Tatler 116 January 5, 1709 (Addison)

No. 116.

From Tuesday, Jan. 3, to Thursday, Jan. 5, 1709-10.

Pars minima est ipsa puella sui.
OVID, Rem. Amor. 344.

* * * * *

Sheer Lane, January 4.

The court being prepared for proceeding on the cause of the petticoat, I
gave orders to bring in a criminal who was taken up as she went out of
the puppet-show about three nights ago, and was now standing in the
street with a great concourse of people about her. Word was brought me,
that she had endeavoured twice or thrice to come in, but could not do it
by reason of her petticoat, which was too large for the entrance of my
house, though I had ordered both the folding-doors to be thrown open for
its reception. Upon this, I desired the jury of matrons, who stood at my
right hand, to inform themselves of her condition, and know whether
there were any private reasons why she might not make her appearance
separate from her petticoat. This was managed with great discretion, and
had such an effect, that upon the return of the verdict from the bench
of matrons, I issued out an order forthwith, that the criminal should be
stripped of her encumbrances, till she became little enough to enter my
house. I had before given directions for an engine of several legs, that
could contract or open itself like the top of an umbrello,[10] in order
to place the petticoat upon it, by which means I might take a leisurely
survey of it, as it should appear in its proper dimensions. This was all
done accordingly; and forthwith, upon the closing of the engine, the
petticoat was brought into court. I then directed the machine to be set
upon the table, and dilated in such a manner as to show the garment in
its utmost circumference; but my great hall was too narrow for the
experiment; for before it was half unfolded, it described so immoderate
a circle, that the lower part of it brushed upon my face as I sate in my
chair of judicature. I then inquired for the person that belonged to the
petticoat; and to my great surprise, was directed to a very beautiful
young damsel, with so pretty a face and shape, that I bid her come out
of the crowd, and seated her upon a little crock at my left hand. “My
pretty maid,” said I, “do you own yourself to have been the inhabitant
of the garment before us?” The girl I found had good sense, and told me
with a smile, that notwithstanding it was her own petticoat, she should
be very glad to see an example made of it; and that she wore it for no
other reason, but that she had a mind to look as big and burly as other
persons of her quality; that she had kept out of it as long as she
could, and till she began to appear little in the eyes of all her
acquaintance; that if she laid it aside, people would think she was not
made like other women. I always give great allowances to the fair sex
upon account of the fashion, and therefore was not displeased with the
defence of my pretty criminal. I then ordered the vest which stood
before us to be drawn up by a pulley to the top of my great hall, and
afterwards to be spread open by the engine it was placed upon, in such a
manner, that it formed a very splendid and ample canopy over our heads,
and covered the whole court of judicature with a kind of silken rotunda,
in its form not unlike the cupola of St. Paul’s. I entered upon the
whole cause with great satisfaction as I sat under the shadow of it.

The counsel for the petticoat was now called in, and ordered to produce
what they had to say against the popular cry which was raised against
it. They answered the objections with great strength and solidity of
argument, and expatiated in very florid harangues, which they did not
fail to set off and furbelow (if I may be allowed the metaphor) with
many periodical sentences and turns of oratory. The chief arguments for
their client were taken, first, from the great benefit that might arise
to our woollen manufactury from this invention, which was calculated as
follows: the common petticoat has not above four yards in the
circumference; whereas this over our heads had more in the
semi-diameter; so that by allowing it twenty-four yards in the
circumference, the five millions of woollen petticoats, which (according
to Sir William Petty) supposing what ought to be supposed in a
well-governed state, that all petticoats are made of that stuff, would
amount to thirty millions of those of the ancient mode. A prodigious
improvement of the woollen trade! and what could not fail to sink the
power of France in a few years.

To introduce the second argument, they begged leave to read a petition
of the ropemakers, wherein it was represented, that the demand for
cords, and the price of them, were much risen since this fashion came
up. At this, all the company who were present lifted up their eyes into
the vault; and I must confess, we did discover many traces of cordage
which were interwoven in the stiffening of the drapery.

A third argument was founded upon a petition of the Greenland trade,
which likewise represented the great consumption of whalebone which
would be occasioned by the present fashion, and the benefit which would
thereby accrue to that branch of the British trade.

To conclude, they gently touched upon the weight and unwieldiness of the
garment, which they insinuated might be of great use to preserve the
honour of families.

These arguments would have wrought very much upon me (as I then told the
company in a long and elaborate discourse) had I not considered the
great and additional expense which such fashions would bring upon
fathers and husbands; and therefore by no means to be thought of till
some years after a peace. I further urged, that it would be a prejudice
to the ladies themselves, who could never expect to have any money in
the pocket, if they laid out so much on the petticoat. To this I added,
the great temptation it might give to virgins, of acting in security
like married women, and by that means give a check to matrimony, an
institution always encouraged by wise societies.

At the same time, in answer to the several petitions produced on that
side, I showed one subscribed by the women of several persons of
quality, humbly setting forth, that since the introduction of this mode,
their respective ladies had, instead of bestowing on them their cast
gowns, cut them into shreds, and mixed them with the cordage and
buckram, to complete the stiffening of their under-petticoats. For
which, and sundry other reasons, I pronounced the petticoat a
forfeiture: but to show that I did not make that judgment for the sake
of filthy lucre, I ordered it to be folded up, and sent it as a present
to a widow gentlewoman, who has five daughters, desiring she would make
each of them a petticoat out of it, and send me back the remainder,
which I design to cut into stomachers, caps, facings of my waistcoat
sleeves, and other garnitures suitable to my age and quality.

I would not be understood, that, while I discard this monstrous
invention, I am an enemy to the proper ornaments of the fair sex. On
the contrary, as the hand of nature has poured on them such a profusion
of charms and graces, and sent them into the world more amiable and
finished than the rest of her works; so I would have them bestow upon
themselves all the additional beauties that art can supply them with,
provided it does not interfere with, disguise, or pervert, those of
nature.

I consider woman as a beautiful romantic animal, that may be adorned
with furs and feathers, pearls and diamonds, ores and silks. The lynx
shall cast its skin at her feet to make her a tippet; the peacock,
parrot, and swan, shall pay contributions to her muff; the sea shall be
searched for shells, and the rocks for gems; and every part of nature
furnish out its share towards the embellishment of a creature that is
the most consummate work of it. All this I shall indulge them in; but as
for the petticoat I have been speaking of, I neither can, nor will allow
it.