Friday, 14 October 2005

This week has been Cheltenham Literary Festival Week, and I have managed to organise myself sufficiently to go to a few of the talks. Today there were two that I was determined to attend.

The first was on Beau Brummell, and was a double act of Ian Kelly, who has recently written a biography of the great man called Beau Brummell, the Ultimate Dandy, and George Walden, who wrote a much smaller book a few years ago, Who is a Dandy, which includes a translation by Walden of Jules Barbey D'Aurevilly's essay Du Dandysme et de G. Brummell.

Walden suggested that if the modern World could be summed up in three things they would be science & technology, neo-liberal economics, and an infatuation with fashion and style. He suggests that Charles Darwin is the key to the first of these, and Adam Smith to the second. The third he traces back to George Bryan Brummell. Kelly took us through Brummell's rise from being the son of a Civil Servant and a Courtesan, to being the best man of the Prince of Wales, and his fall to poverty, insanity and death in Normandy from Tertiary Syphilis.

I had picked up Kelly's book earlier in the week, but I took the opportunity to get a copy of Who is a Dandy from one of the Festival Bookstalls. My "to be read" pile is huge at the moment, so it will be a little while before I get through them both.

The second event featured Kenneth Baker, the former Government minister and keen collector of political cartoons from the 1780s to the 1820s. His talk was entitled George IV, Cad or Catalyst, and was illustrated by dozens of cartoons, many from his own collections but some from elsewhere (including the US National Archives, to whom George VI sold his eponymous ancestor's personal collection of cartoons to raise some money for his own stamp collection).

Lord Baker's conclusion was that George IV was both cad - womaniser, glutton, gambler - and also catalyst - arguably our first truly constitutional monarch, our first civic planner and a visionary sponsor of architecture and the arts. His book is George IV, a life in caricature.

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