MOST persons possess some good qualities, know this, and wish others to know it. The process of making them known to one's own sex may be characterized under various names, while the endeavour to attract the opposite sex by them and at the same time toying, as it were, with the passion of love constitutes Flirtation.
One can obtain the appreciation of one's own sex by doing ordinary duties well; but to gain the good- will of the other sex, who may not be in a position to judge of our genuine merits, requires a manner more or less artificial. Flirtation is, therefore, a forced means of making oneself agreeable to a person of the other sex. In the greater or less transparency of the artifice lies the science of flirting, which has infinite shades, from unblushing coquetry to the most delicate power of fascination. Society would be a dull thing without this science. If it were possible that women should cease for a short time to care what men thought about them, most of us, moralists or not, would be glad to see that short time ended.
Men and women flirt, but women more than men, and they also show it more. Women are less able than men to live without admiration, and have less other work in life than the labour of securing praise. At the same time they cannot so well keep their flirtations out of sight. A man travels, and is, in very few places, really intimately known; a woman is, in some few places at least, closely watched. None of a man's friends know precisely with how many women he flirts; a woman's friends keep an exact account of the number of her admirers. A man, to be called a Flirt, must flirt to the point of abandoning all other occupation; but a very little affability, squandered under the form of smiles, procures the title for a woman.
A girl is a Flirt who exchanges a coy glance with a middle-aged eligible bachelor who picks up a glove she has dropped; she is something worse than a Flirt - a minx - if she makes herself pleasant to another girl's betrothed. The iron rule of modesty, which men have imposed upon women as a protection against their wiles, leaves young women scarcely free to move or speak in the presence of the trousered sex without risk of being thought 'forward;' but women themselves are much sterner in their definition of forwardness than men. In feminine judgment every girl or pretty young woman is forward, and consequently a Flirt, who monopolizes the attention of males in a social circle. This she can do by being too modest, as well as by being not modest enough; for her own sex will not account as modesty the grace which charms without attempting to do so. Men never speak so ill of the worst women as women do of the best among their sex who have the art of pleasing. There are men whom all other men join in praising; but there has scarcely lived a women wife, virgin, or saint who has not had detractors amongst other women. Should there have been some few exceptions which prove this general rule, they will be found to have flourished in the ranks of the fearfully and unutterably ugly.
Every woman has flirted; but we are not concerned with the woman whose innocent flirtations are but the gush of youthful spirits, or with those who owe the title of Flirt to the mere malignity of their own sex. The Flirts of whom we propose to treat are those who flirt of malice prepense. In these flirting is the art of sexual tantalisation.
It may also be termed, less philosophically, the art of playing with fire and getting scorched, more or less often. All Flirts burn themselves, once at least. Some squeal when they but singe their finger-tips, and retire straightway from the game with their eyes full of tears. These are third-class Flirts, having no real heart in the play. The recollection of their first smart makes them redden and tingle till they become old women, when, perhaps, they smile, and wish the burn could come over again. It was a third-class Flirt who, on the strength of a short and sharp acquaintance with the ways of the other sex, invented such sayings as 'Man is perfidious.'
The second-class Flirts get frequently burned without ever quite inuring themselves to the pain. They resemble dullish boys who play at football because they must, but never surmount the fear of being shinned. Sometimes the second-class Flirt gives up playing, and learns to laugh at her burns; more often she goes on till she can play no longer, and wearily sums up her experience of the sport as 'all burns and no pleasure.'
But the first-class Flirt cares not a pin for scorches. She is the salamander who lives in the fire. Sparks fly round her and she revels in them ; she is all over scars, and surveys them complacently as a soldier does his wounds. Flirt from the nursery, Flirt in her teens, Flirt in her prime, she continues flirting when she is an old woman, and flirts on her deathbed with the doctor. If she could come to life for a moment in her coffin, she would flirt with the undertaker. Commend us to this class of Flirt for making the heads of men flame like the tops of lucifer-matches. She sets quiet house-holds afire; everything turns to tinder on her passage, and when she is buried an odour of brimstone hovers over her tomb. Her old lovers would be afraid to lift up the grave-slab that covers her lest they should see little blue-forked flames leap out diabolically.
We are not sufficiently versed in etymology to say when the word 'Flirt' first came into use, and from what it is derived. It seems to have dethroned the French coquette, which appears frequently in the writings of eighteenth-century authors; but coquette, which is described by some as a polite variant of coquine, and by others as the mere feminine of coquet, which, though it now means 'natty,' originally had the same signification as our English coxcombish, or cock's-comb. The word coquette is not much more than two centuries old. How were Flirts and coquettes called before that? The inconstancy of woman is no new thing, alas; and though not catalogued in Scripture among the ills to which human flesh is heir, it drew many a dolorous ode from the earliest writers of Greece and Rome. Anacreon made epigrams on the subject; and Horace, in his plaintive lines to Barine, the 'terror of Roman mothers,' tells her that he could not believe her perfidious oath under any circumstances.
Matters had certainly not improved in the chivalrous ages, when knights spent half their time in fighting for their mistresses, and the other half in cursing their fickleness; and Francis I. is found scratching upon a window-pane, still to be seen in the Château de Blois:
'Souvent femme varie, Bien fol qui s'y fie.'
Shakespeare, who wrote under the reign of a Flirt, had plenty to say in disparagement of women, and drew many Flirts without giving them that name. Portia and Beatrice were both pretty fair triflers, and so was Rosalind, of whom her lover warbled:
'As the cat seeks after kind, So will lovely Rosalind.'
But a good apology for flirting is put into Othello's mouth when he says, in defence of Desdemona, that it is no reproach to a woman if she lays herself out to be pleasing. He subsequently departed from this view, when he smothered his wife; but this little piece of hastiness did not alter the soundness of his previous conclusions. The truth is, that Shakespeare lived in an age when centuries of knight-errantry, joustings, floral games, courts of love, and what not, had taught women to think a vast deal of themselves. They flirted more than now, perhaps, only men had learned to bear it better. A poor wretch who had been fighting three years for his lady-love in the Holy Land returned to claim her after this probation: but their meeting befell on a day when it was pouring cats and dogs; whence it arose that the knight, as he threw himself at his mistress's feet with both knees in a puddle, besought her to get under shelter, and cast his mantle over her shoulders. The lady, instead of being touched by this care for her health, was indignant. 'What!' she exclaimed. 'If you have eyes to perceive that it rains at such a moment as this, you cannot love me!' And she condemned him, for his breach of gallantry, to remain silent for a whole year, if he would win her. That sort of thing would not do nowadays. It belonged to an epoch when women doled out their smiles economically, and thought a man well indemnified for wounds or chronic rheumatism by leave to kiss their finger-tips. A disgusted Scot, who seems to have been ahead of his age, wrote, in Jamie VI.'s time:
'0, the lasses o' the Cannongate, They are so wondrous nice; They wulna gi'e a single kiss But for a double price. Gar hang 'em ! gar hang 'em! Each upon a tree, For I'll get as gude outside the gate For a baubee!'
Did he get a good kiss for a baubee? We doubt it. He may have stolen the kiss and paid the baubee afterwards, as conscience money; but the canny fellow's having appraised the lowest marketable value of a kiss at a halfpenny -- worth a shilling of our money -- goes far to show that this agreeable salutation was not held cheap. However, our Scotsman deserves to be noted as a social reformer, who protested against the airs which women were giving themselves. He said, 'Gar hang 'em!' as the Edinburgh mobs used to hang bakers in those days, when they sold their loaves too dear; and he advocated the cheapening of the relations between sexes, which is a boon not to be lost sight of among the other debts we owe to the Land o' Cakes.
A hundred years later a French courtier, visiting Scotland, was enabled to chronicle that an admirable feature in North British maidens was the fondness they showed for embracing strangers on both cheeks. There has since been a slight reaction in these matters; but never mind every -- Scotch lassie now subscribes to the doctrine:
'Gin a body Kiss a body, Need a body cry?'
It was the Puritans who, in England, first reminded women that they were made to suckle fools and chronicle small-beer. Drab gowns and a modest demeanour were the things they enjoined, and women have testified their appreciation of this reform by their unwavering retrospective allegiance to the Cavalier party ever since. Charles II. did but restore the reign of women for a brief space; and soon the Georgian era was to come, with its days of hard drinking, which turned men into sots, unfit to be flirted with. When gallants rolled under the table after dinner, of what power were soft glances and witching smiles? The bottle is woman's worst rival: she knows it; and the only wonder is that, in the fierce tussle for supremacy which now ensued between Drink and Woman, the receptacle for liquor should have been able to hold its own for more than a hundred years.
There never was such a graceless, loveless, flirtless period as the last century. Men treated women like tavern-wenches, and, having wooed them between two hiccoughs, eloped with them on the spur of a tipsy impulse. There were Mayfair marriages, Fleet marriages, and marriages at Gretna Green. The hot blood of the day, whiskified and lustful, was too impatient to brook a long courtship or the delay of banns or license. The Duke of Hamilton married one of the Misses Gunning with a bed-curtain ring; and abductions of heiresses by penniless rakes were so frequent that Parliament had to legislate on the matter. In that period of rowdy boozings, prize-fights, cock-fights, punch-clubs, and duels, society staggered, and its morals smelt of the bagnio. It was deemed a compliment to a woman to make her the toast of a drunken orgy; and as many women passed over to the enemy, which they had fruitlessly combated, and began to drink as hard as the men, powder and patches came into fashion to hide flushed cheeks and swollen eyelids.
Pah'! it reeks with a foul whiff, that corrupt eighteenth century; and nothing less than the five-and-twenty years' war which ushered in the nineteenth was needed to make its men sober and its women coy once more. In the life of camps the love for women burns with a purer light; and the brave are ever gentle, courteous, and timid towards the weak. Then poets arose amid the clash of our arms; and after Waterloo, Scott, Byron, Moore, and the Lakeists drew English thoughts towards chivalrous romance and pastoral idyl. The accession of a girl-Queen did the rest; and gradually, as the Sovereign's influence, as wife and mother, pervaded the Court, and spread thence over the people, woman's ascendancy swelled to the full flood again, till it eventually overflowed, and feminised the whole surface of society.
We nowadays heap all our luxury on our women. Men have renounced the gold-laced coats, ruffles, and jewellery of their forefathers; but they cover their women with the costliest textures and with rivers of precious stones. Nothing is too plain or ugly for male attire, nothing too gaudy for woman's; and while the tailor's bill shrinks every year through the invention of rough colourless cloths impossible to wear out, the milliner's expands every season, because the ingenuity of modistes is for ever desiring tints so delicate that they can hardly bear the light, and trains so long that they are unfit for walking.
So much richness calls for display, and it is the ambition of the modern woman to show herself everywhere. She is no longer content with the empire of the drawing-room, ballroom, and theatre; she must reign in the open air; and sports have been invented croquet, skating, and lawn tennis in which she can mix with and dwarf them. Balls have been multiplied for her sake, till there is not a house-holder with ten square feet of parlour but bids his friends once or twice a year to a carpet dance; picnics have become the rage; water-parties and walking-tours exhibit woman's taste in fancy costumes, and her powers of hand and foot, for she does not disdain to pull an oar, and will back herself for a 'discretion' to walk long distances. She has invaded the hunting-field and shooting-covert; she has climbed on to the box-seat of four-in-hands; and reforming our religion according to her own views of the æsthetic, she has given us Ritualism.
The club remained, until lately, as a last refuge to man; but mixed clubs like the Orleans and the Lotos have already been started, and, before long, woman will have forced open the doors of other houses. This will be the crowning triumph at which she has been aiming for years, and when she has achieved it, man's subjection will be complete. Then we shall see floating over White's and the Marlborough the emblem of female supremacy a cambric handkerchief scented with opoponax.
|About Flirts||Flirt's Power||Season Flirt||Example And Precept|
|Plain Sisters||Ecclesiastical Flirt||Home Regimental Flirts||Foreign Regimental Flirt|
|Seaside Flirt||Tourist Flirt||Country-Town-House Flirts||Sentimental Flirt|
|Taken from original text, as written. May contain OCR errors.|