No. 51.


L O I T E R E R.

"Speak of us as we are."


And sold by Messrs. PRINCE and COOKE, OXFORD.
Mess. EGERTONS, Whitehall, LONDON; Mess. PEARSON


No. LI.


L O I T E R E R.

SATURDAY, January 16, 1790.

Vagor aspectu, visumque per omnia duco.

AMONG the various acquirements that have attracted the curiosity, and employed the observation of modern Readers and modem Writers, none have been pursued with more interesting eagerness, or less real satisfaction, than the Science of Physiognomy. So fashionable indeed have investigations of this nature become, that if the very best founded Hypotheses carried half as much truth in their application, as they imply absurdity in their invention, the world would long since have got rid of its superfluous inhabitants; both Poets, and Pick-pockets Prudes, and Prostitutes, in short all those who have too much cunning or too little money, would, I doubt not, have been shipped of with the very first cargo of Convicts to Botany Bay. Since immediately after our birth might be discovered in our faces the weakness of our Heads, or the baseness of our Hearts, and by a little well timed severity, there might be removed from the face of the Earth (sub ovo) the two greatest nuisances to Public Advantage, or Private Society, viz. the Men of Genius without Fortune, and the Women of Character without Virtue. — But to return to my subject. As the reputation, if not the very existence of a Periodical Paper depends upon the expedition with which it announces to the world every turn of Fashion, and every change of Taste, perhaps the Loiterer may incur some blame for having so long delayed any remarks upon this reigning passion for feature-hunting. But let me assure my Readers, that so extraordinary a silence did not proceed from any disapprobation of it, on the contrary, I think it a very innocent and commendable amusement, equally beneficial to the observed and the Observer, since it will teach them both to disguise the expression of their own features, and suspect that of every body else; a caution which cannot be too often inculcated into the breasts of young people, and which the old ones (to do them justice) now a-days seem to be fully sensible of. — But independent of the serious advantages which may be derived from Perfecting the Science of Physiognomy, it is productive of much entertainment; and if we consider it merely as the amusement of an idle hour, which cannot be better filled up than by pulling a face to pieces, as children do their play-things, to see what they are made of. For which reason I have even endeavoured to extend the scope of this Science, so as to comprehend, not only the features, the Voice, or the person, but even the personal accomplishments, and perhaps the discriminating niceties of Dress. A thought of this kind first struck me on my being requested to accompany the family (with whom I spent part of the last Vacation) to an Assembly of Cards and Dancing at a neighbourhood provincial Town. On my alleging that I was a very lukewarm Dancer, and had really sprained by ankle a few days before, I remember Mr. B——’s saying, “As to Your dancing, you may do as you please, as Gentlemen will not be wanting; I will engage, however, to get you a good Rubber of Whist; or if you don’t like that, you can at worst make some Mems of the queerest figures you see there, and bring them into the Loiterer bye and bye. What was said, I believe in joke, was taken in earnest. I accordingly went, and being pre-informed that it would be a very mixed assembly, I promised myself no small degree of Amusement in my new occupation.

The company were nearly all collected at nine o’clock in a large room, which they called the Town-Hall, but which I should have thought had been built for the County-Goal; I soon found, however, that the ruggedness of the floor, the dust of the ceiling, and the grease of the wainscot, were easy to be accounted for, as a gentleman (who officiated as Master of Ceremonies in his public character, and, as I afterwards found, baked the Rolls for Tea in his private one) was kind enough to inform me, that though the Corporation made a point of always lending their Room to the Ladies once a month, yet I must not be surprised at the appearance of it, “for, Sir,” exclaimed my Conductor, “in addition to examining every dirty Poacher and diseased Vagrant we can lay Our hands upon, it was but last night that Sir Courtly Canvas gave a grand Dinner to all the free and independent Electors of this Borough: We kept a debate upon Bribery and Corruption till half past four this morning, so that there has not been time to get the Room quite in order.”

After about half an hour spent in necessary preparations on all sides, the Ladies being employed in tying up their trains, the Gentlemen in recapitulating the circumstances of the morning’s hunt, and the Orchestra in the melodious discord of tuning their violins; the Ball was opened by Miss Mac Herring, the daughter of an eminent Fishmonger, the Mayor of the Town. For some time I could not guess why Miss M. should take precedence over several married Women who were standing up, till Mr. B—— informed me that Miss Mac Herring was a Sprig of Nobility; “A decayed one, I confess,” said he, “Her father married the illegitimate daughter of an attainted Scotch Laird. But after all, if it gives her any pleasure to expose herself to all her acquaintances, I am sure I would be the last person in the world to put her in mind, that her grandfather was a Traitor, or her grandmother a W——.” So saying, he went off to the vacant seat of a card- table, and left me to my meditations.

The first remarkable thing which struck my observation was the figures of two young men who stood next to each other, and who were not more opposite in their mode of Dress, than in their method of Behaviour. The Gentleman who stood highest in the Dance wore strings in his shoes, his hair combed negligently through, his neck cloth as thick as a poultice, and his watch in his waistcoat pocket. He danced as though he had rather have stood still, and looked at his partner as if he wished it had been his hunter. He was generally a note or two behind the tune, yet frequently clapping his hands to make the music play faster, at the same time diversifying his behaviour as if affecting to whisper in the ear of any one who passed him, and immediately bursting out into a broad laugh. After this description of the one, I need only beg my readers to reverse it and they will have an accurate idea of the other. His clothes were not distinguished by any thing very fashionable either in their make or colour, but they were put on with such studied exactness, and worn with so much apprehensive caution, that I was perfectly convinced the article of dress was a luxury he by no means too frequently indulged in. Nor could I help observing, that more than once he wiped his shoes with a white pocket handkerchief, a circumstance often noted in your Very nice people, who are, by the bye, of all others the nastiest in the world. — But to return to the Gentleman under consideration, if his dress and air, when standing still, favoured a little freshness, the moment he began to dance I was Perfectly satisfied that he was indeed a very new edition, and recent to the press. Though he could not be elegant, yet he was resolved to be exact in his motions. In vain might his Partner ask him a question; in vain might the surrounding Dancers stand in his way, still this indefatigable Caperer pursued his road, and arrived safe at the bottom of the room without having missed a single Couple, or omitted a hundredth variation of a Step. After a little reflection on the very different appearance which the same innate principle of Puppyism puts different tempers, I was convinced, that both he who could not Dance at all, and the other who could do nothing else, must be of the same original, though transplanted into opposite soils. I imagined that the former was spoilt by having known too much of the world, and the latter by having seen too little. The one had met with various models of Fashion, all of which he adopted without sense to discriminate any; the other had seen none, and wanted genius to establish an Original. — I need hardly, after this, tell my readers that I found, upon enquiry, they were the two Sons of a Country Tradesman; the one neglected at Oxford, the other employed at home. The eldest a Scholar of —— College; the youngest educated in the Shop. The former has, by the length of his Bills, the shortness of his boots, and the strength of his head, carried off the title of a “Damn’d good Fellow,” whilst the latter has, by the lowness of his bows, the volubility of his tongue, and spruceness of his person, gained the reputation of “A mighty good sort of young Man.”

From these two personages, I turned my eyes to a couple who were that moment beginning the Dance, and whose appearance attracted my curiosity in no small degree. The lady seemed, when I saw only the back-front, a fine young woman dressed in the height of elegant profusion, with beautiful long tresses hanging down in artless ringlets to her waist; but when she turned round and presented me a view of her face, I found myself somewhat in an error. Her complexion naturally not of the clearest, had evidently been improved by the genial influence of a warmer climate, so that it was hard to say whether the brown or the yellow predominated. Her teeth might have been good once, but they were gone, her brow was wrinkled, and her cheeks were furrowed. Though she could hardly totter about the room, still she appeared to enjoy a Dance more than the youngest Girl in the company. — Her partner’s face gave evident proof that he was not so well satisfied with her performance as she herself appeared to be. Disgust and impatience were pretty visible in every feature of that unfortunate 0uth who being of that doubtful age when we think ourselves men, and all the rest of the world think us boys, cast wishful eyes on many of the surrounding damsels, and seem’d to say, “What have I done that I should be tied to such an piece of antiquated Puerility?” — I of course immediately took it for granted that he was a distant cousin to his fair companion, who had therefore fastened on him in pure compassion, that he might enjoy a Dance or two; or, perhaps, Mamma might have told him that he ought to stand up with his relation. On communicating my Suspicions to B—, who was just come to me after finishing his rubber, I was informed, that in spite of my deep observation I had not guessed half the absurdity before me. “That Lady and her partner are much nearer relations that you imagine,” said my friend, “they are Mother and Son I assure you; nay, don’t be surprised, but think yourself well off that she did not ask you to Dance, for, like a recruiting serjeant, she is apt to cast her eyes on every proper made man; and as to introduction — why now a days the less ceremony the more politeness you know!” — I could scarcely believe that my friend was not deceiving me, ‘till he seriously assured me that the above-mentioned lovely matron was afflicted with such a furor saltandi, that more than once he had seen her Dance with her own husband, — that indeed made me believe any thing ——.

Tea now made its appearance, and the whole room was soon occupied by long tables and green benches, whilst each well-dressed beau was endeavouring to squeeze himself in next to his favourite belle. It was curious indeed to observe how full one end of the table was, whilst the other was occupied only by grave Grandmamma, or a couple of profound politicians, more intent on their argument than their company; — but in the midst of this tumult one party attracted my observation in a more than usual manner. — A Lady and gentleman, both of them young, handsome, and in appearance more fashionable than the rest, had Occupied a smaller table in one corner of the room, and by disposition of their chairs contrived to cut off the rest of the company and enjoy solitude in the midst of a mob. Their conversation seemed interesting, for they seldom turned their heads to look about them, and on the whole there appeared on both sides such an elegant politeness and solicitude that I could not doubt but that a real and tender attachment engrossed their thoughts and discourse. On applying to my friend for satisfaction on the subject, I was informed that the Lady and Gentleman in question were Mr. and Mrs. S ——, people of fortune and fashion, Whose attendance at the ball could only be owing to an interest which he wished to establish in the Corporation previous to the approaching election. What a happy Couple, I exclaimed; how rarely, my friend, do we meet with such evident yet delicate marks of attention from a husband to a wife! Very rarely indeed, retorted B ——, with a dry sneer. — His Look did not escape me; he saw I wanted an explanation, and proceeded thus: That Mr. and Mrs. S —— are a happy Couple, as you just observed, I do not doubt, indeed who can, for they have been married these five years, during which period, neglect on his side, and infidelity on hers, has made them the conversation of the public, the disgrace of their friends, and the curse of each other; a Separation is now agreed on, and in a very few days the Divorce will take place — no wonder they appear with so cheerful a countenance,

This denouement sickened me of my pursuit. I looked back on my discoveries, and found that in spite of all my sagacity, I had been right only once in three times, which has convinced me, and I think may convince my Physiognomical Readers, that those who judge of the heart from the face, and draw conclusions from external appearance, as they believe without reason, and affirm without proof, so must they often repent their opinions, and retract their assertions. For since the internal feelings are only to be known by the play of features; and since on these features are depicted the effects alone of sensation without cause, who shall be bold enough to say, that very opposite causes may not contract the brow, or dilate the cheek in one and the same manner. Who in short shall safely affirm, that a Man may not be as melancholy at the loss of a Pointer, as at the death of a Parent, or that a Woman may not experience as sincere a joy at being left a Widow as in being made a Wife.


N.B. This work will in future be sold by Messrs. Prince and Cooke; to whom our Correspondents are requested to direct their communications.

             < <Previous                                                              List of Issues                                                              Next > >

Sophia's Home page