« PreviousContinue »
whole handful of my affections at once! -Frank! Frank! if I should pardon thee, how canst thou forgive thyself?
Whither am I now to turn these aged eyes, if I would seek any thing antique or picturesque in the surface of society? I see the earth thickly studded with black and blue reptiles called men; but as to distinguishing one from another, I might as well attempt to pick out a particular bee from his hive, or ant from its nest. The world is nothing now but a monotonous modification of broad-cloth-a homogeneous mass of bipeds;—and so far from encountering those pictorial varieties of costume which give such graphic animation to Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims, we have lost even the wig and gold-headed cane of our Doctors; our cocked-hats have fallen into as much desuetude as the desecrated Tripod of the Pythoness, and the last of our pigtails has been decollated! When I look around me I seem to have survived myself, or to have walked by mistake into a wrong century. I hate such a congregation of duplicates as our streets present-such a mass of dittossuch an accumulation of fac-similes—such a civil regiment:—and as if the human monotony were not sufficient, we build our streets so like barracks or manufactories, so mathematically uniform, so much like prolonged honeycombs, that it has always puzzled me to explain how the tenants find their respective cells, even in the day-time. By night, I take it for granted that they rarely succeed. If I ever change my residence, it shall be to Regent-street, where there is at
least a chance of finding my own house; or where, if I am at a loss, I may at all events describe it as a nondescript, belonging to the order of Disorder.
The establishment of mail-coaches accelerated this social amalgamation, by conveying the fashions in four or five days from Bond-street to the Highlands and the Land's End, and enabling the extremities of the island to be whisked up to London by four bloodhorses. Bell and Lancaster have completed the process: we can all read and talk alike, though I flatter myself some can still write a little better than their neighbours: the rural Echoes no longer babble in dialect, and our farmers neither wear cowskin waistcoats, nor rusticise like Hobbinol and Diggon Davy. Character, as to its broad delineations, is blotted out; individuality is extinct: nobody is himself, we are all every body, and we ought each of us to be designated as Mr. Community, or Public, Esq. I pity the dramatist who is compelled to see the broad foot of Improvement (as it is termed) trampling down his harvest, and crushing the very elements and materials of his art. We have no longer any genuine quizzes or odd fellows-society has shaken us together in its bag until all our original characters and impressions have been rubbed out, and we are left as smooth and polished as old shillings. Having no angles, we slip through the fingers of the play-wright: he might as well attempt to dramatize a bag of marbles. Can we wonder at the degraded state of the drama, the remaining interest of which is still feebly upheld by a gross violation of existing costume, and the retention
of those ancient modes, particularly in our farces, which by stamping the age, character, and profession of the wearer, adapted themselves so happily to dramatic representation.
Dress is a greater ingredient in the formation of character than is generally supposed, and we may be strictly called, in more senses than one, the creatures of habit. The Romans were aware of this when they gave their citizens the exclusive jus toga, as a garment which might distinguish them in every quarter of the world, and stimulate them to uphold the national reputation. Our clergymen are restrained from any public indecorum by respect for their cloth: Quakers carry about with them a drab-coloured Mentor, which sticks closer to them than did Minerva to Telemachus; and the gentlemen of the long robe see in their garment a Janus-like kind of monitor, somewhat resembling the Agatho-demon of Socrates. As an artificial memory may be created by types and symbols, so we may peruse these woollen didactics until we acquire a morality of broad cloth, and derive a character from our wardrobe. Individuals may partake this sentiment without reference to their profession. Could the wearer of laced garments, when they were in vogue, be seen in any act or situation unworthy of a gentleman? No; he must act up to his clothes. But now all distinctions of rank are annihilated: hair-powder, the last difference between masters and servants, has vanished; our heads are as much alike externally as they are within; we are become a characterless multitude. Elijah's mantle retained his
inspiration; but I should wish to know what gifts can be expected to reside in a poodle upper-benjamin, or whether artists can extract more from our modern uniforms than the dramatist. What sort of a figure should we cut in marble? or could any existing Hogarth throw a mass of modern hats into the corner of his picture, so that we might individualize every one, and appropriate it to its owner amid the group of living figures? The drab-coloured Quakers have never yet produced an artist; and the black and blue ones will probably be no better provided should the pre
sent modes continue.
But worse than this confusion of ranks is the levelling and jumbling of ages by this preposterous omniparity of appearance. It was but last week that a young acquaintance of mine overtaking, as he imagined, a fellow-collegian, and saluting him with a hearty slap on the back and the exclamation-"Ah! Harry, is it you?" found he had nearly knocked the breath out of his own grandfather! These pedestrian anachronisms, these walking impostors, these liars in broad-cloth, these habitual cheats, all ought to be sent to Bridewell; for if the reputation of juvenility be a good, is it not felonious to obtain it under false pretences? Every superannuated Adonis and “Dandy of sixty" should be shut up with all the grandmothers of the Loves in a House of mutual correction. What! is the tailor to be our modern alchymist, and take measure of us for a new youth? Is his magical goose to lay the golden egg which we may resolve into the true aurum potabile and elixir vita? Are his scissors
to dash the fatal shears from the hand of Atropos, and is he to pass the thread of life through his needle? Some of our juvenile septuagenaries, who strive to escape a second childhood by never going out of the first, seem besotted enough to imagine that they can stop the great wheel of Time by stuffing their wigs and cocked-hats between the spokes, and blunt the scythe of Death by wreathing it with bunches of touchme-not, as the Tyrannicides, Harmodius and Aristogiton, twined roses around their swords. As well might they expect to arrest the progress of senility by stopping their watches, or ensure a perpetual spring by sticking artificial primroses in their button-holes. Let them "bid Taliocotius trim them the calves of twenty chairmen," and if he obey the summons, I will credit the possibility of their rejuveniscence; let them imitate Sinbad the Sailor, and shake the old man from their shoulders, and I will allow them to be covered with a youthful habit. Rather should they recollect the reproach of Fontenelle to a greybeard who had dyed the hair of his head black-"Sir, it is easy to see that you have worked more with your jaws than your brains." The old Frenchman who refused to take physic because he was in hopes death had forgotten him, and was afraid of putting him in mind, had better plea for his folly than these ancient simpletons, who hope to sneak by him in the disguise of boy's clothes. When any such are detected and carried off by the hawk-eyed King of shadows, I recommend their friends to insert their deaths in somewhat the following style: "Died in the full flower of his poodle