The following articles were published in editions of the satirical
Punch, during 1857.
Forget the damned petticoats, beget more children.
Among the causes which are cited to account for the
decreasing rate of increase of the French population, it is thought that
the spread of the crinoline contagion is proving most injurious in its
effects upon the census. The mode now prevailing is one of such
extravagance that it is continually demanding fresh sacrifices, and ladies
have to choose between a fine dress and a family, for no income but a
Rothschild’s can provide for both.
The result is, for the most part, as we learn by the
Examiner, that: “Where you would see the English with half a dozen
healthy boys and girls walking with their parents, you see instead, in the
Bois de Boulogne, a fine lady in a handsome open carriage.”
To take a broad view of the subject, we must look at the wide
petticoats, and the many “widths” of silk which are consumed in covering
them; and we shall see at once a proof that the declining census has
greatly owed its decrease to this crinolineal influence. Of course,
the wider grow the dresses the longer grow the bills, which ladies have to
pay for them, and the narrower in consequence become their means of
living. So much swelling when they are out necessitates their
inching somewhat closely when at home; and whatever can be done without is
given up at once as not to be afforded. Children are not in the
fashion, and may therefore be dispensed with; so that as the petticoats
expand, the population dwindles, and a love of a new dress supplants that
of a family.
If the census fail to bring the nation to its senses, it is
obvious that Government will have to interfere, and devise the means to
check this forced march of extravagance, which is proving a dead march to
the nonrising generation. We would suggest, were we consulted, that
a Censor of Crinoline should forthwith be appointed, and that the shops
permitted of extravagant circumference, or of such a richness of material
as might impoverish a family. It would, doubtless, much conduce to
the prosperity of Paris, were cradles brought in fashion and were
crinoline kicked out of it; and we should be rejoiced to hear that coral
bells and baby-jumpers were becoming there a merchandise in more demand
than air-jupons. All true friends of France would rather see a
houseful there of children than of petticoats and flounces, and at present
only in the mansion of a millionaire would there be room enough for both.
It has been said that Frenchwomen display, universally, the
best taste in dressing, and are, by nature, gifted with extraordinary
aptitude for learning and avoiding what is unbecoming to them. But
certainly at present they evince but little proof of this. We cannot
think it in good taste to show more love for finery than affection for a
family: nor can we regard it as becoming in a wife to so far forget her
nature, and distort her duties, as to ruin her husband by the richness of
her dresses and in the blindness of idolatry to even sacrifice her
children to the Juggernaut of Fashion.
Ladies about the House? Absurd.
One of the pet grievances of those strong-minded women, who
lose their time and temper in talking of their “rights”, is that by the
law, as it presently stands, ladies are not suffered to have seats in
Parliament. Now, without being ungallant enough to show the
absurdity of making a complaint of what they ought to feel rejoiced at, we
will be content with simply proving that to comply with their demand would
be at present quite impossible.
Granting that a Female Parliament, or House of Ladies, were
to meet, we need scarcely dwell upon the difficulty that there would be in
stopping them from speaking all together: nor how impossible the
Speakeress would find it to proceed with public business, without
enforcing some such order as that not more than six (say) should be on
their legs at once.
But it seems to us that were the memberesses properly
returned, it would still be quite preposterous for more than 1 in 20 of
them to expect to have a seat, for the simple reason that, unless their
numbers were extremely limited, it would be impossible to find a room to
hold them. In their present state of crinoline, ladies on an average
require at least a dozen yards of sitting room apiece; and were they to
return as many members as gentlemen, it has been estimated that the space
which would be covered by above 600 petticoats would considerably exceed a
couple of acres. Such a room as this of course would have to be
constructed specially; and until the present Houses are completed, it
would be preposterous to vote supplies for new ones.
It is probable, however, that by the time of the completion
of the now erecting structure – that is to say, by the end of the next
century – the fashion will have changed, and the present blown-up
petticoats have become exploded; in which case the erection of a Female
House of Parliament would then be no more necessary than, we are so
ungallant to think, it would be at this present.
Tongue in cheek.
Sir Erskine Perry’s Bill for the better security of the
rights of married women has met with so favourable a reception that,
should it not pass during the present session, it may pass in the next
century. We, however, hope for immediate legislation. There
are two clauses in the Bill that no man, at least no husband who is not an
absolute brute, can object to. The first makes a married woman
answerable for her own tongue – and therefore relieves the husband of a
responsibility that, since the invention of marriage, no man has known how
to grapple with. A wife who says something not very affectionate of
her sister woman, shall henceforth answer for damages committed by the
lingual organ. This may be just, but it will now and then wring the
conjugal bosom to know that notice of action has been served upon Jemima;
that verdict of damages has been given against her; and that, as it may
happen, a judgement may carry female bone from bone male to the Queen’s
However, the rights of women must be respected; and with this
conviction, the judgement must be allowed to take place, and – foolish
fellows as we are – we must yield nothing to weakness.
The second right about to accrue to married women is the
right to pay their own debts. We do not know whether this amended
law will tend to make the shops of bonnet-makers and milliners less
attractive, but we think it not unlikely. As the injustice of
the existing law operates, a woman loses nothing in yielding to the
temptation of dress, seeing that the husband must pay for it. But
with women fully possessed of their rights, it will be otherwise.
Thus, a woman who cannot pay for her own dress will go to jail for the
debt. However, we understand that the legislation will lend itself
to the allowance of the following amendment: “That whereas, every woman
committed to prison upon a judgement debt contracted for her own gowns or
petticoats, shall not be confined within the walls, but be allowed to live
‘in the rule’ of her own crinoline.”