No 116. Thursday, January 5, 1709.
Sheer-Lane, January 4.
THE court being prepared for proceeding on the cause of the Petticoat, I gave orders to bring in a crimi∣nal who was taken up as she went out of the puppet-show about three nights ago, and was now standing in the street with a great concourse of people about her. Word was brought me, that she had endeavoured twice or thrice to come in, but could not do it by reason of her petti∣coat, which was too large for the entrance of my house, though I had ordered both the folding-doors to be thrown open for its reception. Upon this, I desired the jury of matrons, who stood at my right hand, to inform themselves of her condition, and know whether there were any private reasons why she might not make her appearance separate from her petticoat. This was ma∣naged with great discretion, and had such an effect, that upon the return of the verdict from the bench of ma∣trons, I issued out an order forthwith, that the criminal should be stripped of her incumbrances, till she became little enough to enter my house. I had before given dire∣ctions for an engine of several legs, that could contract or open itself like the top of an umbrello, in order to place the petticoat upon it, by which means I might take a leisurely survey of it, as it should appear in its proper dimensions. This was all done accordingly; and forth∣with, upon the closing of the engine, the petticoat was brought into court. I then directed the machine to be set upon the table, and dilated in such a manner as to show the garment in its utmost circumference; but my great hall was too narrow for the experiment; for before it was half unfolded, it described so immoderate a circle, that the lower part of it brushed upon my face as I sat in my chair of judicature. I then enquired for the person Page 74 that belonged to the petticoat; and to my great surprize, was directed to a very beautiful young damsel, with so pretty a face and shape, that I bid her come out of the croud, and seated her upon a little crock at my left hand.
The council for the petticoat was now called in, and ordered to produce what they had to say against the po∣pular cry which was raised against it. They answered the objections with great strength and solidity of argument, and expatiated in very florid harangues, which they did not fail to set off and furbelow, if I may be allowed the metaphor, with many periodical sentences and turns of oratory. The chief arguments for their client were taken, first, from the great benefit that might arise to our woollen manufactury from this invention, which was cal∣culated as follows: the common petticoat has not above four yards in the circumference; whereas this over Page 75 our heads had more in the semi-diameter; so that by al∣lowing it twenty-four yards in the circumference, the five millions of woollen petticoats, which according to Sir William Petty (supposing what ought to be supposed in a well-governed state, that all petticoats are made of that stuff,) would amount to thirty millions of those of the ancient mode. A prodigious improvement of the woollen trade! and what could not fail to sink the power of France in a few years.
To introduce the second argument, they begged leave to read a petition of the rope-makers, wherein it was re∣presented, that the demand for cords, and the price of them, were much risen since this fashion came up. At this, all the company who were present lifted up their eyes into the vault; and I must confess we did discover many traces of cordage which were interwoven in the stiffening of the drapery.
A third argument was founded upon a petition of the Greenland trade, which likewise represented the great consumption of the whale-bone which would be occasioned by the present fashion, and the benefit which would there∣by accrue to that branch of the British trade.
To conclude, they gently touched upon the weight and unweildiness of the garment, which they insinuated might be of great use to preserve the honour of families.
These arguments would have wrought very much upon me, (as I then told the company in a long and elaborate discourse) had I not considered the great and additional expence which such fashions would bring upon fathers and husbands; and therefore by no means to be thought of till some years after a peace. I further urged, that it would be a prejudice to the ladies themselves, who could never expect to have any money in the pocket, if they laid out so much on the petticoat. To this I added the great temptation it might give to virgins, of acting in security like married women, and by that means give a check to matrimony, an institution always encouraged by wise societies.
Page 76 At the same time, in answer to the several petitions produced on that side, I shewed one subscribed by the wo∣men of several persons of quality, humbly setting forth, that since the introduction of this mode, their respective ladies had (instead of bestowing on them their cast-gowns) cut them in shreds, and mixed them with the cordage and backram, to complete the stiffening of their under∣petticoats. For which, and sundry other, reasons, I pro∣nounced the petticoat a forfeiture. But to shew that I did not make that judgment for the sake of filthy lucre, I order∣ed it to be solded up, and sent it as a present to a widow∣gentlewoman, who has five daughters, desiring she would make each of them a petticoat out of it, and send me back the remainder, which I design to cut into stomachers, caps, facings of my wastcoat-sleeves, and other garnitures suitable to my age and quality.
I would not be understood that, while I discard this monstrous invention, I am an enemy to the proper or∣naments of the fair sex. On the contrary, as the hand of nature has poured on them such a profusion of charms and graces, and sent them into the world more amiable and finished than the rest of her works; so I would have them bestow upon themselves all the additional beauties that art can supply them with, provided it does not in∣terfere with, disguise, or pervert, those of nature.
I consider woman as a beautiful romantic animal, that may be adorned with furs and feathers, pearls and diamonds, ores and silks. The lynx shall cast its skin at her feet to make her a tippet; the peacock, parrat, and swan, shall pay contributions to her muff; the sea shall be searched for shells, and the rocks for gems; and e∣very part of nature furnish out its share towards the em∣bellishment of a creature that is the most consummate work of it. All this I shall indulge them in; but as for the petticoat I have been speaking of, I neither can nor will allow it.