Wednesday, February 24, 2010

“Says Beauty to Fashion”

For years now my two sons have been saying that I should write a book.  So, with the downturn in the economy, the lack of full time museum jobs and a lot of time on my hands I decided they were right.  I started to do some serious research (not that all my research isn't serious) last year make a small dent in a very big project.  What is so amazing about the research though is not just getting to hold 200 year old hand written documents in my hands.  Often it is the surprises you find alongside these documents: a hand written receipt for a French punch, Nanna's laundry list, a newspaper clipping about the death of a child.  So when I stumbled upon this poem I was delighted.  It was written in the tiniest script on inside back cover of a hand written receipt book dating to the latter half of the 18th century. Glasses off, nose pressed as near to the page as I dared I read the line "Now a shape in neat stays, now a slattern in jumps:" Proof of jumps!  Yippee!  I understand that jumps were worn, have seen them in person, but never ever saw evidence first hand of them before in text. 


So as carefully as possible I copied the poem.  But not the whole thing straight. Nope, that would make my life oh so easy.  Nope. I just copied the section that I liked. Then, about half an hour before they turned the lights out on us, I decided to copy the rest.  In chunks. And then to draw lines and symbols that would allow me to put the poem back together whence I got home. Ha!  You know that didn't work. 


Well, I did the best I could. And then last night, while watching "Good Eats" I decided to type in "Says Beauty to Fashion" to see if I could find the poem.  The heavens parted and there it was on Google books.  The printed version is slightly different, and much longer, than the poem I so carefully transcribed.  Not unusual when you think about how many words to a song we don't know, or don't understand today.  For example in an Aerosmith song I always thought the words were "Dream women", it took me 30 years to realize he was singing "dream with me".  This poem, like many other written documents,  maybe transcribed from memory, or written down as a plagiarized version from some other author, is an 18th century version of telephone.  


And here it is.....

"Says beauty to fashion as they sat at their toilette

If I give a charm your surely will spoil it

When you take it in hand there is such mustering and mangling

It's a metomorphos'd by your faunting and fangling

That I scarce know my own, when I meet it again

Such changeling you make, both of women and men

To confirm what I say, look at Phryne and Phillis

I'm sure that I gave them good roses and lilies;

Why you daub em all over with cold cream and rouge

Fine like Thisbe in Ovid one cannot come at 'em

Thou a mud wall of paint and pomatum

And as to your dress would think you quite mad

From the head to the tail it is all masquerade

With your flounces and furbelows, sack, trollopees

Now sweeping the ground, now up to your knees

Your primping and crimping and chevaux de frize

And all the fantastical cut of the mode.

You look like a Bedlamite caged and proud

For the late you're as fickle that few people mind you

For any part I never can tell where to find you

Now dress in a cap, now naked in none

Now close in a mob, now close in a Joan

Now a shape in neat stays, now a slattern in Jumps

Now high in French heels, no low in your pumps

Now monstrous in hoop, now trappish and walking

With your petticoats clung to your heels like a maulking,

Like the cock on the tower that shews you the weather

You are hardly the same two days together."


The poem continues here with Miss Fashion replying.