- Female Dress—Mixture of the Sexes in One Person—Female Equestrians
No. 435. Saturday, July 19, 1712
Nec duo sunt, at forma duplex, nec fæmina dici
Nec puer ut possint, neutrumque et utrumque videntur.—Ovid. Met. iv. 378.
Both bodies in a single body mix,
A single body with a double sex.—Addison
Most of the papers I give the public are written on subjects that never vary, but are for ever fixed and immutable. Of this kind are all my more serious essays and discourses; but there is another sort of speculations, which I consider as occasional papers, that take their rise from the folly, extravagance, and caprice of the present age. For I look upon myself as one set to watch the manners and behaviour of my countrymen and contemporaries, and to mark down every absurd fashion, ridiculous custom, or affected form of speech, that makes its appearance in the world, during the course of these my speculations. The petticoat no sooner began to swell, but I observed its motions. The party-patches had not time to muster themselves before I detected them. I had intelligence of the coloured hood the very first time it appeared in a public assembly. I might here mention several other the like contingent subjects, upon which I have bestowed distinct papers. By this means I have so effectually quashed those irregularities which gave occasion to them, that I am afraid posterity will scarce have a sufficient idea of them to relish those discourses which were in no little vogue at the time when they were written. They will be apt to think that the fashions and customs I attacked were some fantastic conceits of my own, and that their great-grandmothers could not be so whimsical as I have represented them. For this reason, when I think on the figure my several volumes of Speculations will make about a hundred years hence, I consider them as so many pieces of old plate, where the weight will be regarded, but the fashion lost. [End Page 183]
Among the several female extravagancies I have already taken notice of, there is one which still keeps its ground. I mean that of the ladies who dress themselves in a hat and feather, a riding-coat and a periwig; or at least tie up their hair in a bag or ribbon, in imitation of the smart part of the opposite sex. As in my yesterday’s paper I gave an account of the mixture of two sexes in one commonwealth, I shall here take notice of this mixture of two sexes in one person. I have already shown my dislike of this immodest custom more than once; but in contempt of every thing I have hitherto said, I am informed that the highways about this great city are still very much infested with these female cavaliers.
I remember, when I was at my friend Sir Roger de Coverley’s about this time twelve-month, an equestrian lady of this order appeared upon the plains which lay at a distance from his house. I was at that time walking in the fields with my old friend; and as his tenants ran out on every side to see so strange a sight, Sir Roger asked one of them who came by us, what it was? To which the country fellow replied, ‘’Tis a gentlewoman, saving your worship’s presence, in a coat and hat.’ This produced a great deal of mirth at the knight’s house, where we had a story at the same time of another of his tenants, who meeting this gentleman-like lady on the highway, was asked by her whether that was Coverley-hall; the honest man seeing only the male part of the querist, replied, ‘yes, sir;’ but upon the second question, ‘whether Sir Roger de Coverley was a married man,’ having dropped his eye upon the petticoat, he changed his note into ‘no, madam.’
Had one of these hermaphrodites appeared in Juvenal’s days, with what an indignation should we have seen her described by that excellent satirist. He would have represented her in her riding...