Only those who have worked in the offices of an important newspaper, know that the Power Behind the Throne–which is the Editorial Chair–is rarely the Church, scarcely ever the State, infrequently the Capitalist, and never Labour,–but simply the Advertisement Department.
I was sitting the other afternoon–dreaming, as is my wont; and smoking cigarettes, which is one of my bad habits,–when the head-representative of this unseen Power rushed into my sanctum.
“Will you do something for me?” he demanded, with that beneficent smile on his face which, through experience, I have discovered to be the prelude of most disagreeable demands.
“Certainly,” I answered, inwardly collecting my scattered brains preparatory to a brilliant defence. “What is it?”
Without more ado he, as it were, threw his bomb.
“Will you write me an Essay on Corsets?”
“On what?” I asked incredulously–knowing that he had been a distinguished soldier, and suspecting that he had suddenly developed what the soldiers describe as “a touch of the doolally.”
“But I don’t know anything about them,” I protested, “except that I should not like to wear them!”
“That doesn’t matter,” he answered reassuringly. “All we want is a page of ‘matter.'”
Then he proceeded to explain that he had secured several highly-paid advertisements from the leading corsetieres, and that his “bright idea” was to connect them together by an essay illustrated by their wares, in order that those who read might be attracted to buy.
Then he left me.
“Just write a history of corsets,” he cried out laughing. Then, by way of decorating the “bitter pill” with jam, he added: “I’m sure you’ll do it splendidly!”
“Splendidly” I know I could not do it, but to do it–rather amused me.
After all, there is one benefit in writing of something you know nothing about (and you are certain that ninety-nine per cent. of your readers will not be able to enlighten you) the necessity for accuracy does not arise. And so, I settled myself down to invent “history,” and, if my historical narrative is all invention, I can defend myself by saying that if it isn’t true–it might be. And many historical romances cannot boast even that defence.
Most people who write about the early history of the world have to guess a good deal; so I don’t see why I shouldn’t state emphatically that, after years and years and years of profound research, the first corset “happened” when Eve suddenly discovered that she was showing signs of middle-age in the middle. So she plaited some reeds together, tied them tightly round her waist-line, and, sure enough, Adam had to put off making that joke about “Once round Eve’s waist, twice round the Garden of Eden” for many moons. But Eve, I suppose, discovered later on, as many a woman has also discovered since her day, that, though a tight belt maketh the waistline small, the body bulgeth above and below eventually. So Eve began making a still wider plait–chasing, as it were, the “bulge” all over her body. In this manner she at last became encased in a belt wide enough to imprison her torso quite uncomfortably, but “she kept her figure”–or thought she did–and thus easily passed for one hundred and fifty years old when, in reality, she was over six hundred.
And every woman who is an “Eve” at heart has followed in her time the example of the mother of all of ’em. As they begin to fatten, so they begin to tighten, and the inevitable and consequential “bulge” is imprisoned as it “bulgeth” until no corsetiere can do more for them than hint that men like their divinities a trifle plump in places. But to arrive at this–the last and only consolation–a woman has to become rigidly encased from her thighs almost to her neck. She can scarcely walk and she can hardly breathe, and the fat which must go somewhere has usually gone to her neck, but–thank Heaven!–“she has kept her figure” (or she likes to think she has), and many a woman would sooner lose her character than lose her “line.”