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No. II.-SATURDAY, OCTOBER 13, 1759.
Skowing, that they are generally most ridiculous themselves, who are apt to
see most ridicule in others.*
Foreigners observe, that there are no ladies in the world more beautiful, or more ill-dressed than those of England. Our countrywomen have been compared to those pictures, where the face is the work of Raphael; but the draperies thrown out by some empty pretender, destitute of taste, and entirely unacquainted with design.
If I were a poet, I might observe, on this occasion, that so much beauty set off with all the advantages of dress would be too powerful an antagonist for the opposite sex, and therefore it was wisely ordered, that our ladies should want taste, lest their admirers should entirely want reason.
But to confess a truth, I do not find they have a greater aversion to fine clothes than the women of any other country whatsoever. I cannot fancy that a shopkeeper's wife in Cheapside has a greater tenderness for the fortune of her husband than a citi zen's wife in Paris; or that miss in a boarding school is more an economist in dress than mademoiselle in a nunnery.
Although Paris may be accounted the soil in which almost every fashion takes its rise, its influence is never so general there as with us. They study there the happy method of uniting grace and fashion, and never excuse a woman for being awkwardly dressed, by saying her clothes are made in the mode. A French woman is a perfect architect in dress; she never, with Gothio
• This formed No. XV. of the volume of “ Essays” published in 1765.
ignorance, mixes the orders; she never tricks out a squabby Doric shape with Corinthian finery; or, to speak without metaphor, she conforms to general fashion, only when it happens not to be repugnant to private beauty.
Our ladies, on the contrary, seem to have no other standard for grace but the run of the town. If fashion gives the word, every distinction of beauty, complexion, or stature ceases, Sweeping trains, Prussian bonnets, and trollopees,* as like each other, as if cut from the same piece, level all to one standard. The mall, the gardens, and the playhouses are filled with ladies in uniform, and their whole appearance shows as little variety or taste as if their clothes were bespoke by the colonel of a marching regiment, or fancied by the same artist who dresses the three battalions of guards.
But not only ladies of every shape and complexion, but of every age too, are possessed of this unaccountable passion of dressing in the same manner. A lady of no quality travels fast behind the lady of some quality; and a woman of sixty is as gaudy as her granddaughter. I remember, a few days ago, to have walked behind a damsel, tossed out in all the gayety of fifteen; her dress was loose, unstudied, and seemed the result of conscious beauty. I called up all my poetry on this occasion, and fancied twenty Cupids prepared for execution in every folding of her white negligee. I had prepared my imagination for an angel's face; but what was my mortification to find that the imaginary goddess was no other than my cousin Hannah, four years older than myself, and I shall be sixty-two the twelfth of next November.
After the transports of our first salute were over, I could not
* A kind of loose dress for ladies, not now in use.
+ A sort of loose gown, then fashionable.
avoid running my eye over her whole appearance. Her gown was of cambrick, cut short before, in order to discover a highheeled shoe, which was buckled almost at the toe. Her cap,
if cap it might be called that cap was none, consisted of a few bits of cambrick, and flowers of painted paper stuck on one side of her head. Her bosom, that had felt no hand but the hand of time, these twenty years, rose suing, but in vain, to be pressed. I could, indeed, have wished her more than a handkerchief of Paris-net to shade her beauties; for, as Tasso says of the rosebud, Quanto si mostra men, tanto è più bella.* I should think hers the most pleasing when least discovered.
As my cousin had not put on all this finery for nothing, she was at that time sallying out to the Park, when I had overtaken her. Perceiving, however, that I had on my best wig, she offered, if I would 'squire her there, to send home the footman. Though I trembled for our reception in public, yet I could not, with any civility, refuse ; so, to be as gallant as possible, I took her hand in my arm, and thus we marched on together.
When we made our entry at the Park, two antiquated figures, 80 polite and so tender as we seemed to be, soon attracted the eyes of the company. As we made our way among crowds who were out to show their finery as well as we, wherever we came I perceived we brought good-humor in our train. The polite could not forbear smiling, and the vulgar burst out into a horse laugh at our grotesque figures. Cousin Hannah, who was perfectly conscious of the rectitude of her own appearance, attributed all this mirth to the oddity of mine; while I as cordially placed the whole to her account. Thus, from being two of the best-natured creatures alive, before we got half-way up the mall, we both began to grow peevish, and, like two mice on a string, endeavored to
“Wher half inwrapt, and half to view reveald,
revenge the impertinence of others upon ourselves. “I am amazed, cousin Jeffery," says Miss, " that I can never get you to dress like a Christian. I knew we should have the eyes of the Park upon us, with your great wig so frizzed, and yet so beggarly, and your monstrous muff. I hate those odious muffs." I could have patiently borne a criticism on all the rest of my equipage; but, as I had always a peculiar veneration for my muff, I could not forbear being piqued a little; and throwing my eyes with a spiteful air on her bosom, “I could heartily wish, madam,” replied I, “that, for your sake, my muff was cut into a tippet."
As my cousin, by this time, was grown heartily ashamed of her gentleman usher, and as I was never very fond of any kind of exhibition myself, it was mutually agreed to retire for a while to one of the seats, and from that retreat remark on others as freely as they had remarked on us.
When seated, we continued silent for some time, employed in very different speculations. I regarded the whole company, now passing in review before me, as drawn out merely for my amusement. For my entertainment the beauty had all that morning been improving her charms, the beau had put on lace, and the young doctor a big wig, merely to please me. But quite different were the sentiments of cousin Hannah ; she regarded every well-dressed woman as a victorious rival, hated every face that secmed dressed in good-humor, or wore the appearance of greater happiness than her own. I perceived her uneasiness, and attempted to lessen it, by observing, that there was no company in the Park to-day. To this she readily assented; "and yet," says she, “it is full enough of scrubs of one kind or another.” My smiling at this observation gave her spirits to pursue the bent of her inclination, and now she began to exhibit her skill in secret history, as she found me disposed to listen.
“ Observe," says " that old woman in tawdry silk, and dressed out
she to me,
even beyond the fashion. That is Miss Biddy Evergreen. Miss Biddy, it seems, has money, and as she considers that money was never so scarce as it is now, she seems resolved to keep what she has to herself. She is ugly enough you see; yet, I assure you, she has refused several offers to my own knowledge, within this twelvemonth. Let me see, three gentlemen from Ireland who study the law, two waiting captains, her doctor, and a Scotch preacher, who had like to have carried her off. All her time is passed between sickness and finery. Thus she spends the whole week in a close chamber, with no other company but her monkey, her apothecary, and cat, and comes dressed out to the Park every Sunday, to show her airs, to get new lovers, to catch a new cold, and to make new work for the doctor.
There goes Mrs. Roundabout, I mean the fat lady in the lutestring trollopee. Between you and I, she is but a cutler's wife. See how she's dressed, as fine as hands and pins can make her, while her two marriageable daughters, like bunters in stiff gowns, are now taking six pennyworth of tea at the White-Conduit-House.* Odious puss ! how she waddles along, with her train two yards behind her. She puts me in mind of my Lord Bantam’s Indian sheep, which are obliged to have their monstrous tails trundled along in a go-cart. For all her airs, it goes to her husband's heart to see four yards of good lutestring wearing against the ground, like one of his knives on a grindstone. To speak my mind, cousin Jeffery, I never liked tails; for sup
[“ White-Conduit-House, Islington, from the extreme pleasantness of ts situation, was, for many years, a very attractive place of resort to the London populace in their recreative excursions. Yet, “such is the mutability of human affairs," as Scott's Baillie Mucklethrift would express it, that ere long we may rationally expect it to be numbered with the places that were : its pleasantness, of late years, having been much deteriorated by the new streets that have arisen in all the neighboring fields.”—Brayley's Londiniana, vol. ii. D. 196.)