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THE

NEW ENGLANDER.

No. II.

APRIL, 1843.

TASTE AND FASHION.

In the advance of human society nevolence must learn to put on beautowards a finished state, there are tys and society must be charmed to two distinct emancipations to be coalescence in that simple justness achieved; that which liberates Truth of feeling, and grace of conduct, and Reason from the constraints of which free our outward state of all force, and that which liberates its annoyances, and fill it with pleasBeauty and Taste from the fetters ing ornament. of fashion. In our modern doc- Hitherto Taste and Beauty, we trines of intellectual and religious have said, are under the slavery of liberty, we see the first named stage Fashion. And yet it is remarkable, already passed. The other we that a great part of mankind do acshall reach in due time. And, when tually suppose Taste and Fashion to it comes, it will be a more magnifi. be very nearly the same thing. This, cent revolution than many have in fact, is the slavery of Fashion, begun to suspect. As the first that it is able so to tyrannize over the opens a daylight of knowledge and intelligent perceptions of men, as science on the world, so the other even to extirpate the distinct idea of will add a charm to every thing on Taste, and take the whole empire to which the daylight falls, revealing itself. Idolatry is not more opponew forms of beauty in the out- site to religion, or tyranny to govward life, new manners and senti- ernment, or falsehood to truth, ihan ments ; banishing, on the one hand, Fashion to Taste, and yet a large what is rude and unbecoming, and part of mankind are scarcely able reducing, on the other, the high-born to distinguish between them, or beconventionalisms and misnamed ele- lieve that there is any distinction. gancies, which have heretofore dis. Taste, they even think, is Fashion, figured society. The last and fin- and what is fashionable is of course ishing stage of human advance. tasteful. Sorely too do they pay ment, as any reflecting person may for their error. It is one that dissee, must be accomplished by the figures their mind; afflicts, drudges discipline of Taste-it must be that and degrades their life ; and lays stage in which Beauty descends them under the power of an oppressfrom heaven to be the clothing of ion more uncomfortable and real than spiritual intelligence and the grace any that modern liberty has risen of Christian piety. Zeal and be. upon, and cloven down with arms. Vol. I.

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man.

Here then is a great idea to be re- modesty, all that we include in menalized—the emancipation of Taste- tal beauty, he need not have said a to enforce a recognition of its dis- word about the head-dresses. tinctness, in all high points, from To prevent misunderstanding, we fashion; and the right it has, in its may as well say too, that it is not own nature, to have an undivided merely with fashion, as bearing rule sway. Let it not be supposed that in dress, that we are to be conwe are about to forget all discretion, cerned. Fashion extends its power in a useless and hopeless crusade not only to dress and the modes of against existing fashions. We shall society, but it exerts a pernicious not throw ourselves under the wheels sway over architecture, furniture, of this idol. We fully accord the gardening, music, the domestic rewisdom of Johnson, when he de. lations, literature, opinions, moral clares that “ few enterprises are so feeling, religious prejudices—every hopeless as a contest against fash- thing in fact, which belongs to the ion.” We seek no sudden remedy. creative and voluntary power of We would only endeavor, as far as We are to speak of fashion it lies in us, to produce a just opin. as a Power, and not of its particuion of the merits of fashion, and lar manifestations, any farther than also a just opinion of the merits of these are necessary to characterize taste; such as will incline us more it. The most convenient illustratowards the latter, and give us a tions of fashion are found in the growing disrelish of the former, as article of dress, and such we shall undignified and pernicious. The not scruple to use. Our opinion on good we expect to realize, is not by this particular head, is not that we raising a rebellion, but by cutting off are to spurn all conformity to the the king's resources.

current modes of dress and forms Fashion is like sin ; no merely of society. The conformity, howexpulsive effort can destroy it. It ever, should only be slow and parcan be expelled only by a higher tial, or with such variations as to love. When the eloquent old monk show that taste is consulted, and Connecte went through England, that the submission yielded is yieldpreaching down the steeple head- ed not to fashion, but as a courtesy dresses, the ladies were even per due to society. There must be cur. suaded to go out of the churches rent modes of dress and intercourse. and make a bonfire of their capitals. It is not more necessary that our And so strong was the feeling ex- coins should be stamped, to show cited against these absurdities, that for what they are to pass, than that the people would even stone them we ourselves should be. But the down in the street. What was the difficulty is, that where the current result? “ The women,” says Para- stamp is given by the arbitrary apdin, “that, like snails in a fright, pointment of fashion, it signifies had drawn in their horns, shot them nothing; the lowest and most truly out again as soon as the danger was vulgar in character, can receive the

They had tried themselves stamp as well, and wear it as confi. to give up the obnoxious ornament, dently as the most elevated. Let and the people had tried to have the current style be adjusted by them, but it could not be done. So taste, and then the wearer will sig. vain is the endeavor to preach out nify plainly enough who he is, and fashion, without preaching in taste. show himself into the grade where If the good old monk had been able he belongs. The individual charin a day, to preach into the minds acteristics of society will appear of the English women a cultivated too with a picturesque and lively intellect, a refined criticism, a true effect, and yet there will be as little

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over.

answer.

room for oddity and absurdity as agated by an over zealous admira. now, and probably less; for the tion. Accordingly, the term fashmutual taste will be ever drawing ion carries a sense of imitation towards certain forms of inherent with it, on this side of the Atlantic, beauty and convenience.

which is far less prominent on the

other. Fashionable people are, We come now to the question, with us, a caste-like people for the What is fashion? What is taste ? most part, such as covet the air and Let us endeavor to search out the show of caste, whatever may be. root of our distinction.

come of the substance.

They
In its higher and more sovereign watch the modes of noble dandy-
manifestations, fashion is rooted in ism and royalty, on the other side
a desire of caste. Accordingly, in of the water, hasting to receive the
those countries where caste is made very things which the originators
an article of religion, and can not invent to put them at a distance,
therefore be encroached upon, the and wearing them, not to give their
modes of dress and ceremonies of assent to the insult, as we might
social life undergo no change, for think, but with the highest satisfac-
none is here necessary to keep im- tion or even pride!
itation at a distance. But, in the Such is the general history of
western countries of the old world, fashion. When you come to ask
the liberty enjoyed so far endangers where the legislature of fashion is,
caste, that the only way to keep or who it is that originates a given
distance, is to lead off in a perpet- fashion, it will be more difficult to
ual round of change in the dress,

It
may

be in the French equipage, and social forms of life. court, or in the lady patronesses of Some new fashion is started, in a Almacks, or in some new Brummel, quarter entitled to lead.

who is just now raging as the dog. ample is then followed by others in star of fashion in London. Ac. the higher circle, not in the way of cording to Montaigne, the French imitation, but rather in the way of fashions, at least in his day, were pride, and under a sort of tacit controlled with absolute sway by agreement in the circle, to keep dis- the court. " Whatever,” he says, tance and preserve caste. But the “is done at court, passes for a rule new style soon grows common, de throughout the rest of France. Let scending upon a second class calls the courtiers but discontinue those ed the vulgar, by the circle just tun-bellied doublets, that make us named; for a feeling of caste also look like I know not what, those strays down to these, and they are long effeminate locks of hair, and ambitious to be as like as possible, you will see them all presently van. to what is forever on the stretch to ished and cried down." be unlike them. Or, perhaps, the If we go on farther, to ask what new style becomes so associated it is that leads the originator of a with elegance, that they are con- fashion to adopt this rather than strained to suffer it as a model of some other, no certain answer can taste. By this time the fashion has, be given. Sometimes, though selof course, gone by in the circle dom, it is a real effort of taste. where it began.

Sometimes it is the mere caprice of Truth obliges us to add that what a tailor, or a milliner; or this tailor we call fashion in our country, is or milliner may have been bribed almost wholly of the second circle. by some great manufacturer to start We originate no fashion, unless it the style in question, and give him be in matters where some kind of a market for a particular kind of false taste is stereotyped and prop. goods. Or the object may be to

The ex

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compliment some prince. Henry the Greek, has the same relation to VIII, for example, being exceeding all the senses, which taste has to ly corpulent, suddenly saw himself the palate ; and they mean, by the surrounded by corpulent ministers, æsthetic faculty, that which distinand a corpulent people—the whole guishes all beauty. It is the critical male nation was stuffed from the power—the power of forms—and is shoulders downwards ; and so far to the clothing of truth, what the was the extravagance carried, that reason is to the discovery or elimian act of Parliament was passed, nation of truth. By our very feeble forbidding the use of stuffing, under and flat word taste, we mean, or certain specified names. An amus, ought to mean, the same thing. It ing story is related of the manner is that which distinguishes the gloin which the law was evaded, which rious and fair in all earthly things, shows, at the same time, to what a and especially their divinely constipitch of absurdity the fashion was tuted relation to truth and the life of carried. A certain person was ar- mind. rested, who proved that he had used The highest known example of no one of the cloths named in the taste is that of the Almighty, when law, by showing that he used, in- he invents the forms, colors and stead, a pair of sheets, two table- proportions, of this visible creation. cloths, ten napkins, four shirts, a His conceptions were all original. brush, a glass, a comb, night-caps, He did not copy from the sight of &c. &c. Sometimes a fashion ori- previous worlds, but he had all ginates in the effort to hide some de- beauty, all the colors and forms of formity. Thus the long bag-wigs things in his own creative fancy, are said to have been invented to saw them as distinctly, loved them relieve the hunch back of the Duke as much, before he gave them outof Brunswick. The huge sleeves ward reality as after. lately worn by the ladies, were an

" Then deep retired excellent disguise for a bad arm, In his unfathomed essence viewed the forms, and were probably invented for that The forms eternal of created things ; object.

The radiant sun, the moon's nocturnal lamp,

The mountains, woods and streams, the roll. On the whole, we can do no bet- ing globe,

And wisdom's mien celestial. From the first ter, as regards the origin of fash

Of days, on them his love divine he fixed, ions, than to say that they are cho His admiration, till, in time complete, sen without any regard to the inhe- What he admired and loved, his vital smile

Unfolded into being. Hence the breath rent beauty of nature's forms, and

Of life informing each organic frame, sacrifice, if it so happen, all com- Hence the green earth and wild resounding fort. They are the work of caste,

Hence light and shade, alternate warmth and which goes dodging through so cold, many modes of absurdity, to escape

And clear autumnal skies and vernal showimitation and maintain exclusive po. And all the fair variety of things.” sition.

Having thus distinguished the rad- The whole fabric of creation is ical idea of fashion, we will next in- an exertion of taste, and we refer quire what we are to understand by to this high example because we taste.

know of no other which is sufficient It is much to be regretted that we

to evolve our idea. Taste, in man, have, in English, no better word is every way resembled to this power than a mere figure derived from the of form displayed in creation, expalate, to signify one of the highest cept that it is a capacity slowly and most divine attributes of the cultivated and matured, and not inmind. The term æsthetic, which herently complete like the divine. the Germans have borrowed from It is a power which goes to school,

waves,

ers,

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