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How prettily does she divide her discourse between her woman and her visitants ! What sprightly transitions does she make from an opera or a sermon, to an ivory comb or a pincushion ! How have I been pleased to see her interrupted in an account of her travels by a message to her footman! and holding her tongue in the midst of a moral reflection by applying the tip of it to a patch!
There is nothing which exposes a woman to greater dangers, than that gaiety and airiness of temper, which are natural to most of the sex. It should be therefore the concern of every wise and virtuous woman, to keep this sprightliness from degenerating into levity. On the contrary, the whole discourse and behaviour of the French is to make the sex more fantastical, or (as they are pleased to term it) more awakened, than is consistent either with virtue or discretion. To speak loud in public assemblies, to let every one hear you talk of things that should only be mentioned in private, or in whisper, are looked upon as parts of a refined education. At the same time, a blush is unfashionable, and silence more ill-bred than anything that can be spoken. In short, discretion and modesty, which in all other ages and countries have been regarded as the greatest ornaments of the fair sex, are considered as the ingredients of narrow conversation and family behaviour.
Some years ago I was at the tragedy of Macbeth, and unfortunately placed myself under a woman of quality that is since dead ; who, as I found by the noise she made, was newly returned from France. A little before the rising of the curtain, she broke out into a loud soliloquy, 'When will the dear witches
enter?' and immediately upon their first appearance, asked a lady that sat three boxes from her, on her right hand, if those witches were not charming creatures. A little after, as Betterton was in one of the finest speeches of the play, she shook her fan at another lady, who sat as far on the left hand, and told her with a whisper, that might be heard all over the pit, we must not expect to see Balloon to-night. Not long after, calling out to a young baronet by his name, who sat three seats before me, she asked him whether Macbeth's wife was still alive ; and before he could give an answer, fell a talking of the ghost of Banquo. She had by this time formed a little audience to herself, and fixed the attention of all about her. But as I had a mind to hear the play, I got out of the sphere of her impertinence, and planted myself in one of the remotest corners of the pit.
This pretty childishness of behaviour is one of the most refined parts of coquetry, and is not to be attained in perfection by ladies that do not travel for their improvement. A natural and unconstrained behaviour has something in it so agreeable, that it is no wonder to see people endeavouring after it. But at the same time, it is so very hard to hit, when it is not born with us, that people often make themselves ridiculous in attempting it.
A very ingenious French author tells us, that the ladies of the court of France, in his time, thought it ill-breeding, and a kind of female pedantry, to pronounce an hard word right; for which reason they took frequent occasion to use hard words, that they might show a politeness in murdering them. He further adds, that a lady of some quality at court,
: having accidentally made use of an hard word in a
proper place, and pronounced it right, the whole assembly was out of countenance for her.
I must, however, be so just to own, that there are many ladies who have travelled several thousands of miles without being the worse for it, and have brought home with them all the modesty, discretion, and good sense, that they went abroad with. As, on the contrary, there are great numbers of travelled ladies, who have lived all their days within the smoke of London. I have known a woman that never was out of the parish of St. James's betray as many foreign fopperies in her carriage, as she could have gleaned up in half the countries of Europe.
Woman on Horseback.
Most of the papers I give the public are written on subjects that never vary, but are for ever fixt and immutable. Of this kind are all my more serious essays and discourses ; but there is another sort of speculations, which I consider as occasional papers, that take their rise from the folly, extravagance, and caprice of the present age. For I look upon myself as one set to watch the manners and behaviour of my countrymen and contemporaries, and to mark down every absurd fashion, ridiculous custom, or affected form of speech, that makes its appearance in the world, during the course of these my speculations. The petticoat no sooner begun to swell, but I observed its motions. The party-patches had not time to muster themselves before I detected them. I had intelligence of the coloured hood the very first time it appeared in a public assembly. I might here mention several other the like contingent subjects, upon which I have bestowed distinct papers. By this means I have so effectually quashed those irregularities which gave occasion to them, that I am afraid posterity will scarce have sufficient idea of them to relish those discourses which were in no little vogue at the time when they were written. They will be apt to think that the fashions and customs I attacked were some fantastic conceits of my own, and that their great
grandmothers could not be so whimsical as I have represented them. For this reason, when I think on the figure my several volumes of speculations will make about a hundred years hence, I consider them as so many pieces of old plate, where the weight will be regarded, but the fashion lost.
Among the several female extravagances I have already taken notice of, there is one which still keeps its ground. I mean that of the ladies who dress themselves in a hat and feather, a riding-coat and a periwig; or at least tie up their hair in a bag or ribbon, in imitation of the smart part of the opposite
I have already shown my dislike of this immodest custom more than once; but in contempt of everything I have hitherto said, I am informed that the highways about this great city are still very much infested with these female cavaliers.
I remember when I was at my friend Sir Roger de Coverley's about this time twelvemonth, an equestrian lady of this order appeared upon the plains which lay at a distance from his house. I was at that time walking in the fields with my old friend ; and as his tenants ran out on every side to see so strange a sight, Sir Roger asked one of them who came by us, what it was? To which the country fellow replied, "'Tis a gentlewoman, saving your worship’s presence, in a coat and hat.' This produced a great deal of mirth at the knight's house, where we had a story at the same time of another of his tenants, who meeting this gentleman-like lady on the high-way, was asked by her whether that was Coverley Hall; the honest man seeing only the male part of the querist, replied, “Yes sir ;' but upon the second question, whether Sir