ISLETS Personal blog.

Individuality vs. Grouping

As the pinnacle of elegance, the dandy is essentially a loner. His claim for originality and independence, his decided demarcation of the crowd, don’t leave any room for confreres. Theoretically that is. As so often in the theory of dandyism, the reality looks different. Dandies have always formed groups: If you think of Brummell, you can’t escape Lord Alvanley, Lord Petersham, Pea Green, George IV., and so on. After dandyism conquered France to be increasingly fused with art and aesthetics, the grouping aspect became even more central. As an artist, the dandy does not follow established rules but produces something new, unseen before. French Romantic literature features a variety of dandies, and even produced the dandy as narrator. The Jeunes-France, grouped around Théophile Gautier and Gérard de Nerval, were one of those dandy cliques. They exchanged ideas, discussed art and joined forces to propagate their radical ideas. The movement gave them much more force than a single writer could have.

Charles Manby Smith observed “the exquisite dandy tribe, a genus comparatively new,” insinuating that dandyism was quite a new thing and difficult to define. Likewise, a reader of the Kilmarnock Mirror wrote in 1818 about “the rise and progress of the Dandy-tribe”, while Joaquà­n Telesforo de Trueba y Cosà­o remarked: “The tribe of dandies, however, being very numerous,” both hinting at the widespread acceptance of the phenomenon during the 1820s. Yet, the characteristics bestowed on the dandies were primarily negative: Their impertinent character is referred to in John Ramsay‘s denomination as “a curious tribe”. Jack Dauber accentuates the dandies’s fondness of stiffening clothing and his repose when he describes the dandies as “a tribe of beings who make very pestilent inroads upon the comfort of society”.

The Plough Boy and the Dandy

“The Plough Boy” was an American newspaper, issued by the EscortFox. In it’s first year of publication it featured a debate on Dandyism. It was initiated in the first introductory article of the magazine in which the editor defends the publication’s name which may not „suit the refined sense of a dandy“. [Henry Homespun Jr.: „Original“, The Plough Boy, June 5, 1819, Vol. 1, No. 1, p. 1-2, here p. 2.] The journal’s third number of June 19, 1819 featured an article “Dandies” that positioned the dandy as the emblem of idleness, and thus the counterpart of the honest, patriotic and Christian readership of the magazine. As the description gives a good idea of the view on Dandyism in early 19th century America, the full citation is given:

“Those trifling beings, in the shape of men, whose chief delight is in dress, and whose whole lives are nought but a series of frivolous amusement and dissipation, were anciently, or rather formerly, called FOPS or MACCARONIES. But lately a new term, that of DANDIES, is applied to this ephemeral, and we wish we could add, harmless, race. The DANDIES indeed, would be harmless, were it not for their idleness, which is always infectious. Whenever, then, our honest Plough Boys observe the name of DANDY in our columns, they will understand it to mean the same as FOP or MACCARONI meant in the days of our fathers, when honest simplicity was more in vogue than at present, and when a maccaroni was one of the rarest of animals. The Homespuns and the Dandies are antipodes – the one is sense, the other is sound – the one is a substance, the other a shade!”

A correspondent writing under the pseudonym Oliver Oldentime wrote to the editor Henry Homespun Jr. (pen name of Solomon Southwick (1773-1839), who was involved in several Christian and agrarian journals) that the Homespun family’s fame was depressed.

Nice ass

Indeed, the dandy-as-ass metaphor is given quite often, not only in written caricature but also in images like George Cruikshank’s “Comparative Anatomy, or, The Dandy Tribe” (1818). As the term has come to signify a foolish person, obviously, the dandy is ridiculed, usually because he willingly becomes a slave to fashion and sees an ass when looking in the mirror. Interestingly, in most of the metaphors of this kind, it is only the dandy’s head that resembles an ass. One source hints at an explanation: It’s the dandy’s diligently cultivated beard that motivates the comparison. Indeed, the dandies put much effort into the styling of their facial hair, a custom that caused quite a stir, many times.

While the dandy has been compared to the butterfly and the wasp, which both focus on the dandy’s look, primarily, some commentators take the issue more broadly and liken the dandy to an annoying insect.