Reminiscences of Captain Gronow
by Rees Howell Gronow
1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Reminiscences of Captain Gronow


Captain Rees Howell Gronow


The spelling in this book is rather creative (including the occasional spelling of "ankle" as "ancle"), and the punctuation is remarkably varied. I have tried to preserve both, except that the spaces between a word and the following colon or semicolon have been removed. There are also many French words and phrases, whose meaning will usually be obvious as soon as you realise they are French. Of course I apologize for any genuine errors in spelling and punctuation that have crept into this file.

Captain Gronow is an entertaining raconteur who brings his own experiences in the Regency period and the wars with France delightfully to life. Gronow published several sets of memoirs. This file covers the first half of what he published. Search the web for "Captain Gronow" to learn more about this interesting gentleman.

The text is arranged as a series of topics, each with a title in capital letters. Sometimes there is continuity in this arrangement, sometimes there is not. There is no other structure to the text.

I have used the character for "pounds" (money) in this text: 'L'. If the character in single quotes does not look like a pound sign to you, well, at least you know what is intended. The book text uses a lower case 'l' for this purpose, but in computer fonts the 'l', looking just like a '1' when following a string of digits, is confusing.

Many thanks to Pam Wisniewski for proofreading this text.

—Tobias D. Robison, September, 2001

Reminiscences of Captain Gronow

Formerly of the Grenadier Guards, and M.P. for Stafford:


Anecdotes of the camp, the court, and the clubs, at the close of the last war with France.

Related by himself.

"O friends regretted, scenes for ever dear! Remembrance hails you with her warmest tear! Drooping she bends o'er pensive fancy's urn, To trace the hours which never can return."


Smith, Elder and Co., 65, Cornhill.





It has been my lot to have lived through the greater part of one of the most eventful centuries of England's history, and I have been thrown amongst most of the remarkable men of my day; whether soldiers, statesman, men of letters, theatrical people, or those whose birth and fortune—rather, perhaps, than their virtues or talents—have caused them to be conspicuous in society at home or abroad. Nature having endowed me with a strong memory, I can recall with all their original vividness scenes that took place fifty years ago, and distinctly recollect the face, walk, and voice, as well as the dress and general manner, of everyone whom I have known. I have frequently repeated to my friends what I have seen and heard since the year that I joined the Guards (1813), and have been urged to commit to paper my anecdotes and reminiscences.

Unfortunately, I have not the power of efficiently describing in words the pictures that are hung up in the long gallery of my memory: a man may see very distinctly the landscape before him, yet he may be unable to delineate that which he gazes upon and is intimately acquainted with. A viva voce narrative of an incident told to a friend in conversation may pass muster, and one is able to fill up any gaps in an imperfect description; but it always occurred to me that I had no right to task a reader's time and patience unless I could put before him what I had to say in a lucid and complete form; I therefore refrained from committing myself to print. I have at length, however, yielded to the suggestion of friends, and written down some anecdotes in the best way I could. Soldiers are not generally famous for literary excellence, and when I was young, the military man was, perhaps, much less a scholar than he is at the present day; but I hope that the interest of the matter will make up for any deficiency of style.

In going over more than half a century, and treating of men, women and events, it was necessary to leave out many anecdotes which would, perhaps, have been more interesting than most of those that I have given; for I would not willingly offend, or hurt the feelings of any one, and I wish to respect the memory of the dead, as well as to take into consideration the sensitiveness of the living. My Reminiscences, it will be seen, are nothing more than miniature illustrations of contemporary history; and though the reader may find here and there scraps of biographical matter, I confine myself to facts and characteristics which were familiar to the circle in which I moved, and perhaps are as much public property as the painted portraits of celebrities.

Should this work meet with the approbation of the public, I hope at a future time to publish an additional one, as my memory still serves me with sufficient materials for another volume of a similar kind.

R. H. Gronow.


After leaving Eton, I received an Ensign's commission in the First Guards during the month of December, 1812. Though many years have elapsed, I still remember my boyish delight at being named to so distinguished a regiment, and at the prospect of soon taking a part in the glorious deeds of our army in Spain. I joined in February 1813, and cannot but recollect with astonishment how limited and imperfect was the instruction which an officer received at that time: he absolutely entered the army without any military education whatever. We were so defective in our drill, even after we had passed out of the hands of the sergeant, that the excellence of our non-commissioned officers alone prevented us from meeting with the most fatal disasters in the face of the enemy. Physical force and our bull-dog energy carried many a hard-fought field. Luckily, nous avons change tout cela, and our officers may now vie with those of any other army in an age when the great improvements in musketry, in artillery practice, and in the greater rapidity of manoeuvring, have entirely changed the art of war, and rendered the individual education of those in every grade of command an absolute necessity.

After passing through the hands of the drill sergeant with my friends Dashwood, Batty, Browne, Lascelles, Hume, and Masters, and mounting guard at St. James's for a few months, we were hurried off, one fine morning, in charge of a splendid detachment of five hundred men to join Lord Wellington in Spain. Macadam had just begun to do for England what Marshal Wade did in Scotland seventy years before; and we were able to march twenty miles a day with ease until we reached Portsmouth. There we found transports ready to convey a large reinforcement, of which we formed part, to Lord Wellington, who was now making his arrangements, after taking St. Sebastian, for a yet more important event in the history of the Peninsular War—the invasion of France.


We sailed under convoy of the Madagascar frigate, commanded by Captain Curtis; and, after a favourable voyage, we arrived at Passages. Our stay there was short, for we were ordered to join the army without loss of time. In three hours we got fairly into camp, where we were received with loud cheers by our brothers in arms.

The whole British army was here under canvas; our allies, the Spaniards and Portuguese, being in the rear. About the middle of October, to our great delight, the army received orders to cross the Bidassoa. At three o'clock on the morning of the 15th our regiment advanced through a difficult country, and, after a harassing march, reached the top of a hill as the gray light of morning began to dawn. We marched in profound silence, but with a pleasurable feeling of excitement amongst all ranks at the thought of meeting the enemy, and perhaps with not an equally agreeable idea that we might be in the next world before the day was over.

As we ascended the rugged side of the hill, I saw, for the first time, the immortal Wellington. He was accompanied by the Spanish General, Alava, Lord Fitzroy Somerset, and Major, afterwards Colonel Freemantle. He was very stern and grave-looking; he was in deep meditation, so long as I kept him in view, and spoke to no one. His features were bold, and I saw much decision of character in his expression. He rode a knowing-looking, thorough-bred horse, and wore a gray overcoat, Hessian boots, and a large cocked hat. We commenced the passage of the Bidassoa about five in the morning, and in a short time infantry, cavalry, and artillery found themselves upon French ground. The stream at the point we forded was nearly four feet deep, and had Soult been aware of what we were about, we should have found the passage of the river a very arduous undertaking.

Three miles above, we discovered the French army, and ere long found ourselves under fire. The sensation of being made a target to a large body of men is at first not particularly pleasant, but "in a trice, the ear becomes more Irish and less nice." The first man I ever saw killed was a Spanish soldier, who was cut in two by a cannon ball. The French army, not long after we began to return their fire, was in full retreat; and after a little sharp, but desultory fighting, in which our Division met with some loss, we took possession of the camp and strong position of Soult's army. We found the soldiers' huts very comfortable; they were built of branches of trees and furze, and formed squares and streets, which had names placarded up, such as Rue de Paris, Rue de Versailles, &c. We were not sorry to find ourselves in such commodious quarters, as well as being well housed. The scenery surrounding the camp was picturesque and grand. From our elevated position, immediately in front, we commanded a wide and extensive plain, intersected by two important rivers, the Nive and the Nivelle. On the right, the lofty Pyrenees, with their grand and varied outline, stood forth conspicuously in a blue, cloudless sky; on our left was the Bay of Biscay, with our cruisers perpetually on the move.

We witnessed from the camp, one night about twelve o'clock, a fight at sea, between an English brig and a French corvette, which was leaving the Adour with provisions and ammunition. She was chased by the brig, and brought to action. The night was sufficiently clear to enable us to discover distinctly the position of the vessels and the measured flash of their guns. They were at close quarters, and in less than half an hour we discovered the crew of the corvette taking to their boats. Shortly afterwards the vessel blew up with a loud explosion. We came to the conclusion that sea-fighting was more agreeable than land-fighting, as the crews of the vessels engaged without previous heavy marching, and with loose light clothing; there was no manoeuvring or standing for hours on the defensive; the wounded were immediately taken below and attended to, and the whole affair was over in a pleasingly brief period.


The French infantry soldier averaged about five feet five or six in height; in build they were much about what they are now, perhaps a little broader over the shoulder. They were smart, active, handy fellows, and much more able to look after their personal comforts than British soldiers, as their camps indicated. The uniform of those days consisted in a schako, which spread out at the top; a short-waisted, swallow-tailed coat; and large, baggy trousers and gaiters. The clothing of the French soldier was roomy, and enabled him to march and move about at ease: no pipeclay accessories occupied their attention; in a word, their uniforms and accoutrements were infinitely superior to our own, taking into consideration the practical necessities of warfare. Their muskets were inferior to ours, and their firing less deadly. The French cavalry we thought badly horsed; but their uniforms, though showy, were, like those of the infantry, comfortably large and roomy.

I have frequently remarked that firearms are of little use to the mounted soldier, and often an incumbrance to man and horse. Cavalry want only one arm—the sabre. Let the men be well mounted and at home in the saddle. It requires great knowledge in a Commander-in-chief to know when and how to use his cavalry. It has been my misfortune to witness oft-repeated blunders in the employment of the best-mounted regiments in the world. I consider the French generals had more knowledge of the use of cavalry than our own, when a great battle was to be fought.


If the present generation of Englishmen would take the trouble of looking at the newspaper which fifty years ago informed the British public of passing events both at home and abroad, they would, doubtless, marvel at the very limited and imperfect amount of intelligence which the best journals were enabled to place before their readers. The progress of the Peninsular campaign was very imperfectly chronicled; it will, therefore, be easily imagined what interest was attached to certain letters that appeared in the Morning Chronicle which criticised with much severity, and frequently with considerable injustice, the military movements of Lord Wellington's Spanish campaign.

The attention of the Commander-in-Chief being drawn to these periodical and personal comments on his conduct of the war, his lordship at once perceived from the information which they contained that they must have been written by an officer holding a high command under him. Determined to ascertain the author—who, in addressing a public journal, was violating the Articles of War, and, it might be, assisting the enemy—means were employed in London to identify the writer. The result was, that Lord Wellington discovered the author of the letters to be no other than Sir Charles Stewart, the late Lord Londonderry. As soon as Lord Wellington had made himself master of this fact, he summoned Sir Charles Stewart to head-quarters at Torres Vedras; and on his appearance, he, without the least preface, addressed him thus:—

"Charles Stewart, I have ascertained with deep regret that you are the author of the letters which appeared in the Morning Chronicle abusing me and finding fault with my military plans."

Lord Wellington paused here for a moment, and then continued:

"Now, Stewart, you know your brother Castlereagh is my best friend, to whom I owe everything; nevertheless, if you continue to write letters to the Chronicle, or any other newspaper, by God, I will send you home."

Sir Charles Stewart was so affected at this rebuke that he shed tears, and expressed himself deeply penitent for the breach of confidence and want of respect for the Articles of War. They immediately shook hands and parted friends. It happened, however, that Sir Charles Stewart did not remain long in the cavalry, of which he was Adjutant-General. Within a few weeks he was named one of the Commissioners deputed to proceed to the Allied Armies, where the Sovereigns were then completing their plans to crush Napoleon.


During the winter of 1813, the Guards were stationed with head-quarters at St Jean de Luz, and most comfortable we managed to make them. For some short time previously we had been on scanty commons, and had undergone considerable privation: indeed we might have said, like the Colonel to Johnny Newcome on his arrival to join his regiment, "We sons of Mars have long been fed on brandy and cigars." I had no cause to complain personally; for my servant, a Sicilian, was one of the most accomplished foragers (ill-natured persons might give him a worse name) in the whole army; and when others were nearly starving, he always managed to provide meat or poultry. He rode on his mule sometimes from twenty to thirty miles, often running the greatest dangers, to procure me a good meal; of which he took care to have, very justly, a large share for himself.

At St Jean de Luz, we were more attentive to our devotions than we had been for some time. Divine service was performed punctually every Sunday on the sand-hills near the town; Lord Wellington and his numerous Staff placed themselves in the midst of our square, and his lordship's chaplain read the service, to which Lord Wellington always appeared to listen with great attention.

The mayor of the town, thinking to please "the great English lord," gave a ball at the Hotel de Ville: our Commander-in-Chief did not go but was represented by Waters. I was there, and expected to see some of the young ladies of the country so famed for their beauty; they were, however, far too patriotic to appear, and the only lady present was Lady Waldegrave, then living with her husband at head-quarters. What was one partner among so many? The ball was a dead failure, in spite of the efforts of the mayor, who danced, to our intense amusement, an English hornpipe, which he had learnt in not a very agreeable manner, viz. when a prisoner of war in the hulks at Plymouth.

There were two packs of hounds at St Jean de Luz; one kept by Lord Wellington, the other by Marsden, of the Commissariat: our officers went uncommonly straight. Perhaps our best man across country (though sometimes somewhat against his will) was the late Colonel Lascelles of my regiment, then, like myself, a mere lad. He rode a horse seventeen hands high, called Bucephalus, which invariably ran away with him, and more than once had nearly capsized Lord Wellington. The good living at St Jean de Luz agreed so well with my friend that he waxed fat, and from that period to his death was known to the world by the jovial appellation of Bacchus Lascelles.

Shortly before we left St Jean de Luz, we took our turn of outposts in the neighbourhood of Bidart, a large village, about ten miles from Bayonne. Early one frosty morning in December, an order came, that if we saw the enemy advancing, we were not to fire or give the alarm. About five, we perceived two battalions wearing grenadier caps coming on. They turned out to belong to a Nassau regiment which had occupied the advanced post of the enemy, and, hearing that Napoleon had met with great reverses in Germany, signified to us their intention to desert. They were a fine-looking body of men, and appeared, I thought, rather ashamed of the step they had taken. On the same day, we were relieved, and on our way back met Lord Wellington with his hounds. He was dressed in a light blue frock coat (the colour of the Hatfield hunt) which had been sent out to him as a present from Lady Salisbury, then one of the leaders of the fashionable world, and an enthusiastic admirer of his lordship.

Here, I remember seeing for the first time a very remarkable character, the Hon. W. Dawson, of my regiment. He was surrounded by muleteers, with whom he was bargaining to provide carriage for innumerable hampers of wine, liqueurs, hams, potted meat, and other good things, which he had brought from England. He was a particularly gentlemanly and amiable man, much beloved by the regiment: no one was so hospitable or lived so magnificently. His cooks were the best in the army, and he, besides, had a host of servants of all nations—Spaniards, French, Portuguese, Italians—who were employed in scouring the country for provisions. Lord Wellington once honoured him with his company; and on entering the ensign's tent, found him alone at table, with a dinner fit for a king, his plate and linen in good keeping, and his wines perfect. Lord Wellington was accompanied on this occasion by Sir Edward Pakenham and Colonel du Burgh, afterwards Lord Downes. It fell to my lot to partake of his princely hospitality and dine with him at his quarters, a farmhouse in a village on the Bidassoa, and I never saw a better dinner put upon table. The career of this amiable Amphitryon, to our great regret, was cut short, after exercising for about a year a splendid but not very wise hospitality. He had only a younger brother's fortune; his debts became very considerable, and he was obliged to quit the Guards. He and his friends had literally eaten up his little fortune.


I may here recount an instance of the folly and foolhardiness of youth, and the recklessness to which a long course of exposure to danger produces. When Bayonne was invested, I was one night on duty on the outer picket. The ground inside the breastwork which had been thrown up for our protection by Burgoyne was in a most disagreeable state for any one who wished to repose after the fatigues of the day, being knee-deep in mud of a remarkably plastic nature. I was dead tired, and determined to get a little rest in some more agreeable spot; so calling my sergeant, I told him to give me his knapsack for a pillow; I would make a comfortable night of it on the top of the breastwork, as it was an invitingly dry place. "For heaven's sake take care, sir," said he; "you'll have fifty bullets in you: you will be killed to a certainty." "Pooh, nonsense," said I, and climbing up, I wrapt myself in my cloak, laid my head on the knapsack, and soon fell into a sound sleep.

By the mercy of Providence I remained in a whole skin, either from the French immediately underneath not perceiving me, or not thinking me worth a shot; but when General Stopford came up with Lord James Hay (who not long since reminded me of this youthful escapade) I received a severe wigging, and was told to consider myself lucky that I was not put under arrest for exposing my life in so foolish a manner.

Among the many officers of the Guards who were taken prisoners in the unfortunate sortie from Bayonne, was the Hon. H. Townshend, commonly called Bull Townshend. He was celebrated as a bon vivant, and in consequence of his too great indulgence in the pleasures of the table, had become very unwieldy and could not move quick enough to please his nimble captors, so he received many prods in the back from a sharp bayonet. After repeated threats, however, he was dismissed with what our American friends would be pleased to designate "a severe booting." The late Sir Willoughby Cotton was also a prisoner. It really seemed as if the enemy had made choice of our fattest officers. Sir Willoughby escaped by giving up his watch and all the money which he had in his pockets; but this consisting of a Spanish dollar only, the smallness of the sum subjected him to the same ignominious treatment as had been experienced by Townshend.

Among the numerous bad characters in our ranks, several were coiners, or utterers of bad money. In the second brigade of Guards, just before we arrived at St. Jean de Luz, a soldier was convicted of this offence, and was sentenced to receive 800 lashes. This man made sham Spanish dollars out of the pewter spoons of the regiment. As he had before been convicted and flogged, he received this terrible sentence, and died under the lash. Would it not have been better to have condemned him to be shot?— It would have been more humane, certainly more military, and far less brutal.


When the headquarters of the army were at St Jean de Luz, Soult made a movement in front of our right centre, which the English general took for a reconnaissance. As the French general perceived that we had ordered preparations to receive him, he sent a flag of truce to demand a cessation of hostilities, saying that he wanted to shoot an officer and several men for acts of robbery committed by them, with every sort of atrocity, on the farmers and peasantry of the country. The execution took place in view of both armies, and a terrible lesson it was. I cannot specify the date of this event, but think it must have been the latter end of November, 1813. About the same time General Harispe, who commanded a corps of Basques, issued a proclamation forbidding the peasantry to supply the English with provisions or forage, on pain of death; it stated that we were savages, and, as a proof of this, our horses were born with short tails. I saw this absurd proclamation, which was published in French and in the Basque languages, and distributed all over the country. Before we left the neighbourhood of Bayonne for Bordeaux, a soldier was hanged for robbery, on the sands of the Adour. This sort of punishment astonished the French almost as much as it did the soldier. On a march we were very severe, and if any of our men were caught committing an act of violence or brigandage, the offender was tried by a drum-head court-martial, and hanged in a very short time.

I knew an officer of the 18th Hussars, W. R., young, rich, and a fine-looking fellow, who joined the army not far from St Sebastian. His stud of horses was remarkable for their blood, his grooms were English, and three in number. He brought with him a light cart to carry forage, and a fourgon for his own baggage. All went on well, till he came to go on outpost duty; but not finding there any of the comforts to which he had been accustomed, he quietly mounted his charger, told his astonished sergeant that campaigning was not intended for a gentleman, and instantly galloped off to his quarters, ordering his servants to pack up everything immediately, as he had hired a transport to take him off to England. He left us before any one had time to stop him; and though despatches were sent off to the Commander-in-Chief, requesting that a court-martial might sit to try the young deserter, he arrived home long enough before the despatches to enable him to sell out of his regiment. He deserved to have been shot.

Sir John Hope, who commanded our corps d'armee at Bayonne, had his quarters at a village on the Adour, called Beaucauld. He was good enough to name me to the command of the village; which honour I did not hold for many days, for the famous sortie from Bayonne took place soon after, and the general was made prisoner.


Amongst the distinguished men in the Peninsular war whom my memory brings occasionally before me, is the well-known and highly popular Quartermaster General Sir John Waters, who was born at Margam, a Welsh village in Glamorganshire. He was one of those extraordinary persons that seem created by kind nature for particular purposes; and, without using the word in an offensive sense, he was the most admirable spy that was ever attached to an army. One would almost have thought that the Spanish war was entered upon and carried on in order to display his remarkable qualities. He could assume the character of Spaniards of every degree and station, so as to deceive the most acute of those whom he delighted to imitate. In the posada of the village he was hailed by the contrabandist or the muleteer as one of their own race; in the gay assemblies he was an accomplished hidalgo; at the bull-fight the toreador received his congratulations as from one who had encountered the toro in the arena; in the church he would converse with the friar upon the number of Ave Marias and Pater-nosters which could lay a ghost, or tell him the history of everyone who had perished by the flame of the Inquisition, relating his crime, whether carnal or anti-Catholic; and he could join in the seguadilla or in the guaracha. But what rendered him more efficient than all was his wonderful power of observation and accurate description, which made the information he gave so reliable and valuable to the Duke of Wellington. Nothing escaped him. When amidst a group of persons, he would minutely watch the movement, attitude, and expression of every individual that composed it; in the scenery by which he was surrounded he would carefully mark every object:—not a tree, not a bush, not a large stone, escaped his observation; and it was said that in a cottage he noted every piece of crockery on the shelf, every domestic utensil, and even the number of knives and forks that were got ready for use at dinner. His acquaintance with the Spanish language was marvellous; from the finest works of Calderon to the ballads in the patois of every province, he could quote, to the infinite delight of those with whom he associated. He could assume any character that he pleased: he could be the Castilian, haughty and reserved; the Asturian, stupid and plodding; the Catalonian, intriguing and cunning; the Andalusian, laughing and merry;—in short, he was all things to all men. Nor was he incapable of passing off, when occasion required, for a Frenchman; but as he spoke the language with a strong German accent, he called himself an Alsatian. He maintained that character with the utmost nicety; and as there is a strong feeling of fellowship, almost equal to that which exists in Scotland, amongst all those who are born in the departments of France bordering on the Rhine, and who maintain their Teutonic originality, he always found friends and supporters in every regiment in the French service.

He was on one occasion entrusted with a very difficult mission by the Duke of Wellington, which he undertook effectually to perform, and to return on a particular day with the information that was required.

Great was the disappointment when it was ascertained beyond a doubt that just after leaving the camp he had been taken prisoner, before he had time to exchange his uniform. Such, however, was the case: a troop of dragoons had intercepted him, and carried him off; and the commanding officer desired two soldiers to keep a strict watch over him and carry him to head-quarters. He was of course disarmed, and being placed on a horse, was, after a short time, galloped off by his guards. He slept one night under durance vile at a small inn, where he was allowed to remain in the kitchen; conversation flowed on very glibly, and as he appeared a stupid Englishman, who could not understand a word of French or Spanish, he was allowed to listen, and thus obtained precisely the intelligence that he was in search of. The following morning, being again mounted, he overheard a conversation between his guards, who deliberately agreed to rob him, and to shoot him at a mill where they were to stop, and to report to their officer that they had been compelled to fire at him in consequence of his attempt to escape.

Shortly before they arrived at the mill, for fear that they might meet with some one who would insist on having a portion of the spoil, the dragoons took from the prisoner his watch and his purse, which he surrendered with a good grace. On their arrival at the mill, they dismounted, and in order to give some appearance of truth to their story, they went into the house; leaving their prisoner outside, in the hope that he would make some attempt to escape. In an instant Waters threw his cloak upon a neighbouring olive bush, and mounted his cocked hat on the top. Some empty flour sacks lay upon the ground, and a horse laden with well-filled flour sacks stood at the door. Sir John contrived to enter one of the empty sacks and throw himself across the horse. When the soldiers came out of the house they fired their carbines at the supposed prisoner, and galloped off at their utmost speed.

A short time after the miller came out and mounted his steed; the general contrived to rid himself of the encumbrance of the sack, and sat up, riding behind the man, who, suddenly turning round, saw a ghost, as he believed, for the flour that still remained in the sack had completely whitened his fellow-traveller and given him a most unearthly appearance. The frightened miller was "putrified," as Mrs. Malaprop would say, at the sight, and a push from the white spectre brought the unfortunate man to the ground, when away rode the gallant quartermaster with his sacks of flour, which, at length bursting, made a ludicrous spectacle of man and horse.

On reaching the English camp, where Lord Wellington was anxiously deploring his fate, a sudden shout from the soldiers made his lordship turn round, when a figure, resembling the statue in "Don Juan," galloped up to him. The duke, affectionately shaking him by the hand, said—

"Waters, you never yet deceived me; and though you have come in a most questionable shape, I must congratulate you and myself."

When this story was told at the clubs, one of those listeners, who always want something more, called out, "Well, and what did Waters say?" to which Alvanley replied—

"Oh, Waters made a very flowery speech, like a well-bred man."


We expected to remain quietly in our winter quarters at St. Jean de Luz; but, to our surprise, early one morning, we were aroused from sleep by the beating of the drum calling us to arms. We were soon in marching order. It appeared that our outposts had been severely pushed by the French, and we were called upon to support our companions in arms.

The whole of the British army, as well as the division of the Guards, had commenced a forward movement. Soult, seeing this, entirely changed his tactics, and from that time, viz. the 9th of December, a series of engagements took place. The fighting on the 9th was comparatively insignificant. When we were attacked on the 10th, the Guards held the mayor's house, and the grounds and orchards attached: this was an important station.

Large bodies of the enemy's infantry approached, and, after desultory fighting, succeeded in penetrating our position, when many hand-to-hand combats ensued. Towards the afternoon, officers and men having displayed great gallantry, we drove the enemy from the ground which they courageously disputed with us, and from which they eventually retreated to Bayonne. Every day there was constant fighting along the whole of our line, which extended from the sea to the lower Pyrenees—a distance probably not less than thirty miles.

On the 11th, we only exchanged a few shots, but on the 12th Soult brought into action from fifteen to twenty thousand men, and attacked our left with a view of breaking our line. One of the most remarkable incidents of the 12th was the fact of an English battalion being surrounded by a division of French in the neighbourhood of the mayor's house—which, as before observed, was one of our principal strategical positions. The French commanding officer, believing that no attempt would be made to resist, galloped up to the officer of the British regiment, and demanded his sword. Upon this, without the least hesitation, the British officer shouted out, "This fellow wants us to surrender: charge, my boys! and show them what stuff we are made of." Instantaneously, a hearty cheer rang out, and our men rushed forward impetuously, drove off the enemy at the point of the bayonet, and soon disposed of the surrounding masses. In a few minutes they had taken prisoners, or killed, the whole of the infantry regiment opposed to them.

On the 13th was fought the bloody battle of the Nivelle. Soult had determined to make a gigantic effort to drive us back into Spain. During the night of the 12th, he rapidly concentrated about sixty thousand troops in front of Sir Rowland Hill's corps d'armee, consisting of 15,000 men, who occupied a very strong position, which was defended by some of the best artillery in the world. At daybreak Sir Rowland Hill was astonished to find himself threatened by masses of infantry advancing over a country luckily intersected by rivulets, hedges, and woods, which prevented the enemy from making a rapid advance; whilst, at the same time, it was impossible on such ground to employ cavalry. Sir Rowland, availing himself of an elevated position, hurriedly surveyed his ground, and concentrated his men at such points as he knew the nature of the field would induce the enemy to attack. The French, confident of success from their superior numbers, came gallantly up, using the bayonet for the first time in a premeditated attack; Our men stood their ground, and for hours acted purely on the defensive; being sustained by the admirable practice of our artillery, whose movements no difficulty of ground could, on this occasion, impede, so efficiently were the guns horsed, and so perfect was the training of the officers. It was not until mid-day that the enemy became discouraged at finding that they were unable to make any serious impression on our position; they then retired in good order, Sir Rowland Hill not daring to follow them.

Lord Wellington arrived just in time to witness the end of the battle; and while going over the field with Sir Rowland Hill, he remarked that he had never seen so many men hors de combat in so small a space.

I must not omit to mention a circumstance which occurred during this great fight, alike illustrative of cowardice and of courage. The colonel of an infantry regiment, who shall be nameless, being hard pressed, showed a disposition not only to run away himself, but to order his regiment to retire. In fact, a retrograde movement had commenced, when my gallant and dear friend Lord Charles Spencer, aide-de-camp to Sir William Stewart, dashed forward, and, seizing the colours of the regiment, exclaimed, "If your colonel will not lead you, follow me, my boys." The gallantry of this youth, then only eighteen years of age, so animated the regiment, and restored their confidence, that they rallied and shared in the glory of the day.


Immediately after the battle of Nivelle, Lord Wellington determined to advance his whole line on to French ground. The right, under his own command, pushed on towards Orthes, whilst the left, under the command of Sir John Hope, proceeded in the direction of Bayonne. We (the Guards) were incorporated in the latter corps d'armee.

Whilst these operations were going on, Soult was organizing his discouraged army, in order to make, as early as possible, another convenient stand. The enemy fell back on Orthes, and there took up a strong position; Soult was, nevertheless, destined to be beaten again at Orthes. It so happened that, for the first time since the battle of Vittoria, our cavalry were engaged: the nature of the ground at Nive and Nivelle was such as to prevent the possibility of employing the mounted soldier.

I must here record an incident which created a considerable sensation in military circles in connection with the battle of Orthes. The 10th Hussars, officered exclusively by men belonging to the noblest families of Great Britain, showed a desire to take a more active part in the contest than their colonel (Quintin) thought prudent. They pressed hard to be permitted to charge the French cavalry on more than one occasion, but in vain. This so disgusted every officer in the regiment, that they eventually signed a round robin, by which they agreed never again to speak to their colonel. When the regiment returned to England, a court of inquiry was held, which resulted, through the protection of the Prince Regent, in the colonel's exoneration from all blame, and at the same time the exchange of the rebellious officers into other regiments.

It was at the battle of Orthes that the late Duke of Richmond was shot through the body, gallantly fighting with the 7th Fusiliers. Lord Wellington had determined to cross the Adour, and Sir John Hope was intrusted with a corps d'armee, which was the first to perform this difficult operation. It was necessary to provide Sir John Hope with a number of small boats; these were accordingly brought on the backs of mules from various Spanish ports, it being impossible, on account of the surf at the entrance of the Adour, as well as the command which the French held of that river, for Lord Wellington to avail himself of water carriage. Soult had given orders for the forces under General Thevenot to dispute the passage.

The first operations of our corps were to throw over the 3rd Guards, under the command of the gallant Colonel Stopford; this was not accomplished without much difficulty: but it was imperatively necessary, in order to protect the point where the construction of the bridge of boats would terminate. They had not been long on the French side of the river before a considerable body of men were seen issuing from Bayonne. Sir John Hope ordered our artillery, and rockets, then for the first time employed, to support our small band. Three or four regiments of French infantry were approaching rapidly, when a well-directed fire of rockets fell amongst them. The consternation of the Frenchmen was such, when these hissing, serpent-like projectiles descended, that a panic ensued, and they retreated upon Bayonne. The next day the bridge of boats was completed, and the whole army crossed. Bayonne was eventually invested after a contest, in which it was supposed our loss exceeded 500 or 600 men. Here we remained in camp about six weeks, expecting to besiege the citadel; but this event never came off: we, however, met with a severe disaster and a reverse. The enemy made an unexpected sortie, and surrounded General Sir John Hope, when he and the whole of his staff were taken prisoners. The French killed and wounded about 1,000 men on this occasion.

The hardly-contested battle of Toulouse was fought about this period, but the Guards were not present to share the honours of a contest which closed the eventful war of the Spanish Peninsula.


When we reached Bordeaux, which had now become a stronghold of the Royalists, we were received by the inhabitants with a welcome which resembled what would be shown to friends and deliverers, rather than to a foreign soldiery. Nothing could be more gratifying and more acceptable to our feelings, since it was the first time after our arrival on the Continent that we met with cordiality and an apparent desire to make our quarters as comfortable as possible. The Duc d'Angouleme had reached Bordeaux before us, and no doubt his presence had prepared the way for all the friends of the Bourbons. Everywhere some description of white rag was doing duty for a Royalist banner. I lived at M. Devigne's, a rich wine-merchant who had a family of two sons and two beautiful daughters; the latter were, as I thought, taken remarkable care of by their maternal parent. Here I had evidently fallen upon my legs, for not only was the family a most agreeable one, but their hospitality was of the most generous kind. Sir Stapylton Cotton was our frequent visitor, together with M. Martignac, afterwards Minister of Charles the Tenth.

Here I had an opportunity of meeting some of the prettiest women of a city famed all over Europe for its female beauty. The young ladies were remarkable for their taste in dress, which in those days consisted of a mantilla a l'Espagnole, and silken shawls of varied hues, so admirably blended, that the eye was charmed with their richness of colour. The grisettes, who were as much admired by the soldiers as were the high dames by the officers, were remarkable for a coquettish species of apron of a red dye, which was only to be obtained from the neighbourhood.

Of course we were all very anxious to taste the Bordeaux wines; but our palates, accustomed to the stronger vintages of Spain, I suspect were not in a condition to appreciate the more delicate and refined bouquets which ought to characterize claret. A vin ordinaire, which now at restaurateur's would cost three francs, was then furnished at the hotels for fifteen sous: a Larose, Lafitte, Margot, such as we are now paying eight or ten francs a bottle for, did not cost a third. I must not, however, forget that greater attention and care is now employed in the preparation of French wines. The exportation to England of the light red wines of France was not sufficiently profitable, as I learnt from my host, at that time to attract the cupidity of commerce.

In the Guards, Bordeaux was more affectionately remembered in connexion with its women than its wine. We left it with regret, and the more youthful and imaginative amongst us said that we were wafted across the Channel by the gentle sighs of the girls we left behind us.


Our army, despite its defects, was nevertheless infinitely better administered at home when I joined than it had been a few years before; owing principally to the inquiry that had taken place in the House of Commons, relative to the bribery and corruption which had crept in, and which had been laid open by the confessions of a female, who created no small sensation in those days, and who eventually terminated her extraordinary career, not very long since, in Paris.

The squibs fired off by Mrs. Mary Anne Clarke had a much greater influence, and produced more effect upon the English army, than all the artillery of the enemy directed against the Duke of York when commanding in Holland. This lady was remarkable for her beauty and her fascinations; and few came within the circle over which she presided who did not acknowledge her superior power. Her wit, which kept the House of Commons, during her examination, in a continued state of merriment, was piquant and saucy. Her answers on that occasion have been so often brought before the public, that I need not repeat them; but, in private life, her quick repartee, and her brilliant sallies, rendered her a lively, though not always an agreeable companion. As for prudence, she had none; her dearest friend, if she had any, was just as likely to be made the object of her ridicule as the most obnoxious person of her acquaintance.

Her narrative of her first introduction to the Duke of York has often been repeated; but, as all her stories were considered apocryphal, it is difficult to arrive at a real history of her career. Certain however, is it that, about the age of sixteen, she was residing at Blackheath—a sweet, pretty, lively girl—when, in her daily walk across the heath, she was passed, on two or three occasions, by a handsome, well-dressed cavalier, who, finding that she recognised his salute, dismounted; pleased with her manner and wit, he begged to be allowed to introduce a friend. Accordingly, on her consenting, a person to whom the cavalier appeared to pay every sort of deference was presented to her, and the acquaintance ripened into something more than friendship. Not the slightest idea had the young lady of the position in society of her lover, until she accompanied him, on his invitation, to the theatre, where she occupied a private box, when she was surprised at the ceremony with which she was treated, and at observing that every eye and every lorgnette in the house were directed towards her in the course of the evening. She accepted this as a tribute to her beauty. Finding that she could go again to the theatre when she pleased, and occupy the same box, she availed herself of this opportunity with a female friend, and was not a little astonished at being addressed as Her Royal Highness. She then discovered that the individual into whose affections she had insinuated herself was the son of the King, the Duke of York, who had not long before united himself to a lady, for whom she had been mistaken.

Mrs. Mary Anne Clarke was soon reconciled to the thought of being the wife of a prince by the left hand, particularly as she found herself assiduously courted by persons of the highest rank, and more especially by military men. A large house in a fashionable street was taken for her, and an establishment on a magnificent scale gave her an opportunity of surrounding herself with persons of a sphere far beyond anything she could in her younger days have dreamt of; her father having been in an honourable trade, and her husband being only a captain in a marching regiment. The duke, delighted to see his fair friend so well received, constantly honoured her dinner-table with his presence, and willingly gratified any wish that she expressed; and he must have known (and for this he was afterwards highly censured) that her style of living was upon a scale of great expense, and that he himself contributed little towards it. The consequence was that the hospitable lady eventually became embarrassed, and knew not which way to turn to meet her outlay. It was suggested to her that she might obtain from the duke commissions in the army, which she could easily dispose of at a good price. Individuals quickly came forward, ready to purchase anything that came within her grasp, which she extended not only to the army, but, as it afterwards appeared, to the Church; for there were reverend personages who availed themselves of her assistance, and thus obtained patronage, by which they advanced their worldly interests very rapidly.


Amongst those who paid great attention to Mrs. Mary Anne Clarke was Colonel Wardle, at that time a remarkable member of the House of Commons, and a bold leader of the Radical Opposition. He got intimately acquainted with her, and was so great a personal favourite that it was believed he wormed out all her secret history, of which he availed himself to obtain a fleeting popularity.

Having obtained the names of some of the parties who had been fortunate enough, as they imagined, to secure the lady's favour, he loudly demanded an inquiry in the House of Commons as to the management of the army by the Commander-in-Chief, the Duke of York. The nation and the army were fond of his Royal Highness, and every attempt to screen him was made; but in vain. The House undertook the task of investigating the conduct of the duke, and witnesses were produced, amongst whom was the fair lady herself, who by no means attempted to screen her imprudent admirer. Her responses to the questions put to her were cleverly and archly given, and the whole mystery of her various intrigues came to light. The duke consequently resigned his place in the Horse Guards, and at the same time repudiated the beautiful and dangerous cause of his humiliation. The lady, incensed at the desertion of her royal swain, announced her intention of publishing his love-letters, which were likely to expose the whole of the royal family to ridicule, as they formed the frequent themes of his correspondence. Sir Herbert Taylor was therefore commissioned to enter into a negotiation for the purchase of the letters; this he effected at an enormous price, obtaining a written document at the same time by which Mrs. Clarke was subjected to heavy penalties if she, by word or deed, implicated the honour of any of the branches of the royal family. A pension was secured to her, on condition that she should quit England, and reside wherever she chose on the Continent. To all this she consented, and, in the first instance, went to Brussels, where her previous history being scarcely known, she was well received; and she married her daughters without any inquiry as to the fathers to whom she might ascribe them.

Mrs. Clarke afterwards settled quietly and comfortably in Paris, receiving occasionally visits from members of the aristocracy who had known her when mingling in a certain circle in London. The Marquis of Londonderry never failed to pay his respects to her, entertaining a very high opinion of her talents. Her manners were exceedingly agreeable, and to the latest day she retained pleasing traces of past beauty. She was lively, sprightly, and full of fun, and indulged in innumerable anecdotes of the members of the royal family of England—some of them much too scandalous to be repeated. She regarded the Duke of York as a big baby, not out of his leading-strings, and the Prince of Wales as an idle sensualist, with just enough of brains to be guided by any laughing, well-bred individual who would listen to stale jokes and impudent ribaldry. Of Queen Charlotte she used to speak with the utmost disrespect, attributing to her a love of domination and a hatred of every one who would not bow down before any idol that she chose to set up; and as being envious of the Princess Caroline and her daughter the Princess Charlotte of Wales, and jealous of their acquiring too much influence over the Prince of Wales. In short, Mary Anne Clarke had been so intimately let into every secret of the life of the royal family that, had she not been tied down, her revelations would have astonished the world, however willing the people might have been to believe that they were tinged with scandal and exaggeration.

The way in which Colonel Wardle first obtained information of the sale of commissions was singular enough: he was paying a clandestine visit to Mrs. Clarke, when a carriage with the royal livery drove up to the door, and the gallant officer was compelled to take refuge under the sofa; but instead of the royal duke, there appeared one of his aide-de-camps, who entered into conversation in so mysterious a manner as to excite the attention of the gentleman under the sofa, and led him to believe that the sale of a commission was authorised by the Commander-in-Chief; though it afterwards appeared that it was a private arrangement of the unwelcome visitor. At the Horse-Guards, it had often been suspected that there was a mystery connected with commissions that could not be fathomed; as it frequently happened that the list of promotions agreed on was surreptitiously increased by the addition of new names. This was the crafty handiwork of the accomplished dame; the duke having employed her as his amanuensis, and being accustomed to sign her autograph lists without examination.


In the year 1814, my battalion of the Guards was once more in its old quarters in Portman Street barracks, enjoying the fame of our Spanish campaign. Good society at the period to which I refer was, to use a familiar expression, wonderfully "select." At the present time one can hardly conceive the importance which was attached to getting admission to Almack's, the seventh heaven of the fashionable world. Of the three hundred officers of the Foot Guards, not more than half a dozen were honoured with vouchers of admission to this exclusive temple of the beau monde; the gates of which were guarded by lady patronesses, whose smiles or frowns consigned men and women to happiness or despair. These lady patronesses were the Ladies Castlereagh, Jersey, Cowper, and Sefton, Mrs. Drummond Burrell, now Lady Willoughby, the Princess Esterhazy, and the Countess Lieven.

The most popular amongst these grandes dames was unquestionably Lady Cowper, now Lady Palmerston. Lady Jersey's bearing, on the contrary, was that of a theatrical tragedy queen; and whilst attempting the sublime, she frequently made herself simply ridiculous, being inconceivably rude, and in her manner often ill-bred. Lady Sefton was kind and amiable, Madame de Lieven haughty and exclusive, Princess Esterhazy was a bon enfant, Lady Castlereagh and Mrs. Burrell de tres grandes dames.

Many diplomatic arts, much finesse, and a host of intrigues, were set in motion to get an invitation to Almack's. Very often persons whose rank and fortunes entitled them to the entree anywhere, were excluded by the cliqueism of the lady patronesses; for the female government of Almack's was a pure despotism, and subject to all the caprices of despotic rule: it is needless to add that, like every other despotism, it was not innocent of abuses. The fair ladies who ruled supreme over this little dancing and gossiping world, issued a solemn proclamation that no gentleman should appear at the assemblies without being dressed in knee-breeches, white cravat, and chapeau bras. On one occasion, the Duke of Wellington was about to ascend the staircase of the ball-room, dressed in black trousers, when the vigilant Mr. Willis, the guardian of the establishment, stepped forward and said, "Your Grace cannot be admitted in trousers," whereupon the Duke, who had a great respect for orders and regulations, quietly walked away.

In 1814, the dances at Almack's were Scotch reels and the old English country-dance; and the orchestra, being from Edinburgh, was conducted by the then celebrated Neil Gow. It was not until 1815 that Lady Jersey introduced from Paris the favourite quadrille, which has so long remained popular. I recollect the persons who formed the very first quadrille that was ever danced at Almack's: they were Lady Jersey, Lady Harriet Butler, Lady Susan Ryder, and Miss Montgomery; the men being the Count St. Aldegonde, Mr. Montgomery, Mr. Montague, and Charles Standish. The "mazy waltz" was also brought to us about this time; but there were comparatively few who at first ventured to whirl round the salons of Almack's; in course of time Lord Palmerston might, however, have been seen describing an infinite number of circles with Madame de Lieven. Baron de Neumann was frequently seen perpetually turning with the Princess Esterhazy; and, in course of time, the waltzing mania, having turned the heads of society generally, descended to their feet, and the waltz was practised in the morning in certain noble mansions in London with unparalleled assiduity.

The dandies of society were Beau Brummell (of whom I shall have to say something on another occasion), the Duke of Argyle, the Lords Worcester, Alvanley, and Foley, Henry Pierrepoint, John Mills, Bradshaw, Henry de Ros, Charles Standish, Edward Montagu, Hervey Aston, Dan Mackinnon, George Dawson Damer, Lloyd (commonly known as Rufus Lloyd), and others who have escaped my memory. They were great frequenters of White's Club, in St. James's Street, where, in the famous bay window, they mustered in force.

Drinking and play were more universally indulged in then than at the present time, and many men still living must remember the couple of bottles of port at least which accompanied his dinner in those days. Indeed, female society amongst the upper classes was most notoriously neglected; except, perhaps, by romantic foreigners, who were the heroes of many at fashionable adventure that fed the clubs with ever acceptable scandal. How could it be otherwise, when husbands spent their days in the hunting-field, or were entirely occupied with politics, and always away from home during the day; whilst the dinner-party, commencing at seven or eight, frequently did not break up before one in the morning. There were then four-, and even five-bottle men; and the only thing that saved them was drinking very slowly, and out of very small glasses. The learned head of the law, Lord Eldon, and his brother, Lord Stowell, used to say that they had drunk more bad port than any two men in England; indeed, the former was rather apt to be overtaken, and to speak occasionally somewhat thicker than natural, after long and heavy potations. The late Lords Panmure, Dufferin, and Blayney, wonderful to relate, were six-bottle men at this time; and I really think that if the good society of 1815 could appear before their more moderate descendants in the state they were generally reduced to after dinner, the moderns would pronounce their ancestors fit for nothing but bed.


The greatest vocalist of whom I have a recollection, is Madame Catalani. In her youth, she was the finest singer in Europe, and she was much sought after by all the great people during her sejour in London. She was extremely handsome, and was considered a model as wife and mother. Catalani was very fond of money, and would never sing unless paid beforehand. She was invited, with her husband, to pass some time at Stowe, where a numerous but select party had been invited; and Madame Catalani, being asked to sing soon after dinner, willingly complied. When the day of her departure came, her husband placed in the hands of the Marquis of Buckingham the following little billet:—"For seventeen songs, seventeen hundred pounds." This large sum was paid at once, without hesitation; proving that Lord Buckingham was a refined gentleman, in every sense of the word.

Catalani's husband, M. de Valabreque, once fought a duel with a German baron who had insulted the prima donna; the weapons used were sabres, and Valabreque cut half of the Baron's nose clean off. Madame Catalani lived for many years, highly respected, at a handsome villa near Florence. Her two sons are now distinguished members of the Imperial court in Paris; the eldest being Prefet du Palais, and the youngest colonel of a regiment of hussars.

When George the Fourth was Regent, Her Majesty's Theatre, as the Italian Opera in the Haymarket is still called, was conducted on a very different system from that which now prevails. Some years previous to the period to which I refer, no one could obtain a box or a ticket for the pit without a voucher from one of the lady patronesses; who, in 1805, were the Duchesses of Marlborough, Devonshire, and Bedford, Lady Carlisle, and some others. In their day, after, the singing and the ballet were over, the company used to retire into the concert-room, where a ball took place, accompanied by refreshments and a supper. There all the rank and fashion of England were assembled on a sort of neutral ground. At a later period, the management of the Opera House fell into the hands of Mr. Waters, when it became less difficult to obtain admittance; but the strictest etiquette was still kept up as regarded the dress of the gentlemen, who were only admitted with knee-buckles, ruffles, and chapeau bras. If there happened to be a drawing-room, the ladies would appear in their court-dresses, as well as the gentlemen, and on all occasions the audience of Her Majesty's Theatre was stamped with aristocratic elegance. In the boxes of the first tier might have been seen the daughters of the Duchess of Argyle, four of England's beauties; in the next box were the equally lovely Marchioness of Stafford and her daughter, Lady Elizabeth Gore, now the Duchess of Norfolk: not less remarkable was Lady Harrowby and her daughters Lady Susan and Lady Mary Ryder. The peculiar type of female beauty which these ladies so attractively exemplified, is such as can be met with only in the British Isles: the full, round, soul-inspired eye of Italy, and the dark hair of the sunny south, often combined with that exquisitely pearly complexion which seems to be concomitant with humidity and fog. You could scarcely gaze upon the peculiar beauty to which I refer without being as much charmed with its kindly expression as with its physical loveliness.


England can boast of a Spenser, Shakspeare, Milton, and many other illustrious poets, clearly indicating that the national character of Britons is not deficient in imagination; but we have not had one single masculine inventive genius of the kitchen. It is the probable result of our national antipathy to mysterious culinary compounds, that none of the bright minds of England have ventured into the region of scientific cookery. Even in the best houses, when I was a young man, the dinners were wonderfully solid, hot and stimulating. The menu of a grand dinner was thus composed:—Mulligatawny and turtle soups were the first dishes placed before you; a little lower, the eye met with the familiar salmon at one end of the table, and the turbot, surrounded by smelts, at the other. The first course was sure to be followed by a saddle of mutton or a piece of roast beef; and then you could take your oath that fowls, tongue, and ham, would as assuredly succeed as darkness after day.

Whilst these never ending pieces de resistance were occupying the table, what were called French dishes were, for custom's sake, added to the solid abundance. The French, or side dishes, consisted of very mild but very abortive attempts at Continental cooking, and I have always observed that they met with the neglect and contempt that they merited. The universally adored and ever popular boiled potato, produced at the very earliest period of the dinner, was eaten with everything, up to the moment when sweets appeared. Our vegetables, the best in the world, were never honoured by an accompanying sauce, and generally came to the table cold. A prime difficulty to overcome was the placing on your fork, and finally in your mouth, some half-dozen different eatables which occupied your plate at the same time. For example, your plate would contain, say, a slice of turkey, a piece of stuffing, a sausage, pickles, a slice of tongue, cauliflower, and potatoes. According to habit and custom, a judicious and careful selection from this little bazaar of good things was to be made, with an endeavour to place a portion of each in your mouth at the same moment. In fact, it appeared to me that we used to do all our compound cookery between our jaws. The dessert—generally ordered at Messrs. Grange's, or at Owen's, in Bond Street—if for a dozen people, would cost at least as many pounds. The wines were chiefly port, sherry, and hock; claret, and even Burgundy, being then designated "poor, thin, washy stuff." A perpetual thirst seemed to come over people, both men and women, as soon as they had tasted their soup; as from that moment everybody was taking wine with everybody else till the close of the dinner; and such wine as produced that class of cordiality which frequently wanders into stupefaction. How all this sort of eating and drinking ended was obvious, from the prevalence of gout, and the necessity of everyone making the pill-box their constant bedroom companion.


When the eldest son of George the Third assumed the Regency, England was in a state of political transition. The convulsions of the Continent were felt amongst us; the very foundations of European society were shaking, and the social relations of men were rapidly changing. The Regent's natural leanings were towards the Tories; therefore as soon as he undertook the responsibility of power, he abruptly abandoned the Whigs and retained in office the admirers and partisans of his father's policy. This resolution caused him to have innumerable and inveterate enemies, who never lost an opportunity of attacking his public acts and interfering with his domestic relations.

The Regent was singularly imbued with petty royal pride. He would rather be amiable and familiar with his tailor than agreeable and friendly with the most illustrious of the aristocracy of Great Britain; he would rather joke with a Brummell than admit to his confidence a Norfolk or a Somerset. The Regent was always particularly well-bred in public, and showed, if he chose, decidedly good manners; but he was in the habit very often of addressing himself in preference to those whom he felt he could patronise. His Royal Highness was as much the victim of circumstances and the child of thoughtless imprudence as the most humble subject of the crown. His unfortunate marriage with a Princess of Brunswick originated in his debts; as he married that unhappy lady for one million sterling, William Pitt being the contractor! The Princess of Wales married nothing but an association with the Crown of England. If the Prince ever seriously loved any woman, it was Mrs. Fitzherbert, with whom he had appeared at the altar.

Public opinion in England, under the inspiration of the Whigs, raised a cry of indignation against the Prince. It was imagined, I presume, that royal personage should be born without heart or feeling; that he should have been able to live only for the good of the State and for the convenience of his creditors. The Princess of Wales was one of the most unattractive and almost repulsive women for an elegant-minded man that could well have been found amongst German royalty. It is not my intention to recall the events of the Regency. It is well known that the Prince became eventually so unpopular as to exclude himself as much as possible from public gaze. His intimate companions, after the trial of Queen Caroline, were Lords Cunningham and Fife, Sir Benjamin Bloomfield, Sir William Macmahon, Admiral Nagle, Sir A. Barnard, Lords Glenlyon, Hertford, and Lowther. These gentlemen generally dined with him; the dinner being the artistic product of that famous gastronomic savant, Wattiers. The Prince was very fond of listening after dinner to the gossip of society. When he became George the Fourth, no change took place in these personnels at the banquet, excepting that with the fruits and flowers of the table was introduced the beautiful Marchioness of Conyngham, whose brilliant wit, according to the estimation of his Majesty, surpassed that of any other of his friends, male or female.


Carlton House, at the period to which I refer, was a centre for all the great politicians and wits who were the favorites of the Regent. The principal entrance of this palace in Pall Mall, with its screen of columns, will be remembered by many. In the rear of the mansion was an extensive garden that reached from Warwick Street to Marlborough House; green sward, stately trees, (probably two hundred years old), and beds of the choicest flowers, gave to the grounds a picturesque attraction perhaps unequalled. It was here that the heir to the throne of England gave, in 1813, an open-air fete, in honour of the battle of Vittoria. About three o'clock P.M. the elite of London society, who had been honoured with an invitation, began to arrive—all in full dress; the ladies particularly displaying their diamonds and pearls, as if they were going to a drawing-room. The men were, of course, in full dress, wearing knee-buckles. The regal circle was composed of the Queen, the Regent, the Princess Sophia and Mary, the Princess Charlotte, the Dukes of York, Clarence, Cumberland, and Cambridge.

This was the first day that her Royal Highness the Princess Charlotte appeared in public. She was a young lady of more than ordinary personal attractions; her features were regular, and her complexion fair, with the rich bloom of youthful beauty; her eyes were blue and very expressive, and her hair was abundant, and of that peculiar light brown which merges into the golden: in fact, such hair as the Middle-Age Italian painters associate with their conceptions of the Madonna. In figure her Royal Highness was somewhat over the ordinary height of women, but finely proportioned and well developed. Her manners were remarkable for a simplicity and good-nature which would have won admiration and invited affection in the most humble walks of life. She created universal admiration, and I may say a feeling of national pride, amongst all who attended the ball. The Prince Regent entered the gardens giving his arm to the Queen, the rest of the royal family following. Tents had been erected in various parts of the grounds, where the bands of the Guards were stationed. The weather was magnificent, a circumstance which contributed to show off the admirable arrangements of Sir Benjamin Bloomfield, to whom had been deputed the organization of the fete, which commenced by dancing on the lawn.

The Princess Charlotte honoured with her presence two dances. In the first she accepted the hand of the late Duke of Devonshire, and in the second that of the Earl of Aboyne, who had danced with Marie Antoinette, and who, as Lord Huntley, lived long enough to dance with Queen Victoria. The Princess entered so much into the spirit of the fete as to ask for the then fashionable Scotch dances. The Prince was dressed in the Windsor uniform, and wore the garter and star. He made himself very amiable, and conversed much with the Ladies Hertford, Cholmondeley, and Montford. Altogether, the fete was a memorable event.

A year afterwards, the Duke of York said to his royal niece, "Tell me, my dear, have you seen anyone among the foreign princes whom you would like to have for a husband?" The Princess naively replied, "No one so much prepossesses me as Prince Leopold of Coburg. I have heard much of his bravery in the field, and I must say he is personally agreeable to me. I have particularly heard of his famous cavalry charge at the battle of Leipsic, where he took several thousand prisoners, for which he was rewarded with the Order of Maria Therese." In a few months afterwards she became the wife of the man whom she so much admired, and from whom she was torn away not long after by the cruel hand of death. It will be remembered that she died in childbirth, and her offspring expired at the same time. The accoucheur who attended her was so much affected by the calamity, that he committed suicide some short time afterwards.


Amongst the curious freaks of fortune there is none more remarkable in my memory than the sudden appearance, in the highest and best society in London, of a young man whose antecedents warranted a much less conspicuous career: I refer to the famous Beau Brummell. We have innumerable instances of soldiers, lawyers, and men of letters, elevating themselves from the most humble stations, and becoming the companions of princes and lawgivers; but there are comparatively few examples of men obtaining a similarly elevated position simply from their attractive personal appearance and fascinating manners. Brummell's father, who was a steward to one or two large estates, sent his son George to Eton. He was endowed with a handsome person, and distinguished himself at Eton as the best scholar, the best boatman, and the best cricketer; and, more than all, he was supposed to possess the comprehensive excellences that are represented by the familiar term of "good fellow." He made many friends amongst the scions of good families, by whom he was considered a sort of Crichton; and his reputation reached a circle over which reigned the celebrated Duchess of Devonshire. At a grand ball given by her Grace, George Brummell, then quite a youth, appeared for the first time in such elevated society. He immediately became a great favourite with the ladies, and was asked by all the dowagers to as many balls and soirees as he could attend.

At last the Prince of Wales sent for Brummell, and was so much pleased with his manner and appearance, that he gave him a commission in his own regiment, the 10th Hussars. Unluckily, Brummell, soon after joining his regiment, was thrown from his horse at a grand review at Brighton, when he broke his classical Roman nose. This misfortune, however, did not affect the fame of the beau; and although his nasal organ had undergone a slight transformation, it was forgiven by his admirers, since the rest of his person remained intact. When we are prepossessed by the attractions of a favourite, it is not a trifle that will dispel the illusion; and Brummell continued to govern society, in conjunction with the Prince of Wales. He was remarkable for his dress, which was generally conceived by himself; the execution of his sublime imagination being carried out by that superior genius, Mr. Weston, tailor, of Old Bond Street. The Regent sympathised deeply with Brummell's labours to arrive at the most attractive and gentlemanly mode of dressing the male form, at a period when fashion had placed at the disposal of the tailor the most hideous material that could possibly tax his art. The coat may have a long tail or a short tail, a high collar or a low collar, but it will always be an ugly garment. The modern hat may be spread out at the top, or narrowed, whilst the brim may be turned up or turned down, made a little wider or a little more narrow, still it is inconceivably hideous. Pantaloons and Hessian boots were the least objectionable features of the costume which the imagination of a Brummell and the genius of a Royal Prince were called upon to modify or change. The hours of meditative agony which each dedicated to the odious fashions of the day have left no monument save the coloured caricatures in which these illustrious persons have appeared.

Brummell, at this time, besides being the companion and friend of the Prince, was very intimate with the Dukes of Rutland, Dorset, and Argyll, Lords Sefton, Alvanley, and Plymouth. In the zenith of his popularity he might be seen at the bay window of White's Club, surrounded by the lions of the day, laying down the law, and occasionally indulging in those witty remarks for which he was famous. His house in Chapel Street corresponded with his personal "get up"; the furniture was in excellent taste, and the library contained the best works of the best authors of every period and of every country. His canes, his snuff-boxes, his Sevres china, were exquisite; his horses and carriage were conspicuous for their excellence; and, in fact, the superior taste of a Brummell was discoverable in everything that belonged to him.

But the reign of the king of fashion, like all other reigns, was not destined to continue for ever. Brummell warmly espoused the cause of Mrs. Fitzherbert, and this of course offended the Prince of Wales. I refer to the period when his Royal Highness had abandoned that beautiful woman for another favourite. A coldness sprang up between the Prince and his protege, and finally, the mirror of fashion was excluded from the royal presence. A curious accident brought Brummell again to the dinner-table of his royal patron; he was asked one night at White's to take a hand at whist, when he won from George Harley Drummond 20,000L. This circumstance having been related by the Duke of York to the Prince of Wales, the beau was again invited to Carlton House. At the commencement of the dinner, matters went off smoothly; but Brummell, in his joy at finding himself with his old friend, became excited, and drank too much wine. His Royal Highness—who wanted to pay off Brummell for an insult he had received at Lady Cholmondeley's ball, when the beau, turning towards the Prince, said to Lady Worcester, "Who is your fat friend?"—had invited him to dinner merely out of a desire for revenge. The Prince therefore pretended to be affronted with Brummell's hilarity, and said to his brother, the Duke of York, who was present, "I think we had better order Mr. Brummell's carriage before he gets drunk." Whereupon he rang the bell, and Brummell left the royal presence. This circumstance originated the story about the beau having told the Prince to ring the bell. I received these details from the late General Sir Arthur Upton, who was present at the dinner. The latter days of Brummell were clouded with mortifications and penury. He retired to Calais, where he kept up a ludicrous imitation of his past habits. At least he got himself named consul at Caen; but he afterwards lost the appointment, and eventually died insane, and in abject poverty, either at Boulogne or Calais.


This singular man, more than forty years ago, occupied a large portion of public attention; his eccentricities were the theme of general wonder, and great was the curiosity to catch a glance at as strange a being as any that ever appeared in English society. This extraordinary individual was a native of one of the West India Islands, and was represented as a man of extraordinary wealth; to which, however, he had no claim.

About the year 1808 there arrived at the York Hotel, at Bath, a person about the age of fifty, somewhat gentlemanlike, but so different from the usual men of the day that considerable attention was directed to him. He was of a good figure; but his face was sallow, seamed with wrinkles, and more expressive of cunning than of any other quality. His dress was remarkable: in the day-time he was covered at all seasons with enormous quantities of fur; but the evening costume in which he went to the balls made a great impression, from its gaudy appearance; for his buttons as well as his knee-buckles were of diamonds. There was of course great curiosity to know who this stranger was; and this curiosity was heightened by an announcement that he proposed to appear at the theatre in the character of Romeo. There was something so unlike the impassioned lover in his appearance—so much that indicated a man with few intellectual gifts—that everybody was prepared for a failure. No one, however, anticipated the reality.

On the night fixed for his appearance the house was crowded to suffocation. The playbills had given out that "an amateur of fashion" would for that night only perform in the character of Romeo; besides, it was generally whispered that the rehearsals gave indication of comedy rather than tragedy, and that his readings were of a perfectly novel character.

The very first appearance of Romeo convulsed the house with laughter. Benvolio prepares the audience for the stealthy visit of the lover to the object of his admiration; and fully did the amateur give the expression to one sense of the words uttered, for he was indeed the true representative of a thief stealing onwards in the night, "with Tarquin's ravishing strides," and disguising his face as if he were thoroughly ashamed of it. The darkness of the scene did not, however, show his real character so much as the masquerade, when he came forward with hideous grin, and made what he considered his bow,—which consisted in thrusting his head forward and bobbing it up and down several times, his body remaining perfectly upright and stiff, like a toy mandarin with moveable head.

His dress was outre in the extreme: whether Spanish, Italian, or English, no one could say; it was like nothing ever worn. In a cloak of sky-blue silk, profusely spangled, red pantaloons, a vest of white muslin, surmounted by an enormously thick cravat, and a wig a la Charles the Second, capped by an opera hat, he presented one of the most grotesque spectacles ever witnessed upon the stage. The whole of his garments were evidently too tight for him; and his movements appeared so incongruous, that every time he raised his arm, or moved a limb, it was impossible to refrain from laughter: but what chiefly convulsed the audience was the bursting of a seam in an inexpressible part of his dress, and the sudden extrusion through the red rent of a quantity of white linen sufficient to make a Bourbon flag, which was visible whenever he turned round. This was at first supposed to be a wilful offence against common decency, and some disapprobation was evinced; but the utter unconsciousness of the odd creature was soon apparent, and then urestrained mirth reigned throughout the boxes, pit, and gallery. The total want of flexibility of limb, the awkwardness of his gait, and the idiotic manner in which he stood still, all produced a most ludicrous effect; but when his guttural voice was heard, and his total misapprehension of every passage in the play, especially the vulgarity of his address to Juliet, were perceived, everyone was satisfied that Shakspeare's Romeo was burlesqued on that occasion.

The balcony scene was interrupted by shrieks of laughter, for in the midst of one of Juliet's impassioned exclamations, Romeo quietly took out his snuff-box and applied a pinch to his nose; on this a wag in the gallery bawled out, "I say, Romeo, give us a pinch," when the impassioned lover, in the most affected manner, walked to the side boxes and offered the contents of his box first to the gentlemen, and then, with great gallantry, to the ladies. This new interpretation of Shakspeare was hailed with loud bravos, which the actor acknowledged with his usual grin and nod. Romeo then returned to the balcony, and was seen to extend his arms; but all passed in dumb show, so incessant were the shouts of laughter. All that went on upon the stage was for a time quite inaudible, but previous to the soliloquy "I do remember an apothecary," there was for a moment a dead silence; for in rushed the hero with a precipitate step until he reached the stage lamps, when he commenced his speech in the lowest possible whisper, as if he had something to communicate to the pit that ought not to be generally known; and this tone was kept up throughout the whole of the soliloquy, so that not a sound could be heard.

The amateur actor showed many indications of aberration of mind, and seemed rather the object of pity than of amusement; he, however, appeared delighted with himself, and also with his audience, for at the conclusion he walked first to the left of the stage and bobbed his head in his usual grotesque manner at the side boxes; then to the right, performing the same feat; after which, going to the centre of the stage with the usual bob, and placing his hand upon his left breast, he exclaimed, "Haven't I done it well?" To this inquiry the house, convulsed as it was with shouts of laughter, responded in such a way as delighted the heart of Kean on one great occasion, when he said, "The pit rose at me." The whole audience started up as if with one accord, giving a yell of derision, whilst pocket-handkerchiefs waved from all parts of the theatre.

The dying scene was irresistibly comic, and I question if Liston, Munden, or Joey Knight, was ever greeted with such merriment; for Romeo dragged the unfortunate Juliet from the tomb, much in the same manner as a washerwoman thrusts into her cart the bag of foul linen. But how shall I describe his death? Out came a dirty silk handkerchief from his pocket, with which he carefully swept the ground; then his opera hat was carefully placed for a pillow, and down he laid himself. After various tossings about he seemed reconciled to the position; but the house vociferously bawled out, "Die again, Romeo!" and, obedient to the command, he rose up, and went through the ceremony again. Scarcely had he lain quietly down, when the call was again heard, and the well-pleased amateur was evidently prepared to enact a third death; but Juliet now rose up from her tomb, and gracefully put an end to this ludicrous scene by advancing to the front of the stage and aptly applying a quotation from Shakspeare:—

"Dying is such sweet sorrow, That he will die again until to-morrow."

Thus ended an extravaganza such as has seldom been witnessed; for although Coates repeated the play at the Haymarket, amidst shouts of laughter from the playgoers, there never was so ludicrous a performance as that which took place at Bath on the first night of his appearance. Eventually he was driven from the stage with much contumely, in consequence of its having been discovered that, under pretence of acting for a charitable purpose, he had obtained a sum of money for his performances. His love of notoriety led him to have a most singular shell-shaped carriage built, in which, drawn by two fine white horses, he was wont to parade in the park; the harness, and every available part of the vehicle (which was really handsome) were blazoned over with his heraldic device—a cock crowing, and his appearance was heralded by the gamins of London shrieking out "cock-a-doodle-doo." Coates eventually quitted London and settled at Boulogne, where a fair lady was induced to become the partner of his existence, notwithstanding the ridicule of the whole world.

1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse