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A wig that's full,
An empty skull,
A box of bergamot.
BAKER'S Comedy of Hampstead Heath.
HE man who was of, yet distinct from, the crowd of Beaux and Wits who surrounded Charles II., partly because he outlived them and partly because he had neither talent as playwright nor poet and no smart wit to make him remembered, is Beau Feilding. He was, in fact, nothing but a Beau, and therefore deserves his title more than the others.
Robert Feilding was born about 1651, and did not appear at Court until Charles had been King for nearly ten years. He belonged-as has been said earlier-to the Denbigh family. Being sent to London to study law, he soon became absorbed in the fashionable vices of the town, and thought no more about his profession.
"His person was uncommonly beautiful, and he studied every art of setting it off to the best advantage. He was as vain and expensive in his own dress as he was fantastical in the dresses of his footmen, who usually wore yellow liveries, with black sashes, and black feathers in their hats." 1 Another writer says that these sashes were made from cast-off mourning bands. Young Mr. Feilding had no idea of hiding his beauties in a lawyer's office; he preferred spending his time in the streets and hang1 Granger's "Biographical History of England." 1779.
ing about the Court, taking rooms in Scotland Yard, close to Whitehall. Ladies noticed his handsome face and fine proportions, and Charles himself-dubbing him "the handsome Feilding "-made him a Justice of the Peace. From that moment he became the vainest of fops; yet his self-appreciation only led to his being more appreciated by others, and to his firm establishment in the popular regard as a Beau.
Decked in his curled wig, his dainty ruffles, with sword at his side, Feilding paraded the Mall, the centre of all eyes, and ogling every woman who passed him. He is said to have carried a little comb always, with which to put right his wig, should the wind however slightly disarrange it. With the men he was a favourite, for he could drink with the best. He soon picked up the fashionable phrases in which the Beaux vented their feelings, and he had all the impertinence of youth. Of course his debts increased rapidly, and there were times when the belaced and gilded young man had to watch his opportunity for going safely through the streets. On one occasion the bailiffs, or the tailors, nearly caught him, but by the length and strength of his legs he reached St James's Palace first, and then found friends in the officers on guard, who made short work of the wishes of the worthy tradesmen.
At that time it was not always the men who bestowed money and the women who received it. Castlemaine took money from the King, which she passed on to other adorers; and as soon as Beau Feilding became friendly with some of the Court ladies, he found presents lavished upon him. A further source of supply was the gaming table. Indeed, he had two occupations which made serious inroads upon his time-one was the raising of money, and the other was the making love profitably.
He married, while still a young man, Mary, the only daughter and heiress of Barnham Swift, Lord Carlingford. Her fortune did not last him long, and the young wife did not long outlive her fortune. When he was about thirty-three Beau Feilding married a second time, his wife being Margaret, widow of Viscount Purbeck, and earlier, widow of Lord Muskerry. There is a curious note in Aubrey's "Lives" " showing that on July 19th, 1676, at about 6 p.m., my lord viscount, (Robert) Purbeck (filius) was hurt in the neck by Mr. Feilding in Fleet Street." Perhaps he had already been paying attention to the Viscount's wife.
He went over to Ireland with James, and the first record we have of his doing any work is when he sat in the Irish Parliament as Member for Gowran in 1689. Thence he went to Paris, and waited there some years for his pardon, returning to England in 1696. His wife Margaret died two years later, and for a time we hear nothing of the Beau; his were scarcely the qualities which would appeal to William III. Yet we find from The Tatler that in 1709 he was still parading his physical perfections, for Steele thus described him as Orlando the Fair in August of that year:
"His descent noble, his wit humorous, his person charming. But to none of these recommendatory advantages was his title so undoubted, as that of his beauty. His complexion was fair but his countenance manly; his stature of the tallest; his shape the most exact; and though in all his limbs he had a proportion as delicate as we see in the works of the most skilful statuaries, his body had a strength and firmness little inferior to the marble of which such images are formed. This made Orlando the universal flame of all the fair sex; innocent virgins sighed for him as Adonis; experienced widows as
Hercules. Thus did this figure walk alone the pattern and ornament of our species, but of course the envy of all who had the same passions without his superior merit, and pretences to the favours of that enchanting creature, woman. He sighed not for Delia, for Chloris, for Chloe, for Betty, nor my lady, nor for the ready chambermaid, nor distant baroness woman was his mistress, and the whole sex his seraglio."
It was four years before this essay was written that the event of Beau Feilding's life happened his third attempt at matrimony. The story is rich in humour, and should not be allowed to sink into the forgotten past. Early in the reign of Queen Anne he seems to have been regarded as a relic of the profligate days of the Restoration, as a person to look at, to wonder at, but not to respect. He was certainly in a bad way for money, and to mend this he hoped to find some widow or heiress who in exchange for his company and his still handsome figure would be willing to keep him in luxury. He had been "paying his addresses" to the Duchess of Cleveland, who was then sixty-three and a great-grandmother, but, at the same time, he thought it wise to be looking out for some one younger and more certain in her temperament and purse.
At last he heard of a Mrs. Deleau, who was a widow with a fortune of £60,000 a year. He had never met this lady, but he hoped to effect an introduction without too much difficulty. We are shown an absurd picture of the old Beau parading up and down before the gilded widow's country house in his finest garments, and bowing ceremoniously when she descended the steps; afterwards entering a gorgeous carriage he kept waiting at the gates. This was however far too slow a method for Feilding, and he called upon a Mrs. Villars to help
The Beau a-Courting
him, promising her £500 if she could so work upon the lady's mind as to bring about a marriage. Now Mrs. Villars was hair-dresser to Mrs. Deleau, so there was perhaps some colour for the assertion she made that she could easily settle that matter. Besides, she was not particular as to the methods by which she secured so large a sum as £500.
One day she brought Mrs. Deleau to Feilding's rooms, and the gallant could not be impressive enough. He was more splendid in his dress than ever, and did all he could to prove his wealth, his position, and his fascination. He hoped, he thought, he had made way with the widow, and waited impatiently for the next meeting.
Then came Mrs. Villars with the news that she had so warmly pressed his suit that the widow had at last consented to come to the Beau's rooms, there to be married to him. The hour was fixed, and the ladies arrived on Lord Mayor's day at about nine o'clock. Feilding was not in at the moment, but entered immediately. Whether he loved the lady or her money, he at least knew all the arts of love, and throwing himself upon his knees he kissed her hands and uttered many soft expressions. Why had she been so long in coming? What could he do to prove his adoration? What could he do to please her? Did she love singing? By Heaven, then, she should hear the best singing in the world, and so he sent his valet, Boucher, to fetch the beautiful Margarita, the prima donna of her day, who came to the rooms in Pall Mall and sang several Italian songs. Thereupon Feilding asked her to sing "Ianthe the lovely," saying that he had the original of it, having translated it from the Greek.
The singing being over he sent for two pints of wine and some plum-cake and, according to his valet, a dish of