The Art of Dress:
A Poem.

By John Breval

Edited by Jack Lynch

The text comes from the edition of 1739, from The School of Venus. I have reproduced Breval’s endnotes, esometimes supplementing them with my own explanations.

Quantó rectius hoc, quàm tristi lædere versu
Pantolabum scurram, Nomentanumque nepotem?

Hor.

To the British Toasts.

In Antient Times, before this Isle was known,
While Rome subdu’d the Continent alone;
E’re Foreign Lords the British Kings control’d,
Or the wild Native knew the Use of Gold,
Our simple Mothers (as old Authors write) [5]
Guiltless of Pride, in Dress took no Delight.
Skins round their Middles negligently ty’d,
Conceal’d what Nature prompted them to hide:
Uncouthly daub’d with Paint, the rest was bare,
And to their Feet reach’d down their length of Hair: [10]
They ask’d no Pin-Money, and us’d no Paste,
Nor suffer’d Torture for a slender Waist,
But learn’d betimes in Forests to pursue
The flying Deer, and twang their Bows of Yew:
Intent on Rural Sports, defy’d the Spleen, [15]
Made homely Meals, and took no Drams between.
Such artless Nymphs, (as Chronicles will show)
Were here in Vogue Two Thousand Years ago,
Till Cæsar first debauch’d us into Vice,
And Maidenheads began to bear a Price: [20]
Legions of Trulls then landed on the Shore,
And Rome’s succeeding Lords sent over more:
They cloath’d, and taught our Women how to please,
And civiliz’d the Monsters by Degrees.

Her Woods and Lawns the Huntress now forsook, [25]
To practise Airs in ev’ry Chrystal Brook;
Worship’d the Cyprian Queen in Dian’s Stead,
Ty’d on the Mantle, and adorn’d her Head;
To jaunty Steps reduc’d her antient Stride,
And laid the Quiver and the Darts aside. [30]
Old Legislators strove, (but all in vain)
To drive back Vanity beyond the Main;
And Druids bellow’d till their Lungs were sore,
Alas! their Audience minded them no more;
For Men themselves were prettier Fellows grown, [35]
And licenc’d Female Follies by their own.

Four Ages now, were Fashions at a stand,
’Till Hengist seiz’d on this unguarded Land;
With him Rowena (peerless Beauty) came,
(To Brute’s expiring Race a fatal Name!) [40]
She from the German Elbe, and Baltic Shore,
Of Charms and Graces brought a deadly Store:
On Vortigern’s soft Soul the Poyson wrought,
And in the Syren’s Net the King was caught.
Hence the great Change ensu’d, ordain’d by Fate, [45]
Which turn’d this Empire to an Heptarch State;
The Conquer’d Britons to their Alps withdrew,
And Antient Habits soon gave way to New.

Of all the Saxon Courts, which, bore the Bell,
For Beauty, Air, and Dress, no Records tell; [50]
For Lies, and Legends, only flourish’d then,
(The stupid Labours of the Monkish Pen,)
’Till valiant Egbert made the Crowns unite,
And his Lay-Subjects first began to write.

Now follow’d some Luxurious Peaceful Reigns, [55]
’Till Time and Fate brought-in the Cruel Danes:
In War and Bloodshed Ages pass’d away,
Whilst these prevail’d by Turns, and lost the Day;
At last on England’s long contested Throne
Canute the Fierce, sat undisturb’d alone; [60]
Him, Emma charm’d, who Beautiful as Good,
Retriev’d the Glories of her Saxon Blood;
And call’d the Graces back which left the Land,
Whilst Fiends and Furies toss’d the flaming Brand
Now Ladies practic’d each Cosmetic Lore,
[65] As their great Grandames did in Days of Yore;
Renew’d their antient Snares to ruin Man,
Roll’d the bewitching Eye, and play’d the Fan.

So when some Hurricane has ceas’d to rage,
And Seas and Winds no more their Battles wage; [70]
Th’ endanger’d Bark which floated on the Main
With Canvas furl’d, and bore the Shock with Pain,
Thro’ gentle Waves now cuts her easy way,
Spreads all her Sails, and lets her Streamers play.

Then our first Quixots us’d on Steeds to prance, [75]
Buckled in Mail, and break th’ unweildy Lance;
For prudent Nymphs (and who can blame the Fair
In chusing well, to take such early Care)
Would put their Lovers on that bold Essay,
To know their Strength before the Wedding Day. [80]

Much still there wanted to compleat our Dress,
And Beaus and Belles were awkard with Excess,
Till William brought his Norman Models o’er,
Trunk-Hose, and Farthingals unknown before.
The Female Top-Knot us’d till then to rise [85]
A Gothic Structure, and a meer Disguise;
Their Motion was untaught, the Work of Chance,
And our Court-Minuet, but a Morrice-Dance.
First in his Days appear’d in all its State
The splendid Toilette cover’d o’er with Plate; [90]
(Those fatal Boxes, which more Ills contain’d
Than in Pandora’s e’er the Poets feign’d.)
The polish’d Mirrour, (Emblem of the Fair,
Shining, yet Brittle) was erected there;
Combs, Patches, Paint, had their allotted Place, [95]
And ev’ry Toy that gives the Sex a Grace.

Fam’d Rosamond, as Antient Ballads tell,
Was passing Fair, and Dress’d, exceeding well;
Her Skin was Lilly-White, and Black as Jet;
Her Eye, transfixt the great Plantagenet: [100]
She first us’d Washes for the Neck and Face,
And binding- Allom for another Place.
Malicious Fame reports her Hair was Red,
And that she smooth’d it with a Comb of Lead;
Howe’er it was, the Monarch lik’d her so, [105]
He kept her where no Flesh alive could know,
Till jealous Nell (O! Tale as sad as true!)
Found out her Lodging by the fatal Clue.
Nor should a Thousand more be left unsung,
Whom Story boasts as Beautiful and Young; [110]
Who grac’d our Edwards, and our Henries Days,
For want of Bards, depriv’d of half their Praise.

But Ah! to venture on such lofty Things,
Beware my Muse, not trust thy feeble Wings.
O Prior, Congreve, Lansdowne, gentle Peer, [115]
And Addison so strong, and yet so clear;
Yours be the Task, ye Swans of Silver hue,
Who Soar so wondrous High, and Sing so true.

When, and from whence the Ruff at first was brought
Long, but in vain have puz’ling Criticks sought. [120]
In after Times, some future Bentley’s Care,
Shall gravely mark the Climate and the Year;
Bentley (great Sage) who ne’er vouchsafes to write,
But such important Matters come to Light.
Queen Kate of Austrian Blood, Demure and Wise, [125]
Swell’d the stiff-Circle, to a larger Size,
And wore it as was then the Spanish Mode,
For Female Shoulders thought too great a Load.
Some Winters pass’d, and then Eliza sway’d,
Sworn Enemy to Rome, a wondrous Maid! [130]
She turn’d out Popish Modes, but kept in That,
And introduc’d besides, the Steeple-Hat;
Fenc’d the huge Petticoat with Ribs of Whale,
And arm’d our Mothers in the circling Mail.
Such have I seen in Cecil’s Antient Hall, [135]
His Kindred Beauties rang’d along the Wall;
By some great Pencil to the Life express’d,
And in that Ages Form precisely Dress’d.
O! charming Salisbury, of Tufton’s Race,
Thou Soul Celestial, with an Angel’s Face, [140]
Could the long Order of the sleeping Fair,
Freed from Death’s Chain, once more breathe Vital Air,
With Envy would they Blush, with Rage to See,
Their Fashions foils to Thine; themselves to Thee.

Our next unhappy Stuarts pav’d the Way, [145]
For Caledonian Dames to come in play;
Beauties that shifted hardly once a Week,
For Cleanliness, alas; to them was Greek!
Now follow’d Canting Puritans in Shoals,
Who spoil’d our Bodies, as they damn’d our Souls; [150]
Of ev’ry Ornament they strip’d the Fair,
And hid their Bubbies with Paternal Care;
The Farthingal and Ruff appear’d no more,
And Ribbons savour’d of the Scarlet Whore;
With sad Simplicity they fill’d the Land, [155]
Brought-in the Forehead-Cloth and formal-Band.
In those Fanatic Times (the Learned say)
Attempts were made to Preach the Smock away,
For Smocks, so near the Flesh, were carnal, vain,
Too like the Surplice, and of course Profane; [160]
The Zealous Kirk the godly Cause to Crown,
Clean Linnen, and the Common Pray’r put down.

O! had that Crew for England’s Bane design’d,
Been to its Native North alone confin’d!
Annals might want, nor we our selves should know [165]
One Melancholy Scene of Royal Woe;
Wild Anarchy had kept beyond the Main,
With all her Viper-Brood, and Bestial Train,
Nor had our State been lost, nor hapless Charles been slain.

But lo, the Sun breaks thro’ the dismal Gloom, [170]
The Second Charles fills up th’ Usurper’s Room,
Unnumber’d Beauties flock from ev’ry Part,
And aim their Glances at their Master’s Heart.
The noisy Hypocrite no more was fear’d,
But Mantuas, Pendants, and Commodes appear’d; [175]
In all his wonted Flames the Lover burn’d,
And Sylphs long Banish’d to their Charge return’d
Sackvile and Wilmot then sat Censors here,
Kind to the Sex, but to its Faults severe;
Such Satire flow’d from their abounding Store, [180]
Tho’ France did much, their Pens refin’d us more.
Fools, and Coquets, the Muse Impartial hit,
The false Pretenders both to Airs and Wit;
Hence Woman still improv’d, whilst ev’ry Moon
With some New Mode produc’d a new Lampoon. [185]
Succeeding Beauties made the Former less,
Their Dishabille excell’d their Mother’s Dress.

In Anna’s Days at last the Point was gain’d,
To Fashion’s highest Pitch our Belles attain’d;
From France they came, and many a Foreign Shore, [190]
To learn Our Arts, who taught us Theirs before.

Love’s Goddess now the Furbeloe displays,
Invents the Flounces, and Reforms the Stays;
Her Handmaid Sisters leave their old Abodes,
And make this Town Metropolis of Modes. [195]
By Faction guided, Ladies patch the Face,
And to the Watch now add the Twezer Case.

White Breasts, and Shoulders bare, invade the Eye,
And Legs, no more conceal’d, our Jests defy,
Those pretty Legs so Taper, and so Smart, [200]
By which Men guess at ev’ry other Part.
The Petticoat remain’d a Point in doubt
Till Wren was forc’d to help our Beauties out;
A Roman Cupola he show’d in Print,
And thence of Modern Hoops, they took the hint; [205]
The vast Circumference gives Air below,
At large they tread, and more Majestic show:
Thro’ Lanes of ravish’d Beaus the Wonders pass,
And Names of Toasts are Cut on conscious Glass.

To You, fair Virgin Throng, with Myrtle crown’d [210]
Our Bumpers fill’d with gen’rous Wine go round;
For You, th’ Italian Worm her Silk prepares,
And distant India sends her choicest Wares;
Some Toy from ev’ry Part the Sailor brings,
The Sempstress labours, and the Poet sings. [215]
To Your bright Eyes I consecrate my Lays,
Inspir’d and warm’d by Their Celestial Rays;
Leave your Basset, your Sermons, and your Tea,
And listen to the Rules prescrib’d by Me.

When, undisturb’d with Spleen, you then design [220]
At Court, the Play, or in the Ring to shine,
Betimes, O Nymphs! to your Toilettes repair;
And first let Betty Comb th’ Ambrosial Hair.

Not all your Locks are equal in Renown,
Red yields to Fair, and Black excells the Brown; [225]
Some ask a plenteous Store of scented Grains;
Some, none at all; and please with little Pains:
Those, wanting Order, scarce endure the Test,
And These, in careless Favourites are best.
The brilliant Bodkin often adds a Grace, [230]
Or Jessamin sets off the blooming Face;
But be not Bigots to such Toys as these;
Approv’d to Day, to Morrow they displease.

Much Ribbon was in Use in Days of Yore,
Of Ells each Topknot had at least a Score, [235]
Now Custom has retrench’d that old Excess,
And fix’d on Female Brows a frugal Dress;
For smart Lace’d-Mobbs now even sink below
The frizled Foretop of a Modern Beau.

Take, gentle Creatures, take a Friend’s Advice, [240]
In polishing your Teeth be wond’rous nice;
For no Defect in these (should such be known)
Ten Thousand other Graces will attone;
Oft let the Brush it’s Morning Task repeat;
And shun at Boards the too high-season’d Meat; [245]
Ragouts, and luscious Soups, make Teeth decay,
And op’ning Lips the tainted Breath betray;
But ah! Your Paints are worse; refrain from Those,
Nor lose true Pearls to gain a borrow’d Rose.

Jewels, in which You take so great a Pride [250]
Are sometimes best (believe me) laid aside;
Such Ornaments take up the dazled Eye,
And make us pass your Charms unheeded by;
Besides, what Value adds the shining Store,
When many a formal Cit, perhaps, has more? [255]
If Cloe’s Features, and beginning Bloom,
Surprize the Censors of the Drawing-Room;
If just her Shape, her Air be degagée,
Her plain French Necklace is prefer’d by me.

The Teague-land Beau, with his Corinthian Face, [260]
Pursues Brocade, and dies for Flanders Lace;
For this wise Maxim he has learn’d by rote,
That richest Outsides, greatest Wealth denote.
Less sordid We, but more refin’d of Taste
Esteem in Chints, or Crape, a charming Waist; [265]
Thro’ Streets full oft, by Callicoes are led,
And Burn for Dashwood in a Muslin Head.

’Tis no small Task the true Genteel to hit
And shun the Censure of the Park or Pit;
Oft have I seen a Mantua pinn’d amiss [270]
Make People sneer, and almost cause a Hiss:
For Knots ill-fancy’d, or a taudry Gown
Ill natur’d Criticks, cry the Woman down;
With Prudes and Slatterns open War they wage,
And Ten to One, if either scapes the Stage. [275]

Four charming Sisters, were in Vogue of late,
Long rule’d unrival’d the Cosmetic State;
They nothing wore, but what was à propós,
Nor could the World compleater Models show;
But cruel Death (ah, Monster, too unkind!) [280]
Has left but half that conqu’ring Race behind.

Tho’ most condemn the Fair that’s over-nice,
Too great Neglect is oft an equal Vice;
Th’ establish’d Belle some Privilege may take,
Affect loose Airs; and counterfeit the Rake; [285]
May lay the Necklace, and the Drops aside,
Half comb her Locks, and all her Linnen hide;
But no such License is to Those allow’d,
Whose undistinguish’d Forms make up the Crowd.

How plain soe’er you Dress, be throughly clean, [290]
Nor let the Smock be foul, because unseen;
But chiefly You, that are to Plump inclin’d,
And You, whose Hair is of the Carrot Kind.

Be wond’rous tight about the Leg and Foot;
Those Parts neglected, soon betray the Slut: [295]
In chusing Stockings, shun the Vulgar Blue,
And braid, as well as lace, the Damask Shoe,
When you put on, to grace a solemn Day,
Your best Attire, and ev’ry Charm display;
Each due Convenience for your Ease prepare: [300]
But most, ye Nymphs, of lacing-close, beware;
Lest, by a Fit surpriz’d, you, swooning, fall,
Disturb the Feast, or interrupt the Ball:
Then the Breast heaves, the Blush the Cheek forsakes,
Till some kind Hand the Whalebone Prison breaks: [305]
Mean while, an Am’rous Youth may steal a Kiss;
Or snatch, unfelt perhaps, a greater Bliss.

I much approve, when Snowy Breasts are seen,
Of Fragrant Sprigs the Nosegay stuck between:
The Scent and Object make us half despair, [310]
And ardent Lovers wish their Lips were there.

When for the Morning Air abroad you steal,
The Cloak of Camlet may your Charms conceal;
The Cloak, in which a Noble Peer of late
Got off Incog. and slily bilk’d the State: [315]
That, with a Mask, is such a sure Disguise,
’Twould cheat an Argus, or a Spaniard’s Eyes.

Thus whilst with Artless Hand I touch the String,
And trace our Fashions to their Ancient Spring;
For Berk’ley’s Loss, with Song divert my Care, [320]
And call the Beauteous Crowd to lend an Ear;
Vouchsafe, Auspicious on the Muse to shine,
Supreme of Nymphs, O Matchless Caroline!
So, may those Graces (who, deriv’d from Thee,
Of Future Bards the Glorious Theme shall be) [325]
When Time has ripen’d all Their growing Charms,
And Form’d each Princess for a Monarch’s Arms;
Their People’s Hearts, as Thou dost Thine possess,
And Learn from Thee to Govern, and to Dress.


Notes

Hengist
The first Saxon King of Kent. [Breval’s note.] Hengist and his brother Horsa are legendary figures said to have led the Anglo-Saxons to England in the fifth century.
Rowena
His Neice. See Milton’s History of England. [Breval&rsuqo;s note.]
Vortigern
The King of Britain. [Breval’s note.] Vortigern is the legendary wicked king who invited Hengist and Horsa; they later betrayed him.
Alps
The Welch Mountains. [Breval’s note.]
Egbert
First sole Monarch of England. [Breval’s note.] Ecgbehrt, King of Wessex (c. 771–839) absorbed a number of kingdoms into a larger Wessex.
Canute
The first Danish King of England, who married Emma, Widow of King Ethelred. [Breval’s note.]
Plantagenet
King Henry II. [Breval’s note.] Henry Plantagenet (1133–89) was the first English king of the House of Plantagenet; the Plantagenets held the throne until 1485, when Richard III died and was succeeded by Henry VII of the House of Tudor.
Kate
Infanta of Spain. Wife, first to Prince Arthur, and then to his Brother, Henry VIII. [Breval’s note.]
Cecil
Hatfield. [Breval’s note.]
Sylphs
Aerial Spirits, composed of the purest Atoms of the Air. See, The diverting History of the Count De Gabalis. Printed for E. Curll. [Breval’s note.]
Sackville and Wilmot
The Earls of Dorset and Rochester. [Breval’s note.] Charles Sackville, Sixth Earl of Dorset, and John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester, were both notoriously immoral poets and courtiers.
Cupola
Sir Christopher Wren’s Print of St. Paul’s Cathedral. [Breval’s note.] The modern St. Paul's Cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London; it was consecrated in 1697. It famously sports a large cupola (dome), inspired by St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
Dashwood
Miss Dashwood a celebrated Beauty. [Breval’s note.]
Four charming Sisters
The Duke of Marlborough’s Daughters. [Breval’s note.] John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722), was a celebrated military hero.
Peer
The Earl of Nithisdale, who escaped out of the Tower. [Breval’s note.] William Maxwell, Fifth Earl of Nisdale (1676–1744), was a Catholic who participated in the Jacobite rebellions of 1715. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London and sentenced to death; the day before the sentence was to be carried out, he escaped by swapping clothes with his wife’s maid, and made his way to Rome.