Saturday, December 11, 2010

Shirtlifter for a cause

Having been roundly upbraided, left and right, for a posting in the previous meridian which I confessed to be tedious, only to find it debated, rather, for prurience, I restored myself by consulting my mentor, Mr Spectator. One reader of that posting accepted my apology for inflicting it on his delicate, though landed gaze, while an urbane fellow  extolled indelicacy as its redeeming attribute, drawing no umbrage from a bourgeois labyrinth which is familiar - exposing me from the first to calumny for guile (which comes hard, from an heir of Odysseus, I may say), and from the second to faint praise.

“A spectator of mankind, rather than as one of the species,” Mr Spectator is infallibly impartial in matters such as divided the readership today; and as one’s betters in society and government, age and cultivation implicitly concur, it is just as well for one to heed his example, or bugger off the page. Shall we glance, then, at our exemplar’s patient invention of one's mode? In his Sir Roger de Coverley papers, he elucidates how one may be a shirtflifter for a cause, where the cause is Reform.

The first and most obvious Reflections which arise in a Man who changes the City for the Country, are upon the different Manners of the people whom he meets with in those two different Scenes of Life. By Manners I do not mean Morals, but Behaviour and Good-Breeding as they show themselves in the Town and in the Country.
And here, in the first place, I must observe a very great Revolution that has happened in this Article of Good Breeding. Several obliging Deferences, Condescensions and Submissions, with many outward Forms and Ceremonies that accompany them, were first of all brought up among the politer Part of Mankind, who lived in Courts and Cities, and distinguished themselves from the Rustick part of the Species (who on all occasions acted bluntly and naturally).

These Forms ... by degrees multiplied and grew troublesome; the modish World found too great a Constraint in them, and have therefore thrown most of them aside. [Presentation], like the __ Religion, was so encumbered with Show and Ceremony, that it stood in need of a Reformation to retrench its Superfluities, and restore it to its natural good Sense and Beauty. 
At present therefore an unconstrained Carriage, and a certain Openness of Behaviour, are the height of Good-breeding. The fashionable World is grown free and easy; our Manners fit more loose upon us: Nothing is so modish as an agreeable Negligence. In a word, Good-breeding shews itself most, where to an ordinary Eye it appears the least.

If after this we look on the People of Mode in the Country, we find in them the Manners of the Last Age. They have no sooner fetched themselves up to the Fashion of the polite World, but the Town has dropped them, and are nearer to the first State of Nature than to those Refinements which formerly reigned in the Court, and still prevail in the Country.
One may now know a Man that never conversed in the World, by his excess of Good-breeding. A polite Country 'Squire shall make you as many Bows in half an hour, as would serve a Courtier for a Week.. 

In our mobile world, alternations in taste between Town and Country can disorient the bearings of many of us, having no more than one foot in either place, and nothing more than an abyss of chain stores or a big box of wage depressants to join us. Now, as in Mr Spectator's time, the spirit of reform is on the side of the shirtlifter, and one does wish to be welcoming to the future.

As for reform, the natural affections, we must expect, are even likelier than shopping mall architecture to bridge that gap between the two spheres, and this hope must meet with everyone's favour, surely?

Sir Joseph Addison
The Coverley Etiquette, 1712
Addison and Sir Richard Steele,
The Spectator, 1711-1715
The Heritage Press, 1945©
Jeremy Young


  1. nothing to say...

  2. It should be noted, however, that the gentleman depicted second last is, in fact, Victor Norlander.

  3. Quite right. If you'll stick around, Anon, you'll find I will frequently furnish an attribution without any implication that it's meant to be universal; I'd be sorry if the features lent any confusion. I didn't name Houdon, either, and you give the welcome opportunity to exempt Mr Young from that implication, too. But do stay, this blog needs a whole lot of tidying up!