To MRS. M - . PARIS, October, 12, 1763.
MADAM, - I shall be much pleased if the remarks I have made on the characters of the French people, can afford you the satisfaction you require. With respect to the ladies I can only judge from their exteriors: but, indeed, these are so characteristic, that one can hardly judge amiss; unless we suppose that a woman of taste and sentiment may be so overruled by the absurdity of what is called fashion, as to reject reason, and disguise nature, in order to become ridiculous or frightful. That this may be the case with some individuals, is very possible. I have known it happen in our own country, where the follies of the French are adopted and exhibited in the most aukward imitation: but the general prevalence of those preposterous modes, is a plain proof that there is a general want of taste, and a general depravity of nature. I shall not pretend to describe the particulars of a French lady's dress. These you are much better acquainted with than I can pretend to be: but this I will be bold to affirm, that France is the general reservoir from which all the absurdities of false taste, luxury, and extravagance have overflowed the different kingdoms and states of Europe. The springs that fill this reservoir, are no other than vanity and ignorance. It would be superfluous to attempt proving from the nature of things, from the first principles and use of dress, as well as from the consideration of natural beauty, and the practice of the ancients, who certainly understood it as well as the connoisseurs of these days, that nothing can be more monstrous, inconvenient, and contemptible, than the fashion of modern drapery. You yourself are well aware of all its defects, and have often ridiculed them in my hearing. I shall only mention one particular of dress essential to the fashion in this country, which seems to me to carry human affectation to the very farthest verge of folly and extravagance; that is, the manner in which the faces of the ladies are primed and painted. When the Indian chiefs were in England every body ridiculed their preposterous method of painting their cheeks and eye-lids; but this ridicule was wrong placed. Those critics ought to have considered, that the Indians do not use paint to make themselves agreeable; but in order to be the more terrible to their enemies. It is generally supposed, I think, that your sex make use of fard and vermillion for very different purposes; namely, to help a bad or faded complexion, to heighten the graces, or conceal the defects of nature, as well as the ravages of time. I shall not enquire at present, whether it is just and honest to impose in this manner on mankind: if it is not honest, it may be allowed to be artful and politic, and shews, at least, a desire of being agreeable. But to lay it on as the fashion in France prescribes to all the ladies of condition, who indeed cannot appear without this badge of distinction, is to disguise themselves in such a manner, as to render them odious and detestable to every spectator, who has the least relish left for nature and propriety. As for the fard or white, with which their necks and shoulders are plaistered, it may be in some measure excusable, as their skins are naturally brown, or sallow; but the rouge, which is daubed on their faces, from the chin up to the eyes, without the least art or dexterity, not only destroys all distinction of features, but renders the aspect really frightful, or at best conveys nothing but ideas of disgust and aversion. You know, that without this horrible masque no married lady is admitted at court, or in any polite assembly; and that it is a mark of distinction which no bourgeoise dare assume. Ladies of fashion only have the privilege of exposing themselves in these ungracious colours. As their faces are concealed under a false complexion, so their heads are covered with a vast load of false hair, which is frizzled on the forehead, so as exactly to resemble the wooly heads of the Guinea negroes. As to the natural hue of it, this is a matter of no consequence, for powder makes every head of hair of the same colour; and no woman appears in this country, from the moment she rises till night, without being compleatly whitened. Powder or meal was first used in Europe by the Poles, to conceal their scald heads; but the present fashion of using it, as well as the modish method of dressing the hair, must have been borrowed from the Hottentots, who grease their wooly heads with mutton suet and then paste it over with the powder called buchu. In like manner, the hair of our fine ladies is frizzled into the appearance of negroes wool, and stiffened with an abominable paste of hog's grease, tallow, and white powder. The present fashion, therefore, of painting the face, and adorning the head, adopted by the beau monde in France, is taken from those two polite nations the Chickesaws of America and the Hottentots of Africa. On the whole, when I see one of those fine creatures sailing along, in her taudry robes of silk and gauze, frilled, and flounced, and furbelowed, with her false locks, her false jewels, her paint, her patches, and perfumes; I cannot help looking upon her as the vilest piece of sophistication that art ever produced.