18th-Century Paradise Lost
Hi! My name is Faith Proctor. I was raised in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts by Abigail and John Proctor, two very sensible people who believe in a life of simplicity and purity. For more than 200 years, we Proctors have preserved the ideals set forth by George Washington, our nation’s first President. It was not until my recent 18th birthday that I learned of the existence of my distant cousins in Washington, D.C. My parents decided it was time that one of us ventured into “big-city America” to see what advances had been made.
Meeting my aunt, uncle, and cousins was enormously exciting, and I was simply awestruck by all of the amazing inventions of the 21st century outside world. First and foremost in my thoughts, however, is my trip with my cousin Melody to the “mall.” At Melody’s first mention of the mall, my heart pounded with fear. Mistaking the word for “maul,” I feared they planned to leave me in the forest to be attacked by wolves. Melody carefully explained that the mall was like a large market where tradesmen gathered to sell their wares. My fears allayed, we entered the maze. I was shocked to see all the women in pants! The most popular pants seemed to be a very low-slung pair of dungarees called “hipsters.” I think they should be called “come hither misters,” for this will most certainly be the effect of wearing such pants. Looking down at my own ankle-length skirt and quilted petticoat, I reminded myself of the prudence of keeping some details hidden from young gentlemen.
We next came upon a shoe seller called Paidless. Over the door hung a sign that read “Buy One, Get One Free.” Well obviously! One wouldn’t get very far with only one shoe and no mate. This seemed to me a most unscrupulous vendor. Upon entering the store, I found none of the sturdy leather lace-up boots to which I am accustomed, but instead found boxes and boxes of large wedges of cork and wood with small straps of leather attached to the top. How uncomfortable and impractical! However would one walk to the well?
Leaving the shoe-seller, we entered a very large vendor called Gracy’s, with many varied wares to sell. In the clothing area, my eyes fell upon a one-armed shirt! I asked Melody if this was another “buy one get one free” swindle, wherein the other sleeve would be supplied only after purchase. Melody explained to me that this was the way the shirt was supposed to look. And she thinks that I am naïve! What good is a shirt with one arm? What a terrible sunburn one would have after working in the field all day. Glancing in a mirror at my own clothing, I was thankful for my high-collared blouse with two full sleeves.
Our next stop was at Linens, Loofas, & After, a vendor that sells toiletries. I was thoroughly shocked to find men and women browsing together! Hiding my surprise, I began to peruse the soaps and finally had to ask the vendor where I could find the lye soap. She had never heard of lye soap! She said that she recommended the “cucumber-melon” soap. Cucumber melon? Why would a person put cucumbers and melons in their soap? How unsanitary!
Our final stop was a clothier called the Snap. Inside they sold many sheer, knee-length, belted nightgowns that women wore over their clothes. My cousin Melody told me they were called “dusters.” Obviously these are clothes only to be worn by maids. It is very strange that a vendor sells only clothing for one profession!
All in all I had a wonderful experience at the mall. However, I believe that
in 200 years people’s sensibilities have regressed, for I saw the most impractical
choices in dressing oneself. And still I wonder, with no blacksmith, who will
shoe your horse while you shop?
In Other Words...
In 1745, in the colonial frontier town of Fredericksburg, Virginia, thirteen-year-old George Washington recorded The Rules of Civility in his workbook, probably as a dictation exercise. These “guidelines for the respectable gentleman” would influence him throughout his life, guiding him in both social and professional situations. Translations and variations abound, but all stress etiquette, chivalry, and courtesy, often rather elusive concepts in the 21st century.
Fortunately, there is one who understands the rules well; in fact, she still recommends their use today. Let us recall a character from the past to offer advice on life, love, and learning. We give you the “Toast of George Town”—our own Mistress Goody, always informed, always respectable, and very, very good.
Rule 56: Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation. For ’tis better to be alone than in bad company.
I think you get Mistress Goodys point!
Dear Mistress Goody,
Rule 79: Be not apt to relate news if you know not the truth thereof. In discoursing of things that you have heard, name not your author. Always, a secret discover not [that is, do not reveal].
In other words . . . don’t pass rumors if you’re not sure they’re true. Best to keep a secret a secret and not tell at all, unless her actions are such that they may do harm to her person or to that of another. Then ‘tis kind and quite your duty to reveal the truth to your superiors or loved ones.
The rules of dining etiquette are quite clear; let them guide your acquaintances in all their culinary endeavors:
Rule 90: Being set at meat, scratch not neither spit, cough nor blow your nose, except when there is a necessity for it.
Rule 100: Cleanse not your teeth with the tablecloth, napkin, fork, knife; but if others do it, let it be done with a pick tooth [i.e., a toothpick].
My, my, this is a distressing dilemma. Mistress Goody recalls a situation of her own. It was 1796 at the George Town Ball. I cut quite a stunning figure that evening in my green taffeta gown and brocaded mules. Miss Prudence Petticoat of Philadelphia was pursued by a most evocative gentleman, but when her dance card was full, he pursued me! I’m afraid that a most unladylike tiff ensued in the ladies’ powder room shortly thereafter . . . but I digress. My advice to you, my dear, is found in . . .
Rule 22: Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another.
To join the gentleman in frivolity so soon after her heartbreak is unconscionable, not to mention terribly tacky. It certainly shows little regard for your intimate friend and calls into question your upbringing. Heed also . . .
Rule 110: Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.
Have you misplaced yours, my dear?
Mistress Goody has contemplated this very question many, many times. I’ve always found the male point of view regarding love and marriage most helpful. As a matter of fact, the most sage advice comes from George Washington in a letter he wrote to Martha’s granddaughter, Nelly Custis. I will share a portion of it with you here. I do hope this “checklist”of sorts helps to settle your quandary.
When the fire is beginning to kindle, and your heart growing warm, propound these questions to it. Who is the invader? Have I competent knowledge of him? Is he a man of good character? A man of sense? For be assured a sensible woman can never be happy with a fool. What has been his walk in life? Is he a gambler? A spendthrift?, a drunkard? Is his fortune sufficient to maintain me in a manner I have been accustomed to live? And is he one to whom my friends have no reasonable objection? If these interrogations can be satisfactorily answered, there will remain but one more to be asked; that, however, is an important one. Have I sufficient ground to conclude that his affections are enjoyed on me? Without this the heart of sensibility will struggle against a passion that is not reciprocated.
|This exhibition was made possible through the generosity of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation|