Monday, 22 October 2012

The Bacchanalian Bingeing of the English Eccentric

                  England has been home to many magnificent eccentrics but maybe none were so magnificently bonkers as John ‘Mad Jack’ Mytton. Born into a long lineage of Salopian squires in 1796, John’s father died when the infant was only eighteen months hold, so his inheritance was held in trust until he reached his majority, and in the course of the almost twenty years it grew to be an enormous sum of money. His mother doted on the boy and denied him nothing, so he was wilful and undisciplined from a very early age (the epitome of the spoiled brat). At only the age of ten, a neighbour nicknamed him Mango (the ‘King of Pickles’, ‘pickle’ being an old-fashioned word for a troublesome, wild boy), a sobriquet he happily carried throughout his life. 

John Mad Jack Mytton

He was expelled from Westminster and Harrow schools and knocked down a tutor at Berkshire, entered into the lists of Oxford and Cambridge but found university life boring, and went on the Grand Tour of Europe to ‘finish’ his pitiful education, before returning home to Halston, the family estate. He joined the army, as a Cornet of the 7th Hussars, and went to France where he did not see action but began to gamble away vast amounts of money. He quit the army, returned home, and in 1818 was married, to Harriet Emma Jones, eldest daughter of Sir Tyrwhitt Jones, Bart., by whom he had a daughter, Harriet Emma Charlotte. His wife suffered from delicate health and died after just two years of marriage. In 1819, he decided on a parliamentary career and set about bribing the voters of Shropshire with £10 notes, spending the equivalent of three quarters of a million pounds in today’s money. He won the seat, went to the House but found it boring and left after half an hour, never to return. He didn’t stand again. 

Mad Jack at the Gallop
Jack, as he was always called, was a powerful individual, with the physique of a prizefighter and the constitution of an ox. He was hardened to an extraordinary degree, and would often strip off his shirt and lie in the snow when out duck hunting – on at least one occasion he went out onto the ice of a frozen lake when totally naked. 

Mytton Shooting Wild Ducks

He would wear the thinnest of clothes at any time of the year, not caring if they were wet or dry, and regularly rode over fifty miles a day. Out hunting hares one day, a Welsh miner interrupted the chase and Jack took offence to the man. They squared up and fought twenty bare-knuckle rounds before the miner surrendered. Jack gave him ten shillings, told him to go to Halston for ‘another bellyfull’ and carried on with his hunt. 

Heron Shooting

When a new acquaintance informed him that he felt in danger at the speed they were travelling, Jack asked him if this was the result of once being in a carriage that had turned over. No, replied the friend, he had never been in such an accident.  
"What!" replied Mytton, "never upset in a gig? What a damned slow fellow you must have been all your life!” 
He then promptly ran the near wheel of the gig up the bank beside the road and overturned it. Both passengers were unhurt. 

What? Never Upset in a Gig?

Once, whilst viewing some new horses, Jack asked the dealer if he thought one was a particularly good timber-jumper. The dealer expressed doubt, so Jack exclaimed, “Let’s try him then,” and gave the horse in question a flick of the whip. The horse started and leapt clean over the turnpike gate before it. However, it was still harnessed in tandem to a gig, in which Jack and the dealer were seated. The horse went over the gate but its companion and the gig, together with its two occupants, were left on the opposite side. 

A Good Timber Jumper

One evening, two friends of Jack’s, a parson and a doctor, were dining at Halston, and after the evening came to an end, they departed for home. Jack donned a disguise, mounted a hack and rode by a roundabout route to get in front of his friends. As they approached, Jack fired off the blank cartridges in his pair of pistols and called out, “Stand and Deliver!” The parson and the doctor took to their heels, and Jack chased them all the way to Oswestry. 

Stand and Deliver

He bought a bear and a monkey for thirty-five  pounds the pair from a travelling showman and kept both at Halston. One evening, much to the consternation of his guests, Jack, in full hunting pinks, rode the bear into the dining room. All was going well until Jack pricked the bear with his spurs, whereupon it threw him and sank its teeth into his calf. 

Tally Ho! Tally Ho!

A horse dealer, over for dinner, was got very drunk and put to bed. He woke the following morning to find two bulldogs on one side of him and the bear on the other. One evening, out for a stroll after dinner, Mytton met a beggar on the estate. He swapped top clothes with him and returned to the house, where the disguised squire asked his own servants for charity, only to be given the bitter dregs from a barrel. When he objected, the butler and two menservants attempted to manhandle him, but when he knocked them down they set the dogs on him. Jack ran to the stable, where the bear recognised its master and rounded on the dogs. The game up, Jack revealed himself, much to his own amusement and the chagrin of the staff. Eventually, the bear had to be put down after it savaged one of the servants. The monkey, like Jack, was fond of the sauce but died after drinking a bottle of Day and Martin’s blacking, which it mistook for wine. 

Disorder in the House

Jack was a great drinker, getting through four or six bottles of port a day. He started on his first whilst shaving in the morning, and worked his way steadily through the rest during the day. In everything he ran to excess – in his wardrobe one biographer counted one hundred and fifty-two pairs of coats and breeches, three thousand shirts, one thousand hats and five hundred pairs of boots. One evening, when returning from the Doncaster races, Jack was counting his winnings when he fell into a drunken slumber. Several thousand pounds in banknotes blew out of the carriage window and were lost to the night. Jack’s reaction was ‘light come, light go.’ 

Light Come! Light Go!

Although he was unable to swim, he was not afraid of water and would frequently drive his horse into rivers, which he would then cross for negligible wagers. When riding to hounds, the fox took to water and when the others were looking for a boat, Jack cried “Let all who call themselves sportsmen follow me,” and drove his mount in pursuit, into what was the River Severn at one of its broadest parts. 

Let All Who Call Themselves Sportsmen Follow Me

A second marriage followed, in 1821, and although there were offspring the union ended badly in separation in 1830. Years of gambling, hunting and drinking ate into his fortune. The vast, ancient forests of oaks at Halston were felled and sold to support Jack’s excesses. Eventually, the debts mounted to too great a level and Jack fled to France, hoping to avoid the bailiffs and escape his creditors. Halston and its contents were sold at auction and Charles James Apperley, Jack’s close friend and biographer, describes finding him in Calais,  
“… a round-shouldered, decrepit, tottering old-young man … bloated by drink.” 

How to Cross Country Comfortably after Dinner

Jack had replaced port with French brandy and wines, and Apperley reports finding him drunk one night, just before bed. Jack started with an attack of the hiccups, when he called out, “Damn this hiccup, but I’ll frighten it away,” took up a candle and set light to his nightshirt. Apperley, another friend, and Jack’s servant threw him to the floor and beat out the flames, whereupon Jack rose up, proclaimed, “The hiccup is gone, by God,” and reeled naked into his bed. 

Damn this Hiccup!

The next day, Apperley describes finding,   
“…the skin of his breast, shoulders, and knees of the same colour with a newly-singed bacon hog,” 
but Jack was unbowed and greeted him with a hearty ‘view-holloa’. Apperley arranged for a sort of Regency re-hab for Jack, which went reasonably well in weaning him off the brandy, although straitjackets were employed frequently. With constant supervision, his health improved and he found a new interest – collecting seashells, which he washed carefully in vinegar and sorted into wooden cabinets. Eventually, Jack returned to England, where his creditors were waiting for him, and he tried to make arrangements to settle what debts he could. 

Mad Jack's Hunting

But the madness had stayed with him. One morning, walking over Westminster Bridge, he met a young woman, utterly unknown to him.
How do ye do?” says Mytton.
“Very well, I thank ye; how do you do?” comes the reply.
“Where are you going?” asks Mytton.
“I don’t know,” says she.
“Then come and live with me; I’ll settle £500 a year upon you,” is Jack’s offer.
So, off they go to Calais – she is twenty, he is thirty-six. The arrangement went well, for Susan, as she was called, looked after Jack. For the next two years, they moved around Europe, running up debts and where Jack rediscovered his love of brandy. France finally became too hot for the pair so they returned again to London, where Jack was thrown into debtor’s prison. Three weeks later, he suffered an attack of delirium tremens and died. He was thirty-eight. 

A Squire Trap!

His funeral was greatly attended, with many members of the army attending, together with his former tenants and servants, friends and well-wishers. Throughout his life, Mad Jack Mytton was loved, for he may have been bonkers but he was not malicious. His pranks and frolics were outrageous but he meant no harm to anyone (other than, maybe, himself). Apperley, writing under the pen-name Nimrod, published a biography in 1835, in which he wrote,

Memoirs of the Life of John Mytton Esq - 'Nimrod'

 “He was faithful to his friends, an indulgent landlord, and a most kind master; and, last but not least in the novelty, with all this consideration for the happiness of others, he appears to have possessed very little for himself. But he is now, ill-fated man! safe in his urn; and let no one attempt to throw more stones at his monument. There are specks in the sun, straggling weeds amongst the choicest flowers; and until the sons of Adam cease to be the sons of Adam, perfection must not be expected from them.”

No comments:

Post a Comment