Fops And Dandies
( Originally Published 1879 )
Though great thy grandeur, man, may be,
THE rose of Florida, the most beautiful of flowers, emits no fragrance; the bird of Paradise, the most beautiful of birds, gives no songs; the cypress of Greece, the finest of trees, yields no fruit; dandies, the shiniest of men, generally have no sense; and ball-room belles, the loveliest of created creatures, are very often ditto. Dr. Holmes, in his "Autocrat of the Breakfast Table," says: "Dandies are not good for much, but they are good for something. They invent or keep in circulation those conversational blanks, checks or counters, which intellectual capitalists may sometimes find it worth their while to borrow of them. They are useful, too, in keeping up the standard of dress, which, but for them, would deteriorate and become, what some old folks would have it, a matter of convenience, and not of taste and art. Yes, I like dandies well enough—on one condition, that they have pluck. I find that lies at the bottom of all true dandyism."
A man, following the occupation of wood cutting, wrought with exemplary zeal the six working days, hoarding every cent not required to furnish him with the most frugal fare. As his "pile" increased, he invested it in gold ornaments —watch chains of massive links, shirt and sleeve buttons, shoe buckles, then but-tons for vest and coat, a hat band of the precious metals, a heavy gold-headed cane—and, in short, wherever an ounce of it could be bestowed upon his person, in or out of taste, it was done. The glory of his life, his sole ambition, was to don his curious attire (which was deposited for safe keeping during the week in one of the banks) on Sunday morning, and then spend the day, the "observed of all observers," lounging about the office or bar-room of the St. Charles. He never drank, and rarely spoke. Mystery seemed to envelope him. No one knew whence he came or the origin of his innocent whim. Old citizens assured you that, year after year, his narrow savings were measured by the increase of his ornaments, until, at length, the value of the anomalous garments came to be estimated by thousands of dollars. By ten o'clock on Sunday night, the exhibition was closed; his one day of self-gratification enjoyed; his costly wardrobe was returned to the bank vault, and he came back into the obscurity of a wood chopper. Many may think that this man was a fool, and very much unlike the ordinary young man; but not so. Many young men do the same, only their cloth, their gaudy apparel are not so durable; and they are not so economical; do not invest in so valuable material, but spend their entire income (and sometimes more) just to carry a stylish, shiney suit worth about fifty dollars.
There are a thousand fops made by art, for one fool made by nature. How ridiculous a sight, says Dr. Fuller, is a vain young gallant, that bristles with his plumes, and shakes his giddy head; and to no other purpose than to get possession of a mistress who is as much a trifle as himself! The little soul that converses of nothing of more importance than the looking-glass and a fantastic dress, may make up the show of the world; but must not be reckoned among the rational inhabitants of it. A man of wit may sometimes be a coxcomb; but a man of judgment and sense never can. A beau dressed out, is like a cinnamon tree-the bark is worth more than the body. An ass is but an ass, though laden or covered with gold. Fops are more attentive to what is showy than mindful of what is necessary. A fop of fashion is said to be the mercer's friend, the tailor's fool, and his own foe. Show and substance are often united, as an object and its shadow, the sun and its glory, the soul and body, mind and its outward actions, love and its face of sweetness. And on this account men have associated the two so closely together as often to mistake the one for the other, and hence have sought for show as though it was substance, and deceivers have put the former in place of the latter to cheat the world thereby.
Show paints the hypocrite's face and wags the liar's tongue. To discriminate between show and substance, to determine what is, show and what is substance, and what are substance and show, is a work of critical judgment, and one upon which the excellency, majesty, and strength of our life in no small degree depends. There is show without substance, there is substance without show, there is substance and show together.
Dandies and fops are like a body without soul, powder without ball, lightning without thunderbolt. It is dress on a doll, paint on sand. There is much of this in the world. We see it in respect to every thing considered valuable. The counterfeiter gives the show of gold to his base coin, and the show of value to his lying bank note. The thief hangs out the appearance of honesty on his face, and the liar is thunderstruck if any body suspects him of equivocation. The bankrupt carries about him the insignia of wealth. The fop puts on the masquerade of dignity and importance, and the poor belle, whose mother washes to buy her plumes, outshines the peeress of the court. Many a table steams with costly viands for which the last cent was paid, and many a coat, sleek and black, swings on the street and in the saloon on which the tailor has a moral mortgage. Often do the drawing-room and parlor, the wardrobe and coach, speak of wealth and standing when, if they were not dumb deceivers, they would cry out ' "It's all a lie." This is show without sub-stance in domestic life. It is the grandest lie of the world, and cheats more poor people out of their birth-right than any other one species of wicked show. All their thoughts, and labors, and money, and credit are spent to fabricate a gorgeous cheat to the world, to make themselves appear to be what they are not; when, if they would be honest, and labor for the true substance of life, they might be, in reality, what they are clownishly aping. They cheat their souls out of honesty, and a respectable and comfortable moral character, their bodies out of the substance of a good living, themselves out of a good name among their fellows; yea, they cheat every thing but the very world they intend to cheat. That world sees through their gossamer show, and laughs at the foolishness which seeks to conceal a want of substance.
It is a general sin, to which there are but few exceptions; a great falsehood, which almost every man is striving to make greater. This great evil turns society into a grand show-room, in which the most dextrous show-master wears the tallest plume. Besides the sinfulness, of the thing, it is a great domestic bane. It makes the poor poorer, and the rich more avaricious. It causes almost every body to over-live, over-dress, over-eat, over-act in every thing that will make a show. It is a great root of selfishness, a great weight of oppression, a great sink of meanness, a great burden of woe, a g at cloud of despair.