Joseph B. (Joseph Barlow) Felt.

The customs of New England online

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comparison of the present with the past, that many a custom
in the beau monde has had its periodical appearances and
occultations. We learn, that while the pen of experience
has inscribed mutability on fashions, as well as on all human
inventions, such is this changeableness, that when one period
of time has been satiated with them, and neglect consigns
them to the grave of temporary forgetfulness, they are resus-
citated, and become objects of attention, attachment, dislike,
and rejection, of other periods in broken succession. Thus
it is that customs of dress are

" Ebbing and flo-«-ing like the fickle flood,
That knows no sure, no fixed abiding-place."

But unsteady as they are, there is much seriousness in the
reflection, that they have wielded their sway over myriads
and myriads, whose bodies no more need the plastic hand of
art for their adornment, and whose spirits have long been
conversant with eternal realities, according to their belief
and conduct in the years of their probation.

Second. Some fashions are not based on the principles of
correct taste. There is that implanted in us by our Maker
which renders us inwardly pleased with what is useful and
comely, and the reverse with what is injurious and distorted.
This is the natural taste, whereby persons who have cultivat-
ed it, have uniformly consented to admire the chefs cl'osuvres,
or principal productions, of master painters, sculptors, and
architects ; the verdant and blooming fields of spring ; the
sea, gently ruffled with the welcome breeze of summer, and
whitened with the canvas of wafted fleets ; the blue heav-
ens, illumined by the sun, and the starry worlds of boundless
space. Were we as independent in applying such discern-
ment to our modes of dress, how difierent would be our prac-


tice, in some instances, from what it really is. In this re-
spect, we should not adojDt any attire, or modification of the
hair, because they came recommended to us, as either of
French or English invention, as worn either by a Beau Nash
or a Parisian belle ; but because it was suited to our condi-
tion, form, comfort, and comeliness. Still, it is matter of
fact, that fashions which are said to have originated in an
attempt to hide natural deformities have had their reigns in
Europe and America, and received more implicit compliance
from multitudes of intelligent, virtuous, and respected indi-
viduals, than ever the most absolute monarch did from his
numerous subjects. We know, too, that modes of dress have
been on such opposite extremes, that if one accorded with
good taste, the other could not possibly. Further, we can
recollect how loathfully we have bowed our necks to the yoke
of some costumes, giving up the bias of our own judgment
for conformity with their mandates, which label inconven-
ience as comfort, peril as safety, the want of symmetry as
proportion, and ugliness as beauty. Hence we perceive that
whenever we blindly follow the routine of the fashionable
world, regardless whether it turns to the right or left from
the true standard, we do not take counsel from the dictates
of refined taste.

" This, "when delicately fine,
Is the pure sunshine of a soul divine,
The full perfection of each mental power ;
'Tis sense, 'tis nature, and 'tis something more ;
It gives the lyre with happier sounds to flow,
With purer blushes bids fair beauty glow.
From Raphael's pencil calls a nobler line,
And warms, Correggio, every touch of thine."

Third. Extravagance in dress is chargeable to one sex as
well as the other. We look back on the intricate paths
which fashion has long trodden. At one period, we perceive
that men were extremely outre in their choice of shape,
and profuse in the materials of dress, and in the same or
another age women were alike inclined. If, in reference to
such scores, we attempt to strike a balance in favor of one

REMAkXS. 207

sex, and against the other, the plain leger of history forbids.
The debt and credit of both parlies are about equal. Hence,
if either one or the other are prompted to say, " Mend your
modes," let them think on the deserved rei)ly, •' First incMid
your own." Their mutual charity should throw its mantle
over their past deviations from the correct standard. Their
obligation to themselves and others should lead them to speak
and act for all needed reform. Like the two ancient heroes,
who agreed to bury their personal difiercnces, and unite their
energies against the foe of their country, so should both sexes
leave their sarcasms of retaliation, and engage in a common
onset against the prominent faults of dress. Let them join
their precepts and exertions in so commendable an enterprise,
and they will not prove like " the cord of Ocnus," or labor
lost, but will be followed, at least, with some measure of sat-
isfactory success.

Last. A call for reformation. This call is heard from va-
rious sources. It comes from the superabundant expense
which the wealthy incur, so that their clothing shall denote
their great possessions, and far excel what persons of lower
condition can appear with. It is heard from the inconven-
ient and sometimes ruinous ambition which impels multi-
tudes of little or no property to attire themselves far beyond
their honest means, so that they may make a show not infe-
rior to that of the rich. It reaches our ears from frequent
violations of good taste, which instructs us to unite the
useful with the agreeable, and to have our garbs in accord-
ance with decency, health, and comfort, as well as with
proper comeliness. It comes from the necessities of the
poor ; from the thousand beneficent institutions, which might
be Dountifully supplied, with a dutiful exercise of self-denial
in the many useless items and unnecessary expenditures of
dress. From these calls we ought not to turn away, as if
they had no application to us or our age. They are as loud,
and as strongly binding on our consciences and actions, as
the undisputed demands of temperance in food and drink.
They must have our attention, excite our sympathies, brace
up our purposes, and receive our hearty action, or else we


shall be justly charged with destitution of true freedom in a
most important concern. We are told, that when Lord
Howe declined to treat with a committee of the American
Congress, a.-, such, and said that he would confer with them
as private gentlemen, the elder Adams, with his characteristic
promptitude and courage, replied, " You may view me in
what light you please, except in that of a British subject."
In some like manner should be our language to the absolute
sway of custom. We should say to it, " Consider us in any
character you wish, save that of blind devotees at your al-
tar." Such a position is entirely consistent with a decorous
and pleasant variety in dress. Look at the lilies of the field,
which far surpass the glory of Solomon ; on the earth and
heavens, as garnished by the hand that made them ; you are
not weary w^ith beholding these works, though they have met
your eyes all the years of your life. But the same discretion
which enables you to receive high satisfaction from them,
would help you to enjoy a similar experience with regard to
a fit independence of feeling and action in the concerns of
personal attire. Let us be faithful in this, as well as all the
duties devolving upon us, in our short and uncertain pilgrim-
age below ; then, when summoned to breathe our last, we
shall be " refined from passion and the dregs of sense," and
welcomed to a blessed immortality,

" Bathing forever in the font of bliss,
Forever basking in the Deity."

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Online LibraryJoseph B. (Joseph Barlow) FeltThe customs of New England → online text (page 18 of 18)