.  It’s just what happens…

And I’d also like to add that that prissy little picture of him isn’t Brummell.  The most likely candidate for an accurate picture of him is this one with the broken nose…

So what was Brummell then, if he wasn’t this prissy sissy clothes-horse? 

He was a man’s man.  A very well educated man who wrote rather spiffing epigrams in Latin (most Eton boys did so–they’d been writing plays in Latin or Greek since they were about 14.)  He loved dogs.  And dogs loved him.  He didn’t wear perfume or scented after-shave–he said a man should smell like clean, country-washed linen and nothing else.

And he most especially loved fabric.  Not in a girlie kind of way–but more in the way I conjecture someone like Karl Lagerfeld or Yves St. Laurent loves fabric.  He loved the weaves.  He was passionate about the depth of colour in a good English wool.  He loved how the cut of a coat could show off the fabric. 

And the early 19th century was a great time for English wool–the new mechanised looms were producing some fantastic weaves and blends…and he loved them all.  They set him alight.  And his enthusiasm for the cut of the fabric and for the design that would emphasise that changed English menswear forever. 

He was a dandy when the word didn’t mean some bloke who wears all different colours at one go and has floppy hair. 

A dandy as he lived it [dandy in those days was defined as the opposite of a bore–work that out…] wore perfect tailoring in subtle and dark colours–dark blue or dark green jackets with buff coloured breeches for daytime and for evening black breeches (later pantaloons) with a well-cut black or navy coat.  All of which sounds very contemporary, very button-down, very elegant.  No? 

Oh, and he had a great sense of humour–and played lots of practical jokes.  A lot like Oscar Wilde from what I can tell…

He was seriously addicted to gambling.  Compulsively.  Obsessively.  And it was this which destroyed him.  He gambled away millions.  And his addiction destroyed all his relationships–just as any addiction if left untreated will do–obliterated all other interests.  It left the friends who lent him money to pay off his debts seriously up against it. 

And in the end, he had no choice but to face the bailiffs or scarper off to Calais.  Which is what he chose to do.  In disgrace and ignominy. 

As for this other stuff, well…I think what I need to say is, People, do your research.  Do it properly.  Check everything.  Don’t present yourself as an expert if you’re not.  And don’t even think about blagging it.  

If only because I’m sick of knocking my head against the wall because you can’t be bothered.  

Otherwise, shut the **** up.

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27 comments on “Yes, I’m ranting…

  1. My word, this is way better than watching BBC America.
    Rant on, dear lady, rant on.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      You’re not helping. Ha ha ha. I’m meant to be the sober, sane, erudite voice of authority…not a modern version of Beethoven on a bad hair day! Work with me here…

      • Ben Bennetts says:

        Excuse me, Bennetts, but in whose delusional mind are you *not* a modern version of Beethoven on a bad hair day?

      • M M Bennetts says:

        Well, probably no one’s. Because when I couldn’t find a wall close enough for a head-bang, I started to pull at my hair, which obviously, being musician’s hair, then stayed that way. Which is why I had a bath earlier than usual. Because I didn’t think you’d be comforted coming home to a wild-eyed, wilder-haired semi-lunatic historian…See, it all makes perfect sense.

  2. lly1205 says:

    Nice post. If it’s any comfort, my blog pretty much has 0 facts in it, so I’m probably not adding to the wealth of erroneous statements out there

  3. So did he really resign his captaincy in the 10th just because he didn’t fancy a posting to Manchester on the grounds it was uncultured? Man’s man? 😉

    • M M Bennetts says:

      That’s what he said. It sounds to me like one of his glib tongue-in-cheek answers though. I mean, he also, when someone or other gave the Prince a really spanking horse as a gift and he was invited to look at it, walked all around it, then lifted up its tail and peered into its, er, privates…And when asked what he was doing, replied that he’d been told never to look a gift horse in the mouth…

      • cavalrytales says:

        Ha ha! I might have to use that 🙂

        Ever come across a source for ‘The sole purpose of cavalry is to lend a certain tone to what would otherwise be simply an ugly brawl’ (which I will definitely be using shortly)?

      • M M Bennetts says:

        Ehm, no. But I fairly certain it wasn’t Brummell, I should imagine it was Wellington–he wasn’t keen on the cavalry. Which I have come to believe is because the cavalry in Spain were adamant that they took their orders from Horse Guards in London, not from him, and refused to acknowledge him as their Commander in Chief. And the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve become convinced that that was the root of the friction between him and them.

  4. Peritus expertus… ((((((applause)))))) Sad, ain’t it, the way history becomes distorted by meaningless twaddle… Sadder still when it becomes pseudo-fact on Wiki.. But then again, Hollywood has a penchant for tweaking historical fact and the world ends up believing Charlton Heston parted the Red Sea… I mean, who is this Moses guy? 😉

    • M M Bennetts says:

      Francine, didn’t you know who Moses was? He’s the fellow who went to drama school in some Midwestern state, then went on to drive a chariot as a Spanish warrior and become president of whatever it is they call that rifle club over there…

  5. Rant away! Your ranting is better than most people’s blogging!!

  6. Gerri Bowen says:

    I enjoyed your rant very much! Thank you for the honest information. 🙂

  7. june h. says:

    Interesting post, MM! I especially appreciated the brief insight you offered behind aristophilia issue. Sometimes I myself forget that even aristocrats were human beings… It’s the way media valorizes them! I’ve always meant to but never got to read that biography on Brummell you recommended me. Really need to get to it

    • M M Bennetts says:

      Ha ha ha. It’s just the way people write about the aristocracy as though there’s some kind of magic vapour or aura or something surrounding them. I’ll be honest, most of them are lovely people, but the point is, they’re people.

      Some of lovely, some are annoying, some are stupid, some are shy, some are up-themselves, some are the most modest folk you could find anywhere. And in Georgian London, everybody rubbed shoulders with everybody else–there was no sanctified enclave for the rich and titled–and most especially, the lower classes ‘rubbed shoulders with the aristocracy’, particularly if said lower class person was a member of the pickpockets’ association or an actress or a denizen of a brothel or kept a gambling club or a gin-house…

  8. As I said elsewhere, I believe the blogger intended to infer that the bow window became known as the Beau window because that was where he liked to sit. That doesn’t suggest to me that she thought that was where the word originated. It could have been meant as a pun. I have asked her what her source was for that remark and hope to get a reply, because, I had never come across it.

  9. And by the way, if I can be forgiven for drawing attention to a previous (relatively mild) rant about the misrepresentation of Brummell, it can be found in my blog here: http://chasbaz.posterous.com/the-princes-wedding-outfit-and-this-charming

  10. authorjplane says:

    I so enjoy this blog. Magnificent rant in defense of historical accuracy, Mr. Bennetts.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      I was going to say, I aim to please. But that would be a lie in this case. I didn’t aim to please. I aimed to vent. I only wish I had had a piece of chalk to throw…

  11. Oh rats – I’ve run out of Reply buttons 😦

    I see what you mean. but beg to disagree. I think it’s simpler – the command structure was crap.

    See, once Paget went home no cavalry commander was senior enough to demand orders from HG. Regiments were usually brigaded under a general officer with an infantry background operating under a CIC with an infantry background. And Wellington’s well-known suspicion meant sometimes more tactically astute regimental commanders were reluctant to commit without orders from above. Because cavalry were often detached these took too long to arrive in fast moving situations and when they did sometimes were vague (Talavera) or devolved responsibility to the brigade commander (Vimeiro).

    In my view it’s no coincidence the most effective cavalry operation (Salamanca) was commanded by a proper cavalry general, and it seems he was not that popular with some at HG for his modernising ideas.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      I think we’re actually having a heated agreement here. Wellington certainly held the cavalry in suspicion and some of them refused to take their orders from him because they distrusted him in return and the command structure was crap all the way down from the top of Horse Guards, and Horse Guards was known to be jellied in aspic. It’s a wonder they achieved anything at all, frankly!

      Occasionally, I think he was probably right to distrust some of the cavalry officers. I mean, that Paget was a complete wazzock. And there were plenty others like him. But there was also a core of really great horsemen and great soldiers…I think Allan Mallinson is brilliant at bringing that out.

  12. Best rant I’ve heard in a long time. I highly endorse your views.

  13. Wow, what passion!
    I am all with you on this, and yes, it’s sad when non-facts are disseminated as truths to the (potentially) uneducated masses. On the other hand, maybe someone who reads this un-researched blog might become sufficiently intrigued to do some researching of their own.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      Yes…my daughter, when she sees me in this state, starts in with her version of my happy thoughts: “Think Whistlejacket. Think Turner. Think Gainsborough. Think the Musee d’Armee…” Obviously, she wasn’t on hand when this blew up!

      I hope you’re right about the further research. I genuinely hope and pray that you are right. It was said at an alumni weekend at Oxford University recently that there’s unlimited information on the internet but not much wisdom or understanding. I regret to say I think they got that absolutely correct.

      Cheers! MM

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