Зображення сторінки

and posterity laughs with derision at the ridiculous portraits of its grandmothers. The poet might have addressed a beauty forced into this fashion, as he did his devoted heroine in those celebrated lines :

“No longer shall the bodice, aptly laced,
From thy full bosom to thy slender waist,
That air and harmony of shape express,
Fipe by degrees, and beautifully less.”

Prior's Henry and Emma.
No: it was

"Gaunt all at once, and hideously little.” It was like a pottle of strawberries, with two oranges at the top of it. Now-a-days it is the fashion to look like an hour-glass, or a huge insect, or any thing else cut in two, and bolstered out at head and feet. A fashion that gracefully shews the figure is one thing : a fashion that totally conceals it, may have its merits; but voluntarily to accept puffed shoulders in lieu of good ones, and a pinch in the ribs for a body like that of the Venus de' Medici, is what no woman of taste should put up with, who can avoid it. They are taking her in. The levelling rogues know what they are about, and are for rendering their crook backs and unsatisfactory waists indistinguishable. If the levelling stopped here, it might be pardonable. Fair play is a jewel, that one wishes to see every body enriched by. But as fashion is naturally at variance with beauty, it is also at variance with health. The more a woman sacrifices of the one, the more she loses of the other. Thick legs are the least result of these little waists. Bad lungs, bad livers, bad complexions, death, melancholy, and worse than all, rickety and melancholy children, are too often the undeniable consequences of the tricks that fashion plays with the human body. By a perverse spirit of justice, the children are revenged on the parents; and help, when they grow up, to pervert those who have the advantage of them.

It is a truism to say that a waist should be neither pinched in nor shapeless, neither too sudden nor too shelving, &c. but a natural unsophisticated waist, properly bending when at rest, properly falling in when the person is in motion. But truisms are sometimes as necessary to repeat in writing, as to abide by in painting or sculpture. The worst of it is, they are not always allowed to be spoken of. For instance, there is a truism called a hip. It is surely a very modest and respectable joint, and of great use to the rising generation ; a sculptor could no more omit it in a perfect figure, than he could omit a leg or an arm : and yet, by some very delicate chain of reasoning, known only to the double refined, not merely the word, but the thing, was suppressed about twenty years back. The word vanished : the joint was put under the most painful restrictions : it seemed as if there were a Society for the Suppression of Hips. The fashion did not last, or there is no knowing what would have become of us. We should have been the most melancholy, hipped, unhipped generation, that ever walked without our proper dimensions. Moore's Almanack would have contained new wonders for us. Finally, we should have gone out, wasted, faded, old maided-and-bachelored ourselves away, grown

“Fine by degrees and beautifully less," till a Dutch jury (the only survivors) brought in the verdict of the

polite world,--Died for want of care in the mother. At present a writer may speak of hips, and live. Nay, the fancies of the men seem to have been so wrought upon by the recollection of those threatening times, that they have amplified into hips themselves, and even grown pigeon-breasted. Such are the melancholy consequences of violating the laws of Nature.

A true female figure, then, is falling and not too broad in the shoulders; moderate, yet inclining to fulness rather than deficiency, in the bosom ; gently tapering, and without violence of any sort, in the waist ; naturally curving again in those never-to-be-without-apologyalluded-to hips; and finally, her bouyant lightness should be supported upon natural legs, not at all like a man's; and upon feet, which, though little, ought to be able to support all the rest. Ariosto has described a foot,

“ The short, the neat, the little rounded foot." The shortness, however, is not to be made by dint of shoes. It must be natural. It must also be not too short. It should be short and delicate, compared with that of the other sex; but sufficient for all purposes of walking, and running, and dancing, and dispensing with tight shoes; otherwise it is neither handsome in itself, nor will give rise to graceful movements. It is better to have the sentiment of grace in a foot, than a forced or unnatural smallness. The Chinese have three ideas in their heads :—tea, the necessity of keeping off ambassadors, and the beauty of small feet. The way in which they caricature this beauty, is a warning to all dull understandings. We make our feet bad enough already by dint of squeezing. Nations with shoes have no proper feet, like those who wear sandals. But the Chinese out-pinch an Inquisitor. I have seen a model of a lady's foot of that country, in which the toes fairly turned underneath. They looked as if they were almost jammed into and made part of the sole. In the British Museum, if I remember, there is a pair of shoes that belonged to such a foot as this, which are shewn in company with another pair, the property of Queen Elizabeth. Her Majesty stood upon no ceremony in that matter, and must have stamped to some purpose.

But what are beautiful feet, if they support not, and carry about with them, other graces? What are the most harmonious proportions, if the soul of music is not within ? Graceful movement, an unaffected elegance of demeanour, is to the figure what sense and sweetness are to the eyes. It is the soul looking out. It is what a poet has called the thought of the body." The ancients, as the moderns do still in the south, admired a stately carriage in a woman : though the taste seems to have been more general in Rome than Greece. It is to be observed, that neither in Greece nor Rome had the women at any time received that truly feminine polish, which renders their manners a direct though not an unsuitable contrast to those of the other sex. It was reserved for the Goths and their chivalry to reward them with this refinement; and their northern descendants have best preserved it. The

*«Il breve, asciutto, e ritondetto piede."

walk which the Latin poets attribute to their beauties, is still to be seen in all its stateliness at Rome. “Shall I be treated in this manner ?” says Juno, complaining of her injured dignity,"I, who walk the queen of the gods, the sister and the wife of Jove ?"*—Venus, meeting Æneas, allows herself to be recognized in departing :

" In length of train descends her sweeping gown,
And by her graceful walk the queen of love is known.":

DRYDEN. A stately verse :—but known is not strong enough for patuit, and Virgil does not say “the queen of love,” but simply the goddess—the divinity. The walk included every kind of superiority. It is the step of Homer's ladies. "Of Troy's proud dames whose garments sweep the ground."

Pope. The painting has more of Rubens than Raphael ; and I could not help thinking, when I was in Italy, that the walk of the females had more spirit than feminine grace. They know nothing of the swimming voluptuousness with which our ladies at court used to float into the drawing-room with their hoops ; or the sweet and modest sway bither and thither, a little bending, with which a young girl shall turn and wind about a garden by herself, half serious, half playful. Their demeanour is sharper and more vehement. The grace is less reserved. There is, perhaps, less consciousness of the sex in it, but it is not the most modest or touching on that account. The women in Italy sit and sprawl about the doorways in the attitudes of men. Without being viragoes, they swing their arms as they walk. There is infinite selfpossession, but no subjection of it to a sentiment. The most graceful and modest have a certain want of retirement. Their movements do not play inwards, but outwards : do not wind and retreat upon themselves, but are developed as a matter of course. If thought of, they are equally suffered to go on, with an unaffected and crowning satisfaction, conquering and to conquer. This is evidently the walk that Dante admired.

“Sweetly she goes, like the bright peacock; straight

Above herself, like to the lady crane." This is not the way we conceive Imogen or Desdemona to have walked.

The head is too stiffily held up; admiration is too much courted : there is a perking consciousness in it, as if the lady, like the peacock, could spread out her shawl the next minute, and stand for us to gaze at it.

The carriage of Laura, Petrarch's mistress, was gentle; but she was a Provençal, not an Italian. He counts it among the four principal charms, which rendered him so enamoured. They were all identified

Ego, quæ divum incedo regina,” &c.

* 66


“Pedes vestis defluxit ad imos, Et vera incessu patuit Dea.” " Soave a guis va di un bel pavone ; Diritta sopra se, come una grua."

with a sentiment. There was her carriage or walk; her sweet looks; her dulcet words ; and her kind, modest, and self-possessed demeanour.

“From these four sparks it was, nor those alone,

Sprung the great fire, that makes me what I am,

A bird nocturnal, warbling to the sun." And in another beautiful sonnet, where he describes her sparkling with more than her wonted lustre, he says,

“ Her going was no mortal thing; but shaped

Like to an angel's." Now this is the difference between the walk of the ancient and modern heroine ; of the beauty classical and Provençal, Italian and English. The one was like a goddess's, stately and at the top of earth ; the other is like an angel's, humbler but nearer heaven.

It is the same with the voice. The southern voice is loud and uncontrolled; the women startle you, bawling and gabbling in the summer air. In the north, the female seems to bethink her of a thousand delicate restraints ; her words issue forth with a sort of cordial hesitation. They have a breath and apprehensiveness in then, as if she spoke with every part of her being.

“ Her voice was ever soft, gentle, and low,

An excellent thing in woman." SHAKSPEARE. As the best things, however, are the worst when spoiled, it is not easy to describe how much better the unsophisticated bawling of the Italian is, than the affectation of a low and gentle voice in a body full of furious passions. The Italian nature is a good one, though run to excess. You can pare it down. A good system of education would as surely make it a fine thing morally, as good training renders Italian singing the finest in the world. But a furious English woman affecting sweet utterance !—“ Let us take any man's horses," as Falstaff says.

It is an old remark, that the most beautiful women are not always the most fascinating. It may be added, I fear, that they are seldom

The reason is obvious. They are apt to rely too much on their beauty ; or to give themselves too many airs. Mere beauty ever was, and ever will be, but a secondary thing, except with fools. And they admire it for as little time as any body else ; perhaps not so long. They have no fancies to adorn it with. If this secondaùy thing fall into disagreeable ways, it becomes but a fifth or sixth-rate thing, or nothing at all, or worse than nothing. We resent the unnatural mixture. We shrink from it, as we should from a serpent with a beauty's head. The most fascinating women, generally speaking, are those that possess the finest powers of entertainment. In a particular and attaching sense, they are those that can partake our pleasures and our pains in the liveliest and most devoted manner. Beauty is little without this. With it, she is indeed triumphant, unless affection for a congenial object has forestalled her. In that case, fascination fixed carries the day hollow against fascination able to fix. I speak only of hearts capable of being fixed as well as fascinated ; nor are they so few, as it is the interest of too many to make out. A good heart, indeed, requires little to fix it, if the little be good, and devoted, and makes it the planet round which it turns.


** E con l'andar, e col soave sguardo,

S'accordan le dolcissime parole,
E l'atto mansueto, umile, e tardo.
Di tai quattro faville, e non già sole,
Nasce 'l gran foco di ch' io vivo ed ardo :

Che son fatto un augel notturno al sole."-Sonnet 131. In this sonnet is the origin of a word of Milton's, not noticed by the commen. tators.

" With store of ladies, whose bright eyes

Rain influence.-L'Allegro.
Da begli occhi un piacer sì caldo piore.
“ So warm a pleasure rains from her sweet eyes."
"Non era l'andar suo cosa mortale,

Ma d'angelica forma."-Sonnet 68.

I reckon myself a widower, though I was never wedded ; and yet with all my love for a departed object, a sympathizing nature would inevitably have led me to love again, had not travelling and one or two other circumstances thrown me out of the way of that particular class of my countrywomen, among whom I found the one, and always hoped to meet with the other. When I do, she may, or may not, as it happens, be beautiful; but the following charms, I undertake to say, she will and must have; and as they are haveable by others, who are not in possession of beauty, I recommend them as an admirable supply. They are far superior to the shallower perfections enumerated in this paper, and their only preservative where they exist.

Imprimis, an eye whether blue, black, or grey, that has given me the kindest looks in the world, and is in the habit of looking kindly on others.

Item, a mouth–I do not choose to say much about the mouth, but it must be able to say a good deal to me, and all sincerely. Its teeth, kept as clean as possible, must be an argument of cleanliness in general; and, finally, it must be very good-natured to servants, and to friends who come in unexpectedly to dinner.

Item, a figure which shall preserve itself, not by neglecting any of its duties, but by good taste and exercise, and the dislike of gross living. I would have her fond of all the pleasures under the sun, except those of tattling, and the table, and ostentation.

Fourthly, a power to like a character in a book, though it is not an echo of her own. Fifthly, a great regard for the country. Item, a hip.

« НазадПродовжити »