As I have ever said, people's dwellings and their clothing follow a like bent, much as cynics sneer at the thought of ' dressing up to one's furniture;' and as all outward decoration is symbolical of the inner man, so clothing, and furniture which is a kind of clothing, are highly significant. Naturally, therefore, the inhabitants of these orientalised rooms began to make themselves as similar as possible to the background they prized, as the flatfish forces itself to resemble the sea bottom, though for a different reason. Ladies wore nothing but Indian muslins and chintzes, nainsook, and nankeen. In fact such was the demand, to the detriment of English trade it was thought, that in 1700 an Act of Parliament had been passed to prohibit their introduction; but Acts of Parliament cannot cure 'the madness of the people,' and we all know what a mighty and organised trade was smuggling in the last century. These Asiatic goods soon had to be made at home to supply the market, hence calico-printing, in imitation of Indian cottons, was invented in 1764, British muslin in 1774. The ever-popular 'shawl pattern' was of course derived from India; turbans became common, with the true upstart plume, however absurd in England, and were worn even at dinner with a shawl swathed round the waist.
Shawls became a passion with fair collectors: to put on a shawl well was a science, and a 'shawl-dance,' in which the eccentric Madame de Krudener among others excelled, became as much the rage as private theatricals have since been. Madame de Stael said of it: 'Never have grace and beauty produced a more extraordinary effect on a numerous assembly. This foreign dance has a charm of which nothing that we have seen can give a fair idea: it is a thoroughly Asiatic mixture of indolence and vivacity, of sadness and mirth.' In this dramatic dance of course an Indian shawl played an important part in the attitudes of the dancer, who strove to give her figure 'the antique cast' as well as the oriental.
Fig. 38. - Ornament upon Benares brass vase.
But all the developments of the prevailing fashion were not so graceful as this. Sir Joshua Reynolds shows us that some ladies went so far as to adopt the Turkish tunic and trousers, and the gayest Eastern silks were obtained and copied. The dancing girl in swaying arched-out skirts (a common Indian pattern, Benares brass is full of such figures) actually came to life in the ridiculous Georgian hoop, caught up indecently enough on either side. I have seen Chelsea figures so costumed, exhibiting the brief under-petticoat quite candidly to a side view, and it is inscrutable what people found beautiful in that. Meanwhile architecture itself followed the bent, and under Sir William Chambers, Chinese gardens, pagodas, and Turkish bowers punished the mild English lawns. Chambers published a 'Dissertation on Oriental Gardening,' and George IV. greatly encouraged the grotesque productions of this architect. The Pavilion at Brighton remains an example.
Fig. 39. - Georgian hoop, derived from Oriental source (1750).
To help supply the eager market the Dutch Delft factories poured forth shoals of mock nankeen china, hawthorn and mayflower pots, services of Chinese device such as ' willow pattern,' copied from the Celestials down to the very marks. Old Lowestoft and Leeds commenced forging Oriental ware with wondrous fidelity. Every cupboard, every clock, was plaistered with poor copies of Oriental scrolls, pagodas, and patchy colouring. Pug dogs were largely imported from Asia and reproduced in pottery as they died. Monkeys and parrots became fashionable, being Indian; so did Negro servants, yclept Cyrus, Pompey, and Mahomet; and idle ladies employed themselves in smearing vases with a kind of paste in raised patterns, simulating more or less correctly Oriental enamels. Astonishing monsters, pink cats, green dogs, red lions, such as Minton now copies, date from this time, and gave their names to many inns and streets.
This rage may be dated in France a little before this country took it up, for we are always a little behindhand in appreciation and in encouragement of manufactures - but when we once begin we do it thoroughly.
It was the dregs of that blind admiration for Oriental colouring with no understanding of its principles, which clothed Englishwomen in such horrible mixtures at the beginning of the present century, a fault which Frenchwomen with their better natural taste, and complexions which repudiate garish hues, were unlikely to fall into. Hence England soon won an unenviable celebrity for never knowing 'how to dress,' that is, never studying how to combine forms and tints; but our women were then thoroughly tired of the grave fashions of the imitation Greeks, and strove to fit the severe tone of thought to enjoyable colours which their clear skins made possible - hence such toilettes as we may quote from a book fifty or sixty years old. 'What do we see first? a fancy-straw bonnet, lined and trimmed with rose colour, an orange shawl, and a lilac muslin dress. The next wears a blue bonnet, lilac visitc, and a pink dress. Now we follow a lady in a cool green muslin dress, a white shawl chequered with peach-blossom and green, the bonnet peach blossom. Here, our companion exclaimed, is an exception to your rule; it is impossible that two colours could be better contrasted or harmonised.
Stay, we replied, let us see the lady's face, and ascertain whether the same harmony is preserved throughout the costume. We accordingly quickened our paces, passed the lady, looked in her face, and saw - bright amber-coloured bows inside her lilac bonnet and broad strings of yellow ribbons with a red stripe!'
Meanwhile, taste was changing in Paris, and we will cross the Channel to examine the new development of art.