Tag Archives: 18th century fashion

The Lover’s Lawsuit: 1761

MONDAY, JULY 27.

“SIR,

I was left a thousand pounds by an uncle, and being a man, to my thinking, very likely to get a rich widow, I laid aside all thoughts of making my fortune any other way, and without loss of time made my applications to one who had buried her husband about a week before. By the help of some of her she-friends, who were my relations, I got into her company when she would see no man besides myself and her lawyer, who is a little, shrivelled, spindle-shanked gentleman, and married to boot, so that I had no reason to fear him. Upon my first seeing her, she said in conversation within my hearing, that she thought a pale complexion the most agreeable either in man or woman: now, you must know, sir, my face is as white as chalk. This gave me some encouragement, so that to mend the matter, I bought a fine flaxen long wig that cost me thirty guineas, and found an opportunity of seeing her in it the next day. She then let drop some expressions about an agate snuff-box. I immediately took the hint and bought one, being unwilling to omit any thing that might make me desirable in her eyes. I was betrayed after the same manner into a brocade waistcoat, a swordknot, a pair of silver-fringed gloves, and a diamond ring. But whether out of fickleness, or a design upon me, I cannot tell; but I found by her discourse, that what she liked one day she disliked another: so that in six months space I was forced to equip myself above a dozen times.

A carved agate snuffbox. A lover and his dog? http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O157792/snuffbox-unknown/

A carved agate snuffbox. A lover and his dog? http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O157792/snuffbox-unknown/

As I told you before, I took her hints at a distance, for I could never find an opportunity of talking with her directly to the point. All this time, however, I was allowed the utmost familiarities with her lap-dog, and have played with it above an hour together, without receiving the least reprimand, and had many other marks of favour shown me, which I thought amounted to a promise. If she chanced to drop her fan, she received it from my hands with great civility. If she wanted any thing, I reached it for her. I have filled her tea-pot above an hundred times, and have afterwards received a dish of it from her own hands. Now, sir, do you judge if after such encouragements she was not obliged to marry me. I forgot to tell you that I kept a chair by the week, on purpose to carry me thither and back again.

Not to trouble you with a long letter, in the space of about a twelvemonth I have run out of my whole thousand pound upon her, having laid out the last fifty in a new suit of clothes, in which I was resolved to receive her final answer, which amounted to this, that she was engaged to another; that she never dreamt I had any such thing in my head as marriage; and that she thought I had frequented her house only because I loved to be in company with my relations. This, you know, sir, is using a man like a fool, and so I told her; but the worst of it is, that I have spent my fortune to no purpose. All, therefore, that I desire of you is, to tell me whether, upon exhibiting the several particulars which I have here related to you, I may not sue her for damages in a court of justice. Your advice in this particular will very much oblige

“Your most humble admirer,

“Simon Softly.”

Before I answer Mr. Softly’s request, I find myself under a necessity of discussing two nice points: first of all, what it is, in cases of this nature, that amounts to an encouragement; and, secondly, what it is that amounts to a promise. Each of which subjects requires more time to examine than I am at present master of. Besides, I would have my friend Simon consider, whether he has any council that would undertake his cause in forma pauperis, he having unluckily disabled himself, by his own account of the matter, from prosecuting his suit any other way.

In answer, however, to Mr. Softly’s request, I shall acquaint him with a method made use of by a young fellow in King Charles the Second’s reign, whom I shall here call Silvio, who had long made love, with much artifice and intrigue, to a rich widow, whose true name I shall conceal under that of Zelinda. Silvio, who was much more smitten with her fortune than her person, finding a twelvemonth’s application unsuccessful, was resolved to make a saving bargain of it, and since he could not get the widow’s estate into his possession, to recover at least what he had laid out of his own in the pursuit of it.

In order to this he presented her with a bill of costs; having particularized in it the several expences he had been at in his long perplexed amour. Zelinda was so pleased with the humour of the fellow, and his frank way of dealing, that, upon the perusal of the bill, she sent him a purse of fifteen hundred guineas, by the right application of which, the lover, in less than a year, got a woman of greater fortune than her he had missed. The several articles in the bill of costs I pretty well remember, though I have forgotten the particular sum charged to each article.

Laid out in supernumerary full-bottom wigs.

Fiddles for a serenade, with a speaking trumpet.

Gilt paper in letters, and billet-doux with perfumed wax.

A ream of sonnets and love verses, purchased at different times of Mr.Triplett at a crown a sheet.

To Zelinda two sticks of May cherries.

Last summer, at several times, a bushel of peaches.

Three porters whom I planted about her to watch her motions.

The first, who stood sentry near her door. The second, who had his stand at the stables where her coach was put up.

The third, who kept watch at the corner of the street where Ned Courtall lives, who has since married her.

Two additional porters planted over her during the whole month of May. Five conjurors kept in pay all last winter.

Spy-money to John Trott her footman, and Mrs. Sarah Wheedle her companion.

A new Conningsmark blade to fight Ned Courtall.

To Zelinda’s woman (Mrs. Abigal) an Indian fan, a dozen pair of white kid gloves, a piece of Flanders lace, and fifteen guineas in dry money.

Secret service-money to Betty at the ring.

Ditto, to Mrs. Tape the mantua-maker.

Loss of time.

The Spectator No. 97 Thursday July 9, 1761

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil can do no better than direct her readers to this similar legal proceeding from 1898, with a (temporarily) happier ending. Plus ça change

Mrs Daffodil wishes all of her readers the happiest of St. Valentine’s Days and offers a fervent hope that no solicitors will be involved.

For last year’s Valentine story of a lonely-hearts advertisement, see here.

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.

 

 

A Mind Filled with Gloves, Silks, and Ribbons: 1710

 

A Lady, Charles Boit, c. 1710 From the Victoria and Albert Museum Collection

A Lady, Charles Boit, c. 1710 From the Victoria and Albert Museum Collection

[I]f ladies will take my word for it, (and as they dress to please men, they ought to consult our fancy rather than their own in this particular,) I can assure them, there is nothing touches our imagination so much as a beautiful woman in a plain dress. There might be more agreeable ornaments found in our own manufacture, than any that rise out of the looms of Persia.

This, I know, is a very harsh doctrine to womankind, who are carried away with everything that is showy, and with what delights the eye, more than any other species of living creatures whatsoever. Were the minds of the sex laid open, we should find the chief idea in one to be a tippet, in another a muff, in a third a fan, and in a fourth a farthingale. The memory of an old visiting lady is so filled with gloves, silks, and ribbons, that I can look upon it as nothing else but a toy-shop. A matron of my acquaintance, complaining of her daughter’s vanity, was observing, that she had all of a sudden held up her head higher than ordinary, and taken an air that showed a secret satisfaction in herself, mixed with a scorn of others. “I did not know,” says my friend, “what to make of the carriage of this fantastical girl, until I was informed by her eldest sister, that she had a pair of striped garters on.” This odd turn of mind often makes the sex unhappy, and disposes them to be struck with everything that makes a show, however trifling and superficial.

 Many a lady has fetched a sigh at the toss of a wig, and been ruined by the tapping of a snuff-box. It is impossible to describe all the execution that was done by the shoulder-knot while that fashion prevailed, or to reckon up all the maidens that have fallen a sacrifice to a pair of fringed gloves. A sincere heart has not made half so many conquests as an open waistcoat; and I should be glad to see an able head make so good a figure in a woman’s company as a pair of red heels. A Grecian hero, when he was asked whether he could play upon the lute, thought he had made a very good reply, when he answered, “No ; but I can make a great city of a little one.” Notwithstanding his boasted wisdom, I appeal to the heart of any toast in town, whether she would not think the lutenist preferable to the statesman? I do not speak this out of any aversion that I have to the sex; on the contrary, I have always had a tenderness for them; but, I must confess, it troubles me very much to see the generality of them place their affections on improper objects, and give up all the pleasures of life for gewgaws and trifles.  

Mrs. Margery Bickerstaff, my great aunt, had a thousand pounds to her portion, which our family was desirous of keeping among themselves, and therefore used all possible means to turn off her thoughts from marriage. The method they took was, in any time of danger, to throw a new gown or petticoat in her way. When she was about twenty-five years of age, she fell in love with a man of an agreeable temper and equal fortune, and would certainly have married him, had not my grandfather, sir Jacob, dressed her up in a suit of flowered satin; upon which she set so immoderate a value upon herself, that the lover was contemned and discarded. In the fortieth year of her age she was again smitten; but very luckily transferred her passion to a tippet, which was presented to her by another relation who was in the plot. This, with a white sarsenet hood, kept her safe in the family until fifty. About sixty, which generally produces a kind of latter spring in amorous constitutions, my aunt Margery had again a colt’s tooth in her head; and would certainly have eloped from the mansion-house, had not her brother Simon, who was a wise man and a scholar, advised to dress her in cherry-coloured ribbons, which was the only expedient that could have been found out by the wit of man to preserve the thousand pounds in our family, part of which I enjoy at this time.

The Tatler, Richard Steele, 28 March 1710

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: We have previously heard from a German alienist who felt that an interest in fashion was a kind of insanity, as well as the various persons who decreed the requirements for “perfect beauty.”  And here we have another gentleman advising those trifling and superficial ladies on their dress.  Harsh doctrine indeed from a person who benefited so substantially from a suit of flowered satin and cherry-coloured ribbons.

A Relentlessly Informative note: The fictional Mr Isaac Bickerstaff Esq. is understood to be the editor of The Tatler and the author of the piece above. This was the pen-name used by Jonathan Swift for several extraordinarily popular satirical letters “predicting” the death of a well-known astrologer. Mr Steele took advantage of this excitement to increase the circulation of his paper by listing Bickerstaff as editor.

 

An Academy For the Training Up of Young Women in the Exercise of the Fan: 1761

Lady with a Fan, Alexander Roslin, 1768

Lady with a Fan, Alexander Roslin, 1768

I do not know whether to call the following letter a satire upon coquettes, or a representation of their several fantastical accomplishments, or what other title to give it; but as it is I shall communicate it to the publick. It will sufficiently explain its own intention, so that I shall give it to my reader at length, without either preface or postscript.

Mr. Spectator,

Women are armed with fans as men with swords, and sometimes do more execution with them. To the end therefore that ladies may be intire mistresses of the weapon which they bear, I have erected an academy for the training up of young women in the Exercise of the Fan, according to the most fashionable airs and motions that are not practiced at court. The ladies who carry fans under me are drawn up twice a-day in my great hall, where they are instructed in the use of their arms, and exercised by the following words of command.

Handle your fans,

Unfurl your fans,

Discharge your fans,

Ground your fans

Recover your fans,

Flutter your fans.

By the right observations to these few plain words of command, a woman of tolerable genius, who will apply herself diligently to her exercise for the space of but one half-year, shall be able to give her fan all the graces that can possibly enter into that little modish machine.

But to the end that my readers may form to themselves a right notion of this Exercise, I beg leave to explain it to them in all its parts. When my female regiment is drawn up in array, with every one her weapon in her hand, upon my giving the word to handle their fans, each of them shakes her fan at me with a smile, then gives her right-hand woman  tap upon the shoulder, then presses her lips with the extremity of her fan, then lets her arms fall in an easy motion, and stands in a readiness to receive the next word of command. All this is done with a closed fan, and is generally learned in the first week.

The next motion is that of unfurling the fan, in which are comprehended several little flirts and vibrations, as also gradual and deliberate openings, with many voluntary fallings asunder in the fan itself, that are seldom learned under a month’s practice. This part of the Exercise pleases the spectators more than any other, as it discovers on a sudden an infinite number of Cupids, garlands, altars, birds, beasts, rainbows, and the like agreeable figures, that display themselves to view, whilst every one in the regiment holds a picture in her hand.

Upon my giving the word to discharge their fans, they give one general crack that may be heard at a considerable distance when the wind sits fair. This is one of the most difficult parts of the Exercise, but I have several ladies with me, who at their first entrance could not give a pop loud enough to be heard at the farther end of a room, who can now discharge a fan in such a manner, that it shall make a report like a pocket-pistol. I have likewise taken care (in order to hinder young women from letting off their fans in wrong places or unsuitable occasions) to shew upon what subject the crack of a fan may come in properly. I have likewise invented a fan, with which a girl of sixteen, by the help of a little wind which is inclosed about one of the largest sticks, can make as loud a crack as a woman of fifty with an ordinary fan.

When the fans are thus discharged, the word of command in course is to ground their fans. This teaches a lady to quit her fan gracefully when she throws it aside in order to take up a pack of cards, adjust a curl of hair, replace a falling pin, or apply herself to any other matter of importance. This part of the exercise, as it only consists in tossing a fan with an air upon a long table (which stands by for that purpose) may be learned in two days’ time as well as in a twelve-month.

When my female regiment is thus disarmed, I generally let them walk about the room for some time; when on a sudden (like ladies that look upon their watches after a long visit) they all of them haste to their arms, catch them up in a hurry, and place themselves in their proper stations upon my calling out, Recover your fans. This part of the exercise is not difficult, provided a woman applies her thoughts to it.

The Fluttering of the fan is the last, and indeed the master-piece of the whole exercise; but if a lady does not misspend her time, she may make herself mistress of it in three months. I generally lay aside the dog-days, and the hot time of the summer for the teaching this part of the exercise; for as soon as ever I pronounce Flutter your fans, the place is filled with so many zephyrs and gentle breezes, as are very refreshing in that season of the year, though they might be dangerous to ladies of a tender constitution in any other.

There is an infinite variety of motions to be made use of in the Flutter of a fan: There is the angry flutter, the modest flutter, the timorous flutter, the confused flutter, the merry flutter, and the amorous flutter. Not to be tedious, there is scarce any emotion of the mind which does not produce a suitable agitation in the fan; insomuch, that if I only see the fan of a disciplined lady, I know very well whether she laughs, frowns, or blushes. I have seen a fan so very angry, that it would have been dangerous for the absent lover who provoked it to have come within the wind of it; and at other times so very languishing, that I have been glad for the lady’s sake the lover was at a sufficient distance from it. I need not add, that a fan is either a prude or coquette, according to the nature of the person who bears it. To conclude my letter, I must acquaint you that I have from my own observations compiled a little treatise for the use of my scholars, intitled The passions of the fan; which I will communicate to you, if you think it may be of use to the publick. I shall have a general review on Thursday next; to which you shall be very welcome if you will honour it with your presence.

I am, &c.

P.S. I teach young gentlemen the whole art of gallanting a fan.

N.B. I have several little plain fans made for this purpose, to avoid expence.

The Spectator, No. 102, 27 June 1761

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has previously posted on the 1919 revival of the fan here, which also addresses the various sorts of flutters and their effects. In this post, on some historic fans, she points out the fan’s potential as weapon. This post , with its whimsical illustration, tells of a young person fancifully dressed as the Princess Royal’s wedding fan.

The protocol outlined by the lady above was still in effect 120 years later:

A novel public entertainment was given in St. Louis a few nights ago for the benefit of one of the churches of that city. It was a “fan-drill” given by twelve beautiful young ladies thoroughly trained to the work, the object being to illustrate the uses of the fan as an interpreter of the various emotions. Elkhart [IN] Daily Review 27 January 1881: p. 2

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.