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A Defence of Cosmetics

NAY but it is useless to protest. Artifice must queen it once
more in the town, and so, if there be any whose hearts chafe
at her return, let them not say, “We have come into evil times,”
and be all for resistance, reformation or angry cavilling. For did
the king’s sceptre send the sea retrograde, or the wand of the
sorcerer avail to turn the sun from its old course ? And what
man or what number of men ever stayed that reiterated process by
which the cities of this world grow, are very strong, fail and grow
again ? Indeed, indeed, there is charm in every period, and only
fools and flutterpates do not seek reverently for what is charming
in their own day. No martyrdom, however fine, nor satire, how
ever splendidly bitter, has changed by a little tittle the known
tendency of things. It is the times that can perfect us, not we
the times, and so let all of us wisely acquiesce. Like the little
wired marionettes, let us acquiesce in the dance.

For behold ! The Victorian era comes to its end and the day
of sancta simplicitas is quite ended. The old signs are here and
the portents to warn the seer of life that we are ripe for a new
epoch of artifice. Are not men rattling the dice-box and ladies
dipping their fingers in the rouge-pots ? At Rome, in the keenest
time of her degringolade, when there was gambling even in the holy


                        A Defence of Cosmetics
temples, great ladies (does not Lucian tell us ?) did not scruple to
squander all they had upon unguents from Arabia. Nero’s mistress
and unhappy wife, Poppaea, of shameful memory, had in her travel
ling retinue fifteen -or, as some say, fifty- she-asses, for the sake
of their milk, that was thought an incomparable guard against
cosmetics with poison in them. Last century, too, when life was
lived by candle-light, and ethics was but etiquette, and even art a
question of punctilio, women, we know, gave the best hours of the
day to the crafty farding of their faces and the towering of their
coiffures. And men, throwing passion into the wine-bowl to sink
or swim, turned out thought to browse upon the green cloth.
Cannot we even now in our fancy see them, those silent exquisites
round the long table at Brooks , masked, all of them, “lest the
countenance should betray feeling,” in quinze masks, through
whose eyelets they sat peeping, peeping, while macao brought them
riches or ruin ? We can see them, those silent rascals, sitting there
with their cards and their rouleaux and their wooden money-
bowls, long after the dawn had crept up St. James and pressed its
haggard face against the window of the little club. Yes, we can
raise their ghosts—and, more, we can see manywhere a devotion
to hazard fully as meek as theirs. In England there has been a
wonderful revival of cards. Roulette may rival dead faro in the
tale of her devotees. Her wheel is spinning busily in every house
and ere long it may be that tender parents will be writing to
complain of the compulsory baccarat in our public school.

In fact, we are all gamblers once more, but our gambling is on
a finer scale than ever it was. We fly from the card-room to the
heath, and from the heath to the City, and from the City to the
coast of the Mediterranean. And just as no one seriously en-
courages the clergy in its frantic efforts to lay the spirit of chance,
that has thus resurged among us, so no longer are many faces set


                        By Max Beerbohm
against that other great sign of a more complicated life, the love
for cosmetics. No longer is a lady of fashion blamed if, to escape
the outrageous persecution of time, she fly for sanctuary to the
toilet-table ; and if a damosel, prying in her mirror, be sure that
with brush and pigment she can trick herself into more charm, we
are not angry. Indeed, why should we ever have been ? Surely
it is laudable, this wish to make fair the ugly and overtop fairness,
and no wonder that within the last five years the trade of the
makers of cosmetics has increased immoderately—twentyfold, so
one of these makers has said to me. We need but walk down
any modish street and peer into the little broughams that flit
past, or (in Thackeray’s phrase) under the bonnet of any woman
we meet, to see over how wide a kingdom rouge reigns. We
men, who, from Juvenal down to that discourteous painter of
whom Lord Chesterfield tells us, have especially shown a dislike of
cosmetics, are quite yielding ; and there are, I fancy, many such
husbands as he who, suddenly realising that his wife was painted,
bad her sternly, “Go up and take it all off,” and, on her reappear
ance, bad her with increasing sternness, “Go up and put it all
on again.”

But now that the use of pigments is becoming general, and
most women are not so young as they are painted, it may be asked
curiously how the prejudice ever came into being. Indeed, it is
hard to trace folly, for that it is inconsequent, to its start ; and
perhaps it savours too much of reason to suggest that the prejudice
was due to the tristful confusion man has made of soul and surface.
Through trusting so keenly to the detection of the one by keeping
watch upon the other, and by force of the thousand errors following,
he has come to think of surface even as the reverse of soul. He
supposes that every clown beneath his paint and lip-salve is moribund
and knows it, (though in verity, I am told, clowns are as cheerful


                        A Defence of Cosmetics
a class of men as any other), that the fairer the fruit’s rind and the
more delectable its bloom, the closer are packed the ashes within it.
The very jargon of the hunting-field connects cunning with a
mask. And so perhaps came man’s anger at the embellishment of
women—that lovely mask of enamel with its shadows of pink
and tiny pencilled veins, what must lurk behind it ? Of what
treacherous mysteries may it not be the screen ? Does not the
heathen lacquer her dark face, and the harlot paint her cheeks,
because sorrow has made them pale ?

After all, the old prejudice is a-dying. We need not pry into
the secret of its birth. Rather is this a time of jolliness and glad
indulgence. For the era of rouge is upon us, and as only in an
elaborate era can man by the tangled accrescency of his own
pleasures and emotions reach that refinement which is his highest
excellence, and by making himself, so to say, independent of
Nature, come nearest to God, so only in an elaborate era is woman
perfect. Artifice is the strength of the world, and in that same
mask of paint and powder, shadowed with vermeil tinct and most
trimly pencilled, is woman’s strength.

For see ! We need not look so far back to see woman under
the direct influence of Nature. Early in this century, our grand
mothers, sickening of the odour of faded exotics and spilt wine,
came out into the daylight once more and let the breezes blow
around their faces and enter, sharp and welcome, into their lungs.
Artifice they drove forth, and they set Martin Tupper upon a
throne of mahogany to rule over them. A very reign of terror set
in. All things were sacrificed to the fetish Nature. Old ladies
may still be heard to tell how, when they were girls, affectation
was not ; and, if we verify their assertion in the light of such
literary authorities as Dickens, we find that it is absolutely true.
Women appear to have been in those days utterly natural in their


                        By Max Beerbohm
conduct—flighty, gushing, blushing, fainting, giggling and shaking
their curls. They knew no reserve in the first days of the
Victorian era. No thought was held too trivial, no emotion too
silly, to express. To Nature everything was sacrificed. Great
heavens! And in those barren days what influence was exerted
by women? By men they seem not to have been feared nor loved,
but regarded rather as “dear little creatures” or ” wonderful little
beings,” and in their relation to life as foolish and ineffectual as the
landscapes they did in water-colour. Yet, if the women of those
years were of no great account, they had a certain charm and they
at least had not begun to trespass upon men’s ground ; if they
touched not thought, which is theirs by right, at any rate they
refrained from action, which is ours. Far more serious was it
when, in the natural trend of time, they became enamoured of
rinking and archery and galloping along the Brighton Parade.
Swiftly they have sped on since then from horror to horror. The
invasion of the tennis-courts and of the golf-links, the seizure of
the tricycle and of the type-writer, were but steps preliminary in
that campaign which is to end with the final victorious occupation
of St. Stephen’s. But stay ! The horrific pioneers of womanhood
who gad hither and thither and, confounding wisdom with the
device on her shield, shriek for the unbecoming, are doomed.
Though they spin their tricycle-treadles so amazingly fast, they
are too late. Though they scream victory, none follow them.
Artifice, that fair exile, has returned.

Yes, though the pioneers know it not, they are doomed already.
For of the curiosities of history not the least strange is the manner
in which two social movements may be seen to overlap, long after
the second has, in truth, given its deathblow to the first. And,
in like manner as one has seen the limbs of a murdered thing in
lively movement, so we need not doubt that, though the voices of

The Yellow Book, Vol. I E


                        A Defence of Cosmetics
those who cry out for reform be very terribly shrill, they will soon
be hushed. Dear Artifice is with us. It needed but that we
should wait.

Surely, without any of my pleading, women will welcome their
great and amiable protectrix, as by instinct. For (have I not
said ?) it is upon her that all their strength, their life almost,
depends. Artifice’s first command to them is that they should
repose. With bodily activity their powder will fly, their enamel
crack. They are butterflies who must not flit, if they love their
bloom. Now, setting aside the point of view of passion, from
which very many obvious things might be said, (and probably have
been by the minor poets), it is, from the intellectual point of
view, quite necessary that a woman should repose. Hers is the
resupinate sex. On her couch she is a goddess, but so soon as
ever she put her foot to the ground—lo, she is the veriest little
sillypop and quite done for. She cannot rival us in accion, but she
is our mistress in the things of the mind. Let her not by second-
rate athletics, nor indeed by any exercise soever of the limbs,
spoil the pretty procedure of her reason. Let her be content to
remain the guide, the subtle suggester of what we must do, the
strategist whose soldiers we are, the little architect whose work

” After all,” as a pretty girl once said to me, “women are a sex
by themselves, so to speak,” and the sharper the line between
their worldly functions and ours, the better. This greater
swiftness and less erring subtlety of mind, their forte and privilege,
justifies the painted mask that Artifice bids them wear. Behind
it their minds can play without let. They gain the strength of
reserve. They become important, as in the days of the Roman
Empire were the Emperor’s mistresses, as was the Pompadour at
Versailles, as was our Elizabeth. Yet do not their faces become


                        By Max Beerbohm
lined with thought ; beautiful and without meaning are their

And, truly, of all the good things that will happen with the
full renascence of cosmetics, one of the best is that surface will
finally be severed from soul. That damnable confusion will be
solved by the extinguishing of a prejudice which, as I suggest,
itself created. Too long has the face been degraded from its rank
as a thing of beauty to a mere vulgar index of character or
emotion. We had come to troubling ourselves, not with its
charm of colour and line, but with such questions as whether the
lips were sensuous, the eyes full of sadness, the nose indicative of
determination. I have no quarrel with physiognomy. For my
own part, I believe in it. But it has tended to degrade the face
Aesthetically, in such wise as the study of cheirosophy has tended
to degrade the hand. And the use of cosmetics, the masking of
the face, will change this. We shall gaze at a woman merely
because she is beautiful, not stare into her face anxiously, as into
the face of a barometer.

How fatal it has been, in how many ways, this confusion of
soul and surface ! Wise were the Greeks in making plain masks
for their mummers to play in, and dunces we not to have done the
same ! Only the other day, an actress was saying that what she
was most proud of in her art—next, of course, to having appeared
in some provincial pantomime at the age of three—was the deft
ness with which she contrived, in parts demanding a rapid succes-
sion of emotions, to dab her cheeks quite quickly with rouge from
the palm of her right hand, or powder from the palm of her left.
Gracious goodness! why do not we have masks upon the stage ?
Drama is the presentment of the soul in action. The mirror of
the soul is the voice. Let the young critics, who seek a cheap
reputation for austerity, by cavilling at ” incidental music,” set


                        A Defence of Cosmetics
their faces rather against the attempt to justify inferior dramatic
art by the subvention of a quite alien art like painting, of any art,
indeed, whose sphere is only surface. Let those, again, who sneer,
so rightly, at the ” painted anecdotes of the Academy,” censure
equally the writers who trespass on painter’s ground. It is a
proclaimed sin that a painter should concern himself with a good
little girl’s affection for a Scotch greyhound, or the keen enjoyment
of their port by elderly gentlemen of the early forties. Yet, for a
painter to prod the soul with his paint-brush is no worse than for
a novelist to refuse to dip under the surface, and the fashion of
avoiding a psychological study of grief by stating that the owner’s
hair turned white in a single night, or of shame by mentioning a
sudden rush of scarlet to the cheeks, is as lamentable as may
be. But ! But with the universal use of cosmetics and the
consequent secernment of soul and surface, which, at the risk of
irritating a reader, I must again insist upon, all those old properties
that went to bolster up the ordinary novel the trembling lips, the
flashing eyes, the determined curve of the chin, the nervous trick of
biting the moustache—aye and the hectic spot of red on either
cheek—will be made spiflicate, as the puppets were spiflicated by
Don Quixote. Yes, even now Demos begins to discern. The same
spirit that has revived rouge, smote his mouth as it grinned at
the wondrous painter of mist and river, and now sends him
sprawling for the pearls that Meredith dived for in the deep
waters of romance.

Indeed the revival of cosmetics must needs be so splendid an
influence, conjuring boons innumerable, that one inclines almost
to mutter against that inexorable law by which Artifice must
perish from time to time. That such branches of painting as the
staining of glass or the illuminating of manuscripts should fall into
disuse seems, in comparison, so likely ; these were esoteric arts ;


                        By Max Beerbohm
they died with the monastic spirit. But personal appearance is
art’s very basis. The painting of the face is the first kind of
painting man can have known. To make beautiful things
is it not an impulse laid upon few ? But to make oneself beautiful
is an universal instinct. Strange that the resultant art could ever
perish ! So fascinating an art too ! So various in its materials
from stimmis, psimythium and fuligo to bismuth and arsenic, so
simple in that its ground and its subject-matter are one, so
marvellous in that its very subject-matter becomes lovely when an
artist has selected it ! For surely this is no idle nor fantastic
saying. To deny that “making-up” is an art, on the pretext
that the finished work of its exponents depends for beauty and
excellence upon the ground chosen for the work, is absurd. At
the touch of a true artist, the plainest face turns comely. As
subject-matter the face is no more than suggestive, as ground,
merely a loom round which the beatus artifex may spin the
threads of any golden fabric :

Quae nunc nomen habent operosi signa Maronis
     Pondus iners quondam duraque massa fuit.
Multa viros nescire decet ; pars maxima rerum
    Offendat, si non interiora tegas,

and, as Ovid would seem to suggest, by pigments any tone may be
set aglow on a woman’s cheek, from enamel the features take any
form. Insomuch that surely the advocates of soup-kitchens and
free-libraries and other devices for giving people what providence
did not mean them to receive, should send out pamphlets in the
praise of self-embellishment. For it will place Beauty within
easy reach of many who could not otherwise hope to attain it

But of course Artifice is rather exacting. In return for the
repose she forces so—wisely !—upon her followers when the sun is


                        A Defence of Cosmetics
high or the moon is blown across heaven, she demands that
they should pay her long homage at the sun’s rising. The initiate
may not enter lightly upon her mysteries. For, if a bad com-
plexion be inexcusable, to be ill-painted is unforgivable; and when
the toilet is laden once more with the fulness of its elaboration, we
shall hear no more of the proper occupation for women. And
think, how sweet an energy, to sit at the mirror of coquetry !
See the dear merits of the toilet as shown upon old vases, or upon
the walls of Roman dwellings, or, rather still, read Bottiger’s
alluring, scholarly description of “Morgenscenen im Puttzimmer
Einer Reichen Römerin.” Read of Sabina’s face as she comes
through the curtain of her bed-chamber to the chamber of her
toilet. The slave-girls have long been charing their white feet
upon the marble floor. They stand, those timid Greek girls,
marshalled in little battalions. Each has her appointed task, and
all kneel in welcome as Sabina stalks, ugly and frowning, to the
toilet chair. Scaphion steps forth from among them, and, dipping a
tiny sponge in a bowl of hot milk, passes it lightly, ever so lightly,
over her mistress face. The Poppaean pastes melt beneath it like
snow. A cooling lotion is poured over her brow and is fanned
with feathers. Phiale comes after, a clever girl, captured in some
sea-skirmish in the Aegean. In her left hand she holds the ivory
box wherein are the phucus and that white powder, psimythium;
in her right a sheaf of slim brushes. With how sure a touch does
she mingle the colours, and in what sweet proportion blushes
and blanches her lady’s upturned face. Phiale is the cleverest of all
the slaves. Now Calamis dips her quill in a certain powder that
floats, liquid and sable, in the hollow of her palm. Standing upon
tip-toe and with lips parted, she traces the arch of the eyebrows.
The slaves whisper loudly of their lady’s beauty, and two of them
hold up a mirror to her. Yes, the eyebrows are rightly arched.


                        By Max Beerbohm
But why does Psecas abase herself? She is craving leave to powder
Sabina’s hair with a fine new powder. It is made of the grated rind
of the cedar-tree, and a Gallic perfumer, whose stall is near the
Circus, gave it to her for a kiss. No lady in Rome knows of it.
And so, when four special slaves have piled up the head-dress, out
of a perforated box this glistening powder is showered. Into every
little brown ringlet it enters, till Sabina’s hair seems like a pile of
gold coins. Lest the breezes send it flying, the girls lay the
powder with sprinkled attar. Soon Sabina will start for the
Temple of Cybele.

Ah ! Such are the lures of the toilet that none will for long
hold aloof from them. Cosmetics are not going to be a mere
prosaic remedy for age or plainness, but all ladies and all young girls
will come to love them. Does not a certain blithe Marquise,
whose lettres intimes from the Court of Louis Seize are less read
than their wit would merit, tell us how she was scandalised to see
“même les toutes jeunes demoiselles émaillées comme ma tabatière?”
So it shall be with us. Surely the common prejudice against
painting the lily can but be based on mere ground of economy.
That which is already fair is complete, it may be urged—urged
implausibly, for there are not so many lovely things in this world
that we can afford not to know each one of them by heart.
There is only one white lily, and who that has ever seen—as I have
a lily—really well painted could grudge the artist so fair a ground
for his skill ? Scarcely do you believe through how many nice
metamorphoses a lily may be passed by him. In like manner, we
all know the young girl, with her simpleness, her goodness, her
wayward ignorance. And a very charming ideal for England
must she have been, and a very natural one, when a young girl
sat even on the throne. But no nation can keep its ideal for ever
and it needed none of Mr. Gilbert’s delicate satire in “Utopia” to


                        A Defence of Cosmetics
remind us that she had passed out of our ken with the rest of
the early Victorian era. What writer of plays, as lately
asked some pressman, who had been told off to attend many first
nights and knew what he was talking about, ever dreams of
making the young girl the centre of his theme ? Rather he seeks
inspiration from the tried and tired woman of the world, in all her
intricate maturity, whilst, by way of comic relief, he sends the
young girl flitting in and out with a tennis-racket, the poor
Ɛίδωλοv ảμɑvрόv of her former self. The season of the unsophis-
ticated is gone by, and the young girl’s final extinction beneath the
rising tides of cosmetics will leave no gap in life and will rob art of

“Tush,” I can hear some damned flutterpate exclaim, “girlish-
ness and innocence are as strong and as permanent as womanhood
itself ! Why, a few months past, the whole town went mad over
Miss Cissie Loftus! Was not hers a success of girlish innocence
and the absence of rouge? If such things as these be outmoded,
why was she so wildly popular?” Indeed, the triumph of that
clever girl, whose dbut made London nice even in August, is but
another witness to the truth of my contention. In a very
sophisticated time, simplicity has a new dulcedo. Hers was a
success of contrast. Accustomed to clever malaperts like Miss
Lloyd or Miss Reeve, whose experienced pouts and smiles under
the sun-bonnet are a standing burlesque of innocence and girlish-
ness, Demos was really delighted, for once and away, to see the
real presentment of these things upon his stage. Coming after all
those sly series, coming so young and mere with her pink frock
and straightly combed hair, Miss Cissie Loftus had the charm
which things of another period often do possess. Besides, just as
we adored her for the abrupt nod with which she was wont at
first to acknowledge the applause, so we were glad for her to come


                        By Max Beerbohm
upon the stage with nothing to tinge the ivory of her cheeks. It
seemed so strange, that neglect of convention. To be behind
footlights and not rouged ! Yes, hers was a success of
contrast. She was like a daisy in the window at Solomons’. She
was delightful. And yet, such is the force of convention, that
when last I saw her, playing in some burlesque at the Gaiety, her
fringe was curled and her pretty face rouged with the best of
them. And, if further need be to show the absurdity of having
called her performance “a triumph of naturalness over the jaded
spirit of modernity” let us reflect that the little mimic was not a
real old-fashioned girl after all. She had none of that restless
naturalness that would seem to have characterised the girl of the
early Victorian days. She had no pretty ways—no smiles—nor
blushes nor tremors. Possibly Demos could not have stood a pre-
sentment of girlishness unrestrained.

But with her grave insouciance, Miss Cissie Loftus had much
of the reserve that is one of the factors of feminine perfection, and
to most comes only, as I have said, with artifice. Her features
played very, very slightly. And in truth, this may have been one
of the reasons of her great success. For expression is but too
often the ruin of a face ; and, since we cannot as yet so order the
circumstances of life that women shall never be betrayed into “an
unbecoming emotion,” when the brunette shall never have cause
to blush, and the lady who looks well with parted lips be kept in a
permanent state of surprise, the safest way by far is to create, by
brush and pigments, artificial expressions for every face.

And this—say you?—will make monotony? You are mis-
taken, toto ccelo mistaken. When your mistress has wearied you
with one expression, then it will need but a few touches of that
pencil, a backward sweep of that brush, and lo, you will be
revelling in another. For though, of course, the painting of the


                        A Defence of Cosmetics
face is, in manner, most like the painting of canvas, in outcome it
is rather akin to the art of music lasting, like music’s echo, not
for very long. So that, no doubt, of the many little appurte-
nances of the Reformed Toilet Table, not the least vital will be
a list of the emotions that become its owner, with recipes for
simulating them. According to the colour she wills her hair to
be for the time—black or yellow or, peradventure, burnished red
—she will blush for you, sneer for you, laugh or languish for you.
The good combinations of line and colour are nearly numberless,
and by their means poor restless woman will be able to realise her
moods in all their shades and lights and dappledoms, to live many
lives and masquerade through many moments of joy. No mono-
tony will be. And for us men matrimony will have lost its

But be it remembered ! Though we men will garner these
oblique boons, it is into the hands of women that Artifice gives her
pigments. I know, I know that many men in a certain sect of
society have shown a marked tendency to the use of cosmetics. I
speak not of the countless gentlemen who walk about town in the
time of its desertion from August to October, artificially bronzed,
as though they were fresh from the moors or from the Solent.
This, I conceive, is done for purely social reasons and need not
concern me here. Rather do I speak of those who make them
selves up, seemingly with an aesthetic purpose. Doubtless—I
wish to be quite just—there are many who look the better
for such embellishment ; but, at the hazard of being thought old-
fashioned and prejudiced, I cannot speak of the custom with any
thing but strong disapproval. If men are to lie among the
rouge-pots, inevitably it will tend to promote that amalgamation of
the sexes which is one of the chief planks in the decadent platform
and to obtund that piquant contrast between him and her, which


                        By Max Beerbohm
is one of the redeeming features of creation. Besides, really, men
have not the excuse of facial monotony, that holds in the case of
women. Have we not hair upon our chins and upper lips ? And
can we not, by diverting the trend of our moustache or by growing
our beard in this way or that, avoid the boredom of looking the same
for long ? Let us beware. For if, in violation of unwritten
sexual law, men take to trifling with the paints and brushes that
are feminine heritage, it may be that our great ladies will don false
imperials, and the little doner deck her pretty chin with a Newgate
fringe ! After all, I think we need not fear that many men will
thus trespass. Most of them are in the City nowadays, and the
great wear and tear of that place would put their use of rouge—
that demands bodily repose from its dependents—quite outside the
range of practical aesthetics.

But that in the world of women they will not neglect this art,
so ripping in itself, in its result so wonderfully beneficent, I am
sure indeed. Much, I have said, is already done for its full
renascence. The spirit of the age has made straight the path of
its professors. Fashion has made Jezebel surrender her monopoly
of the rouge-pot. As yet, the great art of self-embellishment is
for us but in its infancy. But if Englishwomen can bring it to
the flower of an excellence so supreme as never yet has it known,
then, though Old England may lose her martial and commercial
supremacy, we patriots will have the satisfaction of knowing that
she has been advanced at one bound to a place in the councils of
aesthetic Europe. And, in sooth, is this hoping too high of my
countrywomen ? True that, as the art seems always to have
appealed to the ladies of Athens, and it was not until the waning
time of the Republic that Roman ladies learned to love the practice
of it, so Paris, Athenian in this as in all other things, has been noted
hitherto as a far more vivid centre of the art than London. But it was


                        A Defence of Cosmetics
in Rome, under the Emperors, that unguentaria reached its zenith,
and shall it not be in London, soon, that unguentaria shall outstrip
its Roman perfection ? Surely there must be among us artists as
cunning in the use of brush and puff as any who lived at Versailles.
Surely the splendid, impalpable advance of good taste, as shown in
dress and in the decoration of houses, may justify my hope of the
preeminence of Englishwomen in the cosmetic art. By their
innate delicacy of touch they will accomplish much, and much, of
course, by their swift feminine perception. Yet it were well that
they should know something also of the theoretical side of the craft.
Modern authorities upon the mysteries of the toilet are, it is true,
rather few ; but among the ancients many a writer would seem to
have been fascinated by them. Archigenes, a man of science at
the Court of Cleopatra, and Criton at the Court of the Emperor
Trajan, both wrote treatises upon cosmetics doubtless most
scholarly treatises that would have given many a precious hint.
It is a pity they are not extant. From Lucian or from Juvenal,
with his bitter picture of a Roman levée , much may be learnt ;
from the staid pages of Xenophon and Aristophanes’ dear farces.
But best of all is that fine book of the Ars Amatoria that Ovid
has set aside for the consideration of dyes, perfumes and pomades.
Written by an artist who knew the allurements of the toilet and
understood its philosophy, it remains without rival as a treatise
upon Artifice. It is more than a poem, it is a manual ; and if
there be left in England any lady who cannot read Latin in the
original, she will do well to procure a discreet translation. In
the Bodleian Library there is treasured the only known copy of a
very poignant and delightful rendering of this one book of Ovid’s
masterpiece. It was made by a certain Wye Waltonstall, who
lived in the days of Elizabeth, and, seeing that he dedicated it to
“the Vertuous Ladyes and Gentlewomen of Great Britain,” I am


                        By Max Beerbohm
sure that the gallant writer, could he know of our great renascence
of cosmetics, would wish his little work to be placed once more
within their reach. “Inasmuch as to you, ladyes and gentle
women,” so he writes in his queer little dedication, “my booke of
pigments doth first addresse itself, that it may kisse your hands and
afterward have the lines thereof in reading sweetened by the odour
of your breath, while the dead letters formed into words by your
divided lips may receive new life by your passionate expression,
and the words marryed in that Ruby coloured temple may thus
happily united, multiply your contentment.” It is rather sad to
think that, at this crisis in the history of pigments, the Vertuous
Ladyes and Gentlewomen cannot read the libellus of Wye Walton-
stall, who did so dearly love pigments.

But since the days when these great critics wrote their treatises,
with what gifts innumerable has Artifice been loaded by Science !
Many little partitions must be added to the narthecium before it
can comprehend all the new cosmetics that have been quietly
devised since classical days, and will make the modern toilet chalks
away more splendid in its possibilities. A pity that no one has
devoted himself to the compiling of a new list ; but doubtless all the
newest devices are known to the admirable unguentarians of Bond
Street, who will impart them to their clients. Our thanks, too,
should be given to Science for ridding us of the old danger that
was latent in the use of cosmetics. Nowadays they cannot, being
purged of any poisonous element, do harm to the skin that they
make beautiful. There need be no more sowing the seeds of
destruction in the furrows of time, no martyrs to the cause like
Georgina Gunning, that fair dame but infelix, who died, so they
relate, from the effect of a poisonous rouge upon her lips. No,
we need have no fears now. Artifice will claim not another
victim from among her worshippers.


                        A Defence of Cosmetics
Loveliness shall sit at the toilet, watching her oval face in the
oval mirror. Her smooth fingers shall flit among the paints and
powder, to tip and mingle them, catch up a pencil, clasp a phial,
and what not and what not, until the mask of vermeil tinct has been
laid aptly, the enamel quite hardened. And, heavens, how she will
charm us and ensorcel our eyes ! Positively rouge will rob us for
a time of all our reason ; we shall go mad over masks. Was it
not at Capua that they had a whole street where nothing was sold
but dyes and unguents ? We must have such a street, and, to fill
our new Seplasia, our Arcade of the Unguents, all herbs and minerals
and live creatures shall give of their substance. The white cliffs
of Albion shall be ground to powder for loveliness, and perfumed
by the ghost of many a little violet. The fluffy eider-ducks, that
are swimming round the pond, shall lose their feathers, that the
powder-puff may be moonlike as it passes over loveliness’s lovely
face. Even the camels shall become ministers of delight, giving
their hair in many tufts to be stained by the paints in her
colour-box, and across her cheek the swift hare’s foot shall fly as of
old. The sea shall offer her the phucus, its scarlet weed. We
shall spill the blood of mulberries at her bidding. And, as in
another period of great ecstasy, a dancing wanton, la belle Aubrey,
was crowned upon a Lucy Rimmerton’s lighted altar, so Arsenic, that “green-
tress’d goddess,” ashamed at length of skulking between the soup
of the unpopular and the test-tubes of the Queen’s analyst, shall be
exalted to a place of highest honour upon loveliness’s toilet-table.
! All these things shall come to pass. Times of jolliness and
glad indulgence ! For Artifice, whom we drove forth, has returned
among us, and, though her eyes are red with crying, she is
smiling forgiveness. She is kind. Let us dance and be glad, and
trip the cockawhoop ! Artifice, sweetest exile, is come into her
kingdom. Let us dance her a welcome !

MLA citation:

Beerbohm, Max. “A Defence of Cosmetics.” The Yellow Book, vol. 1, April 1894, pp. 65-82. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.