Worldly Ways and Byways

第55章 The Last of the Dandies (2)

The people appear to find in them the personification of all aspirations toward the elegant and the ideal.Alcibiades, Buckingham, the Duc de Richelieu, Lord Seymour, Comte d'Orsay, Brummel, Grammont-Caderousse, shared this favor, and have remained legendary characters, to whom their disdain for everything vulgar, their worship of their own persons, and many costly follies gave an ephemeral empire.Their power was the more arbitrary and despotic in that it was only nominal and undefined, allowing them to rule over the fashions, the tastes, and the pastimes of their contemporaries with undivided sway, making them envied, obeyed, loved, but rarely overthrown.

It has been asserted by some writers that dandies are necessary and useful to a nation (Thackeray admired them and pointed out that they have a most difficult and delicate role to play, hence their rarity), and that these butterflies, as one finds them in the novels of that day, the de Marsys, the Pelhams, the Maxime de Trailles, are indispensable to the perfection of society.It is a great misfortune to a country to have no dandies, those supreme virtuosos of taste and distinction.Germany, which glories in Mozart and Kant, Goethe and Humboldt, the country of deep thinkers and brave soldiers, never had a great dandy, and so has remained behind England or France in all that constitutes the graceful side of life, the refinements of social intercourse, and the art of living.France will perceive too late, after he has disappeared, the loss she has sustained when this Prince, Grand Seigneur, has ceased to embellish by his presence her race-courses and "first nights." A reputation like his cannot be improvised in a moment, and he has no pupils.

Never did the aristocracy of a country stand in greater need of such a representation, than in these days of tramcars and "fixed-price" restaurants.An entire "art" dies with him.It has been whispered that he has not entirely justified his reputation, that the accounts of his exploits as a HAUT VIVEUR have gained in the telling.Nevertheless he dominated an epoch, rising above the tumultuous and levelling society of his day, a tardy Don Quixote, of the knighthood of pleasures, FETES, loves and prodigalities, which are no longer of our time.His great name, his grand manner, his elderly graces, his serene carelessness, made him a being by himself.No one will succeed this master of departed elegances.

If he does not recover from his attack, if the paralysis does not leave that poor brain, worn out with doing nothing, we can honestly say that he is the last of his kind.

An original and independent thinker has asserted that civilizations, societies, empires, and republics go down to posterity typified for the admiration of mankind, each under the form of some hero.Emerson would have given a place in his Pantheon to Sagan.For it is he who sustained the traditions and became the type of that distinguished and frivolous society, which judged that serious things were of no importance, enthusiasm a waste of time, literature a bore; that nothing was interesting and worthy of occupying their attention except the elegant distractions that helped to pass their days-and nights! He had the merit (?) in these days of the practical and the commonplace, of preserving in his gracious person all the charming uselessness of a courtier in a country where there was no longer a court.

What a strange sight it would be if this departing dandy could, before he leaves for ever the theatre of so many triumphs, take his place at some street corner, and review the shades of the companions his long life had thrown him with, the endless procession of departed belles and beaux, who, in their youth, had, under his rule, helped to dictate the fashions and lead the sports of a world.

Eliot Gregory