Monday, April 18, 2011

Familiarity between the sexes in 1811

Monday, April 18, 2011
Loretta reports:

The present familiarity between the sexes is both shocking to delicacy and to the interest of women. Woman is now treated by the generality of men with a freedom that levels her with the commonest and most vulgar objects of their amusements. She is addressed as unceremoniously, treated as cavalierly, and left as abruptly as the veriest puppet they could pick up at Bartholomew Fair.

We no longer see the respectful bow, the look of polite attention, when a gentleman approaches a lady : he runs up to her, he seizes her by the hand, shakes it roughly, asks a few questions, and, to show that he has no interest in her answers, flies off again before she can make a reply.

To cure our coxcombs of this conceited impertinence, I would strongly exhort my young and lovely readers to treat them with the neglect they deserve. When any man, who is not privileged by the right of friendship or of kindred, to address her with an action of affection, attempts to take her hand, let her withdraw it immediately with an air so declarative of displeasure, that he shall not presume to repeat the offence. At no time ought she to volunteer shaking hands with a male acquaintance, who holds not any particular bond of esteem with regard to herself or family. A touch, a pressure of the hands, are the only external signs a woman can give of entertaining a particular regard for certain individuals. And to lavish this valuable power of expression upon all comers, upon the impudent and contemptible, is an indelicate extravagance which, I hope, needs only to be exposed, to be put for ever out of countenance.

As to the salute, the pressure of the lips : that is an interchange of affectionate greeting or tender farewell, sacred to the dearest connections alone. Our parent; our brothers; our near kindred; our husband; our lover, ready to become our husband; our bosom's inmate, the friend of our heart's care; to them are exclusively consecrated the lips of delicacy, and woe be to her who yields them to the stain of profanation !

By the last word, I do not mean the embrace of vice ; but merely that indiscriminate facility which some young women have in permitting what they call a good-natured kiss.— These good-natured kisses have often very bad effects, and can never be permitted without injuring the fine gloss of that exquisite modesty which is the fairest garb of virgin beauty.

The Mirror of the Graces; or, The English lady's costume: Combining and harmonizing taste and judgment, elegance and grace, modesty, simplicity and economy, with fashion in dress, by a Lady of Distinction, 1811

Illustration:  "Tom & Bob, at a real Swell Party", 1822, courtesy Ancestry Images.


Emily & Gracie said...

This is quite funny! It's interesting to get a glimpse of how polite society in that time viewed something such as hand-holding, which means hardly anything today! I love the line "When any man... not privileged by the right of friendship... attempts to take her hand, let her withdraw it immediately with an air so declarative of displeasure, that he shall not presume to repeat the offence", it makes me chuckle.

The Dreamstress said...

Aha! No wonder modern gentlemen think I am such an icy snob! I refuse to favour them with friendly kisses and easy handshakes!

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