Hail, Gallia’s daughters! easy, brisk, and free;
Good humour’d, débonnaire, and dégagée:
Though still fantastic, frivolous, and vain,
Let not their airs and graces give us pain:
Or fair, or brown, at toilet, prayer, or play,
Their motto speaks their manners — toujours gai.
But for that powder’d compound of grimace,
That capering he-she thing of fringe and lace;
With sword and cane, with bag and solitaire,
Vain of the full-dress’d dwarf, his hopeful heir,
How does our spleen and indignation rise,
When such a tinsell’d coxcomb meets our eyes,
Among the figures who are coming out of church, an affected, flighty Frenchwoman, with her fluttering fop of a husband, and a boy, habited à-la-mode de Paris, claim our first attention. In dress, air, and manner, they have a national character. The whole congregation, whether male or female, old or young, carry the air of their country in countenance, dress, and deportment. Like the three principal figures, they are all marked with some affected peculiarity. Affectation, in a woman, is supportable upon no other ground than that general indulgence we pay to the omnipotence of beauty, which in a degree sanctifies whatever it adopts. In a boy, when we consider that the poor fellow is attempting to copy what he has been taught to believe praiseworthy, we laugh at it; the largest portion of ridicule falls upon his tutors; but in a man, it is contemptible!
The old fellow, in a black periwig, has a most vinegar-like aspect, and looks with great contempt at the frippery gentlewoman immediately before him. The woman, with a demure countenance, seems very piously considering how she can contrive to pick the embroidered beau’s pocket. Two old sybils joining their withered lips in a chaste salute, is nauseous enough, but, being a national custom, must be forgiven. The divine seems to have resided in this kingdom long enough to acquire a roast-beef countenance. A little boy, whose woollen nightcap is pressed over a most venerable flowing periwig, and the decrepit old man, leaning upon a crutch-stick, who is walking before him, “I once considered,” says Mr. Ireland, “as two vile caricatures, out of nature, and unworthy the artist. Since I have seen the peasantry of Flanders, and the plebeian youth of France, I have in some degree changed my opinion, but still think them rather outré.”
Under a sign of the Baptist’s Head is written, Good Eating; and on each side of the inscription is a mutton chop. In opposition to this head without a body, unaccountably displayed as a sign at an eating-house, there is a body without a head, hanging out as the sign of a distiller’s . This, by common consent, has been quaintly denominated the good woman. At a window above, one of the softer sex proves her indisputable right to the title by her temperate conduct to her husband, with whom having had a little disagreement, she throws their Sunday’s dinner into the street.
A girl, bringing a pie from the bakehouse, is stopped in her career by the rude embraces of a blackamoor, who eagerly rubs his sable visage against her blooming cheek.
Good eating is carried on to the lower part of the picture. A boy, placing a baked pudding upon a post, with rather too violent an action, the dish breaks, the fragments fall to the ground, and while he is loudly lamenting his misfortune, and with tears anticipating his punishment, the smoking remnants are eagerly snatched up by a poor girl. Not educated according to the system of Jean Jacques Rousseau, she feels no qualms of conscience about the original proprietor, and, destitute of that fastidious delicacy which destroys the relish of many a fine lady, eagerly swallows the hot and delicious morsels, with all the concomitants.
The scene is laid at the door of a French chapel in Hog-lane; a part of the town at that time almost wholly peopled by French refugees, or their descendants.
By the dial of St. Giles’s church, in the distance, we see that it is only half past eleven. At this early hour, in those good times, there was as much good eating as there is now at six o’clock in the evening. From twenty pewter measures, which are hung up before the houses of different distillers, it seems that good drinking was considered as equally worthy of their serious attention.
The dead cat, and choked kennels, mark the little attention shown to the streets by the scavengers of St. Giles’s . At that time noxious effluvia was not peculiar to this parish. The neighbourhood of Fleet-ditch, and many other parts of the city, were equally polluted.
Even at this refined period, there would be some use in a more strict attention to the medical police of a city so crowded with inhabitants. We ridicule the people of Paris and Edinburgh for neglecting so essential and salutary a branch of delicacy, while the kennels of a street in the vicinity of St. Paul’s church are floated with the blood of slaughtered animals every market-day. Moses would have managed these things better: but in those days there was no physician in Israel!
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09