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“I have calculated the manner in which statesmen and persons of condition passed their time and what with drinking and dining, and supping and cards, wonder how they got through with their business at all.” The fine gentleman rose late, and sauntered in the Mall - the fashionable promenade which we are told was always full of idlers, but especially so morning and evening when their Majesties often walked with the royal family. After his walk the society man, dressed elaborately and in his periwig, cocked hat, skirt-coat wired to make it stick out, ruffled linen, black silk hose, square-toed shoes, and buckles, gaily betook himself to the coffee-house or chocolatehouse. Here he lounged, and over the steaming cup discussed the latest news from abroad, from Parliament, from society. As there were few conveniences in the homes for entertaining, it was the custom to dine with a friend or two at the tavern, where hilarity prevailed, and drunkenness was a trifling incident, attaching no shame or disgrace to the offender. Dinner over, the coffee-house again, or possibly the club, occupied the attention, and the theatre or gamingtable finished the day for this man of quality who perhaps had no uneasy consciousness of time wasted.
And the life of the fine lady was equally purposeless. The social pulse may always be determined by the position of woman; and woman in this period neither commanded nor received respect. In the middle classes might be found many a practical mother who enjoyed her household duties, and was content in the four walls of her home. But throughout the higher classes the fine lady was not supposed to be a homekeeper; she was not supposed to be educated; she was not required to be more refined than was consistent with present pleasure. Nothing was done, and nothing was expected to be done, to bring into action those nobler qualities which we now recognize as essential to womanhood. Society existed for men; and woman was admitted, not because of her inherent right to be there to purify, to uplift, to inspire, but because she could amuse and charm away a weary hour while she idly flirted her fan, and gave inane responses to the insipid compliments of the vain, conceited beaux.
One of these social ornaments tells us how she spent her time. She says, “I lie in bed till noon, dress all the afternoon, drive in the evening, and play at cards till midnight;" and adds that she goes to church twice a year or oftener, according as her husband gives her new clothes, and spends the remainder of Sabbath in gossiping of “new fashions and new plays.” A lady's diary in Spectator reads: “Shifted a patch for half an hour before I could determine it. Fixed it above my left eyebrow;" and again, “ Called for my flowered handkerchief. Worked half a leaf on it. Eyes ached and head out of order. Threw by my work, and read over the remaining part of Aurengzebe.” When driven by ennui to books, she chose — if choice it could be called when there were so few other books available -- “ lewd plays and winning romances,” thus serving to heighten the superficial atmosphere in which she lived.
But prominent in society was the young beau - of whom our dude of the nineteenth century is a feeble copy -- who imitated the fine gentlemen in all their weaknesses and sins, intensifying them in his "airy conceit and lofty flippancy. He, too, frequented the Mall, coffee-house, and theatre, hobnobbing with other beaux as aimless and brainless as himself, boasting the charms of his many friends, and his latest conquest. His dress, which was usually of bright colors, occupied much of his attention, and his cane and ever-present snuff-box much more.
6. He scorns to condescend so low as to speak of any person beneath the dignity of a nobleman; the Duke of such a place, and my Lord such a one, are his common cronies, from whom he knows all the secrets of the court, but does not impart 'em to his best friend because the Duke enjoined him to secrecy.” He was so happily unconscious of his own vacuity that he paraded his weakness, thinking it wisdom. Yet, insufferable as
he seems to us, “ he was an institution of the times," and was petted and adored by the ladies.
Society was permeated with corrupt ideas and morals, and the strange fact is that these were openly accepted and approved. No man had confidence in his neighbor because he knew of his own unworthiness, and could conceive of no reason why his companion should care to be better than he was himself. Robert Walpole's declaration, that every man has his price, was then painfully true, and nobody denied it or seemed ashamed of the fact. The unusual was not that men should be bad, but that they should be good. Men priding themselves on their honor, and engaging in a duel to prove this so-called honor as readily as they ordered their horses for hunting, yet slandered the iadies, flirted outrageously with other men's wives, cheated at cards, and contracted debts they knew they were unable to pay. Women pretending to be friends, lost no opportunity of back-biting and defaming one another. Social gatherings were based, not on merit of individuals, nor congeniality of taste, but on a feverish craving for excitement and admiration, or the laudable desire to kill time.
Men might talk rationally and sensibly when with one another, but in the presence of women they uttered the most shallow commonplaces and vapid compliments, and were applauded as witty. Through all conversation there was an undercurrent of insincerity and sham deference. Addison notes this and makes his protest.
“ The world is grown so full of dissimulation and compliment that men's words are hardly any significance of their thoughts." Accompanying this most extravagant flattery often to mere strangers — was the greatest freedom in personal relations, and all reserve was classed as prudish and affected.
Both men and women gambled openly and excessively, staking even their clothes when purses were empty. Ward, speaking of a group of this class, said: “ They are gamesters waiting to pick up some young bubble or other as he comes from his chamber; they are men whose conditions are subject to more revolutions than a weathercock, or the uncertain mind of a fantastical woman. They are seldom two days in one and the same stations; they are one day very richly dressed, and perhaps out at elbows the next;
" and of woman that 66
were she at church in the height of her devotions, should anybody but stand at the church door and hold up the knave of clubs, she would take it to be a challenge, and starting from her prayers, would follow as a deluded traveller his ignis fatuus.” Furious as they all were when they lost, and prone to laxity in money matters, they yet looked upon a gambling debt as one necessary to be paid. “Why, sir, among gentlemen, that debt is looked upon the most