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Peel, the man

These extracts give contemporary descriptions of Sir Robert Peel: his appearance and habits

In person he was tall and well formed. His figure, slender rather than robust, made at that time no approach to corpulency. He was active, given to athletic sports; a good walker; fond of shooting, and a good shot...

At twenty-one he was attentive to his dress, and dressed well and fashionably... It was still the fashion to wear powder in the hair at a dinner or evening party; and this fashion, which concealed the sandy colour of his hair, and suited his complexion, became him well.

Sir Lawrence Peel, A Sketch of the Life and Character of Sir Robert Peel (London, 1860)

Sir Robert was tall and well-made, except in his legs, and the defect of those only was that they were too thin, and that, as they tapered much towards the ancle [sic], they seemed too small for the upper man. From some peculiar formation he walked like a woman, - to use a common phrase, he ‘sidled’ along.

[The tones of his voice] were more peculiar than those of any voice I ever heard, either on or off the stage. It combined all the softness and persuasiveness of a woman’s with the strength and sonorousness of a man’s.

Captain H. Martin, A Personal Sketch of the late Lamented Sir Robert Peel (Hamburg, 1850).

He seems self-assured that he is of importance [in the House of Commons]. As he enters at the green door below the bar, and the members, of whatever party, instinctively make way for him, he looks at no one, recognises no one, receives salutation from no one. He seems neither to know or to be known by any member present. He moves straight on, gliding along the floor like something unreal, with steps half-sidling, on what O’Connell called his two left legs, as though he were preparing for the stately minuet. The broad, full frame tending, of late, to portliness, and looking still more full in the ample vest and long broad-skirted frock-coat seems almost a weight to its supports: an apprehensive man might fear that the sidling step would weaken into a slight stagger. An air of formality and pre-occupation is on the face. The countenance, though handsome and of fine mould, looks broad, flat, not open and traitless. An habitual suppression of feeling has left it without marked features. A complacent gravity alternates with an austere coldness. Or, the brows are elevated with a haughtiness not natural to him; and a strange contradictory smile, sometimes nearly humorous, sometimes almost selfcontemning, plays with a slight convulsive motion, as though not quite under control.

Arrived at his place, he exchanges no recognitions with his immediate colleagues, but sits apart, his body prone upon his crossed legs, his hat down upon his ears, his face stretched forward in anxious attention or agitated with nervous twitches, while his right hand, the two fore-fingers forked, strokes slowly down the nose, or plays unconsciously with his seals, or the keys of his despatch-boxes, which lie before him on the speaker’s table.

Anon., Sir Robert Peel as Statesman and Orator (London, 1846).

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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