The Living age 623, 3.5.1856

[Extracts from the New Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, made by The Atheneum.]

WE would select — as a specimen of the shorter class of articles — the brief account of Fashion. It bears the initials J. D—R—n, which we cannot be wrong in aasigning to our pleasant friend Dr. Doran.

From this article we will extract a few amusing paragraphs. Here is the learned Doctor's account of "fashion":

"It was the ordinary remark of the fashionable Dr. Graham (in the days of Horace Walpole), when consulted by a patient: 'Sir, your disease is very extraordinary, but it is common enough.' This paradoxical definition may be very well applied as interpreting the word 'Fashion.' The latter is douhtleat an extraordinary thing commonly adopted. It will seem still further paradoxical to assert that what is fashionable 'is vulgar'; hut, when it is recollected that 'vulgar' implies something popularly observed (the word being derived from 'volk,' people), the paradox is no longer apparent. The Latin terms, vulgus and vulgaris, like our own translations of them, are not intended to convey anything complimentary in them. The designation vulgus was contemptuously flung at the ancient Germans by their Roman antagonists. The sons of Herman accepted the name, and the German 'volk' soon became the fashionable or popular equivalent for 'patriots.' In the term 'mode' we have something of a similar meaning. It is derived from mos, a manner or custom. This word in its plural form, mores, signifies 'morals,' by which is meant manners, which, if not, ought to be, in fashion. As in Latin the difference of number alters the signification, so in French does the change of gender. 'Le moral,' of a woman, is, for instance, by no means the same thing as 'sa morale.' In deriving mode from 'mos,' we follow the lexicographer Boiste. We may add, however, that another Latin word, 'modus,' is not altogether to be set aside as the original of 'mode.' It implies a due proportion, neither more nor less; a just measure or manner: and to be in the mode, according to this rendering of the original, is not to be extravagant, not to be in excess in anything. He who adopts this mode, will find himself possessed of the most valuable of fashions — the true 'factio nobilium'; although Livy had not the same application in his mind when he wrote the words just quoted."

Afterwards we find examples of the caprices of fashion:
"Some one has defined 'fashion' as being the tyrant of fops and females.' The definer might have added that the artificers in fashion's service are often the victims of fashion's slaves. There is nothing so powerful, so absolute, so imperious, and so transitory, as this same fashion. Napoleon himself was jealous even of this so-called goddess; and he condescended to sneer at her votaries, by saying that nations are sheep-like, and ready to follow the first who sets a strange example. The simile is ricketty, and is not entirely correct. We have never heard of any one who followed the fashion set and advocated by Aeclepiades, who tried to bring cheap locomotion into general favor, and who travelled about the world on a cow, living on her milk by the way. The above is an example set, which has never been followed. We may cite, on the other hand, a fashion followed, the originating example for which no one has yet discovered. We allude to 'smoking.' Of course, at this word, the thoughts naturally revert to Sir Walter Raleigh and Virginian tobacco. There were pipes, however, in our old monasteries, and the monks smoked 'colt's-foot' to keep the marsh air out of their stomachs. The fashion is probably of Eastern origin. That mention is not made thereof throughout the 'Arabian Nights' is no proof to the contrary, for we believe that in that picturesque series the undeniably prevalent Eastern fashion of opium-eating is not even alluded to. Fashion, in its sense of the way of doing a thing, is not confined to matters of dress alone. It extends itself to far sublimer subjects, rules our manner of life, give opinions to those who have none of their own, and is sometimes powerful even in articulo mortis. As a sample of the last, it is only necessary to name the case of Father Sachot, the priest of St. Gervais. In the middle of the seventeenth century he was the fashionable confessor at death-beds. Happy was the moribund who could secure the pleasant presence of the not too exacting Father Sachot. On the other hand, the patients on whom he could not wait, and who were unable to receive absolution at his hands, were miserable, and obstinately refused to die with solemn aid from any other hand. Men 'of quality' — as it was, and is, the had fashion to call a certain class of persons, without reference to the question of good or evil quality — men of' quality thought more of Father Sachot than of their heavenly Father. A similar mistake possessed those who, in our great-grandsires' days, flung away their thousands upon a flower. The Egyptians worshipped onions, for the semi-reasonahle cause that they symbolized a god. The tulipfanciers had Tittle regard, when contemplating their petalled favorites, for either flowers themselves or the god at whore bidding they had risen into beauty. As La Bruyère remarks, they simply worshipped their tulip-bulbs, and would have adored carnations if carnations bad been more in fashion. As in flowers, so have we had a fashion in colors. The 'couleur Isabelle' was a dirty huff. It was adopted in honorable memory of the condition of the linen of Isabelle, the gouvernante of Flanders, who refused to change any portion of her dress during the long protracted siege of Ostend. The 'patches' on the cheeks of the belles of a century and a half ago, were assumed in order to give consolation to a princes suffering from a natural eruption. There was more sense in the fashion or patches as adopted by the lightly-clad ladies of the Samoa Island. This 'fashion of spots,' as t is called, or sangisengi, consists in the raising of small blisters with a smouldering wick of native cloth, a material which will not blaze. When the blisters are healed, a natural patch is left, which is lighter than the original skin. This indelible spot is planted on the cheek, not for beauty's sake, but with something of the purpose which supplies our churches with painted windows; namely, in pious memory of deceased relatives, or in grateful acknowledgment of benefits received."

Dress is a great topic, as Dr. Doran has well proved. And, as fashion concerns itself very deeply with the outward habit, we will quote the following from the Doctor's amusing gossip:
"The most pious of men, it may be observed, were not above some regard for fashion, even with reference to very small natters. Thus, in the days of Elizabeth and James, no Puritan divine ever went to bed but with his head in a night-cap of black silk tipped with white. Under the same sovereigns, doctors of medicine and privy councillors sank to sleep in night-caps wrought with gold silk. Similar head-gear was worn by our princes. At the marriage of Frederick Prince of Wales, the ill-conditioned son of the worse-conditioned George II., the royal bridegroom was splendid at night in his robe of gold tissue, and a night-ccap wrought with gold silk. Thus attired, lie glided among the crowd of fashionable people who stood in the bedroom to greet the illustrious pair; and with this marriage went out the unseemly fashion of ouch public greetings. We have before alluded to the long prevalence of some fashions. We are inclined to think that the excessive growth of the nails, as indications of rank (the wearers of them being necesserily above manual labor), a fashion not confined to China, but followed also in Upper Nubia, whore the growth is encouraged by holding the nails over small fires of cedar wood; we are inclined, we say, to think that such fashion, if it does not data from the time of Adam, prevails in the localities named, only because of him. There is, at all events, a Rabbinical tradition which says that, before the fall, Adam and Eve had a transparent covering, a robe of light, of which remnants remain to mankind in the nails of the hands and feet. To encourage the growth of the nail was, probably, in its original sense, only to recover as much as pomible of the robe of light which decked the forms of the parents of mankind. Did the old British astronomers wear green robes with any reference to the older legend in the East, that the original color of the father and mother of men was a sea-green? That color is said to have been sacred in the East long before the time in which the Prophet of Islam adopted it as the holy hue, which none might thenceforth wear save the members of his own family; and the fashion may have been adopted by the father of the faithful in remembrance of its traditionary connection with the father of us all. Tho green, for dress, whether as assumed by British astronomer or prophet from Yemen, was in better taste than a mode of our Saxon ladies, who, before the Norman invasion, thought they heightened their beauty by dyeing their hair blue! They seldom, however, changed the fashion of their garments according to the variation of the seaeons. The summers then, as now, seldom came to maturity, and it was this fact which induced Boerhaave to prescribe the old Saxon custom as a good sanitary fashion. 'In England,' said Boerhaave, 'a man should never lay aside his winter costume until Midsummer-day, and he should put it on again the day after.' If this fashion, with some necessary modification, were adopted, one happy consequence would undoubtedly follow; phthisis would not be the fashionable, or rather national, malady of England. Madam Cottin, in her 'Mathilde', says that modesty is the most seductive of garments. The assertion is one made in the fashion of the good ladies of the but century, who thought themselves moralists. They all err in their mode of giving a meretricious recommendation to modesty; and the too-joyous Irish bard was not much more sillily employed, when he anathematized flannel and sought to give éclat to the ague."

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