From The Female Tatler,
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.
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
>> 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.