In Hudson's Statue, Carlyle the Victorian sage, points out the flood of statues and criticizes the public's inability to identify false idols. Beerbohm, in "A Defense of Cosmetics," also notices the modern trend of artificial cosmetics in a sage-like manner. However, whereas a traditional satirist would have chastised those silly women for their artificiality, Beerbohm praises them for their virtuous application of cosmetics. The apocalyptical "For behold!" is not to warn people against the age of artificiality, but to prophesize the end of the dull, Victorian age and urge us to embrace the much-criticized trend of artificiality.
Our Arcade of the Unguents, all herbs and minerals and live creatures shall give of their substance. The white cliffs of Albion shall be ground to powder for Loveliness, and perfumed by the ghosts of many a little violet. The fluffy eider-ducks,, that are swimming round the pond, shall lose their feathers, that the powder-puff may be moonlike as it passes over Loveliness' lovely face. Even the camels shall become ministers of delight, giving many tufts of their hair to be stained in her splendid colour-box and across her [134/135] cheek the swift hare's foot shall fly as of old. The sea shall offer her the phuchus, its scarlet weed. We shall spill the blood of mulberries at her bidding.
All these things shall come to pass. Times of jolliness and glad indulgence! For Artifice, whom we drove forth.) has returned among us, and, though her eyes are red with crying, she is smiling forgiveness. She is kind. Let us dance and be glad, and trip the cockawhoop! Artifice, sweetest exile, is come into her kingdom. Let us dance her a welcome! [p. 8]
But then, is Beerbohm really serious about embracing artificiality? Slaying innocent ducklings and spilling the blood of berries just so that "loveleness' lovely face" will be even lovelier seem a little ridiculous.
1. In his quasi-biblical proclamation of a new kingdom, he says, "Let us dance and be glad, and trip the cockawhoop!" What is "cockawhoop"? What is this funny word doing in this serious, prophetic ending?
2. When he first published "A Defense on Cosmetics," the public was repulsed because they thought that Beerbohm was serious in his grotesque advocacy. But is he serious?
3. Swift's "Modest Proposal," despite its deadpan seriousness, clearly shows that the proposal is not serious. Is Beerbohm as clear as Swift in his position? How do we know?
Last modified 5 April 2005