페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

conveys the idea of feminine delicacy and elasticity, rather than of masculine width and strength :—the chest, however, not contracted, but showing its free rise by the graceful oval with which the line of the dress dips across it. Lightly does this portion of the figure rise from the spreading drapery below, like an urn from its pedestal, and lightly does it carry that ponderous head-dress above, as if its action were steadied but not encumbered by the weight.

In this high head-dress lies the intellect of the picture, and a thousand other charms. Wherever we see the upward line of the forehead continued, whether in the grandest specimen of ancient art, or the commonest costume of peasant life, we feel that a mental dignity is given to the whole person. It is the idea of elevation in the part where by nature it is most noble which conveys this impression. A woman thus costumed looks a High Priestess, dedicate to noble things. This is more especially the case when it is the hair itself which gives this height to the head. For, of all the weapons of beauty which a woman possesses for good or for evil, it is her hair in which lies most of the expression of either. It is the low head, with loose wandering tresses, more than any other feature of the dress or undress, which, from the days of the syrens of mythology to those of Charles II.'s “ glorious gallery,” has most undeniably revealed the Dalilah. Gather them up, or conceal them under a hood, and the woman is reformed. On this account very long loose flowing hair is only suitable for children or very young girls. A woman with her hair on her shoulders infallibly looks untidy, or something worse.

What countenance is there also which does not improve with the uncovering of the forehead?—not protruding, bare and bald, as when the hair is tightly drawn back from it, which few can stand, but rearing itself up like a grand pillar beneath a lofty parapet, receiving shelter in return for yielding support, and looking firm and stately, as if able to bear that or anything else in the world we might like to put upon it. But it is not so much the forehead alone, as a particular part of it, for which we recommend this coiffure. It is that exquisite line along the roots of the hair—the graceful undulation of the shores of the head, thus given to sight, with which we are fascinated. Here the skin is invariably found finer, and the colours tenderer, than in any other part of the human face-like the smooth pure sands where the tide has just retired. This is a portion the more intended to be shown, inasmuch as time seems to make no impression upon it. It is always beautiful, whether peeped at under the sunny locks of childhood, or seen glittering among the snowy hairs of age.

Nor can there be a greater mistake than to condemn this style of head-dress, as many thoughtlessly do, for the size it gives to the head. It may do this in fact, but it does not in idea, and it is the impression a costume produces on the mind for which we are contending. Wherever the face and forehead are left totally free, as in Sir Joshua's pictures, we

a

feel the head-dress above them to be a distinct thing. They are not part of it, they only support it, and that most lightly too. We should as soon think of calling Rubens' female figures, in his “ Abraham offering bread and wine to Melchizedek,” at Lord Westminster’s, large headed, because they are carrying great baskets of fruit. But the moment the face is covered in any way by the hair, or both face and hair are covered by anything else, as in the case of Mrs. Hope with her loose coiffure and immense cap, the distinction ceases—head and head-dress become one, and the impression left is no longer of a head carrying its load with ease and freedom, but of one overpowered beneath it. This rule does not apply when such a cap or coiffure is seen on a child, as in Sir Joshua's picture of little Lady Caroline Clinton feeding her cocks and hens; for children by nature have large heads, and the intellectual expression produced by the bare forehead and face is out of character with them.

Even with the high coiffure we have been commending, it will not do to have any portion of the hair upon

the forehead. We see this in the Duchess of Marlborough's picture, who, though with her hair raised up in the usual style of the day, has a part of it falling in loose bows on the forehead, by which the whole lightness of the effect is destroyed. Conceal any part of the support, and that which is supported will instantly look top-heavy. Show the whole face, and you may put what you will upon it. This may have been partly owing, we admit, to the absence of powder in this instance—for in no respect was the wisdom of our grandmothers more apparent than in the use of this ingredient. There may have been a thousand objections to powder-upon which all these books of costume are very. eloquent—but those ladies knew that it heightened their complexions, brightened their eyes, and lightened their whole general aspect; and, like sensible women, were satisfied that such reasons for, were worth all that could be brought against it. At all events, let these have been what they may, we cannot help thinking our grandmothers quite as justifiable in imitating grey hair when young, as their grand-daughters in buying Jew-black or Barber's-brown tresses when old.

It is true, perhaps, as respects the domestic habits of life, that the dress of Sir Joshua's portraits was not adapted for any very active utilitarian feats. It was not made for walking fast or far, for running, jumping, climbing, or any such extraordinary movement; but it was one in which, if a lady condescended to move at all, she did it with infinite grandeur and grace, and danced a minuet to perfection. The head-dress also did not precisely admit of a lady's nodding, or giggling, or romping--or of being forward, flighty, boisterous, or passionate-or awfully enthusiastic, lively, and bustling; but it was one in which she might smile bewitching, or frown deadly—be graciously interested, or sovereignly indifferent—be sweet, feminine, earnest, and confiding -capricious, arch, sly, and even saucy, to the greatest possible advantage.

[ocr errors]

From that time till within the last ten

years

there has not been a costume fit for a woman to wear; and how so many have condescended to live and die in the unbecoming absurdities which fill the fashion books and encumber our walls, we must leave for some “Lady of Rank" to solve. We have encroached long enough upon a subject which our fair readers may perhaps contend was no affair of ours from the beginning, but which they will remember we did not venture upon till we bad most distinctly proved so to be.

Some interesting observations might be further made, if they would allow us on the subject of Englishwomen's dressing as compared with that of the French and Germans; and in both cases we would venture to promise to bring them off triumphant. Against the Germans this would be no great victory, for we should philosophically define them, men and women, as the worst dressed nation in the world; nor would we hesitate to assert our country women's general superiority even to the French. That these do excel in one important point of taste-namely, consistency of costume with age —we have freely admitted. They are also better students, in several ways, of position and occasion : -but we think it might be made pretty clear that, wherever they do excel us, it is less from a superiority of principle than from a happier management of an intenser vanity.

We adhere, then, to our old creed, that, if Nature has given man a strong instinct for dress, it is because

:

« 이전계속 »