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THE LIBRARY

OF

THE UNIVERSITY

OF CALIFORNIA

LOS ANGELES



A DEFENCE OF COSMETICS



5S^-



BY THE SAME AUTHOR



MORE

THE HAPPY HYPOCRITE



A Defence of Cosmetics



BY

MAX BEERBOHM




NEW YORK
DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY

1922



Copyright, 1896
By DODD, mead and COMPANY



PRINTED IN XT. 8. A.



A DEFENCE OF COSMETICS



813606



«^'



DEFENCE OF COSMETICS




AY, but it is useless to protest.
Artifice must queen it once
more in the town, and so, if
there be any whose hearts
chafe at her return, let them
not say, "We have come into evil times," and
be all for resistance, reformation, or angry
cavilling. For did the king's sceptre send the
sea retrograde, or the wand of the sorcerer
avail to turn the sun from its old course?
And what man or what number of men ever
stayed that inexorable process by which the
cities of this world grow, are very strong, fail,
and grow again? Indeed, indeed, there is
charm in every period, and only fools and
flutterpates do not seek reverently for
what is charming in their own day.
No martyrdom, however fine, nor satire,
however splendidly bitter, has changed by
a little tittle the known tendency of things.
It is the times that can perfect us, not we the
times, and so let all of us wisely acquiesce.
Like the little wired marionettes, let us ac-
quiesce in the <;lance.



A DEFENCE OF COSMETICS

For behold! The Victorian era comes to
its end and the day of sancta simplicitas is
quite ended. The old signs are here and the
portents to warn the seer of life that we are
ripe for a new epoch of artifice. Are not
men rattling the dice-box and ladies dipping
their fingers in the rouge-pot? At Rome, in
the keenest time of her degringolade, when
there was gambling even in the holy temples,
great ladies (does not Lucian tell us?) did
not scruple to squander all they had upon un-
guents from Arabia. Nero's mistress and un-
happy wife, Poppaea, of shameful memory,
had in her travelling retinue fifteen — or, as
some say, fifty — she-asses, for the sake of
their milk, that was thought an incomparable
guard against cosmetics with poison in them.
Last century, too, when life was lived by
candle-light, and ethics was but etiquette, and
even art a question of punctilio, women, we
know, gave the best hours of the day to the
crafty farding of their faces and the tower-
ing of their coiffures. And men, throwing
passion into the wine-bowl to sink or swim,
turned out thought to browse upon the green
cloth. Cannot we even now in our fancy

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A DEFENCE OF COSMETICS

see them, those silent exquisites round the
long table at Brook's, masked, all of them,
"lest the countenance should betray feeling,"
in quinze masks, through whose eyelets they
sat peeping, peeping, while macao brought
them riches or ruin! We can see them, those
silent rascals, sitting there with their cards
and their rouleaux and their wooden money-
bowls, long after the dawn had crept up St.
James's and pressed its haggard face against
the window of the little club. Yes, we can
raise their ghosts — and, more, we can see
manywhere a devotion to hazard fully as
meek as theirs. In England there has been
a wonderful revival of cards. Baccarat may
rival dead faro in the tale of her devotees.
We have all seen the sweet English chatelaine
at her roulette wheel, and ere long it may
be that tender parents will be writing to com-
plain of the compulsory baccarat in our public
schools.

In fact, we are all gamblers once more,
but our gambling is on a finer scale than ever
it was. We fly from the card-room to the
heath, and from the heath to the City, and
from the City to the coast of the Mediter-



A DEFENCE OF COSMETICS

ranean. And just as no one seriously en-
courages the clergy in its frantic efforts to
lay the spirit of chance that has thus resurged
among us, so no longer are many faces set
against that other great sign of a more com-
plicated life, the love for cosmetics. No
longer is a lady of fashion blamed if, to
escape the outrageous persecution of time,
she fly for sanctuary to the toilet-table; and
if a damosel, prying in her mirror, be sure
that with brush and pigment she can trick
herself into more charm, we are not angry.
Indeed, why should we ever have been?
Surely it is laudable, this wish to make fair
the ugly and overtop fairness, and no wonder
that within the last five years the trade of the
makers of cosmetics has increased im-
moderately — twenty-fold, so one of these
makers has said to me. We need but walk
down any modish street and peer into the little
broughams that flit past, or (in Thackeray's
phrase) under the bonnet of any woman we
meet, to see over how wide a kingdom rouge
reigns.

And now that the use of pigments is be-
coming general, and most women are not so

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A DEFENCE OF COSMETICS

young as they are painted, it may be asked
curiously how the prejudice ever came into
being. Indeed, it is hard to trace folly, for
that it is inconsequent, to its start; and per-
haps it savours too much of reason to sug-
gest that the prejudice was due to the tristful
confusion man has made of soul and surface.
Through trusting so keenly to the detection
of the one by keeping watch upon the other,
and by force of the thousand errors follow-
ing, he has come to think of surface even as
the reverse of soul. He seems to suppose
that every clown beneath his paint and lip-
salve is moribund and knows it (though in
verity, I am told, clowns are as cheerful a
class of men as any other), that the fairer
the fruit's rind and the more delectable its
bloom, the closer are packed the ashes within
it. The very jargon of the hunting-field
connects cunning with a mask. And so per-
haps came man's anger at the embellishment
of women — that lovely mask of enamel with
its shadows of pink and tiny pencilled veins,
what must lurk behind it? Of what treach-
erous mysteries may it not be the screen?
Does not the heathen lacquer her dark face,



A DEFENCE OF COSMETICS

and the harlot paint her cheeks, because
sorrow has made them pale?

After all, the old prejudice is a-dying.
We need not pry into the secret of its birth.
Rather is this a time of jolliness and glad
indulgence. For the era of rouge is upon
us, and as only in an elaborate era can man,
by the tangled accrescency of his own
pleasures and emotions, reach that refinement
which is his highest excellence, and by mak-
ing himself, so to say, independent of Nature,
come nearest to God, so only in an elaborate
era is woman perfect. Artifice is the strength
of the world, and in that same mask of paint
and powder, shadowed with vermeil tinct and
most trimly pencilled, is woman's strength.

For see! We need not look so far back
to see woman under the direct influence of
Nature. Early in this century, our grand-
mothers, sickening of the odour of faded
exotics and spilt wine, came out into the day-
light once more and let the breezes blow
around their faces and enter, sharp and wel-
come, into their lungs. Artifice they drove
forth and they set Martin Tupper upon a
throne of mahogany to rule over them. A



A DEFENCE OF COSMETICS

very reign of terror set in. All things were
sacrificed to the fetish Nature. Old ladies
may still be heard to tell how, when they
were girls, aflfectation was not; and, if we
verify their assertion in the light of such
literary authorities as Dickens, we find that
it is absolutely true. Women appear to have
been in those days utterly natural in their
conduct — flighty, fainting, blushing, gush-
ing, giggling, and shaking their curls. They
knew no reserve in the first days of the
Victorian era. No thought was held too
trivial, no emotion too silly, to express. To
Nature everything was sacrificed. Great
heavens! And in those barren days what in-
fluence did women exert! By men they seem
not to have been feared nor loved, but re-
garded rather as "dear little creatures" or
"wonderful little beings," and in their rela-
tion to life as foolish and ineffectual as the
landscapes they did in water-colours. Yet,
if the women of those years were of no great
account, they had a certain charm, and they
at least had not begun to trepass upon men's
ground; if they touched not thought, which is
theirs by right, at any rate they refrained

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from action, which is ours. Far more serious
was it when, in the natural trend of time, they
became enamoured of rinking and archery and
galloping along the Brighton Parade. Swiftly
they have sped on since then from horror
to horror. The invasion of the tennis-courts
and of the golf-links, the seizure of the bicycle
and of the typewriter, were but steps pre-
liminary in that campaign which is to end
with the final victorious occupation of St.
Stephen's. But stay! The horrific pioneers
of womanhood who gad hither and thither
and, confounding wisdom with the device on
her shield, shriek for the unbecoming, are
doomed. Though they spin their bicycle-
treadles so amazingly fast, they are too late.
Though they scream victory, none follow them.
Artifice, that fair exile, has returned.

Yes, though the pioneers know it not, they
are doomed already. For of the curiosities
of history not the least strange is the manner
in which two social movements may be seen
to overlap, long after the second has, in truth,
given its death-blow to the first. And, in
like manner, as one has seen the limbs of a
murdered thing in lively movement, so we

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A DEFENCE OF COSMETICS

need not doubt that, though the voice of those
who cry out for reform be very terribly shrill,
they will soon be hushed. Dear Artifice is
with us. It needed but that we should wait.
Surely, without any of my pleading,
women will welcome their great and amiable
protectrix, as by instinct. For (have I not
said?) it is upon her that all their strength,
their life almost, depends. Artifice's first
command to them is that they should repose.
With bodily activity their powder will
fly, their enamel crack. They are butter-
flies who must not flit, if they love
their bloom. Now, setting aside the point
of view of passion, from which very
many obvious things might be said (and
probably have been by the minor poets), it
is, from the intellectual point of view, quite
necessary that a woman should repose. Hers
is the resupinate sex. On her couch she is
a goddess, but so soon as ever she put her
foot to the ground — lo, she is the veriest little
sillypop, and quite done for. She cannot
rival us in action, but she is our mistress in
the things of the mind. Let her not by
second-rate athletics, nor indeed by any



ii



A DEFENCE OF COSMETICS

exercise soever of the limbs, spoil tlie pretty
procedure of her reason. Let her be content
to remain the guide, the subtle suggester of
what we must do, the strategist whose soldiers
we are, the little architect whose workmen.
After all," as a pretty girl once said to me,
women are a sex by tliemselves, so to speak,"
and the sharper the line between their worldly
functions and ours, the better. This greater
swiftness and less erring subtlety of mind,
their forte and privilege, justifies the painted
mask that Artifice bids them wear. Behind
it their minds can play without let. They
gain the strength of reserve. They become
important, as in the days of the Roman
Empire were the Emperor's mistresses, as was
the Pompadour at Versailles, as was our Eliza-
beth. Yet do not their faces become lined
with thought; beautiful and without meaning
are their faces.

And, truly, of all the good things that will
happen with the full revival of cosmetics, one
of the best is that surface will finally be
severed from soul. That damnable con-
fusion will be solved by the extinguishing of
a prejudice which, as I suggest, itself created.



A DEFENCE OF COSMETICS

Too long has the face been degraded from its
rank as a thing of beauty to a mere vulgar
index of character or emotion. We had come
to troubling ourselves, not with its charm of
colour and line, but with such questions as
whether the lips were sensuous, the eyes full
of sadness, the nose indicative of determina-
tion. I have no quarrel with physiognomy.
For my own part I believe in it. But it has
tended to degrade the face aesthetically, in
such wise as the study of cheirosophy has
tended to degrade the hand. And the use
of cosmetics, the masking of the face, will
change this. We shall gaze at a woman
merely because she is beautiful, not stare into
her face anxiously, as into the face of a bar-
ometer.

How fatal it has been, in how many ways,
this confusion of soul and service! Wise
were the Greeks in making plain masks for
their mummers to play in, and dunces we not
to have done the same! Only the other day,
an actress was saying that what she was
most proud of in her art — next, of course, to
having appeared in some provincial panto-
mime at the age of three — was the deftness



A DEFENCE OF COSMETICS

with which she contrived, in parts demanding
a rapid succession of emotions, to dab her
cheeks quite quickly with rouge from the
palm of her right hand or powder from the
palm of her left. Gracious goodness! why
do not we have masks upon the stage?
Drama is the presentment of the soul in
action. The mirror of the soul is the voice.
Let the young critics, who seek a cheap rep-
utation for austerity, by cavilling at "inciden-
tal music," set their faces rather against the
attempt to justify inferior dramatic art by
the subvention of a quite alien art like paint-
ing, of any art, indeed, whose sphere is only
surface. Let those, again, who sneer, so
rightly, at the "painted anecdotes of the Aca-
demy," censure equally the writers who tres-
pass on painters' ground. It is a proclaimed
sin that a painter should concern himself with
a good little girl's affection for a Scotch grey-
hound, or the keen enjoyment of their port
by elderly gentlemen of the early 'forties.
Yet, for a painter to prod the soul with his
paint-brush is no worse than for a novelist
to refuse to dip under the surface, and the
fashion of avoiding, a psychological study



A DEFENCE OF COSMETICS

of grief by stating that the owner's hair
turned white in a single night, or of shame
by mentioning a sudden rush of scarlet to
the cheeks, is as lamentable as may be. But!
But with the universal use of cosmetics and
the consequent secemment of soul and sur-
face, upon which, at the risk of irritating
a reader, I must again insist, all those old
properties that went to bolster up the ordinary
novel — the trembling lips, the flashing eyes,
the determined curve of the chin, the nervous
trick of biting the moustache, aye, and the
hectic spot of red on either cheek — will be
made spiflicate, as the puppets were spifli-
cated by Don Quixote. Yes, even now
Demos begins to discern. The same spirit
that has revived rouge, smote his mouth as it
grinned at the wondrous painter of mist and
river, and now sends him sprawling for the
pearls that Meredith dived for in the deep
waters of romance.

Indeed the revival of cosmetics must needs
be so splendid an influence, conjuring booms
innumerable, that one inclines almost to
mutter against that inexorable law by which
Artifice must perish from time to time. That



A DEFENCE OF COSMETICS

such branches of painting as the staining of
glass or the illuminating of manuscripts
should fall into disuse seems, in comparison,
so likely; these were esoteric arts; they died
with the monastic spirit. But personal ap-
pearance is art's very basis. The painting of
the face is the first kind of painting men can
have known. To make beautiful things — is
it not an impulse laid upon few? But to
make oneself beautiful is an universal in-
stinct. Strange that the resultant art could
ever perish! So fascinating an art too! So
various in its materials from stimmis, psimy-
thium, and fuligo to bismuth and arsenic,
so simple in that its ground and its subject-
matter are one, so marvellous in that its very
subject-matter becomes lovely when an artist
has selected it! For surely this is no idle
nor fantastic saying. To deHy that "making
up" is an art, on the pretext that the finished
work of its exponents depends for beauty and
excellence upon the ground chosen for the
work, is absurd. At the touch of a true
artist, the plainest face turns comely. As
subject-matter the face is no more than sug-
gestive, as ground, merely a loom round which

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A DEFENCE OF COSMETICS

the beatus artifex may spin the threads of
any golden fabric:

"Quae nunc nomen habent operosi signa Maronis

Pondus iners quondam duraque massa fuit.
Multa viros nescire decet; pars maxima rerum
Offendat, si non interior a tegas,"

and, as Ovid would seem to suggest, by pig-
ments any tone may be set aglow on a woman's
cheek, from enamel the features take any
form. Insomuch that surely the advocates
of soup-kitchens and free-libraries and other
devices for giving people what Providence
did not mean them to receive should send
out pamphlets in the praise of self-embel-
lishment. For it will place Beauty within
easy reach of many who could not otherwise
hope to attain to it.

But of course Artifice is rather exacting.
In return for the repose she forces — so wisely!
— upon her followers when the sun is high
or the moon is blown across heaven, she de-
mands that they should pay her long hom-
age at the sun's rising. The initiate may
not enter lightly upon her mysteries. For,
if a bad complexion be inexcusable, to be ill-



A DEFENCE OF COSMETICS

painted is unforgivable; and, when the toilet
is laden once more with the fulness of its
elaboration, we shall hear no more of the
proper occupations for women. And think,
how sweet an energy, to sit at the mirror of
coquetry! See the dear merits of the toilet
as shown upon old vases, or upon the walls
of Roman ruins, or, rather still, read Bottiger's
alluring, scholarly description of "Morgens-
cenen in Puttzimmer Einer Reichen Romerin."
Read of Sabina's face as she comes through
the curtain of her bed-chamber to the chamber
of her toilet. The slave-girls have long been
chafing their white feet upon the marble
floor. They stand, those timid Greek girls,
marshalled in little battalions. Each has her
appointed task, and all kneel in welcome as
Sabina stalks, ugly and frowning, to the toilet
chair. Scaphion steps forth from among
them, and, dipping a tiny sponge in a bowl
of hot milk, passes it lightly, ever so lightly,
over her mistress' face. The Poppaean pastes
melt beneath it like snow. A cooling lotion
is poured over her brow, and is fanned with
feathers. Phiale comes after, a clever girl,
captured in some sea-skirmish on the iEgean.



A DEFENCE OF COSMETICS

In her left hand she holds the ivory box
wherein are the phucus and that white powder,
psimythium ; in her right a sheaf of slim
brushes. With how sure a touch does she
mingle the colours, and in what sweet pro-
portion blushes and blanches her lady's up-
turned face. Phiale is the cleverest of all
the slaves. Now Calamis dips her quill in
a certain powder that floats, liquid and sable,
in the hollow of her palm. Standing upon
tip-toe and with lips parted, she traces the
arch of the eyebrows. The slaves whisper
loudly of their lady's beauty, and two of them
hold up a mirror to her. Yes, the eyebrows
are rightly arched. But why does Psecas
abase herself? She is craving leave to
powder Sabina's hair with a fine new powder.
It is made of the grated rind of the cedar-
tree, and a Gallic perfumer, whose stall is
near the Circus, gave it to her for a kiss. No
lady in Rome knows of it. And so, when
four special slaves have piled up the head-
dress, out of a perforated box this glistening
powder is showered. Into every little brown
ringlet it enters, till Sabina's hair seems like
a pile of gold coins. Lest the breezes send



A DEFENCE OF COSMETICS

it flying, the girls lay the powder with
sprinkled attar. Soon Sabina will start for
the Temple of Cybele.

Ah! Such are the lures of the toilet that
none will for long hold aloof from them.
Cosmetics are not going to be a mere prosaic
remedy for age or plainness, but all ladies
and all young girls will come to love them.
Does not a certain blithe Marquise, whose
lettres intimes from the Court of Louis Seize
are less read than their wit deserves, tell us
how she was scandalised to see "meme les
toutes jeunes demoiselles emaillees comme ma
tabatiere'? So it shall be with us. Surely
the common prejudice against painting the
lily can but be based on mere ground of
economy. That which is already fair is com-
plete, it may be urged — urged implausibly,
for there are not so many lovely things in
this world that we can afford not to know
each one of them by heart. There is only
one white lily, and who that has ever seen
— as I have — a lily really well painted could
grudge the artist so fair a ground for his
skill? Scarcely do you believe through how
many nice metamorphoses a lily may be



A DEFENCE OF COSMETICS

passed by him. In like manner, we all know
the young girl, with her simpleness, her good-
ness, her wayward ignorance. And a very
charming ideal for England must she have
been, and a very natural one, when a young
girl sat even on the throne. But no nation
can keep its ideal for ever, and it needed
none of Mr. Gilbert's delicate satire in
"Utopia" to remind us that she had passed
out of our ken with the rest of the early
Victorian era. What writer of plays, as
lately asked some pressman, who had been
told off to attend many first nights and knew
what he was talking about, ever dreams of
making the young girl the centre of his
theme? Rather he seeks inspiration from the
tried and tired woman of the world, in all
her intricate maturity, whilst, by way of
comic relief, he sends the young girl flitting
in and out with a tennis-racket, the poor
eiSwXov afxavpov of her former self. The
season of the unsophisticatJed is gone by,
and the young girl's final extinction beneath
the rising tides of cosmetics will leave no
gap in life and will rob art of nothing.
"Tush," I can hear some damned flutter-
-C19>



A DEFENCE OF COSMETICS

pate exclaim, "girlishness and innocence are
as strong and as permanent as womanhood
itself! Why, a few months past, the whole
town went mad over Miss Cissie Loftus! Was
not hers a success of girlish innocence and
the absence of rouge? If such things as these
be outmoded, why was she so wildly popular?"
Indeed, the triumph of that clever girl, whose
debut made London nice even in August, is
but another witness to the truth of my con-
tention. In a very sophisticated time, sim-
plicity has a new dulcedo. Hers was a success
of contrast. Accustomed to clever malaperts
like Miss Lloyd or Miss Reeve, whose ex-
perienced pouts and smiles under the sun-
bonnet are a standing burlesque of innocence
and girlishness, Demos was really delighted,
for once and away, to see the real present-
ment of these things upon his stage. Com-
ing after all those sly series, coming so young
and mere with her pink frock and straightly
combed hair. Miss Cissie Loftus had the charm
which things of another period often do pos-
sess. Besides, just as we adored her for
the abrupt nod with which she was wont at

first to acknowledge the applause, so we were

<20>



A DEFENCE OF COSMETICS

glad for her to come upon the stage with
nothing to tinge the ivory of her cheeks. It
seemed so strange, that neglect of convention.
To be behind footlights and not rouged ! Yes,
hers was a success of contrast. She was like
a daisy in the window of Solomons'. She
was delightful. And yet, such is the force
of convention, that when last I saw her, play-
ing in some burlesque at the Gaiety, her
fringe was curled and her pretty face rouged
with the best of them. And, if further need
be to show the absurdity of having called
her performance "a triumph of naturalness
over the jaded spirit of modernity," let us
reflect that the little mimic was not a real
old-fashioned girl after all. She had none
of that restless naturalness that would seem
to have characterised the girl of the early
Victorian days. She had no pretty ways —
no smiles nor blushes nor tremors. Possibly
Demos could not have stood a presentment of
girlishness unrestrained.

But, with her grave insouciance. Miss Cissie
Loftus had much of the reserve that is one
of the factors of feminine perfection, and
to most comes only, as I have said, with arti-


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