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Emory Women Writers Resource Project

The Gentlewoman's Companion: or, A Guide to the Female Sex, an electronic edition

by Hannah Woolley [Woolley, Hannah, fl. 1670]

date: 1675
source publisher: Printed by A. Maxwell for Edward Thomas
collection: Early Modern through the 18th Century

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Of the Vanities some young Ladies and Gentlewomen are too prone to prosecute.

I need not speak of the vanity of Gentlewomen in overmuch affecting bravery, since we find it thorosly ingrafted in most of them, so that we may as easily take off their skins from their bodies, as this vanity from their minds.

If this were to be observed only in some particular Court-Ladies, it were something excusable; but this is an innate humour, an original sin which Gentlewomen bring into the world with them; the tinncture of which infirmity their Baptism washeth not off. From hence proceeds the Babel or confusion of Habits, insomuch that of late there is neither order observed, nor distinction; a Chamber maid finished on a Festival or Holiday, may be taken for her Mistress, and a Citizens Wife mistaken for a Court-Lady.

Where shall we find any so regular as to follow the dictates of Modesty and Mediocrity, so that the most severe cannot blame their superstuities, nor the more favourable accuse their defects? A young Gentlewoman well accomplisht, is like a Star with five rays, Devotion, Modesty, Chastity, Discretion and Charity; such Women whose composition is made up of these, | | 79 seem to have been moulded upon the Coelestial Globes, by the hands of Cherubims; so excellent are their Virtues, and so sweet their deportments; they are in their Houses as the Sun in his proper Sphere: Should I attempt to represent their worth, I might sooner find poverty in the Center of all the rich Ore and precious stones of the Earth, than want of merit in this subject.

Were all our Sex of the same tempter, by being inhabitants of this Earth, they would speedily convert it into a Heaven. But alas, too many there are who every day must be dressed up like Idols, as if they intended thereby to be worshipped. Their Filles de Chambre have more to do in attending their Beauties, than some have in fitting and rigging out a Navy. Their lass ith studied advantages takes up the whole morning, and the afternoon is spent in visits.

And indeed should a man come into some Ladies Chambers unacquainted with the Furniture that belong'd to them, and seeing them lie on the Table, having never seen such vanities before, would think them the coverings and utensils of some Creature of a montrous and prodigious bulk, and that there was Mercery enough to furnish a little City, rather than the body of a little Lady. They may be fitly compared to some Birds I have seen, who though they have but little bodies, yet have abundance of Feathers. And though they seem to load themselves with variety of things, yet they do but seem to cover what they should disclose to none; and though they have but | | 80 little flesh, they will show as much of it as they can. It was a true saing of one, and very applicable to this purpose, I know not what may be reserved for the eyes of a chast Husband, when almost through all Markets where they go, the secret parts of his Wives body are exposed, as if they were ready to be delivered to the best bidders.

Moreover, how dangerous is it for young Gentlewomen to affect a small Waste, thinking that the most exquisite proportion? Endeavouring by strait-lacing to be as slender in the middle as the Strand-May-pole is tall in its height. I am sure they are big enough to be wiser, who never think themselves finer, than when the Girl with her span can make a Girdle. I know Gentlewomen, that th einconveniences which attend this affectation, do not proceed altogether from you, or that you are in the fault, but your Mothers or Nurses: But did they know how speedily and wilfully they destroy you by girding your tender bodies, certainly they would prove kinder Mothers, than be your cruel Murderers. For by this means they reduce your bodies into such pinching-extremities, that it engenders a stinking breath; and by cloistering you p in a steel or Whale-bone-prison, they open a door to Consumptions, with many other dangerous inconveniences, as crookedness: for Mothers striving to have their daughters bodies small in the middle, do pluck and draw their bones awry; for the ligatures of the back being very tender at that age, and soft and moist, with all the Muscles, do easily slip aside. Thus Nurses, whilst they too straitly do lace the breasts | | 81 and sides of children and purpose to make them slender, do occasion the breast bone to cast it self aside, whereby ne shoulder doth become bigger and fuller than the other.

Though I would not have too great a restriction laid on your bodies, yet I would not have them by inconsiderate loosness run out into a deformed corpulency, like the Venetian- Ladies, who seldom, lace themselves, at all, accounting it an excellency in proportion to be round and full-bodied; and that they may attain that (meerly supposed) comeliness if Nature incline them not to be somewhat gross or corpulent, they will use art, by counterfeiting that fulness of body, by the fulness of garments. Thus you see, that in all things (except Piety) Mediocrity, or the Golden-mean, is to be observed.

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