To Professor Althouse.
As the Ghost of a Gentleman, dead these 260 Years and more, you may imagine the Changes in Fashion and Taste to which I have been witness.
Every Age views the Cloathes & Garniture of another with Bemusement and Contempt. As the modern World regards the Fashions of my Day, so I count it as one of the Tortures of this Ghostly Purgatorio in which I find myself, that I must look upon the Female Body so abus'd by modern Garments. I shall not dwell upon the Horrours seeing every Hair & Pimple expos'd, whilst the graceful Lines of the femine Form remain marr'd by the Deshabille of this Age. Nay, Madam, a Madwoman in Bedlam would have been asham'd in my Day to have been drest thus.
For all the Reform so necessary for other modern Cloathes, 'twould appear but a trifling Waste of Time to divert oneself admiring Shoes; yet there are very many amongst the Fair Sex who consider the Choice of a Shoe with perhaps greater Care than they would a Candidate on Election Day. Nevertheless, I cannot forbear to say that modern Shoes are perhaps the least disfigur'd Item of Dress a Woman of this Age has with which to indulge herself.
You may recall, Madam, that I had written previously upon this Topick; I thus beg your Indulgence to do so again, feeling all the Impropriety of my Lack of Originality. I excuse myself by saying that there may be new Members of your Audience, unaccustom'd to my ghostly Thoughts & Notions; and perhaps Others who would not mind seeing an old Idea, recover'd like a lost Buckle from the Bottom of a Drawer.
Many Ladies perhaps will find the Example of Mrs. Palin's Cloathes either useful or repellant; whether, as Electors, they should vote for her or not. There are also Persons of both Sexes amongst the Audience at this your Theatre of Topicks (as I call it), who cannot avert their Eyes from the many Pictures of Mrs. Palin's Feet & Legs everywhere to be seen in News-Papers and upon the Internet. Without the Readers suspending their higher Judgements, 'twould appear that Mrs. Palin's Shoes have become a more diverting Topick than either of the Wretches who would be your President.
The Audience may thus find it worthwhile to dwell a Moment upon this Sort of Vanity, little chang'd over the Centuries, viz., certain Ladies' Love of Shoes. Pray, do not take it amiss, then, if I should reprise, by way of Illustration, the little Tale which (as above) I had told here before:—
I recall Imelda, the young Wife of a Cavalry Officer and Neighbour to my late affianced Wife. Imelda had been a true Friend and great Help to my poor Fiancée when her first Husband died of the Pox (and so became the young Widow whose Acquaintance I was fortunate to have made). A more Kindly & Generous Soul you would never meet than Imelda; she was possess'd also of those Qualities of her Person that, whilst not Beauty of the first Rank, would still turn Heads upon Occasion. Knowing that she was not, perhaps, a great natural Beauty, Imelda sought those little honest Improvements that Ladies may make by the proper Choice of Cloathes & Attention to their Hair, not forgetting some small Dose of Emollients to soften the Appearance & improve the Colour of the Skin, &c. For all that, she had nothing about her of the paint'd Harlot, nor did she attempt the pert Gaiety of a Frenchwoman with colour'd Ribands, Flow'rs, &c. Nay, she cultivated an Air of Tastefulness & Sobriety, rather above her actual Station in Life, giving every Impression of a well-to-do Gentlewoman.
To this End, there were no Lack of Dress-Makers, Milliners, Hair-Dressers and the like, to whom she was wont to pay Custom. But there was one Establishment where she was habitually to be found, even when her Husband was expected on Leave, even when her Relations, come all the way from Wapping, were to appear at any Moment. You may guess that it was the Cobbler's Shop. Some People waste their Time & Fortune with Gamblers & Sharpers; others concerned with their Souls spend many an Hour with Priests; some seek Improvement with Musick-Masters, and still Others with Dancing or Fencing-Masters; so 'twas that Imelda spent every free Moment with Mr. Crispin, Shoe-Maker.
Crispin had made any Number of Lasts upon the Model of her Feet, and found greater Employment than with any other making Shoes & Slippers after the latest Fashions of Paris and our own London Taste for this Lady. When her Husband return'd from the Wars on half-pay, he found Mr. Crispin's Bills exceeded his Income for the Year, and that he was forced to draw upon his modest Estate to pay them. Imelda used to tell, by way of a Jest upon Herself, of the Occasion when she was Nine or Ten, that she ran barefoot into the Parlour where a very grave Bishop was paying the Family a Visit, and cried, "Are not my pretty little Feet fine, Sir?" Her loving Husband finally chided her that, "Your pretty little Feet are bankrupting us, Madam!" and forbade any new Shoes until he had put their Estate in Order.
Here is proclaim'd the Folly of an irrational and unwholesome Attachment to one Part of the Female Body that seems to afflict both Sexes. Certain Ladies love their Shoes too much; and, it must be said, certain Gentlemen love female Feet too much, as well. The making & selling of a Superfluity of Ladies' Shoes seems to have continued unabat'd from my Day to this, proving (as I before averr'd) that such foolish Vanity was not the especial Possession of my Age.
For my Part, whilst in Life not immune to the Charms of each Feature of the feminine Form, and glad to have had them well-drest or display'd, as may have been Proper, I took Delight in the Effect of tout l'ensemble, and remember'd that Nature gave us the whole Woman; and that whether she wore a Sabot or a Silk Stocking, She was, and always will remain, more than the Sum of her Parts.
Praying that neither You nor Members of your Audience would see themselves in any of my Anecdotes, I am,
Your most humble & obt. Servant,
October 23, 2008
"There are very many amongst the Fair Sex who consider the Choice of a Shoe with perhaps greater Care than they would a Candidate on Election Day."
Our most highly esteemed ghost commenter, Sir Archy, made an appearance, here, in the very early hours of the morning. I reprint his words in full: