This web version of "The Pervasion of Rouge," which was originally published in 1894 as "A Defence of Cosmetics," is based on the text from The Works of Max Beerbohm (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1922); this text appears to be a straight reprint of the same publisher's 1896 edition. Beerbohm's original text has no notes, and all links have been added by George P. Landow, who scanned the text and converted it to html. Explanatory notes in brackets followed by "B" are by Karl Beckson; all others by GPL. Readers should note that throughout Beerbohm's spoof "toilet" has its older meaning — the process of dressing and applying cosmetics.
None of the magazine or newspaper reviewers apparently grasped that Beerbohm had written a spoof, a satire on the Decadents, and he found himself violently attacked in the press, Punch publishing its hostile reaction in the form of a parody of a famously parodied poem.
AY, but it is useless to protest. Artifice must queen it once more in the town, and so, if there be any whose hearts chafe at her return, let them not say, "We have come into evil times and be all for resistance, reformation, or angry cavilling. For did the king's sceptre send the sea retrograde --, or the wand of the sorcerer avail to turn the sun from its old course? And what man or what number of men ever stayed that inexorable process by which the cities of this world grow, are very strong, fail, and grow again? Indeed, indeed, there is charm in every period, and only fools and flutterpates do not seek reverently for what is charming in their own day. No martyrdom, however fine, nor satire, however splendidly bitter, has changed by a little tittle the known tendency of things. It is the times that can perfect us, not we the times, and so let all of us wisely acquiesce. Like the little wired marionettes, let us acquiesce in the dance. [107/108]
For behold! The Victorian era comes to its end and the day of sancta simplicitas [holy simplicity] is quite ended. The old signs are here and the portents to warn the seer of life that we are ripe for a new epoch of artifice. Are not men rattling the dice-box and ladies dipping their fingers in the rouge-pot? At Rome, in the keenest time of her dégringolade [decadence B.], when there was gambling even in the holy temples, great ladies (does not Lucian tell us?) did not scruple to squander all they had upon unguents from Arabia. Nero's mistress and unhappy wife, Poppæa, of shameful memory, had in her travelling retinue fifteen — or, as some say, fifty — she-asses, for the sake of their milk, that was thought an incomparable guard against cosmetics with poison in them. Last century, too, when life was lived by candle-light, and ethics was but etiquette, and even art a question of punctilio, women, we know, gave the best hours of the day to the crafty farding of their faces and the towering of their coiffures. And men, throwing passion into the wine-bowl to sink or swim, turned out thought to browse upon the green cloth [i.e., of the card tables]. Cannot we even now in our fancy [108/109] see them, those silent exquisites round the long table at Brook's [London club], masked, all of them, "lest the countenance should betray feeling," in quinze masks, through whose eyelets they sat peeping, peeping, while macao brought them riches or ruin! We can see them, those silent rascals, sitting there with their cards and their rouleaux [rolls of gold coins] and their wooden money-bowls long after the dawn had crept up St. James's and pressed its haggard face against the window of the little club. Yes, we can raise their ghosts — and, more, we can see anywhere a devotion to hazard [dice game B.] fully as meek as theirs. In England there has been a wonderful revival of cards. Baccarat may rival dead faro [card game in which players bet on order in which cards appear] in the tale of her devotees. We have all seen the sweet English chatelaine [misress of a castle or country house; mistress of a household] at her roulette wheel and ere long it may be that tender parents will be writing to complain of the compulsory baccarat in our public schools.
In fact, we are all gamblers once more, but our gambling is on a finer scale than ever it was. We fly from the card-room to the heath, and from the heath to the City, and from the City to the coast of the [109/110] Mediterranean. And just as no one seriously encourages the clergy in its frantic efforts to lay the spirit of chance that has thus resurged among us, so no longer are many faces set against that other great sign of a more complicated life, the love for cosmetics. No longer is a lady of fashion blamed if, to escape the outrageous persecution of time, she fly for sanctuary to the toilet-table; and if a damsel, prying in her mirror, be sure that with brush and pigment she can trick herself into more charm, we are not angry. Indeed, why should we ever have been? Surely it is laudable, this wish to make fair the ugly and overtop fairness, and no wonder that within the last five years the trade of the makers of cosmetics has increased immoderately — twenty-fold, so one of these makers has said to me. We need but walk down any modish street and peer into the little broughams that flit past, or (in Thackeray's phrase) under the bonnet of any woman we meet, to see over how wide a kingdom rouge reigns.
And now that the use of pigments is becoming general, and most women are not so [110/111] young as they are painted, it may be asked curiously how the prejudice ever came into being. Indeed, it is hard to trace folly, for that it is inconsequent, to its start; and perhaps it savours too much of reason to suggest that the prejudice was due to the tristful confusion man has made of soul and surface. Through trusting so keenly to the detection of the one by keeping watch upon the other, and by force of the thousand errors following, he has come to think of surface even as the reverse of soul. He seems to suppose that every clown beneath his paint and lipsalve is moribund and knows it (though in verity, I am told, clowns are as cheerful a class of men as any other), that the fairer the fruit's rind and the more delectable its bloom, the closer are packed the ashes within it. The very jargon of the hunting-field connects cunning with a mask. And so perhaps came man's anger at the embellishment of women — that lovely mask of enamel with its shadows of pink and tiny pencilled veins, what must lurk behind it? Of what treacherous mysteries may it not be the screen? Does not the heathen lacquer her dark face, [111/112] and the harlot paint her cheeks, because sorrow has made them pale?
After all, the old prejudice is a-dying. We need not pry into the secret of its birth. Rather is this a time of jolliness and glad indulgence. For the era of rouge is upon us, and as only in an elaborate era can man, by the tangled accrescency of his own pleasures and emotions, reach that refinement which is his highest excellence, and by making himself, so to say, independent of Nature, come nearest to God, so only in an elaborate era is woman perfect. Artifice is the strength of the world, and in that same mask of paint and powder, shadowed with vermeil tinct and most trimly pencilled, is woman's strength.
For see! We need not look so far back to see woman under the direct influence of Nature. Early in this century, our grandmothers, sickening of the odour of faded exotics and spilt wine, came out into the daylight once more and let the breezes blow around their faces and enter, sharp and welcome, into their lungs. Artifice they drove forth and they set Martin Tupper upon a throne of mahogany to rule over them [112/113] very reign of terror set in. All things were sacrificed to the fetish Nature. Old ladies may still be beard to tell how, when they were girls, affectation was not; and, if we verify their assertion in the light of such literary authorities as Dickens, we find that it is absolutely true. Women appear to have been in those days utterly natural in their conduct — flighty, fainting, blushing, gushing, giggling, and shaking their curls. They knew no reserve in the first days of the Victorian era. No thought was held too trivial, no emotion too silly to express. To Nature everything was sacrificed. Great heavens! And in those barren days what influence did women exert! By men they seem not to have been feared nor loved, but regarded rather as "dear little creatures" or "wonderful little beings," and in their relation to life as foolish and ineffectual as the landscapes they did in water-colours. Yet, if the women of those years were of no great account, they had a certain charm, and they at least had not begun to trepass upon men's ground; if they touched not thought, which is theirs by right, at any rate they refrained [113/114] from action, which is ours. Far more serious was it when, in the natural trend of time, they became enamoured of rinking [skating] and archery and galloping along the Brighton Parade. Swiftly they have sped on since then from horror to horror. The invasion of the tennis-courts and of the golf-links, the seizure of the bicycle and of the typewriter, were but steps preliminary in that campaign which is to end with the final victorious occupation of St. Stephen's [House of Commons B.]. But stay! The horrific pioneers of womanhood who gad hither and thither and, confounding wisdom with the device on her shield, shriek for the unbecoming, are doomed. Though they spin their bicycle treadles so amazingly fast, they are too late. Though they scream victory, none follow them. Artifice, that fair exile, has returned.
Yes, though the pioneers know it not, they are doomed already. For of the curiosities of history not the least strange is the manner in which two social movements may be seen to overlap, long after the second has, in truth, given its death-blow to the first. And, in like manner, as one has seen the limbs of a murdered thing in lively movement, so we [114/115] need not doubt that, though the voice of those who cry out for reform be very terribly shrill, they will soon be hushed. Dear Artifice is with us. It needed but that we should wait.
Surely, without any of my pleading, women will welcome their great and amiable protectrix, as by instinct. For (have I not said?) it is upon her that all their strength, their life almost, depends. Artifice's first command to them is that they should repose. With bodily activity their powder will fly, their enamel crack. They are butterflies who must not flit, if they love their bloom. Now, setting aside the point of view of passion, from which very many obvious things might be said (and probably have been by the minor poets), it is, from the intellectual point of view, quite necessary that a woman should repose. Hers is the resupinate sex. On her couch she is a goddess, but so soon as ever she put her foot to the ground — lo, she is the veriest little sillypop, and quite done for. She cannot rival us in action, but she is our mistress in the things of the mind. Let her not by second-rate athletics, nor indeed by any [115/116] exercise soever of the limbs, spoil the pretty procedure of her reason. Let her be content to remain the guide, the subtle suggester of what we must do, the strategist whose soldiers we are, the little architect whose workmen.
"After all," as a pretty girl once said to me, "women are a sex by themselves, so to speak," and the sharper the line between their worldly functions and ours, the better. This greater swiftness and less erring subtlety of mind, their forte and privilege, justifies the painted mask that Artifice bids them wear. Behind it their minds can play without let. They gain the strength of reserve. They become important, as in the days of the Roman Empire were the Emperor's mistresses, as was the Pompadour at Versailles, as was our Elizabeth. Yet do not their faces become lined with thought; beautiful and without meaning are their faces.
And, truly, of all the good things that will happen with the full revival of cosmetics, one of the best is that surface will finally be severed from soul. That damnable confusion will be solved by the extinguishing of a prejudice which, as I suggest, itself created. [116/117] Too long has the face been degraded from its rank as a thing of beauty to a mere vulgar index of character or emotion. We had come to troubling ourselves, not with its charm of colour and line, but with such questions as whether the lips were sensuous, the eyes full of sadness, the nose indicative of determination. I have no quarrel with physiognomy. For my own part I believe in it. But it has tended to degrade the face aesthetically, in such wise as the study of cheirosophy [study of hands B.] has tended to degrade the hand. And the use of cosmetics, the masking of the face, will change this. We shall gaze at a woman merely because she is beautiful, not stare into her face anxiously, as into the face of a barometer.
How fatal it has been, in how many ways, this confusion of soul and service! Wise were the Greeks in making plain masks for their mummers to play in, and dunces we not to have done the same! Only the other day, an actress was saying that what she was most proud of in her art — next, of course, to having appeared in some provincial pantomime at the age of three — was the deftness [117/118] with which she contrived, in parts demanding a rapid succession of emotions, to dab her cheeks quite quickly with rouge from the palm of her right hand or powder from the palm of her left. Gracious goodness! why do not we have masks upon the stage? Drama is the presentment of the soul in action. The mirror of the soul is the voice. Let the young critics, who seek a cheap reputation for austerity, by cavilling at "incidental music," set their faces rather against the attempt to justify inferior dramatic art by the subvention of a quite alien art, like painting, of any art, indeed, whose sphere is only surface. Let those, again, who sneer, so rightly, at the "painted anecdotes of the Academy," censure equally the writers who trespass on painters' ground. It is a proclaimed sin that a painter should concern himself with a good little girl's affection for a Scotch greyhound, or the keen enjoyment of their port by elderly gentlemen of the early 'forties. Yet, for a painter to prod the soul with his paint-brush is no worse than for a novelist to refuse to dip under the surface, and the fashion of avoiding, a psychological study [118/119] of grief by stating that the owner's hair turned white in a single night, or of shame by mentioning a sudden rush of scarlet to the cheeks, is as lamentable as may be. But! But with the universal use of cosmetics and the consequent secernment of soul and surface, upon which, at the risk of irritating a reader, I must again insist, all those old properties that went to bolster up the ordinary novel — the trembling lips, the flashing eyes, the determined curve of the chin, the nervous trick of biting the moustache, aye, and the hectic spot of red on either cheek — will be made spiflicate, as the puppets were spiflicated [destroyed B.] by Don Quixote. Yes, even now Demos [the public; common man] begins to discern. The same spirit that has revived rouge, smote his mouth as it grinned at the wondrous painter of mist and river, and now sends him sprawling for the pearls that Meredith dived for in the deep waters of romance.
Indeed the revival of cosmetics must needs be so splendid an influence, conjuring booms innumerable, that one inclines almost to mutter against that inexorable law by which Artifice must perish from time to time. That [119/120] such branches of painting as the staining of glass or the illuminating of manuscripts should fall into disuse seems in comparison, so likely; these were esoteric arts; they died with the monastic spirit. But personal appearance is art's very basis. The painting of the face is the first kind of painting men can have known. To make beautiful things is it not an impulse laid upon few? But to make oneself beautiful is an universal instinct. Strange that the resultant art could ever perish! So fascinating an art too! So various in its materials from stimmis, psimythium, and fuligo [soot] to bismuth and arsenic, so simple in that its ground and its subject matter are one, so marvellous in that its very subject-matter becomes lovely when an artist has selected it! For surely this is no idle nor fantastic saying. To deny that "making up" is an art, on the pretext that the finished work of its exponents depends for beauty and excellence upon the ground chosen for the work, is absurd. At the touch of a true artist, the plainest face turns comely. As subject-matter the face is no more than suggestive, as ground, merely a loom round which [120/121] the beatus artifex [happy artist B.] may spin the threads of any golden fabric:
"Quae nunc nomen habent operosi signa Maronis
Pondus iners quondam duraque massa luit.
Malta viros nescire decet; pars maxima rerum
Offendat, si non interiora tegas,"'
That which is now called the statue of the laborious Maro was once an inert mass and a hard rock. It is proper that men should remain ignorant of many things; most things would cause offense if one did not hide their interior. [Beckson translation]
and, as Ovid would seem to suggest, by pigments any tone may be set aglow on a woman's cheek, from enamel the features take any form. Insomuch that surely the advocates of soup-kitchens and free-libraries and other devices for giving people what Providence did not mean them to receive should send out pamphlets in the praise of self-embellishment. For it will place Beauty within easy reach of many who could not otherwise hope to attain to it.
But of course Artifice is rather exacting. In return for the repose she forces — so wisely! — upon her followers when the sun is high or the moon is blown across heaven, she demands that they should pay her long homage at the sun's rising. The initiate may not enter lightly upon her mysteries. For, if a bad complexion be inexcusable, to be [121-22] ill-painted is unforgivable; and, when the toilet is laden once more with the fulness of its elaboration, we shall hear no more of the proper occupations for women, And think, bow sweet an energy, to sit at the mirror of coquetry! See the dear merits of the toilet as shown upon old vases, or upon the walls of Roman ruins, or, rather still, read Böttiger's alluring, scholarly description of "Morgenscenen in Puttzimmer Einer Reichen Römerin." Read of Sabina's face as she comes through the curtain of her bed-chamber to the chamber of her toilet. The slave-girls have long been chafing their white feet upon the marble floor. They stand, those timid Greek girls, marshalled in little battalions. Each has her appointed task, and all kneel in welcome as Sabina stalks, ugly and frowning, to the toilet chair. Scaphion steps forth from among them, and, dipping a tiny sponge in a bowl of hot milk, passes it lightly, ever so lightly, over her mistress' face. The Poppæan pastes melt beneath it like snow. A cooling lotion is poured over her brow, and is fanned with feathers. Phiale comes after, a clever girl, captured in some sea-skirmish on the Ægean. [122/123]
In her left hand she holds the ivory box wherein are the phucus [fucus: face wash or coloring] and that white powder, psimythium; in her right a sheaf of slim brushes. With how sure a touch does she mingle the colours, and in what sweet proportion blushes and blanches her lady's upturned face. Phiale is the cleverest of all the slaves. Now Calamis dips her quill in a certain powder that floats, liquid and sable, in the hollow of her palm. Standing upon tip-toe and with lips parted, she traces the arch of the eyebrows. The slaves whisper loudly of their lady's beauty, and two of them hold up a mirror to her. Yes, the eyebrows are rightly arched. But why does Psecas abase herself? She is craving leave to powder Sabina's hair with a fine new powder. It is made of the grated rind of the cedar tree, and a Gallic perfumer, whose stall is near the Circus, gave it to her for a kiss. No lady in Rome knows of it. And so, when four special slaves have piled up the headdress, out of a perforated box this glistening powder is showered. Into every little brown ringlet it enters, till Sabina's hair seems like a pile of gold coins. Lest the, breezes send [123/124] it flying, the girls lay the powder with sprinkled attar [fragrant rose-petal oil]. Soon Sabina will start for the Temple of Cybele [Mother goddess of Phrygia served by self-emasculated priests].
Ah! Such are the lures of the toilet that none will for long bold aloof from them. Cosmetics are, not going to be a mere prosaic remedy for age or plainness, but all ladies and all young girls will come to love them. Does not a certain blithe Marquise, whose lettres intimes from the Court of Louis Seize are less read than their wit deserves, tell us how she was scandalised to see "même les toutes jeunes demoiselles émaillés comme ma tahatière" [even the young women enameled like my tabacco case]? So it shall be with us. Surely the common prejudice against painting the lily can but be based on mere ground of economy. That which is already fair is complete, it may be urged — urged implausibly, for there are not so many lovely things in this world that we can afford not to know each one of them by heart. There is only one white lily, and who that has ever seen — as I have a lily really well painted could grudge the artist so fair a ground for his skill? Scarcely do you believe through how many nice metamorphoses a lily may be [124/125] passed by him. In like manner, we all know the young girl, with her simpleness, her goodness, her wayward ignorance. And a very charming ideal for England must she have been, and a very natural one, when a young girl sat even on the throne. But no nation can keep its ideal for ever, and it needed none of Mr. Gilbert's delicate satire in "Utopia" to remind us that she had passed out of our ken with the rest of the early Victorian era. What writer of plays, as lately asked some pressman, who bad been told off to attend many first nights and knew what he was talking about, ever dreams of making the young girl the centre of his theme? Rather be seeks inspiration from the tried and tired woman of the world, in all her intricate maturity, whilst, by way of comic relief, he sends the young girl flitting in and out with a tennis-racket, the poor . . . [Greek: wasted image. B.] of her former self. The season of the unsophisticated is gone by, and the young girl's final extinction beneath the rising tides of cosmetics will leave no gap in life and will rob art of nothing.
"Tush" I can hear some damned [125/126] flutterpate exclaim, "girlishness and innocence are as strong and as permanent as womanhood itself! Why, a few months past, the whole town went mad over Miss Cissie Loftus! Was not hers a success of girlish innocence and the absence of rouge? If such things as these be outmoded, why was she so wildly popular?," Indeed, the triumph of that clever girl, whose début made London nice even in August, is but another witness to the truth of my contention. In a very sophisticated time, simplicity has a new dulcedo. Hers was a success of contrast. Accustomed to clever malaperts [impudent, saucy people] like Miss Lloyd or Miss Reeve, whose experienced pouts and smiles under the sun- bonnet are a standing burlesque of innocence and girlishness, Demos was really delighted, for once and away, to see the real presentment of these things upon his stage. Coming after all those sly series, coming so young and mere with her pink frock and straightly combed hair, Miss Cissie Loftus had the charm which things of another period often do possess. Besides, just as we adored her for the abrupt nod with which she was wont at first to acknowledge the applause, so we were [126/127] glad for her to. come upon the stage with nothing to tinge the ivory of her cheeks. It seemed so strange, that neglect of convention. To be behind footlights and not rouged! Yes, hers was a success of contrast. She was like a daisy in the window of Solomons'. She was delightful. And yet, such is the force of convention, that when last I saw her, playing in some burlesque at the Gaiety, her fringe was curled and her pretty face rouged with the best of them. And, if further need be to show the absurdity of having called her performance "a triumph of naturalness over the jaded spirit of modernity," let us reflect that the little mimic was not a real old-fashioned girl after all. She had none of that restless naturalness that would seem to have characterised the girl of the early Victorian days. She had no pretty ways — no smiles nor blushes nor tremors. Possibly Demos could not have stood a presentment of girlishness unrestrained.
But, with her grave insouciance, Miss Cissie Loftus had much of the reserve that is one of the factors of feminine perfection, and to most comes only, as I have said, with artifice [127/128]. Her features played very, very slightly. And in truth, this may have been one of the reasons of her great success. For expression is but too often the ruin of a face; and, since we cannot, as yet, so order the circumstances of life that women shall never be betrayed into "an unbecoming emotion," when the brunette shall never have cause to blush nor La Gioconda to frown, the safest way by far is to create, by brush and pigments, artificial expression for every face.
And this — say you? — will make monotony? You are mistaken, toto coelo [completely B.] mistaken. When your mistress has wearied you with one expression, then it will need but a few touches of that pencil, a backward sweep of that brush, and lo, you will be revelling in another. For though, of course, the painting of the face is, in manner, most like the painting of canvas, in outcome it is rather akin to the art of music — lasting, like music's echo, not for very long. So that, no doubt, of the many little appurtenances of the Reformed Toilet Table, not the least vital will be a list of the emotions that become its owner, with recipes for [128-129] simulating them. According to the colour she wills her hair to be for the time — black or yellow or, peradventure, burnished red — she will blush for you, sneer for you, laugh or languish for you. The good combinations of line and colour are nearly numberless, and by their means poor restless woman will be able to realise her moods in all their shades and lights and dappledoms, to live many lives and masquerade through many moments of joy. No monotony will be. And for us men matrimony will have lost its sting.
But that in the world of women they will not neglect this art, so ripping in itself, in its result so wonderfully beneficent, I am sure indeed. Much, I have said, is already done for its full revival. The spirit of the age has made straight the path of its professors. Fashion has made Jezebel surrender her monopoly of the rouge-pot. As yet, the great art of self-embellisbment is for us but in its infancy. But if Englishwomen can bring it to the flower of an excellence so supreme as never yet has it known, then, though Old England lose her martial and [129/130] commerical supremacy, we patriots will have the satisfaction of knowing that she has been advanced at one bound to a place in the councils of aesthetic Europe. And, in sooth, is this hoping too high of my countrywomen? True that, as the art seems always to have appealed to the ladies of Athens, and it was not until the waning time of the Republic that Roman ladies learned to love the practice of it, so Paris, Athenian in this as in all other things, has been noted hitherto as a far more vivid centre of the art than London. But it was in Rome, under the Emperors, that unguentaria [a perfumed ointment B.] reached its zenith, and shall it not be in London, soon, that unguentaria shall outstrip its Roman perfection! Surely there must be among us artists as cunning in the use of brush and puff as any who lived at Versailles. Surely the splendid, inpalpable advance of good taste, as shown in dress and in the decoration of houses, may justify my hope of the preëminence of Englishwomen in the cosmetic art. By their innate delicacy of touch they will accomplish much, and much of course, by their swift feminine perception. Yet it were well that they should know [130/131] something also of the theoretical side of the craft. Modern authorities upon the mysteries of the toilet are, it is true, rather few; but among the ancients many a writer would seem to have been fascinated by them. Archigenes, a man of science at the Court of Cleopatra, and Criton at the Court of the Emperor Trajan, both wrote treatises upon cosmetics — doubtless most scholarly treatises that would have given many a precious hint. It is a pity they are not extant. From Lucian or from Juvenal, with his bitter picture of a Roman levée, much may be learnt; from the staid pages of Xenophon and Aristophanes' dear farces. But best of all is that fine book of the Ars Amatoria that Ovid has set aside for the consideration of dyes, perfumes, and pomades. Written by an artist who knew the allurement of the toilet and understood its philosophy, it remains without rival as a treatise upon Artifice. It is more than a poem, it is a manual; and if there be left in England any lady who cannot read Latin in the original, she will do well to procure a discreet translation. In the Dodleian Library [either a misprint for Oxford's Bodleian Library — Beckson has the correct spelling — or Beerbohm's jest] there is treasured the only known [131/132] copy of a very poignant and delightful rendering of this one book of Ovid's masterpiece. It was made by a certain Wye Waltonstall, who lived in the days of Elizabeth, and, seeing that be dedicated it to "the Vertuous Ladyes and Gentlewomen of Great Britain," I am sure that the gallant writer, could he know of our great renaissance of cosmetics, would wish his little work to be placed once more within their reach. "Inasmuch as to you, ladyes and gentlewomen," so he writes in his queer little dedication, "my booke of pigments doth first addresse itself, that it may kisse your hands and afterwards have the lines thereof in reading sweetened by the odour of your breath, while the dead letters formed into words by your divided lips may receive new life by your paffionate expreffion, and the words marryed in that Ruby coloured temple may thus happily united, multiply your contentment." It is rather sad to think that, at this crisis in the history of pigments, the Vertuous Ladyes and Gentlewomen cannot read the libellus [little book] of Wye Waltonstall, who did so dearly love pigments.
But since the days when these great critics [132/133] wrote their treatises, with what gifts innumerable has Artifice been loaded by Science! Many little partitions must be added to the narthecium before it can comprehend all the new cosmetics that have been quietly devised since classical days, and will make the modern toilet chalks away more splendid in its possibilities. A pity that no one has devoted himself to the compiling of a new list; but doubtless all the newest devices are known to the admirable unguentarians of Bond Street, who will impart them to their clients. Our thanks, too, should be given to Science for ridding us of the old danger that was latent in the use of cosmetics. Nowadays they cannot, being purged of any poisonous element, do harm to the skin that they make beautiful. There need be no more sowing the seeds of destruction in the furrows of time, no martyrs to the cause like Maria, Countess of Coventry, that fair dame but infelix [unhappy], who died, so they relate, from the effect of a poisonous rouge upon her lips. No, we need have no fears now. Artifice will claim not another victim from among her worshippers. [133/134]
Loveliness shall sit at the toilet, watching her oval face in the oval mirror. Her smooth fingers shall flit among the paints and powder, to tip and mingle them, catch up a pencil, clasp a phial, and what not and what not, until the mask of vermeil tinct has been laid aptly, the enamel quite hardened. And, heavens, how she will ebarm us and ensorcel our eyes! Positively rouge will rob us for a time of all our reason; we shall go mad over masks. Was it not at Capua that they had a whole street where nothing was sold but dyes and unguents? We must have such a street, and, to fill our new Seplasia; our Arcade of the Unguents, all herbs and minerals and live creatures shall give of their substance. The white cliffs of Albion [England] 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. And, as in another period of great ecstasy, a dancing wanton, le belle Aubrey, was crowned upon a church's lighted altar, so Arsenic, that "greentress'd goddess," ashamed at length of skulking between the soup of the unpopular and the test-tubes of the Queen's analyst, shall be exalted to a place of consummate honour upon the toilet-table of Loveliness.
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!
- Madame Rachel’s Costly Arabian Preparations [book chapter on mid-Victorian cosmetics]
Beerbohm, Max. The Works of Max Beerbohm. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1922. 107-135.
Aesthetes and Decadents of the 1890s: An Anthology of British Poetry and Prose. Ed. Karl Beckson. Rev. ed. Chicago: Academy, 1981.
Last modified 4 April 2005