The Worlds Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906. Vols. VIIX: British
The Spectator and The Tatler
By Sir Richard Steele (16721729)
COMPASSION for the gentleman who writes the following letter should not prevail upon me to fall upon the fair sex, if it were not that I find they are frequently fairer than they ought to be. Such impostures are not to be tolerated in civil society, and I think his misfortune ought to be made public, as a warning for other men always to examine into what they admire.
SIR: Supposing you to be a person of general knowledge, I make my application to you on a very particular occasion. I have a great mind to be rid of my wife, and hope, when you consider my case, you will be of opinion I have very just pretensions to a divorce. I am a mere man of the town, and have very little improvement but what I have got from plays. I remember in the Silent Woman, the learned Dr. Cutberdor Dr. Otter, I forget whichmakes one of the causes of separation to be error personæ (when a man marries a woman and finds her not to be the same woman whom he intended to marry, but another). If that be law, it is, I presume, exactly my case. For you are to know, Mr. Spectator, that there are women who do not let their husbands see their faces till they are married.
Not to keep you in suspense, I mean plainly that part of the sex who paint. They are some of them so exquisitely skilful this way that, give them but a tolerable pair of eyes to set up with, and they will make bosom, lips, cheeks, and eyebrows, by their own industry. As for my dear, never man was so enamoured as I was of her fair forehead, neck, and arms, as well as the bright jet of her hair; but, to my great astonishment, I find they were all the effect of art. Her skin is so tarnished with this practice, that, when she first wakes in a morning, she scarce seems young enough to be the mother of her whom I carried to bed the night before. I shall take the liberty to part with her by the first opportunity, unless her father will make her portion suitable to her real, not her assumed, countenance. This I thought fit to let him and her know by your means. I am, sir,
I cannot tell what the law or the parents of the lady will do for this injured gentleman, but must allow he has very much justice on his side. I have indeed very long observed this evil, and distinguished those of our women who wear their own from those in borrowed complexions by the Picts and the British. There does not need any great discernment to judge which are which. The British have a lively, animated aspect; the Picts, though never so beautiful, have dead, uninformed countenances. The muscles of a real face sometimes swell with soft passion, sudden surprise, and are flushed with agreeable confusions, according as the objects before them, or the ideas presented to them, affect their imagination. But the Picts behold all things with the same air, whether they are joyful or sad; the same fixed insensibility appears upon all occasions. A Pict, though she takes all that pains to invite the approach of lovers, is obliged to keep them at a certain distance; a sigh in a languishing lover, if fetched too near her, would dissolve a feature; and a kiss snatched by a forward one, might transfer the complexion of the mistress to the admirer. It is hard to speak of these false fair ones without saying something uncomplaisant; but I would only recommend to them to consider how they like coming into a room new painted; they may assure themselves the near approach of a lady who uses this practice is much more offensive.
Will Honeycomb told us, one day, an adventure he once had with a Pict. This lady had wit, as well as beauty, at will, and made it her business to gain hearts for no other reason but to rally the torments of her lovers. She would make great advances to ensnare men, but without any manner of scruple break off when there was no provocation. Her ill-nature and vanity made my friend very easily proof against the charms of her wit and conversation; but her beauteous form, instead of being blemished by her falsehood and inconstancy, every day increased upon him, and she had new attractions every time he saw her. When she observed Will irrevocably her slave, she began to use him as such, and after many steps toward such a cruelty, she at last utterly banished him. The unhappy lover strove in vain, by servile epistles, to revoke his doom; till at length he was forced to the last refuge, a round sum of money to her maid. This corrupt attendant placed him early in the morning behind the hangings in her mistresss dressing-room. He stood very conveniently to observe, without being seen. The Pict begins the face she designed to wear that day, and I have heard him protest she had worked a full half-hour before he knew her to be the same woman. As soon as he saw the dawn of that complexion for which she had so long languished, he thought fit to break from his concealment, repeating that verse of Cowley:
The Pict stood before him in the utmost confusion, with the prettiest smirk imaginable on the finished side of her face, pale as ashes on the other. Honeycomb seized all her gally-pots and washes, and carried off his handkerchief full of brushes, scraps of Spanish wool, and phials of unguents. The lady went into the country; the lover was cured.