An icon of men's fashion in early nineteenth-century England, Beau Brummell rejected the wig and breeches that were customary in his time in favor of well fitted pants, a simple navy-blue coat, and an elaborate cravat. Brummell became a celebrity for his style and beauty and many of his contemporaries adopted his style of dress. He earned the friendship of England's richest and most powerful including Prince Regent, the future King George IV. Brummell epitomized dandyism, a mode of living that emphasized elegance, refinement, and vanity. He spent many hours in front of the mirror each morning, washing and grooming himself carefully. Carlyle characterized Brummell as a man whose "office and existence consists in the wearing of clothes. Every faculty of his soul, spirit, purse and person is heroically consecrated to the wearing of clothes wisely and well so that, as others dress to live, he lives to dress" (D'Aurevilly, Dandyism, 8). Eventually Brummell's decadent lifestyle proved unsustainable. He fell out of favor of King George IV and, after gambling his fortune away, fled to France to avoid imprisonment. He died in 1840, insane and penniless.
Carlyle's finds the English society and culture of his time dangerously obsessed with physical appearance. He acknowledges that, over the previous two centuries, England had blossomed into a more tolerant and egalitarian nation in which the Common's speaker no longer must address the Queen on bended knees. Nevertheless, he suggests that this transformation did not come without a sacrifice: the loss of Moral Force. "Undue cultivation of the outward", he claims, "though less immediately prejudicial, and even for the time productive of many palpable benefits, must, in the long-run, by destroying Moral Force, which is the parent of all other Force, prove not less certainly, and perhaps still more hopelessly, pernicious". Brummell rose to fame merely on account of his style and physical beauty. As D'Aurevilly explains, "take away the Dandy and what remains of Brummell? He was fit for nothing more and for nothing less than to be the greatest dandy of his own or any time" (29). By placing Brummell alongside Shakespeare and Sidney, men admired for the intellectual and emotional power of their work, Carlyle demonstrates this loss.
D'Aurevilly, Jules Barbey. Dandyism. Trans. Douglass Ainslie. New York: PAJ Publications, 1988.
Jesse, Captain. The Life of George Brummell, Esq. London: John C. Nimmo, 1886.
"Beau Brummell." Wikipedia. 2009. March 15, 2009.
Last modified 15 March 2009