Tub Main Page Back Forward



ONCE upon a time, there was a man who had three sons by one wife,[1] and all at a birth, neither could the midwife tell certainly which was the eldest. Their father died while they were young, and upon his deathbed, calling the lads to him, spoke thus:

'Sons, because I have purchased no estate, nor was born to any, I have long considered of some good legacies to bequeath you; and at last, with much care as well as expense, have provided each of you (here they are) a new coat.[2] Now, you are to understand, that these coats have two virtues contained in them: one is, that with good wearing, they will last you fresh and sound as long as you live; the other is, that they will grow in the same proportion with your bodies, lengthening and widening of themselves, so as to be always fit. Here, let me see them on you before I die. So, very well; pray children, wear them clean, and brush them often. You will find in my will[3] (here it is) full instructions in every particular concerning the wearing and management of your coats; wherein you must be very exact, to avoid the penalties I have appointed for every transgression or neglect, upon which your future fortunes will entirely depend. I have also commanded in my will, that you should live together in one house like brethren and friends, for then you will be sure to thrive, and not otherwise.'

Here the story says, this good father died, and the three sons went all together to seek their fortunes. I shall not trouble you with recounting what adventures they met for the first seven years, any farther than by taking notice, that they carefully observed their father's will, and kept their coats in very good order; that they travelled through several countries, encountered a reasonable quantity of giants, and slew certain dragons. Being now arrived at the proper age for producing themselves, they came up to town, and fell in love with the ladies, but especially three, who about that time were in chief reputation: the Duchess d'Argent, Madame de Grands Titres, and the Countess d'Orgueil.[4] On their first appearance, our three adventurers met with a very bad reception; and soon with great sagacity guessing out the reason, they quickly began to improve in the good qualities of the town: they writ, and rallied, and rhymed, and sung, and said, and said nothing: they drank, and fought, and whored, and slept, and swore, and took snuff: they went to new plays on the first night, haunted the chocolate-houses, beat the watch, lay on bulks, and got claps: they bilked hackney- coachmen, ran in debt with shopkeepers, and lay with their wives: they killed bailiffs, kicked fiddlers down stairs, eat at Locket's, loitered at Will's: they talked of the drawing-room, and never came there: dined with lords they never saw: whispered a duchess, and spoke never a word: exposed the scrawls of their laundress for billet-doux of quality: came ever just from court, and were never seen in it: attended the Levee sub dio: got a list of peers by heart in one company, and with great familiarity retailed them in another. Above all, they constantly attended those Committees of Senators who are silent in the House, and loud in the coffee-house, where they nightly adjourn to chew the cud of politics, and are encompassed with a ring of disciples, who lie in wait to catch up their droppings. The three brothers had acquired forty other qualifications of the like stamp, too tedious to recount, and by consequence were justly reckoned the most accomplished persons in the town. But all would not suffice, and the ladies aforesaid continued still inflexible. To clear up which difficulty I must, with the reader's good leave and patience, have recourse to some points of weight, which the authors of that age have not sufficiently illustrated.

For about this time it happened a sect arose,[5] whose tenets obtained and spread very far, especially in the grand monde, and among everybody of good fashion. They worshipped a sort of idol,[6] who, as their doctrine delivered, did daily create men by a kind of manufactory operation. This idol they placed in the highest parts of the house, on an altar erected about three foot: he was shown in the posture of a Persian emperor, sitting on a superficies, with his legs interwoven under him. This god had a goose for his ensign; whence it is, that some learned men pretend to deduce his original from Jupiter Capitolinus. At his left hand, beneath the altar, Hell seemed to open, and catch at the animals the idol was creating; to prevent which, certain of his priests hourly flung in pieces of the uninformed mass, or substance, and sometimes whole limbs already enlivened, which that horrid gulf insatiably swallowed, terrible to behold. The goose was also held a subaltern divinity or deus minorum gentium, before whose shrine was sacrificed that creature, whose hourly food is human gore, and who is in so great renown abroad, for being the delight and favourite of the Ægyptian Cercopithecus.[7] Millions of these animals were cruelly slaughtered every day, to appease the hunger of that consuming deity. The chief idol was also worshipped as the inventor of the yard and the needle; whether as the god of seamen, or on account of certain other mystical attributes, hath not been sufficiently cleared.

The worshippers of this deity had also a system of their belief, which seemed to turn upon the following fundamental. They held the universe to be a large suit of clothes, which invests everything: that the earth is invested by the air; the air is invested by the stars; and the stars are invested by the primum mobile. Look on this globe of earth, you will find it to be a very complete and fashionable dress. What is that which some call land, but a fine coat faced with green? or the sea, but a waistcoat of watertabby? Proceed to the particular works of the creation, you will find how curious Journeyman Nature hath been, to trim up the vegetable beaux; observe how sparkish a periwig adorns the head of a beech, and what a fine doublet of white satin is worn by the birch. To conclude from all, what is man himself but a microcoat,[8] or rather a complete suit of clothes with all its trimmings? As to his body, there can be no dispute; but examine even the acquirements of his mind, you will find them all contribute in their order towards furnishing out an exact dress. To instance no more: is not religion a cloak; honesty a pair of shoes worn out in the dirt; self-love a surtout; vanity a shirt; and conscience a pair of breeches; which, though a cover for lewdness as well as nastiness, is easily slipt down for the service of both?

These postulata being admitted, it will follow in due course of reasoning that those beings which the world calls improperly suits of clothes, are in reality the most refined species of animals, or to proceed higher, that they are rational creatures, or men. For is it not manifest that they live, and move, and talk, and perform all other offices of human life? Are not beauty, and wit, and mien, and breeding, their inseparable properties? In short, we see nothing but them, hear nothing but them. Is it not they who walk the streets, fill up parliament-, coffee-, play-, bawdyhouses? 'Tis true indeed, that these animals, which are vulgarly called suits of clothes, or dresses, do according to certain compositions receive different appellations. If one of them be trimmed up with a gold chain, and a red gown, and a white rod, and a great horse, it is called a Lord-Mayor; if certain ermines and furs be placed in a certain position, we style them a Judge, and so an apt conjunction of lawn and black satin we entitle a Bishop.

Others of these professors, though agreeing in the main system, were yet more refined upon certain branches of it; and held that man was an animal compounded of two dresses, the natural and the celestial suit, which were the body and the soul: that the soul was the outward, and the body the inward clothing; that the latter was ex traduce; but the former of daily creation and circumfusion. This last they proved by scripture, because in them we live, and move, and have our being; as likewise by philosophy, because they are all in all, and all in every part. Besides, said they, separate these two, and you will find the body to be only a sense less unsavoury carcass. By all which it is manifest, that the outward dress must needs be the soul.

To this system of religion were tagged several subaltern doctrines, which were entertained with great vogue, as particularly, the faculties of the mind were deduced by the learned among them in this manner: embroidery was sheer wit; gold fringe was agreeable conversation; gold lace was repartee; a huge long periwig was humor; and a coat full of powder was very good raillery: all which required abundance of finesse and delicatesse to manage with advantage, as well as a strict observance after times and fashions. I have with much pains and reading, collected out of ancient authors, this short summary of a body of philosophy and divinity, which seems to have been composed by a vein and race of thinking, very different from any other systems, either ancient or modern. And it was not merely to entertain or satisfy the reader's curiosity, but rather to give him light into several circumstances of the following story, that knowing the state of dispositions and opinions in an age so remote, he may better comprehend those great events which were the issue of them. I advise therefore the courteous reader to peruse with a world of application, again and again, whatever I have written upon this matter. And so leaving these broken ends, I carefully gather up the chief thread of my story and proceed.[9]

These opinions therefore were so universal, as well as the practices of them, among the refined part of court and town, that our three brother-adventurers, as their circumstances then stood, were strangely at a loss. For, on the one side, the three ladies they addressed themselves to (whom we have named already) were ever at the very top of the fashion, and abhorred all that were below it but the breadth of a hair. On the other side, their father's will was very precise, and it was the main precept in it, with the greatest penalties annexed, not to add to, or diminish from their coats one thread, without a positive command in the will. Now, the coats their father had left them were, 'tis true, of very good cloth, and besides, so neatly sewn, you would swear they were all of a piece; but at the same time very plain, and with little or no ornament; and it happened, that before they were a month in town, great shoulder-knots [10] came up; straight all the world was shoulder-knots; no approaching the ladies' ruelles without the quota of shoulder-knots. That fellow, cries one, has no soul; where is his shoulder-knot? Our three brethren soon discovered their want by sad experience, meeting in their walks with forty mortifications and indignities. If they went to the play-house, the door-keeper showed them into the twelve-penny gallery. If they called a boat, says a waterman, I am first sculler. If they stepped to the Rose to take a bottle, the drawer would cry, Friend, we sell no ale. If they went to visit a lady, a footman met them at the door with, Pray send up your message. In this unhappy case, they went immediately to consult their father's will, read it over and over, but not a word of the shoulder-knot. What should they do? What temper should they find? Obedience was absolutely necessary, and yet shoulder-knots appeared extremely requisite. After much thought, one of the brothers who happened to be more book-learned than the other two, said, he had found an expedient. "Tis true,' said he, 'there is nothing here in this will, totidem verbis, making mention of shoulder-knots, but I dare conjecture we may find them inclusive, or totidem syllabis.' This distinction was immediately approved by all; and so they fell again to examine the will. But their evil star had so directed the matter, that the first syllable was not to be found in the whole writing. Upon which disappointment, he who found the former evasion, took heart and said, 'Brothers, there is yet hopes; for though we cannot find them totidem verbis, nor totidem syllabis, I dare engage we shall make them out, tertio modo, or totidem literis.' This discovery was also highly commended, upon which they fell once more to the scrutiny, and soon picked out S,H,O,U,L,D,E,R; when the same planet, enemy to their repose, had wonderfully contrived, that a K was not to be found. Here was a weighty difficulty! But the distinguishing brother (for whom we shall hereafter find a name) now his hand was in, proved by a very good argument, that K was a modern illegitimate letter, unknown to the learned ages, nor anywhere to be found in ancient manuscripts.[11] "Tis true,' said he, 'the word Calendae hath in Q.V.C.[12] been sometimes writ with a K, but erroneously, for in the best copies it has been ever spelt with a C. And by consequence it was a gross mistake in our language to spell Knot with a K, but that from henceforward he would take care it should be writ with a C.' Upon this all farther difficulty vanished; shoulder-knots were made clearly out to be jure paterno, and our three gentlemen swaggered with as large and as flaunting ones as the best.

But, as human happiness is of a very short duration, so in those days were human fashions, upon which it entirely depends. Shoulder-knots had their time, and we must now imagine them in their decline; for a certain lord came just from Paris, with fifty yards of gold lace upon his coat, exactly trimmed after the court fashion of that month. In two days all mankind appeared closed up in bars of gold lace: [13] whoever durst peep abroad without his compliment of gold lace, was as scandalous as a ____, and as ill received among the women. What should our three knights do in this momentous affair? They had sufficiently strained a point already in the affair of shoulder-knots. Upon recourse to the will, nothing appeared there but altum silentium. That of the shoulder-knots was a loose, flying, circumstantial point; but this of gold lace seemed too considerable an alteration without better warrant. It did aliquo modo essentiae adhaerere, and therefore required a positive precept. But about this time it fell out, that the learned brother aforesaid had read Aristotelis Dialectica, and especially that wonderful piece de Interpretatione, which has the faculty of teaching its readers to find out a meaning in everything but itself, like commentators on the Revelations, who proceed prophets without understanding a syllable of the text. 'Brothers,' said he, 'you are to be informed,[14] that of wills duo sunt genera, nuncupatory [15] and scriptory; that in the scriptory will here before us, there is no precept or mention about gold lace, concediture; but, si idem affirmetur de nuncupatorio, negatur. For brothers, if you remember, we heard a fellow say when we were boys, that he heard my father's man say, that he heard my father say, that he would advise his sons to get gold lace on their coats, as soon as ever they could procure money to buy it.' 'By G___, that is very true,' cries the other; 'I remember it perfectly well,' said the third. And so without more ado they got the largest gold lace in the parish, and walked about as fine as lords.

A while after there came up all in fashion a pretty sort of flame-coloured satin [16] for linings, and the mercer brought a pattern of it immediately to our three gentlemen, 'An please your worships,' said he,[17] 'my Lord C___; and Sir J. W. had linings out of this very piece last night; it takes wonderfully, and I shall not have a remnant left enough to make my wife a pin-cushion by to-morrow morning at ten o'clock.' Upon this, they fell again to rummage the will, because the present case also required a positive precept, the lining being held by orthodox writers to be of the essence of the coat. After long search, they could fix upon nothing to the matter in hand, except a short advice of their father's in the will, to take care of fire, and put out their candles before they went to sleep.[18] This though a good deal for the purpose, and helping very far towards self-conviction, yet not seeming wholly of force to establish a command; and being resolved to avoid farther scruple, as well as future occasion for scandal, says he that was the scholar, 'I remember to have read in wills of a codicil annexed, which is indeed a part of the will, and what it contains hath equal authority with the rest. Now, I have been considering of this same will here before us, and I cannot reckon it to be complete for want of such a codicil. I will therefore fasten one in its proper place very dexterously; I have had it by me some time; it was written by a dog-keeper of my grandfather's,[19] and talks a great deal (as good luck would have it) of this very flame-coloured satin.' The project was immediately approved by the other two; an old parchment scroll was tagged on according to art, in the form of a codicil annexed, and the satin bought and worn.

Next winter, a player, hired for the purpose by the corporation of fringe-makers, acted his part in a new comedy, all covered with silver fringe,[20] and according to the laudable custom gave rise to that fashion. Upon which, the brothers consulting their father's will, to their great astonishment found these words; 'Item, I charge and command my said three sons to wear no sort of silver fringe upon or about their said coats,' etc., with a penalty in case of disobedience, too long here to insert. However, after some pause the brother so often mentioned for his erudition, who was well skilled in criticisms, had found in a certain author, which he said should be nameless, that the same word which in the will is called fringe, does also signify a broomstick, and doubtless ought to have the same interpretation in this paragraph. This, another of the brothers disliked, because of that epithet silver, which could not, he humbly conceived, in propriety of speech be reasonably applied to a broom-stick; but it was replied upon him, that this epithet was understood in a mythological and allegorical sense. However, he objected again, why their father should forbid them to wear a broom-stick on their coats, a caution that seemed unnatural and impertinent upon which he was taken up short, as one that spoke irreverently of a mystery, which doubtless was very useful and significant, but ought not to be over-curiously pried into, or nicely reasoned upon. And in short, their father's authority being now considerably sunk, this expedient was allowed to serve as a lawful dispensation for wearing their full proportion of silver fringe.

A while after was revived an old fashion, long antiquated, of embroidery with Indian figures of men, women, and children.[21] Here they had no occasion to examine the will. They remembered but too well how their father had always abhorred this fashion; that he made several paragraphs on purpose, importing his utter detestation of it, and bestowing his everlasting curse to his sons whenever they should wear it. For all this, in a few days they appeared higher in the fashion than anybody else in the town. But they solved the matter by saying, that these figures were not at all the same with those that were formerly worn, and were meant in the will. Besides, they did not wear them in that sense, as forbidden by their father, but as they were a commendable custom, and of great use to the public. That these rigorous clauses in the will did therefore require some allowance, and a favourable interpretation, and ought to be understood cum grano salis.

But fashions perpetually altering in that age, the scholastic brother grew weary of searching farther evasions, and solving everlasting contradictions. Resolved therefore at all hazards to comply with the modes of the world, they concerted matters together, and agreed unanimously to lock up their father's will in a strong box,[22] brought out of Greece or Italy (I have forgot which) and trouble themselves no farther to examine it, but only refer to its authority whenever they thought fit. In consequence whereof, a while after it grew a general mode to wear an infinite number of points, most of them tagged with silver: upon which the scholar pronounced ex cathedra,[23] that points were absolutely jure paterno, as they might very well remember. 'Tis true, indeed, the fashion prescribed somewhat more than were directly named in the will; however, that they, as heirs-general of their father, had power to make and add certain clauses for public emolument, though not deducible, totidem serbis, from the letter of the will, or else multa absurda sequerentur. This was understood for canonical, and therefore on the following Sunday they came to church all covered with points.

The learned brother so often mentioned was reckoned the best scholar in all that, or the next street to it; insomuch as, having run something behind-hand with the world, he obtained the favour from a certain lord,[24]to receive him into his house, and to teach his children. A while after the lord died, and he, by long practice of his father's will, found the way of contriving a deed of conveyance of that house to himself and his heirs; upon which he took possession, turned the young squires out, and received his brothers in their stead.

1 By these three sons, Peter, Martin, and Jack, Popery, the Church of England, and our Protestant dissenters are designed. W. WOTTON.

2 By his coats which he gave his sons, the garments of the Israelites. W. WOTTON.

An error (with submission) of the learned commentator; for by the coats are meant the doctrine and faith of Christianity, by the wisdom of the Divine Founder fitted to all times, places and circumstances. LAMBIN.

3 The New Testament.

4 Their mistresses are the Duchess d'Argent, Mademoiselle de Grands Titres, and the Countess d'Orgueil, i.e. covetousness, ambition, and pride, which were the three great vices that the ancient Fathers inveighed against as the first corruptions of Christianity. W. WOTTON.

5 This is an occasional satire upon dress and fashion, in order to introduce what follows.

6 By this idol is meant a tailor.

7 The Ægyptians worshipped a monkey, which animal is very fond of eating lice, styled here creatures that feed on human gore.

8 Alluding to the word microcosm, or a little world. as man hath been called by philosophers.

9 The first part of the Tale is the history of Peter; thereby Popery is exposed; everybody knows the Papists have made great additions to Christianity; that indeed is the great exception which the Church of England makes against them; accordingly Peter begins his pranks with adding a shoulder-knot to his coat. W. WOTTON.

His description of the cloth of which the coat was made, has a farther meaning than the words may seem to import: 'The coats their father had left them were of very good cloth, and besides so nearly sewn, you would swear it had been all of a piece, but at the same time very plain with little or no ornament.' This is the distinguishing character of the Christian religion. Christiana religio absoluta et simplex, was Ammianus Marcellinus's description of it, who was himself a heathen. W. WOTTON.

10 By this is understood the first introducing of pageantry, and unnecessary ornaments in the Church, such as were neither for convenience nor edification, as a shoulder-knot, in which there is neither symmetry nor use.

11 When the Papists cannot find any thing which they want in Scripture, they go to oral tradition: thus Peter is introduced satisfied with the tedious way of looking for all the letters of any word, which he has occasion for in the Will, when neither the constituent syllables, nor much less the whole word. were there in terminis. W. WOTTON.

12 Quibusdam veteribus codicibus: some ancient manuscripts

13 I cannot tell whether the author means any new innovation by this word, or whether it be only to introduce the new methods of forcing and perverting Scripture.

14 The next subject of our author's wit is the glosses and interpretations of Scripture, very many absurd ones of which are allowed in the most authentic books of the Church of Rome W. WOTTON.

15 By this is meant tradition, allowed to have equal authority with the scripture, or rather greater.

16 This is purgatory, whereof he speaks more particularly hereafter, but here only to show how Scripture was perverted to prove it, which was done by giving equal authority with the Canon to Apocrypha, called .here a codicil annexed.

It is likely the author, in every one of these changes in the brothers' dresses, refers to some particular error in the Church of Rome, though it is not easy I think to apply them all, but by this of flame-coloured satin, is manifestly intended purgatory; by gold lace may perhaps be understood the lofty ornaments and plate in the churches; the shoulder-knots and silver fringe are not so obvious, at least to me; but the Indian figures of men, women and children plainly relate to the pictures in the Romish churches, of God like an old man, of the Virgin Mary, and our Saviour as a child.

17 This shows the time the author writ, it being about fourteen years since those two persons were reckoned the fine gentlemen of the town.

18 That is, to take care of hell, and, in order to do that, to subdue and extinguish their lusts.

19 believe this refers to that part of the Apocrypha where mention is made of Tobit and his dog.

20 This is certainly the farther introducing the pomps of habit and ornament.

21 The images of saints, the blessed Virgin, and our Saviour an infant Ibid. Images in the Church of Rome give him but too fair a handle. The brothers remembered, &c. The allegory here is direct. W. WOTTON.

22 The Papists formerly forbade the people the use of scripture in a vulgar tongue, Peter therefore locks up his father's will in a strong box, brought out of Greece or Italy. Those countries are named because the New Testament is written in Greek; and the vulgar Latin, which is the authentic edition of the Bible in the Church of Rome, is in the language of old Italy. W. WOTTON.

23 The popes in their decretals and bulls have given their sanction to very many gainful doctrines which are now received in the Church of Rome that are not mentioned in scripture, and are unknown to the primitive church; Peter accordingly pronounces ex cathedra, that points tagged with silver were absolutely jure paterno, and so they wore them in great numbers. W. WOTTON.

24 This was Constantine the Great, from whom the popes pretend a donation of St. Peter's patrimony, which they have been never able to produce.

lbid. The bishops of Rome enjoyed their privileges in Rome at first by the favour of emperors, whom at last they shut out of their own capital city, and then forged a donation from Constantine the Great, the better to justify what they did. In imitation of this, Peter having run something behind-hand in the world, obtained leave of a certain lord, &c. W. WOTTON.