Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869)/Chapter 37
THE LEADER OF FASHION.
JOSIANA was bored. The fact is so natural as to be scarcely worth mentioning.
Lord David held the position of judge in the gay life of London. He was looked up to by the nobility and gentry. Let us mention one feat of Lord David: he was daring enough to wear his own hair. The reaction against the wig was beginning. Just as in 1824 Eugène Devéria was the first to allow his beard to grow, so in 1702 Price Devereux was the first to risk wearing his own hair in public disguised by artful curling; for to risk one's hair was almost to risk one's head. The indignation was universal, although Price Devereux was Viscount Hereford, and a peer of England. He was insulted; but the deed was well worth the insult. In the hottest part of the row Lord David suddenly appeared without his wig and in his own hair. Such conduct shakes the foundations of society. Lord David was insulted even more grossly than Viscount Hereford; yet he held his ground. Price Devereux was the first, Lord David Dirry-Moir was the second to do this. It is sometimes more difficult to be the second than the first. It requires less genius, but more courage. The first, intoxicated by the novelty, may ignore the danger; the second sees the abyss, and rushes into it. Lord David flung himself into the abyss of no longer wearing a wig. Later on these gentlemen found many imitators. Following the examples of these two revolutionists, men summoned up sufficient courage to wear their own hair, and powder was introduced as an extenuating circumstance.
In order to establish an important period of history before we pass on, we should remark that the first blow in the war of wigs was really struck by a Queen,—Christina of Sweden, who wore man's clothes, and who appeared in 1680, with her hair of golden brown, powdered, and brushed up from her head. She had besides, says Misson, a slight beard. The Pope, in his turn, by a bull issued in March, 1694, had lessened the popularity of the wig, by taking it from the heads of bishops and priests, and by ordering churchmen to let their hair grow.
Lord David, then, did not wear a wig, and he did wear cow-hide boots. Such deeds of prowess made him a mark for public admiration. There was not a club of which he was not the leader; not a boxing-match in which he was not desired as referee. The referee is the arbitrator. He had drawn up the rules of several aristocratic clubs. He founded several resorts of fashionable society,—of which one, the Lady Guinea, was still in existence in Pall Mall, in 1772. The Lady Guinea was a club in which all the youth of the peerage congregated. They gambled there; the lowest stake allowed was a rouleau of fifty guineas, and there was never less than twenty thousand guineas on the table. By the side of each player was a little stand, on which to place his cup of tea and a gilt bowl in which to put the rouleaux of guineas. The players, like servants when cleaning knives, wore leather sleeves to save their lace, breast-plates of leather to protect their ruffles, and on their heads, to shelter their eyes from the glare of the lamps and to keep their curls in order, broad-brimmed hats covered with flowers. They were masked to conceal their excitement, especially when playing the game of quinze. All, moreover, wore their coats hind-side before, for luck.
Lord David was a member of the Beefsteak Club, the Surly Club, and of the Splitfarthing Club; of the Cross Club, and the Scratchpenny Club; of the Sealed Knot, a Royalist Club; and of the Martinus Scribblerus, founded by Swift, to take the place of the Rota, founded by Milton. Though handsome, he belonged to the Ugly Club. This club was dedicated to deformity. The members agreed to fight, not about a beautiful woman, but about an ugly man. The hall of the club was adorned by hideous portraits,—Thersites, Triboulet, Duns, Hudibras, Scarron; over the chimney was Æsop, between two men,—Codes and Camoëns,—each blind in one eye (Codes being blind in the left, and Camoens in the right eye), so arranged that the two profiles without eyes were turned to each other. The day that the beautiful Mrs. Visart caught the smallpox, the Ugly Club toasted her. This club was still in existence in the beginning of the nineteenth century, and Mirabeau was elected an honorary member.
Since the restoration of Charles II., revolutionary clubs had been abolished. The tavern in the little street by Moorfields where the Calf's Head Club was held, had been pulled down; it was so called because on the 30th of January, the day on which the blood of Charles I. flowed on the scaffold, the members had drunk to the health of Cromwell out of the skull of a calf. To republican clubs had succeeded monarchical clubs. In them people amused themselves with decency. There was the Hell-fire Club, where they played at being impious. It was a joust of sacrilege; hell was put up at auction there to the highest bidder in blasphemy. There was the Butting Club, so called from its members butting folks with their heads. They found some street porter with a wide chest and a stupid countenance; they offered him, and compelled him if necessary, to accept a pot of porter, in return for which he was to allow them to butt him with their heads four times in the chest; and on this they betted. One day a man, a big, stalwart Welshman named Gogangerdd, expired at the third butt. This looked serious. An inquest was held, and the jury returned the following verdict: "Died of enlargement of the heart, caused by excessive drinking." Gogangerdd had certainly drunk the contents of the pot of porter.
There was the Fun Club. Fun is like cant, and like humour,—a word which is untranslatable. Fun is to farce what pepper is to salt. To get into a house and break a valuable mirror, slash the family portraits, poison the dog, put the cat in the aviary, is called "having a bit of fun." To give bad news which is untrue, whereby people put on mourning by mistake, is fun. It was fun to cut a square hole in the Holbein at Hampton Court. A member of the Fun Club would have deemed it a grand achievement to have broken the arm of the Venus of Milo. Under James II. a young millionaire nobleman who had during the night set fire to a thatched cottage,—a feat which made all London shriek with laughter,—was proclaimed the King of Fun. The poor devils in the cottage were saved in their night-clothes. The members of the Fun Club, all men of the highest rank, used to run about London during the hours when the citizens were asleep, pulling shutters off their hinges, cutting the pipes of pumps, filling up cisterns, digging up cultivated plots of ground, putting out lamps, sawing through the beams which supported houses, and breaking window-panes, especially in the poor quarters of the town. It was the rich who acted thus towards the poor. For this reason, no complaint was possible; that was the best of the joke. These manners have not altogether disappeared. In many places in England and in English possessions (at Guernsey, for instance) your house is now and then somewhat damaged during the night, or a fence broken, or the knocker twisted off your door. If it were the poor who did these things, they would be sent to jail; but they are done by pleasant young gentlemen.
Amusements of the Mohawk Club.
Photo-Etching.—From Drawing by G. Rochegrosse.
The most fashionable of the clubs was presided over by a so-called emperor, who wore a crescent on his forehead, and was called the Grand Mohawk. The Mohawk surpassed the Fun. "Do evil for evil's sake" was the programme. The Mohawk Club had one great object,—to injure. To accomplish this object, all sorts of means were resorted to. In becoming a Mohawk, the members took an oath to that effect. To injure at any price, no matter when, no matter whom, no matter where, was a matter of duty. Every member of the Mohawk Club was bound to possess some accomplishment. One was "a dancing master;" that is to say, he made the rustics frisk about by pricking the calves of their legs with the point of his sword. Others knew how to make a man sweat; that is to say, a circle of gentlemen with drawn rapiers would surround a poor wretch, so that it was impossible for him not to turn his back upon some one of them; the gentleman he turned his back upon chastised him for it by a prick of his sword, which made him spring round; another prick in the back warned the fellow that a person of noble blood was behind him,—and so on, each one wounding him in turn; when the man, hemmed in by the circle of swords and covered with blood, had turned and danced about enough, they had him beaten by their servants in order to divert his mind. Others "punched the lion;" that is, they gaily stopped a passer-by, broke his nose with a blow of the fist, and then shoved both thumbs into his eyes; if his eyes were gouged out, he was paid for them.
Such were the pastimes of the rich idlers of London about the beginning of the eighteenth century. The idlers of Paris also had theirs. About that time M. de Charolais was firing his gun at a citizen who chanced to be standing on his own threshold. Youth has had its amusements from time immemorial.
Lord David Dirry-Moir would gleefully set fire to a cottage of wood and thatch, just like the others, and scorch the inmates a little; but he always rebuilt their houses in stone. He assaulted two ladies. One was unmarried,—he gave her a portion; the other was married,—he had her husband appointed chaplain. Many praiseworthy improvements were due to him in cock-fighting. It was marvellous to see Lord David dress a cock for the pit. Cocks lay hold of each other by the feathers, as men seize each other by the hair. Lord David, therefore, made his cock as bald as possible. With a pair of scissors he cut off all the tail feathers, and all the feathers on the head and shoulders as well as those on the neck. "So much less for the enemy's beak," he used to say. Then he extended the cock's wings, and cut each feather, one after another, to a point, and thus the wings were furnished with darts. "That is for the enemy's eyes," he would say. Then he scraped its claws with a penknife, sharpened its nails, fitted steel gaffs on its spurs, spat on its head and spat on its neck,—anointing it with spittle, as they used to rub oil over athletes; then set it down in the pit, a formidable opponent, exclaiming, "That's the way to make a cock an eagle; a bird of the poultry-yard a bird of the mountain."
Lord David attended prize-fights, and was their living law. On great occasions it was he who had the stakes driven in and ropes stretched, and who fixed the number of feet for the ring. When he was a second, he followed his man step by step, a bottle in one hand, a sponge in the other; crying out to him to strike fair, but suggesting all sorts of stratagems; advising him as he fought, wiping away the blood, raising him when overthrown, placing him on his knee, putting the mouth of the brandy bottle between his teeth, and from his own mouth, filled with water, blowing a fine rain into his eyes and ears,—a thing which revives even a dying man. If he was referee, he saw that there was no foul play; prevented any one, whomsoever he might be, from assisting the combatants, excepting the seconds; declared the man beaten who did not fairly face his opponent; saw that the time between the rounds did not exceed half a minute; prevented butting, declaring whoever resorted to it beaten; and forbade a man's being hit when down. All this scientific knowledge, however, did not make him a pedant, or destroy his ease of manner in society.
When Lord David was referee, rough, pimple-faced, unshorn friends of either combatant never dared to come to the aid of the failing man; nor in order to upset the chances of the betting jump over the barrier, enter the ring, break the ropes, pull down the stakes, or interfere in any way in the contest. He was one of the few referees they dared not attempt to bully.
No one could train like him. The pugilist whose trainer he consented to become was sure to win. Lord David would choose a Hercules,—massive as a rock, tall as a tower,—and make a child of him. The problem was to turn that human rock from a defensive to an offensive state. In this he excelled. Having once adopted the Cyclops, he never left him. He became his nurse; he measured out his wine, weighed his meat, and counted his hours of sleep. It was he who invented the athlete's admirable rules, afterwards reproduced by Morely: in the morning, a raw egg and a glass of sherry; at twelve, some slices of a leg of mutton, almost raw, with tea; at four, toast and tea; in the evening, pale ale and toast; after which he undressed his man, rubbed him, and put him to bed. In the street, he never lost sight of him, keeping him out of every danger,—runaway horses, carriage-wheels, drunken soldiers, and pretty girls. He watched over his virtue. This maternal solicitude was continually adding some new accomplishment to the pupil's education. He taught him the blow with the fist which breaks the teeth, and the twist of the thumb which gouges out the eye. What could be more touching than this devotion? In this way he was also preparing himself for the public life to which he would be called later on. It is no easy matter to become an accomplished gentleman.
Lord David Dirry-Moir was passionately fond of open-air exhibitions, of shows, of circuses with wild beasts, of the caravans of mountebanks, of clowns, tumblers, merrymen, open-air farces, and the wonders of a fair. The true noble is he who smacks of the people. Therefore it was that Lord David frequented the taverns and low haunts of London and the Cinque Ports. In order to be able at need, and without compromising his rank in the white squadron, to be cheek-by-jowl with a top-man or a calker, he used to wear a sailor's jacket when he went into the slums. For such disguise his not wearing a wig was convenient; for even under Louis XIV. the people clung to their hair like the lion to his mane. This gave him great freedom of action. The low people whom Lord David used to meet, and with whom he mixed, held him in high esteem, without ever dreaming that he was a lord. They called him Tom-Jim-Jack. Under this name he was quite famous and very popular among the dregs of the people. He played the blackguard in a masterly style, and did not hesitate to use his fists if necessary. This phase of his fashionable life was highly appreciated by Lady Josiana.