Page images

With respect to the general plan of the Miscellany, they consider it as sufficiently sanctioned by the public approbation to preclude any material change. They will, however, always pay due attention to hints for its improvement; and although they wish to avoid embracing such a multiplicity of objects as must necessarily produce a very superficial survey of each, they would unwillingly reject any promising source of additional entertain


Animated by past favours, and happy in the prospect of increased resources for their future exertions, they close their first half-year's labour, and chearfully prepare for its renewal.


May 30th, 1807.


No. 1. JANUARY 1st, 1807.



To the Editor of the Athenæum.

To compare the manners and customs of men in different countries and periods, has always been accounted one of the most useful, as well as of the most entertaining'speculations relative to human' life. In these comparisons the imagination is usually most struck by remarkable contrasts, such as are afforded by parallels drawn between the most savage, and the most civilised, states of mankind; and between ages the most remote, and the most recent. But although such contrasted pictures are productive of the greatest surprise, yet there is perhaps more of practical utility in marking the minuter changes which take place in the same country, from the gradual operation of causes in constant action, and which may be expected to be progressive, unless disturbed by some extraordinary alteration in the public circumstances. For this reason, I have thought that it would make an interesting paper in your Miscellany, to present a view of the manners of this country, and especially of its metropolis, as they appeared about a century ago, and point out the principal differences which distinguish them from those of the present day. Various Sources might be resorted to for this purpose, but I shall chiefly confine myself to that set of periodical papers under the titles of the Tatler, Spectator, and Guardian, which, having for its principal object the regulation of private and domestic morals, may be expected to afford the most exact representation of the existing state of society. The compass of time included in these publications extends from 1709 to 1714 the well-known names of Addison and Steele sufficiently warrant the authenticity of the draughts, allowance being occasionally made for humorous exaggeration.

I shall begin with dress, as a circumstance peculiarly striking on-a general and cursory survey of any assemblage of mankind, though its rapid changes, and the total absence of every principle in directing its modes except that of novelty, render it, in fact, of no great moment in an estimate of the times. A much shorter space than the revolution of a century, suffices to produce such alterations in dress as VOL. I.



to confound all ideas of taste and propriety; and I know not whether a beau or belle of queen Anne's reign would appear more whimsical in our eyes than one of George the second's. It is, however, a matter of considerable curiosity, and may incidentally lead to some important inferences.

We find from the Tatler that the most prominent extravagance in female apparel in 1709 was the hoop-petticoat, which seems then to have attained its utmost magnitude. A very humorous account is given in the 116th number of that work, of a young culprit brought before an imaginary court for the correction of petty abuses, who had been the "inhabitant" of one of these machines. The petticoat itself was taken off, expanded, and drawn up to the top of the hall, forming a very splendid and ample canopy over the heads of the whole court. Inconvenient as such a fashion must have been, the sex was long unwilling to resign the consequence it imparted to their figures; and I know ladies who well remember the difficulties they were put to in their youth, in mounting a narrow stair-case, or making their entrance into a small crowded drawing-room, under the encumbrance of one of these garments. The modern custom of cramming rooms at routs and other parties, as full as the black-hole of Calcutta, having rendered the wearing of hoops an utter impossibility, they have at length been banished to court, and are not likely again to make their appearance in common life.

The introduction of fashions from Paris by means of a drest doll, is the subject of a letter in the 277th number of the Spectator, in which the superior fancy and elegance of the French modes is exemplified in various points. The same relative superiority, I suppose, is recognised at the present day, and the current novelties of female dress may be traced to the same origin. It was, probably, from that nation that the undressing system was derived, which undergoes so much censure in the Guardian. The discarding of tuckers, and the free display of the ancles, prove that our greatgrandmothers were not more averse to the exhibition of their charms than their present descendants are. I perceive, however, no traces of that clinging and transparent drapery which now gives such an insight into the formation of the whole female person, and which is a French imitation of Grecian models, favoured by the exquisite delicacy of the cotton manufacture.

That the use of paint was as common among the ladies of those times, as it can be at present, may be inferred from various papers in the Spectator, particularly No. 41, in which a complainant says "Give them a tolerable pair of eyes to set up with, and they will make bosom, lips, cheeks and eyebrows by their own industry." The singular custom of patching, now happily extinct, seems to have been at its height during that period: and the employment of patches as a party badge, according to the side of the face on which they were placed, is a curious trait of manners, if to be regarded as a serious fact.


The Spectator justly remarks that nothing in nature is so variable as a lady's head-dress, and in No. 98 he mentions the extraordinary changes it had undergone within his memory. At the time of his writing it appears to have been as moderate in regard to elevation as at the present moment. The remarkable variations with respect to height, breadth, form and ornament, which may be recollected during the last half-century, and have been faithfully transmitted in the lady's pocket-books and almanacks, will render any earlier extravagancies in this part of dress readily conceivable. It is a pity that the low state of the arts in the first period, did not permit a similar visible representation of the several freaks of fashion, which then took their turn. It would, doubtless, have much gratified a curious enquirer into these subjects, to have met with a picturesque display of those hoods of different gay colours, which are spoken of as a fashionable novelty in the winter of 1712, and made the boxes at the theatres look like parterres of tulips or ranunculuses. The equestrian habits of the ladies call down the censure of the Spectator in No. 435. In imitation of the male dress of that period, they consisted of a hat and feather, a riding-coat, and a peruke, or hair tied up in a bag or with a ribbon; and the resemblance was so perfect, that the information of the petticoat was necessary to determine whether the fair wearer should be addressed as Sir or Madam. The modern crops and round hats are at least as complete a disguise of sex, as far as the head is concerned.

In one of the letters of the Spectator, a lady is made justly to observe, that the male sex is not less addicted to fantastic changes of mode in dress than the female; and a great variety of fashions in wigs and cocks of the hat, is adduced in proof of the assertion. A beau's inventory in the Tatler contains red-heeled shoes and red silk stockings. The dress-wig of that age is well known to have been of enormous dimensions; and it seems to have been a common practice for fine gentlemen, before entering the drawing-room on a visit, to take out a comb and adjust the curls that flowed down on their shoulders. Although the fifty-guinea fleeces of the Foppingtons under Anne and George the first, underwent some diminution in succeeding years, yet wigs of very respectable bulk kept their station upon young heads to a much later date. I remember a family-piece taken about sixty years ago, in which a range of goodly young men, placed in the order of their ages, exhibited that ornament of the head, down to the age of seventeen or eighteen. It seems to have been indicative of quitting the school-boy state for that of the academic or young gentleman. A note in the Spectator from John Sly the haberdasher will amuse one who considers its applicability at the present time. May it please your honour, I have of late seen French hats of prodigious magnitude. pass hy my observatory." I remember when the greatest caricature of a hat that could be conceived was worn on the stage by Antient Pistol; but it was not comparable in extravagance with the strange crescent-like thing

B 2

[ocr errors]

thing that now crowns the head of every military man in the streets, and swings in the hand of every gentleman at a rout or ball. When contrasted with the close-cropped hair, this fashionable hat makes, according to my perceptions, the most ridiculous and grotesque ter mination of the human form divine that caprice ever invented. A curious notice of a bridegroom's dress is given in a letter to the Guardian from a sober citizen, who is much disconcerted at the finery of his wedding apparel. Part of it was "a silk night-gown, and a gaudy fool's-cap," in which the poor man was made to exhibit himself at the window to the gaze of his neighbours. Just such a costume is given by Hogarth to his Industrious Apprentice, as he is paying the drums and marrow-bones and cleavers on the morning after his marriage with his master's daughter. It is a remarkable circumstance that finery in dress should have gone out of fashion in this country at a time when all other luxury has been increasing beyond all former limits; and perhaps no other example can be adduced of a nation só expensive in general habits, and so moderate in apparel, as the English of the present age.

The folly of converting court-mournings into public ones, was as common, it seems, a century ago as now, and for the very samé reason, namely, "the general affectation among men of appearing greater than they are." The Spectator gives a ludicrous picture of an old acquaintance of his in narrow circumstances, but possessed with a strong propensity to appear as a man of fashion, who made a single mourning coat serve, by help of scouring, turning, and fresh buttons, for half the potentates in Europe. The mode seems to have descended as low in that age as in the present. "When one is afraid (says the Spectator) to ask the wife of a tradesman, whom she has lost of her family, and after some preparation endeavours to know whom she mourns for, how ridiculous is it to hear her explain herself, That we have lost one of the house of Austria!" That writer considers it as a kind of presumption in inferior persons to enter into the domestic concerns of princes, without an authority for so doing. Others might regard it as an instance of servility. At any rate, there is an incorrectness in misapplying the orders of the court, which one should not expect from those who look up to it as the great source of authority.

Many particulars occur in these periodical papers concerning the hours then kept, compared with those of the preceding age; for the complaint of progressive lateness of hours was as common a century ago, as it is at present. The 263d number of the Tatler is expressly directed against the innovations in this point, and contains several lively reflexions on the absurdity of attempting to invert the order of nature, and turn night into day. The writer says, "In my own memory the dinner has crept by degrees from twelve o'clock to three, and where it will fix, nobody knows." We who have seen it advance to six and seven, can certainly as little conjecture what wili be its farthest limit. Since, indeed, the light of the sun can scarcely cease to have some connexion with human occupations, and the sto


« PreviousContinue »