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The Decline Of Night-Caps
by [?]

It sounds like the tinkle of triviality to descend from the stern business of this present time to write of night-caps: And yet while the discordant battles are puffing their cheeks upon the rumbling bass pipes, it is relief if there be intermingled a small, shrill treble–any slightest squeak outside the general woe.

There was a time when the chief issue of fowl was feather-beds. Some few tallest and straightest feathers, maybe, were used on women’s hats, and a few of better nib than common were set aside for poets’ use–goose feathers in particular being fashioned properly for the softer flutings, whether of Love or Spring–but in the main the manifest destiny of a feather was a feather-bed.

In those days it was not enough that you plunged to the chin in this hot swarm of feathers, for discretion, in an attempt to ward off from you all snuffling rheums, coughings, hackings and other fleshly ills, required you before kicking off the final slippers to shut the windows against what were believed to be the dank humors of the night. Nor was this enough. You slept, of course, in a four-post bed; and the curtains had to be pulled together beyond the peradventure of a cranny. Then as a last prophylaxis you put on a night-cap. Mr. Pickwick’s was tied under the chin like a sunbonnet and the cords dangled against his chest, but this was a matter of taste. It was behind such triple rampart that you slept, and were adjudged safe from the foul contagion of the dark. Consequently your bed was not exactly like a little boat. Rather it was like a Pullman sleeper, which, as you will remember, was invented early in the nineteenth century and stands as a monument to its wisdom.

I have marveled at the ease with which Othello strangled Desdemona. Further thought gives it explanation. The poor girl was half suffocated before he laid hands on her. I find also a solution of Macbeth’s enigmatic speech, “Wicked dreams abuse the curtain’d sleep.” Any dream that could get at you through the circumvallation of glass, brocade, cotton and feathers could be no better than a quadruplicated house-breaker, compounded out of desperate villainies.

Reader, have you ever purchased a pair of pajamas in London? This is homely stuff I write, yet there’s pathos in it. That jaunty air betokens the beginning of your search before question and reiteration have dulled your spirits. Later, there will be less sparkle in your eye. What! Do not the English wear pajamas? Does not the sex that is bifurcated by day keep by night to its manly bifurcation? Is not each separate leg swathed in complete divorcement from its fellow? Or, womanish, do they rest in the common dormitory of a shirt de nuit? The Englishman does wear pajamas, but the word with him takes on an Icelandic meaning. They are built to the prescription of an Esquimo. They are woolly, fuzzy and the width of a finger thick. If I were a night-watchman, “doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,” I should insist on English pajamas to keep me awake. If Saint Sebastian, who, I take it, wore sackcloth for the glory of his soul, could have lighted on the pair of pajamas that I bought on Oxford Circus, his halo would have burned the brighter.

Just how the feathery and billowy nights of our great-grandparents were changed into the present is too deep for explanation. Perhaps Annie left a door or window open–such neglect fitting with her other heedlessness–and notwithstanding this means of entry, it was found in the morning that no sprite or ooph had got in to pinch the noses of the sleepers. At least, there was no evidence of such a visitation, unless the snoring that abounded all the night did proceed from the pinching of the nose (the nasal orifice being so clamped betwixt the forefinger and the thumb of these devilish sprites that the breath was denied its proper channel). Unless snoring was so caused, it is clear that no ooph had clambered through the window.