I HAVE to ask your attention this evening to certain outward manifestations of a propensity common to human nature in every aspect in which we are acquainted with it—the most primitive and barbarous, and the most civilized and refined—but one which is, as far as I know, peculiar to human nature.
I shall speak of deformity in the sense of alteration of the natural form of any part of the body, and those cases of voluntary deformation will be considered which are performed, not by isolated individuals, or with special motives, but by considerable numbers of members of a community in imitation of one another—in fact, according to fashion, "that most inexorable tyrant, to which the greater part of mankind are willing slaves."
Fashion is now often associated with change, but in more primitive communities fashions of all sorts are more permanent than with us; and in all communities such fashions as those I am now speaking of are, for obvious reasons, far less likely to be subject to the fluctuations of caprice than those affecting the dress only, which, even in Shakespeare's time, changed so often that "the fashion wears out more apparel than the man." Alterations once made in the form of the body can not be discarded or modified in the lifetime of the individual, and therefore, as fashion is intrinsically imitative, such alterations have the strongest possible tendency to be reproduced generation after generation.
The origins of these fashions are mostly lost in obscurity, all
- A discourse delivered at the Royal Institution, Friday, May 7, 1880.