Sir Lumley Skeffington

Sir Lumley St George Skeffington,  2nd Baronet
(23 March 1771 - 10 November 1850)
Copyright National Portrait Gallery

 From the Letter Bag of Lady Elizabeth Stanhope

"Sir Lumley Skeffington, of Skeffington Hall, Leicestershire, was a celebrated votary of fashion. Descended from "Awly O'Farrell, King of Conereene," and from innumerable Kings and Princes of Ireland, his ancient lineage, as well as his pronounced dandyism, gave him a claim upon the attentions of society, which was further augmented by his literary pretensions. Nevertheless, he subsequently experienced a reverse of fortune, typical of the days in which he lived; and of his rise and fall John Stanhope gives a brief account.

"`Poor Skeffington,' he relates, `was the Dandy of the day, par excellence. Remarkable for his ugliness, his dress was so exaggerated as to render his lack of beauty the more marked. He was a very goodnatured man, and had nothing of the impertinence of manner of the fops who succeeded him. Moreover, he was a bel-esprit, writing epilogues and prologues, and was at one time the observed of all observers. I have seen him at an assembly literally surrounded by a group of admiring ladies.'"

"Skeffington, in short, in 1805, wrote a play entitled The Sleeping Beauty, which, produced at great expense at Drury Lane, gained for him much fame among his contemporaries and caused him for a time to be looked upon as a lion in the fashionable world. Enjoying to the full his reputation as a literary celebrity, he elected to ape certain mannerisms and eccentricities which he considered in keeping with this character. `He,' Gronow mentions, 'used to paint his face like a French toy. He dressed d la Robespierre and practised other follies, although the consummate old fop was a man of literary attainments, remarkable for his politeness and courtly manners, in fact, he was invited everywhere. You always knew of his approach by an avant courier (sic) of sweet smells, and as he advanced a little nearer, you might suppose yourself in the atmosphere of a barber's shop.'"

 Sir Lumley Skeffington and Lord Petersham

"Skeffington, after the publication of his play, was known by the nickname of `The Sleeping Beauty,' and a representation of him in that role John Stanhope describes as `the best caricature I ever saw.' Tall, thin, and a complete slave to his toilet, Sir Lumley not only indulged in an abnormal use of perfumes and cosmetics, but was incessantly to be seen combing his scented tresses by the aid of a hand mirror, till it was suggested that one of his Royal ancestors must have formed a mesalliance with the mermaid who most appropriately figured in his armorial bearings, similarly employed. The extreme slimness of his figure was accentuated by a coat which he made as famous as Lord Petersham did the garment called after his name; and Byron added to the fame of the beau by mentioning him in the satire English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.

Sir Lumley St George Skeffington
(' - "so Skiffy-skipt on, with his wonted grace" - ')
Copyright NPG

"Unfortunately, however, the harmless foibles of Sir Lumley were combined with an unbounded extravagance which finally involved the luckless dandy in a ruin as complete as it was pathetic. He disappeared from fashionable life to undergo a dreary imprisonment, and when he at last issued thence, the world which had showered blandishments upon him in his prosperity, would have no more of him. In vain did he dress exquisitely, enunciate witticisms and assume a gaiety of manner which he was far from feeling. The friends who had courted his society before his downfall now shunned his acquaintance, and a bon-mot uttered at his expense elicited the applause which his most happily-conceived jests failed to evoke. On some stranger pointing out Skeffington to Lord Alvanley, and inquiring who was that smart-looking individual, Alvanley responded with a wit more keen than kind— `It is a second edition of 'The Sleeping Beauty,' bound in calf, richly gilt and illustrated by many cuts.'

"Half Natural"
copyright NPG

"For long did the luckless beau continue, with a pathetic persistence, to haunt the scenes of his former triumph. At theatres, at picture auctions, in the Park, and in all fashionable thoroughfares, he was a familiar sight, still with the passing of years the butt of the contemporaries who had once fawned upon him, and, as they gradually diminished, the standard jest of a younger generation. With the flight of Time, the blackness of his false ringlets never varied, the brilliant rouge of his cheeks, or the strange costume which he had worn during the heyday of his existence, and to which he clung after it had been obsolete for half a century. And with each year his slim figure became yet thinner, his back more bent, and his spindle legs more bowed, till at length the man who had been born early in the reign of George III. witnessed the dawning of the year 1850; after which the quaint figure of the once-famous Sir Lumley Skeffington was seen no more."

But for some good news regarding Skeffington we turn now to Personal Reminiscences by Henry Fothergill Chorley, James Robinson Planché, Julian Charles Young (1874) -

"There was another habitui with whom I became acquainted at the same period; one of the last of that peculiar style of fop whose dress and manners were unsparingly caricatured in the print-shops, and became conventional on the stage. But with all his extravagance of attire, his various-colored under waistcoats, his rouged cheeks, and coal-black wig, with portentous toupie, poor old Sir Lumley Skeffington was a perfect gentleman, a most agreeable companion, and bore `the stings and arrows of outrageous fortune' with Spartan courage and Christian resignation. Though his fair-weather friends had deserted him, no complaint or reproach ever passed his lips. But once only, during the many years we were acquainted, did I hear him allude to the misery of his position. We were the only two guests at the dinner-table of a mutual friend, and Sir Lumley had been particularly lively and entertaining. Our host being called out of the room to speak to some one on business, I congratulated the old baronet on his excellent spirits. `Ah! my dear Mr. Planche', he replied, `it's all very well while I am in society; but I give you my honor, I should heartily rejoice if I felt certain that after leaving this house to-night I should be found dead on my own doorstep.' I shall never forget the deep but quiet pathos of these sad words. I am happy to add that he lived to inherit a small property, and ended his days in peace and comfort."