This article being written in compliance with a lady's wish, I feel sure that, though it may not personally interest many of my male readers, it will be read with more zest than those on subjects that directly involve their own convenience or safety.
Draught is the first subject mentioned; but I doubt the fair querist being aware how much is contained in that simple word. Very clever works have been written on the subject, to which I should recommend the notice of those desirous of becoming acquainted with the complex nature of draught. Such study would, however, be time almost thrown away on the part of a lady; for, after having made herself mistress of the subject, after becoming quite aware of the kind of vehicle running with the easiest draught, she would find it perhaps one it would be quite impossible for her to use. For example, if I were to convince her that the principle on which a mail phaeton is made, causes it to run with far more ease to the horses than does one on the construction of her own pony-carriage, she would gain little by the knowledge; for a lady, or at all events a gentlewoman, could not be seen driving a mail phaeton, even if disposed to sacrifice her own convenience and comfort for the sake of her horses. And while I must admit that the usual run of carriages for ladies' use are built on a construction at total difference from the principles of easy draught, so they must remain; nor does it much matter; for in the present perfect state of our roads, for the short distances and short time a lady is supposed to use the horses she drives, she may at least have the satisfaction of knowing that though the carriage she drives is on a bad principle, as relates to facility of draught, the goodness of the roads more than counterbalances such defect. It may be mooted that notwithstanding the advantage of good roads, why not have a carriage good in principle also? This seems reasonable, and, in fact, it is so; but in reply, it is impossible to build a carriage for a lady's use, that is, such as they have for many years used, and combine facility of draught with elegance (according with present taste) of appearance. I apprehend our respected grandmothers did not drive themselves; for if they had it would have been impossible for a carriage with the low wheels now in use, and those placed so far apart, to have got along on roads in the state they then were: the fore part of the carriage would have been up to the axle-tree in gravel and mud. Mais tout cela est changé, so we may use low wheels with impunity. Formerly, when coaching was in vogue, coach-owners were forced to sacrifice the ease of their passengers in the build of coaches, to facilitate, as much as possible, the draught of the carriage. Now, railroads can, and do, so far as first-class carriages are concerned, consult the comfort of the passengers, without considering whether the carriage may or may not be constructed so as to cause facility of progression. In a minor way, we may consult the ease and taste of ladies, without troubling our heads whether the carriage may or may not be on a construction affording horses the advantage of scientific principles of draught.
As regards harness, to which the lady calls my attention, I am not aware of any peculiar form or make constituting any greater degree of safety than the form in ordinary use. This is a case in which elegance of appearance may be strictly carried out without the slightest want of safety to the fair owner, or the smallest drawback on the ease or comfort of her horses. It is not for me to point out good taste; but, in a general way, I consider brass mountings preferable to plated, and there should not be more than necessary of them; too much ornament always savours a little of the sheriff's carriage. One thing I must remark-plated mountings to grey horses I consider odious. There is one thing, as regards safety, that I should strongly recommend for a lady's use; this is quoad the size of the horse's commanding-bits-not that I consider any horse for her use should, in a general way, require one. But, however good a mouth her horse may have, there is such a thing as sudden excitation, and sudden fright, and a lady should have an appliance to resort to on such occasions that may enable her weak arm, by its aid, to become something in effect like the more powerful one of man. Now, commanding-bits, with the reins to the cheeks, or a little below them, are no more irksome to horses than those of less power; so, even if a lady had not the delicate touch we usually find a female to possess, her horses are in no way inconvenienced by her bits, if the reins, or rather billets, are properly adjusted to them; but her safety-reins, without which no lady should risk herself, being fastened to the lowest ring on her bits, give her at once an appui that she can effectually resort to on any emergency.
I should always recommend a lady to drive with hip-straps to her traces. Horses lightly worked are apt to be playful, and will sometimes give a squeak and a kick, without intending the slightest harm or having a particle of vice in their dispositions.
Ladies' carriages are all hung extremely low, and the lowness of the fore wheels brings the fore part of the carriage very near the ground, consequently the splinter-bar and roller-bolts, to which the traces are attached, are correspondingly low; it must therefore be quite evident that the slightest elevation of the horse's leg would cause him, in technical phrase, to "kick over his trace," which, with the quietest horse in the world, is apt to end in alarming or dangerous consequences. Now, the hip-strap does not, as some persons imagine, in any way prevent a horse kicking, nor is it intended for such purpose, but on any rise of the haunch of the horse it carries the trace up, or, as we may term it, out of the way of his leg; and for this it is most useful-I may say, necessary.
Above all things to be avoided by a lady, is the driving timid, nervous horses. She is never safe for a moment when trusting to such. Let her have a pair of as playful or high-couraged animals as her proficiency as a charioteer will warrant. Such seldom intend harm or commit it. Any little ebullition of spirit or playfulness, a little presence of mind, judgment, and commanding-bits to have recourse to, will counteract; but a scared horse is unmanageable, and constant occurrences take place in our streets to produce this. Neither a nervous, timid man or horse are worthy the service of a lady.
My fair friend has expressed a wish that I should write a series of articles on driving. I would do so with much pleasure were I not aware that I can advise her in a far better way. It is hard if, among her friends and acquaintances, there is not one to be found perfectly au fait in this particular; let her delegate to him the pleasing task of sitting by her side and giving her lessons in driving, for it is impossible for pen, or at least impossible for me, to give her rules to meet every contingency; and if even I could, I feel I should deserve little of my brother men if I was the means of depriving some one of them of the flattering task alluded to.
Having said thus much as regards safety and driving, I must explain a little error ladies labour under as regards the specific weight of the carriages they use. A lady orders and sees come home an elegant toy-like carriage; she feels pleasure in thinking its lightness will not cause much exertion on the part of her horses drawing it. She deceives herself; this gossamer appearance of lightness is gained by iron substituting the absence of any substance of wood; thus it becomes specifically heavy, and is so. But, as I said respecting the build of such carriages being at variance with facility of draught, for the time purposed, and on the roads ladies use them, the weight matters little; and could we instil the feelings of man into horses, they would think nothing of any exertion to gratify the taste and convenience of their fair owners.