Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Tea & Gossip - Satire


John Bowles, a British publisher & printer, produced this satire on gossiping women at the Tea Table in the early 18C.  Here five fashionable ladies drink tea at a table placed on a carpet in an affluent interior. On the table, as well as the tea service, are a closed fan, a muff and an open book lettered, "Chit Chat." A devil lurks beneath the table and Envy drives Justice and Truth out of a door at upper left; two gentlemen eavesdrop at an open window on the right. On the back wall, left to right: an alcove with shelves displaying porcelain, a fireplace above which is a painting showing a monk carrying a woman on his back towards a church or monastery, and a mirror in an elaborate frame. Three columns of etched verse describe the slanderous conversation taking place.
Etching and engraving

The inscription below the title with 69 lines of verse in 3 columns tells the tale...
"How see we Scandal (for our Sex too base) 
Seat its dread Empire in the Female Race, 
'Mong Beaus & Women, Fans & Mechlin Lace. 
Chief Seat of Slander! Ever there we see, 
Thick Scandal circulate with right Bohea. 
There Source of blakning Falshoods Mint of Lies 
Each Dame th' Improvment of her Talent tries, 
And at each Sip a Lady's Honour Dies 
Truth rare as Silence; or a Negro Swan, 
Appears among those Daughters of the Fan. 
Coumnta has the Chair, and deals the Tea, 
In Scandal none more eloquent than she. 
Great President! how just Precedence claim, 
Thy great Demerits, and thy greater Fame! 
In Female War the Dame's profoundly Skill'd; 
Her Tongue [The Magazine of Lies] is Steel'd 
With Rancour; & her Eyes, tho' form'd for none 
But the Destruction of our Sex alone, 
Can at Superior Worth take artfull Aim, 
And blast the Growth of Virtuous Cffilia's Fame, 
Destructive Malice Triumphs in her Smiles, 

Stabs home as Death and Sure as Would kills
Livia—for Sly Invention next to none,
By blaming other's Fictions rents her own:
By feigning to oppose she forms a Lie,
And hides her Malice in Hypocrisy.
Late at a Ball, where Livia constant is,
Her Charms Successfull, young Amanda tries;
Fairer than Blossoms of the Month of May,
Less fresh the Rose, nor Phillis self so Gay.
Steps so engaging, moves with Such a Grace;
Such cheerfull Sweetness Smiling in her Face,
With Wonder & Delight she fills the Plaee.
Each Youth with warm Desire, devours her Charms,
And thinks her clasp'd already in his Arms,
Each Eye with Greediness the Fair Surveys,
Nor ought is heard but in Amanda's Praise.

This Livia saw, and heard with Envy Straight, 
She, turning speaks her well disembl'd Spite, 
Yes (Livia cries) the Damsel Dances well, 
Her Mein is gracefull, and her Air Genteel: 
And is (I dare say) Chast; tho' comon Fame 
(Which seldom utters Truth delights in Blame) 

Censures her Intimacy with my Lord
Yon vicious powder'd Beau, with Ribbond Sword 
Enough, she gains her Point; thro' all the Throng 
The Scandal Spreads, improves on ev'ry Tongue, 
Who is the charming Fair, if any ask, 
'Tis answer'd Straight, a Sister of the Mask. 
Such are the Rest, and thus the Dames agree 
To load each absent Fair with Lifamy. 
Each Virtuous She, that dares these Belles outshine 
Falls a Sure Victim to their Goddess Spleen. 
Nor Hope, Thomasia, Justice from the Fair 
One Word in Virtue's Praise, is Treason there, 
'Tis so like Truth; nor blame, dear injur'd Maid, 
Of Spite or Calumny, the needfull Trade. 

The ninth Comand [were Moses Law in force] 
Would Stop their Breaths, or Murder their Discourse, 
Wits' Stocks would fall, Spoil many a pretty Tale, 
And hated Dumbness on the Sex entail, 
And wer't not pity Maura should be mute? 
Or Amia's pretty prating Mouth be shut? 
What nothing but the Truth? What then's become 
Of Gratia? she must Lie or else be Dumb. 

Be Dumb! she'll ne'er consent, she'll sooner Die, 
Or wear her Painted Callicoe awry, 
Than with that ninth Old-Fashiond Law comply, 
And loose her dear lov'd Volubility."