Grub Street 4th June 1813
To the Editor of the Attic Chest
Among the wise, enlightened, and taste-directed antients, the Art of Driving was held in the highest estimation, practised by the greatest chiefs and heroes, and sung by the greatest of poets. Witness the Olympic, Isthmian, and Nemaean Games among the Greeks: those of the circus among the Romans, and the funeral games described by Homer, Virgil, and Statius, in all which august solemnities chariot races bore a principal part. I have often thought it a proof of the degeneracy of modern times, that this noble art either fell into disused and neglect, or was left to the menial hands of hired jehus, jarveys and coaches, and I hailed its revival among our young noblemen and wealthy commoners, as one of the glorious features of that enlightened and distinguished period, the opening of the nineteenth century.
The exploits of the Whip Club appeared to me worthy of being immortalized, and I set about what I deemed the necessary preparation, duly to celebrate them in song. The Scriblerian Muse became emboldened to follow the steps of her great predecessors to sing in modern strains the deeds of modern charioteers. That she might be accomplished at all points, she did not disdain to study the arts of coach building, harness making, &c. &c. &c. and she even condescended to get drunk with a celebrated stage-coachman for the sake of acquiring a more perfect knowledge of slang.
Under these circumstances the Barouchiad was begun, but alas! Sir, the fickle power of fashion! No sooner was my poem in a state of forwardness, and my proposals ready to come out, than the rage for driving began to abate. One noble lord, not content with galloping thro’ his fortune in style, supplied a new musical theatre with notes till he was “done up.” Another honorable gentleman was obliged to sell carriages, horses, house and land, a third grew ashamed of the follies he had long countenanced, others took to new pursuits, tilburies were at last invented and instead of a dashing barouche-driving-club, we have only a few individual whips left! My poem would now no longer sell as a description of what everybody ought to be informed about, but I am encouraged by the favour of the Attic Society to ask your advice whether, if cast into a somewhat different form, it might not serve as a historical monument of what has been, and in this view it might be illustrated with copious notes, and adorned with engravings, such for instance as a complete “set out” including carriage, horses, &c. &c. A portrait of a distinguished whip in full costume. The wonderful improvements made in harness, on a large scale with technical explanations, &c. &c. &c.
The following is a specimen on
Now frigid winter flies on tardy wing
And fashionables haste t’enjoy the spring;
Not theirs the spring insipid, which invites
To roam in woods and meadows — mean delights!
But theirs the London spring, which brings to view
All that of gay or dashing, each can do, Which to the world of fashion give the call
To fly from rout to rout, from ball to ball,
Or show th’ admiring park the steeds that draw
The curricle, barouche, or gay landau.
Then shine the Whip Club — then to Cav’ndish Square
In order meet the members all repair;
Thence drive to Belfont, or to gay Salt Hill
To eat and drink, and roar, and swear their fill;
Then try who drunkest can the steadiest drive
And in true coachman style, for the whip-mastery strive.
Invoke we then the Muse (for well she knows
Who first, who last, who in the middle goes)
To sing these driving wights of “bang up”1 fame,
And in “prime”2 order range each hero’s name.
Here follows a list of the members of the club, with biographical notices, and a description of the style of driving adopted by each, too long to insert in this place.
First at a breakfast all the members meet
At their great leader’s house in Mortimer Street,
Then muffled in greatcoats, in belchers3 tied,
With jackey4 or blue ruin5 fortified,
They scale their driving seats their skill to show
The gaze and wonder of the crowd below.
High on the box, their knowing leader6 sits
Who, on his harness turning loose his wits,
Immortalized his name by Buxton Bitts7
Then follow young or old, or fat or thin,
From Hawke the Second8 to the whipper-in,
Who cries, “All’s right!”9 ere the long march begin,
First round the square they drive with graceful sweep
To give the ladies there at the “set out”10 a peep;
Then off they start and dash thro thick and thin,
Nor stop till all in foam they reach the destined inn.
This, Sir, may serve as a specimen of my work, and your opinion upon it will very much oblige
Your devoted servant
“Bang up” — a word which has no equivalent in English, the comme il faut of the French faintly expresses a similar idea. It may be paraphrased “the tip-top of everything that is gay, admirable, clever, dashing, and as it ought to be”. ↩
“Prime” — clever, exact, perfectly fit, a kindred word to the preceding. ↩
“Belchers” — a sort of red and yellow handkerchief so called in compliment to the celebrated bruiser. ↩
“Jackey” — gentleman-like or (which means the same thing) coachman-like names for the liquor vulgarly called Gin. ↩
“Blue ruin” — ditto. ↩
“Knowing” — wise, clever, handy, informed in all the mysteries of science. ↩
“Buxton Bitts” — an improvement in harness known and approved by all the world. ↩
“The second” immediately followed the leader, and the “whipper-in” was the person who drove the last carriage. ↩
“All right!” — the usual watch-word form the guard to the coachman, when the passengers and parcels are safely stowed. Thence much used in conversation in a metaphorical sense. ↩
“Set out” strictly means a carriage and horses, with their different appendages, driver, &c. It is here taken for the tout-ensemble of the club. ↩