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The Progress of the Nation page 11

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The costume of gentlemen underwent rapid and various metamorphoses in Charles II.'s time From the rich and elegant costume of Charles I. it degenerated first into one with an exceedingly short doublet, without any under waistcoat, loose petticoat breeches, with long drooping lace ruffles at the knee. This costume, however, still retained much of the Vandyke style. It had the high-crowned hat and plume of feathers, the falling lace collar, and the natural hair. But soon came the monstrous peruke, or periwig, as it was corrupted to in England, copied from the fashion of the court of Louis XIV., which superseded the natural hair in both men and women, the women appearing to have adopted it first. Then speedily followed the square, long coat, and monstrous jack-boots, and cocked hat, which became the general dress of the next century. False hair had been worn by both sexes in the times of Elizabeth and James I., but never to the same preposterous extent as at present. Charles II., though adopting the periwig fashion himself, and thus confirming it, yet refused to allow the clergy to use it. He wrote a letter to the university of Cambridge, ordering the clergy neither to wear periwigs, smoke tobacco, nor read their sermons; and, on a fellow of Clare Hall venturing to preach before him in a wig and holland sleeves, he ordered the statutes concerning decency of apparel to be put in force against him and similar offenders.

The periwig did not accord well with the high-crowned hat or broad-leafed sombrero of Spain, and the crown was suddenly lowered, the brim turned up, and a drooping feather turned backwards over it. The petticoat breeches came in as early as 1658; and, in the following year, Randal Holmes thus describes a gentleman's dress: - "A short- waisted doublet and petticoat breeches, the lining being lower than the breeches, is tied above the knees; the breeches are ornamented with ribands up to the pocket, and half their breadth upon the thigh. The waistband is set round with ribands, and the shirt hanging out over them."

These petticoat breeches soon grew into actual skirts, and the doublet or jacket, which, at the beginning of the reign scarcely came below the breast, towards the end of it was so elongated that it was an actual coat, and had buttons and button-holes all down the front. In the earlier part of his transformation we see Charles and a courtier represented in a print of Faithorne's; and in the later period we see figures in the print of the funeral of general Monk, with the long, flowing periwigs, and little, flat, narrow-brimmed hats, like our sailors' glazed hats, stuck upon them.

Along with a particular costume described by Evelyn, which Charles adopted in 1666, consisting of a long close vest of black cloth or velvet pinked with white satin; a loose surcoat over it of an 'oriental character, and instead of shoes and stockings, buskins or brodequins; he also wore small buckles instead of shoestrings. Charles was so proud of this dress that he vowed he would never wear any other; but it did not last long, and buckles did not become the general fashion till the reign of queen Anne.

Long and short Kersey stockings were an article of export in this period, as well as stockings of leather, silk, or woollen, and worsted for men and children. Socks also occur under the name of "the lower end of stockings." Amongst the imports were hose of crewel, called Mantua hose, and stockings of wadmol. Neckcloths or cravats of Brussels and Flanders lace were worn towards the end of the reign, and tied in a knot under the chin, the ends hanging down square.

The costume of knights of the garter assumed its present shape, the cap of estate, with its ostrich and heron plume, and the broad blue ribbon worn over the left shoulder and brought under the right arm, where the jewel or lesser George hangs, being introduced just before the publication of Ashmole's "History of the Order." The baron's coronet of the present fashion dates from this reign.

The costume of James II.'a reign varied little from that of Charles. The hats indeed assumed various cocks, according to the fancy of some leader or party. One cock was called the Monmouth cock.

The ladies in the voluptuous reign of Charles II. abandoned the straight-laced dresses with the straight-laced manners of their puritan predecessors. Bare bosoms and bare arms to the elbows were displayed, and the hair, confined only by a single bandeau of pearls, or adorned by a single rose, fell in graceful profusion upon their snowy necks. The rounded arm reclined on the rich satin petticoat; whilst the gown of the same rich material extended its voluminous train behind. Lely's portraits are not to be regarded as representing the strict costume of the age, but they give us its spirit - a studied negligence, an elegant deshabille. The starched ruff, the steeple-crowned hat, the rigid stomacher, and the stately farthingale were, however, long retained by less fashionable dames of the country; and when the ruff was discarded, a rich lace tippet veiled the beauties of the bosom. The women of ordinary rank also still retained much of this costume, with the hood and tippet.

In their riding-habits the ladies imitated the costume of the men as nearly as they could. Evelyn says that he saw the queen in September, 1666, going to take the air "in her cavalier riding-habit, hat, and feathers, and horseman's coat." As it seems to us a very rational dress for the occasion, yet the sight did not please Mr. Pepys, for he remarks about the same time – "Walking in the galleries at Whitehall, I find the ladies of honour dressed in their riding-garbs, with coats and doublets, with deep skirts - just for all the world like men, and buttoned in their doublets up to the breast, with periwigs and with hats. So that only for a long petticoat dragging under their men's coats, nobody could take them for women in any point whatever, which was an odd sight, and a sight that did not please me."

Yet Mrs. Stuart, afterwards duchess of Richmond, did please him: - "But, above all, Mrs. Stuart, in her dress, with her hat cocked, and a rich plume, with her sweet eye, and little Roman nose, and excellent taille, is now the greatest beauty I ever saw, I think, in my life."

The military costume of the period remained much the same as during the civil wars and commonwealth; but vambraces were abandoned by the harquebussiers, and defensive armour was gradually falling into disuse. The helmet and corset, or cuirass, or the gorget alone, worn over a buff coat, form the total defence of steel worn by the officers at this period. "The arms, offensive and defensive," says the statute of the 13th and 14th of Charles II., "are to be as follows: - The defensive armour of the cavalry to consist of a back, breast, and pot, and the breast and pot to be pistol- proof. The offensive arms a sword and case of pistols, the barrels whereof are not to be under fourteen inches in length. For the foot a musketeer is ordered to have a musket, the barrels not under three feet in length; a collar of bandeliers, with a sword. Pikemen to be armed with a pike of ash, sixteen feet long, with a back, breast, head-piece, and sword."

The present familiar names of the regiments comprising the British army commence from this reign. The Life Guards were raised in 1661 - composed and treated, however, like the Gardes du Corps of the French - being principally gentlemen of families of distinction, who themselves, or their fathers, had fought in the civil wars. In the same year the Blues were also embodied, and called the Oxford Blues, from their first commander, Aubrey, earl of Oxford. The Coldstream guards date their formation from 1660, and two regiments were added to the one raised about ten years previously by general Monk, at Coldstream, on the borders of Scotland. To these were added the 1st Royal Scots, brought over from France at the restoration; the 2nd, or Queen's, raised in 1661; the 3rd, or Old Buffs, from their accoutrements being composed of buffalo leather, embodied in 1665; the Scotch Fusiliers, now the 21st, raised in 1678, and so called from their carrying the fusil, invented in France in 1630 - being a firelock lighter than the musket, but about the same length; and the 4th, or King's Own, raised in 1680.

During this reign the bayonet - so called from Bayonne, where it was invented - was sometimes three-edged, sometimes flat, with a wooden hilt like a dagger, and was screwed or merely stuck into the muzzle of the gun. The bayonet superseded the sweyne's feather, or rapier attached to the musket-rest in James's reign. Even then the bayonet was a far inferior weapon to what it is now, as it had to be removed to fire and charge again. The Grenadiers were introduced in 1678, and were so called from being practised to fling hand-grenades, each man having a pouch full. To these James added the 1st or King's regiment of Dragoon Guards, in 1685, and the 2nd, or Queen's Dragoon Guards, in 1685; the 5th and 7th regiments, called the Royal Fusiliers, the same year; and in 1688, the year of the revolution, the 23rd, or Welsh Fusiliers.

Manners and Customs

We need not repeat what we have in the last chapters of our history said of the profligacy of the court and aristocracy in Charles II.'s reign, which soon polluted the spirit of the greater part of the country. However harsh and repulsive were the manners and social maxims of the puritans, they were infinitely preferable to the vile licentiousness and blasphemy of the cavaliers, who mistook vulgarity and obscenity for gentility. Notwithstanding the traditionary feeling left by the royalist writers of these times, and too faithfully taken up by such writers as Sir Walter Scott, it is now beginning to be perceived that the cavaliers were, in reality, the vulgar of the age. If to swear, gamble, bully, murder, and use the most indecent of language, and lead the most indecent of lives, be marks of vulgarity, these §re the essentially-distinctive marks of the cavaliers. The puritans, with all their acerbity and intolerance, had a reverence for sound and Christian principles at the core of their system. Virtue and moral piety were their admiration, however rudely they demonstrated it. But the cavaliers gloried in every opposite nee and vulgarity the more because the puritans, whom they thought vulgar, denounced them. We have seen the spirit of private assassination which animated them, and led them to the murder of Dorislaus, the commonwealth ambassador in Holland; of Ascam, its minister at Madrid; of Colonel Lisle, at Lausanne; and their repeated attempts on the life of Cromwell, in pursuance of their avowed doctrine of assassination shown in the tract called "Killing no Murder." This does anything but justify their high claim to the title of men of honour, and finds no parallel in the principles or practices of the puritans of England, though the Scotch covenanters stooped to this base practice in the murder of archbishop Sharpe.

Then, as to profane swearing, their conversation, larded with oaths, would have disgraced the most uncouth trooper of to-day. "The new band of wits and fine gentlemen," says Macaulay, "never opened their mouths without uttering a ribaldry of which a porter would now be ashamed; and without calling on their Maker to curse them, sink them, confound them, blast them, and damn them." "No man," says lord Somers, "was accounted a gentleman, or person of any honour, that had not in two hours sitting invented some new modish oath, or found out the late intrigue between the lord B. and the Lady P., laughed at the fopperies of priests, and made lampoons and drollery on the sacred Scriptures themselves. As to drinking and gambling, these vices were beyond conception; and the plunder of the people by the cavalier troopers was carried on as if they had been in an enemy's country. We have only to refer to the abandoned character of the women of Charles's court, and amongst the aristocracy, who imitated the monarch in selecting mistresses and even wives from the stage, to remind the reader of the immoral character of the age. As we have already said, any one who would convince himself of the sink of infamy and obscenity which society was then, has only to look at the plays which were acted; at their language, declaimed by women without a blush or any evidence of disgust; plays written even by such men as Dryden. "Whatever our dramatists touched," says Macaulay, "they tainted. In their imitations the houses of Calderon's stately and high-spirited Castilian gentlemen became sties of vice, Shakspeare's 'Viola' a procuress, Moliere's 'Misanthrope' a ravisher, Moliere's 'Agnes' an adulteress. Nothing could be so pure or so heroic but that it became foul and ignoble by transfusion through those foul and ignoble minds." The same writer, making a few exceptions - and a noble one in the case of Milton - says of the poets of that age that "from Dryden to D'Urfey the common characteristic was hardhearted, shameless, swaggering licentiousness, at once inelegant and inhuman."

Whilst such was the condition of the court, the aristocracy, the theatre, and the literature of the country, we may imagine what was the condition of the lower orders. The state of London was little if anything improved in civilisation - by no means improved in its moral tone - since the days of James I. The city was rising in a more healthy and substantial form from the fire, with wider streets, and better drainage; but it was still badly lighted, and disgraced by filthy kennels.

At the close of Charles II.'s reign London was lighted, by contract, by one Herring, who engaged to place a lamp at every tenth door, when there was no moon, from six to twelve o'clock at night, from Michaelmas to Lady Day; and this was thought to be a wonderful advance. To us it would appear just darkness visible; and vast tracts of population were destitute of even this feeble glimmer. Whitefriars still continued the haunt of thieves, bullies, desperate debtors, and abandoned women, who rushed out and defended themselves from any visitations of duns or constables. The neighbourhood of Whitehall itself was little better, from the resort of the bully-mob of those who called themselves gentlemen. These young men, often belonging to good families, or the sons of wealthy citizens, assembled for noise and mischief in theatres and in the streets. They had been successively known as the "darr hearts," "the heroics," "the Muns," "Tityre Tu's," "the Hectors," "the roaring boys," and "Bonaventors," so continually figuring in the comedies of the time. They now bore the name of "the scourers," and frequented the theatres to damn plays, and the coffee-houses to pick up the last sayings of the wits, which were commonly not very cleanly, when such men as Rochester, Sedley, Dryden, and Wycherley were the stars there. They then sallied into the streets in bands, breaking windows, tearing off knockers, defacing signs, upsetting stalls, fish or fruit-sellers, storming taverns, beating quiet passengers, and rudely insulting respectable women. Frequently they came to a regular fight with some other mob of scourers, and then rushed headlong knocking down all whom they met. The watchmen carefully kept out of their way, and the military had to disperse them when they became particularly riotous. One great delight of these genteel ruffians was to hustle passengers into the kennel, or into Fleet Ditch and its tributaries, which ran then in open Styx-like blackness along the streets. To add to these dangers of walking the city in the evening was the common practice of emptying all sorts of filth out of chamber windows, as done in Edinburgh to a recent period; and thieves and pickpockets assaulting the passers by from dark entries below.

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Pictures for The Progress of the Nation page 11

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