Obrázky stránek

now a solecism, a barbarity, an offence to taste, a scandal to the shears. No, this is the characteristic, the very essence of the idol : we call to it fervently as Macbeth did to the unembodied dagger, “ Come, let me clutch thee;" we call in vain! Let the time come when there can exist ten thousand men of fashion (in the close application of the word) in England, and the face of nature must be changed, the constitution of man himself broken and revolutionized.

The results of fashion being the same in all forms of society, and under every modification of appearance, so are the individuals who may properly be said to control that influence. They are alike in their feelings in relation to others. A man of fashion in Pall Mall or Melville Island, is in constant contradiction, not only to all society, but to himself. He despises his fellow worms, because they are unlike him, while he is in anxious and unceasing activity to prevent such a degrading approximation. He possesses the power of keeping in the van, and heaps contumely on those whom he does not permit to approach ; like the vanity of the fore-wheel of a carriage boasting that the posterior one never overtakes it. He treats those who are not successful rivals with contempt; and those who are, with hatred. Neither does he own any greater degree of kindness for those who are his equals, even though at such a distance that he need not entertain any fear of obstruction in the range of his own particular influence. He is not content to occupy his own orbit, but despises those who move in any other. Only suppose placed by any concurrence of circumstances in one apartment, a Bond Street, a Place du Carousel, and a North Pole Man of Fashion. Think of the cold contempt, and the silent but proud disdain, of the two first, and the loud screech of unbridled laughter from the polished and dexterous seal catcher, the glory of his tribe! A genuine votary of fashion in one latitude or other, must of necessity be an antisocial man, although it is only in society he can obtain the object of his earnest desire, the delight of his soul. Strange paradox.

As there is not, nor can be, any real community of feeling between coeval men of fashion, so neither is any posthumous respect shown to those in whose steps they follow. All authority is denied, even to those who could tell us as country epitaphs do, “ I was once "what you are now." Fashion despises the sacred tie of ancestry. Every man of fashion is as much bound to ridicule and neglect the external glory of the past century, as of the past year. Like a young eagle just out of the best and fresh on the wing, he owns no parentage, acknowledges no kindred, the beauty of bis plumage and bravery of his strength is his own, his present fancy his only guide. There is something in this fact awfully depressing. Eminent as you may be, the idol of the day, the unapproachable director of change, your time will surely come when you will be treated as an outcast, a nothing---yes: last out your time, let tailors and friseurs do their office ---hold the reins until the palsied, withering hand reluctantly dismisses them---be a man of fashion until three score and ten if you please, yet the next generation will hold you in contempt as relatively

[ocr errors]


barbarous; you will, if remembered at all, be the hissing and the scorn of your successors. Nay, not only those who succeed you in empire, but the nation at large, positively the mob, will cast their scurril gibes upon you as a by.gone dandy, a model of depraved taste, a sample of the past---an antique !

How must it move to melancholy, when a man of fashion, in all the pride and conscious dignity of being the very dictator, the Cæsar of the empire of taste, attends our national theatres! when he witnesses the dress and manners of the past age brought upon the stage for comic effect, and looked upon, even by the galleries, with as much levity as a mountebank's party-colored coat, regarded as the wanton mimicry of caricature. There is enough, one would think, in such a moral spectacle to moderate the most unassuaged passion for fashionable fame. Ah ! look upon that beau of a century past. Look at his powdered and essenced wig, his fringed neck-cloth, his lace, his ruffles, and embroidered satin, his polished cane! Was ever such a man the envy of admiring crowds, the very apex, the top stone of fashionable life? Impossible. His first entrance is now greeted with a derisive smile, even from the present race of men of fashion, the inheritors of his glory. Heavens! who can believe him ever to have been a fashionable man, a man holding the same relative chieftainship as Brummell once held, and as H now holds ? Is it true that he was all this? Yes: then ye Brummells, ye ye


upon him as the prototype of what you will one day become. Draw, for once, some moral from the scene. Consider that “ the fashion of this world passeth away.” Yes: you, at no distant day, perhaps, will certainly become what he is now, the subject of ribald jests, of profane scorn; yea, of mob contempt and jocularity!

Surely a very little share of philosophical reflection should serve to repress the vain glory of modern fashion. The representation of antiquated finery would cease to move us to smiles of contempt, if we did but pause to consider. But who would ever laugh if they did consider? Hobbes tells us that laughter is produced in all cases by the idea of our own present superiority being forced upon our attention. It is, for this reason, that refined wit, yielding a very different kind of mental emotion, is not productive of much laughter. The laugh of a man of fashion, however, is originated precisely by this despicable vanity, this presumptuous self-conceit. He hears of the manners of the past, he witnesses the just delineation of other times, or of other countries; his soul, trammelled by habit, takes in only one mean view of the whole, he contrasts his own assumed superiority, and glee and merriment are the sentiments of his mind. He decides that

every circumstance which differs from himself and his own practices, as it yields no agreeable association to his mind, must be immeasurably inferior, must of necessity be gross and unideal. All the while the truth existing that there is no kind of inherent superiority of one form of dress, one style of furniture, one system of external manners, over another. The dress and manners of the court and

drawing room of St. James's, can boast no degree of elevation or natural refinement over those of the court of the King of Leetakoo ! Every custom or external decoration of life, in one climate or the other, which has no immediate connection with morals, is in every sense on a natural, an indisputable equality.

It is in the highest degree curious to observe the operation of this overweening conceit in fashion, in a national point of view. A traveller like Sir John Carr, or any other dunce, who fails to get a living by honest industry, puts up a couple of shirts in a bag, and sets sail on a journey of observation. In the true spirit of cockney wonder, he notes down as marvels, that in the first country the men kiss each other's cheeks; in a second, the form of salutation is a gentle or brisk rubbing of noses according to the ardor of congratulation; in a third, that hospitality is shown by washing the feet of the guest; in another, that train oil and blubber ointments exhibit tokens of the most exalted and cordial respect. And so of dress and decoration. Some carry rings in their noses, others in their ears; some wear untanned skins, others no skins but their own; some wear breeches of a peculiar cut, some none at all. The whole nation is filled with laughter and derision at these accounts. They look round on each other with smiles, and with hearts swelling with gratitude, thank God that their lots have been cast in a happy land, where no such barbarous and unnatural habits obtain, where men reserve the kisses for their female friends, and where good kerseymeres may often be obtained ---upon credit!

The duty of a traveller is to see and relate things as they exist, his deductions and reasonings are no better than other people's, no better because he is a traveller. It is very right that we should know about this rubbing of noses and knocking of foreheads, but desperately foolish that we should swell with pride at our own fancied superiority; let our own most approved fashions be honestly related in black and white, and we should be ready to swear they were the manners of a newly-discovered island, and appeal to the Committee of the Missionary Society. “ The chief inhabitants sometimes as“semble in considerable numbers in a large building erected for that “purpose, the sides of which are divided by small compartments, “ which are allotted according to the power and rank of the visitors “and chiefs. A portion of the floor, which is partitioned from the “ rest, is occupied by a number of performers of a kind of noisy and “ discordant music. This music consists of the simultaneous exer“ tions of many instruments. The greatest number of these instru“ ments consists of small boxes of wood, over which the intestines of some animal are tightly strained. These are held in the left hand ; “ the right holds a wooden stick, by which a number of hairs from “ the tail of a borse are extended. These sticks are then scraped “sharply on the strings, which produces a squeaking and vibratory " sound. There are also some kinds of wooden tubes or whistles “ which accompany the former, and altogether produce sounds which

are unlike any thing in nature, are hideous beyond description, " and must be heard to be adequately conceived. Then some na

“ tives who are bred up from infancy to the art, and receive a stipu“lated hire, come forward on an elevated floor, and recite amatory "verses in long drawn sounds alternately high and low, accompanied “ with the most grotesque inflexions and shakings of the voice. We

were overcome with laughter, but the natives seemed to listen with

great composure, and very frequently shewed their approbation by "a loud clapping of hands and exclamations of approval. Many of “the females wore birds' feathers in their head dresses, which waving " as they moved their heads, had a pleasing effect. They also had “ the lower extremity of their ears perforated, in which was sus“pended a white and glittering species of glass.

The manners and habits of the private associations of the na“ tives are absurd to the last degree. We were invited to what we were told was an assembly of men of influence with their families. The company did not assemble until near midnight. The only

amusement at all general, was a most extraordinary and solemn “ kind of dancing. A number of performers on the same kind of “ wooden boxes as we have just described, were present. They

began their squeaking noises, and suddenly every male advanced, “ leading the female of his choice by the hand unto the middle of " the floor. They forined into small companies, independent of each “other standing in squares, those in the parties facing each other; " at a given signal many began to hop on each leg alternately in a “prescribed direction, so that the whole party seemed to be actively “engaged—the instruments playing loudly the whole time. Their mode of dancing seemed to us chiefly to consist in certain vibratory “ motions of the feet and legs, and altogether had to us a very grave “ and formal appearance. During the intervals of the music, con“ versation ensued, and we were told that these were the chosen op“ portunities in which affairs of love frequently had their origin, and " which often led to the marriage of the younger natives. We had “ reason to believe the ties of wedlock are not very rigidly observed

among them. The same occupation was repeated without inter“ mission or variety, until the conclusion of the entertainment.”

Where can these ridiculous customs prevail-in Nootka Sound? No, it is an autograph account by one of the late unhappy Sandwich savages, who were crammed by kindness to suffocation and death, giving a description of the Italian Opera and of Lady G-'s quadrille party : show me any thing in Captains Parry or Lyon more unnatural than this, with less moral meaning or intelligence, and our theory falls to the ground. Now what in the popular acceptation of the term is the proper province of fashion? It seems to rule especially in dress, equipage, furniture, diversions, compliments, the modification of language and colloquial idioms. These, though not all, are the most important of its agents, its channels of operation and influence. Well, then, with regard to dress: turn to Lord Kames,

will find some very good reasons for putting on covering to the body, and some still better for putting it off. His lordship, after reflection and observation, decides for nudity as being more favorable

[ocr errors]

and you

to morals; but, like poor Smart in Bedlam, who remarked that he and the world differed in opinion-he thought. the world mad, and they believed him to be so, and the majority had prevailed,—the world and Lord Kames have disagreed, and people have, for some reasons best known to themselves, put on clothes of various forms, figures, and materials. In what, then, is one form of dress to be preferred to another ? Convenience and adaptation for use! Surely no man of fashion will admit this test. By what influence on the mind does a certain form grow to be agreeable, and overcome all the force of long continued custom? Fashion breaks through the most inveterate ties of habit, as well as of pig-tails.

First of all we hear people talk about dignity of dress, the flowing robe, the majesty of drapery and fur, the toga of the ancients! just as though there existed in nature some power in yards of cloth and velvet irresistibly to bring to our minds notions of greatness and wisdom. We look at a piece of statuary, and remark on the surpassing beauty and simplicity of the robe, and contrast it with the meanness of our square-tailed coats and starched neck-cloths; and yet if any one actually appeared abroad in such a remnant, he would have a commission of lunacy, the quickest of all chancery processes, after him in a trice. We never see a bag wig without thinking of the drawing room of King George. We then go into our courts of law, and see our judges with loads of powdered horse-hair on their heads and shoulders, and pronounce for the natural dignity of wigs. Why even Mr. — the great and little vulgar for a wise man, merely on the authority of his well-ordered peruke, his lime and horse-hair. His barber is his best friend---let him hang up his wig on its peg, and then---If loose folds of cloth so forcibly convey notions of dignity; if Mr. Fuller's object of derision, the Speakers wig, is essential wisdom---there are less robes worn than there ought to be; and Alderman Wood and Lord Calthorpe had better bargain forth with in Lincoln's Inn for castoff wit and authority.

But the truth is, that the dignity which is vulgarly attached to these external distinctions, rests precisely on the same foundation that we say that Captain R-in or out of regimentals is the best dressed man in the world. Who intends to say it is the inherent nature of his morning frock, or the collar of his dress coat, that gives us the notion of a well-informed, active, and most agreeable companion? Let him wear seal-skin breeches and a ring in his nose for one month, and every body who approached him would go away sa. tisfied that nothing in life was half so charming as felt smalls and nose tunnelling. The course of fashion, under all circumstances and situations, is this---In all gradations of society, from the barbarous to what is called the most refined, there are qualities which must be admired, independent of any external decoration or appearance whatever. Thus, in savage life the most dexterous and adventurous hunter, or he of the most inflexible courage, is so distinguished by these qualities, that he has only to assume certain forms of dress and

passes with

« PředchozíPokračovat »