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No. 127 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 127
Thursday, July 26, 1711.

‘Quantum est in rebus Inane?’


It is our Custom at Sir ROGER’S, upon the coming in of the Post, to sit about a Pot of Coffee, and hear the old Knight read Dyer’s Letter; which he does with his Spectacles upon his Nose, and in an audible Voice, smiling very often at those little Strokes of Satyr which are so frequent in the Writings of that Author. I afterwards communicate to the Knight such Packets as I receive under the Quality of SPECTATOR. The following Letter chancing to please him more than ordinary, I shall publish it at his Request.


‘You have diverted the Town almost a whole Month at the Expence of the Country, it is now high time that you should give the Country their Revenge. Since your withdrawing from this Place, the Fair Sex are run into great Extravagancies. Their Petticoats, which began to heave and swell before you left us, are now blown up into a most enormous Concave, and rise every Day more and more: In short, Sir, since our Women know themselves to be out of the Eye of the SPECTATOR, they will be kept within no Compass. You praised them a little too soon, for the Modesty of their Head-Dresses; for as the Humour of a sick Person is often driven out of one Limb into another, their Superfluity of Ornaments, instead of being entirely Banished, seems only fallen from their Heads upon their lower Parts. What they have lost in Height they make up in Breadth, and contrary to all Rules of Architecture widen the Foundations at the same time that they shorten the Superstructure. Were they, like Spanish Jennets, to impregnate by the Wind, they could not have thought on a more proper Invention. But as we do not yet hear any particular Use in this Petticoat, or that it contains any thing more than what was supposed to be in those of Scantier Make, we are wonderfully at a loss about it.

The Women give out, in Defence of these wide Bottoms, that they are Airy, and very proper for the Season; but this I look upon to be only a Pretence, and a piece of Art, for it is well known we have not had a more moderate Summer these many Years, so that it is certain the Heat they complain of cannot be in the Weather: Besides, I would fain ask these tender constitutioned Ladies, why they should require more Cooling than their Mothers before them.

I find several Speculative Persons are of Opinion that our Sex has of late Years been very sawcy, and that the Hoop Petticoat is made use of to keep us at a Distance. It is most certain that a Woman’s Honour cannot be better entrenched than after this manner, in Circle within Circle, amidst such a Variety of Out-works and Lines of Circumvallation. A Female who is thus invested in Whale-Bone is sufficiently secured against the Approaches of an ill-bred Fellow, who might as well think of Sir George Etherege‘s way of making Love in a Tub, [1] as in the midst of so many Hoops.

Among these various Conjectures, there are Men of Superstitious tempers, who look upon the Hoop Petticoat as a kind of Prodigy. Some will have it that it portends the Downfal of the French King, and observe that the Farthingale appeared in England a little before the Ruin of the Spanish Monarchy. Others are of Opinion that it foretels Battle and Bloodshed, and believe it of the same Prognostication as the Tail of a Blazing Star. For my part, I am apt to think it is a Sign that Multitudes are coming into the World rather than going out of it.

The first time I saw a Lady dressed in one of these Petticoats, I could not forbear blaming her in my own Thoughts for walking abroad when she was so near her Time, but soon recovered myself out of my Error, when I found all the Modish Part of the Sex as far gone as her self. It is generally thought some crafty Women have thus betrayed their Companions into Hoops, that they might make them accessory to their own Concealments, and by that means escape the Censure of the World; as wary Generals have sometimes dressed two or three Dozen of their Friends in their own Habit, that they might not draw upon themselves any particular Attacks of the Enemy. The strutting Petticoat smooths all Distinctions, levels the Mother with the Daughter, and sets Maids and Matrons, Wives and Widows, upon the same Bottom. In the mean while I cannot but be troubled to see so many well-shaped innocent Virgins bloated up, and waddling up and down like big-bellied Women.