The Tatler: By the Right Honourable Joseph Addison, Esq;.
Addison, Joseph, 1672-1719.
Page  6

No. 75. Saturday, October 1. 1709.

From my own apartment, September 30.

I AM called off from public dissertations by a dome∣stic affair of great importance, which is no less than the disposal of my sister Jenny for life. The girl is a girl of great merit, and pleasing conversation; but I being born of my father's first wife, and she of his third, she converses with me rather like a daughter than a sister. I have indeed told her, that if she kept her honour, and behaved herself in such a manner as became the Bickerstaffs, I would get her an agreeable man for her husband; which was a promise I made her after reading a passage in Pliny's Epistles. That polite author had been employed to find out a consort for his friend's daughter, and gives the following character of the man he had pitched upon.

Aciliano plurimum vigoris et industriae quanquam in max∣ima verecundia: est illi facies liberalis, multo sanguine, multo rubore, suffusa: est ingenua totius corporis pulchri∣tudo, et quidam senatorius decor, quae ego nequaquam arbitror negligenda; debet enim hoc castitati puellarum quasi praemium dari.

'Acilianus is a man of extraordinary vigour and in∣dustry, accompanied with the greatest modesty. He has very much of the gentleman, with a lively colour, and flush of health in his aspect. His whole person is finely turned, and speaks him a man of quality: which are qulifications, that, I think, ought by no means to be overlooked, and should be bestowed on a daugh∣ter as the reward of her chastity.'

A woman, that will give herself liberties, need not put her parents to so much trouble; for if she does not possess these ornaments in a husband, she can supply herself else∣where. But this is not the case of my sister Jenny, who, I may say without vanity, is as unspotted a spin∣ster Page  7 as any in Great Britain. I shall take this occasion to recommend the conduct of our own family in this particular.

We have, in the genealogy of our house, the descri∣ptions and pictures of our ancestors from the time of king Arthur; in whose days there was one of my own name, a knight of his round table, and known by the name of Sir Isaac Bickerstaff. He was low of stature, and of a very swarthy complexion, not unlike a Portuguese Jew. But he was more prudent than men of that height usual∣ly are, and would often communicate to his friends his design of lengthening and whitening his posterity. His eldest son Ralph (for that was his name) was for this rea∣son married to a lady who had little else to recommend her but that she was very tall and fair. The issue of this match, with the help of his shoes, made a tolerable figure in the next age; though the complexion of the family was obscure 'till the fourth generation from that marriage. From which time, till the reign of William the Conqueror, the females of our house were famous for their needle-work and fine skins. In the male line there happened an unlucky accident in the reign of Richard the third, the eldest son of Philip, then chief of the family, being born with an hump-back and very high nose. This was the more astonishing, because none of his forefathers ever had such a blemish; nor in∣deed was there any in the neighbourhood of that make, except the butler, who was noted for round shoulders, and a Roman nose: what made the nose the less excus∣able, was the remarkable smallness of his eyes.

The several defects were mended by succeeding match∣es; his eyes were opened in the next generation, and the hump fell in a century and half; but the greatest dif∣ficulty was how to reduce the nose; which I do not find was accomplished till about the middle of Henry the seventh's reign, or rather the beginning of that of Hen∣ry the eighth.

But while our ancestors were thus taken up in culti∣vating Page  8 the eyes and nose, the face of the Bickerstaffs fell down insensibly into chin; which was not taken notice of (their thoughts being so much employed upon the more noble features) till it became almost too long to be remedied.

But length of time, and successive care in our allian∣ces, have cured this also, and reduced our faces into that tolerable oval which we enjoy at present. I would not be tedious in this discourse, but cannot but observe, that our race suffered very much about three hundred years ago, by the marriage of one of her heiresses with an eminent courtier, who gave us spindle-shanks, and cramps in our bones, insomuch that we did not recover our health and legs till Sir Walter Bickerstaff married Maud the milk-maid, of whom the then Garter king at arms (a facetious person) said pleasantly enough, that she had spoiled our blood, but mended our constitutions.

After this account of the effect our prudent choice of matches has had upon our persons and features, I can∣not but observe, that there are daily instances of as great changes made by marriage upon men's minds and hu∣mours. One might wear any passion out of a family by culture, as skilful gardiners blot a colour out of a tulip that hurts its beauty. One might produce an affable tem∣per out of a shrew, by grasting the mild upon the cho∣leric; or raise a jackpudding from a prude, by inocu∣lating mirth and melancholy. It is for want of care in the disposing of our children, with regard to our bodies and minds, that we go into an house and see such dif∣ferent complexions and humours in the same race and family. But to me it is as plain as a pikestaff, from what mixture it is, that this daughter silently lowers, the other steals a kind lock at you, a third is exactly well behaved, a fourth a splenatic, and a fifth a coquerte.

In this disposal of my sister, I have chosen, with an eye to ber being a wit, and provided, that the bride∣groom be a man of a found and excellent jedgment, who will seldom mind what she says when she begins to Page  9 harangue: for Jenny's only imperfection is an admira∣tion of her parts, which inclines her to be a little, but a very little, sluttish; and you are ever to remark, that we are apt to cultivate most, and bring into observation, what we think most excellent in ourselves, or most cap∣able of improvement. Thus my sister, instead of con∣sulting her glass and her toilet for an hour and an half after her private devotion, sits with her nose full of snuff, and a man's nightcap on her head, reading plays and romances. Her wit she thinks her distinction; there∣fore knows nothing of the skill of dress, or making her person agreeable. It would make you laugh, to see me often with my spectacles on lacing her stays; for she is so very a wit, that she understands no ordinary thing in the world.

For this reason I have disposed of her to a man of bu∣siness, who will soon let her see, that to be well dressed, in good humour, and chearful in the command of her family, are the arts and sciences of female life. I could have bestowed her upon a fine gentleman, who extreme∣ly admired her wit, and would have given her a coach and six: but I found it absolutely necessary to cross the strain; for had they met, they had eternally been rivals in discourse, and in continual contention for the superio∣rity of understanding, and brought forth critics, pedants, or pretty good poets.

As it is, I expect an off-spring fit for the habitation of city, town or country; creatures that are docile and tra∣ctable in whatever we put them to.

To convince men of the necessity of taking this me∣thod, let any one, even below the skill of an astrologer, behold the turn of faces he meets as soon as he passes Cheapside-conduit, and you see a deep attention and a certain unthinking sharpness in every countenance. They look attentive, but their thoughts are engaged on mean purposes. To me it is very apparent when I see a citizen pass by, whether his head is upon woollen, silks, iron, sugar, indigo, or stocks. Now this trace of Page  10 thought appears or lies hid in the race for two or three generations.

I know at this time a person of a vast estate, who is the immediate descendant of a fine gentleman, but the great-grandson of a broker, in whom his ancestor is now revived. He is a very honest gentleman in his prin∣ciples, but cannot for his blood talk fairly: he is hearti∣ly sorry for it; but he cheats by constitution, and over∣reaches by instinct.

The happiness of the man who marries my sister will be, that he has no faults to correct in her but her own, a little byass of fancy, or particularity of manners which grew in herself, and can be amended by her. From such an untainted couple, we can hope to have our family rise to its ancient splendor of face, air, countenance, manner and shape, without discovering the product of ten nations in one house. Obadiah Green-hat says, he never comes into any company in England, but he di∣stinguishes the different nations of which we are compos∣ed: there is scarce such a living creature as a true Bri∣tain. We sit down indeed all friends, acquaintance, and neighbours; but after two bottles, you see a Dane start up and swear, the kingdom is his own. A Saxon drinks up the whole quart, and swears, he will dispute that with him. A Norman tells them both, he will assert his liberty: and a Welshman cries, they are all foreigners and intruders of yesterday, and beats them out of the room. Such accidents happen frequently among neigh∣bours children, and cousin-germans. For which reason I say, study your race, or the soil of your family will dwindle into cits or 'squires, or run up into wits or madmen.