‘Who?’ you ask. Rightly so, for this was not a preeminent man. He was, however, a man who stood up for the preservation of bluff English tradition in the face of reforming sensibilities that to him just seemed all too bloody French. He was a living atavism; his life a lament more than a triumph. Yet the spirit of the times never conquered his own esprit de coeur. This was a man who recollected feeling manly from the age of six! I celebrate his life not by way of condoning his actions, but rather by way of advertising his strength of character.
Berkeley cut his teeth in the Regency period; he was what you might call a no-nonsense Renaissance man. Not averse to a bare-knuckle box (he was taught the arts of pugilism by Gentleman Jackson, who also taught Byron), he was at home in the study, at court, and in the company of ladies. As Member of Parliament for Gloucester in the Liberal interest, he backed tradition over innovation, stoicism over effete sensibility. As a writer of political broadsides, novels, and sporting adventures in the American wilds, in addition to his extensive autobiographical pomp, he was irreverently proud. He pursued options closed to us ethereal scribblers: upon receipt of an unfavourable review of his first novel in Fraser’s Magazine he beat the proprietor of that eminent journal with his hunting whip, and fought the reviewer in a duel. Hang the law for honour’s sake!
Berkeley’s chief love was cockfighting, unless it were hunting (he was Master of Fox Hounds and Stag Hounds). The latter was entirely seemly in his age, but the former was criminalised in Berkeley’s prime, causing consternation among those who fancied the sod. Berkeley decried the prohibition as ‘un-English’, and carried on regardless, remaining unapologetic even in the dock at Uxbridge Magistrate’s court.
Think what you will about his pursuits: chacun à son gout. His defining spirit, however, was one of fair play in all things. State interference in morality was absurd; a careless libel was unjust; the intervention into what he saw as fair sports was ‘improper’ and ‘underhand’. The Hon. Grantley Fitzhardinge Berkeley, MP, MFH knew with great self-assurance what it was to be a gentleman in all things.
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