Friday, January 12, 2018

Etiquette and Beau Brummell’s “Cut”

The “cut” employed by both the Prince Regent and Beau Brummell, was the ultimate social weapon of the Regency Era. It equates today, to a major “dis” of someone who is no longer a friend, but a frenemy. It’s the final social solution. It was not something to be used lightly, for using the cut, (sometimes called the “cut direct”) signaled your terminating a relationship. That “cut” was literally cutting your bonds of friendship. Rules about when and how a “cut” should be used, were as important as those rules on who could use the “cut” – Unmarried ladies were never to cut married ladies; gentlemen were never to cut a lady regardless of what she’d done; a gentleman cutting another gentleman had to be careful not to let the cut lead to a duel; a host could not cut a guest; etc... While it would seem to be a breach of etiquette to publicly cut someone, failure to follow the rules of cutting would be a serious breach of etiquette.

Shortly after Beau Brummell had joined his Hussars regiment, he inherited a large fortune from his father. He soon found military life uncongenial, and sold his commission. He then set up a bachelor establishment in the most fashionable quarter of London. Here, he entertained lavishly, and always had about him a coterie of the best dressed men of the city, who aped him in everything he did. The father of the Prince of Wales was the mainstay of Brummell's position at this time. Aside from his accomplishment that has made him famous, he was also exceedingly clever at repartee. The Prince was particularly fond of him for his witty conversation. The dandy had unlimited assurance, and even the Royal favor he was able to turn to the very best advantage. He was admitted to what was then termed the very best society, for he was extremely popular with the officers of his regiment. All that he could claim of social distinction for his own family was that his father had been secretary to Lord North. 

When Brummell reached the ago of 25 he found the proudest Dukes of England turned to him for advice in matters of dress, and with the proper spirit of the despot, he ruled on all such matters with brusque finality, “I want your opinion on this coat, Brummell.” said the Duke of Bedford. “Do you call that thing a coat, Bedford?” replied Beau. Finally his manner assumed such an arbitrary turn that he undertook to snub the Prince of Wales, who aspired to be the finest gentleman in Europe. Coolness sprang up between the two and the Prince cut the Beau. 

One story has it that when the Prince and Brummell were dining together, the latter asked him to ring the bell. It is said the Prince did ring the bell, and when the servant came, ordered Mr. Brummell’s carriage. The Beau denied the story, and gave the cause of the quarrel his own sarcasm on the Prince's increasing corpulency and his resemblance to Mrs. Fitzherbert's porter, “Big Ben.” Following his break in friendship, Brummell lounged about, made amusing remarks on his late friend and patron, swore he would “cut” him, and, in short, behaved with his usual aplomb. 

Soon after the bell affair, the “Beau” met his former friend in St. James street and resolved to cut him. Each antagonist was leaning on the arm of a friend. Jack Lee, who was thus supporting the “Beau” was intimate with the Prince, who, to make the cut more marked, stopped to talk to him without taking the slightest notice of Brummell. After a time both parties moved on, and then came the moment of triumph and revenge. It was sublime. Turning ‘round half way, so that his words could not fail to be heard by the retreating Regent, the Beau asked of his companion in his usual drawl, “Well, Jack, who's your fat friend?” The coolness, presumption and impertiness of the question perhaps made it the best thing the Beau ever said and from that time, the Prince took care not to risk another encounter with him. 

There are a great many stories told of the wit of Beau Brummell, always exercised at the expense of the defenseless or less brilliant and fashionable. On one occasion at least its unmitigated insolence brought its fair rebuke and that was when he sneeringly assured a wealthy brewer, Alderman Combe, from whom he had won a large sum at cards, that in future he would drink no one elses porter. “I wish, sir,” said Combe, “that every other blackguard in London would tell me the same.” – Sacramento Union, 1912

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia

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