Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER XVIII.

Female Politicians.-Female Employments.-Dress.- The Hoop-Petticoat.—Literary

estimate of the Female Character.-The Stage estimate.-Congreve.-Swift's Polite Conversation.-Pope.-The Rape of the Lock. -Prude and Coquette.- Puppet Plays. - The Opera.-The Masquerade.--Young.-Fashionable Vices.- Drinking. Extravagant dinners.-Duelling.–The Club Life of London. --Gaming.–The Bear. garden. ---Popular Superstitions.--Witchcraft.--Ignorance of the Lower Classes Sports.-National taste for Music gone out.-The Small-Coal Man.

[ocr errors]

The“ Tatler” and “Spectator" were issued at a time when the ladies of England were amongst the keenest and noisiest of politicians. One object of the essayists was to lead the fair ones into calmer and pleasanter regions; and we therefore find little notice in their non-political writings of the vagaries which the female mind exhibited about the Church and the Protestant Succession. In the “ Freeholder" Addison has several pleasant papers, in which we see the temper that filled many a household with the strifes of of unreasoning Tories in hooped petticoats. “Women of this turn," he says, “are so earnest in contending for hereditary right, that they wholly neglect the education of their own sons and heirs ; and are so taken up with their zeal for the Church, that they cannot find time to teach their children the Catechism. .. Such is our misfortune that we sometimes see a pair of stays ready to burst with sedition; and hear the most masculine passions expressed in the sweetest voices."'* In another paper he says, “ As our English ladies are at present the greatest stateswomen in Europe, they will be in danger of making themselves the most unamiable part of their sex, if they continue to give a loose to intemperate language, and to a low kind of ribaldry, which is not used among the women of fashion in any other country.”* We must ascribe a great deal of this disposition to engage in party conflicts to the absence of occupations of an intellectual character, which might engage thc women of the beginning of the eighteenth century. In condemning their political extravagances, the “Free. holder ” does not attempt to address them as persons qualified to estimate the relative merits of opposite opinions. When he points out to the fair enemies of the Protestant Succession what they sac" " Freeholder," No. 26.

t Ibid., No. 23.

[ocr errors]

FEMALE EMPLOYMENTS.

199

rifice by their disloyalty to the House of Brunswick, he tells them that they cannot go to court; that they forego the advantage of birthday suits ; that they are forced to live in the country, and feed their chickens. “The women of England should be on the side of the Freeholder, and enemies to the person who would bring in arbitrary government and popery,” because, “ as there are several of our ladies who amuse themselves in the reading of travels, they cannot but take notice what uncomfortable lives those of their own sex lead, were passive obedience is professed and practised in the utmost perfection.” Arbitrary power spoils the shape of the foot in China; hurries the Indian widow to her husband's funeral pile ; makes the daughters of Eve in Persia mere chattels; gives a woman the twelfth share of a husband in the dominions of the Grand Turk; and renders them the slaves of duennas and gouvernantes in Spain and Italy. The ladies of England ought not to encourage the Roman Catholic religion, because a fish diet spoils the complexion; and a “whole Lent would give such a sallowness to the celebrated beauties of this island, as would scarce make them distinguished from those of France." * Much of this, no doubt, is the banter of the great humourist; but the ladies deserved it, who set a mark upon their faces to proclaim their politics, the fair Tories being “obliged by their principles to stick a patch on the most unbecoming side of their foreheads.” | They could scarcely be addressed in any other style, when the whole time of the greater number was engrossed by idle visiting and ridiculous amusements. “I think,” says Steele, “most of the nissortunes in families arise from the trifling way the women have in spending their time, and gratifying only their eyes and ears, insteat of their reason and understanding." It must be remembered that the domestic accomplishments of the English lady were then almost unknown. Not one house in ten thousand contained a harpsichord, whilst in our days a pianoforte is as common as a sofa. Pore had borrowed, or hired, a cucko!; and during a temporary absence from his house at Twickenham, his fashionable neighlour, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, desired a loan from him of the same cumbrous box of wires, which request the poet was unable to grant. Of the arts of design the best educated female had no conception. The greater number of fashionable women “spend their hours in an indolent state of body and mind, without either recreations or reflections.” Stimulants, if we may believe the censor, were sometimes resorted to: “Palestris, in her drawing-room, is supported by spirits, fo keep off the return of spleen and melancholy, before she Freeholder," No. 4o.

. lbida, No. 20.

[ocr errors]

can get over half of the day, for want of something to do; while the wench in the kitchen sings and scours from morning to night."* We can scarcely impute the cxtravagances of female dress in Anne's reign to the defects of cducation; for in our age, when reading is universal, and every woman, not wholly condemned to be a domestic drudge, has other salutary modes of occupation al ways at hand, the absurdities at which the satirists unceasingly laughed a hundred and fifty years ago have again come around. Is it Mr. Bickerstaff, or is it Mr. Punch, who published " The humble peticion of William Jingle, coachmaker," showing that the petticoats of ladies being too wide to enter into any coach in use before their invention, he has contrived • a coach for the reception of one lady only, who is to be let in at the top?” Is it in 1709, or in 1859, that the prevailing fashion is thus described ? “ The design of our greatgrandmothers in this petticoat was to appear much bigger than the life, for which reason they had false shoulder-blades like wings, and the ruff, to make the upper and lower parts of their bodies appear proportionable; whereas the figure of a woman in the present dress bears the figure of a cone, which is the same with that of an extinguisher, with a little knob at the upper end, and widening downward till it ends in a basis of most enormous circumference.”+ There must be something of innate virtue in the hooped petticoat, now called by the pretty name of crinoline. It lasted in various forms through the reigns of the first and second Georges; kept its place, to the amusement of the profane vulgar, on court days, till a very recent period ; and has now started up, to the terror of all those of the male creation who cannot afford “a coach for the reception of one lady only."

In the period from the Restoration to the middle of the eigh. teenth century, there was unquestionably a very low estimate of the female character. In theatrical representations of life there was scarcely an attempt to exhibit a woman of sense and modesty, The high ideal of female excellence whic. we find in Shakspere, and which to a certain extent he must have derived from the realities of the age of Elizabeth, could scarcely be expected from the Drydens and Farquhars and Wycherleys and Congreves of the age of the Revolution. We can scarcely look to the stage of their time for Perditas and Violas, and Imogens. If some of its women had the wit and address of Beatrice and Rosalind, they had the profligacy and cunning which made their cleverness hateful. Congreve, who did as much as any dramatist to render the fema: character odious, has a somewhat remarkable paper in the “ Tatie.," • "Tatier," No 248.

- Ibid., Nos. 7:3; -8.

a

THE STAGE ESTIMATE.

301

in which he says, “It is not to be supposed that it was a poverty of genius in Shakspere, that his women made so small a figure in his dialogues." How diligently must Congreve have studied Shakspere to have made this discovery! He goes on to say, " But it certainly is, that he drew women as they were then in life'; for that sex had not in those days that freedom of conversation; and their characters were only, that they were mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives." Was it really true of the age of the author of the "Old Bachelor," " Double Dealer," “ Love for Love," and * Way of the World,” that, as he and others have shown, the mothers were careless of their children, that the sisters were plotting against each other, that the daughters were undutiful, that the wives were adulteresses ? As an essayist he then draws the character of "the divine Aspasia," whose countenance is the lively image of her mind, which is the seat of honour, truth, compassion, knowledge, and innocence; ”-a lady who "adds to the severity and privacy of the last age all the freedom and ease of this.” It is pleasant to find one exception to the ladies of Congreve's own time shining wits and politicians, virtuosæ, freethinkers and disputants.” Wher. Shakspere “drew women as they were then in life,” according to the creator of the Miss Prues and Lády Touchwoods, " vanity had quite another turn, and the most conspicuous woman at that time of day was only tlre best housewife." * It was some years before the domestic virtues, as exhibited on the stage, came to be regarded in any other point of view than as tiresome, if not ridiculous. But a sense of decency, denoting something more of respect for the female character, was slowly growing; and this is in some degree an "evidence that the female character was itself improving. The great ladies ceased to be painted as profligate intriguers ; and the citizens' wives as looking for licentious adventures in their masks. The « Tatler” originally professed to devote particular attention to the stage ; and Steele had an especial relish for the theatre, with a keen sense of dramatic excellence. In the first week of the existence of the new journal, we have notices of two plays, whose wit, in the view of those times, redeemed them from the shame of their licentiousness.' The "Love for Love,” of Congreve, and the “ Country Wife," of Wycherley, were tolerated for a century. We can scarcely, therefore, expect Steele to have condemned them; especially when he records that at the performance of “Love for Love;" for Betterton's benefit, " there has not been known so great a concourse of persons of distinction: the stage itself was covered with

Tatler, "-No. 13.

a

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

gentlemen and ladies.” * There was a third drama whích Mr. Bickerstaff notices in his eighth number in a way which absolves him from the charge of having gone along with his age in all its theatrical improprieties. He tells us that a play, whose name is by us scarcely mentionable, was acted “before a suitable audience who were extremely well-diverted with that heap of vice and absurdity;” and he makes "a gentleman of just taste ” express his indignation, “ upon occasion of seeing human nature fall so low in their delights." Yet that infamous comedy by Edward Ravenscroft, which was first acted in 1682, kept the stage till 1754, being annually performed at Drury Lane and Covent Garden, on Lord Mayor's day, in ridicule of the London citizens. Garrick, in 1752, had the good taste to break through this custom os presenting, for the gratification of the ignorant and licentious, a picture of manners which was never other than exceptionally true; and which was originally devised to make the libertines of fashion believe that the households of the industrious and thrifty part of the community were as corrupt as their own exclusive circles.

Swift was not, habitually, a libeller of the female character. He was fond of the society of accomplished women. His“ Journal to Stella,” with much grossness, and some childish talk assuming her inferiority, is not far below what a man of high intellect would address to an intelligent woman who had his confidence. He wrote a paper on “The Education of Ladies,” in which he says, “There is a subject of controversy which I have frequently met. with in mixed and select companies of both sexes, and sometimes only of men--whether it be prudent to choose a wife who has good natural sense, some taste of wit and humour, able to read and relish history, books of travels, moral or entertaining discourses, and be a tolerable judge of the beauties in poetry? This question is generally determined in the negative by women themselves, but almost universally by we men,” It is not banter when he observes " that in this debate, those whom we call men and women of fashion are only to be understood; not merchants, tradesmen, or others of such occupation, who are not supposed to have shared in a liberal education.” The essay is incomplete ; but Swift evidently inclines to the opinion that a better education of women would be preferable to "the modern way of training up both sexes in ignorance, idleness, and vice.” He was a hard censor, and therefore we must receive what he says with much qualification. His “Polite Conversation” is a caricature. Like many other caricatures it presents a coarser reality than an exact copy of persons and manners wil

* Tatier,' No 1

a

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »