Handsome Hands by Anonymous

An elderly bachelor of my acquaintance is one of the warmest admirers in the world of a beautiful female hand. "A fine hand," he will say, "is a vastly fine thing, sir. As I always turned my attention very particularly to that part of the person, and have been king's page, and this, that, and t'other about a court, during many of my best years, the very finest of hands have fallen under my notice. Believe me, I am not at all captious, but merely critical, or in a trifling degree historical, when I say, that your fine hands of the present day, are very different from the fine hands of the old school. My father was convinced that bands had degenerated since Charles the Second's time; but he could not help confessing that, in my time,—I mean, when he was seventy, and I was thirty—hands were still handsome. And, mark me, he spoke of hands generally:—but, adad! now, if you meet with a fine hand once in a year or so, you're in luck, and ought to sacrifice a kid to Fortune. The fact is, that fine hands are very much talked about, but they are not properly cultivated; true beauty of form is no longer understood or appreciated; and the classical style of hand is, I fear, almost out of fashion. I am acquainted with two or three exquisite pair in town, and one,—its fellow, unfortunately, is deformed—one matchless hand at Putney. But nobody else admires them; I have them all to myself; and what is most provoking, these treasures,—these living and lovely reliques of a former age of grace and beauty,—these symbols of glorious pedigree,—these aristocratic heir-looms, are thrown away upon persons, who, if it were not for a spice of self-love, and that they're their own, would deem them but middling specimens. They positively try to coax them out of a beautiful into a barbarous style, so as to make them look like those of their neighbours, which the senseless young fellows of the modern school have the bad taste to admire. There never, perhaps, was a woman with such delightful hands as the charming Aurelia Pettigrew, afterwards Mrs. Watts, of Grange Hill, subsequently Mrs. Jervis, of Eton; whom I attempted at once to console and immortalize, by a copy of verses, written on the occasion of her having met with an accident, from an awkward waiting-woman's scissors, which produced a slight, but, in the opinion of many, a pleasing and piquant obliquity of the visual organ. These are the stanzas:—

     "'When Chloe wandered o'er the mead,
     To pluck the grateful flower;
     Strephon and every shepherd swain,
     Confess'd her beauty's power.

     Enamour'd Colin, gazing knelt,
     And soon resign'd his breath;
     While each fond youth ambitious sighed,
     To die so sweet a death.

     Two suns the earth could ne'er endure,
     Nor man her double glance;
     So nature bade the right blaze on,
     And turn'd the left askance.'

"I did not sing the charms of her hands, for they were above all praise:—small, plump, and graceful, with tapering fingers, and dimples where the knuckles lay, which, to the eye of fancy, seemed to smile like those in Love's own cheek. Miss Pettigrew was not of a very excellent figure; nor had she, with the exception of her eyes, particularly beautiful features; but her hands were matchless! They won her one husband, and many hearts,—my own among them,—at nineteen; and another husband with more than one suitor,—I was among'em, again—when she was a widow, at forty. There are some Goths and Vandals, who would have their nails half as long as the fingers:—filbert-nails, I think is the term for such pretended beauties; which, in my opinion, bear a striking resemblance to the convex side of the bowl of a horn spoon. But, though I consider a deep margin to a nail vulgar in the extreme, and would never, on any account, suffer its disk to peep over the Aurora-tinted horizon of the finger's summit, yet, understand me, I am no advocate for cutting them down to the quick. Of the two extremes,—a woman who pares her nails to the skin's edge, and a Chinese lady, who suffers hers to shoot forth into talons, I know not which is the more provoking. The Chinese female has at least the custom of the country in her favour; her, therefore, I have no right to blame, because it occurs that I am not a Chinese: but if I meet with one of my countrywomen, with claws at the ends of her fingers, I always long to call in a gardener or a sheep-shearer, with the necessary implement to prune or clip them down to a state of decorum. I do not possess sufficient talent to invent an appropriate and adequate punishment for a lady who is so enamoured with ugliness as to bite her nails. For her friends' sake, she ought to cannibalize in private, and conceal the revolting relics of her feast by wearing gloves, even in the presence of her most intimate friends. Those little machines which look like old gloves cropped to the knuckles, are gross outrages upon taste: they are called, I believe, mittens; and many excellent young ladies wear them, particularly in the country, during cold weather. The sight of a hand in one of these things invariably produces an emotion of pity in my bosom for the four long, cold, naked fingers, which protrude from the sockets of the stalls. In the matter of gloves, women are frequently so rash and inconsiderate, as 'to make the judicious grieve.' I have told every lady, with whom I have the honour to be intimate, and who has happened to have large, ignoble hands, that she ought not to wear tight gloves; I have declared, on the honour of a gentleman, that they increase rather than dimmish the apparent size of the hand: but my preaching has never proved of much effect. A lady with an excellent, or even a good hand, should never have a wrinkle in her glove; but it is an absurd notion of many, that mere tightness is perfection: on the contrary, a glove that is well adapted to the hand never appears tight, but fits smooth and unwrinkled as the fair skin which it conceals. The kid should lie close against the palm of the hand; the fingers should have no awkward bags at their extremities, and no bridges between their bases; indeed, the glove should fit as though it were an admirable mould, endowed with such elasticity as to assume every variety of form into which graceful action can possibly throw the hand. It, doubtless, has been to many persons, as well as to myself, a matter of astonishment, that the thousand and one elegant and delicate pieces of workmanship, in various materials, which seem to be fashioned by the exquisite fingers of a Belinda, are found, on inquiry, to be the productions of huge awkward paws, apparently fit only to wield flails and pull about blocks of granite. A celebrated frizeur, whose name I won't mention, has a very laudable antipathy to what he terms 'hugeous hands—he is a little lax in his language, but a very good frizeur for all that. Some years ago, he wanted a few assistants in his hair-cutting rooms; and inserted an advertisement in the paper to that effect. Among other applicants there was a good-looking youth, whose appearance, and answers to the preliminary questions put on such occasions, were highly satisfactory. 'Will your last master give you a character for civility?' inquired the hair-dresser. The boy answered in the affirmative. 'Well, and where are your gloves, young gentleman?' 'I don't wear any, sir!' 'Not wear gloves! I protest, I never heard of such a thing in all my born days. Take your hands out of your breeches pockets then, boy, and let me inspect them.' The boy, with some difficulty, produced a pair of rather large and very high-coloured hands, and artlessly exhibited them to the frizeur. 'Oh! go away, boy—go away,' exclaimed the latter, recoiling three paces from the spectacle; 'you won't suit me at all: the advertisement particularly said, Wanted a few good hands, you know. It's not possible for me to take a young man into my establishment, with great, large, red bits of beef, hanging out at the ends of his coat sleeves.—Go along!'"