No. 306. Wednesday, February 20, 1712. Steele.

Quæ forma, ut se tibi semper Imputet?


I write this to communicate to you a Misfortune which frequently happens, and therefore deserves a consolatory Discourse on the Subject. I was within this Half-Year in the Possession of as much Beauty and as many Lovers as any young Lady in England. But my Admirers have left me, and I cannot complain of their Behaviour. I have within that Time had the Small-Pox; and this Face, which (according to many amorous Epistles which I have by me) was the Seat of all that is beautiful in Woman, is now disfigured with Scars. It goes to the very Soul of me to speak what I really think of my Face; and tho I think I did not over-rate my Beauty while I had it, it has extremely advanc'd in its value with me now it is lost. There is one Circumstance which makes my Case very particular; the ugliest Fellow that ever pretended to me, was and is most in my Favour, and he treats me at present the most unreasonably. If you could make him return an Obligation which he owes me, in liking a Person that is not amiable;--But there is, I fear, no Possibility of making Passion move by the Rules of Reason and Gratitude. But say what you can to one who has survived her self, and knows not how to act in a new Being. My Lovers are at the Feet of my Rivals, my Rivals are every Day bewailing me, and I cannot enjoy what I am, by reason of the distracting Reflection upon what I was. Consider the Woman I was did not die of old Age, but I was taken off in the Prime of my Youth, and according to the Course of Nature may have Forty Years After-Life to come. I have nothing of my self left which I like, but that I am, SIR, Your most humble Servant, Parthenissa.

When Lewis of France had lost the Battle of Ramelies, the Addresses to him at that time were full of his Fortitude, and they turned his Misfortune to his Glory; in that, during his Prosperity, he could never have manifested his heroick Constancy under Distresses, and so the World had lost the most eminent Part of his Character. Parthenissa's Condition gives her the same Opportunity; and to resign Conquests is a Task as difficult in a Beauty as an Hero. In the very Entrance upon this Work she must burn all her Love-Letters; or since she is so candid as not to call her Lovers who follow her no longer Unfaithful, it would be a very good beginning of a new Life from that of a Beauty, to send them back to those who writ them, with this honest Inscription, Articles of a Marriage Treaty broken off by the Small-Pox. I have known but one Instance, where a Matter of this Kind went on after a like Misfortune, where the Lady, who was a Woman of Spirit, writ this Billet to her Lover.

SIR, If you flattered me before I had this terrible Malady, pray come and see me now: But if you sincerely liked me, stay away; for I am not the same Corinna.

The Lover thought there was something so sprightly in her Behaviour, that he answered,

Madam, I am not obliged, since you are not the same Woman, to let you know whether I flattered you or not; but I assure you, I do not, when I tell you I now like you above all your Sex, and hope you will bear what may befall me when we are both one, as well as you do what happens to your self now you are single; therefore I am ready to take such a Spirit for my Companion as soon as you please. Amilcar.

If Parthenissa can now possess her own Mind, and think as little of her Beauty as she ought to have done when she had it, there will be no great Diminution of her Charms; and if she was formerly affected too much with them, an easie Behaviour will more than make up for the Loss of them. Take the whole Sex together, and you find those who have the strongest Possession of Mens Hearts are not eminent for their Beauty: You see it often happen that those who engage Men to the greatest Violence, are such as those who are Strangers to them would take to be remarkably defective for that End. The fondest Lover I know, said to me one Day in a Crowd of Women at an Entertainment of Musick, You have often heard me talk of my Beloved: That Woman there, continued he, smiling when he had fixed my Eye, is her very Picture. The Lady he shewed me was by much the least remarkable for Beauty of any in the whole Assembly; but having my Curiosity extremely raised, I could not keep my Eyes off of her. Her Eyes at last met mine, and with a sudden Surprize she looked round her to see who near her was remarkably handsome that I was gazing at. This little Act explain'd the Secret: She did not understand herself for the Object of Love, and therefore she was so. The Lover is a very honest plain Man; and what charmed him was a Person that goes along with him in the Cares and Joys of Life, not taken up with her self, but sincerely attentive with a ready and chearful Mind, to accompany him in either.

I can tell Parthenissa for her Comfort, That the Beauties, generally speaking, are the most impertinent and disagreeable of Women. An apparent Desire of Admiration, a Reflection upon their own Merit, and a precious Behaviour in their general Conduct, are almost inseparable Accidents in Beauties. All you obtain of them is granted to Importunity and Sollicitation for what did not deserve so much of your Time, and you recover from the Possession of it, as out of a Dream.

You are ashamed of the Vagaries of Fancy which so strangely mis-led you, and your Admiration of a Beauty, merely as such, is inconsistent with a tolerable Reflection upon your self: The chearful good-humoured Creatures, into whose Heads it never entred that they could make any Man unhappy, are the Persons formed for making Men happy. There's Miss Liddy can dance a Jigg, raise Paste, write a good Hand, keep an Account, give a reasonable Answer, and do as she is bid; while her elder Sister Madam Martha is out of Humour, has the Spleen, learns by Reports of People of higher Quality new Ways of being uneasie and displeased. And this happens for no Reason in the World, but that poor Liddy knows she has no such thing as a certain Negligence that is so becoming, that there is not I know not what in her Air: And that if she talks like a Fool, there is no one will say, Well! I know not what it is, but every Thing pleases when she speaks it.

Ask any of the Husbands of your great Beauties, and they'll tell you that they hate their Wives Nine Hours of every Day they pass together. There is such a Particularity for ever affected by them, that they are incumbered with their Charms in all they say or do. They pray at publick Devotions as they are Beauties. They converse on ordinary Occasions as they are Beauties. Ask Belinda what it is a Clock, and she is at a stand whether so great a Beauty should answer you. In a Word, I think, instead of offering to administer Consolation to Parthenissa, I should congratulate her Metamorphosis; and however she thinks she was not in the least insolent in the Prosperity of her Charms, she was enough so to find she may make her self a much more agreeable Creature in her present Adversity. The Endeavour to please is highly promoted by a Consciousness that the Approbation of the Person you would be agreeable to, is a Favour you do not deserve; for in this Case Assurance of Success is the most certain way to Disappointment. Good-Nature will always supply the Absence of Beauty, but Beauty cannot long supply the Absence of Good-Nature.

P. S.

Madam, February 18. I have yours of this Day, wherein you twice bid me not to disoblige you, but you must explain yourself further before I know what to do. Your most obedient Servant, The SPECTATOR.


[Footnote 1: Mr. John Duncombe ascribed this letter to his relative, John Hughes, and said that by Parthenissa was meant a Miss Rotherham, afterwards married to the Rev. Mr. Wyatt, master of Felsted School, in Essex. The name of Parthenissa is from the heroine of a romance by Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery.]

Translation of motto:
JUV. Sat. vi. 177.
'What beauty, or what chastity, can bear
So great a price, if stately and severe
She still insults?'