Neck or Nothing

from, Edinburgh Literary Journal

The Art of Tying the Cravat is an art without the knowledge of which all others are useless.

It is the very key-stone to polite society; it is the open sesame to the highest honours both in church and state. Look at any individual making his entrée into a drawing-room, where there is a circle in the slightest degree distinguished for taste and elegance. Is it his coat, his waistcoat, his shirt, his inexpressibles, his silk stocking, or his shoe, to which the glass of the critic, or the soft eye of beauty, is principally directed? No! it is none of these. It is the cravat that instantaneously stamps the character of its wearer. If it be put on with a recherché air—if its folds be correct, and its set comme il faut—then he may defy fate. Even though his coat should not be of the last cut, and his waistcoat buttoned a whole button too high, still he will carry everything before him. The man of fashion will own him for an equal—beauty will smile upon him as a friend—and humbler aspirants will gaze with fond and respectful admiration on the individual who has so successfully studied the art of tying the cravat. But behold the reverse of the picture! Suppose that the unhappy wretch is but an ignorant pretender to a knowledge of the proper mode of covering that part of the person which separates the shoulders from the chin—a being who disgraces his laundress by the most barbarous use of her well-ironed and folded neckcloths, starched with that degree of nicety, that a single grain more or less would have made the elasticity too great or the suppleness too little;—suppose this Yahoo, with a white cravat tied round his neck like a rope, somewhat after the fashion most in vogue among the poorer class of divinity students, were to enter a drawingroom! What man on earth would not turn away from him in disgust? The very poodle would snap at his heels, and the large tortoise-shell cat upon the hearth-rug would elevate her back into the form of an arch, bristle up her tail like a brush, and spit at him with sentiments of manifest indignation. Ladies would shrink from the contamination of his approach, and the dearest friend he had in the world would cut him dead upon the spot. He might, perhaps, be a man of genius; but what is the value of genius to a person ignorant of the "Art of Tying the Cravat?" Let us inquire for a moment into the history of the cravat, and the influence it has always held over society in general. "L'art de mettre sa cravate," says a French philosopher (Montesquieu, we think), "est à l'homme du monde ce que l'art de donner à diner est à l'homme d'etat." It is believed that the Germans have the merit of inventing the cravat, which was first used in the year 1636, by a regiment of Croats then in their service. Croat, being pronounced Cro-at, was easily corrupted into cravat. The Greeks and Romans usually wore their neck free and uncovered, although in winter they sometimes wrapped a comforter round their throats, which they called a focalium, from fauces. Augustus Cæsar, who was particularly liable to catch cold, continually used a focalium or sudarium. Even now, it is only some of the European nations who use cravats. Throughout all the east the throat is invariably kept uncovered, and a white and well-turned neck is looked upon as a great beauty, being, metaphorically compared to a tower of ivory. In France, for a long period, the ruff, stiffened and curled in single or double rows, was the favourite ornament of the neck; but when Louis XIII. introduced the fashion of wearing the hair in long ringlets upon the shoulders, the ruff was necessarily abandoned. In 1660, when a regiment of Croats arrived in France, their singular tour de cou attracted particular attention. It was made of muslin or silk, and the ends, arranged en rosette, hung gracefully on the breast. The cro-at (now cravat) became the passion; and the throat, which had hitherto been comparatively free, lost its liberty for ever. Many varieties were introduced; but a fine starched linen cloth acquired the ascendency over all other, and retains it to this day. Abuses crept in, however, for the fancy of the èlégans ran wanton on the subject of pieces of muslin, stiffeners, collars, and stocks. At one time it was fashionable to wear such a quantity of bandaging round the neck, that shot has been known to lodge in it with perfect impunity to the wearer, and few sabre cuts could find their way through. Stocks are a variety of the cravat species, which are now very general. Collars were the avant-couriers of stocks, and were sometimes worn by the Egyptians and Greeks, made of the richest metals, and ornamented with precious stones. Of late years, a black silk cravat has come into great favour, and with a white or light-coloured waistcoat especially, it has a manly and agreeable effect. Bonaparte commonly wore a black silk cravat, and in it he fought at Lodi, Marengo, and Austerlitz. It is somewhat remarkable, however, that at Waterloo he wore a white neckcloth, although the day previous he appeared in his black cravat. Some persons have attempted to introduce coloured silk cravats, but, much to the honour of this country, the attempt has failed. A cravat of red silk in particular, can be worn only by a Manchester tailor.

Such is a very brief abstract of the rise and progress of cravats; if they are ever destined to lose the place they at present hold in society, we fervently trust that some Gibbon may appear, to furnish us with a narrative of their decline and fall. But though all this knowledge is valuable, it is only preliminary to the great art of tying the cravat. Hic labor, hoc opus. The first tie—the parent of all the others, the most important, and by far the most deeply interesting—is the noeud Gordien, or Gordian knot. Alexander the Great would have given half his empire to have understood it;—Brummell was a prouder, a happier, and a greater man, when he first accomplished it. The mode of forming this noeud Gordien is the most important problem that can be offered to the student of the cravat. It is no easy task; and we seriously advise those, who are not initiated into the mysteries of this delightful science, to make their first essays on a moderate-sized block.

We can confidently assure them, that, with tolerable perseverance, they will be enabled to pursue their studies with pleasure and advantage, and in a more profitable manner—on themselves. All the practice that is necessary, need not occupy more time than a couple of hours a day!

After the noeud Gordien come a host of others, all of which ought to be known for the sake of variety, and that the tie may be made to suit the occasion on which it is worn. There is the cravate à l'Orientale, when the neckcloth is worn in the shape of a turban, and the ends form a crescent;—the cravate à l'Américaine, which is simple, but not much to our taste, and the prevailing colours are detestable, being sea-green, striped blue, or red and white;—the cravate collier de cheval, in which, after making the noeud Gordien, the ends are carried round and fastened behind; a style much admired by ladies' maids and milliners, but in our opinion essentially vulgar, unless when used out of doors;—the cravate sentimentale, in which a rosette is fastened at the top immediately under the chin, and which ought to be worn only by dapper apprentices, who write "sweet things" on the Sundays, or by Robert Montgomery, the author of "The Omnipresence of the Deity"—a young man much puffed by Mr. William Jerdan;—the cravate à la Byron, very free and dégagée, but submitted to by the noble poet, only when accommodating himself to the bien séances of society;—the cravate en cascade, where the linen is brought down over the breast something like a jet d'eau, and is a style in great vogue among valets and butlers;—the cravate à la Bergami, and the cravate de bal, where there is no knot at all, the ends being brought forward, crossed on the breast, and then fastened to the braces;—the cravate mathématique, grave and severe, where the ends descend obliquely, and form two acute angles in crossing;—the cravatte à l'Irelandoise, upon the same principle as the preceding, but somewhat more airy;—the cravate à la gastronome, which is a narrow neckcloth, without starch, fastened very slightly, so that in cases of incipient suffocation it may be removed at a moment's notice;—the cravate de chasse, or à la Diane, which is worn only on the hunting field, and ought to be deep green the cravate en coquille, the tie of which resembles a shell, and is very pleasing, though a little finical; the cravate romantique, à la fidélité, à la Talma, à l'Italienne, à la Russe, together with the cravate Jesuitique et diplomatique, are interesting, and may all be studied to advantage.

In concluding these observations, which are meant to rouse, if possible, the attention of a slumbering public to a subject, the vast importance of which the common herd of mankind are too apt to overlook, we cannot help reflecting with feelings of the most painful kind on the very small number of persons who are able to tie their cravats in any thing like a Brummellian or Pe-tershamic style. We call upon our readers, if they value their necks, to show a greater regard for their cravats. They may rest assured that a well-tied cravat is better than the most flattering letter of introduction, or most prepossessing expression of countenance. An elegant noeud Gordien has been known to secure for its possessor 5,000 L. a-year, and a handsome woman into the bargain. Let it not be viewed as a light or trifling matter; a cravat, comme il faut, is synonymous with happiness, and they who know the difference between neck and nothing, will at once perceive that the "march of intellect" means little more than a due appreciation of the value of the cravat, and as near an approach as possible to perfection, in the art of tying it.