Afternoon

From The Female Tatler, No. 9

England, Napoleon scoffed, was a nation of shopkeepers. But the stylish and lavish shops that filled eighteenth-century London were also a visible sign of growing national power. The cutting edge of a consumer revolution, they showed the public that the modern world was to be welcomed, not feared. There was something for everyone to desire and possess in this new world of fashion. When Percy Shelley gazed at the shops, early in the next century, he saw the spirit of the future: "These are thy gods, O London!"

During the successful run of The Tatler (1709–11), Steele's and Addison's predecessor to The Spectator, The Female Tatler was published three times a week, attributed to an imaginary "Mrs. Crackenthrope, a Lady that knows every thing." Its authors, who probably included both women and men, aimed to amuse and instruct female readers, as shown in the following piece on shops, from 1709.

[On Shops]

[Click on image to enlarge] This afternoon, some ladies, having an opinion of my fancy in clothes, desir'd me to accompany 'em to Ludgate-Hill, which I take to be as agreeable an amusement as a lady can pass away three or four hours in; the shops are perfect gilded theatres. The variety of wrought silks, so many changes of fine scenes; and the mercers are the performers in the opera, and instead of viviture ingenio, >> note 1 you have in gold capitals, "No Trust by Retail." >> note 2 They are the sweetest, fairest, nicest dish'd out creatures, and by their elegant address and soft speeches, you would guess 'em to be Italians. As people glance within their doors, they salute 'em with: "garden silks, ladies, Italian silks, brocades, tissues, cloth of silver, or cloth of gold, very fine Mantua silks, any right Geneva velvet, English velvet, velvets emboss'd" — and to the meaner sort — "fine thread satins, both strip'd and plain, fine mohairs, silk satinets, burdets, perfianets, Norwich crepes, auterines, silks for hoods and scarves — any camlets, drudgets, or sagathies; gentlemen, nightgowns ready made, shalloons, durances and right Scotch plaids." We went into a shop which had three partners, two of 'em were to flourish out their silks and, after an obliging smile and a pretty mouth made, Cicero-like, to expatiate on their goodness; and the other's sole business was to be gentleman-usher of the shop, to stand completely dress'd at the door, bow to all the coaches that pass by, and hand ladies out and in. We saw abundance of gay fancies fit for sea captains wives, sherrifs feasts, and Taunton-Dean Ladies — "This madam, is wonderful charming" — "This madam is so diverting a silk" — "This madam — my stars! how cool it looks." "But this, madam, ye gods, would I had ten thousand yards of it" (then gathers up a sleeve and places it to our shoulders), "It suits your ladyship's face wonderfully well." When we had pleas'd ourselves, and bid him ten shillings a yard for what he ask'd fifteen, "Fan me, ye winds, your ladyship rallies me! Shou'd I part with it at such a price, the weavers wou'd rise upon the very shop — Was you at the park last night, madam? — Your ladyship shall abate me sixpence — Have you read The Tatler today, pretty lady? A smart fellow I'll assure you." * * * These fellows are positively the greatest fops in the kingdom.


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