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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

The Spectator and The Tatler

Phillis and Brunetta

By Sir Richard Steele (1672–1729)

IN the year 1688, and on the same day of that year, were born in Cheapside, London, two females of exquisite feature and shape; the one we shall call Brunetta, the other Phillis. A close intimacy between their parents made each of them the first acquaintance the other knew in the world. They played, dressed babies, acted visitings, learned to dance and make courtesies together. They were inseparable companions in all the little entertainments their tender years were capable of, which innocent happiness continued till the beginning of their fifteenth year, when it happened that Mrs. Phillis had a head-dress on which became her so well that, instead of being beheld any more with pleasure for their amity to each other, the eyes of the neighbourhood were turned to remark them with comparison of their beauty. They now no longer enjoyed the ease of mind and pleasing indolence in which they were formerly happy, but all their words and actions were misinterpreted by each other, and every excellence in their speech and behaviour was looked upon as an act of emulation to surpass the other. These beginnings of disinclination soon improved into a formality of behaviour, a general coldness, and by natural steps into an irreconcilable hatred.

These two rivals for the reputation of beauty were in their stature, countenance, and mien so very much alike, that, if you were speaking of them in their absence, the words in which you described the one must give you an idea of the other. They were hardly distinguishable, you would think, when they were apart, though extremely different when together. What made their enmity the more entertaining to all the rest of their sex was that, in detraction from each other, neither could fall upon terms which did not hit herself as much as her adversary. Their nights grew restless with meditation of new dresses to outvie each other, and inventing new devices to recall admirers who observed the charms of the one rather than those of the other on the last meeting. Their colours failed at each other’s appearance, flushed with pleasure at the report of a disadvantage, and their countenances withered upon instances of applause. The decencies to which women are obliged made these virgins stifle their resentment so far as not to break into open violences, while they equally suffered the torments of a regulated anger. Their mothers, as it is usual, engaged in the quarrel, and supported the several pretensions of the daughters with all that ill-chosen sort of expense which is common with people of plentiful fortunes and mean taste. The girls preceded their parents like queens of May, in all the gaudy colours imaginable, on every Sunday to church, and were exposed to the examination of the audience for superiority of beauty.

During this constant struggle it happened that Phillis one day at public prayers smote the heart of a gay West Indian, who appeared in all the colours which can affect an eye that could not distinguish between being fine and tawdry. This American, in a summer-island suit, was too shining and too gay to be resisted by Phillis, and too intent upon her charms to be diverted by any of the laboured attractions of Brunetta. Soon after, Brunetta had the mortification to see her rival disposed of in a wealthy marriage, while she was only addressed to in a manner that showed she was the admiration of all men, but the choice of none. Phillis was carried to the habitation of her spouse in Barbadoes. Brunetta had the ill-nature to inquire for her by every opportunity, and had the misfortune to hear of her being attended by numerous slaves, fanned into slumbers by successive hands of them, and carried from place to place in all the pomp of barbarous magnificence. Brunetta could not endure these repeated advices, but employed all her arts and charms in laying baits for any of condition of the same island, out of a mere ambition to confront her once more before she died. She at last succeeded in her design, and was taken to wife by a gentleman whose estate was contiguous to that of her enemy’s husband. It would be endless to enumerate the many occasions on which these irreconcilable beauties laboured to excel each other; but in process of time it happened that a ship put into the island consigned to a friend of Phillis, who had directions to give her the refusal of all goods for apparel, before Brunetta could be alarmed of their arrival. He did so; and Phillis was dressed in a few days in a brocade more gorgeous and costly than had ever before appeared in that latitude. Brunetta languished at the sight, and could by no means come up to the bravery of her antagonist. She communicated her anguish of mind to a faithful friend, who by an interest in the wife of Phillis’s merchant procured a remnant of the same silk for Brunetta. Phillis took pains to appear in all public places where she was sure to meet Brunetta; Brunetta was now prepared for the insult, and came to a public ball in a plain black silk mantua, attended by a beautiful negro girl in a petticoat of the same brocade with which Phillis was attired. This drew the attention of the whole company; upon which the unhappy Phillis swooned away, and was immediately conveyed to her house. As soon as she came to herself, she fled from her husband’s house, went on board a ship in the road, and is now landed in inconsolable despair at Plymouth.

After the above melancholy narration, it may perhaps be a relief to the reader to peruse the following expostulation:

“The just remonstrance of affronted THAT.

“Though I deny not the petition of Mr. WHO and WHICH, yet you should not suffer them to be rude, and to call honest people names, for that bears very hard on some of those rules of decency which you are justly famous for establishing. They may find fault, and correct speeches in the senate and at the bar, but let them try to get themselves so often and with so much eloquence repeated in a sentence as a great orator doth frequently introduce me.

“‘My lords,’ says he, with humble submission, ‘That That I say is this: That, That That gentleman has advanced, is not That, That he should have proved to your lordships.’ Let those two questionary petitioners try to do thus with their Whos and their Whiches.

“What great advantage was I of to Mr. Dryden in his Indian Emperor,

  • ‘You force me still to answer you in That,’
  • to furnish out a rhyme to Morat! And what a poor figure would Mr. Bayes have made without his ‘Egad, and all That’! How can a judicious man distinguish one thing from another without saying ‘This here’ or ‘That there’? And how can a sober man, without using the expletive of oaths—in which, indeed, the rakes and bullies have a great advantage over others—make a discourse of any tolerable length without ‘That is’; and if he be a very grave man indeed, without ‘That is to say’? And how instructive as well as entertaining are those usual expressions in the mouths of great men, ‘Such things as That,’ and ‘The like of That’!

    “I am not against reforming the corruptions of speech you mention, and own there are proper seasons for the introduction of other words besides That; but I scorn as much to supply the place of a Who or a Which at every turn as they are unequal always to fill mine; and I expect good language and civil treatment, and hope to receive it for the future. That, That I shall only add is, That I am,