Friday, March 23, 2012

Thomas Raikes - The Quintessential Dandy

Thomas Raikes, born in 1777, was a member of that select group of British dandies who stood at the apex of society and surveyed it with both a sneer and a smile. He was a schoolmate and friend of George Brummell, as well as William Arden, 2nd baron Alvanley, Frederick Gerald 'Poodle' Byng, and Berdmore Scrope Davies.

There is only one picture, that I can discover, extant of Raikes. It is a mild caricature by Richard Dighton, titled "One of the Rake's of London". You can view it here at the National Portrait Gallery.

Though he was the son of a merchant banker, Raikes was accepted, apparently without question, into the ranks of the haut ton. He was described as having "risen in the east and set in the west" (the east being the commercial City of London, and the west being the social hub of Mayfair) and was nicknamed 'Apollo' because of it.

In 1856 a portion of his memoirs was published and the Gentlemen's Magazine volume 199, in reviewing the book, said of him:
"...he preferred play to work,; thought the shady side of Pall Mall a pleasanter place than the Exchange, a box at the opera more agreeable than a stool in the counting-house; and considered that spending money was a more charming occupation than earning it."
The Eclectic Magazine of the same period was not so kind:
 "He was neither highly born, nor highly educated, nor highly gifted, nor highly fortuned, nor highly distinguished...Mediocrity was his essence."
Despite these strictures he appears to have been highly respected and well-liked by his friends.

The print above appeared in 1820. Called "Well Known Bond Street Loungers", it depicts left to right: The Earl of Sefton, the Duke of Devonshire, "Poodle" Byng [with his dog], Lord Manners and the Duke of Beaufort. They all were friends or acquaintances of Raikes.

Raikes married in 1802 and, during their twenty year marriage, his wife Sophia presented him with four children. There is no evidence that this was a match of consuming passion, or that Thomas ever allowed his family to interfere with his pleasure. When Sophia died in 1822, Raikes continued with his daily round of clubs and entertainments. He did not begin to keep a journal until late in life, but it never mentioned family life. In it appear, instead, all the most notable characters of the Regency era. Indeed, the Eclectic Magazine claims his memoir includes "...crumbs which ought not to have been swept off the table of life into oblivion."

Among those he recalls are William IV, Talleyrand, Louis Philippe of France, but especially he speaks of his good friend, George Brummell.

"...a spirit of liberality in Brummell, which with all his faults he possessed..."

"Brummell was the supreme dictator, "their club's[Watier's] perpetual president," laying down the law in dress, in manners, and in those magnificent snuffboxes, for which there was a rage; he fomented the excesses, ridiculed the scruples, patronised the novices, and exercised paramount dominion over all." I sense a wistful envy in these words, as if Raikes would like to have done all these things, if only he could have been bothered.

But it was his very quiet and trustworthy nature that seems to have drawn the famous and infamous to him. His name appeared regularly in White's Betting Book,  but never in more scandalous on-dits. Even the notorious Harriette Wilson said of him,
"Not that Tom Raikes ever did anything bad enough..."

Faint praise indeed! His bonhomie, and his wit made him a favourite of all. He admired wit; he recounts Talleyrand's bon mots. and delights in this story of Brummell:
Brummell [said] to a very disagreeable man who talked of keeping a coach for his friends, 'Ah! You may keep a vis-a-vis, and you will always have a vacant place.'
Thomas Raikes travelled widely in his life: a grand tour with a private tutor beginning in 1795, and later The Hague, Paris and Russia. In 1832 it seems financial embarrassments took him to France to live for some eight years.

 In 1842 he returned to England and he died in Brighton in July 1848 having outlived most of his old friends. The Gentlemen's Magazine says of him:
In short, Mr. Raikes became "a man about town," and few men were better known, or in his immediate circle, more highly respected."
If he did no good, at least he did no harm. There are certainly worse epitaphs. He deserves, I think, to be more widely remembered among Regency aficionados. A search on his name in Google Books, will bring up his extant writings.

Next week, guest blogger Regina Jeffers will be here discussing "The Male Domestic in the Regency Era." Regina is a self-described Jane Austen enthusiast and the author of thirteen novels. She was formerly an English teacher and now often serves as a media literacy consultant. Please visit her at her website – and her blog –

'Til next time,


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