The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 4, No. 24, Oct. 1859
Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Joshua Hutchinson, and PG Distributed Proofreaders
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. IV.--OCTOBER, 1859.--NO. XXIV.
Toward the end of a city morning, that is, about four o'clock in the
afternoon, Stanford Grey, and his guest, Daniel Tomes, paused in an
argument which had engaged them earnestly for more than half an hour.
What they had talked about it concerns us not to know. We take them as
we find them, each leaning back in his chair, confirmed in the opinion
that he had maintained, convinced only of his opponent's ability and
rectitude of purpose, and enjoying the gradual subsidence of the
excitement that accompanies the friendliest intellectual strife as
surely as it does the gloved set-tos between those two "talented
professors of the noble science of self-defence" who beat each other
with stuffed buck-skin, at notably brief intervals, for the benefit of
the widow and children of the late lamented Slippery Jim, or some other
equally mysterious and eminent person.
The room in which they sat was one of those third rooms on the first
floor, by which city house-builders, self-styled architects, have made
the second room useless except at night, in their endeavor to reconcile
a desire for a multitude of apartments with the fancied necessity that
compels some men to live where land costs five dollars the square foot.
The various members of Mr. Grey's household designated this room by
different names. The servants called it the library; Mrs. Grey and two
small people, the delight and torment of her life, papa's study; and
Grey himself spoke of it as his workshop, or his den. Against every
stretch of wall a bookcase rose from floor to ceiling, upon the shelves
of which the books stood closely packed in double ranks, the varied
colors of the rows in sight wooing the eye by their harmonious
arrangement. A pedestal in one corner supported a half-size copy of the
Venus of Milo, that masterpiece of sculpture; in its faultless amplitude
of form, its large life-giving loveliness, and its sweet dignity, the
embodiment of the highest type of womanhood. In another corner stood a
similar reduction of the Flying Mercury. Between the bookcases and over
the mantel-piece hung prints;--most noticeable among them, Steinla's
engraving of Raphael's Sistine Madonna, and Toschi's reproduction, in
lines, of the luminous majesty of Correggio's St. Peter and St. Paul;
and these were but specimens of the treasures inclosed in a huge
portfolio that stood where the light fell favorably upon it. Opposite
Grey's chair, when in its place, (it was then wheeled half round toward
his guest,) a portrait of Raphael and one of Beethoven flanked a copy
of the Avon bust of Shakespeare; and where the wallpaper peeped through
this thick array of works of literature and art, it showed a tint of
soft tea-green. In the middle of the room a large library-table groaned
beneath a mass of books and papers, some of them arranged in formal
order, others disarranged by present use into that irregular order which
seems chaotic to every eye but one, while for that one the displacement
of a single sheet would insure perplexity and loss of time. But neither
spreading table nor towering cases seemed to afford their owner room
enough to store his printed treasures. Books were everywhere. Below the
windows the recesses were filled out with crowded shelves; the door of a
closet, left ajar, showed that the place was packed with books, roughly
or cheaply clad, and pamphlets. At the bottom of the cases, books
stretched in serried files along the floor. Some had crept up upon the
library-steps, as if, impatient to rejoin their companions, they were
mounting to the shelves of their own accord. They invaded all accessible
nooks and crannies of the room; big folios were bursting out from the
larger gaps, and thin quartos trickling through chinks that otherwise
would have been choked with dust; and even from the mouldings above the
doors bracketed shelves thrust out, upon which rows of volumes perched,
like penguins on a ledge of rock. In fact, books flocked there as
martlets did to Macbeth's castle; there was "no jutty frieze or coigne
of vantage" but a book had made it his "pendent bed,"--and it appeared
"his procreant cradle" too; for the children, in calling the great
folios "papa-books" and "mamma-books," seemed instinctively to have
hit upon the only way of accounting for the rapid increase and
multiplication of volumes in that apartment.
Upon this scene the light fell, tempered by curtains, at the cheapness
and simplicity of which a fashionable upholsterer would have sneered,
but toward whose graceful folds, and soft, rich hues, the study-wearied
eye turned ever gratefully. The two friends sat silently for some
minutes in ruminative mood, till Grey, turning suddenly to Tomes,
"What does Iago mean, when he says of Cassio,--
'He hath a daily beauty in his life,
That makes me ugly'?"
"How can you ask the question?" Tomes replied; adding, after a moment's
pause, "he means, more plainly than any other words can tell, that
Cassio's truthful nature and manly bearing, his courtesy, which was the
genuine gold of real kindness brought to its highest polish, and not a
base alloy of selfishness and craft galvanized into a surface-semblance
of such worth, his manifest reverence for and love of what was good and
pure and noble, his charitable, generous, unenvious disposition, his
sweetness of temper, and his gallantry, all of which found expression in
face or action, made a character so lovely and so beautiful that every
daily observer of them both found him, Iago, hateful and hideous by
_Grey_. I suspected as much before I had the benefit of your comment;
which, by the way, ran off your tongue as glibly as if you were one of
the folk who profess Shakespeare, and you were threatening the world
with an essay on Othello. But sometimes it has seemed to me as if these
words meant more; Shakespeare's mental vision took in so much. Was the
beauty of Cassio's life only a moral beauty?
_Tomes_. For all we know, it was.
_Grey_. I say, perhaps, or--No,--Cassio has seemed to me not more a
gallant soldier and a generous spirit than a cultivated and accomplished
gentleman; he, indeed, shows higher culture than any other character in
the tragedy, as well as finer natural tastes; and I have thought that
into the scope of this phrase, "daily beauty," Shakespeare took not
only the honorable and lovely traits of moral nature, to which you, and
perhaps the rest of the world with you, seem to limit it, but all the
outward belongings and surroundings of the personage to whom it is
applied. For these, indeed, were a part of his life, of him,--and went
to make up, in no small measure, that daily beauty in which he presented
so strong a contrast to Iago. Look at "mine Ancient" closely, and see,
that, with all his subtle craft, he was a coarse-mannered brute, of
gross tastes and grovelling nature, without a spark of gallantry, and as
destitute of courtesy as of honor. We overrate his very subtlety; for
we measure it by its effects, the woful and agonizing results it brings
about; forgetting that these, like all results, or resultants, are the
product of at least two forces,--the second, in this instance, being the
unsuspecting and impetuous nature of Othello, Had Iago undertaken to
deceive any other than such a man, he would have failed. Why, even
simple-hearted Desdemona, who sees so little of him, suspects him; that
poor goose, Roderigo, though blind with vanity and passion, again and
again loses faith in him; and his wife knows him through and through.
Believe me, he had no touch of gentleness, not one point of contact with
the beautiful, in all his nature,--while Cassio's was filled up with
gentleness and beauty, and all that is akin to them.
_Tomes_. His weakness for wine and women among them?--But thanks for
your commentary. I am quite eclipsed. On you go, too, in your old way,
trying to make out that what is good is beautiful,--no, rather that
what is beautiful is good.--Do you think that Peter and Paul were
well-dressed? I don't believe that you would have listened to them, if
they were not.
_Grey_. I'm not sure about St. Peter,--or whether it was necessary or
proper that he should have been well-dressed, in the general acceptation
of the term. You forget that there is a beauty of fitness. Beside, I
have listened, deferentially and with pleasure, to a fisherman in a red
shirt, a woollen hat, and with his trousers tucked into cow-hide boots;
and why should I not have listened to the great fisherman of Galilee,
had it been my happy fortune to live within sound of his voice?
_Tomes_. Ay, if it had been a fine voice, perhaps you might.
_Grey_. But as to Saint Paul I have less doubt, or none. I believe that
he appeared the gentleman of taste and culture that he was.
_Tomes_. When he made tents? and when he lived at the house of one
Simon, a tanner?
_Grey_. Why not? What had those accidents of Paul's life to do with
Paul, except as occasions which elicited the flexibility of his nature
and the extent of his capacity and culture?
_Tomes_. In making tents? Tent-making is an honest and a useful
handicraft; but I am puzzled to discover how it would afford opportunity
for the exhibition of the talents of such a man as Paul.
_Grey_. Not his peculiar talents, perhaps; though, on that point, those
who sat under the shadow of his canvas were better able to judge than we
are. For a man will make tents none the worse for being a gentleman, a
scholar, and a man of taste,--but, other things being equal, the better.
Your general intelligence and culture enter into your ability to perform
the humblest office of daily life. An educated man, who can use his
hands, will make an anthracite coal-fire better and quicker after half
a dozen trials than a raw Irish servant after a year's experience; and
many a lady charges her housemaid with stupidity and obstinacy, because
she fails again and again in the performance of some oft-explained task
which to the mistress seems "so simple," when there is no obstinacy in
the case, and only the stupidity of a poor neglected creature who had
been taught nothing till she came to this country, not even to eat with
decency, and, since she came, only to do the meanest chores. As to
living with a tanner, I am no Brahmin, and believe that a man may not
only live with a tanner, but be a tanner, and have all the culture, if
not all the learning and the talent, of Simon's guest. Thomas Dowse
pointed the way for many who will go much farther upon it than he did.
_Tomes._ The tanners are obliged to you. But of what real use is that
process of intellectual refinement upon which you set so high a value?
How much better is discipline than culture! Of how much greater worth,
to himself and to the world, is the man who by physical and mental
training, the use of his muscles, the exercise of his faculties, the
restraint of his appetites,--even those mental appetites which you call
tastes,--has acquired vigor, endurance, self-reliance, self-control! Let
a man be pure and honorable, do to others as he would have them do to
him, and, in the words of the old Church of England Catechism, "learn
and labor truly to get his own living in that state of life to which it
has pleased God to call him," and what remains for him to do, and of
time in which to do it, is of very small importance.
_Grey._ You talk like what you are.
_Tomes._ And that is----?
_Grey._ Pardon me,--a cross between a Stoic and a Puritan:--morally, I
_Tomes._ Don't apologize. You might say many worse things of me, and few
better. But telling me what I am does not disprove what I say.
_Grey._ Do you not see? you cannot fail to see, that, after the labor of
your human animal has supplied his mere animal needs, provided him with
shelter, food, and clothes, he must set himself about something else.
Having made life endurable, he will strive to make it comfortable,
according to his notions of comfort. Comfort secured, he will seek
pleasure; and among the earliest objects of his endeavors in this
direction will be that form of pleasure which results from the
embellishment of his external life; the craving that he then supplies
being just as natural, that is, just as much an inevitable result of his
organization, as that which first claimed his thought and labor.
_Tomes._ A statement of your case entirely inconsistent with the facts
that bear upon it What do you think of your red savage, who, making no
_pro-vision_ for even his animal needs, but merely supplying them
for the moment as he can, and living in squalor, filth, and extreme
discomfort, yet daubs himself with grease and paint, and decorates
his head with feathers, his neck with bear's claws, and his feat with
gaudily-stained porcupine's quills? What of your black barbarian,
whose daily life is a succession of unspeakable abominations, and who
embellishes it by blackening his teeth, tattooing his skin, and wearing
a huge ring in the gristle of his nose? Either of them will give up his
daily food, and run the risk of starvation, for a glass bead or a
brass button. This desire for ornament is plainly, then, no fruit of
individual development, no sign of social progress; it has no relations
whatever with them, but is merely a manifestation of that vanity, that
lust of the eye and pride of life, which we are taught to believe
inherent in all human nature, and which the savage exhibits according to
his savageness, the civilized man according to his civilization.
_Grey._ You're a sturdy fellow, Tomes, but not strong enough to draw
that conclusion from those premises, and make it stay drawn. The savage
does order his life in the preposterous manner which you have described;
but he does it because he is a savage. He has not the wants of the
civilized man, and therefore he does not wait to supply them before he
seeks to gratify others. When man rises in the scale of civilization,
his whole nature rises. You can't mount a ladder piecemeal; your head
will go up first, unless you are an acrobat, and choose to go up feet
foremost; but even if you are Gabriel Ravel, your whole body must needs
ascend together. The savage is comfortable, not according to your
notions of comfort, but according to his own. Comfort is not positive,
but relative. If, with your present habits, you could be transported
back only one hundred years to the best house in London,--a house
provided with all that a princely revenue could then command,--you
would find it, with all its splendor, very uncomfortable in many
respects. The luxuries of one generation become the comforts of the
next, the necessaries of life to the next; and what is comfort for any
individual at any period depends on the manner in which he has been
brought up. So, too, the savage decorates himself after his own savage
tastes. His smoky wigwam or his filthy mud hut is no stronger evidence
of his barbarous condition than his party-colored face, or the hoop of
metal in his nose. Call this desire to enjoy the beauty of the world and
to be a part of it the lust of the eye, or whatever name you please, you
will find, that, with exceedingly rare exceptions, it is universal in
the race, and that its gratification, although it may have an indirectly
injurious effect on some individuals tends to harmonize and humanize
mankind, to lift them above debasing pleasures, and to foster the finer
social feelings by promoting the higher social enjoyments.
_Tomes._ Yes; it makes Mrs. A. snub Mrs. B. because the B.-bonnet is
within a hair's breadth's less danger of falling down her back, or
is decorated with lace made by a poor bonnetless girl in one town of
Europe, at a time when fashion has declared that it should bloom with
flowers made by a poor shoeless girl in another: it instigates Mrs. C.
to make a friendly call on Mrs. D. for the purpose of exulting over
the inferior style in which her house is furnished: it tempts F. to
overreach his business friend, or to embezzle his employer's money, that
he may live in a house with a brown-stone front and give great dinners
twice a month: and it sustains G. in his own eyes as he sits at F.'s
table stimulating digestion by inward sneers at the vulgar fashion of
the new man's plate or the awkwardness of his attendants: and perhaps,
worse than all, it tempts H. to exhibit his pictures, and Mrs. I. to
exhibit herself, "for the benefit of our charitable institutions," in
order that the one may read fulsome eulogies of his munificence and his
taste, and the other see a critical catalogue of the beauties of her
person and her costume in all the daily papers. Such are the social
benefits of what you call the desire to be a part of the world's beauty.
_Grey._ Far from it! They have no relation to each other. You mistake
the occasion for the cause, the means for the motive. Your alphabet is
in fault. Such a set of vain, frivolous, dishonest, mean, hypocritical,
and insufferably vulgar letters would be turned out of any respectable,
well-bred spelling-book. Vanity, frivolity, dishonesty, meanness,
hypocrisy, and vulgarity can be exhibited in all the affairs of life,
not excepting those whose proper office is to sweeten and to beautify
it; but it does not need all your logical faculty to discover that
there is not, therefore, any connection between a pretty bonnet, or an
elegantly furnished house, and the disposition to snub and sneer at
those who are without them,--between dishonesty and the desire to live
handsomely and hospitably,--between a cultivated taste for the fine arts
and hypocrisy or a vulgar desire for notoriety and consequence.
_Tomes._ Perhaps so. But they are very often in each other's company.
_Grey._ And then, of course, the evil taints the reputation of the good,
even with thinking men like you; and how much more with those who have
your prejudices without your sense! But note well that they are not
oftener in company--these tastes and vices--than honesty and meanness,
good-nature and clownishness, sincerity and brutality, hospitality and
debauchery, chastity and the absence of that virtue without which all
others are as nothing. And let me remind you, by the way, that we of
this age and generation make it our business, in fact, feel it our duty,
to violate the injunction of the English Catechism, and get _out_ of
that state of life in which we find ourselves, into a better, as soon
as possible. And even old Mother Church does not insist upon content so
strongly as you made her seem to do; she speaks of the state of life to
which her catechumen "shall" be, not "has" been, called; and thus
makes it possible for a dean to resolve to be content with a bishopric,
and a bishop to muse upon the complete satisfaction with which he would
grasp an archbishop's crosier, without forfeiture of orthodoxy.
Tomes would doubtless have replied; but at this point the attention of
the disputants was attracted by the rustle of silk; there was a light,
quick tap at the glass-door which separated the den of books from the
middle room, and before an answer could be given the emblazoned valves
opened partly, and a sweet, decided voice asked, "Please, may we come
in? or" (and the speaker opened the doors wide) "are you and Mr. Tomes
so absorbed in construing a sentence in a book that nobody ever reads,
that ladies must give place to lexicons?"
"Enter, of course," cried Grey, "and save me from annihilation by
Tomes's next reply, and both of us from our joint stupidity."
And so Mrs. Grey entered, and there were salutations, and presentation
of Mr. Tomes to Miss Laura Larches, and introduction to each other
of the same gentleman and Mr. Carleton Key, who attended the ladies.
Abandoning the only four chairs in the room to the others, Mrs. Grey
sank down upon a hassock with a sigh of satisfaction, and was lost for
a moment in the rising swell of silken-crested waves of crinoline.
Emerging in another moment as far as the shoulders, she turned a look of
intelligence and inquiry upon her husband, who said, "When you came in,
Tomes and I were talking about"--
_Mrs. Grey._ Something very important, I've no doubt; but we've your
own confession that you were stupid, and I've no notion of permitting
a relapse. You were doubtless discussing your favorite subject, Dante,
who, as far as I can discover, was more a politician than a poet, and
went to his _Inferno_ only for the pleasure of sending the opposite
party there, and quartering them according to his notion of their
deserts. But he and they are dead and buried long ago. Let them rest.
We should much rather have you tell us whether his poor countrymen
of to-day are to have their liberty when that ugly Emperor beats the
Austrians; for beat them he surely will.
_Grey._ That is a subject of great moment, and one in which I, perhaps,
feel no less interest than you; but did you never think that the
question, whether these thousands of Italians have liberty or even food
to-day, is one of a few months', or, at most, a few years', concern,
while the soul's experience of that one Italian who died more than five
hundred years ago will be a fruitful theme forever?
_Mrs. Grey._ Why, so it will! I never did think of that. And now I'll
not think of it. Here we are just come from a wedding, and before you
ask us how the bride looked, or even what she had on, you begin to talk
to us about that grim old Florentine, who looks like a hard-featured
Scotch woman in her husband's night-cap, and who wrote such a succession
of frightful things! Where is all your interest in Kitty Jones? I've
seen you talk to her by the half-hour, and heard you say she is a
charming woman; and now she marries,--and you not only won't go to the
wedding, but you don't ask a word about it.
_Grey._ You seem to forget, Nelly, that I saw one wedding all through,
and, indeed, bore as prominent a part in it as one of my downtrodden
sex could aspire to; and as the Frenchman said, who went on an English
fox-chase, _"Une fois, c'est assez;_ I am ver' satisfy." The marriage
service I can read in ten minutes whenever I need its solace; rich
morning-dresses are to be seen by scores in the Academy of Music at
every _matinee,_ as garnish to Verdi's music; and as to Miss Kitty
Jones, I am sure that she, like all brides, never looked so ill as she
did to-day. I would do anything in my power to serve her, and would
willingly walk a mile to have half an hour's chat with her; but to-day I
could not serve her, nor could she talk with me; so why should I trouble
myself about the matter? Had I gone, I should only have seen her
flushed and nervous, her poor fresh-caught husband looking foolish and
superfluous, and an uncomfortable crowd of over-dressed, ill-dressed
people, engaged in analyzing her emotions, estimating the value of her
wedding-presents, and criticizing each other's toilettes.
_Mrs.Grey._ You're an unfeeling wretch!
_Grey._ Of course I am. Any woman will break her neck to see two people,
for whom she does not care a hair-pin, stand up, one in white and the
other in black, and mumble a few words that she knows by heart, and then
take position at the end of a room and have "society" paraded up to them
by solemn little corporals with white favors, and then file off to the
rear for rations of Perigord pie and Champagne.
_Tomes._ Well said, Grey! Here's another of the many ways of wasting
life by your embellishment of it.
_Mr. Key._ I don't know precisely what Mr. Tomes means; but as to
ill-dressed people, I'm sure that the set you meet at the Jones's are
the best-dressed people in town; and I never saw in Paris more splendid
toilettes than were there this morning.
_Miss Larches._ Why, to be sure! What can Mr. Grey mean? There was Mrs.
Oakum's gray and silver brocade, and Mrs. Cotton's _point-de-Venice_
mantle, and Miss Prime and Miss Messe and Miss Middlings, who always
dress exquisitely, and Mrs. Shinnurs Sharcke with that superb India
shawl that must have cost two thousand dollars! What could be finer?
_Mrs. Grey._ And then Mrs. Robinson Smith, celebrated as the
best-dressed woman in town. Being a connection of the family, and so a
sort of hostess, she wore no bonnet; and her dress, of the richest _gros
d'Afrique_, had twenty-eight pinked and scalloped flounces, alternately
one of white and three of as many graduated tints of green. So elegant
_Grey._ Twenty-eight pinked and scalloped flounces of white and
graduated tints of green! With her pale, sodden complexion, she must
have looked like an enormous chicken-salad _mayonnaise._
_Mrs. Grey [after a brief pause]._ Why, so she did! You good-for-nothing
thing, you've spoiled the prettiest dress I ever saw, for me! It was
quite my ideal; and now I never want to see it again.
_Grey._ Your ideal must have been of marvellous beauty, to admit such a
comparison,--and your preference most intelligently based, to be swept
away by it!
_Tomes._ Come, Grey, be fair. You know that merit has no immunity from
_Grey._ True; but no less true that ridicule does no real harm to
merit. If this Mrs. Robinson Crusoe's gown had been truly beautiful, my
ridiculous comparison could not have so entirely disenchanted my wife
with it;--she, mind you, being supposed (for the sake of our argument
only) to be a woman of sense and taste.
_Mrs. Grey._ Accept my profoundest and most grateful curtsy,--on credit.
It's too much trouble to rise and make it; and, to confess the truth, I
can't; my foot has caught in my hoop. Help me, Laura.
_[Disentanglement,--from which the gentlemen avert modest eyes, laughing
_Grey._ I do assure you, Nelly, that, until you leave off that
monstrosity of steel and cordage, your sense and taste, so far as
costume is concerned, must be taken on credit, as well as your curtsies.
_Mrs. Grey._ Leave off my hoop? Would you have me look like a
fright?--as slinky as if I had been drawn through a key-hole?
_Miss Larches._ Leave off her hoop?
_Mr. Key._ Be seen without a hoop? Why, what a guy a woman would look
without a hoop! I suppose they do take them off at certain times, but
then they are not visible to the naked eye.
_Tomes._ Yes, Grey,--why take off her hoop? I don't care, you know, to
have hoops worn. But worn or not worn, what difference does it make?
_Grey_. All against me?--a fair representation of the general feeling
on the momentous subject at this moment, I suppose. But ten years
ago,--that's about a year after I first saw you, and a year before we
were married, you remember, Nelly,--no lady wore a hoop; and had I said
then that you looked like a fright, or, as Mr. Key phrases it, a guy, I
should have belied my own opinion, and, I believe, given you no little
_Mrs. Grey_. Master Presumption, I'm responsible for none of your
conceited notions; and if I were, it wasn't the fashion then to wear
hoops,--and to be out of the fashion is to be a fright and a guy.
_Miss Larches_. Yes, the fashion is always pretty.
_Grey_. Is it, Miss Larches? Then it must always have been pretty. Let
us see. Look you all here. In this small portfolio is a collection of
prints which exhibits the fashions of France, Italy, and England, in
more or less detail, for eight hundred years back.
_Miss Larches_. Is there? Oh, that's charming! Do let us see them!
_Grey_. With pleasure. But remember that I expect you to admire them
all,--although I tell you that not one in ten of them is endurable, not
one in fifty pretty, not one in a hundred beautiful.
_Miss Larches_. Why, there aren't more than two or three hundred.
_Grey_. About two hundred and fifty; and if you find more than two
that fulfil all the conditions of beauty in costume, you will be more
fortunate than I have been.
_Miss Larches_ [_after a brief Inspection_]. Ah, Mr. Grey, how can you?
Most of these are caricatures.
_Grey_. Nothing of the sort. All veritable costumes, I assure you. Those
from 1750 down, fashion-plates; the others, portraits.
_Mrs. Grey_. True, Laura. I've looked at them many a time, and thought
how fearfully and wonderfully dresses have been made. Not to go back to
those bristling horrors of the Middle Ages and the _renaissance_, look
at this ball-dress of 1810: a night-gown without sleeves, made of two
breadths of pink silk, very low in the neck, and _very_ short in the
_Tomes_. And these were our modest grandmothers, of whom we hear so
much! They went rather far in their search after the beautiful.
_Grey_. Say, rather, in their revelation of it. That was, at least, an
honest fashion, and men who married could not well complain that they
had been deceived by concealment. But that tells nothing against the
modesty of our grandmothers. What is modest in dress depends entirely on
what is customary; and there is an immodesty that hides, as well as one
that exposes. Unconsciousness is modesty's triple shelter against shame.
See here, the dissolute Marguerite of Navarre, visible only at head and
hands; the former from the chin upwards, the latter from the knuckles
downwards; and here, _La belle Hamilton_, rightly named, as chaste as
beautiful, and so modest in her carriage that she escaped the breath of
scandal even in the court of Charles II., and yet with a gown (if
gown it can be called) so loose about the bust and arms that the pink
night-gown would blush crimson at it.
_Tomes_. The ladies seem convinced, though puzzled; but that is because
they don't detect your fallacy. You confound the woman and the fashion.
An immodest woman may be modestly dressed; and if it is the fashion to
be so, she most certainly will, unless she is able herself to set a
fashion more suited to her taste. For usually a woman's care of her
costume is in inverse proportion to that she takes of her character.
_The Ladies [having a vague notion that "inverse proportion" means
something horrible'_]. Mr. Tomes!
_Grey_. Don't misapprehend my friend Daniel. On this occasion he has
come to judgment upon a subject of which he knows so little that it is
worse than nothing. I have reason to believe that he has a profound
respect for one of you, and, being a bachelor, such exalted notions of
your sex in general that he would not wantonly misjudge the humblest
individual of it. His remark was but the fruit of such sheer innocence
with regard to your charming sisterhood, that he has yet to learn that
there is not a single member of it, who confesses to less than seventy
years, to whom, even if she is black, deformed, and the meanest hireling
household drudge, her dress, when she is to be seen of men, is not the
object of a watchful solicitude at least next to that which she feels
for her reputation. Among the sharpest of Douglas Jerrold's unmalicious
witticisms was his saying, that Eve ate the apple that she might dress.
_Mrs. Grey_. Eve's daughters--two of them, at least--are inexpressibly
obliged to you for your defence of the sex against the valorous Tomes.
Another time, pray, leave us to our fate. But, Laura, do look here! See
these hideous peaked and horned head-dresses of the fifteenth century.
That one looks like an Old-Dominion coffee-pot with wings. How
frightful! how uncomfortable! how inconvenient! How could the women wear
_Miss Larches_. Perfectly ridiculous! How could they get into their
carriages with those steeples on their heads? and how they must have
been in the way at the opera!
_Grey_. Miss Larches forgets. These head-dresses, monstrous as they are,
are not exposed to the objection of being inconsistent with the habits
of life of those who wore them, as so many of the fashions of later
periods and of the present day are. There were no such vehicles as
she is thinking of until more than a century after these stupendous
head-dresses were worn, until which time ladies very rarely used even
a covered wagon as a means of locomotion; and these steeple-crowned
ladies, and many generations after them, had passed away before the
performance of the first opera.
_Miss Larches_. No carriages? Why, how did they go to parties? No opera?
What did they do on winter evenings when there were no parties?
_Grey_. They went to parties in the day-time on horseback; and on the
days when there were no parties, of which there were a great many then,
they gave themselves up to a very delightful mode of passing the time,
when it is intelligently practised, known as staying at home.
_Mr. Key_. What a bore!
_Grey_. But don't confine your criticism of head-dresses to the
fifteenth century. Look through the costumes of the three succeeding
centuries, and see how often invention was taxed for artificial
decorations of the head, equally elaborate and hideous. Anything but to
have a head look like a head! anything but to have hair look like hair!
See this lady of 1750, her hair drawn violently back from her forehead
and piled up on a cushion nine inches high. She is plainly one of those
lovely, warm-toned blondes whose hair is of that priceless red that
makes all other tints look poor and sad; and so she defiles its
exquisite texture with grease, and blanches out its wealth of color with
flour. She might have gathered its gleaming waves into a ravishing knot
behind her head; but no, she has four stiff, enormous curls, noisome
with a mingled smell of hot iron, musk, and ambergris, hanging like
rolls of parchment from the top of her cushion to below her ear. O' top
of this elevation is mounted a wreath of gaudy artificial flowers, in
its turn surmounted by four vast plumes, two yellow, one pink, one blue,
from the midst of which shoot up two long feathers, one green and one
red, while behind hangs down a greasy, floury mass gathered at the
end into a club-like handle, which has some fitness for its place, in
suggesting that it should be used to jerk the heap of hair, grease, and
feathers from the head of the unfortunate who sustains it. Just think of
it! that sweet creature must have given up at least two hours of every
day to this disfigurement of her pretty head.
_Tomes_. And I've no doubt she made a sensation in the ball-room or at
court, in spite of all your ridicule, and so attained her purpose.
_Grey_. Certainly she did; for she was so beautiful in person and
alluring in manner, that even that head-dress, and the accompanying
costume with which she was deformed, could not eclipse her charms for
those who had become at all accustomed to the absurd disguise which she
assumed. But it was the woman that was beautiful, not the costume; and
the woman was so beautiful, in spite of the costume, that she was able
to light up even its forbidding features with the reflection of her own
loveliness. There have been countless similar cases since;--there are
_Mrs. Grey_. Miss Larches, doubtless, appreciates the approving glance
of so severe a censor.
_Grey_. And this head-dress _was_ open to the objection which Miss
Larches brought against that which preceded it three centuries. These
ladies were in each other's way at the opera; and while riding there
in their coaches, they were obliged to sit with their heads out of the
_Mrs. Grey_. Their carriages must have been of great service when it
rained!--But look at these stomachers, stiff with embroidery and jewels,
and with points that reach half-way from the waist to the ground! See
those enormous ruffs, standing out a quarter of a yard, and curving over
so smoothly to their very edges! What a protection the fear of ruining
those ruffs must have been against children, and--other troublesome
_Grey_. It is true, that ruffs and stomachers seem to indicate great
propriety of conduct, including an aversion to children and--other
troublesome creatures; but students of the manners and morals of the
period at which those articles of dress were worn do not find that the
women who wore them differed much in their conduct, at least as to the
other troublesome creatures, from the women who nowadays have revived
one of the most unsightly and absurd traits of the costume of which
ruffs and stomachers formed a part.
_Mrs. Grey_. What can you mean? Our fashion like that frightful rig?
Why, see this portrait of Queen Elizabeth in full dress! What with
stomacher and pointed waist and fardingale, and sticking in here and
sticking out there, and ruffs and cuffs and ouches and jewels and
puckers, she looks like a hideous flying insect with expanded wings,
seen through a microscope,--not at all like a woman.
_Grey_. And her costume is rivalled, if not outdone, by that of her
critic, in the very peculiarity by which she is made to look most unlike
a woman;--the straight line of the waist and the swelling curve below
it, which meet in such a sharp, unmitigated angle. Look at the Venus
yonder,--she is naked to the hips,--and see how utterly these lines
misrepresent those of Nature. You will find no instance of such a
contour as is formed by the meeting of these lines among all living
creatures, except, perhaps, when a turtle thrusts his head and his tail
out of his shell.
_Miss Larches_. But there's a vase with just such an outline, that I
have heard you admire a hundred times.
_Grey_. True, Miss Larches; but a woman is not a vase;--more beautiful
even than this, certainly more precious, perhaps almost as fragile, but
still not a vase; and she shows as little taste in making herself look
like a vase as some potters do in making vases that look like women.
_Mr. Key_. But I thought it was decided that the female figure below the
shoulders should be left to the imagination. Does Mr. Grey propose to
substitute the charming reality of undisguised Nature?
_Grey_. True, we do not attempt to define the female figure below the
waist, at least; but although we may safely veil or even conceal Nature,
we cannot misrepresent or outrage her, except at the cost of utter
loss of beauty. The lines of drapery, or of any article of dress, must
conform to those of that part of the figure which it conceals, or the
effect will be deforming, monstrous.
_Mr. Key._ Does Mr. Grey mean, to say that ladies nowadays' look
monstrous and deformed?
_Grey._ To a certain extent they do. But such is the influence of habit
upon the eye, that we fully apprehend the effect of such incongruity as
that of which I spoke only in the costumes of past generations, or when
there is a very violent, instead of a gradual change in the fashion of
our own day. Look at these full-length portraits of Catherine de Medicis
and the Princess Marguerite, daughter of Francis the First.
_The Ladies._ What frights!
_Mrs. Grey._ No, not both; Marguerite's dress is pretty, in spite of
those horrid sleeves sticking up so above her shoulders.
_Grey._ You are right. Those sleeves, rising above the shoulders--as
high as the ear in Catherine's costume, you will observe--are unsightly
enough to nullify whatever beauty the costume might have in other
points; though in her case they only complete the expression of the
costume, which is a grim, unnatural stiffness. And the reason of the
unsightliness of these sleeves is, that the outline which they present
is directly opposed to that of Nature. No human shoulders bulge upward
into great hemispherical excrescences nine inches high; and the peculiar
sexual characteristic of this part of woman's figure is the gentle
downward curve by which the lines of the shoulder pass into those of the
arm. Our memory that such is the natural configuration of these parts
enters, consciously or unconsciously, into our judgment of this costume,
in which we see that Nature is deliberately departed from; and our
condemnation of it in this particular respect is strengthened by the
perception, at a glance, that great pains have been taken to make its
outlines discordant with those of the part which they conceal. You
qualified your censure of Marguerite's dress partly because, in her
case, the slope of the shoulder is preserved until the very junction of
the arm with the bust, and partly because her bust and waist are defined
by her gown with a tolerably near approach to Nature, instead of being
entirely concealed, as in the case of her sister-in-law, by stiff lines
sloping outward on all sides to the ground, making the remorseless Queen
look like an enormous extinguisher with a woman's head set on it. And
these advantages of form in the Princess's costume are enhanced by
its presentation of a fine contrast of rich color in unbroken masses,
instead of the Queen's black velvet and white satin elaborately
disfigured with embroidery, ermine, lace, and jewels. You were prompt
in your condemnation of the fashion to which your eye had not been
accustomed: now turn to the costume that you wear, and which you are in
a manner compelled to wear; for I am not so visionary as to expect
a woman, or even a man under sixty, to fly directly in the face of
fashion, although her extravagant caprices may be gracefully disregarded
by both sexes and all ages. Here are two fashion-plates of the last
month,--[Footnote: March, 1869.] not magazine caricatures, mind you, or
anything like it,--but from the first _modistes_ in Paris. Look at that
shawled lady, with her back toward us. If you did not know that that is
a shawl, and that the thing which surmounts it is a bonnet, you would
not suspect the figure to be human. See; there is a slightly undulating
slope at an angle of about sixty-five degrees from the crown of the head
to the lowest hem of the skirt, so that the outline is that of a pyramid
slightly rounded at the apex, and nearly as broad across the base as
it is high. What is there of woman in such a figure? And this
evening-dress; it suggests the enchantments in the stories of the Dark
Ages, where knights encounter women who are women to the breasts and
monsters below. From the head to as far as halfway down the waist, this
figure is natural.
_Mr. Key._ Under the circumstances it could hardly be otherwise. _Au
naturel_, I should call it, except for the spice of a few flowers and a
_Grey_. But from that point it begins to lose its semblance to a woman's
shape, (as you will see by raising your eyes again to the Venus,) and
after running two or three inches decidedly inward in a straight line,
where it should turn outward with a gentle curve, its outlines break
into a sharp angle, and it expands, with a sudden hyperbolical curve,
into a monstrous and nameless figure that is not only unlike Nature, but
has no relations whatever with Nature. The eye needs no cultivation,
the brain no instruction, to perceive that such an outline cannot be
produced by drapery upon a woman's form. It is clear, at a glance, that
there is an artificial structure underneath that swelling skirt; that a
scaffold, a framework, has been erected to support that dome of silk;
and that the wearer is merely an automatic machine by which it is made
to perambulate. A woman in this rig hangs in her skirts like a clapper
in a bell; and I never meet one without being tempted to take her by the
neck and ring her.
_Mr. Key_. Those belles like ringing well enough, but not exactly of
_Grey_. The costume is also faulty in two other most important respects:
it is without pure, decided color of any tint, but is broken into
patches and blotches of various mongrel hues,----
_Mrs. Grey_. Hear the man! that exquisite brocade!
_Grey_.----and whatever effect it might otherwise have had, of form
or color, would be entirely frittered away by the multitudinous and
multiform trimmings with which it is bedizened; and it is without a
girdle of any kind.
_Mrs. Grey_. Oh, sweet Simplicity, hear and reward thy priest and
prophet! What would your Highness have the woman wear?--a white muslin
gown, with a blue sash, and a rose in her hair? That style went out on
the day that Mesdames Shem, Ham, and Japhet left the ark.
_Grey_. And well it might,--for evening-dress, at least No,--my taste,
or, if you will permit me to say it, good taste, craves rich colors, and
ample, flowing lines,--colors which require taste to be shown in their
arrangement and adaptation, and forms which show invention and knowledge
in their design. Your woman who dresses in white, and your man who wears
plain black, are safe from impeachment of their taste, just as people
who say nothing are secure against an exhibition of folly or ignorance.
They are the mutes of costume, and contribute nothing to the chromatic
harmony of the social circle. They succeed in nothing but the avoidance
of positive offence.
_Miss Larches_. Pray, then, Mr. Grey, what--shall--we--do? You have
condemned enough, and told us what is wrong; can't you find in all this
collection a single costume that is positively beautiful? and can't you
tell us what is right, as well as what is wrong?
_Grey_. Both,--and will. The first, at once; the last, if you continue
to desire it. Here are two costumes, quite unlike in composition and
effect, and yet both beautiful;--the first, the fashions of 1811 and
1812 (for the variations, during that time, were so trifling, and in
such unessential particulars, that the costume had but one character, as
you will see by comparing the twenty-four plates for those years); the
second, that worn by this peasant-girl of Normandy. Look first at the
fashion-plates, and see the adaptation of that beautiful gown to all the
purposes for which a gown is intended. How completely it clothes the
entire figure, and with what ease and comfort to the wearer! There is
not a line about it which indicates compression, or one expressive of
that looseness and languishing abandonment that we remarked just now
in the costume of _La belle Hamilton_. The entire person is concealed,
except the tip of one foot, the hands, the head and throat, and just
enough of the bust to confess the existence of its feminine charms,
without exposing them; both limbs and trunk are amply draped; and yet
how plainly it can be seen that there is a well-developed, untortured
woman underneath those tissues! The waist, girdled in at the proper
place, neither just beneath the breasts, as it was a few years before
and after, nor just above the hips, as it has been for many years past,
and as it was three hundred years ago, is of its natural size:--compare
it with the Venus, and then look at those cruel cones, thrust, point
downward, into mounds of silk and velvet, to which women adapted
themselves about 1575, 1750, and 1830, and thence, with little
mitigation, to the present day. How expressive the lines of one figure
are of health, and grace, and bounteous fulness of life! and how poor,
and sickly, and mean, and man-made the other creatures seem! See, too,
in the former, that all the wearer's limbs are as free as air; she can
even clasp her hands, with arms at full-length, above her head. Queen
Bess, yonder, could do many things, but she could not do that; neither
could your great-great-grandmothers, ladies, if they were people of the
least pretensions to fashion, nor your mothers. Can you?
[_Mrs. Grey, presuming upon her demi-toilette, with a look of arch
defiance, lifts her hands quickly up above her head; but before they
have approached each other, there is a sharp sound, as of rending and
snapping; and, with a sudden flush and a little scream, she subsides
into her crinoline_.]
_Miss Larches_. Why, you foolish creature! you might have known you
_Mr. Key_. A most ignominious failure! Mr. Grey, you had better announce
a course of lectures on costume, with illustrations from the life. Your
subjects will cost you nothing.
_Grey_. Except for silk- and mantua-making. I have no doubt that I could
make such a course useful, and Mrs. Grey has shown that she could make
it amusing. But we can get on very well as we are. Observe this figure
again. Its chief beauty is, that the gown has, or seems to have, _no
form of its own_; it adapts itself to the person, and, while that is
entirely concealed, falls round it in lines of exquisite grace and
softness, upon which the eye rests with untiring pleasure, and which,
upon every movement of the wearer, must change only for others also
beautiful. Notice also, that, although the gown forms an ample drapery,
it yet follows the contour of the figure sufficiently to taper
gracefully to the feet at the front, where it touches the floor lightly,
and presents, as it should, the narrowest diameter of the whole
figure,--not, contrary to Nature, (I beg pardon of your _modistes_,
ladies,) the widest.
_Tomes_. You needn't apologize so ceremoniously to the ladies; for
you've involved yourself in a flagrant contradiction. You said that
these two costumes were equally beautiful; and here's the lady of 1812
with her dress all clinging in little wrinkles round her feet, while the
peasant-girl's frock is wider at the bottom than it is anywhere else.
_Grey_. A most profound and logical objection, 0 Daniel! which in due
time shall be considered. But I am not now to be diverted from two other
very important elements of the beauty of these costumes of 1811 and
1812. They are in one or two, or, at most, three colors,--the tissues of
the gowns, the outer garments, (when they are worn,) and the bonnets or
head-dresses being of one unbroken tint; and they are almost entirely
free from trimming, which appears only upon the principal seams and the
edges of the garments, and then in very moderate quantity, though of
_Miss Larches_. Why, so it is! I should not have noticed that.
_Grey_. You did not notice the lack of it, because it is not required to
make the dress complete or give it character. It is only the presence
of trimming that attracts attention; its absence is never felt in
a well-designed costume.--Now turn to my pretty peasant-girl, who,
although she is not in full holiday-costume, is unmistakably "dressed,"
as ladies call it; for we see that she is going to some slight
merry-making, as she carries in her hands the shoes which are to cover
those stockingless feet. She, too, is entirely at her ease and
unconscious of her costume, except for a shy suspicion that it becomes
her, and she, it. Her waist is of its natural size and in its proper
place. Her shoulders are covered, and her arms have free play; and
although her bodice is cut rather low, the rising chemise and the
falling kerchief redeem it from all objection on that score.
_Tomes_. But how about the length, or rather the shortness, of that
skirt? It seems to me to cry _excelsior_ to the pink night-gown.
_Grey_. You are implacable as to this poor girl's petticoats. Don't you
see that her arms are bare? and yet you make no objection. Now, a woman
has legs as well as arms; and why, if it be the custom, should not one
be seen as well as the other? That girl's grandmothers, to the tenth
degree of greatness, wore skirts of just that length from their
childhood to their dying day; and why should not she? She would as soon
think of hiding her nose as her ankle; and why should she not? Besides,
as you will see, her gown is not shorter than those our grandmothers
wore, or our mothers, twenty-eight or thirty years ago; and that they
were modest, which of us will deny? And now as to the width of these
skirts. You will see that they reach only a little below the calf of
the leg, and therefore it is both impossible and undesirable that
they should fall so closely round the figure as in the case of the
fashionable gowns of 1812 that we were just examining. And besides, in
the case of our peasant-girl, we see that the lines of her gown are
determined by the outline of her figure; and we also see her feet and
the lower part of her legs. Her humanity is not extinguished, her means
of locomotion are visible;--but in looking at a lady nowadays, we see
nothing of the kind; from the waist down, she is a puzzle of silk and
conic sections, a marvellous machine that moves in a mysterious way.
See, again, how beautiful in color this peasant's costume is. The gown
of a rich red, not glaring, but yet positive and pure; the apron, blue;
she is a brunette, and so has wisely chosen to have that enviable
little shawl or kerchief, the ends of which reach but just below her
waist, of yellow; while that high head-dress, quaint and graceful, that
serves her for a bonnet, and in fact is one, is of tender green.
_Miss Larches_. She is not troubled with trimming.
_Grey_. Not troubled with it; but she has it just where it should
be,--on the bottom of her gown, which is edged with black,--in the
flowered border of her kerchief,--on the edge of her bonnet, where there
is a narrow line of yellow,--and in the lace or muslin ruffle of the
cape which falls from it If she were a queen, or the wife of a Russian
prince who owned thousands of girls like her, she might have trimming of
greater cost and beauty, but not a shred more without deterioration
of her costume, which, if she were court-lady to Eugenie and had the
court-painter to help her, could not be in better taste.
_Mrs. Grey_. But, Stanford, don't you see? (just like a man!) you are
charmed with these women, not with their dresses. These fashion-plates
of fifty years ago are designed by very different hands from those which
produce our niminy-piminy looking things,--by artists plainly; and your
peasant-girl was seized upon by some errant knight of palette and brush,
and painted for her beauty. These women are what you men call fine
creatures. Their limbs are rounded and shapely, their figures full and
lithe; they are what I've heard you say Homer calls Briseis.
_Grey_. White-armed, deep-bosomed?
_Mrs. Grey_. Yes; and their necks rise from their shoulders like ivory
towers. Any costume will look beautiful on such women. But how are poor,
puny, ill-made women to dress in such fashions? They could not wear
those dresses without exhibiting all those personal defects which our
present fashion conceals. It's all very fine for perfectly beautiful
women to have such fashions; but it's very cruel to those who are not
beautiful. Don't you remember, at Mrs. Clarkson's party, just before we
were married, you, and half a dozen other men just like you, went round
raving about Mrs. Horn, and how elegantly she was dressed? and when I
saw her, I found she had on only a plain pale-blue silk dress, that
couldn't have cost a penny more than twelve shillings a yard, and not a
thing beside. All the women were turning up their noses at her.
_Grey_. Because all the men were ready to bend down their heads to her?
_Mrs. Grey_. Yes.--No.--The upshot of it was, that the woman had the
figure and complexion of Hebe, and this dress showed it and set it off;
but the dress was nothing particular in itself.
_Grey_. That is, I suppose, it was not particularly fanciful or
costly;--no detriment to its beauty. But as to the beauty of these
costumes depending on the beauty of the women who wear them, and their
unsuitableness to the needs of women who are without beauty,--It is
undeniably true, that, to be beautiful in any costume, a woman must
be--beautiful. This may be very cruel, but there is no help for it.
Color may enhance the beauty of complexion, as in the case of Mrs.
Horn's blue dress; but as to form and material, the most elaborate, the
most costly, even the most beautiful costume ever devised, cannot make
the woman that wears it be other than she is, or seem so, except to
people who do not look at her, but at her clothes. What did all the ugly
women in 1811 and '12 do? and what have all the ugly peasant-girls in
Normandy done for hundreds of years past? Do you suppose that their
beautiful costume made them look any uglier than ugly women do now and
here? Not a whit. Ugliness may be covered, but it cannot be concealed.
And does the fashion of our day so kindly veil the personal defects in
the interest of which you plead? At parties I have thought differently,
and sorrowed for the owners of arms and busts and shoulders that
inexorable fashion condemns on such occasions to an exposure which, to
say the least, is in many cases needless. No,--by flying in the face of
fashion, a woman attracts attention to her person, which can be done
with impunity only by the beautiful; but do you not see that an ugly
woman, by conforming to fashion, obtains no advantage over other women,
ugly or beautiful, who also conform to it? and consequently, that a set
fashion for all rigidly preserves the contrasts of unequally developed
Nature? If there were no fashion to which all felt that they must
conform at peril of singularity, then, indeed, there would be some help
for the unfortunate; for each individual might adopt a costume suited to
his or her peculiarities of person. Yet, even then, there could only be
a mitigation or humoring of blemishes, not a remedy for them. There is
no way of making deformity or imperfection beautiful.
_Mrs. Grey_. But, Stanford, there are times when----
_Grey_. There are no times when woman's figure has not the charm
of womanhood, unless she attempts to improve it by some monstrous
contrivance of her own; no times when good taste and womanly tact cannot
so drape it that it will possess some attraction peculiar to her sex.
And were it not so, how irrational, how wrongful is it to extinguish, I
will not say the beauty, but, in part, the very humanity of all women,
at all times, for the sake of hiding for some women the sign of their
perfected womanhood at certain times!
_Mr. Key_. It certainly results in most astonishing surprises. In fact,
I was quite stultified the other day, when Mrs. Novamater, who only a
week before had been out yachting with me----
_Mrs. Grey_. Declined going again. That was not strange. I fear that you
did not take good care of her.
_Mr. Key_. I was not as tender of her as I might have been; but it was
her fault, or that of my ignorance,--not really mine. But, Mr. Grey, why
can't you boil all this talk down into an essay, or a paper, as you call
it, for the "Oceanic"? You promised Miss Larches something of the sort
just now. _Miss Larches_. Yes, Mr. Grey, do let us have it. We ladies
would so like to have some masculine rules to dress by!
_Tomes_. Don't confine your endeavors to one sex. Think what an
achievement it would be to teach me how to dress!
_Grey_. Unanimous, even in your irony! for I see that Mrs. Grey looks
quizzical expectation. Well, I will. In fact, I'm as well prepared as
a man whose health is drunk at a dinner given to him, and who is
unexpectedly called upon for a speech,--or as Rosina, when Figaro begs
for _un biglietio_ to Almaviva. [_Opens a drawer_.] _Eccolo qua_! Here
is something not long enough or elaborate enough to be called an essay
nowadays, though it might have borne the name in Bacon's time. I will
read it to you. I call it
THE RUDIMENTS OF DRESS.
To dress the body is to put it into a right, proper, and becoming
external condition. Comfort and decency are to be sought first in dress;
next, fitness to the person and the condition of the wearer; last,
beauty of form and color, and richness of material. But the last object
is usually made the first, and thus all are perilled and often lost; for
that which is not comfortable or decent or suitable cannot be completely
beautiful. The two chief requisites of dress are easily attained. Only a
sufficiency of suitable covering is necessary to them; and this varies
according to climate and custom. The Hottentot has them both in his
strip of cloth; the Esquimau, in his double case of skins over all
except face and fingers;--the most elegant Parisian, the most prudish
Shakeress, has no more.
The two principal objects of covering the body being so easily
attainable, the others are immediately, almost simultaneously sought;
and dress rises at the outset into one of those mixed arts which seek to
combine the useful and the beautiful, and which thus hold a middle place
between mechanic art and fine art. But of these mixed arts, dress is the
lowest and the least important: the lowest, because perfection in it is
most easily arrived at,--being within the reach of persons whose minds
are uninformed and frivolous, whose souls are sensual and grovelling,
and whose taste has little culture,--as in the case of many American,
and more French women, who have had a brief experience of metropolitan
life: the least important, because it has no intellectual or even
emotional significance, and is thus without the slightest aesthetic
purpose, having for its end (as an art) only the transient, sensuous
gratification of an individual, or, at most, of the comparatively few
persons by whom he may be seen in the course of not more than a single
day; for every renovation of the dress is, in its kind, a new work of
Art. As men emerge from the savage state and acquire mechanic skill, the
distaff, the spindle, and the loom produce the earliest fruits of their
advancement, and dress is the first decorative art in which they reach
perfection. Indeed, it may be doubted whether the most beautiful
articles of clothing, the most tasteful and comfortable costumes, have
not been produced by people who are classed as barbarous, or, at best,
as half-civilized. What fabrics surpass the shawls of India in tint or
texture? What garment is more graceful or more serviceable than the
Mexican _poncho_, or the Peruvian _rebozo_? What Frenchman is so
comfortably or so beautifully dressed as a wealthy unsophisticated
Turk? There seems to be an instinct about dress, which, joined to the
diffusion of wealth and the reduced price of all textile fabrics, has
caused it to be no longer any criterion of culture, social position,
breeding, or even taste, except as regards itself.
Dress has, however, some importance in its relations to society and to
the individual. It is always indicative of the temper of the time. This
is notably true of the wanton ease of the costume of Charles the Second,
and the meretricious artificiality of that of the middle of the last
century. And in the deliberate double-skirted costliness of the female
fashions of our own day,--fashions not intended for courts or wealthy
aristocracies, but for everybody,--contrasted as they are with the
sober-hued and unpretending habits which all men wear, and in which
little more is sought than comfort and convenience, we have an
expression of the laborious and the lavish spirit of the times,--the
right hand gathering with painful, unremitting toil, the left scattering
with splendid recklessness. Dress has an appreciable effect upon the
mental condition of individuals, whatever their gravity or intelligence.
There are few men not far advanced in years, and still fewer women, who
do not feel more confidence in themselves, perhaps more self-respect,
for the consciousness of being well-dressed, or, rather, when the
knowledge that they are well-dressed relieves them of all consciousness
upon the subject. To decide upon the costume which can secure this
serene self-satisfaction is impossible. For to excellence in dress
there are positive and relative conditions. A man cannot be positively
well-dressed, whose costume does not suit the peculiarities of
his person and position,--or relatively, whose exterior does not
sufficiently conform to the fashion of his day (unless that should be
very monstrous and ridiculous) to escape remark for eccentricity. The
question is, therefore, complicated with the consideration of individual
peculiarities and the fashion of the day, which are unknown and variable
elements. But maxims of general application can be laid down, to which
both fashions and individuals must conform at peril consequent upon
violation of the laws of reason and beauty.
The comfort and decency needful to dress--the Esquimau's double case of
skins and the Hottentot's _cumberbund_--need not be insisted on; for
maxims are not made for idiots. But dress should not only secure these
points, but seem to secure them; for, as to others than the wearer of a
dress, what difference is there between shivering and seeming to shiver,
sweltering and seeming to swelter?
Convenience, which is to be distinguished from mere bodily comfort,
is the next essential of becoming dress. A man should not go
partridge-shooting in a Spanish cloak; a woman should not enter an
omnibus, that must carry twelve inside, with her skirts so expanded by
steel ribs that the vehicle can comfortably hold but four of her,--or do
the honors of a table in hanging-sleeves that threaten destruction to
cups and saucers, and take toll of gravy from every dish that passes
them. Hoops, borrowed by bankrupt invention from a bygone age to satisfy
craving fickleness, suited the habits of their first wearers, who would
as soon have swept the streets as driven through them, packed thirteen
to the dozen, in a carriage common to every passenger who could pay six
cents; and hanging-sleeves were fit for women who, instead of serving
others, were served themselves by pages on the knee. No beauty of
form or splendor of material in costume can compensate for manifest
inconvenience to the wearer. It is partly from an intuitive recognition
of this truth, that a gown which opens before seems, and is, more
beautiful than one that opens behind. The lady's maid is invisible.
No dress is tolerable, by good taste, which does not permit, and seem to
permit, the easy performance of any movement proper to the wearer's age
and condition in life. Such a costume openly defies the first law of
the mixed arts,--fitness. Thus, the dress of children should be simple,
loose, and, whatever the condition of their parents, inexpensive. Let
them not, girls or boys, except on rare, formal occasions, be tormented
with the toilette. Give them clean skins, twice a day; and, for the
rest, clothes that will protect them from the weather as they exercise
their inalienable right to roll upon the grass and play in the dirt, and
which it will trouble no one to see torn or soiled. Do this, if you have
a prince's revenue,--unless you would be vulgar. For, although you may
be able to afford to cast jewels into the mire or break the Portland
vase for your amusement, if you do so, you are a Goth. Jewels were
not made for the mire, vases to be broken, or handsome clothes to be
soiled and torn.
Next to convenience is fitness to years and condition in life. A man can
as soon, by taking thought, add a cubit to his stature as a woman take
five years from her appearance by "dressing young." The attempt to make
age look like youth only succeeds in depriving age of its peculiar and
becoming beauty, and leaving it a bloated or a haggard sham.--Conditions
of life have no political recognition, with us, yet they none the
less exist. They are not higher and lower; they are different. The
distinction between them is none the less real, that it is not written
down, and they are not labelled. Reason and taste alike require that
this difference should have outward expression. The abandonment of
distinctive professional costume is associated with a movement of social
progress, and so cannot be arrested; but it is much to be deplored in
its effect upon the beauty, the keeping, and the harmonious contrast of
Of the absolute beauty of dress form is the most important element, as
it is of all arts which appeal to the eye. The lines of costume should,
in every part, conform to those of Nature, or be in harmony with them.
"Papa," said a little boy, who saw his father for the first time in
complete walking-costume, "what a high hat! Does your head go up to the
top of it?" The question touched the cardinal point of form in costume.
Unbroken, flowing lines are essential to the beauty of dress; and fixed
angles are monstrous, except where Nature has placed them, at the
junction of the limbs with the trunk. The general outlines of the figure
should be indicated; and no long garment which flows from the shoulders
downward is complete without a girdle.
[Footnote: _Mr. Grey_ [_in parenthesis, and by way of illustration_].
The fashion for ladies' full dress during several years, and but
recently abandoned, with its straight line cutting pitilessly across the
rounded forms of the shoulders and bust, and making women seem painfully
squeezed upward out of their gowns,--its _berthe_, concealing both the
union of the arms with the trunk and the flowing lines of that part of
the person, and adding another discordant straight line (its lower edge)
to the costume,--its long, ungirdled waist, wrought into peaks before
and behind, and its gathered swell below, is an instance in point, of
utter disregard of Nature and deliberate violation of harmony, and the
consequent attainment of discord and absurdity in every particular.
It is rivalled only by the dress-coat, which, with quite unimportant
variations, has been worn by gentlemen for fifty years. The collar of
this, when stiff and high, quite equals the _berthe_ in absurdity and
ugliness; and the useless skirt is the converse in monstrosity to the
As to distinctive forms of costume for the sexes, long robes, concealing
the person from the waist to considerably below the knee, are required
by the female figure, if only to veil certain inherent defects,--if
those peculiarities may be called defects, which adapt it to its proper
functions and do not diminish its sexual attractiveness. Woman's figure
having its centre of gravity low, its breadth at the hip great, and,
from the smallness of her feet, its base narrow, her natural movement in
a costume which does not conceal the action of the hip and knee-joints
is unavoidably awkward, though none the less attractive to the eye of
the other sex. [Footnote: For instance, the movements of ballet-dancers,
except the very artificial ones of the feet and hands.]
In color, the point of next importance, no fine effects of costume are
to be attained without broad masses of pure and positive tints. These,
however, may be enlivened with condimental garniture of broken and
combined colors. But dresses striped, or, yet worse, plaided or
checkered, are atrocious violations of good taste; indeed, party-colored
costumes are worthy only of the fools and harlequins to whose official
habits they were once set apart. The three primary, and the three
secondary colors, red, yellow, and blue, orange, green, and purple,
(though not in their highest intensity,) afford the best hues for
costume, and are inexhaustible in their beautiful combinations.
White and black have, in themselves, no costumal character; but they may
be effectively used in combination with other colors. The various tints
of so-called brown, that we find in Nature, may be employed with fine
effect; but other colors, curiously sought out and without distinctive
hue, have little beauty in themselves; and any richness of appearance
which they may present is almost always due to the fabric to which they
are imparted. Colors have harmonies and discords, like sounds, which
must be carefully observed in composing a costume. Perception of these
cannot be taught, more than perception of harmony in music; but, if
possessed, it may be cultivated.
Extrinsic ornament or trimming should be avoided, except to indicate
completeness, as at a hem,--or to blend forms and colors, as soft lace
at the throat or wrists. The essential beauty of costume is in its
fitness, form, and color; and the effect of this beauty may be entirely
frittered away by trimmings. These, however costly, are in themselves
mere petty accessories to dress; and the use of them, except to define
its chief terminal outlines, or soften their infringement upon the
flesh, is a confession of weakness in the main points of the costume,
and an indication of a depraved and trivial taste. When used, they
should have beauty in themselves, which is attainable only by a clearly
marked design. Thus, the exquisite delicacy of fabric in some kinds of
lace does not compensate for the blotchy confusion of the shapeless
flower-patterns worked upon it. Not that lace or any other ornamental
fabric should imitate exactly the forms of flowers or other natural
objects, but that the conventional forms should be beautiful in
themselves and clearly traced in the pattern.--Akin to trimmings are all
other appendages to dress,--jewels, or humbler articles; and as every
part of dress should have a function, and fulfil it, and seem to do so,
and should not seem to do that which it does not, these should never
be worn unless they serve a useful purpose,--as a brooch, a button,
a chain, a signet or guard ring,--or have significance,--as a
wedding-ring, an epaulet, or an order. [Footnote: Thus, it is the office
of a bonnet or a hat to protect the head and face; and so a sun-shade
carried by the wearer of a bonnet is a confession that the bonnet is
a worthless thing, worn only for show: but an umbrella is no such
confession; because it is not the office of the hat or bonnet to shelter
the whole person from sun or rain.] But the brooch and the button must
fasten, the chain suspend, the ring bear a device, or they sink into
pretentious, vulgar shams. And there must be keeping between these
articles and their offices. To use, for instance, a massive golden, or,
worse, gilded chain to support a cheap silver watch is to reverse the
order of reason and good taste.
The human head is the most beautiful object in Nature. It needs a
covering at certain times; but to decorate it is superfluous; and any
decoration, whether of flowers, or jewels, or the hair itself, that
distorts its form or is in discord with its outlines, is an abomination.
Perfumes are hardly a part of dress; yet, as an addition to it often
made, they merit censure, with slight exception, as deliberate
contrivances to attract attention to the person, by appealing to the
lowest and most sensuous of the senses. Next to no perfume at all, a
faint odor of roses, or of lavender, obtained by scattering the leaves
of those plants in clothes-presses, or of the very best Cologne-water,
is most pleasant.
In its general expression, dress should be cheerful and enlivening, but,
at least in the case of adults, not inconsistent with thoughtful
earnestness. There is a radical and absurd incongruity between the real
condition and the outward seeming of a man or woman who knows what life
is, and purposes to discharge its duties, enjoy its joys, and bear its
sorrows, and who is clad in a trivial, grotesque, or extravagant
costume.--These, then, are the elementary requisites of dress: that it
be comfortable and decent, convenient and suitable, beautiful in form
and color, simple, genuine, harmonious with Nature and itself.
* * * * *
_Mrs. Grey_. All very fine, and, doubtless, very true, as well as
sententious and profound. But hark you, Mr. Wiseman, to something not
dreamt of in your philosophy! We women dress, not to be simple, genuine,
and harmonious, or even to please you men, but to brave each other's
criticism; and so, when the time comes to get our Fall things, Laura and
I will go and ask what is the fashion, and wear what is the fashion, in
spite of you and your rudiments and elements.
_Grey_. I expected nothing else; and, indeed, I am not sure that in your
present circumstances I should desire you to do otherwise, or, at most,
to deviate more than slightly from the prevailing mode toward such
remote points as simplicity, genuineness, and harmony. But if you were
to set the fashion instead of following it, I should hope for better
_Mrs. Grey_. Fall things?
_Tomes_. But society has little to hope for from you, who would brand
callings and conditions with a distinctive costume. That was a part of
the essay that surprised me much. For the mere sake of a picturesque
variety, would you perpetuate the degradation of labor, the segregation
of professions, and set up again one of the social barriers between man
and man? Your doctrine is fitter for Hindostan than for America. This
uniformity of costume, of which you complain, is the great outward and
visible sign of the present political, and future social, equality of
_Grey_. You forget that the essay expressly recognizes, not only the
connection between social progress and the abandonment of distinction
in professional costume, but admits, perhaps somewhat hastily, that it
cannot be arrested, and deplores it only on the score of the beauty and
fitness of external life. If we must give up social progress or variety
of costume, who could doubt which to choose? But I do not hesitate to
assert that this uniform phase of costume is not a logical consequence
of social advancement, that it is the result of vanity and petty pride,
and in its spirit at variance with the very doctrine of equality,
irrespective of occupation or condition, from which it seems to spring.
For the carpenter, the smith, the physician, the lawyer, who, when not
engaged in his calling, makes it a point not to be known as belonging to
it, contemns it and puts it to open shame; and so this endeavor of all
men to dress on every possible occasion in a uniform style unsuited to
labor, so far from elevating labor, degrades it, and demoralizes the
laborer. This is exemplified every day, and especially on Sunday, when
nine-tenths of our population do all in their power, at cost of cash
and stretch of credit, at sacrifice of future comfort and present
self-respect and peace of mind, to look as unlike their real selves On
other days as possible. Our very maid-servants, who were brought up
shoeless, stockingless, and bonnetless, and who work day and night for
a few dollars a month, spend those dollars in providing themselves with
hoops, flounced silk dresses, and variegated bonnets for Sunday wearing.
_Tomes_. Do you grudge the poor creatures their holiday and their
_Grey_. Far from it! Let them, let us all, have more holidays, and
holiday-dresses as beautiful as may be. But I cannot see why a
holiday-dress should be so entirely unlike the dress they wear on other
days. I have a respect as well as an admiration for the white-capped,
bonnetless head of the French maid, which I cannot feel for my own
wife's nurse, when I meet her flaunting along the streets on Sunday
afternoon in a bonnet which is a cheap and vulgar imitation of that
which my wife wears, and really like it only in affording no protection
to her head, and requiring huge pins to keep it in the place where
a bonnet is least required. I have seen a farmer, whose worth,
intelligence, and manly dignity found fitting expression in the dress
that he daily wore, sacrifice this harmonious outward seeming in an
hour, and sink into insignificance, if not vulgarity, by putting on a
dress-coat and a shiny stove-pipe hat to go to meeting or to "York." A
dress-coat and a fashionable hat are such hideous habits in themselves,
that he must be unmistakably a man bred to wearing them, and on whom
they sit easily, if not a well-looking and distinguished man, who can
don them with impunity, especially if we have been accustomed to see him
in a less exacting costume.
_Mr. Key_. The very reason why every man will, at sacrifice of his
comfort and his last five dollars, exercise his right to wear them
whenever he can do so. But your idea of a beautiful costume, Mr. Grey,
seems to be a blue, red, or yellow bag, or bolster-case, drawn over the
head, mouth downwards, with a hole in the middle of the bottom for the
neck and two at the corners for the arms, and bound about the waist with
a cord; for I observe that you insist upon a girdle.
_Grey_. I don't scout your pattern so much as you probably expected.
Costumes worse in every respect have been often worn.--And the girdle?
Is it not, in female dress, at least, the most charming accessory of
costume? that which most defines the peculiar beauties of woman's form?
that to which the tenderest associations cling? Its knot has ever had
a sweet significance that makes it sacred. What token could a lover
receive that he would prize so dearly as the girdle whose office he has
so often envied? "That," cries Waller,--
"That which her slender waist confin'd
Shall now my joyful temples bind.
* * * * *
Give me but what this ribbon bound,
Take all the rest the sun goes round."
Have women taste? and can they put off this cestus with which the least
attractive of them puts on some of Venus's beauty? Have they sentiment?
and can they discard so true a type of their tender power that its mere
lengthening makes every man their servant?
_Tomes_. Your bringing up the poets to your aid reminds me that you have
the greatest of them against you, as to the importance of richness in
dress. What do you say to Shakespeare's "Costly thy habit as thy purse
can buy, but not expressed in fancy"?
_Grey_. That it is often quoted as Shakespeare's advice in dress by
people who know nothing else that he wrote, and who would have his
support for their extravagance, when, in fact, we do not know what
Shakespeare would have thought upon the subject, had he lived now. It is
the advice of a worldly-minded old courtier to his son, given as a mere
prudential maxim, at a time when, to make an impression and get on at
court, a man had need to be richly dressed. That need has entirely
_Miss Larches_. But, Mr. Grey, I remember your finding fault with
the powder on the head-dress of that _marquise_ costume, because it
concealed the red hair of the wearer. In such a case I should consider
powder a blessing. Do you really admire red hair?
_Grey_. When it is beautiful, I do, and prefer it to that of any other
tint. I don't mean golden hair, or flaxen, or yellow, but red,--the
color of dark red amber, or, nearer yet, of freshly cut copper. There is
ugly red hair, as there is ugly hair of black and brown, and every other
hue. It is not the mere name of the color of the hair that makes it
beautiful or not, but its tint and texture. I have seen black hair that
was hideous to the sight and repulsive to the touch,--other, also black,
that charmed the eyes and wooed the fingers. Fashion has asserted
herself even in this particular. There have been times when the really
fortunate possessor of such brown tresses as Miss Larches's would have
been deemed unfortunate. No troubadour would have sung her praises; or
if he did, he would either have left her hair unpraised, or else lied
and called it golden, meaning red, as we know by the illuminated books
of the Middle Ages. Had she lived in Venice, that great school of color,
two or three hundred years ago, in the days of Titian and Giorgione, its
greatest masters, she would probably have sat upon a balcony with her
locks drawn through a crownless broad-brimmed hat, and covered with dye,
to remove some of their rich chestnut hue, and substitute a reddish
tinge;--just as this lady is represented as doing in this Venetian book
of costumes of that date.
_Key_. Oh that two little nephews of mine, that the boys call Carroty
Bill and Brickdust Ben, were here! How these comfortable words would
_Grey_. I'm afraid not, if they understood me, or the poets, who, as
well as the painters, are with me, Horace's Pyrrha had red hair,--
"Cui flavam religas comam
which, if Tomes will not be severely critical, I will translate,--
"For whom bind'st back thy amber hair
In neat simplicity?"
_Mrs. Grey_. The poets are always raving about neat simplicity, or
something else that is not the fashion. I suppose they sustain you in
your condemnation of perfumes, too.
_Tomes_. There I'm with Grey,--and the poets, too, I think.
_Mrs. Grey_. What say you, Mr. Key?
_Tomes_. At least, Grey, [_turning to him_,] Plautus says, "_Mulier
recte olet ubi nihil olet_" which you may translate for the ladies, if
you choose. I always distrust a woman steeped in perfumes upon the very
point as to which she seeks to impress me favorably.
_Grey_ [_as if to himself and Tomes_]--
"Still to be powder'd, still perfum'd,
Lady, it is to be presum'd,
Though Art's hid causes are not found,
All is not sweet, all is not sound."
_Mrs. Grey_. What is that you are having to yourselves, there?
_Grey_. Only a verse or two _a-propos_ from rare Ben.
_Mrs. Grey_. What do poets know about dress, even when they are
poetesses? Look at your friend, the authoress of the "Willow Wreath."
What a spook that woman is! Where does she get those dresses? I've often
* * * * *
Here the glass door opened, and a neat, fresh-looking maid-servant said,
"Please, Ma'am, dinner is served."
_Grey_. Dinner! Have we been talking here two mortal hours? You'll
all stop, of course: don't think of declining. Nelly blushes, yonder,
doubtful, on "hospitable thoughts intent," I don't believe "our general
mother," though she had Eden for her larder, heard Adam announce the
Archangel's unexpected visit about dinner-time without a momentary qualm
as to whether the peaches would go round twice. There'll be enough for
Miss Larches and you, Nelly; and we gentlemen will beam smiles upon you
as we mince our modest share. Let us go in. Mr. Key, will you commit
yourself to Mrs. Grey? Miss Larches, will you lay aside your bonnet? Oh,
it's off already! One can't see, unless one stands behind you; and
I prefer the front view. Pray, take my arm. And, Tomes, keep at a
respectful distance in the rear, for the safety of Miss Larches's
skirts, or she will be for excluding you, if we should have a talk about
another phase of Daily Beauty, or stay away herself; and neither of you
could be spared.
Here, in this vacant cell of mine,
I picture and paint my Apennine.
In spite of walls and gyved wrist,
I gather my gold and amethyst.
The muffled footsteps' ebb and swell,
Immutable tramp of sentinel,
The clenched lip, the gaze of doom,
The hollow-resounding dungeon-gloom,
All fade and cease, as, mass and line,
I shadow the sweep of Apennine,
And from my olive palette take
The marvellous pigments, flake by flake.
With azure, pearl, and silver white,
The purple of bloom and malachite,
Ceiling, wall, and iron door,
When the grim guard goes, I picture o'er.
E'en where his shadow falls athwart
The sunlight of noon, I've a glory wrought,--
Have shaped the gloom and golden shine
To image my gleaming Apennine.
No cruel Alpine heights are there,
Dividing the depths of pallid air;
But sea-blue liftings, far and fine,
With driftings of pearl and coralline;
And domes of marble, every one
All ambered o'er by setting sun;--
Yes, marble realms, that, clear and high,
So float in the purple-azure sky,
We all have deemed them, o'er and o'er,
Miraculous isles of madrepore;
Nor marvel made that hither floods
Bore wonderful forms of hero-gods.
Oh, can you see, as spirit sees,
Yon silvery sheen of olive-trees?
To me a sound of murmuring doves
Comes wandering up from olive-groves,
And lingers near me, while I dwell
On yonder fair field of asphodel,
Half-lost in sultry songs of bees,
As, touching my chaliced anemones,
I prank their leaves with dusty sheen
To show where the golden bees have been.
On granite wall I paint the June
With emerald grape and wild festoon,--
Its chestnut-trees with open palms
Beseeching the sun for daily alms,--
In sloping valley, veiled with vines,
A violet path beneath the pines,--
The way one goes to find old Rome,
Its far away sign a purple dome.
But not for me the glittering shrine:
I worship my God in the Apennine!
To all save those of artist eyes,
The listeners to silent symphonies,
Only a cottage small is mine,
With poppied pasture, sombre pine.
But _they_ hear anthems, prayer, and bell,
And sometimes they hear an organ swell;
They see what seems--so saintly fair--
Madonna herself a-wandering there,
Bearing baby so divine
They speak of the Child in Palestine!
Yet I, who threw my palette down
To fight on the walls of yonder town,
Know them for wife and baby mine,
As, weeping, I trace them, line by line,
In far-off glen of Apennine!
THE MINISTER'S WOOING.
A GUEST AT THE COTTAGE.
Nothing is more striking, in the light and shadow of the human drama,
than to compare the inner life and thoughts of elevated and silent
natures with the thoughts and plans which those by whom they are
surrounded have of and for them. Little thought Mary of any of the
speculations that busied the friendly head of Miss Prissy, or that lay
in the provident forecastings of her prudent mother. When a life into
which all our life-nerves have run is cut suddenly away, there follows,
after the first long bleeding is stanched, an internal paralysis of
certain portions of our nature. It was so with Mary: the thousand fibres
that bind youth and womanhood to earthly love and life were all in her
as still as the grave, and only the spiritual and divine part of her
being was active. Her hopes, desires, and aspirations were all such as
she could have had in greater perfection as a disembodied spirit than as
a mortal woman. The small stake for self which she had invested in
life was gone,--and henceforward all personal matters were to her so
indifferent that she scarce was conscious of a wish in relation to
her own individual happiness. Through the sudden crush of a great
affliction, she was in that state of self-abnegation to which the
mystics brought themselves by fastings and self-imposed penances,--a
state not purely healthy, nor realizing the divine ideal of a perfect
human being made to exist in the relations of human life,--but one of
those exceptional conditions, which, like the hours that often precede
dissolution, seem to impart to the subject of them a peculiar aptitude
for delicate and refined spiritual impressions. We could not afford to
have it always night,--and we must think that the broad, gay morning
light, when meadow-lark and robin and bobolink are singing in chorus
with a thousand insects and the waving of a thousand breezes, is on the
whole the most in accordance with the average wants of those who have
a material life to live and material work to do. But then we reverence
that clear-obscure of midnight, when everything is still and dewy;--then
sing the nightingales, which cannot be heard by day; then shine the
mysterious stars. So when all earthly voices are hushed in the soul, all
earthly lights darkened, music and color float in from a higher sphere.
No veiled nun, with her shrouded forehead and downcast eyes, ever moved
about a convent with a spirit more utterly divided from the world, than
Mary moved about her daily employments. Her care about the details of
life seemed more than ever minute; she was always anticipating
her mother in every direction, and striving by a thousand gentle
preveniences to save her from fatigue and care; there was even a
tenderness about her ministrations, as if the daughter had changed
feelings and places with the mother.
The Doctor, too, felt a change in her manner towards him, which, always
considerate and kind, was now invested with a tender thoughtfulness and
anxious solicitude to serve which often brought tears to his eyes.
All the neighbors who had been in the habit of visiting at the house
received from her, almost daily, in one little form or another, some
proof of her thoughtful remembrance.
She seemed in particular to attach herself to Mrs. Marvyn,--throwing her
care around that fragile and wounded nature, as a generous vine will
sometimes embrace with tender leaves and flowers a dying tree.
But her heart seemed to have yearnings beyond even the circle of home
and friends. She longed for the sorrowful and the afflicted,--she would
go down to the forgotten and the oppressed,--and made herself the
companion of the Doctor's secret walks and explorings among the poor
victims of the slave-ships, and entered with zeal as teacher among his
Nothing but the limits of bodily strength could confine her zeal to do
and suffer for others; a river of love had suddenly been checked in her
heart, and it needed all these channels to drain off the waters
that must otherwise have drowned her in the suffocating agonies of
Sometimes, indeed, there would be a returning thrill of the old
wound,--one of those overpowering moments when some turn in life brings
back anew a great anguish. She would find unexpectedly in a book a mark
that he had placed there,--or a turn in conversation would bring back
a tone of his voice,--or she would see on some thoughtless young head
curls just like those which were swaying to and fro down among the
wavering seaweeds,--and then her heart gave one great throb of pain, and
turned for relief to some immediate act of love to some living being.
They who saw her in one of these moments felt a surging of her heart
towards them, a moisture of the eye, a sense of some inexpressible
yearning, and knew not from what pain that love was wrung, nor how that
poor heart was seeking to still its own throbbings in blessing them.
By what name shall we call this beautiful twilight, this night of
the soul, so starry with heavenly mysteries? _Not_ happiness,--but
blessedness. They who have it walk among men "as sorrowful, yet alway
rejoicing,--as poor, yet making many rich,--as having nothing, and yet
possessing all things."
The Doctor, as we have seen, had always that reverential spirit towards
women which accompanies a healthy and great nature; but in the constant
converse which he now held with a beautiful being, from whom every
particle of selfish feeling or mortal weakness seemed sublimed, he
appeared to yield his soul up to her leading with a wondering humility,
as to some fair, miraculous messenger of Heaven. All questions of
internal experience, all delicate shadings of the spiritual history,
with which his pastoral communings in his flock made him conversant, he
brought to her to be resolved with the purest simplicity of trust.
"She is one of the Lord's rarities," he said, one day, to Mrs.
Scudder, "and I find it difficult to maintain the bounds of Christian
faithfulness in talking with her. It is a charm of the Lord's hidden
ones that they know not their own beauty; and God forbid that I should
tempt a creature made so perfect by divine grace to self-exaltation,
or lay my hand unadvisedly, as Uzzah did, upon the ark of God, by my
"Well, Doctor," said Miss Prissy, who sat in the corner, sewing on the
dove-colored silk, "I do wish you could come into one of our meetings
and hear those blessed prayers. I don't think you nor anybody else ever
heard anything like 'em."
"I would, indeed, that I might with propriety enjoy the privilege," said
"Well, I'll tell you what," said Miss Prissy; "next week they're going
to meet here; and I'll leave the door just ajar, and you can hear every
word, just by standing in the entry."
"Thank you, Madam," said the Doctor; "it would certainly be a blessed
privilege, but I cannot persuade myself that such an act would be
consistent with Christian propriety."
"Ah, now do hear that good man!" said Miss Prissy, after he had left the
room; "if he ha'n't got the making of a real gentleman in him, as well
as a real Christian!--though I always did say, for my part, that a real
Christian will be a gentleman. But I don't believe all the temptations
in the world could stir that blessed man one jot or grain to do the
least thing that he thinks is wrong or out of the way. Well, I must say,
I never saw such a good man; he is the only man I ever saw good enough
for our Mary." Another spring came round, and brought its roses, and the
apple-trees blossomed for the third time since the commencement of our
story; and the robins had rebuilt their nest, and began to lay their
blue eggs in it; and Mary still walked her calm course, as a sanctified
priestess of the great worship of sorrow. Many were the hearts now
dependent on her, the spiritual histories, the threads of which were
held in her loving hand,--many the souls burdened with sins, or
oppressed with sorrow, who found in her bosom at once confessional and
sanctuary. So many sought her prayers, that her hours of intercession
were full, and often needed to be lengthened to embrace all for whom
she would plead. United to the good Doctor by a constant friendship and
fellowship, she had gradually grown accustomed to the more and more
intimate manner in which he regarded her,--which had risen from a simple
"dear child," and "dear Mary," to "dear friend," and at last "dearest of
all friends," which he frequently called her, encouraged by the calm,
confiding sweetness of those still, blue eyes, and that gentle smile,
which came without one varying flutter of the pulse or the rising of the
slightest flush on the marble cheek.
One day a letter was brought in, postmarked "Philadelphia." It was from
Madame de Frontignac; it was in French, and ran as follows:---
"MY DEAR LITTLE WHITE ROSE:--
"I am longing to see you once more, and before long [ shall be in
Newport. Dear little Mary, I am sad, very sad;--the days seem all of
them too long; and every morning I look out of my window and wonder why
I was born. I am not so happy as I used to be, when I cared for nothing
but to sing and smooth my feathers like the birds. That is the best kind
of life for us women;--if we love anything better than our clothes, it
is sure to bring us great sorrow. For all that, I can't help thinking it
is very noble and beautiful to love;--love is very beautiful, but very,
very sad. My poor dear little white cat, I should like to hold you a
little while to my heart;--it is so cold all the time, and aches so, I
wish I were dead; but then I am not good enough to die. The Abbe says,
we must offer up our sorrow to God as a satisfaction for our sins. I
have a good deal to offer, because my nature is strong and I can feel a
"But I am very selfish, dear little Mary, to think only of myself, when
I know how you must suffer. Ah! but you knew he loved you truly, the
poor dear boy!--that is something. I pray daily for his soul; don't
think it wrong of me; you know it is our religion;--we should all do our
best for each other.
"Remember me tenderly to Mrs. Marvyn. Poor mother!--the bleeding heart
of the Mother of God alone can understand such sorrows.
"I am coming in a week or two, and then I have many things to say to _ma
belle rose blanche_; till then I kiss her little hands.
"VIRGINIE DE FRONTIGNAC."
One beautiful afternoon, not long after, a carriage stopped at the
cottage, and Madame de Frontignac alighted. Mary was spinning in her
garret-boudoir, and Mrs. Scudder was at that moment at a little distance
from the house, sprinkling some linen, which was laid out to bleach on
the green turf of the clothes-yard.
Madame de Frontignac sent away the carriage, and ran up the stairway,
pursuing the sound of Mary's spinning-wheel mingled with her song; and
in a moment, throwing aside the curtain, she seized Mary in her arms,
and kissed her on either cheek, laughing and crying both at once.
"I knew where I should find you, _ma blanche_! I heard the wheel of my
poor little princess! It's a good while since we spun together, _mimi_!
Ah, Mary, darling, little do we know what we spin! life is hard and
bitter, isn't it? Ah, how white your cheeks are, poor child!"
Madame de Frontignac spoke with tears in her own eyes, passing her hand
caressingly over the fair checks.
"And you have grown pale, too, dear Madame," said Mary, looking up, and
struck with the change in the once brilliant face.
"Have I, _petite?_ I don't know why not. We women have secret places
where our life runs out. At home I wear rouge; that makes all
right;--but I don't put it on for you, Mary; you see me just as I am."
Mary could not but notice the want of that brilliant color and roundness
in the cheek, which once made so glowing a picture; the eyes seemed
larger and tremulous with a pathetic depth, and around them those bluish
circles that speak of languor and pain. Still, changed as she was,
Madame de Frontignac seemed only more strikingly interesting and
fascinating than ever. Still she had those thousand pretty movements,
those nameless graces of manner, those wavering shades of expression,
that irresistibly enchained the eye and the imagination,--true
Frenchwoman as she was, always in one rainbow shimmer of fancy and
feeling, like one of those cloud-spotted April days which give you
flowers and rain, sun and shadow, and snatches of bird-singing all at
"I have sent away my carriage, Mary, and come to stay with you. You want
me--_n'est ce pas?_" she said, coaxingly, with her arms round Mary's
neck; "if you don't, _tant pis!_ for I am the bad penny you English
speak of,--you cannot get me off."
"I am sure, dear friend," said Mary, earnestly, "we don't want to put
"I know it; you are true; you _mean_ what you say; you are all good real
gold, down to your hearts; that is why I love you. But you, my poor
Mary, your cheeks are very white; poor little heart, you suffer!"
"No," said Mary; "I do not suffer now. Christ has given me the victory
There was something sadly sublime in the manner in which this was
said,--and something so sacred in the expression of Mary's face that
Madame de Frontignac crossed herself, as she been wont before a shrine;
and then said, "Sweet Mary, pray for me; I am not at peace; I cannot get
the victory over sorrow."
"What sorrow can you have?" said Mary,--"you, so beautiful, so rich, so
admired, whom everybody must love?"
"That is what I came to tell you; I came to confess to you. But you
must sit down there" she said, placing Mary on a low seat in the
garret-window; "and Virginie will sit here," she said, drawing a bundle
of uncarded wool towards her, and sitting down at Mary's feet.
"Dear Madame," said Mary, "let me get you a better seat."
"No, no, _mignonne_, this is best; I want to lay my head in your
lap";--and she took off her riding-hat with its streaming plume, and
tossed it carelessly from her, and laid her head down on Mary's lap.
"Now don't call me Madame any more. Do you know," she said, raising her
head with a sudden brightening of cheek and eye, "do you know that there
are two _mes_ to this person?--one is Virginie, and the other is
Madame de Frontignac. Everybody in Philadelphia knows Madame de
Frontignac:--she is very gay, very careless, very happy; she never has
any serious hours, or any sad thoughts; she wears powder and diamonds,
and dances all night, and never prays;--that is Madame. But Virginie is
quite another thing. She is tired of all this,--tired of the balls, and
the dancing, and the diamonds, and the beaux; and she likes true people,
and would like to live very quiet with somebody that she loved. She is
very unhappy; and she prays, too, sometimes, in a poor little way,--like
the birds in your nest out there, who don't know much, but chipper and
cry because they are hungry. This is your Virginie. Madame never comes
here,--never call me Madame."
"Dear Virginie," said Mary, "how I love you!"
"Do you, Mary,--_bien sur?_ You are my good angel! I felt a good impulse
from you when I first saw you, and have always been stronger to do right
when I got one of your pretty little letters. Oh, Mary, darling, I have
been very foolish and very miserable, and sometimes tempted to be very,
very bad! Oh, sometimes I thought I would not care for God or anything
else!--it was very bad of me,--but I was like a foolish little fly
caught in a spider's net before he knows it."
Mary's eyes questioned her companion, with an expression of eager
sympathy, somewhat blended with curiosity.
"I can't make you understand me quite," said Madame de Frontignac,
"unless I go back a good many years. You see, dear Mary, my dear angel
mamma died when I was very little, and I was sent to be educated at the
Sacre Coeur, in Paris. I was very happy and very good, in those days;
the sisters loved me, and I loved them; and I used to be so pious, and
loved God dearly. When I took my first communion, Sister Agatha prepared
me. She was a true saint, and is in heaven now; and I remember, when I
came to her, all dressed like a bride, with my white crown and white
veil, that she looked at me so sadly, and said she hoped I would never
love anybody better than God, and then I should be happy. I didn't think
much of those words then; but, oh, I have since, many times! They used
to tell me always that I had a husband who was away in the army, and who
would come to marry me when I was seventeen, and that he would give me
all sorts of beautiful things, and show me everything I wanted to see in
the world, and that I must love and honor him.
"Well, I was married at last; and Monsieur de Frontignac is a good brave
man, although he seemed to me very old and sober; but he was always kind
to me, and gave me nobody knows how many sets of jewelry, and let me
do everything I wanted to, and so I liked him very much; but I thought
there was no danger I should love him, or anybody else, better than God.
I didn't _love_ anybody in those days; I only liked people, and some
people more than others. All the men I saw professed to be lovers, and I
liked to lead them about and see what foolish things I could make them
do, because it pleased my vanity; but I laughed at the very idea of
"Well, Mary, when we came to Philadelphia, I heard everybody speaking of
Colonel Burr, and what a fascinating man he was; and I thought it would
be a pretty thing to have him in my train,--and so I did all I could to
charm him. I tried all my little arts,--and if it is a sin for us women
to do such things, I am sure I have been punished for it. Mary, he was
stronger than I was. These men, they are not satisfied with having the
whole earth under their feet, and having all the strength and all the
glory, but they must even take away our poor little reign;--it's too
"I can't tell you how it was; I didn't know myself; but it seemed to me
that he took my very life away from me; and it--was all done before I
knew it. He called himself my friend, my brother; he offered to teach me
English; he read with me; and by-and-by he controlled my whole life. I,
that used to be so haughty, so proud,-I, that used to laugh to think
how independent I was of everybody,--I was entirely under his control,
though I tried not to show it. I didn't well know where I was; for he
talked friendship, and I talked friendship; he talked about sympathetic
natures that are made for each other, and I thought how beautiful it all
was; it was living in a new world. Monsieur de Frontignac was as much
charmed with him as I was; he often told me that he was his best
friend,--that he was his hero, his model man; and I thought,----oh,
Mary, you would wonder to hear me say what I thought! I thought he was a
Bayard, a Sully, a Montmorenci,--everything grand and noble and good.
I loved him with a religion; I would have died for him; I sometimes
thought how I might lay down my life to save his, like women I read of
in history. I did not know myself; I was astonished I could feel so; and
I did not dream that this could be wrong. How could I, when it made me
feel more religious than anything in my whole life? Everything in the
world seemed to grow sacred. I thought, if men could be so good and
admirable, life was a holy thing, and not to be trifled with.
"But our good Abbe is a faithful shepherd; and when I told him these
things in confession, be told me I was in great danger,--danger of
falling into mortal sin. Oh, Mary, it was as if the earth had opened
under me! He told me, too, that this noble man, this man so dear, was a
heretic, and that, if he died, he would go to dreadful pains. Oh, Mary,
I dare not tell you half what he told me,--dreadful things that make me
shiver when I think of them! And then he said that I must offer myself a
sacrifice for him; that, if I would put down all this love, and overcome
it, God would perhaps accept it as a satisfaction, and bring him into
the True Church at last.
"Then I began to try. Oh, Mary, we never know how we love till we try to
unlove! It seemed like taking my heart out of my breast, and separating
life from life. How can one do it? I wish any one would tell me. The
Abbe said I must do it by prayer; but it seemed to me prayer only made
me think the more of him.
"But at last I had a great shock; everything broke up like a great,
grand, noble dream,--and I waked out of it just as weak and wretched as
one feels when one has overslept. Oh, Mary, I found I was mistaken in
him,--all, all, wholly!"
Madame de Frontignac laid her forehead on Mary's knee, and her long
chestnut hair drooped down over her face.
"He was going somewhere with my husband to explore, out in the regions
of the Ohio, where he had some splendid schemes of founding a state; and
I was all interest. And one day, as they were preparing, Monsieur de
Frontignac gave me a quantity of papers to read and arrange, and among
them was a part of a letter;--I never could imagine how it got there; it
was from Burr to one of his confidential friends. I read it, at first,
wondering what it meant, till I came to two or three sentences about
Madame de Frontignac paused a moment, and then said, rising with sudden
"Mary, that man never loved me; he cannot love; he does not know what
love is. What I felt he cannot know; he cannot even dream of it, because
he never felt anything like it. Such men never know us women; we are as
high as heaven above them. It is true enough that my heart was wholly in
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