The Ladies’ Man: 1892

gentleman under the lens

The ladies’ man is a species of the masculine sex rarer in the present days than of 20 years ago. He is still, however, to be met with in a modified form, although he does not figure as the hero, not even of the Young Ladies’ Journal stories, men of a stronger type pushing him to the rear. In the days when croquet was the game he was in his glory. That gentle exercise gave him fit opportunities for exchanging those courtesies with the gentler sex in which his soul delights, and enabled him without appearing in the disadvantage of deshabille, to simulate something like the excitement in which the athlete delights. Propelled from beneath a well-shaped, well-booted foot, the merry balls flew. The ladies’ man proper would do many things of a hard nature sooner than appear to a disadvantage before the ladies. Any amusement which demands a negligence of dress is viewed with disfavour by him, and if there be the faintest loophole he introduces the picturesque, with himself as the leading figure. He would not, were he to take a party of ladies for a row, be seen in a shabby slouched hat and unbecoming jersey, but seizes the opportunity the occasion allows and makes a picture of himself.

He has the right kind of clothes for every occasion, and keeps them, if not in a bandbox, somewhere where dust and crinkles cannot touch them for at church, at the kettledrum, at concert, theatre, or dance, his appearance is faultless, and he can well submit to the smiles of his male companions if only the ladies look approvingly his way.

The ladies. In those two words lie the motive of his existence. They are his creed, his hope, his ambition, and his politics. To please them is his highest aim, and in this he is an adept. Long study of all their little whims and ways has made the task an easy one to him and while other men are awkward and blundering men, perhaps, who carry all before them in intellectual and athletic fields in a drawing room he is as much at home and as perfectly at his ease as the hostess herself. If he sings, he knows the songs to reach the hearts under lace and velvet, and the half-contemptuous looks of the men which seem to say sentimental twaddle are but compliments to him, taken in conjunction with the smiles on rosy lips. At a picnic he is in his element. While men who out-do him at shooting and riding are clumsily upsetting things, or trying to eat in the most ungraceful attitudes, he smilingly and unruffled flys from one lady to another, anticipating their wants, and unearthing just what they desire, earning for himself, by his indefatigable amiability and attention, smiles and thanks enough to make him a happy man for a week. On all those occasions where the sexes meet it is the same. Nothing pertaining to his forte is overlooked. Those little services which other men, because of their trivial nature, forget or neglect are as much his mission as it is a butterfly’s to flit from flower to flower.

The bouquet for Miss Smith on the night of the dance, the wreath and cards of condolence for Mrs Jones, the ticket for the boat race for the Misses Brown —all are thought of and promptly attended to. He posts the letters for Miss A., books seats for Mrs B., calls on Miss C., sends fruit to Miss D., disposes of a dozen ticket 3 for Mrs E.’s raffle, all in one short morning, makes half a dozen duty calls, and appears at Mrs F.’s 5 o’clock tea, looking as though he had been living up till that moment of his life for that hour alone. The Misses G. secure him for their tableaux, and Mrs H. insists upon him taking part in her private theatricals, while the curate’s daughters use him at the decoration seasons. All the morning of Christmas Eve he is directing Christmas cards, and all the afternoon in perilous positions on ladders, tacking up floral mottos on church walls. The ladies all like him became he is so obliging. Those little matters with which their brothers, fathers, husbands, and lovers “can’t be bothered” the ladies’ man is “charmed” to perform. He will walk three miles in the hot sunshine to execute a commission for the plainest woman of his acquaintance and declare it was a pleasure. He sips weak tea at afternoons as though the greatest wish of his heart had been gratified, and stands reverentially at the piano turning the leaves for a girl whom other men neglect. Is it great vanity, or great unselfishness, or a mixture of the two that makes this man voluntarily and persistently offer himself a martyr at woman’s shrine from day to day?

He gains nothing by it, he seems to hope nothing, for generally he is not a marrying man. His mild love-making and boundless attentions are distributed without apparent preference. Any lady is privileged to command if she will. Not because she is the lady of all others to him has she the power to make him her servant, subservient to her desires, but because she is a lady is she entitled to rule. All the homage which he evinces concentrated upon one woman would make her regard herself as much adored. He would not think twice about breaking a promise to a man to oblige a woman. The gentler sex come first with him always, and the reason “for a lady” seems sufficient for him to urge to vindicate himself upon any occasion. Usually the men leave him to his own devices, he is one of them but not with them, nor does he seem conscious of any loss on the other hand it seems incomparable gain to him to feel that his name is on the visiting list of the most desirable ladies in town. No breach of etiquette ever gets him into bad favour he knows just the fitting thing to do and say upon every occasion, and does and says it.

At a wedding he is radiant; he is equally at his ease at a christening; and at a funeral he looks as though the sun of his life had set for ever. Whether he is over-sensitive or heartless, whether he has had his heart broken, or never had one to break, remains a mystery he appears to be a polite automaton of gentle acts and words—an embodiment of courtesies. Whether he gets old and tired and crabby, and ultimately dies like other people, I do not know. Usually he glides out of a community like he glided in, and some time after when his name is referred to, somebody says Oh, yes, I remember now—l had nearly forgotten him— wasn’t he a ladies’ man?”

Otago [NZ] Witness, 3 November 1892: p. 41

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A delicate portrait of one who seems to live only to be of service to Womanhood. Yet, there is a more sinister side to the ladies’ man.

Now, we should wish to say a word or two in the ears of young ladies on this point ere closing. The ladies’-man owes his existence as such to you. In maintaining him in such a state you do yourselves a moral wrong—injuring your own position in society. See how! John Somers, a thriving young merchant, is introduced to Miss Julia Likely, a very engaging, affable, and worthy young lady. He feels a desire for further acquaintance, calls, finds her at home with her sisters, but Augustus, the dangler, is there, entertaining her and the company with his unmeaning nonsense, and engaging the whole attention of the party to himself. John calls again, the same scene is enacted; and again, but still finds Augustus at his post: at last leaves off. A friend inquires, ‘John, why, you never visit Miss Julia now?’—’ Oh,bother Miss Julia!’ replies John; ‘she’s a very pleasant girl, no doubt, but that booby Augustus Herbertym is perpetually lounging about the house. One can’t tell what to think of the lady; for my part, I’d as soon not have a wife who delighted in such silly company.’ Julia wonders why John never calls now. He was a very pleasant sensible young man. She is sorry he is gone, but can see no reason for his abrupt cessation of visiting. Could he find any fault with her? she thinks not. Look, young lady, at that simpering vacant countenance, and at that neatly adjusted and polished exterior, beneath which one great or generous thought never lurked, as he stands at your side smoothing his glove and affecting airs sufficient to disgust all his sex. Look there, we say, and you will find an answer to your thoughts; you will see how honesty has been vanquished by vanity—Intentions sacred and honourable routed off the field by the sight of No Intentions—and remember it is all your own fault. Look now reflectively. Do not injure your own position in society, your own chances of marriage, your own happiness. Do not increase your reputation as a flirt or coquette, and advance the probability of an ultimate garret, by maintaining such a creature dallying around you. Act wisely and prudently, then, for your own sakes as well as for the sake of the subject of our sketch. You will not only benefit yourselves, but commit an act of genuine philanthropy by setting your faces steadfastly against such an anomalous wag as The Ladies’-man. Hogg’s Weekly Instructor, James Hogg, 1837: p. 211

You have been warned, ladies….

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


3 thoughts on “The Ladies’ Man: 1892

    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Perhaps The New Woman was the lady’s equivalent: bluff, hearty, slapping men on the back and inviting them to go for a row on the river, “Old Cock.” Or lighting men’s cigars for them–after she lights her own. Gaiters and bicycle bloomers. One shudders…



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