Curiosities of Literature, by Isaac Disraeli

Female Beauty and Ornaments.

The ladies in Japan gild their teeth; and those of the Indies paint them red. The pearl of teeth must be dyed black to be beautiful in Guzerat. In Greenland the women colour their faces with blue and yellow. However fresh the complexion of a Muscovite may be, she would think herself very ugly if she was not plastered over with paint. The Chinese must have their feet as diminutive as those of the she-goat; and to render them thus, their youth is passed in tortures. In ancient Persia an aquiline nose was often thought worthy of the crown; and if there was any competition between two princes, the people generally went by this criterion of majesty. In some countries, the mothers break the noses of their children; and in others press the head between two boards, that it may become square. The modern Persians have a strong aversion to red hair: the Turks, on the contrary, are warm admirers of it. The female Hottentot receives from the hand of her lover, not silks nor wreaths of flowers, but warm guts and reeking tripe, to dress herself with enviable ornaments.

In China, small round eyes are liked; and the girls are continually plucking their eye-brows, that they may be thin and long. The Turkish women dip a gold brush in the tincture of a black drug, which they pass over their eye-brows. It is too visible by day, but looks shining by night. They tinge their nails with a rose-colour. An African beauty must have small eyes, thick lips, a large flat nose, and a skin beautifully black. The Emperor of Monomotapa would not change his amiable negress for the most brilliant European beauty.

An ornament for the nose appears to us perfectly unnecessary. The Peruvians, however, think otherwise; and they hang on it a weighty ring, the thickness of which is proportioned by the rank of their husbands. The custom of boring it, as our ladies do their ears, is very common in several nations. Through the perforation are hung various materials; such as green crystal, gold, stones, a single and sometimes a great number of gold rings.1 This is rather troublesome to them in blowing their noses; and the fact is, as some have informed us, that the Indian ladies never perform this very useful operation.

The female head-dress is carried in some countries to singular extravagance. The Chinese fair carries on her head the figure of a certain bird. This bird is composed of copper or of gold, according to the quality of the person; the wings spread out, fall over the front of the head-dress, and conceal the temples. The tail, long and open, forms a beautiful tuft of feathers. The beak covers the top of the nose; the neck is fastened to the body of the artificial animal by a spring, that it may the more freely play, and tremble at the slightest motion.

The extravagance of the Myantses is far more ridiculous than the above. They carry on their heads a slight board, rather longer than a foot, and about six inches broad; with this they cover their hair, and seal it with wax. They cannot lie down, or lean, without keeping the neck straight; and the country being very woody, it is not uncommon to find them with their head-dress entangled in the trees. Whenever they comb their hair, they pass an hour by the fire in melting the wax; but this combing is only performed once or twice a year.

The inhabitants of the land of Natal wear caps or bonnets, from six to ten inches high, composed of the fat of oxen. They then gradually anoint the head with a purer grease, which mixing with the hair, fastens these bonnets for their lives.

1 For some very strong remarks on this fashion, the reader may consult Bulwer’s Anthropometamorphosis, or Artificiall Changeling, 1653. The author is very ungallant in his strictures on “precious jewels in the snouts of such swine.”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37