ONCE AGAIN WEDNESDAY: The Witty Lord Alvanley

There were so many un-witty imitators of dandyism in the days of the Prince Regent that the appearance of Lord Alvanley with his delicate manner and exquisite style always caused a quiet sensation. To Lord Alvanley was awarded the reputation of being able to say as smart a thing as even Richard Brinsley Sheridan could rap out, whose repartee on all occasions was equal to any need. Captain Gronow alleges that Lord Alvanley had the talk of the day completely under his control, and was the arbiter of the school for scandal in all the St. James’s district. A bon mot attributed to him gave rise to the belief that Solomon caused the downfall and disappearance of Beau Brummell; for on some friends of the prince of dandies observing that if he had remained in London something might have been done for him by his old associates, Alvanley replied, “he has done quite right to be off; it was Solomon’s judgment.” The real point of this remark is that one of Brummell’s chief creditors was a gentleman of the Jewish persuasion whose name by chance happened to be Solomon.

The success of Lord Alvanley’s casual observations, which were evidently delivered as though he were not conscious of what the effect would be, was due to their cynical aptitude. For example, Sir Lumley Skeffington, who had been a considerable lion in his day and whose spectacle “The Sleeping Beauty” attracted much attention when it was produced at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, excited Alvanley’s wit. Sir Lumley, after having met with many misadventures and a “seclusion in the Bench,” hoped that by gay attire and a general jauntiness he would be able to get back into fashionable life once more. But his old friends were not very kindly disposed towards him once his stint in debtor’s prison had been completed. Observing this, Alvanley, being asked on one occasion who that smart looking individual was, answered, “it is a second edition of the ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ bound in calf; richly gilt and illustrated by many cuts.”

Alvanley used to say that Brummell was the only dandelion that flourished year after year in the hot-bed of the fashionable world: he had taken root. Lions were generally annual, but Brummell was perennial, and he quoted a letter from Walter Scott : ” If you are celebrated for writing verses, or for slicing cucumbers, for being two feet taller, or two feet less, than any other biped, for acting plays when you should be whipped at school, or for attending schools and institutions when you should be preparing for your grave, your notoriety becomes a talisman, an “open sesame,” which gives way to everything till you are voted a bore, and discarded for a new plaything.”

Lord Alvanley had one very great advantage over all the wits of the Regency. He had travelled in France and Russia and had the command of languages. He was equally at home in French society and Russian as he was at the Court of the King of England. We have it on record that he was one of the best examples of a man who combined a genial wit with the utmost good-nature. The slight lisp became irresistible and added zest to his piquant sayings. He was what we should term in these days a jolly man, because as he grew old he also grew rotund. And he excelled in all manly exercises, was an ardent rider to hounds, and was plucky to the core. He has been described as having the happy face of one of the happy friars, whose portraits are always a joy to look upon. He had, of course, his peculiarities, and one of them was that he would have an apricot tart on the sideboard the whole year round, no matter if apricots were not in season, and he always invited eight people to dinner, when, as can be understood, they feasted of the best. Yet this good-humoured epicure was once in a risky affair.

It happened that Lord Alvanley made some strong allusions to O’Connell in the House of Lords, which resulted in a duel on Wimbledon Common. Morgan O’Connell said he would take his father’s place, and did so. Alvanley’s second was Colonel George Dawson Damer, while Colonel Hodges acted for Morgan O’Connell. It appears that several shots were fired without effect, and the seconds then interfered and put a stop to any further hostilities. On their way home in a hackney coach, Alvanley said, “What a clumsy fellow O’Connell must be, to miss such a fat fellow as I am. He ought to practise at a haystack to get his hand in.” When the carriage drove up to Alvanley’s door, he gave the coachman a sovereign. The man was profuse in his thanks, and said: “It’s a great deal for only having taken your lordship to Wimbledon.” “No, my good man,” said Alvanley, ” I give it to you, not for taking me, but for bringing me back.”

One of the greatest charms of Alvanley’s manner was its easy naturalness. He was an excellent classical scholar, a good speaker, and whatever he undertook to do he succeeded in. He preserved his wit and good-humour to the last; notwithstanding the gout, from which he suffered. He died “quite agreeably,” as he said to friends at his bedside, in 1849.

Originally published April 2010

THE SEARCH FOR PAGET'S LEG

This post was originally published here on June 19, 2011

Wellington comforts Paget after his surgery at Waterloo

I am so glad, for so many reasons, that my very good friends are Jo Manning and Victoria Hinshaw, not least because we share the same historic interests and the same mania for researching, and visiting, little remembered facts and places in British history. Recently, Victoria kept Jo and I in thrall with the minutae of her research itinerary whilst in England via a series of rapid fire emails – where she was going, what she was researching, the research matrix she’d prepared, who her contacts were at various archives, what the train timetable was and where she’d be eating lunch. And Jo and I swooned at the prospects. In addition to shared interests, all three of us have our own, unique historic quests and we support each other fully in these, no matter how crazy they seem. Last year, my particular quest was something the three of us termed “The Search for Paget’s Leg.” 
Being an avowed Wellington afficianado, you wouldn’t think that I’d spare much energy worrying about either Henry Paget, Lord Uxbridge (created Marquis of Anglesey by Geo. IV five days after the Battle of Waterloo) or his leg, as Paget had earlier run off with Wellington’s sister-in-law, his brother Henry’s wife, Lady Charlotte. At the time, Paget was also married – to Lady Jersey’s daughter, Lady Caroline Elizabeth Villiers, by whom he’d sired eight children. (Yes, eight – the bounder! He went on to have TEN more with Charlotte). Wellington felt the impact of this desertion as well, as it threw Henry into a decline from which he was slow to recover and, in the meantime, Wellington and his wife, Kitty, had to take care of Henry’s two young children, as Henry was incapable of doing so himself.
You’ll recall that last year Victoria and I embarked on a whirlwind London/Waterloo tour, during which I was most looking forward to seeing the spot in Waterloo where Paget’s leg was buried. Yeah, yeah – totally nuts. But you have to bear in mind that Victoria, Jo and I are the Lucy Ricardos of historical research.
I realize that I’m writing this blog as if you already know the story behind Paget’s leg. If for some odd reason you’re not familiar with it, click here for the condensed version of the story. So . . . all along the route of our tour, from London to Waterloo, I’d sigh at intervals and tell Victoria, “I can’t wait to see Paget’s leg.” After the re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo itself, Paget’s leg was to be the highlight of the tour for me. I’ve already admitted that this notion of mine was strange, but it becomes stranger still when you realize that Paget’s leg isn’t even at Wellington’s headquarters in Waterloo any longer. It was disinterred and shipped back to England when Paget (Anglesey) died in 1854 and was  buried along with the rest of him in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Yes, Paget and Wellington are buried in the same place. Poor Artie couldn’t shake this guy loose, even in death.
So . . . . the very last stop on the Waterloo portion of our tour was the Wellington Museum (formerly Wellington’s headquarters), where, out in the back garden, stands the spot where Paget’s leg (once) was. Even though the Heavens didn’t direct rays of sunight onto the grave whilst I was there, nor did a choir of angels sing whilst I gazed upon it, I was in alt.

The (rather smallish) back garden

The (once) final resting place of Paget’s leg


The sign by the (former) grave
Of course, the grave itself was not the Holy Grail, rather it had become to me the symbol of all that was the Battle of Waterloo – the tragedy, the drama, the irony, the heartbreak and the heroics. I could have as easily fixated upon the site of the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball, which would have been just as fitting, as that no longer exists, either.
So . . . what’s next on my 19th century bucket list? The decoupage screen Beau Brummell was toiling away on and which was meant to be a present to his great good friend Frederica, Duchess of York.  Brummell stopped working on it when news of her death reached him in France. Trouble is, I have no idea where to begin looking for it. If you’re an aged aristocrat living in the back of beyond who happens to have the screen in your attic, email me. Heck, email me even if the screen only used to be in your attic.  Victoria, Jo and I will then embark on what we shall no doubt call “The Quest for Brummell’s Screen.”

Beau Brummell's London Townhouse For Sale

After reading my “Couple In England” post on my outing in Mayfair and my stroll to Beau Brummell’s London townhouse in Chesterfield Street, author Rosemary Stevens just informed me that it has been on the market for nearly a year, with an asking price of nearly nine million pounds. Which firmly places it out of my price range, alas. Rosemary suggested that we all pool our money in order to buy it. A grand idea, but not practical when you figure out that we’d need at least five hundred some odd people to go in on it aside from ourselves. Not only would the crowd of us not fit in the house, but if we time shared the place, we’d each only get a half day each year. Sigh. Here’s the listing. Read it and weep. I know I did.

A Couple In England – Day Two – Part One



 

I awoke on Thursday way before the Husband to the realization that I was in London. It was a bit after 8 a.m., but the room was still dark as I climbed out of bed and crept to the bathroom. A short time later, I emerged to find Hubby still sleeping. And London still awaiting me outside. Stealthily, I rummaged around in drawers and suitcases until I found something to wear on the top and something to wear on the bottom. As to what these two garments consisted of I could not have cared less. I donned socks, hoping they were mine and not the Husbands, pulled on my boots, scarf and coat and dropped the room key, money, cigs and lighter and my camera into the coat pockets and crept like a cat burglar out of the door.
 
Emerging from the hotel, I found that it was overcast and drizzling. Undaunted, I grinned my way up the street to Caffe Nero, where I got a medium mocha and took it outside to one of the tables. I sat down, lit up and sipped – God was good and all was right in my world.


The Church of Christ the Scientist is just across Curzon Street, and beside that are C.F. Trumper, Men’s Hairdressers

and just to the left of that, G. Heywood Hill Ltd. booksellers.


Of course, neither was open at that early hour, so I took myself off on my long anticipated Mayfair stroll. You’ll recall that all I’d wanted to do since yesterday was to walk the streets and poke about at my leisure, which I did. And found my interest focusing, for some odd reason, on doorways. Here we go . . . . . . .



Let’s pay homage to the Beau first, shall we? It’s only fitting. Taking a right onto Queen Street, we stroll up to the top and make a left onto Charles Street, keeping on until we come to the corner of Chesterfield Street, where Beau Brummell lived. Before we turn in, though, take in the door across the street. And the elaborate railings. And the shrubbery on the terrace. And the pediments.


Now look back down the street, at the way we just came. See the street lights, the gentle curve of the street, the wet roads, the grey skies. Not another soul in sight . . . . London in the morning . . . . joy!



 
And midway down Chesterfield Street, on the left, we find Brummell’s house – let us linger here a moment in the drizzle and contemplate this particular doorway, shall we? Just imagine the visitors who must have come and gone through that door, with its elegant side and fan lights. Visitors aside, just imagine Brummell himself coming and going through that door. Oh, to have the mystery of what he looked like solved at long last! Did he look like this . . . . .
 

or more like this “I’ve just smelled something frightful” rendering?


Or possibly an amalgam of both?

In the early morning quiet, with the streets deserted, it’s easy to imagine a carriage drawing round the corner or the sound of a service door closing upon a maid who has just taken in a delivery. A horse may whinny in the distance, someone may shout in the mews two streets away, while the aristocracy sleep warm in their beds, having turned in just a few hours ago after a night of Regency revelry . . . .  
 
But back to the house . . . . .

 
 
Incidentally, Lord Rosebery lived here, too. 
 
 
 

Day Two – Part Two Coming Soon

The Lady Who Went Too Far

A new film has been announced – The Lady Who Went Too Far. From the writer and producer of The King’s Speech comes the story of Lady Hester Stanhope, based on the biography “Star of the Morning,” by Kirsten Ellis. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, the story follows the life of world traveler Stanhope and contains elements of a political thriller as Hester moves through Europe and the Middle East.

“She was a female Lawrence of Arabia, a hundred years before Lawrence,” said screenwriter David Seidler, whose credits also include Tucker: The Man And His Dream.

“It wasn’t that she was trying to change the world, she was just living the life that she thought she should have been afforded, to go on these great adventures, she did have a voice that should be heard,” producer Gareth Unwin told Screen. “If you ever want to find great stories, you only have to look to our past.”



Lady Hester Stanhope

 “Hers is a very powerful story that’s never been told cinematically before,” added biographer Kirsten Ellis. “She’s an undiscovered iconic emblem and the film will lift the lid on what made Hester spend half her life in the Middle East and what she tried to achieve there.”

In reviewing the book for The Independent, Robert Irwin swipes at Hester by closing with, “Though she (Ellis) writes well, it is not clear that her subject deserves so much devotion. During communal strife, Hester sheltered refugees and could be generous, but more often she was mean. She was also histrionic, superstitious, malicious and vainglorious. One has to rid oneself of the romantic trappings in order to see Hester Stanhope as what she became before her death in 1839 – a batty and embittered old English expat living on tick. There are thousands like her all over the world today.”

Of course, Reader, we are not concerned with those living today. We are, however, always interested in a true 19th century character, and as such Hester qualifies. As does Brummell if one is going to speak of being “histrionic, superstitious, malicious and vainglorious,” not to mention living on the tick. If authors were to stick only to those subjects who were worthy of praise or plaudits, the non-fiction shelves would be bare, indeed. Brava to Ellis for taking Hester on. We wait to hear who will play her in the film.

You can find Ellis’s book at Amazon here and visit the author’s website here