[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]


[ocr errors]


The success of the “Queens of Society' will have pioneered the way for the Wits and Beaux:' with whom, during the holiday time of their lives, these fair ladies were so greatly associated. The Queens,' whether all wits or not, must have been the cause of wit in others; their influence over dandyism is notorious: their power to make or mar a man of fashion, almost historical. So far, a chronicle of the sayings and doings of the · Wits' is worthy to serve as a pendant to that of the •Queens :' happy would it be for society if the annals of the former could more closely resemble the biography of the latter. But it may not be so: men are subject to temptations, to failures, to delinquencies, to calamities, of which women can scarcely dream, and which they can only lament

and pity

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Our Wits,' too-to separate them from the Beaux'were men who often took an active part in the stirring events of their day; they assumed to be statesmen, though, too frequently, they were only politicians. They were brave and loyal: indeed, in the time of the Stuarts, all the Wits were Cavaliers, as well as the Beaux. One hears of no

[blocks in formation]

repartee among Cromwell's followers; no dash, no merriment, in Fairfax's staff; eloquence, indeed, but no wit in the Parliamentarians; and, in truth, in the second Charles's time, the king might have headed the list of the Wits himself—such a capital man as his Majesty is known to have been for a wet evening or a dull Sunday; such a famous teller of a story—such a perfect diner-out: no wonder that in his reign we had George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham of that family, ‘mankind's epitome,' who had every pretension to every accomplishment combined in himself. No wonder that we could attract De Grammont and Saint Evremond to our court; and own, somewhat to our discredit be it allowed, Rochester and Beau Fielding. Every reign has had its wits, but those in Charles's time were so numerous as to distinguish the era by an especial brilliancy. Nor let it be supposed that these annals do not contain a moral application. They show how little the sparkling attributes herein pourtrayed conferred happiness; how far more the rare, though certainly real touches of genuine feeling and strong affection, which appear here and there even in the lives of the most thoughtless Wits and Beaux,' elevate the character in youth, or console the spirit in age. They prove how wise has been that change in society which now repudiates the • Wit' as a distinct class; and requires general intelligence as a compensation for lost repartees, or long obsolete practical jokes.

Men are not all evil : so in the life of George Villiers, we find him kind-hearted, and free from hypocrisy. His old



[blocks in formation]

servants—and the fact speaks in extenuation of one of our wildest Wits and Beaux-loved him faithfully. De Grammont, we all own, has little to redeem him except his good-nature: Rochester's latest days were almost ballowed by his penitence. Chesterfield is saved by his kindness to the Irish, and his affection for his son. Horace Walpole had human affections, though a most inhuman pen: and Wharton was famous for his good-humour.

The periods most abounding in the Wit and the Beau have, of course, been those most exempt from wars, and rumours of wars.

The Restoration ; the early period of the Augustan age; the commencement of the Hanoverian dynasty,—have all been enlivened by Wits and Beaux, who came to light like mushrooms after a storm of rain, as soon as the political horizon was clear. We have Congreve, who affected to be the Beau as well as the Wit; Lord Hervey, more of the courtier than the Beau—a Wit by inheritance—a peer, assisted into a pre-eminent position by royal preference, and consequent prestige ; and all these men were the offspring of the particular state of the times in which they figured: at earlier periods, they would have been deemed effeminate; in later ones, absurd.

Then the scene shifts : intellect had marched forward gigantically: the world is grown exacting, disputatious, critical, and such men as Horace Walpole and Brinsley Sheridan appear; the characteristics of wit which adorned that

age being well diluted by the feebler talents of Selwyn and Hook.

[blocks in formation]

Of these, and others, 'table traits,' and other traits, are here given : brief chronicles of their life's stage, over which a curtain has so long been dropped, are supplied carefully from well-established sources: it is with characters, not with literary history, that we deal; and do our best to make the portraitures life-like, and to bring forward old memories, which, without the stamp of antiquity, might be suffered to pass into obscurity.

Your Wit and your Beau, be he French or English, is no mediæval personage: the aristocracy of the present day rank among his immediate descendants : he is a creature of a modern and an artificial age; and with his career are mingled many features of civilized life, manners, habits, and traces of family history which are still, it is believed, interesting to the majority of English readers, as they have long been to

GRACE and PHILIP WHARTON. October, 1860.

« VorigeDoorgaan »