A minor, if terribly busy, Regency froufrou with a sad ending. George Bryan Brummell was the most sought after of London dandies during that interminable period when George III was going mad, Napoleon was ravaging the Continent, and England herself was threatened by sedition and riot. Cole, a skilled popularizer, is an admirer of the age and the gentleman who was teaching high society ""the gospel of fastidious elegance."" He succeeds in depicting the aristocratic indulgences--the gluttonous meals, splendiferous attire, swank estates, vast gambling debts, and jealous intrigues born of idleness. Among Brummell's contributions to the beau monde: the starched white cambric cravat and the phrase ""Yes, Madam, I once ate a pea."" Withal, Cole sees Brummell as a moderating influence on social and sartorial fashions, discouraging the use of satin and silk and endeavoring to substitute ""character and taste"" for money and lineage. The Prince Regent, Byron, Charles and Caroline Lamb, Richard Sheridan, Leigh Hunt, and innumerable dukes and duchesses swarm through these pages as Brummell parties, gambles, and bestows favors. The decline in his fortunes which drove him into exile in France--and eventually to the ignominy of debtor's prison--has a certain genuine tristesse. Without him, Cole seems to be saying, England was ready for the staid and vulgar Victorians.