Professional Imaginative Writing in England, 1670-1740: Hackney for Bread

By Brean S. Hammond | Go to book overview

5
Conversing with Pictures: The Periodical and the Polite

Steele Tatler, no. 217 for 29 August 1710, provides an excellent example of the use to which the Miltonic epic might find itself being put in the fashionable literary periodical of the early eighteenth century. The essay, on the subject of the Bully and the Scold, has the same objective as very many others in the Tatler series, to subject male and (mainly) female behaviour to its standard of acceptable sociability. Women who are chaste, argues the essay, think that they have achieved perfection and cannot be reproached with any other misconduct. But modesty is more than merely keeping men out of your bed. Rage, publicly expressed anger, is conduct just as unseemly in a woman, and decibels are the enemies of true modesty: 'Modesty never rages, never murmurs, never pouts; when it is ill-treated, it pines, it beseeches, it languishes.' To illustrate the unpleasantness of the domestic quarrel, Isaac Bickerstaff translates the first postlapsarian contretemps of Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost, book ix 'out of heroics, and [put] into domestic style':

'Madam, if my advices had been of any authority with you, when that strange desire of gadding possessed you this morning, we had still been happy; but your cursed vanity and opinion of your own conduct, which is certainly very wavering when it seeks occasions of being proved, has ruined both yourself and me, who trusted you.'

Eve had no fan in her hand to ruffle, or tucker to pull down; but with a reproachful air she answered:

'Sir, do you impute that to my desire of gadding, which might have happened to yourself, with all your wisdom and gravity? The serpent spoke so excellently, and with so good a grace, that--Besides, what harm had I ever done him, that he should design me any? Was I to have been always at your side, I might as well have continued there, and been but your rib still: but if I was so weak a creature as you thought me, why did you not interpose your sage authority more absolutely? You denied me

-145-

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