« PreviousContinue »
worcatorin Byenley Thom
franton AUTHORS OF
THE QUEENS OF SOCIETY."
Uith Xllustrations from Drawings by
H. K. BROWNE AND JAMES GODWIN.
ENGRAVED BY THE BROTHERS DALZIEL.
HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS,
THE success of the “Queens of Society" will have pioneered the way for the "Wits and Beaux," with whom, during the holiday time of their lives, these fair ladies were so greatly associated. The “Queens,” whether all wits or not, must have been the cause of wit in others; their influence over dandyism is notorious: their power to make or mar a man of fashion, almost historical. So far, a chronicle of the sayings and doings of the “Wits" is worthy to serve as a pendent to that of the “Queens:" happy would it be for society if the annals of the former could more closely resemble the biography of the latter. But it may not be so: men are subject to temptations, to failures, to delinquencies, to calamities, of which women can scarcely dream, and which they can only lament and pity.
Our “Wits,” too—to separate them from the “Beaux" -were men who often took an active part in the stirring events of their day; they assumed to be statesmen, though, too frequently, they were only politicians. They were brave and loyal: indeed, in the time of the Stuarts, all the Wits were Cavaliers, as well as the Beaux. One hears of no repartee among Cromwell's followers; no dash, no merriment in Fairfax's staff; eloquence, indeed, but no wit in the Parliamentarians; and, in truth, in the second Charles's time, the king might have headed the list of the Wits himself-such a capital man as his Majesty is known to have been for a wet evening or a dull Sunday; such a famous teller of a story—such a perfect diner-out: no wonder that
in his reign we had George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham of that family, "mankind's epitome," who had every pretension to every accomplishment combined in himself. No wonder that we could attract De Grammont and Saint Eyremond to our court; and own, somewhat to our discredit be it allowed, Rochester and Beau Fielding. Every reign has had its wits, but those in Charles's time were so numerous as to distinguish the era by an especial brilliancy. Nor let it be supposed that these annals do not contain a moral application. They show how little the sparkling attributes herein portrayed conferred happiness; how far more the rare, though certainly real touches of genuine feeling and strong affection, which appear here and there eveu in the lives of the most thoughtless “ Wits and Beaux," elevate the character in youth, or console the spirit in age. They prove how wise has been that change in society which now repudiates the “Wit” as a distinct class, and requires general intelligence as a compensation for lost repartees, or long obsolete practical jokes.
"Men are not all evil:" so in the life of George Villiers, we find him kind-hearted and free from hypocrisy. His old servants—and the fact speaks in extenuation of one of our wildest Wits and Beaux-loved him faithfully. De Grammont, we all own, has little to redeem him except his good-nature: Rochester's latest days were almost hallowed by his penitence. Chesterfield is saved by his kindness to the Irish and his affection for his son. Horace Walpole had human affections, though a most inhuman pen: and Wharton was famous for his good-humor.
The periods most abounding in the Wit and the Beau have, of course, been those most exempt from wars and rumors of wars. The Restoration; the early period of the Augustan age; the commencement of the Hanoverian dynasty,-have all been enlivened by Wits and Beaux, who came to light like mushrooms after a storm of rain, as soon