Monday, January 16, 2012

The fine art of walking in the streets in the 19th century

Monday, January 16, 2012
Louise-Léopold Boilly, Passer Payez, c. 1803
Loretta reports:

The art of negotiating city streets in bad weather, modeled on the Parisian method.
You must pay attention to your manner of walking, for fear of throwing mud around you, and spattering yourself as well as those who accompany you, or who walk behind you. Any person, particularly a lady, who walks in this improper manner, whatever her education may be in other respects, will always appear awkward and clumsy.

Every one knows that the Parisian ladies are celebrated for their skill in walking: we see them in white stockings and thin shoes, passing through long, dirty, and blocked up streets, gliding by careless persons, and by vehicles crossing each other in every direction, and yet return home after a walk of several hours, without soiling their clothes in the least.

To arrive at this astonishing result, which causes the wonder and vexation of provincial visitors on their first coming to Paris, we must be careful to put the foot on the middle of the paving stones, and never on the edges, for, in that case, one inevitably slips into the interstice between one pavement and another: we must begin by supporting the toe, before we do the heel; and even when the mud is quite deep, we must put down the heel but seldom. When the street becomes less muddy, we can compensate ourselves for this fatigue, which, however, in the end, leaves us hardly sensible.

This manner of walking is strictly necessary when you offer your arm to any one. When tripping over the pavement, (as the saying is) a lady should gracefully raise her dress a little above her ancle. With the right hand she should hold together the folds of her gown, and draw them towards the right side. To raise the dress on both sides, and with both hands, is vulgar. This ungraceful practice can be tolerated only for a moment, when the mud is very deep.
Elisabeth Celnart, The gentleman and lady's book of politeness and propriety of deportment: dedicated to the youth of both sexes, 1833  

Illustration courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Please click on caption for more info.


Susan Bailey said...

I love how the rules of walking take into consideration those around you. Manners today are considered old-fashioned and useless, but actually they make you consider the needs of others. We could certainly use more manners in today's world.

Debra Brown said...

Good heavens. How could one be so vulgar as to lift the skirt with both hands? Thank goodness for the infinite rules of propriety! (And don't tell me that they arrived home without soiling their shoes and clothes. No way in the universe could they do so. But appearances must be kept up, so let's just say they did.) :D

beadlizard said...

I love Celnart's turn of phrase! What is even more wonderful is she is RIGHT -- those interstices really are evil. Please post more from her book if you can. --Sylvia

Gemma said...

One of my favourite Regency/Georgian slang terms is "beau trap". A beau trap is an innocent-looking paving stone which moves when you stand on it, squirting dirty water onto your nice white stockings.

There are a couple beau traps in my neighbourhood. Thank goodness the water they eject isn't too dirty, and more to the point, I don't wear white stockings!

ZipZip said...

So, in other words, one must tiptoe through the mud between the tulips...except there are no tulips.

To come how with a dress wrinkled terribly on one side, and needing a good brushing. The shoes fit for only a few weeks of wear.

Mmm. I suppose pattens were not the ton.

Very best,


SakiVI said...

I hope they walked with thick boots.

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