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Luxury of Female Attire_Its pernicious Effects A Love of
Dress to be checked instead of encouraged-Its Consequences to the Lower Class of Females_Good Taste in Dress—Dress in Advanced Life-A Love of Dress detrimental to the Character of the Aged_Modern Female Accomplishments. Their Character and Intention_Their Interference with Domestic Duties, and generally Deteriorating Effect-Display and Matrimonial Scheming destructive of Female Happiness and Respectability_Celibacy not necessarily productive of Unhappiness-Unrecognized Claims and Merits of Single Women.
Among the serious consequences of a growing love of ostentation, may be reckoned the present luxury of female attire.* This passion for expensive and fashionable clothes, entails more misery, and is productive of more actual vice, than most persons
* When the Roman women clamoured for, and by dint of importunity obtained, the repeal of the Oppian Law, which had been introduced by Caius Oppius, plebeian tribune, during the heat of the Punic war, and which enacted that no woman should possess more than half an ounce of gold, or wear a garment of various colours, or ride in a carriage drawn by horses, in a city or town, or any place nearer thereunto than one mile, except on occasion of some public religious solemnity, Cato, with his wonted inexorable firmness, opposed the measure, in a speech familiar to every reader of Roman history. Some of his remarks are, however, strikingly applicable to our present subject. “ Often have you heard nie complain,” says he, “ of the profuse expenses of the women-often of those of the men, and that not only of men in private stations, but of the magistrates and that the state was endangered by two opposite vices, luxury and avarice: those pests
would be willing to admit. " A little harmless vanity,” say they; “surely, nothing very dreadful can come of that? It is only becoming in a re
which have ever been the ruin of every great state. These I dread the more, as the circumstances of the commonwealth grow daily more prosperous and happy-as the empire increases—as we have passed over into Greece and Asia, places abounding with every kind of temptation that can inflame the passions and as we have begun to handle even royal treasures; for I greatly fear that these matters will rather bring us into captivity than we them. In the memory of our fathers, Pyrrhus, by his ambassadors, made trial of the dispositions not only of our men, but of our women also, by offers of presents: at that time the Oppian Law for restraining female luxury had not been made, and yet not one wo man accepted a present. What think you was the reason ? That for which our ancestors made no provision by law on this subject: there was no luxury existing which might be restrained. If Cineas were now to go round the city with his presents, he would find numbers of women standing in the public streets to receive them. Of all kinds of shame, the worst, surely, is the being ashamed of frugality, or poverty ; but the law releases you with regard to both. You want only that which is unlawful for you to have. “This equalization,' says the rich matron, “is the very thing that I cannot endure.' Why do not I make a figure, distinguished with gold and purple? Why is the poverty of others concealed under this cover of a law, so that it should be thought, that if the law permitted, they would have such things as they are not now able to procure? Romans, do you wish to excite among your wives an emulation of this sort, that the rich should wish to have what no other can have; and that the poor, lest they should be despised as such, should extend their expenses beyond their abilities? Be assured, that when a woman once begins to be ashamed of what she ought not to be ashamed of, she will not be ashamed of what she ought."
I have said that this is applicable to our own times. It might, indeed, be England, instead of Romeçour English ladies, instead of Roman matrons against whom Cato delivered his well-merited
“Why do not I make a figure, distinguished in gold and purple ?" is in the heart, if not in the mouths of the vain, the emulous and the covetous of these days, which, I regret to add, comprise nine-tenths of the female population of Great Britain, affecting the happiness and respectability of all, both rich and poor, although differing in mode and in degree.
ITS PERNICIOUS EFFECTS.
spectable man's wife or daughters to cut a decent figure in the world!” and so forth. Such persons do not look far enough into the matter, and would not believe us, were we to tell them that there is not a Christian virtue which this harmless love of dress is not able to undermine. It were not too much to say, that no moral excellence whatever can exist where the love of dress prevails to any great degree. Like avarice, it closes the heart to all the gentle charities of life; for being itself insatiable, it cannot afford to be charitable. It is idolatry little less gross than that of heathenism, and produces, intellectually, almost equal darkness: since occupying the thoughts and time entirely, it admits not either of the cultivation of the mind or the regulation of the heart. The perceptions, all directed to one object, become obtuse in regard to every other not connected with it. An utter insensibility is evinced towards the beauties of nature and the noblest, most perfect works of art. On that one point, however, they are sufficiently acute. Nothing relating to dress ever escapes
the notice of a woman fond of it. She is an oracle in respect to every change of fashion, and will describe, with wonderful accuracy, the form, colour, and arrangement of personal ornament belonging to any individual she happens to meet with in company; thus proving, that it is not the faculty itself that is defective, but that it is misdirected.
Envy of all who possess the means of obtaining greater personal decoration than herself, is the
natural consequence. Envy, competition, and irreconcilable hatred. Every body has read the story of Brunetta and Phillis, in The Spectator: those two young beauties, whose childish intimacy, “like two cherries on one stalk," so close, so affectionate, was changed into animosity and rivalry by a love of dress, at the age of fifteen, taking possession of their minds. “Thenceforth,” says their historian, “instead of being beheld any more with pleasure for their amity to each other, the eyes of the neighbourhood were turned to remark them with comparison of their beauty. They now no longer enjoyed the ease of mind in which they were formerly happy; but all their words and actions were misinterpreted by each other, and every excellence in their speech and behaviour was looked upon as an act of emulation to surpass the other. These beginnings of disinclination soon improved into a formality of behaviour, a general coldness, and, by natural steps, into an irreconcilable hatred. Their nights grew restless with meditation of new dresses to outvie each other, and inventing new devices to recall admirers who observed the charms of the one rather than the other, on the last meeting. Their colours faded at each other's appearance, flushed with pleasure at the report of a disadvantage, and their countenances withered upon instances of applause. The decencies to which women are obliged, made these virgins stifle their resentment, so far as not to break into open violences, while they equally suffered the
A LOVE OF DRESS TO BE CHECKED.
torments of a regulated anger. Their mothers, as it is usual, engaged in the quarrel, and supported the several pretensions of the daughters with that ill chosen sort of expense which is common with people of plentiful fortunes and mean taste.” What a picture! and yet it might be matched, I fear, in real life at the present day. And thus, we are told, these rival beauties continued their competition and their animosity, the scene of their rivalry changing from Cheapside to Barbadoes, until the final catastrophe, brought about by a piece of brocade, drove the defeated rival for ever from the field.
“The coverings of our bodies," says Locke, s which are for modesty, warmth, and defence, are, by the folly or vice of parents, recommended to their children for other uses. They are made matter of vanity and emulation: a child is set a longing after a new suit, for the finery of it; and when the little girl is tricked up in her new gown or commode, how can her mother do less than teach her to admire herself by calling her, her little Queen, and her Princess? Thus the little ones are taught to be proud of their clothes before they can put them on; and why should they not continue to value themselves for this outside fashionableness of the tailor or tirewoman's making, when their parents have so early instructed them to do so? Clothes, when they need, they must have; but if they speak for this stuff or that colour, they shall be sure to want it."
Without allowing the inclination to amount to