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No. 400 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 400.
Monday, June 9, 1712. Steele.

‘–Latet Anguis in Herba.’


It should, methinks, preserve Modesty and its Interests in the World, that the Transgression of it always creates Offence; and the very Purposes of Wantonness are defeated by a Carriage which has in it so much Boldness, as to intimate that Fear and Reluctance are quite extinguishd in an Object which would be otherwise desirable. It was said of a Wit of the last Age,
Sedley has that prevailing gentle Art,
Which, can with a resistless Charm impart
The loosest Wishes to the chastest Heart;
Raise such a Conflict, kindle such a Fire,
Between declining Virtue and Desire,
That the poor vanquished Maid dissolves away
In Dreams all Night, in Sighs and Tears all Day. [1]

This prevailing gentle Art was made up of Complaisance, Courtship, and artful Conformity to the Modesty of a Woman’s Manners. Rusticity, broad Expression, and forward Obtrusion, offend those of Education, and make the Transgressors odious to all who have Merit enough to attract Regard. It is in this Taste that the Scenery is so beautifully ordered in the Description which Antony makes, in the Dialogue between him and Dolabella, of Cleopatra in her Barge.
Her Galley down the Silver Cydnos row’d;
The Tackling Silk, the Streamers wav’d with Gold;
The gentle Winds were lodg’d in purple Sails:
Her Nymphs, like Nereids, round her Couch were placed,
Where she, another Sea-born Venus, lay;
She lay, and lean’d her Cheek upon her Hand,
And cast a Look so languishingly sweet,
As if, secure of all Beholders Hearts,
Neglecting she could take ’em. Boys like Cupids
Stood fanning with their painted Wings the Winds
That play’d about her Face; but if she smil’d,
A darting Glory seemed to blaze abroad,
That Men’s desiring Eyes were never weary’d,
But hung upon the Object. To soft Flutes
The Silver Oars kept Time; and while they play’d,
The Hearing gave new Pleasure to the Sight,
And both to Thought [2]–

Here the Imagination is warmed with all the Objects presented, and yet there is nothing that is luscious, or what raises any Idea more loose than that of a beautiful Woman set off to Advantage. The like, or a more delicate and careful Spirit of Modesty, appears in the following Passage in one of Mr. Philip’s Pastorals. [3]

‘Breathe soft ye Winds, ye Waters gently flow,
Shield her ye Trees, ye Flowers around her grow,
Ye Swains, I beg you, pass in Silence by,
My Love in yonder Vale asleep does lie.’

Desire is corrected when there is a Tenderness or Admiration expressed which partakes the Passion. Licentious Language has something brutal in it, which disgraces Humanity, and leaves us in the Condition of the Savages in the Field. But it may be askd to what good Use can tend a Discourse of this Kind at all? It is to alarm chaste Ears against such as have what is above called the prevailing gentle Art. Masters of that Talent are capable of cloathing their Thoughts in so soft a Dress, and something so distant from the secret Purpose of their Heart, that the Imagination of the Unguarded is touched with a Fondness which grows too insensibly to be resisted. Much Care and Concern for the Lady’s Welfare, to seem afraid lest she should be annoyed by the very Air which surrounds her, and this uttered rather with kind Looks, and expressed by an Interjection, an Ah, or an Oh, at some little Hazard in moving or making a Step, than in my direct Profession of Love, are the Methods of skilful Admirers: They are honest Arts when their Purpose is such, but infamous when misapplied. It is certain that many a young Woman in this Town has had her Heart irrecoverably won, by Men who have not made one Advance which ties their Admirers, tho’ the Females languish with the utmost Anxiety. I have often, by way of Admonition to my female Readers, give them Warning against agreeable Company of the other Sex, except they are well acquainted with their Characters. Women may disguise it if they think fit, and the more to do it, they may be angry at me for saying it; but I say it is natural to them, that they have no Manner of Approbation of Men, without some Degree of Love: For this Reason he is dangerous to be entertaind as a Friend or Visitant who is capable of gaining any eminent Esteem or Observation, though it be never so remote from Pretensions as a Lover. If a Man’s Heart has not the Abhorrence of any treacherous Design, he may easily improve Approbation into Kindness, and Kindness into Passion. There may possibly be no manner of Love between them in the Eyes of all their Acquaintance, no it is all Friendship; and yet they may be as fond as Shepherd and Shepherdess in a Pastoral, but still the Nymph and the Swain may be to each other no other I warrant you, than Pylades and Orestes.