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It is observed among birds, that Nature has lavished all her ornaments upon the male, who very often appears in a most beautiful head-dress; whether it be a crest, a comb, a tuft of feathers, or a natural little plume, erected like a kind of pinnacle on the very top of the head. As Nature, on the contrary, has poured out her charms in the greatest abundance upon the female part of our species, so they are very assiduous in bestowing upon themselves the finest garnitures of art. The peacock, in all his pride, does not display half the colours that appear in the garments of a British lady, when she is dressed either for a ball or a birth-day.
But to return to our female heads. The ladies have been for some time in a kind of moulting season, with regard to that part of their dress, having cast great quantities of ribbon, lace, and cambric, and in some measure reduced that part of the human figure to the beautiful globular form which is natural to it. We have for a great while expected what kind of ornament would be substituted in the place of those antiquated commodes. But our female projectors were all the last summer so taken up with the improvement of their petticoats, that they had not time to attend to anything else? but having at length sufficiently adorned their lower parts, they now begin to turn their thoughts upon the other extremity, as well remembering the old kitchen proverb, That if you light a fire at both ends, the middle will shift for itself.
I am engaged in this speculation by a sight which I lately met with at the opera. As I was standing in the hinder part of the box, I took notice of a little cluster of women sitting together in the prettiest coloured hoods that I ever saw. One of them was blue, another yellow, and another philomot; the fourth was of a pink colour, and the fifth of a pale green. I looked with as much pleasure upon this little party-coloured assembly, as upon a bed of tulips, and did not know at first whether it might not be an embassy of Indian queens; but upon my going about into the pit, and taking them in front, I was immediately undeceived, and saw so much beauty in every face, that I found them all to be
'But, began this sentence, and therefore can have no business here. One of them should be omitted: if the last, a new sentence should begin at this place. But I think the first had better been struck out.
2 Philomot, a faint, brownish yellow, like that of a dead leaf. "Feuille morte."
English. Such eyes and lips, cheeks and foreheads, could be the growth of no other country. The complexion of their faces hindered me from observing any further the colour of their hoods, though I could easily perceive by that unspeakable satisfaction which appeared in their looks, that their own thoughts were wholly taken up on those pretty ornaments they wore upon their heads.
I am informed that this fashion spreads daily, insomuch that the Whig and Tory ladies begin already to hang out different colours, and to show their principles in their headdress. Nay, if I may believe my friend Will. Honeycomb, there is a certain old coquette of his acquaintance, who intends to appear very suddenly in a rainbow hood, like the Iris in Dryden's Virgil, not questioning but that among such a variety of colours she shall have a charm for every heart.
My friend Will., who very much values himself upon his great insights into gallantry, tells me, that he can already guess at the humour a lady is in by her hood, as the courtiers of Morocco know the disposition of their present emperor by the colour of the dress which he puts on. Melesinda wraps her head in flame colour, her heart is set upon execution. When she covers it with purple, I would not, says he, advise her lover to approach her; but if she appears in white, it is peace, and he may hand her out of her box with safety.
Will. informs me likewise, that these hoods may be used as signals. Why else, says he, does Cornelia always put on a black hood when her husband is gone into the country?
Such are my friend Honeycomb's dreams of gallantry. For my own part, I impute this diversity of colours in the hoods to the diversity of complexion in the faces of my pretty country-women. Ovid, in his Art of Love, has given some precepts as to this particular, though I find they are different from those which prevail among the moderns. He recommends a red striped silk to the pale complexion, white to the brown, and dark to the fair. On the contrary, my friend Will., who pretends to be a greater master in this art than Ovid, tells me, that the palest features look the most agreeable in white sarcenet, that a face which is over-flushed appears to advantage in the deepest scarlet, and that the darkest complexion is not a little alleviated by a black hood. In short, he is for losing the colour of the face in that of the
hood, as a fire burns dimly, and a candle goes half out, in the light of the sun. This, says he, your Ŏvid himself has hinted, where he treats of these matters, when he tells us that the Blue Water-nymphs are dressed in sky-coloured garments; and that Aurora, who always appears in the light of the rising sun, is robed in saffron.
Whether these his observations are justly grounded I cannot tell; but I have often known him, as we have stood together behind the ladies, praise or dispraise the complexion of a face which he never saw, from observing the colour of her hood, and has been very seldom out in these his guesses.
As I have nothing more at heart than the honour and improvement of the fair sex, I cannot conclude this paper without an exhortation to the British ladies, that they would excel the women of all other nations as much in virtue and good sense, as they do in beauty; which they may certainly do, if they will be as industrious to cultivate their minds as they are to adorn their bodies: in the mean while I shall recommend to their most serious consideration the saying of an old Greek poet,
Γυναικὶ κόσμος ὁ τρόπος, κ' οὐ χρυσία.
No. 267. SATURDAY, JANUARY 5.
Cedite Romani scriptores, cedite Graii. PROPErt. THERE' is nothing in nature more irksome than general discourses, especially when they turn chiefly upon words. For this reason I shall waive the discussion of that point which was started some years since, Whether Milton's Paradise Lost may be called an heroic poem? Those who will not give it that title, may call it (if they please) a divine poem. It will be sufficient to its perfection, if it has in it all the beauties of the highest kind of poetry; and as for those who allege it is not an heroic poem, they advance no more to the diminution of it, than if they should say Adam is not Æneas, nor Eve, Helen.
These papers on Milton, being dictated by taste, and written with elegance, were extremely well received by the public. It was taken for granted that these necessary qualities were, of themselves, sufficient to form a great critic.
I shall therefore examine it by the rules of epic poetry, and see whether it falls short of the Iliad or Æneid, in the beauties which are essential to that kind of writing. The first thing to be considered in an epic poem is the fable, which is perfect or imperfect, according as the action which it relates is more or less so. This action should have three qualifications in it. First, it should be but one action. Secondly, it should be an entire action. And thirdly, it should be a great action. To consider the action of the Iliad, Æneid, and Paradise Lost, in these three several lights. Homer, to preserve the unity of his action, hastens into the midst of things, as Horace has observed: had he gone up to Leda's egg, or begun much later, even at the rape of Helen, or the investing of Troy, it is manifest that the story of the poem would have been a series of several actions. He therefore opens his poem with the discord of his princes, and artfully interweaves, in the several succeeding parts of it, an account of everything material which relates to them, and had passed before this fatal dissension. After the same manner Æneas makes his first appearance in the Tyrrhene seas, and within sight of Italy, because the action proposed to be celebrated was that of his settling himself in Latium. But because it was necessary for the reader to know what had happened to him in the taking of Troy, and in the preceding parts of his voyage, Virgil makes his hero relate it by way of episode in the second and third books of the Æneid. The contents of both which books come before those of the first book in the thread of the story, though, for preserving of this unity of action, they follow it in the disposition of the poem. Milton, in imitation of these two great poets, opens his Paradise Lost with an infernal council plotting the fall of man, which is the action he proposed to celebrate; and as for those great actions, the battle of the angels, and the creation of the world, (which preceded in point of time, and which, in my opinion, would have entirely destroyed the unity of his principal action, had he related them in the same order that they happened,) he cast them into the fifth, sixth, and seventh books, by way of episode to this noble poem.
Aristotle himself allows, that Homer has nothing to boast of as to the unity of his fable, though at the same time, that
great critic and philosopher endeavours to palliate this imperfection in the Greek poet, by imputing it in some measure to the very nature of an epic poem. Some have been of opinion, that the Eneid also labours in this particular, and has episodes which may be looked upon as excrescences rather than as parts of the action. On the contrary, the poem which we have now under our consideration, hath no other episodes than such as naturally arise from the subject, and yet is filled with such a multitude of astonishing incidents, that it gives us at the same time a pleasure of the greatest variety, and of the greatest simplicity; uniform in its nature, though diversified in the execution.
I must observe, also, that as Virgil, in the poem which was designed to celebrate the original of the Roman empire, has described the birth of its great rival, the Carthaginian commonwealth; Milton, with the like art, in his poem on the Fall of Man, has related the fall of those angels who are his professed enemies. Beside the many other beauties in such an episode, its running parallel with the great action of the poem hinders it from breaking the unity so much as another episode would have done, that had not so great an affinity with the principal subject. In short, this is the same kind of beauty which the critics admire1 in the Spanish Friar, or the Double Discovery, where the two different plots look like counterparts and copies of one another.
The second qualification required in the action of an epic poem is, that it should be an entire action: an action is entire when it is complete in all its parts; or, as Aristotle describes it, when it consists of a beginning, a middle, and an end. Nothing should go before it, be intermixed with it, or follow after it, that is not related to it; as, on the contrary, no single step should be omitted in that just and regular process which it must be supposed to take from its original to its consummation. Thus we see the anger of Achilles in its birth, its continuance, and effects; and Æneas's settlement in Italy, carried on through all the oppositions in his way to it both by sea and land. The action in Milton excels (I think) both the former in this particular; we see it contrived in
The same kind of beauty which the critics admire.] This likeness of two plots could never have been thought a beauty, if to have two different plots, of any kind, in the same drama, had not been a fault.