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The Temptation Of Eve
by [?]

“My Love in her attire doth shew her wit.”

It is an old and honoured jest that Eve–type of eternal womanhood–sacrificed the peace of Eden for the pleasures of dress. We see this jest reflected in the satire of the Middle Ages, in the bitter gibes of mummer and buffoon. We can hear its echoes in the invectives of the reformer,–“I doubt,” said a good fifteenth-century bishop to the ladies of England in their horned caps,–“I doubt the Devil sit not between those horns.” We find it illustrated with admirable naivete in the tapestries which hang in the entrance corridor of the Belle Arti in Florence.

These tapestries tell the downfall of our first parents. In one we see the newly created and lovely Eve standing by the side of the sleeping Adam, and regarding him with pleasurable anticipation. Another shows us the animals marching in line to be inspected and named. The snail heads the procession and sets the pace. The lion and the tiger stroll gossiping together. The unicorn walks alone, very stiff and proud. Two rats and two mice are closely followed by two sleek cats, who keep them well covered, and plainly await the time when Eve’s amiable indiscretion shall assign them their natural prey. In the third tapestry the deed has been done, the apple had been eaten. The beasts are ravening in the background. Adam, already clad, is engaged in fastening a picturesque girdle of leaves around the unrepentant Eve,–for all the world like a modern husband fastening his wife’s gown,–while she for the first time gathers up her long fair hair. Her attitude is full of innocent yet indescribable coquetry. The passion for self-adornment had already taken possession of her soul. Before her lies a future of many cares and some compensations. She is going to work and she is going to weep, but she is also going to dress. The price was hers to pay.

In the hearts of Eve’s daughters lies an unspoken convincement that the price was not too dear. As far as feminity is known, or can ever be known, one dominant impulse has never wavered or weakened. In every period of the world’s history, in every quarter of the globe, in every stage of savagery or civilization, this elementary instinct has held, and still holds good. The history of the world is largely the history of dress. It is the most illuminating of records, and tells its tale with a candour and completeness which no chronicle can surpass. We all agree in saying that people who reached a high stage of artistic development, like the Greeks and the Italians of the Renaissance, expressed this sense of perfection in their attire; but what we do not acknowledge so frankly is that these same nations encouraged the beauty of dress, even at a ruthless cost, because they felt that in doing so they cooperated with a great natural law,–the law which makes the “wanton lapwing” get himself another crest. They played into nature’s hands.

The nations which sought to bully nature, like the Spartans and the Spaniards, passed the severest sumptuary laws; and for proving the power of fundamental forces over the unprofitable wisdom of reformers, there is nothing like a sumptuary law. In 1563 Spanish women of good repute were forbidden to wear jewels or embroideries,–the result being that many preferred to be thought reputationless, rather than abandon their finery. Some years later it was ordained that only women of loose life should be permitted to bare their shoulders; and all dressmakers who furnished the interdicted gowns to others than courtesans were condemned to four years’ penal servitude. These were stern measures,–“root and branch” was ever the Spaniard’s cry; but he found it easier to stamp out heresy than to eradicate from a woman’s heart something which is called vanity, but which is, in truth, an overmastering impulse which she is too wise to endeavour to resist.