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No. 126. SATURDAY, JANUARY 28, 1709-10.
Anguillam caudá tenes.
FROM MY OWN APARTMENT, JANUARY 27. THERE is no sort of company so agreeable as that of women who have good sense without affectation, and can converse with men without any private design of imposing chains and fetters. Belvidera, whom I visited this evening, is one of these. There is an invincible prejudice in favour of all she says, from her being a beautiful woman; because she does not consider herself as such when she talks to you. This amiable temper gives a certain tincture to all her discourse, and made it very agreeable to me till we were interrupted by Lydia, a creature who has all the charms that can adorn a woman. Her attractions would indeed be irresistible, but that she thinks them so, and is always employing them in stratagems and conquests. When I turned my eye upon her as she sat down, I saw she was a person of that character, which, for the further information of my country correspondents, I had long wanted an opportunity of explaining. Lydia is a finished coquette, which is a sect among women of all others the most mischievous, and makes the greatest havoc and disorder in society. I went on in the discourse I was in with Belvidera, without showing that I had observed any thing extraordinary in Lydia : upon which, I immediately saw her look me over as some very ill-bred fellow; and, casting
a scornful glance on my dress, give a shrug at Bela videra. But, as much as she despised me, she wanted my admiration, and made twenty offers to bring my eyes her way : but I reduced her to a restlessness in her seat, and impertinent playing of her fan, and many other motions and gestures, before I took the least notice of her. At last I looked at her with a kind of surprise, as if she had before been unobserved by reason of an ill light where she sat. It is not to be expressed what a sudden joy I saw arise in her countenance, even at the approbation of such a very old fellow: but she did not long enjoy her triumph without a rival; for there immediately entered Castabella, a lady of a quite contrary character, that is to say, as eminent a prude as Lydia is a coquette. Belvidera gave me a glance, which methought intimated, that they were both curiosities in their kind, and worth remarking. As soon as we were again seated. I stole looks at each lady, as if I was comparing their perfections. Belvidera observed it, and began to lead me into a discourse of them both to their faces, which is to be done easily enough ; for one woman is generally so intent upon the faults of another, that she has not reflection enough to observe when her own are represented.
I have taken notice, Mr. Bickerstaff," said Bela videra, ó that you have, in some parts of your writings, drawn characters of our sex, in which you have not, to my apprehension, been clear enough and distinct; particularly in those of a Prude and a Coquette. Upon the mention of this, Lydia was roused with the expectation of seeing Castabella's picture, and Castabella, with the hopes of that of Lydia. Madam,' said I to Belvidera,
(when we consider nature, we shall often find very contrary effects flow from the same cause. The Prude and Coquette, as different as they appear in their be
you may ob
haviour, are in reality the same kind of women. The motive of action in both is the affectation of pleasing men. They are sisters of the same blood and constitution; only one chooses a grave, and the other a light dress. The Prude appears more virtuous, the Coquette more vicious, than she really is. The distant behaviour of the Prude tends to the same purpose as the advances of the Coquette; and you have as little reason to fall into despair from the severity of the one, as to conceive hope from the familiarity of the other. What leads you into a clear sense of their character is, that serve each of them has the distinction of sex in all her thoughts, words, and actions. You can never mention any assembly you were lately in, but one asks you with a rigid, the other with a sprightly air, • Pray, what men were there?' As for Prudes, it must be confessed, that there are several of them, who, like hypocrites, by long practice of a false part, become sincere; or at least delude themselves into a belief that they are so.'
For the benefit of this society of ladies, I shall propose one rule to them as a test of their virtue. I find in a very celebrated modern author, that the great foundress of Pietists, Madam de Bourignon, who was no less famous for the sanctity of her life than for the singularity of some of her opinions, used to boast, that she had not only the spirit of continency in herself, but that she had also the power of communicating it to all who beheld her. This the scoffers of those days called, “The gift of infrigidation, and took occasion from it to rally her face, rather than admire her virtue. I would therefore advise the Prude, who has a mind to know the integrity of her own heart, to lay her hand seriously upon it, and to examine herself, whether she could șincerely rejoice in such a gift of conveying chaste thoughts to all her male beholders. If she has any aversion to the power of inspiring so great a virtue, whatever notion she may have of her perfection, she deceives her own heart, and is still in the state of prudery. Some perhaps will look upon the boast of Madam de Bourignon, as the utmost ostentation of a Prude.
If you would see the humour of a Coquette pushed to the last excess, you may find an instance of it in the following story; which I will set down at length, because it pleased me when I read it, though I cannot recollect in what author.
• A young coquette widow in France having been followed by a Gascon of quality, who had boasted among his companions of some favours which he had never received; to be revenged of him, sent for him one evening, and told him, 'it was in his power to do her a very particular service.' The Gascon, with much profession of his readiness to obey her commands, begged to hear in what manner she designed to employ him. You know,' said the widow, ‘my friend Belinda; and must often have heard of the jealousy of that impotent wretch her husband. Now it is absolutely necessary, for the carrying on a certain affair, that his wife and I should be together a whole night. What I have to ask of you is, to dress yourself in her night-cloaths, and lie by him a whole night in her place, that he may not miss her while she is with me.' The Gascon, though of a very lively and undertaking complexion, began to startle at the proposal. Nay,' says the widow, if you have not the courage to go through what I ask of you, I must employ somebody else that will.' Madam,' says the Gascon, I will kill him for you, if you please ; but for lying with him !- -How is it
possible to do it without being discovered ?' you
do not discover yourself,' says the widow, you will lie safe enough, for he is past all curiosity. He comes in at night while she is asleep, and goes out in a morning before she awakes: and is in pain for nothing, so he knows she is there.'
Madam, replied the Gascon, how can you reward me for passing a night with this old fellow?' The widow answered with a laugh, Perhaps by admitting you to pass a night with one you think more agreeable.' He took the hint: put on his night-clothes ; and had not been a-bed above an hour before he heard a knocking at the door, and the treading of one who approached the other side of the bed, and who he did not question was the good man of the house. I do not know, whether the story would be better by telling you in this place, or at the end of it, that the person
who went to bed to him was our young coquette widow. The Gascon was in a terrible fright every time she moved in the bed, or turned towards him; and did not fail to shrink from her, till he had conveyed himself to the very ridge of the bed. I will not dwell upon the perplexity he was in the whole night, which was augmented, when he observed that it was now broad day, and that the husband did not yet offer to get up and go about his business. All that the Gascon had for it, was to keep his face turned from him, and to feign himself asleep, when, to his utter confusion, the widow at last puts out her arm, and pulls the bell at her bed's head. In came her friend, and two or three companions to whom the Gascon had boasted of her favours. The widow jumped into a wrapping-gown, and joined with the rest in laughing at this man of