To the light of my soul; to the star, of my life—Leonie Leon. For ever! For ever!
LADY BLESSINGTON AND COUNT D’ORSAY
Often there has arisen some man who, either by his natural gifts or by his impudence or by the combination of both, has made himself a recognized leader in the English fashionable world. One of the first of these men was Richard Nash, usually known as “Beau Nash,” who flourished in the eighteenth century. Nash was a man of doubtful origin; nor was he attractive in his looks, for he was a huge, clumsy creature with features that were both irregular and harsh. Nevertheless, for nearly fifty years Beau Nash was an arbiter of fashion. Goldsmith, who wrote his life, declared that his supremacy was due to his pleasing manners, “his assiduity, flattery, fine clothes, and as much wit as the ladies had whom he addressed.” He converted the town of Bath from a rude little hamlet into an English Newport, of which he was the social autocrat. He actually drew up a set of written rules which some of the best-born and best-bred people follow slavishly.
Even better known to us is George Bryan Brummel, commonly called “Beau Brummel,” who by his friendship with George IV.—then Prince Regent—was an oracle at court on everything that related to dress and etiquette and the proper mode of living. His memory has been kept alive most of all by Richard Mansfield’s famous impersonation of him. The play is based upon the actual facts; for after Brummel had lost the royal favor he died an insane pauper in the French town of Caen. He, too, had a distinguished biographer, since Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Pelham is really the narrative of Brummel’s curious career.
Long after Brummel, Lord Banelagh led the gilded youth of London, and it was at this time that the notorious Lola Montez made her first appearance in the British capital.
These three men—Nash, Brummel, and Ranelagh—had the advantage of being Englishmen, and, therefore, of not incurring the old-time English suspicion of foreigners. A much higher type of social arbiter was a Frenchman who for twenty years during the early part of Queen Victoria’s reign gave law to the great world of fashion, besides exercising a definite influence upon English art and literature.
This was Count Albert Guillaume d’Orsay, the son of one of Napoleon’s generals, and descended by a morganatic marriage from the King of Wurttemburg. The old general, his father, was a man of high courage, impressive appearance, and keen intellect, all of which qualities he transmitted to his son. The young Count d’Orsay, when he came of age, found the Napoleonic era ended and France governed by Louis XVIII. The king gave Count d’Orsay a commission in the army in a regiment stationed at Valence in the southeastern part of France. He had already visited England and learned the English language, and he had made some distinguished friends there, among whom were Lord Byron and Thomas Moore.