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King George The Fourth
by [?]

However much we may deplore this exaggerated tyranny, by reason of its evil effect upon his moral nature, we cannot but feel glad that it existed, to afford a piquant contrast to the life awaiting him. Had he passed through the callow dissipations of Eton and Oxford, like other young men of his age, he would assuredly have lacked much of that splendid, pent vigour with which he rushed headlong into London life. He was so young and so handsome and so strong, that can we wonder if all the women fell at his feet? ‘The graces of his person,’ says one whom he honoured by an intrigue, ‘the irresistible sweetness of his smile, the tenderness of his melodious, yet manly voice, will be remembered by me till every vision of this changing scene are forgotten. The polished and fascinating ingenuousness of his manners contributed not a little to enliven our promenade. He sang with exquisite taste, and the tones of his voice, breaking on the silence of the night, have often appeared to my entranced senses like more than mortal melody.’ But besides his graces of person, he had a most delightful wit, he was a scholar who could bandy quotations with Fox or Sheridan, and, like the young men of to-day, he knew all about Art. He spoke French, Italian, and German perfectly. Crossdill had taught him the violoncello. At first, as was right for one of his age, he cared more for the pleasures of the table and of the ring, for cards and love. He was wont to go down to Ranelagh surrounded by a retinue of bruisers–rapscallions, such as used to follow Clodius through the streets of Rome–and he loved to join in the scuffles like any commoner. Pugilism he learnt from Angelo, and he was considered by some to be a fine performer. On one occasion, too, at an exposition d’escrime, when he handled the foils against the maitre, he ‘was highly complimented upon his graceful postures.’ In fact, despite all his accomplishments, he seems to have been a thoroughly manly young fellow. He was just the kind of figure-head Society had long been in need of. A certain lack of tone had crept into the amusements of the haut monde, due, doubtless, to the lack of an acknowledged leader. The King was not yet mad, but he was always bucolic, and socially out of the question. So at the coming of his son Society broke into a gallop. Balls and masquerades were given in his honour night after night. Good Samaritans must have approved when they found that at these entertainments great ladies and courtesans brushed beautiful shoulders in utmost familiarity, but those who delighted in the high charm of society probably shook their heads. We need not, however, find it a flaw in Georges social bearing that he did not check this kind of freedom. At the first, as a young man full of life, of course he took everything as it came, joyfully. No one knew better than he did, in later life, that there is a time for laughing with great ladies and a time for laughing with courtesans. But as yet it was not possible for him to exert influence. How great that influence became I will suggest hereafter.

I like to think of him as he was at this period, charging about, in pursuit of pleasure, like a young bull. The splendid taste for building had not yet come to him. His father would not hear of him patronising the Turf. But already he was implected with a passion for dress and seems to have erred somewhat on the side of dressing up, as is the way of young men. It is fearful to think of him, as Cyrus Redding saw him, ‘arrayed in deep-brown velvet, silver embroidered, with cut-steel buttons, and a gold net thrown over all.’ Before that ‘gold net thrown over all,’ all the mistakes of his afterlife seem to me to grow almost insignificant. Time, however, toned his too florid sense of costume, and we should at any rate be thankful that his imagination never deserted him. All the delightful munditiae that we find in the contemporary ‘fashion-plates for gentlemen’ can be traced to George himself. His were the much-approved ‘quadruple stock of great dimension,’ the ‘cocked grey-beaver,’ ‘the pantaloons of mauve silk negligently crinkled’ and any number of other little pomps and foibles of the kind. As he grew older and was obliged to abandon many of his more vigorous pastimes, he grew more and more enamoured of the pleasures of the wardrobe. He would spend hours, it is said, in designing coats for his friends, liveries for his servants, and even uniforms. Nor did he ever make the mistake of giving away outmoded clothes to his valets, but kept them to form what must have been the finest collection of clothes that has been seen in modern times. With a sentimentality that is characteristic of him, he would often, as he sat, crippled by gout, in his room at Windsor, direct his servant to bring him this or that coat, which he had worn ten or twenty or thirty years before, and, when it was brought to him, spend much time in laughing or sobbing over the memories that lay in its folds. It is pleasant to know that George, during his long and various life, never forgot a coat, however long ago worn, however seldom.