"It is vain to expend large sums of money and large portions of time in the acquirement of accomplishments, unless some attention be also paid to the attainment of a certain grace in their exercise, which, though of a circumstance distinct from themselves, is the secret of their charms and pleasure-exciting quality." - A Lady of Distinction, The Mirror of Graces
RL Shep, the publisher who had the foresight to reprint this wonderful book, deserves all the compliments in this world for recognising its value. First published in 1811 by an anonymous Lady of Distinction, it is at once hilarious to our modern eyes, and a telling insight into the life of fashionable, high society ladies in the Regency era.
The book is packed full of classical references and piously rendered good advice, jostling happily in each breathless sentence. The front page gives a glowing summary of what will be found in the book, including "cultivation of the mind and the Disposition and Carriage of the Body; offering also the most efficacious Means of preserving Beauty, Health and Loveliness."
The language, as we would expect, is rather flowery and is full of endless adjectives and adverbs. The anonymous author advises on Dancing and other accomplishments, informing us "Set then, this music of Paphos far aside; instead of songs of wantons, if we are to have amatory odes, let us listen to the chaste pleadings of Plutarch, to the mutual vows of virtuous attachment."
The Mirror of Graces was not a comical portrayal of its day, but was read for the good advice it rendered and indeed is very revealing on the fashion dictates of the day - washing, exercise, diet, dancing, dress and general deportment. There are even a series of cosmetic recipes included at the back of the book, describing how to make "Eau de Veau" (which included such promising ingredients as a calf's foot, rice, bread, camphor and alum).
From the chapter "On Deportment", this Lady of Distinctions informs us "Their is scarcely an observer of manners and their effects who will not maintain that the most beautiful and well-dressed woman will soon cease to please unless her charms are accompanied with the ineffable enchantment of a graceful demeanour." The virtuous maiden also receives the following admonishment: "Again, I repeat, the libertine, the gross Epicurean, may feast his imbruted gaze upon a form so stripped of decency; for he is a creature whose sense are bent to the earth and the basest offerings are his banquet." This, according to our author, is the result of leaving too much shoulder showing. There is good advice on colours, flowers and the content is matchless for those interested in the Regency era.
The British Library holds an original copy of The Mirror of Graces in their collection and has digitised several pages for our enjoyment. You can find it here, do have a look and let us know what you think!