22 July 2008

Famous People: Rees Howell Gronow

By Erastes

Toward the end of his life, in the 1860s, Captain Rees Howell Gronow decided to write down his reminiscences, and I for one am absurdly grateful to him, because he lived, fought, and loved during some of the most turbulent years of the 19th Century.

Although he was not particularly tall (dubbed "No Grow" by his associates) he was a handsome man, impeccably dressed and very much the Regency Dandy. It is interesting to note that although Gronow is hardly mentioned in any other books of the time, written contemporarily, he certainly cuts a wide swathe through the ton in his own books.

Born in Wales, and educated at Eton (naturally!) Gronow was only 21 when he fought at Waterloo, as a Grenadier, which rather puts paid to the fact that Grenadiers all had to be very tall. For anyone interested in the period, and particularly of the battle itself--his work is vital, for he describes it as the maelstrom of horror it most certainly was.

It is said that he was just about the best shot in the country, with the possible exception of Captain Horatio Ross and was involved in very many duels, both as first--and as second. It was this aspect of his life that fascinated me, and I wove the good captain into STANDISH as a friend of one of the main protagonists. He stands as second for Rafe, and helps him out with correspondence and financial aid when Rafe's exiled to the continent after a homosexual scandal involving him explodes in London.

After the war he lived mostly in Paris for the rest of his life, and his insights into occupied Paris after 1815 are particularly acute.

He was careless of money, it seems, being made insolvent in 1823 and spent some time in debtor's prison--married twice and at his death he left his wife and his children "wholly unprovided for"--according to the newspapers of the day.

Another newspaper gave this epitaph: "He committed the greatest follies, without in the slightest disturbing the points of his shirt collar." Which I can't help but admire a great deal.

Sources: Reminiscences of Captain Gronow, Formerly of the Grenadier Guards and M.P. for Stafford, Being Anecdotes of the Camp, the Court, and the Clubs, at the Close of the Last War with France, Related by Himself, 1861;

Recollections and Anecdotes, being a Second Series of Reminiscences, by Captain R. H. Gronow, 1863;

Celebrities of London and Paris, Being a Third Series of Reminiscences and Anecdotes, 1865;

Captain Gronow's Last Recollections, Being the Fourth and Final Series of his Reminiscences and Anecdotes, 1866.

And Gutenberg has an online text here