« PreviousContinue »
bread was asked out a good deal in Edinburgh ; and people of subversive tendencies received Leigh Hunt, who libelled his late Majesty so shockingly, and Mr. Hazlitt the playhouse-critic, and Mr. Shelley, who didn't believe in anything and was drowned. But now one can scarcely take up the Morning Post without seeing the name of an author as a guest at some fashionable entertainment. What on earth can people see in them? It is all very well to read their books, and to send a guinea to the Literary Fund; but of what good are they in society? Their clothes scarcely ever fit them, and they smell frequently of tobacco-smoke. They are most rude and dogmatical in argument, and do not seem to hold books in the estimation that genteel people hold them, as sources of rational amusement and relaxation, but rather as things to be either extravagantly extolled or violently abused. When they are not talking about themselves they are moodily silent, and make faces in the looking-glass. Mr. Metylder, the great novelist, used to look at himself in a spoon all dinner time. They have the oddest and most disagreeable manners. They crumb their bread, and make pellets of it; hit their neighbours' knees, spill their coffee over ottomans, cut the leaves of handsome books, which are only displayed for their cover's sakes on the drawing-room table, with their fingers; and, if one happens to drop a harmless piece of scandal, they burst into furious diatribes against what they call calumny and envy.
Oh! they are very virtuous persons, these literary gentlemen; so their poor, neglected, outraged wives and defrauded creditors say. See what disgrace a connection with literature brought upon my Lord Byron, who should have been an ornament to his order, and to Mr. Shelley, whose connections were excellent, and had been most genteelly brought up, and was heir to a baronetcy. They can't hand a lady down to linner without treading on her dress. They don't dance.
They can't pay a compliment without being either awkward or sarcastic; when they condescend to speak to you, it is most likely for the purpose of taking notes of your conversation, and drawing a wicked caricature of you in their next book; and how do you know, even if you meet them at the opera or at an evening party, but that they have just come out of some dreadful hospital, jail, dissecting-room, or fererstricken hovel, where they have been studying Life, as they call it? This is not the worst. Miss Catawber, who published a volume of exquisite poems, and had to pay fifty-seven pounds when the first edition came out, tells me that she has often dined at her publishers', Messrs. Crust and Buttermore's, on days when these literary lions were fed. She says that the lives they lead are frightful, and that gambling, drinking, and insolvency are the most venial of their crimes. You will be sure to meet these “lions " at Mr. De Fytchett's, who has written several pamphlets himself, and is a great admirer of the belles lettres ; so also am I, in their proper place. I see you, in imagination, the object of the “lions'” murmured comments and sneers in our good friend's tasteful salons. If I had my legs and ten thousand a year, not an author should ever get farther than the mahogany bench in the hall the while I entered my name in the subscription-list for his next book, and the footman kept watch to see that he didn't run away with the cloaks and umbrellas. But this sheet is full. Beware of literary people, and believe me to be always your affectionate
LETTER THE THIRD.
ON THE ART AND MYSTERY OF DRESS.
You have sent me, darling, a copy of an absurd book called,
Nothing to Wear.” It is vulgar, impertinent, and does not contain any information. I have given it to Shanko Fanko, my page, as from its very dulness it is not likely to be injurious to the morals of that depraved boy,—who will certainly be hanged if he continues the study of the atrocious - Little Warblers." I have ordered Tummiss, our confidential man, to box the young wretch's ears if he catches him humming an objectionable song about “ Sally come up, and Sally come down ”-a low, Radical libel on his Grace the Duke of B-, again. I do not wish to part with Shanko Fanko, who, although I fear he will one day lose his life by the hands of the public executioner, is useful to me in a hundred ways, and bears the irritability of an invalid much better than a woman could do,
Only those who have been desperately ill, and for a long time, know what intolerable tyranny one woman can inflict on another. My dear, I have had Griffins to wait upon me. Thank goodness they are monsters, and wellnigh fabulous; but they do, nevertheless,
appearance sometimes, and worry our lives out. To return. In the letter accompanying your parcel, you inclose several newspaper-cuttings having reference to the Fashions for November, and which, so far as I am enabled to judge, are extracted from that entertaining hebdomadal publication the “ Illustrated London News.” I also find in your letter some neat pen-and-ink sketches of the present fashions for ladies, which, from the thinness of the paper, the decision of the outline, the stereotyped expression of the countenances portrayed, and the rigidity of the drapery, I shrewdly suspect you have traced from the engraved designs in Le Follet or the Courrier des Dames—those triumphs of the modish pencils of M. Compte Calix and Madame Anais Toudouze. You fill, moreover, four sides of note-paperwhich I perceive you have of the new mauve colour—with critical dissertations on the costumes of the numerous young lady acquaintance you have already been enabled to form under the auspices of our excellent De Fytchett. You overwhelm your mamma with questions in re vestiariâ—you will excuse my quoting a little bit of Latin now and then. I do so less from vanity at having received a somewhat masculine education than from veneration for the memory of Sir Charles, who had the highest respect for the classics, and was indeed compelled to use the Latin language in his—but no matter. You wish me to tell you what you should wear; how you are to wear it; what colours are most suitable for your complexion ; what textures are best at this season. You expect me to be an authority on crinoline considered in its relation to corded petticoats; on coutil corsets versus the orthodox structures of jean and whalebone ; on cavalier hats as against gipsy broadbrims, and on those last again in their reference to bonnets. more or less off the head. I am to tell you how best to "do" your hair; what ornaments it may be becoming for you to assume; what length of sleeve; what amplitude of skirt will suit you
how you are to dress in the morning; how in the afternoon, how in the evening, and how again on the morning afterwards. My dear, what should an invalid old woman know about the present fashions ? In my time no human beings ever dressed like the engravings in the fashion-books, and I have not so mean an opinion of my species as to believe that any woman who is not an idiot would dress in exact accordance with those preposterous pictures, now.
Still I must do my best to instruct you in the art and mystery of dress. I can bring to the task only a considerable experience and knowledge of the world of fashion antecedent to my being bedridden; together with a considerable acquaintance with books—not altogether fashionbooks, my dear,—and a lively verbal memory. Your papa was often good enough to compliment me on that which he was pleased to call my accurate and refined taste in matters of dress; and even at this day, when a nightcap and bedgown are my most appropriate wear, I am fond enough of criticising the dresses of those who visit me; of inquiring how sleeves are worn, and what collars are likely to be in vogue next spring. For though the majority of my visitors are as old and wellnigh as antiquated as I am, it will sometimes happen that one of my faithful dowagers or duennas will enter the back drawing-room, where I lie on the sofa, with a whole troop of blooming girls after her. I love to look on their fresh young faces, and active, albeit awkward, forms; to hear their ringing healthy voices; to mark what delight they take in displaying their little bits of finery. I know they look upon me as a poor, tumbledown, worn-out ruin ; but why should I not take a pleasure in seeing them frolic and gambol by my moss-grown side ? Dear girl, who cannot feel that pleasure of contemplation, and reflective participation in the joys of youth, so exquisitely embodied by Alfred Tennyson in his "Talking Oak ?” Yes, we ruinous and moss-grown ; yes, we are hoary and gnarled, and our boughs shall bear the green, green leaves and tender shoots no more ; already the woodman has notched us for