« VorigeDoorgaan »
studied, understood, and consequently admired them; it was very different on the continent. Fonter ell, who seemed to preside over the republic of letters, unwilling to acknowledge that all his life had been spent in erroneous philosophy, joined in the universal disapprobation, and the English philosophers seemed entirely unknown.
Maupertuis, however, made them his study; he thought he might oppose the physics of his country, and yet still be a good citizen: he defended our countrymen, wrote in their favour, and at last, as he had truth on his side, carried his cause. Alinost all the learning of the English, till very lately, was conveyed in the language of France. The writings of Maupertuis spread the reputation of his master Newton, and by a happy fortune have united his fame with that of our human prodigy.
The first of his performances, openly in vindication of the Newtonian system, is his treatise entituled, Sur la figure des Astres, if I remember right; a work at once expressive of a deep geometrical knowledge, and the most happy manner of delivering abstruse science with ease. This met with violent opposition from a people, though fond of novelty in every thing else, yet, however, in matters of science, attached to ancient opinions with bigotry. As the old and obstinate fell away, the youth of France embraced the new opinions, and now seem more eager to defend Newton than even his countrymen.
The oddity of character which great men are sometimes remarkable for, Maupertuis was not entirely free from. If we can believe Voltaire, he once attempted to castrate himself; but whether this be true or no, it is certain he was extremely whimsical. Though born to a large fortune, when employed in mathematical enquiries, he disregarded his person to such a degree, and loved retirement so much, that he has been more than once put on the list of modest beggars by the curates of Paris, when he retired to some private quarter of the town, in order to enjoy his meditations without interruption. The character given of him by one of Voltaire's antagonists, if it can be depended upon, is much to his honour. You, says this writer to Mr. Voltaire, you were entertained by the king of Prussia as a buffoon, but Maupertuis as a philosopher. It is certain that the preference which this royal scholar gave to Maupertuis was the cause of Voltaire's disagreement with him. Voltaire could not bear to see a man, whose talents he had no great opinion of, preferred before him as president of the royal academy. His Micromegas was designed to ridicule Maupertuis; and probably it has brought more disgrace on the author than the subject. Whatever absurdities men of letters have indulged, and how fantastical soever the modes of science have been, their anger is still more subject to ridicule.
THE BEE, NO. II.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 13, 1759.
FOREIGNERS observe that there are ladies in the world more beautiful, or more ill-dressed, than those of England. Our country-women have been compared to those pictures, where the face is the work of a Raphael; but the draperies thrown out by some empty pretender, destitute of taste, and entirely unacquainted with design.
If I were a poet, I might observe, on this occasion, that so much beauty set off with all the advantages of dress would be too powerful an antagonist for the opposite sex, and therefore it was wisely ordered, that our ladies should want taste, lest their admirers should entirely want reason.
But to confess a truth, I do not find they have a greater aversion to fine clothes than the women of any other country whatsoever. I cannot fancy that a shopkeeper's wife in Cheapside has a greater tenderness for the fortune of her husband than a citizen's wife in Paris; or that miss in a boarding-school is more an economist in dress than mademoiselle in a nunnery.
Although Paris may be accounted the soil in which almost every fashion takes its rise, its influence is never so general there as with us. They study there the happy method of uniting grace and fashion, and never excuse a woman for being aukwardly dressed, by saying her clothes are made in the mode. A French' woman is a perfect architect in dress; she never, with Gothic ignorance, mixes the orders; she never tricks out a squabby Doric shape with Corinthian finery; or to speak without metaphor, she conforms to general fashion, only when it happens not to be repugnant to private beauty.
Our ladies, on the contrary, seem to have no other standard for grace but the run of the town. If fashion gives the word, every distinction of beauty, complexion, or stature ceases. Sweeping trains, Prussian bonnets, and trollopees, as like each other as if cut from the same piece, level all to one standard. The mall, the gardens, and the playhouses are filled with ladies in uniform, and their whole appearance shows as little variety or taste as if their clothes were bespoke by the colonel of a marching regiment, or fancied by the same artist who dresses the ree battalions of guards.
But not only ladies of every shape and complexion, but of every age too, are possessed of this unaccountable passion of dressing in the same manner.
A lady of no quality can be distinguished from a lady of some quality only by the redness of her hands; and a woman of sixty, masked, might easily pass for her granddaughter. I remember, a few days ago, to have walked behind a damsel, tossed out in all the gaiety of fifteen; her dress was loose, unstudied, and seemed the result of conscious beauty. I called up all my poetry on this occasion, and fancied twenty Cupids prepared for execution in every folding of her white negligee. I had prepared my imagination for an angel's face; but what was my mortification to find that the imaginary goddess was no other than my cousin Hannah, four years older than myself, and I shall be sixty-two the twelfth of next November.
After the transports of our first salute were over, I could not avoid running my eye over her whole ap
pearance. Her gown was of cambric, cut short before, in order to discover a high-heeled shoe, which was buckled almost at the toe. Her cap, if cap it might be called that cap was none, consisted of a few bits of cambric, and flowers of painted paper stuck on one side of her head. Her bosom, that had felt no hand, but the hand of time, these twenty years, rose suing, but in vain, to be pressed. I could, indeed, have wished her more than a handkerchief of Paris-net to shade her beauties; for, as Tasso says of the rose-bud, Quanto si mostra men tanto epiu bella, I should think her's most pleasing when least discovered.
As my cousin had not put on all this finery for nothing, she was at that time sallying out to the park, when I had overtaken her. Perceiving, however, that I had on my best wig, she offered, if I would 'squire her there, to send home the footman. Though I trembled for our reception in public, yet I could not, with any civility, refuse; so to be as gallant as possible, I took her hand in my arm, and thus we marched on together.
When we made our entry at the park, two antiquated figures, so polite and so tender as we seemed, to be, soon attracted the eyes of the company. As we made our way among crowds who were out to show their finery as well as we, wherever we came I perceived we brought good-humour in our train. The polite could not forbear smiling, and the vulgar burst out into a horse laugh at our grotesque figures.
Cousin Hannah, who was perfectly conscious of the rectitude of her own appearance, attributed all this mirth to the oddity of mine; while I as cordially placed the whole to her account. Thus, from being two of the best-natured creatures alive, before we got half way up the mall, we both began to grow peevish, and like two mice on a string endeavoured to reyenge the impertinence of others upon ourselves. “ I am amazed,